Owe No Debt
Sunlight woke Chuuya. It shone through his eyelids until slumber wore off and made wet tears cling to his eyelashes when he blinked. He dragged his hand from under his pillow to rub them off and yawn. Then he pushed a foot back toward the other side of the bed, looking for the warm, rough skin of Dazai’s legs.
He didn’t find it.
Ice slithered down his throat. Chuuya stared resolutely through the window instead of looking back, no matter that daylight burned in his eyes. His body lacked the specific imprint of heat that came from being held, even though he remembered Dazai’s arm around him, Dazai’s hand over his moving chest. Holding him as if to make sure he breathing didn’t stop while he slept.
Dazai must have left a while ago. Gone as quick as morning mist. Chuuya buried his face into the soft of the pillow, feeling cold like he hadn’t in four years, the skin of his stomach seared from the lies that Dazai had kissed into it and which he had stupidly believed to be the truth.
He felt too old to cry from a broken heart, too old to cry at all, so he didn’t. He just ached.
He should’ve known better than to let Dazai access more of him. He had been wiser as a teenager than he was as an adult, keeping Dazai at bay as he had, and now he had nothing to blame for how shattered he felt. He had bared everything for a single moment of weakness—for the sight of Dazai’s eyes looking at his lips with longing and childish want—and it was his own fault that he now lay broken-ribbed and flayed, alone in a hotel room, twisted in sheets that still smelled of their coupling.
Chuuya took in a shaking breath. He ignored the ringing of blood in his ears as he sat up, facing the window rather than the room as if he could delay the truth of how empty the bed was that way—and he almost jumped out of his skin when someone grabbed his shoulder.
That he didn’t lash out to kill was nothing short of a miracle. Maybe it was the sorrow pooling inside him, maybe it was the soreness in his thighs and hips from having Dazai inside of his body and soul, but Chuuya sat still as a statue. The hand on his shoulder squeezed, traveled down his arm, linked their fingers together. Chuuya felt its owner sit down onto the bed behind him.
“Sorry,” Dazai said softly. His hair was wet against Chuuya’s shoulder when he leaned his head down to breathe into the side of his neck. “Had to go check up on Q.”
Chuuya thought over the words until they made sense, skin prickling with goosebumps from the AC and sunlight; and then hot blood rushed to his head, dizzying.
He tugged his hand out of Dazai’s hold with a huff and let himself fall onto the bed again, back still turned to him. It didn’t deter Dazai from touching him—his hand came to rest on the side of Chuuya’s neck. “Were you watching me sleep?” Chuuya mumbled. “Creep.”
“Can you blame me? You look fetching when you’re not throwing insults.”
Chuuya knew it was a bad idea, but he let Dazai pull him sideways until he lay flat on his back, and the first sight he got of Dazai was that of his eyes widening from whatever it was he read on Chuuya’s own face.
Dazai chuckled hollowly. “I really did a number on you, didn’t I,” he murmured.
They both knew he wasn’t talking about love bites or a sore backside, and Chuuya didn’t bother with denial or agreement.
Dazai was sitting sideways on the mattress, his feet still touching the floor. He had to strain forward a little when he cupped a hand around Chuuya’s cheek, palm stroking his jaw and fingers hooking a few strands of hair behind Chuuya’s ear. His nails scratched lightly against his scalp in the process.
“You look really good,” Dazai offered. His smile was lighter now, teasing into a smirk at the corners.
Chuuya snorted. “Do you get off to my abandonment issues?”
Dazai’s smile widened. He leaned down, legs hoisted onto the bed too now, hand leaving Chuuya’s face to rest beside it onto the sheets. “I get off to you naked in my bed, all moody because you just woke up, sun shining all over you…” he trailed off, nose pressed into Chuuya’s hair above his temple.
“Not your bed,” Chuuya replied, closing his eyes.
“It’s the one I slept in.”
Chuuya put a hand between them when he felt Dazai’s mouth brush down his face, palm over his lips and nails digging lightly into his cheek. “I’m not kissing you until I’ve had breakfast or brushed my teeth,” he declared.
Dazai licked his palm, making Chuuya scrunch his nose in disgust. “That can be arranged,” he replied.
He didn’t get off the bed, though. His back shifted with a crack that made Chuuya smirk and Dazai sigh, and he kneeled on it, both hands splayed by Chuuya’s shoulders as he pressed his mouth into Chuuya’s neck. Chuuya was cool from the AC and the lack of him, and Dazai’s mouth was warm, scorching shivers with every press of his lips, tongue flicking out to lick the marks he had no doubt left the night previous.
He could get used to this, he thought. Chuuya put a hand at Dazai’s nape, parted his fingers through soft, shower-wet hair. Dazai breathed heat back into his body, and Chuuya thought he could get used to this, could envision waking up every morning of his life with the weight of Dazai over him. With the shape of him on his heart.
“Dazai,” he said lowly.
Dazai hummed. He kissed the hollow of his throat and then under his chin, forcing Chuuya to strain his head back and look at the off-white ceiling of the hotel room as he gathered the resolve to say what needed to be said.
Chuuya tightened his grip on Dazai’s hair. “Dazai,” he repeated. “We can’t do this.”
One time could be put behind.
