The Demonfire Dagger sat on the table in the middle of the back wall of the Tojo Clan armory, unassuming and yet as powerful as a black hole.
It felt wrong to see it sheathed and still instead of whirling and biting at him.
It was too much.
When yakuza made amends for a mistake, they would normally lose a finger at most. Two, if it was something awful.
But for Majima, despite the laughably low severity of his mistake, they’d taken so much more. They’d taken an entire limb and stored it in the armory like an animal head mounted on the wall. A trophy to prove they had defanged a dangerous creature.
Kiryu knew better than that, of course.
He’d fought Majima with and without his tantō and while he was deadly with it, he could still just as easily kill a man without.
It was the wrongness of it that sent his skin crawling. It didn’t belong here. It belonged with Majima. He could take it now; put it in his pocket and return it to its rightful owner. He’d said he would. That it was necessary for the survival of the clan. That Majima was the only man strong enough to make a difference in the coming conflict between Tojo and Omi.
But looking down at it now, in the state it was in, he couldn’t help but feel like it would be a betrayal to even ask.
Three months. Three months had passed without them exchanging a single word. Three months since Kiryu had let Majima walk away from him without knowing if he’d see him again.
He’d been torn, even back then, but he’d meant what he said. He didn’t want Haruka to grow up thinking that yakuza were more likely to be good men than bad. He didn’t want her to underestimate what they could and would do, given the chance, and so it had seemed like the right thing to do at the time, refusing to let her see Majima. She’d gotten attached to him so fast that it worried him. The incident that had sparked it off had only resulted in a threat, but what if he’d tried to take her somewhere? She hadn’t even considered that someone would wear a pin of a family they didn’t belong to, and she clearly trusted Majima implicitly.
And even if Majima hadn’t dissolved the family, it wasn’t like his men were like him. Majima didn’t care to make them act decently. His style had always erred on the side of chaos. So even then, Kiryu wouldn’t want Haruka trusting someone just because they wore Majima’s pin.
It hadn’t felt good, staying away, but it had felt necessary.
He knew he’d lost some of Haruka’s trust, doing things the way he’d done them. But it was all for the greater good.
It was always for the greater good.
Kiryu couldn’t afford to do anything for himself.
He had to think of the good of the Tojo first and foremost.
But even though he told himself that while staring down at the dagger he knew as well as its owner’s face, he still hesitated.
He’d been willing to sacrifice their friendship to keep Haruka safe. He’d treated Majima callously, refusing to give him the benefit of the doubt simply because he was yakuza. And for what?
Kiryu was right back in the thick of it again. Helping the Clan. Bargaining with the Omi like he’d never left the family. Being called Fourth Chairman after being just Kiryu for a year.
Look what that had gotten him. Haruka back at Sunflower to make sure she was safe from the plots he’d been dragged into once more. Daigo kidnapped after Kiryu had dragged him back into it against his will. Sayama shot for getting caught in his mess and laid up with a fever at Serena.
And now he was considering bringing Majima back into it, as well. Had volunteered him with only the thought of the Clan’s survival in mind—of taking responsibility for what he’d saddled Terada with. Had acted first as a chairman, and only when faced with the stark reality that Majima had truly, actually left the Clan, did he begin to think of it through a man’s perspective.
The irony of it was not lost on him. Cut ties with Majima for being a yakuza when he hadn’t been one all along; go back to him on hands and knees begging him to come back so the Clan didn’t crumble without him.
But what choice did he have? Majima really was the only man he could trust to help them in their hour of need.
It was for the greater good.
It was always for the greater good, no matter how much it took out of him.
That was what he told himself as he took hold of the dagger and headed back to the entrance where Kashiwagi waited for him, his eyes snapping down to the blade. His brows pulled into a scowl and he looked back up to Kiryu, saying,
“You’re sure about this?”
Kiryu nodded, leaving out the fact that he wasn’t actually sure about it at all.
“He left willingly, you know. It was his idea to leave, not Terada’s.”
Kashiwagi sighed, scrubbing at the back of his neck. “Good luck, then, I guess. If there’s anyone who can convince him to come back, it'll be you, Kiryu.”
“That’s what I’m hoping,” Kiryu said, absently running his thumb along the lacquered curves of the dagger and wondering how he could possibly hope to accomplish that. He thought about it the whole way back to Kamurocho, sitting in the back of the car with the dagger laid across his lap, his fingers mapping the pattern of it as though he would find the answers written there.
But an answer never made itself clear, and so his limbs felt heavy as he climbed out of the car and walked through the streets toward West Park, the shadow of Kamurocho Hills reaching out for him.
He wasn’t completely sure how he felt about Sayama intercepting him with a request for underwear and beer, but there was definitely relief in there somewhere. On the one hand, he wanted to get it over with. Had kind of hoped that he could get it over with by himself, as well, which wouldn’t be possible if Sayama had woken up. On the other hand, it gave him an excuse to dawdle. To take his time glancing over the racks and racks of cheap products that he had no use for but was mesmerised by all the same. He took as long as he could, pushing his luck before Sayama would call him again and demand he return.
Maybe if he took long enough, he wouldn’t have time to go see Majima. Or maybe he would finally think of what to tell him. How the hell he could explain himself.
Eventually, though, he got too bored and antsy doing nothing but perusing the stuffy, crowded store. People kept bumping into him and giving him nasty looks that quickly fell into horror when they saw who they’d glared at.
Good to know that Kamurocho never changed, with or without him there to take care of it.
With a sigh that felt like it came from his bones, Kiryu paid for the underwear and beer, glad that customer service workers never seemed to care about what someone was buying or why. The boy working the till just smiled and thanked him and Kiryu dragged the bag off the counter with an absent, responding thanks, swinging it lightly as he headed back to Serena.
“I’m back,” he called out once he’d trudged up the stairs at the back and pushed through the door. Sayama was nowhere to be found, though, and he frowned. “Sayama-san? It’s me—where are you?”
“Here! Just a sec,” a muffled voice came from next door, followed quickly by Sayama herself appearing in the doorway wearing only a towel wrapped loosely around her middle.
Kiryu’s head snapped to the side before he could even fully realise how little she had on. His heart hammered in his chest and he had the ridiculous urge to apologise to her. He settled for sitting on the couch and facing away to give her some privacy.
“Ahh, that’s so much better!” she sighed happily. Kiryu heard her rifling through the bag he’d left on the table. “Felt half-dead, I was so sweaty ’n’ gross. Thanks for pickin’ this stuff up.”
“It’s okay,” he mumbled. “Sorry if the—the top doesn’t fit. They didn’t have your exact size, so I had to eyeball it.”
A snort. “The top . Yer a 40-year-old man and y’can’t say the word bra?”
“I’m 38 and I can say bra, I just—” Kiryu froze in the middle of instinctively looking up at Sayama, his heart thudding hard when he saw her dropping her towel. He looked away again, pulling out his cigarettes for something to do with his hands.
There was a very naked woman less than five feet away from him. He could still see the blurry shape of her in his periphery. There was nowhere he could look to get away from it.
He shook his head to clear the thought, writing it off as unhelpful. He had more important things to think about right now.
“Lucky that, there bein’ showers next door. Thought I was gonna hafta drag myself out to a sauna just to feel human again, y’know? Guessin’ this place was a brothel before? Never seen so many showers all crammed together.”
He just grunted in response and she huffed out a laugh.
“Woulda shut it down in a heartbeat back in Kansai.”
Kiryu chanced a look over at her when she hissed softly, and luckily she was already wearing underwear. The hiss had presumably been from getting her bra strap over her bad arm. His brows twitched together and he took a long drag of his cigarette, trying not to feel guilty.
She’d known what she was getting into.
“Hey,” he said to get her attention once she’d shrugged into a robe. She glanced over at him with raised brows, toweling lightly at her hair. He briefly wondered if it wasn’t a good idea to let the cat out of the bag so soon, but he’d never been the sort of man to let things stay hidden. “I know you only came here to dig up information about the Tojo Clan.”
