Chuuya thought it was quite illustrative of how far he’d fallen that Dazai was, out of all his co-workers, the one he was least uncomfortable around.
None of the ADA trusted him, and reasonably so, but it still made working with them awkward. There were the Akutagawa siblings, but Chuuya’s initial reaction to their abandonment of the Port Mafia had left that bridge in need of long and arduous repair. There was Kenji, who was nice enough, but everybody else started glaring the moment Chuuya got within ten feet of him. There was Kyouka, but she was never very sociable, still wary of anything with a trace of Mafia black, and stuck to that tiger kid like gum.
That left Dazai. Their relationship was the furthest thing from amiable, but it was… a kind of normal. Easy and familiar, like the steps to an old dance, something to fall back on when everything else in Chuuya’s life had been thrown to the wind. And, as a very small and traitorous part of Chuuya’s brain liked to remind him, Dazai was someone he could trust to watch his back, no matter how much they may hate each other. He was in desperate need of those lately.
...God, fuck this train of thought. Could he just go back to having detailed sexual fantasies about the bastard instead? That’d be less embarrassing.
Chuuya looked over at the bastard in question. Just a desk away, and still that was so strange. All but shoving a pile of papers into the arms of that poor, poor jinko kid, while Akutagawa watched solemnly from a few feet away.
“Ah- Uh, I’ll do it, Dazai-san, but I actually have a- Gah! ” The papers very nearly slipped from Atsushi’s arms to the floor, and just as nearly took Atsushi with them, but Akutagawa put a steadying hand on his shoulder and yanked him up, taking the papers from him in a fluid movement.
“An odd question, Dazai-san. The jinko has an odd question.”
Chuuya could practically hear the gleam in Dazai’s eyes. Could actually hear the almost-not-quite defensive note in his voice it was covering. “Oh? Go ahead.”
“Well, you know, everything has been very hectic lately, but everyone was so kind to me back in May - even Akutagawa - and I thought I could return the favor. I got everyone else’s birthdays from Kunikida-san’s notebook, but yours wasn’t in there, and I talked to Akutagawa and he didn’t know, so what I’m asking is-”
“Ah,” Dazai interrupted, and flashed one of those obnoxiously fake, obnoxiously dazzling smiles he was so good at. “Sorry, Atsushi-kun! That’s a secret!”
“I wouldn’t bother.” Tanizaki, now. “Dazai’s birthday is another one of Agency’s seven mysteries. Or six mysteries, I guess, since we solved the last one. Should we get a new seventh mystery?”
Atsushi blinked. Akutagawa silently took the papers back to his desk. “Are all the mysteries about Dazai-san?”
Tanizaki thought about it. “Kind of.”
“It’s infuriating, is what it is. Completely inconsiderate!” Kunikida didn’t look up from his computer screen, didn’t even stop typing, maintaining the kind of laser focus on his work that made you think he wasn’t listening. Chuuya wasn’t sure it’d ever get less startling when he did that.
Dazai stood up, stretched, and strode past Atsushi, redirecting his smile at Kunikida. “Yes, Kunikida-kun, we know! You want to know all our birthdays so you can spoil us endlessly like a doting grandmother. Very sweet of you, but I’m afraid you’ll have to refrain just this once.”
Dazai turned on his heel, retrieved his ugly (and okay, admittedly very comfy looking, Chuuya was still looking for a subtle way to steal it) coat, and breezed out of the office before Kunikida could do more than sputter.
Chuuya could not believe that bandage-wasting idiot.
Well, no, he could believe that bandage-wasting idiot, because isolating himself from anything and everything that could trigger a genuine emotional connection when he was supposed to be becoming a better person was exactly the kind of thing that bandage-wasting idiot would do. Dazai Osamu, let someone do something nice for him? Dazai Osamu, allow himself to be treated like a normal person for two damn minutes? Dazai Osamu, do something constructive that might actually make him happy? Unthinkable .
Chuuya’s palms itched under his gloves, and maybe this shouldn’t have bothered him, but it did, because Dazai was being stupid and if partners were for anything it was to cover each other’s blind spots, and to hell with the bit about Dazai not being his partner anymore. He was going to cover the bandaged idiot’s blind spots and right now that meant standing up, planting his fists on the table and exclaiming, “June 19th.”
