Christmas had never been a holiday in Majima’s radar, particularly.
It was meant to be a time you spent with family and friends and the ones you loved most, celebrating the year and what was to come, wasn’t it? And everyone that Majima loved was either dead or in jail or had forgotten him or was a combination of the three. He’d always given all his boys a little something for it, of course, and he often exchanged a Merry Christmas with Nishida at midnight on Christmas Eve when they were both still working. But for twenty years, that had been the extent of his ‘celebration.’
It hit him suddenly on Christmas Eve, though, that he had someone he could spend it with that year.
He wasn’t going to, of course—more than a lot had happened in the last two weeks and everything had changed for Kiryu. He wasn’t about to shove in on the new family’s first Christmas together, especially considering it had been his boss that had been responsible for the death of Kiryu’s father.
Didn’t really matter that Shimano had gotten himself killed in the process, too. The damage was already done.
But that wouldn’t stop him from playing Santa.
He finished up the job he’d been out on, tossing the briefcase at Nishida the second they left the gambling hall. “Here, bud. Take that to the office and then go on home. Yer mom’s visitin’ this year, yeah?”
“Yes, Sir,” Nishida said, tucking the briefcase between his thighs while he fished out a handkerchief and wiped his fever-sweaty face down underneath the mask he wore. Majima gave him a look of disgust.
“Y’better pray y’don’t get me sick, too, Nishida.”
“I won’t, Sir,” Nishida said thickly, his sore throat making his voice deeper than usual. He almost sounded like a yakuza, now, with that kind of voice, instead of the cooked prawn he usually was. “You never get sick anyway, even when the boys cough with their mouths open. I’ve worn a mask this whole time.”
Majima gave him the side-eye, nose wrinkled. “Yeah, well. Better pray just in case.”
Nishida was too busy sneezing into the handkerchief to respond, and Majima just left him with a grunted, “Get somethin’ nice for ya mom from me, wouldja? Take whatever y’need from the piggy for it.”
“Yes, Sir,” Nishida said, giving him a thumbs up in between sneezes as Majima strolled off down Tenkaichi Alley, whistling as he swung his bat. He was in a pretty good mood, despite everything that had gone down only a little while ago. If he’d asked himself five years ago if he’d ever thought that he’d be this unbothered by Shimano’s death, he would have laughed himself off the stage.
Shimano was his life.
Even when he’d been busy with his side jobs, he’d been working his ass off for his boss, doing his best to take him further.
He’d been everything to Majima, and now he was gone.
They’d tried to give him his ashes.
Majima had refused them. He didn’t know what had happened to them, and he was surprised most of all that he didn’t want to know.
Everything had changed.
Even before Shimano had died on that dock while Majima was back in the hospital, resting off his injuries like Kiryu wanted him to instead of at his boss’s side like he should have been. Maybe even before Kiryu had gotten out of prison. He had no way of knowing when exactly he’d started down this path.
But he was down it now and Shimano was dead and there was no going back. He’d made his decision, and Majima didn’t do regret.
So instead of moping and trying to figure out how to continue his life outside of Shimano’s shadow and firm grip, he just did it. He kept working. He slept and woke up and ate breakfast and got dressed and looked out for his boys and went to meetings and checked on his piggy banks and drank his dinner in the office or his apartment and jerked off while thinking about kneeling in front of Kiryu and swallowing his cock down until he came apart inside his mouth just as eagerly as he’d kissed Majima back in that hotel room.
Because after what had happened, he had to find another way to get his nervous energy out. Just as he wasn’t going to force himself on Kiryu and Haruka for Christmas, he’d held back from jumping Kiryu on the streets. For as long as it took normal people to accept the death of a loved one, Majima figured Kiryu would be taking at least double that. He’d never been great at dealing with his issues, Kiryu, and so Majima felt he should give him at least a little time to do the normal grief stuff.
He wasn’t about to let him wallow in it or anything, but most people needed some time. Majima wasn’t exactly the usual in that regard. But maybe he’d already done his grieving and all that had been left was the paperwork.
Who the hell knew. His brain was all kinds of fucked up anyway; he had no way of knowing what part of it was caused by what.
Either way, it meant that Majima had been allowing himself to fantasise about whatever the hell he liked, instead of trying to guide his thoughts to someone a little less complicated. He’d tried to watch porn, but all the stuff that usually worked seemed all wrong now and everything else just made him giggle too much. So Kiryu it was, despite it all.
It was probably going to hurt him in the long run, he knew. Majima had fallen head first into a pit with Kiryu, both literally and figuratively, when they’d fought in Shangri-La.
He’d lied to Kiryu, back then. He’d told him that he’d gone there to die, but that hadn’t been the only thing he’d wanted. He’d weighed up his options as he’d left the hospital and had come up with two distinct possibilities for seeing Kiryu in the state he’d been in then—that state being Not Great.
One: Kiryu would believe that he’d come to kill him and would take him out in a way that he wanted instead of having to go back to the Hole for god knew how long until he was finally eaten up by the place that had tried to claim him before.
Or two: Kiryu would overpower, but not kill him, in which case he’d be completely fucked.
Majima still wasn’t sure if the outcome being the latter was fortunate or unfortunate, even in his cheerful times.
Because Majima had already been besotted with Kiryu. How could he not be? The man was beautiful and strong and annoyingly kind and respectful. A fucking idiot of a man that didn’t even know that he’d had Majima wrapped around his finger since the first moment they’d spoken.
But now—now, Majima had gone to Kiryu to be sure he’d made the right choice by betraying Shimano for him, and instead of putting him out of his misery, he’d lifted him back up and told him to keep living.
Kiryu had no idea what he’d done to Majima with those simple words. He’d been barely holding it together even before, with the blood loss and exhaustion and panic burning him from the inside out, but with those words, Kiryu had broken him down completely.
Keep living for him, because he needed him.
Oh, he was fucked.
