Kiryu is fifteen again.
He is fifteen again and watching from across the room as Yumi brushes Yuko’s hair. They are in Sunflower and it is almost bedtime, but not quite. It’s summertime, so the sun is still warm and high in the sky even though they have the same bedtime as always.
It isn’t fair, Kiryu always says, every summer, he and Nishiki pouting angrily as they look out the open doors to the battered streets outside. It isn’t fair.
Other kids get to stay up later in the summer. They don’t even have to be home until it gets dark. They don’t have to lay on paper-thin futons and stare up at a paper-thin ceiling while the sun shines through the paper-thin walls, too bright, too bright.
Kiryu’s life has felt much the same, recently. Too bright. Too thin. Like something would come at any second and rip through it, tear away the tiny bits of him and his family that he’d built around him until there were only scraps left. Scraps and the ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! of other children, normal children, who didn’t understand how he could be upset at losing something so small, because to them, small things mean nothing. They have big things. They have parents. They have money. They have a future.
He would often hear those children complaining about those things.
My dad is too strict!
My mom won’t buy me the game I want!
My parents want me to take over the family business!
Kiryu would listen, silent at the back of the class.
He would feel the deep, constant aches in his neck from where he’d slept strangely, spending the night with the rest of the children piled around him again because it was too cold to sleep alone.
He would put his head down on the desk because his stomach was so empty that the room would swim if he looked too closely at anything.
He would flex and unflex and flex and unflex and flex and flex and flex his hands into fists because it felt good, knowing that there, at least, he had some power. Some control.
He would listen to his classmates in silence.
And he would hate them.
Every day, he burns hotter and hotter. Every day, he feels like a dog on a short leash, pacing its length around a tree as the chain gets shorter and shorter. He wants something out of life. He wants to be more than this. More than the hand he’s been dealt. He wants people to know his name , to look at him and know that he is someone . That he was born to be more than nothing. He is something , he is someone ! He has a name!
In his darkest times, he wants them to be afraid of him. He wants them to feel the same fear he feels when they talk about how social funding is a drain on good people. He wants them to know what it’s like to watch their family divvy out daily essentials on rotation. To adjust and adjust and adjust instead of replace. Repurpose until destruction.
To shove their feet in shoes that cut and bruise every single day until their brain can think of nothing else besides the pain, like shouting in a cave, echoing louder and louder with each step because asking for new ones means that someone in their family might not get something they need and so they’ll keep their mouths shut and not hear what people ask them over the sound of the screaming pain in their feet.
Easily distracted. Too quiet. Lost in his own head.
His teachers are cruel at every report because they don’t know.
Or maybe it doesn’t matter, even if they do.
But they don’t.
And how can they? Kiryu never tells anyone.
(He suspects that Yumi knows, as well, but only because she watches the two of them closer than any mother hen. She never talks about it, though, and he never volunteers, and so it is just another open secret—one of many in that house.)
Nishiki is the only person he ever talks to about things like that. The only person he can tell the darkest parts of himself because he knows that Nishiki has them, too. The parts that you can’t ever, ever tell adults about, because if they know you have those kinds of thoughts, they try to fix you.
Kiryu doesn’t need to be fixed.
He just needs a chance.
A single opportunity, and he'll take it. Grab it faster than lightning, hold it so tight that it could never slip past. He whispers his dreams to Nishiki and together they create a world where they are the ones in control. In their futures they are kings, standing side-by-side at the throne of Tokyo’s underworld.
Everyone will know their names.
They have no way of knowing at this point how true that is, and how much will be sacrificed for it, because Kiryu is fifteen again and he is watching Yumi brush Yuko’s hair, the air stifling and thick with the rain that will fall that night.
Yumi is whispering in Yuko’s ear. They giggle together. Nishiki tosses a ball against the porch railing outside and catches it. It makes a tock - tock, tock-tock noise with each bounce. The other children are playing outside while they still have a chance, but Kiryu and Nishiki and Yumi and Yuko hardly ever join them. They are a family within the family, a bubble that becomes harder to penetrate with each passing year where they have no one but each other.
Kiryu never tells anyone, but he is glad for it. He likes the other kids at the orphanage, but there are so many of them that he fears losing a part of himself sometimes. That he has to be something even more extraordinary to stand out from that many faces.
He likes being a part of something smaller. Something special. Something just for him.
But that means that they often stay inside when maybe kids their age should be out socialising. Why bother when they already have each other? Why try to make other children understand that they’re just as fun, just as nice to be around as anyone else? Kiryu has had to listen to his classmates whisper about how he’s definitely going to drop out, going to be in a gang before the end of the year—every year—since he was eleven.
He isn’t sure when he started agreeing with them.
But he isn’t worried about it.
Kazama is yakuza and he is a good man.
So no matter when it happens—because, in his mind, there is no if anymore—at least he knows that he won’t have to do anything that he is uncomfortable with.
He doesn’t mind beating on people.
He likes it, in fact.
But he still isn’t sure about killing anyone.
He’s seen Kazama kill men.
It didn’t seem to faze him.
But maybe that’s just because he’s a grown-up. Maybe you can make those kinds of decisions without feeling like you’ll puke because you’ve lived long enough to see how bad people are. Maybe Kiryu is just a kid, still, and he will eventually be able to pull the trigger without hesitation.
He hopes so.
Because Kiryu is fifteen and what he wants most in the world is to protect his family. Give them a better life. He dreams of beating on all kinds of scummy people who deserve it until they run away crying, leaving him with a wad of cash and maybe even their car. He’ll drive the four of them around. Take them to eat wherever they want. Go back to the massive penthouse they all share—not because they can’t afford an apartment each, but because they are family.
Tock-tock . Tock-tock .
The sun dips low. Lower.
The girls are giggling about a boy now.
His name is Hiroki.
Kiryu knows him. He is in his class. He enjoys history. Hates science. He has dark brown hair that flops over his forehead when he leans back and forward in his chair, bored. Back and forth he rocks and Kiryu watches him, bored as well because he can never figure out how formulas are meant to work. Sometimes Hiroki has a pencil that he balances on his knuckles, spinning it deftly between his fingers, and Kiryu tries it himself to no avail. His fingers are too big and clumsy for that kind of thing.
Nishiki puffs out a disgusted ball of air at their laughter and it occurs to Kiryu—like an electric shock that tingles his skin—that the girls are probably talking about Hiroki in that way that girls do. Like they like him.
