On My Knees (Looking for the Answer) - A_Zap - 文豪ストレイドッグス (2024)

There was a certain power to stories.

Chuuya knew that for a fact.

Stories had been a treat within the Sheep. A way to forget about their current circ*mstances. Since figuring out reading and writing proved difficult for a few of them, some kids would sneak into movie theaters and return to tell what they’d seen. Others would tell stories from their lives before the Sheep, nostalgia and longing tinging each word. And finally, there were those who would make up stories from their own imaginations.

With no time to see movies or indulge in too many books and no past to draw upon, Chuuya had been in the final category.

There were many bedtime stories he’d created, just for the youngest members of their flock, that he still treasured but locked away deep in his heart and mind.

A single story had the ability to change the course of fate.

After all, he had only gained his current life due to a whispered story of a god and a ghost.

By following the story to its roots, it had led to him discovering the origin of his own story. It let him become part of many people’s stories as well.

Because in the end, that too was all that people were: stories. Conglomerations of memories that were woven by all the people you’d once known.

Yes, stories were one of the most powerful things in the world.

And in Yokohama, that was especially true.

Chuuya shut his book and placed it on a side table before picking up his hat and turning towards the door.

It was time.

“What the f*ck was that movie?”

Dazai sighed. “Really? That’s all you can say.”

Upon learning that Chuuya, due to growing up on the streets with little to no money for commodities, was woefully ignorant on pop culture and movies, Dazai had taken it upon himself to teach Chuuya himself with impromptu movie nights. Quite frankly, Dazai was shocked Chuuya knew how to read and write — even if he did struggle with that — but apparently, he’d picked up every scrap of newspaper he could find and occasionally snuck into a library. Chuuya had no way or time to watch movies though.

Currently, Dazai had them working their way through the enormous Disney catalog, and though Chuuya had had some minor complaints with the fairy tale themes, he’d never reacted like this.

“No, seriously,” Chuuya stabbed an accusing finger at the screen, “what the sh*t was that?!”

“Pinocchio?” Dazai didn’t get it.

“Yeah, no sh*t.” Chuuya growled, though he appeared to realize that for once Dazai couldn’t figure out the source of his agitation. “Okay, so why the f*ck did Pinocchio have to prove that he was worthy of being a real human boy?”

With that one question, it clicked together in Dazai’s mind.


“Like, it was Gepetto’s wish? Shouldn’t he have been the one to prove that he was worthy of being a father and having a kid, because he was kinda a sh*tty one! Not even one full day together and he was sending the kid off to school — no explanation, no prep, not even enough time to adjust to being alive before sending him out with no warning. No wonder the kid ended up messing up so much! Especially since a freaking bug was the only person allowed to help and guide him! It’s not like the kid asked to be brought to life in the first place.” Chuuya ranted, his hands gesturing with every point he made.

Dazai wondered if Chuuya was taking this a bit too personally. After all, unlike the little wooden boy who had to earn his humanity, Chuuya already was a human despite his murky origins.

Dazai opened his mouth to somehow divert Chuuya’s attention, but clearly, the other boy wasn’t done yet.

“And then! To top it all off, the thing that proved he was worthy of being human was dying?!” Chuuya yelled. “What the f*ck is that sh*t?!”

Oh, now that hit a bit.

“Wasn’t it because it was a noble sacrifice?” Dazai wasn’t sure why he felt so defensive. “Isn’t that supposed to be one of the takeaways from these types of stories?”

Chuuya turned an infuriated glare at him. “How is that a good thing?” He bitterly asked. “How exactly can you prove anything when you’re dead?”

He knew that he of all people had no right to answer such a question. Not as one who actively sought out death.

But an answer came to him all the same much later, after the two of them had fallen into Chuuya’s bed still squabbling and Chuuya fell asleep still trying to kick Dazai out of his apartment. Dazai laid next to him and he wondered if he’d found the solution.

“Alive.” He whispered to himself, even though Chuuya was far too gone to hear him. “You prove that you’re alive.”

After all, you can only die if you are alive.

The fate of the world was on the line.

The air in the room was understandably tense. Atsushi bounced his leg slightly as Kunikida went over the details of the mission.

This was it. So much had been building up to this mission.

They were going after the Book itself.

Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that.

Various forces were converging on Yokohama in order to get their hands on it. The Special Division had its hands full with trying to keep things on the downlow, though Sigma volunteered to help communicate how the situation was turning out on their end. That left the protection of Yokohama and extraction of the Book to the Agency, Port Mafia, and their assorted allies.

They’d split up into mixed teams to accomplish this task, and here, at their main base and hiding spot, was where the coordinators, defenders, and the retrievers were meeting. The others in their safe houses were joining through video call.

Despite going over the plans multiple times, Atsushi still felt nervous.

“— and finally, Atsushi, Kyouka, Akutagawa, Nakahara, and I will be the ones to retrieve the Book itself.” Kunikida’s glasses gleamed as he pushed them up his nose. “Any questions?”

Atsushi gulped and glanced around the room. He was somewhat surprised that no one from the Port Mafia had protested the lop-sided arrangement of the retrieval team, with more detectives than mafiosos. He and Akutagawa had to be there as their combined abilities would help them get to the Book. Kyouka, despite her youth, was one of their skilled fighters and had proven time and again to be the best to wrangle him and Akutagawa so she was going as well. Kunikida’s versatility could prove useful depending on whatever traps they came across. And then…

Well, maybe the Port Mafia wasn’t so upset by the team formation, since having Chuuya by your side was as good as having an army with you. Anyone who tried to stop them would easily be dealt with as he watched their backs.

Around the table and on the screens, everyone’s faces were serious. But there was no disagreement.

Kunikida sighed. “Alright, then —”

“Oi, Lynchpin.”

Kunikida’s sigh somehow was deeper than the last as all eyes turned to Chuuya. Chuuya, however, only had eyes for Ranpo.

“How well do you think this plan is gonna work?” Chuuya asked, not wavering for a second at his spot at the table.

Atsushi frowned. It felt like an odd question. After all…

“Chuuya-kun.” Mori stated from the screen he shared with the President. “This plan was created between the greatest strategists from our organizations, including both myself and Dazai-kun. Are you questioning it?”

“I’m not questioning the plan itself, sir.” Chuuya coolly said. “I just want the ‘great detective’s’ opinion on its consequences.” A pleasant, customer service smile spread on his face. “That’s part of your specialty, isn’t it?”

Atsushi noticed that through all of this Ranpo had yet to say anything. A glance told him that Ranpo was gazing right back at Chuuya, his eyes open wide.

Ranpo sighed. “There’s no use trying to dissuade you, is there?”

“I’m not one to back down once I’ve made a decision.” Chuuya countered.

Ranpo frowned, and leaned back in his chair, his eyes tilting upward with it. “...There is a high chance of it working. Probably one of our best chances, based on what we know. But it’ll be hard to tell whether it’s fully successful or not, though time may tell.

“Of course, even if it’s not successful, the perception that it was could still buy time and give us as much peace as we can expect to get. So either way, it might be worth it.” Ranpo straightened his seat and faced Chuuya once more. “Does that answer your question?”

“Thank you. It does.” Chuuya’s smile seemed a tad more genuine. He lifted his phone and began tapping away at it. “Your payment will be sent through the mail.”

That seemed to get Kunikida out of his stupor. “Are you attempting to bribe one of our detectives?” He sounded utterly scandalized.

“Ha?” Chuuya shot Kunikida a disbelieving look. “I was told that if you want so much as Lynchpin’s opinion, you gotta pay him in snacks. I’m a proper mafioso, I pay my dues.”

“You expect me to believe a criminal cares about such things as debts?”

The two went back and forth — much to the exasperation of the coalition of their organizations’ members both present and on screen — but it truly helped break some of the tension that had permeated the entire operation. However, Atsushi’s focus was turned to Ranpo.

There was something off about the entire conversation between Ranpo and Chuuya. As if they were talking about something completely different, something filled with layers upon layers of double meaning, than everyone else. It felt familiar in a way though.

Chuuya’s phone chimed, interrupting his and Kunikida’s argument, and he glanced down at it. “Ah, there. Confirmation that you’ll get monthly boxes filled with snacks from all over the country for the next year.”

Atsushi expected Ranpo to rejoice over getting free snacks - and what was surely a large amount given who was actually paying for them - but Ranpo was instead frowning at the empty chair at the table.

Dazai’s spot.

“Have you —” Ranpo began to ask, but Chuuya cut him off.

“Nope.” Chuuya didn’t even look up from his phone. “And I’m not gonna.”

Ranpo raised an eyebrow at that, and Chuuya sighed despite not seeing it.

He looked up at Ranpo. “He’ll figure it out. He always does, even if he doesn’t see it coming.” Chuuya snorted. “He likes to claim to put the smart in smartass, so it’ll turn out fine.”

Ranpo didn’t seem convinced. “If that’s what you want to think, sure.”

Ah, now Atsushi knew why this felt familiar. Ranpo and Chuuya’s conversation felt like when Ranpo and Dazai plotted out strategies. Never saying much, just the bare minimum, to make their meaning clear. But only to each other. So much was left in between the lines that whole stories could be written with them.

So why would he be getting that feeling now, with Chuuya who was so different from Dazai?

Or perhaps, it shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, Chuuya had been Dazai’s partner, so it would make sense that he too could work in a similar way to Dazai. Perhaps the real question was why he felt the need to do so.

Especially since it wouldn’t take much to bring Dazai to the meeting.

After all, Dazai was supposed to be on the coordinating and defensive team along with Ranpo, Yosano, Hirotsu, Higuchi, and Poe…

Until he’d rebroken his recently healed leg.

When Dazai attempted to say that he’d predicted the missed timing of the fall that caused it, Chuuya had hit him upside the head with a grumble of “You don’t need to act like you f*cking know everything when you messed up, you moron.”

Now he was laid up in base’s infirmary after Yosano reset his leg, a co*cktail of drugs that would relieve his pain and help him sleep along with the doctor’s threats to strap him to his bed keeping him there.

So Dazai’s more part of what must be defended now than merely helping ensure the plan ran smoothly.

However, it sent a thrill through Atsushi that Dazai trusted them all enough to see it through.

After all, he’d helped make this plan. And Atsushi had yet to see one of Dazai’s plans fail.

f*ckuzawa was the one who stopped the bickering that had broken out among everyone while Atsushi had been pondering.

“That’s enough.” His presence was enough to halt even those who weren’t part of the ADA. “Kunikida, is there anything else?”

Kunikida straightened and adjusted his glasses. “No, I believe we’ve covered everything.”

He glanced around the room and across the screens showing the full combined force of the Agency and Mafia. “Use this time to do whatever you feel must be done. Relax and replenish your energy for the battles to come.

“The operation begins once the sun sets.”

Atsushi too looked around and saw how many allies they had - how much support they had. And this didn’t even include the members of the Special Division and the others who weren’t here.

They were not alone.

Atsushi knew that they would succeed.

“Not bad.” Chuuya said as he stretched. “Looks like you’re getting the hang of this, kid.”

Atsushi groaned. He didn’t see what Chuuya was talking about, he didn’t think he was getting all that better, but he was grateful that their latest round of sparring was over.

With threats to Yokohama increasing and getting more dangerous with each new one, and the Agency and the Port Mafia’s positions within Yokohama continuing to be precarious ever since the Decay of Angels incident with the following terrorism accusations and vampire infection, they all needed to be at their best and to push past it to become stronger. Both organizations were busy, but their truce remained tenuously intact for now. As such, it was in both of their interests to support each other when they could.

This was what led to Atsushi being trained by Executive Chuuya.

Kunikida had his hands too full to train him as much as he liked. No one else in the Agency really had his skills when it came to fighting and martial arts besides f*ckuzawa and Kyouka, but he couldn’t bother the president of all people with this and asking Kyouka to use whatever she’d picked up in the Port Mafia would’ve been cruel. There had been one more option, but Dazai laughed when Atsushi asked him and staunchly refused.

He did have a suggestion however.

Atsushi was surprised when Chuuya agreed.

He wasn’t sure if Dazai had anything to do with it (seeing the two interact, part of him doubted this — most likely, Dazai’s interference would have resulted in a harsh rejection) or if Chuuya was just that kind for a mafioso, but he’d long since learned not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Chuuya, of course, said that he had daily training in his schedule anyway, so he could devote that time to Atsushi if needed and still get a workout.

And what a workout it was.

Kunikida was a skilled martial artist and a patient and kind teacher, but Atsushi almost felt like he wasn’t at Chuuya’s level. Chuuya clearly was holding back while fighting him, but he still managed to fight at a level that was appropriate for Atsushi. It took a lot of control to pull off something like that, and Atsushi was envious of that control.

His teaching style was completely different than Kunikida’s as well. He seemed to be more into giving Atsushi real experience, allowing him to try to figure things out by himself, and then reviewing the fights afterward to see what he could improve. Nothing as formal as Kunikida’s instructions. Still, Chuuya was both willing and able to point out his mistakes and help him adjust as needed, all while giving him a taste of real combat.

“Okay, you’ve got the basics down now.” Chuuya shook off the remnants of their last round. “So I think it’s about time we started incorporating your ability.”

Atsushi froze. “Uh…” He nervously glanced at Chuuya, who just frowned and tilted his head at him, prompting him to continue. “I don’t — I don’t spar with my ability.”

Chuuya’s eyes narrowed. “Never?”

“No.” Atsushi couldn’t stop himself from fidgeting, avoiding Chuuya’s gaze. “Unless… Could we call Dazai here?”

“Dazai hates sparring. And exercise of any kind.” He could feel Chuuya studying him as he spoke. “Also, I’m pretty sure your doctor has him on limited mobility even if the physical therapy’s going well. Why would you want him here? He’d just heckle us both.”

“Well…” Atsushi knew he couldn’t keep the truth in for long. Chuuya was hardly pressing him for information but there was something about the weight of his gaze that made him want to talk. “Just in case I were to lose control or something.”

He wasn’t sure what he expected, but Chuuya took his concern seriously as he crossed his arms and thought it over. “I thought your boss helped you keep control of your ability. And you’ve made a lot of progress considering how long you’ve been aware of your ability, right?”

Atsushi blinked. “Well, yeah.” He wondered how Chuuya knew of f*ckuzawa’s ability, but Mori and f*ckuzawa had used to work together.

“Have you had any slip-ups?”

“Not really, but…” That didn’t stop the anxiety. He had rarely fully transformed since joining the agency. He always worried over whether he could do that without losing himself. And his control over his partial transformations was getting better all the time, which usually were more than enough.

Chuuya sighed. Atsushi braced himself for a lecture perhaps, like how Kunikida would tell him to grow some were-balls, but instead he turned to walk over to a pile of rubble.

Their training sessions took place in an old warehouse in the neutral zone near the Port Mafia’s borders. Chuuya had brought in some equipment and mats as well as made sure that the place was structurally secure, but it’d clearly been through a lot, sections of the walls, ceiling, and windows showing signs of repair or covered up. Hence, there were piles of concrete rocks and debris from the previous damage that Chuuya had shunted off to the edges of the room to give them plenty of space.

Chuuya now picked up a piece of rock, just a bit larger than a softball, weighing it in his hand and tossing it up and down as he walked back over. “Watch this, kid.” He ordered him.

Atsushi did.

He watched as Chuuya tossed up the rock, holding it midair with the telltale sign of his ability. And then, with no other indication or direction, the rock imploded, turning to dust in less than a second.

Atsushi gaped at the sight, unable to tear his eyes away.

“Any idea how much force it takes to turn a rock to dust like that?” Chuuya nonchalantly asked, patting his hands together to try getting the dust off his gloves.

“Uh…” Admittedly, though he’d been given the bare minimum of an education at the orphanage, in more than one area Atsushi still had catching up to do. And science and physics weren’t exactly high up on his list of subjects to study.

“You don’t need to know the exact details but let me tell you: it takes more force than it does for me to flatten a human being into a stain on the concrete.” Chuuya said that like it wasn’t totally insane.

Atsushi could barely wrap his mind around it.

He gulped. He’d forgotten somewhat that Chuuya could be a threat, that he was one of the most powerful people in a criminal organization. For a moment, Atsushi wondered if this was an attempt to intimidate him into using his ability.

But when he looked into Chuuya’s eyes, all he found was understanding.

“Look, kid, I get it. Having great power that can easily destroy everything — I know the thought of losing control is terrifying.” He gestured at the dust that hadn’t yet floated away. “Control was the first thing I worked on when I realized I could do sh*t like that as easy as breathing.

“But you gain control by using it. Figuring out your limits, how and when you can push them, and what else you might be able to apply them to — you can’t do that by not using your skills and abilities. And better to test it all out beforehand than when you might really need it. That’s why I’m helping you.” Chuuya patted Atsushi on the shoulder as he walked past him to return to the center of the warehouse.

Atsushi blinked at that, his gaze following the executive’s movements.

Chuuya’s reputation was that he was brash and bold, not backing down from conflict and powering through until the end. Or at least, that’s what Dazai made him seem like. But he could be surprisingly thoughtful too. And his words rang with experience.

Atsushi knew he was right. It would be better to learn how to use the full extent of his ability now than through a trial by fire during combat. He’d been through enough of those kinds of trials when figuring out his ability already, and he’d barely passed each time.

“Besides,” Chuuya looked over his shoulder at him with a confident grin, “I can handle whatever you and your ability can throw at me. The mackerel’s not needed in the slightest.”

Awe blossomed in Atsushi’s chest. At that moment, in the light of Chuuya’s smooth confidence in his place as the strongest, Atsushi knew why Port Mafia members chose to follow him to the death. There was no doubt that Chuuya would do his best to make sure he was prepared for whatever came next.

“Yes, sir!” Atsushi crouched down, transforming his arms and legs and preparing to attack.

Chuuya faced him as his grin grew wider. “Now that’s more like it!”

Atsushi pounced.

Kyouka was not prone to anxiety.

Not quite in the way people usually defined it at least.

Kyouka was skilled and she knew what she could do and she was willing to do it.

So she wasn’t nervous about fulfilling her role in the operation.

However, there was a sense she had gained in the Mafia. One that most people there gained the longer they remained. An instinct that warned of danger and disaster when it loomed overhead.

Even as Atsushi chatted next to her and she ate her final crepe before it was time to head back to base, she kept a watchful eye, trying to discover what could be amiss.

There was nothing. For now.

Meaning it was probably the operation itself that was throwing her off.

Kyouka didn’t like thinking what that could mean. Sure, they all knew the risk was there, but she didn’t like the thought of things turning out badly. She didn’t want to lose anyone.

But this was the same feeling she had on the day of her last mission for the Port Mafia. The same feeling that plagued her in the midst of the war with the Guild.

Things had turned out for the better both those times, but who was to say that this time her fears would be realized?


She jumped slightly at the sound of her name, blinking out of her thoughts.

Kyouka had stopped eating at some point, that must have been what tipped Atsushi off as she turned to look up at him.

He gave her a gentle smile and a head pat. “Don’t worry, Kyouka-chan.” He reassured her. “Everything will work out.”

Kyouka softened. “Of course.” And she didn’t want to admit it but his words did make her feel better.

It didn’t take long for Kyouka to finish off her treat and then the two of them returned to base together.

As they walked through the hall towards the meeting room, Kyouka spotted Chuuya on his way back as well.

She opened her mouth to call out to him…

But then she noted the flowers in his hand and the direction he was walking.

Kyouka hid a smile and followed Atsushi instead.

After all, if Chuuya wanted to visit his former partner, it was best not to disturb them.

“Is there something you want to ask me?”

Kyouka looked up from the last of her tofu she’d been poking at for a while now. Chuuya tilted his head slightly in a silent question.

Kyouka appreciated the effort he made. He too had been mentored by Kouyou, but unlike Kouyou who wished for her to remain on the Mafia’s properties until her training was complete, Chuuya insisted on taking her out every now and again. Never too long, usually just to get a meal before Kouyou started getting antsy.

She knew it would be over soon. Verlaine was pleased with her progress and Kouyou had been dropping hints that she may be able to prove herself.

But still…

“Why…” She hesitated to ask. “Why did you join the Port Mafia?”

Kyouka knew it was probably not going to be answered. No one had truly answered her yet when she asked. And everyone knew that Chuuya didn’t talk about his personal life or past.

“To be fair, my situation was complicated.”

She looked up in surprise to see Chuuya nonchalantly indicating for a container for her remaining food. He wasn’t looking at her, his gaze somewhere in the past.

“In the end, it was my choice, but I’ll admit that there was quite a bit of manipulation and blackmail going on as well.” He admitted. As they packed up to leave, he kept a hand protectively on her shoulder.

“Then why did you stay?” She couldn’t quite understand. Sure, the Port Mafia had taken her in when she had nowhere else to go, but the price for that shelter made her guts twist.

“The Port Mafia is my family.” He took her hand so they wouldn’t get separated on the busy streets. “I found people here that I cared for and wanted to protect.” Chuuya glanced back at her with a wry grin. “So really, how could I leave?”

She returned his stare but unbidden, her eyes drifted to glance at the families that walked by.

“That’s not to say that I haven’t lost anyone since joining, despite my best efforts.”

When she looked up, she noticed that he too was looking at the crowd, though his eyes were upon a group of boys pushing each other and laughing in front of an arcade game sitting right outside a convenience store.

“You know just as well as I do, that loss is inevitable in life. Especially in the Port Mafia.” His voice was quiet. “We always lose people, one way or another. So all we can do is hold onto those we care about while we can.” His fingers flexed around hers, holding her hand tight and illustrating his point.

Kyouka thought over his words. “Have you lost many who you care about?”

Chuuya shook himself out of his reverie. “More than I like to think about.” He paused for a moment. “You know, I used to have a partner.”

She blinked. “What?”

In all the time she’d known him, Chuuya had never had a partner. He might work with someone for a mission or lead a squad as needed, but overall, he didn’t have anyone she would consider an actual partner. Quite frankly, he didn’t need one.

But she knew he used to have one. Verlaine cursed Chuuya’s partner under his breath whenever reminded of them, while Kouyou would mention them with a bittersweet fondness. Never by name though, as if speaking it would invite disaster.

Chuuya never mentioned them at all.

“My condolences.” She made the logical conclusion.

Chuuya blinked and then glanced at her in surprise. “Oh, they’re not dead, not yet anyway. They’re like a co*ckroach, they can survive basically anything.” He huffed. “No, they’re just gone.”

“Gone where?”

“To some place better for them.”

Kyouka’s brow furrowed, not sure what he meant by that.

“It was for the best.” He said, guiding her around some sidewalk construction. “But still it kinda irks me. They didn’t belong here anyway, no matter what others might say. And I’d much rather have someone be alive and some place else than dead. And that’s what they’d be if they stayed.”

She wondered why he was telling her all this when he suddenly stopped. It wasn’t as crowded so it wasn’t an issue, but still, it surprised her. He turned towards her and crouched slightly so they were eye to eye.

“Now, Kyouka,” he didn’t look away as she froze, “did you have something you wanted to tell me?”

Her breath caught in her throat.

I’m scared. She wanted to say. I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to kill, even if Kouyou-san and Verlaine-san say I will be good at it. I don’t want to use Demon Snow. I want to go home.

But the words died in her throat.

She’d lost her right to a home the night her ability killed her parents. There was already blood on her hands.

“...No.” She couldn’t look him in the eye.

“I see…” He sighed. When she glanced up, Chuuya appeared almost sad. He straightened up and turned back towards headquarters. “Come along then. Ane-san’s probably chomping at the bit to get you back.”

Kyouka trailed after him. She didn’t know what she’d done wrong. Her eyes glanced over the passing storefronts until she couldn’t help but stop.

The store displayed plush keychains. One of them, a tiny bunny, reminded her of a toy she used to have before everything went wrong. She hadn’t been able to bring her stuffed animal with her.


She ripped her gaze away and looked back at Chuuya. He frowned, gaze flicking between her and the store window.

“I’m coming.” She said, hurrying to Chuuya’s side. He raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t question her.

He just extended a hand and she took it, not daring to look up again until they had returned to the Mafia.

The next morning, when she woke up, the bunny charm was sitting just inside of her window.

Kyouka hesitantly took it, not quite sure what it could mean. She debated keeping it just for herself, hidden away so only she could see it.

She ended up hooking it onto her dreaded cell phone instead.

She knew exactly who the gift was from.

But she never got to thank him for it, because the next day Chuuya departed for a mission on the continent to settle some disputes.

And the day after that, Kouyou approached her with a smile, her first mission in hand.

She always wondered if that was a coincidence.

Dazai was drifting in a sea of consciousness.

Whatever Yosano had given him must have been the good stuff.

Not that he was complaining — after all, he hated pain — but he still didn’t like how slow it made everything.

“... suppose I always knew it would end like this… Since we were sixteen… you or the Mafia, nothing else could do it…”

Someone’s voice came in and out of Dazai’s hearing, like he was struggling to get a signal on the radio.

It took him a surprisingly long moment to place it as his ever loyal dog.

“...gonna be mad at me… Well, f*ck you, too, hypocrite.”

Yeah, it could only be him.

But Dazai couldn’t tell what he was talking about. He was still half-asleep and his brain didn’t want to awaken. This was the quietest his brain ever got, and he almost didn’t want it to return to normal.

Chuuya was being so rude though and he wouldn’t stop talking.

“...blame… I hope you don’t… more of an idiot than normal… figure it out… It’s your turn for once…”

He was clearly taking advantage of Dazai being out of it. Dazai would have to leave twice as many pranks as normal in his office and apartment in retribution.

“...wanted to say it… know it’s stupid…”

Dazai would say that Chuuya’s always stupid, so whatever he was saying was just the norm, but he couldn’t quite reach the surface just yet. Still, awareness was slowly filling his limbs.

“...lo…you, Mackerel.”

Dazai felt his heart skip a beat, but he didn’t know why.

Enough was enough, he had to wake up now.

Sound finally stabilized.

“Ugh, why’d I say it out loud?” Chuuya grumbled, more to himself than Dazai this time. “We don’t say this sh*t out loud, why’d I — Tch!”

Dazai’s eyes began to flutter open, giving him glimpses of the infirmary. Chuuya must not have been looking at him since he didn’t immediately react.

“Whatever.” Chuuya sighed. “Goodbye, Dazai.” There was the scraping sound of a chair being pushed back and then a pause during which Dazai tried to push past the drugs and sleepiness.

There was a slight pressure on his forehead, right over the small mark that remained from their bullet trick in Meursault. Dazai wasn’t sure what it could be. After all, it didn’t sting like one of Chuuya’s forehead flicks would…

But he didn’t linger on that puzzle as he heard Chuuya’s footsteps moving away.

“Chuuya?” He called out, finally managing to wrench his eyes all the way open.

There was a deep sigh. “Of course you wake up now.” Chuuya muttered.

Golden beams of light streamed in through the windows — sunset. The operation, their chance to retrieve the Book and thwart the enemies of Yokohama, would begin soon. Dazai registered a vase of flowers that hadn’t been at his bedside before as he took in the room, then he shifted to gaze towards the doorway where Chuuya stood facing away from him.

Chuuya was wearing a more casual attire than his usual mafia get-up: a black leather jacket with dark pants and combat boots and what Dazai assumed would be a t-shirt underneath. That wretched hat was the same as ever atop Chuuya’s head.

Faintly, Dazai felt like something was off. He wasn’t sure if it came from Chuuya’s words or his actions or his current tense stance. An alarm bell distantly rang, but his fatigue mixed with painkillers slowed down his thoughts so he couldn’t tell what exactly he should be paying attention to.

Chuuya huffed as if sensing his confused disarray of emotions and thoughts. “Go back to sleep, Mackerel; you’ve actually got an excuse to be a lazy bag of bones for once.”

He turned around to face him, hands in his pants’ pockets.

Dazai’s breath caught for a second, as it sometimes did with Chuuya. The last rays of the sun highlighted his red hair with gold, and that old familiar spark of life blazed in his eyes, making them practically glow.

“Don’t worry, sh*thead.” Chuuya’s confident smirk had an edge of fondness as he gazed at Dazai. “It’ll probably be over before you wake up.”

“Right…” Dazai managed to say, blinking at the sight as if his eyelids were the shutters of a camera, allowing him to capture this moment forever.

Chuuya rolled his eyes and turned away, disappearing into the shadows of the hallway.

Dazai watched him go, that disquiet stirring once again.

But Chuuya would handle things. Dazai could always count on his partner in the most dire of situations. He wouldn’t let him down now.

And so Dazai ignored the feeling and let himself sink back into sleep.

Trust was paramount between partners.

Even on that first case together, facing down Randou/Rimbaud, trust existed between Chuuya and Dazai. They had trusted each other with a plan while exchanging so few words and came out victorious.

Seven years later, it was still true.

One of them would always answer the other’s call. Without words, they would figure out the plan and support it until their enemy was destroyed. Their partnership remained intact.

Dazai had been just as surprised as anyone else that they’d slipped so easily into old habits. But he was grateful that the one bond he’d left behind in the Port Mafia was still as strong as ever.

Shallow his ass.

Still, he could admit that he had some — not doubts, that wasn’t the right word, nor worries, though that was closer — misgivings during this whole situation.

When he realized Chuuya had come to Meursault, he hadn’t been sure what was happening.

His first thought had been that Chuuya was pretending, that he was playing Fyodor like Dazai himself usually did in such plans, but he couldn’t be sure. Chuuya was strong and guarded, but a single slip up could cause him to fall to vampirism just like anyone else.

The brutal and callous disposal of the guards seemed to indicate that Chuuya — normally so quick and precise when destroying his enemies — might not be his Chuuya.

And the one Dazai trusted was his Chuuya.

It was too late to stop the drowning trap, so whether it was Chuuya or a vampire with his face in there, Dazai couldn’t miss the chance to try to say goodbye. He knew that if it was Chuuya, he would undoubtedly survive. He knew if it was his Chuuya, it might be worth the teasing later, just in case he was wrong.

This was one of his cards that he was not certain of. He didn’t know for sure.

He did hope though.

While with the Agency, he had learned a great deal about hope.

And he couldn’t help the smile that had grown on his face when his hopes were proven right, when the elevator inexplicably began to slow down, long enough for him to survive.

Then just like usual, without words, he knew what Chuuya’s plan was, and he played his part to utter perfection.

There was a notable silence that rang through the air minutes after the last shot was fired and then…


Dazai’s heart — which was, of course, still beating — fluttered at the irritated scoff.

Fingers gently tipped his head up, and though the eyes that met his were covered in red contacts, the annoyance behind them could belong to only one person.

Chuuya inspected the shallow wound on his forehead, made by the last remnants of the bullet Chuuya had destroyed with gravity right before it could hit him fully. “You really let me shoot you, knowing I could kill you?”

Dazai smiled. “I believed in your skills and self-control that you wouldn’t give into temptation.”

Chuuya rolled his eyes at that though it was hard to tell. “Crazy bastard.” He retreated for a moment to collect the first aid kit he’d hidden in an alcove and ripped metal from the walls on his way there and back. “How the hell did you intend to get out of here if I hadn’t shown up?”

“I knew Chuuya would come for me.” Dazai chirped, not wanting to admit he hadn’t planned on leaving.

Chuuya read him though. He cursed, but his hands still had that rough gentleness that was just so him as he began to wipe up the blood from his face and wounds. He treated everything quickly, knowing they didn’t have much time.

“Did you have to shoot me in the shoulder?” Dazai whined as Chuuya pulled off his jumpsuit and inspected the bullet wound that wasn’t a simple graze. Luckily, it was a clean through and through.

“Had to make it look convincing.” Chuuya plainly said, but Dazai caught the satisfied curl to his lips.

“But it hurt.” Dazai whined even louder in the tone he knew Chuuya hated the most.

“Yeah, and so will this.” Chuuya had finished with his bullet wounds and pulled his shirt back up and moved to Dazai’s broken leg. He handed Dazai a wad of bandages to put in his mouth as he maneuvered the leg into position.

Dazai was grateful for something to muffle the sharp scream he let out as Chuuya set his leg and began bending the metal around it as a makeshift cast and brace.

He let the bandages drop out as he tried to recover his breath and control his breathing as Chuuya inspected him for anything else that needed immediate treatment. He was grateful for the painkillers and water that were shoved into his hands, and Dazai immediately took them.

“Besides, this is what you get when you let yourself get into a convoluted situation with no clear plan out.” Chuuya admonished, shoving the supplies back into their case. “Do better, sh*thead.”

“What was I supposed to do?” Dazai genuinely asked. “I promised Sigma I’d get him out of here alive.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to f*cking die for it!” Chuuya burst out with a sharp glare. The contacts and fangs made it more intimidating than normal.

Well, for anyone but Dazai. He couldn’t help but blink at Chuuya in astonishment.

“Whatever.” Chuuya grumbled as he scooped Dazai up into his arms and ignored his indignant squawk. “Coming into a stupid situation like this half-assed and no way out by yourself — I really hope someday someone gives you a taste of your own f*cking medicine.”

“As if anyone would want me to be their Prince Charming like that.” Dazai snorted, even as he wrapped his arms around his neck.

“Yeah, you’re right.” Chuuya agreed as he ran off towards the exit. With Dazai’s bum leg, they wouldn’t be able to get there in time otherwise. “You always end up as the damsel.”

Still —

“Wait, Chuuya! Put me down! What about my reputation!”

“What reputation? This fits right in for you being a lazy waste of bandages.”

“No! I need to make a grand entrance! You need to put me down when we get there!”

Chuuya sighed at his antics, but Dazai knew he’d comply when they finally arrived.

After all, he could always trust Chuuya to indulge his whims, even as he complained.

It was almost too easy.

Akutagawa cut through another trap in tandem with Atsushi. He and Atsushi were leading the way, the weretiger slightly in front of him following some internal compass through this maze of caves and tunnels beneath Yokohama. Their abilities - both separately and combined - made them the perfect vanguard for this task. So far, nothing had been a true challenge.

Kyouka, ready to support them with Demon Snow, and Kunikida behind her, his gun at the ready and his notebook by his side to provide any potential supplies they needed, followed in their wake.

Chuuya, of course, brought up the rear, keeping an eye out for the other organizations that might have slipped through the cracks of the Tripartite’s defense and managed to make it this far. Akutagawa could also hear him destroying any traps that were triggered by their passage while simultaneously making it harder for others to follow. That Kunikida fellow hadn’t been happy to put him in that position, still wary of the mafioso, but he couldn’t deny the practicality of it.

How unfortunate that there were many paths to their destination, even if they were following the ideal one. Still, Akutagawa knew that he could trust Chuuya to watch out for all of them.

“There!” Atsushi shouted, pointing ahead. The air rippled before them — the final barrier between them and their goal.

Without hesitation, Akutagawa shed Rashom*on, sending her to wrap around Atsushi’s claws. The barrier shredded like paper, fading away with a crackle of power like a summer’s mirage. Now anyone could enter the Book’s resting place.

With it gone, a set of doors revealed itself. Breathing heavily — Akutagawa struggled to contain his coughs that wanted to emerge — they all took a moment to gather themselves together, the weight of what they were about to do fully hitting.

Chuuya was the first one to recover. “Well?” He tilted his head at the doors. “You going to do the honors, kids?”

Akutagawa and Atsushi shared a glance, and he could read the weretiger’s will in the fire of his eyes and the tilt of his smirk. He felt his own lips twitch up slightly in response before he took his position.

With each of them holding one of the handles, they pushed open the doors.

Akutagawa wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting. After all, while Atsushi had somehow known where to go — fulfilling Fitzgerald’s proclamation that the white tiger was meant to lead the way to the Book — none of them had known what to anticipate when they got there. Even that infuriating and annoying detective couldn’t deduce what they would find, much to the Agency’s apprehension. But that’s what they got for relying so heavily on him to assuage their fears, in Akutagawa’s opinion.

A shrine was the last thing he expected.

Much less a shrine that seemed to be carved from stone rather than made of wood.

The shrine wasn’t too large nor was it too fancy. A very simple design. But the stone made it stand out with its smooth walls of white, polished floor and railing in various shades of gray, and tiled roof of black. Facing them were the steps that lead up to where an offering box would normally be set, but instead there appeared to an altar instead.

Spanning from the shrine were six different pathways, all tiled with black, white, and gray stones. The paths were lined with gray pillars covered with intricate markings from what Akutagawa could see. They reached from the floor all the way to the ceiling. The paths each ended at a set of doors — all of which seemed to open in tandem with the ones they themselves had pushed ajar.

There was an uncanny serenity in the unnatural room’s aura, setting Akutagawa’s teeth on edge.

For a moment, all of them could only observe the setting before them.

“A shrine?” Kunikida’s gun lowered slightly as his eyes narrowed in confusion. “For whom? Why is this here?”

Akutagawa glanced at him from the corner of his eye, surprised he would lower his guard so easily.

He wasn’t the only one as Chuuya snorted. “Does it matter?” He rolled his eyes and sauntered off with his hands in his pockets. “I’ll check the perimeter and make sure no one’s close yet. Three guesses where the Book’s gonna turn up.”

The reminder that they were on a time crunch seemed to be enough for Kunikida to gather himself. He led the way towards the shrine, Atsushi and Kyouka falling in behind him.

Akutagawa lingered though, sending out tendrils of Rashom*on to check for any potential traps around him. He would’ve warned the detectives to be wary as well, but if they didn’t notice any traps with their own skills that was their own fault. He could at least count on Kyouka to notice anything awry.

He began to walk towards the shrine, but as his eyes glanced over the nearest pillar, he couldn’t help but pause. Tilting his head and covering his mouth to block a cough, he stepped closer to examine it more closely.

The pillar was mainly covered in some sort of script that Akutagawa couldn’t decipher. At first glance, it looked like characters from older manuscripts and scrolls, but they were just off enough that he had no chance of attempting to read or translate them. If it was still Japanese then it was a script he wasn’t familiar with or some sort of code.

What really caught Akutagawa’s attention was the illustration carved into the pillar:

A tiger beneath a giant full moon and starry sky.

He glanced over at the weretiger, who’d been about to step up onto the shrine but was instead receiving a lecture from his senior.

Curiosity piqued, Akutagawa trailed over to the pillar right across from the tiger one and he stopped in his tracks, eyes widening at what was depicted on this one:

A lone figure with tendrils coming off of them, the largest one curled around them and hovering over them while sporting the head of a dragon.

As if sensing his shock, Rashom*on returned to him and posed at the ready above him — it almost looked like she too was studying the picture.

Akutagawa finally continued towards the shrine, but he noted each pillar that struck a chord of familiarity.

A figure wielding a sword with a ghost-like apparition mirroring their moves.

Another similar picture to the last, only this time both wielder and apparition had sheathed their blades — more like knives than full swords — their heads bowed in penitence.

Butterflies surrounded a crouched figure on what seemed to be a battlefield, their hand over a fallen person’s heart.

A figure holding an open book, buildings and people and objects spilling forth from its pages.

A figure with a hand outstretched in offering, a balanced scale looming large in the background, completely equal.

A figure that seemed to be dancing intimately with another until you noticed the first figure manipulating the other like a marionette.

Each pillar offered something new. Part of Akutagawa wanted to count how many pillars there were, see what was depicted on each and every one. What was their purpose in being here? Why were these images chosen?

Or more like, why were these people chosen?

How many would he recognize?

He once again stopped at the last set of pillars before the shrine, his eyes caught on the image on one that showed a figure falling through the air, tendrils coming loose and trailing after them even as they seemed to give off a glowing aura. Or more like having loose bandages, Akutagawa surmised. He glanced at its complement and he couldn’t help but blink.

