Actions

Work Header

Caught the Scent

Chapter Text

 

“Kazama, how come your dumbass is enjoyin’ himself when mine has slipped his leash at his own damn party?”

Kiryu stiffened at the deep, drunken shout, his muscles tensing for a fight he knew he shouldn’t have before he forced himself to relax again.

It was fine. Just Shimano being Shimano. Kiryu probably wasn’t in trouble.

Still, it was the probably that made him look away when the beast of a man turned to gesture at him. A few months ago, he might have openly eavesdropped and damn the consequences, but after the recent incidents , he’d been trying very hard to toe the line. Harder than before he’d left the family, even. He’d made the decision to come back all on his own, after all, and he wouldn’t waste the chance to prove that he was man enough to take responsibility.

It had put him in a strange mood ever since he’d decided to come back, though. Twitchy was being generous. More like paranoid, if he was being honest with himself. He had good reason, sure, but he’d just love to have a minute where he wasn’t worrying about a knife in his ribs.

He’d thought, at first, that this gathering would be that opportunity. Organised officially to celebrate Sera’s securing of the Empty Lot and imminent leadership of the clan, Kazama had told him that—unofficially—it was also meant as a welcome back party for him.

Him—and Goro Majima.

Who was another reason why Kiryu felt it was best not to make eye contact with the two men. If Shimano, Majima’s boss, was complaining to Kazama, that meant that Kiryu was in for the grunt work. Which wouldn’t be a hard job, normally, but Majima had already earned himself a reputation for being difficult.

That’s what Kiryu got for trying to relax.

“I’m sure he’s around,” Kazama was saying, loud enough that Kiryu knew he was meant to hear. He cocked his head slightly toward his father to let him know that he was listening, all while smiling at Nishiki’s joke and taking a sip of whiskey. “He’s probably just taking a break somewhere.”

Kiryu couldn’t keep the grimace from his face, but thankfully Nishiki didn’t notice at all, too busy telling tall tales to everyone at the bar. He waited another second before sneaking a peek back to Kazama, who was staring back with that face that meant he was up to bat. His grimace deepened, but he wasn’t about to argue now; he’d already taken more shit in a month than in the three years prior. Finding one man, even in this sea of rowdy, drunken yakuza, even if it was Majima, should be the easiest task he’d completed by far.

“Eh, Nishiki,” he murmured, downing the rest of his drink. When Nishiki turned to him with eyebrows raised and hands frozen in the wild gesture he’d been making, he jerked his head towards the back of the room. “Be back in a sec.”

“What, you gotta take a piss or somethin’?”

Kiryu just tossed him a dull look and slid off the barstool, tucking his hands in his pockets.

“Oi! Kiryu! Don’t tell me you’re already leaving! Kiryu!”

Kiryu waved off Nishiki’s shouts as he slipped into the crowd, using his shoulder to cut a path for himself. He ignored the indignation from the boozed-up idiots, focused entirely on sweeping his eyes around the room in the hopes of spotting that unmistakable eyepatch. He didn’t have the time or patience to be nice to the fodder that night, and it was always a better idea now for him to just walk away than to try to de-escalate. If there was anything he’d learned recently, it was that he just had that kind of face that made people want to punch it, no matter how he tried to reason with them.

No luck in this room. Of course.

He bit back a sigh, rolling his neck to try to relieve the tension that built whenever he was surrounded, and pushed through the nearest door to an empty hallway. He closed it behind him with a soft click, taking a second to just close his eyes and let out the breath he’d been holding all night. He’d been waiting for someone to attack, to say that he didn’t belong in the Dojima family again after what he’d done. He’d heard that plenty already, and had put down every one of those that couldn’t stomach what had happened.

Because while he had taken his oath to serve the family again to try to make up for some of the damage, he hadn’t sworn any oath about taking abuse from the trash at the bottom of it.

With a tired grunt, Kiryu shook out his nerves and strolled along the corridor, dipping his head in each room he passed just to be sure. He didn’t actually think he’d find Majima back here in the quiet parts, but if he returned to Kazama empty-handed, at least he could say that he’d looked absolutely everywhere.

His mind drifted as he walked, going back to the last time he’d been in these halls—to the fights that had carried him through it and toward his future. Tachibana and Oda had both been with him last time, though, and their absence left Kiryu hollow and lonely.

Which was stupid, considering there was a crowd of people waiting for him once he finished his search, but it was what it was. He could almost feel their ghosts walking beside him, and he had to stop himself from turning to be sure they weren’t. Even if they were there, there was nothing left for him to say that felt adequate. Sorry wasn’t enough, and Tachibana was sure to be watching over Makoto already, so he didn’t need to tell him she was fine now.

As fine as she could be, at least, considering what she’d gone through. The last he’d spoken to her, he’d simply sat next to her at Tachibana’s grave, both of them silent until they’d parted. Her with a sad, but determined smile and him with the promise that if she ever needed him for anything—no matter how small it might seem—he would be there.

Kiryu couldn’t think about Makoto for long without crushing guilt, though, so he pushed the memories to the back of his mind. It seemed to be something he’d been doing a lot lately, but he couldn’t exactly take the time to get over it. Better just to put it aside until any thoughts about guilt or regret or ghosts left him.

It did nobody any good for him to wallow. Especially when all wallowing got him was a loneliness so strong that he could almost hear the ghosts of Tachibana and Oda breathing beside him.

Or...wait.

Frowning, Kiryu edged up to the last door in the hall, putting his ear close to it and holding his breath.

After a second, he heard it again. Breathing, unsteady and ragged.

Was someone hurt?

As soon as the thought occurred to him, Kiryu ripped open the door, taking in the situation in one look.

Ornate bathroom, dimmed lights, a person hunched in on themselves, on their knees on the marble floor with their back to him.

Kiryu was hit with realisation and embarrassment at once. There was only really one thing someone did in the bathroom that made you breathe like that. His face was on fire when he stammered, “Sorry, I—I thought someone was—hurt, and I—”

Several things happened at once as soon as he spoke, though.

The person snapped their head around, revealing the telltale eyepatch he’d been looking for.

Kiryu realised that he’d just interrupted one of his superiors in the middle of a very private act.

He started choking out, “M-Majima-no-niisan, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—” before his eyes caught a glint of light.

There was a tantō in Maijima’s hand, poised menacingly toward his stomach.

And for just one moment, they were caught like that: Kiryu’s scowl meeting Majima’s narrowed eye, until Kiryu shot forward with more speed than even knew he was capable of and took hold of the hand that held the knife.

“Whhhat the fuck —” was all Majima got out before Kiryu slammed his hand against the wall, hoping to make him drop the knife. Majima sucked in a breath through his teeth that sounded like a  cross between a snake’s and a cat’s hiss as he held on and threw his weight back, sending Kiryu off-balance enough that he had to let go or risk bashing his head on the bath side. He whirled around as soon as he caught himself, instincts screaming at him to dodge, and was rewarded with Majima’s knife slicing through the air in front of him instead of into his flesh. He used the momentum from his dodge to sweep himself up and forward, crashing into Majima with enough force to send them both to the floor, where he could brace his entire weight down on the thinner man.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, kid?!” Majima spat, trying for a headbutt that Kiryu narrowly avoided.

“You can’t do this, Majima-no-niisan!” he huffed out, embarrassed at how hard he had to work to keep Majima pinned. He hadn’t realised how soft he’d gotten while doing grunt work for Dojima. It was taking most of his strength to stop Majima’s wild knees and stray punches all while keeping a tight grip on his hand with the knife. Even in their tussle, he hadn’t let it go, and that worried Kiryu more than anything. “You can’t just throw your life away like this!”

“Wh—what are you—”

“I won’t let you take your life! The clan needs you!”

Just like that, as if his words had popped a balloon inside of him, Majima went limp, his eye wide. Kiryu waited to see if he would make another move, and when he didn’t, he let himself relax enough to gulp in a breath of air. He was surprised when Majima simply allowed him to take his tantō and toss it over the lip of the bath, out of reach.

They stared at each other, just breathing, until Majima finally smiled wide and cackled, “You’re kind of a dumbass, aren’t you?”

Kiryu blinked.

“Pardon?”

Majima sat up, slapping his thighs with delight as his laugh went high-pitched. “I wasn’t gonna kill myself , ya big tree!”

“But...you had your knife. Tree?”

“Boy. Lucky you’re pretty, huh?” Majima said with a mean grin, scrambling to his knees to scoop his knife out of the bath and wave it up at Kiryu. “I was tryin’ t’cut my hair.”

Kiryu’s brows twisted with confusion as he rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ignore how hot it was. “In the dark?”

“Well there ain’t no mirror to need the light, now is there?”

“Well, that’s true, but…”

“But?”

“Right now?”

Majima’s eye narrowed slightly, and something about that look made Kiryu get to his feet, his stance solid and prepared. He didn’t even know why.

“You got a problem with me cutting my hair right now, kid?”

He knew he shouldn’t. But it was out before his knowing could translate to not saying. “Kiryu.”

Majima’s eye narrowed further, and for a second he thought that he’d finally, fully stepped over the line into Trouble. But then Majima’s eye just went wide as he smiled again, sending Kiryu’s emotions into a tailspin from readying himself for a lashing either verbal or physical to...something. He wasn’t sure what that smile made him feel, but it was certainly still in the vicinity of not good.

“Oh, shit, ya sure are, ain’tcha? Kazuma Kiryu. Nishikiyama’s bro, huh?”

Kiryu just nodded after a second of nervously studying his superior’s face. For the life of him, he couldn’t get a read on Majima, and it was throwing him completely off-balance. He was usually pretty good at reading people.

“Well!” Majima said, his brows high on his forehead. “Must be fate. Come on, then, bud, let’s see what you got.”

Kiryu watched with confusion as Majima got back in the position he’d walked in on—wide kneeling position on the floor with his back to him and head bowed. This time, though, he held the tantō up to Kiryu to take, which only confused him more.

“Well?” Majima said, wiggling the knife impatiently.

“What.”

Majima peeked over his shoulder up at him. “Chop it.”

Kiryu finally clicked on, wincing. “You want me to cut your hair?”

“Well even if I could do the back myself, I sure as shit can’t do it now. Ya fucked up my hand.”

“But I—”

“Look,” Majima cut him off, “either you just get this over with or we stay here all night and you get the shaft from your old man for not bringing me back.”

Kiryu scowled. “He wouldn’t blame me for—how did you know about that?”

Majima crooked his head just a little more so Kiryu could see his toothy grin. “No other reason for Kazama’s kid to be sneaking around the back halls when there’s booze and girls out there, right?”

Kiryu’s scowl only deepened and they shared another short, silent battle of wills, until finally he just grunted and took the knife from Majima’s hand.

“Attaboy,” Majima crooned condescendingly, turning forward again. Kiryu stared down at Majima as he loosened and slid the tie out of his hair, letting it fall loose and long across his shoulders. “I want it short, but not as short as yours. I got no time to style this shit, y’know?”

“I don’t style mine,” Kiryu said absently, trying to figure out how he was going to do this.

“What, really? But how d’ya get it to do the—the y’know ,” Majima asked, making a swooping gesture over the top of his head.

“I dunno. I just blow dry it and it stays like that.”

“Son of a bitch,” Majima grumbled. “Some people got all the luck, y’know.”

