Slow Learner

Rated: T

Length: 3,700

Slow Learner

Dazai liked it the best when they could rent rooms in small hotels or directly in people’s homes. The latter happened rarely, because Chuuya more often than not took charge of securing a roof over their heads, and Chuuya favored big hotels with crappy plastic furniture but functioning showers over the chance of finding himself without enough water pressure to wash himself thoroughly.

Chuuya had less patience than Dazai for grime and blood.

Chuuya was gone right now, though. He had walked into the first place with free rooms he could find, a tiny, two-story hotel with wooden walls and a hot spring, had sat Dazai down in the dining room of the restaurant with quickly ordered dinner and tea and firm orders not to move an inch.

“If I find out you’ve lost a single more drop of blood, Dazai, so help me I will finish you off myself.” He had released his grip under Dazai’s armpit to let him fall gently against the padded bench of the booth, and Dazai would’ve been more surprised by the care if he weren’t so busy feeling grateful for it. His head was killing him.

Chuuya had huffed, looking at him with a frown, and then left to meet with their contact on his own.

Of course, Dazai had moved over to the bar immediately.

It was fine; most of the blood loss had come from the bullet that had torn through his shoulder, and Chuuya had stitched that up in the back of their enemies’ van before carrying him here. He felt light-headed, yes, and his shoulder screamed with every jolt despite the painkillers, but there were more things on Dazai’s mind than just making sure he healed to perfection.

Such as the houseowner’s lovely, lovely daughter.

“Yui-chan,” Dazai giggled in her direction as she came around the counter to bring him dessert. “Run away with me?”

She shoved his tiramisu in front of him, making the porcelain cup next to his hand tremble and spill brown drops of coffee over its brim. “That work for you, ever?” she questioned, disbelieving.

“Mmh. I’m a romantic.”

It made her laugh, full-bodied and loud in the dark of the room. Dazai grinned at her, observing the shuddering column of her neck and the wide, soft expanse of skin above the line of her collar. His own felt hot with the kind of blood he couldn’t afford to waste. She was literally going to make him faint.

He hit his forehead to the top of the counter, spoon toying with the edge of his plate but not touching his food. “Can I get something to drink?”

“Sure,” Yui replied dryly, walking back behind the bar. “We’ve got soda.”

“I want rum.”

“Then I want some ID, kiddo.”

Dazai sighed loudly. “I assure you I’m old enough to show you the wildest night you’ve ever had,” he said, looking at her sideways and batting his eyelashes sultrily.

Yui couldn’t have been older than eighteen herself, but she eyed him critically enough to make his sixteen-year-old self feel very, very young. Dazai took a sip of his coffee to hide the flush he could feel rising up his neck. It was a good thing he didn’t have enough blood in him to outright blush.

If this were Lupin he’d be drunk already; but this wasn’t Lupin, it wasn’t even Yokohama, and Dazai had never had a legal ID and never had any use for fake ones. The bars under the port mafia’s protection never refused to serve him anything. Yui didn’t know who he was, though. Maybe she didn’t even know what the port mafia was.

It was refreshing, in a way. Dazai didn’t often meet people whose opinion of him was based strictly on outside appearance and a short-term take on his personality. He contented himself with watching Yui from the corner of his eyes as he ate his food and tried to regain some of the energy he’d lost, thanking heavens for tall girls with fat hips.

He was snapped out of his rêverie by the hand that slammed down onto the counter with almost enough strength to make the wood splinter.

“What,” Chuuya hissed into his ear, “did I tell you?”

“You’ll have to be more precise—”

Chuuya groaned loudly, grabbing Dazai’s collar and apparently readying himself to shove him straight through a wall in his frustration, so Dazai raised both of his hands in surrender.

“I only moved from the booth to here!” he protested. “Nothing more.”

“You shouldn’t have moved at all.”

“Ask Yui-chan, Chuuya. I was a model customer.”

Chuuya’s mouth opened, then snapped shut in confusion. “Who the fuck is Yui-chan?”

“That would be me,” Yui answered. She was leaning over the counter some distance away, holding a cigarette in front of her lips and looking at the both of them in curiosity. She’d let her long hair down from the bun she had it in a minute ago, and it splayed over her hunched shoulders beautifully.

Dazai really wasn’t going to be able to rid himself of that stupid, childish blush on his face while in her presence.

“Oh,” Chuuya said simply, releasing Dazai’s collar. He straightened up and then bowed his head in her direction, strangely polite. “Sorry about that, Miss.”

“No problem,” Yui grinned back. “And don’t call me Miss, Yui’s just fine. You’re both staying in the yellow room, right?”

