It was hard to tell if he saw what would happen before it did. Whether it was the illusion that he smelled smoke or gasoline or something wrong in the air, or perhaps it was retroactive tunnel vision, or even just the surrealism of the precise timing that everything unfolded—a second off and they'd both be dead or worse—Majima just had that feeling that things would go the way they did. Managing to sneak past the bloodthirsty yakuza with Makoto was a harrowing task, and in the end maybe it was the fact that the hordes of men had cleared away when they were in sight of Hogushi Kaikan that alerted his subconscious to danger. It was easy to damn their past selves for being so blind to what wasn't there, but damning didn't lead to change.
Lee was dead. If Makoto hadn't tripped, Majima was sure they'd be too.
Even though he practically yanked on Makoto's wrist to move to the car, she emphatically affirmed that she was going to follow him. The first step was smooth, as smooth as he was used to with her shuffling steps. But a crack in the asphalt caught her toe—something he hadn't caught in time to warn her since he was so focused on the van Lee was headed towards. Makoto fell, her knees buckling with a cry as her wrist almost wrenched itself from his grasp. Had this been the first night he had protected her he would've scoffed and dragged her along regardless of her balance, but since he was now neck deep in his resolve he stopped to help her back up. She held onto his arms for support as she carefully prodded her foot along the rift. Majima glanced down, noticing that stitching in her shoe had split apart along a dark scuff mark. He pushed her back a step so her foot could catch the light from the neon signs. It was too dark to tell if she was bleeding, but either way she could still put weight on it.
Lee opened the door to the car and Majima gave her arms an extra squeeze of confidence despite the fact that he couldn't find the humor to even assure her that they were crossing the finish line. Two seconds. He took her wrist again and turned to keep plodding forward.
The ignition turned and everything exploded into flames.
Both Majima and Makoto flung like ragdolls across the street. Whether it was instinct or pure luck, he felt his long arms curl around her as they slammed against the hard concrete of the building behind them, protecting her head from what was surely going to be a concussion. Well, maybe she was unlucky enough to have one anyways, with the way his forehead slammed into hers. Majima's jaw clacked together so hard it rang like a tuning fork, even after he clenched his teeth to force it to stop. Seething through them and sending what he hoped was just spittle flying into Makoto's hair, Majima turned his head until he could see the remains of the van.
It was like the area around it had been gutted of its neon, all the lights stolen by the blazing wreckage. Their escape was gone. Ripped away in a second. The only mercy was that he couldn't see Lee, or what was left of him. Splaying his palms flat against the concrete to hunch himself over Makoto as he heaved in air, Majima's eye trembled as one thing led to the other in his head.
Give it five more minutes for any secondary or tertiary side effects to go off, and he was damn sure that raisin-faced bastard would saunter up and force the barrel of a gun (or his dick, or both) in Majima's mouth and fire away. First him, then Makoto. (Or perhaps first Makoto, then him? Whichever would be more cruel.)
Panting, now, as he was starting to realize it was indeed more than just spit dribbling from his mouth, Majima dragged the pads of his fingers along the building into claws. Shock gave way to adrenaline; if he didn't get them out of there now there was no hope to be had for the rest of their short, short lives.
Makoto yelped, jarred from her stupor as Majima clenched his claws around her and bolted, half-dragging, half-carrying her back into the narrow streets they had just escaped from. How much had wind tunnels of the narrow streets saved them, since they had barely crossed to the far sidewalk when the bomb had gone off? He didn't know and frankly couldn't ever know—all he had to feel now was that they were alive and it was his responsibility to keep it that way. Knowing the sharp corners by heart, her squeaks of pain and terror blotted out to nothing as his ears rang from the blast and throbbed with heated blood.
Familiar music and familiar lights rose like dawn in front of him, and he wrapped his arms around Makoto's head as he barreled into Club Sunshine. Peak hours were winding down, meaning guests were either leaving or too intoxicated or both. Carving his bee-line out, he wasted no time on anyone or anything as he took one last sharp turn and shouldered the door to the dressing room open, nearly tearing it off its hinges.
