It started as most things did in Chuuya’s line of work: with a phone call.
“Chuuya-kun, apologies for bothering you on your holiday. The Agency has requested backup on a mutually beneficial case.” Mori’s smooth voice did little to betray irritation in general, but Chuuya knew what to listen for by now. No doubt he was annoyed at his own Christmas Eve having been interrupted; it was traditionally a vacation day for Executives, and Chuuya knew for a fact that Mori had extensive plans to spend the whole day showering Elise with his affection. He'd been talking about cake shops since October.
Chuuya glanced woefully at the unopened bottle of Dom Perignon and new Blu-Ray disc set carefully on his (brand new!) kotatsu. “It absolutely can’t wait until tomorrow?” He wasn’t usually one to push back on direct orders, but it was the Agency. It was bad enough being pulled into work on a holiday, but the possibility that he’d also have to spend it with—
Chuuya clenched his teeth.
To his credit, Mori did sound apologetic. “I’m sorry, Chuuya-kun. I’m afraid it must be today.”
Chuuya let out a soft sigh. “Not a problem, boss. Apologies for asking.”
“No worries at all, and thank you, Chuuya-kun. Needless to say, I am happy to give you additional days off to compensate for the inconvenience, and you’ll receive a sizable bonus for your dedication to the Port Mafia.”
“Thank you, boss. Merry Christmas,” he responded, before Mori wished him the same and hung up.
Chuuya sighed, brushing his hair out of his face with his hand. It was just after noon now; there was no reason this should take more than a few hours. Most Agency cases were…quaint. It was probably just something that required more precision and focus than that Kenji-kun was capable of.
With the alliance going strong for a little over two years now, it wasn’t like it was a surprising thing to be called upon by their reluctant allies. Chuuya had even had fun on a few of the missions. Kunikida was efficient and capable; Yosano-sensei had a fine palate for wine, and they’d even gone out for casual drinks a few times, unrelated to any case. Even so, anything having to do with that asshole—
When Chuuya’s phone rang again, he didn’t even bother to look at who was calling, which was his first mistake of the day. “Yes?”
“Hiiiiiiiii Chuuya, merry merry Christmas Eve!” The chipper voice on the other end caused him to have a full body shiver.
“I fucking knew it,” Chuuya groaned.
“You’re as tsundere as ever, eh~”
“Just brief me on the mission and let’s get this over with,” he snapped.
Dazai huffed a sigh on the other end. “Fine, fine. We received a note about a possible threat on the holiday market located in the open-air mall facing the bay.”
Chuuya frowned. Anything involving a large number of defenseless civilians was really distasteful. “What kind of threat?”
“An ability user who can manipulate ice,” Dazai said seriously. "It’s a very tragic backstory, you see. Her parents forbade her from using her power after it put her sister in danger—"
“I don’t really care about all that,” Chuuya grumbled. “So, that’s the mission? We just stop her from endangering the general public?”
“Correct!” Dazai responded brightly.
“Why me? Can’t your new friends handle this one?”
“They’re all on vacation! And I was going to ask for Gin-chan, because if I get stabbed through the heart with an icicle I want to die beside a beautiful woman, of course, but she’s with her brother at Atsushi-kun’s, you see—“
“What?” Chuuya asked, frowning. “Whatever. Okay. I’ll be there in fifteen. I’m taking my bike.”
“Noooo, Chuuya, it’s okay. I’m already here.”
Chuuya stopped short. “’Here?' What do you mean, ‘here?'”
Suddenly, his doorbell rang. Chuuya slapped a hand to his face before taking a deep breath and stomping over to his door, which he threw open.
Dazai grinned stupidly from the other side. “Hiiiiii, Chuuya!” He peeked over Chuuya’s shoulder (not a difficult task). “Wow, you got a kotatsu? I always wanted a kotatsu! Can I try it out?”
“No, you’re not fucking welcome inside my apartment! Let’s go,” he growled, pushing Dazai away from his doorframe and slamming the door behind them.
“But Chuuya, you’re not even dressed properly! I’ll wait inside while you change,” Dazai whined.
Chuuya frowned and looked down at what he was wearing. He was in a chunky off-white sweater, a leather jacket, and jeans. Sure, it wasn’t his usual mafia garb, but it was his day off!
“This is fine! It sounds like a minor threat, anyway.”
