Old habits die hard, Dazai thought bitterly as his legs gave out from under him and he slumped unceremoniously to the ground against the brick wall behind a dumpster, in a back alley somewhere between bar Lupin and the agency dorms.
It was raining heavily, and the chill breeze nicked viciously at any part of his body that his tan coat didn't cover. His hair was draped thickly and soaked, stuck at his skin and obscuring his vision as he huddled up, his knees protectively against his chest.
He wasn't entirely sure where he was. He knew the streets of Yokohama like the back of his hand. Every hideout, every nook, and cranny of the less visible parts of the city. The pathways for those who lived their lives in the shadows.
But tonight, he had just fumbled around blindly, desperate on a mission to get as far away from his old hangout as possible. His hands and knees were shaking, his breath was catching in his chest while toxic thoughts swirled around in his mind a million miles per hour.
It had been a mistake going there. He knew that even before he went out tonight, but after last weeks events, all of the ghosts of his past that had come back to life- he just really needed the comfort and the familiarity of the warm lights inside the bar where he always had come to forget his troubles, with the two only people he had ever truly trusted, who inevitably had made him unable to ever trust again.
Standing outside, he had come as far as to touch the round, brass doorknob. Like electricity sirring through his arm, he had to let go of the handle and step away from the door. The warm, soothing memories of drinking whiskey in dark clothes, with his bespectacled, traitorous friend on his left side and the man who was as close to an older brother as he'd ever had on his right, was clouded with the dim light from the large windows that shone upon them as he cradled the bloody form of Oda on the floor, begging for him to open his eyes back up.
Pleading for him not to leave him.
Anything that happened after he let go of the door nob, was just a blur. He faintly remembered stumbling over the small rise of the curb, making his way deeper into the underworld of Yokohama, ducking inside every back alley he came across to get away from the intruding gleam of the streetlights.
He had no idea how long he had kept running before his body shut down. His muscles refused to obey the commands his brain was sending to them, leaving him unable to get back to his feet.
Staying still, he focused on calming his breathing for a while. Burning lungs complained as he held his breath for ten seconds, slowly letting it back out and repeated. He kept doing this a couple of times before he felt his inhales getting less strangled and his exhales less hitched, and he closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall behind him. The droplets felt soothing on his burning cheeks.
A heavy weariness embraced him like a warm blanket, and he felt like going to sleep.
Dazai had never been the one to deny himself the simpler pleasures in life, so, that’s what he did.
The sun relentlessly made its way through closed eyelids, stirring Dazai back to life, if only for a short while.
Someone was there, but he couldn't bring himself to pry his eyes open to see who it was.
A deep cough wrestled its way through his throat as he felt himself getting huddled up over someone's shoulder and carried off, leaving the dumpster that had protected him from the harshest of yesterday's storm behind.
“Mm, thanks,” he murmured weakly, waving at it, slightly dazed, and let his eyes fall shut once more, uncaring of where he was being taken.
“He was just sitting by the dumpster?”
A woman's voice breached through the darkness of uneasy sleep.
“Yeah, I found him when I went out with the trash this morning,” a male voice replied. It sounded young.
Then why didn't you throw me in with it?
“And he hasn't been awake at all?”
Dazai understood that they were talking about him and didn't like it. He wanted to get up and ask them to leave-
“I don't think so.”
“Well, I'm glad you called. I'll take a look at him.”
“Thank you, Yosano-sensei.”
The next fifteen minutes were spent being manhandled by the decisive doctor. Still unable to tear himself completely out of unconsciousness, Dazai was only able to grunt his dissatisfaction anytime he felt a cool instrument being pressed to his uncovered skin.
They had taken his clothes, he vaguely registered, fumbling feebly with one arm and started tugging at the blanket, only for it to be pulled away from him.
“It's fine, Dazai-san,” Yosano's alto voice cooed, but not without a hint of suppressed irritation. “It's only the two of us.”