It occurred to him about five seconds after the fact that this was a rather dramatic and confusing choice of strategy.
“...What?” Tanizaki stammered.
Chuuya sank back into his chair. In retrospect, drawing the full attention of every ADA member to him was not the most constructive choice for his sanity, but fuck it, sanity was overrated and he was Nakahara goddamn Chuuya, vessel of a god, former Mafia Executive, and the most powerful ability user in Yokohama, he could damn well handle this. “Dazai’s birthday. It’s June 19th.”
The last time Dazai had celebrated his birthday, he’d been in a damp two-room basement on the outskirts of Yokohama, with a squashed and slightly stale muffin he’d pretended was a cupcake and a bottle of cheap sake that made him more sick than drunk (or maybe that was the muffin, hard to say), making promises and apologies in equal measure to a dead man while he waited for the Mafia to give up searching for him.
And, all things considered, that was actually his best birthday. It hadn’t had Mori.
But that wasn’t an issue, anymore. The ADA kept him more than busy enough to forget about something as trivial and frivolous as his birthday, and besides, no one there knew it anyway - nor would they ever, if Dazai had his way. If June 19th felt just a little bit emptier than any other day… Well, it was better than the alternative.
That was the assumption he operated on the morning of this June 19th, with the same kind of back-of-mind certainty one would assume that the sun would rise in the east and set in the west, the seasons would continue turning, time would march on, human life was finite, Kunikida-kun would yell at him for being late, and Chuuya would definitely die if separated from his hat.
Now, Dazai was, if anything, notoriously difficult to catch by surprise. Stepping into the office only to be immediately tackled by a blur of very excitable Atsushi shouting something between ‘Happy birthday!’ and a meow surprised him very much .
By some miracle Dazai kept his footing, and he braved a glance over Atsushi’s head. The office had been quickly but effectively decorated since yesterday, mostly in blues, table cloths thrown over desks and balloons bobbing in corners. An excessively frosted cake sat on the side table, surrounded by a veritable buffet of sweets he could only assume were courtesy of Ranpo. The rest of the ADA - all of them, Dazai noted with a degree of trepidation - were crowded close, offering birthday wishes in an only slightly less enthusiastic manner than Atsushi.
All except one new member, who was leaning against the back wall with a hat and a smug expression, trying to pretend he wasn’t paying attention.
Well, he’d have to hand it to the chibi. Dazai had predicted a lot of consequences of inducting Chuuya into the ADA, but this had very decidedly not been one of them.
Dazai barely had the time to disentangle himself from Atsushi and throw his coat over his chair before Kunikida came upon him like a predator. A very organized, very mothering predator with glasses.
“You were late,” Kunikida said, and shoved a basket into Dazai’s arms. “Fortunately, I foresaw that and accounted for it.”
Annoying Kunikida came easily, even if Dazai felt like spiders were crawling over his ribs - it was just muscle memory, really. “ Very fortunate, Kunikida-kun! See, this is how I know I can always be late! You always cover for me. So, what’s this?”
Kunikida’s eye twitched, a barely noticeable flutter under his glasses. “Your gift, obviously. Nakahara was kind enough to tell us your birthday, since you wouldn’t.”
The implication that Chuuya may have done some good seemed to cause Kunikida physical pain. Ah, well. Dazai would just have to give them more time - he was sure they’d be great friends once the two got over themselves. They were just so similar, after all.
He looked inside the basket, his eyes falling over bandages, gift-cards, soaps, and what looked suspiciously like self-help books. Just like Kunikida-kun. He couldn’t just choose one thing - had to get a basket of a few dozen practical things. Always motherhenning.
“There’s a personal planner in there,” Kunikida went on. “ And a new watch, since your’s is clearly broken. I suggest you make use of both.”
Dazai resolutely ignored the way his heart was speeding up and flashed one of the many smiles in his arsenal - the wide one, with wider eyes, that made him look all but fifteen again and inexplicably innocent. Everyone always fell for that smile. “Thanks, Kunikida-kun! A watch isn’t wide enough to strangle myself with, but I’ll always be on time for high-tide and rush hour! Ooh! Do you think if I drink this entire bottle of shampoo I’ll get lucky and it’ll trigger some sort of organ failure?”
