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Smoke Over Sunshine

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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.

Sagawa.

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.

SHUT. UP!!!

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.

“Majima-san,”

“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.

“...Thanks.”

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.

“Majima...,”

He stopped cold as Makoto repeated herself.

“Majima-san...right?”

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.

 

Chapter Text

After what had happened it seemed a little offensive to call it the calm before the storm, but the awkward silence as he, Makoto, and Ai stood in front of the spare apartment waiting for Yuki to open it had no better name. Being taller than the two girls, he could easily look down and see what an odd group they made. Ai was already dressed down in a comfortable sweater beneath her coat, but due to having no other clothes Makoto was still standing there in the dress they had picked out for her. And then there was him, haggard at 24, with blood drying up on his shirt. Occasional pangs stung him from his injury now, especially when he shifted his weight. There was no doubt it'd only get worse with time. That the checkpoint line was so close only seemed to make it hurt more.

Ai pulled her lips in and knocked at the door again, louder this time before she leaned in and called, “Yuki-chan? It's me, Majima-san needs to spend the night,”

Silence.

“Yuki-chan?”

Some lazy shuffling. Maybe. Or it was the water heater kicking in.

Majima frowned as Ai sighed, raising her hand to knock again. Exasperated, Majima pushed her out of the way and knocked (slammed) on the door himself, certainly not holding back for anyone's sake. Now they could hear her, whining loud and clear. Frowning harder rather than smirking, Majima felt like a goddamn dad as his voice boomed in the hallway.

“Dammit Yuki-chan, open the door already, will ya?!”

“You're awful, Majima-san!” Yuki accosted, muffled from within the apartment, “You tell me a lady needs her beauty sleep then you come and wake me like this?!”

Majima scoffed loud enough for her to hear, “Yeah, well, no one told me you were a goddamn bear underneath that lady getup. Quit yer hibernatin' and open the door!”

“A bear?! You'd better mean a cute little teddy!”

“You'd like to think that, wouldn't ya,” he muttered under his breath. Various noises arose from the apartment, not the least of which were too many crashes to be normal and more of Yuki's whining. Majima rolled his eye, sighed, barely caught a glimpse of Ai failing to hide a smile, and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Would ya hurry up? We've been out here for twenty minutes already, and Ai-chan needs t'go home!”

Twenty minutes!” at least Yuki's voice was closer now, “Ai-chan knocked only about ten minutes ago!”

“Wait,” Majima jerked, “You heard us the first time, so why didn't ya open up right away?!”

Agh! You made me stub my toe!”

Majima dragged a hand over his face, grumbling, “I boost her confidence and make her believe in herself, and this is what I get, huh.” Beside him, Ai giggled. Majima gave an exasperated sigh and looked back to Makoto, who was patiently waiting with her hands clasped together. He'd have to make a mental note to see if he couldn't get a cane for her to hold onto, were it safe for him to go outside after this. His expression sombered, reminded of why he was in here in the first place. Hopefully the banter was a suitable distraction for her, if she could even pay attention to it.

In what seemed like too quick a motion for someone who had been so rudely awakened from their 'beauty sleep', Yuki swung the door open with an incredible pout, no doubt specially prepared for the occasion.

Majima-saaaaan,” she wailed, “Why do you have to stay the night? You eat other guys' bones for breakfast, can't you walk home?”

Makoto made a small noise. He almost mistook it for another uneven breath, but when he glanced over, turning his head, he noticed that the corners of her mouth were twitching. That was a laugh. Insignificant, easy to miss, but a laugh nonetheless. At the same time Ai reached across him, pushing the door open wider until Yuki got the whole picture. Ai, Majima, and the blind girl standing listless beside him. Yuki stared.

“Wh...,” her voice lowered, no longer accosting Majima, “Who's this?”

“New girl,” Ai filled in, as Majima was still a little lost in thought, “Majima-san crashed in with her after the explosion went off.”

“Huh? Explosion? What explosion?”

Majima grunted in disbelief and disgust. Ya mean to say you heard Ai's knocks but ya didn't hear a goddamn bomb go off? He stared at Club Sunshine's first worst best (and apple of his only eye), trying to find the banter in his head. He gave up immediately.

“I worry about ya.”

“Sorry to intrude,” Makoto spoke up for the first time, drawing everyone's attention. She dipped her head rather than bowing, not knowing how much space she had, “My name is Umeko and...And I don't have anywhere to go.”

Smart girl, Majima admired, Really smart girl.

Ai made a move to take Makoto to lead her into the apartment, but she pulled her hand back. She had moved to do similar to lead them up to the apartment, but Majima had thoughtlessly taken Makoto's wrist instead, like it was his charge, his instinct. It only served to make her stare at him in wonder. Instead she grasped Yuki by the shoulders and pushed her inside with a loving smirk, allowing Majima to follow with the girl. Eventually—as soon as he shook off his daze.

“But—,” Yuki protested, keeping her accusatory gaze on him over Ai's shoulder, “Why does Majima-san have to stay?”

Ai opened her mouth to explain when Majima raised a hand to scratch his head, his jacket moving freely. Yuki screamed, splitting the ear drums of everyone present.

“B-B-B-B-Blood! B-Blood, y-you're, you're—!!

It wasn't quite the planned way to end her protests, but it worked relatively well even though Majima was convinced he was now half-deaf as well as half-blind.

He rolled his eye with a harsh scoff once they were inside, keeping his gaze at the ceiling as he balanced on one foot to take his boot off. Balancing on the other was out of the question—the pain flared up in his side and he had to opt to gingerly sit down with a groan. Yuki and Ai continued to talk as Makoto turned her unfocused eyes towards him due to the pained sounds. Her brow raised in worry but he didn't acknowledge it.

Ai explained the explosion just outside the club—especially the patrolmen that came by to ensure that everyone was safe and that no shady characters had barged in. Majima had certainly come under scrutiny, though the testimonies of the hostesses saved him from further questioning. Thankfully Makoto flew under the radar, even though some of the girls seemed cautious of her. Yuki looked scared. She clutched at Ai's arms, and Ai's returning grip seemed to be equally as desperate, betraying the pleasant mask she had put on for the rest of the night. Nevertheless, she continued to coo and calm Yuki, pulling her close. An attempt to change the subject was made as Majima struggled to stifle more grunts of pain while Makoto looked on in worry, not paying attention to the two hostesses.

“Hey, you slept through quite a lot,” Ai murmured to Yuki who was still staring bug-eyed at the bloodstain on Majima's shirt, “Are you feeling any better?”

Yuki stuttered on syllables and Ai moved herself closer to grab her full attention, leaning in until their noses touched. She repeated her question, and Yuki's lips stopped quivering.

“I-I think...I...I don't know...,” Yuki answered, then, face flushing red as she registered Ai's closeness, she whispered, “M-Majima-san is here...,”

Like a bolt of lightning she jerked with a sharp gasp and a yelp, “Majima-san is here!!” Before Ai could do anything Yuki starting darting around the small apartment, tossing messes away, shoving snacks onto the cramped counter, and haphazardly rearranging furniture. Majima blinked, shocked at the sudden reaction (completely oblivious as to what started it) and watched Yuki go, finally taking in the details of the apartment.

The size of the living room might as well been at least two of his apartments, with a half-fridge in the small kitchen sporting a hot plate and a microwave oven. As Yuki struggled against the linen closet to pull out the spare futon mattress, Majima looked to the humble kotatsu. A small TV was set upon it, unplugged. In the corner where he imagined the TV was supposed to be was a large machine that seemed horribly out of place. Squinting, Majima could just recognize the kappa mascot on the side of the machine.

“Would ya mind tellin' me why the hell ya have a goddamn karaoke machine in here?” he asked while Yuki attempted to smooth out the futon in the only open corner of the room right in front of the closet itself.

“Youda-san bought it!” she answered as she worked, “Apparently Utahime just got a new machine and he purchased it at a discount. He says the guests will love it, and just think, we won't have to go anywhere to have a duet, Majima-san!”

Majima recoiled in horror, “The hell're ya tryin' to pull...,”

Ai laughed, giving Yuki a hand as they cleared off more space around the kotatsu, “We'll all move it tomorrow so it's down in the cabaret proper—with Saki's help it'll be done in no time!”

Majima slumped his shoulders, suddenly finding the girls a bit too enthusiastic about all of this. Taking Makoto's hand, he led her in, spotting the door at the far side of the apartment leading to the bedroom. To his left and behind the closet, both a toilet and a bath. Wasn't too shabby of a place, even with all the miscellaneous belongings the girls all left behind as a communal space.

Ai stepped back, admiring their handiwork before a light went off in her head, “Oh, speaking of Saki, Majima-san...We should give your side a look.”

“Nngh, I'll take a look at it later,” he grumbled.

“We have time now,” Ai argued, “And besides, we need to figure out who's going where; this place only has two futons,”

“Simple,” Majima waved his hand, “Yuki-chan walks ya home after we set up shop here,”

“H-Hey!” Yuki butted in, “You can't just shove me around like I'm a pawn!”

Majima ignored her, continuing to talk to Ai, “The two of ya walkin' the streets, especially with so many cops around, y'should be fine once ya convince Yuki-chan it's a good idea.”

Hey!

“Majima-san,” Ai wrinkled her nose though she was smiling, “Why are you putting this all on me?”

“Because you can be reasoned with,” he grumbled. Yuki interrupted again, which prompted Majima to point at her stiffly, staring at Ai as if she had just made his point. Ai simply shut her mouth and took Makoto by the arm, gently guiding her to sit in front of the kotatsu and leaving Majima to pick up his own mess. He sighed, a little more theatrical than need be, and turned to Yuki.

“I'm just tryin' to be reasonable, if ya sleep like a bear then you must snore like one, and I ain't gonna be around to test that out,”

“Good, you can sleep in the hallway then,” Yuki fumed, “I don't want to sleep in the same room as you either!”

“Hey, hey,” Majima frowned, “What gives, ya want a duet but you're uncomfortable campin' out with me?”

“Enough, enough,” Ai reached up to attempt to push Majima's shoulders down, “Have a seat, let me at least look at your wound.”

“So mature, Ai-chan!” Though it was a genuine compliment, Majima piled so much honey and sap into his words with a sleazy smirk it might as well have sounded fake, “I don't think there's a man alive that deserves ya!”

“You're right!” Ai answered almost too brightly as Majima sat for her, opposite of Makoto and where Yuki decided to sit, “There isn't!”

Majima's brow twitched in confusion, knowing there was something more to her words but not catching what it was. Didn't matter anyway. Yuki practically had steam billowing from her ears and that's what he was going for in the first place. Regardless, the facade he was putting on quickly fell as he slowly unbuttoned his shirt, trying not to over-anticipate the state of the wound. Yuki set about introducing herself to Makoto, then, upon realizing she had no other clean clothes, disappeared into the bedroom to raid the closets.

A thought occurred to him as he got to the last button—the tattoo on his back. None of the girls knew he had it. Trying to pass a grimace off as pained rather than worried, Majima carefully swept the tails of his shirt behind him, keeping his blazer on in an attempt to shroud himself and blame it on weird shadows if Ai saw anything. Biting his cheek, he ignored Ai's questioning look before glancing down at the wound himself.

There it was, a deep cut that looked like he had gotten stabbed, stubby and red. Ai held her breath, prodding at the unclean skin around it to Majima's hisses.

“I-I don't know...what to do,” Ai murmured, “Do you think...,”

“Shrapnel, probably,” he muttered, looking across to where Makoto was listening intently. She hadn't spoken much, but then again he and Yuki hadn't given her the chance to nor was she allowed her time to grieve. He sighed and Ai recoiled as the wound moved with him. Curling her hands and pressing them to her round cheeks, Ai wondered aloud how Saki could deal with this stuff before she shook her head.

“Majima-san, how did this happen? What happened?” Ai asked again, more out of a desperation for words than a desire to know. Majima continued to stare at Makoto, whom, if she could've, he was sure would be staring back at him to figure out just what exactly to say. She played with her hands restlessly, seemingly frail hands that had the strength of a masseur. It clicked and Majima cocked his head to the side, putting on casual airs.

“Far as I can figure, fuck if I know. Umeko-chan and her boss were gonna go on some sorta trip, hadta leave super early. I was on my way home and bumped into them. Umeko-chan used ta be a hostess back in the day, so we got to chattin' 'bout that, then...,”

“Y-Yes,” Makoto agreed, not too quick to seem eager but not to slow to seem confused, “He'd heard there was a massage conference in Tokyo, and wanted to check it out. Might've gotten some new equipment, or special training for...me. If it hadn't been for Majima-san...I would've...,”

There was a lump in his throat, watching her jump into his lie so easily. Ai sat back on her heels, staring at Makoto as well. Makoto dipped her head, self-conscious from the silence. He wanted to apologize for it but nothing came out, and when Ai said it it was like she knew it was just as inadequate. Still, Ai smiled.

“Yes, for all our teasing and as much as he teases us, Majima-san makes sure we're all taken care of. I've never been happier, here,”

“H-Hey,” he tried to protest, but Ai gave a small giggle.

“He looks like he eats crickets but he's really a good person, isn't he?”

“Hey! Again with the crickets?! Even if I did, y'think that's even remotely enough to feed me?!”

“Ah! R-Really?” Makoto tried to push past herself to converse even though her voice remained weak, “He told me he was handsome...!”

Ack! His mind screamed as he felt the heat rise to his face. It was coupled by absolute horror as he noticed Ai's heart-shaped face start to glow, her cheeks pushing upwards with a sweet but mischievous smile.

“Did he? What a huge liar! He's definitely not a pop star, and he doesn't look friendly enough to be a comedian...I'd say...,”

Majima pulled his lips in and widened his eye, indignant as she continued, “He looks like a cartoon villain. Sharp, menacing features, like you could cut yourself on him. But really, he's sweet, and kind, and...,”

“I see...So he looks frightening,” Makoto's small voice was accompanied with a sad smile. Majima caught onto it and narrowed his eyes, embarrassed and vaguely ashamed, and he looked away, “I seem to attract a lot of men like him...,”

Ai blinked, trying to wrap her head around what she said. After a while she smiled warmly, letting the conversation go its natural course into silence. It was broken by Yuki sliding the door from the bedroom open, folded night gown in hand. Before she could say anything, her eyes fixed on the bloody mess of Majima's side, and she went pale and rigid.

“Ah, about time,” Majima said, casual and gesturing towards the fridge, “You gals got any alcohol stashed up in here? Could use it to clean the wound up.”

She stood there, staring, the gown in her hands starting to tremble. Majima raised an eyebrow.

“Yuki-chan,”

“O-Oh. Yes. O-One second.”

Placing the night gown on the table in front of Makoto, Yuki hurried over to the fridge. Confirming Majima's suspicions, there were at least 3 if not 4 bottles of liquor. Yuki pulled out one that was already halfway gone, returning to Majima with a hand towel. Gauze would've been better, but he couldn't allow himself to be picky, especially when he had told Yuki to do things to alleviate her from the mounting panic.

Majima hissed and tried not to twist away as Yuki poured the cold alcohol over his side. He couldn't even crack a joke about wasting perfectly good booze. The smell of sharp vodka mixing with the coppery smell of blood offended his nose and tears beaded in the corner of his eye as Ai gingerly dabbed at the wound with the towel. With some small but loving bickering, the two girls doted on him as he seethed his way through the pain, finally finding the small first aid kit with enough gauze and tape to stick to him. It looked like he was a broken stuffed doll by the end of it, the gauze was so thick, but did nothing to complain further. Ai was holding Yuki up by the end of it, the poor girl was pale despite the help she had provided and tired now that it was over and done with.

“Alright,” Majima shrugged his shirt forward and started re-buttoning it, “You two head on home.”

“What, b-but,” Yuki protested despite herself, “I ate the last of the leftovers in the fridge...there's nothing here for you to eat,”

“Mm,” Ai briefly agreed, “There's more we can do,”

“Yeah well,” Majima's arm brushed the wad of gauze as he moved onto the next button, “Stuff it. Get some rest.”

Yuki rested her chin on Ai's shoulder and yawned. Majima gave her a long look that she didn't see, rubbing sleep from her eyes, “Not even a massage or something?”

He felt his face get heated again, but only because he knew that Makoto was certainly the professional in the room, “No. Too injured for that.”

“Your feet, then,” Ai piped up, “Remember, I promised!”

No.” he shot down, enunciating the word too perfectly, “I'm gettin' cold feet already.”

“That's a bad joke, Majima-san,” Ai frowned comically.

“Majima-san, your feet are under the kotatsu, how could they be cold?”

“Like this,” he swung his long legs out and placed his bare feet on Yuki's arm. She shrieked, which almost caused him to regret it if only for his ears' sake, but his evil smirk showed that he'd do it again in a heartbeat. Until Ai grabbed his foot, of course, and he yelped, jerking his feet away and back under the kotatsu before she could do anything.

Majima-san,” Ai said, aghast, “Are you ticklish?”

No!” third time saying the word was definitely not the charm, “Scram, both of ya, before I fire ya for harassin' yer boss!”

Giggling themselves breathless, the two girls gathered themselves up, leaving the apartment arm-in-arm. Majima watched them go, still-faced but fond of them. Something nagged him in the back of his head about the way they pressed close together, but he filed it away as unimportant and turned back to Makoto.

Her hands were on the night gown, kneading it for comfort. It definitely looked like it had been one of Yuki's—plain, long, simple, with pilled-up fabric from the use. Certainly wouldn't cause her any issues in comfort. He let the silence settle in for a moment longer, the only quiet they were granted alone where he didn't have to herd cats with the girls and where she didn't have to be called 'Umeko'. After a while he stretched, finally pulling off his blazer and wincing quietly at the stress on his wound. The bleeding had slowed significantly, but he knew better than anyone that that didn't mean much, especially considering where it had come from. He stared at her. She didn't move or change positions or speak.

“I guess I kicked 'em out before they could help ya get changed,” he tried casual first, “Not that y'need help, it's just a night gown.”

She stopped kneading it. The words had gotten to her, but she seemed to be paralyzed, staring into the void and doing nothing about it. Majima inhaled.

“Makoto...,”

“Wh...Wh...,” her regular voice was coming back, rather, the fear, uncertainty, and other such emotions threw themselves into a cocktail for her to get drunk on, “What's happening...What's going on? Why? Why, why, why...,”

She leaned forward, burying herself in the night gown, shoulders heaving with dry sobs. Her eyes were too spent to lend her any more tears. Majima felt the lump in his throat grow thorns and stab him from the inside out. He looked around the room for something to distract himself with, ideas, anything, but in the end he figured he needed to get the business out first. Maybe even formulate a plan with her. It'd at least get them back on their footing instead of scrambling like chickens with their heads cut off.

“We've got some time to rest. Recuperate. I dunno how long. The car was definitely Sagawa's doing, but he's not stupid enough to make a move with the cops crawlin' all over. All the same, I don't think it's wise to go out.”

He fished a cigarette from his coat pocket along with a lighter, then lit it, “Either of us.”

Makoto was quiet, and he took his time to enjoy the first two drags before continuing.

“The grace period'll last until Sagawa finds out we weren't also killed in the blast. After that...who can say.”

With a long groan, he stretched out his legs under the table, making a face when they cracked and ached. He was only 24, goddammit—shouldn't he have some more time to enjoy not aching everywhere?

Misjudging the length of his legs, his feet brushed up against her knees and she gave a small squeal, jumping in place. He very nearly slammed his own knees against the table in shock, retreating.

“Sorry,”

“Th-They really are cold...,” Makoto rubbed the bottom of her eyelid with a single finger, her mouth wavering between smiling and not smiling. Majima gave a small grumble, but couldn't exactly argue one way or the other.

“Those girls love you...,” she commented after a while. Majima scoffed, trying to dodge acknowledgment.

“I'm their boss n' paycheck.”

She tilted her head, “They don't see you like that. They did so much...no questions asked,”

Majima was about to counter that she would've done things for her boss, no questions asked, but it died long before it reached his tongue. Lee had done so much for her, it was easy to see why she was so dedicated to him. But Lee had gone above and beyond, Majima was just doing his job and doing it well. Even if it did feel like Yuki had grown her wings and left the nest when he had nothing left to coach her on. Surely it wasn't accidental that he felt like a dad even though they were only a year apart.

“...Do you think...,” Makoto tried to ask, bunching her hands in the night gown.

“I trust 'em,” he said solemnly. A small sniff and he took another drag of the cigarette, “Fer better or fer worse, in Yuki-chan's case,”

Makoto laughed, softly, “You two fight like she's your daughter.”

Majima choked and coughed on his own smoke. It was fine enough to think about Yuki like that in his own thoughts or with Youda, since they were basically one and the same to her (essentially landing her with three separate dads) but hearing it from someone else caught him off guard. Hitting his chest lightly to force the rest of the smoke out, he gave a rumbling gasp and scowled.

“We're a year apart—I'm only 24, ya know,”

“Ah,” a smile played on Makoto's weary lips, “Siblings, then,”

“Ah...,” Majima lowly agreed, mind flickering back to the only sibling he had ever had, “Yeah. Siblings.”

The word hung in the air, and the strangest thing about it was that Makoto let it, eyes dropping as if it had stung her as much as it did him. Still, she stretched her arms with a sigh, cat-like over the table, then finally relaxed, resting her head in the folded gown.

“Tired?”

“Everyone's been so kind to me...,” she mused, “And I feel...filthy.”

“Looks like there's a washroom in here,” Majima offered, blatantly disregarding what she was actually saying even though he knew what she was getting at, “Dunno if the bath's drawn, but you'll at least be able to wash up before bed,”

Makoto made a small hum of agreement, “Sounds good. But...I'm going to need some help,”

He didn't expect it, wouldn't expect his response in a million years, but everything washed over and his brain dropped into his stomach and he stuttered. Thankfully, he was too exhausted and thought of Makoto in such a different light that it was easy to swat the thoughts away, but the question still hit him out of left field.

“Wh-what,” he squawked awkwardly. Makoto, bless her heart, didn't seem to notice, or paid no attention to it. Whichever.

“If there's any shampoo, or body wash, even just soap...I don't know where it is. I just need it in a bucket, or someplace near me...That'd suffice,”

“A-Ah,” he stuttered before regaining himself, “Ah! Right, yeah. I can do that for ya.”

Makoto smiled, then, using the table, slowly stood up, gown in hand. She reached the other hand out, patient and expectant.

“Which way?”

Majima stared at her from his seated position, almost in awe at the fact that she couldn't even stand without being a broken mess. Wouldn't be fair to say she had been through worse; Majima knew from personal experience that there were no cutoffs between things being 'worse' or 'better' as far as weathering storms went. They stacked, like boxes in a warehouse. One bad thing stacked on another and if it wasn't taken care of the stack would fall or bow out the warehouse. All depended on the person what their limit was. It was cruel to think that she had sacrificed her sight for more sanity, she didn't make that choice for herself. All the same, he didn't know how much he'd be able to hold up if he had gone through what she just had, both eyes or no.

Bah, now wasn't the time. He snuffed out the cigarette and stood up, taking her hand and leading her to the washroom.

Seating her on the edge of the bath, he peeked in to see that no, it wasn't drawn. Much as he'd like to take another jab at Yuki, it was likely rarely used by any of the girls anyways. Makoto'd make do. Now to gather up whatever she needed and leave her to it while he tried to knock his crashing brain for a plan while resisting the urge to chain-smoke himself to death. He opened the bath cabinet.

He stopped with a shocked stutter.

“I-Is something wrong?” Makoto asked.

“U-Uh...,” Majima looked at the monolithic rows of various shampoos, body washes, lotions, conditioners, and shaving creams. He should've known. He should've known. With at least eight girls working a night and far many more on payroll, he should've known. Peeking over the initial rows revealed that the stash of products went all the way to the back wall, “No...just...Considerin' gettin' a permit to open up a bath store...,”

He reached for the first product without much thought, turning it around in his hand, “So, are you a silky smooth gal or a...,” he put it back and plucked the next one off the shelf, “A voluminous shine one?”

“Anything's fine,” she said. Unfortunately it was the worst thing she could've said because he spied about five or six different groups of products all catering to specific girls and what they were shooting for. Some of them even had names scrawled on masking tape and slapped either on the bottles or near a cluster of them. He huffed and puffed.

“Really, I don't think ya understand my predicament here...,” his eyes desperately scanned the shelves until he spotted Yuki's clutter. Plain and simple. That'll do, “Bah, fine, got somethin' here.”

He turned around and placed the bottles very deliberately on either side of her, “Shampoo on yer right, body wash to yer left. Don't get suds in yer eyes, you'll go blind.”

Another smile from her, however small. Majima smiled back and, resisting the urge to give her a reassuring pat, he left her to herself.

Ten minutes went by and he heard her crying over the sound of bathing. He lit another cigarette and tried to ignore it.