He thinks perhaps that he should have realised it sooner. That Nishiki isn’t really that interested in that kind of thing, and even he understands instinctively why they are giggling.
It isn’t the first time that Kiryu has wondered when he’ll start having those kinds of feelings of his own, and it won’t be the last.
It isn’t like he doesn’t have any feelings. He knows he likes Yumi in some way. And he’s had...dreams. Where he’s doing some of the things that he’s seen in dirty magazines. But every time he wakes up from them, he’s sweaty and sticky and there’s a hollow pit of despair behind his chest and he hates it. He dreads having those dreams while hating that he dreads them. He’s fifteen. He should be thinking about girls’ bodies and what he wants to do to them, right? He shouldn’t be dreading the thought.
Some of the other boys his age have already had sex—especially the ones who are rough like he is. He thinks that he should be feeling that same pull, that same drive to lose his virginity as soon as possible.
But when he listens to them talk about it, the only thing he feels is sick.
Tock-tock . Tock-tock .
Yumi looks up at him through the fall of her hair and he smiles. It is the kind of smile that only Yumi gets from him. There’s nothing sarcastic or tired or angry in the smiles he feels for her. She softens the hard edges inside of him, makes him feel like it’s okay to relax.
She smiles back at him and returns to her task, looking content to stay exactly where she is.
Tock -tock . Tock —
The ball flies away into the tall grass. Kiryu’s eyes follow the shifting of the palm fronds until they still. A particular silence falls over the four of them, tense and unsure.
Nishiki has been angry, recently.
None of them are sure why, but Kiryu can guess.
There’s always been something simmering beneath the surface between them, stretching them thin the longer they leave it undiscussed. But Kiryu doesn’t know how to bring it up and Nishiki is waiting for him to.
The three of them are waiting for it. The girls know that Kiryu will bring him back around because he always does. Sometimes with words. Sometimes with bribes. But sometimes they fight, kicking and punching and biting each other like feral puppies scrapping over a bit of meat. Yumi doesn’t approve of it, but she still waits for them to work out their aggression before yanking them onto low stools and getting them cleaned up.
She is not kind with her care when they hurt themselves fighting. She smashes cotton wool doused with burning alcohol onto their cuts and sprays icy cold antiseptic without warning like she’s trying to make them hurt again.
They take it without complaint, every time.
They know they deserve it—that there are worse things she could do to them when they butt heads like that—and so they wince but don’t cry, and she bandages them back up again while Yuko chews them out for being idiots.
So they are waiting, now, for that roiling anger to boil over, to spill out into physical violence that only Kiryu can get back under control.
But it doesn’t come, this time.
This time, Nishiki doesn’t even look at them as he strides out of the house, his hands clenched into fists at his side.
The girls look over at Kiryu with worry in their eyes and he frowns, standing without hesitation to let them know that it’s alright. He’ll take care of it.
But when he follows Nishiki, he finds it difficult to keep him in sight in the cluttered, haphazard neighbourhood where Sunflower lives. There are too many turns and too many places where Kiryu knows he might go and it only takes a few minutes for him to lose Nishiki entirely. He calls out to him, but he doesn’t respond, and Kiryu begins to get actually worried.
This isn’t the first time that Nishiki has done something like this, though. He gets overwhelmed by his own emotions easily and needs to do this. Needs to run away just to—
Kiryu isn’t sure.
To prove a point, he thinks when he’s feeling mean.
To know that Kiryu will follow him, he thinks when he’s found him again and has him back where he belongs.
But this is the first time that Nishiki has run away without Kiryu knowing why .
Normally he has more than an inkling, but as he wanders the streets calling for him with no response, he has nothing.
He thinks that it must be about Yumi, in some way.
Kiryu knows that Nishiki likes Yumi. Likes her in a way that Kiryu isn’t sure he likes her. But of all the girls that Nishiki talks to him about, he never, ever brings her up. He is waiting for Kiryu and Kiryu is terrified. He doesn’t want things to change. He doesn’t know how to tell Nishiki about the strange thoughts he has when he just won’t stop talking about sex. That it feels surreal and abstract to him, the idea of sex. Something for another time, another day. Not today. Definitely not today, never today. Probably not tomorrow, either, but Kiryu takes each day as it comes, even when he is fifteen and feeling left behind.
He is scared to tell Nishiki that he doesn’t care if he likes Yumi because he feels like he should care.
But if Nishiki’s mood is because of Yumi, then Kiryu isn’t sure what triggered it. Is it because he smiled at her?
No, that can’t be it. Kiryu smiles at Yumi all the time—she is one of the only people who can get him to.
Is it because she was paying attention to Yuko and not him?
Nishiki could get jealous about the most unreasonable things sometimes, but even that seems like too much for him.
And then it hits Kiryu:
The girls whispering together about how gorgeous his eyes are, how soft his hair looks, how mysterious he is.
And he is running, then, his feet slapping the concrete in his urgency. He knows roughly where Hiroki lives, and if he is fast, then maybe he can stop Nishiki from hurting—
He turns a corner and stops dead.
He almost can’t understand what is happening, his brain stuttering on the process of grasping what he sees. But then Nishiki opens his eyes and looks over at him and he understands in bits and pieces, like pouring out wooden tiles onto a board all at once, the pictures of them winking into view and back out again as they flip and flip and flip.
Nishiki’s mouth on Hiroki’s—bodies pressed together against the wall outside his house—Nishiki is kissing him?—Nishiki’s hands are all over—Hiroki is making noises —have they done this before?—Nishiki is looking at Kiryu as he kisses Hiroki—
He runs away before the pieces can form a picture, his throat burning and his lungs tight in his chest. He doesn’t look where he’s going until he’s gasping in deep, guttural terror as a car screeches right in front of him and he falls away, bracing himself against a fence and dragging in each breath as it comes, thin and weedy.
When he looks up again, Nishiki is standing in front of him, face empty but his eyes scared.
They stare at each other, neither able to say what needs to be said.
And when Kiryu leaves it too long—forgets that he needs to tell Nishiki that he doesn’t care if he likes boys, needs to say out loud that it isn’t the fact that Hiroki is a boy that surprised him—and Nishiki is the first to speak, he knows he will say something they both regret.
It isn’t even that bad, what he says.
That isn’t even that bad, in the long run. Lots of kids tell each other to grow up as an insult. Like it was a bad thing, being a kid.