That made him feel a little better. It had been impossible to hide all of him from her, she being their main medic, for nearly five years in the agency. But, even if no one else was there to see him, he still felt goosebumps covering his bare skin. Even if he technically felt the warm rays of the sun through his bedroom window, he was freezing.
Reluctantly, he let his hands fall back to resting at his sides, and let her prod and poke around until it seemed like she was satisfied that she had done everything she could for him.
“I'm going to get you some dry clothes now, and we’ll get you bandaged up. They were all wet,” she explained gently and left his side for a moment. When she returned, he felt a soft, linen shirt being pulled over his head, before his arms were eased into the sleeves. He thought maybe he tried to help her but wasn't quite sure if he had or not. She proceeded to cover the visible parts of his body that were usually bandaged, with new wrappings.
“Okay, Dazai-san, can you open your eyes for me?” she asked, settling back beside what he had now figured out was his own futon. That was good, at least.
Just bearly, he squinted his eyes. His eyelids felt swollen and heavy. They fell back shut several times before he gave up. He hummed his response, throat too sore and lips too sluggish to form the word “no”.
“That's okay, I just need to know that I have your attention,” she responded curtly. “You've got a pretty high fever, and I want to do some blood samples, to make sure it's nothing more serious. I'll be back to do that a little later.”
She paused for a moment. When she continued, her voice seemed a bit more strained.
“You should know better than to fall asleep outside in the rain. The stairs to your dorm room are literally 10 meters from where Atsushi found you.”
“Huh,” Dazai managed to wheeze out before a coughing fit ravaged through his ribcage and he had to hurl himself to his side not to choke on his own mucus. His stomach squirmed miserably, and he felt like he had to throw up until a soothing hand started to draw circles on his back.
“Just breathe,” Yosano directed, softer this time. Dazai tried to follow her instructions, breath hitching as he tried to gain control of it and quelch the coughs.
Yosano called for Atsushi, asking him to bring them a glass of water. The skittish teen obliged instantly, returning seconds later with a glass of lukewarm water which Dazai gulped down.
“Atsushi's going to stay here with you. I need to head into work for a few hours,” she told him calmly as he emptied the glass. She took it from his lips and gave it back to Atsushi with instructions to refill it.
Dazai didn't answer, busy enjoying the relief the water had given his throat when something cold and wet touched his forehead. Immediately, he brushed it off, shrugging his head and scowling at the offending piece of fabric that had fallen down on his pillow.
Yosano gingerly picked it up and placed it back onto his head again, holding it in place until he glared up at her.
“Stay still,” she enquired firmly, unable to hide the faint smirk that tugged at the corners of her mouth. Dazai whined weakly, dragging his blanket, obscuring the lower half of his face with arched eyebrows.
The young medic smiled warmly and ruffled the damp tusts of hair that peeked up from the woolen quilt. Dazai let out a soft groan in protest. She got up and left the room, waving her hand for Atsushi to come with her.
“Make sure to try and keep his fever down. Give him an aspirin when he wakes up and make sure he drinks plenty of water,” she listed off. Atsushi scribbled down everything she said as fast as he could on a notepad left on the kitchen counter.
“Check his cupboards for something to make soup with. It's easy to keep down, and it will help to keep his fluid levels up. I'll be back as soon as I can check on him, but I want you to measure his temperature in about two hours. Call me if it has gone up, or if his conditions show any signs of getting worse.”
Atsushi nodded while his pen worked furiously. This all seemed fairly logical, but anxiety tended to shroud the more reasonable solutions and make his mind blank. When he was satisfied he had gotten it all down, he lifted the pen from the paper and peeked back at her.
“I'll lookout for him,” he swore seriously as if his own life depended on it. A strange sense of protectiveness rose inside him, stronger than he had felt before, except maybe for Kouyou. Something, almost like pride, blossomed inside his chest, and he wanted to protect Dazai. Protect the man who had, no matter how weirdly he may have shown it, protected him.