When Majima went quiet again, Kiryu just stood there, as lost as he could be in this situation. How had he gone from expecting a surprise knife in the ribs to barbering his superior in less time than it took to eat breakfast?

“What’re you waitin’ for?”

“I’ve...never done this. I don’t even know where to start.”

“Aw, c’mon, it’s not like there’s a science to it or nothin’. Just grab it all in a big handful and whack it off.”

“O-okay,” Kiryu said, nodding to prepare himself. He took a step forward, tucking the knife under his arm and hesitating with his hands on either side of Majima’s head. He felt sweaty and big and foolish. But still, it wasn’t like he hadn’t done other strange jobs for his superiors.

This was maybe the strangest, but probably not by far.

Well, there was nothing to do about it now. He’d said he would. Not like he could’ve refused, but he’d still said he would, and so he would.

And he did, despite the fact that his hands were practically shaking as he ran them along Majima’s hairline, gathering it all up into one high tail on the top of his head. He had to work to not fidget, telling himself that it was stupid to be uncomfortable with the weird intimacy of Majima’s hair between his fingers. He blamed the feeling on his surprise at how soft it was and the fact that he’d never touched anybody’s hair like this. He’d grabbed plenty of guys by the hair before, but he’d immediately followed it up with a punch or kick. It was completely different, somehow, being in a quiet, dark room and trying to be gentle.   

As he’d figured, though, he didn’t manage gentle one bit. When he finally got it all in one hand in order to grab the knife, he accidentally yanked on Majima’s head, who went from shifting impatiently to menacingly still beneath him.

Kiryu froze, unsure of how to react. In the end, he just murmured, “Sorry,” and loosened his grip, pushing aside his indignation and crowing validation. If Majima didn’t want an amateur cutting his hair, he shouldn’t have told an amateur to do it. It wasn’t Kiryu’s fault that he’d never had to do anything remotely similar.

But all Majima said was, “S’okay,” in a gruff voice and relaxed again.

Kiryu felt himself relax as well, and he took a deep breath as he positioned the knife, staring intently at the bundle of hair under his fist. When he hesitated a little too long, though, Majima asked,

“‘Sup?”

Kiryu swallowed. “Are...are you sure?”

“Huh? Sure about what?”

“About this. Cutting your hair,” Kiryu mumbled, feeling like an idiot for thinking to ask, but knowing he would feel worse if he didn’t say anything. “It’s really long. It must’ve taken you a long time to grow it out. That’s a lot of effort to just get rid of in a second.”

Majima was silent for a second before he cracked up, saying, “Yeah. I’m sure. I mean, yeah, it took a long time to grow, but it wasn’t like I did anything to grow it, y’know? Plus, you know what they say about girls who break up with their boyfriends.”

“No,” Kiryu said.

“Wha? Really?” Majima asked, his voice high with surprise. “They cut their hair to get a new start, dummy. Can’t be a new person if ya look the same, right?”

“I...guess,” Kiryu conceded, pushing aside the burning need to ask him who he’d just broken up with. “Well, if you’re really sure.”

“‘Course I’m sure, didn’t I just say—”

Majima went silent as Kiryu cut his hair in one clean swipe.

“Oh.”

Kiryu tossed the bundle of hair into the sink and dusted the strays off, giving Majima some time to just feel out his new style. When he swiveled to look up at Kiryu with a surprisingly sincere smile, his hair now falling over one side of his face in a distinctly feminine way, Kiryu was left speechless.

“Well? How’d ya do?” Majima asked, brushing his fingers through his hair and ducking his head. “Is it good or do I gotta beat the shit out of you for making me walk around looking like a dingus until it grows out again?”

Kiryu’s throat closed up, completely unwilling to let the words, “It looks good, but in a girl way,” out of his mouth.

Even he had some sense of self-preservation.

Majima’s smile dissolved slowly until he was scowling suspiciously at him. “What? What didja do?”

“N-nothing. I just cut it.”

Majima’s eye narrowed and he struck out faster than Kiryu could react, snatching up his knife. “Gimme that,” he grumbled as he held it up to see his reflection in the polished steel.

Majima’s eye widened once more.

“Oh, shit.”

Kiryu tensed.

“I look cool as fuck!”

Kiryu blinked, watching in shock as Majima ran his free hand through his hair, parting it in a more natural way and making a face at the stray hairs that fell into his eye. As he brushed them off, he turned his brilliant, almost manic smile back on Kiryu. Kiryu thankfully had the reactions enough to not flinch when he held the knife out to him again. “Toldja it wasn’t hard! C’mon, Kiryu-chan, let’s see what it looks like with the bottom shaved!”

 

Chapter Text

 

Majima !”

Majima’s hand stilled in its motion, his knuckles going white as he gripped the knife sharpener tight.

“Majima, you fuckin' idiot, I thought I told ya you had to choose yer captain!”

Oh. Right. It wasn’t anything serious. He could relax.

“Yeah, but I told you, I already got my family. Don’t need another.”

“Those assholes that follow you around and beat the shit out of people aren’t a family ,” Shimano growled, clipping him across the head with a slap. Majima took it without complaint. He always took it without complaint, but especially when he deserved it. “Now go pick your fuckin' captain and get dressed so we can go.”

“Y’got it, Boss.”

“Good. Car’s gettin’ here in half an hour.”

Majima didn’t respond, choosing instead to just return to sharpening his knife. When he was sure that Shimano had put enough doors between them that he couldn’t hear anymore, he sighed.

Pick a fucking captain, he says.

Like Majima gave a shit.

He didn’t even give a shit about having his own family, but he’d been Shimano’s captain for too long already without one. He’d wormed his way out of it for a long time, but his number was up, it seemed. He didn’t want the responsibility of teaching the new punkasses straight out of the gutter how to do their jobs. None of the kids lining up to take their oath to him had any promise. Most of them just wanted to be able to carry some kinda steel and had heard that he was batshit crazy enough to let them. Some of them had been in gangs, but they’d only ever fought other gangs, which meant they didn’t stand a fucking chance out in the real world.

Giving one of them any power over the other seemed an exercise in futility. Why give one dog a megaphone when they were barking just the same as the others? A captain was meant to have finesse, meant to be both the weapon and voice of the patriarch when he wasn’t around to speak for himself.

They didn’t even speak the same language as Majima.

There is someone who does, though , a voice whispered at the back of his head that sounded worryingly like Nishitani’s. Fuck that; he couldn’t even consciously remember Nishitani’s voice. There was no way he was going to give that thought the time of day.

Even if it wasn’t wrong. There was someone who had promise—more promise than all his intended subordinates combined.

Only problem was, someone else had already scooped him up long ago.

Majima had no idea how an idiot like Dojima had ever managed to end up with a title like patriarch, much less get subordinates like Kazama and Kiryu in the process. Even if Kazama was practically the patriarch for how little influence Dojima had left, Dojima still technically held the leash of one of the strongest men Majima had ever known.

It made him fucking crazy to think of the wasted potential when he saw Kiryu being forced to do shit like housekeeping. Chrissake. Especially when he’d found out that Kiryu had willingly signed back up under Dojima after the shit with the Empty Lot.

Majima had felt some cruel god laughing at him when he’d found out that he might have had a chance to convince Kiryu to join him if only he’d taken his patriarchal responsibilities earlier. But as it was, he’d put it off and put it off and now Kiryu was already moving up the ranks. There were even murmurs already that he’d be getting his own family within a few years, considering how hard he busted his ass for the family that had screwed him over not so long ago.

What a fucking joke.

But if that was a joke, then Majima was a whole goddamn manzai all by himself.

He hadn’t even had anything to say to Kazama when the old man had told him after a meeting one night. Just casually mentioned it when Majima asked after Kiryu. As if telling him that he’d hoped that Majima might look after Kiryu if his son tried to take his oath again was the same as hoping it got a little warmer outside now that it was almost springtime.

He’d just stared, utterly impressed and more than a little annoyed by Kazama’s cunning.

So yeah, maybe it was a little sour grapes, how he felt about the boys promised to him.

It was fine, though. Or, no, it wasn’t, but it had to be. He wasn’t in any position to be complaining about taking on some project recruits. He was still technically on parole, even after he’d managed to double Shimano’s family income, at least. He expected he’d be on parole until one or the other of them kicked it, most likely. That was his boss; built like a beast but held grudges like a man.

“Oi,” someone grunted from the couches behind him. “Boss.”

“Nnh?” was all he cared to say, testing the sharpness of his blade against the pad of his thumb. Cut so clean that it took a few seconds for blood to bead out of it. Hell yeah.

“Don’tcha gotta get all yer fancy-ass clothes on to go to yer ceremony? Shouldn’tcha get a move on?”

Majima stilled, his shoulders tense. After a second, he slowly lowered the sharpener to the floor and slid his blade back in its sheath.

“I-I mean, doesn’t it take a—a long time? To get that stuff on?”

Majima crooked his head to get his eye on the asshole. It only took a second to classify the guy as just more mouthy trash that didn’t even know why it followed Majima around. He couldn’t even bother to notice any features the guy had, he was so blandly typical yakuza.

He had two choices at the moment, but considering the one he wanted might get blood on his clothes, he was better off just pinning the shithead down with his eye.

“You think I’m too fuckin’ stupid to know how long it takes to dress myself? Huh?”

The guy looked like he was about to shit himself, which was good enough for Majima. He was pissed about the situation, sure, but he didn’t care enough to bust heads right before he had to go to a long-ass ceremony that would end in him drinking himself to sleep in one of the back rooms. Just like every other god awful ceremony that he was required to go to.

Except one, but once again, Kiryu had been an exceptional force in that circumstance.

The thought that he might actually be present at this one flashed across his mind and he shooed it away. He was already getting too attached; no need for him to start pining after him like a puppy looking for his favourite treat.

Easier said than done for him, of course, when the first set of eyes he met as he climbed out of the car at HQ were Kiryu’s. He stood in the crowd near the main doors, looking uncomfortable in his black suit next to his kyoudai. The sun shone bright and warm despite the chill in the air, and the gentle breeze blew through the trees, ruffling Kiryu’s hair. It had grown longer since Majima had seen him last. He also had facial hair now. That made him want to laugh despite the seriousness of the situation. Kid was growing up. Not by much, clearly, but it was something.

“Don’t even think about it,” Shimano growled beside him, his bulk shadowing Majima as they walked up the path.

“‘Bout what, Boss?” he muttered back, watching as Kiryu’s mouth crooked up in a tiny smile for him that he couldn’t help but return.

“Kazama’s kid. I know that look. And I ain’t puttin’ up with that shit. No matter how big a hard-on you got, you ain’t fightin’ him. Don’t need that kinda attention right now.”

Majima scowled, dragging his eye away from Kiryu back to where Sera stood waiting. He wanted to argue, to point out that Shimano had told him to play nice with the Dojima family after what he’d done. He didn’t feel the punishment would be worth the tiny amount of satisfaction it would bring him, though. Better to just keep his growing interest closer to the chest and continue to do what he liked, as long as it didn’t directly affect Shimano’s bottom line. No reason to rock the boat for nothing more than dumb curiosity.

And so he spent the next few hours being a good boy: playing his part down to the letter, putting up with how fucking hot it was in his formal clothes, not yawning in the middle of conversations that made him itch with boredom. He actually felt like patting himself on the back when he not only survived, but did not commit assault while being congratulated by a man he’d already forgotten the name of before he’d even started telling him.