It was the first pillar that had more than one image.

Akutagawa couldn’t help but examine it closer.

The first image showed someone tiny, what could only be a child, reaching up and holding the hands of other figures who appeared to glow from the child’s touch.

The second picture showed a winged figure, an adult this time, floating in midair with their hand outstretched above them and cradling… Akutagawa thought it might be either the sun or a full moon, as it was a simple circle with no other context clues. It was hard to tell with the monochrome carving.

It was confusing. Not just the double image itself, but if the previous pillar had been referencing who Akutagawa thought it was, then he would have assumed that this was meant to depict —

“Hey, Akutagawa!”

Akutagawa started at the sudden call, barely suppressing a cough as he turned to glare at Atsushi who just frowned down at him.

“What’s wrong?”

Akutagawa pulled away from the pillar. “Nothing.” Still, he couldn’t shake the sense of foreboding the image brought. So instead he turned to a much more comfortable distraction. “Are you done with your inane conversation so we can proceed with the mission?”

Kunikida bristled visibly, but Akutagawa ignored him to join Atsushi’s side.

“Could you not right now?” Atsushi simply asked, his expression saying he wouldn’t accept any bullsh*t at the moment. “Besides, you were dawdling just as much as we were.”

Akutagawa didn’t dignify that with a response. Instead, he looked down at the objective of their quest.

On top of the shrine’s altar but beneath one final barrier laid a white book. It was… not as impressive as he had expected. It just looked like an ordinary book.

When his and the weretiger’s combined abilities broke through its protection, the Book still gave no signs of its purported godly power. Without the barrier’s power warping the view, Akutagawa could now see that the edges of the Book were lined with gold. That… did help it appear more important but still.

The Book was almost a blank slate. Nothing on the cover would suggest it had the ability to alter the world as they knew it.

“That’s it?” He couldn’t help but scoff.

Atsushi shot a glare at him. “Ever heard of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover?’”

“Most books don’t have the power to change the world on the whim of a writer.”

“I mean, technically —”

“Fine. Reality, not some fictional world.” Akutagawa cut off the counterargument before Atsushi could make it. “Besides, how are we meant to know that this is the real deal?”

Kunikida adjusted his glasses. “I suppose we have no way of verifying it without actually using it, but considering the potential consequences, we should not —”

Kyouka ignored all their waffling and plucked the Book up from its pedestal and opened it up.

Immediately, the pressure of a greater power held them in place. It rang through the cave, singing a siren’s song to bring them in. The Book itself gave off a subtle glow, its pages humming under Kyouka’s fingertips.

Akutagawa’s fingers itched to get a pen, a pencil — something to spill words across its pages. After all, with that kind of power —

Kyouka snapped the Book shut and blinked rapidly for a moment, surprise etched on her face.

She wasn’t the only one, Akutagawa could see that Atsushi and Kunikida, like himself, also appeared to have just woken up from the Book’s spell.

“Well.” Kyouka said dryly. “I believe that is proof enough.”

Kunikida’s hands were trembling as he pulled out that stupid notebook. “That kind of power…” He attempted to shake off the effects even as he checked his schedule. “We need to get out of here. If anyone else were to get their hands on that book…”

He said that, but Akutagawa sincerely doubted even their own ability to handle the Book’s power. It set his teeth on edge, just that small taste of its full power. Not even the loose page that the Decay of Angels had used to wreak havoc on their organizations had felt like that. And that chaos had come from a small fraction of the Book’s full potential.

Though he could agree, they needed to get out of here. There were worse hands than theirs that would absolutely take advantage of the Book.

Kunikida created squares of plastic. “Here.” He handed them to Kyouka, who set the Book back down. “I don’t want any of us touching it for too long directly. Use these to wrap it up.”

Kyouka turned to do as he asked, and Akutagawa didn’t want to admit he was grateful they were leaving. Between the otherworldliness of this entire underground shrine to the overwhelming might of the Book, he couldn’t wait for this to be over.

“Oi! Look at this!”

All four of them turned and automatically looked down.

Akutagawa only read a single word of the book that had been thrust towards them before golden light erupted.

And he felt himself being drawn in.

“What?!” Kunikida yelled, but he too was stuck as well. “What is this, Nakahara?!”

“Chuuya-san, what?” Atsushi tried to resist the pull but he only looked devastated at this turn of events.

Akutagawa could only stare in shock towards his superior, even if he couldn’t see him beyond the light. He couldn’t understand this betrayal from the most trustworthy executive.

“It’s for the best.” Chuuya sounded calm, resolute. As per usual, he acted without hesitation.

“Chuuya-san?” Kyouka, on the other hand, sounded heartbroken, her eyes wide.

A single hand emerged from beyond the light, shoving down on top of her head.

“Look after this for me, kid.”

And that’s when Akutagawa noticed something.

He should have noticed earlier, as it had caused a slight fuss in the car when Chuuya refused to wear a seatbelt and had instead chosen to ride on the roof to Kunikida’s consternation. Throughout this whole affair, Chuuya had used his ability and powerful kicks to destroy whatever came his way. And that was because Chuuya had kept his hands shoved into his pockets the entire time.

He could see why he’d been hiding them now.

Chuuya’s hands were bare.

That was the last thing Akutagawa registered before Poe’s book swallowed them all.

Akutagawa hadn’t worked with Chuuya much, despite his mentor being his partner.

Part of him hoped that all of his missions weren’t like this.

Shots rang through the air, and Akutagawa was ashamed at the way he flinched whenever one passed too closely. He should be stronger than this with the way Dazai had been pushing him and he knew that if Dazai was aware of how he was wavering —

“You okay, kid?” Chuuya yelled at him over the din of the constant barrage, handily using his ability to send the bullets back to their owners.

However, no matter how many Chuuya took down, there always seemed to be more. And here Akutagawa was, being useless with the rest of their back-up.

He was an ability user too! He should be better than this!

But even still…

“I’m fine.” Akutagawa managed to cough out even as his eyes drifted to the real problem.

The information had been faulty. Some of their partners had been skimming from the Mafia’s profits, seeking to build up their own power base. Dazai had given them a warning already, but they’d been stupid enough not to heed it.

So Chuuya had been sent to crush them.

Akutagawa and the grunts were just here to stop any loose ends from escaping, though he hadn’t thought they’d be needed.

But there were more men hidden away than Dazai had predicted.

And one of them had an ability that let him create monsters like that.

As Akutagawa peeked over the barrier he’d hidden behind, he saw the ability user grab three of his own men. Their screams cut through the air as they were forcefully merged together in a misshapen amalgamation of a creature. They could hardly be called human anymore. Still, the combination sharply increased their power and brought out skills that shouldn’t be possible when an ability user was thrown in the mix.

Some of their own men had been caught up in it when they’d first been attacked.

The worst part was that not only did it seem that the process couldn’t be reversed, but all those affected were still conscious. Painful groans and intermittent screams fell from mutated lips as they shuffled to complete their master’s demands and fight.

Chuuya’s rage burned through the air.

But he paused as the chime of a cell phone rang. Chuuya glanced down and grimaced slightly at a message there. A curse fell from his lips as he texted the sender back.

“Send out the retreat, Akutagawa.” Chuuya ordered, turning his focus on the enemy. “Then scram yourself. Dazai will be here in a minute and we’ll finish up.”

“I can still fight!” Akutagawa didn’t know if it was panic or indignation that rose in his chest at the thought of retreat, especially if Dazai was on his way. Though he quickly relayed the orders and watched the others fall back out of the warehouse that was their battle ground.

“This ain’t about that, kid.” Chuuya was tugging off his gloves and Akutagawa startled at the motion. He’d yet to see Chuuya without them. “You’ve got a lot of promise, Akutagawa, and I’d hate for you to get caught in the crossfire.”

The grunts moved more quickly at the sight of Chuuya’s bare hands, so Akutagawa reluctantly followed their cue and fell back.

“Only let Dazai through, kid! No one else!” Chuuya called after him.

And it was so.

When Dazai arrived mere moments later, he swept past Akutagawa and the guards who were holding the perimeter at a safe distance. The sounds coming from the warehouse were horrendous, but he didn’t say a single word, moving faster than Akutagawa had ever seen him, even though he wasn’t quite running.

Not even five minutes later, it was over.

Dazai emerged from what was left of the warehouse cradling Chuuya’s bloody and limp form to his chest.

He ordered them to deal with the clean-up, taking a car back to HQ with Chuuya.

When Akutagawa peeked into what was left beyond the single remaining wall, the one closest to their retreat, he saw nothing but craters and blood.

He had no idea what just happened.

Poe’s book fell to the floor, containing the three detectives and one mafioso.

It wouldn’t hold them for long. This book was meant to be an escape rope, so it was a short, easy adventure that wouldn’t take much to get through. And even if they couldn’t, the Agency’s Lynchpin could get them out in a snap.

A single touch and the book became encased in the familiar darkness of his ability. A flick of his fingers and the book shot away, up through the ceiling back to the surface. He’d calculated the vectors and force needed to get the book back to their base. His ability would easily last long enough to return them home.

Which just left another book to deal with.

He stepped up to the altar and studied the Book himself.

He tilted his head slightly and then he opened it.

The click of a pen rang through the empty shrine.

Once upon a time, there was a boy who gained the power of gravity.

It was an overwhelming ability, one that could change the world. Many coveted this power, both for good or ill.

The boy, however, looked at those around him, and decided, “With this power, I will help. I will fight and protect and do what I must for those that I care about.”

And so he did.

“What is with you and fairy tales?” Chuuya asked, his brow pinched slightly as he settled down with a bowl of popcorn as The Little Mermaid began playing on the TV screen.

Dazai’s first pick had been Snow White but Chuuya put his foot down after having seen it four times already in the last two weeks. Which was unfair, because he never raised a fuss when Chuuya wanted to watch his stupid dog movies — especially The Boy and His Puppy.

(A lie. He totally did complain.)

“Ah, Chuuya, Chuuya, Chuuya.” Dazai shook his head in condescension. “I knew you were undeveloped in certain areas, but I didn’t realize your brain was one of them.”

“Hey!” Chuuya threw popcorn at his head, and the way his eyes narrowed showed he was one second away from applying Tainted to them.

“They’re such charming tales, Chuuya. They have everything you could want from a story and they even attempt to teach little children lessons about the world around them from within their more interesting settings.” Dazai explained. “After all, even with great distance between them, the same sorts of stories pop up in different cultures all around the world. They resonate across all boundaries.”

“Teaching little kids, huh.” Chuuya appeared satisfied with his answer. “No wonder a brat like you likes them.”

Dazai kicked Chuuya for that, anticipating the kick he received in retaliation, and they continued back and forth like that through the opening scene of the movie.

Technically, Chuuya won as Dazai was the one to withdraw after a particularly painful kick, but Dazai got the last word.

“Fairy tales are for everyone, slug.” Dazai said with a final, superior sniff. “Besides, isn’t ‘Once upon a time’ the perfect way to start any story?”

He gained many things because of that power: friends, family, a career, a partner.

Still, there were those who saw his power and thought he was a monster. They sought to use his ability for their own ends, claiming that what he wanted didn’t matter because he wasn’t human.

Was he human or was he not?

The boy knew that either could be true, for quite some time.

Along the way, he met humans who threw away their humanity to gain power and might of their own. He met non-humans who showed more grace and kindness than actual humans.

He met a human so afraid of his own humanity that he chose to believe that he’d never been one at all.

And he decided that it didn’t matter. Human or not, he was still him.

For those he cared about though, he would have to fight these people. And he grew stronger with each battle.

Yet for every bit of power he gained, he experienced loss as well.

Something was wrong.

That was the first thing Dazai thought when he woke up much more abruptly than last time.

Now wide awake, he blinked up at the ceiling, trying to figure out what was amiss.

It was dark outside, though he could see occasional flashes of light in the distance from the fighting. The operation was well under way and seemed to be going smoothly. If anything had gone awry, the others knew to wake him up, drugs and broken leg be damned.

Speaking of which…

Dazai winced as he adjusted himself in order to sit up and turn on a light. He glanced at the IV next to him.

The painkillers had worn off. He was probably due for another dosage along with more sedatives. However, Yosano was most likely busy with the operation and hadn’t gotten to it yet.

Dazai didn’t mind too much. As much as he hated pain, it wasn’t that bad at the moment, and unlike earlier, he could now actually think.

His gaze drifted down from the IV and he smiled slightly at the flowers in the vase by his bedside. He allowed himself that much since he was currently alone. He shifted so he could grab them and pull them closer.

Camellias, Chuuya’s favorite flower. Love, devotion, passion, and excellence. It truly suits him. Dazai brushed his fingers over soft petals, but he frowned as a flash of blue caught his eye.

Among the red flowers, a single columbine stood in stark contrast.

Columbine. Risk-taking, good fortune, hope, faith. Dazai tried to suss out what Chuuya could have meant by adding it in. Because it had to be purposeful, when it didn’t match the others. So what could —

“Goodbye, Dazai.”

The blood drained from Dazai’s face.

Goodbye. In English, not Japanese.

One of their many, many code words.

Dread fell upon him like a shroud in a way that Dazai hadn’t felt since four years ago.


This couldn’t be happening again.

Chuuya wouldn’t do this to him.

He was smarter, tougher, and more resilient than that, right? Chuuya always fought until the end, ensuring that he survived even if just by the skin of his teeth. He was practically indestructible and tenacious enough to make up for when he wasn’t.

Except —

Chuuya had been talking to him before he left.

Like actually talking.

He’d been telling him something, but Dazai couldn’t fathom what he’d said.

Stupid drugs! Stupid injury! How could Dazai have let himself be compromised like that, especially at such a crucial juncture!

How could he just let himself fall back asleep without questioning or talking to Chuuya?!

He had been stupid all around.

Dazai ignored the shakiness of his hands and the way his breath hitched.

He needed to get out of here, he needed to check on things, he needed to know how everyone else — how Chuuya — was doing.

Forget about Yosano strapping him to the bed, this was far more important.

Dazai steadied himself as much as he could and he did his best to set the flowers back in their spot by his bedside.

And that’s when he saw them.

His eyes widened. His breath shuddered to a stop. His heart joined it before it seemed to fall to the floor.

There was no way he would’ve been able to see them earlier. Not only had he been heavily drugged, but between the fading light of the sunset and the fact that they would’ve been set in the shadow of the flowers’ vase…

With trembling fingers, Dazai picked up Chuuya’s gloves.

He lost his friends, over and over. He lost his family to the plots of their enemies. Even his job was at stake due to the chaos.

And without his notice, as his gravity brought him higher and higher, those ties that connected him to the world began to loosen and fall away. But he had to allow it so he’d have the power to protect them, even as it sent him further and further away.

Finally, only one bond remained constant. His partner who always was there for him when he needed him most.

Dazai miscalculated.

It was rare but it could happen.

He miscalculated and the casualties were much higher than he’d been expecting.

A lot higher.

Mori would not be pleased.

Dazai gulped as he surveyed the damage. Still, he kept his mask of indifference firmly in place.

Fake it ‘til you make it. A sentiment that Dazai was all too familiar with and excelled at. No one would know that this hadn’t been part of his plans. He’d roll with the punches and simply brush this all off.

Unfortunately, as familiar steps came up to his side, guarding his right as usual, he knew that there was one person who wouldn’t buy it for a second.

Still, there were subordinates around so he didn’t hesitate.

“Ah, it couldn’t be avoided.” He lied with a sigh. After all, if things had gone to plan, if their information hadn’t been off, this could’ve been avoided. “Their lives were a worthy sacrifice for the cause.” Not really. There would always be new organizations eager to topple Port Mafia’s throne.

For once, Chuuya was silent, but Dazai could feel the glare and anger directed at him.

“Still,” Dazai continued because what else could do, “I’m sure this all —”

“I hate it when you act like this.”

Dazai blinked. He hadn’t expected that either. He was really off his game today.

But what did Chuuya mean by that?

Dazai turned to see Chuuya and was met with a low glower, Chuuya’s lips twisted with disgust and something else Dazai couldn’t put a finger on.

“Cut the sh*t; it won’t work on me.” Chuuya scoffed and then he led the way over to their ride back to headquarters, leaving the clean-up to the incoming crews.

Dazai tried to figure out what Chuuya was driving at here. He always caught him off guard at the worst of times. “What does Chuuya even mean by that?” He gasped at a potential answer that he knew was wrong but would get a rise out of Chuuya. “Don’t tell me — Chuuya doesn’t care about all those lives! How heartless!”

Pain spasmed across Chuuya’s face and then he whirled around, grabbing Dazai by the collar and slamming him against the car.

“Don’t you f*cking accuse me of that bullsh*t!” He growled lowly. “If anyone here was to be accused of not caring, it’d be you.”

“Ah, here again.” Dazai tried to deflect. “Really, Chibi, I take everything into consideration when it comes to sacrificing —”

“Except you didn’t plan on sacrificing them.”

Dazai froze at that.

Chuuya knew. He couldn’t — he couldn’t let that stand — he had to correct that now or else —

“You made a mistake.” Chuuya’s eyes didn’t leave his for a second. “As much as you hate to admit it, you’re only human; it happens.”

But mistakes were not tolerated in the Mafia. They both knew that.

If it ended in good results then it might be fine for a while, but failure and mistakes put you on thin ice. And the higher you were, the harder the fall would be if you faltered.

Dazai knew Chuuya wouldn’t mention it to anyone. Even now, he was close enough and spoke quietly enough that this conversation was for their ears only. Though Mori would still probably figure it all out. Perhaps he even took such an outcome into account.

“But like I told you before, it’s acting like this that makes no one believe that.” Chuuya released him and then opened the car door.

“That’s it?” Dazai wrinkled his nose. He expected to get punched at least, like during the Dragon’s Head Conflict. It was unnerving when Chuuya didn’t punish him when he clearly thought he’d earned it.

“For starters, you’re doing the paperwork for this.” Chuuya slid into the car first. “Then we’ll see if you’ve learned something.”

Dazai snorted and took a seat next to him. He was not doing any paperwork, so some petty punishment was surely in his future.

But it was almost strange. The tight sensation that had compressed his chest when he realized he’d missed something crucial in his plans was now gone.

But there came to be a book: The Book. The Book which could control reality, binding everyone to the fate written within its pages.

In the hands of their enemies, everyone suffered as the world bent to their desires.

His allies accused of crimes and in dire straits. His home in shambles as chaos descended.

They all were but puppets under the sway of its power.

The operation was going as well as could be expected.

Well, it was a plan made between Dazai, Edogawa, and Mori, so Hirotsu knew it was probably the best they could ever hope to get with those geniuses combining their power. Nothing had been too far outside of predictions so far, and even then, their team here at the homebase was able to direct the other teams into the best positions to win or toward the next location to take care of the next crop of enemies.

That didn’t stop the sense of foreboding that lingered in the back of his mind. Hirotsu had survived for this long in the Port Mafia, through multiple bosses, for a reason. He knew to trust his instincts.

Despite the coordinated chaos of battle they were facing, Hirotsu somehow knew this was only the calm before the storm.

Things were beginning to wind down as their enemies were defeated and collected one by one.

“Lucy-san is making the rounds, so once the combatants are detained in Anne’s Room, make sure to head to…”

“Are you sure it’s not severe enough that you need my ability? You can pop back here at base; I’ve got the chainsaw on hand…”

“Yes, Miss Lucy, you’re needed at Location B. Thank you for your hard work.”

Hirotsu sighed as he clicked off his comm momentarily. At this rate, things on their end would be over. All they had to do was wait to hear from the retrieval team, and then —


Hirotsu, Yosano, Higuchi, and Poe immediately sprang to their feet, weapons and abilities at the ready.

But surprisingly, all that laid before them, having been hurled through the window of their base, was a book.

Hirotsu’s stomach began to sink though as he noticed a familiar black aura tinged with red coming off the book and dissipating like ash into the air.

Yosano frowned as she slowly lowered her machete. “A book?” She asked. “How…”

“Ah!” Poe, surprisingly, was the one to approach the book on the floor. “That’s the book I wrote for Nakahara. Just in case.”

“What?” Hirotsu asked, because Chuuya generally didn’t need back-up plans; usually, he was the back-up plan. He was a tour de force that could outfight or outwit whatever was thrown his way.

The anxiety began to leave the back of his mind and hover over him like a thunder cloud instead.

“So something went wrong?” Higuchi was understandably confused at this turn of events. Chuuya was one of the most reliable executives Port Mafia had ever been graced with. He was the one you got when things went wrong, not the one in the middle of a situation that he couldn’t handle.

There was pretty much only one exception that continually blighted Chuuya’s record, though Higuchi wouldn’t be as familiar with that.

Edogawa, however, ignored all of them. He emerged from his fort of candies that he’d been lounging within, only getting involved in the coordinating when he corrected where someone was to be sent, and quickly scooped up the book and disappeared into its pages in a burst of golden light.

Poe caught the book, but within moments, the book shivered and released its captives into the room. For a second, everyone caught their breath from the sudden turn of events.

Then, Hirotsu immediately found himself facing the barrel of Kunikida’s gun.

“Kunikida!” Yosano called out, trying to placate him even as Higuchi redirected her own firearm at him.

“Nakahara trapped us in that book!” Kunikida explained, and Hirotsu’s brow furrowed as he frowned. “Was that your plan all along? For the Port Mafia to betray us and take the Book themselves?”

Hirotsu’s gaze drifted to Akutagawa, who was in the middle of a coughing fit as Atsushi tried to support him. “Not as far as I know.” He replied calmly, but his mental alarms were ringing. “If this were a true betrayal, why would he trap Akutagawa-kun as well?”

That made Kunikida pause as he too glanced at Akutagawa, his brow creasing at the thought. Hirotsu wondered if he was inclined to such leaps of logic usually, ignoring the facts in front of him.

Because even if Chuuya were ordered to take the Book for the Mafia, why would he have chosen then to make his move? Especially if he had to potentially compromise a subordinate and leave him trapped with the enemy, even if Akutagawa could defend himself. Chuuya put his people first and foremost when he could.

Besides, wouldn’t sneaking it away after returning to safety, making it seem lost in the shuffle of escape be a better cover? Chuuya was an executive and despite how Dazai would often declare, he knew how to work smart.

If Chuuya were to steal the Book, you wouldn’t know it until it was too late.

As apparent from where they stood now.

Though the question remained: Why?

Chuuya never acted without reason.

“Hirotsu-san.” Akutagawa managed to huff out as he began to catch his breath. And when Hirotsu met his eyes, he was surprised to find a spark of fear in them. “Chuuya-san, he…”

“Kouyou-san once told me that if I saw Chuuya-san do a certain act on the battlefield, I was to run away as fast as I could.”

Kyouka had been so quiet since they’d returned that Hirotsu had forgotten she was even there. A reminder of her assassin roots perhaps, but from the way the others blinked at her words, she hadn’t startled just him.

Hirotsu turned to address her, but as he took in the sight of her, he found himself frozen. His stomach dropped all the way to the floor as his unease raked its claws down his back.

Kyouka’s grip was light as she removed the familiar, distinct hat from her head, its silver chain clicking from the movement. She stared at it for a moment before she slowly looked up at Hirotsu, her eyes so wide that she appeared like the child the Mafia had never let her be.

“Hirotsu-san.” And he felt his heart clench at the waver in her normally steady voice. “What does it mean for Chuuya-san to not wear his gloves?”

“I don’t think he wore them in the first place.” Akutagawa cut in, rising to his feet. His expression was grim. “I was foolish enough not to notice until the end.” But even he looked at Hirotsu for an explanation.

Right. Akutagawa wouldn’t be aware of the full details. He probably had an idea, having seen the aftermath before, but he didn’t know the why or the what. He only knew enough to know that something was wrong.

Hirotsu found himself mentally reeling. Because the facts were beginning to line up, and he didn’t like the picture.

After all, Chuuya wouldn’t do it. He knew better than that. He wouldn’t ever even attempt such a thing unless —

There was a clattering noise out in the hallway, making them all jump. The tension spiked and they all once again got their weapons at the ready.

Except it was Dazai who stumbled through the door.

Dazai, sloppily dressed and with his broken leg propped on a foot scooter, clearly in a great hurry. Dazai, who, for the first time since Hirotsu met him, looked genuinely alarmed and scared.

Dazai, who was clutching a pair of black gloves in a tight grip.

His gaze quickly scanned across the room, taking in the situation within moments.

Yosano was the first to move. She reached out to him, a scowl on her lips. “Dazai, I told you not to —”

“Where is he?” Dazai demanded, ignoring her. Hirotsu found himself straightening along with Akutagawa as he recognized that old tone. “Where is Chuuya?!”

Kunikida snorted at that, clearly not seeing the danger growing in Dazai’s stance. “Why do you need to know? He’s probably still back there, doing god knows what —”

“We need to get to him now.” It sounded almost like a statement, but it was anything but.

Hirotsu’s heart joined his stomach as the full implications of Dazai’s actions and the other evidence hit him.

Kunikida went to argue back, but it was already too late.

Beneath their feet, the Earth trembled.

He decided to destroy the Book, no matter the cost. To free them all from its devastating power.

People were so much more than what could be written on a page. Their own stories could not be confined between a book’s beginning and end. There was always more before the “Once upon a time” and after the “Happily ever after.” They deserved more than that. The realm of the imagination would never be able to fully encompass the truth of reality.

He discovered though, that the cost would be higher than he thought.

“Y’know, I understand an’ all. But tha’ doesn’t mean it d’dn’t hurt, ya bastard.”

Dazai’s not sure why he picked up the phone when he saw Chuuya’s nickname flashing across it.

For four years, he completely ignored Chuuya’s calls. (Well, he would ignore the calls but listen to the messages that were left behind; that was beside the point.) Now, he found himself picking up the phone not once — though that time, Hirotsu had managed to grab the phone from Chuuya and warned him off — but twice in just a couple of months.

Though Chuuya didn’t realize it, of course. Dazai had said his voicemail message at the start so the shortstack wouldn’t realize that he was rambling to the genuine article.

But Dazai hadn’t been able to resist the urge to hear him.

Chuuya actually didn’t go out intending to get drunk all that often — the issue was more with his low tolerance when it came down to it. Surprisingly, Chuuya was not the alcoholic between the two halves of Soukoku; he wasn’t the one with empty bottles all over his apartment.

Chuuya overall was more of a social drinker, usually only really indulging when he was with others. Even then, if he was just with subordinates or if he was technically working, he wouldn’t drink too much in order to keep up his reputation and image. If Hirotsu, Kouyou, or some of the other higher members were there, then he might allow himself to drink more and hit that easily passed limit. Alone, he only ever really drank when he needed something to help him sleep, usually due to a particularly hard day. Even then, Dazai only knew of one occasion where Chuuya apparently drank an entire bottle by himself.

It’s fairly quiet where Chuuya is, so Dazai could hear the way his breath hitched. In the distance, rowdy celebration could be heard so most likely Chuuya had taken the Black Lizards out to drink. He’d perhaps stepped outside to make the call without Hirotsu stopping him.

“Like… Didn’t I d’serve a goodbye?” A slight whine caught on Chuuya’s words, but Dazai could hear the hurt behind it. “W’sn’t I yer partner?”

Dazai gulped. This was a bad idea. He shouldn’t have answered.

“And no! The f*ckin’ car doesn’t count! That d’dn’t ‘splode until later! How wuz I s’posed ta know it wuz you?”

Dazai had a very good reason why he didn’t tell Chuuya he was leaving. In his haze of grief and anger, Dazai knew he had to get out of there as soon as possible before he wavered or lost his temper and ruined things for them all.

Chuuya was the one person who could’ve stopped him from leaving. He couldn’t afford to waste Odasaku’s final words because of his fondness for Chuuya. Sure, Chuuya was out of the country when everything went down, but he was due back at any moment. And the second he saw Chuuya…

No, he couldn’t let that happen.

“You didn’t even ask if I’d go with you.” Chuuya muttered, surprisingly clear despite his drunkenness.

Dazai froze. His heart stopped without his leave.


That… That was a possibility that he had never considered.

Trust Chuuya to shock him like always.

“Would you?” He asked before he could control himself. “Would you have gone with me?”

Dazai bit his tongue. He’d revealed himself in that moment of weakness.

Luckily, Chuuya didn’t seem to notice. Perhaps he assumed it was all in his head, an imaginary Dazai that enjoyed tormenting him when the real one did not.

He was quiet for a long minute, making Dazai wonder if he’d hung up except he could still hear noise in the background.

“I dunno.” Chuuya finally said. “Maybe I would’ve, maybe I wouldn’t’ve. Can’t know now. What-ifs are useless.”

That was true. Dazai felt a stab of regret but there was no use wallowing over it.

He jumped as a bark of laughter burst from Chuuya.

“Prob’bly for the best.” Dazai could almost see the crazed, pained grin on Chuuya’s lips. “Just look at the last detective that wanted to lead me to the light! You would’ve died, too! And for what?”

Dazai’s heart clenched. He wanted to say something, anything, to rid Chuuya of his despair.

But this was more than just Dazai here. It was an old wound that had validated the lack of escape from the Mafia. At least for someone like Chuuya.

“And I don’t want…” Chuuya trailed off and Dazai strained to hear how that sentence could possibly end.

Instead, he heard a different, familiar sigh.

“Really, Chuuya-kun?” Hirotsu muttered as he probably plucked the phone from Chuuya’s grasp. “Dazai-kun, I’ve warned you before but change your number already. If you listen to this, don’t worry; I’ll see to it that Chuuya-kun makes it home.”

There was a beep as Hirotsu hung up the phone.

But Dazai stared at his phone for a good, long while, missed opportunities whirling in his skull.

His last tether to the Earth.

The boy looked one final time at his partner, living in the light with a family of his own that would support him long after he was gone.

Content, he smiled as he finally let him go.

Fyodor learned from his mistakes.

Dazai could make all his speeches about trust and faith he wanted, but clearly, all of his wins so far were more from manipulating the situations and Fyodor himself. Lining everything up according to how he knew people would react and choose so he could watch things fall according to his plan.

He had made one thing clear to Fyodor though.

Even when he does control those around him, in the end, he can only rely on himself.

So even with Nikolai and some remaining pawns from the Rats at his side, Fyodor knew he would have to act directly and get his own hands dirty if need be this time. One way or another, he was walking out of here with the Book.

And if he finally got to pay Nikolai back for his games at Meursault or lost these pawns in the process? All the better.

But the Book came first.

The doors were already open by the time they arrived. Whatever shields or protections placed upon the hidden location had already been rendered mute, just as he planned. It didn’t matter that the Port Mafia and Agency got there first; after all, the weretiger and rabid dog’s powers were necessary to eliminate such obstacles.

And with Dazai apparently taken out of the picture by his own mistake according to the rumors, the two organizations weren’t working to their full capacity, especially if they’re expected to work together. Only Dazai, who’d reigned supreme in both the dark and the light, could force such cooperation as needed.

Whoever they’d sent in to retrieve the Book would probably still be there, leaving it ripe for the picking.

Fyodor hadn’t expected the underground shrine. He gave it a curious glance. He’d found no trace of such a place in his research into the Book and other supernatural occurrences that centered around Yokohama.

He brushed it off as he had bigger concerns though.

Just as he entered, others did, too, through the different doors. Fyodor recognized agents of the New Guild (the old guard having chosen to aid the Agency instead), members of the Order of the Clock Tower, and representatives from other organizations who’d gambled for a chance at the Book and its power.

None of them were the real threat though.

No, the real threat was perched on top of the altar, thumbing through the Book with an almost bored expression:

Nakahara Chuuya.

Fyodor grinned.

Someone else who he intended to crush.

All he had to do was —

There was a blur of motion that went past Fyodor’s head. He turned to follow it, and that’s when he noticed specks of yellow dotted around the open door.

His eyes widened. “Move!” He ordered.

Boom! Boom! Ba-Boom!

The lemon bombs exploded, simultaneously destroying every entrance into the shrine.

Fyodor cursed under his breath, but he had gotten just far away enough to not be affected. Nikolai, one of his pawns, and members of the other organizations did, too. Still, he hadn’t expected such a trial.

Nakahara Chuuya was too much of a wild card. He’d been a fool to think he could ever use him properly.

Even now, Chuuya didn’t even look up from his browsing as he tossed away the detonator.

“Did you really think I’d let you all leave?” He asked, finally looking up and casting his gaze around his opponents.

He was outnumbered easily, but given how guarded everyone was, they all knew better than to underestimate him.

Chuuya held the title of one of the strongest ability users for a reason.

Though Fyodor’s scowl turned into a thoughtful frown as he glanced around again.

Chuuya was alone.

He shouldn’t be alone. After all, the Mafia and the Agency were working together to retrieve the Book. And even if the others had managed to slip away, surely they would’ve taken the Book with them.

So why were Chuuya and the Book still here?

“Y’know,” Chuuya said conversationally as he crossed one leg over the other and leaned his head on his propped up hand. The other hand waved the Book at them all. “Whatever you want to use this for, I don’t think it’d go how you want it to.”

“Why? Did you try it yourself?” Someone sneered.

Chuuya didn’t answer, instead he just smirked as if he knew something they all didn’t.

“Hey, want to play a game?” His eyes focused on Fyodor and Nikolai. “I know the clown and the rat like them. It’s just a simple riddle.”

Fyodor found himself intrigued despite himself, even as he redirected his efforts to his prize. Nikolai’s ability could get them out of here even with the exits sealed.

“What is made by an ability but isn’t actually an ability?” Chuuya asked.

Fyodor paused. Only one thing came to mind…

“The Book?” Someone muttered and a murmur rose as they reached a consensus.

“Perhaps, but we don’t really know where this thing came from, now do we?” Chuuya’s expression told them how wrong they all were. “It’s really kind of interesting. You can’t destroy this Book with normal means, whether with fire or water or ripping it up completely even if you can take out pages from it.

“And of course, no ability is capable of destroying it.” Chuuya tilted his head. “Or so they say.”

Something was amiss.

Fyodor had missed something, he just knew it.

He frantically thought over what he knew. He couldn’t allow himself to be bested by Nakahara Chuuya again, especially when he doesn’t have Dazai on his side!

He had figured out one thing though.

“You did use it.” Fyodor surmised. “And you dare to judge us.”

The grin he received was as sharp as a blade. “I’m not looking to change the world. Just need a couple of things as insurance.” He tapped the Book as he stood up.

“You? Need insurance?” Fyodor was glad he wasn’t the one to say it.

As they watched him step down from the shrine, Chuuya reached up and undid his choker. “Yeah, a double tap if you will. Pretty sure I wrote something here that’s never been written in it before.” He nonchalantly flung his choker away, over the back of the shrine.

Fyodor could practically taste the answer to the riddle on his tongue. Whatever about this situation he was missing was the key. He was so close.

“And what could that be?” Fyodor asked, irritated that he needed the hint.

Chuuya halted right in the middle of them all. His grin dropped for a moment, and his voice dropped even lower with the gravity of the situation. “All stories, all books have to have an end.” There was a flicker of a smile at the edge of his lips. “I think it’s about time this one came to a close.”

It suddenly hit Fyodor what he’d been hinting at.

What was made by an ability but wasn’t an ability? A singularity.

And if the Book couldn’t be destroyed by normal means or by an ability, then you’d have to use —

Fyodor whirled around. “Nikolai, we have to —” He cut himself off as he realized.

Dangling from Nikolai’s wrist was an anti-ability handcuff.

Chuuya must have thrown it the moment they entered — that was what had caught Fyodor’s attention.

And Fyodor would bet that it was the same for any other ability user here with a similar means to escape.

Chuuya had played all of them, luring them into his trap.

He wasn’t even one of the intelligent ability users!

Fyodor found himself humiliated again.

But it was too late for them all.

“Oh, grantors of dark disgrace, do not wake me again.”

Now with the full power of gravity, he crushed the Book and all of its false narratives into mere scraps. Never again would anyone be chained to a fate written by someone other than themselves.

And with the knowledge that the world he loved so dearly would be well, the boy floated away into the stars.

Kunikida cursed as he braced himself to steady his footing.

An earthquake? That’s just what they needed.

Or maybe there was more to it than that as he observed the blood drain from Hirotsu’s face and Dazai’s face grew paler as his grip on the scooter tightened, his knuckles white.

Dazai glanced at the ground before his eyes snapped up to Kunikida’s. “We have to go now!” He shouted over the shaking. “Kunikida-kun, take me to wherever you last saw Chuuya!”

“Are you insane?!” Kunikida snapped back. “Nakahara betrayed us! And I’m not driving in an earthquake!”

“We don’t have time for this!” Dazai spat, and it was the first time Kunikida had seen him so…angry. Dazai was actually angry, and not in his usual joking, semi-offended way. “This isn’t an earthquake!”

Kunikida put two and two together. “This is Nakahara?”

He couldn’t believe it. True, Nakahara was more powerful than anyone he’d ever met with that ability of his, but this level of destruction, of control? To be able to move the very Earth itself? It boggled the mind.

He was even more dangerous than Kunikida had assumed.

Had he been holding back all this time?

“What kind of monstrous —” Kunikida began to ask himself, but he stilled as a distinctive click cut through the air somehow.

A darkness shadowed Dazai’s face and a coldness enveloped his gaze as he aimed a gun right at Kunikida’s head. His arm was practiced and still, not moving an inch despite the way the room shook. It was a far cry from the fumbling Kunikida had witnessed when they first met; the gun looked like it belonged in Dazai’s hand, as if he was born holding it.

Kunikida sometimes forgot where exactly Dazai came from.

“Never.” Dazai’s voice wasn’t loud, but it was one that told him that if he valued his life, he would listen. “Use that word in regards to Chuuya. He’s more human than anyone else in the world.”

He said it like it was a fact, an immovable law of the universe.

Kunikida had never seen Dazai as one who believed in much, but clearly this was an ideal that was locked into the core of his being.

And perhaps he could respect that if this wasn’t 1. about a mafioso and 2. something that led his own partner to point a gun at him, clearly with the intent to shoot.

The way he could see how guarded Hirotsu had gotten and how Akutagawa had summoned Rashom*on to shield himself, Kyouka, Higuchi, and Atsushi if bullets started flying was enough to confirm Dazai’s seriousness.

Ranpo stepped between them.

“Kunikida, take him.” Ranpo said, his gaze steady and serious. “We don’t have time for this.”

Kunikida blinked; he noticed that Dazai did as well, clearly not expecting this. “Ranpo-san?”

He ignored his question, handing over a piece of paper with a location on it. “The pathways will have been destroyed by now, one way or another. This should be right where the Book was located from what I could tell.”

Kunikida took the paper automatically, but his mind was in a whirl. Ranpo already had this prepared for when they’d need it. Between this and that mysterious conversation between Ranpo and Nakahara earlier —

Dazai reached the conclusion before he did. “You knew.” Dazai lowered the gun slightly, staring at him in shock and betrayal. “You knew and —”

Ranpo turned away but Kunikida would swear he saw sadness — and perhaps a glimpse of guilt? — on his face before it was hidden. “Bring Yosnao-san, Atsushi-kun, and Akutagawa with you. They’ll be the most useful just in case. We have more than enough people here to hold the fort down in the meantime.”

Ranpo’s back signaled the end of the conversation.

Kunikida wanted to protest. From the look on his face, Dazai had some choice words as well.

However, with the way the ground continued to rumble, they clearly were running out of time.

For what, Kunikida didn’t know.

But Dazai put away his gun and led the way to the car in the garage, moving as fast as he could in his state. Getting to Nakahara took priority at the moment.