Over the years, Atsushi had definitely seen Dazai in vulnerable positions, but never had he experienced his mentor looking as defenseless as this. A part of Atsushi knew that he probably had been in this exact position plenty of times, but never in front of him.
Because Dazai had this relentless, undefeatable aura around him that never wavered. His sheepish smile never faltered, and he always looked so reassuring. Whenever Atsushi was unsure and in doubt, he would look to his guide and be met with the dark eyes that never seemed to worry about anything.
The same eyes that were unable to open because of a disease that could strike anybody. And that was who Osamu Dazai was, after all. Just another man.
He wasn't some immortal, fantastical being that could overcome anything if he was broken to pieces by sickness just like any other person.
Somehow, it made Atsushi feel better.
Yosano closed the door quietly behind her as she left, and the light-haired teen shuffled awkwardly from the small kitchenette into the barren bedroom where his mentor was sleeping fitfully.
He placed the glass of water in an arm's distance from the futon and crouched down cross-legged by Dazai's side, on a pillow from the small Chabudai in the living room that Yosano had picked up earlier when she started Dazai's treatment.
Straightening his back and cracking his neck, he settled down for a long wait. He knew Yosano wouldn't expect him to watch Dazai for every second of the next couple of hours, but the feverish man in front of him had saved his life more than once, so he felt like it was the last thing he could do.
If he was honored with the task of looking after one of the greatest people he had ever known, he was going to do it right. To the best of his abilities (the kinds that not even Dazai could nullify).
And, he was a weretiger, after all. He had excellent senses. A nocturnal animal, with observant eyes, sharp claws and an impeccable nose for sniffing out danger.
That's why he was taken aback when he found himself startling awake by the sound of subdued mumbles, and something trashing lightly at his side.
Dual-colored eyes opened wide, and he looked around the room, only to find the afternoon sun, leaving long shadows at the sparse furniture inside the small bedroom.
Dazai slept restlessly, curled up tight and murmuring nonsensical words under his breath, fighting some invisible force inside his own head. Atsushi scrambled to his knees, holding Dazai's shoulders down and tried to ease him awake.
“Dazai-san, it's okay. It’s just a dream,” he whispered urgently, trying to shake the dazed man out of his nightmares. Dazai half-lidded his eyes, sleepy, narrow orbs, trying to make sense out of his surroundings.
“Atsushi,” he smiled widely, tired eyes creasing with almost unnoticeable smile-wrinkles. “When did you get here?”
“I've been here all along, Dazai-san. I found you, remember?”
Dazai stilled for a moment, frowning as he tried to remember what had happened.
“Yes, yes of course,” he croaked out, harked, and plastered his smile back on. Slowly, he tried to place his elbows under him to push away from the soft mattress. A firm hand was quickly placed to his chest, pushing him back down.
“Lay back down. You're sick, and Yosano-sensei said to stay in bed.” The tiger boy tried to put some vigor into his words, but Dazai thought he only came off as adorable, like an offended two-year-old, waving a small, colorful plastic shovel in your face after accidentally stepping on his sandcastle.
Dazai chuckled and sat all the way up, rubbing his eyes vigorously and nodding his head from side to side, stretching his neck muscles. Logically, he knew he wasn't an old man yet, but spending the night propped up to a brick wall behind a dumpster hadn't been too kind to his body. He ached all over, but maybe it was mostly the fever.
“Dazai-san,” Atsushi whined pleadingly, catching the older man's attention. “Please lay back down... You've been...”
Atsushi hesitated and took a deep, calming breath of air before he continued.
“We've all been worried about you. These past few weeks, you don't seem to have eaten, drank or slept. I haven't even seen you napping on the sofa at the office! You tense up whenever someone walks behind you, flinch if someone brushes past your shoulder... You can't even look me in the eyes.”
Another pause, Atsushi fidgeted with his hands before he spoke his next words, soft and carefully, barely above a whisper.