For a brief, beautiful moment, just as the guy trailed off and looked as though he’d just realised how many drinks he’d accepted and downed while rambling, Majima thought that he might be able to slip away. But then—

“Majima!”

“Nnh?” he asked, looking over at Shimano with bleary eyes. He stood tall and menacing, his eyes wide with drunken annoyance, and Majima was already ready for a hit. But instead of the open slap that usually came, Shimano just palmed his head, squeezing hard and saying,

“Majima. Why do none of your men know who their captain is?”

Majima stared up at Shimano with a narrowed eye.

“That’s kinda weird, don’tcha think? It’s almost as if you haven’t chosen one. But that can’t be right, ‘cause you know what would happen if you didn’t follow orders.”

Majima waited for his bruising grip to ease up, staying silent. Eventually, Shimano tossed his head away roughly, sending him bumping into someone. When he got his balance again, he smoothed his hair down and muttered,

“‘Course I chose my captain. It’s—”

Maijma scanned the crowd around him.

“It’s—”

Why was no one making eye contact?

“It’s…” Come on, come on—there! “Him!”

Shimano whirled around on the weedy, sweating man he’d pointed at, looming over him. “You. You’re the one he chose?”

The man wobbled in shock, his gaze flitting between Majima’s steely stare and Shimano’s predatory scowl.

Well ?”

Majima frowned deeply in warning.

“I—I—y-yes, Boss.”   

“‘S’at right.” Shimano grunted in dissatisfaction, looking back to Majima with open suspicion. Majima just smiled, earning him a disgusted shake of the head. “You don’t even know his name, do you?”

“Naw, but that ain’t nothin’ new, is it?” Majima said without hesitation, knowing that he was in the clear by the way that Shimano’s shoulders had relaxed. Whether or not he believed that he’d chosen the guy as his captain before this very moment, Majima knew that it didn’t matter to Shimano. What mattered to him was that he’d done it.

Proving him right seconds later, Shimano just clapped him on the back hard enough to bruise and left him to go back to the other patriarchs he’d been drinking with before. Majima watched him go, mouth tight around his teeth.

“U-uh...Boss? Did you—did you really mean that?”

He turned to the sweaty man with upturned brows.

“The, uh—the thing about me being your captain?”

“Oh,” he said, face scrunching up as he looked the man up and down. “You know what, sure.”

“Oh!” the man exclaimed, his face breaking out in a wide, but panicked smile. “Okay! Uh ! In that case, m-my name is Nishida, sir!” He slammed forward into a bow, his hands slipping off his knees for a second before he got a grip.

Majima’s nose wrinkled, but he wasn’t sure if it was in disgust or amusement. Who the hell was this guy? He looked like he was terrified of everything. Why had Majima been given a jelly-legs like this? Or better question, why was he a yakuza at all?

“That’s...great. Listen, Nishima, get the fuck up for a sec.”

“Y-yes, sir?”

Majima threw an arm around Nishida’s shoulders, putting his face right up to his. “Listen. You’re my captain now. Which means you and I gotta look out for each other, right?”

“R-right.”

Majima smiled toothily. “Right. And wouldn’tcha know it? Turns out I needja to look out for me right now.”

“Now, sir?”

“That’s right,” Majima said conspiratorially. “See, I get really fuckin’ down when I have to sit around in parties like this, all gussied up like a turkey dinner for everyone to get a bite at.”

“Oh. I never thought of it like that,” Nishida mumbled thoughtfully. Majima was pleasantly surprised with his response. Most yakuza he knew would think he was crazy for not wanting to be in everyone’s sights, heaped with congratulations, booze, and his pick of the women. It was a good sign that this guy was willing to hear another side of things.

And Shimano was always telling him he couldn’t make important life decisions on a whim.

“Well, sir, if it would help, I could distract everyone so you could slip away,” Nishida was saying, somehow managing to look terrified and determined at once. Majima’s estimation of the guy went up again, and this time, his smile was completely genuine.

“Now, look at you! Already thinkin’ on your feet! Knew you were the right man for the job.”

“Th-thank you, sir.”

Majima was delighted to find that, after hashing out a quick plan, Nishida actually followed through brilliantly, causing a little ruckus so that nobody noticed Majima scuttering to the back of the room and into the halls.

There were a few people milling around as he slunk through the corridor, and he scowled at anyone who looked like they might say something to him. It worked well enough until he got further back into the halls, where the more illicit parties were happening. Several groups of people called him over to join them in the bedroom or try this new shit that someone found that would fuck you up for days. Majima didn’t even bother to turn most of them down, simply continuing on without acknowledgement.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like to party—far from it, in fact. There was nothing he loved more than a fun time, surrounded by the high energy and danger of intoxicated people. Even if he never drank a drop, he’d always get drunk in that environment.

But he was in a mood now. He hadn’t had a solid idea of what he wanted to do once he’d gotten out of the main hall, but there was no denying that part of him had hoped to find Kiryu. Despite both Shimano and his own damn self telling him not to get too attached, he hadn’t done a very good job of it so far. He didn’t know what it was about Kiryu, but there was something that drew him in like a dog to fresh meat. There were times when he saw him on the streets and he had to physically hold himself back from going over to jump him.

Sure, he could chalk it up to curiosity. Because yeah, he did want to know if he really deserved the name Dragon of Dojima. It was a hell of a nickname, and if the rumours were to be believed, Kiryu had chosen it himself, which took some massive balls.

Majima was nothing if not predictable, he felt with a wistful sort of affection. He had always been drawn to strength. Shimano had been the first to ever bring him to his knees, and he had sworn he would follow him until death right then and there. Saejima hadn’t been too happy that he’d joined with a different family than his, but he hadn’t argued about it. His kyoudai knew well enough that nothing other than strength would gain that kind of unwavering loyalty from him.

He wondered vaguely what Saejima would think of him now.

Other than murderous rage, of course.

He wondered if he’d be surprised that Majima had gone a little stupid over a kid four years his junior just because he’d been fast enough and strong enough to keep him pinned down.

It wasn’t just that, though, part of him whispered. He frowned in embarrassment, hating to admit that even beyond his strength and speed, it was the concern itself that often got Majima thinking about Kiryu. He hadn’t known many people who would care enough to stop someone from hurting themself. Not even Saejima would’ve batted an eye if he thought Majima was going to commit suicide. Saejima was pure animal in that regard; those who were strong enough to survive deserved to, and those who weren’t, didn’t.

And until Makoto, Majima would have been likely to agree wholeheartedly.

Majima almost pushed away the thought of Makoto instinctively, but he stopped himself just as he came to a halt in a corridor empty except for someone passed out in a heap.

It didn’t hurt as much, now.

The thought of her.

It didn’t hurt as much.

It still prickled in his chest, needling the edges of his heart. The pain was still there, but it was tempered now. He wasn’t sure if that was good or if it felt like betrayal. He was never sure.

But it was for the best, either way. He knew he would always love her; there was no avoiding that. He’d come to terms long ago with the fact that he was the sort of person to love forever, even if it went badly. He remembered the faces of every person he’d ever loved, both when they smiled and when they cried. His heart was like a crab pot, letting love in and keeping it trapped there no matter how much it pinched him. He used to hate that about himself, but it felt more like a good thing these days.

At least he knew he had it in him to feel that deeply.

Aw, fuck. He was getting sad now. He’d be better off just grabbing the closest bottle of booze and passing out in a corner somewhere. He was inhaling long and slow, trying to shake off his strange mood, when his breath caught. There was a smell. Sitting underneath all the alcohol and sex, there was something familiar enough to twinge his memory. He took another deep breath, trying to figure out where it might be coming from.

Down the hall.

He pushed away from the wall, following his nose to the door leading to another wing of the building. As soon as he pushed through it, he stopped dead.

“Majima-no-niisan,” Kiryu said, eyes wide as they swept across and behind him before meeting his gaze. “What are you doing back here? Are you okay?”

Majima blinked, a smile creeping onto his face. The smell was stronger here, with nothing else to distract from it. He stalked forward, stopping close enough to Kiryu to make him lean away slightly, and took in a definitive sniff.

Yeah, it was him. Of course. Cigarettes and whiskey with a tinge of metal that could only be blood, and over it all a thick mask of cologne that gave Majima the strange sensation of homesickness.

“Kiryu-chan,” he exhaled, laughing as he drew in another breath while leaning back once more. “Anyone ever tell you you smell like an old man?”

Kiryu looked at him with wary, slightly narrowed eyes, clearly put on edge by his proximity. That delighted Majima more than anything else had for a long time. After a few moments of silence, Kiryu said, “Yeah. Nishiki.”

“Well he ain’t wrong,” he said, looking around Kiryu down the hall. “Speaking of—where is your kyoudai? Surely he hasn’t letcha wander off to mope by yourself again.”

“No, he’s. Nishiki is, ah…”

Majima just waited for him to continue instead of prompting him, his brows raising higher and higher as he watched Kiryu rub at his neck and shift nervously while his face went pink.

“He’s indisposed.”

Majima was lost in confusion before he noticed the way that Kiryu glanced back at the door he stood in front of protectively. “What, he need you for lookout while he takes a shit?”

Kiryu looked as uncomfortable as he’d ever seen him. “No. He’s...with someone.”

“Huuuh?” Majima asked, sliding around Kiryu despite his protestations and putting his head close to the door. Thumps and moans and the sound of flesh slapping together rang out from the room behind, and Majima snorted, turning his eye back on Kiryu. “What’re you doin’ out here, then?”

Kiryu’s lips thinned in the way that Majima had come to realise meant he was embarrassed but unwilling to admit it.

“Nishiki and I aren’t like that.”

Majima straightened out, staring openly before cracking up. “Sure, kid. Whatever you say.”

“W-what do you mean by that?” Kiryu asked, looking more than a bit red in the face now. There was a part of Majima that could smell blood in the water, and he wanted very much to chomp him right up. But he took mercy on him, instead.

“Nothin’. Don’t worry ‘bout it.” He ran his hand through his hair, instinctively reaching for his cigarette pack before remembering he was wearing his formals. He sighed, forcefully ignoring the path his mind was taking after listening in on Kiryu’s kyoudai. “Listen, you don’t happen to have any smokes on ya, do ya?”

Kiryu seemed torn for several moments, but eventually he just nodded and reached into his lapel. Majima took the pack he offered with a grunt of thanks, dragging out a cigarette with his lips and freezing when he saw that Kiryu was waiting with the lighter. There was something in the look that passed between them, then, but it was gone before Majima could grasp it, lost to the glowing tip of the cigarette and the click of the lighter closing once more.

After taking a slow drag that he held in for long enough that he could feel it burn, he leaned his head back and exhaled, closing his eye at the hit of pleasure. Fuck, he’d needed that. He took another drag before jerking his chin and saying, “C’mon. Let’s get outta here.”

“Pardon?”

“Sick of seein’ this place. Let’s get some air,” he said, blowing out a puff of smoke in Kiryu’s direction. He smiled as he watched him breathe it in, eyes looking hungrily at his cigarette. He knew it; Kiryu was just as stressed as he was.

“I—I shouldn’t. What if Nishiki needs me?”

