The sound of a heavy clunk and metal scraping against metal reverberated around the small room and Majima felt his spine curl inwards with dread. He never knew how terrifying a single sound could be till now. The sound kept echoing, growing louder then fainter then much too loud again, directly in his ears. His left eye throbbed in time with its sickening rhythm. It was the sound of the door to his own personal hole opening, and it had become the promise of another day of his skin being burned or his flesh pierced or whatever else they had planned for him. They never seemed to run out of ideas.
He felt a hand grasp his hair and he thought maybe today they’d pretend to drown him again, bring him just to the edge before pulling him back up. But the fist in his hair didn’t dunk his head down. It tilted his head on an angle so he was forced to look up. It was Shimano, looking down at him with an expression of dismay and contempt. He then was speaking, saying something that Majima knew must be important. But he couldn’t hear what his boss was trying to tell him. His ears still rang from the sound of the door opening, completely overwhelming. Shimano jerked Majima's head sharply back. He knew Majima couldn’t hear what he was saying. He was getting angry with him. The chains that held his arms up rattled as Majima tried to speak, tried to explain he didn’t mean to not pay attention, he couldn’t help it. The cuffs that bound his wrists chaffed and dug into his skin, reopening old cuts. Shimano almost smiled at the effort Majima exerted trying to speak. The hold on his hair was released, making Majima’s head fall back down. The room became silent, so quiet that Majima couldn’t even hear his own breathing. Maybe he wasn’t anymore. As much as the groan of the door opening hurt his ears this silence was deafening, too. It was something so unfamiliar to him that it caused his heart to beat wildly against his chest in panic. The feeling told him that he was still alive. It was an awful reminder, equal sources of comfort and fear.
The hand returned. Instead of taking a handful of hair it cupped his cheek much too gently. It couldn’t be Shimano. Majima forced himself to look up. It wasn’t Shimano at all who tilted his head gently up, who held him with a practiced tenderness. Saejima stared back at Majima, kneeling in the filth of the hole’s floor like it was nothing. He looked at him with disappointment and pity. It hurt more than how Shimano regarded him just moments before. The look on Saejima’s face should have been anger and hatred at Majima’s betrayal. But his eyes suggested forgiveness. This was much, much worse than anything Shimano could have done to him. The chains binding him strained again as he struggled against Saejima’s hold. His shoulders screamed in pain as he twisted in a desperate attempt to escape. He couldn’t stand being under Saejima’s gaze anymore. His sworn brother's mouth opened, lips forming around the words he knew he didn’t deserve to hear. Majima squeezed his eye shut and willed the sound of the door to overtake him again, but all could hear was Saejima’s voice, telling himー
Majima startled awake to the sound of his name being called by a voice he didn’t know. He slowly cracked his eye open, immediately assaulted by the too-bright fluorescent lights of the underground hospital. His eye snapped shut, and he took a moment to try and remember what was happening, where he was. Thoughts and memories faded in and out, too slippery to grasp onto. All he could remember was that Shimano had let him out of the hole. That he wasn’t dead. Not yet, anyways. He didn’t feel relief from his torture finally ending, or uneasiness of what was to come. Just an overwhelming numbness and desire to keep sleeping the deep, dreamless sleeps the painkillers provided. He felt content with the idea of never getting up again.
The voice called out a second time, more persistent, followed by the sensation of someone shaking his shoulder. He still found himself unable to connect the sound and feeling to himself, like it was happening to someone else far away. He tried opening his eye again, the light still too much. He felt what remained of his left eye twitch from the strain underneath his medical eyepatch, which one of the doctor’s hastily slipped onto him when he arrived. When had that happened? A couple days ago? A few weeks? He didn’t want to think about how long he’d been stuck here or the dull panic that came along with the feeling that his one eye wasn’t working like it should. Everything he thought came too fast and disappeared too quickly. Everything he felt was too blurry and distant to fully understand. It was all too much and he just wanted to fall back unconscious, to the simple non-existence he experienced when they dulled him with meds. Maybe if he fell back asleep he wouldn't dream again.
A third time the voice said his name. It was annoyed now, louder.
“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty. Time to wake up.”
He managed to open his eye a slit, and Majima could see at his side a drab man in a drab suit looking down at him. He dimly recognized the old man. He was the one who had checked him into the hospital (did you even get “checked into” illegally run hospitals? ー another thought that was gone as soon as it came). Through his half-conscious state Majima managed to recall that Shimano had called this man Sagawa when they had talked. The memory became clearer now. They had been talking as Majima was roughly escorted out of the hole by some of Shimano’s men. The image of the two of them, watching him carried out as they casually held their conversation (like they were looking at some stray they had found on the side of the road and not the man Shimano had tortured for God knows how long) played over and over in his head. Majima suddenly felt sick, a curdling in his gut that cut through the numbness, alarmingly clear. The sensation made him groan and Majima wished again to fall into unconsciousness.
Sagawa watched as the man by his side stirred, barely opening his eye to look up at him. He looked marginally better than the Majima he had seen just over a week ago. The bags under his remaining eye were as dark as bruises, his cheek bones jutting out, sharp like knives. The rest of him was just as sharp. His body was all right angles, much too skinny to be called anything close to healthy. His long hair spilled onto the pillow, greasy and a shock of black in contrast to the sterile whiteness of the hospital. Though most of his injuries were covered by his plain hospital gown and blanket, the arm that laid by his side which sported the IV’s needle was bandaged at the wrist. The bandages were spotted with blood, and just barely covered a dark and ugly scar that peeked out under its wrapping. He wondered how long it had taken the doctors to fix up the mess of his left eye, now hidden under the flimsy medical eyepatch. Sagawa could see that the nails for two of his fingers on his exposed hand were raw and red, nails just beginning to grow back in. He figured that those two must have been quite recent, as the rest of his nails were still so short and the colour of new skin, soft and pink.