But when Nishiki tells Kiryu to grow up and just leaves him standing there, he knows what he’s really saying is:
Catch up. Catch up or I’ll leave you behind.
And Kiryu is the one who runs away, then.
He watches Nishiki leave him behind in that dirty alley and he cannot go back to Sunflower. Can’t look Yumi and Yuko in the eye and tell them what he has seen. Can’t lie about it. Can’t face Nishiki, knowing that he thinks Kiryu is babyish.
So he just leaves. He wanders the streets as the sun sets and maybe he should feel scared but he doesn’t, he doesn’t feel scared at all. Not even when he makes it all the way to Kamurocho and stands again in the middle of that neighbourhood that never, ever sleeps. He can go to Kazama’s office, he knows. Even if he isn’t there, Kashiwagi always takes care of him. Always buys him food and sometimes even lets him have a drink, if no one else is around. Kiryu likes him. He hardly ever talks to him like he’s just a kid.
But something holds him back.
Not quite fear, not quite nerves.
Something more trivial than that, something that makes him feel like he’s done something stupid, coming to Kamurocho.
Just a kid. He’s just a kid, and he feels the weight of it under those red lights.
But he can’t go back now.
He’s old enough to take care of himself.
And so he wanders here, too. He looks in windows and stares at the people who call out to him like he’s one of them, like he belongs .
Kiryu realises, at that moment, that he looks a lot older than he is.
He’s a kid. Only fifteen. But to the barkers and hawkers and the loud, insistent, hungry people in Kamurocho, he might as well be an adult.
It’s thrilling, for a moment. The thought that he can do things here that he hasn’t ever thought to do before. The sheer potential writhing under the surface of this town. He thinks that if there’s anywhere he’s going to make a name for himself, it will be here.
And then a pickpocket steals his wallet as he’s busy gawping at the flashing pachinko parlours, running off faster than he can process what has happened.
He doesn’t need to process it, though, because he’s been pickpocketed before and his legs know that if someone is running away from him, he should probably run, too. Lucky, too, that the pickpocket is stupid enough to wear something so unique that it only takes a minute or two before he’s catching up to him and tackling him to the ground.
The pickpocket surprises him twice, then: first by having a sense of humour about committing a crime enough to crack jokes as he hands his wallet back, and second by handing over a ‘peace offering.’
Kiryu looks down at the unmarked video tape the man is holding out and asks what it is.
The man just laughs and says that he should consider it a favour, since he admires the courage it takes for a kid to chase after a thief in a place like this.
Who knows what might have happened, if he wasn’t such a nice guy?
Kiryu refrains from pointing out that if he is a nice guy, he wouldn’t have stolen his wallet in the first place.
He takes the tape, not sure what to do with it, and just tucks it into his jacket as he continues his perusal of Kamurocho. He’s curious about it, but also nervous. There are a lot of things that could be on that tape, but Kiryu knows what’s the most likely.
He ignores it for as long as he can, but it begins to burn a hole in his pocket and the part of him that is wounded by Nishiki’s words calcifies around his nerves until he’s looking around for a specific shop that he finds after only a little search.
Maybe it’s the confident way he steps inside or the fact that he doesn’t ask how much a booth costs, just paying it silently when told, but the worker at the video shop doesn’t give him a second glance as he directs him to the furthest booth. Kiryu’s nerves worm back through his resolve with each step further into that dark hallway, though, until his knees are practically knocking together as he steps inside the tiny room and locks it behind him.
There is a chair. A TV. A video player. A box of tissues.
These things make Kiryu grimace, but he sits anyway, dragging the tape out of his jacket with swollen, sweaty fingers.
He looks at the cover of it again, at the torn label peeling away all identifying marks, and takes a deep breath. Lets it out, his heart hammering and sweat gathering in his armpits. Takes another breath.
Shoves the tape into the machine.
He’s not a kid anymore. Not a kid anymore. Not a kid anymore.
The tape fizzles to life without warning. Nothing like the produced movies that have the dialing noise and the crackles of a warning buzzing in and out as the player adjusts to the TV. Nothing like that.
Just a trembly, static-covered view that does nothing disguise what’s happening.
The bottom of Kiryu’s gut drops out and he’s left floating in that chair, arms tingling and numb as he stares, stares, stares.
The noises—staccato and sudden and unnerving in their unfamiliarity—almost scare Kiryu.
They sound so similar to the men he’s heard dying.
Kiryu feels something building in him, erratic and terrified.
He can’t stop watching, his eyes glued to the scene.
Ah ! Ah ! Ah !
His stomach heaves.
No, not there ! I’m a —!
He grips the knees of his jeans with tremulous hands, flexing the fabric between his fists. Flex. Unflex. Flex. Unflex.
Yes ! Yeees !
There are tears streaming down his cheeks but he is too afraid to wipe them away. He’s not a kid anymore. Grownups don’t cry about these things. They don’t get scared of these things. They don’t feel sick! They don’t want to die! They don’t hate themselves and want to crawl into a hole so they don’t ever have to think about it again, don’t have to see it tattooed onto the backs of their eyelids like a ghost, a demon taunting them!
Ahhh! Ahhh~ !
Kiryu is fifteen and he runs out of that booth and vomits on the carpet before he can get outside. He is cold and stiff when he tries to move after that, ignoring the protests of the angry cashier. He can’t seem to make the threads that connect his body to his brain talk to each other, and he is like a zombie as he stumbles through Kamurocho.
He vaguely remembers Kazama’s voice—his warning to stay away from this part of town, the part where gangs gather and don’t care if he is a powerful yakuza’s ward.
But he is growing up and confident in the muscles he trains every day and so he doesn’t look, doesn’t care, isn’t scared, until he’s surrounded by a group of men smiling like masks in a play, pushing him around, down into the fresh rain puddles, too many fists and feet to fight as just one boy.
He can hear noises coming out of himself that layer over the echoes of the tape until his gorge is rising again and he wants to crawl out of his skin just to escape the imprint of it in him. He feels violated—used somehow—and he’s so busy taking hits and giving them back with wild, animal abandon that he hardly even notices when the knife slides in.
His body does, though, and the receptors in his brain fire off weirdly, permanently connecting the violations together.
He screams, then, and screams again when he tears the knife out of himself.
Kiryu is fifteen—Kiryu is 38—and his body remembers the feeling of being stabbed as if it’s happening for the first time all over again.
