guilt: or, reaching for something that isn't there @fletch_a_sketch
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Dazai feels empty.

He feels empty in the same way the beach feels empty in the winter, after the tide has gone out and all that’s left is driftwood and litter, and a few seagulls scavenging what’s left.

He knows if he isn’t careful, he’ll lose that feeling too, and spiral back into nothing. The Mafia did that to him the first time. It would be so easy to do it again, now that he's gone.

Dazai is gone from the mafia. Odasaku is gone from Dazai.

It feels like a hole has been carved out in the center of his chest, a hole that never stops bleeding out. Eventually there won’t be anything left to lose.

Days go by. All he feels is nausea. Drink himself silly, throw up in the bathroom at three in the morning, rinse and repeat.

He’s tempted many times to stick his head in the toilet and try to drown himself, but every time it feels like a voice in the back of his head tells him not to do it. He knows that voice. Some call it a conscience. He calls it Odasaku.

He’s in a new apartment now, after leaving the mafia. It has a soft double bed that feels like drowning. Dazai sleeps on the couch.

He wakes up one day to find a photograph slipped under the front door. It’s a picture of a cemetery, with an address and row number on the back in Ango’s neat handwriting. Dazai throws it in the trash.

Before he takes the trash out of the bin to leave outside the door, he rummages through the broken glass and used takeout dishes to find the picture, wipes off the alcohol and food stains to the best of his ability, and shoves it in a drawer he never uses. Closing the drawer feels like shoving a knife deeper into his chest, reopening a wound that was already there; and if he ever opens the drawer and pulls out the knife, it might just hurt more. Who knows: maybe he’ll finally get the ending he wants, and some poor sap will find his body on the ground when they come to wonder why the rent hasn’t been paid in months.

Before he takes the trash out of the bin to leave outside the door, he rummages through the broken glass and used takeout dishes to find the picture, wipes off the alcohol and food stains to the best of his ability, and shoves it in a drawer he never uses. Closing the drawer feels like shoving a knife deeper into his chest, reopening a wound that was already there; and if he ever opens the drawer and pulls out the knife, it might just hurt more. Who knows: maybe he’ll finally get the ending he wants, and some poor sap will find his body on the ground when they come to wonder why the rent hasn’t been paid in months.

One night, when Dazai has drunk so much he thinks he can hear his organs shutting down, someone knocks on his door. It’s too early for the rent collection; he yells at the someone to go away, but it comes out pathetically high-pitched and feels like just another knife wound being stabbed all over again, fresh pain throbbing through the dull ache that consumes his days. He hears an Ango-sized sigh and clicking noises from the other side of the door before it swings open; Dazai tries to stand up to defend himself, but only succeeds in dumping himself on the floor in a sorry heap of wasted nineteen-year-old. (At least, he’s probably nineteen, thanks to the oppressive July heat and the bug bites that he can’t seem to scratch off no matter how hard he tries.) He vaguely remembers blacking out after that, and wakes up on the couch, with a new blanket covering him and the sun shining through an open window, the blackout curtains he bought probably shoved in a closet somewhere.

He stands up with a raging headache and notices a potted plant sitting on the counter, with bright red, yellow, and magenta flowers; zinnias, according to the label. He grudgingly looks up how to care for zinnias, finds out the flowers mean “thoughts of a lost friend,” and nearly throws his phone across the room. Instead, he ends up searching every cabinet for various forms of alcohol, realizes he’s finished them all, and ends up staring at the picture in the drawer. It doesn’t hurt quite as much as he expected. He closes the drawer anyway and aggressively waters the flowers, because he might not have asked for them, but goddammit he isn’t going to let them die too.

A week after receiving the flowers, Dazai leaves the house for the first time in ages, going shopping in person instead of online. Everything is loud loud loud, so much more than he remembers it, and he has to resort to hiding in an alleyway until he can think clearly again. By the time he reaches the grocery, he’s so tired that all he does is grab a few dozen cans of crab meat and pay for them, and it’s not until he collapses on the couch that he realizes he didn’t get any alcohol. Cursing his lack of sense, he drinks water in a wine glass and tries to calm down by reading a book.

Every time he goes in the kitchen, he remembers the picture in the drawer. It doesn’t go away no matter how hard he tries to forget.

Dazai has a reason to live nowadays, even if it is just a collection of houseplants that takes up half the apartment, bought or rescued on various trips outside. It's easy with his high-functioning brain to remember when each one is watered, but he’s a little paranoid now that if he left them to someone else, most of the plants would be neglected, or passed on to someone unworthy of their company. He supposes that means he’s a plant person now. He likes feeling capable of taking care of some form of living things. His thoughts still cloud over and traitorously urge him to drink or off himself whenever he thinks of Odasaku, wondering if there was anything he could have done, but he tries to brush them off and just focus on watering the flowers and staying alive. This, at least, tells him that he’s getting a little bit better.

He watches the sunlight stream through the kitchen windows, giving life to the plants that are sitting in the sink for lack of anywhere else to put them. Odasaku would’ve loved to see this, he thinks. Dazai loves to see it himself, a reminder that there are some nice things still in the world.

One sunny day in the fall, after he knows he hasn’t drank any intoxicating substances for three weeks, he opens up the drawer and tucks the picture into a pocket. He grabs the coat Oda left with him, taking some comfort from the familiar rough fabric, picks up one of his plants — he thinks it might be the original zinnia that Ango left on the counter, for him to wake up to — and heads out the door, repeating the address to himself. When he arrives at the cemetery, it looks brighter and bigger than in the picture, more like a peaceful place than a gloomy graveyard. He takes out the picture and studies the numbers on the back, making sure he remembers them correctly, and sets off, marching down the rows with steps more confident than he really feels. The knowledge of seeing a gravestone with Oda’s name on it makes Dazai feel light and fragile inside, like if he takes a step in the wrong direction he might collapse. He doesn’t, though, and squeezes his eyes tightly shut as he takes the last few steps. After a long moment and a few deep breaths, he opens one eye, then the other. The headstone he is facing reads S. ODA in all capital letters, engraved in the same neat font as the rest of the markers. Dazai expected this to be a painful experience, but all he feels is finality, and a sense that yes, the last few months have been real and not a hallucination. Something settles in his stomach when he places the carefully arranged zinnia in front of Oda’s name.

Dazai has recently heard the quote, “Let the dead bury their dead; but, while we are alive, let us live.” It feels like something Odasaku would say to him, and as he sits in front of his friend’s final resting place, he promises Oda’s memory that he’ll try to live. There may not be much left for him, but he can at least be someone who remembers Odasaku. Oda deserves that much.

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