Thread After Thread

Rated: M

Length: 15,700

Warnings: past abuse, mentions of homophobia, implied sexual content

Thread After Thread

“Why am I here?” Chuuya muttered, glancing between Mori and Akutagawa, doing very little to conceal how irritated he was.

It didn’t matter that it wasn’t at Akutagawa himself. Akutagawa’s shoulders hunched under the weight of it, and Chuuya resisted letting out the groan forming in his throat, lest he fold into himself even more.

“There’s been a little accident,” Mori said jovially.

He didn’t seem bothered at all that it was about three in the morning. Mori’s eyes were always bruised, his skin always pallid, but he never seemed tired. Even on the rare occasion he made himself look unkempt and feeble, Chuuya couldn’t look at him without feeling like he was being watched by something wide awake indeed.

“You mean Akutagawa killed someone he shouldn’t have,” Chuuya replied.

“Well, more or less, yes.”

Akutagawa said nothing. He still looked like he was expecting blows.

Chuuya clicked his tongue with a faint, hissing sound; this time he didn’t try and stop himself from rubbing his forehead with the tips of his fingers. He had come back from Sapporo with a migraine only hours ago, had managed to crawl into bed and doze on-and-off without ever truly sleeping. His body was a solid ache, sore beyond measure from the unforeseen fights he had to partake in and the flight back south. It didn’t matter how short the flight had been.

“I’m guessing you want him to disappear for a while,” he said tiredly.

“That would be ideal.”

“And it can’t wait until actual morning.”

Mori had the gall to look apologetic. “Not with the entire city’s police force plastering his portrait to the walls, I’m afraid.”

Chuuya glanced at Akutagawa again, slightly surprised. “Who the hell did you kill?” he asked.

Akutagawa’s voice was faint when he replied, “I did what I was ordered to do.”

He didn’t meet Chuuya’s eyes. Chuuya couldn’t tell why—out of shame, or anger, or because he was lying—but it mattered very little in the face of his own fatigue.

God, he hadn’t had a shower in two days. He hadn’t been home in two months.

“Fine,” he said between his teeth, looking at his boss once more. “I’ll arrange for it. Give me a couple hours to secure a route out of the city and find someone to go with him.”

“Oh, you’re going with him, Chuuya-kun,” Mori said.

Chuuya stared at him for a silent second.

“I’m sorry,” he said politely. “I thought I’d just heard you say something really fucking stupid, Boss, but clearly I’m just tired.”

Mori winced slightly. “You heard me right,” he replied. “I want you to be the one escorting him.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

It said a lot about Chuuya’s growth in the past three years that Mori did not protest the insult or try to punish him for it. Or maybe it said a lot about whatever deal he and Kouyou had running over the boss position—Kouyou may have never breathed a word of it to him, but Chuuya knew Mori’s continued leadership of the port mafia was very dependent on her. He wanted to believe that he hadn’t been included in those discussions, that the equal-to-equal way Mori addressed him came out of his own worth, but Kouyou always got what she wanted in the end.

He chased the thought away before it could dampen his mood even more. “I just came home,” he protested, hat in hand, his back ramrod-straight in the dark of the office. Why Mori never used the overhead lights, he would never know. “After going off to negotiate for two months with that gang to absolutely no avail and having to destroy them pretty much single-handedly—and before that I barely got to stay a week here when I came back from Hong Kong—you can’t seriously be asking me to play keeper for Akutagawa indefinitely. Sir,” he amended, too late and half-hearted.

“It is precisely the reason I’m asking you,” Mori replied amiably. “You haven’t had a break in years, Chuuya-kun. Take it as a vacation.” Chuuya didn’t have time to voice his shock and offense at that before Mori continued. “I don’t anticipate that Akutagawa-kun will need to stay hidden for more than a week while we take care of the witnesses. It’s not that much to ask for, is it?”

And, fuck, Chuuya hated feeling like a burden. Mori knew it. Everyone knew it. The steely glint in his boss’s eyes might have been mistaken for humor by someone else, but Chuuya knew an order when he heard it.

“It isn’t,” he said tightly.

“I know you want to be here,” Mori went on, sounding way too kind for the sort of horrid person he was. “But we both know you wouldn’t stay away from work if you did. You’re way too overworked, my boy. We can’t afford to let one of our best make a potentially fatal mistake out of exhaustion, can we.”

The dirty, manipulative bastard.

Chuuya turned to Akutagawa and said, curtly, “You’re dismissed. Get packing, I’ll call for you in a bit.”

“Don’t you need to pack too?” Akutagawa replied breezily. His voice was rarely more than a rough whisper.

“I haven’t unpacked yet. Just go.”

There was a still second, Akutagawa looking at him with a frown, during which Chuuya thought he might ask for something. He looked more sickly during the day than he did in the dark, but whatever illness ailed him was still visible on his face, in the paleness of his skin and the painful dryness of his chapped lips. Chuuya couldn’t help but notice that Akutagawa looked as tired as he felt.

Akutagawa wouldn’t ask for anything he wanted if his life depended on it, though. It was the kind of broken he was. He left without another word.

Mori let the silence unfold between them for a second longer before saying, “I want you with him at all times.”

“I got it,” Chuuya cut in mulishly. “Don’t let him kill anyone for a week. Piece of cake, right?”

“You don’t understand, Chuuya-kun. The problem isn’t that Akutagawa murdered this man. That was his mission.” Mori’s eyes met his with surprising seriousness over the cluttered surface of his mahogany desk. “The problem is that he did it in plain daylight, in a meeting room full of government officials, while using his ability.”

Chuuya’s mouth dried.

“You understand the difficult position this puts me in,” Mori continued lowly. “The special ability department turns a blind eye to our activities as long as they cannot see them. They gave us our permit, and they will not take it back, but visual proof of assassination of a Diet member is not something they can just sweep aside. They are still, in the end, the ministry’s official gifted police.”

It was hard to imagine anyone in the mafia, even Akutagawa, being foolish enough to do something like this. The upper ranks may be populated by colorful personalities and eccentrics, who took to being ordered around from very well (Chuuya) to very badly (Kajii), but no one, especially not the gifted members, could ever forget that the only reason they were allowed to roam freely was because they served a purpose.

The thought that Akutagawa would jeopardize their freedom in his single-mindedness was dizzying enough that Chuuya forgot to feel angry.

“I need him out of the city so I can do damage control and negotiate with Sakaguchi Ango and the SAD’s chief,” Mori said, still in the same tone. “And I need you out of the city in case they decide that this was the last drop. Your power puts you in a very precarious position as well. If the government chooses to start taking out dangerous ability users, you’ll be the first to go.”

“I haven’t used Corruption in years,” Chuuya replied slowly. “You know that. And I know they know I can’t use it anymore.”

“You can still use it once.”

Chuuya’s hand clenched feebly around his hat.

“Once would be enough to wipe them out, in the right circumstances.” Mori’s voice was cold. Factual. “They know it as well. Sakaguchi is protected from my wrath by the deal I made to obtain the permit—and which I will not tell you the details of,” he added, seeing the way Chuuya opened his mouth. Chuuya closed it again with a grimace. “But he never had to promise that he wouldn’t talk in return. Whatever details he knew about Corruption, he’s already told the ministry.”

Sakaguchi would have known a lot, because he had the right frequentations.

“Would you make me use it?” Chuuya asked. He had to, as much because he wanted to avoid thinking about Dazai as because his life depended on it. “If it came down to it. If it would secure victory.”

Mori didn’t answer, and he didn’t ask the obvious question either—whether Chuuya would do it if he asked.

Chuuya felt even more tired now than he had thirty minutes ago, as Higuchi knocked on his door and tore him out of his restless slumber. He placed his hat back on his head. Rolled his shoulders under the weight of his coat until his spine cracked satisfyingly.

“A vacation,” he muttered.

At least it would give him some time to get rid of just how helpless he felt.

The problem with having to pretty much keep an eye on Akutagawa’s inability to think things through was that Chuuya had no idea how to act around Akutagawa.

Akutagawa had been Dazai’s subordinate, part of the blunt, indelicate strength of the mafia. One of the many pawns handed over to Dazai for the moving. Outside of Double Black being deployed (rarely) and Dazai messing with Chuuya (often), Chuuya had next-to-no contact with the men and women that Dazai acted as the head of. Chuuya’s own competences were versatile, whether supernatural in nature or not; he had done a little bit of everything, assassination and infiltration and negotiation and torture, gaining loyalties left and right and not knowing what to do with them. It had been okay as long as he was Kouyou’s sub-executive. She always found a use for him. But Chuuya could remember panicking upon being promoted out of her jurisdiction, because he had no idea what to do with leadership.

That had lasted until he realized that a lot of people knew him and were willing to obey him. Upon finalizing his teams, he had found them to be a mix of very different people, with very different skills. Chuuya’s section of the port mafia was a jack-of-all-trades, good for blunt force and subtler jobs alike, and if Chuuya himself favored being sent to intimidate and bargain, he never said no to other sorts of work either.

Chuuya appreciated his subordinates. He knew he could trust them with what was needed. His appreciation ran double considering that he was younger than most of them, and they still followed his orders to the letter. Akutagawa’s handling had fallen under Hirotsu after Dazai’s defection, however, and Chuuya had not had to interact with him very much. They had run maybe five jobs together over the years.

He knew, intellectually, what Akutagawa was like. He knew why he was like that. It was hard to forget Dazai’s vicious glee at holding so much power over someone who looked up to him like Akutagawa did. Chuuya hadn’t interfered at the time outside of making Akutagawa get patched up on the rare occasion he found him in the aftermath of Dazai’s discipline.

