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Fighters

Chapter Text

Akutagawa had never heard Chuuya cry out in pain before.

They, along with a set of Port Mafia guards, were heading for one of the many entrances to the Port Mafia underground tunnels to escape from the people who were hunting the Agency down.

Then Chuuya got shot.

For a moment Akutagawa couldn’t comprehend what had happened. They were trying to get to the others, to the Agency, to his sister and they were with a squad that was meant to provide cover if they got attacked.

“Fuck,” Chuuya hissed.

Slowly, Akutagawa turned around just in time for the guards to shoot again.

This time he and Chuuya blocked the bullets, Rashomon devouring half of them and Chuuya sending the other half back to where they came from. The guards fell and Chuuya grabbed Akutagawa by the coat, yanking him away.

After a few minutes they reached the entrance to the tunnel, which looked like an ordinary manhole cover. Chuuya pried it open and gestured for Akutagawa to go through.

Akutagawa made his way down the ladder. The small bit of light from above vanished as Chuuya followed him and closed the cover above them, and for a few moments they were in total darkness.

Akutagawa reached the bottom of the ladder and stepped away so that Chuuya could come down. Once Chuuya did, he felt along the walls for a switch and flipped it. Dull lights illuminated the tunnel, which stretched endlessly onwards.

Chuuya leaned against the wall, face pale, clutching his arm. Akutagawa turned to him and tried to comprehend what he was seeing.

Most people in the world were weak to him, but not Chuuya. Chuuya was one of the few people who Akutagawa saw as strong. There was only one other time Akutagawa could think of where Chuuya had been anything less than okay. Normally, attacks couldn’t even touch Chuuya. If they did, he hadn’t known about it because they didn’t used to work together.

Now, with the Mafia stretched thin and the situation becoming increasingly desperate, they were paired with each other. Akutagawa didn’t like working with other people but he didn’t mind working with Chuuya. Chuuya was competent. He got the job done and done well.

Sometimes, he seemed happy with Akutagawa’s work.

Blood dripped down Chuuya’s arm. Akutagawa walked over, prying Chuuya’s hand off the wound without so much as a warning. Chuuya grabbed his wrist.

“Is the bullet still in there?” Akutagawa asked.

“No,” Chuuya said. “It went through.”

Upon closer inspection Akutagawa could see that Chuuya was right. There was nothing lodged there, just a bloody entrance and exit hole in Chuuya’s upper left arm. It had probably torn through muscle and if they were lucky it hadn’t clipped bone, but it was still an injury that could slow them down.

“The Agency doctor is supposed to be hiding with the others,” Chuuya said. “I can get it treated once we find them.”

Akutagawa didn’t like the idea of Chuuya getting treated by someone from the Agency but it wasn’t like they had an alternative. Still, Chuuya was bleeding and it would be good to minimize blood loss.

Before he could really think about it, he wrapped Rashomon around Chuuya’s arm.

Chuuya stared at him. “Wouldn’t it be easier to tear off a piece of cloth?”

Akutagawa shrugged. “In my case it’s the same.”

“Alright.”

They started walking in silence. It was slightly awkward, Akutagawa not able to get too far away because Rashomon was attached to Chuuya’s arm now. The brief moment of amusement had been replaced by a tense atmosphere. Akutagawa could practically see Chuuya sinking into anger over what had happened.

He couldn’t blame him—they’d received news that the Agency had barely escaped capture because Tachihara, of all people, had turned out to be a spy. Now Chuuya had gotten shot because their guards were apparently working for someone else—if Akutagawa had to guess, he’d say the government. When Chuuya ranted about Dazai, a lot of it had to do with the fact that he was a traitor. Chuuya hated traitors.

This was probably hard for him.

Aside from his feelings about Dazai, Akutagawa was indifferent to traitors. The biggest source of his anger was that Tachihara had hurt Gin, and he wanted Tachihara to suffer for that. It wouldn’t have mattered if he was Mafia or not. Anyone who hurt Gin deserved to suffer greatly.

Maybe it had been foolish of both of them to trust that their guards would protect them after everything that had just happened. They could have easily been killed.

“The amount of people we can trust gets smaller with each day,” Chuuya said after a few minutes. “It’s fucking ridiculous.”

“It’s war,” Akutagawa said. He felt the way Chuuya tensed even further.

“I need to be able to trust the people around me,” Chuuya said. “I can’t get through this conflict thinking that everyone is gonna stab me in the back the minute I turn around. If that’s really the case, we’ve already lost.”