One time away from Yokohama, in the mediocre hotel they had booked during a time of truce, could be forgiven and forgot. Cradled in the space between Chuuya’s ribs like every other secret he had held. Put to rest alongside the memory of his mother or of Odasaku. Dazai could go on with his trek toward righteousness and know that he’d settled another loose end on his way.
Chuuya could deal with being left behind after one time like he had dealt with everything else before. It was easier too, now, with the certainty that Dazai had respected him enough not to run away in the dark of the night. He trusted in his own ability not to falter.
He would owe no debt and hold no grudge.
“There you go again,” Dazai said softly.
His head rose above Chuuya’s. Chuuya met his eyes evenly in spite of the heat rumbling through him; Dazai’s were warm in the chilly morning light, softer even than they had been when he whispered hopeless affection into the skin of Chuuya’s belly.
“We don’t have to think about this now,” he continued. His hand came back to Chuuya’s face, dry, cool skin against the flush of his cheek. “We can just enjoy it.”
“You’re pretty stupid for a so-called genius,” Chuuya replied dryly.
“I’m smart enough to know that you’re not being rational.”
Chuuya batted Dazai’s hand away from his face with a sneer. “What about ‘we’re enemies and probably shouldn’t have sex’ sounds irrational to you, Dazai?”
“The part where you’re terrified of letting yourself have what you want.”
Chuuya fell silent and still under him, voice caught in his mouth the way the blanket caught around his hips. Pressed thin by Dazai’s weight over him. Dazai leaned a little further down, until they were inches apart.
“Tell me truthfully,” he said, “whether you’re scared of standing on opposite sides of a battlefield, or scared of letting me in more than before. Tell me you’re not afraid that I’ll leave you behind after you’ve given me everything.” He touched Chuuya’s neck with the pads of his fingers, light as a shiver. “Tell me you’re just being level-headed and practical, Chuuya, and I won’t waste my time trying to convince you otherwise.”
He never blinked, as if he didn’t feel the need to—as if Chuuya wasn’t having to flutter his eyelids open and shut again and again to escape him. Chuuya clenched his teeth and said, “And I’m being irrational for being afraid of you leaving?”
“You’re not,” Dazai replied immediately. “It’s perfectly understandable. I’ve left you many times.” His thumb stroked Chuuya’s chin. “I’ll probably do it again.”
Chuuya felt the sting of his words deep inside his chest, the overwhelming shame of having believed, the need to say Please despite knowing that he would be ignored.
He wanted to close his eyes. Wanted to let the scared child in him reign over him just for a moment, just for a second, long enough to insult Dazai with the words burning at his lips. But all he did was stare into Dazai’s eyes above him and try and translate without words just how hollow he felt.
Dazai’s hand was cradling, kind against his neck. The gentlest noose. “This is something we have in common,” he told Chuuya with a smile. “We know there’s nothing in this world worth wanting as much as we do, but we still do.”
Chuuya did close his eyes, then, teeth ground together to the point of pain. “I wish I’d never met you,” he let out.
“Liar.” Dazai framed his face between his hands, thumbs pressed into the corners of Chuuya’s eyes as if to wipe inexistent wetness away.
And, truly, why bother deny it? Trying to erase Dazai from his memories would leave Chuuya less loved and less whole.
He relented to the kisses Dazai pressed onto his eyelids and his lips, a closed-mouth breeze that rekindled the lost heat of before, and opened his eyes again when Dazai let his weight fall onto him the way he had with his cock in him hours ago.
“We gave up on normal a long time ago,” Dazai said against his chin, then against his throat. “Right now we aren’t even at war. It’s just you and me, Chuuya.”
“Are you saying we’ll figure it out?” Chuuya knew his voice was mocking.
“I’m saying you’re naked under me, and you’ve had me naked under you, and I’ve wanted that too much to let it go now that I have it.” Dazai looked up again. “Don’t you think?”
Chuuya stared back at him for a long second. “I think,” he said, “that you owe me a damn apology, for talking so fucking much when I’m still half-asleep.”
The glee that brightened Dazai’s eyes shot through him like an arrow, the tip of which buried itself at the lowest of his belly, too fast and too warm.
“Now,” Dazai purred. “I wonder how I could make it up to you.”
Chuuya grabbed him by the hair instead of answering, tugged him downward in a silent command; Dazai obeyed it sweetly, trailed a wet path over his neck and chest with his mouth and only deviating to drag teeth over Chuuya’s nipple, the bite not enough to make Chuuya wince, but enough to make him sigh.
“Like that, don’t you?” Dazai teased.
Dazai’s hand went where his mouth had been, nails rough against Chuuya’s areola in a way that made Chuuya’s blush spread down his neck. He didn’t linger, though, only stored the observation of his sensitivity with a glance that said he would make use of it later. He shifted to his knees, crawled backward on the bed so he could lick down again, tongue dipping into Chuuya’s belly button.
There was something about Dazai on his knees in front of him—about knowing where Dazai’s mouth was headed—that sank Chuuya deeper into the groggy, easy haze of sleepiness and arousal, that loosened his lips more than the frantic sex of the night had. “Having fun?” he commented lazily, shivering when Dazai hummed.
“You’re unfairly attractive,” Dazai said. He pressed a kiss just above the edge of the blanket, smiled when Chuuya’s hips bucked in reminder of what he wanted, hard flesh digging into Dazai’s torso through the thick of the sheets. “Someone should paint you,” he mused, distracted, as if his words didn’t make the knot of self-aware arrogance that Chuuya possessed fill with blood as surely as his cock, “just like that, sprawled naked over a bed with some enamored fool between your legs.”