Majima snorted again, turning back to stick his head around the doorframe and call into the dark room, “I’m taking Kiryu-chan, Nishikiyama. Enjoy getting your dick wet!”

Huh ?” was all he heard before he slammed the door again and turned back to Kiryu, crooking his hand at him.

“There you go; now he knows that you’re ‘indisposed’ too,” he said, glancing over his shoulder as he walked down the hall. Good—Kiryu was following him, albeit somewhat reluctantly. He took them out to one of the rock gardens, sitting heavily on a stone bench and leaning back against the tree that it wrapped around. It was several drags of his cigarette later before he noticed that Kiryu hadn’t sat. He stared up at him lazily, the silence of the garden working its spell on him already. “Wh’s’wrong?”

“Nothing, Majima-no-niisan.”

Majima groaned, tossing his free hand in frustration. “Oh, screw that. We both know you aren’t a fuckin’ boot-licker, so you might as well stop tryin’ to act like one around me jus’cause I got a fancy title now.”

Kiryu blinked at him before giving a little shrug and sitting next to him. After a second, Majima heard the crinkle of a pack of cigarettes and the strike of a lighter. Another few seconds later, a satisfied sigh that was followed by a cloud of smoke that drifted away into the chill of the night. Majima grinned. “Hell of a lung capacity you got on ya.”

Kiryu just grunted in acknowledgement and they fell into a comfortable silence, both just enjoying their break. Majima tucked his head against the crook of a branch, closing his eye and feeling the tension in his muscles trickle out slowly. It was an inefficient relief; normally, he’d just beat on some guys or go to the batting center to get it all out at once in a big rush, but this would have to do for now.

He had his orders, frustrating or not. He couldn’t just flout them, even if it was stupidly tempting to grab Kiryu and sling him to the ground and see who would come out on top then .

Tempting enough that he could feel his muscles coiling and preparing to strike when Kiryu surprised him by murmuring,

“Majima-no-niisan.”

“Yeah?” he asked, digging his fingers into his thigh to forcefully relax the muscle. Shimano had told him no fighting.

“Back in the hall…” Kiryu paused for a long time, but Majima could tell he was just thinking on his words, so he let him be. “What did you mean by what you said?”

“About what, bud? I say a lot of things.” He took one last drag before stubbing his cigarette out on the ground and tucking it away to throw out later. He knew exactly what Kiryu was asking about, but he’d found in the times that he’d spoken to him, it was always better to drag the words out of him instead of letting him get away with being vague.

Or if not better, definitely more fun.

When he looked over at Kiryu, though, and saw how uncomfortable he was, he felt a twinge of guilt. He looked actually bothered, and that was no fun at all. Teasing Kiryu was only good fun when he was in on the joke at least a little.

“About Nishiki and me.”

Majima weighed up his options then and, as usual, decided there was no good reason for him to lie. “Well, the way it looks to me—your kyoudai makin’ you stand outside while he fucks some girl loud enough to bring the house down—kinda seems like he’s tryin’ to tell you somethin’.”

 Kiryu’s eyes snapped to his, smoke trickling from his nose like a dragon about to breathe fire. Majima just held his gaze, waiting. Finally Kiryu shook his head and rumbled, “I told you—we’re not like that.”

Majima huffed out something close to a laugh. “So you’re tellin’ me he’s never watched you a little too closely when you’re gettin’ dressed? Or started a fight that ended up with you two on the ground, rollin’ around...sharing breath...faces close enough that it would only take one ‘accident’ for the two’o’ya to have your tongues shoved down each other’s throats?”

“We’ve fought, yeah, but that’s all it ever was,” Kiryu said, sounding unsure. “We’re like brothers.”

“Butcha aren’t bros, are ya?” Majima pointed out. “Look, Kiryu-chan, it ain’t exactly subtle, him tellin’ ya to keep watch so he could have some fun when everyone else is partying, too. No one cares who’s fuckin’ who right now. What the hell did you think you were watching out for?” He leaned in closer, grinning devilishly. “I’ll tell ya what. Your ol’ buddy Nishiki wanted you to watch out for your dick gettin’ hard while listenin’ to him fuck someone else.”

Kiryu’s face fell, his lips thin and annoyed. Majima waited for him to deny it, but he only looked away, scowling at the rock pool on the other side of the garden.

Oh, fuck. Majima felt like a balloon being filled with helium too fast, tight and pressurised. He’d just been trying to get a rise out of Kiryu, but he’d been right . Before he could leap on that gleefully, though, Kiryu’s deep voice broke the silence, hard and sharp as a knife.

“Majima-no-niisan. Have I offended you in some way?”

Majima’s brows rose. “No. Why?”

Kiryu’s jaw tensed for a moment so quick that if Majima didn’t have his eye glued to him, he would’ve missed it. “Because it sounds like you’re trying to start a fight.”

Majima’s heart constricted and after trying and failing to hold it in, he crowed with laughter. When Kiryu turned his scowl on him, his devil grin crept back onto his face and he leaned into his personal space, whispering harshly,

“And what if I am?”

Kiryu’s scowl deepened fiercely, and Majima was delighted to see his fists clench in his lap.

“Are ya gonna fight me, Kiryu-chan?” he crooned, his heart racing in anticipation. But even while Kiryu’s eyes burned, he stayed silent and still as a statue. Majima wanted to shriek with frustration. He couldn’t be the one to make the first move, but oh , if Kiryu threw a punch at him…

“Holding yourself back? That’s not like you at all,” Majima heard himself saying before he’d thought it through. He decided he was close enough to getting what he’d wanted to just go for it, though, and continued with a bit more calculation. “Aren’t you Dojima’s best muscle? The Dragon of Dojima, they’re calling you.”

Majima was surprised to find Kiryu looking even more incensed by the title, rather than getting the ego stroke that he’d been going for. That was something to remember, he thought, curiosity tickling him. He batted it away, focused wholly on the prospect of finally getting another taste of Kiryu’s strength after so long.

“So what’ll it be, Kiryu-chan? Are ya gonna follow through like a man? Or are you gonna ignore that fire burnin’ in ya and crawl back to Nishikiyama?”

“No,” Kiryu said, his voice like a thunderclap. He shook his head, clearly working hard to relax his fists again. “I’m not going to fight you, Majima-no-niisan.” Majima bared his teeth in frustration before, like a god sending blessings upon the land, Kiryu continued with, “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Yes .

“Kiryu-chan,” he breathed, alight with victory, “are you saying that I’m weak?”

Kiryu’s jaw tightened visibly, and Majima knew that he’d accepted the inevitability now. “No. But I know you fight with a tantō that you don’t have right now. I have the advantage.”

“Are you suggesting that I would lose to you ?”

Kiryu’s fists were clenched again tighter than ever. He was silent, but his face said everything that Majima needed to hear. And even though he was coiling tight, preparing himself for the strike, Majima managed to calmly get to his feet and take a few steps away, standing with his back to Kiryu.

Without saying another word, he shrugged out of his haori and kimono, sliding them down his shoulders until they rested at his hips. Hannya on full display, he crooked his head to look back at Kiryu through a lowered lid. He was pleased to see Kiryu staring at his tattoo with laser-focused intent.

He wanted to fight Majima just as much as Majima wanted to fight him.

They didn’t talk after that, Kiryu accepting his silent challenge by standing and slipping out of his jacket and shirt as well. They faced off, both of them shifting into a defensive stance as effortlessly as breathing. Kiryu sized him up, his eyes sweeping across him and their surroundings. Looking for potential weapons, Majima figured. Smart.

But not that smart.

While Kiryu had circled him cautiously, Majima had simply watched him, a rearing viper poised for the opportune moment.

It came when Kiryu tired of waiting for him to make the first move and reached out with a solid haymaker that, if it had connected, would have bowled him over.

If it had connected. But unfortunately for Kiryu, Majima had seen him fight before. He knew that while Kiryu seemed to favour his left hand for strikes that required finesse, he struck heavy and hard with his right. Which left the perfect opening for Majima to spin to the side and follow through with an elbow to the back of Kiryu’s neck, sending him stumbling down to the ground, caught off guard by his own momentum.

Rolling his neck to limber up now that he’d won the first strike, Majima relaxed his shoulders and arms, letting one swing free. Kiryu swore and got up, wiping away the blood from his split lip with the back of his fist. The fire in his eyes burned bright and hot and deadly.

Majima thought he might fly, he was so high with adrenaline at that look.

Kiryu came at him hard and fast, then, and Majima was pleased to find that he had to move quick to avoid several strikes that practically sang as they cut through the air next to his face. After taking a few sharp jabs to his sides and weaving around one particularly heavy leaping punch, Majima managed to snake his arms around Kiryu’s neck. He couldn’t help the breathless laughter that fell out of him as he locked his elbow tight, cross-bracing it with his other arm and planting his feet solidly to resist Kiryu’s weight bucking back against him.

This is all that a dragon has to offer?” he whispered harshly against Kiryu’s ear, his heart racing at the choked, gasping grunts coming from him. Majima could feel himself getting lost in those noises faster than he ever had before, his breath puffing out as rough and desperate as Kiryu’s.

Something uncoiled in him, then, and the shock of it made him freeze just long enough that Kiryu managed to rip away. Majima saw the spinning kick coming as though time had slowed, but there was a disconnect between his body and mind, and so he simply watched as it landed on his chest and sent him flying backwards. He slammed back into his body when it crashed into a massive, ancient tree, flower petals showering down as he choked on the pain exploding through him.

The thing inside him roared to life as Kiryu stalked closer, eyes blazing with power.

Oh, Majima was in trouble now.

When Kiryu took hold of his throat in a crushing grip and slammed him back into the tree, part of Majima wanted to just watch and see what he’d do to him. But not only was it not in his nature to just allow someone to win in a fight, it was unfair to Kiryu to let him think that he’d actually overpowered him. Majima didn’t really care if he lost—would be delighted by it, in fact, he had to admit to himself now—but if Kiryu thought that this was enough to win a fight, he might get sloppy later and lose to someone lucky enough to exploit that cockiness.

And as Majima had very suddenly realised just a moment before, he didn’t want anyone other than him to feel the satisfaction of having Kazuma Kiryu at their mercy.

So instead of letting Kiryu’s heavy punch meet his face, he jerked his head to the side at the last second. As Kiryu’s fist smashed into the tree, bark crunching and flying into his face, Majima grabbed his forearm, using the grip he had on him to swing a leg up, grip a thigh around his neck, and drop his weight down suddenly.

Both of them went down with grunts of pain, but Majima recovered first, scrambling to his feet so he could wind up a heavy kick to the stomach that got a retching groan out of Kiryu. He didn’t wait for him to get his wind back before wedging his foot against his windpipe, pushing him back against the tree in warning. Kiryu tried to throw him off, but he just gave a swift kick to his temple and got him pinned once more. Majima applied pressure harder and harder the longer that Kiryu fought, until his eyes were rolling with the effort it took to stay conscious and his arms fell back to his side.

Only then did Majima release him, watching with a strange mixture of emotions swirling in his gut as Kiryu fell to his hands and knees, wheezing thinly. Deep satisfaction at seeing someone so strong kneeling before him warred with disappointment at having won so quickly. Vindication at showing Kiryu that he wasn’t as good as he thought was tempered by the glimpse of Kiryu’s potential hiding underneath that overconfidence. And writhing all around that, like a dog clamping its jaws around the first toy it had ever been given, was a powerful possessiveness.