He stumbles/stumbled back to the Kazama office/back to Aoi, the tingles in his fingers the same. The icy shivers the same. The weightlessness and then gravity, like walking on the moon after five beers. He remembered Nishiki’s tears and sorry-sorry-sorries, Yumi’s shuddering hugs tight enough to crush the breath from his lungs, Yuko’s bright anger that did nothing to toughen up her watery glare.
He remembered Kazama’s disappointment. His lecture about acting rash. The question that had stuck with him for twenty years:
What if he had died without anyone knowing?
He didn’t want to die. Kiryu didn’t want to die, but he’d told Kaoru that if it would make things right, then she shouldn’t hesitate. If it would make things right, then what choice did he have? He was tired of running from his responsibilities. Tired of pretending that the evidence wasn’t stacked against him. Tired of thinking that he could eventually tip the scales when he knew that no matter how many people he helped, it would never balance out.
He was just...tired.
It had seemed like the only option. The only thing he had left to give.
But when he’d reminded Kaoru that she shouldn’t hesitate—that she’d come this far for knowledge or revenge or both—she’d just looked at him with disgust and pity.
He both did and didn’t understand what had changed to make her look at him like that.
No matter if he did or didn’t, though, she’d left and he’d almost been disappointed that it wasn’t going to be over.
That he wasn’t going to get to rest.
But that was a terrifying thought now, with blood leaking through the tight press of his fingers and echoes of the past dragging at him.
They were gone, now. All of them. He was the only one left with those memories, and there was something much more precious about life and living and keeping those memories alive when he was facing down the loss of them as a real possibility instead of something abstract, something that would maybe happen another day or for a noble cause.
Like he had been at fifteen, facing down a part of life that he’d convinced himself he could handle but was too big for him, he was scared.
He didn’t want to die without anyone knowing. He didn’t want to leave those he cared about behind without saying goodbye.
And so he pulled out his phone and dialed his number, fingers slippery and sticky with his own blood.
It rang. That was different, wasn’t it? Normally he would just make it go straight to voicemail, but this time, it rang.
Kiryu’s breath was laboured.
He picked up on the fifth ring.
“Majima…” he croaked into the phone, stumbling heavily over a can in the street. His vision went white with the jarring pain. He heard people gasp at the sight of him.
“Kiryu-chan? Is that you?”
“What?” Majima asked, his voice faint. “Where are ya?”
“Someone...a knife. On the bridge. I thought he...needed help.”
“Bridge? Yer still in Sōtenbori? Is Haruka still with ya?” There was the sound of a door slamming. Kiryu thought he could hear Majima breath pick up, but maybe it was his own. The world spun when someone bumped into him and he grunted in confusion, falling against the bridge railing. “Fuck—Kiryu, you okay? What was that?”
Majima swore again and he was definitely puffing into the phone, now. Kiryu wondered what he was doing, but he figured it didn’t really matter.
Not much did, when he was bleeding out on the side of a bridge in a town so far from home.
It was so typical. He wasn’t even going to die for anything noble. Just a random crime. Just like anyone else. It didn’t matter who he was, in the end. Dragon or not, he still bled.
“ Kiryu !”
Kiryu realised that Majima had been calling his name and took a quick, trembling breath, shaking his head to stay alert. He had to—he had to get back to Aoi. The mama would know someone.
“I’m here,” he whispered, groaning as he pushed himself up again.
“Stay with me.”
“I’m here,” he said again, more sure with the sound of Majima’s voice in his ear. “I’m gonna...try to get somewhere safe. But I don’t know if I can—”
“Shut up!” Majima snapped, startling Kiryu and making him woozy as his heart clenched. “Shut up. Ya shut up and just keep movin’, alright?”
“ Alright ?”
Kiryu swallowed, realising that he needed to talk out loud. “Yeah,” he sighed. “Just...keep talking, please.”
“No, you keep talkin’.”
“Arguing with me,” he said, huffing out a weak laugh, “even when I’m bleeding out.”
“Yer not,” Majima insisted. “Yer not bleedin’ out, so I can keep tellin’ ya that yer just bein’ dramatic. I’ve seen ya flat out, practically beggin’ me t’put ya outta yer misery. No way anyone else got ya that bad, right?”
There was a numbness that had started to radiate out to Kiryu’s extremities. His feet were cold. His fingers like ice against his wound.
“‘Cause I—I toldja before, right? I toldja no one else can—no one else is allowed to—” Majima’s voice caught and the line went silent except for a constant roaring, like wind blowing into the speaker. A growl tore through the phone, rough and broken. “How close to a hospital are ya?”
“I’m—” Kiryu thought about what he knew of Sōtenbori, but, “I won’t make it to a hospital,” he realised.
“ Fuck ,” Majima bit out, repeating the word under his breath like a chant. Kiryu swayed, leaving a bloody handprint on the wall he braced himself against.
There was something about the sight of that handprint that made him understand just how bad this was.
“Majima,” he whispered. “I have to—just in case I—”
“Kiryu,” Majima whispered back. “Please. Don’t.”
“I need you to tell Haruka that I love her, Goro,” Kiryu choked out between gritted teeth. “I can’t—I have to know that you’ll tell her, if I don’t make it back in time.”
“Fuck that!” Majima shouted. “Stop bein’ dramatic! Yer not goin’ anywhere!”
“Just in case.”
“Fuck that,” he said again, then made a sound of distress that Kiryu had never heard from him before, one that flared hot through his body with an echoed pain. He didn’t ever want to hear Majima make that noise again. “Kiryu-chan, ya can’t just—”
“Just in case,” Kiryu said once more, his voice weak. He forced his feet to keep carrying him forward, one step at a time. Majima drew in a sharp breath, but Kiryu continued before he could speak. “I’m—going to hang up now.”
“Kiryu, don’t you fucking dare —”
“I’m going to try to get somewhere safe. I just—had to—”
Kiryu couldn’t think of the words to say, with his entire existence circling around the hole in his gut.
Had to tell someone? Had to say goodbye? Had to know that there was someone there, still, who didn’t want him to give up? Who didn’t think that it would be better if he just laid down and let himself go to sleep?
“Had to hear your voice.”
He didn’t listen to what Majima said in response. He just dropped the phone away from his face and let everything else narrow down to each step. He had to get to Aoi. Had to see Haruka again. Had to apologise to Kaoru. Had to live because he’d promised Majima he wouldn’t die.