Kiryu might as well have jammed his fist into Majima’s ribs and yanked his heart out, he was so immediately fucked. It probably would have been kinder, considering. But he hadn’t. He’d just taken Majima by the waist and had helped him limp back to the hospital. And he had let him, because after hearing those words, Majima would have done anything for him.
But Kiryu didn’t have to know that.
Majima wasn’t about to tell Kiryu that all he had to do was give him a look and he would come running, ready to earn another bit of that affection. Because he knew what that meant, his willingness to go to any length for someone just for a smile, or a laugh, or even a look.
Just to hear his name on their lips.
He wasn’t going to admit it. To himself or anyone else. If he admitted it to himself, then he’d want to tell Kiryu sooner rather than later, and Majima didn’t think Kiryu was ready for that. Not least of all because he’d just lost the woman he loved.
So instead, he just let his mind wander and didn’t think about when the time might come that he would admit it to himself. Because that was then, and this was now, and Goro Majima lived in the now.
And right now, he was buying Haruka a bike.
Had already bought her a bike.
Was staring at the bike as it rested against the bike shop wall, realising that he’d forgotten it was Christmas Eve and there were absolutely no delivery services available. And maybe that wouldn’t be so bad—he was still pretty sore, but not an invalid—but he’d also gotten Kiryu two big presents that he still had to go pick up.
Fuck, being Santa was hard. They’d better like this shit.
In the end, he just hoisted the bike over one shoulder and dealt with the pokey bits jabbing into his side as he collected Kiryu’s presents and headed to their apartment. They didn’t live too far from his place, so at least he knew it wouldn’t be a long hike to be carrying stuff on his person like some kind of donkey. He smiled to himself as he thought about the look on their faces when they got his presents in the morning. Kiryu had given him a key for emergencies on the day that they’d moved in, but he rarely locked it anyway unless he was out, so it would be easy enough for him to just leave them inside the door for them to find.
He’d overheard Kiryu getting chewed out by his cop friend for not keeping his door locked at all times, but Majima understood. Sure, anyone with a lockpick and half of a brain could get through the locks they had on these kinds of apartments, but once they did, they’d have Kiryu to contend with. Especially considering most burglaries were done by people who knew the victim, he couldn’t see anyone around their neighbourhood thinking they should pick a fight with the muscled statue.
Except for him, of course, but he’d only break in to steal a fight with Kiryu, and he could get those whenever he wanted now.
Speaking of—just as Majima rounded the corner into the alley that lead up to Kiryu’s apartment, he spotted the man himself. He was leaning against the railing and staring up at the night sky, the cigarette held loosely in his hand left to smoulder, forgotten. The streetlamp that bowed over their house cast one side of him in an orange glow while the rest was deeply shadowed. His hair was messy and he wore a grey sweatsuit, the jacket barely zipped. Majima recognised the look of a man who’d tried and failed to sleep. He knew that he should probably just leave the presents at the alley and send a text telling Kiryu where they were so he didn’t intrude on his thoughts, but he’d never been great at doing things he should do.
“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” he said with a wide smile, putting on his best theatrical voice for Kiryu, who had looked down to where he stood with raised brows and a tiny quirk of the mouth. Majima pressed one present-ladened hand to his chest, saying, “It is the east, and Kiryu is the sun!”
Majima’s smile widened. “Romeo and Juliet.”
“Oh,” Kiryu said, brows pulling together again. “You’ve read it?”
“Nah, I don’t read shit like that,” he said, shaking his head and bumping it against the bike accidentally. “Had to help Nishida practice his lines once, though.”
“ Nishida ?”
“What? Like a yakuza ain’t allowed t’have more to him than extortion?”
“No, but—I guess I just didn’t expect Nishida of all people to play Romeo.”
“He’s surprisingly romantic when he wants t’be.”
“Huh,” Kiryu grunted, blinking as he barely seemed to realise that his cigarette had almost burned itself out. He flicked off the ash and stubbed it out on the railing, jerking his head down at Majima as he muttered, “What’s the bike for?”
Majima decided that was enough of an invitation and walked around to climb up the steps to Kiryu’s apartment, dropping the presents down behind him with a, “Ho, ho, ho.”
Kiryu looked between him and the presents, face caught somewhere between a scowl and a smile. “You got Haruka presents?”
“And you, Mr. Chairman,” Majima teased, giving him a little clap on the arm. Kiryu winced and Majima suddenly remembered that Kiryu had taken a bullet not too long ago. “Still hurtin’, huh?”
“Yeah,” Kiryu said, gingerly touching the spot under his jacket as he looked away.
Well, shit. That conversation had gone to bad places real quick.
“Alright, well,” he said, clearing his throat and running his hand along the hair at the back of his neck. “See ya later, Kiryu-chan. Merry Christmas ‘n’all that. Try to get some sleep. You’ll be up again soon enough with a kiddo in the house.”
He started to leave, but when he glanced back, he saw Kiryu watching him go, brows drawn together. Majima almost asked what was wrong, but then he searched Kiryu’s eyes and saw the quiet desperation buried deep in them.
He didn’t say anything, but Majima could hear the words anyway.
‘I need you.’
And so he turned back despite what he’d just told himself about not intruding on the new family’s first Christmas and settled himself beside Kiryu against the railing. He knew he’d made the right decision when Kiryu just exhaled slowly, his eyes falling shut. Majima took the opportunity to study his face, to notice the uneven stubble along his jaw and neck. The lines cut into the skin under his eyes and the tiny crow’s feet starting at the corners of them. His lips slightly cracked by the cold air. The spiderweb of broken capillaries on the slope of his nose, no doubt from the punches he’d taken time and again. The set of his brows made him look severe, but the softness of his mouth told Majima that he was at ease.
Troubled, but calm.
And that was enough for him.
He let himself relax, their elbows pressed together on the railing as he bent forward. That touch grounded him, soothing the anxious, nervous energy inside him. He let his head drop, looking down to the slatted balcony below.