He wasn’t good with words. He wasn’t good at fixing things. He had shoved Akutagawa at the nurses and doctors, left coffee by his bedside table, and told him to keep his head up. Looking back, it seemed like very little.

If was Dazai’s fault for being an asshole, but Chuuya couldn’t help but feel guilty.

He thought about it as the car took them south, much further south than Chuuya had ever been without leaving the country. Akutagawa himself didn’t sleep once during the trip. His face looked as ill under the first lights of day as it did in the sun’s bright, harsh glow. Chuuya heard him cough several times over the hours, and restrained himself from asking how he felt out of habit—he was pissed, damn it, because of Mori’s casual admittance that he would throw away Chuuya’s life if it came down to it, because he was thinking of Dazai and Sakaguchi, because Akutagawa had put them all at risk in his stupidity. He shouldn’t care if Akutagawa’s health was worse than usual when Akutagawa’s actions had enough potential to lead to Chuuya’s demise that Mori felt he would be safer away and out of touch.

He missed Kouyou. He hadn’t seen her in two months.

“Are we there yet?” Akutagawa rasped around eight.

“About an hour more,” their driver replied quietly.

Chuuya closed his eyes and wished for a cigarette.

It had taken no more than an hour to secure a room at the most expensive hotel that their hideout had to offer. If Mori was going to keep him away for a whole week, Chuuya would make him feel every yen of the bill. The weather felt warmer, damper here than in Yokohama; Chuuya hadn’t taken off his suit yet, and it was uncomfortably hot on him despite the strength of the wind. The hotel looked clean and luxurious enough, at least. Having to share a room with Akutagawa was almost worth it.

“I’m taking first shower,” he declared, letting his bag fall on his bed as soon as they were given their keys.

Akutagawa mumbled something inaudible in answer.

Chuuya took his sweet time in the bathroom. He used up every sample he could find, nose twitching at the mix of floral scents, until he knew that people would be able to smell it from outside the room. The ridiculous price of the stay at least came with good water pressure, and he was drowsier than he had felt in the last three days when he finally came out. He paid absolutely no mind to the startled inhale that Akutagawa gave from his own bed at the sight of his naked body—he kicked open his suitcase, dragged a worn-soft T-shirt and a pair of boxers out of it, dressed himself and fell face-first into the mattress.

“Don’t even think about sneaking out,” he muttered, mouth pressed onto the pillow.

There was a second of hesitation before Akutagawa replied, “I won’t.”


Chuuya was asleep within a minute.

He woke up with the sunset, predictably. He also woke up dry-mouthed and hazy-minded in the wrong way, his movements sluggish, his head full of cotton. At least the headache he sported was probably only due to hunger.

Chuuya dragged his head sideways. Akutagawa was looking at him from his bed, a book held open in his hands that he must have just stopped reading.

It was a bit of a weird picture. He didn’t know Akutagawa was capable of looking this normal.

Chuuya dragged himself to his knees, rubbing his face, chasing crust out of his eyes and dryness from around his lips. “You hungry?” he asked. His voice took a second to adjust into itself again.

“I’m fine,” Akutagawa replied evenly.

“Right.” Chuuya stretched his arms above his head and stood up. “Well, I’m hungry, and you’re coming with me.”

“I don’t—”

“I’m not letting you out of my sight after that shit you pulled, Akutagawa.”

It was more irritation than Chuuya had allowed himself to show so far. Akutagawa froze on top of the bed in that unique way he did; not so much the sudden absence of movement as the sudden impression that his stillness had turned to stone, that his skin was solid wax. Chuuya felt alert enough now to feel some guilt for it.

“Fuck,” he let out, looking away. “Just—come on, let’s get dinner.”

The restaurant downstairs was a masterpiece of bad taste—crimson walls and golden chandeliers and waiters wearing too-stiff suits—but it had come with great recommendations. Chuuya could handle the horrid décor if the food was good enough. He bumped into another client in the narrow entrance; only his drowsy, nap-heavy reflexes prevented him from grabbing the man’s hands and breaking both his wrists. Chuuya had to shake himself out of the rush of sheer adrenaline to even hear that he was being spoken to.

“Oh, sorry—”

“It’s fine,” he cut in. His eyes glanced over the man’s face—tanned, broad, absolutely non-threatening—and he added, “I wasn’t looking. My bad.”

The man chuckled. He waved cornily at the door and said, “After you.”

He had very full lips. In the shape of a smile they softened the rest of him, from thick shoulders to thick hair, every hard line fading to make way for simple mirth, and Chuuya stood staring at him for a very different reason now. Fazed out of immediacy.

Akutagawa coughed behind him. Chuuya inhaled through his nose sharply, feeling his neck and cheeks warm with blood—he walked past the man’s extended hand with a grunted, “Have a good evening.”

At least Akutagawa himself didn’t seem to have noticed anything amiss. He sat at the table that a waiter led them to looking bored out of his mind, if a little tired. Chuuya swiftly chased his embarrassment by focusing on the menu in front of him. “See anything you want?” he asked without looking up.


“Just get some soup or something, then. It’ll be good for your throat.”

Akutagawa didn’t reply, but he did order soup a minute later.

Chuuya kept his eyes mostly off of him through dinner. He had sat through too many formal meals to feel awkward around one underling from his organization, but he still didn’t know how to feel about the reason he was here. His eternal need for anger warred with the pity that always shook him when he thought of Akutagawa for too long.

Akutagawa had had Dazai for his instructor. Dazai had treated him like some sort of fucked up human experiment for years—pushing him well past his limits, kicking down his self-esteem when he wasn’t kicking down his body, making him thirst for an approval that he would never get. Chuuya was smart enough to realize that whatever his own feelings toward Dazai were now—and fuck if he knew what those were, between the irritation and nostalgia and, sometimes, grief—the boy he had grown up pulling hair with had probably left a very different memory in the mind of his disciple.

If Akutagawa valued his own life so little that he would conduct a major assassination in full view… it would make sense that he would not value anyone else enough not to do it by using his powers. Chuuya doubted Akutagawa had much knowledge of the fragile politics keeping gifted people like them free.

“What were you thinking?” he couldn’t help but ask, toying with the last of his food without eating it.

It didn’t matter that his tone was conversational, not confrontative. Akutagawa shifted on his seat, the coat around his shoulders shimmering in a recognizable way—Chuuya gave it a sharp glance, and it stopped.

“I’m not going to attack you,” he said, a tense second later. “You know why I’m here. Why we’re both here.”

Akutagawa nodded.

“I mean, you really know. Both of us have powerful and visible abilities, which means that whatever makes the public wary of ability users makes them directly wary of us. It’s different than people like… like Kajii, or whatever. If there’s a witch hunt against gifts, we’ll be first fucking targets.”

“I can take them,” Akutagawa whispered.

Chuuya snorted. “Right. The entire squad of mysterious users that the SAD’s never told us anything about, all by your lonesome.”

He expected protest, or to see Akutagawa deflect out of his own mangled sense of pride—but instead Akutagawa said, “You could take them. You’re strong.”

Chuuya probably could, given the right circumstances, as Mori had said.

He just wouldn’t live to tell the tale.

“This isn’t the problem,” he said. Then he sighed, and pushed the hair away from his forehead tiredly. “Fuck, Akutagawa—what were you thinking? Were you thinking at all? What in the world was so important about killing one guy that you had to risk putting all of us in danger?”

Chuuya had never met an ability user who did not share that same age-old, deep-seated fear of being discovered, of being hunted down. They weren’t rare, but they weren’t many. Most of them had already gone through tough lives. Even Dazai, who arguably was the least at risk if such a scenario were to happen, had always been careful about who he told. Even Mori kept the secret of his disturbing ability religiously.

Chuuya had lived in the fear of being used as a throwaway weapon since the first time he had used Corruption. Did Akutagawa have no fear of the kind?

“You’re lucky you didn’t get killed for that,” he said between his teeth. “If it were still the old boss you’d be dead and buried by now. It’s a good thing Mori values you.”

He never liked to talk about those times, but the comparison felt accurate.

He ignored the burn of Akutagawa’s curiosity on his face and instead watched over the rest of the ugly dining hall. The murmur of conversation was low enough that Chuuya knew people would have to strain to hear each other, let alone to hear them. He blinked at the sight of the man from earlier eating only three tables away and glanced away quickly, once he caught his eyes.

“I will do better next time,” Akutagawa said at last.

He didn’t apologize. He didn’t even sound regretful.

Chuuya replied, “You do that.”

Akutagawa spent the first two days being extremely obedient. He didn’t try to escape Chuuya’s attention, though Chuuya admittedly did not watch him as closely as he should; he didn’t cause a disturbance at the hotel, though he must be itching for a fight. He seemed to have packed a whole library’s worth of books, something Chuuya had stopped finding surprising after watching him close the third one and take another from an entirely separate bag than the one holding his clothes.

Chuuya himself had been busy writing up reports he was late on and reading the ones given to him by Gin when he had come back from Hokkaido. He was done with it by the third morning, though, with no way of contacting anyone from home to ask for more work. His only means of reaching them was a burner phone that he wasn’t supposed to use unless extreme emergency rose up.

The boredom was going to fucking kill him.

“Come on,” he announced as noon rolled by, bright and stuffy-warm, “let’s at least try the beach.”

He practically felt Akutagawa tense up on his side of the room. “No.”

“I need fresh air. You need fresh air.”

“The window’s open,” Akutagawa replied, coughing into his hand.

Chuuya stopped pacing to stare at him. Akutagawa was awfully thin under his clothes. The bones of his wrists looked a second away from piercing out of his skin, his face was deathly pale, his eyes sunk in and bruised. The fact that their color was rather agreeable weighed very little compared to how ill he looked.