He wasn’t sure how good of a job he did, really, considering he only made it as far as the doorway to Aoi before collapsing, and ran off to save Haruka the second he woke up.
He hadn’t promised Majima he would take care of himself, though.
And he did survive the rescue mission despite everything, so he really felt that he didn’t deserve the heart attack he got from Majima’s screech of, “ Kiryu, get your ass out here right the fuck now so I can kick the shit out of it !” when he was trying to sleep off his stab wound later.
Kiryu jerked awake into an immediate cold sweat, but when he heard Kaoru hiss in the other room, “Shut yer damn mouth!” he froze, confused. He couldn’t place where he was for a second until he remembered that he’d crashed out in the bar side of Aoi and Kaoru, Haruka, and Tamiyo Sayama had helped him get onto a cot in the back room instead. He started to sit himself up with a grimace until Kaoru continued with, “I toldja not t’come, didn’t I? He’s fine.”
“I know he is, which is why I’m gonna kick his ass for callin’ me like that,” Majima snapped. “Now tell me where the damn rat is so I can go pound him.”
“Yer not fightin’ in here.”
As Kiryu listened to Kaoru and Majima bickering just outside the door to where he lay, he found himself torn between the pull of exhaustion that begged him to go back to sleep and his intense curiosity about the way that they talked like they knew each other better than he’d thought they did. Had something happened that he didn’t know about? He knew they’d spent a little time together in Serena after Majima had taken out Sengoku’s men, but that didn’t seem like enough to make them this familiar.
“That’s fine. There’s a perfectly good street out there.”
“Yer not fightin’ him at all. He’s been stabbed .”
“Nothin’ a good ass whoopin’ can’t fix.”
Kaoru growled with frustration. “Don’t be stupid. That’s why I told ya not t’come. Didn’t want ya to overreact like this. I know you were scared—”
“ Scared ?”
“Fine— worried about him, but—”
Majima gave a dismissive puff of air. “Like I’d be worried about him gettin’ a little prick from some dickhead in a town like this. I know he’s had worse from me.”
There was a heavy silence and Kiryu knew exactly how Majima must be looking right now: frustrated and uncomfortable, his eye turned down to the side and his hands looking for something to do to distract himself. They usually found stray hairs that didn’t exist on his clothes, or scrapes and scabs to pick at, or fingernails to click together. “What?” he grumbled, his voice like gravel crunching underfoot.
“Yer actin’ like I wasn’t the one ya called to help him. I heard your voice. I know exactly how upset ya are.”
But Majima didn’t continue and Kaoru didn’t meet him halfway and after a few long moments of silence, Majima just sighed and asked, “Where is he then? Am I at least allowed to see him?”
“Sleepin’ it off in the back. My ma got him nice and stitched up.”
Kiryu was glad that he’d slumped back down to the bed long before he heard Majima gently press the door open, pause, then close it again with a sigh.
“At my ma’s apartment. I stayed behind to wait for Kiryu to wake up so I could get him shifted over there once he did.”
“He been out this whole time?”
“Nah,” Kaoru said, and Kiryu heard the click of a lighter and, a few seconds later, a long exhale. “He just passed out after spending a little time with Haruka.”
“What was he doin’ somethin’ like that for anyway? She’ll be worried sick about him now.”
“She suggested it. I think she wanted to take his mind off her gettin’ kidnapped.”
“ What .”
Kaoru hummed. “Forgot to tell ya that part.”
“ That bitch? Did he not learn a damn thing from me beatin’ his boys down? I’ll fuckin’ skin his ass and feed it to him!”
“You could try, but he’s already dead, so y’might have some trouble gettin’ it down him.”
Majima swore. “Kiryu?”
“Ryuji Goda, apparently.”
“Haw? Why’d that meathead go an’ do a thing like that?”
“Kiryu said he didn’t approve of Sengoku’s tactics.”
“Huh. Knew that kid meant business, but fuck.”
“Told you ya shouldn’t underestimate the Go-Ryu.”
“Ain’t his boys I’m worried about.”
“Maybe ya should be. They’re all as bloodthirsty as he is.”
“Nah...ya got me all wrong. The reason I ain’t scared of his boys is because they’re bloodthirsty. What Ryuji did, though—that ain’t bloodthirsty. That’s calculated.”
Kaoru grunted as if to tell him to continue and Majima hummed thoughtfully.
“If all he wanted was Sengoku out of the picture, he coulda just diced the guy anytime. No reason not to, if yer goin’ for a coup. But he didn’t. He waited until he made his move against Kiryu before steppin’ in. Now he’s got two important things: Kiryu knows he’ll kill a man without hesitation, but not until he’s good’n’ready.”
Majima gave a little laugh, and Kiryu thought he sounded impressed.
“And he got his respect, ‘cause there’s nothin’ that Kiryu-chan hates more than a yakuza who can’t keep the fight in the ranks and away from citizens.”
“What’s that matter? Havin’ his respect? He just wants t’fight him, right?”
“Nah,” Majima said, and Kiryu could hear the smile in his voice. “He wants t’fight to the death . And Kiryu ain’t gonna do that to a man unless he respects him enough to give him his all.”
“That’s barbaric, though.”
“Eh. Never said it was smart, but then again, we yakuza ain’t exactly known fer bein’ smart.”
“Thought Kiryu was meant to be different.”
“He is. No other yakuza would be waitin’ t’fight at a set time, like a couple’a fuckin’ cowboys raisin’ their pistols at noon or some shit.” Another laugh. “They’d just go to the guy when he’s sleepin’ and—” Majima made a gun noise.
“That’s true enough I guess.” There was silence for a few seconds and then Kaoru asked suspiciously, “What?”
“Can’t decide if yer tryin’ t’find a reason to like him more or like him less.”
Kiryu’s muscles clenched in surprise, his insides going strange and his wound flaring up in pain.
Liked him. Liked him? Kaoru liked him? Liked him in the way that it sounded, liked him? Or was he jumping to conclusions?
“Tch, don’t be stupid,” Kaoru said, as if answering his question. Kiryu swallowed past the sudden frog in his throat, not knowing if he should be feeling relief or disappointment. But then she said, “My feelings for him don’t have anything to do with it,” and he was thrown into turmoil.
Kaoru had feelings for him.