Several girls screamed, yet it was nothing compared to the ringing in his ears. Kicking the door shut behind him with his heel, he barely took note of the colorful dresses parting their way for him as he swung Makoto around, setting her on first the coffee table then the couch. The screams gave way to uneven choruses of his name, in various volumes and states of shock. He wasn't listening—his hands were still clamped on Makoto's shoulders, keeping the both of them from visibly trembling. The whites of her eyes gleamed in the warm light of the room, contrasting harshly against the smudges of soot on her cheeks. Struggling to keep the real panic at bay, Majima started pawing at her, searching for injuries and trying to ask over the noise if she was hurt. Her head spun, tilting this way and that in confusion to each new voice and sound, thus unable to hear or focus on him. Questions filled the room as his name became nothing more than just a noise, and Majima tightened his grip on Makoto until she was emitting a terrified squeal.
Majima's bark was as sharp as the explosion he had just escaped from. Every girl in the room shut down immediately, eyes wide and bodies stiff. None of them had ever heard anything even close to that from him. Some cowered, others simply looked on in sinking horror, realizing the gravity of the situation. He barely paid attention to who was even there as he turned back to Makoto, softening his grip with a harsh sigh to attempt to calm down.
The poor blind girl was constricted in on herself; arms pulled close, legs sealed together and chin ducked down into her chest. Only her shoulders relaxed a little at the cessation of the noise, but it wasn't much. Majima's ears still rung from the explosion, and he brushed crooked hair away from Makoto's cheeks to see that they were caked with filth and sweat.
“Are ya hurt?” he repeated the question he had asked when the hostesses had drowned him out. Makoto opened her mouth to answer but her lip only quivered. It was irrational but for a moment Majima feared she had now gone mute.
Whispers rose up as the girls got over the initial shock around him. He heard the threads begin to connect—the blast could probably be heard from the other side of Sotenbori, and Club Sunshine was tucked away in a relatively quiet neighborhood. No doubt everyone had heard it and maybe shrugged it off as part of a weak earthquake despite the oddness of it all. But then he comes barging in, girl under his arm, covered in soot and panting like a dog...He tried to ignore it though his heart was still beating too fast to count. Dropping his hands away from Makoto, he stared at her, feeling useless as his thoughts and anxiety got caught in a bottleneck.
“I said,” he responded in a low, but non-threatening voice, “Shut, up...,”
He turned to see Ai, standing there alongside the young mother Dolly. Both of them had towels in their hands, one of them was steaming from the warmer, the other appeared to simply be dampened. Moving his leaden arms, he reached for the dampened one in Ai's hands, feeling a small sense of shame in the back of his mind.
Ai crouched beside him as he turned to Makoto. By the good graces of the girls, they kept their curious murmur hushed as he dipped his fingers beneath Makoto's chin, warning her of the towel before gently cleaning her cheeks. Ai's eyes widened as Majima switched the cool towel out for the hot one from Dolly.
“S-She...,” Majima pretended not to listen as Ai stammered loud enough for the rest of the hostesses to hear, “She's blind...Majima-san, what happened?”
He didn't respond, simply catching Dolly's eye. Her face looked sullen in her suspicions, and Majima's seriousness only cemented them. Blinking it away, he finally took a good look at the girls around him. All of them had their eyes fixed on him, though for sure it wasn't the full cast that was supposedly on duty for the last opening hour. He stood up. Dolly watched him turn towards Ai before she crouched herself next to Makoto, speaking to her in a loving, quiet tone. Majima watched from the corner of his eye. Leave it to a mother like her to catch her common ground in this goddamn crisis.
Effectively ignoring Ai's (and everyone else's) question, Majima tried to lighten his tone. It was both for the hostesses' sake and for his; if he pretended to be at work then he could force the panic out or at least mold it into something useful, “Hey, who's all on duty tonight, Ai-chan?”
Ai momentarily frowned at his dodge, but recovered her resting smile as she answered, “We were slow, so Saki-chan took the opportunity to leave early. Yuki-chan was also here but she wasn't feeling great, so she went to rest upstairs,”
“Upstairs?” Majima wrinkled his nose, “What's upstairs?”
“Youda-san didn't tell you?” Ai tilted her head, “He's been living in one of the two apartments on the floor above, and ever since we started making larger regular wages he started renting out the second one, so if any of us couldn't get home we could just stay the night.”
Calculations were already turning out in his head as he scanned the rest of the girls. Most of them were the usual suspects, though Hibiki had called out earlier that day to spend time with her brother. Just knowing that parts of the full cast were already gone was all he needed, though.