“No, no,” Dazai continued, delighted. He rose up to tug the blankets away and press a palm at the juncture of Chuuya’s thigh and hip, right next to the heavy, flushed heat of him. “You belong in a picture like that. Couldn’t even hang you anywhere because everyone would take one look at you and start squirming in their seats.”
“You’re so filthy,” Chuuya breathed, feeling warm from head to toe. He moaned when Dazai massaged the side of his pelvis encouragingly. “Fucking figures.”
“It would be just like you,” Dazai said against his hip. He dug his teeth into the bone, licked the imprint he left behind. “Some fancy wine drunk straight from the bottle. A masterpiece to jerk off to. The fool who painted you wouldn’t be able to touch his poor cock again without thinking of you.”
Chuuya tugged at Dazai’s hair harshly, and Dazai laughed, face red to match the blood flushing all of Chuuya’s body. “There are better uses for that mouth of yours,” Chuuya growled.
“Of course,” Dazai replied amiably.
Chuuya felt a hand close around his cock gently, and he didn’t break away from Dazai’s eyes as Dazai bent down, lips folded over his teeth to suck him down into his mouth.
His toes curled into the sheets, his fingers tensed in Dazai’s hair; when Dazai hummed around him the feeling near set him off, dragging all the air out of him and flaring heat through his every vein. Chuuya’s head fell back onto the pillow. He glared unseeingly at the ceiling, willing his hips not to move even when Dazai pressed dangerous teeth over him. Dazai rose up, licked the tip of him pleasantly, and pressed on Chuuya’s hand encouragingly on his way back down.
Chuuya guided his movements then, satisfied but not surprised when Dazai choked and chose to remain down. “You’re enjoying this,” he commented—smiled when Dazai tensed over him, and when he glanced down quickly, Dazai met his eyes with nothing but arousal. Chuuya stroke his hair, thrust up into the wet heat of his mouth with a sigh. “Should’ve known you’d be shameless for this too.”
Dazai let him slip out of his mouth to speak. “Are you complaining?”
“About you sucking my cock? This is the most pleasant company you’ve ever been.”
“Liar,” Dazai said again, glee dripping from his voice and saliva shining on his lips. He licked up Chuuya’s cock, jerked him harshly with his fingers, making Chuuya’s thighs tense around him. “You liked me fucking you too. I could feel it.”
“You were adequate,” Chuuya drawled—or tried to, except Dazai swallowed him down again, cheeks hollowed, fingers tight of the base of Chuuya’s cock. Chuuya could do nothing but moan lowly, the sound vibrating through his chest. “Fuck.”
“You look so good like this,” Dazai murmured, kissing the side of him, tugging on him with spit-wet fingers. “So good, Chuuya. God, I could do this every day.”
Chuuya didn’t have the words to respond, to try and keep up with the challenge of him, to tell Dazai how good he looked with his mouth full of Chuuya, hair standing at every end from Chuuya’s hand and face crimson with how much he wanted. It didn’t matter, though; Dazai always smiled at him as if he knew every thought Chuuya could have, and he did now, soft and warm, wet and easy, falling silent to press him against his tongue once more.
He didn’t stop to talk again. He didn’t stop even when Chuuya’s knees raised, the muscles of his legs flexing from the heat, when his breathing turned to panting and his fingers urged Dazai’s head up. Dazai drank in the sight of him even though his neck must kill him in that position, lips-tongue-teeth dragging every possible line of Chuuya to tighten in his belly, fire rumbling at the core of him and making every breath shake itself out of his lips. He moaned when Chuuya came in his throat as if he were the one being pleasured, mouth turned loose and accommodating as Chuuya rode out his orgasm, until even the touch of his tongue became too stark on Chuuya’s spent cock.
He licked his lips smugly when he let go.
Chuuya stared at him as he tried to reign in his breathing. Tickling beads of sweat were running down his thighs from the tense crease of his knees; he let his legs fall onto the bed once more, sore and shaky.
He swallowed, and said, “You’re forgiven.”
Dazai grinned at him. “Good,” he answered. “Now let’s get breakfast so I can kiss you.”
Chuuya ended up being the one to press Dazai close first over breakfast. He licked the taste of coffee from Dazai’s smart mouth, pressed him down into the bed, and tied his own hair back so nothing would interrupt the unhurried pace of their kissing. It was what he hadn’t let himself have the night before through the headiness of having Dazai at all; and Chuuya wasn’t so self-assured as to speak devotion, wasn’t so foolish as to let himself be this hopeful, but he kissed Dazai, over and over, like he thought someone loved would. Every unspoken word gliding over Dazai’s tongue in a way one as smart as Dazai ought to understand.
Dazai didn’t let him reciprocate the morning’s pleasures. He lay on the sheets with his hair in disarray and his eyes closed and his mouth open, hands holding Chuuya’s hips without ever moving. Just to feel him.
“This is the worst mistake I’ve ever made,” Chuuya told him in a whisper.
“Probably,” Dazai agreed. He grabbed Chuuya’s ass, smirking when Chuuya slapped his hand off. “But you’re still making it.”
Dazai kissed him, sucked his lip between his own, no sharp retort coming out.
Chuuya couldn’t have told whether afternoon came fast or slow. Every new hour on the broken digital clock of his room felt like he could breathe less anyway.