“Akutagawa,” Chuuya said. “I don’t care if you go there fully dressed, but you’re going. That’s an order.”

Akutagawa glared at him but did not question him. He had been trained too well, terrified too well, into thinking that anything he could say against authority had the potential to bring volatile responses.

Chuuya found himself wishing that he would stand up to him, at least for something this small.

He did end up following after Chuuya fully clothed—barefoot in the sand and his eyes covered with sunglasses but with his coat over his shoulders. The weather was still mild enough, if on the warmer side—it was only May—but Akutagawa must be suffocating anyway. There was a very fine sheen of sweat at his brow.

“I think you should know,” Chuuya told him, lying down onto a towel, “you look ridiculous.”

“I will not disarm myself for such trivial pleasures.”

“Your ability’s so fucking weird, man.”

Akutagawa hid himself from the sun under one of the hotel’s wide umbrellas, ten meters back from where Chuuya lay, as close to the hotel’s entrance as humanly possible. He took a book out of his pocket and buried himself in it. Chuuya rolled his eyes at the sight and fell down onto the sand once more.

It didn’t feel bad at all. His boredom didn’t alleviate—it wouldn’t for the next five days, Chuuya knew with burning irritation—but the hotel wasn’t too populated at this time of the year. The private beach they were on counted only them and four families. The sound of their children’s laughter was distant, a murmur like the waves; Chuuya found himself relaxing under the warmth of the sun and against the soft sand now taking the shape of his back.

There was nothing quite like letting the sea air drag every knot of tension out of him like this. Chuuya hadn’t visited any of Yokohama’s beaches for pleasure in years, though he always enjoyed the sea. The last time he could remember doing it was before Dazai had been promoted, when he was around sixteen. And then had been nothing more than a skinny dip at night by the harbor, because he and Dazai had been so covered in blood that they couldn’t afford to be seen even by the moonlight.

Five years now.

“I was wondering if I’d find you here,” a voice said above him.

Chuuya’s eyes snapped open, his hand flying to his unarmed hip, his ability flowing warmly right under his skin.

A man stood by his side. Naked except for his swimwear, glistening with seawater, his full lips stretched into that same smile that had given Chuuya pause days ago. It gave him pause now as well, sticking him to the ground for a long second before he found the presence of mind to sit up. A quick glance behind informed him that Akutagawa was still as engrossed in his book as he had been minutes ago.

“Did you need something?” Chuuya asked, looking at man again.

The man’s grin grew. “Nothing,” he replied. “We saw each other a couple days ago. There’s really not many people staying here at this time of the year, and I haven’t seen you since, so I was wondering where you were.”

“Well, I’m here,” Chuuya said lowly. “I hope your curiosity’s satisfied.”

“Not in the least. I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with me for a while longer. You made quite an impression, you see.”

It was just corny enough that Chuuya quirked a quick smile. The stranger beamed at the sight of it, and if Chuuya felt warm now, it wasn’t because of the sun.

“Murata Motoi,” the stranger said, extending a hand downward.

Chuuya grasped it without hesitation. Rather than shake it, he pulled down, making Murata stumble for a fraction of time before finding his footing and helping him up as intended. There was easy strength in him, enough to resist Chuuya’s own and carry him all the way up; Chuuya let his eyes run over him, over the thick evidence of training very different from his own. Chuuya was built for battle, for the kill. This man was built for show and sports.

It didn’t mean the feeling of his sea-wet skin under Chuuya’s fingertips wasn’t appreciated.

“Chuuya,” he replied, dropping the man’s hand. He was standing close enough now that there was no pretense of innocent friendliness on Murata’s face—his eyes raked over Chuuya’s mostly-naked body with evident intent. They both knew why he was here.

“Just Chuuya?” he asked.


“Alright,” Murata said. “What brings you to this place off-season, then, Chuuya?”

“I do have an answer for that: it’s none of your business.”

Murata laughed good-naturedly. The heat that crawled up Chuuya’s face at the sight was a little pathetic—he didn’t do Murata’s type, not really, not ever. In all his trysts Chuuya had been drawn to soft men with smirking lips, men who were only too happy to let him have his way with them until they were flushed and breathless. He didn’t think Murata was looking for this from him.

No, the way Murata looked at him spoke of a very different kind of want. One that Chuuya hadn’t allowed anyone to indulge with him for way too long. He didn’t know if what he felt at the thought was thrilled or wary.

“You’re not here alone,” Murata commented.

His eyes were on Akutagawa. He must’ve seen them together at dinner two days ago. They had kept to their room since then, ordering food to be brought up, but Chuuya knew their appearances were striking enough to be remembered from a glance.

“A relative of mine,” Chuuya said. He looked at the sea after that.

Murata seemed satisfied with his answer. “Well, it’s lovely to meet you,” he declared. “Will you be staying here long?”

“Five more days.”

“May I ask for one evening out of the five?”

Chuuya glanced at him in faint surprise. “You’re a little forward, aren’t you.”

“Do you dislike it?” Murata grinned.

It made Chuuya want to huff in amusement, made him want to blush, made him want to drag his eyes over Murata’s body again. He couldn’t quite help himself from doing that anyway. The drying water on Murata’s skin had left traces of salt behind that shook without quite falling off with every breath he took, every swell of his carefully chiseled chest. Chuuya’s tongue stung with the idea of tasting it.

“I’m still deciding,” he replied at last.

He could feel the weight of Akutagawa’s eyes on him, now. He knew he would find him staring if he turned to look. Chuuya was stubborn enough not to feel any sort of shame out of it, but Murata didn’t know Akutagawa like he did—he had no idea that Chuuya could sentence him to death for a wrong comment if he so wished. His face turned less openly eager, and he backed a step away.

“I’m serious about the evening,” Murata said, a little more softly now. “Just dinner would be enough.”

“Really,” Chuuya drawled.

Murata smiled at him. “Really,” he replied. “I wasn’t joking about the curiosity.”

That changed the game a little. As flattering as the attention was, Chuuya didn’t trust Akutagawa on his own long enough for a fuck, let alone for dinner beforehand. Just because Mori wanted to act like this was a vacation didn’t mean Chuuya had forgotten any of his words, spoken or not.

If damage control went awry, those could be his last days as a free man. Their last days as free men. It put quite a damper on the mood.

“Sorry,” Chuuya said, taking his glasses off. The sun was veering toward the west already, not burning quite so brightly on the waves. He gave Murata a sincere enough smile. “I don’t think that’s gonna be possible.”

He wasn’t sure what to expect out of Murata at the rejection. In Chuuya’s experience, these things could go from very well to very annoying—one person had fumed at him for well over an hour, once, a student from a group sharing the bar that Chuuya had gone to a year or so ago. Chuuya had heard him insult him every possible way to his friends and sped his drinking up to make himself unable to pick a fight. The kid was probably dumb enough to try and take him on if he did. But Murata did none of that, simply bowed his head with quirked lips and said, “May I ask you again tomorrow?”

Chuuya couldn’t have stopped his laughter if his life depended on it.

It didn’t matter that Akutagawa stared even harder. Murata was confident, that was obvious—confident enough to make a fool of himself and confident in his sexuality—and Chuuya liked that, more than he knew how to say. If this were truly a vacation, he would’ve taken him up on his offer. He knew himself enough to admit it.

“You may,” he told Murata, walking past him and squeezing his shoulder. His hand was barely big enough to cover the width of it. “But don’t get your hopes up, yeah?”

The next few days would’ve been amusing if not for one thing.

Chuuya took to going back to the beach every afternoon. Boredom was still eating at him most of the time, so he shared his days between making use of the frankly underwhelming work-out equipment stored in one of the hotel’s groundfloor rooms, strolling through the city with Akutagawa shadowing his steps, and napping under the sun. Murata found a way to cross paths with him at least once a day despite his obviously busy schedule—whatever it was that he was here to do in the first place—and every time, their exchanges went the same.

“Dinner tonight?” Murata asked, hopeful.

“No,” Chuuya answered.

He couldn’t help but grin as he said it. That was the brighter part of his day, alongside the nice tan he was getting.

The less appreciated part of it was Akutagawa himself.

He had been morose after that first afternoon at the beach. He still came with Chuuya wherever Chuuya went, commenting on everything in that haughty, dragging voice of his. He still obeyed orders, though Chuuya made a point not to utter too many of them. Akutagawa being physically unable to stand up to him was not something he liked to be reminded of. The problem, Chuuya thought on the fifth day, was that Akutagawa was brooding.

It was impossible to tell whether it was because of the forced distance with the port mafia or something else. All Chuuya knew was that Akutagawa often looked at him, and that it felt like glaring but wasn’t, not really. Whatever Akutagawa was displeased with, it had to do with Chuuya himself.

And Chuuya was never very good at avoiding confrontation.

“Do you have a problem, Akutagawa?” Chuuya said that same evening.

He was laid on his unmade bed with one of Akutagawa’s books in hand. It was a fairytale sort of story, a foreign novel about a little girl with a greed for reading, not something he would have expected Akutagawa to enjoy. Though, to be fair, Chuuya had no idea what Akutagawa enjoyed. His liking escapism and happy endings maybe wasn’t so far-fetched. Akutagawa had finished that book earlier during the day, and he hadn’t said anything when Chuuya picked it up from his bedside table.

Akutagawa had been staring at him for the better part of an hour now. Chuuya had distracted himself with the story’s quick-witted humor for most of it, but now his head was thrumming with explosive energy, his fingers curling and uncurling as it wanting to make fists.

How ironic, that he was the one itching for a fight now.

“I do not,” Akutagawa replied flatly.