And if Ranpo said so…

Kunikida didn’t complain as he herded the others into the car and drove away, doing his best to maintain control as the world shook under Nakahara’s might.

He could hear the whispers throughout the corridors of the Port Mafia.

In the wake of the fight with Guivre, Chuuya’s reputation had skyrocketed. A lot of it was good, many of the subordinates were in awe at the fact that Chuuya, along with Dazai, had managed to defeat such a beast. Though of course, the exact method, Corruption, was a tightly held secret known only to those in the highest ranks or who were present and managed to survive.

But some of the other rumors…

“I’m telling you, he can’t be human!” One grunt frantically whispered to a cluster of other peons.

“Should you really be saying that?” Someone with actual brains questioned, glancing around. “I mean, he saved us all so why does it matter?”

“And how many were lost in the meantime? How many of our strongest fighters failed?” A bitter retort came.

The starter of the conversation nodded. “Exactly! The only way to defeat such a monster is to be a monster yourself—”

Bang! Bang!

Blood splattered and someone shrieked as the two naysayers dropped dead with bullets in their skulls. The remaining grunts hurriedly sought out the shooter and froze as their eyes fell upon him.

Dazai smiled as he walked towards them.

“Interesting conversation you’re having.” His gun was still smoking. “Has anyone else been saying such things?”

Chuuya would never say anything against such rumors. He’d suck it up and continue on even as the light in his eyes darkened with every whisper. He’d ridiculously forgive every bad word against him.

Dazai would not tolerate it.

Chuuya was a human.

Dazai would pound it into every single person in the world’s head if he had to. Until not even Chuuya would dare question his conclusion.

And if they really wanted a monster…

Well, Dazai would show them who was actually inhuman.

Most of what existed between Dazai and Chuuya laid in the unspoken.

Really, they didn’t need to talk about things. They could look at each other and know. A single glance, a twitch of fingers, the beat of their hearts could say more than words could ever hope to accomplish.

It was safer, too, to keep their truths there. To find their meanings by reading in between the lines of actions and actual words.

But for once, Dazai wished that they had talked about these things. The important things they’d allowed to sit in the space between them.

Chuuya had been talking to him. He could feel in his bones that it had been crucial, perhaps even about the things they deliberately avoided. Even then, Chuuya had only said it while he thought Dazai was sleeping.

Not that Dazai hadn’t done similar things in the past with Chuuya unconscious or potentially under someone’s thrall like in Meursault. Still, he cursed the painkillers and sedatives that had made him so slow, that had made him miss such a sight.

He cursed the drugs that might make him break his promise.

Because it wasn’t just truths that remained in silence, but promises, too. Promises that both knew but never admitted to.

And the most important, implicit promise was that Dazai would never let Chuuya die while in the throes of Corruption.

Even if his body was beyond saving, even if he wouldn’t survive the aftermath, Dazai would always nullify and save Chuuya from Corruption.

He wouldn’t let Chuuya die as the monster he was convinced that form was.

But as the tremors stopped and the Earth stilled, it hit Dazai like a splash of cold water that his promise might have been broken.

And by Chuuya’s design, no less.

Neither of them talked about it.

Sure, they’d made little comments about it — Chuuya’s confession about “celebrating” (which admittedly, it might have partly been that) that was really just an allusion to how he got completely wasted to cope with the aftermath of it, Dazai’s revelation that he hadn’t been able to say goodbye directly and so had left him a bomb instead — but they didn’t talk about it.

Dazai knew that, perhaps, they didn’t need to. After all, Chuuya understood him better than anyone in the world. If anyone could have figured out and understood the why of his defection, it would be him. He had said as much in drunken ramblings.

But it was only when drunk that Chuuya would also admit that it had hurt.

If Dazai owed anyone an explanation, it was Chuuya, his partner.

Ex-partner, technically. Especially with the emphasis Chuuya placed on their association being former, not current.

Dazai would always consider him to be his partner though, no matter who he paired up to work with otherwise.

And that was just the thing, Chuuya would only talk about it when he wasn’t sober. So even if Dazai could explain, it’s unclear how much would register and remain with Chuuya anyway.

Besides, Chuuya was not one to dwell in the past. He acknowledged it and moved on from it as best he could, as if boxing up everything and leaving it to gather dust, not daring to look at it, would mean that any past pain could be ignored forever.

Chuuya, even though he wanted an explanation, wouldn’t let him give one so if it meant he had to confront the wrongs within his past.

Chuuya lived in the now, with little regard for the past he couldn’t do anything about or the future he could not anticipate.

And so, like usual, they didn’t talk about it.

Instead, when they were together — whether for a mission or they encountered each other on the street or Dazai meandered his way into Chuuya’s life and apartment once more — they slipped back into their old roles and rituals like a pair of old pajamas.

Dazai knew that they’d probably have to talk about it.


For now, he decided to be grateful for what Chuuya was willing to give him as Chuuya bullied him into eating and Up played on the TV.

Considering how powerful Chuuya was, Atsushi kind of expected even worse. After all, how many times had someone said that he could wipe entire cities, if not countries, off the map? Chuuya was one of the strongest ability users in the world, and some said that he could bring forth a calamity capable of destroying them all.

Ranpo’s deduction had led them to a cliffside overlooking the water. The nearest landmark was Suribachi City, practically across from them in this section of the bay. Atsushi hadn’t realized they’d traveled so far while they were underground.

Though even without Ranpo’s clue, Atsushi thought they would’ve been able to find it, given the damage.

The whole section of the cliffs looked like they’d imploded into themselves. Damage radiated outward from the epicenter for quite a ways, forcing Kunikida to drive around them. The cliffs themselves were nothing more than a large pile of rubble, larger pieces still hosting grass, trees, or bushes scattered atop.

Dazai was the first one out of the car, before it had even come to a total stop and to Yosano’s protests. He’d exchanged his scooter for a crutch before entering the car and he hobbled over to the very edge of the destruction. His eyes scanned the rubble, clearly looking for any sign of Chuuya.

The rest of them exited more slowly, though Yosano appeared the most uncomfortable as she stepped up beside Dazai.

“Dazai…” She reached out to him, but Dazai whirled around before she could touch him.

“Akutagawa-kun, use Rashom*on to shift through the rubble. Be careful, we don’t want it to collapse even more. Atsushi-kun, use your senses to locate him and help shift as well. Kunikida-kun, contact aid for getting this cleaned up; this place seems the most damaged in the city anyway. Yosano-sensei, please wait on stand-by.” Dazai rapidly ordered, an almost manic gleam in his eye.

“Dazai-san…” Atsushi didn’t want to say it. He knew the others didn’t either.

Even if none of them knew exactly what was going on, it wasn’t hard to guess what it meant for the shaking to stop.

Dazai, for the first time Atsushi had known him, seemed fragile somehow. Like the very foundations of his world were as unsteady as the rubble below them.

Still, Atsushi thought about how he would feel if it was his partner stuck under the rubble.

He’d regretted not being able to bring back Akutagawa’s body, even if it had turned out for the better in the end.

Atsushi closed his eyes for a second and breathed deeply. “Okay.” He transformed his legs and expanded his senses to that of a tiger’s. “Okay.”

“Atsushi!” Yosano called out to him but didn’t stop him as he leapt down. She probably understood Dazai’s state better than any of them at the moment; he knew she’d look after him and prevent him from doing something stupid.

Atsushi felt more than saw Akutagawa following after him, silent save for the occasional cough as he attempted to dig through the rubble.

With his partner at his side, Atsushi focused on his sense of smell. He tried to pick up on Chuuya’s scent: the spice of his cologne, the smell of ozone that grew stronger when he used his ability, that trace of an ocean breeze that followed in his wake. There were hints of it throughout the debris — understandable given who caused it — as well as others’ smells as well. So Atsushi attempted to find a place where it was concentrated, where it was strongest.

He ignored the occasional remnants of others as he shifted through the rocks. He ignored the splashes of blood that colored some of them. He ignored the way that something seemed off about the detritus, none of it matching that shrine they’d discovered.

Finally, he picked something up. For a second his heart wavered between relief and dread — relief that he’d found Dazai’s partner and dread at the state he was probably in. Regardless, he pawed aside the rubble as quickly as he dared. Akutagawa joined him, picking up that he’d found something, and they cleared a pathway in no time.

But Atsushi’s heart dropped when he saw what they found.

They both knew this was coming, from the moment Chuuya activated Corruption.

The hospital room was silent between them in the aftermath of Mori leaving, his almost giddy implication of having them work together even more than they did before hanging between them.

After all, it was only with the two of them that the power of Corruption could be unleashed. And that was a powerful weapon in the Mafia’s arsenal.

Though its price was still high. Dazai may have nullified Corruption and stopped it from destroying both Yokohama and Chuuya, but the wounds remained.

And Chuuya was only human.

Chuuya released an aggrieved sigh and leaned back against his pillows. Dazai could mirror the sentiment at least, even as he studied Chuuya in his bed.

His condition had finally stabilized enough that he would get to leave soon — instead being ordered to spend the rest of his recovery at home — and he clearly couldn’t wait to leave. Dazai had had to be on stand-by for the duration of Chuuya’s stay here, his dislike for medical settings well known (which Dazai couldn’t blame him for) and there being uncertainty of him lashing out in his compromised state, especially with his preferred doctor now gone. The knowledge of getting to go home must be a relief.

The rest of Mori’s news and implications? Not so much.

“I can’t believe I’m going to get stuck with your fishy ass even more than before.” Chuuya grumbled to himself.

Dazai huffed and looked away with a pout. “More like, why should I get stuck with an unruly dog like you?”

He expected an outburst from his words — Chuuya did hate being called a dog — but he was surprisingly quiet. When Dazai glanced back, he found Chuuya studying him now.

Chuuya’s face twisted like he’d swallowed a lemon. “I guess this makes us officially partners.”


Dazai had never had a partner.

A partner implied a level of equality that no one could truly reach with him. He was too smart, too brilliant, too far away from the average person. He wasn’t human so it made sense why he never could quite connect with others.

But Chuuya…

Chuuya had always been different, from the very moment Dazai laid eyes on him.

Something had just felt right, even as he felt aggravated over him. He just never fully did what he expected him to do, catching him off guard and surprising him when he least expected.

Chuuya was the first person his age Dazai had met who seemed to see him.

Chuuya was the first one who seemed to get what he was saying or what he wanted even if he didn’t fully explain. He simply seemed to understand Dazai on a level no one else did.

Chuuya did whatever was needed to fulfill his plans, going above and beyond — sometimes even predicting what he needed to be done — with Dazai not having to order him but simply by asking.Though Chuuya would complain about it the entire way.

Chuuya would set him straight when Dazai veered off the path of an acceptable veneer of humanity — either with chastising words or punishments to make up for whatever he did to him or others.

When it came time to truly settle the score, they met on the equal grounds of the arcade to fight.

Perhaps this was what it was like to have an equal?

A partner.

Something within Dazai clicked at the idea. A missing puzzle piece finding its home where it belonged.

It felt right.

But Dazai had to play it cool.

“It seems we have no choice. It’s the Boss’s orders.” Dazai sighed.

That was a lie. They both knew Mori couldn’t truly force them to do anything like this. Each of them were too powerful in their own way that Mori would be a fool to test their limits.

There was a moment of silence as they each accepted this fate.

Then Chuuya scoffed. “Tch! Don’t think this changes anything, Dazai!” He jabbed a finger at him. “I will kick your ass if you f*cking annoy me too much.”

“Ah, it seems there’s still so much training I still have to do…”


Months later, their partnership would be given an official name.


Double Black. Twin Dark.

Dazai’s nerves were shot from trepidation.

He ignored the pitying looks Kunikida and Yosano were shooting him. He ignored the evidence from both logic and experience that told him how this would end. He ignored the despair that threatened to crush him and was just barely held back by a single thought.

Chuuya always had a way of surprising him.

Even when Dazai anticipated Chuuya’s moves and thoughts, it wouldn’t necessarily turn out like he expected. The result might be the same, perhaps even slightly off, but the way Chuuya got there might be different than he anticipated. Chuuya was unpredictable in his predictability like that.

So now would be the perfect time for Chuuya to have done it again. To pop up near death, but still present enough for Dazai to save him.

Because he couldn’t lose Chuuya. Not now, not ever.

Dazai was supposed to be the one to leave first.

So Dazai greedily watched his protégés search through the remains of the cliffs, clutching tight to this last shred of hope that this situation would turn out fine.

He’d forgotten how dangerous hope could be.

Then again, he’d never truly had to hope for the best when it came to Chuuya, because Chuuya was reliable and responsible, even as he was brash and emotional. And when things were at their absolute worst, Dazai was usually by his side.

Not this time though.


He stiffened at Kunikida’s tone, refusing to glance over at him.

He could practically feel the way the other decided to switch tracks. “It seems that everyone else has finished up. They’re preparing for a debrief.”

“Fine. We can all join them once we’re done here.” Dazai wouldn’t budge from this spot before then.

Kunikida sighed. “Dazai… We have to consider —”

“He’s fine!” Dazai snapped and he turned slightly to glare at Kunikida. “He’s unusually stubborn like that. He always holds on and survives.”

If Chuuya did anything less, he would’ve died ages ago.

Kunikida’s face was grim though. “Then why all the hurry? Why were we on a time limit?”

Everyone always remembered that Kunikida was an idealist. They forgot that he also considered himself a realist.

And he had an annoying habit of bringing up things Dazai tried to ignore.

Dazai narrowed his eyes, opening his mouth to rip Kunikida’s arguments to shreds with the cold, hard facts on Nakahara Chuuya —


— But Atsushi’s reappearance interrupted him.

Dazai eagerly turned to him. “You found him?!”

He frowned as he looked Atsushi over though.

Atsushi wasn’t carrying Chuuya, like Dazai had expected. There was something cradled in his hands as he reverted back to fully human, but there was nothing else. Akutagawa, practically a shadow in Atsushi’s wake, also carried nothing with Rashom*on.

Their expressions were somber.

“Do you need me to come down?” Dazai asked, as that was the only other plausible path. “He’s that bad? Yosano-sensei and I can —”

“Dazai-san.” Atsushi’s voice broke on his name and that dread was becoming harder and harder to ignore as his heart pounded out of his control. “Dazai-san, his scent was only concentrated in one single spot. That was the only place where he possibly could’ve been.”

“So you did find him.”

Atsushi’s lips wobbled as he stepped closer.

“Atsushi-kun, Akutagawa-kun, tell me you found him. He’s fine, right?”

Akutagawa wouldn’t look at him.

“Why aren’t you saying anything?!”

Dazai already knew why they weren’t saying anything. He was a genius who had been studying and manipulating people since he was a child. He understood people to a degree that he could predict their moves to a frightening degree.

But he couldn’t admit the truth to himself.

The conclusion he’d known since the Earth stopped.

“I’m sorry, Dazai-san.” Atsushi softly placed something in Dazai’s hands. “This is the only thing we could find.”

For a long moment, Dazai just stared at him. Then he made himself look down.

It was a choker.

Not just any choker. Chuuya’s choker.

The one Dazai had given him as a 16th birthday gift — half as a joke, half serious — that Chuuya rarely went without even to this day.

The choker that even after four years — after disappearing without a word, after bombing his car, after sharing no contact — still rested around Chuuya’s neck, to Dazai’s surprise and relief.

And it was the sight of that choker, its weight in his palm, that made Dazai fully realize it.

Chuuya was gone.

Nothing else of Chuuya remained.

Chuuya was de—

Dazai nearly choked at the thought. Even in his mind, he couldn’t articulate the words.

And how could he?

Chuuya was like the sun, burning and powerful and so bright he could hardly bear to look at him for fear of being blinded. He still looked anyway, drawn to that vitality, to that life.

But now, just like any star, he’d burst into a supernova of might and been consumed by the black hole left in its wake.

Chuuya was gone.

Without realizing it, Dazai fell to his knees, crumpling on the ground. He didn’t notice Atsushi’s worried shout, Yosano’s sharp scold, Kunikida’s brash inquiries.

Everything felt so far away as he held the last proof of Chuuya’s existence.

And didn’t that just make sense, Dazai couldn’t help but deliriously think, that everything now appeared to be so distant?

After all, how could he remain anchored to Earth without gravity keeping a hold on him?

Even without being with Chuuya, the knowledge that Chuuya was out there, alive, had been enough to keep him going in those four years with nary a word between them.

But now —

Now —

Chuuya was gone.

Dazai had failed to save him.

Chuuya had planned for Dazai to not save him.

Just like —

Something inside Dazai shattered.

He didn’t remember what happened afterward.

“Why do ya wanna die?”

Dazai flinched at the words and shut his book, not expecting them at all. The private room in the infirmary had been dead silent for hours, but as he looked up he could see eyes hazy with the amount of pain medication flowing through his veins staring at him.

“Ah, you’re awake.” Dazai chirped, trying to cover up his relief.

Corruption had been bad this time. The after effects were even worse than normal. Despite Dazai seeming to get to him on time, Chuuya had started seizing in his arms. Mori himself had had to intervene in order to stop the internal bleeding.

It hadn’t been clear if Chuuya was going to pull through or not. Dazai had stayed by Chuuya’s side only because Chuuya and medical rooms never mixed well. That was the only reason. He hadn’t been worried at all.

His relief came from the fact that he could finally leave and get a drink with Odasaku and Ango.

Chuuya’s blink was slow and heavy. “’m serious…” He slurred, his normal accent even more pronounced than usual. “Why do ya want to die, sh*tty Dazai?”

Despite the pain meds and the fact he’d just woken up after almost a day of unconsciousness, he was surprisingly coherent. And as stubborn as always.


“That’s really what you’re asking about now.” Dazai didn’t bother hiding his frustration.

“Yeah…” Chuuya tried shifting but immediately stopped. “‘Cuz you wanna die, but then your face was…”

Dazai squinted at him. He had no idea what he was talking about or what he meant. Chuuya was such a simple slug, so why could he be so baffling at times?

“So yeah… I wanna know.” There were a lot of blank spaces in his speech. Not even Dazai could fill them in.

Still, Chuuya had nearly died, and he probably wouldn’t remember this conversation later. Dazai saw no reason not to indulge him for once.

“Do you truly believe there’s value in living?” Dazai echoed the question he’d once posed to Mori in response to the same question.

Chuuya was quiet. So quiet Dazai thought he’d fallen back to sleep.

Speaking of, he probably should’ve called for a nurse to get him checked —

“Oh, so ‘t’s not about dyin’, ‘t’s about livin’.”


Chuuya sighed and leaned back more into his pillow. “‘Sides, doesn’t value come fr’m whatever… we decide ta give it.”

Well, he wasn’t wrong.

Dazai didn’t like it.

“And in the movies…” Chuuya’s eyes were falling shut. “It usually turns out… that the journey was what… brought value to ev’rything, not the goal, right…”

Dazai blinked as he thought over those words. “Chuuya, you…” He glanced at him and found Chuuya had actually fallen asleep this time.

He stared at him for a long moment. He wasn’t sure what to make of Chuuya’s conclusions. It was probably just the ramblings of a drugged up chibi. He shouldn’t take it too seriously. Even if there was a chord of truth to what he said.

When Chuuya next woke up, he was no longer speaking such nonsense.

Dazai never asked if he remembered their conversation.

Kouyou got the call as she helped Kenji toss the last of their opponents into Anne’s Room.

She frowned as she took out her phone. The call was coming on her personal line, not the comms line that they’d all been using. But the number was a clear indication she should pick up.

“Hirotsu-san?” She asked as she directed Golden Demon to release their captives into the void. “Is something the matter?”

There was a moment of hesitation before Hirotsu spoke. “The Boss is assisting with treating injuries, but he wants an executive here at the main base for the upcoming debriefing. He needs you to do it.”

Kouyou’s frown deepened. She trusted Ougai’s judgment and would, of course, obey, but she couldn’t help but wonder… “Isn’t Chuuya’s team headed back there? Shouldn’t he be able to do it?”

Another telling pause.

“Hirotsu-san, did something happen to Chuuya?”

She could hear Hirotsu take a fortifying breath before he responded. “Did you feel tremors earlier?”

She had, in fact. It’d startled their enemies, and she and Kenji had used it to take them off guard.

“That wasn’t a natural earthquake.”

Her brow furrowed slightly. They didn’t have intel on any ability users among those who targeted Yokohama who could shake the — oh.

“I see.” Kouyou responded as it began to make sense. Chuuya used Corruption. Given the state he usually ended up in afterwards, it was no wonder he wasn’t fit for a proper debriefing. “How badly is he injured? Surely, due to the circ*mstances, the Agency’s doctor would be willing to help?” After all, if he had to use that, then it must have been necessary. Chuuya never used Corruption lightly; Dazai always left it as an absolute last resort before asking him.

The pause was painful this time.

“Kouyou-san.” Hirotsu was clearly more tense over this than usual. “Kouyou-san, you do recall that Dazai-kun wasn’t with Chuuya-kun?”

She froze right in the middle of taking a step. Kenji and Lucy looked back at her curiously, already at the cars that would take them back to base or the next drop off point respectively, but Kouyou found she couldn’t move an inch as the implications hit her.



“What happened to Chuuya?” It was more of a demand than a question.

But Hirotsu’s hesitation spoke more than words ever could.

Kouyou already knew how this ended.

Despite Dazai’s comparisons to a dog, Kouyou found that Chuuya was more like a feral kitten.

He warily studied the world around him, ready to be kicked to the curb once more or attacked when his back was turned. At the same time, he was cautious, curious, testing the waters of his new home to find where the limits were, what was acceptable and what wasn’t.

He looked to Kouyou, eager to learn and surprisingly polite for the most part, even if his manners weren’t up to her standards or the level needed for the negotiations. She knew that she could easily fix that though.

He didn’t ask for much. He took the bare minimum needed and eyed anything extra as if wondering what the cost would be.

Mori had given him to her, seeing his potential. Kouyou hadn’t exactly been thrilled at first, but now she was beginning to see what he meant. Chuuya could go very far in their organization. She could help mold him into the perfect mafioso.

As Chuuya adjusted his clothes, he glanced at Kouyou for her approval.

Her smile was vicious behind her fan.

Up until now, Chuuya had done nothing more than survive in this world. Under her tutelage, she would show him how to live.

Ango was glad for this crisis to be over.

Most of the members of opposing organizations that’d tried invading Yokohama had been arrested through the efforts of the Armed Detective Agency and Port Mafia. It meant more paperwork for him in the future, but he’d take it over the ulcers that the stress of battle gave him. And once the Book was safely away from enemy hands, perhaps he could sleep at night without worrying about the world suddenly turning on its head practically overnight.

Plus, it meant he could stop bending over backwards to pull the wool over politicians’ eyes, at least for a couple days.

After all, surely the universe would give him a couple days’ reprieve before creating a new problem for him?

“What?!” Sigma shouted from his station, leaping up with a harried expression.

Ango forgot for a moment that the universe hated him. Dazai would say he deserved this.

Because Sigma was acting as the liaison for the Armed Detective Agency, allowing them and the Mafia to check in and exchange info with the Special Division. If he looked worried like that, something must have gone wrong.

Ango almost didn’t want to know.

Especially when Sigma cast a glance around the room and then immediately walked away to get more privacy.

Ango’s stomach was already hurting.

Still, there wasn’t anything he could do about it at the moment, so he decided to get started on that paperwork.

He could only hope that whatever was going on wasn’t too bad. Last he’d heard, while there were injuries among their allies, none of them were so terrible to require the Agency’s doctor, though Mori himself seemed to be lending a hand in that arena. The retrieval team had managed to return, so maybe it was something to do with containing the Book? Or perhaps the fragile negotiations between the Agency and the Mafia weren’t going well in the aftermath?

Ugh, he knew he should stop pondering the cause, he really was going to make himself sick.

Ango was so caught up in trying to not worry or think about it and instead get his paperwork done, that he didn’t realize that Sigma had returned.


Ango jumped at the call. Looking up, he took in Sigma’s grave expression and the defeated slump to his shoulders.

Oh god.

“What happened?” He asked, pushing his glasses up and standing to properly face him.

Sigma’s face twisted with reluctance. “Well…” He began, but he was interrupted as someone else burst onto the scene.

“Sakaguchi-senpai!” Tsujimura’s face was pale as she raced into the room.

Ango didn’t know which was more important, Sigma’s news or Tsujimura’s. Given her urgency, he turned his attention to her.

“Sakaguchi-senpai.” She said again, leaning forward as she caught her breath. “According to our agents on the ground, Nakahara-san didn’t return with the rest of the retrieval team.”

Ango blinked at that. “What?” That didn’t make sense. Out of everyone, Chuuya was the least likely person to get injured, so he could rule that out. Perhaps Mori had requested him to go attend to another task instead of coming back with the others?

That would make sense. The ever loyal executive was almost as much of a workaholic as him.

“About that…”

They both turned to Sigma, who grimaced at their attention.

Ango raised an eyebrow as he pushed his glasses up again.

“It would seem…” Sigma hesitated. “It seems that Nakahara Chuuya is most likely dead.”

Ango stared at him.

That was practically impossible.

“What?” Tsujimura asked it instead of him and he was almost grateful for it as he tried to wrap his brain around the notion.

“It, uh…” Sigma frowned down at his phone. “Dazai and the members of the Mafia who seem to know the exacts aren’t being particularly helpful, but… it seems that he unleashed the full potential of his ability to take out the enemy.”


Now death was entirely possible.

Except that it wasn’t really as Dazai would never allow that to happen as long as he was alive.

Ango knew that for sure.

But Ango also remembered that Dazai wasn’t with the retrieval team.

“Did Dazai-kun not reach him as planned?” It was odd for him to make a miscalculation like that.

Sigma winced. “Dazai… doesn’t seem to have been aware that this strategy was on the table in the first place. It would appear that Chuuya planned this on his own without telling him.”

Oh, no.

Ango had known that such an outcome was a possibility — if Chuuya felt it was for the greater good, he would activate Corruption whether Dazai could stop him or not — ever since the Dead Apple Incident. Even then though, Chuuya had been positive that Dazai was alive and would stop him.

This was an escalation in that he’d clearly known that Dazai wouldn’t be able to this time.

Ango would say that this was the worst case scenario, but considering Yokohama was still standing, that Chuuya had apparently kept his self-destruction to a smaller area than even Guivre’s rampage, then technically he shouldn’t be complaining.

He wasn’t even close to Chuuya.

So then why did he feel…

Tsujimura looked devastated. Her few encounters with Chuuya had led to a slight admiration of him. “But why…” She couldn’t finish the question.

“We’re not sure yet.” Sigma glanced away at that. “Also…he was the last one to have the Book.”

Ango squinted at him, trying to make sense of this new tidbit. The whole scenario just got stranger and stranger. “So the Book is not secured.”

Sigma appeared aghast at what he chose to focus on. “It… No. It’s unknown what’s become of it.” He bit his lip before revealing. “There are no signs of it in the ruins. They couldn’t find his body either.”

“I see.” Ango took a breath and focused on the task at hand. “Thank you for the update. If you find out anything more, please let us know. Otherwise, you can probably take a break.”

Sigma blinked and even Tsujimura stared at him.

“Senpai, what…”

“Tsujimura-kun, I believe you have your own tasks to do.” Ango turned and sat back down at his station. “There’s still much work to do.”

“You…” Tsujimura didn’t move yet. “Didn’t you know him though?”

“Not well.” He shuffled his paperwork and didn’t look up at them.

“But…” She stopped and Ango wondered if Sigma gestured at her or something, because he could almost feel the weight of their nonverbal communication. “Of course, sir.”

They went back to their own jobs. Ango was grateful to be free from their scrutiny.

He paused a moment to push up his glasses and rub at his eyes.

How could this happen?

What would be the consequences of such a loss?

Ango didn’t like to think about it. But it would most likely be the thing that kept him up for the next week at least.

Part of him just couldn’t believe it, even if he’d known it could happen.

Instead of going back to his paperwork, with a few clicks on his keyboard, Ango brought up an entirely different file. He stared at the screen before him.

Ability User A5158. Nakahara Chuuya. Ability: Upon the Tainted Sorrow. An ability that allows him to manipulate the gravity of whatever he touches.

Ango clicked on a certain box and erased its contents to fill in a new answer. Then he scrolled down further to fill in the details that he knew so far.

Status: Dead.

Ango did not know Chuuya on a personal level.

Part of the reason he’d been sent to the Port Mafia had been to observe him, but he’d kept his distance. It seemed to be the better path for staying objective. Their greatest interaction while still both in the Mafia was when Chuuya had thanked him for his work in recording the losses of the Dragon Head Conflict so thoroughly. Like Dazai, he seemed to appreciate the effort.

Though Ango ended up learning plenty of Chuuya through his friendship with Dazai, Ango would never call Dazai’s stories objective. Dazai was not well acquainted with the truth, especially when it came to Chuuya. So he was never quite sure if what Dazai told him was right or not, unless he was able to confirm it otherwise.

Even the incident that had led to Chuuya owing the favor he’d finally called in had not given Ango much insight into his character other than he was a man who remembered his debts and honored them when called upon.

So for the most part, Ango only knew Chuuya as well as anyone who didn’t interact much with him, but still saw glimpses of him at work. He heard plenty about him, and most of it lined up to make a fairly full picture.

Chuuya was powerful. Chuuya enjoyed a good fight. Chuuya cared for those around him. Chuuya was loyal, to a fault some would say.

According to Dazai, Chuuya was not one to die easily, because he would fight to live until the very end.

So Ango wondered what had changed.

“Chuuya-kun… Dazai-kun has almost certainly been eliminated by now.” Ango hated that he had been the one to ask for his help, so he tried to give him an out. “Do you understand what that means?”

Even if Chuuya with Corruption was the only one who could take down the singularity dragon, knocking down the biggest obstacle blocking their way to eliminating Shibusawa overall, they were both well aware of the consequences of that power.

And if Dazai was gone —

They knew that Chuuya would not come out of this alive.

And Ango will have sent someone else to their death for the good of the many.

“I don’t care.”

The response cut through the whirlwind of Ango’s mind. Even as he pleaded and bargained with him, he found himself pondering on his tone.

Chuuya’s voice was calm. It was not resigned to its potential fate, but there was an acceptance to it. As if he knew attempting to run was useless — and admittedly, not in character with what he knew of Chuuya — so there was no point in trying. There was a task that must be done, and so Chuuya, who had the necessary power, would do it.

It was not the tone of a man who would fight for his life no matter what.

Perhaps something had changed in the intervening four years. Or perhaps Dazai had been wrong. Dazai always had a bit of a blindspot, whether knowingly or not, when it came to those he cared about the most.

Because, surely, Dazai didn’t know about this.

Ango remembered the smile Dazai would get without realizing it when he talked about Chuuya.

No, he didn’t think he knew.

Chuuya made his choice, his belief in Dazai both foolhardy and amazing. It was unwavering. It was a quiet conviction that belied his loud reputation.

But it certainly seemed that Chuuya didn’t care about the other possibility if he happened to be wrong. If Dazai truly was dead.

Ango hung his head just like Chuuya hung up the call.

Suddenly he knew without a doubt, a truth that Dazai himself was blind to.

Even if he did not seek it out like Dazai did, Nakahara Chuuya could be just as suicidal as Dazai was.

And Ango was powerless when it came to stopping him.

They got to return home to the Agency once more.

But it was not the triumphant return they’d been hoping for.

Kenji peeked into the infirmary where Yosano, Kunikida, and Atsushi were fussing over Dazai.

The man had been practically catatonic since the reality of the situation had hit him. His face was scarily blank as he stared into the distance, giving no sign that he could hear Yosano’s prodding questions or Kunikida’s worried grumbles. He didn’t move by his own bidding, but he would if prompted and guided by someone else. It was like there was no one home.

According to what the others had said, Dazai had only reacted twice to his surroundings.

When Atsushi started to panic over his mentor’s reaction, he tried to take Chuuya’s choker from Dazai. Dazai had recoiled, curling over the accessory and actually snarling at Atsushi. No one had attempted it a second time.

Then, after the debriefing and their return here, where his state could be more easily monitored, Yosano attempted to hook in an IV to help relieve the pain in his leg that surely persisted. Every time she came close though, Dazai had automatically slapped her hands away. When Kunikida then tried, Dazai had drawn his gun and stared Kunikida down with those empty eyes. They decided not to push their luck and Dazai dropped the gun as soon as Kunikida retreated.

Kenji bit his lip and looked around the rest of the office to take stock of things.

f*ckuzawa and Ranpo were inside the President’s office, probably on a video call with Mori and Kouyou. Despite things having been peaceful during the debriefing, with the situation’s developments, there was probably much to talk about.

Tanizaki had gone to retrieve his sister and Haruno from the safe house where they had been in charge of researching the enemies. He wouldn’t be back until later.

Which left one member to account for and the only place he might actually be able to help.

Kenji stepped quietly and slowly into the reception area, as if afraid of startling a lost animal back on the farm. In this case, that might not be too far off.

Kyouka was curled up in a ball between the couch and the wall. She didn’t look up as he approached, though he could tell she knew he was there. If anything, she just scrunched up even more, as defensive as an armadillo.

In her hands, she still clutched Chuuya’s fancy hat.

Kenji sat down on the ground criss-cross. He was close enough to offer comfort but with enough distance that Kyouka could easily get away if she wanted to. He didn’t want to corner her; he just wanted to be there for her.

“Do you want to talk about it?” He asked softly, in the same voice he’d use for injured animals, an attempt to soothe.

He didn’t ask if she was okay. He wasn’t sure if she would appreciate such a question, and the answer was fairly obvious.

Kyouka was silent but Kenji could wait. He didn’t move; after all these things took time.

When she finally did speak, her voice was rough and he wondered if he’d still see tears if she showed her face. “Chuuya-san liked to look after everyone.”

Kenji hummed. That was certainly true. Even with the differences that could come between the Mafia and the Agency, Chuuya had taken both him and Kyouka under his wing and treated them when he could. And with the way the many subordinates admired and relied on him, it was clear that even at his roughest, Chuuya always cared.

“He… he didn’t talk about his past or much about himself. He kept his distance to a degree, but it didn’t really take because it didn’t matter what your rank was, he cared.” Her fingers flexed on the hat’s brim. “But because of that, I don’t even know why this was so important that he wanted to save it.” Her voice sounded wetter the longer she talked.

Kenji couldn’t help but scooch a little bit closer. He just couldn’t keep away when she sounded like that.

“I should’ve asked.” Now that she’d started talking she couldn’t seem to stop, like the dam blocking a stream of water had been washed away. “I wanted to ask, but I didn’t because it wasn’t my place. But he always answered my questions, even if he kept things about himself vague.

“He took care of me, too, back then. As much as he was allowed, given our roles. And I never thanked him. Not even now!” Kyouka’s breath hitched on an almost sob. “I should’ve thanked him! I should’ve asked! But now —”

Kenji’s gaze softened.

He was not unfamiliar with death.

In his village, most of the people there were old. He never quite knew how long folks would stay around. He worked with animals, both those raised for what they produced or could do and those raised to someday eat. He still remembered when they had to butcher the first cow he tended to himself.

And then, that time with the great flood when his best friend got trapped…

Yes, Kenji knew death.

Death and Life walked hand in hand. You could not have one without the other. They both had their place and were to be respected.

And Kenji chose to focus on the living, to do what he could while he was alive for those who were alive.

So even as grief squeezed his heart, both for the young man who’d been able to match his strength and fight on even ground then treat him to as much as he could eat and for those like Kyouka and Dazai who’d known him better and clearly cared for him, he knew what he had to do.

Kenji knew what he could do.

Kyouka finally looked up, tears swimming in her eyes. “Chuuya-san knew, right? He knew we cared about him, too, right?”

Kenji opened his arms, and Kyouka hesitated only for a second before crawling into his embrace, one hand still holding the hat but her other now holding him like she was afraid he’d disappear, too.

“Of course, he did.” He reassured her, patting her head as gently as possible.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t help but think — as Kyouka’s tears soaked into his shirt — that it was probably that mutual care that led him to decide this.

Chuuya sighed as he looked at Kenji already snoring away at the table. “Seriously, your agency needs to get him on a decent eating schedule or something. I don’t care if he’s powerful when hungry, he’s gonna get a disorder at this rate.”

Kyouka silently ate the rest of her tofu, though it was hard to put the delicious food into her mouth. Without Kenji to fill up the silence with his cheery commentary, things were quickly turning awkward.

“So…” Chuuya looked nervous as his eyes glanced over her. “Do you not like tofu anymore? Because we can get you something —”

“Why aren’t you mad at me?” The question had rushed past her lips before she could stop it. Kyouka immediately bit her lip in the aftermath. She should know better than to let something like that slip.

Chuuya should be mad. He was one of the most loyal members of the Port Mafia. She’d seen his disdain for traitors before. Even Kouyou had been mad — no, worse, she’d been disappointed and worried. Kyouka had hated that sensation of being under her pitying gaze.

So why was Chuuya here, treating her to her favorite food like nothing had changed? He was even willing to feed her co-worker as well.

Chuuya, on the other hand, was clearly confused. “Mad? About what?” His eyes narrowed. “Wait, did you help Dazai with the paintball prank he pulled last week? Because —”

“No.” Kyouka luckily had nothing to do with whatever pranks Dazai may or may not have done to Chuuya. Though part of her wondered why Dazai would do so, even if he had used to be part of the Mafia as well. Not many had the guts to pull something like that on the executive.

“Why aren’t you mad at me for leaving?” She clarified.

He stared at her, dumbfounded before he sighed and wiped his hand down his face. “Both you and Kouyou, jeez…” Chuuya straightened and looked her in the eye. “Do you remember the last conversation we had?”

Kyouka fiddled with the bunny charm on her phone. “I… Yes.” She thought about that day often while he was gone and before she defected. She still wondered what answer he’d been looking for.

“And I told you, didn’t I?” He suddenly looked so tired, even as a smile slowly pulled at his lips. “I’d much rather have someone be alive and some place else than dead.”



The full weight of that conversation finally hit her. And now with her new knowledge from the agency, new connections were made.

Chuuya had a partner.

A partner who managed to escape from the Mafia.

A partner who found someplace “better” to thrive and live.

Dazai-san and Chuuya-san were… She realized.

“Besides, you’re still a kid. You’ve still got options, so you took one.” Chuuya shrugged, brushing it off.

“I see.” Kyouka mulled over that thought. It’d never occurred to her that someone might understand after Kouyou’s initial rejection of her escape. How many others had tried and failed to leave like she did?

Was Chuuya one of them as well?

“You are, right?”

She blinked. “What?”

Chuuya huffed. “You’re happy, right?”

Kyouka thought that over before she smiled. “I think so.” It was better than how she felt in the Mafia at least.

Chuuya looked satisfied as he grinned. “Good.” He reached over and ruffled her hair, ignoring her protest. “Now, finish up so we can wake the kid and get some dessert. I heard you like crepes now.”

Kyouka couldn’t stop smiling as she finished off her meal.

Silence wasn’t a strange thing in the Akutagawa household.

Akutagawa, unless particularly aggrieved, was not generally prone to being loud. Even then, that was out in the field, during work and battle, not when he was relaxing in his own home or with his sister.

Gin had been selectively mute for practically her whole life. She could go days or even weeks without saying a word, her fingers or writing doing the talking for her in such situations. When she did speak, her voice was soft, one of the most comforting sounds Akutagawa knew.

