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There Will Be A Next Time

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The first time Ango met him, he was stunned.

He’d read all the files about Nakahara Chuuya, had access to his history, had given access of his history to the Port Mafia and had added to it himself, but his history was one thing. His history made him seem like an experiment, a weapon, because that was how the government viewed him. They talked about him without his name, calling him Ability user A5158. Ango did too. That was his job.

It was disturbingly easy to forget the human behind the files. When he joined the Port Mafia on assignment, Ango knew he was playing with fire for a variety of reasons. By that point he knew that he couldn’t get away with not forming any sort of attachments to anyone. From the moment he met Oda Sakunosuke he knew it was a lost cause, because Oda had a way of drawing people in and making them want to open up.

He’d caught glimpses of Nakahara and his partner, Dazai, quite a few times before he properly met the two. Dazai tagged along with Oda one night when they were getting drinks, and somehow that turned into a friendship between the two of them. His entire time at the Mafia that was how it went — he saw glimpses of Nakahara either because of Dazai or because Nakahara happened to be around, but they never met properly.

That changed when he left the Mafia. One night Nakahara attacked him in the street, his eyes burning with a strange kind of anger that could have meant so many things. He told Ango to clear Dazai's records, a strange request for someone who seemed so angry at Dazai for leaving the Mafia in the first place.

Ango was taken off-guard. It wasn’t so much the anger in Nakahara’s eyes as how vibrant he looked and how startling the intensity of the emotion was. People in the Mafia wore masks and yet Nakahara was like an open book.

With Nakahara’s knife biting into his throat, Ango agreed to erase Dazai’s records. He’d been planning on it anyway, so it wasn’t too difficult a thing.

What was more difficult was not using his own Ability on Nakahara, on the knife pressed against his throat or on Nakahara’s clothes. Ango knew so much about Nakahara, perhaps even more than Nakahara himself, but he didn’t know how Nakahara felt about it all. Right now, seeing how intensely Nakahara seemed to experience emotion, Ango wanted to.

But too soon Nakahara was gone, leaving Ango alone with his thoughts. This man was Ability user A5158, an experimental weapon of the government, and yet when Ango looked him in the eyes he saw none of that.

He saw more emotion in Nakahara’s eyes than in the eyes of most of the people he knew. That was something he couldn’t forget.

*

Years later he met Nakahara again, having been the one tasked with getting him to help the government fight Shibusawa. They wanted him to use his ultimate weapon, Corruption, and Ango agreed up until he realized that there was a good chance Nakahara wouldn’t come back from it.

The way Nakahara jumped off that plane anyway, regardless of the huge risk to his life was enough to make anyone breathless.

But the way Nakahara talked to him just beforehand, a strange, almost familiar emotion to his voice when he told Ango that he’d forgiven him and that he was going to go ahead with the plan anyway, took his breath away. Nakahara had been talking to him like a person. For a moment Ango could have believed they were more than acquaintances.

Everything he’d read could not prepare him for witnessing Corruption. For the first time since they’d met, Nakahara seemed inhuman, and there was something sad about that. Ango understood the huge sacrifice Nakahara was making. It wasn’t just about his life. It was about dying as something that didn’t represent who he was.

That might have been the end of it, but Nakahara appeared at headquarters a few days later when Ango was alone. Ango, running on almost no sleep for the past few days, thought he was hallucinating until Nakahara’s hand grabbed his shirt, almost yanking him out of his chair. He was forced to look up at Nakahara’s face.

“I’m gonna take a guess that you wouldn’t delete the data on Corruption if I asked you to,” Nakahara said. His expression was closed off.

“No,” Ango said. “I wouldn’t. If you knew that why are you here?”

“You used to be Dazai’s friend,” Nakahara said. “He still hates you, I hear. The bastard is mad at you for betraying him when he did the same thing.”

“Right,” Ango said. He wasn’t sure where this was going.

“You still erased his records. You’ve seen what he could do. You saw him at his worst,” Nakahara said. “Back when he was the Demon Prodigy. Almost no one saw him as human, but you did.”

Ango still had no idea what Nakahara was talking about. He nodded.

Nakahara gritted his teeth. “If you could give Dazai that courtesy, then you can fucking give it to me.” He pushed Ango back.

Ango’s chair hit the desk hard enough to send shocks through his entire body. Oh.