Sayama’s eyes went wide a moment before she turned away, her head hanging as she tied the robe. Kiryu let her absorb his words, comfortable in the tense silence that had fallen. Like ripping a bandage off a festering wound, it was at least out in the open now.
“For how long?”
Kiryu breathed out a cloud of smoke. “Heard you talking about it in Aoi. Sorry.”
Sayama half-turned, looking confused. “Then why didja let me follow you?”
Kiryu thought about what he could say to that. There were a lot of reasons, but mostly, “Because it’s Tojo Clan business.”
Sayama seemed to think that over, her face barely showing any emotion other than resignation. When she finally moved, she just sighed and grabbed one of the beers, coming to sit on the couch as well.
“You’re probably curious about what we were talkin’ about, then.”
“A little,” he admitted. “You going to tell me?”
Kiryu was more than a little surprised when, instead of telling him to mind his own business, Sayama just nodded and filled him in about her past. He’d half expected what she told him, though, so it wasn’t as surprising as it could be. She had the look of a person chasing after the truth, willing to give anything just to know how they’d ended up with the life they’d been dealt. He’d seen that look on his own face many times in his life.
Which was why he tried to tell her—warn her—that some things were better off secrets. Even though he knew nothing would stop her, he felt compelled to try.
“Spoken like a man who knows his past,” was all she had to say to that, and he could only agree, even if it was only partly true.
It didn’t really matter, in the end, how true it was. The fact was that he’d learned part of his past and she was still completely in the dark. It was understandable, feeling like any potential pain would be worth that knowledge. Understandable, but almost tragic. He knew how this was going to go.
Nothing ever ended well when it involved the Tojo Clan.
Which didn’t make his next task any easier, but there was nothing for it. He’d put it off long enough already. His feet were itching to go find Majima and get it done, one way or another. He might not know what he was going to say or how he was going to say it, but he worked best in the moment, and so that was what he was relying on now.
“Speaking of the Tojo Clan—there’s somewhere I need to go.”
“Hm?” Sayama asked, pulled out of her reverie by his words. “Where?”
“Place called Purgatory. Up north.”
She raised her brows. “Sounds like a nice part o’town.”
“It isn’t,” he assured her. “But there’s someone I need to see, and I’ve been told that’s where I can find him now.”
“Alright,” she said, taking another swig of beer before bracing her hands on her knees and standing with an exaggerated sigh. “Gimme a few and I’ll be ready to go.”
“Ah, it might be better if you don’t come. You should stay and rest some—”
The look she gave him was enough to shut him up and he had to try not to smile.
“Good,” she said, heading next door once more and coming back in a few minutes, fully dressed. He stubbed out his cigarette and she took another drink and then they set off, rain misting in the air around them as they walked. The sun had set properly while he was inside and Kamurocho glittered with hedonistic abandon, an assault on all senses at once. He tucked his hands into his pocket, feeling the weight of the tantō against his back as he let Sayama adjust. Sōtenbori was bright and gaudy, too, but nothing compared to the ingrained filth of Kamurocho.
Before the silence between them could remind him about how nervous he was to see Majima again, though, Sayama asked,
“So this person you need to see—they’re Tojo?”
“Not anymore,” he said, smiling and clicking his tongue at a stray cat that rubbed along his shins. “But he used to be. The clan needs him again.”
“So why don’t they just ask him?” she asked, peering over at him with narrowed eyes. “Why send you?”
“Pretty typical thing to expect out of a former chairman, I think.”
Sayama clearly didn’t buy his excuse, her eyes just going more suspicious.
He sighed. “We also have...history.”
A burning heat crept up Kiryu’s neck at the suggestion in her voice. “Not like that.”
She hummed. “So what is it, then?”
She scoffed. “It’s a little late for mystery, y’know.”
“Not trying to be mysterious. It is complicated. He’s my friend, but also my—not enemy, but rival, maybe? He was my aniki, once.” He thought about that a little more, and said, “He’s still my aniki in some ways.”
Sayama looked impressed at that. “ Your aniki?”
He gave a short chuckle. “Not sure if I deserve that.”
“No, it’s just—” She shook her head, clearly at a loss.
Kiryu shrugged. “There’s always someone stronger.”
“I guess so.” She looked over into an alley as they passed by and nudged him on the arm. He glanced at where she pointed and saw a group of men bent over a couple, laughing and pushing them around.
Kiryu and Sayama only exchanged the smallest of glances before they leapt in together, smashing the punks’ heads and throwing kicks that levelled even the heaviest of them. It wasn’t long before they were dusting off their suits and standing down, accepting the couple’s thanks with cool nods and heading back to the main street to continue their trek up to West Park. Kiryu was surprised to find Sayama holding her hand out for a cigarette when he pulled the pack out of his jacket.
“Didn’t know you smoked.”
“Never smoke unless I’m fightin’ or bookin’ someone. Got a feelin’ I’m gonna be smokin’ a lot more when you’re around, though.”
The strength of the laugh that Kiryu gave at that shocked even him. He hadn’t laughed like that for anyone other than Haruka and Majima in a long time.
“Maybe,” was all he said, bouncing the pack of cigarettes to offer her one. He held out his lighter for her to lean down and light it with, and once she pulled back and took a drag, he did the same, a tiny smile on his lips.
It was strange, being able to admit to himself now that he enjoyed the thrill of fighting in some way. He wasn’t sure if Majima had changed who he was at a fundamental level or if he’d just popped the cork on whatever Kiryu had kept bottled inside him. He didn’t mind either way. He was grateful to him, in fact. He’d taught him that certain things were just easier to work out with his fists; that his natural language was supplemented by it. He’d never been good with words, but even though he was getting better with age, he found that talking with his body was still always easier.
The eureka moment hit him.
He did talk better with his fists.
And so did Majima.
He almost laughed again. What had he been worried about? Even if he couldn’t convince Majima with his words alone, there was always a different language entirely he could use to convince him.
It just proved how long he’d been out of the game, the fact that he hadn’t thought about that first.
“What? What’s that look for?” Sayama asked, blinking over at him as they passed by Kanrai.
“Nothing. Just figured something out that’s been bothering me all day.”
She gave him a curious look, but didn’t ask for further clarification. Didn’t matter if he explained it to her or not; she’d likely see soon enough what he meant. They walked in comfortable silence up to West Park, both tossing their cigarettes into the flaming barrel at the entrance. Kiryu nodded at some of the homeless men gathered around it, vaguely recognising a few faces in the crowd, and headed into the bathrooms.
“Wait—this is the men’s room,” Sayama protested, baffling him completely with her sudden shyness.
“Don’t worry, you won’t see anything,” he said automatically, but followed it up with, “And even if you did—would you care? You didn’t seem bothered about that kind of thing earlier.”
Sayama gave him a questioning look and he just raised his brows pointedly. He could tell the moment she realised what he meant, as she made a tiny sighing growl and looked away.
“That’s different. I—I’m just used to getting dressed around the other men at the station.”
“ Other men?”
He was even more surprised to see a bit of pink appear on her cheeks, and found himself transfixed by that.
“You know what I meant,” she bit out without an edge to her voice.
Kiryu huffed out a laugh that was more air than anything and nodded. “Yeah. I get it.”
“Good,” she said as they pushed through the bathroom door and met a familiar face on the other side. Kiryu accepted the direction from G.B. Holmes, a little lost in the new landscape of West Park. Or—the Kamurocho Hills construction site, he supposed.
It would take a while for him to get that right. It had been West Park for as long as he’d been in Kamurocho. It was almost sad to see it gone, even if it had been a haven for all sorts of seedy business. He’d taken shelter there in some of his worst moments. The homeless in Kamurocho were some of the best people there. Certainly the kindest to him without even knowing him.
He hoped they’d found somewhere better to go, but he knew what the likely reality of it was.