 

~~~

 

“Quit yer apologizin', Saki-chan, I survived the night even with Yuki-chan helpin' me, it wasn't that bad,”

Majima lifted his arm, letting Saki get a better angle at his wound. Crumbs were all that was left of breakfast, Makoto's freshly laundered clothes were sitting on the kotatsu, and the karaoke machine was ready to be moved out the moment Saki was done patching him up. Due to her past with Kizuka and the fondness she had towards rougher-cut men, Majima was much less worried about his tattoo being out in the open as Saki patched him up. After all, nurses don't turn patients away. Or at least Saki wouldn't.

“It's not Yuki-chan that I'm worried about,” Saki eased the wound farther open to Majima's high-pitched winces, “It's you. The advice you gave me applies to you, too, you know,”

“Bah,” he dismissed, “Don't know what yer talkin' abou—AIEE!!

“There!” Saki said triumphantly. In her medical tweezers was a small misshapen piece of metal. She grinned, proud, and placed it on one of the paper plates she had brought in with breakfast, “You're lucky it was just metal, if it was glass it would've probably broken inside you, and then I would have no choice but to knock you out and drag you to the hospital,”

“Oh for fuck's sake,” he wailed, still pitched, “Y'can't knock me out without any sedatives,”

Makoto offered her quiet two cents from the other side of the kotatsu, “He's fallen asleep on my massage table before,”

Another wail from him, a wail of betrayal, one without words. Saki laughed, giving his arm a playful squeeze.

“Majima-san, you sure do know how to pick hostesses, don't you?”

“This one wasn't my fault,” he protested through gargles of saliva. Saki didn't believe him, and Makoto only shook her head, offering no support. In a way, it was his fault. It was all his damn fault. He groaned as Saki cleaned up the mess around him and got out rudimentary sutures. His eye twitched, but he forced himself not to complain, wincing and seething as she went to work.

Quick, tight, and efficient, the stitches were done. Majima breathed, not too deep, but still relieved. Saki cleaned her hands, then opened up her bag. He gave her a very hard stare as a polaroid camera came out and not alcohol swabs and gauze.

“May I? Just a picture to show my professors, please, Majima-san?”

“Jeez, what're you gonna tell 'em,” he grumbled, “My boss got into a fistfight with shrapnel?”

“How about, working a cabaret is dangerous for your liver? Mana-chan'll get a kick of that, although, it hit below your liver...,”

“Oh she will, will she,” he grumbled again, though Saki was right. He rested his chin in his hand against the tabletop, grumpy and staring just past Makoto, “Fine, do what ya want.”

With many thanks, Saki took the picture (mindful to get his tattoos out of the shot), bandaged him up, took another of the final dressing, then set the camera down on the table as she cleaned up the rest of the mess, packing her supplies away and making sure the rest of the groceries fit in the small fridge. He picked up the camera, watching the photos develop on the table. He thought nothing much of it, just examining for the hell of it as Saki busied herself.

“Hey, Umeko-chan,” he said, catching her attention, “Did ya find any sore spots on ya last night? Saki-chan's studyin' to be a nurse, although she might as well already be one. I swear she patched me up fine,”

“I did,” Saki affirmed, “But only if you stay away from strenuous activities,”

“What,” Majima huffed, “Don't want me helping ya with the karaoke machine?”

Absolutely not.”

“Umm, I might've found some,” Makoto wondered aloud. Saki slowed her business, listening before sitting down next to her, “My head just feels dizzy, but without being able to see, I don't know...,”

“Probably a concussion,” Saki guessed off the bat. Majima nodded for her to continue, because it was very likely that's exactly what it was, “Can you place your hands, palm down, on the table?”

She did as she was told. Saki instructed her to flip them so the palms faced upwards, then back to the way they were, as fast as she could possibly do so. Usually eyesight was the quick and easy way to test for concussion, but if Makoto's eyes weren't responding to light there wasn't much to do. Saki couldn't diagnose anything, but regardless she noted that Makoto was a little sloppy. So long as there was someone here to check up on her, she needed to nap and rest. Since Majima was most certainly not going much of anywhere (especially with Saki's scrutiny) there wasn't much else to do except call Youda to help move the karaoke machine.

Majima winced, watching the pudgy man hobble back and forth while Saki did most of the heavy work, her smooth muscles bulging beneath her shirt. All that hiking wasn't just for fun, after all. At least twice he tried to jump in and help, but at Saki's adamant barking he was forced to back off. Makoto at one point called him over on some guise that she needed help with something, and when he came she latched her hands onto him and wouldn't let go, effectively imprisoning him from helping the two move the karaoke machine. The door to the apartment closed and he heard the elevator ring, and he turned to Makoto.

“Can't believe ya, betrayin' me like that, twice in fifteen minutes!” he scoffed, “Ya got lucky on that massage table, no one can knock me out that easily.”

Makoto reached up and pinched a muscle on his shoulder, and he failed to stifle a grunt—more of a moan. Horrified at himself and at the devilish smile playing at the corners of her mouth, his jaw hung slack, dumbfounded.

“God hand,” she whispered, “Lee-san taught me well,”

A few more incredulous grunts, but when her hand dropped and her expression fell, Majima could only feel sympathy.

“Yeah. Yeah, he did.”

 

Chapter Text

Makoto woke up in the dark.

No matter how many times she did it would always be jarring. She had to come to accept that. Maybe if she had been born blind, or lost sight at an early age, or lost sight due to something irreversible like an illness, she'd get used to it. It was like she was clinging to the idea that one day she might just wake up and she'd be cured, even partially. Childish, but she couldn't let it go even if she tried—it was too buried in her subconscious. Perhaps that was something to ask Majima, once the topic came up. Have you gotten used to not having all your sight? Does it hurt, still? Does it still freak you out to wake up and not see?

Those questions all seemed both too personal yet also the only thing they could talk about at the same time. She shivered under the covers. The futon she was on was plush and warm, the cozy room quiet. Even the sounds of the city seemed muted, save for the occasional passing conversation on the street below, too muffled to discern words. Clutching her arms in a feeble attempt to stop them from shivering, she sat up.

She felt weighted down, like her body just simply forgot to pick all of her up. Gasping and swallowing air, it did not take her long to recognize the feeling of utter loss. Lee-san. Her heart beat painfully. Lee-san. It felt cruel, but she repeated to herself that there was nothing to do but keep moving forward. Grief had to be faced later, when she was able to do so. For now they were safe, so Majima suspected, but there was no sugar-coating the fact that they were nowhere near out of the woods yet.

Worse yet, she had no, absolutely no idea why she was wanted dead.

“Majima-san?” she called.

No answer.

Her face scrunched in confusion. There was no way he was sleeping so peacefully as to not hear her. Massage or not, the lack of circulation and the way his muscles portrayed that he was always wound up like a tight steel wire meant that he probably never slept well and never will again—not without aid, anyways. Hushing herself just in case danger was listening, but still anxious that maybe he had missed her first call, she tried again.

“M-Majima-san...?”

The silence stayed.

Emitting whimpers she couldn't control, she tightened her grip on herself, willing her legs to work and fold underneath her. The night gown Yuki had given her fell to just below her calves, and though the cotton was comfortable she pulled her legs close together like it hurt to touch it. Inching towards the door, she slid it open a fraction, turning to press her ear to the gap.

Nothing but the inconspicuous sounds of an idling apartment. Makoto twisted her mouth, sliding the door open until she could creep through. The hair on the back of her neck and around her ankles stood on end from the empty winter air. Dashing to the kotatsu like a child being pursued by an unseen monster, she ducked her limbs underneath the blanket. Even though the heater was off she released a sigh of mild relief. Gooseflesh prickled the skin on her arms as she sat, idle.

The apartment didn't respond to her movement; neither did the city outside. After a while she slid her arms over the cold table and ducked her head down between them. She no longer felt dizzy, true, but now she felt queasy.

There was no clock to tick and give her any idea of how long she stayed there. Part of her said that she should take the opportunity to explore the apartment to know its dimensions and everything else about it, but she was paralyzed where she was.

The deadbolt slid with a heavy sound and the door opened, startling her straight as her nails dragged along the cheap tabletop. A plastic bag rustled, someone in boots stepped in, and the door closed.

“Ah, I'm back,” Majima said, putting the key back in its little dish and taking off his boots, “Good that yer awake,”

“W-Welcome back...,” she greeted as was custom. Majima didn't respond, and she wished she could see his facial expression to discern if it was because he picked up on her hesitation or if he was preoccupied with himself. A delicious smell started to fill the room as he placed the plastic bag on the kotatsu.

“Takoyaki,” he provided, sitting down and tucking his arm underneath the tabletop to turn the heat on. Her stomach grumbled, but her hands remained where they were, trembling. Curling her fingers into fists did nothing to stop it, even when she pulled her hands away from the table and pressed the heels of her palms to her face. Majima was quiet, not even touching the takoyaki.

“Scared ya again, didn't I?” he said, low and knowing. Makoto wanted to say no, to protest that she was fine and nothing was wrong even if the trembling gave her away. But she nodded, throat hurting as her face briefly flushed red.

“Sorry,” he apologized genuinely, “Shoulda told ya. They needed help downstairs with the karaoke machine; the hookup's in the rafters of the stage and nobody was tall enough even with the damn step-stool. Figured I'd only be a minute or two; didn't wanna wake ya,”

He sighed, opening the bag and pulling out the boxes of takoyaki for them. Makoto inhaled, her voice ghostly and wavering.

“Y-You went out...?”

“Naw,” he dismissed, “Saki-chan wanted to go for a run before class, and I put in a takoyaki order for her to pick up while I played with electricity. They're still pipin' hot. Here,”

Makoto took the box from him, sliding her fingers along the styrofoam until she found the tabs to open it. Majima tapped the open lid with a pair of disposable chopsticks, offering them with his own pair hanging from his mouth.

It was quarter after one. They ate in relative quiet.

Majima handed her a bottle of room-temperature tea, opening his own to wash down lunch. She sipped, keeping the quiet. He tapped the rim of the bottle a few times, as if turning over words in his head. Makoto sat patiently, content with the silence but willing to hear him talk again. Something, anything. She wasn't desperate but at the same time, he was the only person she had left. Waking up to him being gone was more than just a safety concern for her—she didn't realize it until it had happened. The last time she was truly alone in the world was when she was shoved in a cage, and she'd fight tooth and nail so that wouldn't happen again. But if the only thing standing between her and that was Majima deciding to up and leave—she couldn't fight against the absence of someone, against nothing. Yes, she had been scared.

“I get it now,” Majima muttered, solemn. She clenched her fingers on the bottle of tea, “Why you were apologizin' a lot, back at the massage parlor,”

He sucked down tea like it was booze, nearly choking himself when he finally gasped for air. Makoto opened her mouth but he shook his head and grunted, interrupting.

“Nah, nah, y'don't have to explain yerself. Didn't think things through until recently,” he tapped the rim again, “An'...I don't mean t'force ya to relive it.”

Although, by bringing it up he brought it to her attention. She fiddled with the empty styrofoam box, staring at what she thought might've been his face. Her brows turned upwards, contemplative and somehow vaguely worried. Majima was sitting sideways at the table, a subconscious tactic so he wouldn't have to look directly at her without meaning to. Glancing over at her and seeing her stare only reinforced the idea, and he looked away to where the futon he had slept on was shoved into the corner of the room.

“How're ya holdin' up?”

She blinked, frowning. How was she holding up? All things considered she was doing fantastic—in the past two years of her life this was certainly not her lowest point. But it came pretty damn close. At least she was safe. At least Majima seemed to care, and surrounded her with people who also seemed to care. She felt foolish to question the loyalty of the girls he put her with—her brief stint as a hostess told her that they could absolutely be catty if need be, but he seemed to foster a good familial air in his club. Perhaps the idea was not so herculean as it seemed.

She dimly wondered if any of the women there had experienced things close to what she knew of life. The dark part of her knew that they knew more than what she wanted to believe they did.

“I...don't know,” she answered, “I'm safe, but I'm not safe. People care, but I'm never really sure they care. Push comes to shove...if they could die trying to protect me, what would they do? How...should I feel?”

Trying to adjust her sight so she looked at him more directly, Majima jerked his head back slightly, understanding that she was genuinely asking for help forming an opinion, a state of mind. His lip curled, unsure of whether to give a smooth and confident smirk or frown in sympathy.

“Guess I'm the wrong guy to ask,” he answered honestly, “Been ready to die since...before I can remember, I guess,”

Finishing his tea, he almost tapped a cigarette out, but stopped, gazing mournfully at the pack like it stirred something when by all rights it really didn't.

“Hell, I signed my death warrant when I didn't kill ya. And I signed a second death warrant when I brought ya here under my wing. The girls ain't askin' fer this, I know that. But you ain't either, and on some level they know that too.”

Makoto stopped fiddling with the styrofoam, dropping her gaze and whispering, “Am I really worth that much...?”

Majima gave in and tapped the cigarette out. Couldn't rightly talk heavy shit like this when it wasn't 3am and at the bottom of the third bottle, not without a smoke. He lit it then pressed his fingers to his forehead, cigarette jutting out at an angle.

“Lost count of the times I tried to die by happenstance. Or just end my life, even if it wasn't by death. I got so close as to stopping on the bridges fer a little too long whenever I crossed 'em. Convinced myself I'm workin' towards somethin' that ain't gonna rightly happen anyways. Dunno why it never went through, dunno why my body won't quit,”

He took a drag in lieu of sighing. Makoto unfolded her legs beneath the table. Why, she wasn't sure, but suddenly something was telling her she couldn't be so wound up tight, not right now.

“I'm a goddamn cash cow. Invaluable to both the Grand and Club Sunshine. And fer what? Fer me to take a hit on a man who beats women infertile, only to find out it's...you.

“I told ya,” his voice dropped low, “I'm a joke.”

“And...,” Makoto dropped her hands to her thighs, balling weak fists in the fabric of the night gown, “How do you feel?”

Majima was quiet for a long time—long enough that he had to pull the ashtray towards him and tap a sizable chunk off before remembering he had lit it for the express reason to smoke it, not to just have it burn for fun.

“I feel,” he spoke past the cig in his mouth before taking it out to finish his thought, “That ya don't deserve this. An' fer me, that's enough.”

“I don't know if that's enough, for me,” Makoto said, ashamed and small as she said it, “At this point, what's left to salvage?”

“A damn good masseur, that's what,” Majima grunted forcefully, turning towards her and setting his elbows on the table. He eyed her as he took another drag, half-lidded but intense. Opening only the side of his mouth so the smoke didn't blow in her face, he studied her expression. Makoto shivered, feeling his eye on her, but she didn't change her position or turn her head, “I s'pose I can talk ya in circles with bullshit like that—I don't got much better to say. Wrong guy, after all,”

Contemplation fell on her, every now and then her eyes or brow twitching as she tried to discern what to make of everything. Taking his lead (however contrived it may have been) she gave a weak hum, then replied.

“I feel...then, that...you don't deserve this, either. Nobody does,”

“Cool,” Majima said bluntly, “Get me to a place where I don't have to feel like you need protectin', and we'll be square.”

Makoto wrinkled her nose. More than ever Majima wished she could see his smile, even if it was just a stupid smirk

“So then...what should I do?” She raised her head and looked to the open space of the apartment, “What can I do?”

“More of my advice? Did that concussion do ya in or somethin'?”

“Perhaps...,” she gave in with a small smile. Majima's smirk widened.

“Well, you'll probably go stir crazy if I keep ya locked up in here. How d'ya feel 'bout workin' the floor, Umeko-chan?”

At her blank (and frankly, vaguely afraid) expression, Majima gave a small but not dismissive laugh.

“Don't worry, I won't put ya alone or on dates or anythin' like that. A veteran like Mana-chan'd take good care of ya. Y'know. If you wanted to stay busy.”

The small laugh gave way to a larger, more genuine and self-conscious one as he scratched his head, “I guess stayin' busy is what kept me alive all this time anyways.”

Makoto blinked. Perhaps his answers weren't the best, but he had been honest about it. No smoke and mirrors, no patronizing you're young, you have time, you don't know, and, strangely, most importantly, he didn't say of course you're worth that much. Something that would've been nice to hear in the moment but didn't carry a lot of long-term weight. They had known each other for what seemed like hours, a bullshit sappy speech like that would've seemed contrived and at worst phony. Instead, he put himself on common ground. Exposed his backside but didn't ask for hers. At the end of his mess the only thing keeping him alive and determined in his resolve was the core belief that she deserved better.

No wonder the girls loved him.

“Sure,” she nodded, noticing that her smile and tone lifted without much effort, “I'll try it.”

Majima gave a single-note laugh through his nose, told her good, then took one last drag of his cigarette.

“Makoto. One last question,”

She perked her chin up, waiting for him.

“Y'didn't have a happy childhood, did ya?”

Dropping her gaze again with a frown, she balled her fists up tighter, “...No.”

He twisted the cigarette in the ashtray more than he needed to.

“Me neither.”

 

~~

 

A whirlwind of names breezed past her. Had she not already known Ai, Yuki, and Saki, she was sure she would've forgotten them all within the first five minutes—even Youda's as well. Even though all the girls seemed nice and enthusiastic enough, Majima hovered close to her as proper introductions were made with his commentary.

Ai with a big heart, Yuki the handful. Saki the strong nurse-to-be, Hibiki, a gentle sister. Chika, the romantic, and Mana, the veteran. After that, she couldn't keep track. All of them were cordial enough, with Ai and Yuki happy to see her. Funny how their voices were always close together no matter what. Saki asked her how she felt, happy to hear she was better but ready to scold Majima at the drop of a hat if he bent wrong. Hibiki had a sense of homeliness to her that Makoto had long since forgotten to the point where she didn't know if she had ever truly known it. Mentioning how she looked after her little brother put a small spike through her heart, only able to smile and tell her she understood. Chika was formal—intimidatingly so, but there was something distantly sad about her voice. Mana, whom Majima was proposing to be her escort for the night, was professionally bubbly—like these were the shoes she was meant to wear for the rest of her life and she took it in stride.

There was at least an hour and a half until opening time. Saki was still fussing over her notes from the class she just left, while several of the other girls were idling by, some helping Youda stock the alcohol, others doing some light cleaning. Majima took the opportunity, then, to have her wander as she pleased. Always keeping her hand in his, he kept his gaze on her as she touched the walls and seats, mapping out the club in her head. The vague whisperings and gossip from the other girls weren't lost on Makoto, but there was enough going on with the ambient music and Majima's careful notice of stairs and pillars that she couldn't catch any of it. Surely it wasn't anything more than he would normally do if they hired on a blind girl.

There were flutters in her chest as the tour of the place came to a close. Anxious flutters, though not necessarily frightening ones. Without having to test it out she knew there was some truth to Majima's prediction that keeping busy would help the both of them move forward, even if they had to be hyper-vigilant while doing so. Besides, it'd put the other at ease to know where they were at all times. Restrictive, but comfortable.

Majima sat her down in one of the booths, sitting himself next to her with a sigh. It shouldn't have been any different than any other training session he had with one of the other girls, but if he had been paying attention he would've noticed that he was fiddling with his thumbs and glancing around the cabaret like it was the first time he was there and he was there specifically to take in the scenery. Thank god she was blind. Not that he'd ever tell her that.

“So,” he cleared his throat to make small talk, “Got a good picture of the place?”

“I imagine it's different filled with people, but, I think I know enough,”

He chuckled. They chatted idly, mostly about insignificant stuff they didn't have to put a lot of weight on. Things that went on in the club, regulars, the other girls. At one point Majima found himself describing the colors and shapes, and he only caught himself doing so when he realized how damn strange it was. It felt downright silly, but her head was tilted so she could listen the best she could. Her words from the massage parlor came back to him—much of her enjoyment came from listening to a customer's regular life. Things that should've been boring were engrossing novels to her. Stammering on his words, he kept describing the décor, especially how different it was when he first stepped into the club. Looked sleazy, he said, in full earshot of Youda, Cheap at the very least. Y'know that deep red carpet they put everywhere that they should probably retire?

Youda certainly wasn't happy about that. Majima described it to her as scuttling angrily. Like a crab.

Makoto giggled—actually giggled—giving her two cents that the carpet itself felt like sandpaper at best. He made mock play at being offended, but she could hear the smile in his voice. At least Youda had always kept the club sparkling clean, no matter how sleazy or cheap the carpets were.

“I suppose ya know, or can put two and two together,” Majima relaxed against the booth, tipping his head back, “But we get all sorts of customers, an' unfortunately, we get most of the slimy ones,”

Makoto made a sound that was quiet enough to be drowned out by the ambient music. Majima scratched his nose.

“'Course I can say we don't tolerate any of that until I'm blue in th'face. Still happens,”

Another muffled sound.

“You start screamin', I start runnin'. Okay?”

He looked over to see her withdrawn again, even though her chin was still held high enough until it seemed defiant. Leaning closer, he lowered his tone in seriousness.

“If. Ain't sayin' it's gonna. And Mana-chan doesn't tolerate it either. Plus, we got Saki-chan practically workin' every night. If I needed to hire a bouncer, I'd hire her. After myself, of course,”

“Hey, hey!” Mana's voice rang like bells as she popped around the booth, “My ears are burning, Majima-san!”

Majima, not entirely surprised nor upset, straightened up and greeted her casually. She curtsied, giving Makoto a verbal greeting as well.

“Majima-san, you can't just put me with the new girl and not have me get to know her a little bit,” Mana chastised with a smile on her face, “If I know what to expect, I know how to help! C'mon, Umeko-chan, if he talks your head off any more you'll be tired of men before they even come in!”

“Jokes on you, Mana-chan,” Majima called at her as she stood Makoto up and headed to the bar, “Pretty sure she's already tired of men,”

“Oh!” Mana called back over her shoulder, “Don't let Yuki-chan or Ai-chan hear that!”

Haw?

“Majima-san,”

He whipped his head to his other side, startled out of his mind. Chika stood there, formal as ever.

“Jeez, I feel like my head's a ping-pong ball,” he wheezed, “Hey, Chika-chan,”

“Please excuse me,” she bowed then sat next to him. He scooted over to allow her more room, noticing that while she was staring at him, she hadn't once smiled. While not exactly unusual for her, he twisted his mouth.

“Somethin' wrong, Chika-chan?”

She was quiet for a minute, not because she was hesitating but because she was formulating her words. Always thinking, always putting the pieces together—when it was a dream it was wonderful, but he could tell from her expression that she wasn't musing on a dream.

“Do you think this is safe?”

“Hm?” he felt the defensiveness rise in his chest and he tried to fight it. It was born more of a fight-or-flight response than any ill-will towards her, but even so, “What do ya mean?”

“Having someone like her be here,”

Majima raised an eyebrow, trying to assure himself that he heard her wrong, “Whaddya tryin' to say? Like, hiring a blind person?”

“No!” Chika's eyes widened in shock, “No, not at all...I'm talking about you, Majima-san,”

He stared at her, taken aback. Chika dropped her gaze, slowly fiddling with her fingers much the way Majima had been doing earlier, although her expression was far sadder.

“Chika-chan,” he dipped his head, trying to understand but keeping his tone soft, “Yer confusin' me here, is this another one of your deadpan jokes?”

Her lack of response told his gut that no, no it wasn't. Lowering his voice out of courtesy and as a weak attempt to metaphorically close the doors around them so it seemed more private, Majima leaned forward, shortening his height to put Chika in a higher position.

“Hey, what's goin' on? Ya know you can tell me, right?”

“If...,” she started, stopped to turn the sentences in her head, then continued, “If you like her that much...,”

Frowning in concern, Majima forced the wheels in his head to turn as he stared at Chika's expression, desperately trying to discern anything behind it. It was almost frustrating in a way; Chika's imagination far outreached anyone he knew, but it was hidden behind lock and key. For all her dreams, she wore none of them on her face. At times it was hard to tell if she was musing on something right in front of her or if her mind was several ages away, on that beach under the red-roofed house she wanted with her future husband and Siberian husky. More than ever he couldn't figure out what was going on in her head, even when he dropped his gaze to her fussing hands. Spinning her gold bracelet around her wrist, the warm lights from the disco ball danced on it, reflecting on her grim face.

“Chika-chan, are you alright?” he asked earnestly. She remained still as stone.

“No.”

“Still thinkin 'bout...y'know. Kanehara?”

“Yes,” something dripped from her words, and as she turned her ice-cold gaze to him he realized that it was acid, “Yes. I am.”

“H-Hey, what's that...What's that look for?” he stammered, pulling himself away from her slightly. She held her ground, each syllable enunciated with her usual clarity though this time it was frightening more than it was graceful.

“You treat her differently than the other girls. Even Hibiki-chan has noticed and she's only seen her for perhaps an hour,”

“Well, yeah,” Majima's head was spinning and he was desperate to slow it down so he could make sure he didn't say something batshit stupid, “She can't see, I ain't gonna just take the leash off and let her run around like we're at the dog park,”

“No,” Chika was adamant, “Your voice, your gestures...She's different to you.”

“'Course she is,” he had to watch his voice to make sure it didn't get too gruff; Chika wasn't just some thug off the streets accosting him, “She ain't a full-time employee, just layin' low here and earnin' some extra cash to keep from boredom 'til she can return to her real job. Dunno how in danger she is, but if someone was gunnin' for her, I ain't just gonna stand by and let it happen. Ya know me, don'tcha?” It was partially a lie, of course, but what was true about it hurt a little more than he'd like to admit.

Chika paused, studying his face. Thankfully the acid seemed to recede, but it left only sadness in her features. The concern returned to him and he raised a hand to tuck a lock of hair back. Recognizing the gesture as incredibly inappropriate (especially considering Chika's turbulent history with anything remotely romantic) he reached up to scratch the back of his neck instead. Her eyes fell to his chest, then she turned away, focusing on a particularly boring corner of the cabaret—as one does when they're trying to hide something like crying. Majima wanted to pull her back; there was honestly no need for her to feel like she couldn't face him, but forcing her wouldn't do anyone any good. He kept his hand on the back of his neck, preoccupying himself with pulling short strands of hair from his ponytail.

“You aren't...trying to...Trick anyone, are you?” Chika asked. It took a moment for Majima to realize she was speaking again, turned away and all, and he almost tripped on his words to catch up.

“Trick anyone, ya mean like Kanehara? Pit girls against each other, make 'em...Well, use 'em?”

She was quiet for a long time, then finally managed a response, “Yes.”

Relief washed over him and he felt his muscles relax in a flood of pins and needles, “Gah, Chika-chan, ya know me better'n that! Had me really scared fer a moment there! I still love ya and all the other girls, too!”

“But...?”

“Hm? I didn't say a 'but',” he pointed out, nonchalant. Chika became quiet again, though this time he sensed she wasn't building sentences. He took the opportunity to keep going, “Listen, Chika-chan—competin' with other girls here, it happens. Comes with the business fer sure, but as far as life goes, life ain't no competition. Especially not relationships, inside or outside of work. Ya pickin' up what I'm puttin' down?”

Chika closed her eyes.

“Of course...Majima-san,” her voice turned exhausted, as if she had pushed herself too far and was having trouble coming back, “You were right. I'm not...I don't feel okay.”

“Ya need to take the day off? Even a half-day, there's always the apartment up there. Youda-chan had the right idea with that, eh?”

“No...,” Chika said though she didn't sound sure, “I'll work.”

“Sure?” he prodded, “Ain't no shame in takin' an early day. Keep that in mind, Chika-chan,”

“Of course,” she folded her hands tightly, and he took it as a signal that the conversation had ended.

 

~~

 

“There's enough money to build a career off of being a hostess, sure!” Mana beamed, “Though I wouldn't say that it's particularly a rich life,”

Makoto sat at the bar, restricting herself to a small space so as not to knock over or bump into anything she didn't know was there. Mana had been talking to her for quite a while, with several of the other girls piping up either as they walked by or simply by standing at the bar or sitting next to her. It made for plenty of confusion, but so long as she focused on Mana she was able to follow along. It interested her, listening to someone with so much passion for their career. Not that she hated being a masseur, she just never put much thought into whether or not she had any heart in it, much less a future. Before that, she was dead set on finding her brother in Sotenbori and the odd job had been a means to a (terrible) end. And before that, her goal had been escaping from prejudices in China, following her brother to Japan. Always following her brother, never looking down at her own feet.

True, she still wanted to find him—if he was even out there (which she had started to doubt a long time ago). But with so many detours paved into her path, she realized she had started upon a potential career without thought. Now that Lee was dead, she wondered if it was also without passion, or if there was place for a passion to grow from nothing.

“Imagine if it was, what do you think we'd do with the extra money?” Mana continued, “At some point you stop going up and start on a plateau, don't you think?”

Ai's distinguishing laugh cut through, “Say we made enough to afford a statue of Majima-san, we could put it in that bare corner over there!”

“Made of what, made of jade?” Saki asked, clearly distracted by her notes still. Ai wrinkled her nose.

“Green? Clashing with the décor? No, definitely not! Ah, no offense, Saki-chan,”

Saki hummed, not paying attention and allowing Makoto her time to pitch in, “Well, I suppose, if you're showing off that you have money, shouldn't the statue be in gold?

Hmmm, Mana-chan, what do you think?” Ai put a finger to her lips and studied the colors of the room, “Gold to your silver?”

“Hey now, Ai-chan, you know what Majima-san says, flattery gets us nowhere!” Mana laughed.

“Yuck,” Yuki popped up seemingly out of nowhere to Makoto, though she wasn't too surprised, since Ai had been speaking for a while and where she was Yuki wasn't far behind, “A pure gold statue of Majima-san? Tacky!”

“Me? Tacky?” Majima made Makoto jump. His footsteps had been masked by the chatter of the girls, and when he voice came from directly behind her she let out a small shriek. Mana touched her hand, pressing it flat against the bar with a sympathetic laugh. Having not noticed, Majima pitched his chin forward and stuck out his lower lip, “Do I look tacky to ya?”

Ai slid her hand across the bar to Makoto and leaned in, whispering loudly, “Crickets.”

“I. Heard. That.” Majima narrowed his eye as Yuki in particular busted into stitches. Much to his dismay (that he tried to ignore), so did Makoto.

“Alright, alright, enough! Scatter, all of ya, we open in ten minutes! Ya gonna just spend it all yammerin' and gossipin' while customers walk in?!” he shooed them, despite their laughter and teasing cries. Saki finally shut her textbook, stacking everything in one pile to tuck under her arm.

“Majima-san, don't tell me you plan on working Umeko-chan all night, she still could use rest!”

“'Course not!” he countered unabashedly, putting his hand on Makoto's shoulder. It was warm, even through the sleeves of her dress. She wasn't expecting that, and doubly wasn't expecting him to lean down so she could hear him clearly, “Room key's in my breast pocket, Umeko-chan. Ya feel tired, ya tell me and I'll take ya up to the room,”

He squeezed her shoulder, barely noticing Saki's nod of approval before she disappeared to put all of her schoolwork away. Makoto didn't freeze, but she didn't exactly move either, turning her head to the shoulder he held. His hand slid away not long after. She felt its absence.

Mana took her arm and sat with her, waiting as customers gradually filled the booths. Hibiki sat with them as well, her soft voice easily calming Makoto's nerves up until the point she and Mana were called to attention. Wishing them luck felt like a useless endeavor, but Makoto felt grateful for Hibiki's gentle confidence at the same time.

Mana was intimidatingly smooth and professional at her job. Nothing about the customers seemed to faze her much, even if they didn't get a regular. What she did have to get used to, however, was picking up on Makoto's small cues and splitting her duties to make sure that things went smoothly without bringing too much attention to the customer that things might have been off. It was a challenge, for sure, and Makoto definitely felt like it was more stressful than not. Customers came and went, many of them enamored with her and her disability. It very quickly became awkward for her to navigate. More than once Mana took the reins from her, diverting a customer's conversation. For the most part, though, they were polite, and once Mana and her got the hang of their little language Makoto almost found herself having fun.

Halfway through the night Mana took her aside after a customer left. The first thing out of her mouth was how well she had done for the night, the second was that she noted that Makoto was crashing. Working with Hibiki had made her fine-tuned to subtle changes such as that, and before she knew it Majima was there, pressing the room key to her palm. He opened his mouth to tell her it'd take him two minutes to tell Youda where he was going when three simultaneous calls for service rose up from the cabaret. He cussed and tried to get Youda to cover for one, but he now couldn't leave the floor entirely.

The hostess with the elegant and sad voice appeared, offering to take Makoto for him. Majima did not have time for the back and forth, and nodded without an argument.

“Take care of her, Chika-chan, and get some rest, too,” he managed to say before heading back out on the floor. Chika bowed, low and polite, and led Makoto up to the apartment.

 

~~

 

Chika was quiet, her touch light, and her steps consistent. The air around her seemed regal, but Makoto knew that because it was born of the sadness she heard on the edges of her voice that it was a facade. A subconscious one, to be sure, but a facade nonetheless. Makoto returned the quiet, keeping to herself as her feet shuffled along the apartment floor; tiny steps to ensure she didn't crash or injure her legs. After she bent over the sink, washing off the makeup Majima had carefully applied, she shuffled to the bedroom to change into the night gown.

Polite and mindful, Chika followed Makoto into the small room once she was finished, pulling her own clothes out of the shared closet. Makoto wondered what they looked like—if they fit as prim and proper as her speech suggested, or if they were as soft and comfortable as the gown Yuki had lent her. She couldn't imagine that Chika applied her elegance to all aspects of her life—that would simply be exhausting. Pulling her knees to her chin and hooking her hands in front of her ankles, the blind girl waited patiently as Chika dressed herself down, wondering if they were going to stay in mutual quiet until Majima came upstairs.

“May I ask you a question?” Chika said once she had settled, smoothing out her shirt.

“Oh, uh, yes, of course,” Makoto blinked, not expecting the attempt. Though once she had said it she realized just what sort of questions she could be inviting. Sliding her lip through her teeth, she tried to make the gesture look natural instead of regretful, not knowing if Chika was watching her.

“How long have you and Majima-san been together?”

“Eh?” Makoto said it once, out of a genuine belief that she had completely misheard, then again in a lower pitch once she fully understood the question, “I-I don't...we've only known each other for...two days, maybe a little bit more?”

“Is that so...,” Chika withdrew into her thoughts. Makoto hummed, unsure of what was going on. The elegant hostess sat across from her. She imagined her to be lithe but not muscular, demure, with her chin tilted upwards and her lids falling low. In reality her chin was tucked and her gaze was down at the rumpled futon space between them. Her heathered shirt was neat but casual, a sweet goldenrod to her white pajama pants. Bare feet curling towards her, she rubbed her thumb over her shins, trying to select her words carefully.

“I-In fact I...only just learned his name last night,” Makoto continued. The hostess made a noise, asking how that came to be. She shook her head, wracking her tired brain for a proper answer that wouldn't give too much away, “He was my client, a new one. I work at the massage clinic, where...where the car...,”

“I see,” Chika thankfully cut her off. Makoto released a breath she didn't realize she was holding in gratitude.

“He was an emergency client, so I hadn't yet written his name down. He walked in when the phone rang...I didn't hear him—I...called him a thief.”

“Called him a thief?” Chika finally showed something more than just professional emotion, and a small embarrassed smile made Makoto's mouth twitch.

“Screamed, actually. He took it...rather well. All things considered.”

“Ah,” Chika mused, “What an introduction...,”

“It does sound silly, doesn't it...,”

Chika was quiet, too lost in thought to respond, but Makoto knew that denying it would only be a courtesy. If only that had been the most ridiculous aspect of her relationship with Majima, there'd be more reason to laugh and play it up as some sort of popular drama show that coworkers talked about the day after as they went about their jobs. That that was perhaps the tamest thing about them made the memory sting, especially her insistence that he was a burglar, considering all he had done for her now. Then again, he had been there to kill her in the first place. It'd be funny if it wasn't real.

“You seem very close to him,” Chika noted. Makoto inhaled, exhaled, sad.

“I owe him a lot...at this point. I don't have any family left, not very many friends...The hostesses here have all been kind enough—it feels like a family. All of you seem to love him very much, no matter what he does...or, who he pulls in off the street,”

Chika was deadly silent, suddenly making her feel like she had said something wrong. A few times she had tried to pick the conversation back up but all the words died in her throat before the first syllable could finish. Adjusting her hold around her legs, she pressed the lower half of her face to her knees. The longer the silence went on the more she wished for the conversation to die where it was in the dirt.

“He likes you.” Chika stated after a very long time, “He likes you. A lot.”

Makoto wrinkled her brow, feeling both defensive and confused at the same time. Having her here was now uncomfortable as she was forced to confront the probable reasons that Chika had offered to come up to the apartment with her. Makoto squeezed her hands together tightly. What-ifs started to sprout in her mind despite her attempts to control any panic that was brewing. Her skin prickled, her ankles tensed in case she needed to stand, and she swallowed to wet her throat in case she needed to scream without warning.

“I-I don't, I mean, I'm not sure,” she stammered, unable to think of something clever to say over the building fear. Chika's voice lowered, the sadness turning into an edge of disgust.

“He treats everyone a little differently according to their needs, sure, but it's all still on the same level. With you it's different. He looks at you different. It feels different.”

“O-Of course,” Makoto struggled, “I'm not a real hostess,”

“He does love all of us,” Chika continued, undeterred, “But, I never realized what he was like when he was actually in love until he walked in with you.”

Walked in was an interesting term to use to describe how Makoto came to be at Club Sunshine, but that wasn't the most disturbing thing that she had said. Defensiveness and confusion merged together as desperation and Makoto was stuck, wanting, needing to get away but having no subtle means of doing so, nor could she navigate the building on her own. Hearing that Majima could've possibly had feelings for her was the last thing she wanted to know. Given her situation, given all that she had lost, and given all that plagued her at night—hell no, fuck no, she couldn't bear to think about anything like that. She found comfort in his presence, she didn't want to feel terror, being on her guard lest he made any advancing moves. In that moment she hated Chika for planting the idea in her head, even though the hostess had no idea how much it tormented her. Makoto scratched the skin around her ankles as she brought her hands up to her head, digging her nails into her scalp. Chika was quiet as she watched her, studying her reaction as if she wasn't expecting it whatsoever.

“Is that...not what you're looking for?” she asked, words carefully selected, voice dropping to something more gentle than she had used all night.

Makoto made a pathetic sound, a stammer or a hum or just a flat out whimper, she couldn't discern what. Chika drew her limbs tight, pulling the futon her way. Biting her lip, she looked to the side, ounces of shame starting to creep into her voice.

“I'm...sorry. Forgive me. I suppose I...got selfish.”

“Wh...What?” Makoto breathed, attempting to calm herself down. Chika, ever one to cushion her sentences with plenty of silence, took her time to reply.

“I never considered it could be one-sided...not from his side of it, anyways,” she whispered, “And...I don't know if it's jealousy or I'm just...,”

“Chika-chan...right?” Makoto murmured. Chika made a small noise, affirming, “Are you...Do you love Majima-san?”

“I...think?”

Makoto was taken aback. For all this talk that bordered on envy in terms of her relationship with the strange man who gathered a harem of women and let them do as they pleased, Chika was rather unsure of her own emotions.

“What do you mean...?” Makoto asked, almost pushing the yes or no aspect of the question but deciding not to.

“I assume...I don't...I don't know, I feel like I have to? That I must...I can't help it...,”

It was Makoto's turn to be quiet as she contemplated for a moment, “Because he's done a lot for you?”

Chika didn't answer, pressing her hands to the lower half of her face.

“Is it just in my nature...? To keep falling for people over and over again? I don't...think I even know how to feel differently...,”

Makoto lifted her head from her knees as Chika spoke like she wasn't there in the room with her. Had her crashing in with Majima really been that much of a catalyst in all of this? If Chika had been balancing, but only just barely, Makoto could see how her barging in would've blown her off-course. Regardless, Makoto was sure she was not the person to be hearing all of this, especially if it seemed that Majima should be the one listening, not her. She had no idea how he would react or what he would even say in a situation like this.

“It's love, right?” Chika continued, like she was cooing and rocking herself calm, “Do you think there's a wrong way to love?”

If Makoto could see, the room would've gotten darker. Memories flashed through her mind, she was certainly 'loved' by a few cruel individuals when she was captive—perhaps that was different enough to not call it love. Love for an object over love for her as a person. But even then, her brother, her mother, her grandfather...All of them loved her, she was sure, but all of them loved her in different ways that didn't quite succeed. Her brother loved her, but abandoned her and her mother for a presumed better life in Japan (and now she couldn't find him). Her mother loved her, raising her children alone, bringing her over to Japan for one last desperate try for the environment to reflect the love she felt for her family. But she ultimately left Makoto alone, too. Her patience for herself was as thin as air, her strength had been spent, she killed herself, and there was no one to call her Xiao Qiao now. Makoto ran from her grandfather, who loved her in theory, loved her as an ideal, a fantasy, almost. But the barrier was too great, and despite all her tries Makoto abandoned him and he didn't pursue, and now it was too late.

“Yes,” Makoto answered, dark and sincere and making Chika jump, “Yes, there is.” Part of her hated herself for thinking so, for spitting on her own family like that. There was no space to move or breathe differently, much less space to love in the proper way. She understood. Dammit, she understood why. But there were still things that could've been done differently, and Makoto felt demonic and selfish for wishing it was different.

At the same time she thought of Lee, how gentle and kind and selfless he was. She was no idiot, she knew that Lee must've had some rocky and disturbing background to be at the right place at the right time, rescuing her from the cages. Perhaps it was because his compassion came in spite of the condition he found her in, in spite of his past and the lengths he was willing to go for her. Perhaps she just felt his love all the stronger because it was so surrounded by horrific trauma she was sure she'd never shake off. Or it just seemed like he was the only one she could cling too—much like Majima was now. Were they any better than her family in how they loved her? Makoto didn't want an answer, but her gut felt it for her anyways.

“Whether or not they mean it...there's a way to love wrong,” Makoto said, gripping herself tightly, “Until it doesn't matter whether they mean it or not.”

Chika didn't say anything, other than a small I see that said more than she intended it to say. Makoto's words made sense to her, but whether it was out of embarrassment or it was out of something else, she didn't want to confirm out loud that she understood.

She felt Chika's eyes on her, burning like a flickering candle. Suddenly Makoto felt anxious, like she had accidentally peeled back Chika's elegant and cool exterior with her answer. She didn't want to see this, she didn't want to offer herself up as Chika's cornerstone, however temporary. It was a brutal truth that she knew she had next to none of the answers of the universe; certainly no answers that could even help someone she couldn't allow herself to be invested in. Being on the run meant that a wrong word could expose both her and Majima and get them both (or more, considering the hostesses) killed.

“Then it's possible I've loved wrong my whole life,” Chika's voice dropped, “Things go wrong, nothing feels happy, and the next time I try harder and harder—and it feels worse when it falls apart.”

“How...do you mean?” Makoto asked despite her initial recoil. It almost felt like Lee was rubbing off on her—compassionate despite herself. She had to quickly wrap that thought and push it away before it kicked off an avalanche leading to her being the blubbery mess on the floor.

“Majima-san told me that changing myself—wholly changing myself—is wrong. Creepy, even. But...what else could I even do? If I want to be loved back, shouldn't I be what they love?”

“I...,” Makoto began, before confessing, “I've never...I don't think I've been in the sort of love you're talking about, but shouldn't they...shouldn't the person love you before you change yourself into something they should love? Isn't that how it works in stories, at least?”

Chika dipped her head, playing with her thumbs as though she was paging through one of her novels. Makoto chewed on her lips, trying to figure how much she should say and what should remain secret. Her initial thought was to bring up her Chinese heritage, but she dashed that in favor of something more obvious.

“There are...parts. Things about me I can't change, no matter how hard I try. I can't see. No matter what I do or what doctor I go to. I just can't. What would I do then, if I had to change so much for someone...?”

“Is that it, then?” Chika's voice wavered, and Makoto widened her eyes as she could hear the sobs coming before they happened. The perfect Japanese slipped, her words breaking up between breaths, “Can I just not change the part that I feel like I have to change? Am I always gonna feel conned, even when it's a perfectly normal situation—I can't look at someone and not compare to how they feel about me versus everyone else they know?

“I want it so bad I'd do anything to have it, but when I do anything, everything...,”

Makoto was at a loss, barely realizing that her mouth was hanging open on too many start-stop words she couldn't finish. There was nothing to do but let her cry, feeling only awkward sympathy.

“Ai and Yuki are in love,” Chika said. Makoto blinked and interrupted.

“Love-love?”

“Love-love,” she confirmed without much song and dance, “They make it seem so easy...when it's a love like that, and they make it seem easy...I've never...had it happen like they have it happen. And you, you've never fallen in love?”

Makoto shook her head, “Not that I can remember. I've always had...other things going on,”

“I envy that...,” she frowned, “Recently—actually, for a while now, I've been wishing I could just not...feel it. Fall in love, feel attraction—whatever it is that keeps getting me into these messes, with horrible men.”

Everything started to click and fall into place. Now she was becoming more of the mirror Chika needed her to be, even though most of it was educated guesswork. Men mistreated her. She put on the regal front to distance herself from it. Whether it was because Makoto's ears had become especially tuned to people's voices or whether it was more obvious than Chika realized, she couldn't hide the sadness with all the elegance in the world—it went too deep. The bystander's sympathy that Makoto was feeling was starting to turn into real sympathy, and she drooped her shoulders, relaxing.

“I've thought, too, maybe I could shift perspective, be open to what Yuki and Ai are...but what's the difference, in the end? I know I'll react the same and it'll die as it always does,” Though her tone was sad there was an energy there that hadn't been there before, like Chika was finally figuring herself out for the better, “If it could all stop, if I could catch a breath...I think everything would stop feeling awful.”

She hung her head, hands splaying over her face. Forcing herself to breathe deep once, twice, three times, Chika shook, lightly bit one of her thumbs, then looked up, regaining her calculated posture and demeanor.

“I apologize. I haven't felt okay in a...very long time. Umeko, was it?”

Makoto nodded.

“Thank you for putting up with me, Umeko-chan,” she smiled, “I honestly thought I'd come out of this hating you, through no fault of your own. Over someone like Majima-san, too. Imagine what he'd think of it, if it had happened that way.”

“I guess I don't know him well enough to imagine,” Makoto unknowingly returned Chika's smile, “But I think I get the picture. What will you do now?”

“Keep your words at heart,” Chika promised herself, “That it's possible to love wrong, even if it's hard to believe in the moment...I need time to myself. A lot of time.”

“Mm,” Makoto agreed, “And Majima-san...?”

“I'll tell him all of this, eventually, I think. When I'm a bit better.” Chika frowned in thought, then lightened her tone, “Yes, I'll tell him. Alone. Over a candlelit dinner.”

Makoto made a small choked noise, eyes widening. Her voice was so serious it was almost stubborn. Had the last hour or however long their conversation had lasted been thrown in the trash? The fact that she had gone silent again only fueled her intuition and Makoto inhaled, ready to excuse herself to the next room.

“...It was a joke.” Chika said quietly.

“O-Oh,” Makoto said with a shocked breath of relief, “Oh.”

 

~~

 

“I'm back, I'm back,” Majima said, comically exhausted, “You two play nice?”

He blinked, noticing that neither girl was in the living area. Frowning, he pulled his boots off and gingerly checked both the washroom and the toilet. Nobody.

“Er,” he turned his eye to the bedroom door, approaching it like a nervous cat. Raising a knuckle, he lightly knocked on the door, remembering Chika's reservations about Makoto and suddenly growing nervous, “Uh, I ain't gonna open up to a murder scene in there, am I?”

Joke, meet brick wall—because suddenly he was afraid he was gonna open up to that.

He heard some movement within, but at this point he was damn sure his ears were playing tricks on them. Knocking again, a little harder this time, he cleared his throat. His face flushed pink against his will as the words left his mouth before he could filter them, “Ya both decent in there?”

A small hum told him yes—leastways he hoped to god it told him yes, because he couldn't discern who it was from. Still no definite answers. Chika had been a wreck when he talked to her, even though she was good at hiding it. The exact second they had left his vision back at the cabaret he cursed his decision sending them alone—if only for the sake of keeping everything cordial so they could stay under the radar longer. Sucking in a breath, announcing he was opening the door a crack, he peeked into the dark room.

Both (clothed and decent) girls were splayed like sleeping toddlers, neverminding where their limbs were in relation to each other. Exhaling, Majima shut the door before he overstayed his welcome. Scratching his head, he gave his ponytail a small tug and prepared for bed.

 

Chapter Text

Late morning sunlight, though indirect, gave the spare apartment a lazy and secluded feel. Dust motes floated down to the TV, still unplugged, with a small note attached to it explaining that while it worked in the plainest sense, the buttons had a mind of their own. The kotatsu was off, the room was chilly, and Majima's feet reached far over the edge of the futon. One laid perpendicular to his body, comfortably flat. The other was perched on curled toes, the crest of his heel catching the soft light.

He had uncurled in his sleep. It was one of two extremes with him—either he didn't move an inch when he slept or he tossed and turned enough to power a small neighborhood. The previous night was the latter. His mouth hung open, chin off of the pillow, his arms were askew, and were his hair not still pulled up in a ponytail it would be a bird's nest of a mess.

Chika moved quietly at first, going about her personal morning duties with the sounds of the city and a happy crow to serenade her as she did so. Brushing her hair over one shoulder until it was as smooth as it could be, she finally stood at the foot of Majima's sleeping form. Kneeling down, she reached out and gave his heel a gentle shake.

There was no mistake—she had been gentle. But even the gentlest of touches on a sensitive—rather, ticklish—area meant jack shit.

Majima woke instantaneously, a pitched yelp cutting itself short on inhaled drool. Chika was simply lucky that when he jerked his feet away he didn't immediately retaliate with a sharp kick. Instead he sat up, snatching her arm at the wrist, eye wide and skin covered in a shocking amount of cold sweat for as little time he had. His mouth puckered, on the edge of swearing loud and hard. Releasing all of the air his lungs could hold in a hot breath, he let go of Chika's wrist and dragged his hands over his sweaty face.

“Fuck's sake—my poor heart, I coulda died,”

Chika lightly massaged her wrist, narrowing her eyes at Majima, “I can arrange for you to die of starvation instead.”

“Chika-chan...,” he mumbled, “I can't even stomach yer jokes right now,”

That brought a small smile to her face, one that he viewed from in between his fingers, “My apologies. I'll get started on breakfast.”

Majima flopped back onto the futon as Chika turned to the kitchenette. Each breath came down with an exasperated grunt as he regained himself. His eyepatch itched, slightly off-kilter. Adjusting it, then pulling out his ponytail to give his hair a quick run through with his fingers before redoing it, he stood up and stretched. His mock pajamas—the white shirt he wore the day before and a pair of black boxer-briefs—probably should've been thrown in the wash, judging by the quick sniff he gave them. With Chika here, though, he wasn't just gonna expose the whole of his tattoo to the world. (Well, that and everything else that went with being nude. Involuntary thoughts shifting to the nearly-nude weirdo. Involuntary shudder.) Scratching his lower back, he yawned, approaching the kitchenette as Chika pulled out a rice cooker.

“Ohhh, ya got that fancy stuff in here too?”

“Majima-san,” she said, a little worried, “You don't have an electric rice cooker?”

He stood for a second at her side, frozen in sleepy stupor as he thought about his bare, sad, cell-sized apartment. Barely registering that Chika asked him another question about his day-to-day homelife, he blinked sleep from his eye.

“Nuh,”

“Should I take that to mean you don't have a microwave either?”

“Hey, fridge.” he said bluntly as he stooped down, opening the mini-appliance. Of course he didn't have a microwave. Or fridge. Or bed. Or—the entire question was best dodged. If only it wasn't so damn early in the (late) morning, he would've done it with some modicum of grace instead of adding suspicion to his name.

Fresh eggs were stacked next to a home-made pitcher of tea. Majima pulled the pitcher out, impressed, “Oh? Who brought this in?”

“Hibiki-chan,” Chika said without much of a second glance, “Good winter tea, once you heat it up.”

He nodded, then glanced around. After a while he frowned, “Hey, ya mean to tell me you gals got all these fancy appliances but ya don't even have a teapot or kettle?”

Chika laughed at the slur to his words, admiring how he was first thing in the morning, “None of us are here for that long, we all brought personal mugs to use. This isn't so much a home as it is an elaborate break room.”

“Break rooms got kettles, don't they?” he muttered, locating the mugs. White with cute bluebird designs—probably Yuki's. Sweet blush pink with a heart-shaped handle, Ai. Down and down the row—simple but a little larger for more tea, Saki; colorful and homemade from a child's pottery class, Hibiki; an elegant western design with gilded edges, Chika; finally, something a little more traditional with silver rabbits painted on it, Mana. “Don't ya got any spares?”

Chika shrugged, “You can use whichever you like, but I will tell the others which one you did pick.”

Majima snorted and reached for Saki's, “Nice joke.”

“It wasn't a joke.”

He changed his mind and chose Hibiki's instead. No one's gonna get into fights over the cuteness of a child's art project.

The train of thought was slowly rumbling into its station as he picked out Chika's mug for her. One mug for each hand. Something was missing. Majima started humming on the 'M' sound, nearly sputtering Makoto's name. Salvaging the sound, he settled on more slurred, mumbled words.

“'Meko-chan, she still asleep?”

“For lack of a better word...,” Chika muttered solemnly, “Whatever it is, she needs all of it that she can get.”

Majima set the mugs down on the counter with a grim and unhappy hum, choosing Mana's mug for her due the simplicity and familiarity of the shape and texture. On the plus side, if Chika reported what mug he had chosen for her as well, Mana was close to Makoto, at least as a working relationship. He knew that his girls splitting up into fights over tea mugs wasn't exactly something that would actually happen with any real consequences, but still—it made him put extra thought into his choices.

Makoto was up just as the rice finished cooking, allowing her to hear the somewhat awkward but ultimately successful combination of both Majima and Chika preparing the rest of breakfast—tea was put in the microwave, eggs were cracked, whisked, and mixed with soy sauce, and rice was put into little bowls. Majima took his place at the kotatsu across from her, and Chika took the side between the two of them. It was not quite the picture of a family, conventional or not, but it did give Majima a distant feeling of nostalgia.

Chika finished before they did, cleaning her dishes. She didn't have any urgent business, but at the same time she was acting as if there was something pulling (or pushing) her away. Still, he noted the change in her demeanor. It was not as virulent as the day before, but she left before he could ask her any questions. He turned back to Makoto, running her thumbs over the rabbits on the mug. He wondered if she could feel the slight texture differences that gave the rabbits' presence away, or if it was all the same to her.

“Wasn't too awkward last night, was it?” he asked. Makoto looked up, gaze flying just past him as he was used to.

“No, we got used to each other,” she said, not so enthusiastic he would say it was said brightly, but not dull or bored either. He smiled.

“Good. Had yer girl chats an' everything?”

“Hm...I...guess,” she struggled to say. Majima raised an eyebrow, his hand awkwardly wrapped around the misshapen mug that was certainly not crafted with his size in mind. (Likely wasn't crafted with humans in mind, either.)

“Ya guess? Whaddya mean by that?”

“Well...,” Strange how things along this topic were becoming commonplace for her to think about, “I just...I don't think I've ever had one before,”

“Hm? No sleepovers with yer friends, chattin' it up late into the night? Or even just late nights out?”

Makoto didn't answer for a while, and concern slammed him like a rock to the chest. Not that anything he had said was inherently offensive, but he learned very early on in the business he ran that there was no way to tell what would set someone off.

“No...I've never really had the friends to do that with,”

Oh.

“Sometimes Lee-san would take me out, celebrating the odd thing here and there. But it was just the two of us, for professional reasons mostly,”

“Sure, sure.” Majima was gonna ask more, but, suddenly remembering that she had told him that she did in fact have a bad childhood, he shut himself up. Though he knew he had common ground there, he had no details to go off of, and asking for more would be greedy at best.

Makoto knew he was holding himself back. Changing her position, folding her legs underneath her, she brushed her hands over the mug he had given her again. Sipping more of the tea while it remained hot, she gasped a little too loudly as she lowered the cup to the table, sliding it close to her chest for warmth. A lump was in her throat, she could either swallow it or force it out in the open.

“Majima-san, would you please...not...tell anyone about this?”

Majima made a gesture despite the fact she couldn't see, “My lips are sealed, Umeko-chan,”

She smiled, then with a breath of preparation, she spoke, “I was born in China. My mother was Japanese—a war orphan, left behind...,”

One talent Majima certainly had was that he could very well tell when it was time for him to shut up. Even smaller interjections and comments seemed foul once she started speaking.

“So...my brother and I, we were made fun of—children of a Japanese woman. Anything from...names, to spitting, to...,”

A brother? She had never mentioned the like before. Then again, she wasn't mentioning much of a father. It was likely most everything met some sort of demise between her birth and her managing to reach Japan. Curiosity burned him, but out of respect he kept himself appropriate. She lifted a hand from her cup, and Majima noticed it was shaking as she buried it in her hair, searching. Stopping at the side of her head, she curled all her fingers inwards save for one, pointing.

“Here. It's covered, but I can feel it if I look. I was pushed aside by a grown woman, and my head hit the ground. It could've been much worse, but it...left its mark. However small.”

“Even the adults picked on ya...Bastards,” he muttered, bitter and angry. Makoto hummed, dropping her hand. There were certainly more stories to tell, but she was struggling enough as it was.

So, no friends. Reserving any further questions, Majima finished his tea, eying the small bit of rice still in the cooker. Using it as an excuse, he offered her seconds, then set about doing just that, emptying the cooker. Once their seconds were halfway done, he finally felt it acceptable enough to speak again.

“China? So you grew up speakin' Chinese?”

“Ah...,” Makoto said, but before she could say more he interrupted.

“Can't hear a lick of any accent anywhere,”

“Y-Yes...,” she answered, “I worked hard to...destroy it,”

Majima nodded, “Yeah, yeah, I know how that goes,”

“Eh? Majima-san, do you speak—,”

“Nah,” he was quick to wave off, “But I did have business in Tokyo fer a while. Gotta speak all nice an' proper there,”

“Ah, yes,” she agreed, her tone lightening ever so slightly much to Majima's...relief? Happiness? He'd rather not try to figure that one out, “When I moved here, it took me a while to get used to the Kansai accent. Majima-san, your Kansai can be very thick,”

Ohh?” he said, a devilish gleam in his eye, “Well, can't have ya not understandin' anythin' I say, can I? So,”

Makoto straightened up a little, unsure of what was happening as Majima leaned over the table, chopsticks raised in one hand in a dapper fashion. His voice evened out, deepened, and each word was enunciated in proper fashion; formal, smooth, and nearly as perfect as Chika.

“Makoto-san, is it a little easier for you to understand me now?”

Makoto inhaled, sharp as she drew her hands up. Despite herself a smile began to split her features, pushing her cheeks to her eyes. She started to laugh. So Majima kept doing it, smiling like she was.

“What in the world is that reaction for? Is it so hard to believe that I'm the same man when I speak like this?”

“No!” she laughed, shaking her head, “It's weird, it's too weird!”

“I'm sure all those professors who write Japanese textbooks might disagree with you, this is perfectly normal!”

“Not for you!!” she squealed, cupping her hands over her ears which only prompted him to speak louder.

“Come now, you can't tell me a lady like yourself isn't the least bit interested in such a smooth-talking man like this?”

“No!!” she pushed from the kotatsu as he only leaned further, trying to hide her smile, “You sound so—not you, I don't like it!”

“Oh, really?” his voice regained its natural cadence even though he kept himself leaning forward, “Yer gigglin' tells me otherwise, Makoto...-han,” His eye widened a little, having never noticed that he hadn't put any honorifics at the end of her name, ever. In the beginning he had done so to distance himself from her as he figured out whether or not to go through with the hit. Stupid. He had damn well known from the start that there was no way he was gonna be able to kill her, not after he realized who Makimura Makoto really was, not after he learned that Sagawa had blatantly, knowingly lied to him to get him to do it.

With a small ah he tried to hide in a sniff, he sat back down, finishing the rest of his seconds. Makoto did as well, once she had calmed down a little and found her bowl again. He watched, pausing in the middle of shoveling rice into his mouth, as her fingers lightly ran across the surface of the table to find her food. Another sniff.

“Makoto...-han...,” she repeated softly. Majima grunted.

“That's pure Kansai, don't ya go tellin' me that's weird to yer ears too,”

“It's fine,” she dismissed, light and okay. Majima lowered his bowl ever so slightly, “Just...Didn't realize you'd never said it before,”

“Ah,” his tone was not as light as hers by a long shot, “Don't go thinkin' there's a good or cute reason behind that,”

“No,” she agreed without effort, “At this point, it doesn't really matter. But...it was nice to hear you say it,”

He watched her for a moment more, then set his bowl down, resting the chopsticks across it. Tapping a vaguely familiar rhythm on the tabletop, he sighed, his chest weighted and his mind dark.

“Makoto...Makoto-han,” he squeezed his eye shut in pain, thankful that she caught on to the change in the air, “Are ya...sure ya don't know who's gunnin' for ya?”

She pushed her empty bowl away from her, eyes dropping to where the sound was. Her mouth twisted into an ugly shape as she searched her brain and searched hard. Majima watched her, needles pricking the edges of his heart. She was so damn young—barely an adult. Hell, she didn't even have a coming of age ceremony, did she? If anything it would've been Lee saving her from a damned cage. Welcome to adulthood, your sex slavery can end now—until we send someone to kill you for daring to be free. Calling her lucky just because she managed to get out was cruel, because no matter what she was put there in the first place. The needles sank further as her expression opened up in distress, looking to him the best she could for any answers he could provide. Answers, comfort, promises he didn't know he could or would keep—anything. She had been laughing not five minutes ago; a bright and pure laugh over something so silly as a comical voice. The person she could've been was there, still. Impossible to say if it would ever get the chance to blossom and grow, but he could just barely see who she could've been, who she tried to be in spite of everything that had happened and continued to happen to her.

By the time she said No, no I really don't know, the needles had all but sunk their full length, refusing to let him go.

The only probable answer that they could come up with given the information they knew was that the mafia were gunning for her to be their captive again, but there were several things Majima didn't like about that. Sagawa, for one, wouldn't stand taking an order from the Korean mafia for a hit, and something like that certainly wouldn't get him back in the Tojo Clan. And, Makoto pitched in, sex slaves like her would've been a dime a dozen. Sure she had gone blind, but there were more brutal ways to get their kicks from blind girls other than just waiting around to see if it would happen psychologically. It was not worth the effort to go to these lengths to get to her, especially if all they wanted was her dead body.

