When you're bleeding, you remember everything in flashes. You remember the first time you ran the knife across pale skin at age fourteen. It wasn't the first time you had thought about it, no. It was the thirtieth time you'd thought about it that weak, with your back in the grass and your eyes on the distance cherry blossoms, winding through the wind and kissing your cheeks. Anyone else would have been satisfied by the simplicity of the moment, the beauty in it. But what was beauty if you could only find it in short flashes, in these dim blurs of light within the darkness of your life. So you attempted suicide, with a knife against your wrist and your eyes a lifeless blur. It didn't work, you lived. It was a sad truth and the bright hospital lights glared down at you as you once more came to terms with the fact that you were alive. You would remain alive because this world is content to keep you in its grip; to laugh as you suffer.
And you continued to suffer.
With your blood dripping down through your fingers to decorate your floor in an array of gory yet intricate patterns, you remember everything in flashes. You remember meeting Mori Ougai when you were fourteen with his raven hair and his dark, dark eyes; eyes that he once thought were so much darker than yours, but he learned. And he learned quickly it was quite the contrary. You have seen what the world can take, and you have stared loneliness in the face, stared death in the face and come back. Your eyes are far darker than his were the night he swiped the knife across the old mafia boss's neck and told you he died of a terrible illness and his dying wish was for me to take his place with his bloodstained grin and dripping knife clutched in his gloved palm. You remember how you stared back with your wide, lifeless eyes and said not a word. You remember how he took you under his wing and you watched as he became the boss he believed the Port Mafia needed and he watched as you became the demon he needed you to be. The demon that you thought you needed to be to find what you longed: a will to live. Such a fickle thing that had evaded your hands like smoke for years. You thought that if you were to see the world at it's worst, with blood on your hands and hate in the eyes of others, that if you were to be close to the violence and darkness of the world that you might find it. That the venom in your veins would bleed out and you would find a cheerful man, a man who was human and willing to live to see another sunrise.
You did not find that man as Mori's ward, a shadow meant to be his right hand man someday. So again and again the knife would run across your fingers or you would tie the rope to the rafters or swallow too many pills. Every time, Mori would be there to set you right. To bring the breath to your lungs and the beat to your heart, had it done the unthinkable and stopped. Or even if he wasn't there, you'd come back. You'd wake in a pool of your vomit, and you wouldn't be dead. The pills would remain in their bottle and you'd spend another night atop the covers wishing for something that could not come. When you were young, once, you thought that maybe your Ability stopped all those ways that would have taken your life. You knew, even then, that wasn't how it worked but it was the only thing that made sense. Why couldn't you die? Why did the world wish to hold you hostage?
Because, it would have whispered, your partner is right around the corner, you must meet him.
You and your partner are 双黒 - soukoku, the Criminal Underworld's World Enemy. His name is Nakahara Chuuya and he has a demon living inside his body. His small, pocket-sized body. You hate him. You hate his grin, his love of rock music, his eyes the color of the sea floor and the flowing flames of his hair. You hate him, but yet you work at his side and in one night the two of you destroy an enemy organization. That's what earns you the name. You become one entity, the two of you. You are Double Black together, he's not the King of the Sheep anymore and you're not just the Demon of Port Mafia. You're the other half of Double Black and together you rise, just as easily as you fall. You're the same age and yet you walk such different paths. He, with Kouyou's hand on his shoulder and you, attached to Mori's hip with a boy younger than you on his other. You walk with blood in your nails and he walks with flowers in his hair, grace in his step. You see the training she's instilled in him every time he balances a wine glass between his fingers and fixes Rimbauld's hat upon his head.
The night after you became an executive you meet the boy with a demon in his jacket. Akutagawa Ryuunosuke was just like you, just as dark and twisted. You're sixteen and he's two years younger and he's looking up at you like he expects you to give him a reason to live. You tell him you'll find him one, if he'll join you. If he'll come be your subordinate as you rise through the mafia. You've got the blood of his enemies on his hands, something he must have been angry about before you opened your mouth and offered him the salvation he wished for. Time has it, you fail him. Or maybe he fails you. You don't know to this day, you just know that he hounds you. He searches for you now, desperate for the approval that you give only once. But that's for the future.
Even in those days, the knife was quick to dance on your skin and you remember his glares, remember the insults and the waste of bandages uncoiled in your trash after everyday. In the morning, you'd just put them on again. One around your eye to hide the bruises, the dripping cut above your brow and the others around your arms, littered in scars that are for your eyes only. A symbol of your anguish. They coil up your neck and across your torso, down your legs and vanish into your shoes. You still do that to this day and it helps to hide what you can from the world. It's putting on a mask; a mask that is oh so hard to take off to anyone but the reflective mirror in your closet. Your fire spitting partner hasn't even seen the truth length of the scars running up and down your arms, down your legs, across your body. Some are from the streets, some from home, most from yourself, some from the simple act of walking here to there. Some were intentional, some not. They belong to you and they do not fade in the mirror, you remember every ache and every pain that reminded you, you are alive even when you begged on the contrary and asked: why.