That was kind of true. If the Port Mafia was full of traitors then they didn’t have a chance in surviving this conflict.

“There are people who are loyal to the Port Mafia,” Akutagawa said. “There’s me.”

He half expected Chuuya to argue, to ask why he should trust him.

Instead, Chuuya nodded. “There’s you.”

Akutagawa almost wanted to ask why Chuuya trusted him so easily. He’d gotten into this situation by trusting those in the Mafia as a default rather than waiting for them to prove they should be trusted.

But they’d all been fooled multiple times by multiple people.

“At least Tachihara isn’t another Executive,” Chuuya added. “He doesn’t have as much information as Ace did. We won’t fall apart because he’s gone.”

“He hurt Gin,” Akutagawa said. He hadn’t meant to, but it came out. He couldn’t hold back his anger.

“Make him pay for it,” Chuuya said.

Akutagawa would.

They kept walking for a little bit before Chuuya said, “this is a bit like holding hands.”

Akutagawa almost choked. “What?

Chuuya laughed. “Just saying what I’ve been thinking for the past few minutes.”

“That’s what you were thinking?” He supposed it was better than all the other things Chuuya could have been thinking. Maybe Chuuya was fixating on it because he didn’t want the negative thoughts to overtake him, because that would affect his ability to perform well in this crisis.

“When was the last time you walked with someone while Rashomon held on to them?” Chuuya asked.

The weretiger didn’t count. His cheeks felt warm. “I don’t know.”

“It’s cute,” Chuuya said. “It doesn’t hurt, either. You’re being pretty gentle with me.”

If it was anyone else, Akutagawa would’ve tightened Rashomon’s hold out of spite, but he found he didn’t want to hurt Chuuya right now.

“Stop talking,” he said.

Chuuya stopped talking for all of two minutes before he spoke again.

“I’m glad.”

“For what?” Akutagawa asked. Surely they were almost there.

“You’re the one I’m working with,” Chuuya said. “I trust you.” There was a certain weight to his words.

On the surface, Chuuya said them more easily than most. To admit that trust was more than most in the Mafia would do, Akutagawa included. The way he said it, however, made it clear that it wasn’t an easy thing to admit, but something he felt like Akutagawa should know right now.

“I won’t betray that trust,” Akutagawa said. If there was ever a time to put aside pride to work with others, this was it. It was hard, it made something in Akutagawa’s skin crawl as a voice in his head called him weak for relying on other people, but he dismissed it when he thought about how much of a disaster their situation had become.

“Neither will I,” Chuuya said.

There was some kind of comfort in knowing that Chuuya was the same person he presented himself as, and Akutagawa didn’t have to worry about whether or not Chuuya would have his back. He trusted Chuuya, too.

He just couldn’t say those exact words out loud right now, but maybe one day he would.

Chapter Text

Soft wasn’t a word that applied to either one of them, but looking at Akutagawa now, Chuuya thought that it might fit.

For once, Akutagawa was asleep. More importantly, Akutagawa was asleep in Chuuya’s apartment, curled up on Chuuya’s couch and covered in one of Chuuya’s warmest blankets.

Chuuya knew how much this conflict was wearing on Akutagawa. Seeing people he cared about nearly killed, having to work with someone he didn’t like that much, having to work under Dazai again, all of those were exhausting. Akutagawa didn’t sleep, though. He was afraid to do anything that made him vulnerable, or that might cause him to miss something important, especially in these times.

So Chuuya dragged Akutagawa to his apartment, gave him some tea that he’d gotten from Kouyou, threw a blanket around him and promised him that he would wake him up if anything happened, which it wouldn’t, because Chuuya wouldn’t let it.

Akutagawa protested and said something about not needing protection, but it spoke to how tired he was that he gave in anyway, sipping the tea and then laying down on Chuuya’s couch. “It won’t work,” he said. “I’ll try, but...I don’t think I will sleep.”

Ten minutes later he was out.

Chuuya knew how hard it was to get Akutagawa to sleep, though. They’d only been places overnight together a few times in the past, but Chuuya had never seen Akutagawa sleep well because he was also awake to notice it. But he slept better than Akutagawa. He was more willing to try, at least. Whether he succeeded or not was hit or miss.