“So this is the place? This doesn’t exactly look like ‘Purgatory.’”
Kiryu shook his head, both to clear it and to answer her question. “It’s down below,” he said, gesturing to the stairs and letting her go first. She gave him a suspicious look but went all the same. He followed close behind, saying, “It’s probably for the best that you consider yourself one of the boys, to be honest.”
“What do you mean?”
“Purgatory isn’t pretty. It’s the underbelly of Kamurocho for a reason.”
Sayama looked worried about that, but he’d done all he could to warn her. Still, her face twisted with obvious disgust once they took their first steps into Purgatory proper, her lip curling at the men that waved money and leered at the women cooing from inside their cages.
Kiryu kept his eyes on the path ahead, used to avoiding eye contact with any of the women so he didn’t have to see their faces and worry about them on a deeper level. Some of them might have chosen to be here, but he knew well enough that there were plenty who had not. He was terrified of looking into those cages one day and recognising a woman that he had saved on the streets before that hadn’t been so lucky another time. If he did, he knew he would rip the bars right out of the wall before he could think about how it might affect the other women.
Just one of the many reasons that he always walked quickly through Purgatory. He could hear that Sayama was having a harder time with not making eye contact, though, by the cries of, “Ahh, nee-chan, you want someone with softer hands? Everything about me is soft ,” and “Nee-chan, come play with us! We’ll make you feel like a real woman!”
He could practically hear the steam coming out of her ears by the time they reached the mansion at the back, and he knew exactly what she was going to say even as she hissed, “Why did you bring me here? Are you an idiot?”
“I did tell you it would be better if you didn’t come,” he said as they stepped up into the mansion, nodding at the man at the entrance.
“This ain’t like some gamblin’ hall or somethin’ though! This is the kinda thing I could lose my job over for not reportin’!”
Kiryu thought it best not to let her know that there was also a gambling hall in Purgatory.
“You don’t just bring a cop down to somethin’ like this.”
“You think the cops here don’t know about it?” Kiryu asked, genuinely curious. When she gave him a narrow-eyed stare, he said, “Those men out there? Cops. Councillors. Yakuza. Tokyo’s elite. Poor people don’t come to Purgatory. It’s a rich man’s playground.”
She gave him a look that said she had several things she’d like to say to that, but they’d arrived where he’d been told Majima was waiting for him, and so she just clenched her jaw and looked away. He exhaled lightly through his nose and pushed through the heavy double doors into the familiar room, immediately noticing the eerie lack of the Florist sitting in his chair and the utter stillness all around him.
“Majima!” Kiryu called out, his voice echoing against the high ceiling and coming back to him.
There was no response.
“Majima,” he said after a moment, looking around the room for any sign of movement. “Come out. I know you’re here. We need to talk.”
Kiryu frowned, following Sayama further in and sweeping his eyes across the marble decor. There was nowhere to hide. Had the guard gotten the wrong room? Was Majima not actually—
“Hey, Kiryu-chan,” Majima whispered against his ear just as Kiryu’s body uselessly set off the alarms that someone was standing very close behind him. When he choked out an embarrassingly surprised noise and fell forward, he felt Majima snatch his dagger out from the waistband of his trousers. He spun around, holding his fists in front of him just in case, but Majima was just smiling down at his tantō, stroking its length like a favourite cat.
“Majima.” Kiryu stood down after a second. “It’s been a while.”
Majima’s eye slid over to meet his and there was something in it—shrewd and direct and pleased, like he’d been waiting for him—that made his heart beat faster. “Years, Kiryu-chan.”
Kiryu finally let himself smile. “Years?”
“Fine. Three months.”
“You been countin’ the days?”
Kiryu didn’t have an answer for that and Majima just cackled.
“Majima,” Sayama said, barely loud enough for them to hear. When Majima and Kiryu both looked over at her, her lips pulled down slightly. “Goro Majima?”
Majima’s smile turned roguish. “Y’heard of me, sweetheart?”
“You were involved in a murder-suicide at the Grand ten months ago. We tried to pin you down in Sōtenbori before you could leave, but we didn’t get a clear enough picture to identify you from the CCTV until after you were gone.”
Majima looked dumbstruck for a single second before he recovered. “Yer a cop?”
“Osaka Detective, Division Four,” she said, reaching inside her jacket to flash her badge. Majima leaned forward to peer at it as if to make sure it wasn’t fake and she nearly snapped it closed on his nose. Majima looked back to Kiryu with a wide eye.
“She’s really a cop. Kiryu-chan, what the fuck, man? You brought a cop down here?”
“He didn’t ‘bring’ me anywhere,” Sayama retorted. “He’s under my protective custody.”
“Y’know who he is, right?” Majima asked, brows raised.
“She needed the position to get close to the Tojo. She’s looking for someone in the Clan who killed her parents.”
“Who isn’t?” Majima said while Sayama snapped, “Kiryu-san!”
“You can trust Majima-san,” Kiryu assured her. “He might be able to help.”
“Is that why you came here?” Majima asked, twirling his knife lazily. “Y’need some help findin’ yer guy?”
“Uh,” Kiryu said, shifting his weight. “No, actually. I came here to ask you something. A favour.”
Majima grinned, his knife threaded between his fingers. “What kinda favour?”
This was it. Kiryu took a deep breath and looked Majima in the eye and said, “Come back to the Tojo Clan, Majima-no-niisan.”
Majima blinked. “Haw?”
“The Tojo Clan needs you. Needs your strength again,” Kiryu said, bowing in supplication. “Please, Majima-no-niisan. Come back.”
There was a long stretch of tense silence where Kiryu didn’t dare to break his bow and so had no idea what was going through Majima’s head. Eventually, though, when his neck started to ache and his heart sounded loud as thunder in his ears, Majima broke the silence.
Loud, boisterous laughter, as though Kiryu had told the funniest joke in the world. Kiryu stood straight again, scowling at the way Majima bent back, howling like a hyena, his hands on his bare stomach. Kiryu glanced over at Sayama to see her wearing the same expression as she watched Majima.
“This a joke to you?”
Majima threw himself forward, bending over his knees and bracing his hands on his thighs, gasping for breath as he giggled helplessly at Sayama. “The best fuckin’ joke, sweetheart.”
“I’m serious,” Kiryu said, taking a bemused step forward. Out of all the things he expected from Majima when he asked him to return, laughter was not one of them.
“Aw, fuck, that makes it even worse!” Majima cried, slapping his thigh and looking up at Kiryu through a tear-filled eye. “Nah. No, no, no. No fuckin’ way,” he laughed.
Ah, this was more expected. Kiryu bowed himself again, deeper this time. “Please, Majima. The Clan is on the brink of destruction without you.”
He held his bow while Majima’s giggles trailed off, and once they had fully dissipated, he chanced a peek up. Majima was watching him with a smile that belied the intensity in his eye.
“So?” was all Majima said, and Kiryu knew that if that wasn’t enough, no other words would be. But still, he tried one last time, holding his gaze and saying softly,
Majima was quiet for another few moments before he huffed out something like a laugh but without the manic energy. Just an expulsion of air, as though someone had pressed hard on his stomach without warning. He turned away, tucking his tantō into the back of his leather trousers and muttering,
“You’re killin’ me here, Kiryu-chan.” He clicked his tongue. “Fine. Have it your way.”
Kiryu straightened once again, staring in disbelief. It worked? He’d convinced him with words alone? That was—surprising. Surprising and strangely disappointing. Kiryu would be lying if he said he wasn’t looking forward to sparring with Majima again. It had been three months since he’d stretched his muscles, and much longer since he’d been able to enjoy himself. Their last fight had been wild and powerful and exhilarating, but Kiryu had been too consumed with frustration to enjoy it.
He hadn’t really thought that Majima would give in so easily.
Which was why he smiled as Majima slid his eye back to him with a sly quirk of his lips and said, “On one condition.”
“Which is?” Sayama asked.