He had fought Kiryu now.

He had seen what was waiting for him, if he was patient enough to let him grow.

And when Kiryu looked up at him with a mix of respect and determination, it was enough to know that if he gave him that time, he would reap the rewards of it later down the line.

Which meant that he needed to leave. He knew himself well enough to know what would happen if he stuck around now. So when Kiryu gasped out, “M-Majima-no-niisan…” in a way that got his stomach fluttering and his stomach muscles tightening, he pinned him down with a look and said,

“If you’re ever going to live up to the ink on your back, then you need to stand tall and keep your eyes sharp.” He paused, letting his words sink in before a smile crept onto his face. “And next time you pick a fight, you’d better know who you’re fighting and why you’re fighting them, Kiryu-chan. Might just save your life.”

With that, he turned and strolled down the path back, wishing that he could have stayed for another cigarette, at least.

Oh well. There’d always be next time.

 

Chapter Text

 

“Again, I’m so sorry, ma’am,” Kiryu murmured, grateful that he could hide his mortification behind his deep bow. “Please don’t take this as a slight against you.”

“Oh, honey, don’t trouble yourself with it!” the woman he’d been assigned—Akiko, he’d learned during their session—crooned, smiling at him from where she sat on the bed. “I had so much fun with you today! You made me feel like a real lady, you know?”

“I-I’m glad, then,” he said, bowing again before taking his leave and practically scurrying out of the room. He made his way through the soapland halls stiffly, like a puppet dangling from wires.

He was going to kill Nishiki.

Forget his kyoudai’s insistence that he keep his hands (relatively) clean. He was going to kill him for this. He was already fantasising about the massive punch he’d greet him with when he got back to their hotel room. He had to tuck his fists into his pockets when several people in the lobby gave him wide-eyed, fearful looks.

There was no need to upset the civilians just because he was upset with his brother.

Getting out in the fresh air of Sōtenbori definitely helped to calm him down. It smelled like trash and hot pavement and sweating bodies and the stink of sex had followed him out of the soapland, but he’d at least escaped the cloying perfume. He took several gulps of air before collapsing on the low marble wall surrounding the building, his head in his hands.

“What am I doing here?” he grumbled to himself, his shoulder complaining about the movement with a click and sharp stab of pain. He grimaced in frustration. It had been weeks already, and his body was still giving him shit. He felt old, suddenly. Even complaining only to himself, he sounded like the elderly that pottered around the town, muttering at anyone who dared to inconvenience them.

He wasn’t even 25 yet. He should still be able to take a few hits and bounce back from it. But he did have to admit that while he was still young, he certainly hadn’t taken care of himself for those 25 years. Maybe his body was just reminding him that he wasn’t going to be young forever.

And, he supposed, getting tortured was a little worse than ‘a few hits.’

He sighed, letting his hands fall down between his knees and slumping over himself. His eyes were blurry with tiredness as he watched people pass, their gazes skirting past him as though he might pass bad luck onto them if they looked too long.

Maybe they were right.

He certainly didn’t feel like anyone’s lucky charm at the moment.

“Y’know, I’ve been thinkin’ about this for a while, but I just can’t place where I know you from.”

Kiryu looked up in a familiar, dull sort of surprise—the kind of surprise that only came from suddenly hearing Majima’s voice right beside him despite not hearing him approach.

Or, in this particular case, above him.

It took Kiryu a second to process what Majima had said, and when he did, it still didn’t make any sense. He stared up at Majima as he stood over him, who stared back, his face scrunched up in thoughtful confusion.

After several long moments, Kiryu could only think to say,

“I’m...Kiryu.”

Majima didn’t even react, his face still twisted in comical confusion.

“We—we’ve worked together for years, Majima-no-niisan,” he said, brows pulling together high on his forehead. “You sent me a present for my last birthday.”

Majima hummed, his voice deep and pensive.

“You’re the only person who calls me Kiryu-chan,” Kiryu said, getting insistent. Majima was well known for being fairly forgetful, but this was a lot worse than usual. He was becoming worried for him, if he was honest. “We met at a celebration for the Third Chairman.”

Hmm ,” was all that Majima said at first, but then, as if a switch flipped, he waved his hand in front of his face and snapped, “Nah, nah, nah! Forget all that shit. Forget it. I’m never gonna remember what it is.” He made a sour face, huffing out a long breath and pausing before turning back to him with a smile. “Anyway, w’sup, Kiryu-chan? Lookin’ to get some?”

Kiryu stared up at Majima with a churning mix of confusion, concern, and embarrassment. That seemed to be the usual around him, for Kiryu. Majima had always had that sort of power over him, to make him deeply uncomfortable in any situation. Even after he’d all but disappeared over a year ago, the thought of him had made Kiryu feel strange. Directionless. Dull. He’d countered that by simply not thinking about him when he could help it.

Which wasn’t as often as he’d liked. Even while away, Majima had a way of holding a room’s attention. Every time he’d had to go to deliver a cut of a job that had been in Shimano’s territory, he’d been irritated by the stand-in captain, who didn’t have a clue how to talk to him. He’d eventually just taken to dropping off the cases of cash at the Majima family office, who, despite their missing patriarch, had held themselves together much better than the Shimano family had without its captain.

Vaguely, Kiryu felt as though he should be surprised to see Majima appear before him after only a few hours in Sōtenbori, but he couldn’t manage it. It was the entire reason he was down here, after all.

Well. Not the entire reason, but he’d long since dismissed the idea that he should actually have any time off to recuperate just because he’d been stupid enough to get tortured.

Kazama hadn’t been forced to leave and he was worse off than Kiryu.

“You okay?”

Kiryu blinked, shaking his head to clear his melancholic thoughts. He didn’t usually dwell like this, but times had been strange lately. Nishiki hadn’t made it any better with his almost manic insistence that they have a good time on their ‘vacation’ despite his sister’s failing health back in Kamurocho.

Which, speaking of—

“I’m fine, Majima-no-niisan,” he mumbled, unable to look him in the eye. “Just a little tired.”

“Oh, so you already got some, then,” Majima crowed, coming to sit beside him on the wall. He tossed his ankle up onto his knee and bent down to force Kiryu to meet his gaze.

Kiryu went hot all over, shame crawling over him like swarming insects. He tried to look away again, but Majima just leaned back to follow his line of sight, grinning in delight. “What’s wrong, Kiryu-chan? Why so shy? I mean, sure, it’s a little weird for a guy as handsome as you to think he needs to pay for it, but I ain’t gonna judge ya or nothin’. We all got our tastes, don’t we?”

Kiryu’s stomach flipped and flopped, torn between dread at having to admit his biggest secret, to Majima of all people, and a stupid, weird pride that Majima thought he was handsome. Somehow, he managed to settle somewhere in between, with the thought that strangely enough, Majima of all people would likely understand why he’d done what he’d done.

Still, it took him several long moments of working himself up before the words, “I didn’t,” crept out of his mouth in a whisper barely loud enough for his own ears to pick up.

“Hm? What’s that?” Majima asked in a cheerful stage-whisper, leaning right in with his ear turned towards him.

Kiryu swallowed thickly, working through the knot in his throat before attempting to speak again. “I didn’t pay for—that.”

“What, you have a voucher or somethin’?” Majima asked, thankfully keeping his voice to the same level as Kiryu’s even though he could tell that he thought he was being ridiculous.

Kiryu winced. “No. I just didn’t .”

He looked away at the exact moment he saw Majima realising what he meant. If he had to hear the man he respected second-most in this world laugh at him, then at the very least, he wouldn’t have to see it. But when the laugh never came, his eyes naturally found Majima’s face again. He was surprised to find Majima simply studying him thoughtfully. For some reason, that made him hotter than ever.

“Nishiki knows that I still—haven’t—” Kiryu heard himself explaining, unable to stop the words from coming despite the extreme discomfort he felt while admitting out loud that he was still a virgin. “—and when he found out that we were coming down to Sōtenbori on forced leave, he convinced himself that it was the best early birthday present he could give me.”

Majima’s mouth twisted into something like a smile, though his narrowed eye made it menacing. Kiryu swallowed again, wondering what had prompted a look like that.

After a long silence, Majima just sighed, ending it on a laughing, “Kiryu-chan, I know you love him, but your kyoudai is a real chump, you know?”

Kiryu had nothing to say to that. He was a little annoyed at Majima’s disrespect of Nishiki, but it was only usual. For some reason, Majima had never seemed to care for Nishiki, despite Nishiki’s attempts to figure out what he’d done to annoy the patriarch. Kiryu had long since convinced him to just let it go. Some people just didn’t get along. Nishiki hadn’t been happy with that, but a relative peace had settled over the two of them once he’d stopped trying to kiss ass.

Plus, in this instance, Kiryu was probably more annoyed with Nishiki than even Majima, so he felt it would be a little hypocritical of him to ask him not to talk like that.

“So Nishikiyama ‘treats’ ya to a fun time and you go up there because you don’t wanna hurt your kyoudai’s feelin’s, even though you can’t even look at a dirty magazine without blushin’ and feelin’ guilty,” Majima said to himself. Kiryu wished he could deny the accusation, but he absolutely couldn’t without it being a lie. Still, hearing it so matter-of-factly was enough to make him want to crawl into the nearest manhole. “And you end up—what? Just talkin’ to the girl?”

“...yeah. We talked about her little brother and sister and how she’s doing this to support them going to college.”

“Of course ya did,” Majima said, continuing on to ask curiously, “What was he even tryin’ to do by forcin’ ya t’go?”

“He thinks it will help me relax and enjoy my life more if I just get it over with,” Kiryu explained with a defeated sigh. “Who knows? Maybe he’s right.”

Majima frowned. “What kinda shit sense…?” He shook his head before pinning Kiryu down with his eye. “Look. Does it bother you?”

“Does what bother me?”

Kiryu could tell by the look on Majima’s face that he was annoyed by his slowness. “Bein’ a virgin.”

Kiryu’s mouth tensed, but it didn’t take him as long to get over his discomfort as he thought it would. “Sometimes,” he answered truthfully. “But honestly, I haven’t thought about it much. Even if I cared enough to do something about it, I’m still too busy to try to find any girls who’d be willing to go out with a yakuza.”

“Kiryu-chan,” Majima began softly, in a way that made him feel very young and stupid. “You do know that there are plenty of people out in this big world that can’t recognise a yakuza on sight, right?”

Everyone knows I’m a yakuza,” Kiryu said, grim acceptance tinging his words. He wasn’t ashamed of what he was, but there were times when it made interacting with civilians a chore. Nobody trusted a man who had bloodstains on his knuckles.

“...yeah, you’re probably right about that. There’s no mistaking it on you, huh.”

Kiryu just gave him a miserable look.

Majima grinned. “Aw, chin up. If you want, I’ll help you.”

Kiryu gave him a wary, wide-eyed look, stomach twisting with surprise.

Majima blinked before his smile grew. “Oh, Kiryu-chan,” he sighed fondly, shaking his head. “You wouldn’t even know where to begin with me.”

Kiryu had a strange moment where he wanted to challenge Majima to take him on and see whether or not that was true, but before he could even open his mouth to say something so ridiculous, Majima thankfully continued.

