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in the days that turned to dust

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I.

 

He’s already seated in the room when you’re brought in.

You’re fourteen, and at this point, your life feels like an unending parade of rooms you’ve been shuffled between.  Boardrooms, where you stand quietly in a corner, leaning against the wall, wondering if the people seated around those tables with their briefcases full of bills and tell-tale bulges of weapons under their jackets realize how closely you watch them, silently tucking away every little bit of information.  Armories, while your mentor watches his men and women suit up for battle, one of them occasionally asking hey, boss, what’s with the kid? or so we’re just taking in strays now?  Training rooms with the occasional caved-in wall or bloodstains on the tatami flooring that have never quite come out, where you watch ability users twice your size draw back from your outstretched hands in shock.  Hospital rooms, occasionally.  More often than your mentor would like.

This room is most like the ones meant for training - sparse, functional, all unfinished walls and floors.  There’s a locker tucked away in a corner, a metal bench next to it.  There are no windows.  And there’s a boy your age sitting in a chair near the center, arms crossed across his chest and one foot resting on its opposite knee.

He narrows his eyes, nods his head slightly in greeting.  At you or Dr. Mori - yes, you’re no longer technically his patient, but you still find it hard not to call him that in your head - you’re not sure.  Just in case, you don’t nod back.  It’s not that you care much for social ceremony - you’ve just found it’s often more advantageous to listen in and take stock of the people around you before involving yourself.

Also, people - mostly adults - tend to take your reactions as impertinence.  You’re pretty sure that as long as Mori gives you special treatment, there are going to be people who see anything you do as impertinence.

The man himself clears his throat now, and as if signaled, the mafia members posted at the door pull it shut, the sound of the lock clicking into place echoing in the sparse room.  An awful lot of security for the most untouchable man in the Port Mafia and one kid with a non-combat ability.  Suddenly you’re very curious about this new acquaintance of yours.

“Osamu Dazai.”  Mori turns to smile down at you; as usual, it doesn’t meet his eyes.  You’re pretty sure he thinks you’re afraid of him.  Maybe, once, for a split second as he turned to you with a blood-misted face and scalpel dripping in his hand, you were - and then the second passed.  First of all, it wouldn’t be advantageous for him to hurt you; second of all, you’ve spent more than enough time in his presence to pick the doctor apart with a surgical precision he’d probably appreciate if he knew.  Once you understand how someone works - the tick-tock of their soul, their motivations and their weaknesses - it’s hard to remain afraid of much of anyone for long.

“Meet another of our newest recruits.  Chuuya Nakahara - this is Dazai.  Another young man with great promise.” 

You’re pretty sure you see this Nakahara kid consider rolling his eyes for a fraction of a second before he thinks better of it.  Smart.  “Charmed,” he says, deadpan.

“Likewise.”

“No need to be so formal with each other.”  Mori pats you on the shoulder, which kind of makes you want to find a way to replace your entire arm altogether.  “I have a feeling you two will be working in very close capacity.  Your skill sets are pretty complimentary, after all.  Actually…” You see a flash of shark’s teeth as his lip curls further up.  “That’s why I brought you both here today.  Chuuya’s got a set of skills I think you’d benefit from.”

You think about all the Mafia members able to bend the very rules of reality around them that Mori has had you stop with a single finger - you doubt it.  “Unless he’s got some sort of ability I can’t stop with No L-”

Skills, not an ability.”  Ugh, he’s still grinning at you both.  “Your own ability is impressive, but it’s not always going to save you.  A punch to the face isn’t an ability, after all… and neither is a knife in your gut.  I don’t want my protégé taken out of commission by something as simple as that.  Chuuya here has kindly volunteered to at least give you some self-defense basics.”

And you had to get a kid who can’t be any older than me to do that?  Tch.

Chuuya, seemingly already bored with this monologue, stretches his arms above his head, cat-like.  “I wouldn’t say volunteered.”

“Call it what you’d like, I guess.”  Mori gestures for him to stand up, folding up the chair when he does and leaning it up against one of the featureless gray walls.  “It needs to be done either way.”