He would be lying if he said that he hadn’t realised that there was the possibility of something like that. Recently, there had been something different between the two of them. Tentative and familiar in a way that made him skittish. He hadn’t really thought about what it might be until last night, though. Talking and laughing and having a nice time with some nice drinks and a good smoke and he’d been feeling great. Relaxed. Open.
He’d had the thought, at some point, that he’d never felt as close to Suzume on their dates. He’d wondered why that was, but couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
And then she’d stood up to go get more drinks and their conversation had turned a little more serious and he’d spoken with the loose ease of a man with several drinks in him. Careless. Just this side of thoughtless.
It hadn’t been until he’d wandered around Sōtenbori afterwards that he’d realised why her eyes had held a hint of sadness in them as she’d left.
She’d wanted to stay. She’d wanted to spend more time with him.
And the thought had crept into his mind, then. The disbelief she’d had when he’d called her cute. Her surprise when he’d insisted on it; insisted that she was a woman who deserved someone who saw that she was not only tough and hard-working, but soft and beautiful and kind, too. Someone who could take care of her and be taken care of in turn. A partner.
Her pleased, but shy smile as she ducked her head, her cheeks dusted with pink.
That was new.
That was new on her, but he’d seen it on other women before.
When they liked someone.
But he’d shoved that aside and they’d continued as if nothing had happened. As if they hadn’t gone on what was essentially a date and talked almost all night.
It didn’t mean anything.
Or did it?
‘My feelings for him’ was what she’d said, and he didn’t know how else he could take that.
Kaoru had feelings for him.
...Did he have feelings for her?
He didn’t know. He enjoyed being around her. He thought she was beautiful. She made him laugh. Haruka liked her.
Maybe he did. Maybe that was all that having feelings for someone was supposed to be.
But then again, if that was all it meant to have feelings for someone, then wouldn’t that mean he had feelings for Majima?
Maybe he just enjoyed her company as a friend, like he had with Suzume.
“Not like it matters even if it did,” Kaoru said, interrupting his thoughts. “I took your advice, but he doesn’t feel the same way.”
Majima’s advice? Advice about what?
“Haaaw?” Majima said. “Y’mean he actually rejected ya?”
“He didn’t have to. He made it clear he wasn’t interested.”
Kiryu’s stomach churned with guilt. He hadn’t meant to do anything like that.
“Ahh,” Majima sighed, “by ‘made it clear’ d’ya mean he didn’t act interested or he actually toldja he wasn’t?”
“I—does it make a difference?”
“Trust me. With Kiryu-chan, it does.”
There was something about the easy, confident way that Majima spoke about him that trickled pleasure through his chest, warming him softly like a high quality scotch.
“Well, he didn’t actually say it…”
“Then he didn’t reject ya.” There was a pause. “Kiryu is…” He heard him hiss out a breath. “The thing about Kiryu is…”
“Yeah?” Kaoru prompted when Majima hesitated to continue.
Kiryu was right there with her. There was a muted sort of desperation licking at him that wanted to know what Majima was going to say about him. He’d never heard him talk about him this way; this candid and unfiltered discussion that made him wish he could have just asked him about it himself. Maybe he wouldn’t be so confused about himself all the time if he’d just talked to Majima.
There was a reason he couldn’t, though, he reminded himself. Part of what was confusing him right now was Majima and how he felt about him.
But still, the idea of enlisting Majima’s help to figure himself out was alluring. He’d already helped him realise that he liked men; why not the rest as well?
“Listen,” Majima finally said, sounding reluctant to continue. “I’m not any kinda—well I’m not any kinda smart or nothin’, but one thing I am good at is watchin’ people. Kiryu-shaped people, especially.”
“I had noticed,” Kaoru said with an amused snort.
“You’d be a shitty detective if ya hadn’t,” Majima chuckled. “But listen—sometimes it’s hard t’see the forest for the trees, y’know? When yer right there with him. He’s got somethin’ about him that makes it hard t’think about anythin’ else other than those eyes, huh?”
Kaoru made an embarrassed noise, but Kiryu was the one with the red cheeks. Majima had never been stingy with his compliments, but saying something like that—
It made his heart race.
He pressed his hand over his chest, feeling the hard thumps beneath his skin and muscle and bone.
Majima had done that to him.
“No need t’play coy, darlin’; everyone’s looked at Kiryu and felt a little weak in the knees at some point. And don’t think I don’t remember how you were droolin’ when ya saw him fight in the ring even if ya tried t’hide it. The thing is, though—Kiryu-chan don’t even know he’s doin’ it.” Majima’s fond sigh gave birth to a host of butterflies in Kiryu’s stomach. “He just looks at people exactly how he feels about them. And people like us, we’re—we’re not used to that kinda honesty, yeah?”
Kaoru grunted in affirmation.
“So you’ll be so busy tryin’ t’see what’s hidin’ underneath those eyes that it’s easy to miss that—” There was the sound of leather and wood creaking. “There ain’t anythin’ else.”
The butterflies rioted in Kiryu’s chest, battering his heart painfully. He felt guilty and exposed, like he’d done something wrong by not being able to just be normal for once; couldn’t just pick up on the cues that Kaoru had given him and react as he was expected to.
“What d’ya mean, nothin’ else?”
“What I mean is—look, I can only tell ya what I’ve seen of the man, so don’t go thinkin’ these are his words or anythin’. I don’t even know if I’m right; it’s just a hunch. But Kiryu-chan, he—”
Kiryu’s breath was caught, trapped in the space between Majima’s pause and him saying the words out loud where they couldn’t hide anymore. Where he could pretend that he was just a late bloomer. That he just hadn’t found the right person. That it would come eventually—eventually—
“He don’t really feel the same way about sex and romance as other people.”
But when he heard the words, they didn’t sound as bad as he’d thought. It wasn’t that it wasn’t true—he was 38 years old and knew by now that he wasn’t exactly typical. But there was no malice or discontent in the way that Majima said them. He just said it like how he might say that someone was gay. Maybe different, maybe not the expected, but not bad for it. Not a disappointment.
“It just don’t seem to occur t’him instinctively that it’s a thing someone might want.”
And if Kiryu had thought that it was strange to hear that Majima had figured him out so easily without even mentioning it to him, then Kaoru saying, “Someone like you?” was enough to throw him entirely.
Kiryu knew Majima would laugh at that; tell her not to joke around. But while he did laugh, it wasn’t the cackle that he’d expected. It was just a soft puff of air that he could hardly hear and nothing else. No words. No over-the-top lewd noises trying to make her uncomfortable.