Kunikida’s eye twitch rapidly shifted into a full-body twitch, but he didn’t rise to the bait. Shame. Dazai must’ve been off his game.
Kunikida cleared his throat. He looked like he wanted to say something, and he looked like whatever he wanted to say was as painful as pulling teeth. Dazai would’ve been amused by this, if not for the weird, airy bubble expanding in his chest, leaving him breathless and dizzy.
“Dazai.” Kunikida’s voice was softer now, too soft. Some distant, animal part of Dazai’s brain screamed a warning. “I know you...struggle, with certain things. I haven’t always been understanding of that. You’ve made me appreciate the value of second chances.”
Kunikida coughed again, paused awkwardly. Dazai swallowed sandpaper.
“You’re a good man, Dazai. I’m proud to be your partner.”
Kunikida nodded, as if to himself, and clapped Dazai on the shoulder. Dazai didn’t flinch.
“Happy birthday. I still expect your reports to be done by tomorrow,” Kunikida said, and walked off.
If Dazai’s hands were shaking, it didn’t matter, because no one saw it.
Dazai had only just put the basket down when Atsushi bounded up to him, all smiles and shining eyes, with Kyouka striding a step behind. Something soft and grey poked out from her sleeve.
“Dazai-san! Happy birthday!” Atsushi bubbled. “Nakahara-san told us.”
“So I’ve gathered,” Dazai muttered. If Atsushi heard, he didn’t show it, but Kyouka’s eyes were pinned to Dazai like a butterfly to a wall.
She pulled at Atsushi’s sleeve, making him jump like a startled kitten. “Oh! Right! Kyouka-chan and I made something for you.”
Kyouka pushed aside red fabric and brought out the soft, grey thing, which turned out to be a floppy rabbit plush with mismatched button eyes and a hat sewn to it’s head.
(Dazai was slightly concerned about that last bit,and what exactly Kyouka had noticed, but it didn’t much matter because it was being pushed into his hands regardless. Well. It was very soft, at least.)
“I wanted to make you one, but I don’t know how to sew. So Atsushi did it for me.”
Dazai kept his smile on, and if he was clutching the plushie rather tightly, well, that wasn’t relevant. “How very sweet of you. Though, I didn’t peg Atsushi as the type to sew. Did Kunikida-kun corrupt you?”
“No, the orphanage taught me. We needed to know how to repair our own clothes, and sometimes I’d make animals for the younger kids.”
“Ooh! How very domestic. Say, this is actually quite convenient - you can mend my clothes! I’ve been informed that jumping off buildings and into rivers is quite damaging for them.”
“Dazai-san! I mean, if, if you wanted, I guess I could, maybe-”
“Hey." Dazai held up a hand, bringing Atsushi’s babbling to a halt. “I’m messing with you.”
Atsushi smiled and Dazai laughed, and surprisingly it didn’t come out forced at all.
“Thank you for everything,” Atsushi said, and hugged Dazai tight.
Tight, but not with the rib-cracking force of his last hug - instead it was a soft, gentle thing. Dazai, almost unthinkingly, slung an arm around Atsushi’s back, and was gratified by a soft, low sound threading up from his subordinate’s chest. Purring. Cute.
Eventually Atsushi stepped back, blushing but smiling all the same. “Happy birthday.”
Dazai waved Atsushi off. “Yes, yes. Now go, take advantage of Kunikida-kun’s birthday spirit while it lasts! You don’t want to spend your entire afternoon talking to me.”
Atsushi tried to protest, but Kyouka took his sleeve again and gently pulled him away. Her eyes met Dazai’s for a split second, wide and dark and far, far too knowing for a girl so young.
The bubble in Dazai’s chest kept growing, but something about Kyouka’s knowing eyes was comforting all the same.
Dazai was trying to thread his way to a nice, unobtrusive corner of the office where he could hide for the rest of the day when Kenji all but barrelled into him, arms overflowing with brightly colored packages.
“Dazai-san!” Kenji exclaimed, and shoved the armload at Dazai.