“Really,” Chuuya said. He let the book fall next to his pillow and sat up to face him; the gaze Akutagawa leveled with him was wary, not entirely different from the usual except for that hint of displeasure. “Because I’m getting really fucking tired of whatever it is you’re too afraid to tell me,” he continued. “If it’s a glaring contest you want, I’m game.”

Akutagawa held strong for a moment longer before looking away. Chuuya clicked his tongue, irritated with him for his avoidance, with himself for being pushy—with Dazai for creating that fucking atmosphere in the first place, loose-limbed asshole with no value for genuine loyalty that he was.

Chuuya dearly hoped that wherever he was now, Dazai was doing some serious soul-searching. If he wasn’t dead.

He must be more on edge than he thought if he was starting to think about this again.

“Whatever your issue is,” Chuuya said roughly, “you better man up and deal with it soon. I’m tired of you staring at me like I’ve offended you or something when the only reason we’re stuck here is because of you.”

He stood up from the bed before witnessing the inevitable stricken expression Akutagawa would make. He felt guilty, though he knew, objectively that he had no reason to be. There was too much pity in him for who Akutagawa had grown up to be not to look at him and want to walk on eggshells.

Chuuya dressed himself a little more smartly, wishing he could be alone for a moment but not saying anything as he heard Akutagawa get out of his bed as well, ready to follow him. Taking a walk some respectable distance away from him should cool him off well enough.

He wasn’t expecting Akutagawa to ask, “Are you involved with that man?”

Chuuya’s hand stilled on the handle of the door. He looked at Akutagawa again.

It was too dark to see much—dark enough that Chuuya wondered how he had managed to read so long without turning on the lights—but Akutagawa looked as close to apprehensive as he could get. He met Chuuya’s eyes sideways, his profile to Chuuya, as if he wanted to be ready to flee.

What the fuck, Chuuya thought. His chest felt tight, his palms cold.

“Is that your problem?” he asked evenly.

Akutagawa bristled and said, “Let’s just go.”

“No.” Chuuya dropped the handle and turned his back to the door to lean against it fully. Through the misty quality of his shock he could feel simmering outrage, just out of reach for now. “Go on, Akutagawa,” he said easily. “Tell me all about it. You wanna know if I’ve fucked him yet? Is that what’s been bothering you so much? You can’t even fucking look at me in the eye, can you.”

He really hadn’t expected Akutagawa’s looks to be ones of disgust. Akutagawa had always struck Chuuya as someone who didn’t have the ability to care about something like this one way or the other. The thought that he had been stared at in disapproval for being gay, of all things, was—

Chuuya didn’t talk about this much, but he didn’t hide it either. He was never one to hide who he was. Some people knew, some didn’t, and whatever rumors ran about him, he was blissfully unaware of. No one in the port mafia so far had been stupid enough to raise this as an issue with him.

He couldn’t get rid of the painful pace of his heart no matter how calmly he breathed.

“This isn’t a holiday,” Akutagawa replied, voice thin. “You shouldn’t waste time on frivolities.”

Chuuya closed his eyes.

“You know what,” he said slowly. “Fuck this. I’m taking a walk, alone. You stay here, or do whatever the fuck you want, and I better not hear about this again when I come back. I better not find out you pulled any dangerous shit either.”

He pulled the door open before Akutagawa could say a word and slammed it shut behind himself.

The walk didn’t calm him down as much as he wanted. Chuuya headed for the beach straight away, and it was empty now, gleaming quietly under the stars. Nothing made him feel as estranged from home as the sight of them spreading so widely over the ink-black sky. Yokohama always glowed too much to allow them to shine through.

He filled himself with the sound of the waves and the occasional whisper of running cars. He walked so far off that he found actual habitations, instead of empty luxury hotels. On the detour he took from the city itself he heard the muffled beat of music pouring from a window. He saw silhouettes leaning over balconies and heard excited chatter. It was a Saturday night, he realized. The kind of night he avoided going out himself because the places he favored for a drink filled themselves with students, and Chuuya could sleep with a lot of people, but he drew the line at those.

The lobby of the hotel was unlit when he came back hours later. His legs aching satisfactorily enough, Chuuya leaned against the door and rummaged through his pockets absently; he dragged out a pack of cigarettes that turned out to be empty and sighed, letting his head fall against the wall.

He almost jumped when a hand entered his field of vision.

For a second he blinked without a word at the brand-new pack held between its fingers. Then his eyes slid sideways to its owner and met Murata’s full-mouthed grin.

“Fancy one?” Murata asked quietly.

Chuuya felt his lips stretch despite himself. “Yeah,” he replied, taking the pack from Murata’s hand. He allowed tingles to run up his arm at the brush of their knuckles without saying a word of it, making quick work of the plastic wrapping and sliding a cigarette out. Murata held up a lighter in front of him, and Chuuya smiled fondly, thinking of the many ways he would maim anyone else bringing a flame this close to his face even as he leaned down to let it catch onto paper. “Thanks,” he added after his first inhale.

The smoke crawled down his lungs warmly, slowing his heartbeat, making the raw hitch of anger melt out of his mind.

He watched in silence as Murata lit one for himself, but then he couldn’t stop himself from commenting, “I didn’t think you smoked. Kind of breaks the whole sports junkie aesthetic thing you have going.”

“One of my many bad habits,” Murata replied easily. “Like trying to pick up people way out of my league—I can’t help it.”

Chuuya snorted. “If those are your only two bad habits I think you’re doing pretty good.”

Murata bowed theatrically.

“I’m sorry I didn’t catch you before dinner,” he said a moment later. “Though, I’m assuming you would have said no again.”

“You assume right.”

“Dinner tomorrow, then?”

Chuuya gave him a glance more amused than annoyed, and Murata accepted the answer with good grace. He didn’t say anything as Murata leaned next to him against the wall. They weren’t close enough to touch, but Chuuya felt warmth emanate from him anyway, running up the skin of his bare arm and settling like pressure at his nape.

It wasn’t unpleasant in the least.

“Still, I get to see you now,” Murata murmured. “The nights are always beautiful here at this time of the year, but I have to say I haven’t stood through one in such pleasant company before.”

“Boy, you really are desperate,” Chuuya replied dryly, though his face was warm.

“Not the most desperate you’ve met, surely.” Murata shifted a little closer, in a move eager enough to be endearing. “I can’t imagine that you haven’t turned worse heads than mine in the past,” he continued. Chuuya felt the air come out of his mouth, knew without looking that Murata’s head was turned toward him as he spoke. “You look lovely, Chuuya.”

Chuuya smoked without answering. He wasn’t—he knew how he looked. He wasn’t ashamed of it, he knew how to use it, though never how to weaponize it like some of his subordinates could. Sex for him was something he refused to use that way. It was something he sought whenever the mood arose, something he partook in at his own discretion.

It felt good to have someone like Murata compliment him like this. It felt good to be called lovely, to be wanted so honestly. Chuuya knew he would enjoy sleeping with him, and he knew Murata would enjoy it as well. But it wouldn’t fix the yearning he felt for something more—something he couldn’t imagine himself having with anyone.

“Look, Murata,” he started.

“Call me Motoi, please.”

Chuuya hesitated. “Motoi,” he relented, taking another drag of smoke. He exhaled it slowly before turning his head to meet the man’s eyes. “You’re cute. I’d probably take you up on your offer if things were different, but they aren’t.” He clenched his teeth at the memory of Akutagawa’s words. “I’ll be gone in two days, so just—forget it and move on. I’m sure the next guy will be more than happy to have dinner with you.”

He saw Motoi’s eyes look over his face slowly. The nightlight was just dim enough to make out the shadows and lines of his face, not the color of his eyes. Chuuya knew that they were brown, though. Warm, open, reminiscent of other eyes—ones he hadn’t seen in years, ones he had never seen look at him like this.

He wasn’t entirely ready to admit to himself that the reason he rejected Motoi so much had little to do with duty.

“Well,” Motoi said. “I never really expected you to say yes. I’m sorry for insisting. It was fun to ask you.”

“Yeah, it was.”

Chuuya knew a creep when he saw one, and Motoi was anything but a creep. His insistence had been a game. One they had both enjoyed.

Motoi’s lips quirked at the reassurance. “I’m actually here on family business,” he said. Chuuya blinked at him wordlessly, surprised by the jump in topic. “I live in Tokyo. My aunt, who’s spent her entire life here, died a couple weeks ago. Her funeral was today.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Chuuya muttered.

Motoi waved a hand lazily. “Don’t be. I hated her. She was very wealthy, however, so I had to play nice with her my whole life, or my parents would’ve had my head.” He hummed for a second, deep in thought. “It payed off—she’s left me quite the inheritance.”

It made Chuuya grin lopsidedly. “I like that attitude,” he said.

“I thought you might,” Motoi replied, falsely humble. “Anyway, what I meant to say was that I could never really be myself in this place before that. Whenever I came here, I had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. I’d bring a female friend on my arm and tell my aunt we were thinking of having children, of getting married. She never saw through the lie, thankfully. She would not have let me see her again if she knew I’d never touched a woman in my life.”

It wasn’t something Chuuya had ever had to deal with, but he felt empathetic all the same. There was a familiarity to the tale that he carried deep beneath his skin, no matter that he had never lived it. It was the sort of inheritance people like them were given.

So many of the men he had bedded had told him similar stories. So many of the women he knew bore wounds of the same kind, deeper than any scars, carved into their livid souls.

“It felt good to come here and not care about that for a change,” Motoi went on, looking at him intently. “I got to come alone, I got to talk to a beautiful man without giving a damn what people would say.” His hand lifted again slowly, hovering by Chuuya’s face. Chuuya didn’t move away as it touched his cheek warmly. “So thank you for playing along. If it were anyone else I probably would have been more subtle about it, but you’re really very lovely.”