He crosses the room to take a seat on the provided bench - but not before bending down to whisper something into the other boy’s ear.  In response, Chuuya nods once, curt and understanding.  He tugs on the pair of leather gloves he’s wearing, adjusting them, cracks his knuckles - all the while watching you, seeing how you’ll prepare.

Hands still in your pockets, you get barely a word into asking if this is going to be like that one movie you saw as a child and when he’s going to tell you to wax his car when something connects with your stomach, and you’re already stumbling back before you realize what it was: his foot.  Even un-augmented by any sort of ability, Chuuya’s fast.

Your head makes a rather worrying crack sound against the wall as it hits, and through your blurred vision, you try and make out Mori across the room.  Even with the world going double before your eyes, you can tell he’s nonplussed.  Not that you expected otherwise.  Still - you don’t finish that thought because this time, it’s his fist that connects with your jaw and anything else in your head is drowned out by ringing.

He steps back, lets you struggle to straighten back up  The bandages around one of your wrists - a recent unfortunate incident - have started unraveling, but you don’t even have a chance to adjust them before he leaps at you again like a small, red-headed torpedo.

He hits you again.

And again.

You’re not weak.  You know that much.  You’ve withstood things others your age can’t imagine; you can think circles, or more accurately, entire spiderwebs around pretty much anyone you’ve come across.  You can use your tongue like your mentor does his scalpel, precise and cutting, but how can you think or talk your way out of something like-

Everything clicks into place.  Ah.  You really should have thought of this sooner.

This time, in the split second between the time you stagger back to your feet and the moment his fist is sure to come flying at you, you step forwards.  He wavers for a fraction of a second, then draws his other arm back to strike - and this time, you intercept it, the blow landing on your forearm rather than your face as intended.  His eyebrows shoot up, and you take that moment of surprise to act.

Huh.  You’ve never broken someone’s nose before.  The crunch of it takes you both by surprise; he steps backwards, hand over his face, blood leaking between his fingers and painting shining red-black rivulets down the leather of his gloves.  It’s clear he wasn’t expecting you to fight back - he wasn’t planning to give you time to.  So you’d made time for yourself.  Simple, really.

“That hurt, you bastard.”

Behind his hand, his eyes narrow, and something about the air in the room changes, like every atom’s been shot through with electricity.  You try and step forwards, fist clenched - though you doubt he’ll give you the same opening a second time - but your body feels wrong.  Heavy, like the air is dragging at you.

“Nakahara,” you hear Mori say, a warning, but he sounds like he’s speaking from very far away, and Chuuya doesn’t even seem to hear him.  He extends his other hand, straight out from his chest, and as he brings it down, your body… sinks, as if gravity itself is trying to pull you down into the center of the earth.

So that’s it, you think as the floor cracks under the unnatural weight of your back.  Some sort of… gravity manipulation.  We were smart to recruit him-

Something’s digging into your solar plexus.  A knee.  He’s kneeling over you, a knife in his bloodied hand, inches from the delicate flesh of your throat.  Chuuya’s eyes are wild, his hair floating unnaturally around his face and gleaming like fire, and you think: he looks like a demon, no, more like something else, like old paintings you’ve seen, golden halos and wings reflecting flames-

“Like an angel,” you murmur aloud.

He leans back in surprise, the force holding your body down dissipating.  “What the fu-”

Nakahara!  That’s enough!”  Mori’s voice thunders, no longer distant and echoing, and it’s enough to startle you both out of whatever strange two-person universe you’ve been inhabiting the past few moments.  He strides forwards, grabs the knife from Chuuya’s hand before throwing it down in disgust.  “Get your goddamn temper under control before it becomes a liability.  And you-”

You blink.

“Try not to take so many hits next time.”

He pulls Chuuya off of you by the back of his collar, gives you both a look of bone-deep annoyance, and strides out of the room before either of you can react.

You think that, as he leaves, you see something in his eyes saying I was right.

 

 

II.

 

You’re sixteen, and you’re at war.