His shoes were scuffed.
The metal caps needed polishing.
He hadn’t realised.
“I’d offer you something to drink, but the walls are pretty thin and I don’t want to wake Haruka.”
“Wouldn’t take it anyway. Booze’s been makin’ me feel pukey lately.”
“Yeah? Bullet wound healing up finally?”
“Yeah, prob’ly. Just another reason to not let it happen again. Drinkin’ on Christmas’s my bread and butter. Gonna feel weird without it.”
Kiryu huffed out a laugh. “That’s sad.”
“Yer not wrong.”
There was a pause. “You can stay with us, if you want.”
Majima shifted, not sure how he felt about being openly invited to share Christmas with Haruka and Kiryu. “Nah. Not gonna crowd ya.”
“Are you sure? Haruka would like it, I think. She asked after you yesterday. Seems to have taken a shine to you.”
What a stupid thing to feel happy about. He didn’t even know the kid. Why should he feel happy that she liked him?
“She wanted to know why she hadn’t seen you around lately. Thought you might be sad because of Shimano and wanted to give her condolences.” Majima blinked, glancing over at Kiryu, who looked back solemnly and asked, “Was she right?”
Majima laughed quietly in surprise. “Kid’s too old for her age.” He shook his head, turning back to look at the small concrete patch in front of the building, littered with various household trash that had obviously collected over the years. “Nah. I’m good. Told ya, didn’t I? No hard feelings. I’ve just been givin’ ya space.”
“I don’t remember asking for space.”
Majima shot a shocked, perturbed look towards Kiryu. “You sayin’ ya wanted me ta keep jumpin’ ya in the streets even after everythin’?”
“Not necessarily. There are other things we can do besides fight, you know.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m really gonna call y’up right now and say ‘Hey, Kiryu-chan, how ‘bout we play a round o’mini-golf?’”
“I don’t see why not.”
“It’s disrespectful . I know ya think I’m an animal, but I got my honour.”
“I don’t think you’re an animal. And it wouldn’t be disrespectful at all.”
“Kiryu—” Majima began, frowning slightly as he searched Kiryu’s face. He just looked back curiously. “You need time t’grieve. I’m not gonna take that from ya.”
“You haven’t taken any time, either.”
“I don’t need time,” Majima insisted. “What happened with Shimano was his own fault. What we had was only a formality by the time he died.”
“Mm,” Kiryu hummed thoughtfully, nodding. “And what happened with Nishiki was his fault, too. He wasn’t even the same man anymore. So why should I take time to grieve a man I didn’t even know?”
Majima stared, completely dumbfounded for an embarrassing amount of time before he realised that this was just part of Kiryu’s process.
“Y’did know him, Kiryu-chan. Sure, he changed a lot without someone t’keep him on the straight and narrow, but didja really think that he didn’t have that in him the whole time?”
Kiryu shook his head. “No, he wasn’t like this before. I wasn’t the one who kept him right. He was that for me .” He paused for a moment before his lips twitched down and he said, “All those times you’ve insisted that I’m soft-hearted...you really don’t know what’s inside me. What he held back.”
Majima knew exactly what was inside Kiryu, but he still said, “Yeah?”
Kiryu took a breath and let it out slowly, saying, “I know you probably think that Kazama or Nishiki dragged me into the yakuza life, but it’s the other way around. I begged Kazama to let me be a yakuza, so I could get rich and make something of myself, too. Nishiki never wanted this life. Kazama didn’t want this life for us. It was me.”
Well that was something he hadn’t known. But before Majima could think that over, Kiryu was talking again as if in a trance.
“Nishiki was always getting bullied in school. Everyone got bullied for being orphans, but for some reason, everyone just decided that Nishiki was the easiest target. Maybe it was because he wouldn’t stand up for himself. Maybe it was because he was afraid that if he didn’t take it silently, they would target his sister, Yuko, instead. No matter why they did it, the fact was that they did it.”
He took another slow breath, as though bracing himself for what he was going to say.
“And one day, a bunch of the boys went too far. They—they’d always said that Nishiki might as well have been a girl, he was so small and frail. So they—they—”
“Y’don’t hafta tell me,” Majima said gruffly when he struggled to get the words out. He knew that story. He’d lived that story.
Kiryu looked grateful for that, pausing to gather his thoughts again. “I looked everywhere for him after class. Normally we’d go out and share a cigarette behind the fences, but that day he never showed up. And when I found him lying there on the floor of the bathroom, I—I lost it. They’d waited for the one hour when we were apart. They’d waited until he was all alone.”
Majima could hear the echoes in his voice of the rage he’d felt back then.
“Nishiki wouldn’t tell me who’d done it. Even after that, he was trying his best to be strong, but I didn’t care about honour or strength. I can’t remember what happened after that, but I did enough damage to anyone I saw that I was expelled and several kids ended up in the hospital in critical condition. Only reason I got away without jail time was because Kazama pulled some strings.”
He blinked, coming back to the present with a little shake of his head. “I still don’t know if those kids were a part of the group who’d done it, but it didn’t matter to me back then. I just wanted blood. So when you say that Nishiki always had that in him—you’re wrong. That’s who I was. That’s who I’ve always been. I wanted this life. He didn’t. He wasn’t—he wasn’t really strong enough for it, and I should have seen that.”
Silence fell again.
Eventually, though, Majima broke the silence with, “Ain’t your fault, though, is it? Wantin’ more outta life—that’s every kid’s dream. Not just us sorry orphans that got nothin’. You saw an opportunity and ya took it. It’s no wonder they put that dragon on your back.”
Kiryu looked over at him, a frown pulling at his mouth. “I’m not proud of that time.”