Just that single laugh that did nothing to deny her suggestion.
Kiryu was reeling.
“And you’re sure that you’re just good friends?”
“Sure as sugar,” Majima said without hesitation. He didn’t sound upset about it, though, which confused Kiryu even more. If he was suggesting that he’d wanted to have sex with Kiryu before, shouldn’t he be upset with him for not noticing?
It was hitting him that Majima might still want to have sex with him.
Majima had always flirted with him. Had always said things that he couldn’t help but squirm about. He’d been one of the only people to ever get that reaction from him. Maybe it was the way he said them so directly. Said them the same way that he’d ever come at Kiryu: with a challenge.
They’d always had something between them.
But if Majima had wanted him, surely he would have approached him by now.
He had, Kiryu remembered suddenly.
Back when they’d fought in Sōtenbori years and years ago.
When he’d first gone on a date with Goromi.
All of the times he’d say something heavily loaded after they’d fought in the streets of Kamurocho.
The hotel. The way Majima had melted under his touch, like clay waiting to be moulded. The unusually tentative way he’d held his lips against Kiryu’s, like he didn’t want to move too much in case he scared him off. And the look in his eye after they’d broken apart—a little overwhelmed and a lot restrained. Kiryu had been too preoccupied with his own reaction that he hadn’t thought about what that uncharacteristic restraint could mean.
But if he’d wanted to have sex with Kiryu—why hadn’t he? He wasn’t a shy man, but he hadn’t said anything .
Kiryu was still figuring things out about himself. He didn’t know if it was because he’d had ten years stolen from him—ten years he might have been able to have these experiences—or if it was just something that hadn’t mattered until now. But when he looked back on how Majima made him feel—on all the blushes, all the butterflies, all the shivers he’d given him with his casual flirting and his effortless compliments and his unerring attention—he knew that he wouldn’t have said no, just on principle alone.
If Majima hadn’t pulled away back in the hotel, Kiryu probably would have been overcome with the instinct that had reared up and that would have been all it was. Would have just let his body figure out what had been pulling them together for years and damn the consequences, whatever they may be.
But now—after seeing how Majima cared for Haruka, after seeing him take a boy under his wing that was so much like a younger him that he clearly hadn’t even realised their similarities, after seeing how quickly they could fall back into comfortable familiarity even after being apart—he thought that he could see himself letting go for the first time. Consciously relaxing and allowing Majima to help him figure out—just like with that kiss they’d shared—if it was something he might want.
He might not.
But maybe it didn’t have to be as complicated as he’d made it.
He trusted him. He enjoyed making him happy. He wanted to make him feel good.
Kiryu wasn’t that fifteen-year-old boy anymore.
When he’d thought about sex back then, it had been with a heaving stomach and a sour taste in the back of his head. Guilty and disgusted and angry no matter who he thought about. Sex had seemed like a weapon, as sharp and unnecessary as the knife that had pierced him. As he’d grown up, that guilt and disgust had eased until he’d ended up feeling—nothing, really. Nothing much about sex or having a relationship beyond the fact that he’d have to have both one day, just as a matter of fact. He hadn’t been bothered about it one way or the other.
But when he thought about Majima kissing him again—climbing over him in that bed—burying his face in the crook of his neck like he always did when they’d been away from each other for too long—
It was different, now, somehow. He was different, now, he supposed.
But Majima had never approached him and now he seemed to be advising Kaoru about how she should do that instead.
Kiryu didn’t understand. Did he not want him anymore? Was it because he was a virgin? Was it because they were so close now?
Or had he just—stopped wanting it.
He didn’t understand.
“What? Toldja ya don’t gotta worry about me, didn’t I?”
“It’s not that,” Kaoru said.
Kiryu stared up at the ceiling where the neon green and pink lights from a sign outside splashed across the darkness, his eyes tracing the blurry lines as his stomach throbbed with pain. He suddenly felt a hundred years old. Much too old to navigate something like this for the first time, certainly.
“Even sayin’ there’s nothin’ more than friendship between ya, I’m just not sure if I want to tell him how I feel if it would make him uncomfortable. I—I respect Kiryu-san.”
“All I can tell ya is I’ve seen how he looks at ya. He don’t look at just anyone like that.”
Kiryu wished he could know how he’d been looking at Kaoru.
He wondered if he’d looked at Majima like that, too.
“If ya say so.”
“Heh. Yer the one who’s s’posed t’be the big bad cop, ain’tcha? The ‘Yakuza Hunter,’ yeah?”
Kaoru sighed, but it sounded like she was smiling. “That’s what they call me.”
“Well? Put on yer armour and get huntin’.”
Kiryu knew she’d been smiling, then, when she laughed. “I’ll think about it.”
“I bet ya will.”
She snorted, but they fell silent for a little while until she asked quietly, “Why are ya really doin’ this? What do you get out of it?”
Majima didn’t respond for a long time, and Kiryu knew the contemplation that he would be wearing. The thoughtfulness in his eye. The way he rolled his lips back and forth between his teeth as he considered his words carefully.
“Really?” A pause. “I just want him t’be happy. He deserves t’be happy for once.”
The heat in Kiryu’s chest flared white-hot.
“What if I don’t make him happy?”
“Then at least you tried. That’s all any of us can do, y’know? Y’gotta at least try to find happiness or there’s no use gettin’ outta bed.”
Their voices fell away again, this time for long enough that Kiryu found himself drifting in and out of sleep, his heartbeat the only sound to hear in that room. His head was strangely empty, flashbanged by the surprise of their conversation. He could hear echoes of it somewhere, but muffled, as though his brain had thrown a blanket over it so he didn’t have to see it before it got sorted away.
He didn’t know if he wanted it to get sorted away, though.
He didn’t think he did.
But before he could think about what that might mean, he drifted off again.
He woke up after what felt like a blink of an eye to the sound of someone sitting in the chair next to his makeshift bed.
“Ah, shit—sorry, Kiryu-chan,” Majima whispered, holding up an apologetic hand when Kiryu crooked his head back to see who it was. “Just got back from walkin’ Kaoru-chan home and checkin’ on Haruka. Didn’t mean t’wake ya.”
“It’s okay,” Kiryu said, his voice rough with sleep. “I should probably get up anyway.”
“Ya don’t hafta.”
Kiryu shook his head and sighed, rubbing his face with a hand while propping himself up with the other. “I have to get Haruka somewhere safe before everything goes to hell.”