You’ve been fighting side by side for what feels like entire hours straight - Chuuya immobilizing waves of enemies with a simple flick of his hand, shells falling around your feet like rain as you follow up with round after round of bullets.  You haven’t exactly had time to look down, but it’s hard not to imagine the pool of blood beginning to lap at your shoes.  Even so, you can’t smell it - that coppery tang has become as familiar to you as the scent of your own skin.

Not everyone is so… well-adjusted.  One of your subordinates ducked around a corner, as if you couldn’t hear his breakfast spattering the pavement anyway, the first time he had to shoot some poor bystander begging I don't want to do this in a ragged voice.  You’d have sharp words for him, if you had the time.  But you’ve been trying to fight your way closer to the ability user responsible for all this trouble to absolutely no avail, and it’s taking all your team has got to even hold your ground against the seemingly unending wave of puppets descending on you.

Your opponent has - well, not exactly mind control abilities.  Physical control would be more accurate.  You’re up against what feels like a crowd a thousand deep of civilians, people who’d just been out and about, minding their business, before they felt their limbs jerked about as if they were on strings, marionetted to be cannon fodder in your fruitless attempts to reach their puppet-master and nullify his powers.

“There’s too fucking many of them,” someone - you really should bother to learn the names of the people working under you better, someday, but you’ve been thinking of him as “the cue-ball” for obvious baldness-related reasons for the past six months - curses into his comms.  “Do we keep fighting or pull back, boss?”

You and Chuuya shoot each other the same look out of the corners of your eyes.  Pull back is a part of your boss’s vocabulary grown rusty from unuse.

“We can’t get within range,” you say into your own mic, not even giving Mori a chance to try and dignify that with a response.  “With so many people under the enemy’s control… we’d need to take them all out at once, before he has a chance to replenish their numbers.  Short of a bomb…”

Chuuya’s control over his own abilities doesn’t waver, but you feel him stiffen beside you as Mori’s voice crackles over the airwaves.  “Chuuya.”

“Yes.”

You can’t discern whether the noise you hear is a burst of static or a sigh.  “It’s time.”

His eyes harden to steel.  “Understood.”

“Time for what?” you ask - surely, if there was a plan, you would have been let in on it.  You’re practically Mori’s chief strategist, after all, and you and Chuuya have been trained to be partners, physically and mentally in sync, in the two years since the day you met.  But the comms go dead, and Chuuya doesn’t answer - just steps forwards, expression impenetrable, and begins to peel off one glove.  He’s muttering something, under his breath, and if you strain your ears to hear it over the sounds of gunfire and screaming you can make out only a few words:

 

 - dark disgrace, do not -

 

Blood-red lines, alive with light, crawl across his skin; blood begins to trickle from the corner of his mouth as he walks ahead, lifting himself with his ability until he’s striding over the crowd of enemies, high enough to be untouchable.  As the marks wrap more densely around his body, you can see the air around his hands changing, stretching, as if he’s pulling everything around him in, almost like-

Almost like a black hole.

“What the hell are you doing?” you yell after him, but even if he could hear you - for some reason, you know in your bones he wouldn’t really hear you, anyway.  You let your handgun drop, whirling around to your subordinates.  “What the hell is he doing?”

"They didn’t tell you?”  One of your companions’ eyes widen in disbelief.  “About Corruption?”

You grab her by the shoulder - harder than you meant to, and you see fear flicker to life in her eyes.  “What the fuck is Corruption?

“I can’t believe the boss wouldn’t tell you.”  She swallows nervously, her eyes darting between your face and the increasingly large circles of warped air gathering around your partner’s hands.  “Nakahara’s… when he takes those gloves off, he’s able to use his ability to its full potential.  It’s called Corruption.  It’s immensely powerful, but he can’t…”  She trails off.

Can’t.  What.

“He can’t stop.”  You feel her shudder under your hand.  “He’ll… he’ll keep going.  Until he dies.”

You feel numb.  You release your grip on her shoulder, and she falls to the ground, knees weak, assault rifle lying useless in her lap.