Eventually, Dazai’s phone rang.
Dazai answered the call with his eyes caught in Chuuya’s and his hand still holding him. Chuuya didn’t take in any of the words he said, just held still above him, still naked from the waist up. Dazai dropped the phone next to them after hanging up and stared at him silently for a long moment.
“Kunikida’s on his way,” he declared uselessly.
Chuuya nodded. He watched the lines of Dazai’s face below him to commit them to memory, steeled his spine for the prospect of untangling his legs from Dazai and standing again, skin bare of his touch once more and maybe forever.
Dazai tripped him when he did try to move away, making him fall on top of him entirely and bite his own tongue in the process.
“Ow,” he let out, tasting blood.
“Oops,” Dazai replied.
Chuuya elbowed him in the stomach as he rose again, seething. “You asshole,” he growled, “why the fuck do I even bother? Piece of shit.”
“I liked it better when you were complimenting my mouth.” Dazai was smiling without a care in the world as he said it.
“Well I’m never fucking doing that again.”
Dazai pushed himself into a sitting position with his hands. Infuriatingly, Chuuya was barely taller than him despite kneeling above him.
“Let’s not think this over too much, yeah?” he asked.
There was no malice in his eyes no matter how much Chuuya looked for it. Dazai would never look carefree, never look innocent, but now, he didn’t look like he was hurting. He didn’t look like a dying man.
The bottomless despair was being kept at bay.
Chuuya hooked his fingers into Dazai’s collar to bring him close once more. He avoided the easy, natural way Dazai offered his mouth to him to press his lips onto his cheek instead.
“Yeah,” he said as he pulled away.
Dazai’s hand squeezed his hip warmly. When Chuuya got off the bed, it let go gradually, finger by finger.
Kunikida joined them directly in Dazai’s hotel room. Q still looked confused and scared, his wary eyes following Chuuya around the room as if he couldn’t believe that he was truly being let go. Chuuya didn’t speak to him and tried not to let the fact that he was such an obvious source of childish terror get to him.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t avoid Kunikida Doppo quite as well.
“You’re letting him go,” the man said, reeking of suspicion.
“Chuuya and I reached an agreement,” Dazai interjected smoothly. “We just need to make it look like we took Q by force.”
Kunikida absorbed the information with the look of someone who had just bitten into a lemon. “You’re betraying the port mafia?”
“Not on your life,” Chuuya replied with a snort. “The little brat’s more trouble than he’s worth. I’ll happily let the lot of you get murdered at his hand instead of us.”
“I won’t murder them,” Q whimpered.
“Murder is bad,” Dazai nodded. “And can I just say that it’s really, really weird to see the two of you together and talking?”
Chuuya and Kunikida both threw him a tired look.
Chuuya had packed his things already. Not that much needed packing in the first place. He was still wearing the clothes Dazai had bought, this time a red shirt that Chuuya suspected Dazai had picked for less-than-wholesome reasons, judging by the glances he kept giving it.
“I’ve got shit to settle with Sakaguchi,” Chuuya declared. “Since I wasn’t really supposed to hurt him and all that. So I’m gonna stay here for a little longer.”
“Don’t push you damn luck, Dazai.”
Kunikida pushed his glasses up on his nose, still looking at Chuuya as though he expected him to explode on them. He had no idea how true his assumption would’ve been in other circumstances. “All right,” he decided. “Dazai, you better write an extensive report about this.”
Chuuya could just see the way Dazai’s mouth shook, threatening to fall into a grin much too telling. He glared at him until he was sure Dazai could feel the burn of his eyes against the side of his face. “Work him into the ground, Kunikida,” he said slowly.
There was a pause. “Right,” Kunikida replied, sounding surprised. “I’ll go pay for the room downstairs then. You,” he pointed to Dazai, “stay put.”
No one really took notice of the noise the door made as it closed behind him.
Q sat in his corner, still without his doll, still looking too glaringly like a child instead of a war machine. Dazai met Chuuya’s eyes with the sketch of a smile on his lips.
“I guess we won’t see each other for a while, then,” he said softly.
“Guess we won’t.”
It was a good thing they had already said goodbye in all the physical ways, Chuuya thought. He didn’t think he could’ve restrained himself from crossing the room and embracing him again otherwise, Q be damned.
Dazai must have seen it on his face, because his expression grew fond, the way it had when they had met for the very first time. “No regrets?” he asked.
Chuuya smiled sharply. “No regrets,” he replied.
Regrets had never been of any use to him.
“So, Kunikida,” Chuuya said a few minutes later, tugging his gloves in place. Dazai was ushering Q out of the room. “Akutagawa tells me you’re good at hand-to-hand.”
Kunikida eyed him warily. “I am.”
The leather felt good against Chuuya’s fingers. The air conditioning had stopped running but the room was still cool from it, and as he took a fighting stance in front of the other, he noticed that the bruises on his arms had completely faded at last.
Kunikida mirrored him with an alarmed look. “What are you doing?” he hissed.
Chuuya’s grin stretched wide across his face. “We’ve still got to make this look like a kidnapping, don’t we?” he purred. “Show me what that agency of yours is worth, detective.”
Chuuya came home satisfactorily bruised. His legs and shoulders ached during the whole train ride in that sweet soreness that only ever came from sparring with competent partners. Not even his brief conversation with Sakaguchi Ango had managed to shake the high out of him.