“Y’should be!” Majima snapped, his teeth bared in his sudden conviction. “They were pathetic scum and you were just doin’ what anyone would’ve done. They deserved more than what they got.” Kiryu looked like he’d like to agree, but Majima wasn’t even half done. “Shitheads like that are a dime a dozen, Kiryu-chan, and if no one ever put them in their place, then they’d take everything they wanted without a thought about how they were ruining the lives of good people. People like us were born to keep them in the trash pile where they belong.”
Kiryu studied Majima’s face, surprise written all over it. “I thought you considered Nishiki one of those people.”
Majima waved his hand sharply. “He did some trash shit—abusin’ women, for one—but he still had the potential to come back from it until he let the woman who’d stayed at his side through everything die. He wasn’t born trash. He just got too far into it and had no one to help him out. That he wanted help from, anyway,” he added as an afterthought, remembering how many times Nishikiyama had tried his best to make him his enemy, when Majima would have been happy to help him along if it weren’t for his treatment of Reina.
Majima could understand the motivation behind a lot of bad shit, but abuse of women wasn’t one of them. He still hated himself deeply for that single moment between him and Mirei, and he probably always would. If he’d thought that there was any reconciling what had happened and what they wanted out of life, he would have spent the rest of his life trying to make up for that moment. But he hadn’t, and so he’d done what he’d thought was best at the time.
Who knew if it had been the right thing to do. But it was done now and there was no going back.
Kiryu’s hum brought Majima out of his past. “Reina told me that he tried to make up for it, for a while. It wasn’t until his sister passed that he became—what he was.”
“It happens,” Majima said plainly. “No one can make it through death the same person they were before. It either makes ya appreciate life more or it makes ya see that nothin’ means anythin’ when we’re all gonna eat dirt soon enough anyway.”
“I should have been there to help him through it. Things might have been different if I hadn’t left.”
“Ya didn’t leave , Kiryu-chan. Ya went t’prison for him. Stupid t’blame yourself for that.”
“Kazama wanted me to,” Kiryu said without missing a beat. Majima’s brows shot up high and Kiryu looked over at him again, his face empty. “When I got the call, he was there. He wanted me to stay with him and let him take care of it.”
“Fuck,” was all Majima could say to that. After a second, Kiryu just looked away again and Majima breathed out, “I always wondered why Kazama didn’t reach out to help Nishikiyama, but— fuck . That’s cold as hell.”
“Kazama was always better at strategy than I was. Maybe if I’d listened to him, he could have saved Nishiki.”
“What, and just leave Nishikiyama there? Nothin’ else y’could do . Y’don’t just leave your kyoudai t’take the fall for somethin’.”
“Ya don’t ,” Majima repeated, voice leaving no room for argument. “And if Kazama thought that ya would, then he wasn’t that great of a strategist after all, was he?”
Kiryu raised his brows in question.
“If he thought that keepin’ ya outta prison and lettin’ Nishikiyama take the fall—even for a little while—was gonna fix the shit that happened, then he didn’t know his boys at all. Part o’why Nishikiyama turned out like he did was ‘cause he had a laundry list of insecurities a mile long that everyone either fed or exploited. Just happens, I reckon. How else could it go, when he was the koi and you were the dragon?”
“I didn’t ask to be this.”
“But you were. And it ain’t easy, walkin’ in the shadow of a dragon.”
“I thought you said that I shouldn’t feel responsible.”
“Ya shouldn’t,” Majima said, shrugging a shoulder. “Wasn’t your fault for castin’ the shadow. Ya didn’t push him to walk the same path; that was everyone else, wasn’t it?”
Kiryu’s head slumped forward.
“That’s the thing about love, though. Love and hate, violence and sex—they’re all two faces of the same coin, Kiryu-chan. If enough people push at that coin, it’s eventually gonna fall off the table and flip to the other side.”
“What do you mean?” Kiryu asked, his mouth pulling into a frown as he glanced over at Majima.
“Just sayin’ that I know the confusion that Nishikiyama had in him. Sometimes you just look at a person and you can’t decide if ya want to kiss or kill ‘em, stick your knife or your dick in ‘em. Or both. He loved ya, Kiryu, but everyone else made it too hard. He couldn’t figure out what he wanted from ya and was too scared to ask for help.” He paused. “Or maybe he knew and just couldn’t figure out how t’ask ya for it before it was too late. Who knows. Same sorry result.”
Kiryu’s face had pulled into a deep, pained scowl the longer Majima had talked, his eyes cast down. He stayed silent for long enough that Majima felt it was necessary to remind him, “Don’t blame yourself. Ya didn’t do anythin’ wrong. All ya ever did was love him.”
But Kiryu just shook his head and scowled deeper, saying, “I should have told him.”
Majima took a sharp breath, silence falling heavy and thick. The emotion in that simple sentence was like a bucket of cold water poured over his head.
“I never told him I love him.”
Majima held the breath inside his lungs, the thickness of Kiryu’s voice having an immediate, echoing effect on him.
“There was time to tell Yumi. My father, too. But Nishiki—”
Majima swallowed. He had to look away or risk letting himself get overwhelmed by the naked pain on Kiryu’s face.
“I never told him I love him.”
Majima waited in the silence that settled back over them, memories washing over him from lifetimes ago of a man who Majima loved more than life itself but had never figured out how to say the words until it was too late.
The breath that Kiryu took then was shaky and thin. “How could he? I took our time for granted. I took him for granted. He was my brother and I loved him. Why did I never say it? I should have said it.”
“Y’can’t change who ya are, Kiryu.”
“That’s a sorry excuse. Anyone can change.”
“He knew who ya are. He knew ya loved him. Ya took prison time for him. That’s a hell of a bigger ‘I love you’ than any words can say.”
“But maybe if I’d—maybe if I’d told him, he wouldn’t have gotten so lost.”
“Nishikiyama’s decisions had nothin’ to do with anything you did or didn’t do.”
“He needed me and I wasn’t there.”
“Because y’were locked up. Nothin’ you could’ve done about that.”