Majima stopped the questioning cold. Keeping down that road would only build their anxiety and make them panic. He lit a cigarette, stared off into the corner, then found his gaze wandering back to her. Her hands had dipped beneath the table, withdrawn and scared.

The needles twisted.

Why he did it, he didn't know. He was moving before he could understand or stop it. It started as him simply throwing some more clothes on, pants and his blazer to keep the chill away. But instead of sitting back where he was, he circled the kotatsu. Makoto froze, making tiny noises of confusion. Without much pomp and circumstance he sat next to her, close but not too close, picking up the last of his cigarette from the ashtray.

“Don't worry,” he muttered as he placed it back between his lips, “Just sittin' next to ya. That's all,”

Half of it was reading her body language, the other half was simply just taking her words to heart. Majima kept to himself, even when he slid his feet back under the kotatsu. Did he want to be close to her? Hard to say, he buried that shit so he wouldn't even know it himself. But he felt a sort of primal need for proximity, on a half-baked assumption that it was for her sake. Something, something, I'm here to protect ya bullshit.

The glow of the cigarette cozied up to his fingers and he snuffed it with one last breath.

“I promise.”

Makoto heard his words, latching on to slowly feed off of them as her ears burned, trying to hear his every movement in time for her to react. What Chika had told her last night screamed in her head on alarm bells, the fear, the terror that Chika might actually be right, that it was possible that he was going to advance on her. Even if it had been an accidental development rather than a ploy, the danger was just as real to her.

Gingerly, she moved her hand over the table surface. Majima watched as it moved towards him. She stopped just as she reached the cuff of his sleeve, her touch feather-light. There was a moment of hesitation, then she moved, shifting her hips over until there was barely a gap between their shoulders.

A moment more. She pressed her cheek against his shoulder.

Another moment. She relaxed.

Majima kept to himself.

 

~~

 

Hazes had occurred before. Acute hangovers, stuffed sinuses, pollen season, sleep deprivation—he guessed there wasn't a person alive who didn't know what it was like to go to work with their head so wrapped in clouds that it made it hard to stand. But this was different. Cloudiness wasn't the problem, because he was perfectly able to work. The world wasn't dizzy, he didn't feel daft.

When she was reasonably in his limited line of sight, he stared at her. When she wasn't, he was thinking about her. It was easy, so very easy, to slip into the excuse that she was under his protection and responsibility, of course he was thinking of her.

But if he was thinking of her like that, wouldn't he keep a sharp mind, wouldn't he listen to what his staff and hostesses were saying to keep alert on the floor?

What a weird day. He wanted it to be over so he could toss and turn in bed and pretend to figure it out and put it to rest and start over tomorrow.

I promise.

Majima had said it with such a strong sincerity that it stayed in her mind. Even him speaking in perfect Japanese didn't resonate with her as deeply as the promise did, even though she had laughed the hardest she had laughed in a very, very long time. He promised, and he kept it. It was a small task, more of a gesture, seemingly a simple one that anyone could complete. All he had done was sat down next to her, promising to do nothing but just that and then he did nothing but just that.

The only time he moved was when he relaxed against her when she pressed against him, but his hands stayed off and he didn't pull her closer.

She was so used to being manhandled, for lack of a better word, even by people with good intentions. Crossing the street was an ordeal in itself, full of well-meaning men and women alike who grab her and attempt to lead her across, resulting in her dropping her cane and screaming bloody murder. Majima might have tip-toed around her, true, but at the same time he didn't sit there, spooning food into her mouth. Hell, when she needed to bathe he only did what she asked of him—got her what she needed, then left. No questions asked, not even a suggestive joke.

It was only basic human decency, she knew. There was no reason to be thinking about it this much, but then again, given what she knew of life, maybe it made sense she was unable to think of anything else. She still felt danger creeping around every corner at her, she was still hunched and tensed and slight in the bright cabaret, especially next to Mana. But she was starting to feel something else, a sort of gentleness she had either previously ignored or disbelieved. Logically she knew the world wasn't all bad, but now she was beginning to feel it, even if it was tentative and scared. Even Mana seemed softer to her even though there was technically no change in her demeanor at all.

The first two men of the night were long sessions. They each were superficially kind, even though one was much more rambunctious than the other. Both had been interested but not overly forward about her blindness. Mana fielded many of the questions that got rhetorical or predictable. No different than last night, except Makoto found that her mind wasn't as much on her job as it had anxiously been before.

I promise.

The second man left, giving them fifteen minutes of a break before another sauntered in. Youda showed him to the front most table, square in the middle. Mana took her hand and led her there. Bow, introductions, be seated; Mana on one side of the man, Makoto on the other. He smelled vaguely of booze already, and Mana seemed to take note, starting with fizzier, nonalcoholic drinks that would take them a while to drink through. Despite this, he was outwardly cordial—lively due to the booze, and from the way the seat cushions moved Makoto could tell he was making a lot of gestures. Mana's laughs were a bit reserved, and she could feel the hostess's eyes on her. The air had not yet turned nervous, but something was making her on edge. Makoto sat with her hands in her lap, polite and smiling.

“So, sis, you've been blind for a while?” he asked. Mana opened her mouth to intervene but he talked over her, “Does that mean you've never looked at yourself in the mirror n' seen it?”

“I'm sorry?” Makoto said pleasantly, “Seen what?”

“Your face! And you look so sad about it, too!”

“W-Well,” Makoto tried to salvage, “I am smiling, sir, it's a fun night tonight after all...!”

Ohhh,” he cooed, voice lowering. The hair on her neck started to raise, “S'fun night for you already? I'm just getting started, here, and I can make ya look happy for sure,”

“Of course, there's nothing better than a couple of happy girls,” Mana butted in, and he laughed. It felt off, like a bent knife. The hostess's attempt to keep his attention split between the two of them, thus minimizing any potential damage, worked for about five minutes before he turned back to Makoto.

She felt herself shrivel up, legs coming together tight and fingers interwoven just as tightly. One question after the other, only for her: How d'ya know it's a man if you can't see? Wouldn't have to turn the lights off for you, I'd be able to see everything! You're so small, how would you ever find a man you could take?

And, finally, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

Sir!” Mana barked, swatting his hand away, “If you do not stop this behavior at once, I will have you thrown out of this club and blacklisted!”

Makoto's eyes widened when she realized he had not just simply put up a number of fingers for her to guess.

“Alright alright, it was just a joke, she can't be hurt by what she don't see!” he tried to downplay, waving Mana off, “So, how many fingers am I holding up now?” he leaned in close to Makoto until she could smell his breath. She squirmed, barely hearing Mana's call for assistance.

“I'll give ya a hint, it's less than before.”

She recoiled when the tip of his tongue licked the crest of her cheek. On instinct Makoto shoved her hands out, trying to push him away.

Her arms folded tightly into her sides when his hands dove in.

Majima heard nothing but the scream. If he had sensed trouble in the air before it happened, it was hard to say, but his feet flew over the rough-to-the-touch carpets (so she called them) the split second Makoto's brutal cries cut through the club's atmosphere, silencing conversations, turning heads, making his silver-tipped boots clash against the golden décor as he rushed to their booth. Instinct guided him around the pillars, weaving between curious hostesses, Youda and the bottle of champagne he was carrying, down the stairs and in front of the stage. It was all so fluid he wasn't registering he was moving until he stopped, standing stock still in front of the booth.

I promise.

Majima stared.

Mana was clawing and tearing at the man, desperate to pull him back and away from Makoto. The man himself looked well-off, tipsy enough to be impaired but not so much that it could be written off as a drunken rampage. Her efforts did little to deter him as his hands greedily pawed at the struggling girl. Though the dress was modest he was finding ways around it, pulling at the skirt, tugging at the zipper, ripping the clasp at her throat apart. Makoto was wrecked, destroyed by spasms that both helped and betrayed her as her limbs tried to both beat him away and protect her body at the same time. Her screams and shrieks were not ones for help, simply ones of raw, animal fear. They blubbered with his rough movements, occasionally cutting off in terror when he clenched to hurt.

Majima stared.

“M-Majima-san!” Mana cried, aghast as she tried to pull the man off him, “Majima-san, what are you doing?!

Usually it would be over by now. He'd catch the offending customer's attention, cut him off, send him home, or better yet, offer the offender's wealth to the rest of the club in a round of drinks. He was quick, efficient, and intolerant of perverseness in his club, towards any girl for any reason. There was nothing standing in the way of Majima and upholding both the reputation of his club and the integrity of the hostesses.

But he was standing there. He was staring.

Forced to let go of the man's arms, Mana turned to Majima, her desperation transforming into anger as he continued to stand there and do nothing. No customer could ever faze her, even one so ugly as this one—there was no reason it should've fazed the general manager.

The anger dissipated and fear crept into Mana's eyes.

Majima's tall form seemed shadowed as he stood over the booth, staring, staring and doing nothing. His face held no discernible emotion as he stared. No twitch of the mouth, no wrinkle of the nose. Just a stone-still face.

And one eye seething with hatred.

I promise.

Makoto felt the brute's intrusive hands freeze. Then she heard a strange noise, a noise she had heard almost daily back in the cages. It was too particular a sound to forget, the watery click of shock followed by a shallow, failed gasp. The hands on her began to tremble.

The man began to choke.

Majima's face contorted, lips curling, nostrils flaring, eye seething with calm, controlled hatred as he closed, closed, closed his hands around the fucker's throat. Squeezing, feeling his trachea quiver in desperation as it had less and less space to move, less space to breathe. Falling back into the booth, his hands left Makoto's desecrated body, uselessly trying to swat at Majima to get him to stop. His arms curled upon his immediate failure, almost looking like he was trying to claw his way out of his own grave. The more Majima squeezed air out of him, the more his wrists curled inwards, fingers bent like weak claws as his whole body began to spasm. Frothy saliva dripped down onto Majima's hands, and he watched as the man's eyes lolled back into his head.

He did not hear the hostesses screaming around him.

Mana's hands pressed against Majima's collar, pushing against him. Then Saki was there, wrapping her arms underneath Majima's and tugging. Youda, too, pulling him at the waist. Hibiki, though she was weaker than average, appeared with Ai out of the corner of his eye and suddenly their hands were also pulling him back, back and away.

The snarl on Majima's lips opened in a horrific, hateful roar, sharp teeth bared and spittle flying as the white of his eye gleamed in the dancing light of the disco ball. The silver tips of his boots kicked against the table, pinning the choked man at his knees with a hard snap.

Makoto had curled into a catatonic ball.

I promise.

Words. Words. Words. Words from Youda and the hostesses, words towards him, towards the customers, towards the man pathetically gasping for air while consciousness failed him. Words. Majima heard none of it. He was staring, staring at Makoto. Again.

Followed by cries of shock, Majima dove down, scooping Makoto up in his arms. Just as he had run to her booth, he ran away with her tucked into his side. Fluid, like he was flying, until they were in the dressing room. He slammed it shut, cutting the noise, cutting the words off, and swung Makoto onto the couch, not unlike when she had first arrived at Club Sunshine.

She shook uncontrollably, lips quivering as she blubbered. The whites of her eyes were just as poignant as his had been, though instead of rage she was wracked by distress and fear. Tears etched their places back on her face, cold, terrified, and unending. Majima tore himself away, snarled lip twitching as he angrily paced the small room, a hound hungry for violent retribution. More than once he raised a fist or reared a foot, ready to beat whatever was in front of him—waste bin, table, chair, radio, mirror—it didn't matter. He wanted to destroy. He wanted everything destroyed.

But doing that would frighten her.

Majima clawed at his scalp, pulling several strands of hair out of his ponytail to hang limply around his face. He tried to sit, but couldn't. Pacing just roused his desperate need for destruction. Standing still let the horrors sink into his chest. He opened his mouth to try and say something.

All that came out was a pathetic growl that made her flinch and whimper.

Sit down. Stand up. Pace. Stand still. Sit down. Rinse. Repeat. He refused to look at her.

Hibiki came in. He snapped at her to leave. Instead of doing so, she informed him what became of the customer (that is, taken by the patrolmen that were still in the area), and that Mana, though shaken, was helping Youda handle everything.

Majima was quiet, having finally found the ability to sit down at the table, so long as his hands were crossed in front of his face. Hibiki didn't move, stoic but concerned. Her gaze rested on the shaking, traumatized girl on the couch. It was clear that Makoto didn't know where, what, when, or who she was. Any urge to comfort the girl was squashed by the knowledge that any attempt at comfort would only make it worse. Majima's lone eye flicked to Hibiki, and, noticing who she was staring at, flicked over his shoulder as much as he dared to the mess of a girl on the couch.

“Go, Hibiki-chan,” he implored, his voice losing its fire and becoming crumpled and defeated, “Ya best get outta here before anythin' else happens.”

Hibiki bowed, “So long as you're here, Majima-san, nothing will.”

When she turned to leave he buried his face in his hands and trembled.

 

~~

 

Music.

The club had died down not too long ago, with only the shuffling of the remaining hostesses and Youda, cleaning everything up. Vaguely Majima wondered if he had splintered the table when he had kicked it. It was so fucking unimportant, but he wondered about it anyways.

The music filled the silent dressing room despite how muffled it was. True, the silence had started to become eerie, especially given that he and Makoto had been laughing together earlier that same day. Majima lifted his head ever so slightly from his hands, listening. At first he had taken it as just music to help the cleanup along, but the speakers sounded slightly different. When he heard familiar voices project over the music, talking, laughing, nervously fidgeting, he realized they had turned the karaoke machine.

They had turned the goddamn karaoke machine on.

He put his head back in his hands, sunken but not upset. Part of him couldn't understand why they had the stomach for such things after what he had just done, after what had just happened. The loosened strands of his hair clumped together from dried sweat, blurry in his vision as he stared at the same splotchy pattern on the table he had been staring at for what felt like three hours.

From the cabaret came Hibiki's gentle voice, greeting everyone like a grateful pop star as Rouge of Love started up. He blinked, weary, remembering how hard he had urged the mild-mannered girl on back at Utahime. It didn't exactly help the secret that he adored the song she chose, no matter who was singing it. As he listened his gut sank into his knees as he realized he had no strength to muster any support from her now, even in theory.

Rouge of Love died down. Hibiki called Chika up to the stage. Majima felt his shoulder blades stick up like dreaded wings, waiting on Chika to start singing. It was the only thing he could focus on, especially now that Makoto had gone silent.

There was a knock at the door. He didn't answer, even vocally. Another knock, then a warning that they were coming in anyways. Hibiki and Yuki poked their heads in, stacked on one another like a cartoon.

“Majima-san,” Hibiki asked, “Will you come and sing with us?”

Tch,” he dismissed, weak. Yuki frowned.

“Majima-saaan, everyone wants to hear me sing, but you know I can't sing in public! Not without your backup!”

“Also,” Hibiki muttered, a bit embarrassed, “We...might have told everyone that you do sing.”

Majima didn't respond, making both girls concerned. Yuki rubbed her nose.

“My grandfather always let me cry and sulk, but when it was over, he said it should be over, Majima-san. It's over. Come sing with us,” Yuki pleaded, a bit blunt but otherwise heartfelt. He shot her a glare, but she returned it with more force than he could muster.

“Yuuta doesn't let me sulk over my life too much either...,” Hibiki mentioned, “I have too much to take care of to sit around being upset, anyways...,”

Majima's hands turned into claws. Yep. Too much to take care of. What a fantastic job he had done of that. Another glance at the lump on the couch that barely resembled Makoto. Both girls followed his gaze, then back to him.

“No...,” Hibiki continued, “We know this isn't going to cure anything. We just...want to make sure that you know we aren't disowning you. Even Yuki-chan,”

Especially Yuki-chan,” Yuki herself corrected, reaching up to pinch Hibiki's cheek. Majima watched them, tired and morose.

“...Fine.”

Giving in, he moved his sluggish body, standing up though not to his full height and following the girls out. He paused in the doorway, unable to give one last glance back at Makoto.

“I won't be far,” he promised, low and sad, “If you need me.”

He didn't add that he finally understood how Lee could so easily turn to murder to protect her.

The girls welcomed him, giving him a wide breadth of space. He barely noticed, but at the same time he felt a pang of hurt weasel its way into his chest as he sat, limp and dull. The longer he sat, the more the girls closed in around him. None of them sat so close as to suggest anything deeper than a professional friendship, but it was enough. Much to Yuki's dismay, he didn't really back her up as she got up on stage and started to sing. But he did raise his heavy head and watch her, at one point closing his eye just to listen like an old man listening to the radio.

Other girls went, mostly full of laughter (however contrived it may have been considering the audience). Surprising to say, Mana had an absolutely terrible singing voice despite making it through her whole song like a champion otherwise. Saki had a homely voice best suited for folk songs without any instruments to show her up. Ai refused to sing, turning beet red whenever Yuki tried to convince her to. Gossip was passed around, rumors that Etsuko had once been a prolific enka singer, along with guesses as to what kind of music Erranda listened to in secret. Shit that he normally paid zero mind to that he was letting his ears hear and process.

Yuki, Hibiki, and Chika had another thing in mind, though, and he soon found himself accosted by the three girls to go up and sing. Sing. They had all heard him sing, but no one else had. Just one song, sing the song you sang for us. It's a good, upbeat, happy song, which was precisely why he didn't want to sing it. But he was too weak to argue, and he found himself up on stage with the shimmering faces of all the girls (and Youda) staring at him like expectant puppies.

Well. Fuck.

He selected 24-Hour Cinderella and took in a breath.

It helped to blur his vision so he didn't see all the puppy-eyes in front of him. His voice was not as rusty as he thought it would've been after the night that he had. (Certainly he looked like shit to reflect it, at least.)

Halfway through the song he noticed movement in the back of the cabaret. Finishing the chorus before the instrumental started, he stared at the auxiliary hallway leading to the dressroom. There, in a plum dress that looked dark against the golden colors of the room, stood Makoto. The wall was her support, she clung to it like it was her only friend. Her knees were bent, making her seem smaller and less of a target. At first he was worried that she needed help, that he needed to run to her to assure her that they were both still alive and that was all they had but it was all they needed. But she seemed too oddly relaxed to be in danger, and she wasn't wildly swinging her head around in desperation. Instead her head was tilted so that her ear faced him, listening intently. She had not been out in the hallway before he had started singing, he was sure of it.

Majima sighed, closed his eye, and continued to sing, noticing for the first time how tender he sounded and how hopeful the lyrics were.

 

Chapter Text

If there was one thing he was grateful for on this morally barren shitball of a planet, it's that he had the foresight to fill the tub with hot water before he left to manage the cabaret.

Hibiki had walked in with her little brother the morning after the incident, finding Majima passed out over the kotatsu. He was still dressed in all of his work clothes—the only thing undone was his bow tie slung around his neck like a cut noose. The sound of the door woke him up, and he looked over his shoulder just in time to see Yuuta press against his sister's leg in acute fear. He had met the tyke before and had even bonded with him in a much more mature way than he was expecting, but he had been perfectly groomed and of sound mind, then. Were not for the fact that he was missing an eye, he would've found that half his vision would be through locks of loose hair even though his ponytail was technically still up. His eyes were darker and more sunken than normal, carrying heavy bags beneath them. Nevertheless, Hibiki smiled, sweet and gentle, and urged Yuuta to greet him.

Makoto was going to stay in the apartment for the entire work shift—this had been determined without much discussion. Hibiki had taken it upon herself to make sure that they were prepared, carrying a paper bag full of more food—fillings for onigiri. Leaving Yuuta with Majima, the gentle girl quietly coaxed Makoto awake and out of the bedroom, giving her comfortable and warm winter clothes to wear. Though she and Hibiki were similar in size, Makoto seemed to drown in the thick sweater she had given her. All the better for the winter months, Hibiki had noted with a smile. Like a child, Makoto pulled her arms out of the sleeves, dipping her chin into the collar. Asking permission first, Hibiki ran a hand through Makoto's hair, smoothing it down and combing out any knots. The bottom of Makoto's eyes seemed permanently puffy and pink. Majima looked on in sorrow.

The rice cooker clicked as Yuuta set about laboriously explaining the details of his homemade mug to Majima. Hibiki let them, setting everything they needed on the table. Seaweed, burdock root, salmon flakes, and, finally, umeboshi. Majima looked at the jar of red plums, then up at Makoto who was staring off past the surface of the table, her eyes just barely not lining up with the umeboshi. Without realizing it, he muttered her alias, wistful and sad. Hibiki took notice but tried not to bring attention to it, roping her brother into bringing the rice over so they could begin to make the onigiri.

Majima had to be jarred into making the onigiri with the siblings, looking down at the ingredients with an almost lost gaze. Weary, but welcoming the distraction, his hands reached forward and joined in.

After a while, Makoto rubbed her nose against the sweater, giving a sniff. Without making much noise, she moved her arms beneath the sweater, finding the sleeves and slipping them through again. Her slim wrists were dwarfed, but she lightly pushed the cuffs up to her shoulders and gingerly reached out to the tabletop.

Hibiki leaned down to her brother's ear, whispering something. Yuuta nodded, and, gathering his supplies, moved next to Makoto. The ball of rice became stagnant in Majima's hands as he watched the little boy start to (loudly, proudly) teach Makoto how to make onigiri.

It was such a simple task, but Majima stared like he was witnessing the descent of a god. Her slender hands shook at first, but Yuuta was undeterred, placing the warm rice in her hands then pushing on her thumb to make the hole for the filling. Umeboshi were his favorite to do, and as such the first one she made had exactly that. Her hands worked with the little boy's, shaping the riceball until it was ready for the seaweed. Yuuta took charge of tearing it to proper strips, although 'proper' to him didn't mean any standardized sizing. Still, Makoto didn't complain, and sooner rather than later she was rather independently shaping and making her own onigiri alongside Yuuta. Hibiki smiled as she watched them as well, her hands working as she did so.

The hostess looked over at Majima, noticing the half-done onigiri in his hands. Gently, she took the ball of rice from him, quickly finishing it with burdock root in the middle. He blinked, staring down at the grains of rice still sticking to his fingers. With a sigh, he brushed them off and dropped his hands, removing himself from the activity. Hibiki did not question it or blame him.

When all was said and done, they wrapped the onigiri up and stowed them in the fridge. Yuuta waved enthusiastically as they got up to leave, only to have Hibiki tell him he needed to say good-bye in order for Makoto to understand what he was doing.

The blind girl smiled. Majima tore his gaze away in shame.

The day did not get better when he went down for work. All the girls seemed nervous around him, and Mana was curt and wary. But he needed to be down there, to clean up his mess and put his ear to the ground. News traveled fast. For the time being the reigning headlines on the night life was that a perpetrator had been arrested at Club Sunshine. Although that wasn't too incriminating, it would be the start of a chain of questions that he knew he couldn't stop. Who? That man, a blind hostess, and the manager. What? The manager choked him until he passed out for touching the blind hostess. Why? Well, that was the big question of the night, wasn't it? The when, where, and how didn't hold a candle to the why. It was only a matter of time before the last domino fell. Majima had really fucked this one, and there were no escape routes from Club Sunshine.

There was a slim chance they'd still pass under the radar, but Makoto was stuck in the apartment now for more than one reason. It was his fault that they hadn't lasted two nights without an incident.

Maybe it was just him, but every customer seemed vile and rude tonight, especially to him. And yes, yes he had splintered the table when he kicked it. A nice soak in a hot bath had never before been so damn welcoming of an idea.

He pushed the door to the apartment open, shoulders sunken and eye half-lidded in exhaustion. Though he announced his presence it was mumbled and broken. Dropping the key heartlessly into its dish and locking the door behind him, he went through the motions of taking his boots off and stepping into the apartment proper. It was dark, save for whatever lights from the city filtered in. Not seeing Makoto but too numb to feel panicked, his socked feet slid over the floor as he made his way to the bedroom. Quietly, he slid the door open enough for him to see.

She laid square on the center of the futon, curled tight within her blanket. He did not shut the door until he saw her body rise and fall with gentle, rhythmic breaths.

Relief flooded him as he entered the washroom, even though he knew it wouldn't last. Thinking about the future would ruin his mood, he couldn't afford to dwell on how brief his comfort would be. With that in mind, he took his damned sweet time, sitting on the edge of the tub and bathing himself. (The girls didn't have to know he used their shampoo, even if he was curious to know who preferred silky smooth since he was definitely going to make use of that.) Slipping his hairband out and pulling off his eyepatch, he put both on the corner of the tub, sighing gratefully at the release of pressure on his scalp.

Regardless of how disgusting it may have been, Majima forgot the last time he had truly bathed. Even here in the apartment, it was always a quick wash and then go—he hadn't allowed himself time to slow down and relax as much as he could. The heaviness of his hair when it was wet was welcoming, pulling it forward over his head to help rinse the suds out. Saki's stitches at his side only stung a little, and he took it to signify that the wound was well on its way to being healed. He heaved in a breath, whipping his hair back and grabbing whatever brush was closest. The room was silent save for the water dripping from his skin, and he closed his eye to revel in it as he brushed his hair.

Majima let out a low, pleased breath as he sank himself into the hot water. The cold air against the bath made the room start to steam. Tilting his head back against the small cushion, he breathed low again, his neck making a graceful arch down to the gold chain around his collar. Forget how long it had been since he had bathed, he had downright no idea when he last felt comfortable enough entering an onsen. Publicly, he couldn't go to most, and the ones that did allow tattoos offered a crowd he was no longer supposed to be a part of and quite frankly didn't want to rub his nose into either, not when he had his own shit to deal with.

There was no faster way to force himself to relax. Majima went limp in the hot water, dozing.

A soft knock at the door stirred him, and he failed to stifle a pathetic, pained whine. It had barely been twenty minutes, fifteen at best. He tried to ignore it, lolling his head to the far side, but he sighed, knowing he couldn't.

“Ah,” he called, signifying that he head heard her. Makoto's voice was as soft as her knock. Majima opened his eye as she spoke.

“Can I...May I come in?”

He thought for a moment. It's not like she would see anything. Sighing again, he repeated himself, answering that she could with a simple change of tone. Trying to savor the last remaining seconds he had, he sank himself lower into the tub until he could just barely see over it, watching the door slide open and closed as Makoto entered, dressed in her night gown. Her bare feet hesitantly stepped in the puddles on the floor as she approached the tub. Bending down, her hand searched for the edge until she found it. Majima knew his time was up, and he righted himself, ready to get out of the tub and help her with whatever she needed.

“No,” she said at the sound of water, “No. Don't worry,”

He paused, staring at her. She lowered herself to the floor, using the tub for support and not caring that her night gown got wet. With a meek sigh, she curled her fingers over the tile on the edge of the tub, unaware that she was inches away from brushing against his fingertips.

“Just sitting next to you.” she repeated his words, calm despite the waver to her voice. Majima searched her expression for greater meaning, or something that she couldn't tell him, but all he saw was pain—pain that he knew the name of. Relaxing, but not settling back down, he watched as she shivered, goosebumps forming on her skin.

I promise.

“Somethin' wrong?”

“Can't sleep,” she mewled like a lost kitten, “Just can't sleep.”

Majima blinked, slow and sympathetic. Rolling his shoulders, he slid back down into the water, taking care that his arms did not touch her as he hung them from the edges of the tub. She inhaled a stuttered breath, soothing herself as she rested her head in the crook of her elbow. He watched her for a moment more as her eyelids slowly fell until they were closed, then fluttered back open until the process repeated itself. Something gentle rumbled in his throat and he laid his head back, continuing to doze as he was before.

Time became lost. At one point, Makoto's hand dipped down to the water, disturbing its still surface with ripples that gently beat against his tattooed chest. Her finger traced unknown patterns, until she inadvertently touched his hand that was also just barely under the surface. He withdrew, curling his fingers away out of courtesy. Makoto let his action have its own pause before she reached further, touching his knuckles and tracing down until she laced her fingers with his. Majima opened his eye, staring at the ceiling. She waited another beat before she ever so slightly tightened her grip, prompting him to do the same. He kept his gaze on the ceiling. Nothing happened that made him note the passing of time. They were still, together, only occasionally adjusting their grip. Makoto occasionally breathed in a way that suggested pain, or that she was fighting back something she didn't want out in the open. Majima was uncharacteristically quiet, letting her be.

Without knowing who started it, they raised their hands out of the water, until Majima held her wrist, his thumb finding her pulse as her fingers traced the tendons on the back of his hand. He moved his thumb, uncomfortable with the way he held her, and clasped his hand over hers, closing her fingers in a light fist. His next instinct was to kiss their clasped hands. He bit the inside of his lip instead and let them come to rest at the water's surface again. Makoto made a small sound, one that almost seemed content. Majima blinked, dropping his gaze to the far wall. The steam had started to dissipate as the water cooled and the air warmed. He looked over to Makoto.

Her small head of short brown hair looked soft despite the fact that her tossing and turning made it messy, the odd strand poking out here or there. Again, he suppressed the instinct to pet her hair down, even if it had been a similar gesture as the first night he had rescued her. Something desperate and sad started crying in his chest and he frowned, unlacing his fingers from hers and pulling away. Part of him was afraid that if he listened to the cry it'd be a slippery slope and there'd be no difference between him and the man who had assaulted her last night. There was no denying that he was starved for her—but he believed it wasn't her specifically, just the idea of the affection she could give him even if it was as simple as her resting her aching body against his. Starving for affection, whether or not it came from her, he knew it was a dangerous place to be. Men who starved like that walked through his doors every night, chatting and talking with women trying to make a living until the night grew old. Of course, Majima had grown exasperated with people through his job, and he couldn't ever see himself walking through the doors of a cabaret fully believing its illusion. That meant that anything that made him feel how starved he was, any woman or man or whoever, well, he could've been a threat to them. Acting without thinking, acting to sate himself.

Maybe that was over-dramatic. But he knew that for all Makoto's strength, all he needed to do was hold her a little too tight, pin her in one place, and she would be lost.

So maybe it was about her after all, and not just his introspective, selfish bullshit.

She drew her arm back, folding it in to better cushion her head as she sighed, long and relaxed. It looked like she could've almost fallen asleep right there, despite the chill of the puddles she was seated in and the hardness of the bathroom tile. There was no one else in the world, that Majima knew of, that she would be so calm and defenseless around.

That couldn't have been an accident on his part. He had allowed himself to build this around her.

Yeah. It was about her.

It had always been about her.

Makoto jerked, startled by the sound of him rising up from the water. Surprising her more than his movement was the fact that she had been bordering on sleep despite the awkward position. Stifling a yawn, she perked her head, listening as he carefully stepped out of the tub, reaching for a towel before sitting on the edge next to her. As he unplugged the tub, she pulled herself up onto the edge as well, stretching her legs and shivering as the cold water from the puddles dripped down her calves. Majima busied himself with drying off, careful not to make any wild movements that would elbow her in the face. More than once he forcefully blew hair away from his face, but otherwise he was quiet.

In the back of her mind she supposed they both knew that between the two of them there was one layer of clothing, but it seemed inconsequential. Neither seemed to mind nor acknowledge it—it made no real difference. Majima grunted, and she heard the clatter of an object as he picked it up, followed by the sound of a brush moving through hair. A small smile played at her lips as she tried to visualize what he looked like. Tall, relatively slim she felt. When he had wrapped his arms around her his muscles were taut and thin like branches from a tree. There was strength in them, and she wondered how deceptive it was. Cartoon villain came to her mind, along with the other descriptors Ai used as she tried to piece together his face from his voice. It was hard to think of a frightening man behind his kind voice that was ready to goof around with his employees and make mock play at disgruntlement.

Then again, thrown into a traumatic episode or not, she had heard his rage the night before. What a strange puzzle to put together.

He set the brush down, and before she knew it his voice was near her ear, apologizing as he placed a hand on her shoulder. She blinked, then arched her back as his chest slipped behind her. His hand gripped her for support as he reached for the corner of the tub where he had left both his hairband and eyepatch. Makoto tried to suppress shivers as the warmth of his skin from the bath radiated to the back of her shoulders. Grunting ungracefully, Majima stretched himself out for balance, grabbing both items before righting himself. The moment his warmth left she gripped her shoulder in shock. Mumbling another too-sincere apology, Majima pulled his hair up. The faint fragrance of something flowery emanated from him from the girl's shampoo he had used.

She heard a second band stretch, likely his eyepatch. Makoto reached out, blindly grasping just beneath his elbow. Stopping, Majima lowered his arms, causing her hand to slide to his bicep.

“Wait,” she asked, whispering. He did without question. Her blind eyes gazed at his face, unfocused, distant, and dark. There had been a time not too long ago when he considered it uncomfortable, but he was so used to it now he was fond of her for it.

Hesitant, she raised her other hand, unaware that it was ever so slightly trembling. It hovered in the distance between them, caught in her fear of being too forward. Majima focused on her hand. Looking back to her, he studied the curiosity behind her hesitance. Exhaling, he leaned forward, placing his cheek in her palm. She flinched and nearly pulled away. Majima stayed where he was, turning his head to push into her hold. Raising her other hand, she cupped his face.

Stammering on a word that never came out, Makoto glided her fingertips across his skin, gentler than he was with himself. Reading his face did not take long. Her thumbs running down the bridge of his nose to the crests and valleys of his lips while her fingers traced his sharp cheekbone down to his square jaw. Pushing her thumbs against his chin lightly, she moved her hands up, brushing the underside of his ear lobe before tracing his brow.

She stopped.

Majima opened his eye, knowing what stopped her.

“My left,” he said calmly, “Your right.”

The hand on his good side dropped as she put all her concentration on the one. He tried not to flinch as she ever so slowly traced her hand down until she was touching the cold, sunken skin of his ruined eye. Involuntary twitches plagued him and he struggled to breathe. The twitches on the side of his face shook her hand off and she withdrew, massaging her palm and frowning in worry. He dipped his head, the wetness of his ponytail keeping it in place parallel to his spine. One of his fists was curled just in front of her thigh for support. He gasped, tightening it against the tile, then looked up. Her eyes were wider than normal, waiting on a reaction from him to gauge the situation—if she had gone too far or not. His heart sank at the realization that she was still easily frightened of him, but then again.

Then again.

“Scared?” he asked, just tall enough to still be looking down at her face. Makoto opened her mouth, stuttering.

“A-Always...,”

Majima exhaled and she rubbed her cheeks, frustration brewing in her chest. She didn't want to be, but she couldn't help it. In a way she was fighting against it but it wasn't enough to overcome it and she bitterly wondered if it ever would be. Trying to defuse the situation, Majima scoffed.

“No one's allowed to get as close as you just did. Ever.”

Makoto cringed, suddenly wondering if she had done something wrong and her fear had not been an overreaction. Her fingertips burned from the memory of touching his eyelids and she couldn't shake it off. Making a comical but still subdued noise, Majima sat back up.

“C'mon, that was a compliment. D'ya think I'd have let ya if I didn't want it, Makoto-han?”

Makoto inhaled as he gently took one of her hands and pressed his eyepatch into her palm until her fingers curled around it.

“I'm smiling,” he said for her, because he was. It was gentle and reserved, but it was there.

She pulled the patch in her hand close to her warm stomach, still gazing out at his face. It wasn't a permanent gift, but she knew that it meant more that he gave it away in the first place. Rubbing her thumb against the patch's exterior as he turned away, busying himself with tying the towel around his waist for posterity, Makoto let herself think and think hard. A dull pain started to grow somewhere below, sharpening as it did so. For the moment she paid it no mind.

It was stupid, wasn't it? Blackmail or not, he had taken the job to murder her. She supposed hitmen existed simply because there were the ethics of closeness to consider; it's easier to hurt, to kill someone you weren't close to. Someone like her, she expected a hitman to pity, and in that regard it was easy to understand why Majima had stayed his hand. Even before she was blind she was used to feeling pitied, even from people as supposedly close to her as her grandfather. It almost felt like an act of hatred and only fueled her desire to run away. Nowadays she took the pity laying down, struggling to get past her hate for it and accept it as misplaced kindness. Truly she bore no ill will towards anyone that pitied her, but at the same time the pity specifically kept them at a distance. A defense mechanism so they wouldn't have to truly care about her and her blindness, and a beacon to her to tell her that they would sooner care about something else. Pity only took a relationship so far.

She was not holding his eyepatch in her hand because of pity.

Perhaps that was why she let this happen, and she felt absolutely stupid for it. She had made the dire mistake of trusting absolute strangers before. It was frustrating, especially because she couldn't feel pity from him. Sympathy yes, maybe even empathy. But pity? No. It was likely that he knew exactly how pity felt, and, consciously or not, made a decision to not give it if he didn't want to receive it in turn. For that, she was grateful.

But for as much as she was grateful, she was still frustrated. The comfort of his presence clashed with her fear of his affections. Chika's words rang grim alarm bells as she drew herself close to him. Lee had warned her at one point that he was, indeed, afraid of Majima and that she should be on her guard around him. Sparing her life only meant something if he ended up never killing her. He was not a killer, but no dog starts out as one either. Makoto was sitting next to a man who was willing enough to kill he got so close as to bring a knife to her workplace.

Or, he was sitting next to a traumatized blind woman who couldn't fucking get over herself and realize that if he hadn't killed her by this point, if he had risked both his life and the lives of people he cared about to try and keep her safe for as many extra days as he could give her, there was no danger from his hand.

Majima had told her himself, he wasn't innocent. He meant it, and she knew he meant it. She also knew what he sounded like when he was lying, namely, when they had first met. Nothing out of his mouth since then had been a lie. Innocence didn't matter to her anymore. She had lost hers long ago and in her mind, no one, not even Lee, was innocent anyways. Degrees of innocence varied, but if Majima could still find it in himself to be kind and goofy even when there was no guaranteed escape from this nightmare, then his innocence didn't matter. Right?

It was too complicated and the more she agonized over its complexity the more anxious she felt. So, break it down to the simple:

Did she trust him? Yes. The whys and hows of it didn't matter.

She entered the room because she wanted, needed to be near him. It didn't make a difference to her that there was little guarding her from him. He didn't make a fuss, didn't reject her, and accepted her presence without being bothered—leastways not too much. It was in his power to say no and push her away if he didn't want her around. It was in his power to leave her as a scrap for the wolves.

Majima grunted, standing up to tie the towel around his waist proper. Makoto turned her head, staring at where she thought he might be. For the past day, ever since that incident, he had been on eggshells. Quiet, never raising his voice, not even asking questions anymore. When she touched him he tolerated it until she heard an uncomfortable noise from his throat and he withdrew, ashamed. The ferocity and brutality of his rage was seared in her mind. The choking noises next to her ear, the hateful roar Majima had conjured, and the upset growls as he paced the room endlessly, all winding down to a pathetic silence that he didn't dare break. He hated himself, acting as though it had been his hands on her. She could tell. But she couldn't in a million years see it that way, blind or not.

The ache grew, and she felt her chest swell with a hitched breath. Both careful and careless decisions in her life had led to tragedy. Neither one seemed better than the other, no matter how much she tried to make the right decision. If it didn't matter, if nothing seemed to matter, then she needed to let go—let go and just simply be okay with what she was struggling to feel.

Were it not for the sharp pain it was causing.

It was lower than it should've been to be cramping. Though her periods were now irregular and either so weak she barely noticed or so heavy she had to take days off of work, she was almost sure she was nowhere near due for it. What's more, Majima didn't seem to be making a scene, so she must've not been bleeding. No, it was like something was stabbing her between her legs. Clutching Majima's eyepatch, she pressed her other hand against the front of the pain, desperately trying to minimize it. With a small gasp, utterly scared, she felt herself get dizzy as she desperately tried to figure out what had happened.

“Hey,” Majima said, “You...alright?”

“Uh,” she could only say, cut off by a sharp squeak as the pain soared, seemingly to the sound of his voice.

“Makoto-han,” he sat back down, fingers ghosting her shoulder like he was afraid she'd shatter at his touch. His voice lowered in worry, and as she felt his fingerpads against her the pain throbbed hard. Pulling her legs together and wincing, she raced through all of her thoughts, from the moment she woke up and heard Majima bathing to him putting his eyepatch in her care. The ache had been there for a while, then, she just refused to realize it. The answer was dreadful, but made sense.

She was aroused.

Cruel that it was so damn painful. Cruel that she couldn't help it. She bit her lip in a frown, infuriated at her own body. Now that she knew the answer, she felt the urge to act on it—prove herself wrong, for whatever reason. Prove herself wrong, because she trusted Majima and she knew he wouldn't intentionally hurt her.

“Hey, hey,” he cooed, finally resting his hand on her, “Is it...ya know, lady stuff?”

“Nn,” she tried to answer. Majima rubbed his thumb across her shoulder and she simultaneously wished he wouldn't but wanted him to keep doing so.

“C'mon, I worked two years with too many girls to count, it ain't a big secret to me,”

“No...,”

“Gimme two minutes and I bet I could find a stash of stuff for ya...,”

“No...,” she repeated, “That's...not it...,”

Curse his instinct. His eye flicked down to the bunched white fabric between her legs to double check, because she was blind, right, how could she know? Whipping it back up, he felt his face turn pink. That was none of his goddamn business.

“Uh...y-...ya sure?”

“Yes...,” she breathed, clutching her lower abdomen, “I-It's just...pain.”

Majima's mouth stretched in a incredibly confused and incredibly worried smile. Pain? Just pain? Just pain? If part of his body suddenly decided to tell him to go fuck himself and started stabbing willy nilly he'd sure as hell not write it off as just pain.

“It's okay...,” she whispered, clinging to his eyepatch as the other hand bunched fabric against her, “I know what it is...,”

“Makoto-han...,” he worried, frowning and wanting to insist on something to help her. Painkillers, a hot water bottle, anything. She squeezed her eyes shut with another whimper.

“I'm fine. Please trust that...,”

He let out a breath through his nose to make a grunt of protest. Makoto felt his grip tighten ever so slightly on her, but then his hand fell away and he gave an inward sigh. Perhaps he was simply refraining from arguing, but at the same time he felt like he had to trust what she said. Wringing more water out of his ponytail, he let it rest over his collarbone and stood up, stretching. Majima looked back to her. She held the eyepatch like a precious object, close to her body and cradled in her hands. He almost scoffed. It was more of a necessity than a precious thing to him, thus his absurd attachment to it. Briefly he wondered if he would've handed the patch off to her if she could see, or if he was simply taking advantage of her blindness. Then again, he gave it to her because he knew she'd treasure it like she was, appreciating the significance.

“Ready...?” He asked, offering his hand for her to grip, letting her know where it was by grazing her shoulder again. Makoto tilted her head, wrapped his eyepatch around her slim wrist, then took his hand to stand up. An ache blossomed in his chest, watching her stand with a hobble as she winced in pain. But she was fine, she promised him she was fine, she wasn't afraid. Slipping his hand under hers, he bent down and reached to her far shoulder, supporting her. Whether she stumbled or she intentionally did it, he didn't know, but she pushed herself flush against his naked torso. Taking a short and secret moment to appreciate her warmth tucked up so close to him, he murmured that their train was moving and started to lead her out of the bathroom.

His long legs made short strides, going at a pace that she was comfortable with. Her feet still shuffled along the floor despite his guidance, and every now and then her muscles would clench and she'd take a frustrated second to keep her footing. Majima was patient. Despite eying his clothes in the corner near the door his first and foremost goal was to help Makoto back to her bed. The towel would last until then, although he was hit with a moment of regret the second he opened the door to the frigid air outside of the steamed bathroom behind him. Letting out a chilled shudder, he instinctively drew her closer to him.

Makoto laughed even though she too felt the chill of the apartment. Though the sharp pain was still there, she was doing her damndest to shove it from her mind, and she pressed her cheek against Majima's skin, ever so slightly nuzzling his pectoral. Whether he made another shiver from the cold or it was from the realization of her touch she didn't know; he wouldn't bring attention to it.

He smelled nice, and though his skin prickled with goosebumps he still radiated warmth. Feeling that if she waited any longer she would miss the opportunity, careful or careless or somewhere in between, Makoto blatantly ignored the pain and pressed against Majima, pushing him until his back was against the wall, inches from the corner that opened up into the greater living area. A surprised breath left him as she supported herself against the wall, one hand on either side of his torso. Trembling at the elbows, Makoto couldn't look up at him, blind or not, as her heart thrummed in her chest and the pain drove her knees together. He held her arms steady, waiting for either an explanation or for her to give the signal that they could move again. Cooling water dripped from his hairline and Makoto's breath became uneven.

Majima opened his mouth to ask, and, with all the grace a blind person could muster, Makoto tilted her head up and kissed him.

It was off-center and a little weak, having under-judged their distance, but Majima did not leave enough time to be stunned or embarrassed. Adjusting so he was kissing the heart of her lips, his arms embraced her, one hand cradling the back of her head. There wasn't a second of hesitance as their lips barely separated long enough to move before coming together again. Natural, fluid, somehow familiar.

Makoto dipped her head down with a hiss, biting her lower lip. Majima threaded his fingers through her hair, pulling her into his collar as he exhaled. Inhaled, held it, exhaled again.

It was real.

Lightly resting his cheek against her hair, he stared out and let his vision blur. Makoto curled her fingers against the wall, standing awkward on her twisted feet as the pain drove deeper into her. Gritting her teeth, she started adopting a trick she learned in the cages—driven by survival and the need to keep her sanity intact.

Breathe. Deep. And keep breathing. It forced her muscles to relax, mitigating the pain even if it was only a slight difference. It had been enough to keep her alive, it would, it would be enough for her to allow herself to love Majima. She swore it in anger.

Gasping as his fingers dug lovingly into her hair to massage her scalp, Makoto looked back up, mouth hanging open as she took deep breaths. Majima gazed at her, unable to do anything but smile as she shifted and danced on her tiptoes, both pushing pain away as well as trying to keep her height accessible to him. Splaying his hand on her back, Majima urged her back down until she was flat-footed before bending down to kiss her again. She made a small squeal into his mouth, hands brushing against his sides before traveling up his chest, up his neck, until she cupped his face again. Sweeter this time—less hesitant and scared. Respecting his struggle when he was fully expecting her touch, she avoided his ruined eye as much as she could.

She cringed and withdrew with a gargled cry, bunching her shoulders up and pressing her forehead into his chest. Frustration at her own body turned into hate, beading tears at the corners of her eyes. Majima's grip on her grew light with worry and she wished she could ask him to ignore it and kiss her like nothing was wrong, nothing was fucked up about her or her life or anything outside this apartment. At the same time she knew she couldn't barge ahead on ignorance alone, so she pressed her hands into the crooks of his elbows, forcing him to retreat further. He said nothing, simply breathing almost as deep as she was.

Wait, she urged him, pleading with the anguished crease of her brow, wait.

Majima straddled the limbo between conscious worry and subconscious neediness, hazy as he was the night before but with a much lighter mind. That she withdrew to recollect herself couldn't bother him much because he needed a moment to float back down to earth. It had seemed so sudden yet he couldn't say he was taken aback. In awe, probably, but not taken aback.

Makoto stilled against him save for the depth of her breaths, slowly but surely pressing closer and closer. Majima rested the back of his head against the wall, reveling in her closeness and warmth. He could barely recall the last time he had let someone get this close, much less someone getting this close whom he trusted more than he trusted himself. If he had to take a wild guess, it would've been before he lost his eye, when he still felt free to place his faith wherever he felt like. Affection and love were distant to him; even with his girls, there were parts of him that he would rather die over than have them know. It wasn't an accident that he kept his tattoo a secret from nearly all of them. With Makoto, he was okay in showing her everything, even if she couldn't see. She wouldn't be afraid or pity him. She'd understand.

A small gasp left his throat and his muscles tensed and relaxed in a wave as she pressed her hips to his, exhaling low as he hardened against her. She hesitated and didn't press too much, of which he was thankful due to the towel's texture, but the sentiment would've overtaken him no matter what.

Makoto took her time, exploring with hands that ever so often pushed into his muscles the way only a massage therapist could, occasionally earning her a grateful groan or sigh. All the while she kept herself close to his arousal, becoming more and more comfortable until her fingers shook against the edge of the towel around his waist. Majima sucked in a breath as her fingers dipped beneath the towel and soon it was around his ankles.

Nothing but her night gown separated them. Biting his lip, he tried to remain still as his erection throbbed in the open air. Noticing his patience, she took his hands at her waist, slowly guiding them up until she stopped at her breasts. Stuttering, Majima gently caressed them, his heated breath blowing her hair away from her forehead and making her eyelids flutter. She moaned, soft and quiet, keeping her hands over his. Sucking in a breath of preparation she closed the distance, making a needy cry once, twice.

Majima pushed away from the wall. She wrapped her arms around him, gasping as in one smooth motion he laid her down on his futon. Arching her back into him as he trailed kisses from her lips to her cheeks and down her neck, continuing to massage her breasts, her mouth hung open with each stammered cry alternating between pleasure and pain. Her knees tucked together at the constant sting between her legs, poking into Majima's stomach. Whining, she pulled her shaking thighs apart, wanting to feel him close despite everything her body was doing to her.

Majima gasped against her neck, sending shivers down her spine. He made note of the eyepatch wrapped around her wrist as she dug her fingers into his smoothed hair, the band of the patch scraping against his ear. Nudging his nose beneath her jaw, he planted kisses all down her neck to the heart of her collar. Desperate, she shimmied her arms out from the straps of the night gown for Majima to tug at, freeing her breasts for his lips. It did not take long for the rest of the night gown to become lost in the futon.

Makoto would have figured she would've been more shy or scared, but the pounding in her ears ringing to the tune of Majima's pulse overtook her mind. The pain was still there but she refused to acknowledge it, knowing that her will could push her through, bad idea or not. Every touch was heartfelt and for the first time in her life she was naked but not exposed, vulnerable but not frightened.

Running his hands down her body as he buried himself in her neck again, Majima closed his eye and loved her warmth, the goosebumps on her skin, the way she moved into his touch no matter where he was. She turned her head to kiss along his hairline as he traced her ribs. The heel of his palm felt it first, followed by his fingers. Majima opened his eye, twisting to glance down.

As he had not mistaken it, the lower half of her ribs on both sides were uneven. Easily covered by clothing and almost unnoticeable in soft light, each side had its own odd shape, unnatural and bumpy. They had been broken at some point and healed incorrectly—no doubt at the hands of the degenerates who kept her in a cage. He sucked in a breath as she made a questioning and worried whimper, keeping him in the present. Kissing her fervently to assure her he was there, indefinitely, he brushed his thumbs against the worst of her ribs, following their uneven line as best and as loving as he could. She sounded worried again, but it dissolved into a sigh that was almost too real, too grateful. Majima traced kisses down to her belly button, pausing where he needed to.

Rearing back, he briefly noted the sweat beading on every inch of his skin as he ran his hands down her thighs, spurring her to widen them. He glanced back up to her face, noticing her biting her lip to stifle what he assumed to be more whimpers of pain. In the flurry of emotions and thoughts from the past few moments he had more or less deduced at the very least where she hurt. Not knowing what to do, he dropped his gaze to see her thighs tremble again. The apartment was only lit from the late night city outside—dim and barely suitable even for someone with both eyes. But he saw marked skin on her inner thighs nonetheless, and he raised a curious thumb to touch it.

Makoto jerked, inhaling so sharply she couldn't cry out. He pulled back. Pock marks led all the way up to her entrance, large and smooth to the touch. Cigarette burns.

It was too late to touch her like he didn't notice they were there. He contemplated for a moment, choosing instead to build on the little language they had been cultivating. Communication via touch, movement, wordless noises. Carefully, he caressed her mottled skin with the back of his hand. She jerked away again, crying out in fear that she knew was unwarranted. But she couldn't help it, couldn't help it even with all the logic in the world. Majima kept his place, watching as she brought her wrist up to cover her mouth, panting as her face contorted.

Scrunching her eyes tight she tentatively brought her thigh back to his touch, trembling. Majima simply brushed his hand over the scars as soothingly as he could muster. Despite his efforts she had to clasp both her hands over her mouth, tears leaking out against her will as she muffled her wails of exertion.

Gentle, gentle, he tried to ease himself as his heartstrings tied up watching her struggle. Nothing should be forced, he knew that. He'd say any dipshit should've known that but he knew well enough that wasn't true and Makoto was living proof. Still she struggled—more for herself than for him at this point—and the swelling in his chest was becoming unbearable as he could do nothing but watch and exist. She held each breath for longer than she needed and Majima frowned in anguish. His eye ran from the scars to the misshapen ribs.

Enough. Enough was enough. Continue down this road and he was scared he was going to break her.

Taking his hand off (not seeing that her thigh tried to follow his touch) he reached back up, kissing the corners of her useless eyes until the salt from her tears coated his lips. She gasped from behind her hands and stretched her body out beneath him, toes curling. Giving her a sad look, he pulled away to ground himself in her pain.

Makoto shivered as he retreated, terror seizing her. It was difficult, it was so fucking difficult being this vulnerable when her body expected to be violated at any moment. Her heart was pounding at speeds she was sure wasn't normal even for something like this and she felt like she had little to no control over herself. But Majima pulling away was like being splashed with ice water, and with a terrible whimper that barely sounded human she latched onto him before he got too far, sliding her fingers to the back of his head through his hair. He grunted, but before he could say anything she crashed her lips into his again, loosening his ponytail and curling her legs around his long, wiry thighs. Sloppy, needy, but the terror of being alone momentarily overcame the primal fear of intimacy. He was taken up in her fervor, unable to break away as his ears rang with her desperate, wordless pleas.

Majima's ponytail slid effortlessly off, his curtain of hair falling on her cheek as they kissed. Makoto did not waste the opportunity to weave her fingers through it, trying not to tug too hard as it tickled her ear and even dragged a smile out of her. Tucking locks behind his ear, Majima kept it all swept to his left side. Opening his mouth to kiss her deeper, harder, he felt the smile on her lips and he sighed gratefully.

She reared her hips up to him and the sigh turned into a low groan. With a little adjustment, she found the sweet spot. A shocked gasp simmered into a desperate growl as he felt her plush wetness against his erection. Too tentative to move her hips more, she let him slide against her to urge her instinct to follow suit. Each of her cries built in a crescendo in time to their movements, toes and fingers curling as their pulses throbbed. The urge and need to have him inside—deep inside—started to overcome her and the pain that tried to stop her. When she could barely take it anymore she pushed at his sharp cheekbones, forcing him to pause for just a moment.

Her voice was breathy, almost rasping, as she shook and pleaded quietly into his ear the only words they had spoken since leaving the bathroom.

Slow. Please.

Majima kissed her cheek as an answer and gave her whatever time she needed as he slid into her. The scars from the cigarette burns were covered by the flowers and clouds of his tattoo.

Slow, as she wanted. Slow until she started meeting his thrusts, driving urgency into him. Heat flooded their minds, making him see stars and her feel nearly weightless. It was all a rhythm of shifting limbs, moans and cries, uneven breaths, and the absence of any known passage of time. Everything lasted longer than it felt, especially once Majima could feel Makoto truly let go and forget—even for a fleeting moment. The glimpse of the person she should've been. He locked his lips on the side of her soft throat to feel each of her cries, grasping one of her hands harder than he should have, and didn't let go.

Makoto's cries started to become cut off, short of breath and meeting his thrusts harder and harder. Squeezing his eye shut and just barely nipping her skin with his teeth, Majima willed himself to hold on until she came, her out-of-breath moans filling his head until he was dizzy. With one last thrust he followed suit, his voice pitching slightly as his throat rumbled.

Breaths rattling and mingling, the two were lost in the limbo of afterglow. Majima's arms shook, pitching himself above her. His hair shadowed the side of her face, strands blowing outward with her labored breaths. Though he was beaded with sweat the first part of him to feel cold was the tip of his exposed ear, followed by his toes. Majima hung his head low, touching his forehead to hers. Makoto tilted her head up, returning the gesture by weakly nuzzling his nose. He closed his eye as she made meek little sounds, climbing back down to earth.

All of the sudden she tensed, moving to sit up whether he was on top of her or not. He barely had enough time to move out of her way as she sat up, drawing her knees to her naked chest. The heels of her palms jammed into her eyes, and as Majima watched, wide-eyed, he was struck at how small she seemed. Not in a healthy way, like a short person, or someone who was just simply small, but she curled as if she was insignificant. Majima stared at the bumps of her spine as she rocked herself back and forth, the shadows playing and making ghastly shapes on her back and giving the illusion that it was not as smooth as it actually was.

What seemed like two seconds later she burst into frightened, traumatic sobs.

Majima sat, expression becoming solemn. Shifting his legs away from pointing at her, he wished he could tear his gaze away to give her privacy. There were times where it seemed like she was trying to speak—Japanese, Chinese, anything, but it came out as nonsensical babble. The emotion behind it spoke for her, at any rate, and as Majima continued to stare he found his hand reaching out.

Hesitating before he placed it on the skin of her back, he twisted his mouth. Touching her meant he had to be prepared for whatever happened; retaliation, a complete and total shut down, anything that resulted in losing her or even just a part of her for good. If he did touch her, did it mean that he believed that he could fix it? He didn't feel like he could, but if she would an accept an offer for comfort, or some signal that she wasn't alone and back in the cages...

He placed his hand on her now-clammy back. The dungeons were worse than anything she could pull on him. Makoto shrieked and curled tighter, uneven ribs poking out at jarring angles now that he knew they were there. Majima exhaled quietly, rubbing her back as her body wracked itself on weakened foundations.

The more time passed the less she seemed able to come back from her current state. There were no waves to her episode, just an endless plateau of hysterics. Majima wished he could say he didn't know the feeling.

Makoto coughed, nails digging into her upper arms. The deceptive strength of her hands showed in the harsh shadows she created, and he was worried she'd start bleeding. His fingers ran parallel to her spine as he continued his attempts to soothe her. Chin perking a little as he saw her head move, he listened to her stutters until he could hear words.

“Y-You...You didn't laugh,”

Majima's expression didn't change, nor did the steadiness of his hand. She turned her head as if she could see him from her peripherals if she tried hard enough. Locks of her hair were plastered to her face from both sweat and tears. He looked to her gaze, playing into her fantasy.

“You didn't laugh...,” she repeated, “You didn't laugh at anything,”

Using his long legs, Majima scooted forward. Reacting to the noise she undid her hands, reaching one out into the darkness towards him. He grasped it in both his hands, leaning forward and pressing his lips to them. Staring up at her with his one eye, expression fixed and gaze unwavering, he said nothing as her mouth strained in overflowing emotion.

“I'm so used to laughter...,” her hand felt uncharacteristically weak in his. Majima moved his thumbs over her hand; one over tendons, the other pressing into her palm. There was no doubt that the laughter she was talking about was more cruel than jovial, mocking her. Big, glossy tears welled in her eyes, following their predecessors down her cheeks. Lids falling halfway in sudden exhaustion, Makoto pulled herself into his lap, collapsing against his chest with one last sigh.

“You were so gentle...,”

He kissed the top of her head.

For a guy like him to be called gentle—well. There was a first time for everything.

Wrapping his limbs around her, he fell back into the futon and rolled, securing her between his body and the wall. The hannya on his back leered out at the rest of the apartment, warding off harm with its frightening face.

 

Chapter Text

Makoto woke up in the dark. Again.

Majima's steady breaths ruffled her hair and warmed her forehead. His limbs remained in a loose cocoon around her, having barely moved in his sleep. They were warm but hardly soft, not that she had mind to care about it, but she was feeling a little bit too much of the world right now. To think she was momentarily grateful she couldn't see; having sight might've overwhelmed her. She remained in his arms, awake but unsettled as she tried to wait it out and fall back asleep.

No dice. Not even close. Turning her head to the open air, she contemplated the sound of the apartment and the city outside. Deathly quiet. It must've been the earliest hours of the morning, when even the nocturnal businesses were closed and the morning folk had yet to rise. She looked back to Majima. Queasiness rose in her stomach and his arms started to feel heavy. Stifling a wince and silently apologizing, she shimmied herself out from his grasp, moving one limb at a time until she was finally free. Nearly stumbling back and falling, she caught herself on the cold wall and shivered, completely naked. Letting out a breath and kneeling down she took the time to appreciate him by folding the blanket back over his body. Though he didn't quite stir his breathing did change; perhaps his face was more pressed into the pillow than it was before. She smiled, wrapping her arms around her knees as she listened to him for a while. When the smile dropped she stood up, keeping one hand on the wall.