“Maybe once we know each other better. For now, how about I help you find someone nice and boring?”

“You know someone?” Kiryu asked, genuinely surprised. “You don’t even know what kind of girls I like.”

“First of all,” Majima began, holding up a finger, “I’m not offering to find you true love, Kiryu-chan. You said that it bothers you to be a virgin, and I’m offering to help you with that. It don’t take love to stick your cock in a hole. There’s places where you don’t even have to see or touch someone to get that done.”

Kiryu thought about that. “How?” he asked eventually, unable to figure out how one might get the entire process done without ever seeing the other person. Maybe if they had a mask on? But then you’d still have to touch them and even if you couldn’t see their face, you’d still see the rest of them.

How was sex without touching possible?

Majima blinked at him before snorting and saying, “You’re always surprising me, Kiryu-chan. Never thought you’d be one for glory-holes.”

Oh . Kiryu had heard of those. Shinji and some of the other guys had whispered about a place you could go in one of the parks where, if you knocked on a specific stall door at a specific time, you might hear a knock back and get ‘the best blow of your life.’

Kiryu had spent the rest of the day pondering that. What if you showed up and they didn’t knock back even though you could hear someone in there? Did you just keep knocking? What if it was someone just using the toilet?

And even if the right person was there and knocked back, were you meant to bring protection or did they provide it? Everyone talked about how important sexual protection was, these days. Kiryu hadn’t even realised you could get sick from someone’s mouth. That night, out of morbid curiosity, Kiryu had found himself buying condoms and smuggling them back to his apartment as though they were illicit goods. He’d fantasised about what it might be like, kissing Yumi for the first time, and had stroked himself through a condom just to see what it felt like.

It was alright, but he wasn’t sure how anyone could have felt much from a blowjob through one.

Not that he knew what one felt like without a condom, either.

He’d heard Nishiki getting plenty of them, though, when they shared an apartment, and he’d always sounded—for lack of a better word—blown away. So maybe they were good enough that it didn’t matter how much the condom dulled the feeling.

At the time, Kiryu had simply shelved the experience and curiosity away as Unimportant to Being a Yakuza and had gone on with his life.

But even though he was still feeling a bit sick at the idea of sex with anyone who wasn’t Yumi, he had to admit there was something tempting about not having to see the person on the other side.

In the end, he just shook his head and said, “No, I was just curious.”

“Uh huh,” was all Majima said, a canny glint in his eye. Before Kiryu could try to argue his innocence, though, Majima just stood with a clap to his knees and a dramatic groan. “Well, come on then. Night’s still young.”

“M-Majima-no-niisan, I really don’t want to try out one of those—”

“We’re goin’ to a bar, doofus,” Majima cut him off with, tossing his hands up in a shrug. “Like I’d actually take you to a goddamn glory-hole.”

“Oh.” With that concern allayed, Kiryu stood to follow Majima without thinking and winced as his bruised ribs bloomed in pain. He glanced up at Majima, hoping he hadn’t noticed, but he’d already known there was no chance of that.

“What’s up with that look?” Majima asked as they set off down the streets toward Iwao Bridge.

“Nothing,” Kiryu grunted, holding his hand over his side, making sure his bandages hadn’t slipped off of his stitches. “Just got caught by a Triad group recently.”

“That why you and Nishikiyama are down here on—what’d you call it—‘forced leave?’” Majima asked, glancing over at him as he wove around a group of people, bumping into him lightly. “Which Triad?”

“Snake Flower,” Kiryu said plainly, feeling a bit sheepish for having almost forgotten why he was there in the first place. Majima had always been good at distracting him, though. “And uh—no, actually. Telling me to come down here because I needed to recuperate from my injuries was just Kazama-san’s way of making sure no one got the wrong idea about him getting involved.”

Majima lifted his brows but didn’t ask.

Kiryu thought very hard about how to say why he’d been sent down to Sōtenbori without making Majima angry with him.

In the end, though, he figured he was just as likely to be angry with him even if he tried to soften it, and so he said, “I was sent to find you and bring you back.”

Majima didn’t even falter in his stride. The nighttime crowds forced them to walk single-file for a little bit, and while Kiryu waited for his response, he had nothing else to do but keep him in his sights. It was then that he finally noticed how much Majima’s hair had grown. Long enough to just barely brush against the top of his collar, it had a lustre about it that seemed to catch the glittering, flashing lights of nighttime Sōtenbori and reflect it back at him.

“Figured.”

“Figured?”

Majima flashed a wry grin back at him. “Well, you wouldn’t be here for anythin’ else, wouldja.”

Kiryu wondered why there seemed to be disappointment in his voice.

“I guess not,” he said eventually, tucking his hands into his pockets. Majima turned forward once more and they fell silent for several steps until Kiryu heard himself say, “Your hair is long again.”

Majima came to a halt in front of him so suddenly that Kiryu almost apologised for making the observation. But then he realised that Majima was just waiting for a group to pass before turning into a bar on the strip. Kiryu followed him in, hanging up both of their jackets on the provided pegs before joining him at the bar. He was surprised that he didn’t have to tell Majima what he wanted, hearing his favourite drink being ordered as he walked up. He leaned against the counter as Majima rested on the edge of a stool, his steel toe tapping against the metal footrest. After a few seconds, he gave him another of those smiles that felt like it hid something underneath.

“Yeah. Kinda lost track of it recently, but I’m—I’m getting it cut again soon.”

It took Kiryu a second to remember that he’d commented on his hair, and so before he could make a joking offer to do it for him again, a voice called out happily,

“Majima-han! It’s been forever! Where’s Mi— hngh !”

Kiryu turned to see a man poking halfway out of the staff entrance, doubled over as though he’d just been gut-punched. Beside him stood a wide-eyed, smiling middle-aged woman who, upon seeing that they were looking her way, dove upon the remote control for the TV and, laughing nervously, stammered,

“O-oh, G—Majima-han, how are you? You’re looking well!”

Majima watched her struggle to do something with the TV before he gave a tiny, sad smile and said, “It’s okay. Leave it on.”

The woman froze with her arm still hanging in the air, the remote pointed up at the TV. She looked torn, her eyes sad as well. “A-are you sure?”

Majima nodded, accepting their drinks from the bartender with a mumbled thanks. After a sip of his drink, he smiled back at the woman, who had finally dropped her arm back to her side almost defeatedly. “Who’m I to deny everyone the voice of an angel?”

Kiryu watched this exchange with uncomfortable curiosity, but when the woman just gave a little bow and pushed herself and the man back into the staff room, whispering harshly, he couldn’t bring himself to ask what had just happened. Something about it seemed too personal for someone like him. If he and Majima were friends, he would have asked if he was okay, but as it had been from the moment they’d met, their relationship was cloudy at best and a tangled mess at worst.

Still, he might have asked anyway, if Majima hadn’t immediately stood and headed to the back of the bar where a pool table stood. Kiryu followed, sneaking a glance up at the TV as he passed. It was on an ad now, so there was no luck there. He frowned slightly, wishing he was better at this sort of thing. Yumi was always fantastic at making people feel better, no matter what had happened, but even Nishiki was better than he was. He’d spent too long punching his problems away to really know how to approach something that clearly needed a delicate touch.

Especially when the person who needed it was Majima.

So instead of attempting to address it at all, Kiryu just silently allowed Majima to rack up the table and grab their sticks. When Majima downed his drink in one go and gestured over to the bartender for a refill, Kiryu frowned, but still didn’t say anything until he came over to give Kiryu his stick.

“Majima-no-niisan,” he said quietly, stopping Majima from turning to the table. Majima gave him a dull look. “What are we doing here?” If something’s wrong, he wanted to add, but knew where his boundaries lay with the man.

“Whattaya talkin’ about? Ya said you wanted t’get lucky tonight, right?”

Kiryu wanted to grimace at his wording, but he was getting desensitised to it already. “I—sure. But couldn’t we just go to a telephone club or something? We don’t have to stay here.”

Telephone club ?” Majima cried, earning them a few looks. When he continued, though, he thankfully spoke with a normal volume again. “Kiryu-chan, why would you go to a graveyard when there’re livin’ women here?”

“I—I’m just not sure how I could possibly meet anybody just by playing pool.”

Majima stared at him, his eye narrowing. For a long few tense moments, Kiryu thought that he’d figured out why he was protesting, but then he just said, “How come, even with two workin’ eyes, you still can’t manage to see how people look at you?”

Something in the way he said it took Kiryu aback, forcing him to look around the room. At first, it was his instincts as a yakuza that evaluated the situation: enclosed space, only one easy exit, dim lights that would make it difficult to spot any hidden weapons coming at him, two angry-looking guys who looked like they might start fighting soon.

But then, when he glanced at Majima before turning back to the room again, it was like a switch had flipped.

Enclosed, dim space with lots of hidden corners and booths that would give more than enough privacy. Soft, rhythmic music played. And everywhere he looked, there were people looking back, both women and men. Some of the women looked almost shocked, their mouths parted and eyes dull. There were two such women sitting next to the angry men, and Kiryu realised that they were clearly on dates with them and the men were tossing glares at him.

There were a few women who made Kiryu feel the need to fidget under their gaze, though. All of them were undeniably beautiful and Kiryu had no idea why they were looking at him like a stray cat looked at its first can of food in months. It wasn’t like he was doing anything manly. He was just standing there awkwardly, pool stick held down at his side.

“Do ya get it now, Kiryu-chan?” Majima asked, sounding amused. Kiryu turned back to him, swallowing nervously.

“No,” he said, downing his drink and earning him a cackle from Majima. “But I guess I see it.”

“C’mon,” Majima said through his chuckles, “you break.” Kiryu nodded and moved around the table to stand next to Majima, lining up his first shot carefully. As he lined it up, Majima leaned against the table and asked, “So what part don’t you get?”

Kiryu took the shot and was pleased when he managed to sink the 1-ball. He wasn’t the best at pool, but he’d been getting better lately, as he’d gotten sick of Nishiki gloating over him.

“I guess I just don’t understand what it takes to get this kind of attention,” he murmured absently, already moving to line up his next shot.

“For normal people? Either they’re born with the ability to act cool or they gotta get good at somethin’ else. Some of them got looks, too, so that helps. But you—you don’t hafta try . You’ve got the natural draw and the looks to back it up. You walk into a room and everyone can’t help but stare.”

Kiryu looked up at Majima from his bent position, ignoring how his neck burned at the compliment. “ Normal people?”

Majima grinned down at him. “You ain’t normal people. Get used to it.”

“You mean that I’m not a civilian?” He took his next shot. Damn. Not only had he missed, but he’d perfectly lined up the next three balls for Majima. He stood up again, staring down at the table in frustration. He’d thought he’d gotten better at his spin. He gratefully accepted a fresh glass from Majima, sipping on it and readying himself to be swept up.

“Civilian or yakuza ain’t got nothin’ to do with that smolder, Kiryu-chan,” Majima said matter-of-factly, leaning over to take his shot. Kiryu was surprised when he just tapped it sloppily, sending the ball knocking around the table before coming to rest back at the 2-ball. He clicked his tongue and resumed his resting position next to Kiryu. “Darn. Unlucky.”

Kiryu gave him a suspicious look, but didn’t question it when he watched Majima down another drink quickly. He’d heard rumours of Majima’s prowess at bar games, but maybe he was just off his game tonight. When Majima left and came back with another two drinks, Kiryu just slid his across the edge of the table.