Dazai looked down at the myriad of items now scattered between his and Kenji’s arms and the floor. Chips, ice cream, candies, instant ramen - it was as if someone had raided the bargain section of the nearest supermarket, with an eye for only the most unhealthy items. Dazai couldn’t help but toss a glance across the room at Kunikida. He’d have the most delightful reaction if he saw this display. Probably burst a blood vessel.
Kenji apparently noticed, because he went on. “It was Kunikida-san’s idea! I asked him what you liked to eat, and he went on for an hour about your unhealthy diet. Happy birthday!”
And just like that, the bubble in Dazai’s chest popped, and he was laughing without even trying to.
When Ranpo came up to Dazai, it was with a truly impressive pout and a cardboard bakery box, the latter of which he dropped in Dazai’s lap.
“I hope you know what a grand gesture of appreciation and restraint this is,” Ranpo said, his already impressive scowl twisting further. “These are from my favorite bakery, and I had to carry them around for a whole hour without eating them! All so you could have them for your stupid birthday!”
Dazai resisted the urge to laugh and nodded gravely instead, because that was quite a gesture, coming from Ranpo. He hardly ever let anyone else eat his sweets, not even Yosano or that pretty ex-Guild writer he was so taken with. Dazai wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about the level of affection this might suggest. “I recognize your sacrifice, Ranpo-san. If you’d like, we can share-”
“Really? Gah! You should’ve said something sooner! I could’ve eaten them while they were fresh,” Ranpo squawked like a ruffled bird, though for all his distress he couldn’t have minded that much, because he had already snatched the package, flopped down next to Dazai, and begun devouring sugary confection after sugary confection at an alarming rate. It occurred to Dazai that he had not specified how much he was sharing and would likely end up with a half a pastry left, if he was lucky. Ah, well.
Dazai watched as bready chunks of sugar and chocolate disappeared as quickly as they were retrieved from the box, Ranpo’s fingers remaining remarkably free of stains, if only because he was licking them clean between every bite. From the way he acted, one would think he’d forgotten Dazai was there entirely - but of course he hadn’t.
“Ranpo-san,” Dazai ventured, and thankfully Ranpo’s questioning mmph? was only a little annoyed. “Thank you, but I’m surprised you didn’t figure out my birthday on your own.”
Ranpo didn’t open his eyes enough to roll them, but he managed to achieved the effect just as well with the rest of his body. “Of course I figured it out! But I wasn’t going to go and make myself give you things if no one else was! And besides.” Something in Ranpo softened, and he shrugged. “You clearly didn’t want anyone to know.”
“Ah,” Dazai said, because there was nothing else to say, and Ranpo went back to the bakery box and Dazai went back to trying and failing to understand what the tangled knot in his chest was trying to tell him.
“Oh, also,” Ranpo said, dropping the well-raided box back into Dazai’s lap, “Yosano-san wants you to go talk to her. Good luck.”
With that, Ranpo took off in the direction of the cake. Dazai glanced down at the box in his lap.
Three pastries left. Dazai definitely wasn’t sure how to feel about the level of affection that suggested.
“Oh, Yosano-sensei~! Ranpo-san said you wanted to luxuriate me with gifts to express your boundless appreciation!”
Yosano set her cake aside and fixed Dazai with a flat expression. “I highly doubt he said that.”
“Well, maybe not in so many words… ”
“Uh- huh. ”
Yosano stared down Dazai, and Dazai stared her down right back. Inevitably, Yosano broke first.
“I wouldn’t call it luxuriating, but I did get you something. It’d have been terribly rude not to.”
“Ooh? Do show.”
Yosano sighed and slid open one of her desk’s many small side drawers, plucking out a bottle and setting it on the desk with a clink! It was small, hardly a mouthful, and filled with clear liquid.
“It’s lethal,” Yosano explained, tapping the side of the bottle, “and painless. Fast-acting, you’ll just have, say, fifteen minutes of dizziness. That’s what you’ve always wanted, right?”
Yosano’s eyes were hard as garnets as she stared him down. The bottle sat, still and innocent and offering far, far too much.
Ah. It seems Yosano-sensei is calling my bluff.
Dazai skipped forward and brushed the bottle into his pocket with a flourish, trying not to think about the way it seemed to burn in his palm. “My thanks, sensei. It’ll go to great use.”