She had already been through the apartment twice, nearly stubbing her toes more than that as well as almost bruising herself. As much talent as she had gained in her own brand of cartography, it always ran the risk of injury. She was used to it. Lee had been so accommodating to her at work, making sure to warn her if someone was out of its regular place and placing braille labels on everything.

Lee...

He had the warm glow of a caring god and a laugh that could heal the deepest wounds, if only for a second. When he had to resort to shouting it was like thunder crackling in the room. She did not think he could be ripped away so easily, but then she could compare him to a god all day long and it wouldn't change the fact that he was simply flesh and bone. If he was a spirit now, she wondered if he was with her, looking on despite the fact that he could no longer protect her.

If he was, then he must know what she and Majima had become. All the caution in the world that he had given her hadn't even given her pause even when she recalled his fears about the one-eyed man. Fears that she knew had some weight to them, but Majima likely saw Lee as a threat, much as Lee saw the same in him, and the two were bound to butt heads. To hear that Majima had actually beaten Lee did actually spike fear in her at the time. She wondered how he had done it—through cunning or agility, or maybe even dirty tricks. There were no rules when lives were on the line, after all.

It didn't matter anymore. Whether or not Lee was proud, worried, or angry at her, she wouldn't ever know. The guilt creeping into her chest was her own, she knew. Her hands hit the short counter of the kitchenette and started to trail along the formica. She paused at the sink as Majima grunted and rolled in his sleep. Taking a moment to look over where the sound was, she waited until she heard his breaths fall back into rhythm before continuing onwards.

Guilt. She knew Lee didn't really trust Majima and her imagined retaliation from her former father-figure drilled a sort of filth into her she couldn't shake. Filth that coated the cages. She had pushed for intimacy, craved it, used it as an excuse to prove to herself that she could still do things a normal person could. And she used Majima to do it. How fucked up was it, in reality? She had been abused for close to two years and now, on the flipside, she slept with someone sent to kill her? Hitman turned lover was a romantic idea but in reality it was horrifically dangerous. What in the world had she been thinking? Even without their predicament they had barely known each other for a few days; to be throwing the idea of love around was ludicrous. Not from her to him, but from him to her—what in god's name did Majima see in her if it wasn't pity?

Shame followed the guilt. Lee would never hate her for it, but again logic fell through the gaps in the cage. But what else could she do? She was stuck here, and rescue was never going to come for the both of them, much less just for herself. Lee was watching his little girl fall in love with her potential killer instead of being strong enough to resist and break free. Had she failed him? She rounded the corners, facing the futon that said potential killer slumbered peacefully on.

Ever since her brother left she had been building on his pubescent notion that individual strength was what could overcome everything. The world around her fueled the idea that she was alone. When Lee and his comrades freed the girls in the cages, they had all fled and left her behind even though at least some of them knew she was blind and helpless. Her mother killed herself and didn't leave a spirit. Her grandfather let her go with unacknowledged resentment. Of course she clung to her brother's idea of strength. She had no one left. Lee had abandoned her, intentionally or not. So there she was, alone.

Except Majima and the girls at Club Sunshine, who were all put on the line because of stupid, little her. If she had been strong like Lee, she thought, then maybe she'd be able to stake out on her own and not have her shadow taint this place.

But even then, what would happen of Majima? At this point they were both at a standstill: Makoto was not dead, leaving Majima in danger as much as she was. Majima was still alive, drawing danger around Makoto. They needed each other to survive—they were symbiotic in nature. That much was clear.

Though she didn't think that symbiotic relationships necessarily needed to involve their lovemaking—or fucking or whatever it had actually been. (Lovemaking, yes, that's what she wanted to believe, but for some reason she couldn't let herself think that lest she disappointed Lee.)

It burned her that she couldn't just let go and she didn't know why.

Sighing, troubled, she knelt down when her toes touched the mattress. Running her hands over it, she found the edge of the blanket and followed its slope to Majima's arm. Trying to be discreet, she tried to gauge how to climb back into bed without disturbing him when his hand sluggishly clasped her forearm.

A shriek got stuck in her throat, much to her gratefulness since the silence didn't deserve to be destroyed so carelessly, startled or not. Majima muttered something incomprehensible into the pillow then tightened his grasp on her until it was firm, using her despite her slight lack of balance to partially pull himself up.

“M'awake,” he mumbled, still so drugged by sleep that it barely counted as speech, “M'awake. I see ya.”

Well, see in the technical sense. His eye was blurred to hell from unruly hair and weighted by sandbags, but he could see her crouching form well enough, especially with the first promises of sun leaking through the window though the sky was still dark. Losing his strength, he flopped back down onto the pillow, letting his grip slide from her with a sigh. Makoto froze for a moment as if she had been caught doing something wrong, but his complacent half-sleep calmed her and she tentatively felt out the shape of his body to crawl back into bed. She got about as far as leaning over his torso before his limbs sloppily embraced her, making her squeak as he pulled her down into his hold regardless of how awkward and misaligned she was according to the bed, his body—everything, really. It didn't help that she was blind when she tried to adjust herself until it was all comfortable again, and it doubly did not help that he was too sleepy to move his damn arms or the rest of his body taking up most of the space. Makoto resorted to finding the slope of his trapezius muscle and pinching it, jolting him awake with an exaggerated whine. At the very least he was now awake enough to scoot back and actually help her, wrapping the blanket around her shoulders and tucking it underneath her far side before he rested his head with a long sigh.

Makoto finally did so as well, her cheek resting on the locks of his hair running the length of the pillow. His limp hands twitched every so often to caress what they could reach of her in a lazy expression of affection. Her eyes remained open, flicking this way and that as she turned her contemplations over in her head.

“Majima-san...,” she tried, knowing he was only lucid enough to give a distant hum, “Why...do you...,”

Love me was a bit forward. She bit and pursed her lip, already recanting herself, “Why didn't you...kill me?”

The only indication that he hadn't fallen back asleep was that his breaths were so shallow they were quiet—arrhythmic on top of that.

“Sagawa lied,” he answered finally, “He told me nothin' but a pack of lies to get me to agree to it in the first place.”

“The lies...about a man beating women?”

Majima shifted, “Makimura Makoto ran a ring of tele-club girls for prostitution, beatin' them infertile if they didn't follow orders. That's what I was told.”

“Oh,” she said, meek to the point where if Majima had been fully alert he would've realized that there was more to what she said than just a noise.

He dipped his head, speaking low and only to her, “I didn't sign up to kill any blind girls, if that's what yer askin',”

Makoto nuzzled herself closer to his warmth, finding a smile within her even if it was short-lived, “But then...why help me this far?”

“Blame Lee,” Majima said with a sigh, barely noting her freeze up, “Trust me, I still ain't so...innocent 'bout all this. Was gonna leave ya both in the dust.”

Makoto hummed. She remembered waking up to Lee nursing his bruises, telling her they were on their own and that if Majima showed his face around her to scream and get away and find him if he wasn't around. But Lee hadn't said what had happened or why, only that since Majima was not completely on their side, he couldn't be trusted.

“Did Lee-san...Did he blackmail you as well?” the words felt like toxic sludge in her mouth and she swallowed hard. Feeling her inner disgust Majima brushed the tip of his nose against her hairline.

“Nah, nah. But he had an idea that was my only way outta this whole mess, fer sure,” It went without saying that that plan went to hell in a hand-basket at the turn of a key.

Makoto shimmied her arm out from underneath her, placing it on his chest and gliding over his skin until she was at his left cheek. Though half his face was sunk into the pillow, she still traced his cheekbone, her knuckles just on the edge of where his skin sunk too far back. She could feel him tense up beneath her touch, but he remained still for her.

“You crossed your boss, and you lost your eye...,” she murmured, frowning in worry, “And you've crossed him again...?”

“Hey, I didn't say I was the brightest bulb in the box,” he grumbled, pushing his face farther into the pillow. Makoto settled for pressing her thumb against the bridge of his long nose.

“What will happen to you now?” she asked despite expecting the answer.

“He'll kill me,” Majima said a little too dull, a blunt tactic to remove himself from the horror of the situation, “Death'll be a mercy, trust me.” Sagawa for one wasn't too fond of the idea of prolonged physical torture, opting instead for blatant emotional and financial manipulation. If Sagawa was dealing the punishment, physical or otherwise, Majima would be okay. But if this somehow fell back into Shimano's lap...Majima might count another year under his belt, which only sounded good on paper.

Nothing he could ever do would rid the cruel, satisfied smirk of his boss's face as he hung on failing arms from his mind. Nothing would ever shake the burning idea from his mind that Shimano had wanted for it to happen.

She was quiet, knowing she couldn't dispute nor lessen the truth even if his tone had hit her a little hard. And still she hadn't even gotten to the heart of the question she really wanted to ask but felt too inadequate to do so. If they were in love, shouldn't she just know? And if they weren't, then what did last night mean? And if they were what were they going to do, did it matter with all the time they didn't have? Somehow she told herself that hearing it from him wouldn't help anything. (Somehow she kept denying herself things she knew would at least put her at ease if not make her happy at the very least.)

Passing it off as curiosity, she whispered another question, “What happened, what did you do when you first crossed him?”

Majima fell into a silence she had barely heard from him before, sucked into some dark place no one had the key to. Though she knew it wasn't her fault it was almost frightening, feeling him simply disappear from her as he relived his life. It was not entirely dissimilar to her post-coital breakdown hours before, just expressed in the manner of a stone wall as opposed to a banshee. Patient, Makoto drew her hands away and cupped them at her chest.

“I wanted to save my brother.”

He was thankful the room was dark.

Makoto only made a sympathetic sound, cautiously placing her hands back on him to pull closer. He slowly crawled back out of the darkness he had withdrawn into, first moving his thumb back and forth along her shoulder. As time went on he touched more and more, running his hands down her spine and following one of her arms to each finger. Assessing her realness, putting everything to his memory without the aid of sight. Every now and then he sighed, tired but too awake to fall back asleep now. Makoto let him wander, closing her eyes and almost falling into a light doze, entranced by his touch.

He leaned to plant a chaste kiss on her forehead, brushing his thumb along her jaw. She reached up and grasped his hand, pressing it against the steadiness of her pulse. Uncomfortable, he made a ragged sound in his throat, flashing back to how easily the assailant's trachea had squished beneath his vengeful hands and how easily he could do that to her. Makoto seemed sharply aware of this, breathing deep to press her skin into his palm, keeping him in place. Making another huff of protest, Majima pulled down to her collarbone followed by another whine as he pressed his forehead against hers. Begging wasn't in his nature, not even as the Lord of the Night, but there was no other word to describe his plea—made under the impression that he still could easily hurt and kill her as he was sent to do. It didn't matter that she had confidence that he wouldn't; he was simply afraid that he could and that was more than enough reason to fear it.

“You're compassionate, Majima-san,” she said as if she could read his mind, guiding his thumb to trace the stretch of her sternum, “More than you think.”

Shifting as if that was a proper rebuttal, he touched the dimples on her lower back with the arm trapped beneath her, “There ain't no room for compassion in the life I'm tryin' to keep.”

Somber despite his hands, Majima was only speaking the truth. It was of no concern of Makoto's; he had said so back in the warehouse for the Odyssey. There was no room for her to argue and she didn't try to, but at the same time she had been speaking the truth as well. Summoning the courage she had been slowly working towards, she inhaled lightly as she turned Majima's hand so his knuckles caressed the side of her breast and asked what she had wanted to ask from the start.

“If that's how it is, then...what do you see in me?”

Majima pulled his touch away from her breast for just a moment, punctuating the idea that he wasn't trying to use her for things she couldn't control. As he did so he thought, not too long, not too brief, breathing deep and making a soft hum that she could feel from his chest.

“Strength.”

 

~~

 

Some hours after the sun rose, Majima woke. The girl he wasn't able to kill slumbered peacefully, somehow, in his arms. For the most part he hadn't slept poorly either, even though he vaguely remembered painful memories being dug up in the middle of the night. Strange. But it's not like he was entirely complaining. Blinking a sleepy eye and glancing down at her withdrawn but serene face, he gave a tired smirk and rested his chin over her head. Nope. Couldn't rightly complain at all.

Noontime crows cawed outside, and though he was probably imagining it he swore he could hear the sizzle of enough food carts to line the streets with no gaps in between them. Unable to stop a yawn, he smacked his lips together and gazed through unfocused vision.

There was no way he was leaving Makoto alone for a second day. At first he tried to reason with himself all the perfectly practical explanations as to why—it was safer, he was keeping an eye on her, Club Sunshine was gonna come under scrutiny and he didn't want himself losing it when people questioned about the blind girl, he didn't want his hostesses to keep looking at him like that he didn't care how deserved the fear was. For all those perfectly sound reasons, they weren't enough to hold up the foundation. It didn't take him long to resign himself and accept the fact that he simply liked being around her and that more than anything was influencing his decision.

Besides. There was no clock in the room but he could hear the ticking.

He assumed that there were plenty of men out there who had mastered the art of getting out of bed without the lady noticing so they could slip away to wherever they needed to go (in other words, anywhere but with the woman they had just slept with) but he was certainly not one such magician. It took lots of patience and weaseling to move without waking her, especially when his trapped arm was thoroughly still asleep to the point where he feared it'd never function again. At the very least Makoto seemed to be knocked out cold, only barely stirring when he managed to free the last of his fingers from underneath her.

From there it was simply being careful with his spider-like limbs as he scooted his way to the foot of the futon, standing up and stretching in the cool air. The first thing he noticed was how weirdly freeing it felt to sleep stark-ass naked, partner or not, the second was that his hair was a chaotic entity that needed taming before he even thought about showing his face outside. Gathering his clothes from the bathroom and grabbing the hairbrush, he set about tidying himself up to at least go across the hall to tell Youda that he was gonna be on his own tonight, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Pants on, shirt in hand, he started rummaging for the discarded hairband that he thought he knew the location of but he quickly realized that with as much as they had done the night prior the hairband might as well be the newest treasure in the goddamn Dragon Palace. Finally finding it tucked in the far corner of the futon on its way to becoming buried underneath, Majima breathed a light sigh of relief and tied his hair back.

Sitting back on his heels he looked down at Makoto, unaware that a smile had tugged at his lips. Leaning over, he gently pulled the blanket back enough to expose her cheek before planting a tiny kiss. She squirmed and grunted, scrunching into her shoulders. Kissing her again earned him a louder whine from the disturbance.

“Hey,” he nudged her, “Hey, Makoto-han,”

Another whine which only widened his smile.

“Ya got somethin' of mine,”

Majima curled his fingers over the edge of the blanket and exposed her shoulder to the cold air. Makoto tried to dig back down but he stopped her, laughing through his nose as he found her hands.

“C'mon, grumpy bug, give it here,”

Honestly, how dare he. It was probably the best sleep she had had in a very long time. At the same time he found it terribly cute how mildly grumpy she was—awake enough to know it was just him, sleepy enough to be unable to act decently. Still, he couldn't go half a step out of the apartment without his eyepatch. Makoto didn't put up much of a fight once he figured which wrist had the patch wrapped around it, although it was a bit of a struggle to wrench it free without disturbing her more than need be. Apologizing then thanking her in a soft and casual way, he kissed her temple which earned him the harshest whine he had heard yet. Trying to stifle any more laughter, he tucked the blanket back around her and turned away, untangling the eyepatch's band.

“Just goin' down the hall,” he mentioned to her, “Won't be long. Gonna tell Youda I'm takin' the day off,”

He heard her shift then give a quizzical hum. Putting the patch in place, perfect on the first try, he gave her shoulder a quick squeeze.

“I ain't leaving ya alone fer long.” Ending his promise with another kiss, he shut the door to the apartment as quietly as he could.

“Youda-chan,” he rapped his knuckles on the door down the hall from where Makoto had hopefully fallen back asleep, “Yo, Youda-chan,”

Youda gave a prompt, if startled reply. Majima jumped as he heard him stumble then crash into something that sounded like it hurt, though the fact that Youda hardly responded in pain at all was more frightening than Majima would've thought. Ten seconds and one smaller, unceremonious crash later, Youda opened the door.

His face didn't look worse for wear, but Majima very quickly noted the faded boxers printed with cartoons paired with an old t-shirt that probably should've been completely white instead of spotted with sauce. Nevertheless they looked like comfort clothes, and from what Majima could see of his apartment it was a typical bachelor's pad, complete with the knocked over pile of pots and pans that Youda had knocked over. If anything Majima was impressed there didn't seem to be as many instant noodle cups and takeout boxes as he was expecting—all his dishes seemed lightly used like Youda at least made an effort to cook for himself regularly. With a little touch up here and there, if he was a little more vigilant at cleanliness and feng shui (the TV was stacked on old phone books a convenient arms-length away from the futon) his place wouldn't even seem that bad to have a partner enjoy with him.

Provided that partner loved Doraemon as much as Youda seemed to.

“Ma-Majima-san!! Everything alright?!”

Majima's expression soured and he waved him off, covering his embarrassment over Youda's concern, “Yeah, yeah, just crossed over to tell ya I'm takin' the day off.”

“Taking the day off?! Why's that?”

“Look me in the eye and ask me that again,” he leaned against the door frame, frowning. Sometimes he didn't know if Youda was daft or if his mouth just wasn't connected to his brain. Still, even though it seemed like Majima had to remind him of what was logically sound more often than not Youda took it in perfect stride, almost to the point where he wasn't sure if Youda truly was dim or if it was all part of a show.

“What're we gonna do without you, though?” Youda asked, bringing a hand to his mouth to gnaw on his finger tips, “We got customers askin' for you!”

“What?” Majima tilted his head a little, “Whaddya mean, ya suggesting we open up a host option?”

“With me and you? No, we'd need someone better...,”

“Hey, hey,” Majima interrupted with a comical frown, “What's better than you an' me? We got more'n a whole pair of eyes between us!”

Ignoring him, Youda continued with his previous train of thought, “I guess it's not really you they're asking for, but I just fielded a call asking for the blind girl—Umeko,”

“Blind girl? Who's asking fer her? Also fielded a call? Youda-chan, don't tell me ya hooked yer apartment's landline to the cabaret,” Although Majima felt a worm chewing at his gut he tried to flip the topic of conversation, and even though he had a different motive for it he was still genuinely concerned about Youda taking business calls when business was supposed to be closed for at least another six hours if not seven. They had answering machines for a reason—if Club Sunshine even had one, which brought to mind the all-important question of if they didn't have an answering machine why the hell did they have a karaoke machine? The answer to that, Majima crafted in his own head, was that Youda went out to buy an answering machine but got distracted by the karaoke one instead on his way to the pawn shop. It sounded too plausible, to the point where Majima didn't even want to ask lest it be either confirmed or denied. Confirmation meant Youda needed help, denial meant Majima needed help.

Again ignoring him, or at least half of what he asked, Youda kept going, “Uhhh, some guy called asking if she worked here not too long ago, said he was real excited to see her and that not many cabarets hire blind women,”

He forced himself to try and relax despite his rising heart rate, “Guess that's fair enough...,”

“Yeah, some guy from some real estate firm, he tried asking for her by name—,”

What,” So long, heart rate, hello, chewing worm, “What the hell? What name?! What did ya tell him?!”

Taken aback by Majima's sudden fierceness, Youda recoiled and blinked, nearly knocking over a small Doraemon dish that held his keys near the door.

“Th-The call woke me up, I don't remember the name...Started with a Ma, I think, but he could've been asking for you too?”

Shit. Oh shit. Shit fuck shitballs.

“I told him I didn't recognize the name, and that she wasn't working...,”

Calm the fuck down, Majima, he tried to control himself even though from Youda's expression he knew he already looked like a wild alley cat, Even if they're looking for Makimura Makoto they don't know. They don't know. You still have time.

“Not working, as in, tonight or just in general?” Majima asked, his voice squeaking at the edges. Youda avoided eye contact, scratching his head nervously.

“I uh, I didn't specify...,”

Majima let out a breath, running a hand over his face. Alright. He could work with that, “Okay. Thanks, Youda-chan. And I am definitely takin' the day off.”

You still have time.

“O-Of course,” Youda did a light bow which looked ridiculous in his current getup as much as it was sincere, “Do you want me to send for you if someone asks?”

No,” he was quick to shoot down, “But, tell me after shifts are over tonight.”

Youda nodded, “Alright.”

Though he wanted to shoot the shit to help calm himself back down, Makoto being alone caught him in a steel trap after what Youda had just told him. Rather curt for their relationship, Majima bade him good-bye and tried not to sprint his way back to the apartment door. He had been in the hallway the whole damn time, there was no possible way someone could've gotten by him and into the apartment. Unless the yakuza were starting to resort to ridiculous tactical espionage he saw in movies, Makoto would be safe.

He had a disaster of a time trying to convince himself of that.

As real-world logic dictated, Makoto was still serenely tucked in bed, barely even flinching when he shut the door behind him. Letting out a breath of relief, he pretended that the outside world did not connect to the apartment as he took off his boots. The illusion didn't last long as his eye caught sight of the dagger in its sheath. He had tucked it just beneath the corner of the futon, but their lovemaking had uncovered it. Cold steel as if it had stabbed him personally dug into his gut and his eye couldn't leave the handle as he got down on his knees next to Makoto.

Slipping his hands beneath her, he wrapped her warm body in the blanket. She protested weakly, curling tighter as he lifted.

Majima's Exterminators,” the tone and words he used did not reflect the glaring anxiety of his mind, “Removin' grumpy bugs from the bed,”

Another, louder protest from her but he smiled and told her he was kidding. All he was doing was sitting himself in the corner between the closet door and the wall, facing the apartment proper before he pulled her into his lap, wrapped up like a sushi roll. After some weird humming noises from her that barely counted as communication, she settled back down against him, falling into a light and peaceful slumber.

What she didn't realize was that he had taken the dagger up in his hands, holding it in front of her body and occasionally unsheathing it to run his thumb over the flat of the blade.

They were running out of time.

 

~~

 

If he hid his anxiety well, he couldn't tell. Though she was hesitant to touch him again, it seemed to be for reasons different than when they had first met. Fear born from the potential for affection rather than him hurting her. Well, the two could go hand-in-hand, and he guessed that was where the hesitation came from. At the same time she seemed softer; less tense, less surrounded by hastily thrown together walls. Hell maybe he did too, because he couldn't recall the last time his voice had so easily been this low and gentle, even when he did spew the occasional joke.

Everything seemed more peaceful despite the ticking in his head. At the very least it was quieter. Rather than speak, half the time they were expanding on the language they built the night before, touch and movement becoming their speech. There was nothing complex to say—further talk about childhood would only depress the both of them, any talk of the future was riddled with anxiety and terror. The present only wanted to breathe, and that's simply what they did.

At some point Majima had plugged the TV in, fighting with the buttons that decided to do the opposite of what he wanted or worse, as one of the volume keys ended up switching the televisions internal language to Korean. At the very least the channel buttons behaved for the most part. The late afternoon turned into the early evening as they ate the onigiri Hibiki had made with them, breaking their silence only when she needed Majima to explain plot-important visuals. Dramas were slower and thus easier for questions to be asked and explained, so he stuck to them instead of loud game shows that thrived on split-second audience reactions that Makoto couldn't keep up with.

He didn't mind.

It might've been a better idea to run downstairs and grab the radio from the dressing room, since she had told him she liked listening to the radio more than the TV, but she didn't seem strained or upset by it. Especially that he took such care to answer her questions to the point where he started anticipating them if he was paying attention to the screen. At the very least he was honest when he missed something as well, whether it was due to ducking his head to light a cigarette or he had taken the opportunity to relax against her, pressing the lower half of his face into her hair and simply breathing calmly. Nothing had happened yet. He could afford to enjoy the evening.

The year's historical Taiga Drama had just wrapped up, and as such with the closing of the year one station was replaying episodes from past dramas. Makoto paid attention the best she could, but the archaic Japanese that even Majima had trouble with proved to be too intense, and he leaned forward to change the channel when he paused.

“Majima-san?” Makoto asked. He grunted, a bit struck, then pushed the channel button harder than he should've needed to until he found a lower key detective series.

“Nothin',” he tried to dismiss but when he settled back next to her the curl of her fingers on his arm told him she wasn't exactly buying it.

“Last year's drama was apparently 'bout Date Masamune,” he supplied, on the edge of grumbling.

“Who...?”

Right, Chinese primary education. Majima sucked in a breath.

“One-Eyed Dragon. Got his eye cut out at a young age. Poor bastard,”

“Oh,” her fingers curled in understanding as she pressed her face against his arm, “What did he do?”

“Couldn't tell ya. Didn't watch the drama or pay attention in class.” It didn't need to be said that it was a bit of a sore spot for him despite how insignificant the detail of only having one eye was. Still, he pushed his jaw to the side, thinking of some teacher he forgot the name of scratching the daimyo's name in chalk on the board.

“Guess it's a bit ironic. Thought he was a badass for losin' an eye but havin' his name in the history books. If I could go back in time I'd knock my ass around a bit fer thinkin' it, damned punk,”

Makoto hummed. There was no reason to blame him for thinking it. On one hand she wished she could say she had the luxury of being able to hate her past self. Everything was so wildly out of her control from the moment she had memory that it was hard to hate herself as if she could've done anything different. Nothing she did seemed to hold enough importance in the universe to allow her to choose where and who she was going to be.

He snorted after reminiscing, himself, and broke her train of thought, “I was a different-ass kid back then,”

She nuzzled him and didn't say anything.

The two of them lounged together as the night shifts wound to a close. Majima kept his legs lazily crossed, his shirt loose and unbuttoned farther than he usually kept it when he was out and about on the town. The crook of his arm became a pillow for her, just right enough to keep an ear turned to the TV while the other occasionally picked up on his pulse. There were only three cigarettes left in his pack. He should've asked Youda to either pick some up or bum some off of him, not that he needed more for tonight. Thinking about the future in such a benign way was both ignorant and blissful, and it calmed him to focus on something so irrelevant.

Knocks on the door drowned out the clicking of his lighter. He glanced up, back down to make sure the cig was lit, then up again as Makoto shifted, sliding her hand from his stomach to where her head had previously rested on his arm.

“Yeah?” he said bluntly.

“It's Mana.”

“Just you?”

“Just me.”

After a pause, trying to think of what Mana needed when the night was almost over, he tried to pretend that his heart wasn't putting itself at the starting line of another race and he let her enter. She did not look happy, not in the slightest. Her face normally complimented smiles well, even if they were cold and professional. It was strange to see her frown, and so fiercely too, like some sort of scorned sister. Majima felt Makoto's nails dig into his arm. Worry. He stared at his hostess for a long time and she stared back, neither one of them budging.

Finally, Majima gave in, “Whaddya need, Mana-chan?”

“Majima-san,” she began, and he was suddenly struck by how she hadn't called him Goro-kun in a while, “Youda-san said you wanted to know if anyone asked for you tonight. I volunteered to be the messenger,”

“Oh?” he busied himself with his cigarette like it didn't rattle him, “Out with it, then,”

“A man did come by. Didn't stay for a session. Same man that called Youda-san this morning. Left his business card,”

Mana presented it to him, placing it on the table. He stared at it, reading the kanji at an angle before he reached forward to bring it closer.

“Oda Jun, Tachibana Real Estate...,” he muttered, “What'd the guy want?”

“He came with an associate of his, asking for a Makimura Makoto.”

Majima was quiet, staring at her and not realizing that he was giving everything away just by his silence. Nevertheless, Mana asked despite knowing the answer.

“Do you know someone with that name?”

“What'd they look like?” he asked, dodging the question. Mana looked increasingly suspicious and upset, following his movements with the jerk of her chin as well as her eyes. Her hands remained folded politely in front of her, but he could see the tendons stand out against her skin from the intensity of her grasp.

“Saki-chan said that if they were real estate agents, they were fishy ones. She suspects they're more than that—the man in the white suit, not Oda, he was bigger than you, Majima-san, and he looked meaner. Stricter, in any sense. Since she was with Kizuka, I can imagine she knows the type.”

Mana didn't say anything for a long time, staring. He followed her gaze, ducking his chin down. The flanges of the tattoos flanking his chest were clearly visible, red petals tucked in the gaps and snake skin woven around them. He self-consciously adjusted his shirt as if that would help and didn't look up.

“If there's more than snakes or flowers on my chest, I'll lose my shit a little.” His voice was beaten, knowing that from here on in it would be an uphill battle in convincing her of any innocence.

“So it's true...,” she muttered, “It's really true, that you're a yakuza,”

“Donchya go jumpin' to conclusions like that,” he sneered, “I ain't a yakuza anymore, and that's the truth of it,”

“Is it?” Mana challenged, “We always knew that you had more going on than you told us, but not one of us figured it had any criminal ties until this continuous near-disaster! How can I know that it's the truth? Are there yakuza at our doorstep now? Are we in danger? The car bomb that went off, will that happen to us?!”

“I'm goddamn tryin' to make sure it doesn't!” Majima snapped back, but before he could say more Mana cut back in.

“The blind girl, that you're hiding—Umeko-chan, who is she? What happened, why are people suddenly after her, why does it all have to be a secret?!”

“Mana—,”

“None of us questioned it when she first got here, because we know you, or we thought we did—we know that she needed help and so we helped, but so help me in return Majima if you were just using her and us for some criminal plan,”

“Stop it. Stop it! STOP IT!!

All functioning eyes in the room turned towards Makoto, stunned. There was no place for silence in between her words as she filled her uneven ribcage with air and bellowed.

“I would be dead without him and I don't know why!!

Majima slipped his hand over his knee to brush her arm against her for grounding.

“I don't know, I don't know, they're hunting me like an animal and I don't know why!!” Tears started pouring down her face, tears of primarily pain, “The car bomb that went off, it was meant to kill me—me, and Majima-san, and a man I should've called father—I've done nothing, nothing except trying so hard just to survive and I have no answers. It would be better—it would be better if I wasn't even born, but here I am, and I don't want to die, but, but, but!!

Mana's eyes widened as Makoto squirmed like a fly in a spider's web. Majima slowly drew his gaze from her to the hostess, hard but sad.

“Ma-Majima-san knows you didn't ask for this—I know you didn't ask for this. I don't want anyone else hurt, but I can't do anything...All I know is that Majima-san's the only person who can help, but...,”

More words tried to push themselves out, all cutting off in her throat. She buried her face into her knees. Mana continued to stare. The hostess regarded Makoto as rattled, but otherwise a shy and reserved person. It was obvious that Majima doted on her more than just a usual employee, leading to her theory that if Makoto worked at a massage therapist's clinic that he had developed a crush on her there by being her client. Chika had mentioned, though, that they hadn't known each other very long at all. She looked to her boss, whose singular eye was drilling into her without much extra effort at all.

“These real estate nerds,” Majima asked over the sound of Makoto trying to recollect herself, “D'ya think they're really yakuza?”

“I...I don't...know...,” Mana stammered, a rarity for her. The virulent part of her mind that was still enraged wanted to say that she couldn't know, if since, yakuza or former yakuza or whatever could apparently run a cabaret unbeknownst to his coworkers and employees, but another look at Makoto silenced it.

Majima's gaze wasn't condescending but it was uncomfortably serious. Cussing and taking another drag of his cigarette, he bounced his fingers on his knee, anxious. The clock ticking in his head echoed louder than he would've liked, uncaring and cold. Taking another drag before he was entirely ready to, he stood up.

“Mana-chan,” his voice had stooped down to something far more gentle and personal than she was expecting, and she drew her limbs inward, uncomfortable that he would act this way despite how she had snapped earlier, “We're runnin' out of time. I don't know what's gonna happen but we can't stay here any longer—if what yer tellin' me is true,

“An',” he finished the cigarette, bending down to snuff it in the ashtray before straightening back up, “Y'know me. Ya really do. You know I wouldn't leave a girl like that to the beasts. An' that means...You know that means I gotta go with her.”

Mana pressed her chin into her collar as her face tensed, lips quivering as tears of pain started to bead in her eyes. For the past while Majima had been showing her the cabaret's finances, helping her understand the business and management's perspective in order to prepare her for her own club—any club, even if it wasn't the dream club she had initially spoken of. Neither of them at the time had expected it to be like he was training her for when he was leaving, no, he was simply doing it to help her. A part of it was becoming close to all the girls he had become close to as well, treating them like coworkers as well as employees and listening to them when they needed an ear. This meant she heard of all the other things Majima was doing for them as well, especially from Yuki who had been there when Majima first arrived. Much as they bickered and picked on each other there wasn't a person Yuki revered more for turning the club around and for inadvertently bringing Ai to her.

Without any warning, all of that was going to end.

“But hey,” he chuckled softly, “Mama Mana's got a nice ring to it, don't it?”

She sniffed, confused. When she looked up Majima was smiling, and she swore she could see the pain in it to reflect hers. Her chest tightened up the likes of which it hadn't done for a while around him and she wanted to turn and run rather than face it.

“What,” he pried as she continued to sniff and cry as opposed to laughing even if it was just to humor him, “Ya don't like the title?”

Mana shook her head, but she didn't mean for it to say no. Majima straightened the lapels of his shirt despite how loosely it hung on him.

“Get used to it, Mama-san,” Majima christened with a sad sort of pride, “If I don't come back from this the cabaret's yours, leastways until you can get yer dream up and runnin'. Okay?”

Shaking her head again, she desperately tried to wipe the tears away from her eyes before she managed to sputter, “Thank you...Majima-san, thank you...,”

“Aw, don't thank me just yet, I haven't told Youda-chan the big news, he might faint that I handed it off to ya,”

“I think...,” Mana sniffed, thick and clotted, and finally lifted her head, “I think he'll be alright. Eventually.”

He leaned down into her vision, “You will too, Mana-chan.”

Needing more than just a moment, she brought out her handkerchief, one that she usually reserved for the end of the night. Wiping her face, she took her makeup with her tears, still choking and sniffling as she did so. There was some semblance of pride in her as she did it, not a hurt sort of pride but the pride of pushing forward. Majima felt himself soften as he watched, no longer feeling like a manager or a boss as she finally folded the handkerchief. Refusing to put it away, she held it in her hand, staring at it like it could take things back to before this all happened.

“If anything else happens, if ya see anythin' either suspicious or an opportunity for us to go, you let me know. Don't wait up, Mana-chan,”

Mana nodded, crumpling the handkerchief, “Come back safe...,”

He nodded in turn, all too aware of the small whine in his throat. All three of them knew that was hardly an option. Mana gave him a deep and respectful bow, giving him one last look that couldn't say everything she wanted to say before she turned and left. Majima followed, locking the deadbolt behind her before finding his place next to Makoto.

There was no time.

He curled away and stared at the wall, running over the names in his head. Plans. Anything. But it was lost in a slurry of panic and hypotheticals. There was no time left. Makoto turned and embraced him from behind, one hand on his stomach with the other over his beating heart. No time. Placing his hand over hers he looked back, perking his head in her direction as she leaned to kiss his cheek. When she retreated he found himself gazing at her, her sad expression telling him that she felt what he did—they didn't have time.

As he gazed at her the more unfair it felt on some completely childish, illogical level. Unfair, because he wanted more with her. Unfair, because other people got all the time they needed or wanted. Unfair, because others got time and took it for granted. Unfair, because for all his lack of resolve and her horrible life they were there in the same place and something had clicked but it wasn't going to click for long enough. It wouldn't be right to say that either of them believed in forever, especially when it came to happiness, but they could've at least been given more. Just something more.

Her hand fiddled with the buttons over his stomach, dipping lower as he turned to cup her face and kiss her deeply. Making up for what they didn't have couldn't work, but they couldn't be bothered to care. Makoto yelped as he pulled her hips on top of him, reaching up to kiss her neck as she curled her hands into fists on his chest. She made slight movements against him, gasping and moaning as his hands and lips roamed and he hardened. Panting, desperate, his wild eye fixated on the bedroom door beside them. With another pant as she unbuttoned the rest of his shirt and pushed it off his shoulders he tore his eyepatch off. Pushing it into her stomach for her to grasp, he wrapped his arms around her and messily carried her into the bedroom.

They were out of time and he didn't want them to be.

Cradling her as they crash-landed onto the futon, Majima felt her hands run down his chest to his belt. He moved as slow as he could bear as her hands blindly worked on the buckle, pulling the gown's straps down her shoulders and replacing where cloth was with desperate and sometimes hard kisses. The back of his mind worried that he might be pushing too much too fast—one night was not enough to erase any reservations, nor would a thousand nights be. It whined in his mind, alongside the desperate need to silence the ticking clock so he could love and keep loving.

The belt buckle came loose and he forced himself to breathe over her skin as her hands started on his pants over the straining fabric. With a small wince he whispered her name, brushing his thumbs along her cheeks as a question. She tilted her chin upwards to expose as much of her neck as possible and answered with a needy whimper, arching her chest up against him. He could hear her heart beat, faster and faster as he gave in to her wishes and pulled the night gown down, knuckles caressing her sides as she freed his erection. Majima gave a long breath, warming her breasts as his hands traced her hips and outer thighs before running his tongue over her nipples.

His lips traveled downwards, following his hands and leaving gentle notes along her misshapen ribs. At first she whined at the absence of his presence on top of her, but the whine soon metered out into moans as his kisses jumped from just above the tufts of her pubic hair to the burn scars on each thigh. He listened intently as she clamped her teeth down on her lip, the moans wavering between pleasure and fear. Her hands, one still tangled with the band of his eyepatch, went down to his head to slow him. Petting his hair back to assure him she wanted him to stay, she guided him to her skin when she could muster the preparation to be kissed on her scars again.

Majima ran his thumb over the crest of her pelvis, soothing as he tried to commit every inch of her to memory. With one last kiss to the worst and closest scar he moved the short distance to her entrance.

Fingers turning into claws, Makoto bucked with a shrill gasp, heels digging into the mattress around him as he kissed again, still soft and experimental. She did not move or ask for him to stop, and when the scars on her inner thighs pressed tight to his ears after her cries filled the room Majima gave a hot sigh of relief. She squirmed almost delightfully in his hold, at times forcing him to press her abdomen to the mattress to keep her in place. He glanced up frequently, constantly reassuring and reassessing what he could see of her expression, knowing that everything could fall and turn on a dime, no matter how much they both ached for each other.

Her hips bucked and her thighs closed tighter, Majima heard her become short of breath. He closed his eye, forced himself not to worry, and she climbed the rest of the way to her climax.

Stuttering and trembling, Makoto's strength momentarily waned as her fingers went limp against his scalp. Lifting himself up and back over her, he kissed her fervently in her afterglow. The tears were there but they did not yet escalate to sobs, allowing her to be present for Majima's energy. She breathed his name into his ear to his desperate whimpers, begging (again, begging) for her to keep speaking to him, keep saying his name, just keep being with him no matter what hell they had to go through. It took some of their time for Makoto to recuperate but he couldn't feel scorned, simply pushing the ruined side of his face into her chest and feeling her live beneath him. Hair undone and cascading over her skin, shining in whatever moonlight made it past the city lights, Majima watched her chest rise beneath his hair. She traced and mapped the muscles on his back and he found comfort that she couldn't tell the patterns of the irezumi nor did she seem to care.

She raised her thigh to brush against his, coaxing him forward, and with a grateful but weak grunt he pushed inside her. Gripping her too tightly, leaving marks on her skin from his fingertips and pushing himself into the crook of her neck as if he could be a part of her that couldn't pull away, he couldn't stop his haggard and desperate breaths with each thrust. His own moans mingling with hers he clasped the hand that held his eyepatch and pressed it to the mattress, feeling her fingers close into the space between his knuckles.

There was no time.

Pain ruptured his chest and his brow knit together, beads of sweat dripping from his face.

Not beads of sweat.

Tears.

There was no goddamn time.

Makoto's shortness of breath only served to force him to hear his own cry as he came, as far inside of her as he could be. Now he was trembling alongside her, curled into her as if she was protecting him and not the other way around. Releasing her hand, Majima shivered as she embraced him, kissing his forehead and his cheeks and ever so carefully turning his head to kiss both his eyes. Suddenly her hands tensed and Majima pulled himself up, gazing out at the room as she pushed herself into his shoulder, sobbing uncontrollably. Half of it was from the trauma. The other half was from the ticking of the invisible clock in their heads.

Raising a hand to pet her soft hair, Majima failed to assure her it was alright as the words died in his throat. Her hands pawed at his back, pleading for closeness he couldn't possibly give just as she couldn't give the same for him. Not with what they were allowed to have.

Slowly lowering her back into the mattress as her sobs died down into teary nuzzles into his chest, he eased himself to rest on top of her. Making sure she wasn't being crushed, he gave sighs that were too shallow to be relaxed, one eye gazing anxiously out at the empty room as if shadows would appear and kidnap her right out from underneath him.

Makoto's lips shook, stealing her ability to speak for quite some time though the weight on top of her was somehow relaxing instead of frightening. Continuing to trace his muscle to the occasional hum of gratitude and returning kiss to her breast she pressed her chin to his hair.

“Your tattoo,” she murmured, already a ghostly memory, “Snakes and flowers?”

“Snakes and flowers,” he answered into her warm skin, “And a hannya.”

“A hannya...,” she whispered and the name of a demon had never sounded so gentle. Majima felt his face contort in pain as more tears leaked out. She murmured one last thing before she let their language of touch take over until they fell into restless slumber.

“How fitting.”

 

Chapter Text

“Shit,” Majima whispered, noting the exhaustion in his voice. It felt like he hadn't slept at all, and he knew that Makoto was in a similar boat. It was likely that winks of sleep had been stolen here or there, without so much notice as a flash of a dream that lasted a few seconds and then was gone.

He turned his head until his chin rested on her chest, rising and falling with breaths that told him she was more awake than not. Pressing his warm hands against her sides and swallowing, he closed his eye and focused on shit that wasn't yet a problem, wasn't yet their problem.

“Shoulda gotten Youda to grab stuff. If we come outta all this unscathed, and I've saddled ya with...y'know, with a kid...,”

In actuality he was thinking that there was no way he'd get out alive. There was a possibility, however slight, of getting Makoto out of this mess whether by force or by cunning. No matter how it was done, if they found out why she was wanted and solved the problem or if they simply surrounded her with so much protection she became untouchable, Majima knew he'd still come under the boot of not only Sagawa but Shimano as well. It was gruesome to think about, but if they did all this and she wound up pregnant, caring for a scrappy little scamp alone (and he had to face it, none of his kids would be anything but scrappy) he wouldn't be able to forgive himself. Plus Lee would kick his ass five layers deep into hell.

Even if he lived through it with her, there was no guarantee he could be alongside her to help.

Makoto shifted uncomfortably, silent. Maybe it wasn't the best subject to bring up, but it was distracting him, trying to think of ways to support her alive or dead should the situation present itself some months later.

“That's not...,”

“Sorry,” he mumbled, “Just distractin' myself I guess,”

“No,” Makoto shifted again, still underneath him but turning so she was facing the wall, “I mean...I can't.”

“Hm?”

Majima lifted his head a little, just in time to see her open her sad eyes.

“I can't. I don't remember the specifics...what the doctors said. Not like I can't figure it out myself,” In fact she could almost pinpoint what had exactly ruined that part of her, and even if it was solely based on feeling instead of fact it didn't stop her from putting the blame all on that.

It was a cartoonish analogy, but Majima felt like he had just had an anvil dropped on his stupid cartoon villain head. No amount of trying to convince himself that there was no way he could've known comforted him any. The best he could say was that it wasn't a shock to him that she had that as a burden on top of the visible scars. At that point wanting a child or not didn't matter.

“Ironic, isn't it? That's what I thought...,” Makoto hugged herself, and Majima kissed her taut fingers before he ran his thumb over them as she spoke, “Sagawa chose to lie about me like that, when...,”

“Didn't mean to bring it up,” he apologized, “Didn't know, didn't even guess,”

“It's alright,” she said, light and genuine as her gaze dropped, “I hadn't put thought into whether I wanted a child or not until it was gone,”

She sighed, strangely calm, “Most of my life I just...focused on surviving, until it became tiresome and I had no choice in the matter. There's no room to be thinking about children then, even if you're trying to imagine a happy future. I can't imagine...I can't imagine taking care of a child, taking good care of a child, so they grow up good and happy and—,”

Though she was still calm her voice became haunted, digging up a personal fear that no one had earned the right to listen to. In a way it was like Majima wasn't quite there, but at the same time if he hadn't been laying on her for her sense of security the words would've remained thoughts.

“What if...What if I'm prone to what my mother did...? I couldn't bring a child into this world and then do that to them. I'm afraid I would,”

She let a pause settle in, then, acknowledging him, she turned her head, staring up past the top of his head. Despite her words he couldn't help but smirk, especially with her gaze so far off the mark. Her mouth, too, held a small smile.

“Well, it doesn't matter anyway. I guess it's a bit of a relief,” As she said it Majima was a little struck by how it was a thing he could barely recall a woman ever saying, and all at once he realized that women didn't say that not because they didn't think it but because of whatever retaliation they would earn. Cabarets taught him a little too much on the uglier side of men, and that was coming from a former yakuza. Still Makoto's hands had a slight tremble to them and he wondered if she was still expecting some sort of rebuttal from him. But he had no right, and he simply leaned into her touch when she finally found his face again after nicking his ear with her nail.

“And you, Majima-san?”

“Hm?”

“Kids?”

“Oh,” His gut instinct was to say no and enough force with hell no, but he stopped, realizing that being so adamantly against the idea was a coverup for the fact that he had been thinking about it recently. A lot—to the point where it served as a serious distraction for him from the ticking clock. He shifted, grimacing as he thought of all the kids he encountered just dotted around Sotenbori. More often than not he was just sitting and watching parents do their thing because he was so sorely, obviously, not a damn parent. (“I was watching these ants,” “Is that fun?” “No.” “What the heck...,”) Of course, there was the odd one like Dolly's scamp, and to this day he was wondering how he so quickly got over being flustered at her enthusiasm calling him Daddy and grew fond of the kid like she was his niece or something. It still had a nice ring to it...

“Uh,” he swallowed, “Well, Hibiki-chan's a big, big liar. Says I'd be a good father, tch,”

He pretended not to notice that Makoto's smile grew as she brushed hair away from his face with her thumb, “Oh? Why's that?”

“I...I mean, look at me—well, in the way that you do,” he fumbled with his words, “Nevermindin' all this yakuza business, what do I have fer a kid? Plus, I ain't right enough in the head, I think, fer a tyke. Besides, have ya ever been to a nice reception and some lady hands you her baby and the baby takes one look at ya and starts screamin' bloody murder?”

Makoto was quiet, then muttered, “Oddly specific...,”

Majima grumbled, “People invite ya to high-end business banquets an' then laugh at ya. Er, kids don't like me. End of story.”

In the dim light he could barely see her smile widen, knowing something he didn't know. A weird feeling sunk in his gut, realizing too late that it was fear.

“Dolly says otherwise,”

“Uh,” he grunted, “What.”

“When you first brought me here,” she told him, surprisingly without a trace of mischief, “Dolly talked about her daughter to me, to keep me calm and grounded. I only heard half of what she said, admittedly, but...she talked about how she came to know you, through her daughter, through you getting her daughter toys from the arcade. Her daughter...she calls you Daddy, doesn't she?”

Majima refused to answer, clouded in embarrassment.

“Majima-san,” Makoto noted, “Your face is burning up.”

“Yeah, so,” he grumbled again, “The kid wouldn't leave me alone about it, and arguin' with a kid is never a good idea,”

She smiled, “You have to be kind to earn a title like that, and even kinder to let her keep it,” the smile widened as she reached up to kiss his brow, noting how hard he was blushing from the temperature of his skin and the disgruntled rumble in his throat, “Dolly, too, thinks highly of you for it,”

“Mmm,” his hum turned dark and he let his chin rest on her collar, “I'm not...entirely surprised,”

Makoto opened her mouth to ask but, catching on his change of tone, simply waited until he elaborated.

“That girl...along with her mom...,” he traced irregular patterns on her shoulder with his thumb, “They were...both of them, they were two seconds away from bein' used as what you were used as,”

“...Both?” Makoto breathed, although she knew that not every girl in the cages had the luxury of being of age.

“Ain't tryin' to brandish any trophies or anythin'...,” Majima continued, somber, “But if her daughter hadn't found me in time...,”

Makoto's nails made temporary marks in Majima's skin, throat gurgling. He let her without complaint, still moving his thumb over her shoulder.

“If...you hadn't been the one sent to kill me...,” she continued on the trail of hypothesis, all the disasters that would've happened were Majima not in the right place at the right time—were Majima not the person he was despite of everything that had happened and continued to happen to him.

“Yeah,” he interrupted gruffly, “Then we wouldn't be in this mess,”

Wincing, Makoto curled, re-adjusting him until she could tuck her head under his chin. Outside the sky had grown pink and if the air hadn't been so frigid he would've opened the window to the smell of the local bakeries. The edges of his eye felt exhausted but he knew that any further sleep would be impossible.

“I'd rather have been a part of this mess then whatever the alternative is,” she had started weeping, reserved and ever so slightly ashamed. Majima slid to the side, the better to cradle her from, unable to tear his gaze away from the encroaching sunlight out the window.

“Yeah,” he agreed after a while. Everything he had been doing the past few days had revolved around her, now it was hard to think of it in any other way. Still, he was not used to being soft, not like this—this sort of uncensored view where he didn't pick and choose his words on whether they were appropriate or whether they'd get him killed, “It's fucked. But I don't regret helpin',”

Fuck, he sounded like he was spitting some eulogy out, one that covered both their bases. He held her tighter and squeezed his eye shut, hoping she couldn't hear the weakness in his voice.

“I don't regret you.”

 

~~

 

“Majima-san. They've come back.”

Majima turned from where Mana was standing in the open apartment doorway. It was two hours to Sunshine's opening time. He looked to where Makoto was sitting. Her feet were still under the kotatsu, even though they had turned it off for the last time a while ago, in anticipation of an opportunity to flee. She was dressed in her regular clothes, even though some of them were scuffed and singed as remnants of the car bomb. The green embroidery that read Hogushi Kaikan on her scrubs was obscured by her copper jacket. Her hands were folded neatly and nervously over her lap.

The two guys from Tachibana Real Estate were below, and it was clear they'd keep coming back until Majima coughed something up whether it was a misdirection or the truth. Aside from the rumors that had spread from the patron he had nearly choked to death, Majima didn't know why they had any clue that this was the exact right place where Makoto was hidden. They were too adamant, too determined, if they kept coming back like this. He shivered, wondering just how many eyes had been on them the whole time.

Makoto, docile, pressed close against his side after slipping her shoes on. Grasping her shoulder, Majima led her in following Mana down to the cabaret. The two agents were distracted by karaoke, allowing them a short window of time to hurry Makoto away into the dressing room. They couldn't take any chances in separating them further than that. Mana would stay with her in the dressing room. Majima adjusted the bow tie until it looked picture perfect, adopting a cold and sly demeanor, using the perfect Japanese that had previously made Makoto dissolve into giggles but now just made her nervous.

There was one thing, though, as he sauntered into the cabaret while Hibiki and Yuki were on stage, entertaining the guests. One of them had a voice that carried, with a lazy lilt that spoke of some sort of arrogance. Makoto inhaled, grasping at his elbow. There was no time to stop and listen, however, and he had to shake her off while Mana herded her away. Chika watched her go, then followed Majima as he walked up, waiting until Hibiki finished her song before raising his hands and clapping.

All heads from the stage turned towards him; Ai with the man in the green suit who had a sleazy nonchalance to him, Saki with the man in the white suit who looked like he had been cut out of a quarry with the personality of a rock to boot. Ai seemed too polite, but Saki seemed cheery enough to be considered comfortable. Youda stood off to the side, definitely nervous and looking to him for assistance. In lieu of narrowing his eye, Majima put on the slight professional smirk he had slipped into doing so easily.

“A fine performance, as always, Hibiki-chan,” he turned and bowed to the guests who had stood up, “Now, if you'll allow me, I'll pour these gentlemen a toast at the bar and I will answer any questions you may have.”

“Ah,” the olive green suit smiled, “Finally, a guy who seems sharp around here. Well, it's business time then. Oda Jun, pleasure to meet you,”

“Kiryu Kazuma,” the white suit introduced. Saki seemed pleased at his side, and for that small factor Majima was grateful because it was the only thing calming his nerves, “Nice to meet you.”

“Majima,” he enunciated properly then gestured to the bar, “Have a seat, sirs. May we start off with some whiskey and tonic?”

“Oh, a business man through and through?” Oda complimented as he sat down, leaning over the bar, “I like it. So, then, word around here is that you employed a blind girl for a little while,”

“That is true,” Majima said smoothly as Chika handed him glasses. Yuki popped up near Ai while Hibiki offered her help at the bar, “Unfortunately, due to ill circumstances, she was fired.”

“Fired?” Kiryu, who seemed to be a man of few but strong words, said. Oda picked up in his place, clearly used to doing all the talking—or at least, the one who wanted to do all the talking.

“That's...We did hear about an incident, yes, but to fire a girl over, y'know, cabaret stuff like that?”

“Of course,” Majima straight up lied through his teeth, and he caught on to the several underhanded glances each girl gave him, knowing he was lying but smart enough to not speak up about it, “If a hostess cannot handle being a hostess, then there's nothing to do but to let them go. There are other, better women out there to take her place, especially one that does not require any special attention and payment.”

“Ah, I see, you are certainly steeled for this,” Oda remarked, and Majima gave him a cordial but deadly smile. He could've been just been complimenting him, but there was another meaning possibly hidden in there—as if Oda had cast out a line to see if he could hook onto the idea that Majima was putting on an act, “Shrewd. So, this girl, was her name by any chance Makimura Makoto?”

Majima didn't shake his head lest it take his gaze off of them for an instant. He didn't notice that Chika disappeared from his blind side.

“No,” he, once again, lied, though his voice remained smooth and slick, “Her name was Tateyama Umeko. It's possible that that was a stage name she chose—many of our girls use one.”

Yes, play a card so that it seemed like he was on their side. Neutral coldness. Oda seemed to relax, if only to release some of the tension. Majima folded his hands behind his back to hide their fidgeting as the two men drank. The girls beside them took the opportunity to start and continue conversations, trying to cushion their unusual presence two hours before opening. The small barspace became flooded with crossed conversations—Saki and Kiryu seemed to enjoy each other, every so often Majima heard something sporty and rigorous from them; Ai tried and got some smiles from Oda with her warmth, but the man kept peppering Majima with small, seemingly innocuous questions about the blind girl. Not too many that he seemed anxious, but enough to know that they were not far away from danger.

Majima idly wondered if there were more goons stationed outside. These two seemed to operate as one unit, but the knowledge they held, or at least the knowledge that Oda had to interrogate him, was too much for a two-man group from some junky Kamurocho real estate company.

“One thing that's bothering me though, Majima,” Oda leaned back as if the stool had support, throwing a lazy arm over Ai's shoulders despite the fact that they had not hit it off as well as Saki and Kiryu did, “The incident in question, I heard that it was you who lost control and nearly choked the guy out. Now, you could've selfishly fired a girl over that sure, but—shrewd businessman that you are, that shouldn't have been your first option, right?”

“Ah,” Majima did not move from his position, “If I may be so forward, sir, it doesn't always do well to listen to rumors on the streets, especially from the night life crowd,”

“Oh?” Oda asked, turning his hand on Ai's shoulder so it was a firm grip. Majima's eye flicked to it, but he couldn't afford to chastise him unless he did something blatantly out of bounds—seem too uptight and the tension would raise until something burst. Yuki caught on, though, and her gaze flicked from Oda to Majima, worried and upset. Nothing he could do could signal Yuki to calm down, and he prayed she had enough faith in him to keep to herself. For the old Yuki this wouldn't be a problem, but for the new, feistier Yuki that he had fostered...Please let her not take after him—just for this one moment.

The customer is king,” Majima recounted with ease, “If I may brag, I am quite well known for this sentiment among the night life. For me to raise a hand against a customer is akin to blasphemy. I'm afraid that, since I haven't heard the rumors, I can neither confirm nor deny what they say, but if they say I've attacked a customer, I'm afraid that must be my rivals attempting to spread ilk and harm my establishments. And trust me, as my hostesses will tell you, I do have rivals.”

Ai nodded and piped up, “My former boss hated Majima-san with all his might. Kept referring to him as a bug, an ant—all these terribly cruel things, I couldn't work there anymore. Majima-san may be shrewd, but for girls who work hard he's kind and dutiful,”

Waahhh,” Yuki interrupted, “Maybe to you, Ai-chan, but he's positively horrible to me!”

“He has to keep you in check! We can't have tantrums all the time, Yuki-chan,” Saki chirped, leaning out from behind Kiryu to wink at her, “Otherwise more awful rumors about Majima-san would spring up like daisies!”

“Do you see what I mean?!” Yuki pouted, trying to appeal to Oda. At the very least he was laughing, but Majima couldn't tell if he was exasperated from the girls' antics or if he enjoyed them.

“Ah,” Kiryu answered, “It seems that working here can definitely be a handful, yes,”

Yuki brightened, “Thank you!”

“Ah!” Saki clasped her hands over her mouth, “Kiryu-san, you encouraged her, there's no telling what she'll do now!”

Kiryu gave a genuine little smirk, clearly amused. Oda chuckled, but it was short and he turned the conversation back to the point. The man was clearly on a time limit, which was curious, since Kiryu did not seem to feel the same.

“If that's the case,” he mused, “Then what happened that got this blind girl fired?”

Majima opened his mouth, putting full, blind faith on his quick feet when Chika interrupted him.

“Majima-saaan,” she whined, vain and shallow, “The light in the dressing room is out again!”

“Chika-chan,” he slowly turned his head so his blindside didn't completely obscure the usually demure girl. She was standing with her hip jutting out, looking like the most shallow femme fatale on the face of the earth. Spoiled rotten, he'd guess. It was the exact opposite of who Chika was, and he played along, “Haven't I told ya a thousand times that the bulbs are right there on the shelf, leftmost as ya walk right in?”

“But Majima-saaan, you're the only one tall enough to reach the lights without a step-stool, and the lights from the mirror alone aren't enough to do my makeup before customers come!”

Majima sighed, loud, as she continued, “Don't you want me to look as royal as possible for tonight? The richer crowds will be falling at my feet! If they don't, I'll—,”

“Awright, awright,” he waved off in his Kansai accent. Excusing himself in perfect Japanese, he chastised Chika as she kept whining, all the way to the dressing room.

As soon as the door shut behind them they both stopped, and his eye zeroed in on Makoto sitting with her knees to her chin on the couch. It was not unlike when he first came back to her at the warehouse after learning of what had happened to her in the past. Bug-eyed, alone, and afraid.

“What is it,” his voice turned urgent, “The hell's going on, what is it?”

“Ma-Ma-Majima-san!” Makoto gasped, both in relief and terror. Her hands unhooked from her legs and she reached out, blindly searching for him. Like a magnet he drew himself to her, clasping her hands as both Mana and Chika looked on.

“What's up, what's wrong,” he asked, nearly stumbling over his words in their speed. Makoto blubbered, damning herself for it.

“Majima-san,” she cried, trying to hush herself out of fear, “One of those men...he...One of them, their voice...He's the one with the bat tattoo.”

Majima's eye widened as the air sucked all the noise from the room. He could vaguely hear the girls keeping up the conversation at the bar. The laughter wasn't exactly raucous but it was loud enough that he knew they were keeping the 'real estate' agents at ease. His grip on her hands tightened until he was almost breaking her bones.

“The hell,” he breathed.

“O-On his left arm. I'm sure. I'm positive,

Majima glanced over his shoulder at the door, his eye briefly sweeping over Mana and Chika's grim faces. He knew then that Makoto had told them both what was going on. Chika, especially, would've taken a tale like that seriously, and it warranted sacrificing her image that she was starting to rebuild in order to warn him that it was something far worse than he was expecting.

“Whichever's the one that's talking a lot, more than the other. It's him.”

Oda.

“The fuck,” he breathed again, anger searing the edges of his words and he felt the same rage that he had unleashed the night of the incident build up inside him again. Damn it to hell—he had been positive that guy hadn't been behind the manhunt for Makoto, but here he was. Even if he was connected to something else, he was here—and it clicked in Majima's head that that must've been why he smelled anxiety off of him. That it meant that he would recognize Makoto on sight.

“Stay here,” he growled, “Mana, stay with her. Chika, come back out with me, keep whining about yer makeup—we're outta bulbs.”

“Majima-san,” Mana tried to stop him as he stood up, “What's going to happen, what are you going to do?”

“I don't. Fucking. Know,” he seethed, “But someone's gonna fucking get hurt.”

“Majima-san!” Makoto pleaded, “I want to leave!”

“Ah,” he acknowledged, suddenly feeling the dagger tucked into his waistband moreso than usual, “Mana, keep watch for an opportunity. Get her outta Sotenbori and to the police if ya can—but with that fucker here, knowing who she is, I don't know when that'll be,”

Majima-san!” Makoto tried again.

“Makoto,” he said, dropping the honorific for a reason completely different than distancing himself from her and using her real name for the first time in front of any hostess, “I'm responsible for ya gettin' outta this unscathed, not just alive. So long as he's gunnin' for ya, that ain't gonna happen. I told ya I'm not the brightest bulb, I don't know how this is all gonna turn out,”