“Have mine. I’m not even supposed to be drinking down here.”

Majima snorted, but took his offered drink anyway. After taking a sip, he muttered, “So yer old man’s alright with using ya as bait, but not with ya gettin’ ta blow off some steam?”

“There’s a difference between blowing off steam and starting a war between Tojo and Omi, Majima-no-niisan,” Kiryu commented dryly, bending down to line up his shot. Not that he needed to, really. He couldn’t have missed this shot even if he’d wanted to. Once the ball had clunked heavily into the pocket, he said curiously as he moved around the table to take his next shot, “I’m surprised you’ve been down here this whole time, to be honest.”

“‘S’at s’posed ta mean?”

Kiryu missed the prickliness in Majima’s voice, intent on getting the perfect angle. “Nothing, really. Just surprised that you’ve managed to live quietly in the center of Omi territory for so long.”

He struck hard, pleased when he sank the tricky shot, but swore when the cue ball drifted a little too far and fell in as well. He stood straight to let Majima get to the table to take his turn, but stopped when he noticed how quiet he was. He was hit with a coil of dread before he even turned to see Majima’s eye narrowed dangerously, his mouth a thin line.

They squared off like that for long enough that Kiryu’s body was preparing for a fight as he kept one eye on Majima’s face and one on the pool stick held tight in his hand.

Eventually, Majima spoke, his voice like the edge of a blade.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinkin’ you know me, kid.”

Before either of them could so much as move a muscle, though, another voice cut in, soft and smooth and feminine.

“Hiii,” a woman at Kiryu’s elbow trilled, shocking him into flinching away. She giggled, her blue-lined brown eyes crinkling up with delight. “I’m sorry! Did I scare you?”

Kiryu stared down at her, glancing quickly over at Majima when he realised that he hadn’t kept his eyes on the dangerous man. But Majima wasn’t looking at him anymore, busy with fetching the cue ball and lining up his shot.

“Uh...no,” he said dumbly, turning back to the woman. She smiled prettily up at him, standing in a way that made it very clear just how small her dress was. Kiryu swallowed, looking away quickly when he realised that he was gawping at the swell of her breasts. “I was just startled, is all,” he mumbled.

“Ohh, I’m sorry!” the woman cried, holding her hand over her mouth in embarrassment before giggling again. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I was just coming over to compliment you on your form.”

“My...form?” Kiryu asked nervously.

“Oh, yes! I’ve been watching you and your friend play and I thought I might ask you for some tips—I hope you don’t mind.”

“N-no, that’s okay. It’s a public place, after all,” he stammered. The sound of a ball being sunk distracted him long enough that he could get his thoughts together again. “But if you’re looking for tips on playing pool, then I’m not the one you should be—”

“Aw, Kiryu-chan, don’t be so modest!” Majima interjected, his voice jovial and friendly. Kiryu thought he might have given himself whiplash, he was so quick to look over at him. Majima stood leaning against his pool stick, somehow looking lanky and unthreatening now when only moments before, he was as tense as a coiled snake. He smiled goofily at the woman, giving a little embarrassed wave of his hand. “Y’got good instincts in teachers! He’s got me beat already and we only just started! He’ll definitely give you some tips.”

“Wh—” was all Kiryu could manage.

“Oh, good!” the woman giggled. Kiryu wondered vaguely how one person could find so much to laugh about in such a short period of time, but at least she had a pretty laugh. She turned back to him, smiling sweetly again and giving a little wave. “Kiryu-han, was it? I’m Kiku! It’s nice to meet you!”

“Y-yeah,” Kiryu grunted, looking over at Majima for help and getting only an encouraging smile and thumbs-up in return. “Nice to meet you, too.”

So he wasn’t fully off the hook, but he was no longer in danger of a fight, it seemed.

He wasn’t sure why part of him was disappointed by that. Maybe it was the knowledge that if they had just fought it out, he would have taken some punches and given some back and even if he’d lost, it would have just been more bruises to heal. But by agreeing to Majima’s insistence that he teach the woman how to play, he’d gotten himself in a situation that felt much worse than a few bruises and cuts.

“So if I can hit the nine with this ball, I win?” Kiku asked a few minutes later, bending deeper over the table and tucking her bottom directly against his crotch.

“Yes,” Kiryu said, his voice sounding pained even to him. When Kiku had struggled to handle the pool stick, Majima had suggested that Kiryu get his arms around her and help her guide it, and now he was in hell.

This was worse than being tortured.

At least he’d known what Lau Ka Long had wanted from him: to die.

At least he’d known what he’d wanted from the situation: to not die.

But now, with his arms stiffly tucked over this strange woman’s as they bent over the table and Majima’s eye watching him, he somehow wanted both. He was sweating. He was breathing much too fast. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears. She smelled like alcohol and flowers and chalk and he felt sick to his stomach. Why did he feel sick? She was pretty. She was nice. He liked the smell of her. But there was something inside of him that was panicking at the feel of her in his arms.

Why had he agreed to this?

Why did he think that Majima of all people would help him.

Instead of letting him convince him to do this, he should have just pinned him down and taken him back to the hotel and—

That thought did the opposite of help.

It was an unhelp .

He was suddenly very aware of just how unhelpful that thought had been, when he made the mistake of glancing up at Majima just as Kiku rubbed back against him. There was something in the way Majima was looking at him—eyelid lowered over an intensely focused eye, hair flopped over his eyepatch and framing his jawline, lips parted ever-so-slightly—that set an alarm off in his head, especially when he felt his cock stir with a shocking amount of interest.

“So that’s how you play pool!” he choked out, practically leaping away from Kiku and turning away just in case. “You’ve—you’ve definitely got it from here!”

“What? What’s wrong, Kiryu-han?” Kiku asked, her bottom lip pouting slightly as she looked up at him through her lashes. For some reason, when the only response he had was to wince and pretend like he needed to chalk up the stick again, she seemed to take that as encouragement. He nearly jumped out of his skin when she tilted her head into his line of sight, her breasts brushing against his arm. “Is it maybe...too loud in here to keep teaching me?” she asked softly, her smile and voice coy and suggestive. “Would it be better if we went someplace quieter?”

“I—I don’t—”

Kiryu never thought that he could be so grateful to hear the sound of pool balls clattering into their holes one after the other. It distracted Kiku well enough that Kiryu could move away from her without risking offense. Majima looked up at both of them and grinned sheepishly as they stared. “Whoops, looks like the game is over.”

“Oh, congratulations, Majima-han!” Kiku said, clapping happily. “Those were tricky shots!”

“Yeah, I guess I had some luck left in me,” Majima said in a suspiciously innocent way. “Well! I could go for another drink! You guys?”

Kiryu wanted to suggest that maybe Majima had had enough already, but he was certainly in no position to refuse. If anything, he wanted to be as drunk as possible for what might happen that night. His nerves were already shot to hell and he hadn’t even started.

When asked, Kiku quickly agreed to go grab three more drinks for them, leaving Kiryu to stare forlornly after her as she bounced away. Why couldn’t he have just agreed to go with her like Nishiki would? He had to bite back a yelp when Majima leapt forward, crowding him into the hidden corner where the pool sticks hung.

“M-Majima-no-niisan, what are you doing?”

“I’m tryin’ to be your fuckin’ wingman here, but you’re not makin’ it easy!” he whispered hoarsely, his grip hard on Kiryu’s arm as he gave him a shake. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

Majima’s glare threw Kiryu completely, preparing him in no way for him to say, “That you don’t like women, idiot!”

Kiryu suddenly wished he could crawl into some kind of chrysalis until he came out the other side a different man.

“I...do,” was all he could say that made sense. It was the truth, and somehow that made it worse. He loved Yumi; there was no denying that. He liked looking at and flirting with women, too, even if it made him feel guilty. But something deep down inside him was scared whenever he was faced with the prospect of being intimate with one and he didn’t know why. He wasn’t equipped to handle that tangled mess of emotions, and there was no way he could admit something like that to anyone. Not especially the men he respected. None of them had ever run away from a woman offering more.

“There’s no point in tryin’ to lie t’me, Kiryu-chan. A straight man doesn’t look like that when a sexy girl is practically beggin’ him to take her back to a hotel,” Majima grumbled, the alcohol in his breath wafting across Kiryu’s face.

Before Kiryu could remind himself how much he hated when someone did the same to him, he was saying, “I think you’ve maybe had a little too much to drink, Majima-no-niisan.”

Majima made a disgusted face like he’d love to clock Kiryu on the jaw right then, but before he could, Kiku popped back around the corner with the drinks, chirping,

“Hiya! What’re we doin’ back here?”

Majima gave him a narrow-eyed look that promised him the discussion wasn’t over before smiling at Kiku and gratefully accepting his drink. Kiryu and Kiku had barely taken a sip of theirs by the time that Majima tossed his back and slapped the glass down on the table with a satisfied sigh.

“Welp,” he grunted suddenly after a moment’s stunned silence, his back rigid and straight in the way that very drunk people who still thought they were sober stood. “I gotta piss. See you guys later.”

“Wha—?” Kiku asked, clearly bewildered as Majima swung around and headed straight out the door. “M-Majima-han! That’s not—!”

“It’s okay,” Kiryu mumbled, setting his glass down next to Majima’s empty one. “He’ll probably be alright, but I’d better go after him anyway.” He gave an apologetic bow. “Sorry about this. It’s been nice to play with you.”

“Oh, but—”

But Kiryu was already scurrying away, nearly heading out the door in his rush before he remembered they had to pay. He’d had a personal bottle at Serena for so long that he’d almost forgotten what it was like at other places. He edged back over to the bar, deliberately avoiding looking over at where Kiku had gone back to her friends, and murmured to the bartender, “Sorry. Could I pay now?”

The bartender nodded, moving to the register to calculate their total. Kiryu stood stiffly, suddenly feeling the alcohol in his own body. That couldn’t be good. He had the feeling that he was going to need all the sobriety he could get when he followed Majima. He’d been annoyed with Kiryu all night for some reason and there was only one logical end to Majima’s annoyance.

“I’m sorry, but...Kiryu-han, was it?”

Kiryu blinked, eyes sliding over to where the voice had come from. Leaning out of the staff door, the man that had greeted Majima earlier peered up at Kiryu with a secretive smile.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

The man slipped out of the staff room quickly, coming up to the bartender and waving his hand insistently. “It’s on the house tonight, Kiryu-han! Please consider it our treat!”

“Are you sure?” Kiryu asked, confused.

“Yes, yes! Majima-han is like family to us.”

“Oh,” Kiryu said dumbly. “Well, let me at least pay for my drinks.” He paused. “And Kiku-chan’s,” he added as an afterthought. It was the least he could do, really.

“No, no, no,” the man said, waggling his head comically. He smiled wider, though it seemed tinged with sadness. “Please. Think of it as thanks for looking after Majima-han on his birthday.”

Kiryu was so stunned by the revelation that it was Majima’s birthday that he simply nodded and wandered out of the bar into the night, wallet still held loosely in his hand. He stared down at the pavement absently, mind chugging and stuttering to catch up to the plan that was already forming.

Oh. Wait. First he needed to make sure Majima was alright.