So when he finally returned home — after an extended meeting with the Boss as he had been the one on the scene both to see Chuuya last and discover the aftermath — it was no surprise how quiet their shared apartment was.

But this was a different silence than normal.

As Akutagawa took off his coat and shoes, he could nearly feel this silence bearing down upon their abode. Heavy, nearly stifling, with the weight of grief.

Because that’s what it was, right? Grief.

Something that was a rare guest in their home, since the day they’d lost everything and came to the Mafia.

Though if anyone deserved their grief, it would be Chuuya.

“Gin?” He softly called out to her as he stepped further into the apartment. One might think she’d gone to bed, especially since all the lights were off, but he could feel that she was still awake. And for those who operated in the night, darkness was hardly an obstacle to maneuvering around their home, so that was hardly a sign.

Akutagawa found Gin in the living room. She was slumped over on the couch, one arm thrown over her eyes. She’d changed out of her work clothes into her pajamas, her long hair splayed around her head. She made no move to answer him.

Akutagawa paused at the threshold, taking a glance at the kitchen. It’d been a long day, and it appeared that Gin hadn’t eaten when she got home. They both needed to, and he could almost hear Chuuya scolding them over missing meals —


He gulped and turned towards Gin instead, walking softly over to the couch.

As he neared, she scooted over just enough for him to sit next to her head. Once he was seated, she immediately adjusted so her head rested on his thigh, her face turned towards his stomach and away from the rest of the world.

Gin clutched the hem of his shirt and after a long moment, she began to tap.

Her voice came and went, her signs and writing were for when it was gone, but this tapping communication was a language they developed as children, just for them.

“He’s gone, isn’t he?” She tapped. “Chuuya-san.”

Akutagawa pursed his lips.

Technically, no official announcement had been made. Those who were present, the highest ranking members who knew, including himself, should not say anything on the matter until then. But the signs were all too clear, and rumors or news of the death of an executive — especially one as dearly beloved as Chuuya — would’ve spread like wildfire.

And if there was anyone in the Mafia that Akutagawa wholeheartedly trusted, it was his sister.

“Yes.” There was no way he could soften the blow.

Gin still sucked in a sharp breath, an almost whimper escaping as she tightened her grip. When Akutagawa looked down, he could tell that her eyes were wide open.

It made sense in a way.

Dazai was the one who brought them into the Mafia. He was the one who plucked them from the gutter and saved them from the slums, who took Akutagawa under his tutelage and arranged for Gin’s training with Verlaine and for her to fall under Hirotsu’s command, who gave them a place in this world and a purpose.

And Chuuya was his partner.

Chuuya was not involved in their joining. He didn’t intervene in Dazai’s plans nor did he necessarily show disapproval besides the occasional frown or slap to Dazai’s head.


Chuuya was the one who helped them find a place to live. Chuuya took them out to find new, better clothing. Chuuya paid for their food until they got their first paychecks and then helped teach Gin how to cook. He taught Gin how to hide her gender behind androgynous clothing.

He was the one who began to show them how to live, even in a world of darkness.

And after Dazai’s defection, he’s the one who took over Akutagawa’s training, focusing not on what he couldn’t do, but on what he could. He showed Akutagawa how to get creative with his ability.

Chuuya looked after them as best he could while still giving them the space they needed to grow into their own and survive in the Mafia.

Gin was tapping again. “Why?”

Akutagawa wasn’t sure what to say. As he’d told the boss, despite being present, he still wasn’t sure what Chuuya’s motivation had been. All he could do was conjecture based on what he knew about Chuuya.

And Chuuya really had only one goal.

“I suppose he thought it would keep Yokohama — and the Mafia especially — safe.”

There were barely any traces of their enemies left. Sifting through the ruins, he and Atsushi had only found blood and scraps if there was anything at all. Strangely, there had been nothing to match the mysterious shrine they’d seen as well, the rubble being made of different stone and none marked with the runes or pictures they saw, but that was the least of their worries.

The Book — it seemed — was gone. Possibly destroyed under the full weight of Chuuya’s power. Given its nature, it was unclear if it was gone for good. Not a trace or single page had been found.

Gin huffed. “We were safer with him here.”

“Perhaps.” Akutagawa’s mind cast back to old conversations with the man. Chuuya never had the time nor patience for self-sacrificial talk, despite being willing to put his life on the line for them all. “I suppose…” He took a deep breath. “I suppose he felt it was worth it.”

Gin didn’t tap out anything else, her hand shaking too much as she restrained herself.

Tears had no place in the Mafia

Comfort had no place either.

Besides being safer for them both, that was part of why they maintained a strictly professional relationship while at work. They buried any worry or desire to help each other, all for the sake of keeping the home they’d found.

But here, in the safety of their home and Rashom*on to guard them, Akutagawa could let them indulge.

As Akutagawa curled around his little sister, she finally let herself cry.

Chuuya’s words still rang in his head, even after hours had passed.

“‘Self-sacrifice is beautiful’ and beliefs like that are just lame excuses for people without strength.”

Akutagawa wasn’t sure what exactly he’d meant by that.

The things he’d said about Dazai… Well, that was mostly straight-forward, and even if Akutagawa couldn’t quite believe in all of it, he knew that Chuuya knew Dazai best out of anyone. Despite the insults that spewed out at the mention of Dazai, Chuuya knew how to give him his due credit when he wasn’t in hearing range.

But his words on self-sacrifice… Those seemed intentional, especially given how he’d advised him to take care of himself so he might fulfill his goal of impressing Dazai someday or learn the reason for everything he’d been through.

He didn’t want to, but he found himself seeking the Executive out.

Chuuya sighed as he got off his phone. He was the one who had to deal with Kajii’s destruction, and subsequent discovery, of the hot spring. Akutagawa was glad that he, at least, didn’t have to deal with the paperwork. Even if he scoffed at the idea of a relaxing, healing trip, he was all too happy to push the responsibility on his superior.

“Can I help you with something, Akutagawa?” Chuuya asked, pulling out a packet of cigarettes from his robe along with a lighter.

Akutagawa startled. His stealth skills, even while recovering from his injuries, were such that he hadn’t given anything away to alert his presence. So this was the level of an Executive. He coughed, slightly abashed.

Chuuya gave him a once over before sighing again and putting his lighter away for now along with the packet. The cigarette resting between his fingers remained unlit and Akutagawa internally cringed at how it was surely for his sake.

At his continued silence, Chuuya raised an eyebrow.

“Sir, about what you said earlier…” Akutagawa tried to find a way to word it.

“Ah, is this what I said about Dazai having his reasons?” Chuuya frowned. “Because, yeah, the bastard usually does but that doesn’t mean his reasons aren’t sh*t —”

“No, not that.” Akutagawa was only holding back from stabbing him because Chuuya was his superior and, as he reminded himself, he generally spoke of Dazai disrespectfully. Still, it was better to move on before he lost control.

“Hah? Then what?”

“What you said… about self-sacrifice…” Akutagawa frowned and suppressed another cough. “What did you mean?”

He saw Chuuya think back on what he said. “Oh.” He blinked. “That’s easy. If you’re strong enough, you can save who you want and still come out fine.”

Akutagawa thought about that for a moment. “You frequently go in by yourself instead of sending in the grunts or you rescue them by yourself.” He couldn’t help but point it out.

“And I come out just fine. Because I’m actually strong.” Chuuya said it like it was a matter of fact.

“But you don’t need to do that. Why would you? If they die, then it is because they are weak. We don’t need them.” Akutagawa did not see the need to protect the weak, especially if you were someone as strong as Chuuya.

Chuuya scowled and muttered something under his breath. Akutagawa pretended not to hear a “Mackerel” attached to a series of curses. “Look, it’s because I’m strong that I should defend them. Even if they’re not high ranked, they’re still my subordinates and an integral part of the organization. So they’re mine to protect, and I do.”

“And that is a worthy cause to sacrifice yourself for?”

“Look, I told you, I’m strong enough not to —” Chuuya cut himself off and took a huge breath to calm himself. Akutagawa didn’t understand his frustration. “Let me ask you this: what is self-sacrifice to you?”

Akutagawa paused. “Self-sacrifice… is giving your all to a cause, even if it causes your death. A final stand to prove your strength.”

“What cause?” Chuuya pressed.

“Pardon?” Akutagawa coughed into his hand.

“What cause is worth such a sacrifice? What is worth your life?” Chuuya’s eyes seemed to stare into his very soul and part of Akutagawa shuddered at how reminiscent it was of another’s gaze.

“What about you, sir?” Akutagawa tried to turn the question around on him. “Is there anything you find worthy of such a sacrifice?”

Chuuya snorted. “Like I said, I’m strong enough that I don’t have to sacrifice myself to save whatever I want.”

“Even with Soukoku’s secret weapon?” The question slipped out before Akutagawa could stop it, and both he and Chuuya stiffened at his words.

Beyond their reputation and the skill level of their missions, most knowledge of Double Black was kept at the level of the Executives. And Hirotsu due to his history with the pair. Even then, there were things that Dazai and Chuuya kept entirely to themselves.

However, even if most did not know exactly what it was, there was no hiding from those in the ranks that Twin Dark had some sort of move or plan that completely devastated their enemies.

And that strategy usually would land Chuuya in the infirmary or even intensive care with the damage that resulted from it.

Notably, Chuuya had not had to have an extended stay due to similar injuries since Dazai’s defection.

Chuuya was clearly trying to control his temper, even as he utterly crushed the cigarette in his hand. He wiped his hand on his robe before speaking. “That’s not self-sacrifice. That moron would never let it end like that.”

Akutagawa just nodded, not willing to push any further.

“You know what self-sacrifice really is, Akutagawa?” Chuuya asked. He continued before he could try answering. “It’s nothing more than a socially acceptable way to commit suicide.”

And everyone knew Chuuya’s views on suicide thanks to his former partner.

“People will say it was necessary, that it was for the greater good.” His expression twisted on those final words. “But really, it’s choosing to die because you’re not smart enough or strong enough to find another way.

“So if you’re really going to use such a thing as an excuse… If you’re going to accept your death without fighting for your life…” Chuuya met his eyes once more and there wasn’t a speck of light in them. “Then at least make sure it’s something you feel is worth dying for.”

Chuuya ended their conversation by walking away, taking out a new cigarette and lighting it up as soon as he was far enough away. Akutagawa watched him, pondering his words.

Those words distantly rang in his head when his artery was slashed open and he sacrificed himself so the weretiger could get away.

Yes, Chuuya was right.

He had chosen something worthy of his sacrifice.

“I want to go to the funeral.”

Kyouka hadn’t been hopeful that her request would be fulfilled as she saw Kunikida’s resignation and Atsushi’s nervousness when she said it. However, Atsushi had promised that he’d do his best to let her attend, even as Kunikida frowned at him.

She knew it might not be the best idea. After all, despite the truce, Chuuya had technically been the Agency’s enemy. She belonged to the light now; she had no place in wanting to attend a mafioso’s funeral.

But she wanted to go. She wanted to properly say goodbye this time.

The period between her parents’ deaths and her induction into the Mafia was a blur. If there was a funeral, she didn’t remember it. She needed this closure for Chuuya that she had only received regarding her parents when their incident file was in her hands.

So she was relieved when Atsushi told her they’d be attending the funeral the night before it took place.

Kyouka didn’t own any completely black clothes besides the maid outfit she’d been gifted — which she doubted was appropriate. However, she didn’t think Chuuya would mind her wearing a dark navy kimono instead.

Atsushi looked strange in the dark suit that was slightly too big on him, fiddling with his tie as he waited for her to finish getting ready. She told him he didn’t have to come with, but he insisted on paying his respects as well.

The bigger surprise awaited them at the bottom of the dorm’s stairs.

Yosano frowned, arms crossed over her chest with the keys to the Agency’s car dangling from her fingers. Her black dress was simple and her make-up modest, though her butterfly hairpin remained. She seemed irritated but subdued, and it was probably due to the person standing next to her.

Dazai leaned on a pair of crutches, not looking at anyone. He wore a formal black suit and it was like he’d actually combed his hair for once.

Kyouka couldn’t help but stare.

Over the past couple of days, Dazai seemed out of reach. He barely spoke, barely ate, and he almost barely seemed to notice what was going on around him.

Almost, Kyouka knew, because after that first day, once the shock had worn off, there’d been a wary glint in Dazai’s eye as he kept a close watch on everyone. As if expecting someone else to be suddenly ripped away from him.

“Yosano-san, Dazai-san.” Atsushi acknowledged them, though he gave Dazai a worried glance. “You’re the ones taking us? I thought Kunikida-san offered.”

“He did.” Yosano flatly said, as Dazai was the one who led them to the vehicle. “But Dazai wanted to go as well, so I figured I should be the one to drive.”

“Right…” Atsushi accepted that answer, most likely remembering how Dazai tended to terrorize Kunikida whenever they had to ride together.

Kyouka, however, noted that that was probably not the only reason as she took in the concern in Yosano’s gaze whenever she glanced at Dazai from the corner of her eye.

Normally, funerals for the Mafia took place in a certain church in Yokohama, unless the remaining family requested something different. That was where Kyouka half-expected them to go.

Yosano explained though, as they traveled towards the mountains, that according to documents regarding Chuuya’s last wishes, he had wanted an outdoor ceremony if the weather was agreeable.

And there wasn’t even a cloud in the sky. Blue as far as the eye could see.

As they arrived at the well-kept graveyard, Kyouka wondered if Chuuya had known how crowded it would be and that was also behind his reasoning.

Vehicles lined the cemetery’s driveways, a sea of black mourners filling in the space between. Kyouka had never seen so many members of the Mafia in one spot, and even then, she could tell that there were civilians among them as well, those who didn’t have the shadows of Yokohama’s underbelly in their gaze. So many had come to give a final farewell.

Yosano slowly waded through them, her lips a thin line as she finally parked in a spot near the burial site marked specifically for them, guarded by four underlings in signature sunglasses to ensure they could have it. She grumbled under her breath, too low for Kyouka to pick up, but she accepted it when she glanced at Dazai’s crutches.

Dazai, just like at the dorms, was the first to be out and ready to go. His face was blank as he adjusted the crutches under his arms. As he gazed at the burial site, his eyes were like those of the dead, empty.

Kyouka hesitated, then gently touched his hand.

He didn’t visibly startle, though she could tell he hadn’t expected that, but he did look at her.

“Okay?” She softly asked. She knew that he probably didn’t want to appear so weak in front of the Mafia — she certainly didn’t — but she was worried.

Dazai’s expression softened for a moment as Yosano and Atsushi got out of the car. “Okay,” he responded, patting her hand momentarily before taking the lead once more.

As they walked to join the crowd, Dazai paused for a moment, staring at five graves that Chuuya’s marker would soon reside beside. He took in a shuddering breath and turned away, his hands clutching his crutches’ handles tighter as he moved forward.

Kyouka looked at them, too, wondering at their significance.

The flowers on top of each grave were pretty, despite the fact that they were quickly fading. She hoped they’d be replaced soon.

On the other side of the graves, a tent had been set up right before Chuuya’s burial site for those who would be speaking and for people to pay their respects. An easel with a photograph of Chuuya, one in his business attire with a negotiation-perfect smile, not a genuine one, on his lips, stood next to a wreath of red camellias. A podium with a microphone and speaker were on the photo’s other side and vases and other flowers dotted the rest of the scene.

A few rows of chairs were set-up in front of the tent. Not nearly enough for all the mourners, but enough for the higher-ups of the Mafia and those who could not stand for as long as the funeral would take.

Four of the seats, similar to the parking space, were reserved for “Members of the Armed Detective Agency.” They were in the front row, next to Gin and Tachihara and across the aisle from Mori, Elise, Kouyou, Hirotsu, Akutagawa, and Higuchi.

Yosano seemed grateful that they wouldn’t have to sit next to Mori (similar to how Kyouka felt slightly grateful at not having to sit next to Kouyou, despite the guilt she also felt over the thought, or Akutagawa, which she felt less guilty about), and she ushered Dazai into a seat first before directing the others to sit next to her.

Though Kyouka noticed that her hand lingered on a telltale knife handle sticking out of her purse as she warily glanced around.

People were staring at them.

It was simply a prickling at her awareness at first, an old habit from her Mafia days, but it wasn’t hard to miss as she subtly looked. Was it because they were here at an enemy’s funeral? But the civilians weren’t receiving the same treatment.

No, she swiftly realized that it wasn’t them that they were staring at.

It was Dazai.

Although it’d taken a while for her to make the connection, Kyouka was aware of the reputation Dazai had in the Mafia when he was a member. Even during her tenure, whispers of the Demon Prodigy, who disappeared as suddenly as he originally appeared, haunted its hallways. Though she felt that the stories must be greatly exaggerated. After all, a one-eyed demon with the tongue of the Devil and more apathy towards violence and death than a corpse sounded more out of a horror story than reality.

However, it had seemed like most had not known what he looked like until recently given Higuchi and other recent members’ reactions to realizing their nightmare was in the flesh.

They certainly knew who he was now as she took in the mix of fear, shock, and anger directed Dazai’s way.

It wasn’t hard to guess why, if Dazai was really the only person who could’ve saved Chuuya.

Still, Dazai stared straight ahead, ignoring them all as the funeral coordinator began the service, so Kyouka followed his lead.

Speeches and lamentations washed over her; so many people got up to speak with anecdotes of Chuuya’s character: he was brave, he was strong, he was reliable, he was rough but kind. Nothing she didn’t already know. Still, they came, from Mafia and civilian alike, and she collected each story like a treasure.

Kyouka did find herself tearing up when Kouyou took the stage and spoke of a boy who she took under her wing. There was a resonance there, with her own past, that she wished she asked about before. But she took a breath and accepted it.

Dazai tensed when Mori was the last to go up. She herself shuddered slightly as the Boss of the Port Mafia gazed across the crowd with a regretful smile.

“Chuuya-kun was a valuable employee, one of the most loyal within our ranks.” Mori gave a deep sigh. “He shall be dearly missed; however, we must honor his work and continue moving on. I’m sure he would be grateful for your continued support.”

On that last sentence, he looked right at Dazai, a sharp edge added to his smile.

“Thank you once more for coming. I’m sure Chuuya-kun would appreciate being in your thoughts.” Mori concluded and stepped away.

The funeral coordinator took the podium once more. “For those who wish to lay a flower on the grave to pay your respects, please line up in an orderly fashion by row and take a flower from the vases along the aisles. Yes, just like that.”

The opposite side of the aisle went first and soon it was their chance.

Kyouka, Atsushi, and Yosano stood, but Dazai did not.

As they turned to him, he gave them a cracked smile. “I don’t feel like getting up.” He said, gesturing to his crutches. “Go without me. I can do it later.”

Yosano hesitated but apparently chose to believe him as she led the way to the front.

When it was her turn, Kyouka glanced over the options within the nearest vase and chose a small sprig of forget-me-nots. It reflected how she felt in regards to Chuuya; she didn’t want to forget him, for him to become just another name in the lists of those in the Mafia who’d died. He deserved more than that considering how much he’d given them all.

She gently laid the flowers upon his grave and quietly clapped her hands together. “Thank you for everything, Chuuya-san.”

And for a moment, Kyouka would’ve sworn that she felt lighter, as if gravity no longer held an iron grip on her.

Then it was gone. But her heart remained lighter than it was before.

Kyouka almost felt a small smile tugging on her lips until they got back to their seats.

“sh*t.” Yosano muttered at the sight before them.

Dazai was gone, crutches and all.

Kyouka glanced across the aisle, hoping perhaps Kouyou would be willing to give them a clue as to where he’d gone…

Only to see that Mori and Elise were missing, too.

“Double sh*t!” Yosano cursed.

Watching Lilo and Stitch was a mistake.

In his defense, while Dazai was familiar with most of the Disney classics and renaissance movies, he hadn’t known what this movie was about. He knew it had aliens and took place in Hawaii, but that was it.

An experiment created for nothing but destruction. Said experiment learning he could be more than that by finding a new family, even if he brought them nothing but misfortune. Everything coming to a head as those that created him tried to take him back and it nearly destroyed the family he came to care for.

Of course, it was Disney, so everything worked out, but the same could not be said for Chuuya’s story.

II hit too close to home, especially given that the Flags’ loss was still an open wound in the aftermath of the King of Assassins incident.

Chuuya had been in the shower for twice as long as usual already. Dazai chose to act like he didn’t know what was going on in there, though Chuuya wouldn’t thank him for it.

Dazai ignored the twinge of something that rippled through his chest as he read summaries and reviews of every other Disney movie that he wasn’t familiar with. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Teasing and getting under Chuuya’s skin was fun, but this was decidedly not.

He glanced up as he heard the water finally turn off, and that stupid hat with its recent addition of a silver chain caught his eye.

Dazai thought of that chain that’d come from someone else’s glasses. Of the big, black overcoat that Chuuya had hung on his coat tree that used to be worn by a certain Executive candidate. Of that pink motorcycle waiting down in the garage. Of various other knick knacks that now were the only decorations of this desolate apartment. Of the hat itself.

“Never get left behind or forgotten, huh.” Dazai muttered to himself.

“As if Chuuya would ever allow that.”

“Really, Dazai-kun? At his funeral?”

Dazai didn’t do funerals. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d been to one.

Even for Odasaku, he hadn’t been able to attend his funeral. Dazai had known that if he was going to leave the Port Mafia, he had to do it as soon as possible and without leaving any traces of his existence behind. Which meant he’d already left to prepare his departure before Odasaku’s body had even begun to grow cold. At the time, he just had to hope that someone else would give him his proper rites - which should have been the case as he was a mafia grunt and they all received funerals at the organization’s expense.

After he’d made arrangements for after his time underground and hidden himself away, he snuck out one night and discovered Odasaku’s burial site. Given that it was in a cemetery in a neutral area, not Port Mafia territory, he could’ve made a few good guesses on who did the arrangements and been grateful for them.

So while he understood the catharsis that funerals could bring, it was not something for him. He didn’t deserve it. Not then, and certainly not now.

But the funeral was too good of an opportunity to miss.

Dazai smiled and leaned nonchalantly on his crutches. “Ah, but when else would I be able to get an audience with the Boss of the Port Mafia?”

After his companions had left, all it had taken was a look towards Mori to indicate what he’d wanted. The doctor seemed to anticipate the move, giving a nod of his head in the direction of where they should meet. Luckily, Dazai wouldn’t be doing this in front of Chuuya or the Flags’ graves.

Mori’s smile was just as ingenuous as his. “Oh, you know I’d always make time for you, Dazai-kun.”

Elise, surprisingly, didn’t have anything to say; she just stood by Mori’s side, glancing between the two, her expression somber. She was actually wearing black, a first from what Dazai remembered, despite all the funerals Mori had dragged her to.

“Oh, good!” Dazai clapped his hands together.

Then he dropped the facade and pulled out his gun, aiming right for Mori’s smug face. “Did you order him to use Corruption?”

It was the best explanation Dazai had come up with so far. The best reason he’d managed to grasp and hold on to.

Mori, nonchalant as ever, didn’t say a word; he didn’t even flinch.

“Corruption is not under your jurisdiction.” Dazai stated. “It never was. You have no right to ask for something like that.”

Corruption was theirs, his and Chuuya’s. It could only work with the two of them. Though ultimately, it was Chuuya’s. Dazai would always ask him when it seemed there were no options left, but Chuuya was the one to decide whether to use it. If at any point, he had told Dazai no, Dazai would have accepted it. He would’ve found another way, another path, if Chuuya didn’t want to use it.

Chuuya had never said no.

He was willing to risk everything, if it would save others. If he was the one paying the cost for victory, not countless others. If Dazai deemed it was the best way forward. He trusted Dazai with that, just like he trusted Dazai to save him in the end.

There was only one other time Chuuya activated Corruption without Dazai’s suggestion — when he was overwhelmed with the loss of his newest friends that he’d struggled to make after already losing the Flags.

However, if Mori were to ask Chuuya to use Corruption, Dazai wasn’t sure if Chuuya would go through with it.

After all, Chuuya relied on his judgment for Corruption, but Chuuya, the ever loyal Chuuya, also chose to follow Mori’s lead for the good of the organization and Yokohama.

And if he had…


Surely Odasaku would forgive him for eliminating the man responsible for the deaths of those he cared for most.

Chuuya — Mr. I’ll-Forgive-and-Move-On-Like-You-Didn’t-Traumatize-Me — probably wouldn’t but if the slug wanted an opinion, he should’ve stayed alive.

Mori hummed, clearly not worried with Elise still by his side. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you like this.” He tilted his head. “I’m shocked; I had no idea you had such strong… feelings for your ex-best friend, considering how you left Chuuya-kun so easily four years ago.”

Dazai’s grip on his gun tightened, even as he flicked the safety off. “This and that are two different things.”

Especially since Chuuya wasn’t his best friend. Odasaku had been his best friend.

With Chuuya, there didn’t exist a word to describe his relationship to him. Partner was the closest they could get.

“Well, I’m afraid it’s really not —” Mori cut himself off, shock on his face.

Dazai wasn’t sure what caused it until he felt a tug on his bandaged-covered wrist. He looked down.

Elise had grasped the wrist of his hand not holding the gun, making sure not to touch his skin directly. She didn’t pay any attention to either his or Mori’s gaping, instead choosing to slowly push up the sleeve of Dazai’s suit and button-down shirt…

Revealing Chuuya’s choker wrapped twice around his wrist and fastened so it wouldn’t fall off.

With a touch as soft as a butterfly’s, she slowly caressed the fine leather. “So Chuuya’s really dead, huh.” Elise said it like just that was a confirmation, more than the funeral they had sat through.

A lump filled Dazai’s throat, nearly choking him. “Yeah…”

“I see.” Her head tilted down, hiding her face in shadow.

Both Mori and Dazai glanced at each other and then down at her. Dazai wondered if he should be worried that Mori appeared just as flabbergasted as him regarding Elise’s behavior.

“Elise-chan —” Mori tried to reach out to her.

“Shut up, stupid Rintarou.” Elise shot back, but it didn’t have the fire it usually did.

And then she slid her hand down until it met Dazai’s.

In an instance, Elise was nullified.

They both stared.

That had never happened before.

Sure, Dazai had nullified Elise before — mostly on accident, but on purpose enough that Mori tended to tuck her away when he expected to be in Dazai’s presence — but he’d never seen her choose to get nullified.

Even worse, considering Elise’s connection to Mori, what did that say about the man before him?

Before Dazai could begin to get over his shock, he heard footsteps behind him.

“Dazai-kun.” Hirotsu’s steady, grim voice reached him. “Do not make me take drastic measures to protect the Boss.”

Dazai’s window of opportunity was gone.

After all, he’d worked too hard for the truce and now there was a potential witness. Not like he wouldn’t have been the first suspect if he’d pulled the trigger, but still. He didn’t want to kill Hirotsu.

“Tch!” Dazai turned the safety back on and put his gun down. He probably only had a few more seconds before his own colleagues managed to catch up. He turned to go back, already plotting another way to get answers from Mori.

“Thank you.” Hirotsu bowed slightly as he shuffled past him, but Dazai didn’t return it. If he’d been just one more minute later…

“It is true that I gave Chuuya-kun additional orders, but it was not to use Corruption to attempt to destroy the Book.”

Dazai halted in place. Not even daring to breathe.

“I told him to steal the Book and bring it to me.” Mori admitted.

Which — actually, that was more in keeping with Mori’s methods. Dazai could see it.

Mori huffed. “Though now that I think about it, he never confirmed he would do it.”

Dazai risked a glance back. Mori’s expression was twisted in a way he’d never seen it before, his gaze distant.

“If he had made it back, I probably would’ve had to punish him for disobeying.” He flatly said. “I suppose I won’t have to worry about that now.”

Dazai’s grip on his crutches tightened, fighting the urge to throw them at the man.

“I am not responsible for Chuuya-kun’s death, Dazai-kun.” Mori passed by him, Hirotsu trailing behind. “It would seem he decided it on his own and you’ll have to accept that.”

Dazai stood there alone, mulling this over, until the frantic steps of Yosano, Atsushi, and Kyouka brought his attention back to them.

He had thought that confronting Mori would make him feel better, give him the closure that others seemed to gain from funerals.

It didn’t.

“And that’s what you want, Boss?” Chuuya’s gaze didn’t leave his for a second, even as he frowned.

“Yes.” Mori smiled in reassurance. “Retrieve the Book and bring it to the Port Mafia.”

“Won’t that jeopardize our alliance with the Agency?” Chuuya tilted his head, but gave no other reaction. “You were awfully keen about making and maintaining it ever since the Guild arrived.”

If there was one thing Mori could appreciate about Chuuya, it was how he got straight to the point.

However, if there was something he didn’t like, it was that for as much as Chuuya tended to be honest — often seeing no point in subterfuge — he could be incredibly closed off when he wished, not showing a hint of how he really felt. It made it difficult for Mori to gauge how far he could push Chuuya, but usually if he gave a good enough reason, or it aligned with Chuuya’s own wishes, Chuuya would acquiesce anyway.

In this case, Mori could provide very valid reasons.

“The Agency doesn’t have the resources necessary to protect the Book and keep it out of the wrong hands.” Mori noticed the slight skepticism at that claim in Chuuya’s eyes, so he quickly moved on. “And as they are more beholden to the government, they could potentially be forced to hand it over to their authority.”

And Chuuya knew better than most why the government couldn’t be trusted with power, much less something as overwhelmingly powerful as the Book. They’d already fumbled terribly when they possessed just a mere page from it.

Mori could see whatever potential qualms Chuuya had about the situation settle as resolve filled his stance.

“Very well.” Chuuya bowed once more before returning his hat to his head and turning towards the door. Even though it wasn’t quite time to go after the Book, there was still plenty of work to do. “I’ll make sure the Book stays out of the wrong hands.”

Yes, it would do much better in the hands of the Mafia. Mori had plans for the Book to help ensure the Port Mafia’s reign of Yokohama and the safety of the city. No one else would be able to realize the full potential of its power.

“Thank you for your understanding, Chuuya-kun. I know I can count on you.”

Chuuya paused in the doorway and tipped his hat, not bothering to turn around. “I’ll just do what I always do: what’s best for the Port Mafia and Yokohama.”

Mori was so grateful to have such a reliable subordinate like Chuuya that he forgot one thing about Chuuya.

He could lie even better than some of the Mafia’s best manipulators.

And he never confirmed that he’d bring the Book to the Port Mafia.

In the depths of her home, where no one might stumble upon it, there sat a small shrine.

Despite her wealth, it was a fairly plain thing, unobtrusive. She’d had it specifically made so that if she needed to hide it, she could quickly pack it away. Sentiment wasn’t encouraged in the Mafia, and what was a shrine but quintessential sentiment?

Very few besides herself had seen the shrine, only those that she truly trusted and cared for enough to be allowed within the inner sanctum of her house.

Kyouka had seen it before.

Chuuya had as well.

Kouyou settled before her shrine, a nostalgic smile upon her lips. “Hello, love.” She reverently whispered, a finger tracing the photo that sat upon the shrine — the only photo she had of the man that had tried to bring her to the light.

She took a moment to light some incense for him, clapping her hands in prayer.

After paying her respects, she breathed deeply for a moment to settle herself before proceeding.

“I’ve brought someone to join you, dear. You won’t be alone any more.” Kouyou lifted the picture frame she set by her side before gently shifting things on the shrine to place the newest photo down next to her old love’s.

Chuuya, fifteen years old, smiled nervously back at her. He tried to appear confident but the unfamiliar clothes and the expectations that hung over him like an executioner’s axe made it difficult to pull off if you knew what to look for.

The photo was taken after Kouyou had given him a full makeover, explaining the purpose of all the products used to erase the traces of the streets on him and providing him clothes more suited for a member of the mafia. Though he’d ultimately gone with the Western outfit over the more traditional one she’d offered.

Chuuya hadn’t found his footing yet; indeed, he’d just begun his journey to the powerful and respected mafioso he became known as.

And yet, when she had tried to choose a photo for the shrine, it had been this one she’d been drawn to. Not the countless photos taken in the interim, not the polished one used for business like the one at the funeral. The one that showed the Chuuya she first met all those years ago.

“I suppose not many remember you like this, huh.” She tapped the glass over his face.

It was unfortunately true.

There was herself, the Boss, and Hirotsu… and not many others still in the Port Mafia who knew him back then. It couldn’t be helped with how short a turnaround being in the Mafia left most dead before they were thirty. So no one remembered the boy that originally joined.

The boy that had irrevocably changed at sixteen when his past was slammed in his face and his friends that he’d finally been opening up to died.

Something inside Chuuya had died during the King of Assassins incident, and though he’d made attempts afterward to try to get it back, the Dragon Head Conflict had been the final nail in the coffin.

Basically everyone else in the Mafia knew him after all that. So they knew of the experienced higher up and eventual executive who still cared and looked after those under him and the rest of the organization, but now kept his distance, seldomly opening up. It was the price he had paid for his survival.

Well, it wasn’t like Kouyou could judge. Her mentee took several of his cues from her after all.

Still, all these years later, she couldn’t help but think of that boy first.

“Ah, lad,” She sighed as she rearranged the rest of the shrine to accommodate him, “I didn’t think you would go like this.”

Not from Corruption specifically at least. It’d been a possibility before, but after Dazai left, she considered it a nonexistent probability.

Kouyou knew that Chuuya would die for the Mafia one day. It was the fate of every mafioso, even her.

She just didn’t think it would be so soon.

Kouyou allowed herself one more minute before the shrine, staring at two people she’d cared for in different ways and lost.

Then she picked herself up, putting away her sorrows and regrets once again. “I’ll visit again soon.” She told them.

And Kouyou moved on, for there was nothing else she could do.

“You knew, didn’t you?”

Chuuya didn’t respond at first, instead choosing to finish his sip of tea and then set down his cup just like she’d taught him. “You’ll have to be specific.” He said calmly.

It was bullsh*t. Yes, there were dozens of things she could be referring to, but Chuuya damn well knew what she was talking about.

“You knew Kyouka was going to leave.” It wasn’t a question this time.

Chuuya stared at her for a moment, clearly debating what to say. He glanced around, as if checking for anything that might be eavesdropping despite knowing this was her most secure room.

“I…” He started and then frowned. “I hoped that she would leave.”

“You what?!” Kouyou slammed her hand on the table and stood, furious.

She couldn’t believe this betrayal. She might expect it from grunts or the other odd member, but this was Chuuya. Her mentee that she had molded herself to form the executive he was today. She’d taken him into her fold, just like Kyouka. He knew just as she did what the consequences for reaching towards the light were.

It’d ended with blood on both their hands when they’d tried.

And yet —

“I thought you had accepted her leaving by now.” Chuuya pouted slightly as he glanced away.

“That is something else entirely.” Kouyou hissed, her hands curling into fists. “Why would you hope she would leave? Why didn’t you tell anyone she was thinking of it?”

It was a contrast to their usual dynamic. Normally, Chuuya, for all his outbursts had improved over the years with its one exception, was generally the more emotional one, often getting swept up in them when they hit before he could calm down and deal with the situation. Kouyou was the one who remained composed, giving him advice as needed.

Now she could understand why that composure often irked Chuuya, especially at the beginning of their relationship, as Chuuya’s nonchalant expression was pissing her off.

Chuuya sighed and picked up his tea again. “Did you look at her eyes?”

Kouyou froze. “What?”

“I asked, did you look in her eyes?”

“Of course, I’ve looked in her eyes.” Kouyou replied. “What does that have to do with —”

“Her eyes were like Dazai’s.”

She blinked. She thought of Kyouka and the look in her eyes. No, he couldn’t possibly be right.

Chuuya ignored her turmoil and sipped his tea. “And that was before I left for my mission, when only her parents were dead.

“But did Akutagawa ever tell you about their first meeting?

“Did you read the reports? The ones from the train bombing incident? The boat explosion?”

Kouyou was silent. She couldn’t speak. She’d read the reports, but she didn’t want to hear what Chuuya was going to say next.

He put down his tea and looked her straight in the eye, not allowing her to escape the truth. “Kouyou, at the rate she was going, she was going to get herself killed. And she wanted it that way.”

Heat prickled across her eyes as she held back tears and her fists tightened further to try to stop their trembling.

When it was laid out like that, she couldn’t deny the facts.

And now that it was out there, she wondered how she had missed the signs. After all those years of the organization dealing with Dazai, shouldn’t they all be aware of the signs of suicidal thoughts?

Well, Dazai was a bit of an extreme example. And Ougai was more likely to take advantage of someone willing to throw their life away for the sake of the Port Mafia.

Chuuya freed her from his gaze by looking away. “I think this outcome is preferred by both of us.”

Yes, Kouyou would much prefer Kyouka to be alive.

“And to go for your usual analogy,” Chuuya began to fidget slightly with his now empty cup. “Kyouka’s young; she’s nothing but a sprout. It’s yet to be determined what sort of environment will truly help her bloom.”

Her smile was bitter as she felt it stretch her lips. “I suppose you’re right.” She picked up her neglected tea as she retook her seat.

“Besides,” he snorted, “if they can help that bandaged bastard, then I’m sure she’ll be a much easier case.”

Kouyou stared at him as a thought struck her.

Even after all these years, even when they’re completely separated, Chuuya and Dazai still remained on the same wavelength. Synchronized in both intent and purpose.

Dazai had shared the same exact sentiment, though he’d added that he would be there for her, too.

The two were a lot more alike than either would like to admit.

Kouyou laughed to herself and waved off Chuuya’s quizzical look. She could get this tea back to a pleasant atmosphere as long as she didn’t poke at the Dazai button. “At least you won’t leave me, will you, lad?” She asked it half jokingly, but her chest tightened at the thought of losing him to the light as well.

Chuuya flashed her a smile, and she didn’t know if she would call it happy, but he seemed to accept his lot in life. “Don’t worry, Ane-san. I made my choice long ago.

“I think my roots have grown too deep for me to ever think of leaving.”

“Get up.”

No, Dazai didn’t think he would.

What reason did he have to get up? What else was there?

Chuuya was gone and hadn’t even had the decency to give him a heads-up. Or at least one while he was conscious and cognizant (which — he was aware of how much a hypocrite he was with that).

He didn’t even give him some decent last words. Dazai didn’t know what his actual last words were, but his last ones to him? “Don’t worry, sh*thead. It’ll probably be over before you wake up.” What was he even supposed to do with that?

Chuuya had spoken like he was going to come back. That’d been a lie.

(Again, Dazai knew what a hypocrite he was being. After all, Dazai had teasingly threatened Chuuya about them having another movie night before the shortstack left for his mission overseas four years ago. Dazai then defected the day before Chuuya’s return. At least in his case, he hadn’t meant for those to be his last words.)

Even Odasaku had left Dazai with a new mission for life. Chuuya left him with nothing but questions and an aching heart.

Well, he’d done enough now, right? He’d fulfilled his promise to Odasaku time and time again. He could just let himself lie here and rot away like he should’ve years ago.

Unfortunately, the way Yosano was tapping her foot was a clear sign she wasn’t going to allow that.

“You can’t stay like this, Dazai.” And he knew that she was frowning at the untouched food that Kunikida had left for him.

To be fair, he had tried eating earlier trays Kunikida had made for him since he started laying here, but everything had tasted like ash on his tongue and he stopped seeing the point of it.

He didn’t see the point in much these days. In the… How many days since Chuuya died? Since the funeral? He didn’t know and he didn’t care.

“Dazai.” Yosano’s tone was a warning.

He ignored it and burrowed further into his futon.

“Dazai, I need to give you a check up.”