Sakaguchi had been complacent, all things considered. They both agreed that informing the special ability department’s chief that Chuuya had used violence on him would be fruitless. Chuuya personally thought that Sakaguchi was happier with the knowledge that Dazai was doing well than he would be with dragging the port mafia through the mud.
Tachihara fetched him from the station, wearing a wide grin and an awful band T-shirt. “‘Bout time,” he said, opening the door to his car so Chuuya could slide in unbothered. “Everything’s so dull at headquarters without you yelling around.”
“Watch your cheek, Tachihara,” Chuuya replied without heat.
Tachihara’s expression didn’t fall out of smug satisfaction. “Whatever you say, Chuuya-san.”
He laughed when Chuuya gave him the finger.
This was as close as he would ever get to being told Welcome home. Chuuya wasn’t too bothered by it. He spent the car trip thinking quietly over what he would tell Mori, about whether Mori already knew of Q’s now definitive membership within the agency—likely—and whether he knew of what had transpired between Chuuya and Dazai. He wasn’t sure Mori would care even if he did.
Yokohama looked its best at sunset, especially from the coast road, which Tachihara drove through without needing to be asked. This way was longer but more pleasant; city lights blurred over the dark water in shades of orange and gold, streaked with neon blue and green like an impressionist’s painting. Chuuya drank his fill of the sight, soothed by the rumble of Tachihara’s rundown car and the sputtering of its old radio.
He felt warm through the chest when they parked under the black skyscraper that had been his most consistent living space for eleven years. Chuuya pushed himself out of the passenger’s seat and stretched his arms above his head until he felt his nape crack. Tension seeped out of him instantly.
“Chuuya-san,” Tachihara called behind him. He was holding a sealed envelope in his hands when Chuuya looked back at him. “This is for you.”
“What is it?” Chuuya couldn’t feel the texture of it through his gloves, but the glossy red paper gave him a hint already.
“It’s from Kouyou-sama. An invitation for tea, I think.”
Chuuya stared at the envelope in silence long enough that Tachihara frowned in concern. He shook himself out of it before the boy could ask questions, slipped the paper into the deep pocket of his coat and gave the other a brief smile. “Thanks. Now stop slacking and get to work.”
“I take time on my day off to go get you ‘cos Higuchi was too busy, and this is how you thank me…” Tachihara muttered, but he was smiling.
There were only two kinds of people that Ozaki Kouyou invited for tea. People she cared about and people she planned to kill. Chuuya’s thoughts were onto the red envelope as he gave Mori his report, staring unseeingly at the unsettling purple of the man’s eyes and trying not to hear the coos of delight that Elise gave off behind him. The girl ignored him, mostly, and Mori made no comment on Dazai whatsoever. The disappointment he expressed wasn’t directed at Chuuya so much as a fleeting future, as if he were already thinking very far ahead of the present situation. As if playing a checker game that only he was privy to.
It was ten in the evening by the time Chuuya was set free.
Kouyou’s invitation only said tonight, with no other precision. He took the lack of a time limit as an invitation to delay, and walked the way between headquarters and her house. He’d sent Higuchi off with his luggage when she caught him carrying it around and knew he could trust her not to mess with his place. So Chuuya took his time, walked the streets of Yokohama from harbor to center town and beyond, breathing in the sea air and watching the night sky bleed from light blue to deep black. It was a cloudless, moonless night. The stars too shy to pierce too hard through the city’s glow.
The woman who guarded the entrance of Kouyou’s lavish house nodded at him as he walked through the gates. She breathed a few words into the mic hanging by her mouth, and the front door opened before Chuuya even needed to knock.
He took off his shoes before making his way out of the long hall, socks almost noiseless against the soft of the mats; Kouyou herself slid open the door to the tearoom.
“Welcome,” she said lowly. Her lips curled gently at the corners as she took in the obvious sheath of his knife. “You came armed?”
“Am I stupid?” Chuuya replied dryly. “I left the gun behind, if you’re wondering.”
“You could’ve left the knife too, but I know how much you care about it.” Kouyou kneeled sideways to let him enter, and Chuuya made a beeline for the low table where the cups were already set. His body was still thoroughly relaxed from fighting, so his knees didn’t crack as he fell cross-legged on the floor.
He really needed to meet with this Kunikida more.
At least it didn’t seem like he was on the kill list for the night. Chuuya said nothing as Kouyou served the tea and didn’t touch his own cup until she drank from hers.
“There’s no need to be so tense,” she said quietly, putting down the cup. “I was hoping we could talk.”
Chuuya pressed his fingers against the hot clay. The tea tasted good, as always, no bitter hint hidden in it. He knew Kouyou had ways of poisoning that left no taste on the tongue; however, he hoped she would be kind enough not to get rid of him in such an underhanded way.
The cup clinked brightly against the table. His fingers ached from the heat when he pulled them away. “All right,” he replied. “Let’s talk.”
She gave him a brief smile. “How went the trip? I’m sure you already gave our Boss his due report, but I feel curious as well.”
“Fine,” Chuuya let out. “We got Q from Sakaguchi, Dazai got Q from me. All within the range of expectations.”
“I know better than to try and anticipate anything Dazai does,” Kouyou said mildly. Her fingers toyed with the rim of her cup in a surprising show of impropriety, and there was a smile on her lips, fleeting and kind. “He seems hellbent on getting our young away from us lately.”