He turned to face her and she perked her chin like she knew he did, “But if I can make sure he never touches you again, if I can give ya a fleeting chance, I'm gonna try my damndest. Don't wait fer me,”

“M-Majima...,”

“Don't.”

He heard Chika give her whatever short words of confidence she could before she followed him out. Shutting the door behind him forced the pain from his chest. Turn that pain into rage, compact the rage into controlled professionalism. When he opened his eye it gleamed, his mouth a smooth and dangerous smile.

“Majima-san.” Chika said. It was a statement, standing beside him and his decisions. Closing a fist in response, then unfolding it, he breathed deep and nodded, taking the first steps back to the bar with Chika behind him.

“My apologies,” he entered himself back into the conversation, “You were asking what happened, the night I fired Tateyama Umeko?”

“Ah,” Oda confirmed, holding his empty glass. Chika slid behind Majima, effortlessly offering her elegant hand out.

“Here, another drink, on the house, handsome,” she said, still playing up the ditzy and flirty role. Oda, keeping his eyes on Majima, set his glass down and pushed it towards Chika's direction. Chika took the bottle of whiskey from Hibiki's hand as Majima started.

“She was using us to look for someone, and asked our customers intrusive questions until they lost control and had to be escorted out,” Majima said. Oda nodded, buying it at first, but then his brow knit together in confusion.

“Wait, hold up. What do you mean?”

Majima watched as Chika opened the bottle of whiskey then proceeded to drop it in a theatrical display of clumsiness. The alcohol spilled over the bar, making everyone jump back—especially Kiryu, who jerked his cigarette away from the spill. It hit Oda the worst, splashing over his sleeve and staining it. Cussing, he groped uselessly for a towel until Hibiki provided one, trying to pat down the stain. Chika started bumbling over messy apologies, and so did many of the other girls. Ai was the first to stop, touching Yuki's wrist and making her stop too.

Majima hadn't moved, hadn't even spoken condolences or regular customer service lines. He was staring at Oda intently, watching as he unbuttoned his sleeve. Kiryu caught on as soon as Saki did, his gaze turning hard.

“Hey...,” he uttered as Oda opened his sleeves, revealing the wing and flames of a bat on his left arm. As if nothing had happened, Majima continued.

“She was looking for a man. A man with the tattoo of a bat.”

Oda stopped cold, then looked at Majima. It was deathly quiet. Ai pushed Yuki back, Hibiki started to crouch, and Saki let go of Kiryu's arm.

The look in Oda's eyes told Majima that he knew the jig was up, but that only meant that there was no reason to be professional anymore. His hand drew back, revealing enough that Majima could see the edge of a tonfa.

Grabbing Chika's shoulder, he shoved her down with him as the tonfa whipped out over the bar in a wide arc, shattering the glasses on the counter.

Stay down!” he ordered, only to notice that both Chika and Hibiki started pulling glasses and bottles from the lower cupboards. Before he could say anything more the girls lobbed them overboard, startling the men long enough for Majima to swing around the bar, pushing Saki back behind it.

Kiryu recovered faster than he gave him credit for, and stood to his full height. It was a bit staggering—even if it was only by a smidgen, Kiryu was taller than Majima and definitely bigger, as Mana had said. But sheer mass didn't mean shit to Majima, he was used to sparring (and winning) against brutes like him. Besides, all he had to do was keep them distracted, and he was gunning for Oda. As Kiryu swung his elbow down Majima weaved out of the way, using his momentum to push him into the floor as he leapt towards Oda.

Both men were way the hell too practiced to just be damn real estate agents, so in a way Saki's guess was completely correct. Majima was only lucky that the tonfa wasn't on his blinded side, allowing him time to throw his arm down and block it. Much to Youda's constant cries of dismay, the brawl spread out into the greater cabaret area. Wayward kicks and punches splintered more tables and pillars, spittle and specks of blood splattered on the carpets as hits landed. Oda wasn't half-bad, but when Kiryu was able to land a punch he punched hard. More than once Majima stumbled, nearly tripping over himself straight into a swing of a tonfa.

Glasses were lobbed like grenades from behind the bar, although more than once Saki stood up and put all her force behind it like she was pitching a baseball bat. She aimed mostly for Kiryu, hitting him square in the ear with one and having another glance off his chest to shatter somewhere in the booths past him. Though it helped, it served into the utter chaos the fight was becoming and more than once Majima had to shout at the girls behind the bar that looking before assisting would be appreciated. Still, he couldn't help but feel pride as they more or less fought alongside him.

Like it or not, they were too smart to fall for tricks that he usually pulled on street punks. Thus, Majima improvised. One sharp jab to Kiryu's eyes, then ducking down as the beast of a 'real estate agent' retaliated immediately as planned—right as he tugged on the tonfa to bring Oda into the blow. Both men staggered, he swung his sharp boot around, knocking his heel into the side of Kiryu's knee and jamming the silver-tipped toe as close to Oda's dick as possible. He wanted to keep the spiral of kicks going, such was the nature of break-dancing in battle, but he underestimated Kiryu. Before his heel could glance his cheek it met the palm of his hand and he twisted, flipping Majima onto his stomach and dragging him along the carpet. He could see in his mind what was going to happen next; the plan was to swing him in an arc like some monstrous caveman until he was nothing but mush and bone fragments. Huffing a breath, he exhaled as Kiryu lifted, swinging him upwards as expected. A jolt of fear nearly got to him as he ducked away from scraping against the ceiling, but he composed himself as the downward rush of the arc brought the carpet to him.

Thrusting his hands out he caught himself before his body crashed. Ducking his head down, he gave the kid a manic grin. He had made the mistake of only grabbing one of Majima's feet. The other one was free to slam itself into Kiryu's face with a hard crack. With a gargled growl of pain and frustration Kiryu dropped him and stumbled back. Using the booth for support, Majima climbed his way back up to his feet, just in time to see the onslaught of the tonfa spinning towards him.

Ducking, he heard the stained glass sun patterns shatter above him, raining down in warm colors on his black tuxedo. Edging his way around the booth, the swings kept coming, obliterating the décor to Youda's cries of utter despair. Majima vaguely recalled taking fights outside to avoid getting blood on the carpets before, but he supposed he was far more invested in beating the fuck out of this women-selling shitball and giving them enough distraction so Makoto could potentially slip away. Still, he heard Youda's screams and the numbers started going up in his head as each piece of the cabaret was blown to bits.

Regardless, he was very quickly running out of booth to edge around, and Oda had bought Kiryu enough time to recover despite the blood flowing freely from his nose. The last of the stained glass stood between him and Oda, and Majima pushed off as it was blown away. Tag-teaming, he saw Kiryu lift a table up like it was nothing, ready to smash it over his head. Caught between the booths, Majima gritted his teeth and hoped his body could move fast enough.

A microphone's hideous shriek split the air, causing Kiryu to wince and set the table back down, hunching his shoulders to his ears. Both Majima and Oda clasped their hands over their heads, and Majima cringed, looking to the stage.

Ai was standing there, microphone shaking in her hand. Upon making eye contact with him, she opened her mouth and wailed as the shamisen intro to an enka song played. The wail was harsh and exaggerated but controlled, pitching in fervor and destroying the subpar speakers whenever Oda or Kiryu tried to take another step towards Majima.

Holy shit!” Majima cried over the noise as he scrambled to his feet, “I thought you gals said Etsuko sang enka!!

I didn't know!!” Yuki responded from just next to the stage, clearly impressed and proud of Ai, “I didn't know, she's amazing!!

Majima caught himself laughing in glee, circling and dodging as the two men got used to the noise, all three of them flinching whenever the microphone couldn't take Ai's voice. Didn't matter—it bought Majima time and evened the battleground. He tried to bring the two back closer to the bar, closer to where he could have more support from his girls. Oda sneered, clearly seeing that Majima was using his girls to outnumber them. Kiryu didn't seem to mind, but instead of trying to stay back in the booths like Oda, he rushed him.

Giving a sharp yelp of surprise, Majima had only enough time to throw a fist into Kiryu's stomach (which was, in essence, like punching a brick wall) slowing his momentum and making him cough in Majima's face. Groaning in disgust, he spat back—but visibility was not what Kiryu needed. Majima's expression went from disgust to abject fear as the kid wrapped his arms tight around him and lifted in a bear hug. Choking on another yelp, Majima wailed as he felt his bones crack and pop. The air whooshed around him as Kiryu swung around, flinging him into the side of the booth where Oda had destroyed the stained glass.

Mistake, on Kiryu's part. Chika and Saki appeared on either side of him, pinning him to the bar by yanking on his elbows as Hibiki, with all her might, swung a bottle at his head until it finally smashed. Coughing and trying to sputter out congratulations, Majima staggered to his feet.

Majima-san!

He only had time to say a dumb haw before Yuki barreled into him, the two of them tumbling down the main hall of the cabaret. Shouting various comedic obscenities on top of unflattering grunts, Majima finally righted himself, seeing that Oda was now where he had been and it was entirely likely that his skull would be caved in if Yuki hadn't knocked him out of the way. Of course, if she hadn't shouted and distracted him he might've had the instinct to dodge without her interference—but, whatever.

Wararrugh!!” Majima exclaimed, utterly grateful, “Yer an angel, Yuki-chan, barrelin' into me like a bear!”

A bear!” she shrieked, “Again! How could you?!

The cheeky grin he gave her didn't last as Oda advanced despite the fact that Yuki had pushed herself into the fight where she truly didn't belong. Majima didn't waste his time trying to put the fight on pause and get her out of there—he didn't want to bet on Oda's goodwill when he had no faith in it to begin with. Grabbing Yuki's shoulders, he rolled out of the way, scrambling to get her up and behind the safety of the bar with the others. Ai's singing started to waver in fear, making the urgency in his mind rise. Go, go, go, get her outta here—he could call her a bear all he wanted but it was a joke and she couldn't stand in a fight like this.

Go!” he commanded, pushing her towards the bar, “Go, get outta here!”

Her foot caught on the folds of her dress and the tonfa came from his blind side.

Ai screamed, breaking the speakers. Yuki fell silent, her body twisted, and then she fell like deadweight.

Yuki!!!” Majima wrapped his arms around her before she hit the ground, pulling back out of the reach of any further attacks. Blood dribbled from her mouth, her cheek split and already bruising. His hand went up to her hair, cradling her head against his chest. His fingers brushed against the smashed skin, feeling the loss of support from bone beneath. Lips curling and eye glaring and seething until he felt froth begin to form in the corners of his mouth, Majima stared up at Oda, infuriated. First worst best, apple of his only eye—Yuki was close to Majima's heart more than any other hostess, much as he showed it in sarcastic jokes and retorts.

The microphone clattered on the stage, still turned on, as Ai raced to Yuki's side, neverminding the scattered broken glass nor the fact that Oda had not been subdued, even though the tonfa now rested calmly across his shoulders.

“Man, she shouldn't interrupt like that, that looks like it hurts,” Oda drawled, causing Majima to snarl like a scorned dog. Oda shrugged, “Guess that's what you get when you let your girls go to war for you,”

“You fuckwad,” Majima snapped, teeth clacking together as if he had clamped them on flesh. Ai dropped to her knees next to him, trembling hands hovering but unable to rest upon Yuki—not even on Majima's shoulder.

Yuki,” Ai sputtered, “Yuki-chan, c-can you hear me?! Yuki!”

Yuki stirred, weak but there, her eyes blinking weird as the lower eyelid of her smashed cheek started to swell. She started to try and speak, but Majima hushed her, petting through her hair faster than would be calming. Stubborn as she was, she tried again, and it took both Ai and Majima combined to plead with her until she stopped trying.

“S-She, s-she hates blood, she hates blood,” Ai stammered, in shock and trying to clean up whatever blood had spilled from her mouth even though her hands were shaking so hard she could barely do anything. Majima had to clasp her wrist, stopping her before she agitated the wound or had a panicked breakdown.

Having been released as soon as Yuki was hit, Kiryu approached from Oda's backside, and soon Majima's hateful stare flicked between the two real estate men. Though, Kiryu seemed to be in shock, looking on in sympathy. He stepped forward, hand raised, only to have Saki shove herself in between him and Yuki's fallen body.

“You, you stand back,” Saki snapped in Majima's place, “I am, or I will be a nurse, and no one touches my patient!”

Majima tensed, expecting an uncaring dismissal, but instead Kiryu raised his hands and took a step back, respecting Saki's demand and placing a hand on Oda's arm to urge him to do the same. Saki stood, waiting to see if either one would dare violate her terms. Once she was satisfied she turned on her heel, brow furrowed and mouth frowning in concentration. Parting Yuki's hair from her face with great care, it took her all of a few seconds to diagnose treatment: a trip to the hospital.

“S-Saki-chan,” Ai pleaded, “Is...Is Yuki...,”

“If we get her to the hospital, she should be fine,” Saki replied, her voice hard as she told Majima to rearrange Yuki and stand up with her in arms. He winced—he couldn't leave the cabaret, especially not with these men inside. Much as he wanted to be beside Yuki as she healed, he had to pass her off and the look on Saki's face told him she knew this, “But, we have to get her to a hospital, as soon as possible.”

“Oda...,” Majima barely heard Kiryu say in frustration as Saki tucked her hands under Yuki's body. Majima frowned in worry.

“Can you carry her?” he asked the toughest hostess he'd ever known. Saki nodded, stating it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Still worried, Majima let his hands hover beneath Yuki as Saki lifted. Her muscles on her shoulders bunched, but she didn't so much as give a grunt of exertion before nodding again, confident. She must've been training for things like this, just in case of an emergency. There was no way she was expecting something like this to happen at Club Sunshine, especially not to a hostess, especially not to Yuki. He caught Kiryu staring at Saki as she jerked her head to the door, jarring Ai into action. Majima stepped back, watching in horror and anguish as the three girls left, dashing down the street to the nearest taxi.

The instrumental enka, no longer accompanied by any vocals, played over the damaged speakers, a haunting ghost.

His hands closed into fists. The knife in his waistband burned, and Majima knew it would be simple. Draw the knife, flash the blade. A cut or a stab, it didn't matter, so long as he drew blood to make up for what happened to Yuki. It was tempting—so fucking tempting, but now more than ever it was two against one, and there was still Hibiki and Chika not to mention Mana and Makoto to think about. Majima needed to keep his mind in place.

You,” he snarled, turning back to the two real estate fucks, “I'm going to tear you to shreds, you fuck,”

Though he was in a fighting stance again, Kiryu tried to reason, “Hey, hey, it was an accident—I didn't lay a finger on your girls even as they held me down,”

Shut up,” Majima snapped, focused on Oda, “You're one and the same, and neither of you are gonna do anything but crawl out of this cabaret. Now,”

With a raging wail Majima lunged, ducked low and swinging up, “Give me that fucking tonfa!!

Out of instinct Oda swung it in front of him, but he caught it mid-swing and yanked, weakening his grasp. Majima folded a long leg back and gave three sharp, successive kicks to Oda's ribs (somehow in the same spots that Makoto's were broken) until he could wrench the tonfa free. It swung into his use easily, betraying its owner in the blink of an eye.

Before Kiryu could step in Majima swatted the tonfa across Oda's cheeks until he stumbled back. Scowl momentarily flashing to another grin, he adjusted his grip on the tonfa to something far less traditional and swung it like a baseball bat, sending Oda flying. He was about to run up and start stomping until Youda would have no choice but to replace the carpet, but Kiryu stood in his way, blocking Majima's reactionary swing of the tonfa with both his forearms.

“It was an accident!” Kiryu reiterated, “There are still hostesses here, we'll yield so we don't end up hurting them too!”

“You sound almost sincere,” Majima sneered, “It's almost cute.”

“Tell me why the bat tattoo has any meaning,” Kiryu, undaunted, kept talking though the two of them were still struggling against each other. Majima's whole face contorted once more, enraged.

“No, you answer me this. Why are you after the girl?!”

“All this trouble,” Oda coughed as he got to his feet, gingerly massaging his beaten face, “And you don't even know? Well, at least we know she's here,”

Answer me, shitbag!

“I'd say that girl is worth what was it, a billion yen right now?” Oda adjusted his jaw back and forth, looking to Kiryu who only stared as his answer.

“No one's hit is worth that much,” Majima argued, trying to shove against Kiryu but the two were evenly matched.

“Maybe, but a patch of land is,” Oda continued, “And we need her to sell that land to the good guy so we can all go home happy, huh?”

“The fuck,” Majima hissed, not entirely believing the man that sold Makoto into sex slavery, “That's fucked.”

“Well, it's not usually in our style, but we're in a bit of a bind for time here, so, seeing as you know where the girl is and you're so attached to your hostesses, which one volunteers to be a hostage first?” Oda swung his arm to the two behind the bar, then swung it wider to include Youda as well. Majima shrieked in rage, pulling the tonfa away and stepping back, hunching low to wind himself up like a spring.

Stop!!

Fuck! FUCK!!! Majima screamed in his head as Makoto's voice interrupted everything. She was close to the wall with Mana beside her. There was a solemn weight to her voice, knowing she was going up against the man that fucked over her adult life. Grimacing, Majima stepped back, sweat beading on his forehead. Kiryu stared at her for a moment, straightening up.

“Ah, good, that is her,” Oda laughed with relief. Makoto tensed like a spider was crawling up her back and her eyes narrowed.

“I don't want anyone else to get hurt. All I want is to understand, and for everyone to be left alone,” Makoto demanded, brave. Breaths came out in hisses through Majima's teeth, watching both Kiryu and Oda. The hiss became a bark of alarm as in one smooth motion Oda dipped his hand into his jacket and out came a gun.

Kiryu reacted as soon as metal came into his peripherals, aimed at Makoto or not. The heel of his palm struck Oda's wrist, forcing the gun upwards with a harsh shot to the ceiling. Makoto flinched something terrible as Oda growled in frustration, gun still in hand. Kiryu turned, facing his comrade who now had the gun pointed at him.

“Oda, what the hell—,”

POW!

Oda's head went sideways as the cork of a champagne bottle ricocheted from his temple to the ceiling then back down to the floor. Majima looked to the bar in shock, seeing pink fizz bubble out of the bottle in Hibiki's hands. Chika had one as well, and as he stared it blew, aimed directly for Oda's crotch. It hit the bullseye and Oda crumpled. Wasting no time, Kiryu picked up the gun and stumbled back to Majima's side, pointing it at Oda. The shock didn't last long on the kid's face as it furrowed into anger. With a glance to Makoto, then back to Majima, he held the gun steady and kept his stare on Oda.

“Makimura Makoto, right?” he asked her. Her breath was stuttered, not knowing what was happening, but answered anyways, and Kiryu gave Majima another glance.

“Tachibana-san of Tachibana Real Estate, he wants to get ahold of Makimura Makoto because she inherited the deed for some land in Kamurocho. We were told to get her, to make sure that the Dojima Family didn't get the land. That's the short of it, anyways,”

“Dojima...,” Majima breathed. Was the hit sourced within them—was that why it would've gotten him back into the Tojo Clan?

“...I'm sorry, Makimura-san,” Kiryu apologized and Majima tensed, ready to cave his brains in if the gun turned towards her again, “I was not...expecting my comrade to turn on you, to turn on Tachibana-san. He's your sworn brother, isn't he, Oda?

Majima looked back to the writhing man on the ground. Mental note to commend Chika and give her a bonus for shooting the guy in the dick. Oda cringed, then started to laugh pathetically.

“That man...,” Makoto's voice shook with both fear and anger, “I'm blind because of him. Two years ago, he abducted me, kept me prisoner, then...Sold me like cattle, sold me to—,”

“Makoto,” Majima interrupted and she quieted with a small squeak, already overwhelmed. Hibiki was breathing shallow, hearing this for the first time along with Youda who was struck dumb and silent.

“Two years,” Makoto started up again, “Two years, half-naked in a cage!” With a cry of frustration she wrung her arms and bit her lip, feeling everyone's eyes on her. Kiryu was the first to let her go, staring down Oda as he continued to laugh.

Then he told them everything.

Through the hushed gasps of shock and Makoto's wide-eyed stare of disbelief, that her brother was still alive, that her brother was trying to find her after all these years, through Kiryu's focused anger at Oda's betrayal, Majima felt heat rise from his fists as rage shook him. That Oda had two choices and was taking the coward's way out to keep some semblance of a dream with his sworn brother—it made Majima fucking sick. Majima, who had betrayed his own sworn brother, Majima, who was waiting for the day that his sworn brother came back to kill him for the betrayal, just as they had declared to each other in oath, Majima, whom accepted his punishment and knew that he deserved all of Saejima's hatred—and here was a pathetic husk of a human who couldn't own up to his fucking actions and was willing to kill to keep a lie alive.

Kill a fucking blind, innocent girl to keep a stupid lie alive.

Majima was two seconds away from throwing the tonfa on the ground and pulling out the dagger to dig Oda's left eye out.

“You limp-dicked bastard,” he hissed, “Fucking dishonest coward!”

“It doesn't matter...anymore,” Oda panted, “Shibusawa and his goons are on their way...I slipped them the info before we left,”

What,” Kiryu's features hardened, but the look on Oda's face told him there was no lying about it.

“Shit,” Kiryu turned to the blind girl then to Majima, “Then we have to move. If we can contact Sera, we might be able to get out of here without a bloodbath,”

Majima narrowed his eye, “We?

“That girl—Makimura-san, do you trust this man?”

“Ma-Majima-san?”

“Yes,”

Makoto could only raise her head, eyes staring out into the distance and meeting no one. Though her voice had been cracked, when she answered it was clear and steady, “Of course.”

Kiryu turned back to him, “Then you should come along,”

Majima was a little taken aback, that the young kid so easily threw his trust around like that. Then again, in reality it hadn't been so long ago that he had done the same. Sure, it resulted in him losing an eye—but there was a pained nostalgia when he thought back to the days when he could trust as easily as Kiryu was now. Dumb, perhaps. But in the moment it struck him from his blind side.

“Ha, haha, and what, leave me here?” Oda gasped, his laughter thin and forced. Chika threw the champagne bottle she had been wielding, shattering it near his head to Youda's accepting wail of defeat, muttering the price of that champagne under his breath.

“You're staying right here,” Chika warned.

Mana brought Makoto between Kiryu and Majima, and the manager of Club Sunshine gave the hostess a meaningful and grateful nod as he and Kiryu ushered Makoto to the door.

“Mama-san, take care of things 'round here.”

“M-Mama-san?!” Youda cried in shock.

“Ah, shit,” Majima muttered, “Forgot to tell him.”

They were out in the street before Youda had any time to build a rant. Kiryu pointed past the nearest corner, stating that someone or something from an organization Majima had never heard of should be waiting nearby. Gripping Makoto's shoulders, he was ready to follow the kid when the back of his neck prickled and he flicked his right eye far enough so he could see down the opposite stretch of street.

Makoto,” he blurted as he swung and shoved her into Kiryu's hold. She blubbered, confused and nearly toppling over.

Sagawa pulled the trigger and Majima froze, feeling the warmth of his blood before he felt the pain explode from his stomach. It took two seconds of him stumbling and stuttering about for Makoto to register what had happened after the gunshot and she split the air with a devastated scream. Majima willed strength into his legs to keep him standing, keep him shielding her as blood pooled in his mouth.

Go!” he shouted, demanded from Kiryu, from both of them. Not so long ago he had urged Yuki to do the same thing and it failed, he had to make sure he didn't fail now, “Go, get out of here, take her and GO!!

No!!!” Makoto screamed, flailing in Kiryu's grasp as he had to lift her up and run. Her screams echoed in the narrow streets even as she disappeared from view. Grimacing, Majima's knees knocked together and he slid to the street, clutching his stomach and trying not to be dizzy as he watched red spill everywhere.

So close.

So fucking close.

He had nearly gotten away.

“Can't believe ya, Majima-chan,” Sagawa kept the gun aimed at him as he approached, “Hiding her away in plain sight as the cops surveyed the area, running from me instead of owning up to what you did...,”

The irony of his hatred towards Oda for doing much the same was not lost on Majima, but, fuck, at least he was trying to save someone instead of kill them. Not that it mattered to Sagawa. He turned his head away from the doors of Club Sunshine, not wanting to see if his employees were watching or not. The gun was trained to his head.

“You are the worst, buddy. But I guess I can't expect much from a guy who got his name erased anyways, even if I wanted to uphold the deal this time.”

Sagawa opened his arms in an incredulous shrug, like he was telling some grandiose fish story instead of threatening a bleeding man on the street, “Look, I can't even make sure you and your blind little whore die together! I guess that's alright, she'll say hi to you eventually, if you two are going to the same place, that is,”

Majima watched the gun in his hand as he slowly moved it back to where it was and added one last thing, “Well, take care,”

Saki roared, wrapping her arms around Sagawa's neck and pulling him down, bending him so far backwards his knees bent out with a pop. Majima stared in shock as she wrestled the old yakuza, fierce eyes glancing up at him then behind him.

Majima-san!” Makoto's voice cried behind him as her blind footsteps stumbled on the uneven pavement. Saki's eyes went from Makoto to Kiryu just behind her, and then she barked again.

“Kiryu-san, take him! Take them both! Now!”

Makoto's hands, guided by Kiryu, found his shoulders and the two of them lifted his gangly body up, even as it twisted as his feet dragged the first few steps. Makoto pressed up against him, so similar, so very fucking similar to when they had just left the bath together, but oh so fucking different. Majima's voice was a slurry of disbelief and winces of pain, struggling to tell them to leave him behind but feeling fire burn in his will to live. Kiryu, probably strong enough to lift them both effortlessly onto his shoulders, guided them through the narrow alleys until they reached the main street, where Majima saw a plain car in his swimming, spotty vision. Next to it stood a man who looked more like a folk tale than human, with an all-grey uniform and some sort of noh mask pushed to the side of his head. The man wasted no time in getting into the drivers seat as Kiryu opened the door and went in first.

Gasping, sputtering, tasting nothing but copper, Majima pushed Makoto forward. Blood coated her hand from where she pressed it into the gunshot wound as they fled. Majima winced, holding on to the edges of the door frame.

Unless they were going to a doctor, or a hospital, or something, he would bleed out and die in her lap. Unless they took a massive, predictable detour to make sure he lived, they'd get out okay. His fingers tightened on the frame.

“Majima-san...?” Makoto asked, fear lacing her voice like she knew. She just knew.

“Kiryu,” he gurgled, nearly choking on his own blood, “If you hurt her, I'll fucking kill you.”

“Majima-san—!”

With the last of his power that he could muster, he slammed the door shut on her words and shouted for the driver to go. Her screams were hardly muffled by the car as she lunged forward, smearing blood on the window. Majima stepped back, heartache ripping him asunder more than the bullet as he watched her cry, cry out for him because he did the one thing everyone else had done to her.

He abandoned her.

The car sped away as Kiryu pulled her back from the door, holding her in a strong embrace so she couldn't do anything risky and stupid. Majima's eye lolled back in his socket as his body twisted, limp as it toppled to the cold, hard ground.

The last of his vision was just a mash of colors in indiscernible shapes and swatches. The last of his hearing was approaching footsteps, and then, finally, before it all went black, another gunshot.

 

Chapter Text

Wary of Shibusawa's men, Kiryu directed their driver to take a detour between Osaka and Kyoto—something Oda couldn't predict. The driver let them off early and they walked several blocks, Makoto's hand tucked into the crook of Kiryu's elbow.

The other hand was coated in Majima's dried blood.

It didn't take long, once the car had left him bleeding on the sidewalk, for Makoto to go from screaming to deathly silent, completely catatonic in Kiryu's too-strong embrace. When he had cautiously unfolded his arms she didn't move, simply staring at her hand as the warmth from Majima's body faded. Though she smeared some of it on the window it was still painted on her in a thick coat, glistening with each passing street lamp and neon sign. He had lost a lot of blood.

Makoto said nothing. Out of respect, so did Kiryu.

Without discussing it beforehand, Kiryu led her into a honeymoon hotel. Three floors down from the penthouse suite and located across the street from a video rental store that certainly didn't offer family-friendly movies, the room pretended to be classier than it actually was. Once inside, Kiryu distanced himself, assuring her that he wasn't making a pass, just keeping them as undercover as possible. The only thing he did was place two items near where she sat on the end of the bed. One, a walking cane. The other, a paper bag full of new clothes. Gifts from the Nikkyo Consortium. At first she didn't touch either, simply marveling at how she could feel the blood on her hand still. By now it was encrusted and could no longer really stain whatever she touched, but she swore it was still damp and running, like she had only just taken her hand away from the gunshot wound.

But, as Kiryu lit a cigarette, standing behind the blinds of the window and staring at the thick blue of the countryside evening, she slipped her clean hand into the bag, finding a note. Written in Braille and only for her. She ran her fingertips over the bumps.

It was a letter from Sera Masaru explaining the details of the Empty Lot, her brother's leadership of the Real Estate Agency that Kiryu's foster father had helped him build, and it spoke highly of Kiryu himself, should she have any reservations about his sincerity. Not much was said of Oda. Near the end of the letter it explained that a blade had been hidden in the cane's hilt, urging her to keep its existence a secret.

Sera ended the letter with one sentence separated from the rest: Majima is not acting as predicted.

Her fingers curled away at the closing formalities and she slipped the letter back in the bag, away from Kiryu's knowledge.

The end of Kiryu's cigarette glowed in between the slats of the blinds, a tiny orange dot in the blue wash of the building. Stars twinkled above, signaling that they were truly out of Osaka's city limits. Tomorrow they'd head for Kyoto, and while the original plan was to take a train Kiryu was having second thoughts, since Oda had been feeding Shibusawa information this whole time. It'd take longer, but a little adjustment to the route seemed like a fair plan. Finding a driver or renting a car, taking a northern path to pass through Nagano instead of the quicker coastline highway...He'd figure it out tomorrow. In the meantime he turned his head as the paper bag rustled, watching as Makoto pulled out new clothes.

Her old ones weren't just stained with Majima's blood—they were rough and threadbare in places that suggested anything but normal wear and tear. Kiryu didn't precisely know what had happened to her in the past few days, but it was obvious that whatever it was, it was violent. He looked away, his brain piecing together what she could've been through without his permission.

She sorted everything out: a new double-breasted coat, a simple heathered shirt, a button-up shirt to layer on top, slacks, and shoes. Kiryu watched, suddenly registering that one of her hands was still—well, it wasn't a deep red anymore, but it was a rich, earthy sort of red. Thick dried blood. Though he had barely known her for a few hours his chest tightened in sympathy. She had practically scratched him off, demanding to go back for the one-eyed man despite the danger. There was no sense of self-preservation when that man had been injured (the back of his mind screamed that there was no self-preservation anymore now) and there was no doubt that she was shaken as a result. Kiryu dropped the hand with the cigarette, offering his other and forgetting she couldn't see him.

“I can help wash the blood off, if you need...,”

Makoto jerked, eyes widening and looking at his direction like he had just suggested to slit her throat. Clasping the bloody hand and protectively drawing it closer to her body, she let her stare speak for her and Kiryu withdrew, shocked. That level of intensity—he hadn't initially thought she could conjure such fire especially when she had seemed so withdrawn and sad. Apologizing and awkwardly wiping his hand on his coat to shake himself of the urge to keep offering help, he took a drag of his cigarette. Ever so slowly she released her bloody hand, cautious like he might grab it and wash the blood off at any moment. He stilled and stared, trying to put together the puzzle he didn't have the pieces to. Damn it. If the one-eyed man could be here, he was sure he'd be able to provide answers, or at least act as an anchor for her.

But he knew that if he was in Majima's position he would've done the same thing.

Kiryu didn't realize what she was doing until she unbuttoned her jacket then her shirt, wordlessly exposing her skin.

“W-Wait, wait,” Kiryu stammered, “I-I'm, not, I'm right here—,”

“I didn't ask,” she rebuked, her voice hollow. Kiryu still tried to locate the toilet or some closet for him to stand in to give her privacy, nigh-frantic, but she didn't slow, her shoulders peaking defensively against the air. Heat rushing to his face, Kiryu turned back to the window.

She continued to undress. It was partially because she was just so totally numb she barely recognized that she was in a room, or a hotel, or in a city, or anywhere anymore, so why the hell would she notice that Kiryu was there? It was also that she had ceased to care—entirely. At this point she had been raped, beaten, destroyed—she had also been cared for and loved, even if it was restricted beyond their control. What more harm could it do if Kiryu took advantage of her, what good would it do if he didn't? It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. She hardly felt her body anymore. It shivered from the chill of the air, but it was more like water rippling by happenstance than feeling herself move.

Hell, she wanted to feel anger, feel angry at Majima for abandoning her and sacrificing himself. But she just couldn't. She just couldn't feel.

To Majima, she had a life worth living, a life worth sacrifice. To her, no life was worth sacrificing, especially not in her place.

Sitting in her bra and panties at the end of the bed, her discarded clothes losing warmth at her feet, she picked up the t-shirt and turned it around in her hands.

“...Kiryu-san,” she asked after a while. He answered with one syllable, turned away from her. She bunched the shirt up, not realizing the strength of her grip, then relaxed her fingers, “I need your help.”

Kiryu turned around, inhaling sharp at seeing her undressed. She handed the shirt out to him, trying to convey what she meant without words, but at his confused silence she opened her mouth.

“I can't tell where the tag is. Or if it's inside out.” It would be odd if it was inside out, to be fair, but the shirt was unfamiliar to her and she didn't want to take any chances. Maybe it was silly to be concerned about it now, but it allowed her control over something. Something.

The unevenness of her lower ribs was lost on Kiryu as he slowly approached and took the shirt form her, adjusting it and struggling to figure out how to tell her what was what. She knew what questions to ask him, but they came out cold, almost curt were it not for how distant she sounded.

“What color is it?” she asked as she slipped her arms in.

“Grey,” Kiryu answered, “Kind of...what do you call it, where the colors look...marbled?”

“Heathering?” she answered as she popped her head through, her short brown hair puffing up around her face for a moment. Kiryu nodded, realized she couldn't see, then answered.

“Yeah.”

“The rest of the clothes?”

“Black...Dark grey, maybe. The button-up is white, though,”

Makoto couldn't decide if the choice of clothes was conspicuous or not, but in a pinch she could easily blend with business workers, she supposed. Kiryu seemed uneasy, answering usually strange questions like that, but she took it to mean he was simply unused to being around a blind person and wasn't taking to it as easily as Majima had. She imagined, too, that Kiryu did not spend as much time with such variety of people as Majima did just by virtue of running cabarets. But his uneasiness came from a place of kindness, she could tell. A will or a want to not step on her toes unwittingly. The respect was there, much as she was numb to it.

Though she had planned to dress more thoroughly, as soon as the unfamiliar shirt was over her head and pulled down to her waist she stopped. Like someone had closed a bubble around her she felt like she was in a trance, and she raised the bloody hand, running her thumb down the heart of her palm and embracing it quietly. Kiryu asked something but she didn't hear it. In the wake of her silence Kiryu moved to the couch, sitting down to finish his cigarette.

When she had asked him what her older brother was like now, the words Kiryu used were not ones she expected. Somehow it was comforting, but more than that it was frightening. Calm, smart, strong? Not her brother, not how she knew him. It was good, in a way. Better than how she had changed, and she wondered if he would think less of her for it. Especially with her pathetic little blind body now—the body that Oda, his sworn brother, gave her.

Everything that Oda had told her to coax her into the cage was a hellish lie. She hated him for it, hated him more than she heard the hate in Majima's voice when the truth came out. The words that Chika had said to her before she and Majima returned and fighting began in the cabaret rang in her mind: It won't happen again. Maybe not. But Makoto was already ruined, and what made it worse now was that she couldn't even feel how ruined she had become. She was an idiot for trusting Oda so willfully, so brightly.

“Was Oda your friend, Kiryu-san?” she asked.

Kiryu contemplated this question for a moment, then answered, “Coworker at best, I suppose.”

“You didn't hesitate to leave him behind...,” Makoto noted. Kiryu made a deep hum in his throat.

“If he would betray everyone and everything to keep an illusion of a relationship with his sworn brother, then even as a punching bag, he would be dangerous.”

Blunt. But true. Makoto wished she could summon a laugh, even if it was just a singular note.

“He pulled a gun on you,” Kiryu continued, “I didn't even know he had it.”

“My brother's sworn brother...,” she mused.

“Hardly,” Kiryu countered, for at this point he wasn't wrong.

“I don't know...,” Makoto frowned, “I try, but I can't find it—I don't know where the anger was that drove my brother to leave, anger that made him act. My brother wasn't strong, but he was angry from how scared he was. I think...my brother found strength in joining the mafia. And If Oda respected him...Perhaps that was the only way. But I don't know how to pull anger from fear, I don't know how to act on it. We were bullied, as children. With our mother as a Japanese woman, nothing was out of bounds. When we would tried to see a movie together, the lights would go down...people would spit on us, over and over until the end of the movie, and my brother and I...we were too scared to move,”

Makoto swallowed hard, waiting for Kiryu to interrupt. He didn't. She swallowed again, then, with her throat in danger of closing up as she spoke, recounted the day he ran away. Recounted the day her mother found her way back into Japan. Recounted how her grandfather couldn't accept them with warmth because they could only speak Chinese.

Recounted her mother's suicide.

Tears, both bitter and sorrowful, welled in her eyes and she gripped her bloody hand, hovering just in front of her lips like she meant to kiss it but couldn't bring herself to. Since then, anyone who cared about her ended up sacrificing themselves to try and help. Her life was, at its most simple, one thing after the other. Neighborhood abuse, the abandonment from her brother, her mother's suicide, her grandfather's coldness, Oda's trickery, Lee's death, Majima's death—the last two all because her grandfather died and left her a plot of land that some yakuza wanted in Kamurocho. Makoto was swept up in tides she couldn't swim out of even with help. She thought of what she confessed to Majima, what felt like eras ago, that she was afraid to bring a child into the world lest she leave it the way her mother left her, and never before had the fear that she would go the same way (children or not) eaten at her like it was now.

Kiryu's response was empathetic, the words of someone who had also felt abandonment on the grandest scale like she had. There had been no reason for him to try and share his thoughts with her in such a personal way, but he did. Offering her the choice to keep going down her road or to sit down and let the road consume her—as it was a choice he had to make constantly as well. All he could do was get her to the starting line.

If all she had was her brother left, if she could undo just one thing from her past, then she would go to Kamurocho. To meet her brother, to ensure that, should Lee and Majima be watching over her, they wouldn't see her stagnate and cry.

Her words may have been decisive in the moment, but that was only because she was borrowing from Kiryu's strength and the hope that her brother was waiting for her. But its hold on her had been flimsy, and once she heard Kiryu turn the lights off after they had prepared for bed, the strength and hope vanished. She laid underneath the covers, swallowed by the bed's size, and stared into her darkness.

I feel that ya don't deserve this. An' fer me, that's enough.

Don't worry, just sittin' next to ya. That's all. I promise.

D'ya think I'd have let ya if I didn't want it, Makoto-han?

I'm smiling.

Majima's Exterminators, removin' grumpy bugs from the bed.

I don't regret you.

A sob, choked by the need to stay quiet in the dark, especially with Kiryu slumbering elsewhere in the room. Pain dug its way out from her chest, spreading to the space behind her eyes and tugging at her jaw. Her hands trembled in front of her, one still covered in the blood, the other she honestly didn't know how clean it was. She couldn't keep it forever; the faint coppery sweet scent would only grow more and more rotten with time. But it was all she had left of him—the only proof she could feel that he had been real and had wanted her. Wanted her safe, wanted her away from all this fucking violence that magnetized towards her. Wanted her, no matter her broken ribs or scarred thighs or traumatized meltdowns. And he didn't pretend they didn't exist, didn't refuse to believe that she was battered, that she needed care catered specifically to her. Of course she could argue that every girl needed that, every person for that matter. But it felt greater when Majima took the time to let her have time—as much as he could give her before the guillotine dropped.

Her body felt hot but everything around it felt cold. It was, somehow, the loneliest feeling in the world. How it could've hit her harder than being locked in the cages, she couldn't pinpoint, but perhaps it had something to do with the fact that she had had it. She had had it in her grasp, had him close and loving and pressed up against her heart and now it was gone. The pain from her chest started to pale in comparison to the pain between her legs and she gasped as tears leaked out of her eyes. She covered her mouth with the hand caked with Majima's blood as her other traveled down her body to her panties.

She hesitated, tugging on the waistband until it clumped in her grasp. Filth started to eke out with the pain, covering her in grime she couldn't wash off. Majima wasn't there to chase it away, wasn't even there to kiss her and wish her well and simply be there in whatever way she needed him to be. The filth continued to spread in his absence, spurred on by the scent of blood. Struggling and weeping and rubbing her legs together in pain did nothing but cause her sorrow. Nothing but memories of him—his thick Kansai accent, the texture of his fingerpads, his tree branch arms, the movements of his mouth against her skin, his careful weight and presence above her, the moment his hair was freed from his ponytail and tickled her, the temporary gifts of his eyepatch to her in their most intimate moments...Gone, gone and only memories now.

Wracked with sobs, Makoto slipped her hand into her panties and trembled at her wetness. Everything hurt and nothing she could do alleviated any of it. The more her mind pleaded for Majima's help the harder she curled into a fetal position, broken ribs jutting out. As for the cigarette burns, she couldn't muster the strength to touch them.

Despite how her tears and snot mixed with his blood, she pressed her face harder into her hand until her fingers clawed at the soft flesh of her cheeks, desperation ruling her until dawn.

 

~~

 

White.

Brilliant, bright white fading into concrete greys splattered with stains old and new. It burned, hurt to look at. No, it wasn't that it hurt to look at. It was that it felt like his stomach was falling out of his body.

A jolt of pain pulled his elbows into his sides, rigid, and he weakly arced against the bed he was on. It took him precisely five seconds after the pain ebbed to remember what had happened.

It took him precisely six seconds more to realize he was awake.

Majima tried to sit up, learning too late that that was the worst idea he had ever had, short of taking mystery drug tests for a stupid ten million yen. Making a noise that was equal parts unflattering as it was predictable he hit an invisible brick wall, halfway folded and trembling from the amount of strength it took just to raise his head from the pillow.

Collapsing back into the bed with a croak, his arms hung limp over the edges as the stains on the concrete ceiling swam next to the bright fluorescent lights. Majima gargled, idly blowing bubbles in his own saliva as his brain tried to push the wheels to turn and remember what the hell had happened.

Sagawa. Gunshot. He had pushed Makoto out of the way, but she had come back for him. And then the car, and then pushing her in so Kiryu could hold her as he—

Makoto.

The force that she slammed her hands against the car window sent a splatter of his own blood across the glass. How horribly fitting that was the last thing in his memory before he fell to the ground. Well, no, the last thing in his memory was a second gunshot. Shouldn't he be dead?

He looked around the room the best he could, restricted by pain and one blinded eye. The second gunshot didn't exactly go off in his ear, but he figured it didn't have to, it was a fucking gunshot. He had heard at least one person walking up to him too, but there was no way in hell he was in a hospital right now. Turning his head to the side confirmed that as he took in as deep of a breath as he could. The air smelled like stale cigarettes and he could vaguely hear murmured conversation and what sounded like clinking tiles. Another bed came into his focus with another person laid across it. At first Majima didn't recognize him, but since he had little else to focus on he kept staring until he realized he did.

It was the Chinese doctor from the mahjong parlor.

It snapped together in his head. All of this wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for him. Makoto wouldn't have been flushed out of hiding so soon, Sagawa wouldn't have caught wind of Majima's insubordination and by proxy Lee would still be alive and—and Yuki wouldn't be in the hospital and Ai wouldn't be devastated and none of the other girls wouldn't have had to stand up for him in the face of mortal danger. And, of course, he wouldn't be on this goddamn bed with a bullet in his belly.

You...,” he growled, fighting against his injury to twist and grasp the edge of the bed, arms trembling and lip curling as he pushed himself up. Though he thought he was speaking, only rasps and snarls came out as he started to rant. Take the money, huh? Sell out to Sagawa, huh? Put everyone's lives in danger, huh? Especially Lee? And you blame it on Lee's philosophy that he handed down fer ya? Can't say ya didn't deserve it, can't say I just...won't...!

No, his body barely let him move, and as if someone put a megaphone to his brain, a voice spoke.

“It wouldn't be wise to push your body so far so fast, Majima.”

With a gasp, Majima pulled himself back onto the bed as spots danced in his vision. Grimacing and groaning, he put a shaking hand to his stomach, finding it bound in fresh bandages. Well. 'Fresh'. Thanks to his movements he saw freckled red dots start to bleed their way through, and with another groan he lowered himself back onto the bed, though in a much more twisted and haphazard position. Spots continued to spark in his vision and he exhaled, body uneven on the bed as he breathed. By definition he passed out, although his eye kept seeing the spots and contrasts swim and spin as his lids fluttered. What seemed like years later he regained himself with the ability to blink most of the spots away. Upon the realization that the position he had passed out in was in fact the worst possible position for recovery (and that no one had righted him) he spat out a long string of obscenities and wails as he ever so slowly attempted to right himself to whatever position was the least painful.

That was when he saw the figure sitting at the foot of his bed.

“Wh...haw...?”

“You have questions, I presume.” The man, with slick peppered hair and a stern, steady gaze answered. He was no one Majima had ever seen before, but he held himself like he was an emperor. The air of benevolence was buried deep within hard and smooth exteriors. In essence, he was intimidating just by the fact that Majima knew nothing about him yet he felt he should know everything. The man simply responded to Majima's contorted face of confusion, and, with a nod, introduced himself.

“I am Sera Masaru, and I assure you, I am not your enemy.”

Hnngh...,” Majima groaned, “How d'ya figure?”

“If I wanted you dead,” Sera calmly explained, “You would be. If I wanted you otherwise, I would've handed you to Sagawa. Or, perhaps, Shimano.”

“Who...the fuck...,” Majima tried to demand Sera's role in all of this, but Sera apparently had so much patience he came off as impatient and continued without waiting for Majima to finish.

“You were one of Shimano's favorites, and then you were erased from the family name. Three years ago...and then you show up in Sotenbori, and somehow you are involved with Makimura Makoto,”

Tchugh...,” Majima lolled his head, pushing his muscles to support him so he could sit up properly as this man drilled into his head. Who the fuck was he to know all of this? Who was he to keep track of all of this? The title of emperor became a terrifying one, because if an emperor simply ruled and delegated he was not so mighty. But if an emperor had knowledge, well, that meant power, and Majima felt his lips curl defensively as he spoke.

“That Sagawa tugged your leash to make his move in on her is easy enough to guess...But, you, risking your life for her? Putting her into hiding?”

Sera made a pause, and it made Majima incredibly uncomfortable that he did not pull out a pack of cigarettes and light one.

“Every faction is operating as I would have expected it. Every single one...Except for you, Majima.”

Haw...?” he breathed, weak.

“All of your actions to keep Makimura Makoto safe don't add up. Could it be that, knowing the girl's worth, you're trying to stake your claim in the race?”

“The hell with her worth,” Majima snapped the best he could, “I don't—,”

“Of course. You don't know what she's worth.”

For some reason that stung and Majima curled his lips further, revealing his bared canine teeth. Even though his muscles were trembling from the effort to keep him sitting up he kept his harsh gaze steady, becoming fed up with this snot-nosed know-it-all handing him speeches like it was medicine.

“Could it be, then, that you are in love with her?” Another pause filled with nothing, not even a tch or a smirk, that made Majima uncomfortable, “Surely not.”

Majima's heart was racing. Sera's last words were said with such...clarity, that if they had been written by a calligrapher the words could be framed in a high-end museum. Anger pumped in his blood, scorned and deep down frightened by Sera's directness.

“The fuck do you know about me?!” he rasped, wincing that his voice had no power to put behind his words. Sera simply stared.

“I expected your resolve to die somewhere along the line. Yet, here we are, days after you hid her away between the dresses of the hostesses at Club Sunshine. Honestly, it could've been an idiotic, disastrous idea. Perhaps your resolve shone through then, if you were willing to put your employees at risk to keep one measly blind girl—one who has worth that you did not know—safe. Either that, or, you must not care about your hostesses, putting them so close to danger.”

The FUCK do you know?!” Majima roared, but as he tried to vault himself over the end of the bed and beat the shit out of Sera for daring to say what he said his body failed, crinkling up and causing him to drop. Shoulders fallen between his knees, Majima twisted his neck awkwardly so his good eye could stare up at Sera, enraged and hungry for violence. Sera had not moved one bit.

“I see,” was all he said. Majima panted, seething through his sharp teeth.

“I am a cautious man,” Sera said after a while, “And though I would like to test your resolve in a much more vigorous matter, I'm afraid your body simply will not take it. However, I cannot allow you to bulldoze forward on some half-baked notion of being her hero. Too much blood has already been spilled, yours included, Majima. And I fear that more will stain the ground before this is over. Should you pursue her, death will surely follow,”

“Dumb fuck,” Majima wheezed and spat, “You can pull all those tabs on what I've done to keep her safe and ya still think I'm gonna kill her after all that bullshit?!”

Sera was unamused, “Do you intend to follow her?”

“You bet your fat cat ass I am...! And I ain't gonna let ya stop me, bullet holes or no!”

“Oh, and what about the company you keep?”

“Haw?”

“Sagawa will kill her the first chance he gets, and you know you won't be able to leave Sotenbori without him far behind.”

Majima fell quiet, infuriated and caged but having no ammo to form a rebuttal. But then, if Sera was so high and mighty and secretive, shouldn't he have something up his sleeve to help, if Makoto was his top priority? Granted he could've done a better job, but having both Kiryu and Majima at Makoto's side should be ideal, shouldn't it, Sagawa be damned?

Oh, but what did it matter, because Sera was fucking right and Majima hated that.

“So, ya want to minimize yer casualties by takin' me outta the game, huh?” Majima was hoarse like he had been screaming for days, “Yanno, if I cut yer tongue out, that'd be spillin' blood without takin' lives, and you're really makin' me consider it here...,”

“If that is what you wish,” Sera simply put out a hand, gesturing to a small table near the foot of the bed, “Then do so.”

Majima followed the length of his arm until he saw that, resting almost peacefully on the table, was his dagger. At this point it was still unused, and the fact that it looked so peaceful seemed a falsehood. Majima grimaced, fingers itching to reach out and grab it, but something was stopping him and he looked back to Sera. He dipped his chin, knowingly.

“Yes, you could do it. But, I am the only one can tell you everything you want to know about Makimura Makoto, the Empty Lot her grandfather willed her, and the real estate agent you left her with—Kiryu Kazuma.”

“H...How long was I out...?” Majima breathed, fire leaving his voice as he suddenly realized he had no fucking clue what day or time it was, or that Sera had honestly told him nothing of value in the past however long he had been flapping his jowls. That was certainly a talent.

“Nearly 24 hours. Shibusawa of the Dojima family picked up Oda from your club not long after I brought you here, and my guess is that there's nothing left of him anymore. Makimura Makoto is approaching Kamurocho, although whether she is there or if she is still en route is something I do not have the leisure of knowing, for her safety.”

“And...ya want me to stay here, for her safety?” Majima's voice was at a whisper, albeit a serious one, as he righted himself until he was sitting up, staring at Sera directly, “Can I trust you?”

The emperor gave another meaningful look at the dagger, “I have every intention of telling you everything else. Can you trust me in return?”

Majima shut his mouth tight, frowning.

“If she gets hurt in Kamurocho...I'll drag you down to the gates of hell myself, by my teeth if I have to.”

“I will protect her with my life, as you already have.”

Majima narrowed his eye, staring down between his loosely crossed legs. The way Sera said it was not meant to dig into his skin, but at the same time he worded it the way he did in order to not-so-subtly tell him that his role was done. He had already done everything he needed to do, and now it was time to let the higher-ups take the reins. Once again Majima had no choice but to bow his head and comply, and though he didn't wholly trust Sera there was no reason for him to bring Majima to the underground hospital behind the mahjong parlor, especially if his part in this was supposedly over.

Therein lied the plan. Lay down in Sagawa's shackles, keep him in Sotenbori and far away from Makoto, while Sera and his company tie everything up in a bow. Formless hate boiled in Majima's stomach, hate born from the feeling that he should be doing more, that he shouldn't just stay like some loyal dumb dog. But, but, but—Sera's voice echoed in his head that it was for her safety. If Sagawa nearly killed them all in one fell swoop with the car bomb then knowingly bringing him within a hundred miles of Makoto was signing her death warrant right next to his.

Alright.

No, it wasn't alright. But he had no choice. Again.

Sera left Majima sitting there on the gurney, staring into nothing. Beside him, the Chinese doctor stirred, prompting him to look over. The old man's eyes opened one after the other due to some sort of muscle issue.

“Ah, it's you,” the man said in his simpler Japanese, “Where is Lee-san?”

Majima tore his gaze away, acid burning at the base of his throat. Though his mind wanted to close his hands around the old man's throat, his arms were weak and the fight had gone from them.

“Don't know.”

With less rest than was probably healthy, Majima adjusted the cleaned jacket and new shirt Sera had left with him and departed, dagger tucked where it usually was. Unused, but there. Head hung low and heart drooping farther and farther into his stomach, he shuffled back out into the streets of Sotenbori. It was cold—cold enough to start snowing, if the sky wanted to. At the very least he could see his frosty breath in wisps. Reminded of his cigarettes, he patted his pockets, finding them tucked next to Makoto's watch. He took a moment to brush his finger along the soft leather strap, trying not to sigh too noticeably as he did so.

Opening the pack revealed the two cigarettes he had left. One had been thoroughly soaked with his blood, the other only had a few specks here and there. Deciding he couldn't be choosy, he lit the speckled one and tried not to think about what he was inhaling.

Shit. He wondered if the girl even knew he was okay.

His heart sank lower and his feet took him in the direction of Club Sunshine. If he couldn't tell Makoto he was alive, he could at least tell them.

The doors were harder to open than he remembered, and it was more than just the gunshot wound that was hurting. He stood in the hallway, some lanky dark specter surveying the cabaret.

The speakers were shot, meaning that no music was playing. Cheap wax paper was propped up in place of the shattered stained glass, no doubt set up by Youda to help get a quote on how much it would be to fix. Though a vacuum had certainly been through the carpet he could still see where beads of glass shone off of the spinning lights. Splinters and scuff marks chaotically marked their trail of disaster, more than Majima realized. A faint smell of alcohol wafted in the air from all the spilled whiskey and wine, and though he spotted lit scented candles they did little to alleviate the curious smell. Standing like a dumbfounded hobo, his eye found the bar.

Youda. Mana. Chika. Hibiki. Ai. And Yuki. They were all there.

But Saki was absent.

Yuki lifted her head to glance over at him first and he nearly burst into tears right there and then. It was just a medical eyepatch on top of a larger patch covering a massive portion of her face, but it was like coming home to a burnt down house. She looked at him with her uncovered eye, her lips wavering like she was trying to smile. He stood straight, waiting for her to make some sort of quip or jab at the both of them being one and the same.

After a minute of silence Majima realized that she wasn't able to speak, lest she disturb her injuries.

Yuki stepped closer, keeping their eye contact as Majima's vision got blurry. She huffed at him, dismissing his emotion, and turned her good cheek to his chest as she wrapped her arms around his waist. He stammered, feeling the first tear fall out and hit the hair on her head despite his best efforts.

“Majima-san...,” Ai tried to smile despite the worry on her face, “Majima-san, she's okay. Just a lot of unsightly swelling, and enough broken bones that it's best she not speak for a while. She's doing her best and...And she will be able to see out of that eye, once it heals up,”

Majima looked up, crying despite her words, and Ai's smile grew warm and genuine on her heart-shaped face. The corners of her eyes twinkled, spurred on by Majima's tears, but she didn't seem to mind as she approached him as well, one arm hooking around Yuki's shoulders while the other wrapped around him. She kissed the side of Yuki's head lovingly before ducking her face down between the two of them.

“You...What...What about all of you?” he choked out, looking to the rest of the hostesses, “Where's...Where's Saki? She never misses a day...,”

Both Ai and Yuki tightened their hold on him and he swore his heart stopped beating. The remaining three hostesses and Youda all looked at each other, not knowing what to say. The silent communication ended when Hibiki dipped her head and nodded, electing herself the one to bear the news since she had the gentlest voice. Sliding away from the bar and gripping her hands too tightly in front of her, she inhaled, shaking, and spoke.

“Majima-san, Saki-chan's been shot.”

He didn't realize he was instinctively holding Ai and Yuki until he tightened his grip on them, forcing them to gasp in shock.

“Wh...What...,” he squeaked.

“That man she wrestled to the ground...he managed to keep hold of his gun and...shot her in the hip.”

“H-Hip?” Majima's voice was nigh unrecognizable to him, “Hip? Or leg?” Leg, meaning thigh. If the bullet shot her in the leg, the arteries, the blood...

“H-Hip,” Hibiki confirmed, stammering herself. If the music had been playing he would've had a hard time hearing her, but thanks to the deathly silence, he heard her swallow and try to compose herself, “Y-Youda called and ambulance as soon as I...As soon as I started screaming. Mana kept us behind the bar, so we were safe but...None of us...none of us saw her get in the ambulance, and...we haven't had the chance to leave...,”

“Leave?” he looked down at Ai and Yuki, who had to have at least been let in at some point, “What d'ya mean, ya can't visit her? Why? What's going on, what happened, girls—,”

He looked up as Hibiki embraced him from the other side of Yuki, her gentle hand careful not to touch the bandaged side of her face. Majima had to adjust, holding Hibiki's shoulders tight.

“Please...,” he asked the remaining hostesses and Youda.

“Sagawa, the man who shot Saki-chan,” Chika's elbow was resting in her hand, allowing her fingernails to prod at her lips in anxiety, “He's more or less kept us hostage here for the past day. His men fetched Ai-chan and Yuki-chan from the hospital, once Yuki-chan was released from surgery. Only one of us can leave for an hour and then come back, and that's only because Hibiki bargained with him so she could make sure her brother was taken care of. Ai-chan had to go, though, because we were afraid Hibiki-chan might faint or grow weak, and if she didn't come back...,”

“My brother...,” Hibiki murmured into Majima, “He was going to start with Yuuta-kun...,”

“And then, move on to the women...,” Chika muttered, “Which he assured he had the men to help him deal with us,”

“Chika-chan...,”

Without looking up, still hugging herself tight, Chika moved to him. Instead of opening her arms, she simply found her spot, nestled near Hibiki, and rested her forehead against his shoulder. He looked down at her, remembering how he expected her night with Makoto to be a disaster and it ended up as anything but.

“Mana...Mama-san,” Majima pleaded, looking up at her, “What were his terms?”

Mana swallowed, trying to carry the strength a general manager should carry, and tried to tell him without any deep emotions, “Call him if you return, and nothing will happen to anyone and business can resume. But if you return, and we don't call him, then...I'm sure you can imagine. He wants the blind girl, too...Makimura Makoto-san...,”

“You haven't called him yet?” he asked. Youda shook his head. Majima turned his gaze to Mana. The tendons on her neck stood out more than they should've and each breath was a little too deep. She was barely holding it together.

“Mana-chan...,” he called to her, prompting her to burst into tears as her face became red and blotchy. Burying it in her hands, she rushed over to him, squeezing herself in on Ai's far side. Of course—make her Mama of the cabaret and her first customer is Sagawa. Majima felt like a rotten pit, and though Mana was a professional and by all means could handle herself once the outburst was over, Majima raised a hand to her hair, kissing her forehead lightly. Shit, he wanted to kiss all their foreheads, as cheesy as that sounded. Gulping, he looked up just in time to see Youda spread his arms as far as he could and wrap around the girls from behind, crying, himself. Shit.

Majima was about to kiss each forehead, but there was a pressing issue at hand. Sagawa was not a patient man, and he knew that there was no way in hell the club wasn't being watched.

“Hey,” his heart broke as he had to break parts of the hug, “Someone, anyone who can, someone...call Sagawa,”

Murmurs of shock and protest rippled through the remaining girls in front of him, and Youda's mouth dropped in fear. Majima shook his head. This was all he had left, and it could very easily become so much worse. Yuki had been lucky. Saki, who could say. As for the rest, their fates were going to be determined by how selfish he wanted to be.

Of course, calling Sagawa meant that the interrogation started and the grim reaper would point at Makoto again. That, he couldn't allow to happen—but...With one girl potentially dead or dying and all the rest in limbo between that or worse...He wouldn't be able to face Makoto if he told her he chose her safety over the safety of the hostesses who never were supposed to be a part of this. Fuck. Shit. He leaned down and buried his face in Yuki's hair, bordered by Ai and Hibiki.

“Please, someone,” he asked, neverminding the fact that he had them all in an embrace he wasn't willing to give up any time soon, “Go call Sagawa.”

“Good call, tiger,” Sagawa congratulated from behind him. His shoulders tensed, becoming blunt spires as he slowly drew himself back up straight, “You wouldn't want anything more to happen to these poor little girls, would ya?”

Majima did not need to look over his shoulder to know that the gun that had already shot him once and then shot Saki was pointed at his back. Releasing the girls, he held his hands up even as Yuki tightened her grip further. He grimaced in anguish down at her. Damn bear. Damn stupid teddy bear. The anguish turned into controlled fury.

“Yuki-chan, it's time to let go,” he calmly told her. Though she protested, Ai only needed to ask her one more time and she released her hold, tears rolling down her cheeks despite the medical patches on her face. All of his employees backed up in fear, all staring at him in varying levels of pain and despair.

“So, Majima-chan,” Sagawa tsked, “I could blow you away in front of all your girls here, and believe you me, you deserve it. But...I have a feeling. A little feeling that a birdie told ya where your blind whore is hiding away,”

“Club Sunshine,” Majima bargained, staring at his girls, “You're to never come back here, not you or your men or nobody,”

“You think you can bargain with me?!” Sagawa laughed in the humorless way he did, and Majima felt the gun dig into his back, “That I only shot one of your girls here was a favor to you! Besides, I need insurance here. You're costing me big time, Majima-chan, I have to make sure this investment is worth it,”

Majima turned his head until he could see the raisin-faced bastard. Narrowing his eye, keeping his hands raised, his voice did not waver.

“Then take me with you. To get Makoto,”

“I told you, no bargains!

“Either you take me with ya or you do not find her, and you'll have to be the one to tell Shimano why ya failed, since I'll be floating down the river by that time, eh?

Sagawa narrowed his eyes, knowing exactly what Majima was getting at but also knowing that he was leaving him with little to no choice.

“Where's the girl, Majima-chan,” he gave a quick flick of the gun, “Or I'll start shootin' your lovely girls here,”

Well, Sera. There was no way Majima was able to hold up his part of the deal now. Again, he was without choice. Seething, Majima sneered on each syllable, “Kamurocho.”

What...,” Sagawa growled.

“You. Heard. Me,” Majima repeated himself, “Ka. Mu. Ro. Cho.”

Again, Sagawa narrowed his eyes, then with a disgusted scoff he spat on the carpets and lowered the gun, “Give yourself a pat on the back, tiger. You win this round. Get one nice long last look at Sotenbori, because it's time to let you out of your cage,”

“What,” Majima couldn't resist the jab into the old yakuza's side, “Too chickenshit to go there alone?”

Sagawa ignored the harsh comment, almost looking rushed and upset, “An Omi Alliance guy like me walking the streets of Tojo territory unannounced when you've earned me unfinished business is gonna stir more shit into our stew than we can deal with. So you're comin' with. You and me, tiger, we'll fox that bitch out and show her what hell looks like,”

That girl already knows what hell looks like, and hell made her blind, Majima growled in his head. Sagawa turned to the doors, jerking his head and egging Majima on.