Motoi’s palm fit itself against the full of Chuuya’s cheek, his fingers bypassing his ear to tread through the fine hair behind it.

Chuuya closed his eyes. He sucked in the last of the cigarette and let the lit stub fall to the ground, and he smothered the ember beneath the sole of his shoe, heard it sizzle out of existence. Then he grabbed the front of Motoi’s shirt and pulled him closer, tiptoeing to even out their difference in height.

He had known that this man’s lips were made for kissing, and he confirmed it then, crushing them under his.

It was a full minute later that he pulled back, mouth tingling from being bitten and Motoi gripping him at the hips. “Fuck dinner,” he said. His hands stroked down the powerful swell of Motoi’s shoulder blades, the hard imprint of his muscles through soft fabric and rough skin. “And fuck you for that sob story. I don’t fucking fall for emotional manipulation.”

“I knew there was a heart of gold under that tough guy act,” Motoi grinned, satisfied.

It made Chuuya laugh, loud and bright in the silence. “That’s the wrongest thing you’ve said about me so far,” he replied heatedly.

Chuuya woke up in Motoi’s room the next morning, the previous night’s stress thoroughly fucked out of him, Motoi stroking his naked back. He stretched until his spine arched pleasantly, until Motoi himself gave a hum of appreciation and pulled him close, and in the press of his wide hips, the drag of his coarse hair, Chuuya found the mood for vacation at last.

It lasted until he heard the tone of the burner phone ring from under the clothes he had taken out the day before. Motoi was now in the middle of pressing open-mouthed kisses onto his shoulders, and Chuuya pushed him away, muttering, “I have to take this,” before stepping out of the bed.

He didn’t recognize the number, but he recognized the voice.

“How is the south treating you, lad?”

“Ane-san,” Chuuya breathed out, lips curling into a smile immediately. He could feel Motoi staring at him, but there was little of chance of that attention directed to what he said more than how naked he was, he knew. He shifted to sit on the floor, wincing slightly at the ache in his backside. “It’s okay, just boring as fuck. What’s going on? I thought you’d be too busy to call.”

“I thought so too, but I volunteered to bring you up to date,” Kouyou replied. “Ougai-dono is done prodding the waters. It seems the man Akutagawa took out was very hated by his peers—witnesses have been dealt with, and the one trace of video evidence has been erased. Someone will come to fetch you both tomorrow.”

“Thank fucking God.”

“Language.” She didn’t seem too worked up about it, though. She never did. “Did you manage to get some rest?”

Chuuya met Motoi’s eyes across the room and smirked. Motoi smiled back, looking confused.

“I did,” he replied.

Kouyou hung up shortly after. They weren’t meant to use this line for social calls. Chuuya felt lighter anyway, with the knowledge that only a measly twenty-four hours separated him from departure, with having talked to Kouyou for the first time in more than a week. He would find some time to visit her when he was back.

Motoi said nothing as Chuuya dressed himself back up, though he watched with appreciation. “I have to get back to my relative,” Chuuya said, tying up his shirt.

“No time for a second go at it?”

Chuuya smiled fleetingly. “No,” he replied.

He stepped closer to the bed and lifted a hand. It was sweet to see Motoi lean into the feeling when Chuuya’s fingers ran through his short hair roughly, but then he tried to grab Chuuya’s hand and pull him down, and Chuuya didn’t allow it.

“You’re leaving tomorrow,” Motoi said.

Chuuya’s hand left his head entirely. “I should kill you for overhearing that call,” he replied.

“I don’t doubt it.”

Motoi had given very little evidence of having noticed Chuuya’s scars, but there was no way he hadn’t seen them. They were too obvious, to the eyes and to the touch, turning his skin rough in places and inhumanly smooth in others. It was possible Motoi had even garnered that Chuuya was built the way he was from martial arts. If he had, he hadn’t said anything.

Chuuya looked at him thoughtfully. Motoi wasn’t showing any apprehension despite his words, arrogant bastard that he was. He really was underestimating Chuuya.

He wasn’t dangerous, though. Chuuya might as well let him.

“So, since this is your last day, and you’re leaving me here all by myself after barely giving me a taste…” Chuuya wanted to smile, to snipe that he had given way more than just a taste, but Motoi spoke again before he could say it. “Dinner tonight?”

“Fucking hell,” Chuuya grinned. “You never fucking give up, do you.”

“I’m not known for it, no.”

“Learn to take a hint, man.”

Motoi leered at him from head to toe in lieu of an answer.

There was laughter lodged at the back of Chuuya’s mouth, warm and sated, from the sex and the company. “Dinner tonight,” he confirmed, and though he bent down over Motoi, he avoided his lips to press his mouth to the man’s cheek instead.

He stole Motoi’s cigarettes on his way out of the room.

Motoi was at the very opposite of where he and Akutagawa were housed. It gave perspective to the efforts he must have put into finding Chuuya every day. The complex was huge, several buildings’ worth of the kind of obnoxious luxury Chuuya could only suffer in small doses. A private beach, two private pools. Casinos and betting rooms and a four-star restaurant so ugly that if not for its reputation, no one in their right mind would come. After a week in the place Chuuya was more than ready to start living out of Kouyou’s cellar again.

Chuuya took a break when he reached the wide lobby, already populated despite the early hour. The sun rose higher over the pink sea in the lapse of time it took him to smoke twice. He stared at the ocean until his eyes ached from it, until bright spots burned into his eyesight everywhere else he looked.

He hadn’t expected to find Akutagawa in the room when he finally made it back, but he did.

For a long second they both stared at each other. Chuuya felt too well-rested to gather up enough energy for anger—he was drowsy, he felt, his body lax from Motoi’s handling and his mind clearer than it had been all week—and, judging by Akutagawa’s face, he wasn’t as strung-up as he had been the previous evening.

“You didn’t sleep here,” he still commented uselessly.

Chuuya shrugged. “I got a call from headquarters,” he replied, crossing the room to get to his bed. He fell down on it with a sigh. “Someone’ll be here to fetch us tomorrow morning, so this is our last day in each other’s presence.”

Akutagawa seemed to hesitate for a second before answering, “Good.”

It really made no sense how disappointed Chuuya felt at that.

He knew he hadn’t done his best to help Akutagawa when he really needed it. He had been young himself, but even then he had known that what Dazai was doing was wrong. Sending Akutagawa to get patched up once a month wasn’t enough when he could’ve grabbed that bull by the horns and taken it up with Dazai himself. He had been part of the few people Dazai ever listened to, once. That had changed slowly in the months before his defection, but Chuuya still should have talked to him about it. Akutagawa had ample reason to resent him for not trying—no matter what about him he chose to resent.

“Were you with that man?” Akutagawa asked lowly.

Chuuya stood up from the bed.

Akutagawa himself never startled physically, but his ability did it for him, Rashoumon bristling over his shoulders like a fearful cat’s fur. Chuuya reminded himself that Akutagawa was not someone he wanted to pick up a fight with—that not only would the fight be unsatisfactory, it would also be unfair from the start. Akutagawa was too trained to take a superior officer’s blows and think them justified.

“Akutagawa,” he said in a tired voice, “I don’t give a shit what you have to say about me. I really don’t.” The fact that this was a lie grated at him more than any insult Akutagawa could come up with. “So now that I’m pretty sure you got the memo about keeping a low profile until we get home, I’m gonna stay out of your way. This way you don’t have to see me doing anything you find disgusting, and I don’t have to deal with your opinion either.”

Akutagawa’s mouth opened and closed without sound. He very nearly looked confused.

“Is that an acceptable arrangement?” Chuuya asked slowly.

“I—yes,” Akutagawa said. His voice was low and even as always, but his sparse eyebrows were furrowed, his gaze on Chuuya more tentative than it had been even when Chuuya was giving him orders. “But… why—”

It was weird to see him struggle. Chuuya couldn’t remember Akutagawa ever being less than eloquent, even beaten to a pulp, even missing teeth.

“I don’t understand,” Akutagawa settled for.

“You never will,” Chuuya replied flatly.

Akutagawa looked more frightened, for a second, than Chuuya had ever seen him.

Dinner with Motoi was a surprisingly charming affair.

Chuuya didn’t catch sign of Akutagawa for the entire day. He was caught on his way back from the beach by an arm around his back, and if it had been anyone else, this arm would have been lost; but Motoi only laughed at the second of jumpiness that Chuuya gave out before relaxing, and told him to meet him in an hour. Akutagawa wasn’t in the room when Chuuya went there to get a change of clothes, but his books and clothes were, and the room felt warm, still, from his presence. He must have only gone out a few minutes before.

Chuuya had expected Motoi to be even more crass than he was the whole week. Motoi seemed like the kind of person who acted out of contradictory spirit. It would make sense, Chuuya thought, that he would find himself subjected to (not unwelcome) advances of a dirtier kind in a more refined environment.

Yet Motoi never did anything more than making sure his glass was full, than asking small questions that Chuuya would not—could not—answer. He asked where Chuuya lived, and Chuuya said nothing. He asked if Chuuya had any family, and Chuuya smiled, silent. Motoi only looked at him fondly through each refusal. He seemed like a child with a locked box he didn’t have the key to; too resigned to do more than poke it with his fingers, now that all his efforts at actually opening it had proved useless.

Chuuya drank, and ate, and told himself he didn’t find that endearing.

Motoi didn’t try to touch him in public. For all that he had said the night before, he seemed reluctant to be more overt than the usual. They gathered looks as it was, and though Chuuya had no care for them, Motoi didn’t do more through the meal than lightly brush his hand over Chuuya’s wrist once.