“Somethin’ only Kiryu-chan can do for me.”
Sayama looked between the two of them and the smiles they exchanged, brows raised as high as they could go, but Kiryu already knew what he was going to say even before he said,
“Y’know, buncha guys punchin’ each other, gettin’ real sweaty, real hard—”
“Does he have an off button?” Sayama asked Kiryu, which got a chuckle out of him.
“Short of punching him so hard he chokes on blood, I haven’t found one yet.”
“I thought ya said you guys were friends,” she said with wide eyes.
“Aww, Kiryu —”
“You can go back to Serena for this part, Sayama-san,” Kiryu told her, talking over Majima’s coos that made him sound like a love-stricken girlfriend. “It’ll be over soon, trust me.”
Majima’s cackles echoed loud enough in the enormous room that it was like there were five of him. “The confidence! I love it!”
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said with a stern crinkle to her nose. “You’re my charge. Who knows what either of you might get up to if I leave now?”
“Suit yourself,” Kiryu said, shrugging and heading back out. After a second he heard Sayama’s and Majima’s heels clicking behind him. One of them was practically skipping, though, and he gave himself two guesses which it was. The first didn’t count.
“Oi, Kiryu,” Majima murmured in his ear, draping himself across Kiryu’s shoulders as they walked down the hall. Kiryu grunted in frustration; their strides were similar length, but Majima held him back awkwardly enough that they stumbled together. “Yer girlfriend’s kinda tense. Y’think she wantsa blow off some steam in the ring, too?”
“Why don’t you ask her that yourself?” Kiryu muttered, choosing to ignore the girlfriend remark.
“Not gonna lie, she scares me a lil’.”
“I can hear you two, y’know,” Sayama grumbled.
“Well howsabouttit? Y’wanna throw down too?”
“I’m gonna pretend like y’didn’t just invite a cop to join in your blood sports.”
“C’ mon , what’s the problem? There’s lotsa cops that have fun down here,” Majima whinged, chuckling when Kiryu forcefully shrugged him off. “Spoilsport.”
“You’re just trying to annoy me before I fight,” Kiryu said, and Majima’s loud laugh was all he needed to hear to know he was right. He paid the two of them no mind while they bickered back and forth about nothing, trying to focus on the task at hand. He’d have to take down two guys before he would presumably be taking on Majima himself. He couldn’t be sure of that, of course—Majima would sometimes throw him for a loop. But judging by the look they’d shared, he wouldn’t be passing up the opportunity to get in the ring.
He wondered, as he nodded at both of them before ducking into the locker room, if Majima had missed him. If the months apart had been frustrating in a fuzzy, undefined way for him, too. If he’d ever thought about coming to find Kiryu anyway, even though he’d been clear on the fact that he wouldn’t. If he’d stared at his phone as he fell asleep, too, wishing he could talk to him while telling himself that it was ridiculous to wish that. If he’d missed that camaraderie they’d gone through so much to build.
He’d made plenty of other friends at his job, of course. And they were great for drinking or watching a game or playing poker with. But none of them knew him even a fraction of how well Majima did. Not even Suzume, who he’d finally asked out on a date after driving himself crazy about it. They’d had a nice time, that first night, and so Kiryu had actually made an effort with her, taking her to nice restaurants at least every other week. But no matter how comfortable he was with her, he’d never managed to answer her casual questions about his life, or acknowledge her hints that she’d like to do more, physically, and in the end, they’d just given up trying to be more than friends.
Kiryu knew that he shouldn’t have been relieved about that.
But he was.
It was probably for the best, considering where he was now.
He shoved thoughts of Suzume and his normal job and his normal life aside as the announcer called his name, the doors in front of him swinging open dramatically to assault his senses at once. The smell, as always, hit him first. Rank body odour and alcohol and blood all mixed together in a nauseating miasma, punctuated by the rolling spotlights blinding him and the deafening roar of the crowd that got his heart thundering in a primal, hindbrain sort of way. Like the thumbprint memory of the call of a predatory animal, he was breathing faster, sweating, ready.
Kiryu’s eyes found Majima the moment he entered the ring, the tiny smirk on his lips as he leaned back into the arms of the women at his sides saying,
Show me that you still deserve my attention .
Kiryu’s roll of the neck as his first opponent stepped in front of him said,
Just watch .
And even though he’d normally tune out the noise and eyes of the crowd on him when he fought in the coliseum, he found himself hitting a little harder, dodging and weaving a little faster, flexing his strength more than usual under the scrutiny. When the first man groaned and collapsed onto the mat before Kiryu had even broken a sweat, he turned and gave Majima a deliberate raise of his brows, challenging him silently.
Majima just clapped, condescending and amused.
Then the cage closed down over Kiryu again and he was back in the fight, though not for long. Gary Buster Holmes was always a good opponent, but Kiryu was already warmed up and had his sights on one man alone. He wasted no time exploiting weaknesses to get Holmes flat on his ass, gulping for air and looking just as pleased to have lost to Kiryu as his boss ever did.
But when Kiryu tried to meet Majima’s eye again, he only saw an empty space between the two women and Sayama next to them, looking extremely bored.
He didn’t have to wait long to find out what had happened to him, though. A deep, bass-heavy beat slammed through the speakers loud enough to vibrate against his skin as fireworks lit along the path in front of him, the announcer going wild.
Majima paraded up the walkway, his swaggering confidence and shameless smirk working the crowd up to a frothing frenzy. He was utterly in his element, and Kiryu could only smile at the display.
“Well? Ain’t I red-hot, Kiryu-chan?”
“Yeah,” Kiryu exhaled dismissively. “But don’t worry; I’ll cool you right down.”
That got a wild cackle out of Majima as he unsheathed his blade and they exchanged no more words after that, so engrossed in their dance of fists and blade that they were both unusually quiet. Kiryu’s body was on fire with the effort of keeping up with him and there was sweat dripping into his eyes and he had to move purely on instinct when Majima slashed at him relentlessly, but he’d never been so happy.
Fighting Majima had always been gratifying in a very particular way, like going to a chiropractor and getting all the knots out of him. But it made it all the better to see Majima’s eye sparkling with that same excitement, especially once their fight ended as all the others had before—with Majima flat on his back, limbs flung out and chest heaving as he smiled up at Kiryu, looking spent and satisfied.
“That’s my Kiryu-chan,” he gasped, sitting up on his elbows. “Still a fuckin’ beast.”
Kiryu had never had such a strong urge to kneel over him and press his mouth to his before, though, but that was easy enough to explain away as an aftereffect of the adrenaline. Instead, he held his hand down to him, still fighting to catch his breath. He huffed out a laugh when Majima slapped it casually and stood up on his own.
“Brat,” Kiryu mumbled fondly.
Majima just gave him an affectionate pat on the cheek like a doting grandmother.
“So?” Kiryu began. “Are you going to keep your word?”
“‘Course,” Majima said, ducking his head and looking away with little half-smile, glancing back at Kiryu after a second. “Promise is a promise, ain’t it? C’mon, let’s hash this shit out over drinks.”
Kiryu watched him turn and head down the path back towards the lockers before following, taking his opportunity to get a good look at his tattoo. He’d seen it a few times in the years he’d known him, but mostly right before they’d fought or flashes of it during. But as they walked under the dim, buzzing lights in the corridors, he could see the hannya up close for the first time. Her yellow eyes seemed to glow in the darkness, beads of sweat glinting like venom on her fangs. The ripple of Majima’s muscles gave her the semblance of movement, as though she would leap out from his skin and sink her teeth into anyone who came close enough.
Kiryu had never noticed before, but this close, he could see that there was a texture to the tattoo—ridges that criss-crossed all through it, long and short, deep and shallow. It took him a naïve moment of wondering how the tattoo artist had managed it to realise that they hadn’t done anything. Those ridges were scars .
There were so many.