He really didn’t care if he was a cripple for the rest of his life. Sure, his leg still hurt but he could ignore it along with everything else. He wasn’t going to risk drugs slowing his mind.

“Easy way or hard way. It’s your choice.”

Considering Yosano couldn’t use her ability on him and she did seem to care for him along with the rest of the agency, her options for threatening him were limited. Nothing he would be worried about.

“Do you really think this is what Chuuya would want?”

Dazai froze. Did she just —

His blankets were cruelly ripped away from him, inducing an indignant whine to fall from his lips. Dazai turned onto his back, ready with a patented Demon Prodigy glare to force her to return them.

He stopped as the flourish of the blankets fell to the floor and he could see Yosano’s face.

Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes, on the edge of falling to the ground, and her lips trembled slightly from her suppressed emotions.

“He asked me to take care of you. For all of us to take care of you.” Yosano’s voice was thick and rough, but surprisingly steady. “I promised him we would.”

Dazai stared at her, the wheels in his brain beginning to spin.

It sounded like something Chuuya might do, but he’d never be so open about admitting something like that. He would never leave himself vulnerable like that nor let anyone hear him say something positive regarding Dazai. Not sober anyway.

But Chuuya and Yosano did go out for drinks on several occasions…

Still, for Chuuya to go to the effort of asking Yosano of all people…

He put a pin in that thought when Yosano leaned down into his space, forcing him to meet her eyes.

“Are you going to make me a liar?” Yosano growled. “To him, of all people?”

He couldn’t look away, despite the whirlwind of his thoughts.

Perhaps Chuuya had left something for him after all, even if it was mere contingencies with other people. Unusual for a snail brain like him who didn’t think too far into the future, but Dazai couldn’t deny the evidence before his eyes. Yosano wasn’t lying, that much he was sure of.

She leaned back and turned on her heel, picking up the tray of food. “I’m going to reheat this, then you’re going to eat.” Yosano told him. “And I won’t make you leave for now, but we will be doing your check up for your leg and anything else that might’ve cropped up. So get up, Dazai.”

She left him in peace as she headed towards his kitchen.

He sat there, wallowing in his thoughts and all their implications.

Dazai got up.

Chuuya wasn’t too bad of a drinking buddy.

He had excellent taste in wine that she could appreciate, he was enough of a gentleman to be willing to pay for them both so she could indulge, and he didn’t seem to have any interest in trying to get into her pants so she felt comfortable around him. He really did just want someone else to drink with that enjoyed wine as much as he did, even if he had to go slower due to being a lightweight.

To Yosano, this was one of the best benefits to their current truce.

Something felt different tonight though. Yosano couldn’t put her finger on it.

Even more than usual, Chuuya was nursing his drink, his finger currently gliding along the edge of his glass. They’d been silent for a while, simply basking in each other’s company.

One of their strict rules for their meet-ups was that any mention of work was off the table. Better for both them and their organizations to keep mum.

But there had been something Yosano had wanted to ask, ever since the reveal of Dazai’s past occupation.

And something in the air that night finally gave her courage.

“How different is he?” The question slipped from her lips. “From back then?”

Chuuya’s finger halted and he instantly straightened and turned to stare at her fully, his eyes searching for something in her face.

Yosano knew, like most if not all of the Agency (it was unclear if Kunikida had connected the dots yet), who exactly Dazai had been: the Demon Prodigy, an unparalleled genius who’d helped establish and secure Mori’s rise to power in the Mafia. Anyone connected to the underground or law enforcement had heard rumors of his prowess, and he’d been feared just as much, if not more, than the Boss himself.

But Yosano had a hard time connecting that with the Dazai she knew.

Some of it was easy. The genius, the intelligence, the near godlike ability to analyze and predict the movements of others — surpassing even Ranpo in that regard — and his ability to manipulate events so it almost seemed like he’d barely done anything at all. The darkness that occasionally crept into his eyes and hinted at an ability to do great harm, both to himself and others. The shadow of Mori in some of his gestures and speech.

But at the same time, he was such a goof-off. He delighted in ruining Kunikida’s day and playing pranks around the office and roping Atsushi into his childish schemes. He lazed about, not doing his paperwork and complaining at having to put in the minimal effort to maintain his job.

He cared so much for the Agency and its members, that his plans always tried to bring them all home in the end.

She thought maybe Chuuya wasn’t going to answer. His eyes had drifted to the side, seeing something — someone — that she never would.

Perhaps she’d hit a bit too close.

So she was surprised when he finally said something.

“Better.” Chuuya took a sip of his wine. “He’s better.”

Yosano raised an eyebrow but considering how quickly Chuuya continued, the prompt probably wasn’t needed.

“He didn’t — or more accurately wouldn’t — let himself care. He indulged in the worst things life had to offer and thrived. He tried to carve out his own humanity and the resulting hole was filled with darkness that he let fester.” He took a bigger sip this time. “And then he inflicted his pain on everyone else when he couldn’t end it himself.”

Yosano stared. Now that she thought about it, that Hirotsu guy had warned her to never let Chuuya get started on Dazai…

“He just — he denied anything that might make it better. He didn’t let himself have anything good or nice. That sh*tty waste of bandages put himself into the most awful of situations, even when he didn’t have to. You should’ve seen the places where he lived when he wasn’t breaking into my place or I was dragging him there myself.” He huffed in frustration, but she could see the way his hand shook as he put down his glass. “He didn’t want help and wouldn’t let you help so you either had to be sneaky or just watch it all happen.

“Asshole always acted like ‘No Longer Human’ was a descriptor for himself and not just his ability.” Chuuya let his head fall forward into the palm of his hand. “Ugh, he was just the worst.”

Finally, there was a pause. Chuuya’s drink was still unfinished, but he was lost in his thoughts again.

Yosano tried to wrap her head around what he’d already said. Sadly, she could see how the Dazai she knew would have spiraled into such a state. There were still traces of that even now.

“But now…”

Yosano glanced over in surprise. She’d honestly thought he was done.

Chuuya once more traced the rim of his glass with his fingers. “He looks better. Like he actually eats and sleeps more. Like, he’s still a crafty bastard but clearly it’s… better for him.” He looked her straight in the eyes. “You know they’re not all jokes, right?”

She knew. Ranpo and f*ckuzawa knew. Even Kunikida knew. The younger members… Well, they tried to cover for Dazai so they wouldn’t have to know the full extent, but she was sure they suspected at some level that they weren’t entirely jokes.

Chuuya read the answer in her silence. “But has he made any serious attempts?”

Not as far as she could tell. And when he slowed down even more than usual, when the darkness grew stronger, when it felt like there was a cloud over his head, she always kept an eagle eye on him. The other adults did too. She only hoped that Ranpo would be able to catch it if she somehow missed something.

He picked up his glass. “See?” He wryly chuckled. “Better.” And he finished off the rest in one gulp.

“He still won’t tell us when he needs help.” Yosano wondered if that made it better or worse. She had to practically hunt the man down when he was injured, just to give him basic care.

“But you still take care of him. Don’t you, Doc Butterfly?” There was a wistful tone to his voice.

She wondered how it would feel, to try to take care of someone and never quite being able to fully reach them. Doing your best and knowing it’s not enough to save them. And then that person leaving and you see them in a place where they are living a much better life.

She didn’t know if she could take it.

She’d experienced something similar but after she failed, she never heard about any of those soldiers again. And even that was hard on her when she paused long enough to think about it.

Chuuya was strong in more ways than one.

“We certainly try.” She ended up saying.

Because they did. With Kunikida’s schedules to check on him and make sure he ate. With her own plans on how to save him should the worst happen. With Atsushi’s open admiration and gratitude for him. With Ranpo watching over them all and matching him wit for wit.

Chuuya was studying her again. And then slowly, he reached into a pocket of his coat that was draped over his chair and pulled out a file. He set it between them.

Yosano stared at it. This. Whatever this was, that had been what’d caused the shift in atmosphere.

She shot an askance glance at Chuuya but he ignored it in favor of waving for another drink.

She slid the file closer. It held a metaphorical weight that she did not fully grasp until she opened it. Yosano gasped. “This is…”

“The night Dazai disappeared, every single file on him in the Port Mafia disappeared with him.” Chuuya wouldn’t look at her. “However, he’s always been squirrelly about doctors and hospitals. Most times, if he needed patching up, he’d end up crawling to either me or his friend. Unless we found out first and dragged him back ourselves.”

Medical records. Precise handwriting recording injuries, drug reactions and interactions, treatments, allergies, physical ailments and disabilities. Everything a doctor could want regarding a patient.

Everything Yosano had tried to get in her multiple failed attempts to get a physical exam from Dazai. Everything that could help her help him as she flipped through the many pages.

“I kept track of everything I could. Everything I noticed, everything I helped with.” Chuuya nodded at the barkeep as another glass was placed in front of him. “Figured he’s still as bad now as he was then with this kind of thing, so someone in your stupid Agency should probably know.”

She froze in place, just as she came upon lists for both the signs of incoming bad days and how best to approach them. “Does he know about this?” Because if he didn’t, as much as she wanted to take this, she couldn’t —

Chuuya gave her a flat look. “If Dazai didn’t want me to have all this, we both know I wouldn’t. Besides, this is just a copy of what I have.”

And if Dazai knew Chuuya as well as he said he did, he should’ve known something like this would happen eventually.

Yosano studied Chuuya now.

Devastating rivals, sworn enemies, mutually hated partners. That’s what everyone said those two were, what they are even now.

These records were not written in hate.

They were not given to her in hate.

Something more was here, something more between them, but neither would probably ever speak of it. They couldn’t admit to it.

It was devastating but not in the way most people would think.

“Consider it thanks for taking that stupid Mackerel off my hands, Doc Butterfly.” Chuuya nonchalantly said as he took a sip of his new drink.

Yosano shut the file and slipped it into her bag. “Well, I guess it can’t be helped.” She tried to brush it off herself, raising her glass. “It’s not everyday I get such valuable intel from a mafia executive.”

Chuuya hid a grin behind the edge of his glass.

“Just take care of that stinky fish.”

There was a time when Hirotsu longed for a quiet evening of companionable drinking, simply taking comfort in not having to drink alone. A different type of enjoyment with other higher ranked colleagues that he couldn’t get when he took the Black Lizard out.

Now, he wished for anything but that.

After all, a night out drinking with Chuuya was rarely quiet, especially once he was a drink or so in depending on the alcohol content of his liquor or wine. And now, without him here…

Kajii sighed and Hirotsu couldn’t agree more.

With a flick of his finger, Kajii knocked down his mini toothpick castle while Hirotsu took a sip of his whiskey. “So…” Kajii trailed off, clearly trying to think of something to say.

They’d already exhausted typical small talk topics that could be talked about without straying into work (which they were trying to escape from) or their personal lives (anyone in the Mafia was wary of offering such details lest they be used against them eventually). Kajii had gone on a rant about his latest endeavors in lemon weaponry. Hirotsu had waxed poetry about the different brands of whiskey the bar offered before making his selection.

But there wasn’t really anything else to talk about.

Usually Chuuya had been the one to break the ice between them, choosing random topics off the top of his head that usually led to interesting discussion.

They didn’t know how to interact without him here.

It wasn’t like they had any overlapping interests outside of the fact they both worked in the same organization.

And they both knew it.

This time, they both sighed in sync.

Kajii began to stack the toothpicks up once more. “I wonder what it was like.”

“Hmm?” Hirotsu hummed as he took another drink.

“Getting crushed by his own ability.” Kajii elaborated, but he wasn’t as enthusiastic as he usually was when discussing his studies on death. “Or at least, that’s what we’re presuming happened, right?”

It was more likely that he was pulled into his own black hole since nothing was left behind, but that was essentially the same thing at the end of the day. Even now, Corruption was to be kept under wraps, so Hirotsu couldn’t elaborate on it further.

“Or he did have the Book with him. I wonder if that had something to do with it.”

Hirotsu paused.

It hadn’t occurred to him that Chuuya had the Book last. But how likely was he to have used it? Especially since it seemed he did all this to keep it out of anyone else’s hands, including their own boss.

The toothpick castle collapsed once more. “I hope it was quick.” Kajii muttered. “Chuuya wasn’t too bad of a guy; he deserved a swift death.”

Having been a witness to Corruption before, Hirotsu knew how unlikely that was. Still, he couldn’t help chuckling at Kajii’s wish. “You’re not wrong.” He finished off his drink. “I hope so, too.”

Now there really was no more to say.

Hirotsu took another sip of his drink and studied the young man next to him.

Chuuya slumped over the bar’s counter, fidgeting with his drink. He’d only taken a few sips so far, which wasn’t enough to make even him tipsy, so Hirotsu knew he was still sober.

Yet there was a melancholy to his movements, something weighing him down.

Hirotsu had an idea of what it was. After all, this was the first night Chuuya was recovered enough to leave his apartment, much less go out for drinks. Corruption always did a number on him, especially since Chuuya was not one to sit idly by.

It was also the first night they were getting drinks since Chuuya’s true reunion with Dazai, a brief return of the infamous Soukoku, Double Black, which explained why Kajii had abandoned them.

Hirotsu had been bracing for a rant on Dazai all day, but so far there’d been nothing.

“Oi.” Chuuya finally sat up, grabbing his drink as he did so. “I know we’ve been in the Mafia since forever it seems…”

Hirotsu had no clue where Chuuya had gotten the habit of talking like he was his age. Seriously, the boy had only been part of the Mafia for seven years and he was only twenty-two.

“...But do you think we could be considered ‘good guys?’” Chuuya wrinkled his nose at the thought and took a large sip of his drink.

His words halted Hirotsu in his tracks.

“What?” He asked, but he already knew.

This was Dazai’s fault. It was always Dazai’s fault unless it was somehow Chuuya’s fault when it came to those two.

Chuuya huffed and looked away, but Hirotsu clearly saw the embarrassment painting his cheeks red. “Nothing, it’s just — That stupid waste of bandages said we’re the ‘enemy of the bad guys’ before he hightailed it out of there and left me behind.” His expression soured. “Despite becoming a goody-two shoes, I can’t believe he did that. Why the f*ck did I trust him? Good thing you showed up afterward.”

Hirotsu didn’t tell him that he and his team had only known where to find him because Hirotsu received an anonymous tip with Chuuya’s location and a request for pick-up. There was only one person who it could’ve been.

Dazai had been a bit off, it seemed. He probably intended for Hirotsu and the others to arrive earlier or for Chuuya to be unconscious longer, so he wouldn’t wake up until he was in the Port Mafia’s medical care or already checked over and home. Unfortunately, by the time Hirotsu arrived, Chuuya was already up and doggedly trying to march himself home, not helped by the awakened Q causing a fuss despite the piggy-back ride Chuuya was giving them.

As his men collected Q, Hirotsu had been the one to catch Chuuya as he’d fallen back into unconsciousness.

Luckily, Hirotsu didn’t have to say anything and could keep all this to himself. Chuuya continued talking with no need for prompting.

“I don’t see why he’d use ‘we’ of all things.” Chuuya mostly muttered to himself. Clearly, this had been troubling him throughout his convalescence. “Even if he left to join the good side, it’s not like I’m good.”

Hirotsu frowned. “Chuuya-kun, you…” His voice trailed off as Chuuya looked up at him —

And he was reminded, so suddenly, of just how young Chuuya was. How young he had been when they first met.

Chuuya was a killer. He’d been one since before the Mafia, even without taking Suribachi City’s creation into account, when he eliminated any threats to his family and friends. Sometimes that meant fighting them off, but he’d bloodied his hands with death when needed. Since joining the Mafia, his crimes had increased to much greater numbers and with greater variety.

However, Hirotsu would never be able to say that Chuuya was a bad person.

Chuuya gave everything and more to those who he’d chosen as his family. He’d give his life if it would save even one member of the Port Mafia. All of those crimes were for the sake of the Port Mafia and Yokohama’s wellbeing as a whole.

Though he adjusted to his greater fortune over the years and a more hedonistic lifestyle, Hirotsu knew that Chuuya spent quite a bit of money supporting orphanages, homeless shelters, and animal shelters throughout the city. He didn’t turn his back on those in need. And the most unfortunate didn’t care where the money came from as long as they got help.

Chuuya looked after everyone as best he could, old habits from his Sheep days never fully dying. There were jokes among some of the grunts about his nature as a mother hen. They were still surprised when Chuuya sent them gifts for their birthdays or asked about their welfare.

Chuuya was a hard-worker, putting his work before his own needs and wants. It was one of his most admirable traits, even if it resulted in his detriment.

But Chuuya wouldn’t accept any of this as evidence. To him, it was natural, not actions worthy of praise nor an indication of goodness. He did what he must, nothing more and nothing less.

So Hirotsu switched tactics, if only to assuage the whirling in Chuuya’s mind.

“Soukoku has always been its own separate thing, has it not?” Hirotsu reasoned, giving Chuuya a side glance. “A duo that only moves to protect Yokohama. Perhaps that effort was what he was alluding to?”

Chuuya blinked and thought it over. Then he snorted. “Yeah, that sounds about right.” He threw back his head to take the rest of his drink like a shot.

Hirotsu sighed in relief. It seemed he’d diverted a new Dazai rant, and maybe this would mean that Chuuya wouldn’t attempt to call Dazai later in the evening. True, without Kajii there he wouldn’t have to cover up Chuuya’s attempts to contact his old partner, but it made for a much more relaxing evening.

He ignored the message he’d gotten from that same anonymous number with information to leak. Technically, the next moves against the Guild were out of Port Mafia’s hands, left entirely to the Armed Detective Agency. However, Hirotsu, like many members of the Mafia, had long since learned that Dazai’s plans should be followed without question.

And since Chuuya had gotten his Dazai woes out, he could perhaps indulge Dazai one more time.

…Or so he thought, until the next time he went out drinking with Chuuya, with Kajii joining them once more, and Chuuya suddenly asked out of the blue whether his style was tacky.

And Hirotsu knew, without a doubt, that it was Dazai’s fault.

No one ever wanted a Port Mafia executive to be on their doorstep.

Even with the truce in place, the Agency’s first instinct was to draw their weapons at the sight of Mafia members, so when the door opened to reveal Kouyou, it was only natural.

Dazai didn’t get up though. All it took was a single look to see she meant no harm. For today, at least. Besides, while his cast had been switched out for a well padded leg brace and the standard crutches for a most likely permanent forearm crutch, it was too much effort.

He’d been trying, since Yosano practically kicked him into motion. But even now, a month later from when everything went wrong, Dazai found his motivation for living even lower than normal.

It was somewhat a relief to see he wasn’t the only one struggling.

Kouyou had a tendency to wear bright colors in her outfits — whether in her kimonos themselves or in the haori she wore on top. It was like those frogs from South America: the colors were a warning of the poison contained behind her smile, the poison she could easily slip into an unsuspecting target’s tea. She always pulled off the colorful attire with an elegance only a woman of her traditional background and practice could achieve.

But now, just like at the funeral, Kouyou wore all black, her haori a pattern of black and gray.

She was still in mourning, too.

Today, she wasn’t a threat.

“She’s not here to fight. Obviously.” Ranpo called out from his station, not even giving her a glance.

The members of the Agency sheepishly dropped their guard and put their weapons away.

Kunikida frowned. “I wasn’t aware that we had any meetings with the Mafia today.” He flipped through his notebook to find today’s schedule.

Kouyou still said nothing, her gaze sweeping over the office as if to confirm something. “Consider me a walk-in.” She finally relented. Then she held up a briefcase that Dazai had noticed when she had first come in. “However, today I am not here as an Executive.”

“Oh?” Yosano emerged from her office as Kouyou walked to the main room’s reception area and gracefully sat down on the couch, placing the briefcase on the coffee table. “Then why are you here?” The agency members followed her like ducks to gather around the seats across from Kouyou. Dazai rolled his eyes but joined them, Kunikida directing him into one of the armchairs.

Kouyou pursed her lips as she unclasped the briefcase. She pulled out a large sheaf of papers before gazing around at all the gathered Agency members. “Today, I come as the Executor of Nakahara Chuuya’s Will.”

There was a noticeable pause and Dazai ignored the glances that were sent his way.

Kunikida awkwardly cleared his throat. “He passed away a little over a month ago. You’re only doing this now?”

Kouyou hummed as she sorted through the papers to get what she needed. “Chuuya stipulated that his will was not to be fulfilled until one month after his death — so we could ensure that he was actually dead and not that someone faked it and kidnapped him instead. It was also so we could make sure that whatever remained of him was properly cremated and interred and no one tried stealing his body or switching it out, but we didn’t have to deal with that due to the circ*mstances.”

Dazai nearly snorted at the baffled looks this caused.

“Those… were possibilities?” Atsushi’s face was a mix of horrified and incredulous.

“Unfortunately, yes.” Kouyou didn’t elaborate.

It was true. The government would’ve loved to get their hands on Chuuya, whether alive or dead — hence Chuuya’s desire to be cremated in the hopes his remains would get to rest. And it wouldn’t have been the first time some organization had tried to take Chuuya to be their lab rat, not including the lab of his youth or N’s brief recapture of him.

“Also, it says to do the people in the Agency last, so I’ve been informing other recipients of his will.” She looked them over once more, putting down the papers momentarily and folding her hands on her lap. “Are you ready for this? Several of you, but not all, were left things, though I’m not sure what all has been bequeathed to you.”

“You don’t know?” Kyouka tilted her head at that, frowning slightly.

Kouyou’s deadpan expression was one Dazai remembered frequently from his and Chuuya’s teenage years. “He thought it’d be funnier that way and lighten the mood.”

No one was laughing and the atmosphere didn’t brighten at all. That more than anything was what made Dazai huff in laughter. It was just like Chuuya though to try to make light of his death.

Kunikida glared at him for his slip-up, but Dazai simply adjusted his crutch so Atsushi could lean more easily against the chair and twirled a pen he’d stolen from Kunikida’s pocket around his fingers. “Go ahead, Ane-san.”

She studied him for a long moment, but she sighed and nodded, picking up the papers once more. “Well then, be prepared.” Kouyou flipped to the appropriate page.

“‘To Kunikida Doppo, the partner of my ex.’” Kunikida blinked as she addressed him first. “First, as always, you have my condolences. You also have my thanks for taking that walking bag of bandages off my hands. Kudos to you.’”

The snort Dazai let out was an ugly sound, but he couldn’t help it at Kunikida’s resigned face. He didn’t stop even as Kunikida narrowed his eyes at him.

Kouyou plowed on, giving him no mind. “‘I also leave you something that you should find valuable.’” She reached into the briefcase and set down a blue flash drive. “‘I give you my ‘500 Methods of Exacting Revenge on Dazai Osamu’ that I personally wrote. It’s an Excel document with multiple sheets to organize them by severity, effort needed to pull it off, how that bastard reacts or most likely will react if untested, etc. May you find it useful in punishing Dazai, even if you won’t use most of them as you’re a legit goody two-shoes, Four Eyes.’”

It was hard to tell whether or not Kunikida was pleased by the gift. As he picked up the flash drive, his face twitched in a way usually only Dazai could induce, so Dazai himself wasn’t sure how he felt about his one partner managing to irk his other one so, even from beyond the grave.

Kouyou paused before she moved on. “I should probably tell you that if it’s small enough, you may receive your inheritance today, but most of you may have to collect or wait for it to be transferred to you. Or you have to meet the stipulations Chuuya provided.”

“Wait, you mean some of us are receiving something that big?” Kunikida looked alarmed, whether over the fact that Chuuya was being so generous or that all of this was coming from a mafioso.

Kouyou ignored him. “‘Also, to the Armed Detective Agency as a whole, I leave my safehouses Epsilon and Pi. The sh*thead knows where they are as well as the deeds — I know you’re the one who broke into Pi last week, deviant — but if he’s being unhelpful like usual, I’m sure Lynchpin can figure it out. Maybe use them next time someone tries to frame you for terrorism.’” She frowned and muttered almost to herself. “How many safehouses did he have? These are the sixth and seventh ones he’s given away.”

“In Yokohama, worldwide, or in total?” Dazai asked.

She stared at him, blank faced.

“Because in any case, there’s more safehouses than there are letters in the Greek alphabet.”

Kouyou made the wise decision to move on. “To the lil’ punk, Miyazawa Kenji, I’ve left some land on the edge of Yokohama listed here. I was going to give it to you for your birthday since you’d been worried about keeping that cow of yours in town. I’ve also made a trust fund, listed here as well, to pay for the property taxes on it and to help fund any secondary education you might be interested in doing someday. It won’t hurt to check it out, even if you take something local.’”

Kenji’s eyes shone bright, but Dazai wasn’t going to look closer to see if it was from happiness or tears.

“‘I’m also leaving you a bottle of Port Wine and Amaretto for you to try when you hit twenty, as I won’t be able to treat you like I said.’”

“Oh.” Kenji said softly. “So that’s what he meant.”

Kouyou gave him a gentle smile briefly, as it dimmed when she turned to her next target.

“‘To Nakajima Atsushi —’” Atsushi blinked and pointed at himself in surprise “‘— I am leaving you a sum of money listed here —’”

“He’s giving me money?!” Atsushi shouted, eyes wide.

Kouyou’s face nearly twitched and Dazai muffled another laugh. She hated being interrupted. “Yes.”

“How… how much?” Dazai wasn’t sure why Atsushi appeared so anxious. After all, Chuuya was giving him money, not trying to take it away.

Kouyou sighed and pulled out a small piece of paper to jot down the amount before pushing the paper over to him.

As soon as Atsushi saw the amount, his jaw dropped and his skin paled. “He… I… What…”

“If I could continue?”

“Oh, yes… Of course…”

“‘It’s a bit late to start a college fund, but if you want to put some of the money towards that or even community college or something else feel free to. However, I give you this money with some stipulations.’”

“Ah, of course.” Atsushi sighed and slumped over.

Kouyou stopped for a moment, obviously reading ahead, and her lips twitched into a smile despite herself as she said, “‘Get some new goddamn clothes.’”

“Eh?” They all blinked at how incongruous the demand and language were in Kouyou’s elegant voice.

She continued without hesitation, obviously getting some pleasure from this as she read, “‘Seriously, don’t be like that moron Dazai as a teen and get more than one outfit, even if it’s a sentimental one. Use some of this money to buy some new clothes. Four Eyes is a weirdo but he’s pretty practical about this kind of thing, and Yosano can help you get something nice for a fancier occasion. Especially get some socks. I don’t know why no one gave you any and I wasn’t going to say anything — not my f*cking circus, not my f*cking monkeys — but seriously, stop running around in shoes with no socks.’”

Kouyou wiped an imaginary tear from her eye. “Ah, I taught him so well.”

Atsushi just stared at her, clearly trying to see if she was serious and Chuuya’s demands were legit.

Dazai patted him on the arm, knowing they were. “If you don’t want to take boring old Kunikida with you, I can —”

“Absolutely not!” Atsushi held the paper with his inheritance upward and far away from Dazai, as if sensing Dazai’s plans on making him spend it on himself.

Kouyou cleared her throat, falling back into her serious role, before she finished Atsushi’s portion. “‘I’m also leaving you the warehouse we train in. I’m sure you’ll find a use for it even if you don’t want to train there without me.’”

Atsushi nodded, somber once more. The reminder of why this was happening brought down the levity of mere moments before.

Kouyou directed her attention towards Yosano next. “‘To Yosano Akiko, Doc Butterfly. Congrats on being the most tolerable member of the Agency who isn’t a kid.’” Kouyou chuckled at the myriad of offended faces on those older than the age of twenty. “‘As such, and because of your impeccable tastes, I leave you ⅓ of my wine collection, the bottles specified below.’”

“Oh?” Yosano raised an eyebrow as she leaned down to take the list offered by Kouyou. “Oh!” Her other eyebrow joined the first as she actually saw what she was getting.

“‘I also leave the original copies of that simpleton’s medical records. He knows where they are and if he tries burning them, feel free to punish him as you see fit.’”

Dazai opened his mouth to protest, but upon seeing the glint in Yosano’s eyes, he slowly shut it.

“‘And I also leave you the following sum of money as recompense for dealing with him and the frequent theft of whatever bandages you have. My condolences.’”

Dazai wondered how many more of these he’d have to sit through. He already knew Chuuya wouldn’t leave him anything. After all, they were bitter enemies and rivals! And Chuuya always made such a fuss over Dazai using his money or breaking into his apartment or safehouses. He wanted this over so he could go back to taking a nap instead of doing his paperwork as that was all the others had been letting him do.

“‘To Izumi Kyouka, admittedly I was originally going to leave you my motorcycle.’” Kouyou narrowed her eyes in disapproval. “‘However, seeing as how you’re in the light now, you probably won’t get as much use of it. Instead, kid, I’m leaving you a car of your choice to be held until you can legally drive it.’”

“A car?” Kunikida sputtered. Dazai could practically see the calculations going through Kunikida’s mind at how much money Chuuya was basically throwing out at them. Clearly, he had no idea how much Chuuya had gotten as an executive.

“‘I know you are capable of driving it, but again, you’re a good guy now. Dazai probably does enough to ruin their reputation with his sneaky ways; you’re better than that.’”

Kyouka seemed somewhat pleased by that assessment.

“‘I’m also leaving you a college fund. Or do whatever with it. Still, your life is your own now, kid, try to take advantage of it.’” Kouyou nodded in agreement this time and Kyouka seemed to be getting somewhat overwhelmed by the generosity.

“‘And lastly, I leave to you my favorite hat. You know the one.’”

Kyouka stiffened immediately, staring straight ahead.

Dazai knew that in the aftermath of Chuuya’s death, she’d taken great pains to hide his hat away. She tried not to draw attention to it, worried that someone would try to take it away.

But now it was being handed to her on a silver platter.

“‘That hat was given to me after belonging to a man who tried to save my life, Rimbaud. Before him, it belonged to your old mentor, Verlaine, who also tried, in his own way, to save my life. I figure you’re a good successor for it. I know you’ll take care of it, kid.’”

Kyouka looked down, her hands curling into fists on her lap as she let out a small sniffle, but not a single tear fell.

Kouyou’s compassionate gaze was the most genuine since she arrived, but she soon went back to business.

“And finally —” Kouyou began before Ranpo raised his hand.

“Wait, besides the last one, is there anyone else who was left something?” He asked.

“I don’t think he left you anything, Ranpo-kun.” Yosano commented, but the detective ignored her.

Kouyou frowned but shuffled back through the pages. “Ah, you’re correct.” Her nose wrinkled in distaste at her error. “There’s no personal anecdotes for this one, but apparently he left your president his ownership rights in a cat café that he co-owns.”

The door to the back office slammed open, f*ckuzawa suddenly standing in the doorway. “A cat café?” His placid tone belied the sparkles practically surrounding him at the notion.

“Yes.” Kouyou went back to the last entry she had to read. “I believe he had some ideas for making it a money laundering scheme, but he never got around to it. And he ended up liking the cats and kittens too much.”

“I can’t believe he didn’t leave me anything.” Ranpo grumbled. Dazai deliberately didn’t look at him as Yosano attempted to comfort him.

“Well, then.” Kouyou got back to work. “And finally: ‘To a certain fish-faced bastard —’”

Dazai froze. What?

“‘— my ex-partner, Dazai Osamu —’”

He looked at her wide-eyed.

“‘— as per our agreement —’”

What agreement? Dazai racked his brain for what Chuuya could possibly be alluding to.

“‘— which, congrats by the way, I was right that with your luck you would outlive me. I’m sure you hate it —’” She winced at that line and Dazai felt like he’d been stabbed in the chest. Kouyou shook her head and quickly moved on.

“‘— anything that hasn’t been designated to another recipient, I leave to you.’”

He stared at her. Kouyou stared down at the page like she couldn’t believe what she’d just read.

Finally, he spoke. “What?” Dazai croaked.

“He…” Kouyou was at a loss for words. “He left everything else to you?” She looked back up at Dazai. “You??”

“Ane-san, I am just as shocked as you are.” Dazai managed to get out, still reeling.

“He said you had an agreement.”

“I remember no such thing.”

“What if you were high at the time? Or drugged? Or drunk out of your mind?” Kouyou pressed. “You two made ridiculous bets and challenges no matter your condition.”

Dazai pursed his lips. That was… a possibility. But normally Chuuya would’ve laughed at him and told him all about it afterward.

“Who knows? Maybe that hat really did consume the slug’s brain —”

“Are you sure there aren’t any stipulations?” Ranpo interrupted, Dazai’s mouth snapping shut.

Kouyou paused before glancing down and reading ahead. She let out a sigh of relief. “‘However,’” she read, “‘besides the following amount of money, three safehouses of your choice, and my main apartment and the possessions within — which should tide you over in the meantime but I guess it is you we’re talking about, you freeloader — you will not be able to claim your full inheritance until one year after the reading of this Will.’”

“Ah.” Dazai could feel himself losing interest again, once more twirling Kunikda’s pen between his fingers. That made sense.

Obviously, Chuuya leaving him the rest of his assets was pretty much a joke. Dazai had no intention of living that long if he had any say in it. A beautiful, painless suicide was his goal as per usual.

“‘Should you, Dazai Osamu, be unable to claim your inheritance for whatever reason, everything intended for you will instead go to —’” Kouyou raised her eyebrows in surprise and Dazai rolled his eyes, because it couldn’t be that shock—

“‘— Shirase Buichirou.’”

Dazai’s mind went blank.


At the sound, the Agency automatically looked to Kunikida, but he just stared in confusion at the true culprit.

Ink dripped down Dazai’s hand from the remnants of the broken pen.

“Oi, Dazai.” Kunikida stepped closer. “Are you —”

“Shirase?” Dazai muttered.

Kouyou met him head on. “Yes.”

“Seriously, Dazai —”

“f*ckING SHIRASE?!” Dazai slammed his hands against the coffee table, rage burning through his blood.

“Did Dazai-san just swear?” He heard someone whisper but he paid it no mind.

How dare Chuuya do this! What had he been thinking?

“Now, Dazai,” Kouyou tried to calm him, “I know you’ve never seemed to like the boy—”

“HE STABBED MY DOG IN THE BACK!” Dazai would never forget how Chuuya had handed his trust and loyalty to the Sheep and Shirase so easily, only to be manipulated and used at every turn. Even now, he hated it more than almost anything in the world.

“He did what?!”

“Yes, and Chuuya forgave him for that.” Kouyou pointed out. “You act like you didn’t deliberately speed up the inevitable betrayal there.” She added as an aside.


“I can’t argue with that.” Kouyou’s lips curled in disgust at the memory of all the people Chuuya had forgiven who really didn’t deserve it, perhaps most especially Shirase and the man in the Mafia’s basem*nt. “But again, it’s not like you’ve never taken advantage of that yourself.”

“Well, I’m different.” Dazai attempted to reign in the seething anger. He couldn’t remember feeling this much anger before in his life, so powerful that it was bursting at the seams. Was this how Chuuya often felt? Still, he reasoned, “I’m his partner and annoyingly endearing, how could he not?”

Kouyou gave him a deadpan look. “If that’s what you must tell yourself, then go ahead.”

Dazai took a deep breath. “Did that parasite get anything else from the slug?” He could feel his persona falling back into place even if the accompanying emotions remained.

“No, this is the first time he’s been mentioned at all. Even Adam got several of Chuuya’s European properties and some funds for that detective agency he wants to build.” She pretended not to hear the mutters from the rest of the Agency at that tidbit and Dazai joined her. “Still, I suppose given your nature, you won’t have to worry about that —”

“Oh?” Dazai laughed. It was not a happy laugh, something in it unhinged enough that several Agency members edged away from him. “Really, Kouyou-san?”

Dazai tilted his head as he stared at her, and from her minute flinch, he could tell that she saw some of that old Demon Prodigy lurking beneath the surface.

“If you think I’m going to let that filthy little parasite take anything else of my dog’s, then you have another thing coming.”

Kouyou gaped at him slightly, taken aback, before she recovered, bringing her sleeve up to hide her clearly amused expression.

“What?” Dazai would’ve growled if not for his flat tone.

“Nothing. It’s just — That seems to have been Chuuya’s thought behind the matter.” Kouyou chuckled behind her sleeve. “I underestimated how well this might work when I first read that sentence.”

Dazai blinked, his fury abating for a moment. His eyebrow rose in question. “Oh?”

Kouyou turned back to the will and read on. “‘So what will it be, Mackerel? This —’” She smirked. “‘— is my ultimate form of revenge for a suicidal enthusiast like you. I’m going to force you to live.’”

Dazai stared, realizing he’d been had. Somehow, from beyond the grave, Chuuya had managed to set a trap for him.

“‘Will you continue with your search for death and finally reach your goal? Are you going to let me, and more importantly Shirase—’” Dazai bristled just from Kouyou saying the name. “‘— win? Or will you let yourself live for at least one more year?’”

Suddenly, it wasn’t Kouyou sitting across from him. Chuuya’s piercing eyes stared him down, the tips of his fingers adjusting his hat back slightly to reveal his face. His lips were pulled into a smirk that screamed intelligence, confidence, competence.

But most importantly, danger.

The smirk that never failed to drive Dazai wild. The one that made his heart, that he normally had exact control over, speed up just a bit.

“So, are you up for the challenge, Dazai?” Chuuya asked. “Or are you gonna run away with your tail between your legs?”

Dazai laughed, much more genuinely this time. Fully and heartily. He couldn’t help it.

This was exactly why he always found himself coming back to Chuuya. No one else could rise to the occasion like he could.

“It seems like someone keeps forgetting how practically all our bets end.” Dazai looked up and met Kouyou’s eyes with a smirk of his own. “Challenge accepted!”

And though Dazai didn’t realize, the rest of the Agency were staring at him with awe. For the first time in almost a month, they felt something that they’d nearly lost in regards to Dazai: hope.

For Chuuya had left them with perhaps the most valuable thing of all.


Mori was so stupid.

Sure, Dazai had ended up deciding to join the Port Mafia, but Mori never did fulfill his promise of teaching him a surefire mix of chemicals that’d give Dazai his perfect death.

So Dazai had tried to make one by himself.

Now Dazai wasn’t sure what he’d done, but well, he wasn’t worried about much at the moment. He was too caught up in this strange floaty feeling that carried him across the Port Mafia building. It felt so good, like he was above this rotten world he usually felt trapped in.

“Heeeeeey, Chuuya!” Dazai singsang as he oozed into Chuuya’s office. “Chuuya.” He said again. “Chuuya, Chuuya, Chuuya.”

Chuuya’s name felt delightful on his tongue. He loved saying it.

Unfortunately, Chuuya didn’t seem to like hearing it as he gazed incredulously at him. “Are you high?”

“Yes, I do feel like I’m floating high!” He pranced over to Chuuya’s desk and lounged across it.

“Ugh,” Chuuya rubbed his forehead, “somehow you’re even stupider than normal.”

Dazai pouted. Chuuya should’ve been treating him nicely and giving him head pats, not mocking him and redirecting his attention back to his work. He readjusted himself to lie on his stomach, his head perched upon his folded up arms. “Whatcha doing?”

“Are you even going to remember this?” Chuuya side eyed him.

He hummed. “There’s a 50-70% chance I’ll remember this later.” Because the most unfortunate thing was that this wouldn’t kill him, but he would be crashing down eventually. Still, he was brilliant so he had an annoying habit of remembering everything, both bad and good.

Chuuya rolled his eyes at him, prompting an offended gasp. How dare he!

However, Chuuya’s face was somber as he went back to typing on his computer, occasionally glancing down at some papers. “... Ane-san told me I should have a Will.” He finally said. “And after the King of Assassins incident…”

Yes, Dazai could see how finding all your friends dead might make you ponder your own mortality.