Majima looked towards his hostesses, at every one of them. Mana the veteran and owner, Ai whom kept her big heart despite everything. Chika the once-romantic who was learning to love women more than men could take her away from them. Hibiki the gently brave. Saki, who was strong enough to live, so he hoped, so he prayed. Yuki, first worst best, apple of his only eye still to this day. And Youda.

It was only a nod towards them. Barely a bow.

Each hostess watched as Majima turned, his tall frame protecting them from Sagawa's line of sight down the front hallway. Washed in golden light until the doors opened, Majima slipped out into the city and didn't look back.

 

~~

 

“Kiryu-san?” Makoto stirred, noting that he was shifting uncomfortably in his seat. His coat was draped over her like a blanket. It smelled like cologne, which was probably appropriate for Kiryu but it didn't smell like Majima whatsoever. Kiryu shifted again.

“We're getting to Kamurocho's limits,” he told her, “I'd keep low, I'll park the car in a garage and we'll make our way to West Park. It's the only place where Dojima's men might not jump us,”

The trip had been long and quiet, with no more than a few sentences exchanged between the two with more than half those sentences being necessary questions like where to grab lunch once they had reached Nagano some time back.

“It's not a fancy place, but I have good ties with the homeless who live there. They can provide cover while Tachibana is coming to pick us up.”

“My brother...,” she whispered to herself, rubbing her washed and cleaned hands together as if she could still feel Majima's blood on them. Flutters in her chest popped like small firecrackers, anxious but excited. She could barely imagine what she would've been feeling had she not been so numb, had all the people who had helped her been in the car with them like some big dysfunctional family road trip.

But it was just her, and Kiryu, and the quiet hum of the car over pavement.

Hunching down into Kiryu's jacket, staying low like he suggested, she murmured into the collar, “I'll see you soon...,”

And then they could finally start over.

 

~~

 

Majima tried resting on the train, but nightmares of Makoto appearing to sit beside him only to end up dead in his lap from Sagawa's smoking gun did more harm than good. Embracing and curling around her in protection seemed to do nothing, no matter how many times the nightmare played over.

He had been through nightmares before, though it had been a while since he had had a new one. Even the old ones still stung, though, and he was poignantly reminded of that the moment he sat down in front of his old boss, Shimano.

Trying to aimlessly wander around Kamurocho while Sagawa holed himself up in a hideout, waiting until Sera or Kiryu or someone pulled him aside out of nowhere to tell him that the deal was over and Makoto was for all intents and purposes, safe, was the only plan Majima had. It would've held out, if Shimano's men hadn't found him first. Men he barely recognized from his days as a punk yakuza and not some erased-name exile toiling in Sotenbori.

The first thing Shimano said to him that really stuck is that there was nothing to be afraid of now. Majima couldn't control himself and cringed, his mind taking him back to his original nightmares; locked in a dungeon with blood pouring from his eye socket while Shimano smirked, refusing to give Majima any information on his sworn brother. That was the first time he had, so it was said, crossed his boss. Now he had more or less done it again by keeping Makoto alive after Shimano had handed down the order to kill her.

Nothing to be afraid of?

Majima couldn't think of a thing he wouldn't be afraid of. Hell, he wouldn't have been surprised if Shimano gestured a hand out for some goons to roll Makoto out strapped to some gurney, ready to be tortured in front of him. He was afraid of anything but nothing.

Sagawa was there, too, pissed that he had to be the one to tell Shimano that Makoto was still alive. But that's when it all became clear, as sharp as broken glass.

Shimano had intended for Majima not to kill her. That's why Majima was chosen for the hit. The big, bald boss smirked the same way he had in the dungeons at him.

“I know ya better than ya know your damn self,” Shimano chastised him, as if he should've known this before his voice oozed honey, “I can just picture it. You get the orders to whack the girl, but ya go hide her away someplace safe instead, right?”

Someplace like Club Sunshine, and all the beaten and horrified hostesses he left behind after bringing the war to them. Majima felt his insides start to shrink, and for the second time within the course of a day he had to sit, complacent, as some head honcho superior talked down on him. Somehow this was worse than earlier, because as Shimano jarred the wheels in his head to start turning Majima started to hear grotesque, mocking laughter in his mind.

“Exactly what I wanted ya to do,” Shimano's chest was puffed out as usual, proud, but not of Majima.

“You serious right now...?” he muttered, the laughter becoming louder as Shimano unfolded his plot further. Any talk of the shitty three square meter Empty Lot worth a billion dollars meant shit to Majima—power struggles in the Tojo Clan, the Empty Lot being the key to becoming the third chairman—who fucking cared? Though it was impressive how it was taking an entire clan of yakuza to pry some title deed from a blind girl's hands, the fact that they were clawing at her like rabid beasts meant that he couldn't give two fucks about why Makoto was the center of all this. At least he understood now why this job was supposed to get him back into the Tojo Clan (so he could wait peacefully for his brother to kill him and take his place once he had clawed his way to the top) but if Shimano wanted her safe why couldn't he just—

“Majima-chan's name was conveniently erased from the roster, so that's why you used him so you wouldn't be found out,” Sagawa put together, “But why send him to kill-but-not-actually-kill Makimura?”

“To earn her trust,” Shimano finally explained, and Majima felt the floor vanish beneath him, “Real trust, not some back door deal cut over a dirty chat.”

No.

“Hah, I'm seeing it now. Love.” Sagawa finished.

No!

“Exactly. From that girl's view, there ain't a man alive she's gonna trust more'n a man sent to kill her but saved her instead,”

Shut up! Shut up!!

Shimano turned to him and Majima realized his arm was trembling though thankfully no one brought it to attention. Still, Shimano was halfway speaking like Majima wasn't there in the first place, “Keep buildin' on that, and eventually she'll do anythin' he tells her to. Including selling me that chunk of land,”

Shut up!!! Shut up!!! SHUT UP!!!

“A woman in love'll do anything for her man, huh? I guess love is as blind as her,”

Majima's brain screamed, a never-ending chorus of 'Shut up!' crashing about like they were tumbling down a staircase, all to the tune of the mocking laughter coming at him from all sides in the form of Shimano and Sagawa's conversation. A conversation they were having without him, because he was a goddamn pawn on the table and they were moving him to the end of the chessboard. Him, along with Makoto, nothing but goddamn pawns knocked about to someone else's plans.

So, everything he had done had been Shimano's doing. Everything he thought he was doing for Makoto, for him, for both of them, had been scripted by someone else. What had he done of his free will, then? What had he done that held any worth—if it was all predetermined and predestined, right down to each and every action, then his words, his instincts, his feelings, weren't worth anything if only because they weren't his to give away. Falling in love meant nothing anymore if all it was was a ploy to bring Makoto into the tiger's mouth. Falling in love meant dogshit if he was just a puppet. Just a fucking clown.

“Majima. You don't gotta kill Makimura Makoto anymore.”

You're a clown!

“Yer new orders're to get her back from Tachibana Real Estate and bring her to me. As an honored guest, mind. I'll buy her land off her for the full billion,”

More orders. More of Shimano's doing. Always the pretty pet, loyal dumb dog, Shimano's favorite. He didn't even have Majima's pinky severed when he was in the dungeons, and Majima was starting to realize why in abject horror. Had this all been pieced together from the start, kept away from Majima's knowledge to play with him, make him think he was doing things on his own?

“You manage that, and you're back in the Tojo Clan. Hell, I'll throw in the girl as a bonus,”

What was left of Majima's heart shriveled and froze. Makoto was less than a pawn, she was just some poker chip pitched in the game to get the pawns moving, passed around for benefit or for pleasure. With this promise, Makoto would go through hell, selling the Empty Lot to get away, only to have Shimano force her into the hands of a newly refurbished yakuza—back into a cage, and it wouldn't matter that Majima was in love with her then. He would be no better than the fucks that locked her up in the first place—no better than Oda. Majima would be free, finally, but not her. It wasn't worth it if only one of them got to be free!

But Sagawa and Shimano didn't care, because she was a goddamn poker chip. And Majima would have no choice in the matter.

Nothing but a goddamn fucking clown!

Majima stared, masking fear behind rage behind disbelief, praying that Shimano didn't notice. Shimano narrowed his eyes, studying him.

“Hey, you ain't sprung on her, are ya? That little minx...,”

Minx if he loved her, stupid floozy if she loved him—and he was a clown no matter where the compass pointed.

He didn't have to kill her. He could get back in the Tojo Clan. All he had to do was hunt Kiryu down through his oath brother Nishikiyama. So long as he didn't screw it up it'd go all according to Shimano's plan. With Majima as his puppet, it was all possible. Happily ever after, hunting and trapping Cinderella and bringing her back to the ball to dance past midnight until her feet bled. Throwing her in another cage, a gilded one. The likes of which Majima knew well.

Sagawa and Shimano dissolved into banter and laughter that all felt cruel one way or the other while Majima grew quieter and quieter and smaller and smaller.

A clown. A goddamn clown.

Everything he had done to save her and get her out was just ensnaring her further than she had been before.

When they finally released him on the streets some time later, he let his feet take him wherever, head hung and direction lost. Bumping into the drunken pachinko patron didn't even register in his head, even after it became clear he had anger management issues. Maybe Majima could've seen the first punch before it landed and he spun until he slammed into the pavement, but it didn't matter. He didn't care. He was just a damn clown, after all.

“I don't really care...,” he spoke past his split lip, barely seeing the punk's face past the blood he had already beaten out of his face, “Do whatever you like.”

So they did.

Face smashed and blood seeping through his clean bandages, Majima lay destitute on the street.

You're a clown, you're a clown, you're nothing but their fucking clown!

It meant that the affection he had felt for her wasn't real. The affection she showed him wasn't real. None of it had any meaning anymore. Pining, aching, taking time to make sure she was okay, protecting, goofing around, telling her secrets...It was all penned beforehand. Neither had any choice in the matter. He was leading her to her death and he didn't have to drive a knife into her to do it. All he had to do was take hold of her hand and lead her away.

He flashed back to the patron he had nearly killed for touching Makoto, flashed back to her pressing his hands against her neck as she put her trust fully in him to not harm her. He thought of the pathetic noises he made as he begged to pull his hands away, begged her to not let him touch her in such a way that he could kill. She trusted him more than he trusted himself—she trusted him enough to follow if he said. Follow to her death. Shimano had made him cultivate this, in an intricate language of touch that only a blind woman and a half-blind man were supposed to know.

At this point Majima was used to this sort of manipulation, sure. But with Makoto pulled in it was like he was scrambling for the way out, if only to have her use it instead of him. Let him sink, so long as she had an escape.

An escape...

So long as he could get her out, he wouldn't care if he was still in a cage, gilded or worse. But first he had to find her, and moping wouldn't get him anywhere. Languishing down the sidewalk, hearing people skitter out of the way of his shambling husk, the disbelief peeled away to reveal the rage, fed by his fear for her life—not just her mortality, but her not being able to live her life to the fullest it could've been until she was the person she should've been. His hands found the base of a street lamp and he gripped the cold metal, using it to push himself to his feet. Coughing, spitting a cocktail of blood, bile, and saliva, he took several minutes until the dizziness from pain finally started to fade. Blood coagulated from his nostrils, thick and oozing, and though he accidentally swallowed it he didn't flinch. The mocking laughter in his mind hushed as he raised his head to the glaring neon of Kamurocho.

Affections for her or not, real or not, predestined or not, he was going to find her. Fuck whatever happened to the Tojo Clan, the Empty Lot, everyone else. No one was going to stop him, no cost was too great. The dagger burned the small of his back, and he started to walk.

“I'll be your damn clown...,” he growled, “I'll be your fucking clown...,”

 

~~

 

Nishikiyama hurried her faster than her feet could follow. She heard him swore, harsh, moments before he broke into a run, making her toes drag on the ground to the grating sound of her cane doing much the same. Makoto wasn't about to complain.

Neither Kiryu nor his sworn brother Nishiki could get ahold of Tachibana, her brother. Rather, Kiryu had seen him, but there had been an interruption—something had happened. Though fear pounded in her heart the combined efforts of Kiryu and Nishiki working beyond any boss's orders, working simply to reunite her with him were enough to keep her grounded.

But the fact that Nishiki had resorted to sprinting, making her feet stumble and scrape, that in it of itself was enough of a metaphor for how fleeting her grip on sanity was becoming.

Nishiki jerked her around several times, cutting sharp corners and following the path of a road that must've been old and obsolete, paved long before the grid networks replaced everything. The wind rushing past her changed in pitch, from open air to narrow alleys that held in the stink of overused heaters from the winter chill. Finally Nishiki slowed, allowing her to get her footing right before a small metal staircase. Her heart thrummed hard in her chest, harder than it had before. Strong, like Kiryu said her brother was, although it wasn't calm nor collected. Nishiki placed his hands on her shoulders, letting her lead down the last of the narrow alleys to the empty lot. The end of her cane had little breadth to travel. Up ahead she heard footsteps, and Nishiki responded.

“Kiryu!”

Heart beating, pounding over the gravity of the silence between the two men, Makoto couldn't contain her question. Her eyesight burned, and though she believed she was imagining it she saw dark shapes, actual shapes in faint light.

“Brother?”

Beside her Nishiki grit his teeth and his hands fell away. Her heart pounded harder, but pain surrounded it, already knowing before her mind had the words to understand. Fear clawed its way out of her throat.

“Where's my brother? Where...are you?”

She stepped forward, her cane raised above the packed dirt in the confidence that she did not have far to go and had few obstacles between her and her brother. Reaching a hand out, she blindly reached out for the formless shape in front of her—yes, it was a shape, but she couldn't tell who or what or how far or—

His hand was still.

Limp. There was still warmth, but it was colder than it should've been. Colder, because the warmth was fading fast. She flinched, then touched his hand again.

Her cane fell onto the packed dirt.

As her hands pawed at his cooling body Kiryu lowered him until he was resting on his knees. Makoto followed, hands traveling up her brothers chest. Blood coated her cleaned hands and she trembled as her fingers slipped on deep, cruel cuts along the tendons and muscles she had come to learn as a massage therapist. Light was coming into her eyes but much as she tried she couldn't focus, couldn't see past the tears brimming along her eyelids. Both Kiryu and Nishiki were silent as her hands tentatively touched Tachibana's face.

Though he was older, though it had been ten years and though she was blind, she could tell it was him. The side of his temple was soft, smashed in, and the rest of his face was swollen and bruised.

But it was him.

It was her older brother.

All this time chasing him, from China to Japan from Kamurocho to Sotenbori to being locked in cages and freed and then back to Kamurocho. From being spit on at the movie theaters together to waking up one morning to find him gone and somehow understanding why even though she resented his abandonment. From Lee's gentle and fathering hands to Majima's love and sacrifice. From the swelling hope and mild fear as Kiryu described him to her to the pounding of her heart as tears flooded down her cheeks—he was the only one she had left.

And she had just missed him.

“I see...,” she wept, whispering into his ear as she embraced him and speaking as if they were the only souls in the Lot, “You're tired...it's been hard, I know....,”

Her breath hitched into the cold silence.

“My big brother...,”

Makoto closed her eyes so the light couldn't enter anymore.

“I'm home.”

 

Chapter Text

Majima wiped saliva off his chin with bruised knuckles. Bruised, but not beaten. Kazama certainly hired good fighters, but his fighters held too much heart.

Far too much.

So. Nishikiyama frequented a bar called Serena, huh. All it took was a little threat with his dagger to dig the left eye out of the captain of the Kazama family, and a kid that looked younger than Kiryu broke.

His face was still a checkerboard of blood and bruises, but that mattered very little to him even though when he swallowed he felt more than saliva going down his throat. The dagger was still bloodless, and part of him wanted (hoped?) it would stay that way. But at the same time he was completely and utterly okay with that not being the case. No cost was too great, not to find her.

Locating Serena, he took note of the ornate but sleek design of the sign and entered the elevator. Unfortunate that there wasn't even a chance for diplomacy in his mind; the bar seemed like it would be too nice to muss up without a guilty conscience. Upon arriving at the door, his guesses were confirmed. The bar's décor was formal enough to be considered classy for a business meeting but also cozy so that people just coming off the street wouldn't feel alienated—so long as they had the money for Kamurocho's expenses. It was tidy and well-kept, and the woman in the sharp red blazer behind the bar greeted him with a voice that more or less embodied a smooth whiskey. When the bottom of the glass hit and the verge of sobbing about life's unfairness was at hand, that voice would be a wonderful substitute for more booze and definitely cushioned barkeep therapy well. Shame about what he was going to do , really.

Majima felt her eyes on him as he swaggered to the couch, wordless. Here, a one-eyed customer, face swollen and beaten to hell, still bleeding in some aspects yet his expression wasn't pained or desperate, and he just sat down on her couch. The apprehension from behind the bar was so thick he wouldn't have to worry about her safety if he flicked his dagger at her. There was a man sitting at the bar, in a flashy sleek suit the color of fresh wine. For now, Majima kept his focus on the mama behind the bar.

“Nice place ya got,” he complimented, long legs in a wide enough berth to establish either dominance or how fucking done he was, whichever got his point across more.

The barkeep answered professionally, but even though her other patron was right in front of her, she didn't take her eyes off of him nor did she offer Majima anything else, “Thank you very much.”

The customer gave a quick but heavy good-bye. Majima's eye dug into his back, but as he got up and started to head for the door he looked at the barkeep, no longer hidden behind her patron, and started speaking so that he could hear him loud and clear.

“Say mama...I heard a guy named Nishikiyama comes around here to get his drink on,” Even though he was almost passing into his blind spot, Majima saw the customer stop cold, “Would ya say he comes often?”

The woman stuttered, and Majima was impressed she managed to not glance at the young man, “Er, yes...,”

The man finally turned to look at him and Majima got to see that yes, he was a goddamn kid like Kiryu. Smoother, not as boulder-like—his fierceness was still budding and it was quiet. The kid made up for it in flashiness, for sure going hard into what it meant to be a yakuza, visually. Vaguely he wondered how many women or persons otherwise the kid bedded between the scenes, if that was of any importance to him. Arrogance bled from him like cologne that could be slapped off. Majima held his stare without hesitation or second thoughts.

“Who are you?” the kid asked like he had business.

“Name's Majima,” he replied, “And you?”

“What if I said I was the guy you were lookin' for?” Nishikiyama answered, careful. Majima licked a glob of drying blood from the corner of his lip, gaze unwavering.

“I'd say you ain't the one I'm really lookin' for. I need to find a girl named Makimura Makoto,”

Majima narrowed his eye as Nishikiyama tensed. He still tried to keep his cool, head slightly cocked in a way that tried to establish his dominance. That meant he had something up his sleeve, more than just the probable location of Makoto. Regardless, Majima needed to play it safe, see if asking nicely would get his poor bruised face anywhere. After all, if Kiryu got her this far, then maybe there was less danger than he feared. Then again, he had no way of knowing until he spoke to her himself.

“She's with a guy from Tachibana Real Estate. Kiryu. All I want is somebody to lead me to him,”

“Majima, you said. Right?” Nishikiyama asked, and, still in the ballpark of playing nice, Majima confirmed so. The kid then launched into a simple assault, never breaking eye contact nor raising his fists, “Before I got my stripes, I remember hearin' about a guy named Majima in the Shimano family,”

Majima's stare turned hard, even though he knew he looked decrepit and weak laid up against the couch. Nishikiyama took his cold silence as a free ticket to keep going instead of a deathly warning.

“I hear he screwed up so royally, they carved out an eye and erased him. Does that mean you're back in the Tojo Clan, Majima-san?”

Majima lifted his head, voice grating despite its quietness, “Not yet.”

“Uh-huh,” Nishikiyama curled his shoulders like he had a predatory advantage and he moved to stand directly in front of Majima, blocking his view of the barkeep, “One other thing. Eyepatch or not, you don't fool me,”

“Hmm?”

“Kiryu said he met you, in Sotenbori. He said you were fatally shot, trying to get Makimura out of there. So, then, if you're dead, then why are you after her?!”

Well. No use arguing with a brazen idiot. Besides, the longer he argued his identity the longer he didn't know where Makoto was. He could lift the eyepatch, prove it in one motion, but goddamn nobody was allowed a peek there. He'd sooner flash his dick out and piss on the table, staring them straight in the eyes. Which would prove something, but not exactly what he needed when it came to his identity. Fighting the kid would mean he wouldn't have to prove it either way. Sworn brother or not, everyone had a breaking point. Toss the kid around, poke at some learned weaknesses, or even just send him bruised and crying to Kiryu—something would flush Makoto out of Kamurocho's streets.

And he'd have fun doing it, too.

Shame about the bar. Really.

“If I said it was to protect her,” Majima ignored Nishikiyama's grander accusations as he stood up and stalked his way to face the kid, taller than he was by default and becoming even moreso as Nishikiyama hunched his shoulders in apprehension, “Would ya believe me?”

What,” Nishikiyama said, but instead of answering Majima pressed again.

“Where's yer brother at?” Majima's voice was a dangerous, low hiss, venom mixing with the blood dripping from his lip. Much as Kiryu seemed he wasn't going to harm the girl, it didn't matter to him. He wanted her untouched and he wanted her now, “Where's he got Makimura Makoto hidden?”

Nishikiyama wasn't trying to be discreet, but he was definitely trying to fake Majima out into mistiming a retaliation as he slowly brought his hand to dip behind the lapel of his jacket. Majima exhaled, relaxing his body and waited until the kid jerked before he lashed out, swatting the pistol from Nishikiyama's hands without pomp and circumstance. The pistol clattered and skid underneath the couch where Majima had just been sitting, and the barkeep jumped. It was hard to tell if she was chastising Nishikiyama or worried at the escalating standoff.

“You can't beat me, kid,” Majima warned. Not being able to back down, which was almost adorable in how brash it was, Kiryu's brother bit back.

“Don't make me laugh. What could you even begin to know about me?”

“If what I just did told ya nothin',” Majima rebuked, “Then that's why ya don't got a chance.”

“You got something else to learn about me. I don't know what you see me as, but I'd die before I sold out my sworn brother!”

Cute. Reminded him of the good old days when it was so easy to pledge things like that about Saejima and Saejima back to him. There was a lot, a whole fuckton of lot, that this kid had yet to learn about how much the world fucking cared about his oaths to his brother.

“I see. That how this goes down, then?”

“Kiryu says you're pretty tough,” Nishikiyama started lowering into a stance, “Depends on if you're really him or not. All the same, I'm not backing down! Reina, stand back!!

Majima's still expression remained until he crouched into his own fighting stance. As his hand passed in front of his face the corner of his mouth raised in a smirk. Nishikiyama had long, lithe limbs—sleeker than Majima's gangly strength. It wasn't hard to guess that the first thing he would do was kick. Dodging, Majima taught the kid a quick lesson with sharp jabs. More than once Nishikiyama recoiled as Majima's fingers shot into the tendons of his joints. Immediately learning that Majima was no pushover, he started blocking and ducking behind his arms, protecting his ribs and joints. Good. Majima paused, drawing away just long enough for Nishikiyama to peek over his defense in confusion.

Majima threw an uppercut below his vision and jabbed at his eyes, earning him a searing yelp of pain as Nishikiyama buried his face in his hands and turned away. Smirk becoming a lopsided grin, Majima dropped to the floor and swept low, striking the tendons of the kid's ankles and causing him to buckle and topple to the floor.

“Nishiki—!!” The barkeep, Reina, cried as Majima grabbed both his shins and tugged, scraping him along the floor before leaping onto Nishikiyama's stomach. Digging his knees into the crooks of the kid's elbows, Majima buried his nails into the silky hair on Nishikiyama's head to keep his face in place as he started punching.

Nishikiyama-kun!!” Reina screamed as saliva followed a chaotic trail from knuckles to mouth, soon replaced with blood.

“Howzzat, Nishikiyama-kun,” Majima mocked between punches to ensure the kid heard him, “Am I makin' ya laugh yet? Am I yer goddamn clown yet?!”

Nishikiyama made a horrid cry in between punches, almost like he had only just successfully managed to speak past a clot of blood sliding down his throat.

Hawww,” Majima panted, eye wild and smirk twitching ever higher on his face, “I can make this easy on ya, y'know. Don't even have to give up yer sworn brother. Just give up the girl, and I'll let ya go scot-free. Scotch free? Eh,”

As if summoned by his pun, Reina pushed her stomach over the bar to fling a glass straight down on the square of his back. Somehow it didn't shatter, which lent to the quality of glasses she stocked her bar with. Majima grunted when it rolled off his shoulders, hand still buried in Nishikiyama's hair as he turned his good eye up. Reina inhaled sharply and withdrew, but she had bought Nishikiyama enough time to wrap an arm around Majima's leg to pinch the back of his knee. He gave a high-pitched yelp that simmered into a hiss and pulled back, away from the kid and the bar.

Of course. The girls at Club Sunshine were his backup, why should he expect anything different if this guy was in good with the barkeep—hell, maybe she was one of the girls he bedded every now and then. Majima tsked, it was possible. The idea stayed buried in the back of his mind as the kid got to his feet, cupping his sharp, now broken nose. Growling past the pain, Nishikiyama tried taunting him with a bloody mouth and cocky words.

Another tsk. Majima swung down onto the floor, catching the edge of the glass with his foot and giving it a light kick, popping it into the air so he could snatch it and throw it at the kid. He ducked. Majima rushed but the move was anticipated and Nishikiyama simply helped him crash into the bar. Reina inhaled, recoiling. Dazed, Majima only just barely noticed movement on the edges of his vision and looked up.

Reina had wound up, eyes shut tight with an empty bottle in her hands. She probably thought she was imitating a baseball player, and she was. Albeit incredibly poorly. Majima ducked his head, raising his arm just in time to take the force of the blow.

Much as Reina could control the quality of her glasses she couldn't control the quality of the bottles themselves, and with the force she swung with matched with the hardness of Majima's bones the bottle shattered. Being on his blind side, he didn't flinch and simply gave the girl a devilish smirk as she swore in fear.

“Nice swing,”

Gurrgh,” Nishikiyama huffed, drawing his attention away from Reina, “You're not half-bad, but I still don't believe you're him,”

“If I am, if I'm not, it doesn't matter, I still want the girl,” Majima brushed a hand along his hair, plucking a shard of glass out and flicking it away. Nishikiyama spat sarcastically as Majima leisurely stepped closer, hands twitching to punch him into the ground again. The kid's eyes sparked and he threw a high punch. Majima blocked it, almost bored as he closed his hand around the kid's fist. He was about to demand Kiryu's whereabouts again when Nishikiyama gave a bloody smirk and jabbed low, right into Majima's stomach.

Exploding stars. Pain. Gargled scream followed by being kicked to the floor. Majima writhed as specks of blood seeped through to his shirt around the imprint of Nishikiyama's fist.

“As it so happens, it matters a whole shitload who you are and who you're not, if you want that girl,” Nishikiyama gingerly brushed the underside of his nose, only serving to smudge blood along his cheek, “But, I guess it seems you were shot, recently,”

Majima responded with some sort of scorned wail of rage, struggling to get his footing back while inching himself away from the kid as tears of pain sprung to the corners of his eyes. Gritting his teeth, a million billion curses blew up in his head and played along his quivering lips. Everyone was just damn lucky he was in too much pain to speak properly, or the really nasty shit that he wouldn't even say when absolutely shitfaced would come out.

“If I could beat you, though, maybe you're not as tough as Kiryu said, huh?”

I hope a ghost girl sucks yer guts outta yer cock you flashy fuckstain,” Majima snarled to Reina's gasp and Nishikiyama's horrified eyes.

Well.

So much for keeping that bottled up.

Reina fussed around the counters, and then, calling out to Nishikiyama, she tossed a drink overhead. Majima fixed his eye on it, realizing it was an energizing Staminan. It couldn't heal everything, but it'd give the kid a boost that he could use instead. Using a trick he had learned over years of fistfights he shoved his pain down and scrambled to his feet. Nishikiyama was too distracted to notice Majima until he had shoulder-checked him to the floor. Catching the drink out of the air like it was meant for him, he guzzled it and threw the bottle to the floor, rasping.

“Much fuckin' obliged,” he thanked the barkeep as Nishikiyama stuttered, miffed. Whether by placebo effect or actual medicinal properties from the drink, Majima felt revitalized. The kid had crashed just beyond the karaoke machine. Remembering Ai's interference, Majima hunched his shoulders and advanced, pulling a microphone from the machine. He couldn't exactly sing and fight at the same time, but Nishikiyama's wild confusion was amusing enough to see, especially when Majima lunged like he was gonna strike the underside of his chin with the microphone. The kid ducked and the microphone sailed out of his hands. Nishikiyama smirked, opened his mouth to taunt Majima for being so blind he missed the target two feet in front of him, then microphone crashed into chandelier above him. Shattered glass and sparks rained down as the chandelier swung dangerously and Nishikiyama flinched, raw, animal reactions without emotion or thought. That was what Majima wanted.

He landed a solid kick into Nishikiyama's ribs. The kid slammed into the wall and fell face-first to the floor. Majima watched as he struggled to pull himself up onto his hands and knees, coughing and dripping blood as the chandelier swung and cast wild shadows on his sleek suit. Gargling and seething in pain as his ribs made unpleasant sounds once he tried to stretch himself back out, Nishikiyama swore and struggled to stand.

That's enough!” Reina rushed to Nishikiyama's side, helping him to pull out of the danger of the chandelier should it fall. Majima simply stood and stared, not so different than the night he had choked his own patron unconscious. Reina looked up at him, desperate, scared, and pleading. He sniffed. His breaths were labored only due to the exploited weakness—had it not been for that Majima would not have broken a sweat.

“If you're done swingin' then start talkin', Nishikiyama,” Encroaching on them despite the fact that one was just the barkeep, Majima sneered, “Where's Kiryu?

Nishikiyama gargled and didn't say anything, face pulled tight in pain. Closing his fists tight, Majima was ready to yank at Nishikiyama's hair and start beating again.

“Wait,” Reina interrupted, keeping her stare steady on Majima even though her whiskey-smooth voice wavered in worry, “You're searching for Makimura Makoto, aren't you?”

“Huh?” Majima turned his focus to her. It wasn't like she had been any less fierce than his Sunshine girls. For the first time he stared at her, closeup. She was dressed smart but warm, and she held herself like she could run a speakeasy without missing a beat. Hell, she probably did. Someone who skimmed along the underground but never got herself muddied with all its shit.

Stop, Reina!” Nishikiyama forced out, but it was too late.

“She's...She's gone. Disappeared,” her face cringed in sympathy along with her voice, “Kiryu-san doesn't know where she is either,”

“Wait, what the fuck...The hell happened?!” Majima demanded.

“Nishikiyama-kun is looking for her now, too,” she bargained his safety, “He came here to see if I'd heard anything,”

Yeah, this lady definitely runs a speakeasy, Majima convinced himself as he finally turned back to Nishikiyama, “That the truth?”

He panted, but, eying the blood spots on Majima's shirt, finally gave in with a sigh, “It happened maybe three hours ago. Right after her brother was killed, she—,”

What.

Majima's eye clouded over. What?!

Makoto had run away from home searching for her brother. Makoto had lost her sight and everything precious to her self-worth searching for her brother. Kiryu had come crashing into his club with the fuckwad that had ruined her, promising her he'd take her to her brother. Majima had nearly bled out on the street entrusting her to Kiryu so she could meet her brother and finally be fucking safe.

He remembered glancing over at her once Oda told her that he was alive and searching for her like she had been for him. The whites of her eyes bordered her irises all around, and her hands had buried themselves into her soft hair. Though he couldn't hear her at the time he saw how shallow her breaths were from the weak and rapid rise and fall of her shoulders. There hadn't been time for him to console her and ask her more, endless questions about her brother in anticipation of their reunion. There hadn't been time to partake in her actually finding him after so goddamn long.

And now he was killed. And if he was hearing Nishikiyama right, Makoto had been there to witness—rather, feel it happen. Like she had felt it happen when the bullet tore through Majima's belly.

He couldn't bear to imagine what that had done to her, but his mind did it for him anyways.

Majima snapped and lunged with a savage howl, rage overtaking like killing Nishikiyama could rewind time and fix everything. Red flooded his vision and Reina screamed.

Stop!!!

Her scream was swallowed by Majima's body as he barreled into her, almost slamming her against the floor. Only Nishikiyama's presence stopped it, even though Majima could have had he minded her as someone who wasn't in his way. It was stupid of her to throw herself in between the two men, but the act brought Majima to a saner plane. He didn't want to strike her, after all, and he withdrew, a low growl becoming constant in his chest.

When. How. Where. All the questions burned with each rolling growl, but none came out in any proper language. Fortunately Nishikiyama seemed to have fully given in, and started coughing up details. Reina kept her place between them. Suddenly Majima felt that information was the only thing he wanted from anyone. Even though multiple people scouring Kamurocho for one girl would mean that it'd take a lot less time to find her, there was no reason in his mind, now or otherwise, to have her near anyone else but him. Kiryu and Nishikiyama would only bring the slaughter to her. Even if she trusted them, there was—Majima was sure of it—there was no way in hell she trusted them more than she trusted him.

“If I move,” Reina asked, “To call Kiryu for you...will you not attack Nishikiyama-kun?” Hm. Helpful, but not exactly what Majima was looking for. He needed a way to get these sworn brothers out of the playing field.

Reina...,” Nishikiyama pleaded.

The corners of Majima's mouth twitched a little, “Oh? Ya got a lady-boner fer him or somethin'?”

“U-Uh, n...no,”

Smirking, he threw a pot-shot at Nishikiyama behind her, “What, he ain't man enough for ya?”

Reina stammered. Majima tilted his head. Wait a minute.

There was something off about the way she started with shock. Nishikiyama had the amount of embarrassment he would expect from a young kid who could only pride the casanova lifestyle until it was called out, but Reina was a little, well. Flustered was the wrong word for it. It was like Majima had stated something completely bonkers as a fact—like, insisting that grass was purple instead of green. She regained herself and politely declined again, but Majima stared, narrowing his eye as he made calculated deductions. A flash of fear crossing her face only confirmed it.

He couldn't say he saw Ai and Yuki dating before it actually happened (and for as long as it took him to realize they were dating, it was justified that he never brought it out in the open) but once it did, once the other girls accepted it with open arms, he became fairly aware of it. Not as though he was walking on eggshells, but simply enough to consider the possibility outside of just them.

“Th-That's not it,” Reina continued to answer, an unwise idea for a speakeasy barkeep unless he had blindsided her, “I just...like someone else,”

“True to yourself, huh,” he complimented, the words layered in far too much honey, “Good fer you,” Reina squirmed, uncomfortable.

“Hey, lay off her,” Nishikiyama grunted, “If you really wanna protect Makimura, then you gotta help us find her!”

“Help?” Majima darkened, “I'm goin' to kill ya.”

“Wh-What,” Nishikiyama stuttered and Reina threw her arms back as if that would protect him more.

“Mm, maybe not you, specifically,” a lilt crept its way into his voice, “But I told Kiryu I'd kill him if he hurt her, and here we are,”

“Kiryu didn't lay a hand on her!” Nishikiyama shouted, “Neither of us did! She was under our protection until she wandered off on her own!”

Majima took another few steps forward, “And. What was it that made her do that?”

“We went in to save him,” Nishikiyama hissed, “He was being tortured by Kuze, a Dojima lieutenant, and we were too late! I was there!

“Shame,” Majima kept on, “For all yer efforts, she ended up getting hurt, anyways,”

“Like you're one to talk,” Nishikiyama seethed. A sneer crept along Majima's lips and before either of them could react he stomped on Nishikiyama's foot. He screamed, trying to shake Majima off, but he only dug his heel in farther.

Reina tried to pry his foot off, but upon realizing he wouldn't budge she frowned, stood up, and smacked him clean across the face. Majima stilled, head thrown back from the blow as Nishikiyama managed to worm his way out. Bringing his face slowly back in line, he stared hard at the barkeep who definitely realized her mistake but couldn't be arsed to back down.

It was a cruel idea, but it'd get him to where he wanted, and he had set the stage up for it anyway. Majima grabbed hold of her lapels and swung her around, clamping a hand on her mouth and moving back to the bar as Nishikiyama yelled and struggled to stand.

“How's this, Nishikiyama-kun,” he bargained over his protests as Reina struggled, “Ya go and find Kiryu, bring 'em back here. Hell, I won't even kill 'im on sight, just wanna sit and have a little chat. Figure out what to do, y'know?”

“You're fucking insane! He's the only one looking for Makimura right now!” Nishikiyama tried to bargain though he was panting and spent, “If I bring him here, then no one...and she'll...,”

“Better hurry then, huh?” Majima swung Reina's head back and forth, asserting control before he forced her to nod in agreement, “I mean, I got yer girl, now go get Kiryu so we can talk about mine.”

Reina...,”

Majima jerked his chin up and enunciated the tick tock of a clock. Nishikiyama swore, struggled to his feet, then limped to the door.

“Hang in there Reina, don't do anything stupid...! Kiryu and I will be back!”

“Lookin' forward to it, kid,” Majima called as he pushed out of the bar.

No sooner had he heard the elevator ding and descend did he let Reina go, putting the bar between them and sighing. Reina was smart and stayed quiet, staring at him with her limbs withdrawn. Majima grumbled and fished his cigarette pack out only to find out that he had forgotten that his last cig was coated in blood.

“Fuck,” he frowned, tapping the now-brown, wrinkled stick out onto the bar's counter, “Shoulda shook him down for some smokes, too,” Scoffing and tossing the empty, bloodstained cardboard onto the counter next to the cig, he then fished for his money.

Reina watched as he brought out a wad of cash, counting it, re-counting, then adding more. He then slapped the stack on the counter and pushed it towards her.

“What...is this...,” she asked, wary and though she was dressed modestly he noticed she clutched her lapels a little tighter together. Majima's stare wasn't helping things, either, but he didn't care enough to change it.

“I need ya to keep them here,”

“What...?”

“Kiryu. And Nishikiyama. When they come back I need ya to keep them here as long as possible. Make some shit up, I don't care,”

“What...do you mean?”

“I need Makimura Makoto alone. And I need to find her, more than those musclehead bozos. Keep 'em here while I go searchin'.”

Reina still held her jacket tight, staring at him and trying to discern his intentions. Somehow Majima wasn't insulted and he sighed again, hands fidgeting like he did have a functioning cigarette.

“You're just...going to leave me here and believe that I'll keep my word and do what you want? How am I supposed to know you won't hurt the girl when you find her?”

Majima hummed, and Reina continued, backed up against the far wall. Not necessarily cornered, but definitely attacked, “That girl is in danger. What will you do with her when you find her?”

“Hey, you got a good girlfriend?” he deflected. Reina paled, her teeth involuntarily baring in fear.

“I d-don't.”

“Well, she probably trusts ya a lot, then,” Majima sniffed, making Reina tremble.

“Th-That's a bold assumption,” Reina flared, anger leaking into her voice as her shoulders broadened. Majima gave her a look that told her that her face was like a book, which only served to make her angrier, which only lent to how easily she could be read. Anger mixed with her fear and she tried to will herself to back down and asked, the whiskey-smooth voice squeaking, “Are you...threatening...,”

“Fuck's sake, I don't give a shit,” he scoffed, “I didn't let yer skeleton outta the closet in front of that smitten Nishikiyama guy, did I?”

Reina was quiet, confused and not knowing how to respond. Using his tongue to clean his teeth even though there was more blood to replace what he cleaned, Majima leaned against the counter, using his height to look over until he found a receipt pad.

“Look, I'm outta time,” he reached for the pad and a pen. Reina watched his every move as he scribbled on the paper, “But I ain't after ya or yer girlfriend or whoever. All I'm sayin' that, if yer makin' a decision on whether or not to help me out—I may be an ass, but I ain't gonna endanger ya unnecessarily,”

He slid the receipt pad towards her, past the stack of money. Reina craned her neck, trying to discern the scribblings from afar. A simple phone number and a name that was scratched out and replaced. She looked back up at Majima, who had straightened his jacket and was preparing to leave. When he stepped back from the bar she stepped forward. The number wasn't even in Tokyo's area. Was this some sort of joke?

“Ain't sayin' I'm trustworthy, but if ya want some consolation, call 'em. See ya,”

“Sir,” Reina called after him as he reached the door, then looked down at the stack of bills, “Your money.”

“Keep it,” Majima shrugged, an edge of sadness in his voice that he didn't authorize. Reina asked one last question.

“Why do you want to find her alone?”

Again, he deflected.

“Were ya relieved I didn't blow yer cover in front of Nishikiyama?”

Reina clutched her hand, and, under her breath so softly that Majima barely didn't hear it, she answered, “Yes.”

Majima made a noise, giving her a nod of consolidation, and left. Reina's hands found the phone faster than she could think and she dialed a number she knew by heart, shaken and huddled against her bar.

Her girlfriend answered, and, upon hearing her voice Reina nearly burst into tears. She had to make this fast, just in case the one-eyed man was still listening in. All she could do, once she knew they were both safe for the moment, was urge her girlfriend to be on the lookout for the one-eyed man, to trust no strangers, and to stay as safe as possible for as long as it took. No chances. Then with a weak good-bye she hung up, hands still shaking as she looked at the sizable stack of money.

It was silent in the bar.

Reina's eyes wandered to the receipt pad. In the anticipation of Nishikiyama returning with Kiryu to save her, in the dilemma of what the one-eyed man had asked of her to do, she had nothing to actually do but wait.

She picked up the phone and dialed the number, blinking in shock when a man answered for a cabaret club in Osaka. Unexpectedly flustered, it took her a moment to respond.

“Ah, hello, I uh...Got a recommendation to speak to...Ai-san?”

 

~~

 

Majima glanced around at the decrepit buildings. Just three years ago, back when he was free to move about as he pleased, this place was full of several small shops and kiosks, choking the old streets until it was claustrophobic. Not surprisingly it had also been a breeding ground for young pickpockets, depending on what time of day it was. Now it was a ghost town, with only the odd homeless or sketchy dealer hanging about. Gates were shut over the entrances to shops and restaurants alike, and old newspapers were stamped to the wet pavement by feet that had likely walked by days ago. Tojo Clan had really torn this place to shreds. Only a few businesses remained viable, and even then they looked ready to close up and move.

It was in the place Shimano had said the Empty Lot had been sandwiched. Majima looked, finding only several tight alleys that could barely hold a cat much less three square meters of dirt. He didn't know exactly why he thought heading to the Empty Lot was a good idea; maybe he just wanted to see what was all the fuss, what was causing the entire Tojo Clan to fail to get the title deed from a goddamn blind girl. Thus far, the search for Makoto had turned up nothing, although that was more because Majima kept ruling out areas he felt weren't a place for her to go. Seeing her brother die, causing her to shut down—there weren't many places she'd want to be, blind or not.

Fuck. His stunt back at Serena was really gonna come back to bite his whole ass off if he failed to find her.

A rickety, abused metal staircase jutted out from between two abandoned shops. Majima noted the huddled mass of a homeless man next to it, either not shivering because he was warm enough or he was too dead to do so. Ominous. Beyond the staircase was an alley with bright lights at the end, also ominous. A sick feeling started to eat away at his gut, like spirits nattering in his ear. Maybe it was the nearly-dead hobo. Maybe it was just the cold. Maybe it was just the realization that he had found the Empty Lot, knowing what had happened there. He passed beneath the metal beams that came too uncomfortably close to the top of his head and stepped out into the three square meter plot.

What a shit patch of dirt. Broken glass, PVC pipes, barely functioning ventilation outlets, and weeds struggling to grow in the packed ground. Tucked in the corner was some unnameable mass covered by a filthy tarp. He couldn't say it smelled, but that was probably due to the chill in the air rather than the lack of stench. On what fucking planet was this worth a billion yen—on what fucking planet was this worth threatening and badgering a blind girl?

His eye followed the mounds of trash up the buildings that were eerily quiet and dark apart from city lighting, drawn to movement on some rooftop stacked above the Lot.

Someone stood at the rooftop railing.

With the abandoned nature of the district, Majima focused on the dark figure. A woman, standing listlessly, staring out but not really staring, with short hair.

It had to be.

She might jump. She might jump, it had to be.

Majima jerked, dancing on his feet and looking around him. None of the doors would lead up to the roof. Urging his brain to think and think hard, he dashed out of the Lot and back down the stairs, racing down the cobbled streets until he found another alley slightly wider than others. A red sign advertising rooftop access greeted him at the end and he dove in, racing up the concrete stairwell as his breaths mingled with the echoes of his steps.

What if I'm prone to what my mother did?

Don't jump, Majima pleaded in response as he took the stairs two, three at a time, don't you dare jump!!

He burst through the door, heaving, barely able to speak. The girl didn't turn around and face him, didn't even seem to flinch. What if he had gotten it wrong? She certainly looked like Makoto from the back, but even so, he wasn't close; he couldn't catch the scent of her hair or put his hands at her waist, feeling the imperfections of her ribs beneath her clothes. He couldn't dare get close unless he knew for sure, either.

“You're...,” he panted, “Makoto, right?”

She didn't move.

“What're ya doin' up here?”

Silence.

“...Makoto?”

She turned, first her head then her body. Majima's chest froze and caved in. It was her. Dressed in dark colors, clutching a new cane. He had always thought that her eyes looked like she was on the verge of crying all the time and had come to accept that as just simply what her face looked like. It still sort of looked like that now, but there was something different. Hardened. Shut down. There was something else, something that took his caved in chest and compressed it further and spat it back out at him. Even at the distance they were at, he could feel it, recognize it. It was foreign, foreign and weird and somehow unwanted like an unsettling dream.

“Are you...really there?” her voice was soft, distant, and without depth.

Before he could realize what it was that unsettled him, she turned to look down at the Lot beneath her.

“Or...did I already...,”

“N-No,” Majima started, taking a step which somehow seemed to be a punishable offense, “No, you didn't jump, I'm here, fer sure, I made it somehow, Sagawa's a shit shot,”

She didn't look back and Majima heard his reasons dwindle down to a simple, desperate please. He watched her feet and hands, ready to leap forward at a moment's notice but feeling the invisible wall between them all the same.

Finally, Makoto turned back to him and away from the edge of the roof. The dream-like queasiness struck him again. Wanting to recoil but knowing that it'd serve nothing, he stared and stared hard.

She was looking at him.

Looking at him. Not past him, not in any other direction but his face.

“Wait...Can you see?

Makoto stood, her hands closed in weak fists like she was barely holding it together. Though she was focused on his face she seemed as though she wasn't fully convinced he was there. Majima wanted to step forward again but something kept him back.

“Just enough to walk around town,” she answered, much to his gratitude and bewilderment, “I can see that you're standing there,”

Her mouth slowly closed and she blinked, staring at him, “You are there, right?”

“'Course...,” he tried to sound casual, like the last he had seen of her wasn't her spattering his blood on a car window, “Why'd I be anywhere else?”

“Majima-san...,” she lifted her hands to the sides of her head as tears leaked out and she curled over. Majima swallowed and took a few steps forward, still a respectable distance to her. Her eyes looked up at his approach, filling him with that uneasiness now that she had some sense of sight. Funny, that. People looked at him all the time—children stared at him, in ways that would be rude were they not so young. He had been slightly unnerved by her blind gaze before, flying right past him and not even remotely looking in the right spot. He never thought it'd be much more uncomfortable to have her gaze at him than the other way around. Still, there was some disconnect, and for reasons he wanted to slap himself for he found comfort in that. She could tell where his head was, but her eyes wavered, only guessing where his were.

It felt like it had been several hundred years since they had seen each other last. Tears continued to leak out, but, disturbingly, her face didn't contort or weep along with them. Notably only her face reddened, contoured by the glistening reflections the tears made in the harsh artificial light. It wasn't so much that he expected a happy reunion, but this was far, far from okay.

“Are...you really...,” she asked again, one of her hands reaching out to touch the dark silhouette in her vision. Majima hesitated—why, he didn't know—but then he gently took her hand in his, dwarfing her. His hand was warm in comparison to hers, and he tried to think about it in a biological manner, not that there might've still been blood rushing to his fists from all of the brawls he had started in the past few hours.

“I am,” he answered, too afraid to embrace her lest she shatter, “See?”

“I-I can't...,” she murmured, disturbed and pushing her hand forward and higher until it hovered just in front of his nose, “I can't...see your face...,”

Majima said nothing as he bent his head down just enough until her fingers lightly brushed his cheeks. She started to roam but very quickly pulled away, hesitating with an inhale that bred fear and disbelief.

“Just some fistfights,” he murmured back to her, realizing it was the blood and bruising she felt, “I'm okay. Alive,”

Her eyes were wide, but her other hand crept forward, also hesitating before she could place it on his chest. Majima didn't dare move, even as one of her hands brushed a little too harshly against his eyepatch while the other held the hilt of her cane and searched low for where she remembered him being shot. Meek sounds left her throat and he saw her brow knit in anguish. He wondered how wet the blood spots felt, or if anything he could tell her would convince her he was actually okay. Makoto pressed her forehead to his chest, shoulders shaking as tears dripped from her cheeks to the floor between his feet.

“Hey...,” he murmured, full well knowing the answer to his question, “Ya...doin' alright, Makoto-han?”

“I thought you were dead...,” she shook, “I thought, for sure...,”

“Makes two of us,” he joked, a little grim. Makoto gasped for air as if she tried to laugh but it was hoarse and pitiful. He frowned, “But...,”

“I couldn't see his face either,” her hollow laughter continued. Her hands left him and Majima looked down, seeing them shake like she had just committed murder and couldn't cope. Or like she had just put her hands on her brother's dead, bloody body, “And his skin...Swollen, broken, cut up...His head was soft—,”

“Hey,” he interrupted, not because he was disgusted but because he didn't want her to break. Clasping his hand over her shaking one, he cooed gently, “He ain't sufferin' anymore. And the way I hear it, he protected ya to the very end,”

I'm suffering,” Makoto countered quietly. Majima frowned harder, sympathetic.

“I know.”

“Ten years, only for him to be killed. His body was still warm...,”

Majima squeezed her hand. He couldn't see her face, which made hearing her cracking, strained voice worse. Though he opened his mouth it hung useless and silent, and eventually he closed it, swallowing saliva cooled by the winter air. All he could think of were platitudes that would've either served no purpose or at worst sounded cruel and heartless. Makoto's breath frosted in the air, hiding what little he could see of her expression.

“I...hate them. I hate them,” she trembled. Majima's eye widened and he felt his heart scream in alarm.

“Are you...,”

“For a barren patch of dirt,” Makoto's voice turned into a volatile hiss, “The Dojima family murdered my brother,

“Wait, don't,” Majima heard himself plead, “You don't wanna go down the road to revenge, you don't know what it's gonna be like, what you're gettin' into,”

He thought about telling her how his situation had changed, how he was no longer hired to kill her, just rope her up for the land. Rope her up and deliver to Shimano, where he...would hold a ball for the ages and she would have to dance until she bled. Wincing, pinching her fingers tight, Majima tried to push whatever words were the right ones out of his throat. The problem was, there were no right words. There were no right words, and he was sorely aware that all they had was their language of touch—a language that was telling him she was about to jump off the railing, proverbial or not.

He didn't want to see her feet bleed on the ballroom floor, but he had something that could be an out, and if Shimano handed her off to him he could set her free as would be his wish.

“Listen, I can get ya outta this mess—I'll be beside ya until you are, I'll keep ya safe—,”

Makoto raised her head so her half-blind gaze bored into his eye, frosty breath parting with the intensity of her shout.

“My safety is pointless!

Majima shut his mouth and gulped, eye widening. Almost choking, he watched her eyes flick back and forth along the approximate area his eye was.

“There's something I have to do, whether I live or die,”

“Makoto-han...,”

“The three lieutenants of the Dojima family, and...Dojima Sohei himself,”

Sorrow weighed heavy in his stomach as he searched her expression, seeing her plead but knowing it wasn't pleading for the kind of help he wanted to give.

“Are you...askin' me to kill them?”

“If you want to be paid, I can do that,” she muttered, fists tightening in his hold, “Is one billion enough?”

Majima didn't answer. It wasn't enough. Wasn't enough because he couldn't do it (wasn't enough because she didn't have to pay) and he was somewhat sure he wouldn't do it either, mostly because of the fear of repercussions for the both of them.

“Didn't you agree to kill me, once?” Makoto's voice darkened further, “If you want to help me, then help me. Please,”

Makoto inhaled, tears continuing to leak down her cheeks as her voice strained like a broken violin, “Kill them.”

Majima felt like dying, not killing. Here stood the remnants, the scraps the beasts had left of Makimura Makoto. Here was the girl, here was what they had done to her. All he felt was anguish and guilt. No reason would ever be enough to tell him it wasn't his fault that she was standing here like this, bargaining with him to kill the unkillable.

“That would—you don't even know what they'd do,” Majima winced, desperation rising in the back of his throat, “They'd—death'd be a mercy, Makoto-han, trust me,”

“Majima-san,” she interrupted, cutting his breath short as she pulled her hands away to clasp his instead. She cupped him over her neck, feeling her hot pulse beat against the cold into his fingers. A low, scared whine left him without an end. Maybe it wasn't a railing he should've been afraid of. His breath quickened for all the wrong reasons as she brought the palms of his hands over her body until she pressed them against her breasts, “You could tear my clothes off, right here, and violate me, and it wouldn't change a thing,”

Tears, emotionless and cold, continued to drip from her chin, “I wouldn't feel a thing. It'd make no difference in my life at all,”

“Don't...,” Majima whined like the guilty pleading for release, “Don't ask me to do that...,”

“Nothing is merciful,” Makoto swallowed, neverminding the salty tears, “Even if I can't do it, I have to try,”

“It'll be nothing,” Majima argued though he was weak, defeated, and scared, “It'll be like a fly on their goddamn windshield,”

Makoto listened, staring at him without a change in emotion, “So be it.”

“Makoto-han...,”

He pulled his hands away to cup her cheeks. The tears were cold even with the heat of her face and he brushed strands of hair away from their wetness.

“I don't want to lose you,”

“I already lost you,” Makoto answered, soulless, “And then I lost my brother.

Despite the finality of her tone Majima's fingers ducked to the back of her ears, massaging under the curtain of her hair as she made an involuntary groan of relief. Parts of her exterior cracked, revealing the depth of her pain as she relaxed into his hold. Warmth softened him and he leaned forward, startling her at first as his shadowy form blocked what little vision she had. But as his nose grazed hers her lips fell open in anticipation of his kiss.

It spun out of hand faster than he could've accounted for. Less than two days' separation and deep fears that one or the other was hurt or dead, or could be, and their desperation led to intensity. Makoto moaned into his mouth, loud and needy as her hands wrapped around his head. His kisses were hard and too deep, but she seemed to revel in it, fingers digging into his scalp. They buckled and twisted to the ground, knee-to-knee as her cane clattered away from them. Majima released her hot moans to the open air, sliding his mouth down her neck, nipping at her pulse before nuzzling to push obstructive clothing aside. Makoto's hands dropped to his back, keeping him close as his hands started to roam and push at her. Growling in frustration and need, Majima pawed at her coat, finding the first button and undoing it.

You could tear my clothes off, right here, and violate me, and it wouldn't change a thing.

He stopped, folding and wrinkling the corner of the lapel in his hand.

I wouldn't feel a thing. It'd make no difference in my life at all.

Though she was hot, practically on fire compared to the wintry chill, Majima pulled away. As soon as he did his heart screamed he made a mistake, met with the cold as soon as he wasn't buried into her pulse. She didn't whine in protest, panting with her exposed neck arched out so he could see the small red marks he had left down her skin.

He couldn't.

She could protest it was in her interests, in her wants, in her needs all she wanted. But he couldn't, not like this. Not when she wouldn't be able to tell the difference between making love or rape. Not when she wouldn't care one way or the other.

It seemed ages ago when he had refused to kill a decoy of Makoto for Lee. Back then his argument made sense—Lee had told him he was already stained black, and there was no returning from that. While Majima agreed with that even though he hadn't yet killed anyone, he saw the utter defeat in Lee's eyes when he countered that he could choose who to bring down into the blackness with him. It was an argument to keep his flimsy resolve unchallenged, sure. But now his ultimate goal was to free Makoto so she wouldn't be stained, by him or anyone else. Freedom was the greatest thing he could get for her. He didn't even need the luxury of seeing her after she was freed—so long as he could sleep at night knowing she was safe, with or without him, that would be fine. Live her life to the fullest it could've been until she was the person she should've been. That's what he was working towards, fuck what happened to him in the journey there.

It hadn't occurred to him that she could've stained herself black. It hadn't occurred to him she would willingly do so.

Makoto hadn't moved, but his retreat had told her enough.

“Makoto-han...,” he tried to appeal, sadness pulling him through the floor.

“Let me go,” she answered, emotionless to cover up the hurt of his disloyalty, “I'm fine on my own now.”

He watched as her hands glided across the floor until she found her cane. Pulling it towards her, she got to her feet. Majima followed suit but stood still as she huffed in a breath of preparation and walked, unaided by her cane. Turning to watch her go, Majima was about to ask her to wait up, to at least let him go with her if she couldn't be stopped, when with a small cry she stumbled and fell to her knees.

“Makoto!” he rushed to her side, hands flying to her shoulders to lift her back up when she hissed and jerked away.

Leave me alone!

Majima adjusted his footing, relaxing his grip but keeping his hands on her. With a sigh he looked up, begging for someone else to give him an answer (or the right words) for her. Swallowing and dipping his head, he struggled to get into her field of vision without forcing it.

“Hey,” his ponytail slipped and fell over his shoulder, “Wanna grab some takoyaki?”

Makoto paused, then looked up at him, “What?”

“Takoyaki,” with a twinge of pain that served the depth of sincerity in his voice, “If ya still want me gone after that...I'll take a hike,”

Pausing again, she twisted her mouth, “You think that I'm just getting emotional because I'm hungry again?”

Though she couldn't see it, he quirked an eyebrow as he tilted his head, “That a no?”

“Didn't say that,” he swore he could see the faintest shade of a smile at the corners of her lips. It was the only pleasant sound her voice made before dropping back down again, “But...after we eat, let me worry about myself,”

He could promise that, but it wouldn't work, so he didn't even fake it, “Let's just talk over some grub, huh?”

Makoto hummed, agreeing. At the thought of it she realized her stomach was empty. Momentarily she wondered if Majima could hear it growling, but if he did he didn't take note of it. His hands stayed on her, but she realized that he didn't help her to her feet. It was a small gesture, but one she was grateful for. Makoto didn't brush herself off before she started walking again. Majima held the door wide for her as she placed the cane on the ground.

“You good on the stairs?” he asked as she passed under the threshold, her vision immediately becoming so clouded from the lack of light that she might as well have been blind again. Only fuzzy dots on the each floor of the stairwell told her how far the blackness went, barely illuminating the steps enough for her to differentiate.

“I can handle it,” she stated, feeling for the railing before touching her cane experimentally against the concrete steps. She felt Majima's eye on her, watching intently. Before she took the first step he moved, footsteps echoing in the enclosed space.

“Let me get ahead of ya,” he brushed past her, “Just in case,”

Makoto pulled her lips tight but swallowed her protests. Standing three, four steps down from her, he gave her enough space to feel with her cane before taking it one foot at a time. At first she worried he'd try to make further conversation but he was quiet, simply being the canary in the coal mine.

As she hadn't lied, Makoto felt next to nothing. Tears slipped out from her eyes, she felt her body move on some semblance of pain or anger or something, but ultimately the canvas was blank. Each time she tried to put color onto it it exploded in angry, fiery reds. Each time she threw it out and restarted with a blank canvas. The anger was brimming, but she wanted to hold it back, just for the moment. If that meant she had to be silent, then so be it. All the better to protect Majima, all the better to move forward with her plan to get revenge even if he tried to stand in her way.

If she stood back for a moment she could see for a glimpse how chaotic and quick her descent had been. The small, quiet little traumatized girl in Lee's massage parlor would never wish personal revenge on anyone. Even when Lee set out to find the man with the bat tattoo for her she simply wanted him stopped and didn't want to take revenge or anything of the like. Well, it was easy to say that when she was far removed from the situation. The moment she heard Oda's voice again she wished for it to be silenced, although wishing for him to be killed was a different matter. Makoto knew better than anyone that death and brutality shouldn't be taken lightly. In the end she couldn't wish what had happened to her on anyone—hence wanting to stop Oda but not kill him.

How long ago that sentiment felt now.

Lee had been blown up. Majima's blood splattered on her and she pushed her hand into the wound. Her brother's skin was cut and smashed, the blood had cooled and he was becoming stiff. All over her. These men, all who tried to protect her, killed or harmed because how could a blind girl fend for herself? How could a blind girl fight back? Men she cared about were ripped away because she could do nothing. But mice, even if outmatched, still bit and clawed. In the hours after her brother's death, as she wandered listless and alone in the bustling streets of Kamurocho amidst the familiar-but-unkind Tokyo accent the anger encroached on her and she began to bare her teeth. If Majima would not help her, if Majima would not believe in her, she would still bite. Perhaps her power was not in brute strength like the men who protected her, but then again she didn't need it to be. All she needed was the heads of the Dojima family and she had the knife to bury in their throats.

The scariest thing was that the thoughts and wishes weren't scaring her anymore.

What was scaring her was Majima. Not him rejecting her nor his need to be near her, but simply what he'd be like if he knew what was inside her head. Would he change? Or would he dismiss her, crazy woman? Would he still embrace her or would he dash her to the ground like a rotten apple? Was she going to ruin the gift of his life back in her hands by making him hate her? Fear her? He had said he wouldn't help, on the pretense that revenge was a road he didn't want her to go down. She believed that, for sure; he wasn't likely to change his mind especially since he had managed to pull away from kissing her before it went too far. At the time she had felt miffed and betrayed.

Now her chest was hurting from how hard it was buzzing and she was glad he didn't go farther, especially if what she was going to do was going to cost her in the form of him being in her life.

Her cane scraped along the floor, no longer finding any stairs. Majima announced something about reaching their destination in a half-professional train conductor's cadence and she heard the opening of a heavy door. Colored light from outside flooded in, meshing with the harsh industrial white of the light above the door. Makoto stood at the end of the stairs, just beyond where the light reached.

“Majima-san...?”

“Haw?”

“I...,” she swallowed, trying to summon the words out for her. It wouldn't be the actual end of the world if Majima left her, but after so much, after all this short time...

“If I...do something,” she shifted, huddling herself away from the light, “If I do something and it...hurts, hurts whatever it hurts, will you...would you...Stay?”

“Hm, stay?” he sounded nonchalant, “Stay with you?”

Makoto stuttered on a hum, telling him yes in a very weak way. He tilted his head in the light. Before he could open his mouth and ask for an explanation in lieu of her weak sight she continued.

“I have...nothing. If I go, I won't have anything to return to. It's pointless. I just want to know I might have...something,”

“Hey, c'mon,” his voice rumbled like she was spewing nonsense, but, as he walked into the shadow it softened upon noticing that she was cowering, “C'mon,”