“Maybe we should stop hiring children.”
“Maybe we should,” she agreed, and Chuuya felt his eyebrows raise in surprise despite himself. “Oh, don’t look at me like this, Chuuya-kun,” she chided. “Even I can recognize when change is needed.”
He made a face. “I didn’t mean to imply anything, ane-san.”
“I know you didn’t. And I know this is hard for the both of us to envision, but we really might need to stay clear of hiring them too young.” Her nose scrunched delicately as she spoke her next words: “Especially with a man like Mori Ougai at our head.”
Chuuya didn’t—couldn’t—reply. His relaxed stance turned to a tense one, thighs aching and back taught and jaw clenching reflexively. He almost cleared his throat, chose not to instead, and disbelief lay heavy on his voice as he spoke back. “Those are—very strong words, Kouyou-sama.”
“Perhaps,” she murmured. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from her as she bent down to pick up her tea, to raise it to her mouth. The paint on her lips shone wet when she finished drinking, and her eyes met Chuuya’s levelly, powerfully. “But I grow rather tired of watching the man’s every move and hoping he never crosses the line. I would rather there be no need for a line at all.”
Chuuya’s mouth was open as he absorbed what she was saying and implying.
He had no sympathy for Mori Ougai. He never had. The man had done nothing but make him uncomfortable when he was still a doctor, nothing but make him fear when he became a boss, with his creeping words and creeping glances. Chuuya’s dislike had grown after meeting Dazai, because Dazai hated Mori with every fiber of his fourteen-year-old being for reasons Chuuya never wished to discover. He had just taken up the Hating Mori cause because it felt right, and he had never let go of it as an adult, regardless of his obedience.
He was an adult, though. And he had long since figured out why Mori had driven fear into his heart when he was still too young to understand.
“I didn’t know you cared so much,” he said lowly. He found that he couldn’t meet the anger and care in her eyes anymore and stared at the table instead.
“Of course I care,” she replied. “I was not soft with you, lad, and I am not soft with the children I employ now. But I would have Mori’s head on a platter before he could lay a finger on any of you, and that includes Dazai as well.”
Something in Chuuya loosened at that, some year-old tension and fear he had never let himself voice, even in the privacy of his own mind. Kouyou noticed it, and her eyes were kind as she said, “He would be dead now if he had done anything to him. You can trust me on this.”
He nodded wordlessly.
Drinking more tea gave him an excuse for the burn in his eyes. “Why did you want to see me?” he asked, placing the cup down. He didn’t want to think too hard on what she might be intending to do before he got some sleep, and hoped she agreed to the change in topic.
Kouyou relaxed, knees spreading slightly as she did. “We have been at odds with each other since Kyouka left,” she replied. “I wanted to see if we could straighten things out.”
“I apologize for this. Things have been stressful.”
“And I as well. You are so private, Chuuya-kun, it was rude of me to disrespect that.” Her mouth softened into a new smile, a nostalgic, heartfelt one. “Will you forgive me if I tell you that you were always my favorite?”
Chuuya felt his face warm. “I can handle that much,” he mumbled, and she laughed.
“You were so unlike the others. My girls used to tell me about everything you did even when I did not ask. Absurdly fond of you, the lot of them.” By now Chuuya’s cheeks must be a steady red, but all Kouyou did was twist a smile at him and continue, “I couldn’t well afford to pay more attention to you than my other employees, but you always did catch the eye. So strong-headed, and with such a useful gift. That boy didn’t help when he got it into his head that you’d make good partners.”
“Yeah, well,” Chuuya muttered. “I got what I wanted even without favoritism.”
“I never meant to imply otherwise. Everything you’ve achieved is your own.”
He really shouldn’t feel so relieved and proud to hear her say that, but he did.
“You look better,” she added gently. “You were so tense when you left. Did Kumagaya offer you some respite?”
Dazai had offered him respite in the shape of heated kisses and muffled words, in the color of the marks still pressed into his collarbones, in the aches of lovemaking. Chuuya met Kouyou’s eyes over the lacquered tabletop and said nothing.
She smiled sharply. “You did some shopping. Red looks good on you, surprisingly.”
She stared pointedly at the shirt he was wearing, and Chuuya clicked his tongue, face burning pleasantly.
She entertained him with tales of the last few weeks. Chuuya had been gone from the city a long time before Dazai walked back into his life armed with smiles and insults; he had gotten no time to talk to Kouyou in the weeks that had followed, because the Guilt had been there, and because she had mourned for the girl she lost. In truth, he hadn’t talked to her so much before in his life.
She acted around him as she would around a friend, he thought. Happy and unabashed. She never cared when she spilled tea on her sleeve and she never cared when he got drunk enough on the wine she took out that swears rolled out of his mouth, sour-sweet on his tongue.
“We should spar one day,” he grinned into the brim of his glass. Night was heavy, cicadas gone and lights shut out. Kouyou had opened the glass windows of the tearoom that led out to the finely-cut garden she owned, and they had moved there, sitting on the wooden ledge with their feet hanging down. There was no sound around but the murmur of a small stream and the soft of their voices.
“I don’t spar, Chuuya-kun,” Kouyou answered. “I don’t give out my strengths to people who could one day turn against me.”
“I give out my strength so people don’t want to turn against me.”
