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To whom you serve

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Chuuya had never been bothered by the scent of it. Or the color. It didn’t bother him that it would mix into his hair and become indistinguishable until he washed it in the riverbank, or that the scent of iron within the the blood itself mimicked the scent of a sharpened sword in the right atmosphere. Their faces irritated him, not in the way they looked aesthetically or how they contorted once his blade hit their vital organs, it was the ones who begged for their lives tears streaming down their cheeks as they threw another beneath the hilt of his sword. Their comrades; family. Men like that were the ones Chuuya didn’t mind taking his time with. Ensuring they felt every slice and cut from the very tip of his sword down to the hilt.

Charred wood crackles at his feet sending onyx colored dust and smoke undulating into the night sky. On a farm this far outside of Kyoto it would take at least an hour to be noticed, another hour and thirty minutes before the military police came to check on things. By then the bodies would be scorched to ash. Skeletons left to rot into the earth unable to show how they were killed if the police even bothered to search for another reason outside of a house fire. Chuuya spits in the dirt spots of crimson dotting the soiled earth along with his saliva. One of them had gotten a decent punch on him, apparently.

Footsteps echo in the dry grass causing birds flocking the opposite direction. Chuuya’s hand is smooth against the broad end of his sword. Navy cloth wiping the metal until moonlight refracts off the tip before he sheaths it at his side. Akutagawa watches in silence coat fluttering in the wind. Chuuya’s hair catching the same breath of cold air as the moon rises higher in the sky signaling the start of tomorrow. This had taken longer than he expected. “Oi, your boss always send you to watch his hired help or am I just a favorite?” He snaps voice gruff from the smoke.

Granite hues follow Chuuya’s movement entranced by the fluidity of his steps. “Dazai-san wanted to ensure you followed orders this time.” He merely states the truth though the tightness in Chuuya’s shoulders make him regret answering. As samurai became more a burden than a help it wasn’t uncommon for them to take on work for those still managing illegal trade under the new regime. Chuuya’s skill was widely known, unmatched, and warranted a high price for his work. A man of honor despite the danger hidden behind azure eyes swirling in the gleam of the moonlight. Akutagawa shakes his head coughing in the smoke, hat nearly dropping from the abrupt movement.

“Cover your mouth or you’ll inhale too much.” Chuuya says over his shoulder hair tightly drawn over his nape in a bun. Soft tendrils the color of a sunset kept tidy by a thin white string. Akutagawa nods following a few feet behind Chuuya as they wade through the dried up grass and rice fields heading toward the forest. Akutagawa doesn’t ask the destination. Struggling keeping up with Chuuya’s quick steps was enough of a distraction until his ears pick up the sound of a stream. Frogs chirping in shallow banks hidden by water lilies larger than his two hands combined. This was the opposite direction of home.

“Chuuya-san, Kyoto is the other way.” He states. As if Chuuya didn’t know his way back to the capital. The red head rolls his eyes and turns to face Akutagawa. “I’m filthy I need to wash this shit off.” He gestures with a flattened palm to the blood stained on his neck and chest down to the edges of his navy kimono. Akutagawa’s cheeks grow warm but his face remains stone-cold impassive. Years of training..under Dazai. Emotions were the key to weakness and a leg up for the enemy. Supposedly. “Those hats are ridiculous.” Chuuya says as he pulls his arms from the sleeves and kneels down near the mouth of the river. Carefully avoiding mushy areas of mud and grass hands scooping up the cold, translucent water. Akutagawa glances at him with a frown.

“I do not choose my uniform.” His voice borders on cold. Chuuya glances over his shoulder a second time.

“That’s not even close to being true.” Chuuya replies turning back to rinse himself with cold water. Skin prickling when it splashes against his bare shoulders. Akutagawa counts how long it takes for Chuuya’s spine to straighten under the onslaught of cold skin stretching over rigid muscles outlined in thick, symmetrical curves. Akutagawa blinks and looks away. He didn’t choose. Not exactly. Dazai had brought him up from poverty and when the government began to twist with the time he was given an opportunity to continue to serve Dazai and his family.

The government chose his uniform and he took it as a way to thank Dazai for all the training and the food. “The bruise on your face is almost healed. You put aloe vera on like I told you? It’s expensive but it helps.” Akutagawa’s eyes flit up at the sound of Chuuya’s voice. Tongue numbing for a moment. It was a new bruise, same spot. Dazai tended to hit the same area. ‘Building a tolerance.’

“Yes.” The word drags out of him like molasses fleeing a barrel. Akutagawa watches each muscle flex beneath Chuuya’s pallid skin, again. A simple task, throwing water over one’s body, seemed to bring out the defined curves and edges on Chuuya’s arms. Akutagawa looks down at his own through the thin cloth of the cloak. The definition, if any, was merely his skin stretched over his bone. “It’s getting cold. It will take at least an hour to walk back.”

Chuuya groans. “We’re not making it back tonight. I’m too tired and you’re too weak to carry me all that way.” Akutagawa scoffs at Chuuya’s remark head turning back to face the never ending forest across the riverbank. He wasn’t weak. That weak. Though, his sister often won arm wrestling matches against men he’d lost to in the bar when Dazai dragged him out. Frowning, Akutagawa steps forward and grabs Chuuya’s hair tie spinning it around his wrist as Chuuya dips his head in the water. “I have somewhere, it’s fifteen minutes walking.” Chuuya says once he’s finished cleaning the blood from his hair. Water trickling down the curved edges of his bangs sticking themselves to sharp cheekbones highlighted by the deep blue of his eyes. Akutagawa shivers; Chuuya frowns. “Oi, you need to eat more.”