Kiryu himself had his fair share of scars, some small and some not-so-much. But this was different. The scars on Majima covered his skin like a landscape; an over-tilled field reclaimed for the sake of something beautiful. Kiryu couldn’t help but trace the path of them with his eyes, as though he could see the history of them in it—down his back and around the waist, up his sides and along his shoulders. They even continued down his arms, thinning out but still visible, still etched into his pale skin under the fine dusting of black hair.
Kiryu’s gaze caught on the thicker, ragged scars that encircled his wrists, and he didn’t have to wonder how he’d gotten them anymore. He’d seen plenty of other people with those scars in his time. Some of them had only been held hostage for an extended time. Some of them had been trafficked. But others had shared those exact wide, rough scars, and when Kiryu had found them, they’d been hanging by their wrists in a hole in a sub-basement, eyes unable to focus on anything other than reliving the horrors done to them. They’d screamed in pain when he’d taken them out of that pit, kept in the dark for so long that they couldn’t stomach the light. The sound of their cries had haunted his nightmares for years. They’d hardly sounded human, after the torture they’d endured.
It had taken him a long time to remember where else he’d seen those same types of scars before. It had only been when he’d smelled a hint of lavender and white tea that it had hit him like a punch to the gut. Makoto had had those scars.
And now, Majima.
Kiryu was torn, thinking of Majima in that same position. His respect for him grew even further, somehow, but he also felt a raging, protective fire alight in his gut. He wanted to rip apart whoever had put those scars on him, but he knew logically that they were likely dead already. He couldn’t imagine anyone hurting Majima like that and not getting shredded to bits.
Kiryu hoped they’d died terrified.
“Ya keep starin’ like that, I’m gonna start chargin’ ya by the minute, Kiryu-chan.”
Kiryu blinked, his neck and cheeks heating up as he realised that Majima was looking over his shoulder at him, grinning wickedly.
“I—I’ve just never—”
“Ya wanna see the rest?”
Kiryu’s brows knit together as they pushed into the locker room, heading back to the showers. “The rest?”
Majima chuckled, turning forward again. The jingle of his belt buckle was the only warning that Kiryu got before he pushed his trousers down over his ass, exposing the flowers and clouds that continued over it. Kiryu looked away, flustered—what was with everyone today?—but after a moment, his eyes drifted back, unable to resist the sight. Majima had already stepped fully out of his trousers and flipped on his shower, and so Kiryu could see that the tattoo went all the way down his thighs as well, stopping just above his knees. The detail and colours made him wince in sympathy; that had to have hurt.
“So that’s what I saw under your dress,” Kiryu said as he turned on his own shower and stripped down. The first step under the icy blast of water sucked the breath right out of him, but it warmed up soon enough, soothing the ache in his muscles. He really couldn’t take the punches like he used to—he knew he’d be nursing some bad bruises the next day.
Majima made a choked, amused noise. “Y’been lookin’ under my skirt, bud?”
Kiryu threw a glare his way, but Majima had tossed his patch onto his trousers and was bent back with his eye closed, washing his hair. “It wasn’t like I could not see it,” he muttered, wetting his own hair. “The skirts you wear don’t cover it up.”
“That don’t mean ya gotta look! Wouldja look up a girl’s skirt if she fell over or somethin’?”
“S-Sometimes you can’t help it!” Kiryu argued, face hot with shame. When Majima looked over at him with a wide eye, he pursed his lips and mumbled, “Sorry. It’s been a—weird week.”
“Y’don’t say,” Majima said dryly. “Don’t reckon I’d be any less jittery, gettin’ babysat by that spitfire.”
“Ah, it’s not Sayama-san. She’s—she’s a lot nicer than she first seems.”
Majima just raised his brows and Kiryu made a questioning noise.
“Nice like granny’s dumplings or nice like I’m gonna walk in on ya jerkin’ it to her at five in the mornin’?”
Kiryu’s sharp intake of breath made him snort a foamy line of shampoo like he was an addict with the last gram of coke in the world. He gagged on it, his eyes tearing up as he tried to cough it out. When he caught a glimpse of Majima’s face through the spray of the showers and his own tears, he didn’t look even a little bit sorry.
That was his cue to get out of there, he felt. He ducked his head fully under the shower and shook it, combing the rest of the shampoo out as fast as humanly possible before slamming the knob down and grabbing one of the provided towels to bury his face into under the guise of drying it.
“Aw, c’mon Kiryu-chan,” Majima snickered behind him, his shower cutting out as well. “It’s natural . Y’don’t hafta be so shy about it!”
There was absolutely no way Kiryu was going to talk to Majima about this. He’d done his best to forget what he’d done that morning, and by god, he was going to keep forgetting it. Especially since he was getting an odd sense of déjà vu over this conversation. He was almost certain he’d had the same embarrassing encounter with Nishiki when they were in their early twenties.
In fact—now that he was thinking about it closely—he definitely had. Only that had been worse, in a way, because Kiryu had been young and horny and hadn’t been able to wait to get himself off after he’d woken up with an erection, despite Nishiki sleeping on a futon beside him. Nishiki had been a little kinder about it, though, clearing his throat in the morning and silently helping Kiryu wash his sheets. He’d also told him that there was nothing to be embarrassed about, but that didn’t stop him from teasing him about it for months.
Kiryu had never told Nishiki that he’d been dreaming about him.
Kiryu often wondered if there was something actually wrong with him. Something that made him the sort of man who could dream about his sworn brother or fantasise about his best friend but not watch porn without feeling sick; could flirt all night but not bring himself to actually kiss a kind, beautiful woman.
If there was something broken in him.
“Y’gotta be careful frownin’ like that,” Majima said, tucking his chin against Kiryu’s shoulder and reaching around to tap him on the forehead between the eyes. “Yer gonna get wrinkles like an old man before you’re even forty.”
Kiryu went stiff at the feeling of Majima’s bare chest against his back, but thankfully he’d wrapped a towel around his waist, as well, and so he forced himself to relax and just enjoy the feeling of being touched again. It had been so long since he’d been touched like this. Months and months, and even then, it hadn’t been quite so much. It was almost overwhelming, the sudden fierce hunger that overtook him at the feel of skin on his skin.
Before Kiryu could tell himself it was too weak or inappropriate, he twisted around and took Majima in his arms, pressing them together hard enough to make Majima stumble back into the lockers.
“You already have wrinkles like an old man,” he grumbled to hide his self-consciousness, tucking his face against Majima’s neck just to get more of that contact. It was so good. He squeezed him closer, his skin prickling with goosebumps. So good . He hadn’t felt anyone’s skin on his in so long, and Majima’s was soft and warm. He smelled like cheap soap and chemicals in water and his hair was dripping into his ear, but Kiryu didn’t care about that, especially once Majima’s arms came up around his back, as well.
Kiryu felt the vibration of Majima’s laugh against his chest and mouth as he said, “Missed ya too, Kiryu.”
Kiryu just grunted, more than a little embarrassed about his eagerness but unwilling to stop. He was surprised that Majima just let him do it, stroking his hands along the length of his back as though he knew exactly what he was needing. When he finally pulled away, he felt warm and full in a way he couldn’t quite pinpoint. Like being sun-kissed and sleepy after taking a nap outside, he was satisfied. He exhaled lightly, running his hands through his hair and looking away from Majima’s knowing grin, mumbling,
“Better hurry up or Sayama-san will come bust the door down. She’s—not shy.”
“Y’say that like it’s a bad thing,” Majima said, but took his advice nonetheless, both of them getting dressed again.
“It isn’t, but there’s a difference between a woman who will ask a man out and one who will strip in front of a stranger.”
Majima’s eye bugged out of his head and Kiryu just shrugged helplessly.
“And yer still standin’ here, alive and well and not dead to a coronary?” Majima asked incredulously. “ You ? The man who won’t even admit out loud that he thinks tits are great?”
“I can —” Kiryu cut himself off, shaking his head. “That’s not the same thing. And I didn’t look, anyway.”
“Bet ya looked a little bit.”