“I should have—”
“There was nothin’ you could have done,” Majima insisted harshly. “Nishikiyama made his bed and hid himself under the covers ‘cause he couldn’t stand the thought of facin’ you after what he’d done. Everythin’ he did when ya got out was just him swingin’ first so ya couldn’t hurt him with your forgiveness. He didn’t want t’be forgiven.”
Kiryu’s voice was tense and angry when he spoke again. “You keep talking about him like you knew him, but you never knew him like I did. You can’t possibly understand.”
“I may not have grown up with Nishikiyama, but I knew him. I understood him. He made his choice.”
Majima’s eye snapped over to Kiryu, but he wasn’t even looking at him. He was glaring down at his hands as though he’d like to curl them up and punch Majima.
And as much as he’d like to insist on staying just to see if he would go that far, he just said, “Fine,” and turned to go. He didn’t have to stick around and hear Kiryu talk shit about himself until the sun came up just because it was too hard to hear that he couldn’t change the past. He only made it back to the stairs, though, before Kiryu spoke again, voice dull but words sharp.
“I don’t know why I expected anything more from you.”
Majima stood stiff, one hand gripping the railing as he tried not to respond. Kiryu was grieving. People said lots of things they didn’t necessarily mean when they were grieving. So he understood where that had come from.
But he’d be lying if he said it didn’t hurt.
“You’ve always hated Nishiki. Even when we were still practically kids, you tried to put a wedge between us. Was it jealousy? Did you just hate that we had each other and you had no one?”
It took more effort than he had to spare to not to talk back, so he just continued to leave, taking the stairs quickly so he didn’t turn around and shout at the man who had lost his entire family at once. He cared too much about Kiryu to let him goad him into a fight, but it was against his nature to refuse it. If Majima thought that it would make him feel better, then he would have given him one in a heartbeat. He’d give him anything.
But Kiryu didn’t want to fight him . He wanted to fight himself right now, and Majima couldn’t help with that. It would only make him feel worse. Majima knew better than anyone how ultimately futile it was to punch these kinds of feelings away. It was exhilarating, but still useless in the face of something as big as death.
Kiryu surprised Majima by taking his arm and spinning him around just as he got to the entrance of the alley. He hadn’t even realised that he’d followed him, he’d been so intent on leaving before he said something he’d regret. “This is exactly what you wanted, isn’t it?” Kiryu spat. “He’s gone now and I’m all alone. Is that why you’re here now—giving me gifts —as though that could make up for anything? As if I want any of it? Do you really think you can replace him?”
Majima stared, more shocked than anything to be hearing something like that from Kiryu. He’d never suggested before that he thought that Majima did anything to or for him with some ulterior motive in mind, much less that he wanted to replace Nishikiyama.
“How can you tell me what I should feel about losing someone I love?”
Majima made the mistake of meeting Kiryu’s eyes as he spoke, his glare fierce and self-righteous.
“How can you talk to me about love when you don’t even know what it is?”
“Let me go, Kiryu,” Majima said quietly, hoping that there was enough sense left in Kiryu to listen. “I don’t want to fight you.”
“Why not?” Kiryu spat, jerking him hard. Majima let him, falling forward until they were standing close enough for him to smell Kiryu’s sweat and the fabric of his clothes. They must be new. “That’s what you do, isn’t it? You fight. You follow me day and night and invade my privacy and force me to fight when I don’t want to because that’s what you do. So why not now?”
“Don’t always fight things out,” he said, his voice flat, knowing he shouldn’t be talking at all, much less saying this. “Sometimes I fuck. Don’t think that’ll work for ya, though.”
Kiryu’s punch was hard enough to crack his neck as he fell back into the fence surrounding their apartment building. There was a wild fluttering and annoyed animal noises that called out in the silence that fell after Majima caught himself, fingertips tracing the bloom of pain at his jaw. Kiryu was visibly conflicted, face closing off the longer they locked eyes.
But instead of leaping forward and giving back what he’d gotten, Majima just pushed himself off the crates that he’d fallen onto and left. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but Kiryu just letting him go wasn’t it.
More than any punch he’d taken from him, it hurt.
He could take it. He’d had worse. He was strong enough to take whatever he could give.
But he wasn’t strong enough to leave him, he realised only a few streets away. His chest had gotten tighter and tighter the further he’d gone, his legs like lead weights. He knew that he should go. Kiryu didn’t want to see him right now. He was a reminder of things he didn’t want to think of.
But he couldn’t.
And so he turned back, brain crackling with the emotions warring inside him. Traumas and memories and scars all yanking him around like a fucking ragdoll. He wound himself up the whole way back, pulled between his instinct to bite back and the knowledge that it would only make things worse, until his teeth creaked under the pressure of his clenched jaw as he turned back into the alley that lead to the apartment.
Where it all left him in a rush at the sight of Kiryu sitting on the stairs, shoulders slumped in defeat and face twisted with pain as he looked up into the sky. Majima’s breath caught at the strength of his heart constricting, and he floundered long enough that Kiryu noticed he was standing there again, his eyes snapping down to his.
They were shining with unshed tears and Majima’s heart gave in.
He closed the distance between them, Kiryu’s lips parting softly in surprise as Majima bent over him and wrapped his arms around him.
It took several long moments for Kiryu to do more than take shallow, shaking breaths against Majima’s neck, but when he gave into it, he gave in fully. His arms slid around Majima’s waist, his hands digging into his back desperately. He pulled their bodies closer, squeezing him tight as they fell clumsily to the ground, kneeling together in an embrace that felt just as right as when they danced with knife and fist.
Majima buried his face against Kiryu’s shoulder, swallowing thickly as he felt Kiryu’s breath tremble with barely restrained tears. He fumbled to take his gloves off, pressing a naked palm into Kiryu’s back and sliding his other hand into his hair, gripping it tight. “It’s okay,” he whispered through the knot in his chest. “It’s okay, Kiryu. Let go. I’ve got ya. I’m here.”