Far above you, Chuuya’s shoulders are shaking.  At first, you assume it’s from pain - it’s hard to tell what part of the red on his face is the marks of Corruption and what parts are his own blood - but you realize, with horror, he’s laughing, as he bends the universe around himself.  He laughs as he raises his hands in front of himself, like he did when he used his ability against you for the first time.

And he laughs as he throws those black holes down into the teeming mass of enemies, head thrown back as they’re swallowed up by pure nothingness, eyes wide with exhilaration and pure power.  A single moment, and what has to be hundreds of people are just - gone, and the air warps around his fingers yet again as he begins to ready himself for a second attack.

For a moment, you almost smile.  Smart move, Mori.  No wonder you recruited him - he was already powerful before, but this-

And then-

Smart move?  That’s your partner up there, the same Chuuya that drives you crazy on a daily basis, that has seen you bleed and sweat and push yourself beyond your limits, that has called you every name in the book while bandaging your wounds, that has risked his life for you just as many times as you’ve put yours down on the line for him, and you want to mentally congratulate the bastard chessmaster who’s ordered you both to do it all on strategy?

“Hold this,” you order your subordinate, thrusting your own gun into her hands, and before she even has time to ask what the hell you’re doing, you’re running ahead.  Thankfully, with only a few straggling puppet-people left, it’s a straight shot to your destination - the only way you can think of to reach Chuuya.  The only way you can think of to bring him back down to you.

By the time you reach the top of the fire escape, he’s blown a hole straight through a building and blood is dripping down his chin, onto his shirt.  He’d hate that, if he were still in control - he’s always been particular about his clothing, impeccably dressed for a mafioso.  It’s always struck you as ridiculous.

Now, you wish he’d go on one of his rants about the sheer stupidity of you spilling beer on the sleeve of his coat or accidentally-on-purpose throwing a single red sock into his whites cycle.  At least that would be a Chuuya you recognize.

You’re not even sure if you can reach him.  But you have to try.

You pull yourself up on top of the railing -

And you leap.

For a second, you’re sure you’re going to miss, and you think, falling was never the way I wanted to go - so messy - so many better ways - and then he’s in front of you, drenched in sweat and blood and still laughing that terrible, inhuman laugh, and you throw your arms around him as hard as you can and hold on for dear life as you both fall from the sky.

 

 

You end up in hospital after, of course.  You miraculously manage to avoid anything life-threatening, but your arm is broken in a few places from your abrupt landing, and Chuuya isn’t going anywhere without a blood transfusion and a lot of rest.  The moment you’re released with your cast, you take up residence at his bedside for a day and a half while he sleeps, supernaturally exhausted.  What passes for a medical staff within the mafia gives you a both a wide berth.

He never officially thanks you, of course, and you never discuss it.  That’s not how the two of you work.  But when you finally fall asleep, head down on the side of his hospital bed, you wake with his hand in yours, and it feels like gratitude.

 

III.

 

You’re eighteen, and you’re leaving.

Not all at once, of course.  There’s planning to be done - you need a place to stay, a way to support yourself, a way to exist in a world outside the shadows you’ve walked in since you were fourteen years old.  Your contact in the Special Ability Department can help you, some, to erase connections to your past, maybe enough that you’ll be one of the lucky bastards that breaks away from the Port Mafia for good.  But planning has always been your strong suit, after all.

There’s really only one little snag that you’re afraid to hit.

So you slip away from him, mid-mission, telling him you’ll go on ahead and scout the area, banking on his trust in you to give you enough time to get long gone.  Just in case he’d ask you to stay.

Just in case you’d look him in the eyes and see the years of history reflected there: the times you’ve fought each other, the times you’ve fought for each other.  The times you’ve locked eyes and known exactly what the other was thinking.  The way your bodies know each other’s, the way you can predict each move he makes.  The way sometimes you can’t and it still makes your heart, cliche as it may be, skip a beat each time.  The way he curses you and kisses you with the same spitfire passion.

Just in case you’d consider it.

So you leave him far behind, and you leave a bomb under his car.

Just in case he’s stupid enough to follow.