Chuuya wasn’t usually one to watch people sleep, but this was the most peaceful he’d seen Akutagawa and he found that he couldn’t look away. Akutagawa was a hardened person — they all were in the Mafia. Akutagawa especially was made of sharp edges, from the jutting of his bones because he didn’t eat enough and overworked himself to the razor sharpness of Rashomon.

Akutagawa’s body was always tense, ready to spring into action at some kind of unseen threat, and it seemed that to him there was always a threat there. He didn’t know how to appear relaxed while still being alert. He didn’t have any grace when he fought because he was relentlessly driving himself forward to kill, to prove something, to get the job done as quickly and brutally as possible so that he wouldn’t have time to think about whether or not his technique was good enough, so that others wouldn’t have time to find the flaws in his work.

It felt good that Akutagawa trusted him enough to allow himself to relax. Even if it was just exhaustion, Akutagawa was incredibly stubborn and he would push himself far past his limits if he thought it necessary.

Chuuya wished they both could have this more often.

That was a goal to work for, allowing for time enough to relax like this without feeling guilty or feeling like something could go wrong at any second.

A surprising amount of time passed — hours, maybe. Chuuya decided he would make more tea once Akutagawa woke up, or maybe a small meal. Soup seemed like a good bet, if either of them were hungry.

For now Chuuya pretended that they had nothing to do and that nothing was going on. He poured himself a glass of wine, in absolutely no rush. A stray thought passed through his head that maybe one day they’d be able to fall asleep together during a time like this.

He put it aside because any time he wanted to get close to someone it had never turned out well. As in the past, this hint of what could be if they not been in the Mafia would have to be enough.

Chapter Text

Chuuya looked tense.

It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence these days, considering the circumstances, but Akutagawa found himself missing the confidence and ease Chuuya projected on a daily basis. In the back of his head he knew what this was about and for the first time in his life, he could understand it.

Before this all began, Akutagawa had no loyalty to the Mafia. His loyalty was to the idea of being strong (for a certain mentor), to his sister, and in some ways to himself. At some point along the way things had changed. Perhaps it was when Akutagawa finally began to see that he wasn’t an individual who happened to work for the Mafia and that he and Gin were part of an organization and were affected by everything that organization went through, that his views changed. He finally admitted that he couldn’t deal with everything alone, though the realization still felt uncomfortable and wrong in some ways.

He never thought he’d be affected by something like betrayal. Yes, he was affected by Dazai’s betrayal, but that was because Dazai was his mentor, because Dazai had made it so that Akutagawa would seek his approval. Anyone else was inconsequential.

Except it wasn’t. The betrayals of Ace and Tachihara had cascading effects for the rest of the Mafia, and now they couldn’t be caught off-guard. A brief lull in the conflict meant that they could take the time to regroup — or in Chuuya’s, case, be assigned to something that didn’t involve fighting.

They were both sitting in Chuuya’s office hunched over files, trying to figure out what Tachihara might have told others. His motivations were different than Ace’s and his alliance wasn’t with the Rats but rather with the government. Despite the government turning a somewhat blind eye to the Mafia’s activities, it wasn’t ideal for the government to know a lot about them. Chuuya in particular seemed very uncomfortable with what the government could know.

In fact, ever since they’d encountered the Hunting Dogs, Chuuya seemed off.

Akutagawa wasn’t the best person for this job. In fact, he wasn’t sure Chuuya was much better. The two of them were more suited to action than information, but Chuuya did know the Mafia best, and Akutagawa had nothing better to do. Mori was probably giving him this task to make sure he didn’t go off and do something rash, but the other person helping Chuuya probably should’ve been someone of equal status.

There were other Executives. There was —

“Chuuya-san,” Akutagawa said.

Chuuya looked up. “Found something?”

“No.” Akutagawa coughed, then cleared his throat. “I was wondering why I am the one doing this when there are other Executives better suited towards this.”

“Are you saying you don’t enjoy my company?” Chuuya asked with a slight smile.

Akutagawa stared at him.

“I’m kidding. But what’s your point?”

“Surely Ozaki-san would be able to do this job and do it better than I could,” Akutagawa said. “I’m not as well-versed in the information we have.” Which meant he’d be less likely to notice if chunks of files were missing unless it was obvious.

Something shifted in Chuuya’s eyes, taking the light with it. His voice was even as he said, “Boss Mori is watching certain people.”

Akutagawa expected as much, but Chuuya was implying he was watching an Executive.