Dazai snatched Chuuya’s hat from his head and answered, “Yes, we are,” satisfied when Chuuya turned furious blue eyes back to him. He set the hat on his own head.

“Cool,” Yui said. “We’re off season and everything so it’s just the two of you, as you can see.” Dazai tore his gaze away from Chuuya to look at her—she gestured around the empty restaurant and chuckled. “You guys enjoy the water, all right?”

Chuuya nodded at her again, still with that weird, withdrawn expression on his face. He looked almost shy.

Dazai didn’t get time to question it, because Chuuya asked him, “Did you eat?”

“Yes, mother,” Dazai replied. “I even had dessert and coffee.”

“Call me that again and I’ll kill you. And fuck you, you never fucking sleep when you get coffee after six…”

Dazai watched him ramble on fondly, his eyes stopping briefly on the emerging purple and blue at Chuuya’s forehead from a punch he hadn’t seen coming. Chuuya had washed off the worst of the dirt that marred them both before they got to the hotel, but Dazai could still see brown, crusted blood right under Chuuya’s temple. The collar of his shirt was stained with it. Yui probably couldn’t see it, but it would be obvious if she were standing any closer.

“You should take a bath,” Dazai said softly. Chuuya’s eyes widened, and he pressed a hand over the stain after Dazai flicked a glance down to it.

You should take a bath,” he muttered, equally low. “I’m not the one who got shot.”

“Let’s try the hot spring.”

“Fuck no. I’m taking a shower and then passing out. You can drag your own ass up those stairs, Dazai.”

He took back his hat from where it sat on Dazai’s head and stepped away loudly against the wooden floor. Dazai was used to Chuuya making use of his power like this—making himself louder and bigger and more menacing than he looked, always paranoid, always on his guard. The familiarity of it was soothing after such a stressful day.

Pain shot through his shoulder as if to remind him of it. Or maybe just to warn him that the painkillers were wearing off.

“Your friend’s cute,” Yui said.

Dazai turned his head to look at her. She sucked in the last of her cigarette, crushed its stub into the clay ashtray that sat atop the counter, and stretched her arms above her head in a way that lengthened her body further. Dazai drank his fill of the sight as he replied, “He’s got to be at least two heads shorter than you.”

Yui snorted. “So what? He’s polite. He looks good.” The look she gave him was mirthful, and her arms bounced back down her sides happily when she broke out of her pose. “You should take notes.”

She left for the kitchen with a parting wink. Dazai sat still at the bar for a long time after that, watching the still nighttime shadows flutter whenever a bug flew too close to the orange lamps crawling along the walls. He wondered how in hell anyone could think Chuuya was cute.

His stomach felt cramped, though he wasn’t hungry anymore.

Washing oneself with a shoulder injury was a pain in every meaning of the word. Dazai gave up on untangling the gauze wrapped around him one-handed and settled on cutting it off his body with Chuuya’s knife, which he nicked from the clothes thrown atop one of the beds in the room upstairs. Chuuya had still been locked in the bathroom.

It hurt when he took off his clothes. It hurt when he sat down to wash himself on the low stool next to the baths, when he hunched forward and back to lather himself with soap, when he so much as brushed the skin around the wound. Chuuya’s stitches were good but they still ached, and Dazai couldn’t take more painkillers for another hour at the least.

He wondered how mad Chuuya would be if he overdosed just a little bit with his next take. He didn’t want to have to hurt while wiping his own ass.

At least the water in the spring was hot enough to take his mind entire off the bullet wound. Dazai hissed as he stepped into it, forcing himself not to rush down the steps too quickly. It took longer than usual for the suffocating burn of the water to change into languid numbness, but when it did, he almost moaned in relief. Shivers ran along his scalp, reducing his head to putty, forcing every muscle in his body to let go of tension. Dazai thought he could drown like this and be happy with his fate.

A loud splash interrupted the blissful nothingness a few minutes later. Dazai coughed when water rushed into his face, hand roaming over the edge of the spring, looking for the handle of Chuuya’s knife.

“It’s me, idiot,” said Chuuya’s voice.

Dazai’s hand fell back into the water. He blinked until his eyes got used to the steam and met Chuuya’s across the length of the pool.

“I thought you were going to sleep,” he said evenly.

“Couldn’t sleep. Might as well enjoy the place.”

“Why, Chuuya,” Dazai drawled, smirking. “Are you by any chance stressed?”

It was a good thing Chuuya’s legs were short and the pool wide, because Dazai was pretty sure he felt a kick come very close to hitting him underwater. “You give me ulcers, I swear to God,” Chuuya groaned.

“At least I give you something.”

“I’m going to fucking drown you.”