“I eat enough.” When Dazai found his work to be acceptable. When it wasn’t..he’d learned to like the taste of misou soup and unseasoned tofu. Akutagawa turns on his heel waiting for Chuuya at the edge of the road beneath a large tree. Choking on air when Chuuya appears at his side as if out of thin air kimono still draped over his stomach and hair left dripping over his shoulder. “Won’t you get cold?” Akutagawa asks eyes averted to the floor.

Chuuya smirks teeth catching in the moonlight. “No, I’ve got meat on my bones.”

___________

Akutagawa had never noticed how loud the forest became at night. Most of the time he was stuck in Dazai’s house or around the courtyard at night. Handling security at his meetings, ensuring the tea house had his favorite girl of the night coming with the right kind of sake, and all the inbetweens Dazai didn’t want to handle himself. Crickets chirp and small animals rustle in the grass as the two men walk through a tunnel of trees crumpling over like their leaves had become too heavy for them to hold. Lightning bugs zip back and forth, tiny dots of stardust in an otherwise shadowed path.

Orange flickers in the distance growing brighter and softer around the edges the further they walk until the path drops to a small staircase build into the natural dip of the forest floor. Wood creaks beneath Akutagawa’s foot unsure of where Chuuya was taking him so deep into the forest. After a few more steps a small house begins to stick out from the thick trees and bushes surrounding it. Masking the shape in shadows and lush, green leaves. Chuuya yawns and stretches his arms out. “Don’t tell Dazai I have this.” He grates, eyes narrowing over his shoulder until Akutagawa agrees.

“What..is this?” The taller man asks slipping his shoes off on the outstretched patio. Chuuya does the same and pushes the sliding door open revealing a quaint space. Fresh tatami mats and a table in the center, wood burning stove near a single counter, and on the opposite side three beds. Chuuya’s eyes lower a fragment voice softening the further he steps into the house. “Old base me and my friends used when we traveled between here and Yokohama.”

Akutagawa stops in the center of the floor. Eyes wandering to Chuuya who had begun stoking the fire in the belly of the stove back to life. “Oh.” Is all Akutagawa can muster. Chuuya’s shoulders had slumped and from Akutagawa’s angle Chuuya’s eyes looked lost in another world. Hands moving robotically to set the tea kettle on the now warmed stove, two cups coming down from the shelf. Chuuya had never mentioned his life before this, and Akutagawa had just assumed like most other samurai after the war all they could do was..wander. Find work. Having a life before that seemed..unnecessary. Training and honing the skills that Chuuya had must have taken years. How could he dedicate himself while remaining in close ties with others? Dazai had always said friends were incredibly useless unless they provided something; money, routes, or information.

Akutagawa shifts awkwardly waiting for Chuuya to tell him to sit down.

“Let’s go outside. It gets stuffy in here.” Chuuya says, holding both teacups and jutting his chin towards the door. Akutagawa turns back around and opens it waiting for Chuuya to sit before he takes the seat next to him. Inches apart. The warmth from Chuuya’s bare skin hovering just close enough for Akutagawa to smell the spring water remaining.

Stars dot the sky unshrouded by the lanterns and sounds of Kyoto. Akutagawa’s eyes drift from the undulating steam in his tea cup to Chuuya’s profile. Veiled moonlight glossing the curve of his nose down to the sharp edges of his jawline. It was not softness Akutagawa found in the expression Chuuya wore, rather, it seemed more akin to fondness mixed with loss. A sadness that wasn’t fresh enough to cause pain only silently roll over the mind now and again as a mournful remembrance. “You do pick your uniform. That wasn’t meant as an insult.” Chuuya finally breaks the silence. Voice tired and silky all at once. Akutagawa felt it in his chest. “I picked this, even though I knew we wouldn’t always be needed. Shit changes, but if you’re proud of it then...that’s all that matters. Even with that tacky hat.” He smiles at Akutagawa before tipping the cup back to his lips.

“It...is not flattering on all of us.” Akutagawa admits, sipping his tea as well. “It is repayment for what Dazai-san has done for me. Once the government shifted...he needed reassurance.”

Chuuya scoffs. “He needed a pawn to make sure none of the new militia got up his ass.”

“It is still my job.” Akutagawa’s eyes meet Chuuyas. “As it is your job to kill when hired.”

Chuuya stills for a minute then shrugs. “Yeah, but I look good in my uniform..better than that goofy fuckin’ hat.” His smirk rides higher up the side of his face. “Just..don’t forget you’re fighting for yourself as well as..whatever your boss wants.” Akutagawa’s brows knit together.

“How is killin---”

Chuuya stops him with a finger to his lips. “I didn’t mean it in that way. I fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves, and still do. For my friends..who were forgotten in the wake of the new era.” Chuuya’s eyes dart back to the moon high in the sky hand dropped from Akutagawa’s face and brought back to curl on his knee. “That’s the part I do for myself. I don’t just work for just your boss y’know. You should find something else for yourself..a reason...doesn’t mean you can’t be a pawn if you want.”

Akutagawa bites the inside of his cheek turning his head and mirroring Chuuya’s gaze up at the heavens. Thinking for a moment before he finally speaks. “Gin.” He says quietly; Chuuya smiles into his tea cup.

“Good.” Chuuya sighs happily, leaning back with one hand on the patio wind curling through his hair. “Good.