Dazai continued to pout. “But you’re not even wearing your hat.”
Chuuya looked at him like he’d grown another head. “You hate my hat!”
“But your head will get cold, and then you’ll complain the whole time~”
“We won’t be out long enough for that to happen,” Chuuya snapped. He had never been so determined to be as efficient as possible in his work. The sooner he took care of this ice woman, the sooner he could escape this nuisance of a person and get hideously drunk on his own.
Dazai let out a performative sigh. “Fiiiiiiine, let’s go. It’s a thirty minute walk.”
“Why the fuck would we walk? My bike is just fine!”
“I’m not getting on that death trap!”
“You had no problem with it when we were fifteen!”
“I had every problem with it! I was just being polite because Chuuya had so much fun riding it. It makes me feel sick, Chuuya, and I just ate.”
“Ugh, fine! God, I hate you so much.”
When Dazai didn’t return his banter, Chuuya paused to look at him. The brunet was frowning quietly.
“Stop being weird,” Chuuya growled, grabbing Dazai by the coat and pulling him forward. “C’mon. We’ll take a taxi.”
That seemed to snap him out of his weird quietude. “You’re paying!”
Twenty minutes of awkward silence in a taxi later, they were stood in the midst of a bustling holiday market. Chuuya frowned. “So, where do we start?”
“I’m hungry, let’s eat!" Dazai offered brightly.
Chuuya guffawed. “You said you just ate!”
“It was just a can of crab, Chuuya, don’t be such a drag. Look, look, they have French fries!” Dazai grabbed Chuuya's arm and dragged him in the direction of said food.
Even though Dazai had forced Chuuya to pay for the taxi, Chuuya watched in surprised silence as Dazai took out his wallet and paid for the snack, making small talk with the vendor as he did so. He turned back to Chuuya with two cups of fries a few moments later, and handed one to Chuuya.
“Thanks,” Chuuya said, a new, strange nervousness in his stomach putting a slight damper on his hunger.
“There’s karaage over there too. You like karaage, right? Let’s get one of those too. Stay here, save the bench.” Dazai gestured adamantly at the green metal bench behind them.
Before Chuuya could protest, Dazai was shuffling over to the karaage stand. Blinking, he took a seat.
Unsure of what to do, and what exactly Dazai was up to, Chuuya resigned himself to observing the environment. He rarely ventured out on holidays. The first Christmas he’d ever celebrated had been with Dazai, when they were fifteen. Dazai had insisted on a Christmas tree, but he’d refused to ask Mori for help, so they’d picked one out themselves after their mission, paid for it on their own, and Dazai had made Chuuya use his ability to surreptitiously lighten the load as they pretended to labor over the act of carrying it back to their shared apartment. Once there, they had realized they had nothing to decorate it with, but the snow was too heavy for them to venture out again, so they had just used whatever they had lying around. They’d looped extra bandages around as if they were lights or bunting, and balanced video game covers on the boughs. Chuuya’s hat was placed carefully at the top. (Dazai had made fun of him because he couldn't reach it, and he'd tackled him to the ground in fury.)
“How stupid,” Chuuya chuckled softly at the memory. They’d referred to it as the “mummy tree.” The next year, Mori had a tree delivered because he told them they drew too much attention in public together, and Dazai actually gifted him a proper ornament. But Dazai spent Christmas Eve out at the bar with his other friends instead of with Chuuya. Chuuya hadn’t wanted to invite himself along and feel like a fourth wheel, so he had awkwardly sat at home and stared at the small sheep ornament Dazai had gotten him, missing the mummy tree of the year before and the feeling of Dazai laughing beneath him as he smacked him for calling him short.
Snapping himself out of his nostalgic reverie, he glanced around. It was just a bunch of couples, giggling and sharing puffs of warm air as they squeezed themselves closer to chat. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Except for the waste of bandages leaning over him. “Here, before it gets cold!”
Chuuya took the cup of fried chicken wordlessly, and Dazai took a seat next to him. While Dazai began munching on fries, Chuuya stared down at the chicken. He hadn’t eaten much for breakfast, so it wasn't like he was too full to eat, but—
“Did you learn anything?”
“Hm?” Dazai stopped mid-chew, gulped. “What?”
“From the vendors. Have they seen anything odd?”