As if his words were the key to a locked floodgate, Kiryu shuddered and choked on a sob. Majima held him tighter, closing his eye on the burning tears that threatened to fall. He had to be strong right now. He needed to be strong for Kiryu. But the noise that Kiryu made, then, as he shook with tears that soaked into Majima’s skin—a confused, angry, choked whimper—was too much for him, and they spilled down past his lid, leaving his mouth wet and salty against Kiryu.
“He was smiling when he died, Majima,” Kiryu gasped. “He was smiling .”
There was nothing Majima could say that would make this better, and so he just nodded and let him get it out in his own time.
“I thought that if I—that if I took that burden on my shoulders, instead—that everything would work out. I’ve always been—the strong one. But Nishiki and Yumi, they—they had to—they shouldn’t have had to—it should have been me. It should have been me. It should have been me.”
Kiryu’s tiny, breathless cry of pain broke Majima’s heart, and he wished that there was anything he could do. But there never was.
“It should have been me. They didn’t deserve this.”
Kiryu buried his face tight against Majima, holding onto him like he was the only thing keeping him afloat in a storm as he whispered those words again and again. Majima just listened, and held him, and waited until his choked, gut-wrenching sobs slowed with exhaustion until they finally stopped before he eased himself back.
“It ain’t about deservin’, Kiryu,” Majima whispered, angling Kiryu’s head to look him in the eye. The sight of Kiryu’s trembling mouth and bloodshot eyes made him fiercely protective and his voice was rough when he continued. “They did what they thought was right. Jus’ like you. Jus’ like all of us. They died to protect you and Haruka and y’can’t say that it should have been you without disrespectin’ that.”
Kiryu searched his eye before his gaze drifted up to the door of his apartment. He looked lost.
“She needs ya,” Majima said softly, letting his hand fall down to Kiryu’s neck even as Kiryu’s hands still gripped at his back. “She don’t have anyone else t’look after her.”
“I—I don’t know how to be what she needs,” Kiryu forced out, his jaw working as he clearly fought to keep himself in check. “I don’t know who I am anymore, without them.”
“You’re the man who took on the world for her. You saved her life and gave her a new start. You’re her father .”
“Jingu was her father. I’m—no one, now.”
Majima gave him a little shake that got his attention, his eyes widening slightly as they met his again. “You’re more her dad than that fuck ever was!” Majima bit out. “Just ‘cause he helped make her don’t mean shit!” He took Kiryu’s face in both hands, his thumbs pressing into his temples. “ You’re the man that Yumi fell in love with. You’re the one she woulda raised Haruka with. You’re that girl’s family whether ya think y’are or not, Kiryu.”
Kiryu’s brows twisted up in the middle, but he didn’t say anything.
“Y’gotta keep livin’,” Majima said, his voice softening again as he shifted his grip back to Kiryu’s shoulders. “Y’can’t give up when you’re all she’s got.”
“But I don’t know what to do,” Kiryu whispered, his eyes begging Majima to help him. “I don’t know how to live without them. I’ve always had them to keep me right. I’m not a good man, Majima. I’ve only ever done what I thought they would want me to. I’ve never had to do this on my own before.”
“That’s alright, Kiryu-chan,” Majima said with a gentle smile, “you won’t hafta do it alone. You’ll always have me.”
Kiryu’s breath caught audibly, but Majima wasn’t sure what that emotion was in his expression. He could see surprise and relief, but there was something else underneath it that evaded him.
“I promised, didn’t I? Wouldn’t leave ya alone even if ya wanted me to.”
Pride bloomed warm in Majima when Kiryu’s lips twitched up into an affectionate, reluctant smile.
“Yeah, I guess you did.”
“Damn right I did,” Majima said viciously, giving him a rough punch to his uninjured arm and waggling his finger. “So don’tcha go thinkin’ y’can run away. The Mad Dog’s got your scent, Kazuma Kiryu. I’ll never letcha go.”
Kiryu just watched him with that smile as he spoke, and when he’d finished, it only grew. Majima’s chest was tight at that look. Part of him wanted to look away, but he was helpless to it. After a long moment where he could hardly breathe for how exposed he felt, Kiryu finally took pity on him and said,
“Thank you, Majima.”
He found himself unable to say anything that felt remotely helpful, and so he just looked away and mumbled, “Nothin’ t’thank me for.” He ignored how his neck got hot when Kiryu just gave a shrewd hum and chose instead to shift himself onto the bottom step of the staircase with a sigh that ghosted in the air in front of him.
And when Kiryu joined him, sitting close enough that their knees still touched, Majima suddenly wished that he was wearing anything other than leather just so he could feel Kiryu’s warmth. He leaned back, folding his arms behind his head and resting against the upper stairs as he looked up at the stars. They were bright in the winter night, despite the streetlight that stood nearby. The sparse clouds that drifted along were like patches of ink, blotting them out lazily.
Kiryu mirrored him once again, and Majima was suddenly wrapped in the smell of him. He closed his eye, letting himself just breathe it in and feel the way it tugged at his heart.
He wasn’t sure when it had happened, but Kazuma Kiryu smelled like home to him.
“I’m sorry,” Kiryu’s deep, tired voice interrupted his thoughts after a while of just sitting there together. “About before.”
“For saying that you were jealous. For saying that you didn’t know what love is.”
“Oh. S’alright. You’re hurtin’ right now, Kiryu-chan. I know y’can’t help it.”
“I’m still sorry.”
“Don’t worry ‘bout it. Not like y’knew it was wrong when ya said it, anyway.”
Kiryu grunted in dissatisfaction.
“Everyone loves someone .”
“Not everyone. How were ya s’posed ta know if I never toldja?”
There was a pause before Kiryu said quietly, “So tell me.”
“Who do you love?”
Majima thought about what he could say to that.