Dazai laughed loudly, air bubbles snapping in the water around his mouth. The hair at his nape and around his ears was wet now, clinging softly to his cheeks. Some strands were almost long enough to reach his chin—he’d have to cut it soon.

He heard Chuuya sigh over his side, saw him relax against the stone edge and lean his head back against it. This city was small, nearer to the mountains than the sea, and the air smelled very different than it did back home. There was no roof over their heads, only the shiver of the naked air and a wide stretch of bright-lit stars. Fall had settled in. The tall tree that rose behind the hotel could be glimpsed from where Dazai sat, and its branches were sharp and leafless.

“Yui-chan’s father owns the place,” Dazai said, looking up at the dark sky. “But since no one’s around at the time of the year, he lets her work here alone sometimes. She’s in high school. Planning on going to college in Tokyo. A Gemini.”

“Were you flirting with her or collecting information?” Chuuya muttered drowsily.

“Is there a difference?”

Chuuya gave him an unimpressed glance.

Dazai chuckled. “Not that you’d know if there was, Chuuya,” he mocked.

“Fuck off. I know how to flirt.”

“That remains to be witnessed.”

Chuuya looked very close to trying to kick him again. Dazai took the initiative from him by using his sufficiently long legs to hit Chuuya’s thigh with his heel, making Chuuya swear under his breath and slap his ankle away.

“Were you jealous?” Dazai continued, tone light and delighted. “Yui-chan seemed to like me a lot.”

“I’m not interested,” Chuuya hissed.

“Sure. You’re not interested in one of the hottest girls the both of us have ever met.”

Chuuya didn’t answer.

The cramping, ugly queasiness from earlier spread through Dazai’s belly once more. He watched Chuuya resolutely ignore his stare and curl into a more comfortable position against the side of the spring, red hair sticking to his neck and to the side of his face. A strand had curled around his lips almost gently.

For some reason, Dazai couldn’t get Yui’s words out of his mind. It made irritation flare up his back; his shoulders tensed, shooting pain through his wound, defeating the purpose of the bath altogether.

His mouth opened again before he could help it. “Well, it’s not like she’s interested in you. Or any girls for that matter.”

Dazai,” Chuuya breathed, rubbing a wet hand over his face. “Just leave it alone already.”

“You’re too short for one. Too short-tempered. Rude, loud, tacky—”

“I already said I didn’t care!” He was almost yelling by now, and it wasn’t the sort of harmless yelling he always indulged in—his eyes were dark when he looked at Dazai again, his face scrunched into a grimace from the bruise purpling above his temple. “I’m not fucking interested in Yui,” he spat out. “Happy? You can have her all to yourself. Marry her for all I care.”

But the irritation wouldn’t go, and neither would the sudden need for Dazai to hurt in the only way he knew how. “Let’s hear it, then,” he said lowly, watching with satisfaction as Chuuya’s neck and shoulders snapped into tension from the tone of his voice alone. “Let’s hear about your type, Chuuya. Tell me all about the girls who refused to give your ugly mug the time of day.”

“There aren’t any,” Chuuya replied, teeth clenched.

Dazai laughed coldly. “Right. Because you wouldn’t know how to talk to a girl if your life depended on—”

“There aren’t any because I’m not interested in girls.”

The lapse of time it took for Dazai to make sense of his words was shamefully long. His mouth closed, his breath hitched, and his eyes met Chuuya’s over the steaming water.

“You’re a,” he started—before thinking better of it.

Chuuya was already tense, but his neck had pulsed with the sound of Dazai’s voice. His lips were pinched thin in a way that told Dazai he wanted to bite them but didn’t want to be seen doing it. The rumble of dark, thick energy in Dazai’s stomach had finally disappeared, but only to be replaced with something akin to shame or embarrassment.

“So,” he tried again. He licked his lips to quiet his nerves. “What are you into, then?”

Chuuya looked away from him, and it didn’t make Dazai feel any of the satisfaction he was hoping for earlier. “Do I need to draw you a fucking picture?” he asked. His voice sounded rough. Almost stretched thin enough to snap.

“No,” Dazai replied meekly.

For the first time since meeting him, he thought he would regret pushing Chuuya over the edge.

Chuuya didn’t move from his spot and didn’t look back at Dazai. His entire body looked like a coiled spring, tight enough that a single step in the wrong direction would make it leap out and away, too far to be followed. It was more than enough to tell Dazai that Chuuya felt much worse than he did in that moment, and that he had better find a way to fix it.

He put out the embers of curiosity glowing in his mind (how did you know why didn’t you tell me how were you sure) and leaned further into the wall of the pool, until his shoulder strained against the contact and his backside ached from sitting too heavily on stone.

“Does anyone else know?” he asked as nonchalantly as he could.