The only thing that hadn’t changed about Majima was the look in his eye. Though dulled it still held a spark as he stared up at him. It was the same fire he saw when Majima had glared at Sagawa and Shimano from the grimy floor of the hole. It was a look that reminded Sagawa of a cornered animal. Not frightened and ready to bolt but violently desperate, waiting for its opportunity to strike. If you let your guard down for one second it’d rip your hand clean off. No, not just an animal. It was the look of a wounded predator, teeth bared in defiance. This look had saved Majima, given Shimano a reason not to kill him. Most men, after going through a fraction of what Majima had, were left a broken, empty shell. But Majima hadn’t been broken. He was cracked and twisted and ready to be reformed into something Shimano could use. A predator halfway to being tamed. This kid was special, to come out of the hole after an entire year and still hold onto the fire that had put him there in the first place. Now it was Sagawa’s turn to take the pieces Shimano had handed him and mold them into something that would benefit them both.
“Good morning, Majima-chan,” Sagawa said in a way he thought was friendly. “You probably don’t remember me, but we’ve met before. You can call me Sagawa. That ring any bells?” Majima simply stared at him, eye narrowed. Sagawa cleared his throat before continuing.
“Sleep well? Bet it was the best sleep you’ve had in a while, eh?” Still, no response. Sagawa felt a twinge of annoyance at Majima’s lack of a reaction. He knew he shouldn’t be expecting much so soon but the way Shimano described him he thought he’d be a bit more talkative. He itched for a cigarette, then remembered he had left his pack in his car. He was just about out of his chair, tired of waiting, when the body in the bed spoke.
“Where am I?” it rasped, weak and gravely from lack of use. Majima seemed surprised by the sound of his own voice, at how wrecked it was. Sagawa smiled and sank back into his chair.
“Finally wanna talk now? You’re in a hospital just outside of Tokyo. You’ve been here for about a week now. Don’t worry about the bill, Shimano’s got you covered.”
Majima suddenly stirred at Shimano’s name and tried in vain to sit up. His body shook with the effort but he kept going. Sagawa almost smiled again, feeling the corner of his mouth twist up in a slight smirk. He finally was getting to see who Shimano was talking about. But clearly even this simple task was still too much for Majima, a small sheen of sweat breaking out on his forehead as he gasped with exertion.
“Slow down there, tiger. You’re not ready to get up just yet,” Sagawa chided. He gently pressed down against Majima’s shoulders till he was lying flat again. Majima’s eye searched frantically around the room and his head shifted quickly from side to side, over compensating for the lack of vision from his left. Now fully awake he was obviously agitated, brow creased in a mix of confusion and discomfort. He tried sitting up again and groaned, falling back with a soft thud .
“Where’s Saー” he started, but was interrupted as a doctor quickly entered the room, alerted by the noise. He swiftly prepared one of the needles that lay on the medical tray at Majima’s bedside. He stuck the tip in the crook of his arm that wasn’t occupied by the IV. Sagawa noted that the wrist on his other arm was bandaged, too.
“Hey, what was that you gave him?” Sagawa asked, “I was having a conversation here.” The humor in his tone didn’t translate, apparently, as the doctor paled with the realization that he had done something he probably shouldn’t have.
“Um, a. A mild sedative, sir. He can’t be moving like that, it will reopen his wounds. I-I’m sorry to have interrupted sir, Iー” Sagawa waved a hand dismissively, cutting him off.
“It’s fine, whatever. Guess it’s time for me to head out, then.” The doctor bobbed his head in a quick bow and hurried out of the room. Doctors were always in such a rush. It stressed Sagawa out.
With a sigh Sagawa rubbed a hand over his mouth, feeling a slight tug from stubble. There wasn’t a real reason for him to be here so it didn’t matter that their talk had been cut short. He just wanted to see the kid before he was dropped off at his doorstep. He looked back down at Majima. The drugs hadn’t fully kicked in yet. Though his body lay relaxed his face was still drawn in distress. His eye had glazed over, the spark temporarily doused, and now he looked like a lost child more than anything, dazed and in pain. The eyepatch had shifted from his earlier thrashing and Sagawa could see the tip of bloodied black stitches criss-crossed over puckered pink flesh. Majima spoke again, his voice hardly above a whisper.
“Where’s Saejima? Will I be able to see him soon?”
He was talking about 18 Counts. Shimano had told Sagawa about him, too. How in the hole Majima never begged for his life to be ended or spared. Only to know where his sworn brother, Saejima, was. If he would be able to ever see him again. Sagawa felt a pang of...sympathy? Guilt? He wasn’t sure what it was he was feeling as he reached over and adjusted the eyepatch so it fully covered Majima’s left eye again.
“Yeah, you’ll get to see him real soon, tiger. Just hold on for a bit longer,” he answered quietly. When he pulled away Majima was asleep.
On his drive back to Osaka Sagawa smoked more than half of his pack of cigarettes. By the time Sagawa had arrived in Sotenbori Majima had awoken. He had no recollection of their earlier exchange.