He had a lot of options. He could make someone up, someone that had no real connection to his heart and wouldn’t hurt to dig up out of his memories. He could laugh it off and say that of course he’d just been making shit up, he didn’t actually love anyone. Mad Dogs didn’t know how to love; they just ran around biting people and howling at the moon.
But Kiryu had just given him his trust in a tangible way. He’d not only let him close when he was at his most vulnerable, but he’d accepted his touch, his help. There were so few people in the world who had ever allowed him to get that close.
It was overwhelming. It was terrifying beyond the thought of any torture or death. But he felt like anything other than the truth would be a betrayal worse than everything else he’d done. It was one thing to cut a man with his knife when he’d been warned it was coming. But to have someone as strong as Kiryu willingly show him that side of him, that soft underbelly that he knew would be so easy to tear open, only for him to close himself off—that felt like real cruelty. The kind of violence he’d sworn he’d never do to another person.
So it had to be the truth.
The only question that remained was who he should share with Kiryu. Everyone he loved was a soft spot inside him that he kept protected. He’d never told anyone about a single one of them, much less all of them.
But maybe that was the exact reason why he lined them up for Kiryu, offering like for like. He told him about Saejima and Makoto and Mirei and how he’d fallen in love with each, in very different ways. He told him about how he’d lost his eye trying to stay true to his kyoudai—how he’d lost his chains trying to protect Makoto from the cruelty of the world—how he’d lost his heart to Mirei while trying to help her escape her parents and then, only a short time later, how he’d lost himself in that single moment of pain, when he’d realised that he was no better than the men who’d done the same to him.
And everything he’d gained from them, too: identity, self-hatred, self-worth, determination. The ability to not only survive through despair, but thrive. He wouldn’t be the man he was if he hadn’t had them in his life.
And in return, Kiryu told him stories of him and Yumi and Nishikiyama and Yuko, all growing up together in Sunflower. He told him about Kazama’s revelation—that the children of Sunflower were all there because Kazama himself had killed their parents. That he didn’t care about that, that Kazama had always been and always would be his father.
But how there had been times recently where he’d wonder. He’d wonder about that family. What were his parents like? Did he have siblings? Would they have loved him? Did they love him when they were still alive? Would his life be different? Would he be the same man?
Majima didn’t envy him those questions. He’d never really known anything about his family. It wasn’t easy, but at the same time, at least he didn’t have to wonder what he’d lost out on. Sometimes, knowing was so much worse than the alternative.
They exchanged the only memories they had left of their birth parents. For Majima: the smell of cherry blossoms as his mother rocked him to sleep, her heartbeat loud in his ears. For Kiryu: bouncing on someone’s knee and the laughter that came when he sneezed, the sun shining in his eyes.
They talked about Makoto and how Kiryu had kept in contact with her even after Majima had written himself out of her life. How she’d asked Kiryu to look for him without ever knowing that she’d already met him again. How Kiryu had figured out in an instant who she was describing, but had decided that if Majima hadn’t told her, then he would have his reasons.
For some reason, that made Majima laugh.
Sure, he had his reasons. He’d had a long list of reasons why he should cut himself out of Makoto’s life, but hearing that Kiryu had never even thought to do the same was enough to make him wheeze with laughter. He’d gone through hell both with and without her and there she’d been, just on the other end of the man he’d obsessed about in her wake. It was ridiculous enough to go beyond tragic into funny.
Kiryu didn’t have to ask him what he was laughing about. He just let him get it all out.
They talked about how, back when Kiryu found Majima in Sōtenbori, he’d been in a very bad place after divorcing his wife. Trying his best to hurt himself in every way he could. It had only been a few months since he’d left her, and the people whose bar they’d had drinks at were his ex-wife’s chosen guardians. She’d felt more for them than her own parents, who had abused her her whole life.
Majima didn’t spare himself when he talked about why he’d left. He didn’t spare the harsh reality of admitting how had he fallen for her despite her being barely more than a kid. He talked about their whirlwind romance and how it had been doomed from the start. She’d reminded him so much of Makoto that he’d been blindsided by his own feelings. He’d struggled with self-disgust even while they were together, spending sleepless nights thinking about what he’d done. About the differences in their age. Their experience. Their lives. About what could go wrong. About what he’d already done wrong.
He’d loved her, but even from the moment that he’d told her, he’d known that it was wrong.
He should have been the one to see it. To be the one to end it before everything went exactly as it did. But he’d been selfish in the ugliest way; high on the freedom and manic with the power of making his own decisions after he’d been caged again. He’d looked at the man inside him who’d hated himself and told him that he could do whatever he wanted. That nobody could control him. Not even himself.
And when that man inside him turned out to be right, he’d lost everything.
It was only right that he’d lost it all. He only wished he could have done something more for Mirei. But he’d already done enough. There had never been another option to him, back then.
It was a strange feeling, letting that out after twelve years. Bleeding it out like a poison that had turned to sludge in his veins, clogging the flow of life. It felt like holding his hand to a burning rod, searing off the flesh to expose the darkest part of him.
And when he finished, they sat in silence. He couldn’t regret telling Kiryu even if he was disgusted with him. He was made of those moments, dark and manic and delighted and still, and there was a blooming between them that night, a reaching out towards something that could be more than they were. He didn’t have it in him to betray that, to hide parts of him away. They were both stripped back, both more vulnerable to the other than they’d ever been.
Whether simple human contact, or understanding, or if it went more personal than that, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that, after a long while of silence, Kiryu simply offered him a cigarette and lit both his and Majima’s and continued to sit beside him, staring up at the stars.
Eventually, he asked him if he regretted knowing her. If what he’d done, if losing his chance at a family—a real life outside of the yakuza—outweighed the good that they’d had.
Majima didn’t have an answer to that for a long time.
Yes, he regretted it. He would never do it the same again, being the man he was now. He would never expose her to the things that lived inside him. He would save her from her parents and keep his distance and watch her flourish and grow without him, the same as Makoto had.
