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“If you think about it,” Dazai says quietly, almost to himself. “We’re almost the same.”

Chuuya snorts.

“That’s bullshit,” he says.

Dazai comes barging into his room the following day.

“I lied,” he says smartly, looking Chuuya up and down. “We’re nothing alike, actually.”

Chuuya looks up at him, annoyed. He’s trying to pull off this hangnail without making it bleed and his finger is turning red and sore. “Yeah, I know that. You only wish you were me.”

Dazai rolls his eyes and sits on top of the desk Chuuya’s currently seated at. He’d been thumbing through his jewel book before this, bored out of his mind, so he won’t admit it but he’s sort of relieved Dazai’s here. To relieve the boredom, if nothing else.

“Of course I don’t want to be you,” Dazai replies. “You’ve got a beast living under your skin.”

He pulls the nail too hard and a bubble of blood wells to the surface. Ouch. “Uh.”

Tactless. Dazai is always so damn tactless. Thank god Chuuya’s not nearly as sensitive about it anymore.

“And anyway,” Dazai continues, “it’s not like I want to be stuck at one-hundred and sixty centimeters for the rest of my life.”

“I’m tellin’ ya, I’ll grow,” Chuuya snaps half-heartedly, though it’s a rote phrase by now. He hasn’t grown a centimeter since he turned sixteen and he’s starting to doubt he’ll ever reach the towering heights of Boss Mori or old man Hirotsu. That whole ‘drink milk’ thing is bullshit, too—all lactose does is make him want to vomit.

“Sure,” Dazai says soothingly. “Sideways, like a slug.”

“Shut up, stupid Fish Eyes.”

“Ooo, never heard that one before.”

“Mackerel.”

“That one’s new.” Dazai looks at him appraisingly. “Aren’t you bored?”

He’s so goddamn bored. “Nope, I’m working. Unlike a certain slacker who’s covering my book with his ass.”

“You’re lying, you’re picking a hangnail,” Dazai says easily, waving him off. “Let’s go get food. I think we deserve a five star meal after saving the world.”

“Hah?” Chuuya asks incredulously, even though he’s already standing up. “You mean after I saved the world, right? Your shitty plan fell through.”

Dazai shuts Chuuya’s jewel book. “You saving the world was my shitty plan.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Chuuya argues as he moves toward his closet. “If your plan was for me to do everything then the credit should all go to me.”

“You’re wrong!” Dazai sing-songs, and finger guns at him. “It’s okay. Since it’s too hard for you to understand, I won’t bother explaining it.”

It would be nice to toss Dazai out the window, he thinks. Get rid of his incessantly chirping voice. Never have to deal with his annoyingly smug face and attitude ever again.

Then he heaves a sigh. Man, he thinks, man. He’s tired.

His body still hurts.

What a thing that had been—to unleash the thing inside of him. Thing inside a thing inside a thing.

Mori says, it’ll probably take time. It’s alright. It’s expected, even. That doesn’t mean he has to like it any better. He’s made peace with the truth—mostly—and he’s dealt with the fallout—sorta. But fuck, does his body hurt.

“How interesting,” Dazai says, a grain of rice stuck to his lip. “Does it feel like—hmm, does it feel like something’s trying to claw its way out? Does it want to escape now that it’s tasted a bit of freedom? I bet it hates me, doesn’t it? You would have died without me and then it would have been free.”

“No,” Chuuya groans, enjoying how stupid Dazai looks with rice on his face. “I just feel like I got beat up. And tortured. I was tortured, you bastard.”

“Whatever.” Dazai shrugs. “That’s practically a Port Mafia right of passage. I’ve been tortured, what, thirteen times by now?”

“You set me up,” Chuuya grumbles. “You knew it’d happen.”

“I figured it would, yeah.” Dazai chews his curry. “Do you want me to say sorry?”

No, he doesn’t. Chuuya knows Dazai predicted his capture by N. He also knows that Dazai was the one to lead the rescue. Does that mean Dazai had predicted it but tried to prevent it? Does it mean he hadn’t wanted it to happen to Chuuya at all? That’s what he doesn’t know.

He pulls out his phone instead and snaps a photo of Dazai’s face. “You have sauce on your mouth.”

“Huh?” Dazai looks a little gobsmacked. He picks up a napkin and wipes it off. “Delete that photo, Chuuya.”

“No way. It’s blackmail.”

He repockets his phone and smirks at Dazai’s narrowed eyes. He’ll probably try to steal it at some point, or snap a few embarrassing photos of Chuuya in return, but whatever. Chuuya’s going to print out a hundred copies of this picture and hang them up all over headquarters. Let Dazai scramble to tear them down.

Instead Dazai leans over and pinches one of the bruises on his still-sore arms. Chuuya jerks back with an unbidden yelp. Even though he’s wearing long sleeves, and gloves to cover the green-blue-yellow of his hands, Dazai still seems to know where the most tender spots are.

“Hmph,” Dazai says, satisfied, and leans back to eat his curry again. Annoying. He’s so annoying.

“Wanna die?” Chuuya snaps, and immediately thinks, stupid. Stupid question, stupid thing to say. Dazai’s amused eyes bore into his.

“Well,” he replies. “If you asked me a week ago, I would have said yes. Do you know how bored I was? Everything was so easy up until then, there was no fuss, I just stole and killed people and killed more people, and sometimes their families—”

“Get to the point.”

“Yeah, and so that spark I felt back then when I first met you was gone. Nothing was interesting anymore.”

Chuuya sits back, unsettled. His appetite is suddenly non-existent. “So? What do I care?”

Dazai points at him with a curry-streaked spoon. “You changed the game again.”

Yeah.

He doubts anyone ever expected what came as a result of his clash with Verlaine. Except maybe the Boss, and maybe Dazai. But even they carried whispers of shock—no, not shock—was it awe? Maybe it was awe. Even they were in awe of what Arahabaki really was.

Yeah.

Am I a game to you? He wants to ask that to Dazai. Am I only worth something as long as I’m surprising?

“So what you’re saying,” he says, bothered. “Is that I’m the reason you want to stay alive.”

Dazai shrugs like it’s nothing. “I like a challenge.”

“And I’m a puzzle?”

This time Dazai rolls his eyes. “You’re a person, Chuuya. Or maybe a mix of human and border collie.”

Chuuya blinks. He ignores the last jab.

What had Dazai said back then? Up on the rooftop gas tank, night air chilling their faces. Wind whipping their clothes around their frames. What had he said? Chuuya had heard it, clear as anything.

By using the activation spell, we will never be able to determine whether or not you’re an artificially made human with equations for a personality or a normal human being—ever.

That was what he said. Those were the exact words. That is what he remembers. Across the table, a startled expression crosses Dazai’s face when Chuuya leans his forehead into his palm and laughs until his shoulders shake.

“Are you crying?” Dazai asks with an equal mix of interest and disgust. “Chuuya, you’re going to make me uncomfortable.”

“Good,” Chuuya manages, breathless and grinning. “I really hope so.”