“I doubt this’ll be the last we’ll see of each other,” Nakahara added, “so I want to make sure that the next time you do, you don’t give me any of that ‘Ability user A5158’ bullshit. I know you’ve called me by my name, but I don’t want you to revert to using that number again. I don’t want to hear that number at all. Not when you’re talking to me, not when you’re talking to someone else about me. Because if you still refer to me like that to someone else, even if you don’t see me as that experiment, you allow other people to. That’s what it does.”

Ango couldn’t look away from Nakahara’s eyes, which burned. He’d broken into the government offices, at great risk, just to tell him this.

Except it wasn’t something that didn’t mean anything. It meant a great deal to Nakahara, so breaking into the government was nothing compared to being able to be seen as human by the people in it.

Despite all of the ways Nakahara’s files identified him to make him sound like an object, there was one fact buried amongst everything. Beneath all the experiments, the merging of a god-like Ability into a vessel, the desire to build a weapon, the child they had used and the man he had become were human.

Nakahara wasn’t going to let anyone forget that.

“Chuuya-kun,” Ango said quietly.

Nakahara looked relieved. “Good. You’re getting it.” He turned to leave but Ango found himself reaching out, just managing to grab the sleeve of his coat.

Nakahara turned around, frowning.

“Until next time,” Ango said.

Nakahara’s expression was unreadable. “Get some rest, Professor Spectacles. You look like shit.”

Ango blinked and then Nakahara was gone.

*

“So I heard you’re the one in contact with that bastard.”

The next time Ango saw Nakahara, they were both severely in need of rest. Dazai was in jail, Yokohama — at least in terms of Ability users — was a mess, and the government was barely holding everything together with the help of the Mafia. The Agency had gone underground, having been labeled as terrorists. Ango knew Chuuya knew where most of the Agency members were, and the ones he didn’t know about were covered by Ango.

“I am,” Ango said warily.

“Boss Mori wants an update,” Nakahara said, “and more details. I personally don’t give a shit whether or not you give them to me because I know Dazai probably hasn’t. I wanted to know something else, thought, which I’m sure Boss Mori would also find useful.” The part about Mori was said like an afterthought, which meant it was definitely more useful to Nakahara.

They were in an abandoned bar. Nakahara had called him here and Ango had gone out of curiosity more than anything, but also keeping in mind that ignoring the Mafia could have huge consequences. In this situation the government couldn’t afford to be in a bad relationship with anyone.

Nakahara leaned against the bar, looking right at home. “I need to know who knows what about me.”

Ango raised an eyebrow.

“I know it sounds self-centered but it’s not,” Nakahara said. “I bet Dostoyevsky does. How could he not? He saw it first-hand but he still wouldn’t have gotten the details behind it just by looking at it. The government’s been compromised, though, and that kind of information in the wrong hands can be bad, not just for me but for you guys. So do you know?”

Ango couldn’t figure out how Nakahara felt about that. He sounded detached. The consequences would, indeed, be high. If Nakahara was captured by an enemy organization, they could use him for a lot if they found a way to do so. They could try to recreate the experiments if they had Nakahara’s files, or find a way to undo the results. In either case Nakahara would be used as an experiment and a weapon to enhance or take apart, which wasn’t good for the government, the Port Mafia, and certainly not for Nakahara.

It was good to know who might try to use that information, if anyone. Nakahara’s information also connected to a host of other kinds involving artificial Abilities. Nakahara had been one of the earliest testing grounds for them that actually went somewhere. The Hunting Dogs were the latest and most successful. If they could learn things through Nakahara to enhance their own Ability users or to neutralize others...

Underneath all that there had to be a personal worry, too.

“I can look into it,” Ango said. “Off the top of my head, I don’t know. Your files are not exactly sealed given that the Mafia had access. And as you said, the government is not completely secure at this point in time.”

“Thanks,” Nakahara said. He turned to go, and Ango was hit with the sudden urge to say something, anything to make him look a bit less tired, to take his mind off what must have been plaguing it — the possibility of being used, of his humanity being discarded again, of being treated like an experiment.

“Chuuya-kun.”

Nakahara paused, looking back.

“‘I’m happy to have met you. To know more of you than what I’ve read.”

Nakahara’s expression was blank for a moment before he managed a slight smile. “You’re not so bad yourself, Professor Spectacles. Don’t worry, this won’t be the last time.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

Nakahara laughed, relaxing a bit. “I’ll have to make sure it’s something to look forward to.” Ango caught a spark of excitement in Nakahara’s eyes before he turned and gave a slight wave.

That expression burned in Ango’s mind, as all of Nakahara’s seemed to do. He didn’t know how anyone could look at Nakahara and think of him as anything other than human.