The world said: Wait still, you're going to meet someone who will change your life.
You met him in a bar, that man who would change your life. He wore a collared shirt with white pinstripes and a beige jacket snug on his shoulders. His hair was scattered on his brow, a messy mop of russet orange and his eyes were the grey of the sea during the winter storms. He looked you over, with a whisky in his hand, balanced inches from his lips, as you plopped beside him with your wide grin. It had been a long day, another mission that left you with another bleeding tear. But you had taken care of it, wrapped it in linen and set out for the night. Chuuya was drinking on his own, you suspected. (Lupin's was yours, no hatracks allowed!)
Oda Sakunosuke, he said his name was and from then on out you called him nothing but Odasaku. Shorter than Sakunosuke and longer than Oda, somewhere perfectly in the middle. He was everything your not. A man with a soft smile and softer eyes, ones so much softer than you know yours will every be. You looked up to him
literally from the first moment you met him, so you continued going to Lupin's. You continued taking the seat to his left and chatting as the two of you drank, even though he was pretty adamant that you weren't old enough to drink yet - you had laughed and laughed and laughed. "Don't worry, Odasaku, no one's going to tell the boss and if they did- heh!" It was a beautiful friendship, the most beautiful you had ever - and would likely ever - know. Him with his calm attitude and calming voice and you with your boisterous voice and bandaged arm. He was your foil and you his. Somehow, it worked and you latched onto him because he was all you had.
And then came Sakaguchi Ango with his large gold brown eyes and even larger glasses. He became the third member of your trio, your three musketeers because you and Odasaku wouldn't let him go. Some, distant part of you wishes you had never met Ango, but you did and in the beginning you thought he was interesting. He was just like you and Odasaku; an outcast. So he fit right in. Someone that you could poke and prod and eventually he came to Lupins and you laughed when he drank too much, forced to be dragged to Odasaku's couch. "Ango has such low tolerance!" you remember shouting as Odasaku tugged him towards the passenger seat. You remember your bespectacled friend saying something intelligible and you remember laughing more. You remember Ango making a joke, you remember laughing so hard whiskey came out your nose ("Ango! It hurts, you did this to me!") and you remember his deadpan ("You didn't have to laugh, dumbass.") and you remember Odasaku's soft laughter. The first time you'd heard him laugh around the three of you. You remember the good times and you remember the bad times and drown them with a glass of whiskey.
The bad times began with a shootout and just got worse from there. You were eighteen at the time, an executive and still the other half of Chuuya's double black. Yet you had a world that you kept safe from the rest of world, hidden behind lock and key. It was yours, that time between sunset and midnight in Lupin's. You and Ango and Odasaku met there whenever the three of you could, talking as if there was no barrier between your positions. There, Odasaku wasn't a low-ranking odd jobber, you weren't an executive and Ango wasn't an intelligence officer. You were just Dazai, Ango and Odasaku. Nothing less, nothing more; and it felt like home. But your home starting burning that very night, a night that began like no other. As soon as Ango arrived you say the sparks spreading, as soon as the lies began sliding from his lips he set the fire. And oh, how the blaze grew.
It grew it and it consumed, spit out a group called Mimic and your poor, poor Odasaku was stuck in the crossfire. When Ango went missing, Odasaku was sent to find him and right then you should have known. Should have known enough to save him, but you didn't. It spiraled downwards into hell. A hell carrying the name Andre Gide. But first, Ango betrayed you. He looked you and Odasaku in the eyes and told you both that he was a triple agent. Mafia. Mimic. Special Agency Department. All of them just lies. You hurt and you hurt and you hurt and you bury yourself down because Odasaku risked his life to save Ango and Ango betrayed you. You had trusted him and he led you right off the cliff.
And then Odasaku's kids died. You can still remember the first time you met them: Shinji with his shy glances and his books, Katsumi with his large grins and his baseball, Kousuke with his shenanigans and his dreams of becoming a mafioso, Sakura with her laughter and her hugs, Yu with his helpful hand and his games. And you saw how Odasaku was around them, quiet and gentle. Never once did he raise his voice, even when they tackled him to the ground and threatened that they'd never let him go again. Maybe, you think often, maybe they shouldn't have let him go. Maybe then the six of them would be alive and you wouldn't have been alone for two years at the bottom of a bottle without hope, without motivation.
And then Odasaku died. You were there as the light went out and you begged and you screamed and you tried to get to him but he walked away before you could stop him. Your fingers didn't grab the back of his coat and you were forced to watch as the man who had saved you for so many years walked away towards his death. So you ran, ran back to Mori like a good little demon and you asked for his help, for his permission. And then the truth. That it had all happened for a bit of paper, that your Odasaku was going to his death because of a flimsy piece of fucking paper. "Is there anything to gain from going to him?" Oh. Yes, Mori wouldn't understand. So you turned to enlighten him. To remind him that no, there wasn't anything to gain but you were still going to go to him. To try and save him because he was your friend one of the first you had ever had save your partner, your dear Chuuya who you would soon leave.