“Mana-chan's still out with the last of the customers, probably calming down the commotion from you bursting in like that,” Ai continued, trying to scold him like Yuki would but he was already too far off in his own head. (On one hand, perhaps she managed to perfectly scold him like Yuki would since that was his reaction, on the other...) He eyed the racks of dresses on the far side of the room, but ultimately his gaze trailed back to where Makoto was curled up like a pill bug as Dolly gently talked about nothing to her.
Ai's voice kept going, but he wasn't listening. Catching onto this, she slowed and quieted, no stranger to being ignored even though Majima rarely made a point of ignoring any of the Sunshine girls. If he noticed, it was hard to tell—leastways not until she unleashed a sharp, horrified scream. Majima flinched, raw instinct re-flaring his anger to clench his fists as Ai put her hands over her mouth.
“M-Majima-san! You're bleeding!!”
“Haw, the fuck's that to do with anythin'?!” he snapped, having nothing better to lash out at. Ai stepped back, heaving breaths and looking at him like he was crazy. He waved a hand to dismiss her further, he didn't feel any goddamn pain, she must've been overreacting to a little scuff or stain or something.
He looked down, seeing a ruby-red stain larger than his fist along the side of his waist. Out of dazed curiosity he gingerly lifted the edge of his jacket, seeing the stain grow darker the more it wrapped around his side. Ai made a sickly noise between sharp inhales, joined by the gasps and worry of the rest of the girls. Majima tried not to grimace too hard as he smoothed out the edge of his jacket. Shrapnel, most likely, but he couldn't tell them that.
“W-Was that what that big noise was?!” Ai's voice wavered, nearing hysterics. Well, they were figuring it out anyway, but still, “We have to get you to a hospital—,”
“No!” He barked again, earning another are you crazy look from Ai, “Absolutely not! In fact, all of ya are staying an extra hour, no questions asked, and nobody steps foot outta the club! D'ya hear me?!”
Aghast cries of confusion and dismay rose, even as he swept his dagger-like glare around the room. Dolly in particular looked pale, knowing her daughter was alone and waiting for her. He sniffed, knowing he couldn't afford any exceptions. Attempts to smooth his tone back down weren't going to work, and his shoulders heaved with each breath.
“We'll give ya a bonus, but no one leaves for another hour, at least.”
The door opened and he snapped his head to it, his glare still just as intense even though it was only Mana who stepped through and closed it behind her to appeal, “Majima-san, please, I think we all deserve to know what's going on, here.”
A guttural snarl that he didn't know he was capable of played around the sharpness of his teeth. Telling the girls meant getting them way the hell more involved than they should be, putting them in immediate danger. He may have been lucky and out-maneuvered Sagawa for now, but who could say who saw him duck into the club? Even if Sagawa saw, he knew that his next step would be to lull him into false sense of security, maybe even waiting until the girls would leave so he could snatch them and use them as bartering goods. Best case scenario no one saw him, so maybe they were prowling the streets. If all of the above wasn't transpiring, a goddamn bomb had just gone off and Majima had no way of knowing if there were more or if the bomb had done more damage than it initially seemed. An hour should see the police at least get a grasp on the situation and direct everyone accordingly, but he could think of nothing to say that wasn't inherently incriminating and dragging every girl present down with him.
He stopped cold as Makoto repeated herself.
Ice crawled its way up his back as he slowly turned. It had only just occurred to him that she had never learned his name, even by happenstance. Hearing her say it somehow drove a knife through him—like it was a thing he suddenly wished she had never known while at the same time he couldn't be happier to have her say it. She was staring into the couch across from her without knowing it, her expression blank out of force of habit; no doubt protecting herself like he was trying to do with busywork. Her hands were curled tight as if she was gripping a walking cane that wasn't there, knuckles pale. The rest of the girls in the room disappeared in his mind, blotted out like he had put a blinder on his one good eye.
“Lee-san...where's Lee-san?” Makoto's voice was fragile, as if she already knew the answer without asking, “Please, no white lies...,”
Majima's expression fell, unable to look at her. She brought it back down to the brutally simple. Hate to admit it though he might, to everyone else but him they were just two civilians caught up in a sadistic attack, and it didn't need to be anything more than that. Besides, now he needed the trust of the girls, his hostesses, more than ever. He exhaled, brow furrowing in pain. Summoning the brusque harshness he had had before, he swallowed and let his heavy voice hang in the air.