She looked up, but with the light behind him his face was even harder to see than before. Flinching as he placed his hand on her head, she noticed she was trembling as he pet her hair aside, exposing her forehead.

“'Course I would. Even if ya gotta leave n' come back. Right?”

He sighed, brushing his thumb along her hairline before she felt a chaste kiss in the spot he had cleared. Makoto fluttered, grateful. Without conscious clearance, Makoto's arms wrapped around his waist and pulled him tight, causing him to squawk and go awkwardly rigid before he could even remotely return the embrace.

“H-Hey,” he tried adopting his nonchalant voice again but it was failing, “What's all this all of the sudden, huh? It's just some takoyaki,”

Makoto tried to reply but it came out as disjointed mutters. Loss, retrieval, back to loss, back to retrieval. Through her clawed fingers she prayed that Majima could feel her fear beneath the coldness she presented.

Ngh, can't say I don't appreciate it,” Majima grunted and winced, “But yer gonna tear me in half, Makoto-han,”

His voice went up in pitch at the end and he pushed at her arms. Makoto finally loosened and he gasped in relief, gripping his stomach and panting. Any other day and he wouldn't have been fazed by such a fierce hug, but give a bullet and a punch to his midsection and he was out for the count if a feather tickled him. Makoto opened her mouth to apologize but her stomach interrupted with a very loud, very impatient growl.

“Now that's what I'm talkin' about,” Majima chortled lightly. Makoto tried to hide a smile by readjusting the hair he had displaced as he opened the door for her again, “Let's roll,”

As soon as the colored lights surrounded her Makoto fell back into her mask of silence, no matter the small talk Majima tried to make. When he resorted to talking about whether or not it would snow, given how cold it was, Makoto knew he was, in a sense, desperate. It didn't reflect in his tone—he tried to keep it as casual as possible for her sake, at times even adopting the jovial tone he used to goof around with his hostesses. Maybe it was pessimistic to call it all an act; he had been happy to see her. At times she played along, telling him that she had heard a weather forecast saying that it would snow. Other times she brushed him off, particularly his concern for getting scraped up when she fell. She fell a lot, until she got exasperated and used her cane for certain stretches of pavement. Majima still walked slow, even when he heard the clatter of the cane behind him. Each time she fell he stopped, turning around. She could tell that he twitched with the instinct to help her, but he let her be. Occasionally she heard al scoff or sneer at Majima for not helping, and it made her ears burn hot with anger. Still, they continued on without incident, the half-blind leading the blind.

“The hell is all this?” Majima muttered indignantly.

“Is something wrong?” Makoto approached his shadowy form.

“Like a million people decided it was takoyaki night...,”

“Oh...,” Makoto drooped a little. They could eat elsewhere, but takoyaki was their thing, and once Majima had mentioned it her stomach had started to want it more and more. Eyes widening as her stomach searched her brain for another solution, she lifted her gaze to him, “Ah, actually...Earlier I think I passed a food cart,”

He turned towards her, “What, a takoyaki one?”

“I think so? It smelled that way, at least,”

“Where was it?” Majima asked before immediately feeling like he was shooting himself in the foot. Still, Makoto squinted, thinking hard.

“Um, some kind of plaza area, I think. Lots of big buildings all around it,”

Theater Square? Worth taking a look. Majima set off again, circling around the crowd of people at the takoyaki place.

“Make sure ya stay close,” he told her as he saw prowling criers dotted down the street. They were sure to jump on him, advertising this bar or that, this drink with such a dish, hot women, low prices, whatever it took to get people into the club. Majima kept his eye on them as Makoto hurried to catch up, tripped, fell, then stood up as he waited patiently. Gripping her cane, she moved as close to his shadow as was comfortable and Majima noticeably slowed his pace. A woman in arm (or close enough) would keep the criers off them, at least somewhat.

“Thank you,” she murmured.

“Hm?”

“For walking slow,”

“Ah. Yeah,” Majima's eye followed a particular crier that was persistent as he was loud and didn't seem to care that Makoto was so close to him. Too old to be in school but too young to have really found his calling yet. Not really a threat, but Majima shot him a glare and scared him off anyways, “Ain't a big deal,”

Leaves, in golden colors from fiery orange to toasty brown, floated about the plaza in the thin air. The street lamps were warm with the colors of the leaves, contrasting the biting chill in the air as he rubbed his arms, ruing the fact he hadn't put on at least another layer. Makoto kept one hand in her coat pocket while the other held her cane, occasionally swapping them when they got numb. Without thinking, Majima blew hot air from his core, almost in a playful way as he watched the misty frost twist and twirl up amongst the falling leaves. He kept an eye on the cloudy skies, wondering if he'd be able to catch sight of the first snowflakes Makoto had said were supposed to fall within the next day or so. The constant, curt, start-stop of their small talk had them both quiet, but somehow it didn't feel offensive or awkward though Majima was still worried beneath the surface.

Makoto perked her chin up, smelling the air, “It's close, I think. Around here?”

“Yeah? Let's have a look, then,” Majima, taller than most of the population, craned his neck. Through the sparse trees he could see a couple of glowing lanternst. Turning down the plaza, he kept his eye on the lantern until he could see the text on the side. Takoyaki.

Majima beamed, giving his arms an extra rub before blowing hot air into his hands and approaching. Behind the griddle there was an old woman with a sweet face. Her skin was wrinkled, spotted, and flabby in places. Crow's feet grew from her smiling eyes, but the warmth of the lights and the homely smell of the takoyaki as she skillfully turned them in the griddle gave her a youthful sort of joyfulness.

“Curb, watch yer step,” Majima warned, watching Makoto slow, then step up without using her cane. Once both feet were on the sidewalk he turned to the lady.

“One each, please,”

“Comin' right up,” she smiled. Majima watched her turn the takoyaki. In the distance he could still hear the criers accosting some other poor pedestrian. Patience wasn't his strong suit outside of a cabaret, especially since it was slowly dawning on him just how much of a sore thumb he and Makoto were.

“Quick, yeah?”

“Okay, okay!” the lady nodded, peppy. Well. Couldn't help it anyways. Majima exhaled, then looked back to Makoto. She was staring ahead, probably watching the woman's shadows move as she prepared the takoyaki but not being able to see the fine details. Then again, her eyes looked like they had before they had made it to Kamurocho—on the verge of crying, as he had grown used to. At least it wasn't the hardness she had exhibited on the roof over the Lot.

There was a golden leaf on her head. Before he knew what he was doing, Majima reached forward and pulled it off, gentle. He had done so in such a way that he wouldn't touch her head, but she felt it anyways and turned to look at him. There wasn't a point in his sorry life where he felt more foolish faster. She looked almost incredulous, at the very least questioning it like she wasn't expecting kindness still. Majima frowned slightly, only guessing at what had been running through her mind as he led her around the city.

“Such a gentleman,” the lady smiled. Majima's frown turned bitter, realizing he was still holding the stupid leaf as he mumbled.

“Shut up...,” he looked down at the dead thing in his hand.

The lady was undeterred, “He's a good person, huh?” she grinned at Makoto. Majima pulled his lips inwards and faced the lady, gesturing wildly with the leaf.

“Less talkin' and more cookin', lady—!”

“He is a good person,” Makoto interrupted, stopping Majima cold. It was his turn to be incredulous, jaw dropping as he looked back at her. A smile he hadn't seen before was on her face, something warm and safe and undisturbed by the world. Maybe it was just a mask, or an unfulfilled wish momentarily showing its face. As the lady cooked it was clear her ear was turned towards Makoto to listen, smiling her sweet old smile as the girl talked.

“He's been through terrible things for my sake, yet he's still trying to help me. If not for him, I'd never have made it this far...,”

Makoto trailed off, self-conscious and caught in surfacing thoughts she didn't want to face out loud. Majima's jaw tightened, eye never leaving her in his dead silence. The way she had said it, the way both of them said good person, without hesitation and with heart he wasn't used to...they believed in what they said. Couldn't be, though. Makoto damn well knew what he had agreed to and she had no idea how close he got to digging eyes out or killing good people just to get back to her. She had no idea what Shimano meant when he didn't want to have Majima kill her anymore. She skirted around a dangerous trap and glass slippers could only hold so much weight before they shattered. And, with the first button of her coat still unbuttoned, Majima felt his heart sink into his stomach realizing how close he came to pushing her into the trap—how close he still could be to doing so. Yet for all the things she said atop the roof coupled with her knowledge of who Majima was and what he could do, she still considered him a good person.

He missed her catching his stare.

“I'll bet they're delicious, they smell amazing!” Makoto stepped forward, taking herself away from her thoughts but Majima was securely lost in his own, staring at the warm sheen on her soft brown hair.

“Don't they? I tell you what, sweetheart, I'll throw in an extra one free,” the lady's rosy cheeks seemed to glow with the offer. She had not seemed to be perturbed or confused at Makoto's words, simply accepting them for what they were.

“Really? Are you sure?” Makoto asked with an excited smile.

The leaf was still between his finger and thumb.

Majima was only jerked from his thoughts when the woman placed the takoyaki boxes in a bag, handing it over the cart. Rather, it was Makoto's stammering that jarred him, and he reached forward for the food. Just before he took it he had second thoughts and stepped to the side. At first the lady looked confused, but when Makoto moved away from the height of the griddle at Majima's behest her cane became visible. The old lady's smile pushed her rosy cheeks to her eyes and at that moment Majima felt truly sick and wanted to leave.

“Can ya see it, Makoto-han?” He asked, pointing to the bag. Makoto, unsure of herself, stammered again.

“I c-can...see a shape,”

“Good enough,” Majima nodded off-beat, “Yer away from the griddle, reach yer hand out,”

Makoto licked her lips and bit her lower one, doing as he said. Majima's heart beat against his orders, examining her expression as she reached for the plastic bag. The lady stayed quiet, enjoying it as Majima vocally guided her until she was able to grasp the handles and pull back. All without incident. It was a tiny thing but it was enough. Pushing the coin dish forward, the lady thanked them with a deeply charmed voice and Majima felt his stomach turn inwards on itself. Fishing coins out of his pocket, he pulled a few bills with them as well—far overpaying the price. Into the dish it went, and he pushed it to the woman's side. She opened her mouth to protest, as she hadn't even given her total yet, but Majima clamped his hand over the dish, pleading silently with his eye for her to not say a damned thing lest Makoto become aware of what he was doing. Again, he was subject to the food cart lady's rosy smile and he might as well have died on the spot. With a curt thanks that was the exact opposite of his charity, he tapped on Makoto's shoulder and led her away from the food cart, feeling the lady's eyes on him the whole time.

As he sat Makoto down in the children's park not far from the square, it occurred to him that he had never seen a food cart this late. Serendipitous, too, that it was exactly what they were looking for. Well, what did it matter. He couldn't afford to be paranoid over every little goddamn detail. Maybe she had grandkids to take care of or something. Sighing and sitting next to her, they ate in relative silence, bunched up from the cold and eating quickly while the takoyaki was hot.

Majima's eye was glued to the streets, scrutinizing every pedestrian that walked by. It wasn't fair, but he couldn't help it. Especially with his blind spot facing that direction. Occasionally though he would glance back. It would start as a simple reassurance that she was there and relatively okay, but more often than not he'd forget that it should've just been a quick check and he found himself staring even though it was rude. Makoto closed her eyes and kept them closed, letting them rest from the bright stimulation of the city. He watched as her hands skillfully used the disposable chopsticks to pick up each piece of takoyaki with great care and little effort. Those hands would be broken and she'd be screaming before the Dojima found a way, physical or otherwise, to shut her up. His heart ached. He went back to staring at the street.

“Thanks for that,” she said, grateful. Majima hummed, barely paying attention despite his earlier fascination, “Osaka may have met its match in takoyaki from Kamurocho, huh?”

“Hm, yeah...,” Majima answered finally, “Shows that there's a lot to learn, out there,”

Makoto's voice dropped, knowing what he was getting at, “You're right.”

Majima turned to look at her again, but instead of asking what he wanted to ask he started gazing again, sad. What he should've been asking was if she wanted him gone like he had agreed to. What he did ask was the first pebble cast of an avalanche that he somehow knew was coming but stood in the way anyways.

“Just how d'ya plan on taking on all of the Dojima Family, anyways?”

“...I can't tell you that.”

Majima huffed, cushioning a wince, “I ain't sayin' don't, I just want you to think it through some more,”

“I could say the same about you,” Makoto opened her eyes to look at him, “Think hard about if you really want to help me or not. Who's to say I'm the one to be changing their mind, here?”

Majima's lip twitched in indignity, “M-Makoto-han...,”

“You told me earlier...You were ready to leave me and this whole mess in the dust,”

“Hey,” he protested, “Lee was alive back then, and protectin' ya. I was the one that led the doctor to where ya were and blew the whole damn—,”

He stopped short and swallowed. Makoto didn't wince, but her silence was icy and so distant he immediately knew he couldn't call her back.

“Sorry,” He said anyway, knowing it helped jack shit.

“If Lee's death is the reason you've helped me this far, then it's time to let go,”

Majima ground his teeth nervously. Did he even have a reason for helping her at this point? Feelings aside—yes, feelings aside because he didn't trust them anymore thanks to Shimano. Feelings aside because he didn't want to frighten her, even after bedding her twice. The unbuttoned button caught his eye and bile crept up his throat. Bringing his feelings into this made it sound like he was helping her just to have someone in his bed when it was all over—thrown in as a bonus, as it were. Helping her because Lee was no longer around was a noble reason up until this point, too, because she was right.

“No...,” he struggled to say, “No, that ain't...,”

Makoto let his suffering words hang in the air.

“That was good takoyaki,” she mentioned after a while, seemingly from nowhere. She stood up, “Do you want another round? I'll go buy this time,”

“Oh, sure. I'll go with ya,”

“I let my eyes rest, that wouldn't be necessary—,”

“We go together or not at all,” Majima said, a little too gruff. Makoto gripped her cane and looked away.

“Since when?” Makoto muttered.

Majima felt like someone had pushed his head underwater and he grew dizzy.

“H...huh?”

She walked a few paces into the center of the small park, keeping herself facing away from him. It was about that time that Majima realized it was too late to get out of the way of the avalanche.

“I learned, with you, that there's no such thing as together,”

His heart shrank and twisted and his vision blurred, tongue thick and jaw trembling, “H-Huh?

“It's alright,” Makoto said, far too matter-of-factly to bring him any comfort, “It's silly, really. Obvious. But...I had hoped...,”

Jaw opening and closing as he tried to push words into his cottony mouth, Majima stared at her back, unable to make a sound.

“It was painful, when we slept together,” she continued bluntly, and part of him wanted to believe that she was going to start crying herself but he wondered if he was just hearing things, “The pain eventually got better, even went away sometimes but it still hurt, and it hurt a lot. But, I wanted it, wanted it more than the pain could stop me. I wanted it because I wanted to feel close, to feel like I was a part of someone, for just some sort of...bliss of not existing as I am anymore,”

“P-Pain,” Majima whispered, “Y-You were still...in...,”

“I felt it,” Emotion crept into her voice, a vague hint of the bliss she was talking about, “For a moment, I really did. You did that. You made sure of it. But...it didn't last. And the back of my mind, it wouldn't stay quiet. I was still me. With all my faults. Still a sack of...flesh. Alone. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't be a part of you. I just wanted to be so together there was no way to tell us apart—something impossible. It's cruel to want something so impossible, but still I did that to myself...I wished for it, knowing it couldn't happen,”

Makoto's voice dropped to a sorrowful, but true, whisper, “It's not your fault...,”

Majima finally found the power to stand up though he staggered, his limbs feeling like an unstrung marionette.

“I-I get it,” he swallowed, unaware that his eye had reddened and at least two hot tears had dripped onto his chest, “I get it, I do, I swear I do, the...the bliss, the need to feel like you aren't you; that yer a part of someone else n' that'll take care of it,”

He tried not to sound frantic, swallowing both saliva and a glob of snot from his held back tears, “Why didn't ya tell me you were still in pain—if you were in pain, I woulda, I coulda done somethin', or just, just—,”

“I already told you,” Makoto stopped him calmly, “I wanted it more than the pain,”

“But...,”

“If you get it, then you know what I'm saying,” only the tip of her nose was visible past the curve of her cheek, “I'm alone. I always have been. Somehow it hurts...feeling alone when you're with someone instead of when you're actually alone. Even if when you're with that person you feel...,”

Majima pulled his lips back in pain, exposing his gritted teeth as more tears ran down his cheeks, tears he didn't acknowledge. Sucking in a breath, he exhaled in a burst and tried to calm himself down to speak with some modicum of intelligence.

“Loneliness and being alone are two different things,” he argued, “Everyone's alone, an' that can hurt but, if everyone's alone, their own person, ain't that, doesn't that make it...,”

Special? He failed on the word. Shimano's voice roared in his head, slapping his care for the girl square in the face. It wasn't an accident that he felt like a marionette, either, and he worried that any argument he brought forth would just be the strings pulling him to do so without his express knowledge.

Makoto gave a dry laugh, filling in for him where he failed, “Special? What's special? What about me is worth salvaging?”

“Then you agree, this is a suicide mission,” Majima shook his head, “Makoto-han—,”

“No, let me rephrase that,” she interrupted harshly, “What's left of me to salvage?”

He blinked, shocked. Even if it had been a while, he was convinced he could still see the glimpses of the girl she should've been if he gave it enough time and patience. Hell, her vision was just starting to come back through some science-spitting miracle. If she was looking at herself like an individual, alone, shouldn't this be on the way up, then? Dumbfounded, his rattled brain thought back to the apartment above the cabaret, the first time they shared a similar (but far less distressing) conversation.

“A-A...a mass—,”

“I am not the only massage therapist in the world,” Makoto reached up to rub the back of her hand against her eye.

Majima stuttered, brain immediately dashing whatever he loved about her and leaving him with shit all to say. Making a sound that was embarrassing in hindsight he pulled the only thing he had—shit he believed about her.

“There ain't anybody like ya out there,” he insisted, “To go what you went through, and to still come outta all that—yer not unscathed but yer alive and you were livin' well until all this yakuza bullshit came in and messed it up, through no fault of yer own. Please—,”

“Yes, what I wouldn't give to have not gone through any of this. Any of that,” she was getting louder, angrier, “I wanted to be on that boat with my brother when he stowed away. I wanted to have a happy, loving family. I wanted nothing but to grow up and live without there being a consequence to my life,”

As it had been from the very beginning. Half-blooded no matter where she went, treated like whatever seemed the dirtiest to the majority population instead of having the 'better' half acknowledged. Majima's guts hurt as his chest restricted his breaths. There was no way in hell he knew what that was like, and no amount of guessing could ever nail it into his head.

“It's not my fault,” she agreed, seething, “It's not my damn fault, I didn't ask to be born like this, into this life. Neither did my brother, and it led to his murder, leaving me here to suffer, again and again, alone. I've got nothing left!”

She swiveled on her heel, finally facing him. Though there were remnants of tears that had gone by, her face was not red because she had been crying. It was because of rage, and Majima's instinct told him to fight back against it, clasp his hands around her shoulders and force her to calm down.

“So that it may be, but this ain't gonna find ya peace, Makoto-han,” he shook his head, already past the point of saving himself from being frantic, “Not fer you, your brother, or Lee,”

“Or yourself,” Makoto added, and he flinched, “Keeping me out of harm's way, for your sake?”

“N-Not just, no, but—,”

“What do you know about what would bring me peace or not?” she countered, “Surely you've felt this, felt the same way before, haven't you? What about when you lost your eye?”

“O-Of course,” Majima fought, “That's what I'm sayin', Makoto, it cost me my eye and a year of torture!”

“Ah,” Makoto darkened, “Consequences of your actions?”

Majima was quiet.

“I did nothing wrong and you know what happened to me. What continues to happen,”

Ashamed, he turned his head to the street, thankful to see that no one had attracted to their argument just yet.

“I'm sick. I'm sick and tired of just. Letting things happen to me. I'm sick of laying down and taking it,” she closed her eyes and heaved harsh, sharp breaths, “I'm sick of telling myself to breathe so it'll hurt less, I'm sick of being pushed into men's beds whatever they may be, I'm sick of being a thing,”

Only her harsh breaths broke their silence. Even the city's noises seemed muffled.

“I want revenge. And I know what it costs. I don't care. I've faced worse. I'm alone now, with nothing. Nothing.”

She didn't have to say the words but they burned in his mind anyways.

It shouldn't affect you.

Shouldn't affect him because they weren't together—as a singular being. Maybe they were together in bed, or together in the eyes of the takoyaki vendor, but as a singular being, sharing motives, emotions, movements, blood, soul? Something impossible, as she admitted? No, they were very much far apart. It hurt, and he wasn't sure why or how because he couldn't pin the hurt on her or himself or anyone but God, it seemed. Why couldn't they have something deeper than what the laws of living offered them? Why couldn't they, because, Majima realized, if they had had what Makoto was looking for, what he said he felt as well, he could pull her back from this batshit crusade and keep her tucked with him without fear or loss.

Hurt, Majima turned to look at her and her almost-perfect gaze, “How can you be sure? D'ya even know what you're saying?”

“I am sure,” Makoto frowned, intense, “What makes you say I can't be?”

“Because.”

“Because what,

“Because they're gone!” Majima shouted, desperate, “Lee, and yer brother, yer mom and grandfather, you can't save 'em anymore, but you can save yerself!”

Makoto scoffed, “If you said you weren't going to help, then don't—,”

Please,” he interrupted, “It's useless to get angry 'bout this—,”

“Everyone else is angry over a shitty patch of dirt in the middle of the city! They're so angry they blew up Lee! They're so angry they murdered my brother! They're so angry they shot you, in front of me, they're so angry they want me killed! Why shouldn't I be angry at them? Why shouldn't I be infuriated? Why tell me I shouldn't be enraged?! Why can't I feel exactly what they feel?!

“Makoto,” ironically, anger was creeping into his voice and he stepped forward, ready to clasp her shoulders and attempt to shake some sense into her, “Listen to me—,”

No,” in one harsh, brutal motion she pulled the hilt of her cane and out flashed a thin, sharp blade. Majima started in surprise, hands immediately going up as she brandished it at him, “No, you listen. Because you're the only one who might,”

“Makoto, please,” the anger dissolved into utter fear and desperation, “I can't let ya go—,”

“Can't, or don't want to?”

“Don't want to! Fine! I don't wanna let ya go, doesn't that tell ya anything?!”

“Plenty,” hurt laced her voice, “But in everything that I said, does that tell you anything?”

“It scares me,” he finally answered, “It scares me, Makoto, I don't care if you think yer safety is pointless—,”

Makoto inhaled in anger and thrust forward with the knife. The quality of her vision put Majima in immediate danger and he skittered, nearly tripping over his own feet as the blade poked at the fabric of his shirt. He gripped it without thinking, the sharpness slicing into the skin on his palm so smoothly he didn't even feel pain at first until the blood was slowly sliding down the blade. Makoto blinked, realizing her mistake, and tried to jerk away but Majima tightened his hold on the blade.

“L-Let go,” she pleaded under a different tone and different reason, “Majima-san, let go,”

“Makoto, I...,”

I know ya better tha ya know your damn self. I can just picture it.

Hah, I'm seeing it now. Love.

Exactly what I wanted ya to do.

“This ain't...,” Majima whispered, “When you asked me what I saw in you, this ain't the kind of strength I meant...,”

“No...,” Makoto was trembling, “Because it's yours,”

Majima looked like a dog kicked in the ribs, morose, hurt, and though it was technically a betrayal it felt more like abandonment. Like she had come to do what she hated and feared the most, as revenge on the world that did it so much to her.

What had they done to her. What had they fucking done. Tojo, Omi, the whole fucking yakuza lot. Majima stared, and stared, and stared at what they had fucking done to her. He squeezed the blade, watching Makoto flinch and squirm as the blood dripped to her hands.

He hated them now, too.

But he still couldn't abide by her wrath. He couldn't just let her go to her death like that. She had potential. She could still dream. She still could have hope. She could have goals that didn't ultimately end in her destruction.

“Let go,” the rage was starting to creep back into her voice, “Let go of me, Majima!”

“Please, don't,” he begged.

Let go of me!

“Makoto,”

I said let go!!

“Oi, oi,” a half-drunken slur interrupted and both their heads turned to see a crooked and bent homeless man missing half his teeth as his oil-caked hair hung like stalactites around his face, “Thiss'ns man, he botherin' yoo, miss?”

Makoto glanced at him and fear stabbed his heart. She saw the opportunity. She was taking it. Yanking the knife away and fumbling until it slipped back into the cane without cleaning the blood off, she staggered away from him. Too late he pawed after her, blood making his hand slick as he grabbed for hers. She slid away easily, and soon the homeless man was between him and Makoto.

“No, no, wait, Makoto!” he panicked, “Makoto, please, at least let me go with ya! Let me go with ya!!”

“Hoo, there, now, sonny boy,” the homeless man threw his uneven arms out to push Majima back, “Can't haves ya defiling this park, s' a childrun's park,”

Majima barely heard him, watching as Makoto stepped backwards, staring at where she thought his face might be in the mass of shadows in front of her. The fact that she couldn't find it, the fact that her gaze was so off the mark again, made his heart sing until it went sore and dried up.

“Makoto!”

“Shoulds I calls the police, miss?”

Makoto kept her gaze fixed on where she thought Majima might be, shaking her head.

“Makoto, please, I don't want ya alone in there! You don't have to be alone! Please! Let me be with ya!!

“The...The roof. Above the Empty Lot,”

Majima struggled against the homeless man without toppling him over or hurting him—after all, it was what Makoto wanted, wasn't it? She wanted him to listen to her? Well he was listening to her, and trying damn hard despite failure causing panicked alarms in his head.

“Five o'clock p.m., tomorrow. You'll meet me there,”

“Makoto!”

She turned and started walking as fast as the cane could let her. The homeless man remained as his barrier and Majima watched, helpless as his hands pawed and bloodied the man's threadbare jacket.

Makoto!!!

“Jus' calm it down a little, sonny boy,” the homeless man kept pushing against him, “S'plenny o' fish n' the sea, an' besides, dudn't look like you fucked it up too bad, heh heh,”

Majima stumbled away from the man, incredulous that she was gone. Gone from his sight. Even if he ran after her, the quickness in which she could duck into a shop, or find some yakuza on the street—she was gone for good. He was barely listening to the homeless man's continued rants, something about smelling takoyaki, being hungry, but also chastising him for littering in the park. All he could think about were Makoto's screams of rage, screams of rage he had tried to quiet which only made her angrier.

It clicked, then. He was quieting her like everyone else.

Everything collapsed and he felt loneliness like he hadn't felt before cave in on him. In the dungeons, once he had learned what had happened to Saejima, even though it was unfair and he felt guilty to hell and back, at least he had peace in knowing that that's what Saejima went in expecting. Here, sure. Makoto went in expecting what she was probably going to get. But she would not be able to get what she wanted, she was not going to be allowed to enact her revenge. Her anger wasn't going to be heard, by anyone but him.

Because he was the only one who might've listened.

“Here,” he couldn't take his eye off of the street corner she had turned at, “Buy yerself some goddamn takoyaki,”

Shoving a bill into the homeless man's hand, Majima took off in the direction opposite of where Makoto left. His long legs flew over the pavement, back through Theater Square and shoving aside whatever people he had to.

It didn't register in his mind that the takoyaki cart was as gone as Makoto was.

Straight to Ebisu Pawn, then to where the pawn shop pointed him to. A narrow, small little shop not far from where he was. Majima arrived just as the old man got up on a stool to close the gate in front of his keep. Stopping him Majima begged for him to keep his shop open, just a little bit longer, just to get an order in.

At the cost of him delivering okonomiyaki for dinner (fucking okonomiyaki by delivery, he couldn't fucking believe it) Majima was allowed entry into the small shop. Clocks lined the walls, from practical to overly-artsy to eerie either because it was supposedly cute or because it was too damn old. Each one was in working order, and every now and then it felt like they all lined up their ticks and tocks in perfect time before spinning off in their own rhythm. The old man groaned as he set himself up, and though Majima had barged in right as he attempted to close he didn't seem too perturbed once the down payment of a dinner had been made. His old knobby hands patted the table. As Majima dipped his hand into his coat pocket the man turned his work lamp on, the light shining off his bald, liver-spotted head.

Majima ran his thumb over Makoto's broken watch, struck with sorrow. It took another, much more impatient, tap on the counter for Majima to place it on the surface. He watched at the repairman brought it to his face, pulling comical lenses over his clouding eyes to look closer.

Ohhh, isn't this a little treasure you got here,” the old man admired, “And both this music box chime and the watch itself is broken?”

“Yes,” Majima answered, noticing his breathing too much.

“And this is an apology gift?” the man didn't even look up at Majima to confirm the devastated expression on his face. Majima stared at the counter, Makoto's words screaming in his head.

“I think...it might be a good-bye gift,” he murmured.

“How noble,” the man commented, and though it was sincere he had already begun to delicately take the watch apart. It felt similar to when the takoyaki lady had seemingly ignored the strangely brutal words Makoto brought out, on top of ignoring Majima's rudeness.

“It might...be a departing gift,” he ramified, sinking until he buried his head in his arms on the table.

“Even nobler.” The repairman started placing miniscule pieces in a dish. After a while he poked the mess Majima had become, since he had collapsed in his workspace. All he got was a muffled sound, almost like a death rattle. The repairman sniffed, sliding off his stool and hobbling on his feet to pull a table he usually reserved for bigger projects next to the lamp, working off of that surface instead.

 

~~

 

Snowflakes fell from the sky, melting into the blood and bruises of the men strewn across the roof above the Empty Lot. Majima stood, knuckles red, locating one of the only conscious ones left. Yanking him to his face, threats spilled out of Majima's cool, collected hatred as he demanded Makoto's location.

The men that had shown up had sneered and taunted him, saying that she wanted him dead and gone and to not follow her like a lost puppy anymore. Majima knew better.

Majima knew her. Because he was the one who might listen. She wanted him there, and the horde of men sent to stop him only confirmed that.

Roppongi.

She was in Roppongi.

He dropped the panicked yakuza on the concrete floor and stepped over his dazed body.

 

~~

 

The heads of your three men. That is my price for the Empty Lot.

The words held power, she said them without faltering. Without fear. Surrounded by men that could and would easily end or make her life absolute hell (again), she didn't flinch away. If the yakuza wanted the Empty Lot, clean and legal, they wouldn't dare harm her. As she understood Kiryu, a murder in the Empty Lot had the power to postpone or tank the whole project. A murder in getting the Empty Lot should logically, then, be out of the question. Especially when it was just her. She listened to the yakuza chatter—none of them had any idea about Majima. They didn't speak of him, whether in neutrality or in fear or anything.

When she gave the description of him, she omitted his name, lying and saying she didn't know. Just in case, just to keep him as disconnected from her until the last moment possible, keep him safe from the family reigning down on his head to hold power over her. She prayed he'd understand, prayed he'd see her unspoken message through the men they sent to 'pick him up.'

Her plan wasn't ironclad. But she had confidence in it, no doubt, and she was ready for any consequence.

Dojima Sohei, however, informed her of the one detail she didn't have. Even the bureaucrats didn't know of the existence of the Empty Lot, nor of its owner.

And if the bureaucrats didn't know, and if she had nobody left who would know or care if she was dead, anything was fair game.

“Women and children oughta know yakuza are not to be fucked with.”

The doors behind her slammed open.

MAKOTO!

She turned, seeing Majima's familiar shadow sprint. She wondered if her eyes conveyed the depth of her fear and worry—she wondered if she was able to tell him that she had gravely misunderstood everything.

The gunshot went off and Makoto jerked in an unnatural motion as the bullet buried itself in her side. Her eyes rolled into her head and she crashed to the ground.

 

~~

 

“What the FUCK have you DONE?!

Rage. Rage. Rage that coursed through him like sweet, sweet barbed wire. Dojima goons closed in around him before he could reach the retreating lieutenants, the patriarch, and the fucking monster who shot her. Majima clawed and roared, still trying to get at them even as they left in the helicopter. The one in the purple blazer, he had taunted him with hideous comments about her before leaving. He was seething. He was frothing. He was...he was...

I'm sick. I'm sick and tired of just. Letting things happen to me. I'm sick of laying down and taking it.

Makoto...

He tore off his coat and shirt, revealing the leering hannya tattooed on his back.

“I'm takin' every last one of you straight to the pits of hell,” his voice wavered on a thin line of sanity, “NOBODY LEAVES ALIVE!!

Cocky smirks soon turned to panicked frowns as Majima ripped and tore his way through Dojima's men to get to Makoto. Get to her, protect her, because he could already see fuckers closing in on her to ensure she was dead. His screeches of horror and rage rang in the open air, scraping his nails against cheeks, jamming elbows into sides, kicking his silver-tipped boots into thighs and groins. The longer they kept him away from her the more feral he became, and soon he was cracking heads against his own and clamping his teeth on whatever flesh he could reach. There were so many, and only one of him, and they were already reaching her.

A mountain of a man approached him from behind and picked him up like a fucking ball. Majima tumbled across the rooftop, nearly bowling into Makoto's limp body and stopping only due to a pillar near the edge of the roof. Majima groaned, cursing himself for being so, excuse the expression, fucking blind. Punches and kicks weren't taking out this horde of men fast enough, and he sorely missed the baseball bat he had stupidly left back in Sotenbori. The big man who had thrown him stepped on his arm, then his back. Then his booming voice burned his ears.

“That your little bitch over there? Shit, do you know what she said about you, or didn't our welcoming party tell you?”

Majima growled, trying to slam his elbow into the yakuza's leg while the others looked on. The mountain didn't flinch.

“You're gonna die, along with her, and it'll all be for nothin'. Fuckin' tragic.”

Majima felt his ribs bend and he gasped, scrabbling his hands against the wood floor, waiting for the cracking to begin. A rookie mistake and it was gonna get him killed before he could get revenge, huh?

Okay. Okay. He got it. He got it. He understood. She had been through so much worse and had waited so patiently and demurely as if the world would give her a break as if anything had a point. Nothing had a point. Everything was pointless. She took matters into her own hands, damn the consequences, because she wouldn't go down without the only way she knew how to fight. She gave things a fucking point.

Strength, goddamnit.

Makoto's fallen body stretched out in his vision and he would've wailed if he could've. He scrunched his eyes tight. All the things she could've been. All the things she should've been--

Should've, should've, should've.

Well she wasn't! She wasn't the person she should've been! She wasn't anything like it!

But Majima loved her all the same.

His scrabbling hand knocked against her fallen cane and he opened his eye. The big man stomped on him and he coughed, but the cane didn't leave his vision.

Knife. Knife. Knife. Majima stretched his fingers and pulled the cane towards him as the big man adjusted himself to stomp on his head.

Knife!

The mountain screamed and toppled, and the shocked cries of the half-beaten men rippled around him. Majima clutched the hilt of the cane in his hand, stained with the big man's blood. Snarling and baring his teeth, he leapt up from the floor and buried the knife in the mountain's big belly.

Anger sparked in the rest of the men and Majima found himself snarling in response, waiting for them to charge.

When they did his free hand found the hilt of the tanto tucked in his waistband and it became a bloodbath.

Warm liquid sprayed onto his skin as shouts of anger became screams of fear, pushing the Dojima family back. Majima's eye was wild, infuriated, and his screeches even moreso. With three men bleeding on the floor and no signs of remorse, the rest started to scramble over themselves, half fleeing, the other half trying to hold their position.

That's when he saw one of them leaning over Makoto.

With a howl that could've shattered the moon Majima lunged and pushed the tanto into his stomach, using the force to knock him to the ground. Steadying his head, Majima saw the raw animal fear in the yakuza's eyes as Makoto's knife gouged out the left one. He screamed the scream of a kid.

Ishiyama-kun!” several yakuza cried in horror, one of them rushing forward, “Ishiyama-kun, you killed Ishiyama-kun!”

Majima kicked the kid off of the blades, watching as the one yakuza wrapped his arms around the kid's shoulders and started to drag.

“Y-You bastard!! Ishiyama did nothing!! If anyone was gonna help her here, it was him!! He's just a kid, he doesn't even know how to hate yet, he's just 20!”

For a moment, Majima had paused, struck rigid with gravity. But then his face darkened again and he hunched his shoulders, crouching low like a predator.

“That girl is 20,” he snarled, “An' if yer keepin' track, she did nothing. She did absolutely fucking nothing. And you shot her,”

Majima seethed, his breath sliding along the bloody metal of the tanto, “And I'm gonna fuckin' kill you,”

“He's crazy, he's crazy, Mori, run!

The yakuza dropped the kid's shoulders and tried to run too late, earning him a blade through the cheek. A well-placed kick from one of his comrades fended Majima off long enough for him to escape. The rest of the men, who weren't beaten unconscious or bleeding out, fled. Majima stood, surrounded by bodies, dead or otherwise, both knives in each hand.

The pool of blood under Makoto had grown despite seeping into her clothes. The surge of rage and hate left Majima as he approached her. Blood was everywhere—from her, from the yakuza he had remorselessly killed, everywhere.

Majima didn't care.

He dropped the knives then dropped to his knees at her side, staring at her in hollow pain. She almost looked like she was sleeping, just resting near him like they were back at the apartment.

Her brow furrowed and she made a weak noise, stirring. Majima's heart surged with hope that he damn well knew was misplaced.

“You're alive!” he turned his ear close to her face to hear her breathing, barely noting that his ponytail fell down to tickle her cheek. She groaned.

“Makoto! Makoto-han, can ya hear me?” his voice cracked as he tried to guide her back to the waking world, “Hang in there!”

Hang in there for what? He couldn't think, he couldn't think, she was still alive, for now, but the gun was a higher caliber than the one that shot him, she was smaller, so much smaller...

“Hey...It's me, it's me, it's Majima,” he pleaded as dry sobs clogged his throat, “Say something! Makoto!

Her lips moved and her eyes opened and he blurted her name again as she turned her face up towards him. Focused, as much as she could. Majima's lips pulled back in pain, similar to when she had been shouting at him in the park. Her lungs struggled to pull in enough air and he placed a hand over the gunshot wound, much like she had for him, and pressed into the blood. She gasped, weak but sharp, and he tried not to think about how he could feel her misshapen ribs struggling to help her. After some breaths that weren't strong but had to be strong enough, she spoke. Majima held his breath.

I'm...soh...sorr...y,” she forced out. Majima didn't know what he thought she was going to say, but it hadn't been that. Hadn't been that. She shouldn't have had to. She shouldn't have had to she had nothing he understood now she didn't have to.

She pulled in as much air as she could take, keeping Majima quiet to listen to her, because he had to listen. Her lips quivered and her eyes were flooding with tears.

“I couldn't do...anything on my own, I just...caused you...more trouble...,”

Majima scooped up her hand with his free one, clasping it and begging, “No, no that's enough!”

Her breath skipped a beat, and he felt the bloody mess beneath his other hand move. With whatever strength she could muster she closed her fingers around his hand, weak. Far too weak for a massage therapist. Fuck. Fuck.

“I'm...so stupid...and naïve...,” she breathed, each breath stuttering as she tried to meter out her remaining strength, “And I—,”

Her hips jerked involuntarily and she choked on something—he hoped, prayed it was just saliva.

“I—,”

“Hush, Makoto, it's okay, it's alright now,” he tried to quiet her, fearing what any more talking would do. She inhaled through her teeth and weakly pulled her hand in his. Opening his mouth, then closing it, he dutifully listened to her touch and leaned down so she wouldn't have to use herself on volume. Her hand slid away from his, over to his cartoon villain cheek and up to his eyepatch. Her fingers were too weak, but he felt her press and scrape against the edge like she was trying to dip beneath it.

“...took you for...granted...,”

“It's alright,” his voice shook.

“The Empty Lot...was all I h...had,”

“I know. It's alright, I know...,” he cooed, lightly pressing his forehead against hers as he pressed harder against her wound. She winced and cringed, not having enough energy to even squirm.

“I...had to...I had...to...,”

Majima opened his eye as she fell away from him, limp as her breath left on a whisper.

“Dammit, please...,” he looked at her, searching for signs of life, hope, anything, but she was still and though he may have imagined it, she was cooling as the pool of blood reached his knees.

“Someone...anyone...,”

Lee, Tachibana, anyone, someone keep her here, here, damn it!

He gently pushed his face into her neck where he had been what seemed like not enough times before, desperately yearning for her pulse to pound against him.

“Please...,”

Please.

 

Chapter Text

Sera's eyes bored into the hannya's on his back as Majima scooped up his shirt and jacket and tore after the men carrying Makoto's limp body to the elevator. An ever-dripping trail of blood followed them and Majima's boots disrupted its perfect circles. Blood from the yakuza he had stabbed seeped into his white shirt from his skin as he pulled it on. Blood from her gunshot wound wrapped around the hilt of her cane, clasped in his soiled hand.

The elevator doors opened and Majima barreled into the accompanying stairwell, shrugging his jacket onto his shoulders. He barely registered Sera's remaining men poking around the bodies he had felled in his rage. So long as Sera was allowing him to go with her, he didn't care.

His heart pounded harder than his feet hitting the concrete steps, taking them two, three at a time—sometimes vaulting over the railing to the next set of stairs. Her name echoed constantly in his head, frantic and scared as he raced the elevator to the bottom where an ambulance was waiting. The elevator had arrived seconds before him, and they were seconds he made up for as his long legs closed the distance and he pulled himself to the ambulance door after her.

He didn't realize how horrifying he looked until the EMTs nearly choked in shock and fear as he pulled into the door frame. White bordering his eye on all sides contrasted with the fading bruises on his face, all of it painted over with swatches and spatters of red. Coupled with a missing eye and the sharp ugliness of cheekbones set high on a long face, Majima looked like a specter of death until he opened his mouth.

“P-Please,” the Kansai accent was far beyond his control now as he blubbered like a child, “P-Please lemme go with her, lemme go, lemme go, lemme go—Makoto—,”

The EMTs craned their necks to see over his sharp shoulders. Men from the Nikkyo Consortium nodded, and they backed off to allow Majima to clamber inside.

If you want to help the girl, trust me. That is, unless you think you can save her alone?

Sera's words bored into his mind in lieu of being out of his line of sight. Majima panicked, staring at Makoto's paling body on the gurney as the EMTs busied over her. An oxygen mask was put over her face and seeing the plastic on her constricted his heart. Then they opened her jacket, undoing everything but the button he had undone earlier and Majima started to have trouble breathing. Frantic, direct commands filled the compartment as the ambulance sped off, clouding his senses as he stared at her pale face. Flecks of blood that had dripped down from his body broke apart the pale sheen to her cheeks. Majima's lips quivered, only seeing her as the world blurred around him.

“Makoto! Can ya hear me?!” his legs pedaled along the speeding gurney as hospital lights passed above him, “Don't die...Please don't die!”

The surgeons at the head of the gurney slammed the last doors open, the last that he could watch her pass through. On instinct that he wished he didn't have, his legs came to a stop and he watched as the surgeons rushed her away, the doors closing on his one sorrowful eye.

No matter how much he had pleaded it, there was no way to believe she would survive. She could. But she might not. He had no evidence to support that she would. Staring at the sterile metal in front of him he could only think of her pressed against the side of the bathtub, patiently being next to him for comfort. The softness of her hair, the evolution of her blind gaze, her broken ribs and scarred thighs. Her moans that constantly alternated between pleasure and pain despite her indomitable willpower, the kindness of her laughter, the fear he felt from her scorned rage. Everything, from the stories of her childhood to stories about how she found a second father within Lee. All culminated into being silenced by a single gunshot over three fucking square meters of city dirt.

She had curled into his body so comfortably, kissing his skin like he wasn't a failure, like being unable to kill her only brought forth goodness, not weakness. She asked about him because she was curious but she didn't prod, didn't feel entitled to him. How could she, when he could be ripped away at any moment, when she felt the weakness in her own body and in the bodies of everyone her hands touched? Makoto kept him free within her arms and through all the cruelty he and his ilk put her through she insisted in his goodness to goddamn strangers. Rearing her head like a lion and baring teeth she had grown in spite, she had gone up against Dojima—suicidal or not—to fight for what little scraps of her she had left. Die in dignity, rather than wallow in fear.

Wallow in fear like he had for the past three years of his life.

“I'll do anythin',” he whispered to the crack in the door, desperation rising, “Revenge, you name it. Whatever you want...,”

Whatever she wanted. Whatever she wanted because a frail little blind girl had mustered the strength to roar in rage as she went down while he let himself get kicked into ditches. Big, scary, one-eyed man with a cartoon villain face, and he'd rather piss his pants than do what she had done, live through what she had lived through. No. Not anymore, not anymore. For all her bravery she couldn't fight this alone, wasn't equipped to even understand most of it. Where she couldn't, he could, though. Where she fell, he could stand.

He could fucking stand.

“So, please...,” he pleaded as his face cracked and hurt, his voice hitching and coming out on a rasped wail, “PLEASE!

Majima's fists slammed on the doors, sliding on the metal as he fell to his knees. Mouth pulled back to reveal his teeth, he grimaced and tried to suck down his sobs.

He could fucking stand but he was on his knees.

 

~~

 

Had she allowed herself to be swallowed by the darkness before it pulled her beyond his grasp? If he could've just looked harder, would he have seen the beasts around her, or had she turned into a beast herself to feign comfort in their ranks? What of him, what was he now?

Right now, he was a lone man in the buzzing white of fluorescent lights, sick and dizzy from their harshness. He was exhausted even though he had done nothing but sit or wildly pace in the hospital halls, waiting for the emergency room's light to turn off. Her cane did not leave the palm of his hand, and every now and then he tapped it on the floor as he paced. Closing his eye he tried to force himself to pretend it was her walking alongside him as they searched for takoyaki, Majima barely noticed he was murmuring nonsense to himself between hitches of breath.

His stomach felt queasy at one point and he wandered farther down the hall to find a small alcove, set aside as a waiting area. Cheap counters and chairs upholstered with numbing patterns lined the small space. There was a small water dispenser, with options for hot or cold. Stumbling to it like he had come from a blast zone, he thumbed a cup, slipped the thin cardboard sleeve over it, and filled it with water. A nurse—or a receptionist, or both, whatever she was, rounded the corner and jumped at his presence. She asked him a question but he barely heard it, responding with a noncommittal grunt that showcased the shallowness of his consciousness. A quaint little plastic basket held rows and rows of tea bags, as well as some instant coffee packets tucked off in the corner, not frequently used. Tea would be soothing, familiar. But it wouldn't be Hibiki's homemade tea, and, stupidly enough, it wouldn't come from a microwave in a misshapen mug made in a child's art class. It would still soothe him, though.

Majima grabbed the coffee.

The nurse watched in mild horror as he dumped the packet in and mindlessly stirred it, then, without even waiting for the water to cool off much less trying to adjust the flavor, she watched as Majima practically dumped it down his throat. He seethed, swallowing fast as it burned all the way down, then clacked his teeth together and hissed in distaste. It was bitter and burnt, thicker than tea and like drinking liquid ash. Sticking his tongue out of his mouth as if that would cool it off and rid the awful flavor faster, he grunted and panted like a fucking dog, unaware of the string of drool forming at the tip of his tongue.

By that point she had been in surgery for an hour.

Though the nurse had seemed to be cutely concerned with his mental state, he shouldered her off. While it may have been rude, he didn't even really know she was there. The cup was wavering in his hand, about to collapse and spill the rest of the hot coffee all over him to compliment the blood stains. Majima staggered back into the hallway to surgery, followed by the worried nurse. Gulping down the rest of the coffee he hacked and coughed, feeling the liquid go up his nose and dribble down his upper lip, clinging to the short, stubby hairs that had begun to grow there. The nurse watched him sit himself down, too rigid to be slumping, too devastated to be dignified. With a glance at the glaring red sign signifying that surgery was ongoing, she bowed and let him be. Majima had never noticed her in the moment, but once she was gone he felt the nurse's absence.

He fiddled with the cane, constantly unsheathing and sheathing the knife. Despite his depleting sanity, his mind began to line things up and go down them like rungs on a ladder. If she died, then he'd be alone. If she lived, the nightmare would go on for her until the deed was done. Would it have been merciful to kill her even if Shimano didn't actually want to kill her in the end? Though he wondered if she would trust him to do so now, Majima figured it would've been better to have killed her before he gained her trust. Before they had descended into whatever hell they pulled themselves into—before he had put his hands on her and pulled her close to try and get to that impossible place she—they wanted to be.

Everything, everything hurt. All he wanted was for Makoto to live, and somehow that was too much to ask.

So. Majima was done asking. Done questioning himself, too. Though sorrow weighed heavy in his chest, he gazed at the dried blood on the blade of the knife. His eye flicked to the cardboard sleeve of the coffee cup. He slipped it off and wandered back to the alcove. Neatly placed in the back corner of the counter was a stack of coloring pages with some magic markers for whatever poor kid had to spend their childhood hours here. Majima took a black marker and, taking great care so that the words were as neat, genuine, and as cared for as possible, he wrote on a portion of the cardboard sleeve. Then he ripped it to size and sat back down on the bench. Tucking the message into the hilt, he sheathed the knife into the cane and didn't open it again.

The next time he looked at the clock, it had been two and a half hours since he had brought her in.

“How long's it gonna take?” he gurgled, upset and looking to the red light. By a miracle, some seconds later, it shut off and Majima was on his feet so fast he could've fainted. The doors opened and the surgeon came out. Majima was on her in seconds, chest prickling in fear at the splashes of blood on her scrubs.

“Is she outta surgery?! How is she?!” the words spewed out of his mouth as he approached. The surgeon, calm and unfazed, asked in such a professional manner it felt inhuman and emotionless.

“I'm sorry sir, but who are you?”

I'm her lover, his brain answered as his back went rigid with disbelief, I'm her lover, I love her, I love her, I love her, isn't it obvious, it's obvious, I love her.

“I'm the guy who brought her in,” he rasped instead. The surgeon squinted at the intensity of his eye and answered without further ado or reservation.

“Well, good news. The surgery was a success.”

Majima breathed, feeling the taut muscles around his eye that he didn't know he had relax.

“However...she has yet to regain consciousness. She may wake in an hour, or a week, or never.”

“Wh...What...are you sayin'...,” he choked. His chest caved in with shattered glass and suddenly he found himself in the dark, horrific pit of wishing she'd either be alive or be dead, not some godforsaken limbo in between.

He had been to that limbo before and he was still trying to figure out if he should've gone the other way to get out of it.

The surgeon peered over his shoulder despite his height and nodded to the person standing behind him, “That's the latest status, Sera-san,”

Majima turned and narrowed his eye, “Sera...,”

“Majima. Makimura Makoto needs to be moved,” just like that, huh. Sera seemed to be staring at him rather pointedly, and Majima set his jaw hard, “It's not safe here. If the Dojima family learns she's still alive, it's a given they'll come to try and finish the job,”

Sera dipped his chin and Majima knew then that pointed was not the correct term to use for his stare, rather it was condemnation, “As well as you being here. Too risky,”

Heart choosing to ignore the disapproval emanating from him, Majima barely gave him room to breathe, “So soon after surgery? Just where are ya takin' her?”

“Somewhere with more defense than this,” Sera was infuriatingly wise to not say where. Again, he shared a glance with the surgeon over Majima's shoulder before resting his stern gaze back on him with a genuine question, “The doctor's coming too. Will you be joining us?”

Majima's frown felt like hardened clay as he shook his head and didn't meet Sera's gaze. Two and a half hours wandering the space in front of the emergency room, guzzling burnt coffee and scaring other nurses. Blood was on his hands, his body, staining his clothes, blood from people he had killed as well as a person he was trying to protect. Makoto didn't have to wake up. He knew where he stood.

“Sit around and wait for her to wake up...?” he muttered, “I can't help her here.”

Sera kept his steady stare, hands clasped behind his back as he waited for Majima's conclusion.

“Sera...,” much as he sensed his wariness, he knew that Makoto hadn't come to harm under Sera's watch nor under the watches of the young brothers he entrusted her life with, “Take her.”

He was staring ahead but he couldn't quite see the monarch of a man in front of him. The decision came down heavy and slow, but never in his life had he felt more drawn to a purpose, drawn to a sense of ugly, ugly determination that he knew was going to end him. He'd do anything. Revenge. Whatever she wanted. He'd stand in her place.

He'd make them fucking pay for thinking they could kill a blind girl they thought had nothing but dirt to her name. Makoto wasn't alone. They were going to learn that and remember it in sweat-covered nightmares for years to come.

“There's somethin' I gotta do in her place.” His low voice rumbled into a growl, “She tried to stain herself black; now she's in too deep. I ain't about to let the darkness take her further,” Bellies could be cut open to see whatever had been swallowed, and Majima's knife was thirsting for whatever it would take to cut her free. Face heating with anger that traveled down to his knuckles, he tried to push memories of her cries out of his mind.

“As long as the Dojima family's around she'll be a target. Even if she does wake up...,” Though he couldn't feel it, his eye twitched, opening around his iris more and more as he finally lifted his head to meet Sera's hard stare, “Screw that. I'm going to put an end to it all.”

“You can't be serious...,” Sera said in response, “You'd die just to take a run at Dojima's life?”

Majima didn't respond and looked back to the surgeon, eye flicking from the blood splatters on her scrubs. His voice softened by a small margin, “You look after her too, doc. Whatever it takes you get her awake. Fer my sake,”

The surgeon nodded but Sera interrupted it, “Majima. Two of the men you stabbed on the roof bled out. Two more are in critical condition. You're willing to keep this circus running?”

Majima ducked his head and bunched his shoulders, glaring out as he strode with purpose, “Ringmaster's already crowned me a clown. Show must go on.”

As he passed the monarch he paused, hesitating for a moment as the cane was held firmly in his hands. Sera looked at him, questioning, then narrowed his eyes as he saw Majima's hand grip tighter around the hilt of the cane. No one was supposed to know about the knife inside of it, but it was clear that Majima did. It took a long time for the gaunt man to decide to hand over the cane, and when he did it it was clear it was more for Makoto's sake than anyone else's.

Sera watched him go, breathing his name in disapproval to mask the knowledge of what would come next.

 

~~

 

The boat was in flames.

Kiryu watched from the pier in what was formerly the shadow of stacks of shipment containers, now chased away by the glow of the flames. Ruby and brilliant orange sparks and embers waltzed in the curls of black smoke as they floated higher in the sky. They were far enough away that he couldn't feel the heat, but he was still sweating. Off to the side the Kazama family was taking Shibusawa into their custody, face beaten in and dark in contrast to the chaotic light. In the far distance he heard sirens, a fire crew who no doubt had any idea what was going on and only coming to survey the flames to make sure there wasn't a larger disaster at hand.

Well. There was, but not what the fire crew would be expecting. He turned to look at the ones huddling in his and Nishiki's shadow; the surgeon and her patient Makimura Makoto, slumped in a wheelchair. Not too far from them was the body of one of Shibusawa's men, crooked on the concrete pier and soaking in a pool of blood. The discharged gun was still in the surgeon's hand, although she was at the very least pointing it at the ground after she refused to put the safety back on.

“Goddamn it all,” Nishiki whined lightly, “I give this big speech to Kiryu about not crossing the line to killing and we come out here and she just offs some guy?”

“I'm not under any Hippocratic Oath,” the surgeon ground her teeth and tightened her grip on the gun, “Do no harm is a crock of shit and I've got a patient to protect,”

Nishiki took one look at how the woman was shaking and how unprofessional her speech was and raised his hands in surrender, “Okay, okay, jeez, I just wasn't expecting it is all,” his voice dropped to an ungrateful mutter, “Way to steal my thunder, lady,”

“Self-defense?” Kiryu asked, and the surgeon closed her mouth to nod tightly. Her eyes were wide, and though it was a given that she had seen many dead bodies in her career this was probably the first she intentionally caused. Dropping the subject, Kiryu looked to Makoto and knelt by the wheelchair's side. His large hand, hardened from brawling and bloodied from Shibusawa, curled gently over Makoto's slight wrist.

“How is she?”

“H-How?” The surgeon seethed through gritted teeth, more nervous than angry, “She should still be in a bed, I had to take out her IV drip to move her and the men who came in to force me to almost ripped it out of her—the only thing she's hooked up to is oxygen and I don't know what's keeping her upright! You, you two, do either of you know how to drive a car?!”

“Huh, sure, sure,” Nishiki answered, nonchalant at first then smoothing his hair like he was trying to impress her, “Both of us can. Kiryu can drive a car so good he leaves his sworn brother in the middle of nowhere to get back to getting fucked in the a—,”

Nishiki,” Kiryu frowned which did nothing to change Nishiki's comical glare

The surgeon huffed over the brothers' bickering, “Forget it! You're both too young, you probably drive like you think a sidewalk is a carpool lane!”

“Aw c'mon, nurse—,”

Doctor,”

Nishiki huffed back at her, trying to hide how much that had flustered him. As they continued to bicker at an increasingly rapid pace Kiryu found himself not paying attention. At first he couldn't figure out why, but then he realized it was because the wrist in his hold was twitching. He looked down, loosening his grip and moving his hand over her fingers.

They moved.

Kiryu looked to her face, still covered with a rudimentary sort of oxygen mask. Her brows inched closer together in small winces and her lips trembled. Scooting himself closer to her face, he tried to turn her ear towards her but the arguing non-couple were becoming overwhelming.

“Hey, Nishiki, shut it!” Kiryu shot him a look which earned him an indignant pout.

“Wh—she also—,”

Oh,” the surgeon gasped, dropping down to Makoto's side opposite Kiryu. With great care and under the surgeon's supervision Kiryu gingerly lifted the edge of the oxygen mask. She was murmuring something; the cadence of words was there but the words themselves were not. Kiryu gently placed the mask back over her chin, letting the surgeon adjust it and he looked up to Nishiki.

“Worst comes to worst, we'll call a cab,” Kiryu said, to be briefly interrupted by the surgeon.

“That'd be worse than you two driving,”

“But we gotta get her out of here, and discreetly too. Just in case,”

Nishiki twisted his mouth and looked at the completely conspicuous slick black cars that at this point weren't on fire from the molotov cocktails and multiple gunshots, “Welp. Cab it is then,”

“God help me...,” the surgeon muttered.

It was a less than ideal situation. In a perfect world, the boat that Sera had sent Makoto to wouldn't have been known by Shibusawa and they could've all laid low until she either woke up to sell the Lot or Dojima blew forward with their project which would also blow all the bureaucratic laws they could slap on him to knock him down a few pegs. But, Shibusawa had known, and it seemed a miracle that Nishiki and Kiryu got there in time, Kazama family in tow.

And now the two brothers were in the back seat of a cab, nearly shoulder-to-shoulder thanks to Kiryu's bulk. Makimura Makoto laid awkwardly along both their laps, oxygen tank at their feet. The surgeon was twisted from the passenger seat to reach her patient, taking her pulse from her wrist and scolding either of them for moving. Kiryu noticed she was still shaking, especially since she had pushed the gun into a not-so-unseen pocket of her lab coat for whatever passed for safekeeping. All of this over the crackling chatter of the radio and a driver who was too nervous to ask but also too nervous to keep quiet.

“Oh man,” Nishiki whined when they were two blocks away from the hospital, “I wish I could tell him to hurry up, both my legs are asleep and I'm really starting to hate doctors,”

Kiryu shot him a look, but said nothing.

Makoto felt smaller than he remembered as he cradled her in his arms and carefully stepped out of the cab. Nishiki continued to bicker with the surgeon to no avail as she had him place the oxygen tank back on the wheelchair. Kiryu sniffed, mildly amused, and in doing so he nearly missed her weak hand slipping against his lapel.

“Ma...ji...,”

Blinking, Kiryu ducked down and slipped her into the wheelchair, hand finding its place over her wrist again as the surgeon double, triple checked Nishiki's handiwork. Makoto's eyelids fluttered, arrhythmic as she winced with each breath. Despite the obvious pain she continued to push further, attempting and failing to move.

“Hey,” Kiryu spoke to her, hard hand trying to feel soothing, “Don't try and move so much, you're not back in a good place yet,”

The surgeon's voice, going from chastising to professional in a fraction of a second, cooed alongside Kiryu, “You're almost back to where you need to be. Just hang tight, okay, Makimura-san?”

“Ma...ji...mmm...mmmmuh,” she struggled to speak. Kiryu glanced up to see how far the hospital doors were from the curb they were stooped at, only to see Sera standing at them with Nishiki.

“Hey! Nishiki!” Kiryu called, but before he could ask Nishiki turned towards him, wide-eyed and pale.

“Kiryu!” he sprinted up to him as the surgeon took Makoto, “Kiryu, You remember that Majima? The one who mopped the floor with me, then threatened to kill you, then bribed Reina to hold us in Serena, the one who you told me was supposed to be all shot up?”

“Yes,” Kiryu said, ignoring his indignation. Nishiki swallowed again and said nothing. Kiryu furrowed his brow and frowned, “What about him?”

Sera dipped his chin, “As we speak, Majiima Goro is on a rampage, with Dojima Sohei as his final target. The rampage is at the cost of his life, I'm sure he's sure of this, but until that happens, this is not over,”

Sera nodded at the girl in the wheelchair. Swearing, Kiryu jogged up to the surgeon now in the building, Nishiki in tow. Bending down as he walked, he grasped Makoto's wrist again. The girl turned her hand, fingers weakly pulling inwards to try and grasp back. He felt Sera's eyes on him, following him into the hospital.

“Makimura-san,” he began. Memories of traveling with her flashed into his mind—particularly the blood she refused to wash off of her hand. Majima's blood. There was no doubt in his mind that Makoto trusted him more than she trusted Kiryu, but for the time he had given it a pass. After all, it was likely that most of Makoto's trust in him had been built on his saving her from Oda to attempt to bring her to her brother. He had no idea what kind of trust she had in the one-eyed man, and he had no idea if this was something she knew Majima could and would do. Was he a threat? Was he even going to live long enough to be one, what with the entire Dojima on his ass in one place and no back-up? Better to not bring it up, then, and hope that he was making the right choice, “Nishiki and I will protect you once you're back in your room, right, Doctor?”

The doctor nodded her approval despite previous spats with them. After all, the two of them had essentially saved both their lives. Makoto hummed, first neutrally, then in confusion and fear.

“Ma, ji?” she lightly scratched at Kiryu's wrist, “Ma, ji, ma?”

Kiryu was about to lie and say he didn't know where he was when he realized that Makoto wasn't asking where Majima was, but rather if he was Majima. His heart felt small, hard, and heavy as he answered.

“Kiryu. I'm Kiryu,”

Makoto shriveled into a insignificant wail and withdrew further in on herself.

Careful, Kiryu lifted her back onto a proper bed, stepping back as the surgeon hooked her back up to an IV drip and made sure to ease her away from falling back into shock. Sera took a seat next to the bed, staring intently but not maliciously at the girl. No doubt he was waiting for the moment she regained enough consciousness to sell the Lot and lift the burden from her shoulders. For now, it was presumed, Majima was a lost cause and Dojima would bring his head out on a pike as a warning to anyone else until Sera made them piss their pants with the title deed. Tragic, maybe, but Kiryu learned quite soon after he met him that Majima played games of absolutes when it came to his life. He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts and predictions, that he barely noticed Nishiki barging back in.

Kiryu!

“What, what is it this time?” his annoyance was cut short when he realized how pale and clammy Nishiki looked.

“The Dojima family! Majima is...They're being slaughtered!

 

~~

That girl's driven you off the deep end, Majima-chan! You've got the eye of a mad dog!