Chuuya hissed as if burned. His hand was shaky when he pushed his hair out of his face, without dislodging the stray curl whose tip touched the underside of his lips, Dazai noticed faintly. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “Ane-san might… I don’t know.” He glanced quickly at Dazai, and then away just as fast, as if to make sure Dazai knew he wasn’t looking-looking—and, well. Didn’t that make Dazai feel utterly terrible.

His throat was tight now. His stomach tensed unpleasantly. It’s okay, he wanted to say, I don’t mind. But he didn’t know how to say it without making Chuuya think he was being dishonest.

That was the problem with cultivating the image of a perpetual liar—no one believed him when he wanted to say the truth.

“I guess I can write you out of the competition for all future meetings with hot girls,” he settled on. “Not that you ever were competition.”

For a second Chuuya was frightfully silent; but then he laughed, strained but honest, and the sound of it carried down Dazai’s back more powerfully than the hot water had at first contact. The line of his shoulders eased.

Chuuya turned back toward him with relief written all over him, no matter how well he thought he was concealing it. More worrying was the echoing relief Dazai himself felt, and the small, genuine smile he allowed himself to give his partner.

It was one thing to know he had Chuuya’s trust, to see it in action every time Chuuya used his gift to the fullest, and another entirely to see himself challenged to earn it. He hadn’t realized how little he wanted Chuuya to stop trusting him before that. Chuuya telling him that he was gay, only him, somehow held more gravitas than the combined weight of all the lives they had taken.

Dazai thought, with panic fluttering behind his ribs, that he wished he could trust himself enough to let Chuuya know of his own burning confusion. He thought he’d like to allow himself to say, I think I’m not just interested in girls.

“Go the fuck to sleep,” Chuuya muttered, seeing him yawn widely. “You’ve been in here forever.”

“But it feels so good,” Dazai mumbled, stretching the last syllable until Chuuya rolled his eyes at him.

“I’m not giving you your damn pills if you don’t sleep at least five hours.”

“That is so unnecessarily cruel.”

“Suck it up, you big baby.” Chuuya leaned away with a huff as Dazai walked past him in the water, avoiding the condescending pat he tried to give his head. “And put my knife back where you found it.”

“Yes, yes,” Dazai drawled.

He unhooked a dry towel from one of the hangers that stood by the door and rubbed himself as thoroughly as he could without jolting his shoulder too much. Chuuya’s stitches had held through, still looking as meticulous as they had once he was done making them and wiping away excess blood from his skin. Dazai was careful as he pressed a corner of the towel against them. He didn’t try to touch the ones holding the exit wound shut in his back.

“You know,” he called over his shoulder, “my point still stands.”

“What now,” Chuuya grunted.

Dazai bit down on his own smile. “You’re too short and tacky for any boy to like you.”

He heard the tell-tale sounds of moving water as Chuuya stood from the pool and stepped out of it. Dazai slipped one of the hotel’s offered yukatas around his shoulders and hips and didn’t move until Chuuya walked past him—and then it was impossible not to look as Chuuya picked his own towel, as he held it up to rub his head first, leaving the rest of him bare.

Where Dazai had shot up in height in the past year, Chuuya had grown in width, body lean and hard from training, muscles rippling under his skin. His shoulders were wider than Dazai’s; when he tugged hard enough on his own hair to try and dry it, his arms bulged, losing even the hints of softness left there.

He looked powerful. Like every inch of his skin was stretched over barely-contained strength.

Chuuya tied the towel around his hips and turned around to face him. He glanced briefly at Dazai’s face and then back down at his shoulder, his expression unreadable. Dazai didn’t say anything as he approached, didn’t try to stop him as he pushed aside the hem of his yukata to peer at his wound.

“Looks fine for now,” Chuuya mused. His breath was warm against Dazai’s collarbone. It chased the chill of the night air and left his skin prickling with goosebumps.

“Yeah,” Dazai replied dumbly.

“Show it to the boss when we’re back if something happens. Or to Hirotsu-san if you don’t want to deal with Mori.”


Chuuya let go of his clothes and stepped away from him. Dazai didn’t bother trying to straighten the fold of the yukata. He just blinked vaguely at the place where Chuuya had stood, trying to make sense of his own thoughts.

“Oh, and Dazai,” Chuuya called ahead of him.

Dazai’s head snapped back up.

Chuuya had one hand atop the half-doors that led to the shower rooms. He raised the other to push the hair away from his lips at last. The movement made something shift under the smooth lines of his back and his side—made blood rush hotly to Dazai’s face as he met the knowing glint of Chuuya’s eyes, knocking the breath out of him.

“Boys like me just fine,” Chuuya said, grinning.

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