It was all so chaste. So proper. So very ironic considering that Chuuya had already let Motoi fuck him over his bed, had already lain under him naked as the day he was born, his thighs squeezing Motoi’s hips through every rocking motion they gave. The memory flushed his face more agreeably than the wine did; it made him want to chuckle, lowly, like a man n the brink of murder.

“You’re making a very sinister expression,” Motoi told him then.

“I always look sinister.”

“Keep telling yourself that, love.”

Chuuya let the pet name slide only because he already felt warm with alcohol, buzzed through every limb, his tongue dry with the taste of it. He figured a man with the ability to make him come as he had the night before deserved the right to call him love.

They left the restaurant sometime around midnight. They were the last ones to do so. Motoi accepted a cigarette out of the pack that Chuuya had stolen with good grace, not asking for it back, though his eyebrows lifted at the sight of it. He leaned into the flame cradled in Chuuya’s palm to light it—took Chuuya’s hand in his once he was done, pressed his lips to the back of his knuckles like something come out of a movie.

“You ever heard of too much?” Chuuya asked, hot in the neck and lips twitching.

“I’ve just become a very rich man,” Motoi replied with a smile. “Forgive me for wanting to indulge every single one of my fantasies.”

“I can’t believe I let you fuck me.”

“And what a fucking it was.” Motoi had the audacity to sound dreamy. “You really are a fantasy, you know, Chuuya. Several of them. I always thought I’d end up sleeping with a criminal one day, but I didn’t think it would happen by the beach, in one of the country’s most expensive hotels, or that the criminal in question would be quite so handsome.”

Chuuya took a drag of his cigarette, his eyes fixed onto Motoi, and said nothing.

Motoi’s smile turned whimsical. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m not going to ask.”

“You play a dangerous game, Murata,” Chuuya muttered. Every word came out with smoke, hovering in the night air and stretching over their heads like a ship’s sail. “I’m lenient with you because I know you’re harmless, but you better not try that shit with someone else. You’ll end up with a bullet through the head.”

“Duly noted,” Motoi replied, lilting.

He was still underestimating the situation, but Chuuya let it go. He couldn’t do anything about Motoi’s fascination with danger and, apparently, near-death experiences.

They let minutes drag by in silence, pressed comfortably close together against the backdoor of the hotel’s restaurant. The sea spread to the horizon at their right. Chuuya looked at it as he breathed in the last of the smoke, his eyes lost into the myriads of shifting stars reflected onto the water; he felt the weight of Motoi’s eyes at his nape almost physically.

“I should go back,” he said without looking at him.

He threw the stub at the nearest trash can. It flew in a perfect arc into the air, aided by his ability, its red glow indiscernible from the ember’s own.

“No second night, then,” Motoi commented softly.

“I don’t do second nights.”

Chuuya let his head shift from one side to the other against the wall. Motoi’s smile was kind, if a little disappointed. “I guess I should count myself lucky that you allowed me dinner at all,” he said.

“Yeah,” Chuuya replied simply.

His blunt honesty was accepted with a chuckle. Chuuya saw Motoi’s eyes drag down from his own to rest upon his mouth instead; he didn’t make a move, either to accept or reject it, curious to see what Motoi would do.

He didn’t do anything.

“Well, it’s been lovely,” he said, looking at Chuuya’s eyes once more and pushing away from the wall. Chuuya followed suit wordlessly. “You’ll be putting many of my future escapades to shame.”

“That is such a shitty thing to say,” Chuuya pointed out, though his lips were curving up at the corner. “I didn’t come here to be objectified.”

“I guess you’ll just have to deal with it,” Motoi replied in good humor.

Chuuya shook his head at him. He grabbed the still-full bottle that Motoi was carrying by the neck, the one Motoi had probably intended for the both of them to share over his bed, naked and languid after fucking once more. Motoi let him have it without protest, looking only slightly resigned. He blinked in surprise, however, when Chuuya slid the packet of cigarettes into his breast pocket as if paying his due.

“Good night,” Chuuya said.

Motoi replied after staring at him for another second. “Good night, Chuuya.”

Akutagawa was sitting on his bed when Chuuya made it back to the room. His back was a line straight enough to look painful, his face pale even in the dark. He looked more nervous than he did when Chuuya had left this morning.

“I wish to speak with you,” he said, as soon as Chuuya set foot into the room.

Chuuya paused in his steps.

Akutagawa in that moment wore the same sort of ferocity that he did in the thick of battle—bloodstained, unseeing, Rashoumon’s back swelling behind his to make him look bigger and more frightening. Rashoumon was moving now, shifting over his shoulders in tiny waves, but Chuuya didn’t get the impression that it wanted to attack. That Akutagawa wanted to attack.

He couldn’t ever remember Akutagawa making a request before.

“Sure,” he replied.

Akutagawa didn’t relax, or hunch over, or show any sign that Chuuya’s acceptance was welcome. If anything he tensed even further. Chuuya hesitated by the door, torn between staying as he was or sitting on his own bed, putting a greater distance between them. Akutagawa’s discomfort was so palpable that he could feel it in his neck.

In the end he let himself fall down onto the bed right next to him. He opened the bottle with a flick of his wrist and handed it aside as a peace offering.

Akutagawa took it after another tense moment.

“What did you wanna talk about?” Chuuya asked. He dragged his shoes off with his toes as Akutagawa drank, smiling faintly over the unhappy sound that escaped the other’s throat at the taste. This wine was a very strong red—bitter, sharp, something to let sit in a glass for a while before taking the first sip. It was insult to consume it directly from the bottle.

He drank from it anyway, once Akutagawa handed it back.

“I wanted to inform you that I understand your frustration with me,” Akutagawa said with the air of someone heading for the gallows. “I was—careless, in how I handled my last mission. It won’t happen again.”

“Apology accepted,” Chuuya muttered.

Akutagawa’s shoulder twitched, the black of his cloak glowing crimson for a bare second.

“Listen, I don’t know what’s going on in your head ninety-nine percent of the time,” he said. “I know you’ve got issues. I know you want to prove yourself, but you don’t have to. You really don’t have to. Not like this.”

“I do have to,” Akutagawa replied roughly.

There was no way for Chuuya to untangle that knot no matter how many times he tried. He sighed before speaking again. “Well, find another way, then. Because exposing yourself and your ability like this is only going to give the government more incentive to start hunting us down.”

“I can—”

“This isn’t about you,” Chuuya snapped.

Akutagawa fell silent with a short inhale.

“Fuck—damn it. Sorry. I didn’t mean to get pissy.” Chuuya looked away from Akutagawa’s wide-eyed stare, drinking another sip of too-strong wine before forcing the bottle back in Akutagawa’s hands. “It’s not about whether or not you can take them,” he said. “It’s about everyone who can’t take them. It’s about our organization. Do you really want us to have to disappear—do you want to go back to living in the streets, Akutagawa?”

This wasn’t a story he had gotten out of Akutagawa himself. Gin spoke very little, but when she did, she was honest; she was straightforward and unashamed in a way her brother could never be, not with Dazai’s influence. Gin had told Chuuya tidbits of her childhood, of their childhood, over the years.

“I don’t,” Akutagawa replied eventually.

Chuuya nodded. “You have to start thinking of the bigger picture,” he said. “At least for this. Otherwise it won’t matter how successful you are at your job, you’ll just jeopardize everything anyway.”

“I will… take this into account.”

He sounded so stiff as he said it. Even as he drank, even as Chuuya glimpsed the first tell-tale flush of blood under his skin from the strength of the wine, it was as though every word was spoken from the very edge of his lips. It was as though he couldn’t stand to say them to Chuuya.

“I know you don’t want to hear it from me,” Chuuya made himself say. “And I get it. I do. I don’t like it, but you’re right to resent me, and I can deal with it. But this is bigger than just the both of us.”

“Why would I resent you?”

The words took a long time to register in Chuuya’s head. He thought for sure they must be wrong—distorted by the wine or the proximity—but Akutagawa was looking at him with a frown, looking as confused as he had this very morning.

“What?” Chuuya said.

“Why would I resent you?” Akutagawa repeated, taking the word as an order.

“I—” Chuuya’s mouth closed for a second, his teeth hitting together loudly in the silence of the room. “Because I never helped you?” he tried.

“Helped me with what?”

Chuuya stared at him, bewildered. “With Dazai,” he said. “Of course.”

Akutagawa’s forehead creased even further. It was always hard to read him with how naked it looked—his eyebrows were so fine, made of such light hairs that they were invisible on his skin. It the same translucent white streaking some strands of his scalp. Yet his face always seemed to work hard, mechanically, at translating even limited emotion.

Chuuya had always thought that under different circumstances, Akutagawa might have grown up to be a very expressive person.

“I didn’t need your help,” Akutagawa said after a moment. “My failings are my own, I never resented you for them.” There were a lot of things Chuuya could say to that, but he didn’t get the chance to. “You’re strong,” he went on, his eyes peering into Chuuya’s attentively. “Perhaps the strongest in the port mafia. You were strong enough then to stand up to Dazai-san, to make him listen to you. You’re strong enough now to stand up to our boss.” Akutagawa paused to breathe. “Why would I resent someone I admire?” he asked.

Every word fled from Chuuya’s head. He looked at Akutagawa’s flushed face with nothing on his tongue, nothing on his mind.

“You don’t hate me,” he said eventually.

“I don’t,” Akutagawa replied, confused. “I think you’re a valuable member of our organization. I’m always glad to work with you and learn from you.”