She smiled sideways at him. “Let’s hope both of our methods work.”
“I’ll drink to that,” he laughed.
The look she gave him next was darker, thoughtful. “You always feel the need to prove yourself,” she said. “Even to people who already know your worth.”
Chuuya was languid from the wine, with soft heat in all his veins, sore from fighting and fucking, so he admitted the truth: “It feels good to be needed.”
“Indeed,” Kouyou replied. She didn’t mock him for it. “And there are people who do need you. Probably more than you realize.”
“Please,” he scoffed lightly.
She looked like she was about to reply with something, but then she closed her mouth. Chuuya watched her stare at her own hands for a moment as if debating with herself, before she pushed herself upright to stand.
“Stay here,” she told him.
He followed her with his eyes, tilting his glass so the wine touched his lips again. His tongue was dry with it by now. Kouyou went out of the tearoom and disappeared for a few minutes. Chuuya spent the time looking at the stars above, mind blissfully empty.
He heard her sit beside him once more in a shuffle of silk and soft breaths. The turn of his head was lazy when he looked at her and saw the slip of paper she was holding.
“What’s that?” he asked.
She didn’t immediately answer. Her fingers unfolded the paper with no sound, and she looked at whatever was on it with a thin smile on her lips. “A gift for you,” she said. “From Dazai.”
Chuuya’s back tensed so suddenly that sharp pain throbbed in his neck.
“He gave it to me years ago,” she continued without looking at him, not even when he put the glass down next to him and clenched his fingers against the wood. “The little fool never even told me what it was. He just said I should give it to you whenever I thought you’d accept it.”
She held the paper up toward him expectantly.
He already knew what it was. He knew the moment she said Dazai’s name, perhaps even earlier, from the look she had given him as he admitted his own foolish thoughts to her. Chuuya took the paper from her hands without a word, and it was soft beneath his fingers, free of wrinkles from being handled over and over again. The ink that Dazai had used to write the address was a little faded.
“I’ve already visited, of course,” Kouyou said quietly. “Though I did not know what I would find when I did.”
“Of course,” Chuuya repeated. He wasn’t looking at her anymore. He wasn’t even looking at the words on the paper anymore.
Kouyou didn’t try to get closer physically or to touch him, and he was grateful for that at least, even if her voice sounded like it wanted to slither under his skin and take refuge there.
“This is someone who needs you,” she murmured.
The paper made no sound when he dug his fingers in it. It was too old and worn.
“I should go,” Chuuya declared. Kouyou looked pained for a second, and he sent her a brief smile despite the bleak fear coiled in his chest. “I’m tired,” he explained. “I’d like to sleep in my own bed for at least a few hours.”
Gravity held him upright as he stood, and his knees did creak this time. Kouyou walked him back to the door, where a different woman from before stood guard and nodded her head in their direction. Chuuya was already two steps down the front of the house when Kouyou called his name.
“I’d like to have you over for tea again later this week,” she told him as he turned back to look at her. “For work and pleasure alike.”
There was no need to ask what work she needed him for. Her expression was mild but her eyes were of steel, and Chuuya knew he would not have much time to decide on whether he stood by her side or his boss’s.
Chuuya’s loyalty was to the port mafia first and foremost. He would take the side of whoever protected it best.
“Sure, ane-san,” he replied evenly.
For a second they stood in the stillness that preceded either laugh or murder. But Kouyou shook her head, making strands of red hair escape from the silver pin holding it up, and the curve of her mouth turned whimsical.
“I hope one day you can believe those words, Chuuya-kun,” she said. “I hope one day I get to hear you call me sister and mean it.”
He visited the house in the morning.
The docks’ mist clung to his clothes as he walked along the seashore, white and ghost-like in the sunlight. Chuuya didn’t stop to talk to the familiar early-risers who worked there and hailed him on his way.
It was a tiny thing, stuck in a side of Yokohama that he never visited. There was no business to be had in the far-off residential areas that the mafia could dip into. The house neighbored another to the side and had a small garden behind that he could glimpse from where he stood. He saw the end of a swing in it, wet with dew, swaying gently.
Kashiwamura Family, the letterbox said.
It was enough.
Chuuya’s grip didn’t slacken around the paper Kouyou had given him. He watched the house wake up from the other side of the street and felt a little like a ghost himself, shadows shifting under his feet without ever touching him, eyes fixed and unblinking onto what the sun made of the blue entrance door ahead. Light shone from a curtained window downstairs and then flickered on upstairs, and the silhouette that drew against white drapes on the first floor was that of a child.
He pressed himself back into the shadows when the front door opened. Out came a man with unknown features, a tall man who looked nothing like Chuuya’s memories and nightmares (short thin ill-tempered loud), who had to bend down to kiss the lips of the wife who followed him onto the front steps to bid him goodbye. His hand was kind when it rested the woman’s shoulder. It was even kinder when it brushed the hair of the little boy who slithered between their legs, dragging a backpack behind him.
It was enough. It was more than enough. It was every hope that Chuuya had harbored in the months that had followed his greatest crime and more. It was proof that he hadn’t taken more than one life in that cold morning eleven years ago.
The woman stood alone for a moment in the entrance of her house. Her eyes followed the path that her family made moving away from her, and Chuuya was too far away to read her face, both in years and in distance.