“Bomb went off when he turned the key. He didn't make it.”
Makoto made a small sound. It was probably supposed to be a word, she looked like she attempted to say a word, but it rolled and died in her throat. Red started to creep up her neck and seep into her eyes. Her stony expression was betrayed with a heavy sniff, and soon after the stone cracked. Majima didn't dare look, moving Ai out of the way to get to the dress racks as the room filled with Makoto's sobs.
As he flipped through the dresses he heard the girls shuffle on their feet uneasily. Though he knew their intentions were only good, a bunch of strangers crowding around a traumatized blind girl had the potential to be the climax of a horror movie. Without turning around, he stopped them.
“Hey, all of you can clear outta here. Go help Youda-chan clean up. Won't last ya an hour but it'll pass time. Dolly, you can stay.” He thought for a moment, only dimly realizing that his sentences were uncharacteristically curt, “Ai-chan too. If ya won't scream at a little paper cut again.”
Ai made a few sounds like she was trying to find the right rebuttal, but finally gave in with a frown, “Only if you promise to get it checked out...,” Mana gave her a solemn nod before leading the girls back out into the cabaret. Chika caught her eye as well. The elegant but quiet woman had been standing in the corner with her elbows in her hands. Something somber swam in her gaze, and Ai could only give the comfort of a false smile that Chika barely returned. They were used to some degree of the unexpected, they were used to their boss poaching and recruiting girls at the drop of a hat; they were not used to him shouting them silent, they were not used to sobbing blind women while their boss adamantly refused to tell them why they were so injured. Chika was the last to leave the room, slow and grim.
Majima finally glanced back. Makoto had buried herself in the heels of her palms. The creeping red had reached all the way to her ears. Dolly could only do so much, full well knowing that everyone in the room was wholly inadequate to comfort her. Majima sighed, looking at the dress his hand was rumpling at the shoulder. It was bright green, made of satin and almost luminescent. He scoffed. Putting her in that would make her look like a damn watermelon. No, he needed a warmer color to minimize the intensity of her emotions. Bright red, what Ai was wearing, wouldn't do either—didn't need her looking like an emergency flare, grabbing people's attention.
As if summoned by his thoughts, Ai stepped forward, “Um...Majima-san, what...exactly, are you doing?”
“Recruitin',” he lied gruffly, “Hostess ain't any good in a club if she don't look like a hostess now, huh?”
She wrinkled her brow, “I suppose, but you're gonna dress her up now?”
“'Course. Gotta keep up appearances, right?”
Ai let it go with a small but unconvinced hum. The real reason, of course, was that if anyone came in looking for them they'd look for the girl blown half to smithereens, not someone dressed all prim and proper. Granted he looked like shit, but if (when) they targeted him he could take a page from Lee's book and lament that he had lost her in the blast, worst case scenario. He tried not to dwell on the fact that he could only lie to the girls' faces for so long before they finally clawed the answers out of him. Smooth-talking his way out of a customer's rampage was one thing, the disappointment of his girls was a whole other thing.
Fortunately, whether it was for his sake or Makoto's, Ai fell into a contemplative quiet as he continued to rifle through dresses. Too bulky and business-like. Wrong color, again. Coarse texture. Restrictive. Not...built for her body type. Several glances back at Makoto's slight form, followed by an immediate pruning of all the dresses that didn't look to be remotely close to her size, for whatever reason. Ai's soft footsteps approached him from his blindside, and he tried not to flinch when she started speaking.
“That one,” her voice was quiet, and Majima wondered if this was the voice she used to have before she got into the cabaret business, “Put that one away, too. It looks like the chest is small, but it's loose around the top. I had to pin that one for the night I wore it, and even then it was still uncomfortable.”
“That so,” he muttered back, sorting the small black dress with the other rejects. Ai put her fingers to her lips, watching as he sifted through more. The two of them went back and forth, remaining quiet even after Makoto tried to force herself to compose and recollect. It was a strange, unfamiliar place for her after all—and after what happened, she couldn't really afford to be taken off-guard. More than once Ai had to bring Majima back from looking over his shoulder at her. Finally he pulled a dress that had almost stuck to the velvet of the one in front of it. His eye widened.
“This one,” he asked her, “Did ya try this on at any point?”