No, he didn’t regret it. What had happened was his darkest moment, further beyond anything ever done to him. He had never been the same since, knowing that he had that in him. But the times that they’d had that were good—he didn’t know how to regret that. He wanted to, when he fell into that place inside him where he had no form and no face. He wanted to call himself disgusting for being so selfish to cherish the moments where she smiled, and he laughed, and they kissed like they would die without the other beside them.
But more than regret or disgust or self-hate, Majima knew how to survive. He’d survived through everything even when he didn’t feel as though he should. It wasn’t a conscious choice most days. So the way his heart clung to those moments wasn’t something he could bring himself to hate, to regret. What had happened had happened and he could never hope to make up for it. But holding onto those moments of happiness had kept him alive and he was too much of a survivor to cling to big regrets. It just wasn’t in his nature.
All he could do was hope that Mirei had found someone who could love her the way she deserved, and so in the end, he told Kiryu nothing.
Despite that, he seemed to understand.
After another long while and another few cigarettes, Kiryu told him that he ultimately didn’t know if he regretted going to prison, either. It had been the only choice he’d felt was right, back then, but it had been a certain kind of hell that he had never anticipated—stealing ten years of his life and leaving him a man who had to relearn how to tell himself when to eat, when to wash, when to live. Speaking no longer came naturally to him. He’d forgotten how people on the outside talked. With abandon, with energy, with life inside them that burst out like popping a balloon full of water. Every interaction had to go through a filter that had been hammered into him. Don’t react. Don’t talk back. Don’t feel anything. Just let the time pass hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, counted by his heartbeats alone.
There was no other way to tell time in a cell.
He told Majima about the men who had been in there for much longer than him. The men he could hear tearing themselves apart because they hadn’t connected to another human in so long that something inside them broke. The feral despair in the sounds they made at night when there was no light and no hope for hours and hours and hours.
He’d only been there for ten years, but he knew that despair. He knew what it was like for his skin to feel hungry. To have to claw at yourself to stop it prickling with need.
Only there for ten years, Kiryu kept saying. Only ten years, as though ten years wasn’t a decade. As though it wasn’t a measure of a generation. As though the world hadn’t changed, kept spinning while he sat in a single room and breathed stale air in complete, horrifying stasis for ten years .
Majima knew that despair, too.
Silence that grew by layers. Thin at first, hardly noticeable. Then another layer, just as thin, piled on, a whisper of weight on the skin, on the ears. Then another. Another. Another until it was a physical pressure that stole breath and crushed bodies and you’d scream just to feel it pushing that silence out, away from you. Those weeks where he never heard a sound other than the hammering of his own heart, the THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP that was louder than a drum in that kind of silence was a torture beyond knives and pins, beyond fire and flaying.
He’d spent years screaming with laughter to chase the sound of that silence away.
He didn’t know how Kiryu had survived ten years of that kind of dullness. He supposed that was just how Kiryu was. The things he could survive weren’t the things Majima could. That only made sense. He’d spent enough time watching Kiryu for the past few weeks that he had finally begun to understand why he did some of the things he did. Why he’d never truly appreciate the violence of cracking his fist into someone’s bones. Why he helped every person he came across that needed help. Why he couldn’t walk away from anyone crying out. Why he was willing to give his time to everyone, including Majima, despite how pressing his own needs were.
Even things like why he’d picked up Pocket Circuit and Mesuking and all those games that Majima might have made fun of him for at another point in their life.
He was making up for lost time.
Majima recognised that same drive to make up for the time that he’d lost, that realisation that he had never done things as a child or a teen or even a young man. Kiryu was feeling the loss of something he’d never had to begin with. A homesickness for normal experiences.
When he mentioned it, Kiryu just smiled and nodded and told him that it was a happy place for him. A place that, just like him, hadn’t changed in over seventeen years. It was constant and it was pure fun and it took skill and dedication. He told Majima about how he’d looked around almost obsessively for new parts, better parts, because those races gave him something tangible to look forward to. Something that wasn’t the debauched, dirty, deadly sins that crawled through every corner of Kamurocho, waiting for him to tip the rock and spill out the insects underneath.
He spoke fondly of the times he’d raced with Majima, and just like that, their conversation changed. Lightened. Eased off the pressures of the dark places that lay within them and pointed outwards, instead. The things they did for fun. The ridiculous stunts that Majima had pulled just to get Kiryu’s attention. The wild, hilarious things that Kiryu had helped people with in his life.
Majima thought he might choke to death on his laughter when Kiryu told him about helping a dominatrix in training. Or when he told him about the woman who pitted him, Date, and the Florist against each other to be called a BAD-boy. Or how he’d once mistaken a woman’s request for a visa as her desperate need for a pizza.
They continued to talk about everything and nothing until the sky lit up from beneath the horizon, the sun chasing away the night and leaving them exhausted and raw, but happy. When they finally noticed, Majima had a brief moment where he expected Kiryu to go inside by himself and leave him to head back alone, but he just sat up with a groan and told him that the coffee they had wasn’t the best, but it would keep them awake enough for Christmas morning.
And so Majima followed Kiryu inside, unused to the warmth that crackled inside his chest like a fire built after a long winter. He found himself making tea and coffee and breakfast for the three of them in their tiny apartment, trying not to dwell on the domesticity of it. Haruka only commented on his presence by telling him that she liked her eggs sunny-side up as she yawned into her hand, as though she’d known he would be there all along.
He gave her a narrow-eyed look for her sass, trying to maintain his toughness, but when she spotted the bike and squealed, calling him ‘Uncle Majima’ as she thanked him profusely, he could feel the hardness around his heart crumble to dust, never standing a chance in the face of a smiling Kiryu and Haruka.
And even though he’d always preferred scrambled to fried, there were three very sunny eggs that were placed on the table that morning.