Chuuya had returned to going through his files, but now the tension in the room felt suffocating. Akutagawa looked down at his own files, the characters on paper blurring. What could Tachihara give to the government that they didn’t know? They were better informed than the Rats. Maybe they didn’t know everything about everyone, but surely it wasn’t a huge problem if they learned a few things about some people.

It felt like Chuuya was staring at him even though Chuuya was looking down at the files on his desk. Or maybe it wasn’t that — maybe Akutagawa felt like he was being watched because of Chuuya’s words, even though he had no intention of betraying the Mafia and it seemed like Mori trusted him. It was the idea that other people could, that anyone could.

Chuuya was withdrawing into himself because of it, but Akutagawa could feel it because Chuuya had never been good at suppressing his emotions. It was like Chuuya couldn’t help expressing his emotions even when he tried to hide them. His silence and the tenseness of the room was a sort of expression in and of itself.

“I’m tired,” Chuuya said suddenly.

Akutagawa was tired, too. Tired of being in this room, of worrying about who to trust or what would happen next.

“Yeah,” he said. “We have to finish this.”

“We do,” Chuuya agreed. “I think I know what they would have...but for the sake of being thorough we should finish this.”

He did sound tired about having that knowledge. Akutagawa would have asked what the government might have gotten, but Chuuya probably would have shared it already if he wanted to. They both returned to their work and the room didn’t become any less suffocating.

Akutagawa felt like he was drowning in Chuuya’s emotions and found he couldn’t really blame him for having such strong ones in the first place.

Chapter Text

A knife nearly impaled Akutagawa in the neck, only to be caught by Rashomon. Akutagawa would have thrown it, but the knife yanked Rashomon back and forth as if it was being held by a hand.

The problem was that the knife was not being held by anyone. It was moving of its own accord.

Now he could see why the Port Mafia’s line of defense had been broken, and it had to do with more than betrayals.

The knife wrestled itself free of Rashomon’s grip and disappeared from Akutagawa’s view. Before he could so much as turn, something slammed into his side, driving him into a wall.

The person scrambled up before Akutagawa could attack, and he saw that it was Chuuya, who was now in a knife fight with the sentient knife.

“Why don’t you come and face me yourself?” Chuuya called out. The knife was giving him more trouble than it had the right to. Akutagawa stood up slowly, back against the wall, trying not to think of how if Chuuya hadn’t been there, he might have been dead.

Rashomon was good if he could see the attack coming, but useless if he couldn’t, and by himself Akutagawa couldn’t see every attack. Every day he was starting to see why being partnered with Chuuya was a good thing.

A strange emotion ran through him as he watched this one-person fight, one that he only associated with Gin. Worry. He was worried about Chuuya’s wellbeing, so he looked around to see if another attack was incoming while Chuuya was distracted by the knife.

A head poked around the corner of the building, and then the person leaned out, aiming a gun at Chuuya.

Akutagawa blocked the bullets with Rashomon.

He didn’t let Rashomon devour them along with the space between the bullets and Chuuya, but rather had them drop into his hand. They could use these.

Chuuya could use them.

Akutagawa turned and moved forward, pushing Chuuya aside to parry the next knife attack with Rashomon. He heard Chuuya say “what,” and responded with, “take my hand.”

He held out his own hand behind him, letting Rashomon do the work of fighting. Chuuya took it and Akutagawa released his hold on the bullets.

“Have I mentioned that I love you?” Chuuya asked.

Akutagawa was glad Rashomon was doing the fighting because he would have stopped then and there and the knife would have impaled him.

Chuuya had sounded so happy despite them being in the middle of a fight against someone who had betrayed them. Happier than he’d sounded in days.

Akutagawa tried not to think too hard about it. He didn’t hear whatever attack Chuuya launched with his bullets, but suddenly the knife clattered to the ground.

Akutagawa stepped on it to keep it from moving should its owner decide to attack again.

He saw Tachihara stumble backwards, a hand clutching his shoulder and blood dripping on the ground.

“Get the fuck out of my sight,” Chuuya snarled, “before I kill you.”

The knife shifted under Akutagawa’s foot, then shot out, back towards Tachihara.

That was impressive.

Tachihara caught the knife and turned, his cloak billowing behind him as he disappeared.

Chuuya went to grab Akutagawa’s arm but stopped. “Let’s go,” he said, pulling out his phone.

For now the Port Mafia’s second line of defense would hold.