The dagger slid across skin in arcs of red that looked almost beautiful against the harsh light. Men fell around him, slashed across the stomach, the arm, whatever Majima's dagger could reach. Bruises formed in the eyes that he elbowed, spittle flew, and feet got swept under his silver-toed boots. Makoto's special delivery—a hitman who failed to kill a blind girl but was going to take the whole of the Dojima family down with him.

Threatening Sagawa and by extension Shimano if Makoto's life came under harm again came so naturally to him it should've been frightening. Instead, the only fear he could see was the fear in Sagawa's eyes as he took his hand off of Majima's neck once the threat had been made. His voice had been smooth, dark, and angry. Sagawa had been around for a long-ass time, it was a given that he understood when there wasn't anything he could do to stop someone. Cages didn't feel like anything to Majima anymore and it was his last day on earth; Sagawa couldn't do a damn thing to control him and neither could Shimano.

Because he was sick of laying down and taking it. Sick of wallowing in fear. He had taken his last order, and the last order was Makoto's wish to destroy the Dojima family. Even then that was not so much an order than it was to give Makoto peace, should she ever wake up.

And if she didn't wake up, then he'd find peace in knowing they were both finally free.

He burst into the next room, splattered with blood. In it stood two men and a third sitting down. The third had a massive cotton bandage on his cheek, and when he looked at him his eyes were bloodshot in contrast to his pale face. Majima recognized him—one of the younger yakuza from the rooftop in Roppongi, the friend of the kid he had slaughtered. Mori, that was his name. The other two standing in the room with him went down faster than they could scream. Mori looked on, deadened and silent until Majima wrapped his hand around his neck and lifted him until his toes danced at awkward angles with the floor.

Mori gargled, but neither fear nor rage were in his eyes, just a sad sort of acceptance as saliva dribbled down from the corner of his mouth, “I...get it...,”

Majima's wild eye narrowed, sneering as the kid went on, “I get it...now...I do...,”

Mori choked and sputtered, more like a sob than anything else, and as his hands scrabbled at Majima's he tried to breathe. Majima studied him, even going so far as to lower him enough so that his feet didn't have to kick desperately for the ground.

“I-I don't care...,” Mori continued, “Go ahead. I don't care anymore...,”

Impressive that he was still managing to speak with both a punctured cheek along with Majima's hands squeezing on his throat. Majima lowered him again, keeping him in his regard despite his weak flailing and snotty sobs. Gurgling, Mori winced and struggled as he waited for Majima to do something, anything, even if it was only saying a few words.

Before he could the door opened and more men poured in, swearing and seething at his handiwork. In the blink of his eye he saw a gun in the hands of one of them and shifted, pulling Mori in between him and the gun.

“W-Wait, you dumbass! Don't shoot, he's got Mori alive!” one of them yelled. Mori started to whimper despite his willingness to die and Majima's momentary clarity erased itself. Blowing hot air out through his nose, Majima ducked behind the shorter man and charged, pushing him into his comrades. The gun poked out from behind Mori's head and Majima grabbed it. With a quick stab to the wrist so he could kick the discarded gun under a cabinet, Majima used the man's screams of pain to cover him as he took out everyone else. Whether it was slashes to tendons or slamming their heads against the corners of objects, the room was cleared and he left. Mori sat, dazed and draped over the cracked coffee table, alive but destroyed.

So the floors went. Bodies of dazed or dead men laid in Majima's wake as he climbed his way, golden Dojima emblems becoming splattered with the blood of its own men. Marble walls became slick, and with each successive room Majima felt himself get angrier, angrier, and angrier. The screams of the men rang in time to Makoto's screams in his head, which only drove his dagger deeper. As men fought for their lives they tried to tear at him, ripping his once-professional jacket and shredding his shirt. Useless and getting in the way, he shrugged them off, exposing the hannya to whatever poor bastard saw it before they saw his one crazed eye. By the top of the building his hands were red with layers of blood that he didn't notice nor care about. It smeared on the heavy mahogany doors as Majima grunted and pushed through them.

“Majima Goro,” he was greeted. Majima tensed and scowled. The lieutenant with the purple blazer was waiting for him, and didn't seem fazed by the height he had reached, “Sworn brother of 18-count Saejima Taiga. That's some nostalgic shit,”

Nostalgic? The rampage he went on because he had watched these fucking monsters push a blind girl over the edge was nostalgic? The more purple blazer—Awano, the guy who had made a nasty comment at Makoto's bleeding body—rambled the more he felt himself fill with disgust. Awano had joined the yakuza because he enjoyed hurting people. On the other end, Majima had joined because he had no other choice. Even now, getting back into the Tojo Clan was a matter of a lack of choice. Either he did that or he stayed forever in Sagawa's shackles, cash cow, clipped bird in a gilded cage. Castrated. Majima took dull notice of a drop of blood sliding from his hand to the blade of the dagger. Call it red-bloodedness, as Awano did, but Majima didn't tear through the Dojima family to hear some sob story of a speech. A girl was dying because of them. Unnecessarily.

Awano jerked his head to the side at Majima's curt rebuttal then shrugged the purple blazer off, followed by the turtleneck. His physique was rounded but not weak, protruding gut supported by muscle and thick bone. It was clear, no matter how much his ink had faded, that Awano didn't give two fucks about why Majima was here, and only wanted to focus on the how.

Majima narrowed his eye.

“The Empty Lot had you bastards droolin' like animals, and ya tore Makoto to pieces over it. She tried bein' a monster fer ya, and you know exactly what you did. I ain't lettin' her get hurt on account of yer bullshit again. I'm endin' this all here, tonight,” the growl rumbled in his throat, the oath becoming inhuman. It fell on Awano's deaf ears, but he'd make sure they wouldn't be deaf for much longer.

The gleam of the knife was soft in the warm, low light, but its reflection was sharp and yellow against Majima's long face. He'd be sending him and all his Dojima buddies to hell, drag them down with his bloodied hands and devour them himself if he had to.

Spry as Awano still was in his old age and hardened beer gut, the rust in his technique still showed. The adrenaline rush Majima was riding on as soon as he recognized the purple blazer all but eradicated the exhaustion he should've started to feel after running such a gauntlet, and though he was taller he was nimble and dodged out of the way, dagger pricking and slashing where he could. Small, annoying cuts, until Awano was howling in rage at each new one. A slow, deliberate sort of torture that Awano fell for. Majima let himself get cornered against the stone wall and the Dojima lieutenant lined up a punch. Ducking out of the way at the last second, Majima couldn't help but smirk as he heard the bones in Awano's hand crush and smash against the cold stone to his shriek of pain. For all his talk of nostalgia of the good ol' days where yakuza beat each other with fists to show power, it was easy to con him into the oldest trick in the book. Making a living out of the cozy life in this line of work wins the dumbass of the year award.

Majima dug the dagger into Awano's twisted wrist. The fight had been decided. He wrenched the blade free and slammed the hilt of the dagger square into Awano's face until the lieutenant was forced to the ground, gargling blood as Majima continued to beat his face into mush. He only stopped when Awano weakly tried to bring his good hand up to protect himself, somehow knocking the hilt of the dagger so that the blade nicked the edge of his eyepatch. Stumbling back onto his feet to admire his handiwork, Majima panted, noting that the whites of Awano's eyes stood out like stars in the night from the dark, bloody mess his face had become. And this was the man who complained that getting bloody felt like a pain in the ass now. Majima dragged the back of his hand along his chin, taking his lip with it and smearing more blood than he was wiping off.

“I'll be fucked,” Awano managed to cough, “This ain't what I was expecting,”

Good,” Majima seethed, “Remember this next time ya go and try and off a blind girl,”

“Shoulda figured you were weak,” Awano tried to backtalk but Majima could tell his nose was caving in on itself as he had to breathe fully through his mouth even though it was clogged with blood, “Letting me go after all that,”

“I ain't,” Majima's voice was oddly cool despite the lieutenant's attempt to enrage him, “Just enjoyin' the moment while it lasts, you writhin' around like a worm before I gut ya,”

“You're...,” Awano gagged and choked, “Quite the lover...,”

“She cried for your blood first. I'm just the deliveryman.”

The door on the far side opened, interrupting them. Awano gurgled and rolled onto his stomach, exposing the faded ink of Momotaro slaying ogres. How quaint. Maybe at one point he had had potential, but it was lost along the way. He seemed to know it, too, in the defeated but revered way he had looked at Majima. His loss was evident, but still he struggled.

In the doorway stood the monstrous assassin that had shot Makoto with wild eyes and a smirk. Majima fixed his gaze on him, no longer entirely concerned with the mess of an obsolete yakuza at his feet. The lieutenant in question struggled farther until he was on his feet between Majima and the assassin.

“What the fuck are you doing here...,” Awano wheezed, “Outsider...,”

The assassin raised the same gun that had shot Makoto and pulled the trigger. Awano jerked unnaturally, twisting backwards until Majima could see the bleeding hole in his ribs. Stumbling, coughing, and no longer able to speak, Awano stood in the way almost as if he was protecting Majima—protecting that nostalgic shit he rambled about. A misinterpretation to be sure, but at least a sincere one. Majima jolted in surprise as Awano's back arced towards him, bloodied golden spires growing out of his backside. His body folded around them as the assassin lifted and pushed his corpse aside, kicking him off of the claws in his hands.

On his death rattle, Dojima Sohei appeared behind the assassin, bold and unconcerned with the blood spilling in front of him.

“Never expected Shimano's little project to come back around and try to bite me, Majima,” he remarked, glancing at Awano's deflated corpse, “You went and wasted Awano, now I gotta cap Shimano too—you're a pain in the ass,”

Majima tightened his fists and whispered the boss's name in hatred, nearly trembling at the thought of driving the dagger through his shitty shades and taking his eyes out one after the other. Not disturbed in the slightest, Dojima kept speaking, introducing the assassin as Lao Gui, the most expensive hitman in Asia. Money, power. So Dojima was convinced, even though Majima was standing before him, soaked in his own men's blood and itching for his.

All he remembered was screaming Dojima's name before the doors closed leaving him alone with Lao Gui. A true hitman, unlike he was. All that meant to Majima was that there was no point to the heart beating in his chest.

Dagger clashing with the golden claws, the already bloodied hall was filled with the metallic clangs and Majima's screeches of rage. Lao Gui responded with tenacity and a calmness of the mind that proved immediately dangerous. More than once Majima found his one eye staring at the barrel of his gun, each time narrowly escaping certain death by a hair. One of the shots nicked his ear, making blood pool in its curves as he felt his heart race with panic. He had been shot once at this point, but getting shot now before he had felt any true satisfaction would be letting her down as much as it was himself.

Landing a punch to Lao Gui's face, he followed up with a vicious slash, cutting his already scarred face open from the ear to the far cheek. Fuck. It was a good hit, but he wanted to land the slash higher in order to force blood into the assassin's eyes. Lao Gui jumped out of range before he could, licking the blood from the corner of his mouth. Majima hissed, circling him. He could feel the adrenaline start to fail him—instead of giving him energy it was inducing panic, as Lao Gui had finally matched him. No fear of him as well as no fear of taking risks, Lao Gui had no qualms in tearing Majima apart, unlike Awano, unlike the rest of the Dojima family who wanted their lives. He had to let go of his body and respond in turn—it was his last day on earth, after all, he knew so before going in here. Hands clenching over the dagger, he watched as Lao Gui smirked.

The assassin's hands flicked forward so quickly it was a blur of grey amongst the red and Majima barely had enough time to deflect the claws thrown at him, the dagger singing as they clashed. He flinched, eye slamming shut against his will. In that brief moment of darkness Lao Gui closed the distance and rammed his knee into Majima's gut—directly into the bandage over his wound.

Majima crumpled. Lao Gui taunted him in his native Chinese. Spots exploded in Majima's vision, and had he the power to swear he would've, but as it was he had had his weak spot taken advantage of far too many times in the past day. All that his brain provided him was a white, stupefied sort of blankness. The cottony silence in his mouth split with a never-ending wail of pain as Lao Gui gathered up his ponytail in hand and started dragging Majima by his hair. Awano's wasted blood made his boots slip on the soaked carpet as he struggled and screamed. Thrust forward, Majima's head battered the doors, swinging them open as Lao Gui tossed his body in. Tumbling in an absolute mess of limbs, Majima nearly bit the tip of his tongue off as his lip split against the marble floor. Water from fountains clouded his hearing as he tried to pull himself up from languishing on the harsh floor. The sound of water meshed with the Chinese from Lao Gui's mouth, and the only warning Majima had of what was happening was the light above him becoming blotting out by Lao Gui's thumb.

Instinct drove his hands forward, pushing against the assassin's wrist as he tried to take out Majima's only eye. More Chinese from his mouth as he struggled, suddenly awake on fear and fear alone. Gurgling and sputtering, Majima fought against the assassin's strength. Nostrils flaring, he drew his leg up and kicked at Lao Gui's knee, forcing him down so Majima could roll him off and pin him in turn.

His hands closed around the assassin's throat and squeezed.

Lao Gui struggled, and he tried to dip into his coat for any more of the array of weapons he had stashed in there. Majima grunted, adjusting his knees to dig into his inner elbows, and kept him in place. The scar tissue around the assassin's neck told him that Lao Gui had faced a similar fate and escaped—it told him that he was already weakened and it would be easier to choke him than it would someone who hadn't been previously attacked there, than it would a drunken patron.

The same noises that had escaped the patron's mouth escaped Lao Gui's and Majima closed his eye and tightened his muscles. Over the noises he heard Makoto's screams of animal horror, curling up in catatonic panic. He heard her mewlings of fear as he paced around the room, enraged and unable to unleash it. His fingers closed tighter and tighter as the memories flowed out like the blood he had spilled. Fucked as it was, choking the patron led to her quiet, docile form against the bath tub, it led to her hands on his face, gently exploring until he let her brush her fingers against the sunken skin of his ruined eye. It led to her pained cries of pleasure beneath him, it led to him feeling the warmth of her loving him in return like he had never felt before. It led to them being found out, him getting shot, her being present for her brother's death, her loss of sanity and attempt to become the monsters that were trying to kill her, it led to her being shot, it led to him covered in blood.

Majima lifted then slammed Lao Gui on the marble. Lifted, slammed. Lifted, slammed—faster and faster until the assassin's hands bent at the awkward angles the patron's had bent like, falling useless at the sides of his head. Majima opened his eye, looking down as Lao Gui's rolled to the back of his head. One last gurgled choke and his legs began to spasm. Majima edged his knees out of the crooks of his elbows and stood up, hands around Lao Gui's neck as he pulled him to the far doors, picking up his discarded dagger along the way. Karma coming back to bite Lao Gui in the ass, Majima rammed his head into the doors and kicked him through, much to Dojima's absolute shock. Expression cold and hard, Majima reveled in the apocalyptic notion he brought in with him. Grasping Lao Gui's stunned head, he didn't let the assassin try and recover any lost air as he jammed his knee repeatedly into his face, drawing out his death as long as he could, shouting.

“We aren't done by a long shot, asswipe!

Fumbling with his gun, Dojima slipped and failed on the safety twice before he successfully cocked it and pointed it at Majima. Lao Gui made pathetic, child-like noises in his grasp as he stopped and glanced over his shoulder, glaring despite it being his blind side facing him.

“You can wait yer damn turn. I'll be just a sec,” he glowered at Dojima, “You get to be next,

Dojima breathed, panicked, and pointed the shaking gun at him. Majima didn't move. Before Dojima could will his trembling fingers to squeeze the trigger another gunshot went off, knocking the gun out of his hands. Majima turned his gaze, seeing the monarch, Sera, standing tall, strong, in a pristine off-white suit in front of him. Theoretically he had traversed all of what was left of Dojima's headquarters, yet he seemed to be completely bloodless—unlike the slick red mess Majima had become. His voice, too, was still just as steady and calculated as it had always been, while Majima's wavered on a dagger's edge.

“Will you kill them, Majima?”

“Damn straight,” he answered, thumbs pressing into Lao Gui's eyes and earning him metered, pathetic cries that tried to salvage whatever dignity he had left, “Long as they're around, that girl's a target. She will be all her life...,”

Lao Gui struggled with whatever remaining strength he had that wasn't choked out of him as Majima continued, “Only way to end it is to kill 'em all right here!

His thumbs dug in in a spray of blood and Lao Gui screamed. Dojima flinched in fear as Majima sniffed and tossed the now-blinded Lao Gui to the side. Even if Sera somehow talked him out of it, even if he somehow made it out alive, there was no business for a blind hitman. He glared at the monarch, panting as blood dripped from his thumbs.

“Killin' them, it's gotta be me...,” he rasped, turning his crazed eye to Dojima to watch as he cowered, “Not Makoto...,”

“When she learns what you've done, it will hurt her,” Sera began, and Majima looked up. He lifted his chin a little and didn't falter.

“She may thank you. She may apologize. But ultimately she will suffer for it. When Saejima Taiga killed 18 men without you, you felt a similar type of pain,”

Majima's lip twitched, very nearly sneering. Perhaps, but it wasn't the same at all, at all. Both he and Saejima had had the power to kill to go along with their will—Makoto had been rendered powerless and she knew her limits. She had tried to go in the only way she knew how and failed—he was simply picking up the pieces she was forced to leave behind. Still, he said nothing, waiting on Sera.

“Her hands will be clean, but only because yours are soaked in blood,”

“Little late fer this speech now, don't ya think,” Majima tsked as if his voice wasn't barraged with emotion on all sides.

“Indeed,” Sera narrowed his eyes in disappointment, “There's no way in this life to repay someone for killing on your behalf. You've saddled her with a debt she cannot repay. It didn't have to come to this,”

“Dick,” Majima spat, causing Sera's intense gaze to widen if only for a moment. Anger flooded his mind and he spat again, “Dick. Whaddya think a relationship is, a shit ton of debts repaid in full, over an' over 'til we're cold in our graves? Is that what you think this is?”

Sera stared. His imperial face did not show the shock of Majima's rebuttal, but his silence said it all for him. Majima grunted and raised his hands, stepping over Lao Gui as he dismissively shook whatever blood he could off.

“Ya know what, fine, you take over, take all of what ya want. Fine, I'm done here,” Majima scoffed, “Yer gonna stand there an' tell me 'bout how delicate of a flower she is, fine,”

“You're talking as if that girl is still alive,” Dojima panted, “But...then...,”

“Dojima-san, she is no longer the owner of the Empty Lot,” Sera provided for him, “The paperwork is filed in my name. My price is one hundred billion, and I would happily discuss those terms,”

Thus the era of the Dojima family was coming to an end, but Majima didn't care, sneering as he paused in-line with Sera. Turning his head so only his good eye looked at him, he stared the monarch's peripherals down.

“Ain't that a happy ending for ya,” he growled, “Ya got what you wanted, and the good guys win, huh, so what's yer beef, stickin' yer nose in relationships you don't belong in,”

“Is it really too much of a stretch to ask that a bloodbath not go deeper than necessary?”

“That's never just how it is,” Majima narrowed his eye, remembering Shimano's smirk in the dungeons—turning over in his head how it seemed to be Shimano's plan all along, how none of the Tojo brass ever did things on one reason and one reason alone, “What's in it fer you, reignin' me in now? Couldn't have come earlier? Couldn't have stopped me at the hospital? All yer pretty speeches needed to be penned down before ya spewed 'em?”

Sera sniffed like it was a laugh, then said, “I admire your restraint, Majima,”

“Save it,” Majima said as he looked at the crippled Lao Gui, bridled not only by that but Sera himself, no doubt to be used as insurance against Dojima rising again, “You just used me to do yer dirty work. Same as Patriarch Shimano.”

“You just happened to have already crushed the Dojima family by the time I arrived here. Makoto has only just woken up, and has not yet learned of your whereabouts. But she will, and soon. Will you be the one to tell her what you've done, or shall I?” Sera furrowed his brows. Fitting how Majima suddenly realized how Makoto felt in the park—being talked at in circles, trying to be squashed from every angle. Sneering, Majima's voice darkened.

“Shut yer trap,” his eye remained wild, “Enacting her rage or acting on my own, don't wax yer poetics at me. I killed 'em with my bare hands, I ain't delusional. But...never forget how this started,”

Sera's brows knitted further and he ever so slightly turned as Majima seethed, “If a calm, collected man came up to her and explained everything, had her sign the deed over, all quiet-like, all this bloodshed you lament could've been avoided. Perhaps...a guy who prides himself in knowing everything from the shadows?”

Majima tilted his head, “Just thinkin' out loud,”

“You do realize, that in this situation that you've conjured, you would have no need to meet her and never would have,” Sera countered calmly, though his voice was low so that Dojima could not hear.

“I'm workin' on her best interests. Maybe it'd be in her best interest to have never met me. Maybe you're thinkin' the same, now,”

After all, Makoto's presence had shifted the tectonic plates. The gilded cage was no longer a reality for Majima. Shimano was his boss, but even if puppeted he wasn't acting on Shimano's direct orders even if it worked out in his favor. He wasn't acting on any orders, just wishes. Wishes of a traumatized blind girl. His leash was no longer in anyone's hands, and now with blood washing his skin red that must've truly been a terrifying thought. Majima Goro, no longer laying down and taking it like a loyal dog, because if she wouldn't, why should he?

They stared at each other.

“But, again, here we are,” Majima shrugged, “I do what I must,”

He walked a few paces then stopped, spinning the dagger a few times in his hand and liking how it felt.

“You're right. It didn't have to come to this.”

Sera watched the bloodied hannya on his back breathe with life as Majima left without another word.

 

~~

 

Mori gurgled, hunching in fear as he heard the broken door swing open behind him. Lifting his head, he saw the one-eyed man step through his fallen comrades. The only solace was that some of them were still groaning, in pain but alive. The one-eyed man didn't seem to take notice of him until he reached the exiting door. He paused, then looked back at him.

Mori felt like a ghost and couldn't even swallow.

The stare was long enough to be one of acknowledgment, maybe even a somber apology that knew it couldn't make up for what happened. All the same, it was something respectable, in a twisted way. Taking responsibility, understanding Mori's position, expecting karma to eat at him someday. Mori froze, not knowing what to do or if the gaze would turn crazy again before he finished him off. Death hung between being a mercy and being a punishment, and now that Mori had been intentionally left alive he didn't know where he wanted to be.

The one-eyed man turned without a word and the hannya disappeared into shadow beyond the exit door.

Mori pressed his uninjured cheek against the broken coffee table and felt tears leak out of his eyes. It was over.

 

Chapter Text

Indirect sunlight, cool noontime shadows, and the far reaches of harsh fluorescent lights touched Majima in patterns as he passed down the hallways of the hospital. Needing a cigarette but opting to chew his lip instead, his gaze was hard and dark, strides long and determined. Even nurses and doctors stepped out of his way, all eying him in concern and fear. Majima paid them no mind though he felt his presence part the waters in front of him, boots clacking against the polished floors.

He understood it now. Shimano was in the business of breeding monsters, and Majima had been his special product. All the dominoes had fallen in the right places, all the strings had been pulled so that the puppet moved as Shimano willed it to move. The act of breaking loose and crippling Dojima had just been the grand finale, a baptism. More than ten men dead, all of whom got swept under the rug thanks to Shimano's influence coupled with the overwhelming evidence against Dojima's actions.

Mad dog.

Kids used to stare at his face until it was well past the realm of rudeness. Now they only stared from behind the safety of a parent's arm, scared of the aura he put off, scared of how easily his lips curled into a manic smile even when it seemed he wasn't trying—even when he was wearing clothes that were closer to a civilian's standards and not the garish, wild outfit he wore as a warning. Snakeskin jacket hung over his bare chest, leather pants clung to his long legs, and black leather gloves gave some distance between him and whoever the fuck he was beating the shit out of. Kept his hands 'clean', as it were, even though he couldn't fool himself in how soiled they had become. He cut his hair off, too; after all, there was absolutely no reason to give anyone chances to yank him around by a ponytail again. It separated him from the previous life as well, and even though it had been painful it was necessary in more ways than one.

Sagawa had made a comment on how far the apple had fallen from the tree—no longer the classy guy who used to run the Grand as well as Club Sunshine with his the customer is king rule and obedient formality. Old fuck was missing the point, but in essence he wasn't—he sounded almost sad, but Majima took it as a dim realization that he realized that he no longer held any sway over him. Likely that Sagawa was going to be offed for fucking up the Omi's entrance into Kamurocho and losing Majima in the process.

Good riddance. Majima made a note to occasionally piss in alleyway cracks in a foul attempt to have it trickle down for Sagawa to drink in hell. It had only been a couple of weeks since the Empty Lot had been sold, and in the resulting chaos of his actions Majima had not had the time to seek out if Saki was okay after Sagawa shot her or if the old fuck had kept his promise and left the rest of Sunshine unharmed. Knowing or suspecting that Sagawa's time was ending either literally or metaphorically was enough for Majima to help steel himself for when it came time to find out what happened to the girls—if he could even stomach the idea of finding out.

Beyond that, beyond all the yakuza politics and his past life and where his future was headed, stepping back from it all and just sitting in the blackness and breathing for a moment, Majima didn't feel much of anything. The changes that went on seemed in his control but beyond his care, simply happening like they had to happen, one stitch after the other until it was done. The only thing he did feel was a sense of forlornness and sorrow that were much bigger and deeper than he was willing to acknowledge. Unfinished business, uncertain business at that.

If he could, he would leave her without a word. Leave Makoto to a life she could build with her own hands and live happily in, far the hell away from him and the life he was cultivating for himself now in snakeskin jackets and puppet strings. But he knew her, and he knew her well. She knew his name, and she wouldn't ever let him go even in memory. If he could just take that away, erase that knowledge and quietly push her towards something better than him so she wouldn't be swallowed again, he would. But he could only do so much, so here he was, passing through the patterns of lights and shadows to say good-bye.

Well. Good-bye and one other thing.

A doctor swiveled on his heels as Majima passed him in the hallway, and his voice interrupted his thoughts but not his steps.

“Hey, you, there's no patient for you to see down here, is there?”

Majima didn't respond, which prompted him to jog up with his shorter legs.

“Hey, you're in the wrong ward—the patients here aren't expecting guests,”

“I ain't expected,” Majima retorted in a low voice. The doctor frowned, struggling to keep his pace.

“What's the name of the patient you're here to see?”

“Ain't yer business, doc,” Majima retorted.

“It is,” the doctor insisted, “Because my patient is down there!”

“Oh,” Majima stopped, then turned, slow. True that he didn't know for sure who it was the doctor was talking about, but even if he didn't know everything he knew that there weren't many patients that would invoke such an invigorated response, “You sweet on her?”

The doctor froze, but his face remained determined and insistent. Majima regarded him, tilting his head to the side like he was a peculiar animal, “Ain't that a little unprofessional fer a doctor-patient relationship?”

Swallowing and trying not to panic though it was obvious that Majima had struck a particular nerve, the doctor tried to retort, “Th-That's not the point—,”

“Oh, you are, aren't ya?”

Flustered, he continued, “Patients in our care are to remain safe, and we're to take note of any suspicious characters attempting to visit particular patients,”

Majima stepped towards him, “Oh, I see. You're callin' me suspicious,” What with his bare, clearly tattooed chest and tight leather pants and such—he was conspicuous at best.

Determined not to fall in Majima's trap again, the doctor hardened his expression, “I won't have her hurt by the likes of you again,”

In a blur and a dull slam Majima pinned the doctor to the pillar between windows by his neck, seething his tobacco-ridden breath as the winded doctor fumbled and panicked. Majima wasn't squeezing hard enough—if at all—but his gloved hand was firm on the flesh of his neck. The doctor's eyes flashed in fear down below Majima's arm, where, tucked in its own sleeve, the dagger rested.

“I ain't the first yakuza you seen in these hallways, then, huh,” his voice wasn't the proper tone for the situation. It was low, sure, but far more casual like they were chatting over appetizers. The doctor squirmed but tried to keep his grounding.

“I thought these visits were over,” he spat, “How many times are you going to badger her when she's already done her due?!”

“Relax,” Majima glowered, “In and out. That's all I'll be,”

Another glance at the dagger and the doctor sneered, “I'm sure.”

Majima straightened himself up, adjusting his jacket to hide the dagger from view even if it was a belated gesture.

“If you lay a finger on her...,” the doctor breathed, then tried to shake his head, “No, you can't go down there, I won't allow it. I'm calling for security—,”

That's when Majima tightened his hold, digging his fingers and leaning in close, shadowing both their faces. It had been ages since he had seen her, and no matter his wishes leaving her alone after so much—after what had happened, knowing that Sera was the one to relay to her everything he had done, no. He had to see her, if only to bring her a last promise of peace. He didn't even want to right or find out exactly what Sera had said, that held no importance to him. Horse shit or not, the words out of Sera's mouth didn't hold a candle to what he needed to do for her now. Security would cause a fuss, and if she ever found out that they were so close to seeing each other again but it had been ripped away...

It had happened too many times, just with them. For her, it had been never-ending since her life began. He cussed in the doctor's face.

“I'm going to see her and that's final. Now get out of my way, or I'll make ya glad yer in a hospital,”

Majima released him, not too gently, either, and continued on his way, destination in sight. The doctor stumbled, cursed quietly, then stood as if to challenge Majima from afar—or at least declare that he was going to call security and that'd be the end of it.

Majima, however, had stopped moving. In front of him was the surgeon from before, although no longer in blood-splattered scrubs. She looked tired but otherwise alright, her hair still in a messy but stylish bun. Underneath a neat blazer and simple jewelry her pleasant scrubs showed—meaning she had just finished a shift. At the sight of his bare chest her face hardened, following up until she met his singular eye. She studied for a long time, with that professional layer to her that he wondered was something she could ever take off. He was quiet and didn't push forward, respecting her judgment.

“T-Tezuka-san...,” the doctor muttered in shock and fear, like Majima would do something.

Doctor,” the surgeon corrected without taking her eyes off of Majima. The corner of his lip twitched like he was going to snort at the doctor's mistake, but he simply kept his expression still, waiting for what the surgeon would say.

She raised her chin ever so slightly, and he swore he could see the corners of her eyes soften as she finally spoke, to him and only him.

“She hasn't asked for you in a week. But I can see it in her eyes...,”

Tezuka stepped off to the side, clearing his path. Majima's eye followed her, no longer caring about the doctor behind him. She took the opportunity to nod and say more.

“Her eyes have recovered considerably, but they're still sensitive. We keep the lights off unless necessary.”

Majima dipped his chin, a slow and genuine bow despite its smallness, then he continued down the last stretch of hallway. Behind him he heard the doctor, aghast at Tezuka's decision, try to understand why she had done such a thing. The only reply she gave was to correct him again—from Tezuka-san to Doctor, and no argument in between.

Majima smirked and put his hand on the handle to Makoto's room.

White curtains were drawn over the window, giving the room a light and cozy blue wash from the sunlight. A second, privacy curtain was drawn loosely around the bed. From within it, a reading lamp was lit—its warm light poking through the gaps where it could. The room itself was quiet, except for his footsteps which prompted a response from behind the curtain.

“Hm? Doctor Tezuka? Did you forget something?”

Majima swallowed as the door closed behind him, knowing that his silence was damning him more than helping but he was physically unable to say anything. His heart was racing, flooding his mind with idiotic fight-or-flight responses that shouldn't have had any impact on anything. The silence that followed Makoto's question from within the curtains told him that she felt the same fight-or-flight response, although for entirely different reasons.

He found the gap in the curtain at the foot of the bed and slid it open. Makoto was sitting up, a thin novel open at her lap with a crude bookmark on the open pages. The right side of her face was illuminated with the warm light from the reading lamp, the left washed in soft, cool shadows from the room. Majima stared in what he could only say was awe—awe at how alive she was, how it almost seemed like nothing had happened to her at all. His mouth hung open ever so slightly as if his muscles knew he should say something but nothing followed through as he stared.

She stared back.

She stared back.

Different than her half-sight on the rooftops, different than her eyes very nearly but just missing the mark. Both her wide eyes fixated on his single one, catching him in a crossfire he wasn't used to. Children stared, adults stared, he felt indifferent about it. But her, when she stared, and it actually met his eye—he could barely breathe, his chest swelling but not letting go.

He was so awestruck in her focus that he didn't realize that her gaze was hard, discriminating, and deep down scared until he noticed the fingers of one hand curl around the edge of the book while the other quietly slipped to her side. Behind it was a button to call for a nurse, well within her reach. He looked back to her, how her gaze didn't waver or ask or wait for him as her hand slowly moved farther back.

Her eyes have recovered considerably, but they're still sensitive. Majima looked to the lamp. The thought honestly didn't strike him until it was almost too late—the light must've only lit enough of his face that she could only see his good side. With his cut hair and wild jacket over stark-ass nothing, he did not look like anybody she could know or trust.

Clamping his mouth shut and swallowing, blowing out the air that built in his chest, he forced the nonchalant goofiness that he used around his hostesses into his voice (noticing that it still wavered uncontrollably no matter how hard he tried) and rounded the bed so that the light shone on his eyepatch.

“Hey, hey, next time ya wanna get matchin' scars, warn me would ya? I almost had a heart attack...,”

He sat on the edge of her bed and lifted his jacket, exposing the angry pink swelling still around the gunshot wound. Her own was buried beneath fresh bandages and cheap, efficient hospital blankets, but his eye knew where it was and gave it a noted glance before coming back to her. There had been a smile—more of a smirk on his face, but it fell fast, buried by dread and anxiety. Makoto's hand had stopped and the fear washed away to recognition and wonder, her eyes darting all around him to take every detail in. She remained silent, however, and though he couldn't figure why he felt it was, in a way, right. Majima frowned and found his hands fiddling with each other and he looked away, turning his blind side towards her.

“Look, I, uh...,”

He froze for a moment, unsure of where to go even though he knew what he wanted to say. Sighing, he looked at the folded privacy curtain to the corner of the room just beyond it. Nothing about it provided any gumption, but he stared at it anyways, vision blurring.

“I don't know where any of this is gonna go from here, but uh...I figure...,”

Majima swallowed again.

“Y'know. Figure it's best if I uh. Don't stick around. M'sure Sera filled ya in, huh?”

He looked over. She stared, same as ever, then dipped her head in a solemn nod. He looked back to the corner.

“Ain't the same guy coming out as I was comin' in. But uh, y'know...Ain't a bad thing,”

Coughing and brushing his lips because god he needed a cigarette, he made an awkward noise, “Er, I mean, in that...I also came here to thank you.

“Yeah...,” he looked at the lazy dust motes drifting in and out of sight, “Needed to thank you.”

Though he had spat Sera's words back at him in the moment they were haunting him now—suggestions of her disappointment or inability to pay him back, truly love him in turn after all of the monstrous things he went and did under the guise it was for her sake. As much as his logic held solid—that they weren't built upon repaid debts—the idea that she could and would fear and shun him was a very real threat to him. Even if in the end he felt they had to part ways for her safety now that he was back in the Tojo Clan, he would've wanted to part on at least bittersweet terms. No promises to hold or break, no holding out for the other, just a closing of the book and moving on even though he knew he'd always cherish her closer than he'd let anyone know. She would always be there, because without her he didn't know where he'd be.

Because of that, he needed to thank her. Like it or not, she was the sole reason he was truly back on track with what he wanted, needed to do with his life. She was the one who destroyed his gilded cage, not him. Even if it was worth nothing to her now, she needed to know that.

“You taught me how to fight back,” he murmured, turning just so he could see her, “Even if it meant bitin' the hand that forced food down my mouth. I mean it, don't think I'd be here without ya...I'd still be slaving away—with the girls, sure, but that just meant we were all slaves of some sort. Used fer profit. All fer nothin', too,”

Ashamed, he made a pained sound, “And it was fer somethin', at least, when it was for you. Everything I did, I did because I wanted to, because you needed me to,”

He shook his head and his gaze dropped to the space between her fingers and his on the crumpled sheets.

“I mean, damn...,” he whispered with a hoarse laugh, “If a blind girl could do all that, the fuck's my excuse, huh?”

More dust motes floated into his vision, blanketing the quiet between them.

“I think you saved my life, Makoto-han,” he whispered at them, watching as his voice disturbed their paths.

He blinked, the quiet suddenly getting to him, and he shook his head. Time was running short on them, again, but now it was his notion of how long he allowed himself to stay. Every second was a second she was close to danger—every moment was a moment Shimano could try to pull the rug out from underneath him, leash or no, and pull her in to control him, control the both of them again.

“That's it, I guess,” he muttered, “Just wanted to let ya know myself, that I'm still kickin', and all that...bullshit I just said,”

He looked over to where she was still staring at him, like her eyes had never left. The novel in her hands was closed, her hands clasping it until the edges rumpled. Sadness started to seep into his heart and he sighed, unable to look her in the eyes. How...ironic, after all this time. Despite his intention to say good-bye he was rooted to the spot, sitting on her bedside and almost-but-not-quite looking at her, the way she used to look at him. There was little left to say or do, and the hospital room was becoming a calm, cruel sort of capsule for them to stay in where the world outside didn't matter. Much like the apartment had been, much like he wished it really was.

Makoto, without a word or flourish, quietly slid the bookmark out of the middle of the novel.

“H-Hey,” Majima furrowed his brow in confusion and looked up at her, “What're ya doin'—,”

With a gentle hand she held the bookmark out for him to see. In a heartbeat his words clogged up and became shameful, embarrassed stutters. It was the now flattened piece of cardboard from the cup sleeve he had written on. Even though she had been using it as a bookmark and even though he had used some child's magic marker to write it, he could still see his handwriting, clear as day.

Aishiteru.

“A-Ah,” he swallowed, “You...found it.”

She had. Soon after gaining enough consciousness to sell the lot and seeing Kiryu's rigid shadow at her bedside, she tried to pull whatever information she could out of him. But his characteristic stoicism held strong, even though it was soft and at times awkward. There was no doubt in her mind that he was holding things back, especially as his outwardly chipper and overly suave brother kept pulling him away to the corner to whisper, all hush-hush, whatever updates he needed to know. Makoto tried to strain her ears for the first few times it happened, swearing she could hear the suffix jima but given that the name Dojima was thrown around, she couldn't be certain who they were talking about. Sighing into her pillows only made her feel Kiryu's eyes on her, sympathetic. That was when he handed the cane to her, that was when she started fiddling, that was when she found the note.

Makoto had handed it to Kiryu, asking if it held any importance. He went quiet for a very, very, very long time, then returned it to her, saying that he didn't think it was his place to read what it said.

From that point forward she started to demand what had happened to Majima, but no one let her know anything, not until Sera returned.

His voice was kind, benevolent as she remembered it, but disturbed beneath. He danced around the details at first, but when he had to say the worst he said it as plainly as possible. That is to say, that Majima had brutalized and felled much of the Dojima family to push them away from her. A fit of rage, he called it.

It struck Makoto that Sera didn't know that her rage was what spurred Majima to attack in the first place. Either that, or he didn't believe it.

Almost a week after she had woken up her eyes had recovered enough to read the message he had left her. The next day Doctor Tezuka had brought her a stack of short novels to help her focus her eyesight. Makoto stopped asking for Majima and simply rubbed her finger along the edges of the bookmark whenever she wanted to. It was a message of absolute devotion—a thing so powerful it silenced his name on her lips as she became relaxed and patient, waiting for him.

She should've known it was him the moment he stood, stupefied at the foot of the hospital bed. To think she almost called security on him again like when they had first met—how strangely fitting. The moment the Kansai accent left his lips and his eyepatch swallowed light on his face her weak eyes lit up and wouldn't allow her to tear her gaze away.

“Majima...,” she finally broke her silence on an exhaled breath. His eye still tried to find something else to focus on, but, defeated, finally went back to her. The sadness that emanated from it hurt her chest, but moreso it was the shame that stuck with her as she stared. Everything she wanted to say pushed together like a crowd of people, drowning any ability to single out a thought. So she closed her mouth again and relied on the language they built. Carefully placing the message back in the book so she wouldn't lose it, she raised her hands. He watched as they paused between them, waiting for him to lean ever so slightly forward so she could cup his face again.

This time she could see what she was feeling—the color of his skin in the soft light and mottled shadow, the sharpness of his bones and brow, the dark bags under his eye that she guessed never really went away, the way the chopped edges of his hair bordered his face, the absolute fondness from his eye as he stared back at her. Without knowing it a smile began to form at the corners of her mouth, serene and profoundly happy even though he was unsure and sad.

She whispered his name again, and then again. It was something that seemed to become a part of every breath—so quiet that anyone that wasn't as close to her as Majima was wouldn't be able to hear it.

“Makoto...,” he finally interrupted with the same tone she used, “Are you...going to be okay?”

Her smile widened as her hands caressed his cheeks until her thumb met the bridge of his nose again, following up between his eyes. Majima's eye fluttered closed as her thumb gently and slowly brushed over his eyelid to the far side. He shuddered, moving farther into her hold.

“I've built my life from scratch before...,” she answered, “I can do it again...,”

Majima opened his eye, seeing the corner of her mouth quirk, “Of course, being a billionaire is going to help a bit...,”

Finally a ghost of a smile graced his lips and Makoto tried to see as much of it as she could before they turned downward again, pained. Studying him brought her own smile down, concerned and anxious as she pulled him closer, tilting her forehead towards his until his hair barely touched hers.

“Stay...,” she begged; not a demand or an order, simply just a quiet request for his presence, “Stay. You don't have to go,”

“Makoto,” he couldn't hide the pain in his voice anymore as his face cringed, forcing him to blur his image of her in his eye, “You don't know how close ya came to...never bein' free again,”

“Majima...,” she begged again.

“If ya had gone with me, to my boss,” he swallowed, voice cracking, “An' if he was the one to buy the land off ya, Makoto...,”

She breathed, heavy and shrill.

“He was gonna pawn ya off to me, as a fuckin' bonus. I almost did that, I almost did that to ya...,”

“You didn't,” she trembled despite the strength of her tone. He shook his head, both an acknowledgment and a dismissal.

“But it could happen again, and I couldn't, I wouldn't be able to live with knowin' I brought all this shit to ya all over again...,”

Majima,” she interrupted, firm, strong, but gentle, “Majima. Majima...,”

He quieted though his mouth hung slightly open, trembling. Closed his eye. Listened. Watching his response brought the smile back to her face and she exhaled, long, soft, and relaxing.

“I meant it when I said I'd never have gotten this far, without you,” she murmured, “You, the girls at Club Sunshine, and everything that you are, that you make the world around you be...,”

God, she was speaking like he had any power about him and his life. A small whine of protest built in his throat but he kept it there for her sake.

Makoto took a moment to appreciate him, then spoke, deep, “Thank you.”

Majima's breath caught in his throat.

“Thank you for listening to me,” she continued, “For believing in me. Believing everything I wanted to do, wanted to say...,”

Majima had taken her seriously, much as the world tried to force him to think otherwise. Her anger resonated with him, and though terrible things happened because of it there was nothing greater in the swelling of her chest than the idea that he had willingly given her his power to wield. More than anything she was struck that he had given her power simply because he believed she wouldn't misuse it, wouldn't misuse him. Now it was over, he had ensured her freedom, it was her turn to ensure his happiness.

“Stay,” she pleaded again, “Please, please, please...,”

Majima gave another pained whine and Makoto shook her head.

“You can leave, I know, I know you have to be who you have to be,” she whispered, “You can leave, but please come back. Leave, come back, stay with me, please...,”

“Makoto...,” he choked out.

“I know it will be difficult. Dangerous. But it won't be anything like I haven't endured before. Although,” she smirked, “Leaving might be more painful than I'm ready for,”

“If somethin' happens...,” he protested. Her smirk widened with the fire in her eyes.

“Then you tell yourself this is what I wanted. That I forced you into it, if you need to,”

He coughed, almost a laugh, then scrunched his features like she was crazy for suggesting he'd blame her for anything. Makoto's voice softened as she moved her hand to the back of his neck and pushed her forehead flush against his.

“Don't take happiness from yourself because it's not going to be easy...,” she begged. Majima exhaled, shoulders drooping. Nothing in her entire whole goddamn life had been easy. His life had been a cakewalk compared to hers, and his wasn't anything but hard and unforgiving. Hell, it must've been so mind-numblingly easy for her to propose this, to beg for it—might've been the easiest damn thing in her life. She was willing to work, willing to fight for her happiness even if there was no end in sight.

“Fuck...,” he cussed quietly to himself, “What's my excuse...,”

Her thumb ran over the edge of the bookmark and she muttered, “I can think of one,”

He breathed, in and out, over and over each time with an increased sort of intensity as he tried to form words, eye flicking down to the bookmark obscured by her slender hand. Goddamn him, he couldn't even bring himself to say the words he had so carefully written on that cheap piece of cardboard.

“Even if you have to leave and come back,” she reiterated, speaking to the space between them, “So long as you come back...,”

Begging him, because he listened to her when she was in pain and so angry she could rip heaven down, because he was listening to her now when she was laying docile in soft light and dust motes. Majima swallowed, his tone changing ever so slightly.

“Mako—,”

He was interrupted by the loud but charming chime of the pocket in his jacket. Makoto froze, her eyes widening as they looked to the source of the sound. More sheepish than he would care to admit, Majima dipped his hand into his jacket. Makoto watched in sheer awe as he pulled out her watch, singing its music box tune proudly like it had never been broken before.

Some things you can't just throw away, you know? Even if it seems pointless to other people, some things are just really important to you. I lost my sight, lost all track of time, the watch broke, the chime stopped playing. I know. I have no need for it now. But it's a memento of back when my life was still normal. If I got rid of it, I feel like I'd never...

Makoto gasped as hot tears slipped from her eyes, hand sliding down from the back of his neck to grasp the watch in his hand, pulling both it and him close to her chest. The small vibration from the mechanics of the watch as it played its melody meshed with her heartbeat.

I get it. If ya can't bring yerself to throw it away, keep it. Hang on to it long enough, and eventually it'll bring ya good luck.

“Hhaha,” he rasped, “Guess I mistimed it. I was s'posed to be outta here by the time it went off.”

“A-Ah,” Makoto tried to answer but she was sobbing instead, fingers pawing at the gloves on his hand as the passed the watch off to her, knuckles lingering down her sternum as she pressed the chime closer to her heart.

“Ma-Majima,” she barely managed to stutter, “Majima,”

“Majima, Majima, Majima,” he rambled, “My name's Goro,”

“H-Huh?” she swallowed a sob and he scoffed as his eye darted around again.

“Been callin' ya Makoto all this time. Only fair, huh?”

She tried to calm herself down as he let one of his long fingers curl and brush along the line of her chest, soothing and loving.

“'Sides. Can't have ya bein' that formal if we are gonna go through with this, huh?”

His voice was meek, meeker than it had ever been before. Makoto lifted her head, meeting his eye as more tears pushed their way out from the overwhelming emotion. Unwilling to let go of the chiming watch to wipe them away, she simply let them either drip from her chin or cling to the edges of her hair as she inhaled and swallowed.

“Goro...-han,” she finally answered.

“Whoa now,” he chuckled nervously, “Takin' my Kansai from me just like that?”

She smiled, “It just...sounds softer to me. Closer to who you are,”

Majima laughed through his nose, turning it into a calm and pleased hum as he finally pressed back against her forehead, long nose nuzzling against her. She let the quiet wrap them up together for a while as the tears lost their intensity though they still flowed. He sighed and relaxed against her, free hand moving to hold her crooked ribs, across from where she had been shot.

“...Xiao Qiao,” she whispered.

“Huh?”

“Xiao Qiao,” she said again, “That's...That was my name.”

“Oh?”

“Nobody...Nobody's around that knows it anymore,” So pass the memory of the name onto him. Funny how she could feel Majima soften with the recognition of its importance.

“Xiao Qiao...,” he murmured and Makoto laughed.

Xiao Qiao,” she corrected, and he blinked. He repeated the sounds back to her and, through shed tears and smiles, she did the same to him, over and over until he arrived at the closest approximation he could. Not only was his Japanese accent clogging the softer distinctions of the sounds but the Kansai muddled it further—at least to her ears. But he was determined enough and the sincerity was there that she almost didn't care how he said it.

Makoto perked her chin forward and kissed him in the middle of saying her name, interrupting and widening his eye in shock. With a small laugh she kissed him again and he did so in turn, gloved hand coming up to brush her cheek. Grumbling into her mouth he dropped his hand and pulled the glove off and touched her cheek again, skin-to-skin. Her smile pushed her face into the warmth of his hand.

He pulled away, ghosting his lips up along the bridge of her nose until he reached her forehead. Sighing into her hair, he found himself rocking gently from side to side as if the chime from the watch was still playing. Makoto turned her face upward ever so slightly, yearning for his closeness even if it was impossible for them to ever tell each other apart.

He was right. That's what made the closeness they could achieve special.

“Goro-han...,” she whispered.

“Xiao Qiao...,” he answered.

A pause. Then she gathered her strength and whispered the message he had written back to him, for him. Majima breathed and held her tight.

He reached over and turned the reading lamp off, letting them dwell together in silence and early afternoon shadows.

 

Chapter Text

Majima had been chain-smoking in front of Club Sunshine for the better part of an hour. The aviator shades blocked any sign of his missing eye by reflecting the bright, cloudless sunlight. Youda had shown his face a few times, dusting the doors and sweeping the front. Majima had been there since he had ensured a parcel for Yuki had been delivered. Youda didn't seem to notice him. That was fine.

He was waiting for the girls.

Serendipitous would be the word to describe the weeks following Makoto's release from the hospital, although Majima wasn't so sure he believed in luck anymore. (Luck had nothing against grabbing fate by the throat.) After the bloodbath he had caused, Shimano needed him to lay low—there was no better way to do that than to help Makoto rebuild.

Her mouth had been twisted into a strange grimace when she returned to her old apartment; with the help of Lee it had been arranged to the needs of a blind person and it felt wrong that she no longer needed it. Braille books and labels, soft cushions on counter corners just in case, wires taped to the wall, pillow seats stuck to the floor via velcro...Majima had to be the one to remove what she didn't need. He felt her eyes on him the whole time, fascinated with how he looked, how he moved. It made him feel like he was a part of some hoity-toity museum, examined by aspiring auteurs. Of course that meant he was nothing less than a work of art to her, and never before had he ever remotely considered himself as such. (Especially since Makoto agreed with Ai's judgement—a cartoon villain's face, albeit a handsome one. Majima had choked.)

It was more than just her eyes that made him feel that way. There wasn't a way to articulate his relief that her hands had regained their strength. He felt it whenever she squeezed his arm a little too tight, pulling him down into kisses that, whether fast or slow, eventually escalated to lovemaking. Her fingers could trail lightly until his skin prickled with goosebumps, but they just as easily gripped him with a desperate intensity he had to return. She mapped each muscle, knowing him with the depth a sculptor knew their piece but though her hands had strength she didn't shape or mold him to anything different than what he was. More than once Majima found his place moaning against her neck before trailing small, red bite marks from under her jaw to the side opposite her bullet scar. His lips would trail along her broken ribs, remembering the first night where he had consciously chosen to make her feel as though the imperfections, while there, made no difference.

Incredible how she was now doing the same for him, soiled hands, soiled mind or no.

The grimace she had worn in her apartment returned when they poked around the remains of Hogushi Kaikan, newly purchased by Makoto herself. Instead of wrongness, however, there was a flare of determination to her as she rolled up the pastel pink sleeves of her plaid shirt and started to clean. Sweeping debris away, rearranging tables and ledgers, taking measurements of the shattered windows and counting the broken lights—all with his help, all in Lee's memory until her face was filthy with dust and sweat. It was all Majima could do to help, even if helping meant stopping her when she overextended her healing wound or started trembling at the memory of her foster father. For that, she was grateful—even if in the moment it annoyed her.

Sooner than either of them would like their time would be up and he would have to return to Kamurocho. For the time being there were very few, if any moments they were truly apart from each other. They had made sure to sacrifice a few days to simply nothing—spending it all in her apartment wrapped in each other even if they were at the kotatsu, quietly listening to the muffled noises of the outside world. Holding her from behind gave him access to kiss the back of her neck, making her giggle at the prickling touch of the beard he was forming around his lips.

Still, there were holes pocked in several places. Traumatic episodes continued to follow lovemaking, usually ending in her sobbing apologies. Majima was used to it, however, and didn't need her apologies though hearing them certainly drove his fingers deeper into her hair, stroking calmly as she quieted down. That she allowed him to embrace her through it, that hearing him murmur and whisper to her relaxed her shaking limbs, it was enough. It was enough to hear I'm here.

I'm here, Xiao Qiao.

It was enough to recover.

By their final night together she simply buried himself blind into his chest, not really trembling, not really sobbing, just soaking his presence as he continued to pronounce her name in a perfect Kansai accent. The following day, Majima spent too much time saying good-bye before leaving her in Hogushi Kaikan. He'd return, that much they were both certain of. When, neither of them knew. But just knowing he'd be back was enough. From there the aviators slipped on as the eyepatch slipped off and he traveled the short distance from the massage parlor to Club Sunshine.

He straightened up. Mana had arrived first, fiddling with a full keyring that was color-coded. Her chin was ducked into the cowl of her coat, not noticing him from the other side of the street. Rather, maybe she did, but paid him no mind. Majima watched as she opened the doors to Club Sunshine, locking them behind her as she greeted Youda. His shoulders relaxed again, glancing up at the sun that still shone bright, like sunset wasn't a mere hour or so away.

It seemed that Sagawa had upheld something for once in his life—if only it was because he didn't have time to continue fucking with Sunshine.

Relief washed over him and he tucked another cigarette in his mouth. Ducking down to light it, he heard a strange, off-beat walk, amplified by what sounded like a heavy metal cane. He glanced up and his teeth tamped down on the cig.

Saki. Alive and well—or, almost well. The gunshot had done a number on her hip, that much was clear to see. From her foot to her waist, her affected leg was supported by a polished metal brace, creating the off-beat noise. He almost smirked though his eye had widened in exuberant joy—of course she was still the first employee to work, hip blown half to smithereens or not. Her messenger bag was open, bouncing along and weighed down by whatever textbook wasn't in her arms as she paged through, studying while walking. More than once, though it wasn't a long stretch of street, Saki paused, putting her weight on her good leg, as she continued to read like it was no interruption at all.

Damn girl, Majima took a drag, Learns life lessons worse than I do.

Saki shut her textbook at the presence of hands around her shoulders, rumbling her green military coat and rubbing her arms lovingly. Hibiki appeared beside her, sporting a simple turtleneck sweater. Grasping Saki's far shoulder, Hibiki took on some of her weight, making sure the textbook remained closed.

“Saki, Saki, Saki! Won't you follow your own advice and give yourself a break? Yuuta missed you last night!”

Saki grumbled but hummed at the young boy's name, “I missed him too. He's the only thing that's making me feel like I'm staying busy. I still can't do the things I used to,”

Hibiki gave a sympathetic and sweet hum, and Majima noticed that Saki kept glancing at the throat of the other girl's turtleneck, almost like she was nervous. Still, Hibiki didn't seem to notice, and walked Saki to the door. Their physically weakest girl, out here, walking their physically strongest to the door for support.

“How'd your test go this morning?”

“Better than I was expecting,” Saki sighed, “But I mean it, I did miss Yuuta, and...,”

Her voice was cut off by the swinging of the door. Majima's ears prickled, wishing he could see and hear more, but he kept himself rooted to the spot.

Ai came next, gaze turned to the ground with her mousey ears poking out through her hair. It was nothing out of the ordinary for her, Majima knew. After walking around the city with her he noticed that it was her habit to watch her feet as she walked—a sort of thing grown from a lonely childhood. Somehow that loneliness had fostered her heart, or maybe it was simply because she could still hold optimism. She disappeared into the cabaret without much flair, but it wasn't long before she came back out, already half-dressed in fancy clothes for the night. In doing so she almost ran into Chika, who, like Saki, also had her nose stuck in a book.

Unlike Saki it had been a novel, and Majima hoped he didn't look like a lecherous vulture as he craned his neck to try and see what she was reading. It was a mystery—a paranormal one too. Majima straightened up and huffed a sigh of small approval. Not that romance novels would poison her, but he was glad that she seemed engrossed in something that wasn't that; getting herself away from the primary cause of her pain, if only for a little while.

Ai asked the elegant woman if she had seen Yuki yet, to which the reply was no. It wasn't so strange, though. In fact Majima had been banking on Yuki being late—that was why he addressed the parcel to her. Ai frowned, mentioning said parcel quizzically. Chika stood with Ai for a moment, trying to puzzle out why it had been sent to the cabaret and not Yuki's apartment. It had been noted, too, that Ai had been at Yuki's recently, and there had been nothing out of the ordinary. Chika adjusted the straps of her purse to squish the novel in between them before heading into the cabaret to see the parcel for herself. Ai twisted her mouth and waited just outside the entrance proper.

At the sight of him she folded her hands behind her and pressed her back against the wall, trying to look casual but fidgeting too much to actually succeed. Majima watched as her eyes constantly flicked to him, concerned and anxious. Well, he did look like quite the sight, sticking out like a sore thumb even amongst other yakuza. There was a brief moment where he was worried Ai would recognize him—him and his dumb cartoon villain face—but that thought was quieted when he realized that the drastic change in fashion and the aviators probably did their job to keep his identity hidden.

It didn't stop Mana from emerging from the cabaret, dressed in a silver kimono with rabbits frolicking in a rice field embroidered to the edges. Ai kept her eyes on him as she exchanged murmured words with Mana. He simply raised the cigarette to his lips and drew in, the embers at the end burning brighter as Mana straightened, prepared herself, and approached him.

“Are you waiting for the cabaret to open, sir?” she asked, polite but stony and guarded. Majima hummed, taking the cigarette out of his mouth and crossing his arms in front of him.

“Nah,” he tried to at least make a subtle change to his voice though he didn't care too much, “Just people-watchin',”

Mana's brows twitched as if she was going to grimace but she caught herself, donning a smile, “If you'd like to talk to any of the girls, we'll be opening in an hour. Until then, sir, maybe you'd like to sit down somewhere?”

“Nah, I ain't gonna be here much longer,” he answered, “Jus' wanted to see the sights,”

Another twitch, in response to him calling the girls sights. Mana kept her professionalism but gave a glance to Ai, telling her that she was still unsure of the situation. Ai crept down the wall a ways before turning and disappearing down the street. Mana inhaled.

“May I ask why, sir?”

“Curiosity, I s'pose. Ain't much else to it,”

Mana hummed, uneasy, “Sir, I don't mean to be rude, but standing out here like this might...,” she gave a pointed look at the flanges of his tattoo peeking out from beneath the snakeskin jacket, “Scare away customers,”

“Oh, trust me,” Majima grunted, “I know what's good fer business or not.”

She raised an unconvinced brow, unimpressed, “I'm sorry, but I can't imagine you have any idea what I need to do to manage my cabaret and make sure everything runs smoothly, and that includes a welcoming front to paying customers,”

Majima grinned, flashing his teeth, “Yer quite the welcomin' front,”

“You're not a paying customer,”

“Touché,”

A harsh wail followed by exaggerated sobs broke into the narrow streets. Both Majima and Mana looked down, but the source of the noise was still out of sight. That didn't mean that they didn't hear the loud string of sentences that didn't have any pauses between one word to the next. Majima bit the inside of his lip to stifle a genuine grin, recognizing Yuki's voice. Both her and Ai rounded the corner soon after, Yuki complaining and whining that Ai had been so quiet she had scared the absolute living daylights out of her. Seemed that she had to make up for her forced silence, too. Ai tried to hush her to no avail, not that she wasn't grinning and laughing despite Majima's foreboding presence. He watched with Mana in silence as the two girlfriends walked into the cabaret together. All that was left of her injury was a slim scar following the line of her cheekbone, easily minimized by makeup. Majima's chest relaxed.

Flicking the cigarette to the ground and twisting it out he clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth.

“Alright, I'll leave ya be. Thanks fer toleratin' me, Mama-san,”

“S-Sure,” Mana struggled to answer, surprised at his sudden complacency, “May I...ask what you were doing here, sir, for real?”

“Havin' a smoke or five. Thinkin' 'bout shit. Y'know how it goes,”

Mana was quiet, simply watching as Majima pushed away from the wall he had been leaning up against and started to walk down the street.

“One day I'll be old as shit and super crusty. Or maybe I won't get there, but other people will. Gotta wonder what's out there for them, huh, Mana-chan?”

Mana nodded and started to agree before she stopped herself, “Wait...what did you call me?”

“Mama-san,” Majima corrected smoothly, “Well, good luck, huh?”

“Th...,” Mana stuttered, “Thank you very much, sir...,”

“See ya,”

Mana watched the strange man leave, turning down the corner just as the doors to the cabaret burst open and both Youda and Yuki crashed up to her.

“Mana! Mana-chan!!” Yuki yelped, “Mana-chan, who was that guy?!”

“I...don't know,” she answered truthfully, “He didn't say. Acted strange, too,”

She turned, seeing a teddy bear in Yuki's hands, “Where did you get that?”

“The parcel that was delivered to her today,” Youda answered, far too fast for his own tongue. In his hand was a small, vinyl Doraemon, with an eyepatch painted over the left eye by a sincere amateur, “It's...it's...,”

“It's from Majima-san,” Yuki answered, clutching the teddy bear close and on the verge of big, sappy tears, “Everyone got something, that bastard, that bastard,”

A teddy bear for Yuki, a Doraemon for Youda, heart-shaped chocolates for Ai to 'share with the person she loved', packs of polaroids for Saki, children's clay for Hibiki's younger brother Yuuta and packs of expensive tea for her, a dog collar and adoption pamphlet for Chika lest she needed help getting her mind off of romance, and, for Mana, a letter, cash, and a former manager's notes and tips for running a cabaret. The money, as the note explained, was to be set aside for her dream of opening up a cabaret for the elderly—or whatever she wished to do in the end, so long as she understood Sunshine would always be the start of her family.

At the bottom of the box were flyers and vouchers for Hogushi Kaikan's reopening, along with a letter Makoto wrote, thanking the girls (and Youda) for their help and love.

By the time the other cabaret girls had learned who he must've been, Majima was already near the train stations to leave Sotenbori. Just before he descended his pager went crazy, prompting him to look before leaving.

Two messages, one, from Club Sunshine's number—Good luck.

The other, from Hogushi Kaikan.

Aishiteru.

Majima smiled, feeling warmth at the corner of his eye, and pressed the pager to his heart.