Kiryu ignored him, toweling his hair dry as best he could. It flopped down over his forehead, but there was nothing he could do about that, so he just pushed it aside and ignored it, too.
“ Kiryu ,” Majima exclaimed, suddenly taking his head in his hands and studying him intently. Kiryu just raised his brows warily. “ Goddamn . How come ya never told me yer cute as a fuckin’ button with yer hair down like this?”
“You never asked,” he said with a tiny smile. When Majima just gave him a knuckle to his forehead and a disgusted look, Kiryu retorted, “Why didn’t you tell me that you were in construction instead of yakuza business this whole time?”
“Ya never asked,” Majima shot back with a mean grin that soon smoothed out as they opened the door to see Sayama waiting for them down the hall, her toe tapping and her arms crossed. “Kept tryin’ t’tell ya anyway—wanted t’offer ya a job as soon as we started workin’—but ya wouldn’t listen t’me.”
“Not like it matters now, anyway,” Majima continued, leading the way. “Now that yer callin’ me back to bat.”
“No, that’s not exactly what I—”
“What took ya girls so long?” Sayama interrupted him, eyeing them both up suspiciously. “Didja hafta braid each other’s hair or somethin’?”
“We were gossipin’ about boys,” Majima said without missing a beat, continuing past her to a locked door at the end of the hall. He pulled out his phone and looked down at it before keying in a number and pushing through without holding it open. Sayama slapped the door before it could swing shut again, and Majima snickered.
“I don’t think ya really get what kinda trouble I could getcha in, Goro-kun .”
Majima’s eye flashed at the name, but he just said, “Aw, please do, sweetheart. Prison’s prob’ly safer’n what Kiryu-chan’s got planned for me.”
“You say that like ya don’t wanna rejoin the Clan.”
Majima snorted. “What part o’what just happened makes ya think I would ?”
“Always heard you were one o’the real yakuza, the old-guard type. Never met one o’those that could live as anythin’ else.”
“Yeah, well, y’hadn’t met Goro Majima yet, hadja?”
“There’s a reason why he’s legendary, Sayama-san,” Kiryu said quietly. When she looked at him, he continued, “There’s nothing that Majima-san can’t do when he puts his mind to it.”
Majima looked smug as a cat with cream, but his eye betrayed just how touched he was to hear Kiryu say it out loud.
“And that’s why I’ve asked him to help the Clan instead of rejoin them.”
“Yeah, that’s why—wait, what?” Majima asked, eye wide as he looked back at Kiryu.
“The Tojo can’t handle you, Majima—you’re more than they can hope to chew,” he said. “But if you lend them your strength, then they might be able to come through this intact.”
Majima went quiet at that, turning away again until they came to another door that led to the foyer of the Purgatory mansion. When Kiryu looked around him in surprise, Majima said,
“There’s lotsa things like that down here. Florist musta had lotsa enemies, though, so I don’t blame ‘im.”
“Florist?” Sayama asked as the three of them headed into what looked like a lavish living room, but was decorated in the same style as the rest of Purgatory.
Kiryu quickly filled her in on who the information dealer was before turning to Majima—who had immediately gone to fill two glasses with an amber liquid from an expensive-looking bottle—and asking, “Where is he, anyway? Why are you here, of all places?”
Majima gave him what he assumed was the short version of what had happened earlier that year as they all settled on the plush cushions in front of the massive TV that stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of the traditional Japanese decór. Sayama listened intently, but Kiryu had seen enough of the Tojo’s tricks before to know the ending to that story.
He was surprised that Majima talked about it so openly in front of Sayama, though, until he reasoned that it didn’t really matter anymore. Terada was dead, the Tojo were on the brink of war with the Omi, and in the end, Sayama was already mixed up with all of this anyway. Plus, what was done was done—nothing he said incriminated anyone she could possibly do anything to, even if she wanted to.
In a way, he appreciated the candour. It would go a long way to building trust, and he figured they would be needing the help of the police before it was all over.
They usually did.
“Sounds like there’s an even bigger shitshow paradin’ through town now, though, huh?” Majima said once he’d finished explaining. “Must be, if yer askin’ me t’help with this shit again.”
After what happened with Haruka , was the unspoken end to that, and Kiryu was grateful for its absence.
Kiryu explained about Shindo’s threats and Majima whistled low. “That’d take—what—half the Tojo’s men outta play?”
Sayama’s head snapped up at that, her shōchū spilling slightly onto her shirt. “You didn’t tell me about that!”
Kiryu gave her an amused look. “You were busy telling me how you’d crack down on Serena for being a brothel.”
She didn’t seem to share his amusement. “You’re awful cavalier with so many people’s lives. The Go-Ryu ain’t somethin’ to be sniffed at.”
“Listen, Kaoru-chan,” Majima cut in before Kiryu could even begin to feel bad. Sayama glowered at Majima over her drink and by the high colour on her cheeks, he could tell she was already halfway to drunk. “Dunno how y’all are handlin’ shit down in the sticks these days, but up here in the real world, we ain’t about t’let a pants-stealin’ butthead run the show just ‘cause we got a few weasels in the mix. Shindo can take his ass and Nishiki’s other shitmunches and run away and we’ll still fuck the Omi’s shit up. And if y’think that Kiryu-chan’s gonna just sit back and let ‘em do what they want just ‘cause his bro’s boys are dumber’n dirt, then y’really ain’t livin’ up to that badge yer flashin’ around.”
Kiryu could only stare, even when Sayama snarled, “I should—” and Majima interrupted her with a cold,
“Butcha won’t. ‘Cause if ya do, you’ll never find the bastard who killed y’family, and ya know it. So why don’tcha stop tryin’ t’swing yer dick around and sit at the big boy’s table with the rest of us so we can figure this shit out, eh?”
There was a tension that clung to the silence in the room, thick enough to choke. For a few moments, Kiryu was certain that Sayama would take Majima up on his earlier offer of a fight, her hand gripping her glass so tight and her eyes going so narrow, but after a long battle of wills between the two, she just slammed her drink down and stalked out of the room, face like a thunderhead.
Kiryu watched her go, stomach sinking. “That wasn’t necessary, Majima.”
“Believe me; it was. She’s gotta learn sometime that this shit ain’t a game.”
Kiryu sighed, making to stand up, but stopped when Majima held out a hand. “Don’t bother,” he said. “She’ll come runnin’ back in a sec. Hothead like her ain’t gonna leave it like that.”
Kiryu frowned, but sat back again, willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. It wasn’t like he was Sayama’s caretaker, anyway. She was a grown woman.
The two of them sat together in a comfortable, but expectant silence. Kiryu glared down into his drink like it was a group of punks trying to steal his wallet, listening to the ice in Majima’s drink clink against the glass. He had the feeling that both of them were working themselves up to saying something, but he didn’t know what he’d say and he couldn’t stomach the thought of talking about what Majima would likely bring up.
So when Sayama slammed the thin room partition open again hard enough to make it bounce back against her shoulder and stomped in front of them, he felt like he could kiss her in gratitude.
“ Fine , you say that you aren’t going to let them take over your city—then tell me what your plan is, Chairman .”
Kiryu stared up at her for a moment—at her eyes spitting fire and her mouth tight with annoyance—before a smile crept over his face. She looked shocked for a moment, her expression darkening, but before she could misunderstand, he jumped in to say,
“First priority is Daigo. He’s the clan’s best hope for the next chairman—”
“Besides you,” Majima cut in. Kiryu glanced over at him with a dull look that got him a wolfish grin. “Or Yayoi.”
“Yayoi’s lost enough to the Clan already. She deserves better,” Kiryu said, leaving no room for quarrel in his voice.
Majima’s head bobbed loosely. “Yer not wrong about that, at least.”