Chuuya led them a few streets over to a black car, which would take them back to headquarters. It was only after they were moving that Akutagawa asked, “why didn’t you kill him?”

“Killing a government employee would create a huge headache for the Mafia,” Chuuya said with a sigh. He stared ahead, at the back of the driver’s seat. “Boss’s orders. Even if they kill one of our own...you don’t know how much I want to wring that bastard’s neck.” All traces of earlier happiness were gone.

“Why would he say that?” Akutagawa asked.

“Because we don’t know exactly what their motive is,” Chuuya said. “I don’t think they do, either. The Rats are messing with them, but we don’t know who is loyal to the Rats and who is to the government and whether or not they’re being manipulated. If we make the wrong choice the aftermath of this will be even more of a pain in the ass than it probably already is.”

“I see,” Akutagawa said. Politics, sort of. He hated that sort of thing and clearly Chuuya did too.

“But at least I got to see him bleed.”

Akutagawa nodded. That was always satisfying.

They rode in silence and a thought popped up in Akutagawa’s head that he couldn’t get rid of.

Have I mentioned that I love you?

He knew that it was a figure of speech and that Chuuya was just thankful Akutagawa had thought to save the bullets. He glanced at Chuuya now and saw that he was looking out the window, the lines of his body tense.

Chuuya had just been thankful.

So why did Akutagawa feel his heartbeat speed up when he recalled Chuuya saying those words? Why did he feel like he wanted something, and why did he feel a weird kind of sadness that those words didn’t mean what they might have meant?

No one besides Gin had ever directed the word “love” at him. Maybe that was why he wanted Chuuya to mean it.

He shouldn’t have. Those words shouldn’t have made him feel anything.

Chapter Text

Akutagawa’s birthday always came and went and no one seemed to notice. He would just happen to be older, and then it would occur to Chuuya that his birthday had passed.

Not this year.

This year Chuuya wanted to give Akutagawa something special.

He didn’t know when it became a normal occurrence for him to want to see Akutagawa be happy, but it had happened sometime since the conflict with the Rats began. He’d always felt something towards Akutagawa, not negative but not necessarily strong enough to be called a friendship. It was like what he felt with a lot of people — he would have liked to have been friends with them in another time in different circumstances.

Except now he wanted to be close to Akutagawa in this time and in these circumstances. Kouyou always told him that he had a bad habit of trying to get close to people and trusting them more than he should, but he knew it was only a bad habit because they were in the Mafia. If he had been anyone else, that would have been a good thing.

It was confusing to figure out these feelings he had towards Akutagawa, the way he felt his mood lift a bit when seeing him, how being in his presence felt natural, how working with him was a bit exciting even when it was frustrating, the way he looked a bit closer at Akutagawa now and tried to get to know more about him. He wasn’t going to think about it because that never got him anywhere. He was going to do something and see what happened.

He was going to give Akutagawa a birthday present.

Birthdays weren’t celebrated much in the Mafia. Getting older didn’t really mean anything. Now that Chuuya thought about it, he could see it as some sort of accomplishment. They weren’t dead yet. Somehow they’d managed to live despite everything they’d gone through.

Chuuya wasn’t sure what to get Akutagawa. He didn’t want to get him just anything. He wanted it to be personal, special, and he set aside a day to go looking through Yokohama’s shops to figure out what he could get.

He’d asked Gin what kind of things Akutagawa liked and she gave him a list of things, some of which were food and none of which were objects. Chuuya considered getting him some type of food or tea, but there were a lot of ways food could turn out wrong. Maybe Akutagawa only liked certain foods prepared a certain way or from certain places.

It was towards the end of the day that Chuuya stepped into a shop selling notebooks and pens.

He almost hadn’t gone in, but something Gin said had popped up in his head when he saw the store, that Akutagawa enjoyed calligraphy. Chuuya hadn’t asked if that meant he enjoyed writing or looking at it, but as he walked through the store he spotted a beautiful calligraphy set. There were two pens, both dark, and several tips, along with several bottles of ink and what looked like very good quality paper. The box these were kept in was a dark, almost black type of wood. Chuuya didn’t know a thing about calligraphy, but this set was more noticeable than anything else in the store despite being relatively subtle.

Something about that reminded him of Akutagawa, so he decided to purchase the set.

He picked up some wrapping paper on the way back and decided not to get a card because he wouldn’t know what to write. When he got back to his apartment he wrapped up his gift and let it sit in his bedroom until Akutagawa’s birthday came a few days later.