You weren't quick enough. You came in to the blood and the bodies and you couldn't help the way your heart stuttered because this wasn't Odasaku. This was something you would have done. Not Odasaku. Odasaku who wouldn't kill because he wanted a house by the sea where he could write his novel. Sometimes you still imagine that. Sometimes you still like to think that when the weekend comes you'll be driving four hours away from Yokohama to see Odasaku in his seaside house. The paper he writes on will smell like salt, the windows will be open and the kids will arrive and they'll take you both to dinner and you'll all laugh about the worlds where you aren't together. And then you'll remember, you're here in that world where you aren't together.
You held Odasaku as he died. He saved you at the same time broke you. He told you what you had feared all along, what you had known all along. That the mafia would not fill that empty hole in your world, that you wouldn't find peace here. It broke you, shattered everything you had thought and yet you leaned closer because it was Odasaku and if anyone knew what to do it would be him. ("Odasaku ... What do I do?") He placed a hand at your face and told you to save people, told you that would make you a little more beautiful and you wondered how could he know? How could this redheaded odd jobber know what you could become when all you had been was a demon? So he told you, told with a smile- the first he'd smiled in weeks. "Of course I know, because I am your friend."
I'll do that, you told the coldness of his skin and his closed eyes and the drying blood on your hands. It wasn't until after you had retrieved the things he left behind from his apartment and gone to yours that you cried. That you fell upon your knees and screamed to the world that no longer existed. For two weeks, you drank into oblivion and you wanted to die, die, die. The blood spilled and the bandages doubled and the pills came up over and over again. You didn't die. Instead, you crawled from your cave into the sun and you burned your past with the black coat you had been given by Mori. You stared at the ashes and you swore that you would be the man that Odasaku wanted you to be. You got a new coat, one Odasaku would have liked and you searched for a job and asked "will I be able to save people?" because that was what he wanted.
The two years with nothing were hard. And you found yourself again in that hole, asking why you were alive and Odasaku was dead when it should have been the opposite. You six feet under and Odasaku writing his book and caring for his orphans. Never fear, you'll have another partner and you'll find another home. Keep your promise, said the world and it kept you alive.
The new partner is Kunikida Doppo and he follows a book. Everything in his life is written in a notebook, something you quickly take advantage of no matter how cruel such a thing sounds. You're twenty when you find that new home that Taneda talked about, the Armed Detective Agency. As a newbie you're entrusted to Kunikida and together you solve the Serial Disappearance of Yokohama's Visitors Case. A case that would become your entrance exam. And- look at that! You didn't fail it. Instead you become a member of the ADA and you're accepted. It's a weird feeling, after being alone for two years, to be surrounded by people who -for some reason- trust you. Look, Odasaku. I'm saving people now, you said to his grave that year and you wondered what else the world had in store for you. There's a boy, it would have told you, you need to save him. Keep your promise.
You meet him after he fishes you out of the river after a drowning attempt. His name is Nakajima Atsushi and he's an orphan. You take him under your wing from the first moment you see him, knowing he's meant to be a part of the agency. And he was, after some mishaps revolving around a tiger. You take him in and you make him one of you because it's what Odasaku would have wanted. You wished he could have met the boy- if only. You visit his grave every year on the day of his death and sometimes on his birthday, sometimes on yours. Because by the time Atsushi joins, you're twenty-two. You're only a year younger than Odasaku and it hits you harder than you ever thought possible. You get very drunk that night, trying to drown whatever memories you can.
So it continues, you do the missions and you protect Atsushi from the bounty on his head. You live together and you start that new life that Odasaku would have wanted for you. Then the Guild appears, the ones behind said bounty. Led by F. Scott Fitzgerald they're out for destruction and to do it, they use Q the Port Mafia's secret weapon. A weapon that should have been kept locked away. You knew Q, was brought up with him and everything that he ever did was madness. How could Mori let him out? But he's out and he uses his sick Ability against Atsushi and then, later, against the whole of Yokohama. It's up to you and your former partner to rescue him and put a stop to H.P. Lovecraft and John Steinbeck. It's the team up of the century, falling easily into the relationship you had before you left.
He uses Corruption because Lovecraft doesn't have an Ability. He's a god. And you're forced to watch, to remain neutral even when your heart pounds in your chest because Chuuya is using Corruption and that is the easiest way to lose him. You don't go right away, because that part of you wants to make him mad, because the outrage is funny because Chuuya would expect that of you. In the end, you do. You grab his arm and tell him that's enough. As he collapses, all you can think is: fighting alongside Chuuya again felt like home.
People live to save themselves, your friend once told you, so now you're living to save yourself; in this world of remnants and misfit toys, where no one but your other half knows your name.