“I’ll make it easy for you, Chuuya!” Dazai flipped onto his back, his eye never leaving Chuuya. “Just leave everything to me!”

Chuuya raised an eyebrow at that. “Oh?” He leaned over Dazai’s face. “But you’re planning on dying, aren’t ya, you suicidal maniac? How can I leave you anything if you’re dead?”

“Boo! Doggies aren’t supposed to —” Chuuya smacked him before he could finish his sentence. Dazai’s pout came back with a vengeance. “I’ll just have to make sure Chuuya dies first!”

He ignored the way his stomach lurched at the thought, briefly breaking through his high. He hoped it wasn’t a sign that the drugs would make him throw up.

“What would you even do with my stuff anyway?” Chuuya looked down at him, forehead wrinkled. “You mooch off everyone else and buy the sh*ttiest apartments known to man to live in or keep as safehouses.”

“Yes, because that’s my money. I want to spend yours.”

“Of course, you do.” Chuuya took his hat off entirely this time when he pushed his hair away from his eyes, setting it down just out of Dazai’s reach. How terrible that his dog had wised up to his tricks.

“Well, fair’s fair. How about I leave everything to you, too?” Dazai negotiated, rolling over again so he could get closer to the hat.

Chuuya’s nose wrinkled. “What, so I can have your sh*tty apartment, your singular outfit, and a pile of bills? I think the f*ck not.”

“Eh? Apartment?” Dazai innocently blinked his eyes. “What do you mean? I live in a shipping container down by the port.”

“No one’s stupid enough to think you actually live there, even if being closer to your natural habitat of water makes sense, Mackerel.”

Dazai chose not to mention that pretty much every single grunt thought that’s where he lived. Verlaine had fallen for it too, even after realizing that Dazai was a Grade A liar who tricked him. However, the shipping container was a good cover for his actual apartment and he liked to wallow in his misery there on his worst days. The atmosphere tended to reflect the darkness of whatever he had instead of a soul.

Still, those feelings were far away right now and he’d keep them there.

“Besides, with your luck, you’ll keep failing and outlive all of us.” Chuuya’s smile had a sharp edge to it, like he was stealing Dazai’s cursing technique. “You’ll only die when you’re old and gray.”

Dazai gasped. “Don’t say such cruel things! Take it back!”

“Nope!” Chuuya leaned back into his seat. He gave Dazai a once over, his expression turning contemplative. “You really want my stuff?”

“Chibi wastes his money on hats, wine, and dog shelters.” Dazai grumbled. “I could use it so much better.”

“Right…” He met Dazai, face to face. “How about this?”

Dazai perked up, leaning in so close he could count all the individual freckles on Chuuya’s face. “Oh?”

“I’ll leave stuff that I think others might appreciate more to them, but everything else will be yours.”

“Yay!” Dazai celebrated before Chuuya brought up his hand to stop the party short.

“As long as you can do one teensy, tiny thing for me. You’ll have to work for it, but it’ll be all yours after.” Chuuya was smiling, and it was the one that Kouyou had honed for negotiations. That should have sent alarm bells ringing in Dazai’s head.

But he was higher than a kite and getting what he wanted, so he didn’t notice it. “Pfft! So a tiny task as small as a mini mafioso like you. It’ll be easy!”

“Keep telling yourself that.” With that, Chuuya scooped him off his desk right before Dazai could snatch his hat.

“Hey!” Dazai whined as Chuuya then dumped him on his office couch and pulled a blanket over him.

“Sleep this sh*t off, Mackerel. Y’know Boss will have something for us before you know it.”

“Fine.” Dazai mumbled, but with Chuuya so close, he knew any intruders would die before they had a chance at him, relaxing the last little alert part of him.

He wouldn’t remember the conversation later, just a few impressions of it floated around.

So he had no idea that he’d given Chuuya the idea for his final win-win scenario against Dazai.

“Ougai-dono, something really must be done.” Kouyou stared him down. She had had enough of this. With Chuuya’s final affairs taken care of, she could no longer put off this conversation.

The Boss looked away, not meeting her eyes. “Don’t worry; I have it all handled.” He said as if she couldn’t see him sweating.

“Do you?” She knew if she were anyone else, she would risk her tongue for such impertinence, but Ougai couldn’t afford it. “Let’s look at the facts, sir.

“We are down to one functional executive.”

“Verlaine —”

“And what, pray tell, does he do exactly?” She turned up her nose at him. “Accept and train the occasional assassin? And nothing else? There is a reason I said functional.”

Ougai pursed his lips but didn’t protest.

“It was already ridiculous when you continued to leave Dazai’s seat open after his defection.” Because we all know he’s not coming back. She thought but didn’t say. “Admittedly, it was not me who felt the strain as much, because you reassigned the role of head of the guerilla corp and Chuuya picked up the rest of the slack.”

To be fair, except for the command of the guerilla corp, Chuuya had resigned himself to doing both his and Dazai’s work. Mainly for their joint affairs, but plenty of things that were meant to be just Dazai’s as well. So it hadn’t been too much of an adjustment after he left.

“Then we lost Ace.”

Nothing much lost there. Ace had his uses but except for his small faction within the organization, he did not do much for the whole. Good riddance if you asked her. That schemer never truly cared about the organization beyond what it could do for him.

“If you recall, Chuuya and I suggested employing some sub-executives to help manage the loss or to train up for a full position. We suggested beginning to train some potential executive candidates like in the past to take over the position when deemed ready and to have just in case.” She glared at him, snapping open her fan and hiding most of her distaste behind it. “I’m sure you had your reasons, but you ignored it.”

Ougai glanced towards Elise, clearly hoping for a reprieve but Elise had been steadfastly ignoring him even after he re-summoned her after the funeral.

“And now, Chuuya is also gone.” Kouyou didn’t stutter over his name. She gave no sign that the loss burned in her chest. As far as any observer could tell, she was just annoyed over the situation Ougai had left them in. “Which leaves us in this precarious situation.”

Chuuya was a pillar of the current Port Mafia.

It wasn’t just because of his physical strength and ability. Kouyou had helped mold Chuuya into the perfect executive. He could negotiate with the most shrewd and cunning, build connections in mere moments, forge loyalty with a single second. Chuuya was the best of the best among whatever field he worked in, a genius in his own right.

Chuuya had handled many of their foreign affairs, both in the meeting room and on the battlefield. In his absence, his contacts sent their condolences but blood was in the water. They laid in wait either to see who the Mafia would send out next — who would probably not be as familiar with the contracts or as skilled as Chuuya — or to take advantage of the gap that had been left in the Mafia’s operations overall.

How many of their current affairs were carried by Chuuya’s charisma? How many relied on his reputation of keeping his promises (or threats)? How many might grow bold without the threat of crushing gravity?

In other words, the Port Mafia was screwed in more ways than one.

It put their ability to keep the crime of Yokohama under their thumb. Kouyou knew they may be facing a power vacuum that normally only occurred in the wake of the Boss’s death.

Ougai sighed. “And who would you suggest I promote to executive?”

Actually, now that Kouyou thought about it…

“Hirotsu —”

“Hirotsu-san has made it clear on multiple occasions that he is fine with his current position and has no wish to be an executive.”

Kouyou snapped her fan shut. “This is why we should’ve been training potential candidates, like we did for Chuuya and Dazai.”

“Well, I did ask Dazai-kun to do that with Akutagawa-kun.” Ougai admitted. Both of them winced at that. “His temper and impulsiveness as well as his inability to delegate or actually command the team I gave him meant that he has not been a good candidate. Those have been improving lately but it’s still not good enough.”

Mentally, Kouyou ran through other potential candidates that were high enough that a promotion to executive wouldn’t be too out of the blue.

Higuchi? She had an excellent commanding presence and could organize like no one’s business. However, she was still too inexperienced in working with the Mafia as a whole and not as trained in fighting. That didn’t even mention that she was much too devoted to Akutagawa.

Gin? Skilled, deadly, and experienced. But she was just as prone to striking first as her brother and she was not the most diplomatic of choices.

Tachihara? While he might have chosen the Mafia over the Hunting Dogs, he was still on thin ice. Though funnily enough, Kouyou once thought of him as a disagreeable, trigger-happy punk, but the parts of him he’d hidden as a Hunting Dog made him a better candidate once his alliances settled fully.

Kajii? No, absolutely not.

She couldn’t think of anyone else.

Why was there no one else??

“As you can see,” Ougai drawled, predicting the direction of her thoughts, “it simply hasn’t been a matter of me putting off such a decision. I simply have not found or recruited anyone who would be at the level required of an executive.”

Kouyou wasn’t completely buying it. “And you didn’t tell us so we could be on the lookout for someone, because…” She raised an eyebrow as he almost sheepishly looked away.

“Though now that I think about it, that Sigma fellow hasn’t chosen an organization officially yet, correct? How do you think he’d feel about taking over our casinos?” Ougai completely ignored her question.

“We already have Akutagawa and probably many more who are in Dazai’s corner; we don’t need another one.” She flatly said. She didn’t say that Ougai himself was among them and that Chuuya had been as well whatever he might have said.

“I suppose.”

Plus with how sketchy his origins were, and he hadn’t talked much about what exactly he’d been doing in the years since he’d fallen into the Decay of Angels, Kouyou couldn’t quite bring herself to trust him. There was simply too much at stake.

Kouyou’s hand tightened around her fan.

The Port Mafia could not fall.

Chuuya had died to free them from the dangers of the Book. He’d died to protect them all. He’d died just like any other member of the Mafia would for the greater good of the organization.

He did it so no one else would have to in this conflict.

“The fact remains that I cannot do this alone, Ougai-dono.” Kouyou forced herself to admit. Weakness was to be stamped out or else taken advantage of in the Mafia, but she couldn’t do what Chuuya could. She was not nearly strong enough.

She could not pick up his burdens.

“If an executive is not an option, what about having sub-executives once more? Then perhaps we could get some more use from that man.” She proposed instead.

Ougai studied her for a long moment. Then he cracked a smile. “Do not worry, Kouyou-kun. We will not let Chuuya-kun’s sacrifice be in vain.”

He stood up and walked to the window, casting his gaze across Yokohama. “Chuuya-kun believed that we were strong enough to continue his work. His greatest wish was to protect us all.”

Ougai turned back to her. “And as always, we shall rise to the occasion.

“We will protect Yokohama and our organization shall crush any who dare take advantage of his death.”

Kouyou swallowed around a lump in her throat and ignored how her eyes stung.

“For that is what the Port Mafia does.”

“If you don’t dream, does that mean you don’t have any wishes?”

Dazai honestly hadn’t meant to cause any existential crises. Even if they were now in opposing organizations, he’d just wanted to check up on Chuuya after hearing about the harrowing losses the Port Mafia had taken during an accident while fighting an opposing organization. He knew Chuuya would take it personally like he does every death in the Mafia.

He thought showing up to bother Chuuya and putting in Disney movies like when they were teens would at least mean that Chuuya wasn’t pulling out the alcohol to help him fall asleep.

But now he had a sleepy chibi laying his head on his lap, already tipsy on half a glass of wine and seriously trying to analyze a cartoon that’s at least one third cat and mouse shenanigans.

“Pretty sure it could just mean that you’re traumatized.” Dazai deadpanned, trying his best to ignore the flush on Chuuya’s face as he rolled slightly so he was looking up at Dazai instead of the movie.

“I don’t dream.”

“I know.”

“But then again, I guess I don’t really have any wishes either.”

Dazai blinked at that. “Really?” That didn’t sound right. “You don’t?”

Chuuya stared at him for a long moment before he turned back to the movie. “Nothing that could actually happen at least.”

“Don’t you at least have some goals to look forward to?” Dazai knew Chuuya always set goals for himself in the past. It was part of how he could keep moving forward.

“Besides protecting the Port Mafia and Yokohama?”

“That’s more of a mission statement at this point.” Dazai couldn’t help but consider due to all of the targets being pointed towards their beloved city.

“Then no, not really. Kinda fulfilled them all.” Chuuya seemed fairly neutral about that, but Dazai couldn’t tell if he actually didn’t care or if the wine had helped mellow him out.

“So what would you want to dream about, if you could?” Dazai wondered out loud.

Chuuya distractedly hummed as his eyes didn’t leave the screen. “On second thought, maybe it’s best if I don’t dream.

“After all, the Port Mafia’s really not the place for it.”

Dazai found he couldn’t really disagree with that.

The amount of paperwork involved with death was staggering.

Dazai had certainly been aware of the amount when you were causing it or, as he did nowadays, investigating, but he’d never thought about how much paperwork was involved when dealing with what was left of the deceased.

He wrinkled his nose as he went through all of the official documents regarding the larger possessions he was supposed to inherit — deeds, titles, proof of purchase, etc. — and the list Kouyou had given him to ensure it was all squared away.

He wasn’t even able to truly own most of this for a full year! Why did he have to do this now?!

Dazai groaned, running a hand through his hair.

He didn’t want to have to do this.

But at least he was almost done.


Dazai flipped through the documents once more, but no, it was unfortunately true.

The last bits of property he was meant to inherit (in a year) were missing.

Meaning he was going to have to make a phone call.

He didn’t want to do that either.

Still, if it meant he didn’t have to deal with most of this until next year…

Dazai dialed Kouyou’s number.

“Yes. May I ask who this is?” Kouyou stiffly and properly answered after it rang three times. Unusually not as prompt as she was back in the day, but then again, Dazai was using his newer phone and was no longer her equal in the organization.

“Kouyou-neesan! Just a quick question!” He made sure to infuse his voice with all the cheer he didn’t feel.

“...Dazai.” Kouyou sighed and Dazai’s smile became more genuine at her exasperated tone. “Do I even want to know how you got this number?”

“Kouyou-san, it’s me.” And really that was all the explanation needed.

“Indeed.” She huffed and he could practically see her sitting back in her chair. “Now what did you need?”

“Well,” he picked up the listing she’d given him, “I’ve gone through basically all the official documents you told me I needed to double check but two of them are missing.”

“Oh? Which ones?”

Dazai gulped as he stared down at the page. “Apparently, I’m meant to inherit two burial plots?”

There was a notable pause. “Ah.” Kouyou finally said, and most people wouldn’t have noticed how forcibly steady her voice was. “Apologies. Let me check.”

Dazai ignored the shifting on the other end of the line as he began to put the rest of the documents away. Just this last thing and then he could go steal Kunikida’s wallet for supper.

So what if the stipend from Chuuya’s inheritance for him had been transferred to his accounts already? It could never beat the thrill of using someone else’s money.

“Ah, here we are. It was with the paperwork from Chuuya’s funeral.” Kouyou returned to the phone.

He frowned, the last of the papers straightened with a tap and filed away.

Kouyou must’ve heard his unvoiced question. “Chuuya owned the rights to four different plots. I got all of them out together when following his funeral wishes.”

“Oh, where were all of them?” Dazai had been surprised enough that he was getting two burial plots, but to think Chuuya had more? Why would he need so many?

“Well, the one he designated for his own usage and is where his marker now is.” Kouyou explained. “He also owned the plot next to that Rimbaud fellow, but he left that for Verlaine.”

Ah, that was probably the first one he bought, long before Verlaine darkened their doorway. That made sense at least.

“The other two, which you’ll be receiving if you fulfill your conditions…” There was a rustling of paper over the line. “The first is next to Chuuya’s grave. He bought it back when he made the arrangements for the Young Bloods.”

Dazai felt his mouth go dry.

Why would Chuuya have bought another grave beside his? That spoke of intention, of planning. But who besides the Flags would he want buried beside him?

“And the other?” Dazai managed to get out around the lump forming in his throat.

“The other is in an entirely different cemetery.” He could hear the note of confusion in Kouyou’s voice before it was followed by the tapping noise of computer keys. “It seems… he bought it around four years ago along with the plot beside it, but he ended up using that one to bury some low level grunt it seems.”

Dazai’s stomach dropped.

Funny to think that Chuuya could still gut punch him from beyond the grave.

“Huh. He left a sticky note to ask you which one you wanted. I guess he intended to talk to you about it…”

“I see…” Dazai croaked.

Kouyou paused. “Dazai?” She sensed that something was off, but Dazai quickly brushed it aside.

“Never knew the slug could actually make plans for the future. Who’d have thought, right?”

“Dazai, are you —”

“Send me the paperwork when you can, Ane-san! I can hear Kunikida-kun calling me!”


He hung up before she could question him further.

For a moment, he just sat there, blankly staring at his phone.

Then Dazai slumped over the table, a small whimper escaping despite his best efforts.

He knew where the other grave was.

He knew, but he couldn’t believe it.

Dazai always thought that Hirotsu was the one who made the arrangements for Odasaku.

Hirotsu, despite not being an executive, was privy to many things above his station. So he was among the few, besides Mori himself and Chuuya, who knew about Odasaku and Ango’s connection to him. He’d had to pick up Dazai from Bar Lupin a couple of times when Chuuya was out on missions.

So it had seemed obvious, if anyone were to take note of Odasaku’s loss and see to it that he was properly buried beyond the bare minimum the Mafia was required to do for lost subordinates, it would be Hirotsu.

But no, it was Chuuya.

True, that sort of sentimentality was part of Chuuya’s character, but Dazai dismissed the possibility years ago.

After all, Chuuya returned just as Dazai exited. He had enough on his plate, probably with orders to search for Dazai while facing accusations of either aiding him or attempting to leave himself. Dazai figured that Chuuya wouldn’t have looked into the events preceding his departure.

This implied that he did.

If Chuuya made sure Odasaku was buried properly, and in a place he could potentially go to in the future, then it probably wouldn’t have been a great leap of logic to put two and two together and figure out why Dazai was gone.

For once, Dazai wondered how much Chuuya knew about the whole thing. What Mori had told him, what he’d found out himself, if he knew all the pieces, if he’d been able to draw his own conclusions about the whole incident.

Dazai never explained. He wanted to, but didn’t. Chuuya never asked a thing about it while sober, and even when he did reference it, it was never about why he left.

He once said he understood why he left.

Dazai didn’t think he actually did though.


Hadn’t Chuuya once said that betraying your organization for the sake of a friend was the most understandable thing in the world? Or something along those lines?

(Dazai knew exactly what he’d said. Practically everything Chuuya ever said to him was burned into his brain baring other circ*mstances. Even when he defected, he knew Chuuya would understand, for one reason or another.

But he still couldn’t bring himself to tell him.)

That knowledge just made this whole thing worse.

And then there were the graves themselves.

Chuuya clearly intended those graves, or at least one of them, for him.

For Dazai, who wished to kill himself more than anything, that was a more thoughtful and intimate gift than anything else in the world.

He never really gave a thought to what would happen to him after he died.

But Chuuya clearly did.

And he had decided to ensure that Dazai would be properly buried as well.

First by him, if the plot next to his own spot by the Flags was any indication, then perhaps by Odasaku as the later purchase implied. He planned to give Dazai a choice between him or Odasaku.

How cruel that he couldn’t have them both. How cruel that he’d been left behind with neither to support him now.


Dazai lifted his head at Kunikida’s call. The other stood in the doorway, concern flickering over his face as he gave him a once-over.

Outside the window, the sky was dark. More time had passed than Dazai thought since his call to Kouyou. He hadn’t even noticed.

“It’s time to close. As you’re not on a case, don’t expect overtime.” Kunikida clearly was trying to get back into their usual routine, but his voice was too soft for that.

“Of course.” Dazai attempted to indulge him. He rose up and grabbed his cane, tucking the files under his arm. “Ah, I worked so hard today. I’m so tired I don’t know what I’ll do for supper.”

Kunikida pushed his glasses up. “I suppose I can treat you, just this once.”

Dazai locked his inheritance away in his desk as he passed.

“Oh, if Kunikida-kun’s buying, how can I say no?”

He wasn’t really hungry though.

“Do you actually have a plan for if you die one of these days?”

Dazai did his best to ignore him. After all, he was mad at him.

Chuuya had once again thwarted his attempts to end this whole charade called life. Now, Chuuya finished with the final stitch to close his wounds and reached over to grab the gauze and bandages.

“Oi! I’m talking to you!”

“What’s that? I can only hear a tiny doggy yapping.”

The glare Chuuya sent him would be lethal to anyone else. Luckily, Dazai was as immune to such looks as he was to abilities.

“It’s a legitimate f*cking question, moron!”

“Why would I care?” Dazai blandly retorted, already over this conversation and Chuuya’s incoming lecture. “I’ll be dead. The dead don’t care.”

Chuuya’s hand tightened around where he was holding his arm still, enough that it hurt. He loosened it as he continued to wind the bandage around.

Hmm. Perhaps that wasn’t the best thing to say to a person who still visited the grave of someone they killed together almost a year ago. The kind of person who offered a swift death to everyone but him. The sort of person who admonished others for shooting bodies that were already dead.

Chuuya had a level of respect for the dead.

Dazai wondered if that would be extended to him someday.

“So you won’t mind if I throw you into the sea to join your fishy brethren.” Chuuya finally said as he finished off the bandage and moved onto his other arm. “Good to know.”

“Ew. No. Don’t do that.” Dazai whined, though part of him knew Chuuya only said it to get a reaction.

“I thought you didn’t care.” The smile Chuuya flashed him was as victorious as it was vicious.

“I don’t.” He insisted. “I just think I deserve nothing less than a shrine for my poor grieving shortstack to worship.”

“That sounds like you certainly care.”

It occurred to Dazai that Chuuya was actually serious about this. Most of his concentration was on wrapping his bandages back up, but Chuuya’s eyes kept flicking to his as if hoping to find sincerity.

Well, perhaps he could throw his dog a bone.

“I never really thought about it.” Dazai never saw a reason to. After all, he planned to have a nice and peaceful suicide. He had no intention of leaving behind any meaningful traces in this world. No one would care about his death and no one would mourn him — well, Mori may mourn the loss of his brilliant mind, but that was it. “It didn’t seem like it’d be my concern.”

The dead really had no reason to care once they were dead. Whatever happened to them after death was a matter for the living to deal with.

Chuuya tchted as he finished off the last of the needed bandages. “Wow, Mr. Control Freak doesn’t have a plan for after. What a shock.” He seemed upset for some reason that Dazai couldn’t fathom.

Then again, Chuuya was a sentimental and caring fool. This was just the sort of thing he’d get uppity about.

“Why does it even matter to you?” Dazai attempted to turn it back around on him.

Chuuya just stared at him.


Chuuya sighed, tossing the unused bandages back on the counter. “You’re so f*cking stupid.”


Why did Dazai feel like he missed something?

Kunikida found himself in a bit of a dilemma.

He’d been… surprised, to say the least, when he’d received something in Nakahara’s will. And a bit guilty, for how sorely he’d judged him at the end. And perhaps a bit angry, too, because of how Nakahara’s death had affected Dazai and that of all things he’d bequeathed to him, it was methods for punishing Dazai even further.

(Kunikida had given the “500 Methods” a quick read. While it was indeed beautifully organized — he begrudgingly couldn’t help admiring the efficiency, care, and skill behind it — it had some of the most deranged punishments he had ever seen concocted.

Tying Dazai upside down to a pole and spinning him til he puked? Why had that seemed like a method he’d actually used given the detail behind it?

Strangling Dazai? Nakahara had noted the effectiveness and made points on how to do it safely without killing him, but why had he added not to use it because Dazai enjoyed it?

Why was the number one most torturous method for Dazai’s punishment complimenting him? Why was it followed by a debate on how hard it was to find genuine things to say — because they had to be genuine — and whether it was worth getting him to shut up for at least fifteen minutes?

There was so much unsaid history between the lines that Kunikida was left dumbstruck.)

Then Nakahara had almost immediately turned his opinion around by tricking Dazai into living for another year. Which gave them all an opportunity to ensure that Dazai lived on longer than that.

Nakahara had manipulated Dazai so easily and thoroughly that Kunikida almost wished he could ask how he did it.

Though there might be a way for him to find out regardless of the situation.

For there was a second document on the flash drive.

One titled, “The Care and Keeping of Dazai Osamu.”

Which led to Kunikida’s dilemma.

Ozaki had made no mention of such a document. Perhaps she hadn’t bothered to check, Nakahara indicating exactly what was meant for him and her trusting that all was squared away. Or she’d checked and didn’t feel it was perhaps relevant.

Still, either way, despite its lack of acknowledgement, it was clearly meant for him.

Kunikida couldn’t bring himself to open it though.

If anything, this whole incident had forced Kunikida to realize the gap between him and Dazai, despite being partners for two years ever since he joined the Agency. It also made him see that even after four years apart and only three years of partnership (only one more than him), whatever gap one could expect between Dazai and Nakahara was no more than a blip on their radar.

Why did Nakahara know his partner so well when Dazai was now on the opposite side? Why were the two of them able to understand each other so easily? People had commented on his and Dazai’s synergy before, but it was nothing like Dazai’s with Nakahara. Even now, he struggled to understand and accept Dazai and his plans, but Nakahara just got it, even if he complained about it.

But now the key to closing that gap was before him and he couldn’t bring himself to open it.

Was it because Nakahara was a mafioso who had some sort of strange and insane relationship with Dazai while they were partners in the Mafia and he didn’t trust him? No, except for the end when he went rogue, Nakahara had surprisingly always been one of the most responsible and reliable members of the Mafia to work with.

Was it because it felt like cheating? Like he should be able to figure these things out himself? Perhaps a small bit of that was true. After all, while he hadn’t known him as long — and such things did take time — he’d known him as he currently was and Dazai had changed. Besides, Kunikida preferred to earn his victories.

Was it because he was jealous of how Nakahara still somehow knew Dazai the best despite everything?


Kunikida didn’t want to examine that possibility too closely.

Even if it perhaps held the most truth.

However, Kunikida could admit that even with everything else — his suspicions, his feelings, and his stubbornness — Dazai needed help.

Dazai needed help now more than ever.

So how could Kunikida not use every tool at his disposal to do so.

Finally, he managed to click on and open the Word document.

It was as thorough as “500 Methods” was.

Lists, explanations, advice, recipes — Kunikida skimmed as he scrolled down the pages, finding an abundance of information. It was as cleanly organized as the punishments as it was put together by either topic or theme. Already, he found himself beginning to make a plan based on it, inserting what he needed to do into his schedule.

Kunikida’s watch beeped, indicating it was time to rest his eyes and look away from any computer screens, and he sighed as he sat back and looked away.

He should probably share this with Yosano. Together, they could create a much more comprehensive plan for dealing with Dazai going forward. They could clue in the others as well as needed.

Nakahara might have made this current mess, but you couldn’t say that he didn’t set the stage for it to be cleaned up.

Kunikida was reluctantly impressed.

Now just one mystery remained for him regarding Nakahara’s will.

When his eye break was over, Kunikida opened a search engine instead of the document he’d been perusing and typed in a single name.

His jaw dropped at the results.

“Dazai knows the leader of the Stray Sheep?!”

This was not an ideal situation.

If Kunikida had his way, they wouldn’t associate with mafia scum at all. But apparently, needs must and this alliance had its uses. Still, Kunikida would’ve preferred if he never had to contribute by working with any of them.

And yet he found himself here, waiting for their target to enter the trap, with Executive Nakahara Chuuya.

Kunikida hadn’t attempted any sort of interactions besides their initial briefing to ensure they were on the same page and then the check-ins after Nakahara periodically surveyed their surroundings. Kunikida just wanted to get this done and over with, eager to get away from the executive, and though Nakahara seemed more neutral on the whole affair, he did handle everything with a focus and professionalism Kunikida was grateful for.

But every now and then, Kunikida could sense Nakahara’s eyes straying from where the criminal was to appear and over to him. It was as if he was being studied for something, though Kunikida didn’t know for what.

He really should’ve expected Nakahara to break the silence.

“So…” Nakahara finally said, leaning back against the wall and focusing mainly on their target. “You’re that fish’s new partner, right?”

Kunikida frowned, gaze flicking over to him momentarily. “Fish?” He wrinkled his nose.

“That Mackerel.” Nakahara took out a cigarette and lit it up. He took a deep breath from it before he noticed Kunikida’s continued confusion and clarified. “Dazai.”

Kunikida stiffened. What could be Nakahara’s interest in Dazai? Kunikida now knew that Dazai was once in the Port Mafia, but why would Nakahara even know of him?

“Yes.” He eventually said. “What is your interest in him?”

“Me? Interested in him? Please.” Nakahara rolled his eyes as his nose wrinkled in disgust. “It’s just as his former partner, I thought I’d give my condolences for having to deal with him.”

Kunikida blinked, certain he had heard wrong. “Partner?”

“Yeah, I know, right?”

“With you?”

“That’s what I —” Nakahara cut himself off, eyes narrowing. “Oi! What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I just don’t understand why someone like Dazai would’ve been partnered with an executive.” Kunikida pushed up his glasses as he mulled it over. It made absolutely no sense for an organization as structured and strict as the Port Mafia to pair up such an odd couple.

There was a short silence and when Kunikida looked back over at Nakahara, the executive was staring at him with a dumbfounded expression on his face, his cigarette burning away without him bringing it up to his lips.

“You…” Nakahara was practically speechless as he studied him. “What do you think that sh*thead did in the Mafia?”

“Well, given his behavior now, I assume that he barely did any work, instead shoving paperwork on others and constantly going about on his own —”

“I suppose you’re not wrong in that regard.” Nakahara mumbled as he finally took another hit from his cigarette.

“— so he probably had a fairly low level position where it didn’t matter too much if he slacked off.” Kunikida concluded. It seemed to be a fair assessment given everything he knew about Dazai.

Nakahara’s silence in response though said otherwise. And he was looking at Kunikida like he was the dumbest person he’d ever met.

“Four Eyes,” Nakahara finally recovered enough to say, the nickname startling Kunikida, “sh*tty Dazai was an executive.”

It was Kunikida’s turn to stare. “…What?”

“Lucky bastard managed to get the title before I could even.”

The world as Kunikida knew it was crumbling around him.

“Surprised Boss didn’t mention it at the truce negotiations since he’s constantly whining about trying to get that waste of space back.”

It made no sense.

“But yeah, I hate to admit it but that asshole did —”

“Dazai??” Kunikida gasped, finally taking a breath. “An executive??”

Dazai was a menace simply as a co-worker. Him having the authority and power to order others around sounded like a nightmare.

“Yeah…” Nakahara almost looked concerned at his reaction, narrowing his eyes at him. He took a step away and looked back at their trap.

“I never would’ve thought of that.” Kunikida admitted.

“I can see that.” He took another puff. “He even had this stupid emo nickname by the time I joined, like people were actually afraid of him. Him! He’s just a weirdo who comes off like a half-drowned cat.”

“Did he now?” Kunikida hoped it was just as ridiculous as Nakahara implied.

“Yeah, they called him the Demon Prodigy.” Nakahara snorted. “See what I mean by stupidly emo?”

Kunikida’s hastily reconstructed world shattered again. His thoughts were in such a whirl that he tuned out Nakahara’s continued insults towards Dazai.

Everyone who dealt with crime had heard of the Demon Prodigy. Sure, the whispers of his feats had died down in the past four years, but no one had been sure if he was actually gone or just lying in wait to strike once more when their guard was down.

Kunikida, of course, had researched the rumors to keep on top of any trouble, as was his duty as a member of the Armed Detective Agency. He’d even tried to get Dazai to read up on it as a safety concern when he joined.

To think that the Demon Prodigy had been before him all along.


“Isn’t the Demon Prodigy simply one half of that rumored duo, Soukoku? Double Black?” Kunikida hissed. “Then who’s the other half?”

The other part of Soukoku didn’t necessarily have a name. Some weren’t even sure that it truly was a duo, simply a single entity who created such rumors to veil its true form. However, most insisted that it was a pair, hence the “double” or “twin” that characterized their name. But unlike the Demon Prodigy, there was no catchy title to elevate that second half.

The Demon Prodigy’s partner was known simply as a Calamity. A devastating storm of darkness and blood. Someone or something that brought nothing but destruction to their enemies.

Nakahara was staring at him again.

“I’m beginning to see how he’s able to keep a job with you all.” Nakahara muttered to himself.

Kunikida squinted at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I already gave you an answer.” Nakahara’s eyes flicked back to their trap. “Ah, there’s our guy.”

Kunikida swung his head around and saw that, indeed, their target had fallen into their trap.

Nakahara threw what was left of his cigarette to the ground and snuffed it under his heel. “I’ll go shake him down for the info I need and ensure he doesn’t say more than needed to the cops, and then he’s all yours for your case.”

“Wait, is that it?” Kunikida was still reeling from the revelations, but he couldn’t believe Nakahara would drop all of that for work, even as he could admire his commitment.

Nakahara looked at him for another long moment. “You are exactly the type that sh*thead loves to mess with. But you’ll still look after him anyway.” With that he turned away and stalked towards the caught criminal.

He wasn’t wrong but Kunikida still found himself on the back foot. “How do you know that?” After all, this was the first time he and Nakahara ever really interacted.

He saw the flash of a razor sharp grin as Nakahara gave him one last glance over his shoulder.

“Well, that’s what partners do, right?”

Normally, when Atsushi found himself looking for Dazai, he ended up in front of that strange grave that Dazai didn’t explain beyond saying it was a friend.

However, today Atsushi’s feet led him to a different grave where he had a feeling Dazai would be instead.

And he was right.

When Atsushi found Dazai at Oda’s grave, his mentor was usually leaning back against it, perhaps with a couple glasses of whiskey for himself and his old friend. In contrast, Dazai sat before Chuuya’s grave staring it down with his head in his hand and his cane by his side. He was searching the grave’s image like one searches someone’s face, clearly looking for an answer the stone could not provide.

“Dazai-san?” Atsushi called out as he approached. He glanced over him, but there were no signs of injury thankfully.

Dazai hummed in response, but his eyes didn’t stray from the name on the grave.

Atsushi had questions — it seemed he always did when it came to his mentor and friend — but he knew it was pointless to ask them. Dazai dodged questions like he dodged punches — they only hit if he allowed them to. Or if someone at Chuuya’s level stopped subconsciously taking it easy on him. But that appeared to have been part of the strange dynamic between the two.

In lieu of asking Dazai anything, Atsushi instead decided to join him and sat down next to him. After all, they weren’t needed for a meeting or case. Kunikida had simply asked him to find and check on Dazai.

They’d all been keeping a careful eye on Dazai, even after the will reading motivated him to stick around a bit longer.

Surprisingly, Dazai was the one who broke the silence.

“He bought me a grave.”

Atsushi blinked. “He did?” He prompted, trying to figure out where he was going with this.

Dazai’s lips quirked up for a second. “Yes.” His hand reached out to trace Chuuya’s name. “Two, even. So I could choose to be here —” he gestured at the spot next to them that was unoccupied “— or with Odasaku.”

The name wasn’t familiar but Atsushi put the pieces together from the family name on Dazai’s other frequented grave.

“That’s… nice? Of him?” Atsushi wasn’t sure how to react to that. He never really thought of what would happen when he died. He tended to focus on not dying at all.

“It was.”

Then again, this was Dazai he was talking about. With his constant talk of death, a promised grave was probably as good as a marriage proposal. More welcome, too.

Dazai chuckled in a way Atsushi had never heard before. “He’s such a sentimental little idiot. He actually cared about that kind of stuff.”

Atsushi observed him, glancing between him and the gravestone. “You were partners, right? You must’ve been really close.”

Dazai grew more pensive somehow at his words. He was silent for a few minutes before he spoke again. “Anything I would never want to lose is always lost. It is a given that everything that is worth wanting will be lost the moment I obtain it. There’s nothing worth pursuing at the cost of prolonging a life of suffering.”

There was a wistful tone in his voice, but something about his words made Atsushi shudder. He didn’t like it; like a discordant note at the edge of his hearing, it alerted him to a sense of danger.

It didn’t help how distant Dazai’s gaze had become. “I didn’t think he could be lost. He was stupidly energetic and stubborn, never giving in when others would’ve long since perished. He was one of the few things that was mine.

“But I let him go first.”

Atsushi wasn’t sure what he was driving at, his brow furrowing as he tried to guess what the point of this was.

Dazai tilted his head back, now gazing at the sky. “Can you lose something if you choose to leave it behind?”


Atsushi began to have an idea what this was about.

“Even then, I didn’t think I could really lose him. Even if I was the one to leave, even if I left him behind. I didn’t try keeping him or pursuing him, but still —” Dazai’s breath hitched for just a moment and if Atsushi’s eyes hadn’t been riveted on his face, he’d have missed it “— I still lost him.”

Dazai didn’t know the point either, Atsushi realized. He didn’t have an answer on how to face this loss. He didn’t know why Chuuya was gone after everything they’d been through. He was still trying to work this out himself.

Perhaps that was why, for once, Dazai seemed so incredibly open. Like Chuuya’s death had left a crack in his normal facade and now even budding detectives like himself could see the true Dazai peeking through.

Dazai was just another human being like the rest of them, and he couldn’t handle the death of someone he once cared about.

Or rather, someone he still cared about.

But in this instance, Atsushi thought that he could help.

Just like Dazai helped him.

“You once told me,” Atsushi began, “that these were my feelings and it was okay to make whatever expression I wanted. That applies to you, too, you know? Even if you’re still not sure how you feel.”

Dazai finally looked at him, his face and eyes blank.

“But… I can say this. Even though the circ*mstances are different and I got him back…” Atsushi offered a small, reassuring smile. “I think that when you lose your partner, you have a right to be upset or feel however else you might feel.”

Because even though he hadn’t wanted Akutagawa as a partner, even though they’d been pushed together as more reluctant allies than anything else it seemed, Atsushi had mourned him when he died. There had been many emotions swirling through him as well, leaving him hurt and confused.

But Atsushi had felt upset over Akutagawa’s fate. That much he knew.

It was only through happenstance that Atsushi had gotten him back. And he hadn’t wasted a moment like he had before, trying to make an effort this time to actually know him this time.

Though like he said, Dazai’s circ*mstances were different. He and Chuuya had actually known each other, too well some might say. They’d had the time to do so and the peak of their partnership had passed when Dazai left the Mafia, even if they reprised it for the sake of Yokohama and the world when needed. Still, despite everything, no one could deny how they were still connected.

Atsushi had noted once that Dazai continued to refer to Chuuya as his partner.

It was certainly interesting to him that Dazai had gotten a new partner at the Agency with Kunikida, while Chuuya never had another one. He wondered if that meant anything.

Right now, Atsushi just hoped that his words reached Dazai.

Dazai stared at him before blinking and looking away, laughing quietly. “Ah, they grow up so quickly!” He brushed a fake tear from his eye. “One minute you’re giving advice to your kouhai and then before you know it, they’re trying to return it.”

“Dazai-san…” Atsushi frowned at how Dazai’s mask had returned to its place. “You…”

“I know.” Dazai’s face was hidden by his bangs so Atsushi couldn’t see what he looked like in that moment, but he could hear the seriousness in his voice. “I know.”

He sounded tired.

Fortunately, Atsushi knew of a way that would (hopefully) help Dazai perk up again. And perhaps help with the heartache he currently felt.

“Can you tell me more about him?” Atsushi asked. “I still feel like I didn’t get to know Chuuya-san all that well, and…” His voice trailed off as he glanced over once again.

Dazai smiled.

It was a small and melancholy thing, but Atsushi could feel that it was genuine.

Then it was gone again.

“Well, I suppose I can indulge you.” He snickered with a sly sideways look. “But the blackmail won’t work all that well anymore.”

“What?! That’s not —?!” Atsushi spluttered to Dazai’s utter delight.