Dazai hummed. “They did mention something strange near the carnival games. Apparently the air is a bit colder over there.”
“The air…?” Chuuya raised an eyebrow.
Dazai nodded seriously. “Obviously, a sign of the beautiful ice manipulator.”
“Beautiful?” Chuuya glowered.
“I heard she has long, flowing white hair, and a gown made of ice!” Dazai wiggled with excitement. “Maybe she’ll agree to a double suicide. An icicle through both our hearts!”
“You’re seriously the worst,” Chuuya said, but he couldn’t help his amused smile.
“Ah, Chuuya is still so mean to me.”
“With good reason,” Chuuya quipped back, glancing at his ex-partner. He had stopped eating, instead seemingly lost in thought.
Chuuya snapped a finger in his face. “Oi, get with it. If this person’s dangerous enough to warrant deploying soukoku, we really shouldn’t be playing around like this.”
“Right, right. Well then, let’s get going.” Dazai crumbled the now-empty French fry cup in his hand and stood, holding a hand out to Chuuya.
Chuuya hesitated before taking it, allowing Dazai to pull him to his feet.
“Alright, carnival games it is!” Dazai cheered, throwing his hands in the air. Chuuya just rolled his eyes and brought his hands up to his lips to blow warm air into them.
“I told you that you’d be cold,” Dazai murmured, throwing an arm out to stop Chuuya. Chuuya watched as he removed the lumpy, multicolored scarf he was wearing (and mentally kicked himself for not noticing and making fun of him for it earlier) and instead looped it around Chuuya’s own neck. Then, he took a pair of matching (read: equally ugly) mittens out of his coat pocket and held them out to Chuuya, but not without snickering at the way Chuuya looked in the scarf.
“What’s with this ugly get-up, huh?” Chuuya snarked. He refused to thank Dazai, because any act of kindness was clearly a ploy he’d use to his advantage sometime in the near future, and therefore not deserving of the gratitude.
“It was a gift, Chuuya, from my friends. You wouldn’t understand the purity of a hand-made gift, since you thrive off of empty materialism,” Dazai snarked back.
“Whatever,” Chuuya said, rolling his eyes. “At least I have taste.”
“Did Tachihara get you a gift this year?” Dazai asked lightly.
“Tachihara-kun…? Uh, yeah, he got me a new bike helmet.”
“Ugh, how boring," Dazai replied with a sneer.
Chuuya elbowed him. “Stop belittling my colleagues!”
“You belittle my colleagues all the time. ‘Motherfucking dorks,’ was it?”
“That was years ago! Besides, I like Kunikida.”
“You definitely don’t meet his ideals, Chuuya," Dazai said, as if he pitied him.
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“Ugh, Chuuya, you’re so stupid.”
“Oi, we’re here.” Chuuya stopped, gesturing to the rows of carnival games ahead of them.
Dazai brightened. “Oooooh, look! There are so many. Chuuya, let’s play that one first!”
Dazai pointed at a shooting game.
Chuuya glared at him. “We’re not here to play, we’re on the clock.”
“Fine, if you’re so sure you’ll lose…”
“One game!” Chuuya barked. “One, and then we need to start looking for leads.”
One game turned into two, which turned into Dazai bickering about Chuuya cheating during the ring toss, because there was just no way Chuuya’s aim was that good, did he remember the time…
And four hours later, Chuuya was carrying a dog plush more than half his size that Dazai had conned out of a poor vendor and both their hands hurt from the multitude of games they had played through with a competitive spirit rivaled only, perhaps, by that of Olympic athletes.
“Fuck, it’s almost five!” Chuuya exclaimed after having checked his phone. Weirdly, though, there were no messages from anyone asking how the mission was going. He guessed it wasn’t that surprising, given the holiday, but still, usually he’d be prompted to provide some sort of update—
“So it is! There’s a good ramen place around here, you know—"
“Oi, waste of bandages! This is all your fault. We haven’t made any progress at all, and the sun is going to go down soon!”
Dazai stared at him silently.
Chuuya blinked back.
“Chuuya,” Dazai began. “Have you ever seen Frozen?”
Chuuya made a face. “What?”
“The movie, Frozen. With the talking snowman.”
“What? No, who the fuck do you think I am?”
Dazai took a deep breath and clapped his hands together. “Chuuya, there is no ice manipulator. Well, there probably is, somewhere, but obviously I made up the imminent threat.”