“But then—” Chuuya had to mark a stop to gather his thoughts. Nothing here made sense in light of the last few days. Do you just hate that I’m gay, then? he wanted to ask; but Akutagawa looked so earnest in his own way, so blunt despite his hesitance, that the thought now felt wrong in every way. “Why did you warn me against sleeping with Murata?” he asked carefully.

Akutagawa’s face flushed a little further. Chuuya waited for a good ten seconds before his irritation flared up once more.


“You like men,” Akutagawa blurted out.

Chuuya looked at him a little closer. He was avoiding meeting his eyes, now, looking at the floor somewhere to his side and clenching the half-empty bottle between his fine-boned hands. “Yes,” Chuuya replied. “Obviously.”

“I didn’t… I didn’t know that.”

“I don’t make a habit of disclaiming it, but I don’t really care who knows,” he said, frowning. Was Akutagawa simply shocked at the news? Was that what this was all about?

But Akutagawa glanced at him again, his face redder than Chuuya had ever seen it, and he asked, “Do you only like men?” with a tone so familiar that Chuuya felt himself be pulled back half a decade across time.

He felt as though the person in front of him was himself.

“Akutagawa,” Chuuya said slowly.

He was standing at the very edge of understanding, he knew; he was recalling Akutagawa’s brooding hesitation, his not-glares that Chuuya had interpreted as disapproval but now felt a lot more like yearning.

He recalled Akutagawa’s fear that very morning, when Chuuya had told him you will never understand, not knowing what Akutagawa had really been speaking of.

“Do you like men?” he asked.

He only got half of a second, barely enough to hear Akutagawa take in a fractured inhale, before suddenly all that air was being breathed out on his lips.

Chuuya didn’t move away. He let Akutagawa press their mouths together in an approximation of a kiss, something so new and inexperienced and—on his side—lifeless that it barely felt like more than a scratch of skin on skin. Akutagawa’s lips were bitten and chapped, thinner than his own, as white as the rest of his skin. Chuuya felt them tremble against him through the shock of his own overwhelming empathy.

He had kissed someone like that, once, in the midst of his burning confusion.

“Fuck,” he let out as Akutagawa pulled away. He barely noticed the alarm in Akutagawa’s face through the blood suddenly flooding his—Chuuya put a hand over his mouth and looked away, breathing quickly through his fingers, trying to fight off the blush. “Fuck, I’m so fucking stupid, I thought you—”

He couldn’t even say it. It seemed so obvious now.

“I’m sorry,” he gritted out, making himself look at Akutagawa rather than anywhere else. “I—I really fucking misjudged the situation.”

“What?” Akutagawa replied faintly.

He was still crimson himself, still flushed with wine. He had stopped trying to meet Chuuya’s eyes and seemed to be in the process of inching farther and farther away from Chuuya’s side of the mattress—closer and closer to the wall. He was looking between his own feet and the door that led to the hallway. Chuuya took in the sight with confusion, before remembering—

Oh. Right. Akutagawa had just kissed him. And now he looked two seconds away from letting his own ability swallow him whole.

Chuuya let his hand drop down from his mouth. He cleared his throat and asked, “Was that your first kiss?” as evenly as possible.

Akutagawa stilled above the blanket. It took a long time for him to answer, and when he did, it was with a wordless nod. He risked another glance toward Chuuya—once, Chuuya understood, he was sure that what he had done was not going to warrant him retribution.

The thought was bitter at the back of Chuuya’s mouth. He took the following moment to look at Akutagawa—truly look at him, like he had never before.

For as long as he had known him, Akutagawa had been someone he saw as inherently younger and more fragile. It had little to do with Akutagawa himself—Chuuya knew they were roughly the same age—and everything to do with how Dazai had built him so, breaking him down piece by piece, reshaping him into a wall of glass so stricken with break lines that it was a wonder it stood at all. But Akutagawa was not younger. He was not weak. He was taller than Chuuya, his thin face looking even older, his eyes dark and solemn. There was a delicate quality to the way his face was drawn, high cheekbones and thin skin, such a contrast to the savage way he fought.

Akutagawa was attractive. The skeletal thinness and the streaks of white in his hair and the hunched posture—all of it painted a picture that Chuuya had not considered before and would not consider again, but it wasn’t a bad picture. It wasn’t a bad picture at all.

“You like me,” he said.

Akutagawa’s broken exhale was as good as confirmation.

Chuuya crossed the distance between them awkwardly. He sat back down when they were thigh-to-thigh; then he cleared his throat again, content to note that at least his blush had abated.

“I don’t do coworkers,” he said. “Or—well, not anymore.” Not that he ever did. That idea had been nipped in the bud three years ago. And Chuuya would feel too weird, too guilty, having this sort of relationship with Akutagawa after everything he had once felt for the person who hurt him. The person who had once been his friend. “But, I’m flattered. Thank you.”

He felt Akutagawa brace himself for speech beside him, his elbow twitching once against Chuuya’s, Rashoumon’s nervous ondulations shaking over his skin. “I did not expect anything out of it,” he said.

Chuuya nodded.

The silence that followed was not as uncomfortable as he would have expected. Akutagawa coughed into his palm halfway through it, not leaning toward Chuuya but not leaning away from him. Chuuya watched the white lines that moonlight drew onto the dark grey walls without seeing any of them.

“Say,” he started softly. “You said you liked learning from me.”

A shift, a brush of fabric on fabric. “I do.”

Chuuya blinked sightlessly at the lines on the wall for another second; then he twisted over the sheets, ignoring the instinctive recoil that Akutagawa’s body gave, and sat cross-legged onto the bed, facing him.

“I can teach you something else,” he said. “If you’ll let me.”

The confusion in Akutagawa’s eyes died once Chuuya’s fingers touched his face.

He didn’t try to do more until Akutagawa nodded, faintly, as if scared to dislodge the index and thumb loosely holding his chin. Chuuya smiled a little fondly, feeling himself flush under Akutagawa’s rapt attention. He tucked his own hair behind his ear and leaned down to press their mouths together once more.

He had never kissed anyone that slowly before. The interactions of that kind he got were always with men who knew at least the basics of how it was done. But Akutagawa was strikingly bare in that aspect. Powerfully new. It wouldn’t have surprised Chuuya at all to learn that he had never even thought of kissing anyone before that point. Chuuya tilted Akutagawa’s head for him so their noses would not knock together; he moulded his lips to Akutagawa’s, pushing his face closer in, sucking lightly at whatever bit of flesh he caught between his gentle teeth.

He smiled at the feeling of Akutagawa’s skin warming further against his. “Open your mouth,” he murmured.

Akutagawa obeyed with a shiver.

Chuuya didn’t close his eyes to the blurry shape of Akutagawa’s face pressed into his, though he hummed, occasionally, blinking lazily at the dark; Akutagawa himself seemed entirely lost to it, his throat shaking every time Chuuya’s knuckles brushed the column of his neck. Chuuya licked into his mouth slowly, past the bitter-sharp tang of the wine and to Akutagawa’s own tongue. Akutagawa tensed in front of him—apprehension taught and solid through every line of his body.

It was almost unbearably sweet, Chuuya thought. He had never had someone be so hesitant to kiss him back before. He shortened Akutagawa’s obvious plight with a smile and pulled away, giving him one last brush of lips on lips, soft and close-mouthed, before letting go completely.

Akutagawa was so red now that he was sweating from it. Chuuya watched him open his eyes and fall back into himself with a faint grin, and he asked, “Did you like that?”

“Yes,” Akutagawa rasped out, dazed.

Chuuya bit down his laughter. “Come on,” he said standing up from the bed. He grabbed the wine from Akutagawa’s loose hold and corked it shut best as he could. “Let’s sleep, I have no idea how early the car’ll get here in the morning.”


Akutagawa had never called him by his first name before.

“Yeah?” Chuuya replied, looking back at him.

He was still sitting where Chuuya had left him, red-faced and swollen-lipped. He licked them pensively before saying, “I… apologize.”

“No you don’t.”

Whatever Akutagawa was about to say vanished before he could give voice to it. His eyes met Chuuya’s with surprise.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Akutagawa,” Chuuya told him. “You can apologize for that botched assassination if you want—you already did—but that’s not going to fix anything. Just do better next time.” He took a breath before continuing. “As for you liking me, or liking men, never apologize for that. Not to anyone.”

This was one thing Dazai had not damaged. One thing he perhaps hadn’t known about. Chuuya wanted to hope that Dazai would not have touched upon it had he figured it out, just as he had never insulted Chuuya over it, but he wasn’t foolish enough not to realize that Dazai’s disgust of Akutagawa made him prone to the sort of violence he abstained from on the regular. If only he knew why Dazai had hated Akutagawa so much.

If only he knew anything about Dazai, including whether or not he was still alive.

Akutagawa stared at him from the bed, looking as though he was drinking in his every word; Chuuya withstood it for another second before turning away, and he hoped that whatever else Akutagawa did, he would take this order to heart as strongly as he did Dazai’s ire.

The car picked them up at the cusp of dawn, right as the sun rose over the ocean and brightened it to gold. Chuuya spent the first hour of the ride letting the sea’s gleaming surface burn itself into his eyes, dozing in and out of sleep against the side of the vehicle. Akutagawa himself never slept inside a car that he knew of. He was staring fixedly at the headrest of the driver’s seat, his sunglasses perched low over his nose.

Chuuya didn’t see Motoi again before they left. He had half-expected to find a hastily scribbled phone number shoved somewhere in his pockets—hell, even inside the wine bottle—but there was nothing. Motoi had respected his wishes.

The way he smiled at the thought tasted a little sweet, tasted a little sour.

It was a five hour drive back to Yokohama. Chuuya spent most of it in silence, only moving to open the car’s window and smoke out of it occasionally. He was cramped and nervous with energy by the time they made it back to the harbor, almost bursting with the need to walk when they finally rolled into the port mafia headquarter’s underground parking lot.