But a moment later, it was Atsushi who was delighted as Dazai launched into a story.

“Well, you see, Atsushi-kun, over seven years ago, I was just minding my own business doing an investigation for the Mafia, when suddenly this small little fairy kicked me into a wall…”

Atsushi knew he didn’t belong here.

After all, what right did he have to be here, when Akutagawa had died for him?

He couldn’t face it, so that was why he lingered here, beneath a copse of trees, watching Akutagawa’s funeral proceedings.

He didn’t even know exactly why he’d come in the first place. They were all supposed to remain in hiding until they could start on their next plan, but this morning Ranpo had taken one look at him and sighed, slapping a piece of paper in his hand with the time and place. He’d just warned him to keep a low profile and stay out of sight.

Atsushi clutched the package in his arms closer to his chest.

So, really, he couldn’t, no, he shouldn’t risk everything just to —

“Aren’t you supposed to be laying low, kid?”

Atsushi jolted, nearly launching himself up the tree he was under. He swung around and found himself face to face with Nakahara Chuuya.

“Na-na-nakahara-san?!” He stammered out as he placed a hand to his chest, trying to calm his frantic heart.

“Call me Chuuya.” Chuuya automatically replied, his gaze flicking over Atsushi.

“Ah, Chuuya-san, then.” Atsushi let out a final huge breath. “What’re you doing here?”

Chuuya simply raised an eyebrow at him. “What am I doing here?” He glanced down at where Akutagawa’s grave now sat. “I think the better question—” He looked back up at Atsushi “— is what are you doing here, weretiger?”

Okay, that was a stupid question.

Obviously, Chuuya had come for Akutagawa’s funeral. He’d even dressed differently than the normal outfit Atsushi generally saw him in, now wearing a much more formal suit and tie, though his characteristic hat was in his hand out of respect and his choker and gloves were in their normal spots.

“I… I just —” Atsushi gazed down at the small crowd that had begun to disperse.

Chuuya didn’t force an answer from him, following the direction of his gaze. “Ah.” He said. “I suppose that bastard did have a scheme of making you two partners.”

“Yeah…” Atsushi said quietly.

The two of them just stood there for a moment.

“It’s my fault.” Atsushi confessed. “It’s my fault he’s dead.”

Chuuya was silent before releasing a sigh. “I read the report.” He said. “My boy Akutagawa made his choice. You’re not to blame for his choices.”

But why? Atsushi’s heart and mind screamed. Why did he choose to save me?!

As if hearing his unspoken question, Chuuya continued, “He must’ve felt you were worth it.” And even though he was looking down at Akutagawa’s grave, his eyes seemed to be looking into the distant past. “Besides, his sacrifice let you get away with Lynchpin and reveal the identity of Kamui, according to Prof. Glasses. So now we can better prepare for what comes next.”

“But-but if I was stronger!” Atsushi protested, the fight playing over and over in his head. “Or if it had been you and Dazai-san —”

“That’s a mistake.”

“Huh?” Atsushi snapped out of it, looking over at Chuuya.

“Comparing yourself to me and Dazai, that’s a mistake. From the sounds of it, maybe that might have been a mistake you made in that fight.” Chuuya rolled his eyes slightly, pushing his hair back from his face. “I don’t know what Akutagawa told you, but he’s pretty biased and he doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. Tell me honestly, do you really want to be like me and Dazai?”

Atsushi’s first response was to shout “Yes!” but he held it back. After all, who wouldn’t want to be on their level, a pedestal that few could surpass? The strongest mind and the strongest ability user and fighter, capable of taking down everything and everyone in their way. They were the pinnacle of victory.

But at what cost?

For the first time, he seriously thought about it.

Dazai — trying to be a good person (that Atsushi believed he already was) but constantly joking about suicide and attempting to kill himself in a way Atsushi didn’t think was completely ingenuine. Chuuya — hailed as the strongest, yes, but here he stood now, away from his comrades, mourning alone if Atsushi hadn’t been there.

And then he thought of Dazai in general…

“See? You don’t want that. And you literally can’t be us.” Chuuya pointed out. “You can only be the weretiger and Akutagawa. You have your own strengths and abilities, things even we don’t have. You should hone what you can do and fight with what you actually have, not focus on how we would do it.”

It was solid advice. It was needed advice.

Back then, he and Akutagawa had focused on what Soukoku would do and then built their strategy from there. f*ckuchi’s sword was what ultimately helped him win the day, but if they’d been able to do more, worked with what had helped them win the day so far and gone farther with it, then perhaps they could’ve ultimately come out on top.

“Still…” Atsushi ran his hand over the package that had brought him here in the first place.

The movement attracted Chuuya’s attention. “...Is that Akutagawa’s coat?”

Atsushi flinched, reflexively holding it tighter. “Yeah…”

He shot him a clearly confused look, prompting Atsushi to explain.

“He’d given it to me to use which was why he couldn’t — I thought maybe I could — That his sister might — I can’t —” Atsushi realized he was trembling. He wasn’t sure what he was trying to say.

He didn’t know why he’d come.

Chuuya just studied him as he stammered, his gaze drifting down to the coat bundled up in his embrace.

“Keep it.” He cut through Atsushi’s verbal stumbling. “It won’t make his sister happy to get it; it was important to him, not her.”

Atsushi’s fingers twitched. Admittedly, he didn’t want to give it away, but he felt that he must.

Chuuya read his protest before it passed his lips. “He entrusted it to you for a reason.” As he said this, he placed his hat back upon his head, the silver chain upon it glinting in the sunlight. “And the things given to us by those who are dead and gone should be treated with care.”

“...Okay…” Atsushi agreed.

“Just keep that in mind, weretiger.”

“...You do know my name is Atsushi, right?”

A laugh burst from Chuuya’s mouth, and his eyes crinkled in delight. “So you do got some bite to you, after all!”

Atsushi grumbled at that, but for some reason, he did feel slightly better.

“Well, take care of yourself, kid. You’re needed for whatever you Agency dorks do next I’ll bet.”

“...What about you?” Atsushi couldn’t help but wonder. After all, while the Port Mafia had helped save the rest of the Agency, he wasn’t sure if they’d continue their involvement.

“I’m on stand-by for now.” Chuuya began to walk away. “I won’t move until it’s time to save my fish from that rat. I just need a cover for the plan I have in mind…” He trailed off, thinking, as he left the cemetery.

Atsushi stared after him, before his gaze once more returned to Akutagawa’s grave.

Despite the pain in his heart, with Chuuya’s words still in his ear, he felt a new resolve take hold.

He and the Agency would win this. Not just for their own sake, but to honor Akutagawa’s sacrifice as well.

Atsushi would fight to ensure it.

Hirotsu was not an overly suspicious person. In a world of supernatural abilities and in the shadows of the night where the Mafia ruled, one might think he was, but he really wasn’t.

However, he hadn’t survived this long by ignoring his instincts.

And something was going on.

There were whispers among the lower ranks. Miraculous saves in the field, people managing to survive harrowing situations, deals going through more easily than they should in the current chaotic times.

According to them, the Port Mafia was haunted.

“Ghosts aren’t real, right?” Tachihara’s pale face revealed his fear over the matter despite his nonchalant tone.

Gin gave him an incredulous look, raising an eyebrow at his expression.

Tachihara gave a nervous laugh. “Yeah, yeah, you’re right.” He tried to wave it off. “After all, if ghosts were real, considering how many people we’ve killed over the years, the Mafia would be toast, right? Right?”

Hirotsu sighed. “Can this conversation wait until after our mission is complete?”

“Yeah. Sure, sure.” Tachihara’s eyes darted around, though they seemed to be more on the look-out for ghosts than the actual smugglers they were looking for.

With Chuuya gone, some smartasses had gotten the bright idea to abscond with some shipments of jewels and art that had been under his purview. As if the Mafia wouldn’t come to take back what was theirs, especially in honor of their beloved executive.

The scouts reported no ability users among them, so the Black Lizard commanders would be more than enough to subdue them. Two ability users and a top-notch assassin? It would be child’s play.

Though Hirotsu couldn’t entirely fault Tachihara for his anxiety. They’d all emerged with scars from the Decay of Angels and Vampire Infection plots. Tachihara had fought on par with f*ckuchi and still been out matched in the end due to the trickery of time-bending abilities. Even after being infected with vampirism kept him alive, he’d only been able to fully recover due to the Agency’s doctor, which was a hard pill to swallow.

And Hirotsu did have a bad feeling about the mission, though it should be fairly easy.

Gin obviously felt it, too; she was poised to strike as she took in their surroundings.

Their caution was warranted.

With all of them alert, the ambush didn’t take them completely off guard.

As bullets rained down upon them, they went with their new, modified formation for dealing with such things. Gin melted into the shadows, ready to take out their opponents one by one with a stab to their vitals. Tachihara took on a stance of defense and offense, taking control of the bullets with his ability much like a certain executive used to and sending them back to the shooters before adding his own shots into the mix. Hirotsu continued his steady walk ahead, leaving things to his younger colleagues, with the intent of securing the cargo. Once located and the opposition oppressed, they could leave the rest to the grunts on stand-by.

Hirotsu sighed as he came across the missing crates in the backroom of the warehouse. It all seemed a bit too simple to him, so he deftly checked for traps as he looked them over.

He was so focused on the shipments that he neglected to check the room itself.

Hirotsu silently cursed the moment after he felt the twinge of a line being broken. He braced himself, knowing it was already too late as with a click, the guns hidden in the room immediately sent a spray of bullets towards him.

They never hit him though.

Hirotsu blinked.

The bullets were suspended in the air, mere inches from him.

Something had stopped them, just in the nick of time.

As Hirotsu watched, he caught a flicker of black tinged with red.

And then they were suddenly surrounded in white.

“Gramps!” Tachihara used his ability to fling the bullets away from him, destroying the guns as well.

Gin too slipped into the room, taking in the sights and shooting a confused glance at Hirotsu.

“Geez, talking to us about keeping our head in the game, but where was yours, old man?” Tachihara scolded as he double checked for other potential traps.

Hirotsu, though he still felt himself internally reeling, made a point to put himself back together. “You’re right, apologies.” He offered, brushing himself off. “I suppose I’m still adjusting as well.”

Both Tachihara and Gin softened slightly at that, exchanging a look. He knew they too were coping as well, and while the Mafia had done their best to try to move on, it hadn’t been that long since Chuuya’s loss.

Speaking of Chuuya…

“And I suppose there might be some merit to what Tachihara was saying earlier.” Hirotsu pulled out his phone to call in the grunts now that everything had been cleared up.

The blood drained from Tachihara’s face. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Hirotsu ignored him and got back to work as Gin tried to give him a comforting pat.

“Oi! Gramps! What does that mean?!”

Hirotsu had once assisted with hunting for ghosts and had found nothing to prove such things exist.

However, it wouldn’t be the first time an ability managed to outlast its wielder.

Nakahara Chuuya was much better to have as an ally than an enemy.

For such a small group with him as its only ability user and main combatant, the Sheep had managed to be a thorn in the Port Mafia’s side, even if its operations were small-scale. In the aftermath of the previous Boss’s passing, they’d quickly risen through the ranks of Yokohama’s underground.

Seeing Chuuya fighting made it clear why.

Hirotsu watched the kinetic whirlwind of energy that was Chuuya grace across the battlefield, taking out the last of the combatants and touching back down on the ground. Chuuya was only supposed to be shadowing him today, at Kouyou’s request for him to see the type of work Black Lizard typically did, but Hirotsu hadn’t anticipated an ambush while they were patrolling the edges of their territory.

Chuuya had it handled though, as he now fussed over his mussed clothes that Kouyou had put him into. They were a lot fancier and appropriate for the Mafia than the well worn clothes he’d been wearing the first time Hirotsu encountered him.

“Hey, gramps!” Chuuya’s call snapped him from his musings. The boy’s head was co*cked towards him, studying him as he waited for an order — he’d incapacitated his opponents, not killing them just yet. “You okay?”

Hirotsu gave him a slight nod. “Thank you for covering for me.”

“Of course.” Chuuya said it like it was matter-of-fact, as if they hadn’t been enemies not too long ago.

Hirotsu still wasn’t certain he would’ve come out on top in their fight, even with Dazai’s assistance. In fact, he’s almost certain he would’ve lost.

And yet now the boy easily came to his defense.

“Why?” He muttered mostly to himself.


He winced, clearly he hadn’t been as quiet as he thought. “I was wondering why you protected me.” Hirotsu pointed out. “You could’ve easily let me die and no one would’ve questioned it.”

Considering he’d made it clear that he intended to rise to executive rank, it would’ve been an excellent opportunity for him to take out a senior, high-ranked member to help pave the way. Many members, especially the more blood-thirsty ones, would’ve at least tried. That was what one could expect among the shadows of the Port Mafia. True, you had allies and worked for the organization’s goals, but at the end of the day, you had to look after yourself and your interests.

Chuuya stared at him like he was touched in the head.

“We’re both part of the same organization, aren’t we?” He burst out. “Why wouldn’t I protect you?”


The same protective nature that had made him King of the Sheep.

(Though it hadn’t saved him from a knife in the back.)

Such strong loyalty, so soon. Choosing to protect those who stood by his side, simply because he’d promised. It would take him far in an organization like the Port Mafia, it would make him a great asset.

(But it was no guarantee that history would not repeat.)

“Ah, quite right.” Hirotsu conceded. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Chuuya huffed, his hands planted on his hips. “That’s what I thought.” He turned to look back at poor souls who’d attacked them. “Now what?”

Hirotsu pulled out his cell phone. The interrogation squad had quite a long day ahead of them. “They’ll be taken care of.” He said before making the arrangements for their pick-up.

“Now,” Hirotsu said, snapping his phone shut, “we’ll move on.”

“Wow. Look at this place.” Yosano gave a low whistle as she looked around. “Though it’s not entirely what I expected.”

Dazai knew such a reaction was warranted from someone who knew of Chuuya but didn’t know him too well. However, at the same time, he didn’t quite understand it.

Because to him, Chuuya’s apartment, Chuuya’s home, made complete sense.

It was overall a stark contrast to Chuuya’s original, Mafia-assigned apartment he’d been given when he first joined. That’d been in a complex exclusively rented out to members of the Mafia near the core of their territory, nice enough and fully furnished but still with relatively small accommodations. Chuuya’s apartment in particular had been fairly bare bones, keeping the furniture that came with it and not decorating at all. The most personality in it had been things Dazai or the Flags would leave in there for him, or the contents of his wardrobe with an ever growing collection of high-end clothing.

Chuuya’s main residence now was a penthouse apartment that lingered on the edge of the Mafia’s territory and had an excellent view of the city and port that could be savored on a balcony. However, despite the hefty price and exquisite location of the place, the insides were the complete opposite of what one would expect. The furniture was miss-matched, bought for one reason or another but certainly not to imitate designer magazines. The place was neat but happily cluttered, with posters and pictures and photos on the walls, his laptop sitting on top of the coffee table next to the couch, shelves stuffed with books, movies, and knick knacks, and next to the top-of-the-line flatscreen TV and sound system there were video games, CDs, and even vinyl records. Turning towards the kitchen, separated from the living room by a countertop with barstools, it was clearly fully stocked with any needed kitchenware. A paw print mug sat next to the coffee machine, ready for a morning cup that wouldn’t be poured. A wine cooler with the bottles Chuuya wanted to keep on hand was in the same spot it always was.

Something about the sight made a lump form in Dazai’s throat.

Anyway, in short, for all the trappings of wealth it exposed, the actual apartment looked like a twenty-something year old lived in it. For as much as Chuuya actually stayed here, frequently getting caught up in his work.

Dazai had always found it cozy after Chuuya actually started buying things on his own for it. Sometimes, when he stayed here over his own place back then or his dorm now, a word came to mind when describing this apartment.

He never dared to let himself truly think it though.

“You can look around all you want.” Dazai tossed his keys into the lopsided bowl that was used for precisely that. He still remembered the bet between him and Chuuya that had resulted in its creation. “I think what I need will be in either the office or hidden in the guest bedroom.” It was just his luck that their current case was similar to a mission that he and Chuuya once ran and getting into Chuuya’s apartment was easier than breaking into the Port Mafia building since he now owned it — and he had needed to do an inspection anyway.

“I’m surprised you haven’t moved in yet. I would.” Yosano commented, wandering further into the apartment while Dazai headed directly to Chuuya’s home office.

Chuuya’s desk was as meticulously organized as his work office — everything had its place or else there would be no way for Chuuya to find what he needed or wanted. Dazai had once delighted in mixing things up just for that reason, but he was grateful for it in moments like these when he wanted to quickly find something.

He’d just found the file, when he heard Yosano’s voice drift in from the hall.

“Uh, Dazai?” She called. “What’s up with the hand rails?”

Oh, he supposed those would be an odd sight, not something you’d normally see in a stable, flat hallway. He wondered what she’d think of the railing in the bathrooms and tubs, of the headrest specially installed in the master bath to ensure Chuuya could potentially lay in it as long as he wanted without risk of his head going under.

Dazai knew she was probably picking up other hints of what was amiss as well. Like the fact that all the overhead lights worked with a dimmer switch. How everything was arranged for easy access or so it could be a support in case of falling.

All signs that the infallible, unstoppable Nakahara Chuuya was not as invincible as he appeared.

That reminds me… Dazai thought.

Dazai popped out of the office with a smile, startling Yosano. “I got what we need.” He said, waving the file and choosing not to answer. “But I just remembered that there’s something here that he’d probably want you to have.”

Yosano frowned, noticing him skipping past her question. “I already sent in my requests for what wines I want. What else could there be?”

“Ah, he probably didn’t think about this.” Dazai made his way towards the main bedroom.

“Chuuya said everything in here is yours, so why give it to me?” She still followed him.

“Trust me. It’s better off with you than me.” Dazai flatly said as he opened the door.

His heart clenched at the rumpled but still made bed. The pajamas tossed on top without a care. The stupid dog plushie he’d won from a claw machine and given to Chuuya (mostly) as a joke.

Dazai knew Yosano’s attention probably caught on the photos of him and Chuuya as teenagers — a set of photos made in a photo booth stuck to the edges of the mirror on the dresser, a frame with a picture from a security cam of them throwing rude gestures and faces at the camera, and others he only half remember getting taken of the two of them — but his attention was taken entirely on the black lockbox sitting on the middle shelf of Chuuya’s bedside bookshelf/table.

“Yosano-sensei.” He waited until she looked at him before gesturing at the box. “You need to take that box.”

Her brow furrowed as she glanced between him and the box. “You’re closer… Why don’t you take it?”

“Chibi’s rules!” Dazai declared, putting his hand not clutching his cane’s handle behind his back and rocking slightly on his heels. “I’m not allowed to touch it without his permission.”

And even then, Chuuya kept strict records of what was inside to ensure nothing was unexpectedly missing.

Obviously intrigued, Yosano walked around him to peer closer at the box.

“Actually, you can probably leave the box, you just need to take the contents.” Dazai amended. “The code is 04062919.”

Technically, it was a pretty simple lock. Eight numbers that you just had to make sure were in the correct order. Dazai could solve something like that in his sleep and Chuuya knew it so he never bothered to hide it.

It was only the trust between them that kept that box locked and out of Dazai’s hands. And the knowledge of what would happen if he did not respect Chuuya’s rules regarding it.

Yosano quickly spun the numbers of each slot until they were correct, the lock popping open and the lid easily rising to her touch.

Then she froze and stared at the contents.

“Dazai.” Her voice rang lowly. “What the hell is this?”

“That stupid chibi’s medications.” Dazai simply answered, though he knew that wasn’t what bothered her.

There were quite a few in there: pills for the ADHD that Chuuya eventually was diagnosed with; pills for the migraines that Chuuya tended to get; pills for the neuropathy that plagued Chuuya; pills for the chronic pain Chuuya experienced, especially in his joints; etc. Even the vitamins that Chuuya took along with everything else were in there.

“But the doses of these…” She took out one of his pain medications. Her voice faded in shock at the numbers on there, Dazai knew it all too well.

“Normal doses don’t work on strange slugs like him; Boss had to create these specifically for him.”

Sure, poisons were a very effective measure against Chuuya. They would hurt or possibly kill him just as much as anyone else, maybe even better. Painkillers and sedatives? Anything that might actually be helpful? Those had almost no effect on Chuuya — normal ones, that was. The concentrations needed to affect him would kill basically anyone else.

“You can probably see why I’m not allowed to touch that box now?” Dazai threw her a smile even as her expression turned horrified.

The box had always been quite the temptation, an easy way for Dazai to escape this wretched plane of existence, now more than ever.

But with Dazai’s luck, Death still wouldn’t take him even if he used Chuuya’s medications.

And if he ever tried to use those, Chuuya would refuse to get them ever again.

Chuuya was one of the strongest people Dazai knew. He had an incredibly high pain tolerance and he could endure practically anything. He would soldier on long after anyone else would collapse in agony.

The medications all helped. Chuuya would never admit it, but they did. He needed them, though he was always careful to not become addicted even with the amount he took in.

So Dazai could never let himself touch them. He’d kept his hands to himself, only retrieving what was needed when Chuuya couldn’t do it himself and he asked.

“Right.” Yosano dumped the contents of the black box into her bag, no doubt ready to properly dispose of them once they returned to the Agency.

“I think we’re done here.” Dazai turned to leave.

“Dazai,” Yosano asked, and he could hear the knowing in her voice as she now put all the pieces of the puzzle that were Chuuya’s accommodations together, “do you know why…”

“He never lived an easy life.” That was all Dazai could say. “Who can say for sure?”

The lab, living on the streets, Tainted Sorrow, Corruption. All contributing factors to why Chuuya was the way he was. Who knew what exactly could cause what. All had detrimental effects on Chuuya or exacerbated them even further.

Corruption always made everything worse though. That Dazai knew for sure.

“I see.” Yosano said, saying nothing further as they left.

Dazai took one last look around Chuuya’s home.

He could live here if he wanted. Maybe he would eventually.

But it just wasn’t the same as the warm place where he would always find and bother Chuuya.

“What are you doing?” Dazai scowled.

Chuuya was supposed to be resting at his apartment, still recovering from Corruption after he used it during the Dragon’s Head Conflict. Dazai was supposed to be bragging about his new status as an executive over his partner’s prone form.

Instead, Chuuya was somehow shuffling around, surrounded by boxes, and stuffing his meager possessions into even more boxes.

“I’m moving.” Chuuya said, voice low and even rougher than normal.

Dazai stared at him.

Sometimes, he was delighted by Chuuya's predictable unpredictableness, happy to be surprised with his dog.

Right now, he was just flabbergasted.

“Moving?” He asked. “Now?”

Chuuya needed to rest. He continued to move about as if Dazai couldn’t see the trembling of his limbs, the slight limp and fatigue dragging his feet. Sure, this had been much shorter than his first use of Corruption, but the aftereffects were still in full swing. Chuuya had just gotten out of the infirmary.

“Yeah. Found a new place all on my own.” Chuuya closed another box and moved onto another. “Can’t f*cking stand this place.”

That was a lie. Chuuya had been surprised at the apartment when he’d first been given it, if a tad bit disgruntled at how it was clearly an attempt to monitor him. And of course, he’d complained about that Albatross guy always —


Maybe it wasn’t a lie.

Dazai had noticed that Chuuya had been avoiding his apartment more and more since the King of Assassins incident. It was subtle at first, but when Chuuya had pushed for them to hang at Dazai’s abode instead, Dazai should have noticed something was wrong. They might have ended up here like usual, but the fact that he’d asked to go to Dazai’s

The apartment was a reminder of what Chuuya had lost. Of an upstairs neighbor who’d drag him on adventures. Of a handful of fools crowding into his space to party. Of Chuuya slowly beginning to accept them until they were abruptly ripped away. It hadn’t even been half a year since then, but the loss was still raw.

Chuuya had tried to recover in his own way. He buried what he could, but anyone who knew Chuuya from before could see the difference. And he’d tried to make new friends with his subordinates, look after them the way the Flags had looked after him.

Which had now spectacularly blown up in his face.

Dazai had known they were dead before Shibusawa had confirmed it. He’d wanted to warn Chuuya, but Chuuya had stopped him. He’d probably known as well, deep down.

At least Corruption had avenged them.

It seemed it was the final straw for Chuuya though.

Dazai sighed.

What sort of master would he be if he let this continue?

“Sit down before you fall down, Chibi.” He waved a hand, pushing Chuuya towards the couch.

Chuuya didn’t immediately toss him over his shoulder, a sure sign of how poorly he felt. “The f*ck?” He sputtered. “I’ve got sh*t to do. No!”

“It’s an order from an executive, Chuuya!”

“I ain’t taking orders from — Wait.” Chuuya squinted at him. “Executive?!” He burst out.

Dazai gave him a full, teasing smirk. “That’s right!” He sang. “A reward for all my hard work. So now you have to do what I say!”

“Hard work?! You just let your ass get captured by the enemy after lazing around!”

Well, Dazai knew Mori intended on rewarding them both. But unfortunately, there was only one seat open at the executive table at the moment. Chuuya would probably get the next one, and Mori would give him something to tide him over until then — once he was better.

Which wouldn’t happen if he didn’t rest.

“Why work hard when I can delegate it — like an executive — to some subordinates?” Dazai nudged Chuuya into sitting. He pulled out his cell phone.

He officially had more power now. He might as well use it.

“Maybe if you relaxed for once, you’d be able to rise to such heights, too!” He teased as he typed out the new orders. “Oh, wait! That’s impossible for a shortie like you!”

“Damn you!” Chuuya growled. “I’m not —“

He cut off as Dazai tossed a blanket on top of him, using his surprise to force him to lay down.

“If you really bought a place, you don’t need to move in right this second, idiot. You’re not going to be immediately forced out of here.” Dazai tried to point out. “I’ll have the grunts pack up the rest but if you wear yourself out, you won’t be able to do anything. I can’t have such a useless dog.”

He paused, expecting a protest but received none.

He glanced down at Chuuya and saw him curled up under the blanket, his face hidden away. His breath was hitching slightly, a clear sign of pain that no one else would’ve probably noticed.

“Bedtime, Chuuya. I’ll be sure to supervise.”

That was what made Chuuya relax and finally fall asleep to Dazai’s surprise.

He huffed.

Hopefully, Chuuya’s new place would work out as a home for him, just like he was starting to accept the Mafia as a family, even with such wounds that cut so deeply.

How human of Chuuya.

Truly, his dog caused the most work of all.

There were rumors in Yokohama. Strange reports pouring into the Special Division for Unusual Powers everyday.

It was up to the members to sort fact from fiction and identify what could be the work of supernatural abilities.

Ango knew it was the closest to the light someone like him, a traitor with the blood of former allies and friends on his hands, could ever get.

It wasn’t the best of paths, but it had a purpose nonetheless.

Even then, sometimes Ango felt a loss over what to do.

Across his desk were a series of reports. At first there were only a few, but slowly, more and more in the weeks since the Book’s purported destruction had come to him.

Reports of strange fluctuations of gravity.

The fluctuations appeared sporadically across Yokohama, however, Ango had noticed some specific concentrations of the phenomenon.

Multiple locations within Suribachi City, including the innermost part of the crater.

A few choice arcades dotted through Yokohama.

Some bars that mafiosos were known to frequent.

Practically the entire port.

A few graveyards.

A couple apartment buildings.

Around the Port Mafia buildings and other affiliated areas.

Surprisingly, the district around the Armed Detective Agency showed signs of the effects, too.

Ango tapped the pages briskly as he debated what to do.

It’s not like the fluctuations had been bad or hurt anyone — quite the opposite actually from what he’d heard, but still…

His superiors would probably want to know.

Yet they had shown multiple times that they weren’t to be trusted unless he had something truly concrete. And he was on thin ice with some for his behavior during the Decay of Angels incident, even if his actions had helped save them all from a worse fate. In this case, they would undoubtedly jump to conclusions and make hasty decisions that could ruin everything due to the potential implications.

After all, there were only two records of gravity manipulation abilities.

One of whom was considered dead on paper (but in reality, remained hidden away in the Port Mafia’s basem*nt, training the next generation of assassins).

And the other was dead in fact after a heroic sacrifice.

Given the pattern though, one was more likely than the other as the culprit.

That wasn’t even the biggest issue though.

Ango wasn’t sure if he should tell Dazai or not.

Because Dazai would want to know. If there was even a little hint…

Dazai never handled loss well. Ango had heard about his reaction to Chuuya’s death before making a stunning turnaround. It was all too similar to four years ago, except this time, Dazai had the support he desperately needed, so luckily, it didn’t seem to be as bad as back then.

Still, hope could be a deadly poison, especially to people like Dazai. If he gave him hope and then had to take it away…

Ango’s not sure Dazai would survive it.

So he couldn’t go to his superiors, and he couldn’t go to Dazai. Not yet at least.

Which really left no other option.

Ango picked up his phone and called a familiar number.

“f*ckuzawa-san? I require Edogawa-san for a consultation.”

It was truly hard to get Dazai drunk, but somehow, they’d managed it.

“Oh.” Odasaku gazed down at Dazai where he sprawled across the bar, giggling to himself.

Ango huffed. “I can’t believe we let this happen.” He pushed his glasses up. “What are we going to do?”

Even if the bartender here was so incredibly lenient, he would have to close up eventually.

Odasaku’s brow furrowed. “Get him a cab home?” He offered.

“I see. And do you know where he lives?” Ango countered.

Odasaku looked away. “I suppose I don’t.” He admitted somewhat reluctantly.

“Well, I don’t either.” Ango had looked into it of course, but Dazai was clever. He’d found false trails and abodes galore. The grunts all believed he lived in the dump, but a closer inspection had revealed that he might have used to, but he didn’t frequent there as much.

“Can’t you take him to your place for the night?” He asked, because there was no way in hell he’d bring Dazai home with him, but Odasaku tended to be soft on him and had done so before.

Odasaku reluctantly shook his head. “I promised the kids I’d be over tonight to see them when they wake up.”

Ango fiddled with his cuffs. This was quite the predicament.

“Don’t worry, gentlemen.” The bartender looked up from where he was polishing a glass. “I contacted Dazai-san’s emergency contact.”

They both stared at him.

“Emergency… contact?” Odasaku inquired, slightly hesitant as he looked over again at Dazai who had fallen to the floor and was wriggling around.

Ango’s face paled. “It’s not… the Boss, do you think?” He stagewhispered to Odasaku.

After all, the Boss seemed to be the closest thing he had to a guardian. For all his digging, Ango had found nothing about Dazai’s past. As far as anyone was concerned, his first appearance was as a suicidal patient at Mori’s clinic and then he simply followed him into the Mafia as his witness.

And he and Mori seemed to get on quite well from what he could tell.

Overall, Dazai wasn’t that close to too many people. There was the Boss, there was them, there was Hirotsu, and then there was…

The door to the bar flung open, hitting the wall with a powerful force. It was followed by heavy footsteps, ones that belied the relatively small feet that appeared on the stairs.

Nakahara Chuuya’s eyes roamed the bar with an air of disdain before he finally spied his partner.

“Hah.” He gave a long-suffering sigh. “What the f*ck are you doing, dimwit Dazai?”

Ango and Odasaku looked down. Dazai had attempted to draw himself up, but now he slouched over the bar stool like he’d lost his steam half-way up.

But at Chuuya’s voice, Dazai perked right up. “Chuuya, Chuuya, Chuuya!” He called out gleefully. “I knew my dog would come when I called!”

“I’m not your damn dog, moron!” Chuuya stomped over, his nose wrinkling at the smell. “Whoa, you’re really swimming in the sauce, ain’t you, Mackerel?”

Dazai blinked up at him. “But you won’t let me swim…” He pouted.

“Yeah, ‘cause you try to f*cking drown yourself each time.” His glare flashed over to the other two and Ango did his best not to flinch. “How the hell could you let this happen?” He echoed their earlier question.

Odasaku bowed slightly, clearly somewhat remorseful. “We should’ve paid more attention to how much he was drinking.”

“To be fair, this is the first time this has happened.” Ango pointed out. “I didn’t even know he could get drunk.”

Chuuya snorted. “Of course, he can. He’s as human as anyone else, even if it takes a f*ckton to do it.” It seemed that he was done with them.

Instead, he turned back to Dazai. Part of Ango expected, given what he’d heard, for Chuuya to berate Dazai and drag him out by his ear, disregarding his current vulnerable state.

But despite being clearly irritated, either by Dazai as usual or the situation itself, Chuuya’s hands seemed almost gentle as he maneuvered Dazai onto his back and slapped some money on the counter. Even more surprisingly, Dazai let him.

“Keep the change. I’m sure you need all the compensation in the world.” Chuuya muttered before turning away and moving towards the door. The bartender gave a bow of thanks and went to pay off the tab.

Dazai giggled again and began to play with Chuuya’s hair falling out from under his hat. There was an intimacy to the gesture that made Ango want to look away.

“Say bye to your friends, stupid; we’re going home.”

“Bye-bye!” Dazai twisted around and enthusiastically waved at them.

For as childish as Dazai tended to be, this was the lightest that Ango had ever seen him.

The bell on the door jingled as they departed, leaving the two alone.

“Well, that takes care of that.” Odasaku accepted it, turning to the bartender who waved him off. Apparently, Chuuya had covered for them as well.

But Ango’s mind was stuck on a single word.


Could Dazai of all people have something like that?

If so, he hoped nothing would ever threaten his friend’s place by his partner’s side.

There was a person Dazai had been studiously avoiding in the past month and a half.

At first, it was because he had been so, so angry. Then it was because he was afraid.

After all, the great detective was sure to reveal the truth. So if you weren’t ready for it, you shouldn’t approach him.

Dazai still wasn’t ready, but he couldn’t put it off any longer.

He found Ranpo in the meeting room, files by his side and a bulletin board with markers all over the city in red before him. Ranpo didn’t glance over at him but he did nudge his pile of snacks so that the seat next to him was clear, which was as clear an invitation as any.

Dazai settled himself in the seat, setting his cane aside and looking over the board. He frowned as he couldn’t figure out what it was referring to, but brushed it aside for the matter at hand.

“You knew.” It wasn’t a question but it wasn’t the accusation it had been on that day.

“I did.” Ranpo admitted. “I knew the moment he walked into the meeting.”

Dazai closed his eyes for a long moment and took a deep breath. An unyielding rage bubbled within his blood, wishing to explode upon Ranpo but he kept it in check. It would do no good at this point. “Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you stop him?”

Ranpo had long held a policy of not interfering if it didn’t affect him nor the rest of the Agency. He kept his mouth shut, never betraying exactly how much he knew unless it became relevant or he wanted to tease someone. Dazai knew that that was the intelligent choice. He himself had been grateful for it considering Ranpo probably knew more about Dazai’s past than he wanted him to from the very start and still allowed him to stay.

But this was about Chuuya, and Chuuya was now dead.

Ranpo was quiet before he sighed. He opened his eyes and Dazai could see a deep — he wasn’t sure. It was neither sadness nor guilt, but perhaps a deep knowing in them. “There comes a point when someone makes a decision, that even if I tell them the outcome, it makes no difference. They’ve made their choice and they will not be swayed. I can’t do anything for them at that point.”

Ranpo gazed off into the distance, and Dazai now wondered how often he’d faced such a situation. He’d heard about his and Chuuya’s cryptic conversation which in hindsight had revealed that they’d both known what was going to happen.

“I don’t think even you could have stopped him at that point. Though he did make a point of visiting you while you were asleep.” He paused and snickered, rifling through his snacks and plucking one out. “Though maybe that was also revenge for how you left him four years ago?”

Dazai pouted. Okay, so he’d left Chuuya with only a set car bomb as a goodbye present, not even bothering to see him one last time but — “At least when I left, I planned on seeing him again someday.” He grumbled.

“‘Seeing again someday,’ huh.” Ranpo contemplated his words as unwrapped his treat and took a bite. “There is one thing about that day I can’t figure out.”

Dazai blinked. This was the first time he was hearing that. “Oh?” He couldn’t help being intrigued.

“Do you know what this is?” Ranpo gestured at the board.

Dazai glanced it over once more. Clearly, the pins were tracking something, some type of crime most likely. However, as he looked at the locations of the pins though…

His blood ran cold.

He recognized every single place that had been marked.

Each of them had either been important to or frequently visited by —

“Your bestie in the Special Division wanted my opinion on this case before approaching you about it.” Ranpo said, and Dazai didn’t bother correcting him. “I think he didn’t want to go to you first because he thought you might shoot him if he was wrong.”

“Ranpo-san. What is this?” Dazai turned towards him, his brain already whirling with possibilities.

“Reports of strange fluctuations in gravity.” He responded and Dazai’s heart nearly skipped a beat. “Nothing bad though. People saying they feel lighter momentarily. Criminals suddenly feeling heavier, allowing them to be caught. Heavy objects seeming to stop for a moment midair. Stuff like that.”

“That’s…” Dazai pursed his lips. That ability, those locations, could be implying —

“He said you’d figure it out.”

Dazai snapped out of his thoughts to find Ranpo staring right at him. “What?”

“He said you’d figure it out.” Ranpo repeated. “I thought at the time he meant his scheme with destroying the Book — which you did figure out — but now…” He frowned, looking back to the board. “I feel like I’m missing something.

Dazai hurriedly hid how that startled him. Ranpo very rarely missed something, and he admitted it even more rarely.

“I am not you, Dazai. I’m not his partner.” Ranpo continued. “You two understand each other on a level that no one else can even hope to grasp.”

Dazai — a man who had declared on more than one occasion that he knew Chuuya better than anyone else in the world — refused that claim. “I don’t think that’s true.”

“The way he talked about you —”

“His threats, while creative, are hardly the first I’ve faced.”

“— he knew you, Dazai Osamu.” Ranpo’s voice was firm, absolute. A truth that Dazai couldn’t run away from. “He knew you. And you knew him.”

Dazai gulped.

Why did it hurt to be faced with the truth? Even though he knew that was what he would find with Ranpo.

“And he cared for you, just like you did for him.” Ranpo waved a hand. “In whatever strange way you strut about showing it.”

Dazai tried not to be offended by that.

“This.” He pointed to the board. “This is a hint. A final message. And it’s meant for you, because he knew you’d figure it out.”

Dazai bit his lip. “But how?” He asked lowly, not wanting to show his vulnerabilities even to a friend and ally like Ranpo. “And what does it mean?”

“I don’t know.” Ranpo said, and wasn’t that terrifying? “But Fancy Hat believes in you to figure it out.”

And somehow that hurt most of all.

Because for the first time since the day they met, Dazai had absolutely no clue what Chuuya was trying to tell him.

“It feels different.”

Ranpo watched as Chuuya stared down at his hands, flexing his fingers as if testing his hands’ strength without the weight of gravity behind them.

“Different from what?” Ranpo could easily figure it out, but well, he was trying to buy time anyway. It probably wouldn’t take him too long to solve these murders once he started, but keeping Chuuya out of the fray was the priority.

And Nakahara Chuuya was a lot smarter and sharper than Dazai’s tales would imply.

Ranpo had seen that himself when Chuuya came to negotiate during the Guild incident.

Even now, once they were trapped in this story, Chuuya dropped the hostility of moments before, admitting that Ranpo had gotten him, and instead chose to focus on getting out of here as soon as possible.

Despite saying that he would kill the Agency members if necessary in order to get to the President, Chuuya had been aiming to simply knock Ranpo’s breath out with that punch so he could push past him and reunite with his forces.