That morning, he set out to Akutagawa’s apartment. He was nervous as he knocked on the door, hoping that he’d made the right choice. When Akutagawa opened the door he was surprised and his eyes went from Chuuya’s face to the package in his hands.

“Chuuya-san.”

“Happy Birthday,” Chuuya said abruptly, nervousness getting the better of him as he held out the gift.

Akutagawa took it and the both of them stood there for a moment, neither one knowing what to do. Chuuya almost wanted Akutagawa to open it without him there, but he also wanted to see if Akutagawa liked it.

“I — you can come in if you want,” Akutagawa said. “I can make tea...or coffee.”

“Sure,” Chuuya said. “Or I can make it for you, since it’s your birthday.”

Akutagawa blinked. “Okay.”

Chuuya wasn’t really familiar with Akutagawa’s kitchen, but it didn’t take him long to figure out where everything was. He felt relieved to be doing something. Making the tea helped dispel his nerves a bit.

When he went to bring the cup of tea to Akutagawa, he froze. Akutagawa had the calligraphy set opened and spread out on the coffee table. His face was unreadable.

“I didn’t know if you would like it,” Chuuya said quickly, setting the cup down on the table. “Gin said you liked calligraphy so I thought...maybe…”

“It’s beautiful,” Akutagawa said, his voice oddly soft.

Chuuya opened his mouth and closed it again, any words he had to say stuck in his throat. Akutagawa looked at him with the corners of his mouth turned upwards in a sort of soft smile that felt foreign on his face, probably the result of an emotion that felt a bit foreign as well. But Chuuya liked the way it looked.

“Thank you,” Akutagawa added.

“I’m glad you like it,” Chuuya said. “If you want...I’d like to see what you do with it.”

Akutagawa was quiet for a moment as he considered the proposal. Then he seemed to make a decision. “I would like to show you,” he said.

Chuuya smiled.

Having Akutagawa look happy and want to share things with him was its own kind of gift.

Chapter Text

The light was still on in Chuuya’s office.

It was three in the morning.

Akutagawa didn’t bother to knock, just in case Chuuya had actually fallen asleep. It occurred to him that he was comfortable doing something like this despite Chuuya being an Executive. He knew now that Chuuya wouldn’t get angry, whereas before he wouldn’t have been so sure, not because Chuuya had a temper but because he was used to people being angry at him for stepping out of bounds.

He pushed open the door slowly and stepped inside, closing it behind him without a sound. Chuuya wasn’t asleep. He was typing away on his laptop, the cold light from the screen casting dark shadows under his eyes that would probably remain even when he put the computer away.

“Akutagawa,” he said, his voice a bit scratchy from lack of sleep or overwork. “Can I help you with something?” He didn’t look up.

Akutagawa didn’t know how to go about this, but the knot of worry in his chest was too heavy to ignore. He’d been on the other side of this countless times, so he would do what Chuuya had done, or try to. He didn’t think he could pull it off quite as well.

“Chuuya-san,” he said, stepping forward.

Chuuya looked up. “You don’t have to use honorifics with me, you know.”

Akutagawa cleared his throat. “Chuuya.” It felt weird not to use honorifics with anyone who wasn’t Gin or the weretiger. “You should sleep.”

Chuuya’s mouth twitched into a smile. “Should I?”

“It’s three in the morning.”

“You’re also awake.”

That was true. He definitely hadn’t been waiting around for Chuuya to leave so that he could feel like it was alright to leave too.

“I will get some rest if you get some rest,” Akutagawa said. This wasn’t a tactic Chuuya had used with him, because Akutagawa had never thought to make the argument that Chuuya could also use more sleep until now.

“I didn’t know you cared so much.” It was meant to be teasing, but there was a slight seriousness in Chuuya’s words as well.

Akutagawa hadn’t known he cared so much either. “I can walk you back to your apartment.”

“You just want to make sure I actually go to sleep,” Chuuya said, “rather than taking my word for it.”

“Yes.”

“Alright. I guess this can wait.”

Akutagawa stood by the door as Chuuya packed up his things. He noticed that Chuuya was bringing the laptop with him and hoped that he wouldn’t spend the rest of the night doing whatever he’d been doing here back at his apartment.

Once he slung his bag over his shoulder he gestured to the door. “Lead the way.”