But Majima’s hand at his chest stopped him and he realised that he wasn’t wearing his gloves at the same time that he remembered the conversation he’d overheard. He stared up at Majima—at the glow of the light playing across his face, deepening the shadows around his eye—and wondered if he could feel how fast his heart was beating.
“Haruka is safe where she is. Kaoru and her ma’s with her. Ya need to rest.”
“You never let me convince you to rest,” was all Kiryu could think to say that was safe. There were a hundred other things he wanted to say, instead, but he couldn’t figure out how to say them just yet.
“Those times were different. And that’s a lie anyway. I’m always lettin’ ya convince me to do dumb shit,” Majima said, smiling with such open affection for him that Kiryu moved before he could stop himself, gripping Majima’s hand as he tried to sit back in his chair and pulling him down so he was half in bed with him.
“Well, hey to you, too, Kiryu-chan,” Majima said, kneeing him in the hip as he braced himself on the bed. “This yer way of sayin’ sorry?”
Kiryu could tell him. Tell him that he’d overheard what they’d talked about. They could talk about it. They could—maybe they could—
But, “Would it work if I said yes?”
“Hell no,” Majima said plainly, kicking off his shoes and shrugging out of his jacket before shifting under the blanket next to Kiryu. His hair fanned out on the thin pillow and tickled Kiryu’s face. He could smell his shampoo—something spiced, this time. Something Christmas-y. “Ya owe me big fer not kickin’ yer ass right now. Callin’ me after gettin’ yerself stabbed and then hangin’ up like that—I oughtta make ya eat yer own dick.”
Kiryu hummed in amusement and wrapped an arm around Majima’s waist, telling himself that he would always have this. Even if Majima wasn’t interested in sex with him anymore, he seemed to enjoy physical closeness with him still. Enough, at least, that he let himself be held tight to Kiryu’s chest with only a grumbled,
“This ain’t workin’, y’know.”
“I’m not trying to do anything.”
Kiryu smiled, easing up so Majima could shift away if he wanted to.
He didn’t move at all, and Kiryu’s smile grew. He got a frown in response, but Majima’s lips were still quirked up at the corners, so Kiryu slid his hand up to his neck, cupping it gently like he had in his apartment when Majima had panicked. Majima met his eyes and Kiryu could see the worry he’d buried deep, barely peeking out through in the way his brow curved. Kiryu took a calming breath and rested their foreheads together, holding his gaze as he said,
“I am sorry, Majima.”
Majima’s eye jumped between both of his, searching them for something before he ‘hmph’ed and looked away. “Back to Majima now, huh? Not Goro?”
Heat washed over Kiryu and he leaned back again, his ears burning in embarrassment. Before Majima could make fun of him for it, though, he just murmured, “I’ll call you Goro if you want me to.”
The look that he gave him got his heart pounding again—lips parted softly, eye heavily lidded, brows turned up in the middle. He looked like he had when he’d kissed him. Like he was holding himself back in some way.
“You—you can call me whatever ya want,” Majima said in a voice that was so quiet it was almost breathless.
Kiryu swallowed reflexively, licking his lips as his mouth went dry with sudden nerves. There was a subtle shifting in the space between them, something that was building a fire inside him bit by bit like a match to kindling. Majima’s eye was on his mouth, his hand cupped gently over his bandaged wound. Kiryu’s fingers dug into Majima’s tattoo, feeling the welted skin hiding underneath while his other hand slid up slowly, slowly.
His eyes followed the path of it, watching his own thumb ruffle the short, neat hair that framed Majima’s mouth. His fingers found the tiny shaving scars along his cheek before brushing along the curve of his cheekbone. He was fascinated by the sight of his own tanned hand trailing lazily against Majima’s paler skin, like peaches and cream.
“Kiryu?” Majima whispered, sounding as uncertain as Kiryu had ever heard him.
He blinked slowly, edging the tips of his fingers against the strap of Majima’s eyepatch and locking eyes with him again as he murmured, “Stay with me tonight, Goro.”
Majima sucked in a quick, shivery breath, his eye going wide.
The tension between them thickened and Kiryu was teetering on a precipice, hoping that Majima wouldn’t let him fall.
“Kiryu, you—I don’t—”
Kiryu watched him flounder, hoping that what Majima had said about his eyes hadn’t been wrong. He wanted him to see exactly how he felt. How much Kiryu wanted him to stay. How much he wanted to figure out what was between them, together.
After a moment, though, Majima’s mouth twisted with what looked like regret and he was pulling back and saying, “I can’t—” as Kiryu’s heart fell, leaving him hollow.
But he wasn’t a man who gave up easily on what he wanted, and so he took hold of Majima’s hand before he could stand up out of the bed and said, “Please.”
When Majima looked back between their clasped hands and Kiryu, his face in shadow, he thought he’d taken it too far. That he’d pushed his luck just a little too much. He was torn between taking it back and just letting him go so he didn’t risk making it worse, but before he could choose one way or the other, Majima said under his breath,
“Please don’t ask me to stay, Kiryu.”
Kiryu let out the breath he’d been holding and held his gaze, gripping Majima’s hand tighter and pulling him back slowly. Majima let himself be pulled until he was laying next to Kiryu again, his breath shaking out of his parted lips and his eye shut tight.
Kiryu brushed his hair away from his face and cupped his cheek, stroking a soothing path with his thumb as he breathed, “Nii-san.” Majima’s brows twisted, but he didn’t respond, so Kiryu sat up on one elbow and said, “Goro. Look at me.”
That got his eye open and flashing with a cocktail of emotions that Kiryu couldn’t hope to decipher. He didn’t bother trying, choosing instead to say again, “Stay with me,” as he edged his patch carefully off his face, only pausing for a moment to be sure he would allow him to continue.
Majima said nothing, just watching him with that eye roiling with emotion until his patch had been set aside and he was bare-faced for Kiryu.
Kiryu let his eyes rove across Majima’s face before asking quietly,
“Why shouldn’t I ask you to stay? You’ve stayed the night with me before.”
Majima searched his eyes again, the silence electric between them. Eventually, his brows twitched together and he whispered,
“Is that all yer askin’ me to do this time?”
Kiryu held his gaze and thought about the two choices he had.
“No,” was the choice he made. “It isn’t.”
And when a visible shiver ran through Majima at his words, it was all Kiryu needed to bend down and press their lips together.