Chuuya took a deep breath. It wasn’t like he didn’t know Dazai was put on this earth specifically to torment him, but somehow it ended up surprising him every time with just how annoying he was.
“Right, of course not.”
“There’s no case,” Dazai continued slowly, as if he were talking to a child.
“Of course there’s no case.”
“The President owed me a favor, you see, and Mori owed him one, so—“
“So you cashed it in to ruin my holiday. Obviously.” Strangely, Chuuya didn’t have the uncontrollable urge to throttle Dazai right now. No, right now all he felt was a bone-deep exhaustion. It had to be something deeper. Dazai definitely wouldn’t waste a valuable favor on something frivolous. Was this some way he was getting back at Mori, or maybe Akutagawa? Actually, he had mentioned Tachihara—
“Chuuya, this was a date.”
Maybe Tachihara had hurt one of the Agency dorks a while back. It must have been Atsushi, for Dazai to be this invested. But why did he have to get Chuuya involved? Was Tachihara here? Maybe Dazai was distracting Chuuya while someone else went to attack Tachihara. But that would mean the alliance was over, and Chuuya actually liked the alliance. He liked Kunikida, and Yosano-sensei, and especially Kenji-kun. They were good company, even if they were dorks.
“Chuuya, I like you.”
And the tentative friendship between Akutagawa and Atsushi was actually really sweet, in a weird way, but what about any of their lives wasn’t weird?
Dazai snapped a finger in Chuuya’s face, interrupting his mental gymnastics. “Chuuya, can you please focus? I’m trying to confess.”
“Murder? Arson?” Chuuya answered automatically, glancing around before his eyes snapped back to Dazai’s. “Kidnapping? You’ve gotta help me out here, I’m not sure there’s a crime you haven’t committed at this point.”
“Oh my god,” Dazai huffed out.
Chuuya scowled. “Well, go on, then. What’s the plot, here? I had plans today, you know.” With a bottle of his favorite champagne and The Boy and The Puppy 2, to be precise, but Dazai didn’t need to know that.
At this, Dazai frowned that strange, vulnerable frown Chuuya had caught glimpses of earlier. “Plans? With whom?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Chuuya sneered. It was rare Dazai asked him questions, and even rarer that he cared about the answers.
“Are you seeing someone?” Dazai pressed. It was so quiet Chuuya almost didn’t hear it.
He fought a blush. Getting flustered meant Dazai had the upper hand. Chuuya hadn’t learned nothing about maintaining it from all those years spent together. “What does it matter if I am or not?”
Dazai glowered at him, and wasn’t that a familiar face. “You’re so stupid, Chuuya.”
“Stop calling me stupid!” Chuuya snapped. He was tired, cold, and he definitely wasn’t being paid enough, overtime be damned, to spend his Christmas Eve with this bastard when he could be sprawled out under his kotatsu with his phone off and the TV on. “That’s it. Whatever you might have needed me for, you and your big genius brain can deal with it on your own. I’m going home.”
“Is spending time with me that horrible?”
Chuuya could count on one hand the number of times Dazai had sounded vulnerable. He supposed it was probably a common occurrence now that he was surrounded by those softies at the Agency, but he still wasn’t used to it. It made something in his stomach churn uncomfortably.
(Ah, so that's what that was...)
He thought back to all the times Dazai had sat next to Chuuya’s bed after Corruption and decimated him in Go, apparently because he couldn’t go a single day without seeing Chuuya fail at something. All the times he had interrupted Chuuya’s training and demanded they go play a new video game installed in the arcade. The time he had tricked Chuuya into riding the Ferris wheel because of the target who had the gift of flight, only to tell him right afterwards that the Akutagawas had already caught him. The totally inedible cake he had baked for Chuuya’s sixteenth birthday. The ornament he gave Chuuya every Christmas since that first one.
The empty space that had been left there the year after he defected, the lonely Christmas Eves Chuuya had spent in his new apartment for the past five years drinking and wondering why it was so hard for people to care enough about him to stick around.
“A gift is only good until someone takes it away,” Chuuya huffed, because he didn’t have the practice at being vulnerable that Dazai clearly did at this point.
“I don’t want to take it away,” Dazai said slowly. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
He stepped forward and placed a small box in Chuuya’s hands. Chuuya blinked, glanced up at him inquisitively. Dazai gestured for him to open it.