Nakahara Chuuya was not prone to unnecessary force or measures, willing to do whatever was needed to accomplish his and the Port Mafia’s goals but he was by no means unreasonable, willing to talk things out if time and circ*mstances allow even if he preferred to use his fighting skills. He was overall skilled in both types of negotiating.

Well, until Dazai was involved. Then everything else went out the window.

Speaking of…

“You said this is a world without abilities, yeah?” Chuuya tilted his head slightly before sighing and dropping his hands. “It feels different than that sh*tty Dazai’s nullification.”

Ranpo hummed at that and teetered on the back legs of his chair, a bit intrigued despite himself. Yosano hadn’t mentioned anything like that when they’d entered Poe’s book last time. And of course, to him, it wasn’t —

“Different how?” He quickly brushed that thought aside. It wouldn’t do to dwell on it.

Chuuya raised an eyebrow. “Can’t you tell yourself, Lynchpin?”

Oh, he actually kind of liked that nickname. It helped cement his importance to the Agency.

But anyway. “It’s not like I’d be able to tell unless I attempted to use my ability. And Dazai’s never really bothered trying to nullify me.” Ranpo figured that was a good enough explanation.

Chuuya’s gaze was sharp, but luckily, he seemed to accept that. Ranpo could only hope he hadn’t picked up anything important.

He turned away. “I’m always aware of my ability, even if I’m not using it. My earliest memory is of my ability.”

Ranpo filed that away for the future.

“No Longer Human — that sh*thead’s ability — is like a balm.” Chuuya finally said, looking off into the distance. “Like cool water splashed over a burn, helping suppress the heat. You can tell it’s still there, but it can’t reach you as long as he’s touching you.”

He’d never heard someone describe Dazai’s ability like that before. Even among the Agency, quite a few members shuddered at the memory of Dazai’s touch that robbed their ability from them. They’d never say anything, especially to his face, but clearly on an instinctual level, his ability made them uncomfortable.

But to Chuuya, even with the animosity between them, it was clear that Dazai’s ability was a comfort.

“But this…” Chuuya looked at his hands again. “This is empty. Like it’s been carved out and left nothing behind.”

Ranpo blinked. “Huh.” Considering how essential abilities tended to be to those who wielded them, he could sort of understand that. It sounded even worse than Dazai’s effect.

“So is this what it’s like to be normal?” Chuuya mumbled, seemingly to himself but it was the tone that caught Ranpo’s attention.

It was wistful and melancholic. It reminded him of when he’d been eagerly anticipating a new candy flavor and built it up in his head, but when he finally got it, not only did it taste terrible but it also cost enough that it didn’t feel worth it.

He didn’t like it.

“Well, perhaps to someone like you who relies on their ability!” Ranpo knew that was a lie since Chuuya had trained enough to not necessarily need his ability to fight. “After all, your level of ‘normal’ still cannot compare to my regular detecting ability!”

Chuuya jumped at his words and stared at him. Then he rolled his eyes with a huff of breath. “Why do I always get stuck with self-important, supposed geniuses?” He asked, but there was a smile quirking at the edges of his lips.

“‘Supposed?’” Ranpo smirked. “We’ll see if you can say that once I solve all 500 murders without my ability!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Chuuya grinned right back, cracking his knuckles.

Now that was a bit more like it.

Akutagawa wasn’t quite sure what they were looking for.

The boss had been on edge when he assigned this mission to him and Gin, which had been unusual in and of itself. Boss never let his mask fall in front of subordinates if he ever did. Then there was the fact that Gin had been assigned to work with him instead of Higuchi like he usually did. The two of them kept to different circles for a reason, only intersecting as needed. And finally, there was the mission itself.

“How are we supposed to find the source of this phenomenon?” Gin signed at him, a bit snarkier than she would be with her Black Lizard colleagues.

“That is the question, is it not?” Akutagawa agreed.

It seemed that there was some merit to Tachihara’s babblings of ghosts, though it was more likely to be the result of an ability than some poor dead soul. Hirotsu seemed to have his opinions of it, ones that might be different from the boss’s considering his disapproving frown when he came to get them, but he kept his lips sealed as to what they were.

In any case, they were mainly meant to see if they could find the source of the strange happenings around the port and ensure no one was taking advantage of it.

Well, no one other than themselves, of course. The strange power seemed intent on protecting the Mafia for some reason.

So the two of them were checking out the first reported site of the mysterious power: Suribachi City.

Akutagawa and Gin’s glares easily kept others at bay as they made their way through the ramshackle settlement. Their aura made it clear to whom their allegiance lay, and after the fall of the Sheep years ago, Suribachi City, while not officially under Port Mafia rule, was considered a place they could freely roam.

Not that their members usually did. There really wasn’t much within the crater that interested their organization.

Though Akutagawa could remember Chuuya speaking in its defense long ago when Dazai had the nerve to insult it in front of him.

The two were headed for the very epicenter of the crater. Despite it being the flattest part of the crater, as they got closer to it, the buildings got sparser and sparser.

Gin’s brow furrowed as she took in their now limited surroundings.

“There were rumors of the epicenter being haunted long before the recent occurrences.” Akutagawa answered her unasked question, stifling a cough from the surroundings. “They say a god once resided here who made the crater.”

Akutagawa had done his best to research such things before their arrival, hoping to gain an edge on what they might find, but the information on Suribachi City even now was fairly scant. The residents were tight-lipped and those who got out often didn’t look back. So trying to pan out the truth from the hearsay was a chore.

And yet, just like last time Akutagawa ventured into the unknown, he ended up finding a shrine.

Both he and Gin stopped and stared at it for a moment when they saw it. A blink, and they exchanged a glance, moving forward with more caution than before.

In contrast to the underground shrine, this one was small, handmade and made from scraps, more like the work of a child. The whole thing only came up to about his mid-thigh. Someone had to be tending to it though, as despite its shabby appearance, it was still clean and well-kept.

Gin crouched down to better study it, but Akutagawa’s attention was drawn to the small sign next to it. This shrine at least had a clear god that it honored. He squinted as he tried to read the shaky, unsure characters.

“Arahabaki?” He read aloud when he finally deciphered it.

Which, come to think of it, made sense considering the local legends said the god of destruction made this crater. Some even said that seven years ago, the god walk among them once again —

Almost as soon as the name left his lips, the ground shook beneath their feet. Akutagawa braced himself against the tremors, immediately on guard against a potential enemy attack, while Gin sprang back to her feet, taking a step back to give herself some room to maneuver —

Only for her eyes to widen as the ground crumbled underneath her, Akutagawa just barely registered her shock before she was gone.

“Gin!” He called out to her, sending Rashom*on blindly after her. Akutagawa stifled his relief when he felt her weight within his grasp.

He frowned when he felt her tug on the material, the coding indicating to lower her further down. He acquiesced, but the moment he felt her let go, he took one final, careful look around before using Rashom*on to follow her down.

Akutagawa wasn’t expecting what seemed to be the remains of some sort of office, considering the desks and papers broken or torn all over. Or perhaps a lab as he took in some of the shattered glassware lying about. The rubble and other damage spread from the crater’s curvature, like the original facility had a large bite taken from it before what was left became buried in debris. The air was like that of a tomb’s, musty and with a tinge of death. He made sure to cover his mouth with a tendril from Rashom*on, because his lungs would surely rebel even further if this dust got into them.

The scant light from the hole above was barely enough to illuminate the space, so Gin had pulled out a small flashlight as she shuffled through some of the papers lying around.

“Find anything?” He asked as he continued to look around. He couldn’t shake the feeling that they had been led here, like perhaps they’d find a clue to the current goings-on.

Gin didn’t say anything, but one of the pages made her pause.

“Gin?” Akutagawa made his way over pulling out his phone to help shed more light on the situation.

Right as he came up next to her side, she whirled to face him, a wild glint in her eyes.

“I need to talk to my mentor.” Gin said unflinchingly.

Akutagawa blinked as he glanced at the papers she held.

So it was that serious.

Akutagawa found that Chuuya was a very different mentor than Dazai.

It’d been over a month since Dazai had disappeared, and in the past week since Mori ordered Chuuya to take over his training, he’d done nothing but drills so far.

Chuuya’s gaze was a weight upon his back, but in a different way than Dazai’s left him. There wasn’t the same thrill of fear, and Akutagawa would never admit it but while he did respect Chuuya for his power and rank… he didn’t respect him the way he did Dazai.

Though they were now in the same boat.

Dazai had abandoned them both.

Yet Chuuya didn’t appear to be as affected as he was.

The machine launched another projectile at Akutagawa. This time, instead of trying to dodge or slice through it with Rashom*on, he faced it head-on, attempting to once more rend the space between him and the incoming target, like he had with those bullets. Perhaps if he just —

It worked but just barely.

Akutagawa felt his limbs trembling as he succeeded. He hated it but he was grateful when Chuuya immediately turned off the machine. He tried not to collapse in coughs at the respite, but he wasn’t quite as successful this time.

Chuuya’s steps clicked against the concrete as he walked closer. “What was that?” He asked.

Akutagawa managed to control his coughs and part of him hated how Chuuya waited patiently for him to regain his breath. “Before…” He couldn’t bring himself to say Dazai’s name at the moment. “He managed to help me unlock that aspect of my ability. I’m sure it will be useful.”

“It’s not that useful if you can’t use it without exhausting yourself.” Chuuya pointedly said.

He held his tongue from snapping back that Chuuya shouldn’t be saying that when he had some sort of trump card that left him hospitalized but it was a near thing.

“That sh*thead Dazai really is a terrible mentor, huh.”

Out of habit, Akutagawa bit out, “How dare you talk about —” before he remembered both who he was speaking to and what Dazai now was.

Chuuya, however, didn’t call him out on it or chastise him. He merely raised an eyebrow and continued on like Akutagawa hadn’t said anything. “He’s been trying to push your limits and make you more powerful, but he’s completely forgotten the basics. Skills like what you just used can be great but if they’re unreliable then they’ll more likely get you killed.”

Akutagawa nearly growled in frustration.

He was well aware of his own shortcomings!

“But we can work on that.” Chuuya gestured for Akutagawa to follow him to a different sector of the training area, one meant for sparring or practicing destructive abilities.

Akutagawa expected a surprise attack as they walked over, like Dazai would’ve thrown at him, but Chuuya had more to say.

“You’re pretty quick and your ability offers quite a bit of maneuverability, but you’re using it much too straightforwardly. So we’re gonna build up those strengths and make sure you can throw a basic punch.” Chuuya whirled around and faced him with a grin. “And then we’ll see how creative we can get.”

Akutagawa stared. “Shouldn’t we focus on my… inadequacies?”

“Sure, you should work on limiting your weaknesses.” Chuuya shrugged. “But your strengths can always be honed and they’ll be what you can fall back on when all else fails. Plus, learning how to best utilize them will help you on the battlefield when the unexpected happens.”

“I see.” He frowned, thinking over his words.

“And if that’s not enough…” Chuuya stomped his foot and the ground broke apart beneath him. That characteristic ashy black and red tinged aura enveloped the pieces as they rose up into the air, creating a three dimensional maze.

“You want to show that motherf*cker that he was wrong to leave you behind? That you didn’t need him to grow stronger?”

Akutagawa took in a sharp breath, eyes wide as he watched Chuuya rise up into the air to face him.

“It’s not just what you have, my boy Akutagawa, but how you use it.” A feral edge sharpened his grin. “And we’re gonna push that to the limits.”

If he could get stronger… If he could prove to Dazai just how better he could be… Then…

And who better to show him the way as the undisputed strongest ability user in Japan?

“Yes, sir!” Rashom*on curled around him, ready for the challenge.

Chuuya laughed. “That’s the right attitude!

“Come at me, kid!”

Akutagawa threw himself forward.

He would carve out a place for himself among the strongest.

It really was an ordinary day.

It almost felt like things were going back to normal for the first time since Chuuya…

Anyway, Dazai expected it to go like any other day.

So, of course, that was when the phone rang.

It wasn’t his cell phone (either his current one or his old one which held only two contacts), but the work landline on his desk. And considering Kunikida was clearly queuing up for a lecture about doing his neglected paperwork and the secretaries vetted all calls coming through unless it was directly to his line, he thought nothing of picking up the call.

But even as he answered it — “Hello! This is Dazai Osamu, genius detective of the Armed Detective Agency!” — he felt a prick of misgiving as he spotted Haruno poking her head from the secretary office, a slightly confused look on her face indicating the call hadn’t come through her.

The voice that answered him confirmed it.

“My, oh, my.” A voice, slightly accented and as smooth as butter, came down the line. “So this is what has become of the infamous Demon Prodigy?”

Dazai’s expression dropped momentarily with irritation before he put his mask back up. “What’s this? The Port Mafia’s hikikomori contacting little old me? What an honor!” Sarcasm dripped from his words.

That certainly caught the others’ attention. Understandable, as most people were unaware of the moldy old French fry that languished in the Mafia’s basem*nt.

Verlaine sighed. “There’s no need for such rudeness, Dazai-kun. I thought we had an understanding.”

“I thought our understanding was staying out of each other’s way, and yet here we are.”

Dazai never liked Verlaine. He had been useful, understandable to Dazai given his worldview, and a key component in trying to help Chuuya resolve the mysteries surrounding him, but Dazai held a long distaste for him. There was something about him that simply irked him.

Not to mention he’d seen the devastation that he’d wrought on Chuuya’s life, even outside of his initial calculations regarding the man. Chuuya might have forgiven him, but part of him couldn’t for how he’d hurt his partner.

“Well, it can’t be helped. News reaches me eventually, you know.” Verlaine continued like he hadn’t said anything. “And besides, who else would understand the loss of a partner but me?”

Dazai clutched the edge of his desk. He wished this was on his cell phone so he could walk out of here and have privacy. For some reason, Verlaine had called him on his work phone on purpose, he just knew it.

“That was different.” He all but growled. “You chose that.”

Verlaine chose not to try to understand Rimbaud and assume the worst of him. He chose to betray Rimbaud and shot him. He chose to try killing him over explaining himself. He chose to not look for him in the aftermath, to wallow in his bitterness and continue festering until he discovered Rimbaud’s true intentions on the verge of his own death. He chose wrongly and didn’t realize it until it was far too late.

Dazai wasn’t given a choice.

Verlaine had the nerve to laugh. “You know, my dear brother said something similar to me once.” He said. “But with you, it’s different.

“After all, you’ve chosen to forsake your partner. Both four years ago and now.”

Dazai’s knuckles turned white with how hard he was gripping the phone and his desk. He couldn’t deny that he’d left him four years ago, but now? “I haven’t — he’s — how would I even —”

“At a loss for words?” Mocking surprise met him. “Will wonders never cease? You can’t even say that he’s dead, can you?”

No, he really couldn’t. That would mean he had accepted this reality.

Dazai shut his eyes and took a deep breath to recenter himself. He could hear the others whispering at the edge of his hearing, asking if he was all right, but he had to concentrate on Verlaine right now. The former assassin, while driven by emotion more times than not, always had a reason when he made a move.

He very rarely intervened, meaning he was calling for a reason.

But before he could retort, Verlaine twisted the knife that he’d stabbed into his heart.

“Have you even said his name since he died?”


I haven’t, Dazai realized.

Not once had Chuuya’s name passed his lips since the earth had stopped and Dazai’s world was crushed to pieces.

He just… couldn’t. He couldn’t say it.

He recited all manner of nicknames and insults in its place, but he’d only allowed Chuuya’s name to echo in his mind. He’d subconsciously avoided saying it, a lump rising in his throat whenever he’d attempted to and quickly diverting to one of his synonyms.

Even more than saying he was dead, it felt wrong to say Chuuya’s name when the other couldn’t hear it.

Dazai almost didn’t want to say it if he couldn’t see Chuuya’s response.

And Verlaine was somehow still talking.

“How pathetic.” Verlaine huffed. “Seriously, this is the Double Black who outwitted and overcame Rimbaud at age fifteen? The duo who managed to overpower me at my height at only sixteen? The Demon Prodigy I met six years ago would’ve already solved this and moved on to trying his next suicide attempt.”

“There’s nothing to solve.” Dazai dully said. Unless someone had an immortal type of ability, there was no escape or solution to death. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

That seemed to take Verlaine by surprise as he got a blissful moment of stunned silence.

He wasn’t expecting the laugh that followed it.

“You really have grown weaker in the light, haven’t you?” Verlaine seemed delighted at his assumption. “Or perhaps the bond between you and Chuuya has simply eroded away that much?”

Dazai was going to finish what he started six years ago and kill Verlaine. That’s what he did with the last person who dared question his and Chuuya’s bond, and Chuuya’s mercy was no longer here to shield Verlaine.

“Do you truly think my little brother would surrender his life so easily?” Verlaine taunted. “Him? He’d refuse on principle alone.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time he’s put his life on the line.” Dazai countered. Which was true. Chuuya was willing to gamble his life if it was for the sake of the people he wanted to protect. He’d fight until the very end just for that.

However, in all of those cases, Chuuya had a back-up plan: Dazai.

As if reading his mind (creepy — Dazai didn’t like him being able to read him), Verlaine said. “And what makes you think he didn’t have his usual contingencies?”

“He didn’t say anything!” The words burst out. The very thing that had been bugging him this whole time. “He decided this all on his own and didn’t even let me —”

“Oh, like you?”

It hurt worse because it was true. How many times had Dazai acted similarly? Going off on his own and relying on the fact that Chuuya would always figure things out and come get him? But Chuuya had left him nothing to go off on. Even with the clues that Ranpo had gathered about the strange gravity fluctuations, none of them led anywhere from what they could tell. And it was still unclear how they could be connected to Chuuya anyway.

“And since when has Soukoku needed words? The first time I saw you together, you fell into sync as soon as you were in the same room, perhaps even before that. A mere glance and it spoke louder than anything you could say. You moved in time to cover each other without a single thought. It was practically perfect.” Verlaine reminisced, fondness in his tone despite the situation he was recalling.

What was Dazai supposed to say to that?

“In any case, you are missing a crucial clue, it seems. How unusual for a detective.”

Dazai frowned. What was he talking about?

“My dear brother had the Book in his hands, Dazai-kun.” Verlaine said. “And clearly, he used it.”

Dazai’s mind froze. “What?” He blandly asked, unable to summon any adequate emotion.

It had never occurred to him that Chuuya might have used the Book. After all, Chuuya generally preferred to rely on his own power and skills. And he knew better than to mess with mysterious things like the Book where they didn’t know all the facts about it.

“All of those lingering problems your Agency’s been having even with the terrorist accusations cleared away are suddenly gone, are they not? The worst damages done by the Book are beginning to heal all over the world. Besides, what better way to ensure the Book’s destruction than by writing it to be so?”

That made a hell of a lot of sense now that Dazai thought about it. An annoying amount of sense. It was smart and straightforward, just the way Chuuya liked to do things. It would be a perfect contingency to protect everyone if Corruption failed, and it seemed to be working as the Book appeared to be gone.

“And with all these rumors of gravity fluctuations and what happened in Suribachi City…” Verlaine heaved a great sigh. “My brother has never been the most patient of people.”

Synapses were firing as Dazai began to connect the dots: Chuuya — the Book — Corruption — gravity fluctuations — the locations of the fluctuations — the way that Chuuya’s death hadn’t felt real to him —

“Seriously, how long are you going to make him wait?”

“Even if that’s true…” Dazai parsed out. “I always left a sign. And he didn’t —”

Dazai just meant to gesture to emphasize his point but as he did so, a flash of black caught his attention.

He looked down at the choker still wrapped around his wrist.

And with everything else currently on his mind…

Dazai suddenly remembered.

“Oh, you’re wearing it.”

Dazai had bought the choker as a joke. Mostly.

It did look incredibly like a dog collar so it made Dazai want to finish his claim on his dog. Plus, given how Chuuya growled at even his friends at the mention of doing something for his birthday, Dazai couldn’t think of anything better than annoying him by getting him a gift.

It had nothing to do with how Chuuya usually arranged his hair or adjusted his shirt collars or used concealer (since coming under Kouyou’s tutelage) to hide the A2-5-8 signifier tattooed into his skin at the back of his neck that Dazai had discovered one day when he found Chuuya foolishly taking a nap. It was mere coincidence that the choker would be perfect to cover it up.

Anyway, it was meant to be a prank. Chuuya had been furious, practically spitting at him when he showed up at his apartment and presented it as a gift. Though he had actually looked momentarily touched, if not cautious, in those seconds between being given the present and revealing its contents.

Dazai had only managed to get Chuuya to wear it after several rounds of video games and lost bets. And quite a bit of alcohol.

Chuuya’s flushed, pouting expression still featured prominently in Dazai’s mind for some reason.

But now, here Chuuya was. Still wearing it. Willingly wearing it.

Something in Dazai’s mind was skipping like a scratched record at the sight.

Chuuya shrugged, and Dazai couldn’t tell if his nonchalance was real or faked. “What can I say? It looks good.”

Well, Dazai couldn’t deny that.

For some reason, it was almost like the choker belonged on Chuuya’s neck. As if it were made to rest there.

Or maybe that was simply Dazai’s desire to make sure everyone knew Chuuya was his talking.

Maybe now those Flag punks would get the message and stop whisking Chuuya away and making him unavailable for whenever Dazai wanted to bother him.

“Ah, so you finally admit that I’m your master!” Dazai rallied, trying to push down how the sight made something flutter in his chest and his cheeks redden. This surely had to be satisfaction flooding through him, and nothing else. “Glad to see you’ve accepted your fate as my dog!”

Chuuya’s eyes narrowed as he glared at him and Dazai could see his fingers twitch. At this point, even though he clearly liked it, Chuuya might just rip it off out of spite.

“Though it may be too good for someone like you. Perhaps you should take it off and let me get you a real collar.” Dazai tried to backtrack. He really didn’t want Chuuya to take it off, so if he had to use reverse psychology —

“Do you want me to wear it or not?” Chuuya scrunched his face as he squinted at him. “You got it for me!”

“Yes! Which is why I’m realizing that perhaps I’ve been treating you when you can’t even follow simple commands. Only well-trained dogs deserve a collar.” Dazai attempted to reason.

“Pretty sure it’s usually the opposite.”

“In any case,” Dazai spoke over him, “I probably should’ve waited until I had a proper leash.”

He had no idea what he was saying by now.

With the way Chuuya was staring at him like he’d lost his mind, in a different way than Chuuya thought he usually did, the other could probably tell.

However, Chuuya’s expression turned first thoughtful then smug. That stupid confident look he got when he thought he’d gotten one over on Dazai.

“You…” He tapped the choker, drawing Dazai’s eyes to it once more. “...Want me to keep wearing this, don’t you?”

Dazai didn’t say anything, but his silence gave enough away.

Chuuya tilted his head and then he leaned in closer.

“Hey, waste of bandages,” he said, “let’s make a deal.”

They were returning to much more familiar, and welcome, territory.

In these missions where they had to work together, they kept on creating a new balance, a give and take. Most of the time, nothing needed to be said between them, which Dazai was both grateful for and fascinated by. Not even Mori could seemingly sense what Dazai needed like Chuuya could and be capable enough of carrying out his plans. Still, sometimes they did have to talk about things, and that opened up negotiations, which Dazai excelled at.

Admittedly, what they were normally negotiating on were bets between them, but that didn’t matter all that much.

Dazai tilted his head to show he was listening. He wondered what sort of deal Chuuya would be willing to make over a choker of all things.

“I’ll admit, I do like this.” Chuuya’s grin had an edge to it. “And you seem to like it, too.

“So here’s the deal: I’ll always wear this as much as possible when I’m out and about. I won’t always be able to — Ane-san mentioned something about me eventually doing undercover missions and it might not always match my outfits — but whenever I can, I’ll wear it or whatever replacement I get if it’s too worn out.”

Dazai liked the deal so far. But it put too much in his favor, even if the shortie was using it to hide the mark the lab had left on him. Dazai narrowed his eyes, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“In exchange,” — there it was — “if I ever take it off or leave it somewhere in public, that’ll be a sign for you to come get me.”

Dazai stared at him. “Hah?” He finally let out.

Chuuya never ceased to surprise him. Even if he didn’t understand what he was driving for.

“Tch!” Chuuya rolled his eyes and turned at whatever his face was doing. “Well, ain’t that like you. Not even gonna take responsibility with all that big talk you’ve got.”

“I’m more responsible than you!” Dazai burst out right back. The nerve! As if he wasn’t carrying most of the Mafia on his plans alone. “I could totally find you faster than you could ever find me!”

Chuuya glanced back, his grin full of satisfaction, and Dazai belatedly realized that he’d indirectly agreed to the deal. “So, you agree?”

Dazai couldn’t hold back a pout. Chuuya had somehow tricked him. Only he could get away with it.

And well, it wasn’t that bad of a deal. Dazai did want to see his own mark on Chuuya as much as possible. For some reason. Plus, he highly doubted he’d ever have to hold up his end of the deal. Chuuya was so strong that he’d never need to call for help and he was too stubborn and prideful to ask for it anyway. Dazai was the last person Chuuya would want help from as well.

“Fine.” Dazai sighed as if he was the one doing Chuuya a favor.

The two shook on it and Chuuya wore his choker from then on.

Dazai tried to ignore the thrill he got every time he saw it on him.

However, his partner could be just as stubborn as he was.

Verlaine couldn’t help chuckling at the shouts that erupted from the other end of the line right before it went dead. He shook his head slightly as he returned the receiver back to its cradle.

Ah, the lengths he was willing to go for his brother.

Perhaps he could get Chuuya to come visit him for coffee once this was all cleared up.

He felt the eyes of his apprentice on him as he sat back in his rattan chair with a sigh.

Verlaine tilted his head at her and raised an eyebrow. “You have a question for me?”

Gin didn’t answer right away. She didn’t even glance down at the table between them where the papers she had found in the remnants of the lab - scraps of paper really that speculated the effects of gravity manipulation and a grainy photo of him back in his own lab days — and she instead studied him. She hadn’t even questioned him nor risen from her seat as he attacked Dazai, despite the respect she had for the former executive.

“How?” She eventually asked, and just a single word conveyed so much meaning.

There were many questions attached to that simple one, but the most important one was, of course:

How did you know that Chuuya-san might still be alive?

“It’s quite simple really, Gin-chan.” Verlaine picked up his coffee and took a sip.

“The storm has not yet come.” He cryptically revealed. “And when it does, who do you think shall be part of the vanguard that will lead us to victory?”

Gin was used to such warnings, but this time, her eyes widened in surprise.

“Yes, simply put —” Verlaine’s lips took on a wry twist “— there is still work for my brother to do.”

The cords that bound them went both ways after all. And his partner was not the type to easily let go.

“Could you stop f*cking using your apprentices to try blackmailing me?” Chuuya yelled out as he busted down the door. “Gin looked like she might cry if she had to ask me again on your behalf.”

Good. That meant his training was working. Verlaine couldn’t help but be proud of his apprentices. If they could guilt trip Chuuya, then they could make any target let their guard down.

(He ignored the fact that it was actually quite easy to guilt trip Chuuya (unless your name was Dazai Osamu) due to the way he cared for all those under his care and command.)

“Ah, brother, how kind of you to visit!” Verlaine gestured at the coffee and treats he had set up in preparation. “Do come in!”

Chuuya gave him a flat look while he walked closer. “I’m a busy man, you know. I don’t have time for this, especially since you aren’t helping pick up the slack.”

“Ah, that's what I actually wanted to discuss with you.” Verlaine smiled up at him.

Probably sensing that he was not going to let him go, Chuuya groaned but reluctantly acquiesced. He took a seat across from Verlaine on the love seat and served himself some coffee.

Verlaine took the opportunity to glance over his brother. He was clearly fatigued, bags under his eyes carefully hidden away with make-up, but Verlaine could tell the truth. He also was carrying himself differently, perhaps hiding some sort of wound or two.

It all made sense, of course — the tiredness and any hidden injuries. Chuuya wasn’t lying about having a lot on his plate.

After all, Dazai disappeared several months ago. Chuuya was doing the work of two executives now.

Chuuya put down his cup of coffee. “Now, what did you want?” He squinted at him in suspicion.

“Oh, it’s nothing so horrible.” Verlaine tried to console him. “I was simply surprised you hadn’t visited me yet. After all, who else would understand the loss of a partner better than me?”

Chuuya gave him the most unimpressed, flat look in the entire universe. “I didn’t shoot my partner and then leave him for dead when things turned to sh*t.”

Verlaine twitched as he attempted to control a wince. Okay, perhaps I deserved that, he admitted to himself.

“Yes, I suppose so.” Verlaine kept his composure though. “Still, with that dreadful boy gone —”

“Why are you talking like he’s dead?” Chuuya frowned.

Verlaine blinked. “Isn’t he?” That was the logical conclusion, wasn’t it? From everything Verlaine had heard, this would’ve been the perfect reason to finally succeed in his long-held wish.

Or burn the Mafia to the ground like he once suggested. And considering the Mafia was still here…

And now Chuuya was looking at him like he was stupid.

He hated that look.

“Of course, he’s not f*cking dead.” Chuuya rolled his eyes. “He just left.”

It was Verlaine’s turn to frown. “Chuuya,” he tried to be delicate, “you can’t know —”

“He left.” Chuuya was adamant, a spark of undeniable knowing in his eye. “That’s all.”

Verlaine froze.

Chuuya knew something more about Dazai leaving than he’d been led to believe. However, he wouldn’t question it.

His abode might be one of the most secure places in the Port Mafia, but you never knew who was listening.


“And you’re… all right with that?” He tried instead.

“Of f*cking course, I am!” Chuuya brushed the whole conversation off like it was lint. “He was always going to leave first, everyone knows that. It was about time. I even threw a celebration in his honor and opened up that Petrus I’d been saving!”

Chuuya continued on about just how happy he was that Dazai was gone, but Verlaine simply observed him.

Chuuya was a liar.

He might not lie as much as some, or did most of his lying through omission, but when he did it was hard to tell what precisely the lie was. Verlaine himself had been fooled by him before.

But in the past few years, he’d attempted to learn his tells. He liked to think that he now knew more about his brother than most (or so he tried to tell himself). Which was how he knew.

Chuuya was lying.

Not just to Verlaine, but probably to himself as well.

Even behind the tiredness and ache, Verlaine could see pain deep within his eyes.

However, such a reaction was probably safer than appearing to be upset over the defection of a traitor. So Verlaine wouldn’t say anything, just letting Chuuya continue his rant.

A stray thought occurred to him though.

He believed that Dazai once expressed the sentiment that he wanted Chuuya to suffer as a human, though he was already sure of Chuuya’s humanity anyway.

Verlaine still didn’t know if his brother was the original or the clone (he’d come to grips with the fact he might’ve been wrong in these past few years given the other things he’d been wrong about), but there was one thing he couldn’t deny. Chuuya was certainly suffering just like Dazai had wanted.

So his partner watched the skies and looked for a sign, ready and waiting to tie him down and return him to Earth once more. To call his name and have him come back to his side just like he always did.

It all happened in a blur.

Dazai didn’t even remember hanging up the phone. Instead he knew that he ordered Yosano to follow behind him, that he had car keys in his hand and his cane in the passenger’s seat, but the next thing he remembered was that he was driving the car where he instinctively knew he had to go.

Yes, for once he was pulling a Chuuya move and going with his instincts. He had to when logic and reason had failed him so sorely this time.

Dazai had always been sure that he would know if Chuuya were to die. That he would feel a shift in the universe sparked by the absence of his fiery soul. And it was true, that since this whole thing had begun, everything had felt different.

In that, everything had felt wrong.

Not wrong like Chuuya was dead and gone though. No, every part of him had screamed that he was missing something, like he’d passed over a step going down and fallen to the ground in a heap. Whatever he had that was the equivalent of a soul rebelled against the reality set before him, unable to accept what logic told him was true.

What should have been true.

But now, as the pieces came together, it finally felt right.

Dazai should have done this from the beginning, but he’d been too blinded by panic and shock.

The car pulled into a screeching stop; he just barely put it into park before he snatched up his cane and hobbled as fast as he could.

He only stopped and let himself breathe once he got to the very edge of the cliffside where this all began — right over where the Book had been and Chuuya had disappeared.

For a moment, he just stood there. He knew he should probably wait as Yosano and some of the rest were probably close behind. He didn’t know what was going to happen and back-up would be good.

However, that wasn’t the real reason for his hesitation.

What if he was wrong?

It happened more often than people thought; Dazai was simply so good at rolling with the punches and adjusting his plans so the end results seemed completely intentional that he could pull off the appearance of having known exactly what happened. Very few people could ever tell the difference.

And in this case?

If he was wrong, Chuuya really was dead and gone.

Dazai looked down and traced the choker wrapped around his wrist.

And that was what strengthened his resolve.

His predictions always came true. Not necessarily because he knew and hypothesized all that would happen —

But because when he messed up or was wrong, Chuuya would work hard to ensure they came true anyway.

So he would put his faith in Chuuya, just like he always did with him.

Now. The misshapen lump in his chest that some might call a heart whispered to him.

And his name was set free.

“Chuuya!” Dazai called out for him, his voice echoing in a way that was incongruous with the open surroundings.

His heart stopped for a second or two as his eyes searched for a sign, anything, that would decide his fate.

He faltered as there was nothing. This had been —


The sky up above cracked and splintered like an egg. Dazai took a few startled steps back as he stared wide-eyed at the darkness seeping through the edges of the world.

He had no clue what was happening.

But that didn’t matter, as through the cracks, Chuuya fell.

Dazai sucked in a sharp breath. “Chuuya!” He called again, even though Chuuya couldn’t possibly hear him.

Chuuya was still in the throes of Corruption, red markings wrapped across his visible skin. Upon his back were the wings that had only appeared that first time he activated it against Guivre. Those were dissipating as he fell closer to the Earth.

Dazai only had eyes for Chuuya, not even noticing as the cracks healed and vanished away as if they’d never existed. As Chuuya came closer, he tossed his cane away and braced himself, throwing out his arms to catch him.

And he did.

The moment Dazai touched Chuuya his ability activated. Red and blue, black and white, Corruption of Upon the Tainted Sorrow and No Longer Human. The crimson marks faded away as Dazai watched, and then he simply held Chuuya in his arms.

He stumbled back at the sudden weight before he sank to his knees. He took a deep breath as he slowly processed what just happened.

Dazai was right.

But more importantly, he had Chuuya in his arms where he belonged.

He looked down at him, his eyes flicking over his entire body.

“Chuuya?” Dazai searched for any signs of life. Yes, Chuuya was breathing, but after so long… “Chuuya?”

He held back the urge to shake him, not wanting to aggravate his injuries though Yosano should be getting there at any time.

“Chuuya?” He ignored the trembling of his hands. “Chuuya, please…”


Dazai’s breath caught in his throat, words stuck along with it.

“Kinda pathetic, ya know?” Chuuya’s voice was as rough as gravel. “I can figure out your clues in seconds while it’s taken you how long? And when I practically served them on a silver platter, too.”

Warmth was prickling across his eyes, though he couldn’t pinpoint why. There was a different sort of warmth, tight and yet gentle, within his chest as well. It didn’t matter. All of Dazai’s being was directed towards Chuuya.

The eyes that Dazai had been longing to see again cracked open, shining with that spark of life that was Chuuya and Chuuya’s alone.

“It ain’t easy being the knight for once, is it, princess?” Chuuya smirked up at him as best as he could.

It was enough.

It was more than enough.

“Chuuya!” Dazai chirped as he hauled Chuuya up and gave him a tight hug.

He felt Chuuya’s surprise at the gesture. They never were so obvious nor open enough to do something as straightforward as hug. Not that they hadn’t done it before, but never so clearly as a sign that they cared for each other.

“Geez, you can’t handle a taste of your own medicine, ya clingy octopus.” Chuuya muttered, but he still painstakingly wrapped his arms around him in return.

“Well, it can’t be helped. My dog decided to play dangerous games and gamble with his life.” Dazai retorted, but his voice wasn’t as stable as he’d like.

You did a risky move that could’ve killed you or worse if I hadn’t figured it out.

Chuuya huffed, even as he threaded his fingers through Dazai’s hair. “You know I never gamble unless I’m playing with you.”

I trusted that you would figure it out.

“Stupid. This is why I’m the brains among the two of us.”

You worried me. You scared me. I thought—

“Oi. I’ve handled myself perfectly fine over the years. I knew what I was doing.”

I’m sorry but it had to be done.

Like usual, the meaning laid in between their words that no one else would be able to hear.

Dazai pulled back enough so he could look into Chuuya’s eyes, which widened at the sight before him.

Dazai was sick of reading between the lines.

“Hey, did your face get uglier while I was gone?” Chuuya continued the usual routine despite bringing his hand down to wipe at the tears in the corner of Dazai’s eyes. “I know —”

“Chuuya.” He made sure Chuuya’s full attention was on him. “Do not do that to me ever again.”

Chuuya blinked, taken aback. Then his expression darkened. “Like you have any right to —”

“I know.” Dazai switched his hands from supporting Chuuya’s back to cradling his face. “I know it’s not fair and makes me the worst hypocrite —” Chuuya’s eyes were about to fall out with how wide they are from his honesty “— especially since I’ll probably use those tricks again.

“But Chuuya, don’t make me live in a world without you.”

It was the closest Dazai got to begging. He’d only attempted it once before and it failed miserably. He didn’t have much hope for it this time either, given how stubborn Chuuya was, but…


Chuuya didn’t reject him outright. Instead he studied his face, though Dazai didn’t know what he was looking for.

“So what you’re saying is…” Chuuya said slowly. “...that the suicidal maniac wants to live.”

Dazai’s heart skipped a beat at the callback. “Perhaps.” He admitted. “Under the right circ*mstances, even if I haven’t found what I’m looking for exactly.”

Chuuya sighed as if accepting a great hardship. “Well, I suppose it can’t be helped.” He brought his hands up on top of Dazai’s, making their fingers intertwine around each other. “You’ll just have to live with me, then.”

He couldn’t hide his crooked grin that was quickly overtaking his face though.

Dazai bumped his forehead with Chuuya’s. “Chuuya is the absolute worst.” He whined.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re no ray of sunshine yourself.”

He didn’t let go of Dazai. And Dazai wasn’t going to let him go either.

There was still more that needed to be resolved. There was the matter of the Book, the mysteries of the underground shrine, the manifestation of Chuuya’s power from somewhere beyond, plus whichever organization that would set their sights on Yokohama and its treasures next. Explanations would need to be sought out or given. Dazai dreaded the amount of paperwork that it would probably take to reinstate a dead person back among the living legally (or whatever equivalent a Port Mafia Executive could reach).

Even now, Dazai could hear the Agency’s other car finally pulling up, and the shouts of shock and delight that accompanied it. Yosano would definitely need to give Chuuya a check over and healing.

Kouyou and the rest of the Port Mafia would need to be informed of this as well.

But at this moment, it was just Dazai and Chuuya, Chuuya and Dazai. Soukoku. Double Black. Twin Dark. The duo who had somehow beaten the odds and done the impossible once more.

They were a story, a legend, that would never end so simply.

Dazai had known that from the start and had dared to doubt it in the wake of disaster. He’d wavered in what he should have known to be true.

He and Chuuya are indelibly fated.

And their story would only end when they decided it was time.

Which, as Dazai held Chuuya close and his world finally righted itself, he knew that wouldn’t be for a long time if he had any say in it.

For their story would never truly be over as their legend could never die.

The End

On My Knees (Looking for the Answer) - A_Zap - 文豪ストレイドッグス (2024)
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