Kiryu nodded and turned back to Sayama, filling her in on everything that he hadn’t told her before. Once she’d been caught up, the three of them spent what felt like forever just going back and forth, trying to think of all the angles that Ryuji Goda might come at them. They downed drinks and exchanged intel and before Kiryu knew it, he and Majima had gotten off track and were arguing about whether music had been better in the eighties, until he realised that Sayama had gone very quiet beside him. He looked over through alcohol-blurred eyes to see that she’d passed out, her head crooked up against his calf.
He blinked. “How long has she been out?” he asked Majima.
“A while,” he chuckled quietly, “Why’dja think I kept shushin’ ya?”
“Just thought you were being—well, you.”
“ Hey .”
Majima looked like he was gonna punch him for that, but Kiryu managed to mollify him with a smile. He settled with a grumbled threat, and something about his easy acquiescence made Kiryu’s chest go warm. He turned back to Sayama, trying to decide what would be best to do with her. He could carry her back to Serena, but it was pretty late and he was tired. Taxi it was, then.
Sighing and easing his leg out from underneath Sayama, he groaned as he sat up, his stomach sloshing menacingly. “Better go before I pass out, too.” He took a breath to steady himself before smiling at Majima again. “Thank you, Majima.”
Majima’s blink was slow as he tilted his head. “Fer what?”
“Agreeing to help, even after everything. For—for looking out for—”
“Oi, shaddup,” Majima growled suddenly, the edge in his voice going a long way to suddenly sobering Kiryu up. That tone was usually followed by a hard kick to his face or a knife aimed at his guts, but this time, he just glared at Kiryu and said, “I ain’t doin’ this fer no other reason than ya won, fair’n’square. Don’t want yer thanks.”
Kiryu stared in confusion, but then he realised that Majima was embarrassed when he noticed the slight flush creeping up his neck. It was an odd experience for Kiryu, both to see and to have the thought rise unbidden that he looked sweet enough to kiss, like that.
He settled for crawling over to Majima, slinging an arm around him in a loose hug, and mumbling, “Thank you, Nii-san.”
He felt rather than heard Majima’s breath shudder, but before he could ask what was wrong, Majima just mumbled, “Yer drunk as a skunk, Kiryu.”
Kiryu just grunted in agreement and leaned further into the hug. If he’d told the Kiryu from a year ago that Majima—despite his muscular, wiry body that could beat him senseless in a heartbeat—was this soft with Kiryu’s arms around him, he would have laughed himself off the stage. Majima wasn’t the sort of man you could really imagine being soft in any way, but Kiryu had somehow managed to root it out of him and it made him feel…
Gave him a little spark of that same powerful control that he’d gotten when he’d kissed him.
Kiryu wondered, then, if all of their physical encounters would always be about that—that push and pull of control between them. Who could affect whom the easiest, the hardest? Who could get the upper hand first? Who would come out on top?
He and Nishiki had somewhat been the same, though Nishiki seemed to have given in somewhere along the line. Accepted that Kiryu was the stronger of the two and decided it wasn’t worth fighting it anymore.
He wished he hadn’t. He’d loved what they had. Every tease, every mocking that Kiryu took from Nishiki, every clapped hand to his back and good-job-Kiryu. He’d lived for those moments from his brother.
...He missed him so much.
He wished he’d—
“Hey,” Majima said softly, his voice deep and smooth against Kiryu’s ear, easing him out of his downward spiral. Kiryu took a deep breath that helped to level him out again. He realised that Majima was pressing on his chest, clearly trying to get him to sit back off him, and sat up, mumbling an apology.
“Don’t worry ‘bout it,” Majima said. “But maybe—uh—”
Kiryu stared off into space, just waiting for Majima to continue, but when he didn’t, he focused on his face again, brows raised.
“Look, I know we ain’t—we haven’t really talked about—” Majima stumbled over his words, running his hands through his hair and mussing it up. Kiryu wanted to smooth it down, and before he could stop the wanting from translating into motion, he’d already reached out and done it.
The look that Majima gave him—uncomfortable and narrow-eyed—made him realise that he’d maybe overstepped some boundaries that night in his eagerness. It hadn’t occurred to him consciously until just then, but where Kiryu always seemed to be needing more touch, more contact, more physicality in a non-violent way— craving it in a desperate, tangible ache—Majima had never seemed to need that, too. And the more he thought about it, the more he realised that maybe Majima didn’t feel the same way about it at all. That maybe, like an animal that had been abused instead of one simply abandoned, he didn’t trust that kind of touch inherently, like Kiryu could.
Kiryu felt sick to his stomach at the thought that he might have been forcing himself on Majima in some way, but before he could apologise, Majima said,
“Know things might be a little shaky between us, but yer welcome t’stay as long as ya like. Both o’ya. Hell, Sayama too, even though she’s been bitin’ my tits off.”
Kiryu’s brain took a second to catch up before he winced and looked away. “Uh. Thanks. I’ll—if you tell me where I can put her, I’ll get Sayama to bed.”
Majima gave him some quick directions and Kiryu worked quickly to get Sayama settled in the gigantic bedroom, tucking the blanket around her by habit before he realised what he was doing and simply left, trudging back to where Majima waited. He didn’t move at all when Kiryu came back in the room, his eye closed and head bent back far enough to show the shape of his adam’s apple in his neck.
Kiryu stood over him, taking a second just to study his face again. It was still as familiar to him as always, but there was a new tiredness starting at the edges of it that had never been there before. New wrinkles. Veins visible under the paleness of his skin, the branches of them drawing a path down his neck and chest for Kiryu’s eyes. A tightness to his mouth, even in sleep, that pinched his full, soft lips.
Kiryu suddenly wished he could take his request back. That he could tell him not to worry about it; that Kiryu would take care of everything. He wanted to be strong enough to shoulder this alone, to let Majima continue his new life undisturbed by the demands of the men who had already taken so much from him. But he knew that if he took it back now, Majima would know why. He’d hate him for the insinuation that he wasn’t strong enough to do more, to contribute.
Still, even though he knew that—knew that it wasn’t the right thing to say—he couldn’t help himself when Majima surprised him by sighing and saying with his eye still closed, “If ya got somethin’ t’say to me—you’d better just say it. We ain’t kids no more. Y’can’t just stare at me with those puppy eyes and hope I read yer mind.”
“You don’t have to do this, Majima.”
Majima’s eye finally opened, finding Kiryu’s immediately. “What? Letcha stay? I know that. Just tryin’ t’be neighbourly or whatever. Got the space now that shit’s been cleared out.”
“No,” Kiryu said, shaking his head. “I mean you don’t have to help the Clan if you don’t want to.”
Majima’s brow ridged, lowering as he sat up, his eye sharp. “Y’tryin’ t’back outta this shit now, Kiryu-chan?”
“No,” he said again, more firm this time. “I just don’t want you to agree to this if you don’t want to. You’ve already given the Clan enough. You don’t need to do more than that if you don’t want to.”
Majima’s face shifted dangerously between expressions—startling anger at first, then betrayal and confusion, before settling somewhere near incensed determination.
“Don’t fuckin’— patronise me, Kiryu. I’m not yer kid or your girlfriend or some shit—”
“I’ve never thought—”
“—and I don’t need ya white-knightin’ me like that. I can fight,” he spat, barrelling over Kiryu.
Kiryu waited a second to make sure he was finished before saying in as calm of a voice as he could manage, “I wasn’t trying to. I just wanted to make sure you were sure.”
“ Fucking —” Majima bit out before he seemed to get overwhelmed, dragging his hands through his hair before digging around for his cigarettes and jamming one between his lips.
Before he could get his lighter out, though, Kiryu knelt down to offer his, moving purely on old instinct, his body remembering the times when Majima would grin at him wickedly and wait for him to give in to the silent challenge, his cigarette dangling from his lips as though he didn’t even care to smoke it.
As though he’d only ever cared to make sure that Kiryu would light it for him, still.
But instead of letting him light his cigarette this time, Majima’s eye widened with something like annoyance and he knocked him away with a rough shove to his shoulder. Kiryu fell hard onto his hip, hurt blooming in his chest at the unexpected—and what he felt was—unnecessary reaction.