They walked in silence. It didn’t feel wrong because everything around them was silent, too. There were no people walking around, no cars in the streets. This was that special time of night that was almost completely still and quiet, and neither of them wanted to break that.

It wasn’t until they entered the lobby of Chuuya’s building that Chuuya decided to say something. “You can come up if you want.”

“I…”

“You want to make sure I actually go to sleep, right?” Chuuya asked.

“Yes,” Akutagawa said. “Okay.”

The elevator ride was short and soon they were in Chuuya’s apartment. Akutagawa slipped off his shoes.

“You can stay the night if you want,” Chuuya said, “since you went through the trouble of walking me back. You shouldn’t have to go out again.”

“It was no trouble,” Akutagawa said. The knot of worry had grown less heavy during their walk.

“Still…” Chuuya looked like he wanted to say something else.

He looked like he wanted Akutagawa to stay.

Akutagawa thought about going outside again, of going to his own apartment and trying to sleep. It never went well. If he stayed here he could tell himself that it was to make sure Chuuya slept.

“I would like that,” he said.

Chuuya’s expression brightened and for a moment he didn’t look tired at all. “Great! I’ll get you some blankets and pillows.”

Akutagawa waited as Chuuya brought him an assortment of blankets and pillows, all of them soft and of good quality.

“Let me know if you need anything,” he said. “I’ll try not to wake you up if I wake up early.”

“Thank you,” Akutagawa said. “Goodnight...Chuuya.”

Chuuya gave him a smile. “Sleep well.”

This all felt strangely...natural for something that shouldn’t have been natural to either of them.

Akutagawa arranged the blankets and pillows the way he wanted them to be arranged. He didn’t feel safe sleeping in most places, but for some reason he felt fine here. He thought about the smile on Chuuya’s face and the way that he’d just listened to Akutagawa despite them not being on the same level as each other.

Then again, rank didn’t seem to matter to Chuuya outside of work.

With satisfaction, Akutagawa noted that Chuuya had kept his laptop inside its bag, which was resting against the coffee table, close enough that Akutagawa would notice if he came out to try to get it again. He was really going to try to sleep because Akutagawa suggested it.

Akutagawa didn’t want to admit to himself how much that meant to him.

Chapter Text

“Akutagawa, can I talk to you at my place later?”

Akutagawa didn’t miss the edge in Chuuya’s voice that usually wasn’t there. He didn’t know what it was about, but there was a part of him that clearly had some idea because he didn’t want to go to Chuuya’s apartment to have that conversation.

Things had changed between them and Akutagawa wondered if Chuuya was finally going to reprimand him for overstepping his bounds. Akutagawa decided to be ready with his own argument — that Chuuya hadn’t stopped him and had encouraged it. Back when Dazai was still in the Mafia, he would have taken that sort of thing from someone of higher rank without protest, especially if he viewed them as stronger than himself, but now he felt like his life amounted to more than trying to satisfy other people.

He’d felt satisfied by his interactions with Chuuya, and if Chuuya suddenly felt like that was wrong then he’d fight him over it.

When he knocked on the door he expected to be greeted harshly, or at least coldly. Instead Chuuya thanked him for coming and asked him to sit at the kitchen counter while he made them both something to drink.

If this was a reprimand, it was the nicest one Akutagawa had ever been given.

Chuuya made himself a coffee and Akutagawa the sort of tea he liked. He slid the teacup across the counter and sat down on the opposite side so that they could face each other.

Akutagawa sipped his tea. It was good.

Chuuya sipped his coffee.

Akutagawa coughed. “What did you want to talk about?”

Chuuya tapped his fingers against his coffee mug, which he was holding tightly. “I’m not good at this sort of thing,” he said. He met Akutagawa’s eyes. “What are we?”

It took Akutagawa a moment to process the words and even then he didn’t know what Chuuya was asking. “What do you mean? We’re...I’m your subordinate.”

“Come on,” Chuuya scoffed. “You haven’t just been my subordinate in a long time, and I don’t know if you ever were considering all the times you didn’t listen to me or anyone else.”

That was a fair point. “...a friend?”

“Friend,” Chuuya repeated. “That’s a good word.”

For a moment they sat in silence. Was that what Chuuya had wanted from him? To define who they were to each other?

Everyone else in Akutagawa’s life fell into a more clear-cut definition. Co-worker, supervisor, subordinate, Boss, sister, weretiger, mentor, enemy. His relationship with Chuuya couldn’t just be defined by any one of those words, and Akutagawa realized that “friend” wasn’t among the categories of his relationships.