Chuuya slid off the ribbon and picked at the corner of the wrapping paper with his nail. It was neatly done, which was to be expected. For all his laziness, Dazai was consistently extraordinary at anything he actually put effort into. (Except video games. Chuuya knew that fucker cheated.)
Chuuya popped the top off the smooth white box and swallowed.
“This isn’t very funny,” he bit out finally.
“I’m not laughing, am I?” There was that defensive veneer of snark Dazai put on when he was insecure. Music to Chuuya’s ears after a long day of out of character softness.
It was a camellia, carved from wood and painted a bright red. A piece of black velvet formed a loop at the top. Chuuya picked it up out of the box, letting it hand delicately from his finger.
“I definitely don’t deserve your trust, or even your time, at this point. But there’s no one else I actually want to be with like this. So, selfishly, I wanted to tell you properly, at least once.”
Chuuya blinked, watching the ornament twirl lazily in the light breeze as it hung from his finger.
Once, when they were sixteen or seventeen, Dazai had miscalculated and let Corruption go twenty-seven seconds past Chuuya’s limit. Chuuya had spent the next three days vomiting blood and running a high fever. It was the worst pain he’d ever been in.
Unlike the previous times he’d used Corruption, when Dazai had forced his presence upon Chuuya every day until he was cleared for active duty again, his partner didn’t show his face once.
“He’s ashamed,” Kouyou had told Chuuya when she came to visit a few days into his stay in the medical ward. “He would never say that’s what it is, but he hasn’t left his room all week. Mori’s threatening to put him on an IV, because he’s not eating.”
“Idiot,” Chuuya grumbled, voice hoarse because his throat was so fucked up from the vomiting. “It’s not his fault.”
Dying, or close to it, was kind of an occupational hazard in the mafia. It hadn’t ever seemed to bother Dazai before, so what was different about this time?
“Anyway, who sent those? Tachihara-kun?”
“Hm?” Chuuya followed Kouyou’s eyes to the flowers adorning his end table. “Oh, I don’t know. They didn’t come with a note.”
Kouyou just hummed in acknowledgment. “Do you know what camellias mean?”
“What they mean?” Chuuya murmured back inquisitively.
Kouyou smiled. “Flowers are a language of their own, lad. Those are camellias. They’re sometimes used in religious ceremonies. They’re associated with devotion.”
“They’re just flowers,” Chuuya huffed.
“Red ones, though…unmistakably, those express affection. Or love.”
Suddenly, Chuuya felt a hand clasp his shoulder and startled, looking up. “Thanks for listening, Chuuya. I had fun today.”
Dazai thrust his hands in the pockets of his coat and stepped past Chuuya. Before he could pass him, though, Chuuya snapped out of it and lunged forward, grabbing the crook of his elbow and stopping him from going any further—“Wait!”
Dazai tilted his head to look down at him, but said nothing. For all Chuuya’s complaining about doing all the work when they were partners, it felt way too weird that Dazai had not only hatched a plan, but carried it out without an expectation that Chuuya do anything in return.
“We should eat cake,” Chuuya mumbled, a bit helplessly. It wasn’t like he had ever been on a date before. What the fuck had Dazai expected, really? Wasn’t it a bit unfair to call him daft when his whole world had revolved around him during their teenage years?
“Cake?” Dazai echoed softly.
“Isn’t it customary? On a Christmas date?” Chuuya snapped.
Dazai grinned slowly, a stupid grin Chuuya had never seen before, like he was surprised and not surprised all at once. “We can definitely get a cake.”
“And hot chocolate,” Chuuya added. He removed his hand from Dazai’s arm and held it out instead, palm open, trying not to blush but judging by the heat flooding his cheeks it was way too optimistic to hope for that at this point. “I can’t believe you wasted a whole day by pretending we were on a case. Now we’re almost out of time.”
Dazai took his hand and stuffed it into the pocket of his coat, which just made Chuuya blush harder. “I’ll take you on as many dates as you want to make up for it.”
“Bastard, you’re just going to make me pay for everything, aren’t you?”
Dazai let out a chuckle. “Like you weren’t going to offer anyway.”
“Chuuya, I like you so much,” Dazai interrupted him, squeezing his hand.
Chuuya squeezed his back. “You fucking better.”