“Fucking stop with that shit, Kiryu!” Majima snapped. “Yer the goddamn chairman—y’gotta man the fuck up already!”
Kiryu tried to process the undercurrent of meaning running through Majima’s words, but his head was cloudy with alcohol still, and so he just sat back up on his knees and stubbornly held the lighter out. There was a second again where it seemed like Majima might attack him, his free hand gripping the cushion beneath him like he’d rather have it around Kiryu’s neck. But Kiryu held still and stayed silent until Majima’s eye softened and he bent forward over the flickering flame.
It was only once his cigarette was lit and he’d leaned back that Kiryu found his voice.
“Titles never mattered to you before.”
Majima’s only response was to snort and look away as Kiryu flopped down next to him, close enough that their sides met along the length of them.
“I know you can fight,” Kiryu said eventually, his throat thick with tiredness. “And I know you don’t need me to worry about you. But that’s just the sort of man I am.”
“Know that,” Majima grumbled half-heartedly. “You’re a real dumbass for it, too.”
Kiryu chuckled. “Maybe.” Silence fell for a few moments before Kiryu continued. “I’m just—proud of you. For what you’ve done here. I don’t want to be the man that stops you. Everyone deserves a fresh start.”
Majima just took another drag, his breath and the crackle of the cigarette the only sound in the room until he said, “Y’sure y’ain’t’ just feelin’ guilty about what happened before?”
Kiryu didn’t have to ask what he meant. “There’s no reason I can’t feel both.”
That got a bark of laughter from Majima and they fell silent again. Kiryu slumped over himself before dragging another cushion over and laying back with a sigh, unbuttoning his shirt a few more buttons as his eyes drifted shut. He’d almost fallen asleep when Majima’s voice dragged him back out of it, soft as it was.
“A fresh start, huh?”
Kiryu looked up at him from behind, his face angled in a way that he couldn’t see more than a sliver of his jaw. “Is that not what this is?”
“It was...somethin’ t’do. Florist wanted me t’take over here and I had the money t’buy the West Park development plot anyway, so I just took it. Seemed like the right thing to do at the time. After all the shit that happened—after dissolvin’ the family and seein’ Makoto again—”
“You saw Makoto?” Kiryu interrupted sharply, sitting up and catching Majima’s eye.
Majima nodded, his smile more of a grimace. “Didn’t mean t’catch her there. But I did and we ended up talkin’ after she guilted me into a massage again.” His smile softened at that, and Kiryu couldn’t help but smile as well. “Or, y’know, she talked and I listened.”
She’d done the same to Kiryu before, when he’d gone to visit Sōtenbori on business. He’d never minded; she gave the best massages he’d ever had and didn’t mind his tattoos at all. He supposed she’d seen the worst that yakuza could do, really.
“Did she move to a different practice?” Kiryu asked, taking out a cigarette for himself now, too. “I tried to go see her when I went down with Daigo, but the reception was closed and her name wasn’t on the list of staff anymore.”
“Yeah, she moved to a different practice all right,” Majima said with a peculiar laugh. “Little one about, oh, 6,000 miles east o’here.”
It took Kiryu a little bit to realise what he meant. “America? She moved to America?”
Kiryu had nothing to say to that. He was a little shocked, but more than that, he was sad for Majima. It was bad enough that he’d lost her once, but to have her so far away now was practically like losing her again.
Still, he hoped that it would be good for her. She deserved a new start, one free from the memories that haunted the streets of both Sōtenbori and Kamurocho.
“Just glad I got t’say goodbye. More’n I deserved, really.”
They sat together in silence for a long while after that, comfortable but tinged with sadness, until Majima nudged him with his leg and said,
“C’mon. Wanna show ya somethin’.”
Kiryu grunted with curiosity as he watched Majima stub out his cigarette and stand up, waiting for him at the door while he got to his feet as well. He followed Majima through the halls of Purgatory and up to the surface, where night had fully taken over. The site was surprisingly dark compared to the rest of the city, and so Kiryu had to keep the glint of Majima’s shoes in sight just to be sure he didn’t disappear into the shadows entirely. He took him through a temporary wall and up to the site itself, where a few men still milled about, gathered in a poker game around a lantern on a picnic table that looked to be left over from when the site was still a park. Kiryu recognised Nishida in the group and raised his hand in greeting when he looked up with a surprisingly genuine smile.
“Seems like construction agrees with your captain,” Kiryu commented as they continued to a huge freight lift.
“Work ‘im to the bone every day, but he just keeps comin’ back fer more. Crazier’n’I am, Nishida. Dunno what I’d do without ‘im.” He paused for a few moments as they ascended before glaring over at Kiryu and saying, “Ya ever tell him I said that, I’ll feed you yer own guts in a hotpot.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Kiryu said, smiling to himself.
Majima grunted in dissatisfaction, but said nothing until the lift was shuddering to a stop. They’d gone all the way to the top, and Kiryu looked out over the city in stunned silence. He’d been at the top of skyscrapers before, but never this high at night and not fighting for his life. They were so high up that the roar of the city had dulled to a soft, distant rumble, like the ocean’s waves from inside a house. The wind blew harder against him up here, carrying the smell of rain on the horizon that thankfully dampened the leftover smoke and burning steel from the explosion at the Millenium Tower.
He was grateful for that; those particular smells could bring him back to that night a year ago in an instant and he didn’t want to go back to that now. He wanted to focus on how his chest needled with the icy chill in a matter of seconds and his breath blew hot and misty in front of him and how it was beautiful and still and strange. Like when he and Nishiki would sneak into school at night and steal just for the thrill of it and Yumi and Yuko would make them return what they’d stolen the next morning, even though he could see the glint of something hungry in their eyes every time.
The girls had always been better at pushing their anger down and not letting it mire them.
He wished he’d taken the chance to talk to them about it back when he’d still had the chance. He wondered what kind of man he would be now if he had appreciated them more.
“Gorgeous, ain’t it?”
Kiryu nodded, leaning a hand against a nearby girder and leaning over to see just how far up they were.
“Hey, watch out,” Majima laughed. “Yer not covered by my insurance, Mister Chairman.”
“You actually bothered with insurance?” Kiryu asked, surprised.
“Hell yeah,” Majima shot back. “No way I’m losin’ out on the opportunity for some good ol’ fashioned white collar crime.”
Kiryu snorted, and after a few moments, Majima gave him a little tap on the arm with the back of his fingers. “Oi, look up.”
“Hm?” Kiryu said, looking over at him with brows raised.
“Not at me , fool—up!”
“Oh,” Kiryu said, turning his eyes to the sky and breathing out another, “ Oh .”
Up this high, the light pollution had dimmed enough that he could see the stars.
He swallowed, his heart feeling very big in his chest as he stumbled back, sitting hard and just looking up and up and up, mouth dry with how very small he felt. He quickly lost track of time, sitting there, until he felt Majima come sit beside him, his body heat close enough to tempt. Before he could debate with himself over whether or not Majima actually wanted to be touched, though, he’d already scooted closer and put his head on Kiryu’s shoulder.
Kiryu took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Ya wanna know why I left the Clan? Why I don’t wanna go back?”
Another breath, and in it he could almost taste the salt from the ocean.
“Because Terada—and now Yayoi and Daigo—they ain’t you.”
Majima’s hair was soft on his skin when he rested his cheek against it.
“Woulda stayed if you had. Woulda done anythin’ for ya. Fought wars for ya. Made ya a king. Woulda stolen the stars from the sky if y’wanted them.”
Kiryu didn’t have to say that he would never ask for any of that. Majima knew.
“But ya left.”
“I know,” Kiryu whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Majima said, his voice barely audible even so close. “Yer here now.”
Kiryu just nodded.
“Welcome back, Kiryu.”
And even though Kiryu had been back in Kamurocho for over a week already, he finally felt like he’d come home.