“No,” she answered truthfully, “Looks a little small for me, but for her?” Ai reached out and rubbed the inside fabric between her fingers, smiling in approval at the softness of the silk. Faint embroidery and stitching that resembled blossoms and branches only revealed themselves under the right lighting, and the dress itself was modest, down to the ankles and sleeves that ended just past the elbow. There was a small rosy gold flourish to the edge of the high collar. Most importantly, though, the dress was a reddish plum color—dark, subtle, and exactly what he was looking for.
“Alright, Ai-chan,” Majima breathed, holding the dress in front of him even though it was comically small for his frame, “Your time to shine.”
Relieving Dolly from her place at Makoto's side, Majima knelt down and gently pressed the palm of his hand against Makoto's shoulder, pushing her up ever so slightly. He opened his mouth to gently call her name but stopped. If he was careless, then the girls were going to be careless with her name, and it'd be just as bad as wrapping her up in a little bow for Sagawa to swoop down and kill them both. He glanced at the dress in Ai's hands, then to Ai, thinking. It was the color of a plum, for sure—a nice, dark sour plum.
“...Umeko,” Majima squeezed her shoulder, indicating that he was talking to her, “Umeko, let's get ya into some clean clothes.”
Makoto's breath hitched, and she pulled herself away from her hands, blinking away tears that almost seemed acidic. Her head was tilted in his direction, listening intently.
Ai had a big heart, and that was precisely why Majima had asked her to stay. The sweetness of her voice while she remained reserved and thoughtful was just what he needed to help Makoto to her feet and behind the dressing curtain. He chewed on the end of a cigarette, sitting in front of Dolly and nervously bouncing his knee. Dolly watched as he involuntarily grimaced each time Ai made a small gasp once a layer of Makoto's clothing was removed, probably revealing some terrible injury like his bloody side. To the blind girl's sanity, Ai said nothing much more than making sure she wasn't hurting as they went along. At some point the awkwardness was weighing heavily on his anxious mind, and Majima attempted nervous small talk with Dolly, once again avoiding any questions about the extent of their injuries and instead asking about her daughter. That she only had good things to say about the little girl put some of his mind at ease, but it didn't help much.
The curtain drew back and Majima looked over, teeth still clamped on the unlit cigarette.
Perfect fit? Perfect enough. Makoto was staring at the floor, Ai kneading her shoulders gently.
“Yeah...,” Majima uttered, snuffing the cigarette in the ashtray like it had been lit. He stood up, gathering a respectable amount of make-up supplies before helping Ai guide Makoto back to the couch. Scooting the coffee table back, he sat on it and faced Makoto. Her tears had dried off but her face was still flushed and he could see the dried riverbeds carving up her cheeks. With a small sigh he brushed his thumbs along her cheeks, feeling sharp stabs of pain each time she flinched in response. Gentle, but agonizingly slow, he started to clean the rest of her face, taking mental notes of her skin color compared to the pallets he had at hand. Both Dolly and Ai noticed the walls closing around Majima as he tried his damndest to focus on Makoto's face and nothing else, losing himself in the busywork, trying not to acknowledge why he had to do this. The two hostesses slowly made their way to the door as Majima picked up a foundation brush, cradling Makoto's jaw in his hands as he studied the curves of her face.
Ai watched from behind the blind girl's head as Majima almost started putting foundation on twice, but after the second attempt he sighed inwardly and raised his brow in concern. Dipping his head so he was closer to Makoto, his voice came out low and pained. Ai's chest tightened, vaguely afraid of this strange, lanky man whom she thought to be her goofy, bright boss with a face of dirt and a heart of gold.
“Umeko,” the name was appropriately sour on his tongue, “I can't put yer makeup on when you're cryin'.”
Makoto's shoulders trembled though she kept her face perched in Majima's fingers. It wasn't her fault, really, it wasn't her fault. But the tears were renewing, and they couldn't be stopped. This was just a cabaret club, but Majima was already seeing how it was becoming another goddamn prison inside of a prison.
Makoto collapsed, pushing her face into Majima's chest as she sobbed once more. He hesitated, but soon wrapped his weak limbs around her, exhausted, tense, and at a complete and utter loss. It did nothing to comfort either of them.
Ai slipped out of the door and shut it. For all his talk about her cheeriness, she knew that deep down she could still be quiet and gloomy despite how much Sunshine changed her. She just never thought that the same principal would apply to him as much as it did to her.