“And you've been wearing thicker layers of bandages.”
Dazai was taken a bit back by the teen's revelations. He knew all of the accusations were true- but he really must have been out of it these last couple of weeks if the rest of the agency had noticed.
“I...” he began but got interrupted by another coughing fit. The glass of water was quickly handed to him, and he drank it between deep, guttural hacks that made his chest cramp up.
As soon as he was unable to get more water down, Atsushi lowered him back onto the mattress and pulled the blanket all the way up to his neck. When the silver-haired boy settled back beside him, Dazai turned his head and looked at him with a drained expression.
Dark brown eyes peered intently at the boy, and Atsushi's own met his gaze, finally able to see the trepidation that waged a war inside his colleague. His friend. His family.
“I'm sorry,” Dazai eventually managed. “I'm sorry for worrying you. You don't deserve that.”
Atsushi's expression went blank, and he opened his mouth to speak but, nothing came out. Dazai took it as a sign to keep going.
“There's too much to do right now, in the aftermath of the human trafficking case and everything. We don't have time for me to pull stunts like this. I couldn't help much with the case, and now I slow us down even more, wasting the company's time with being laid up like this, and taking away manpower with you and Yosano babysitting me...” Dazai scoffed bitterly and trailed off, staring lifelessly to the ceiling.
Atsushi noted that these didn't sound like Dazai's words. It sounded like a speech he recited after being given it repeatedly himself. A painful knot tied in his stomach, and he fought the urge to yell at the sick man for saying such nonsense.
Instead, he took the cloth that had fallen to the side of the bed and resoaked it in the small basin of now lukewarm water. He twisted it firmly before he patted small droplets of feverish sweat away from the pale face that still watched the ceiling tiles blindly.
His eyes twitched as the cold rag tappet at his forehead and cheek, and a small furrow appeared between two dark eyebrows, but the motion didn't waver.
“You know,” Atsushi started. “I used to be afraid of taking up space.”
A confused face met him, but he ignored it.
“I used to be afraid of taking up space, and be heard or seen. I wouldn't speak up, in fear of being an inconvenience. But then... I met a man, soaked to the bone, floating down the river. He bought me a meal, out of his friend's pocketbook, and then revealed to me that I was actually a weretiger, which admittedly, was a turn of events that I hadn't anticipated when I woke up under the bridge that day...” Atsushi reminiscent humorously.
Dazai smiled weakly, soft hums tickling his lips.
“Well, as a weretiger, you can't really help but take up a shit-load of space-” Atsushi gestured grandly with his arms, before slapping a hand across his mouth, mumbling a quiet appology for his language.
“...a-anyway, I realized, with your help, that... there's a place for me. There's room for me within the Agency, within Yokohama... within the world... like, there’s actually room, you know? ...I don't feel like a nuisance anymore, and that's all thanks to you. I wish you would remember that whenever you're feeling like some worthless dog that's only good for someone else's benefit. Only there for someone to hug when they’re feeling happy, or kick when they're not.”
Atsushi sighed wearily, resting his head in his hands.
“What I'm trying to say, Dazai... It's okay to need people. It's okay to not be okay.”
The young man didn't wait for a response. He leaned over the bed, and crouched down beside his mentor, one arm worming its way under his shoulders and the other over his chest, with his head resting lightly on top of his arm.
The bodily contact was a strange sensation that Dazai couldn't remember the last time he felt, without it being followed up by some kind of pain. His body stiffened straight away, but Atsushi's grip on him didn't let go. His chest rose and fell with each steady breath against Dazai's shoulder, and he felt himself slowly relax into the touch.
Atsushi's words echoed inside his mind. It's okay to not be okay. Yeah, he could probably agree to that. For anyone but himself. He also understood how unreasonable that was to ask of himself, to demand of himself, but it had been imprinted into him from a very young age.
And you can't learn an old dog new tricks.