He thought about what friends might mean and found it hard to define, because it seemed like there were no friends in the Mafia. All of the relationships skirted around what they could be if they were normal people. Chuuya and Kouyou were almost like siblings, except Kouyou kept a certain amount of distance and as a result, Chuuya maintained some wariness around her. Black Lizard used to have a kind of friendly banter with each other, but their relationship was also a work one, and clearly they hadn’t known much about each other. They’d all gone for drinks and on trips out of town, but they were always a bit out of sync and a bit distant. Higuchi admired him and was a hard worker, but they didn’t share much with each other aside for an appreciation of each others’ talents. Chuuya was the only one Akutagawa had a real conversation with who wasn’t Gin.

That meant that the closest relationship Akutagawa could this to was to his with Gin. Akutagawa felt comfortable around Chuuya in a way he didn’t around most other people, and he trusted him, and he cared about him, but it also felt completely different to how he and Gin worked. Gin felt like having a home somewhere, and being with Chuuya didn’t.

He wanted more from Chuuya. He didn’t know everything about him, but he found that he wanted to, that the intensity of his feelings was different than his feelings for anyone else. He admired Chuuya’s strength, but unlike with Dazai, he didn’t feel the need to prove himself to Chuuya anymore. He didn’t feel below Chuuya because Chuuya didn’t make him feel like that. Now that he’d gotten used to it, he felt like Chuuya’s equal.

He also felt like Chuuya wanted to know more about him. Chuuya made him feel like he was worth getting to know, worth spending time with, worth more than how many people he could kill, and every time he thought of that he felt a tightness in his throat that had nothing to do with his cough.

Akutagawa also found himself feeling a lot about other things. About how Chuuya looked, about how Chuuya’s voice sometimes send shivers down his spine, how his smile or laugh made his heart beat faster, how he felt like he could look into his eyes forever at times, how graceful his movements always were and how there were times where Akutagawa wanted more than words.

That seemed different than friendship, from what little Akutagawa knew.

“What else would we be?” he asked.

“Dating,” Chuuya said. “Romantically.”

He said those words confidently, but a light pink dusted his cheeks.

Oh.

Romance meant love. A deep intense kind of love that was giving yourself completely to another person by choice rather than by blood. It was giving yourself to someone you hadn’t known your whole life and trusting yourself with them even though you didn’t know everything about them.

Akutagawa trusted Chuuya, but did he trust Chuuya with his emotions? Did he trust Chuuya not to use them as a weakness against him?

Chuuya was someone who didn’t hide his emotions or try to suppress them, so Akutagawa didn’t think he would do something like that. Love also went two ways, so Chuuya would also be giving himself to Akutagawa.

Akutagawa realized he was getting ahead of himself. Romance didn’t always start with love.

“It doesn’t have to be,” Chuuya added. “I just...I mean, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I know there’s a lot of intense stuff involved with that kind of thing. I’m sure you know. I don’t know what love is if it gets that far, for one thing.”

“What?” Akutagawa couldn’t help his surprise.

Chuuya looked surprised too, that Akutagawa was surprised. “Why would I?”

Something about Chuuya not knowing what love was seemed wrong when Chuuya came across as the sort of person more than willing to love. But they were in the Mafia and the way Chuuya had grown up...if Akutagawa put the pieces together, he could see why Chuuya would think that. Chuuya didn’t really have close friends, he’d never had a sibling or family that he could remember, and all of his attempts to get close to people were met with resistance.

Chuuya was gripping his coffee mug very tightly.

“You want me to be the one who helps you find out what it is?” Akutagawa asked.

“I can see myself finding out what it is with you,” Chuuya said. “If you wanted.”

“But why?” That seemed like a high value to place on him.

“Why not?” Chuuya asked.

He said it like it was simple.

Maybe it was.

Akutagawa had never valued himself and he’d never felt valued by anyone other than Gin and Higuchi, and even then he only really counted Gin. He realized it mattered what Chuuya thought and wanted.

He realized that even though he’d been taught over and over again that emotions were a weakness, if there was anyone who could show him differently, who could allow him to feel more freely, it was Chuuya.

“I can’t promise anything,” he said.

“Neither can I.”

Akutagawa nodded. “I...I want to try.”

Chuuya’s smile at those words took Akutagawa’s breath away. He wanted to see it more often.

“Then we’ll try together.”