It was all he could do not to laugh once he noticed who was waiting for him.

“Hello,” Kouyou said, smiling at him.

She reached for his forearm, clasping it under her palm. Chuuya held hers much the same, letting himself be pulled into her embrace. It didn’t last long—it never did—but he felt grounded after it. Heavier and stronger, as if his whole body had been reinforced with steel.

“Walk with me,” Kouyou told him, releasing him.

Chuuya gave a parting nod in Akutagawa’s direction before hoisting his bag up his shoulder. Akutagawa gave it back a little belatedly.

“Did you have fun on your vacation?” Kouyou started as they made their way to the elevator.

Meeting with the boss, then.

“I did, actually,” he replied. “Met someone nice.”

“Another broken heart to add to the long trail following you, I gather.”

“Oh, shut up. I know you think it’s hilarious.”

She didn’t deny it.

“What’s going on?” Chuuya asked more seriously.

Kouyou flicked a glance toward him before reaching to press the call button of the elevator. “Nothing too dire,” she replied. “Akutagawa has his face plastered all over the city, but he rarely ever goes out anyway. We’ll just have to deploy him more discreetly. And even if everyone knows what he can do now, his ability is quite the deterrent.”

Chuuya stayed silent. He knew a thing or two about being a deterrent—he wasn’t sure the transition would go as smoothly as Kouyou seemed to believe. He stepped through the open doors and thought about Akutagawa as he knew him now; not only the mafia’s rabid dog, not only Dazai’s broken pupil, but a young man at the brink of realizing that there were things he wanted that he could afford to grasp.

He surprised himself with how little he wanted Akutagawa to crawl back into being a hollow shell, now that he was at the very edge of expanding out of it.

“What else is there?” he asked eventually, as they climbed up the many floors of the building.

Kouyou took some time to answer.

“Something was weird about this entire affair from the start,” she said. “It should have taken a lot more time for the police to get their hands on the evidence. The officials who witnessed the murder were not eager to spread the word around, not with how badly Akutagawa frightened them.”

Chuuya frowned. “So what, you think someone’s out to get him?”

“No. Actually, we know why, now.” Kouyou crossed her arms in front of her chest, hiding them into the wide sleeves of her clothes completely. “It turns out that there’s a new gifted organization in Yokohama,” she said slowly. “The special ability department chief’s new pet project. They call it the armed detective agency.”

“What’s that?”

“Something the SAD intends to make take on cases that police find… difficult to handle.” She gave him a dark look. “Cases related to ability users.”

Chuuya’s lungs stilled in his chest. For a long time he could do nothing but stare up at Kouyou’s face and look for even a hint that she was making it up.

“You mean the government is starting an independent gifted organization,” he said at last, “specifically made with the goal of targeting the port mafia.”

The elevator’s doors chimed open at the topmost floor. Neither of them moved, long enough so that they started closing again. Kouyou stopped them with the tip of her umbrella. “We don’t know that for sure,” she replied, taking the lead into the corridor. “Ougai-dono had to pay a pretty penny to get the information in the first place. Sakaguchi Ango especially wasn’t keen on letting him know, for some reason.”

“Sakaguchi?” Chuuya’s head ached trying to make sense of it. “Hang on—how fucking long has this agency been around already?”

“More than a year,” Kouyou murmured.

For more than a year now, Chuuya’s teams had come back empty-handed or been unmasked after jobs at more alarming frequencies than usual. Three of his men had been caught by the police only a month ago. He was still in the process of getting them freed.

Fuck,” he let out, dragging his hand over his face. “What the fuck, what the fuck, I thought the SAD gave us the fucking permit—”

“It was always given with the goal of keeping an eye on us,” Mori’s voice interrupted ahead of them. He was leaning against the open door of his office, and the air was sizzling around him the way it only ever did when his ability was active. Sure enough, Chuuya could hear Elise’s voice from deep inside the room. “The ministry was only too glad to allow us to get rid of other rising criminal groups,” Mori went on, glancing at them both. “Now that we are the only prominent group and things have stabilized… well, they are more than eager to remind us that our existence is subject to their goodwill.”

“What do we do?” Chuuya asked between clenched teeth.

“Nothing yet,” his boss replied.

He gestured for them to follow him inside. Elise closed the door behind them and waved at Chuuya with a smile—Chuuya waved back half-heartedly, always upset in her presence, always nauseous with the reminder of what sort of monster sat now in front of him behind an elegant wooden desk.

“So far it looks like while this agency has pushed some trouble our way, they mostly assist with cases that the police struggle with,” Mori explained. “They do not give them cases clearly signed by our hand, of course.”

“So we need to be more more discreet and more obvious at the same time,” Kouyou said airily. “Make sure to leave our mark, but not any evidence.”


“What about their members?” Chuuya interjected. He dragged his teeth over his bottom lip until it ached, until Kouyou looked at him with sharp reprimand in her eyes—she always hated when he did it. He licked the bite before speaking again. “Do we know anything about them—abilities, numbers, names?”

“I know their leader’s name,” Mori replied.

He didn’t look uncaring anymore.

“He’s an old acquaintance of mine. A ridiculous idealist who once swore never to pick up his sword again, but he’s still dangerous. I know he is gifted, but I could never find out what with.” Mori was rubbing his thumb over the thin scar that ran across three of his fingers, Chuuya noticed. He didn’t volunteer the man’s name at all. “I could only find one other name—Yosano Akiko, a doctor I once met briefly. Her powers allow her to heal anyone on the brink of death.”

“Useful,” Kouyou commented.

“Indeed. I tried to recruit her, but she told me, and I quote, that she would rather eat her own fingers one by one than work with me.”

Kouyou laughed cruelly at his pouting expression, but Chuuya could not find the humor to do so as well.

“And you don’t know anything else,” he said.

“Only that there’s about a handful of them,” Mori replied. “And that one of them is either very smart, or very familiar with the way we work. Perhaps both.”

Chuuya missed the way Kouyou stiffened entirely. He didn’t see, either, the flash of gleeful expectation in Mori’s purplish eyes.

“We should take them now,” he muttered, looking through the wide window overlooking the bay. “Get the jump on them while they’re not expecting us. If there’s only a handful of them—”

“We will do no such thing,” Mori cut in amiably.

Chuuya gritted his teeth.

“I appreciate your concern, Chuuya-kun, but there really is no hurry.” He leaned back in his chair with a smile that made every hair of Chuuya’s back rise. “The department allowed these detectives to get a permit of their own. If we take them out now, without good reason, they will come after us.”

“Then are we just supposed to sit and wait while these assholes keep fucking with us?” Chuuya replied hotly.

“That the agency come into contact with us is inevitable,” Mori said. “They will get closer and closer to us the more crime they solve. Eventually, the balance of power in the city will lean precariously enough that they will give us the incentive we need to attack them without the ministry breathing down our necks about it.”

“That could happen in years.”

“Then it shall.”

Years of risking his people’s safety and freedom in increasingly dangerous ways. Years of watching his hands tied as a gifted organization settled in and grew. It had already grown for long enough outside their knowledge. Chuuya’s jaw ached from grinding so hard, and when he let out, “Shit,” it was all he could do to refrain from kicking one of Elise’s toys straight through a wall.

“Fine,” he said. “Fine, I won’t even approach them, then.”

“I don’t think you’ll have the time to anyway.” At Chuuya’s inquisitive glance, Mori continued, “I feel it is important, now more than ever, to secure our position amidst overseas groups. I’ve started building you quite the travel schedule—I’m sorry to say you won’t be staying in Yokohama much for the year to come.”

“That’s fine,” Chuuya replied.

It really was. He had been angry a week ago—he still was, though for different reasons—but now, after a week spent doing nothing but reading and thinking on his life and letting a stranger flirt with him—kissing Akutagawa in such a sweet, honest way—he felt truly and well rested. All the heavy exhaustion he had carried during his trip to Sapporo was gone.

Chuuya straightened up and walked toward the desk. Mori handed him a blue file wordlessly, only looking surprised when Chuuya said, “Don’t think I can’t tell there’s something you’re not telling me, Boss.”

“Is there?” Mori replied innocently.

Chuuya’s eyes narrowed. “You want me out of the city for a year,” he said. “I’m not stupid enough to miss that glaring fact.”

“I have never thought of you as anything less than a very smart young man, Chuuya-kun.”

Chuuya didn’t grace that with an answer. He parted from Mori with a sneer that would have gotten him a slap on the wrist on a good day, a punishment on a bad one; yet Kouyou only looked at him with pride as he walked past her and out of the office, her own face set on the kind of seriousness he hadn’t seen since the day of Dazai’s defection. Her hair shone like blood under the sun’s filtered rays.

Whatever she wanted to discuss with Mori, she waited until Elise had closed and locked the door behind Chuuya’s back to speak of it.

Chuuya let himself lean against the wall of the corridor. In front of him stood the same floor-to-ceiling windows, maintained achingly clean by a team of agents that Chuuya knew Hirotsu selected meticulously. The pain must be worth it for the view Yokohama offered from this height; the shoreline curving like a great snake, the swell of the hills at the edge of the panorama. The city bleeding into the ocean, tiny house by tiny house.

Welcome home, Chuuya thought.

He would get through the year in hell that Mori had planned for him. He would obey his orders as he had always done, as he had always prized himself on doing. And once he was done with that—once he had secured the support or enmity of every group Mori had listed in his bouncy handwriting, once he had done his job so thoroughly well that neither Mori nor Kouyou had an excuse to keep him away…

He would come back. And he would figure out what they were both hiding.

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