Nakahara Fuku’s memory had blurred into nothing in his mind overtime. Scraps of touches and feelings and voices. He couldn’t recall the details of her eyes or mouth by the time he was twelve. She stood before him now, older, obviously happier, and Chuuya thought that he might have crossed paths with her one day without knowing who she was and not recognized her at all.
She looks so much like you, Dazai had told him.
Dazai lied as easily as he breathed.
He thought he saw the woman’s eyes roam over the street and stop on him for a second, but he wasn’t too worried. Chuuya turned his back on the house and walked the opposite direction that her husband and son had gone. The road dipped down there, following the swell of the hill and heading straight for the sea.
“Hello,” someone said.
He didn’t startle because a lifetime of training had bled the habit out of him, but his chest clenched, and his heart swelled, and it took a long time for him to turn his head around and meet his mother’s eyes.
She was smiling politely at him.
“Hello,” he replied carefully.
It made her jump, as if something had shocked the skin off of her. “Sorry,” she hurried to say. She took a step forward—he noticed, faintly, that her feet were bare on the wet, cold ground. “Ah—are you new in the neighborhood? I haven’t seen you here before.”
Her breathing was hurried. Chuuya looked over her quickly to make sure she wasn’t hurt, but she seemed fine. Only the dirt under her feet looked out of place. “I’m not,” he answered. “I was just… visiting someone.”
“I see.” He couldn’t move away when she stepped forward again, not even when it put her close enough for him to see the shine in her eyes, the wet at her lashes. They had the same eyes. “Family?”
Her voice was trembling.
“Yeah,” Chuuya said weakly, staring at her, unable to blink. “Family.”
“That’s good.” Fuku stepped forward again, right into his space, where only one person had stood in the last ten years and lived to tell the tale. Her tears started when she spoke again, “It’s good to visit family,” the line of her mouth shaking hard.
He didn’t move when she fisted a hand into the lapel of his coat and took one last step. She was shorter than him, he found, by an inch or so, her eyes level with his nose.
“I’ve been waiting for someone to visit for a long time, you see,” she weeped. The hand she had put on him was febrile, and Chuuya made no move to dislodge it, nor to avoid the one that touched his cheek as if afraid that he would break.
“I,” he said. He didn’t know what else to say
Her fingers were wet on his face, and he realized that he was crying too.
Both of her hands framed his face, wiped away his tears, familiar calluses and knobby knuckles pressing into the soft of his cheek, stroking over his ears and hair. Chuuya sucked in a breath like a man drowning at sea.
“He’s my son,” his mother said, face entirely red and damp fingers caught in Chuuya’s hair, thumbs over his cheeks. “He’s been missing for a very long time.”
“I’m sure he’s okay,” Chuuya croaked out.
She sobbed as she kissed his cheek, and he felt her chest heave against his and her words die wetly over his skin. “His friends said the same thing. They said he’d come when he was ready.”
I could never be ready for you, Chuuya thought, breathless.
“I’m sorry,” he rasped. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry—”
It was as though a dam had broken. The apology tumbled down from his lips over and over, entirely worthless but heavy from how many times he had thought it before, in the dark of the night and staring at the decrepit ceiling of his first not-home, beating himself up during training, seeing the eyes of those who thought him worthy when he was nothing more than a coward, a blood-traitor, a parricide. The lowest of all scum.
“Oh, Chuuya,” Fuku cried into his neck. Her arms tightened around him and tugged them down to the ground when her legs gave out, more powerful than any gravity.
Fuku held him like something breakable, like fine china or blown glass, fingers light over his skin, kisses peppered onto his forehead and hair. Chuuya kneeled still in front of her, hands limp by his side because he couldn’t touch her. He shouldn’t touch her. He had lost that right years ago.
“Chuuya,” she said like a prayer, forehead pressed against his.
He wrapped his arms around her back. She was the softest thing he had ever held.
“I’m sorry.” His next breath was a wheeze. “For everything that I’ve done. If I could go back—”
She rubbed his left eye with her thumb, shushing him, smearing wetness against his temple. “My love,” she whispered roughly, “you have nothing to apologize for.”
His eyes pressed shut against the hot rush of tears that he felt trickle down his face, and he buried his mouth into her shoulder.
“I’ve missed you so much,” she said, rocking gently in place.
She squeezed her arms around him when she felt his shoulders shake, and the hand she put at his nape seared warmth through his body, the I love yous at his ear filling the wretched, rotten corners of his soul with light.
Someone walked out of the house behind them and looked at them with wide eyes, kneeling as they were on the dirty pavement, locked in an unending embrace.
Chuuya didn’t care.
Eventually she would help him up and ask him to join her inside. She would want to show him her new life, she would try to make him meet the boy she must already think of as his little brother, perhaps even her new husband. She’d try to feed him and hold on to him and cry when he would have to leave. She’d be disappointed to learn that he was nothing like the little boy who had fled away from her at eleven, burning with fear and guilt and shame.
He didn’t know what he would do then. He wasn’t ready for more than this—he wasn’t ready for this. But just once, just for a while, Chuuya emptied his mind of all concerns. He kneeled against the painful, cold pavement of this unknown street, the morning’s fog thinning around him and sunlight warming his nape, and he let himself be held in the arms of his mother.
He let himself be loved unconditionally.
From: Slug [2:14PM]
You’re a meddling bastard.
From: Slug [2:17PM]
To: Slug [5:36PM]
You’re welcome. See you next truce, partner.