The only thing it’d go to was the river, as soon as Dazai had the chance. Even now, it’s weight in his pocket was an alluring temptation, a seduction from death itself.
(It shouldn’t have felt so heavy.)
Yosano’s eyes met his again, hard garnets screaming I know you won’t, and Dazai nodded once and walked away.
“ Ha~appy birthday! ”
Naomi’s shriek was all the warning Dazai got before she collided with him, Tanizaki, as always, in tow. She was holding a wide, leatherbound book awkwardly in one arm, and with her other wrapped in it’s usual vice-grip around Tanizaki, her attempts at an Atsushi-style tackle hug were limited to knocking against Dazai’s side and hovering nearby with a pronounced lack of regard for personal space.
Tanizaki, to his credit, did make an attempt to pull Naomi away. The gesture was appreciable, but utterly ineffective.
“Ah, Dazai-san - Naomi, please - happy birthday! We didn’t have a lot of time, but we made you something.”
“Mm-hm!” Naomi chorused, and shoved the book into Dazai’s hands. “It was nii-sama’s idea!”
“Yeah, uh, it’s a scrapbook. Celebrating the Agency’s last three years - we even got Kunikida to find some pictures from when you first joined. We’re all really happy to have you.”
If Dazai’s fingers trembled just a bit as he flipped open the scrapbook, nobody could prove it. “Ah...This is very nice. More cats than I’d have expected, though.”
“Oh, Haruno-san helped. She insisted on putting Mii-chan in at every available opportunity.”
“Well, I suppose I’m not complaining… ”
Dazai kept flipping through the book and tried not think about the way his heart squeezed at every picture, memento, and anecdote of the last three years glued to it’s pages.
Naomi’s smile was all the warning Dazai got before she detached herself from Tanizaki and hugged him for real.
“Happy birthday!” She squeaked, before hopping back and dragging Tanizaki off.
When Akutagawa came up to him it was under obvious duress, Gin dragging him along despite increasingly vehement protests, which died away in a heartbeat when he saw Dazai. His posture went stiff and his eyes wide, and his arm squeezed down tight on what was tucked under it - a frame?
Gin pressed down gently on her brother’s shoulder and nudged him forward another inch. Akutagawa tried to clear his throat and ended up coughing instead.
“Dazai-san,” he managed eventually. “Happy birthday.”
Gin decided gentle nudges were no longer sufficient and elbowed him hard in the ribs instead.
“Ah, Gin! Okay, fine-” Another rough cough, before Akutagawa shook Gin off and straightened. “I made you something, Dazai-san- Gin, stop! Sorry! We made you something.”
Gin nodded, pleased. Akutagawa slid the frame out from under his arm and handed it to Dazai, not quite meeting his eyes.
Dazai took the frame, a wide, dark, black-painted thing, smooth and elegant and so very Akutagawa. Bleeding calligraphic letters in grey-scale danced across the picture inside, looping curves that spelled out thank you and I love you and I’ll make you proud, if never in so many words. Each letter was surrounded by soft black swirls illustrating butterflies and flowers and things too abstract to name, and Dazai just knew that had to be Gin’s handiwork.
Akutagawa shifted uncomfortably, arms twitching without something to hold onto. Gin stared Dazai dead-on exactly the way her brother wouldn’t, her eyes saying quite clearly if you say anything to hurt my brother, I will personally and painstakingly cut off every non-vital piece of anatomy you have.
“It’s a wonderful present, Akutagawa,” Dazai said, and he meant it. “You too, Gin.”
Gin beamed, and dragged Akutagawa off before he could collapse.
Inevitably Fukuzawa found him, licking obnoxiously blue frosting from his fingers and sneaking away from the demolished cake. Most of that had been Ranpo’s fault, Dazai had just pitched in, but it was always better to flee the scene of a crime.
“Ah! President!” Dazai said, light and cheerful and not showing any hint of the way talons were suddenly squeezing down on his heart. But, of course, Fukuzawa saw through him anyway.
“Dazai,” Fukuzawa said with a nod, but his eyes were too knowing and too gentle. It made Dazai feel like a child again - Fukuzawa always made Dazai feel like a child, and usually that was a good thing, a comforting thing, but right now he wasn’t so sure. “Happy birthday. I believe we have Nakahara to thank for this.”
“Yes, yes. The Agency’s new hat-rack simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to throw a party in my honor. Really, I should have seen it coming, he’s always so sentimental.”
“Apparently so,” Fukuzawa agreed, eyes narrowing ever so slightly. “Dazai.”
“You should know I initially urged against this party. I thought something a bit more… subdued might be best. However, the Agency was all quite eager, and Nakahara in particular argued vehemently in favor of it. He knows you well, so I conceded to his judgement. If I was mistaken, tell me, and I’ll ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Fukuzawa watched him, soft and evaluating. Dazai swallowed around the offer he’d wished for so many times before.
If this hurts you, I can make it stop. You don’t have to show weakness.
“No, president,” Dazai said. “Thank you, but I don’t think I could live with the guilt if I ruined Kunikida-kun’s fun now. And besides, getting gifts isn’t so bad.”
Fukuzawa stared at him for another moment, searching for the lie. Dazai stood up straighter, because for once, there wasn’t one.
“Very well,” Fukuzawa finally said, and handed a thick envelope to Dazai. “Here. My gift.”
“Ah? Money, president? I expected you to be more creative.”
“A cat trinket would be traditional for a member of the Agency, but I believe you need some pocket change.” Fukuzawa’s expression took on a vaguely pleading quality. “Do spend it responsibly.”
Dazai grinned. “No promises!”
When Dazai finally found his way back to his desk, arms heavy with gifts and a confused knot of something stuck in his chest, a certain redheaded chibi was lounging on its surface with Dazai’s coat draped over his shoulders.
“Oh, finally.” Chuuya tipped his head back, a lavafall of hair tumbling over the edge of the desk. “Took you long enough.”
“Eager to see me, chibi? You could’ve come up to me at any time.”
“Nah. Could hardly interrupt when everyone here likes you so much.”
“How very considerate of you.”
They stared at each other, flame-blue on red-black. A dance so old the steps were automatic.
“Did you get a gift for me, chibi? It’d be very rude not to.”
Chuuya shrugged and rolled off the desk, slipping the coat off his shoulders and tossing it at Dazai. “This count? One ugly coat for one ugly mackerel.”
“This is already my coat, but I suppose I won’t labor the point. This is the only way the chibi can show affection, after all.”
“You’re an insufferable prick, you know that?”
“Mm. You’re a sentimental little idiot.”
Chuuya glared, grit his teeth. Dazai kept his face smooth and empty.
Then Chuuya softened, backed down, and misstepped.
“Happy birthday, shitty Dazai. May you be less obnoxious at the age of twenty-three.”
Dazai blinked, and something must have shown on his face because the chibi got the most irritating little smirk, and Dazai had to mentally shove back the sudden desire to kiss it away like they were sixteen again. “I wouldn’t count on it,” he managed, but it didn’t come out nearly as light as it should have.
“Trust me, I wasn’t,” Chuuya muttered, but it lacked heat. He moved around Dazai and made his way for the door, not looking back.
“Leaving already, chibi?”
“I told you happy birthday. My job is done.” He stopped, sighed. “Piece of advice, Dazai.”
“I don’t think I want advice from an undersized hat-rack.”
“Too bad, you’re getting it.” Chuuya half-turned, head craned back, something somewhere between frustration and pity and maybe just a little bit of sympathy dancing in his eyes.
“The best way to be human is by doing it, idiot. The only way. Of course you’re,” Chuuya’s nose wrinkled and he made a vague gesture presumably meant to signify something distasteful, “ you, when you won’t even let the people you care about care about you back. You’d feel a lot less out of place if you got your head out of your ass and let a few people wish you happy birthday.”
Chuuya turned again, snatched his coat from his own desk before walking towards the door.
“Trust me, I’d know.”
“Is that why you told everyone, then? Outed my secret?” Dazai’s voice came out thin and biting and not nearly as mocking as it was supposed to. “To help me be human? Well, congratulations, chibi. I can see how proud of yourself you are.”
Chuuya shrugged, pushed open the Agency door.
“Partners cover each other’s blind spots. I’m just doing my job.”
The door swung shut behind Chuuya, and Dazai’s heart thudded in his chest.
He told himself it didn’t mean anything.