He was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people still walking the streets, but thankfully it didn’t take him long to spot Majima, tall and striking as he was. Standing in line at the takoyaki stand, he seemed perfectly content to just wait in the long queue until his turn.

Good. That meant Kiryu would have time.

Turning fast enough that his head spun, Kiryu wove through the crowds and ducked through the alley down the stairs to the riverside where he’d seen a hawker calling earlier. Sure enough, the man was still peddling his wares in a shadowy corner near the bridge. As soon as he approached, the man started selling things at him, but Kiryu was in too much of a rush and feeling much too drunk to care about what he had to say. He scanned the table for anything that looked suitable for a man to give his superior-that-was-sometimes-a-friend who also happened to be a man.

There wasn’t much. As with most shady dealers, it seemed to be mostly handbags and scarves and rings that were likely knockoffs but Kiryu didn’t know any of those things well enough to tell. One thing, however, caught his eye: a gold chain necklace that looked almost exactly identical to the one Majima already had. Kiryu had worn one exactly like it himself years before, but Nishiki had told him it looked bad with his new suit, so he’d put it away.

He didn’t know if it was a stupid present or not, getting basically the same thing that he already owned—especially when he forked over a frankly extortionate amount of yen for it and the gift wrapping—but at least it was safe enough. It could almost be called practical, he thought. A good replacement just in case the other got lost.

He thanked the man, tucking the long box away as he took the stairs back up three at a time. He had a slight moment of panic when he couldn’t see Majima standing in line anymore, but then he noticed him slumped over a tray of takoyaki on a bench next to the stand, frowning slightly as he shoved a whole ball in his mouth.

Hm. He was still happily occupied, which meant that Kiryu’s brain was going into overdrive and he was pushing through into a bakery before even he realised what he was going to do. The pickings were very slim so late, but luckily there was still one cake left in the stand. It looked a bit sad and droopy, but Kiryu didn’t think that Majima would mind. He hoped he wouldn’t, at least.

If he did mind, then Kiryu could just get him a better one once he got him back to Kamurocho.

Feeling pleased with himself for having secured a last-second gift for Majima’s birthday, Kiryu didn’t notice the shouts outside until he’d finished watching the woman wrap up the cake and give him his change. When his ears finally registered the very familiar high-pitched cackle that dotted the rough shouts, he had a strange moment of zen that carried him outside and directly into the fleeing crowds.

Sure enough, like the eye of a hurricane as he stood smiling wide in the center of a giant group of thugs shifting and preparing for a fight, was Majima.

Oh no.

No, no, no.

Kiryu had a lot of patience, especially for a man in his profession, but he was not in the mood for this. There was no way he was going to have come all the way to Sōtenbori—sat on the train next to two aggressively loud tourists while his stitches threatened to open—followed Nishiki around to every bikini bar he could find before being dumped in a soapland—dragged off to a bar by his superior so he could do something he wasn’t even bothered about—just so the man could pick a fight in the thick of Omi territory.    

No.

Moving entirely on instinct, Kiryu rushed into the mob just as they began taking swings at Majima. With one hand out of commission on account of holding the cake box, Kiryu had to get creative with his strikes. He hit to disable instead of damage, for one, considering he hadn’t had the time to check the lapels of any of the men first. He’d promised Kazama he wouldn’t get in any trouble and doing it this way gave him plausible deniability, just in case. Second, he had to always keep Majima in sight, as he didn’t want the man to land even a hit like that. If someone had to take the blame for this, it wasn’t going to be him. It wasn’t Majima’s fault that he was too drunk to know why having a fight in the middle of the thoroughfare was a bad idea.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” Majima spat at him just as Kiryu managed to jump in to floor the last thug before he could.

Instead of responding to that—Kiryu thought it was pretty obvious what he was doing—he checked that the cake was okay.

“Thank goodness,” he mumbled. It had slid slightly off its paper doily, but it had escaped any smushing.

That was, until a heavy fist collided with his face hard enough to make him fall back against a light pole, the cake box slapping against the wall with a splat .

Kiryu stared down at it in despair, his jaw and cheek on fire, before looking up to where Majima stood breathing heavily, his stance wide and ready to throw another any moment.

“Y’stole my fight from me,” Majima growled. “What’re you gonna do now that I got no way to cool off?”

Kiryu blinked slowly, stupidly sad that he hadn’t managed to keep the cake out of the line of fire after all. There was something in him deep, deep down, though, that was more than sad. Something bubbling away under the surface that was building the pressure bit by bit. Something that reminded him of being a kid and finding out that the world was never going to be fair no matter what age he was. That even if he took every hit on the chin—weathered every slap on the cheek—won every fight in the schoolyard, it wouldn’t make a difference. Life was unfair and it was the little things, the soft things, that took the brunt of it, no matter how hard he fought for them.

The only difference now was, he was old enough to keep that simmer under the surface until he could find a suitable place to release it.

Which was why he managed to turn away from a snarling Majima and stride stiffly down the road to an abandoned alley. He could barely hear Majima’s complaints through the rush of blood pounding in his ears. The smell of fish and piss was offset by the perfume of a massage parlour that had its curtains drawn but its door open. The cake was laid gently on a nearby air conditioning unit, quickly joined by his jacket.

The simmer inside him boiled over.

Kiryu was angry.

“Oh? Leading me down to a secluded area, eh, Kiryu-chan? I hope you take your other girls to better spots than this, because—”

Kiryu swung around, his fist colliding against Majima’s face with a resounding crack and thump as he collapsed to the ground. Kiryu shook his hand to release the stinging tension, watching Majima roll back to his feet as he bit back,

“I thought you were convinced I didn’t like girls.”

Fuck ,” was all Majima said at first, looking genuinely shocked as he cradled his jaw with one hand. After a second, though, he just gave a breathless, humourless laugh and said, “That’s more like it.”

Without another word, Majima flew at Kiryu like a demon, eye blazing with something unrecognisable to him. He managed to dodge him on the forward attack and the first elbow aimed at his neck, but he wasn’t fast enough to notice how he’d continued in his twisting motion until he’d already given him a hard punch to the ribs. Kiryu skidded away, nearly choking on the pain of his stitches pulling hard. He breathed in quick pants through his nose, drawing deeply from that anger inside him to square his shoulders and wait.

Majima circled him warily, eye on him with razor-sharp focus. He took light jabs at Kiryu’s weak points with such precision that Kiryu could only figure that he’d been favouring them unconsciously all night for him to know where they were. He was clearly trying to bait out an attack from Kiryu, and Kiryu was not going to fall for it even if it killed him.

“C’mon, c’mon,” Majima grumbled at him as he went in for another hit before dancing away again. “Fight me, you fuckin’ jerkass! Stop hiding and just take a swing at—”

There .

With Majima suitably annoyed and distracted, he found that he could easily bait him into thinking he’d fallen for his bait by leading with his left hand as though he was going for a punch to the face. At the last second, though, he struck out with his right fist. His arm hooked through Majima’s as he followed through, tossing him over his hip to the ground. Majima barely had time to wheeze before Kiryu grabbed him by the hair and dragged him back to his knees.

The sound that Majima made then—part whimper and part laugh—as he stared up at him through his lashes, blood staining his mouth red, made Kiryu’s breath hitch in an unfamiliar, almost panicked way. He wanted to drop him, to let go of the fistfuls of his silky hair and step back and take a deep breath until the fire in him was banked.

But he couldn’t.

Kiryu could only stare down at Majima, his hands shaking with the power they held.

The only thing that finally convinced him to let go was when Majima said in a hoarse voice, “That’s what I thought.”

And even then, his hands still shook.

Majima grinned meanly up at him through the fall of his hair after spitting a glob of blood onto the ground. “What’s the matter, Kiryu-chan? Don’t like that you can’t keep your hands off your superior?”

“You’re not my superior,” Kiryu said, his voice clipped but far from calm. “You’re just a man who ran away from his responsibilities and needs to be dragged back home.”

“Can’t help but notice you didn’t deny it,” Majima cackled, getting back to his feet in one smooth motion, as though Kiryu hadn’t even made a dent. They circled each other once more, matching step for step. “Can’t blame ya, though. Must be hard for you, havin’ a kyoudai like Nishikiyama.”

Kiryu scowled deeply, not wanting to ask but not being able to stop himself.

“What do you mean?”

Majima tutted gently. “It’s just a shame, is all. Someone as strong as you can’t possibly be matched well with someone like him.” He shook his head. “Pretty as a flower and just as weak.”

Kiryu hated how easily he was being played, but he couldn’t seem to ignore it like he usually would. “Nishiki is stronger than you’ll ever know!” he snapped, going at Majima hard after that. He snatched at his shirt and swung him around to slam into a building, holding him by the throat as he pummeled his face. Majima broke away by yanking him forward by the arm and kneeing him in the gut. They both fell away, gasping for air even as they crouched back into defensive stances.

“Not so sure about that, are ya?” Majima laughed, his teeth stained with blood. “I definitely can’t imagine him takin’ one o’ those punches too well, nevermind surviving a whole session with you.”

“Strength or not, at least he’s a good man, which is more than I can say for you.” Kiryu grunted, spinning around to land a hard kick to Majima’s chest, who took the brunt of it but still managed to grab his leg and twist Kiryu down to the ground. Kiryu’s cheekbone split wide open on the edge of a crate full of old dirty magazines, and he watched through a haze of pain as he dribbled blood onto the breasts of a coyly smiling woman.

“See, that just sounds like you’re makin’ excuses for him now, which is the worst kinda death for anyone,” Majima said conversationally, getting him by the hair and tossing him onto his back roughly before flipping forward and kneeing him in the lower gut. Kiryu coughed on the vomit that shot up his throat, rolling into a ball involuntarily. Majima pressed the steel of his shoe against Kiryu’s shoulder, pushing him onto his back again before crouching over him, legs on either side of his chest and his hands hanging between his knees. He smiled in a way that reminded Kiryu of a cat playing with a mouse. “And with Nishikiyama not here to defend himself,” he murmured, clicking his tongue.

“Shut up,” Kiryu groaned, heart hammering against his ribs as Majima shifted forward onto his knees and braced one hand next to Kiryu’s face. Kiryu could smell their breaths mingling in the space between them, alcoholic and greasy and metallic.

“Isn’t that weird?” Majima whispered, moving his hand over to the side of Kiryu’s head and sliding his fingers roughly through his hair. Kiryu’s stomach flopped when Majima grabbed a handful of it and pushed his face into the concrete, his skin prickling with goosebumps that made him feel ill. “That you’ll do this with me and not your own kyoudai.”

Shut up ,” was all Kiryu could manage after Majima levelled several hard punches to his face. He scrabbled at Majima’s hips, digging his heels against the ground and trying to throw him off, but Majima’s knees were crushed so tightly around his ribs that he only managed to roll them. Majima used their momentum to simply roll them again until they ended up in practically the same position, only tucked further into the alley.

“I outrank you, Kiryu-chan,” Majima crooned, slamming Kiryu’s head into the ground hard enough to make stars burst behind his eyes. “You’re s’posed’ta kneel at my feet and take what I give you and thank me for it.”

Majima paused, his eye burning into Kiryu’s as he glared up at him defiantly. Majima wasn’t the first to suggest that Kiryu should do more for his superiors, and he definitely wouldn’t be the last. With everyone else, he had ignored them as easily as breathing, but coming from Majima, he had to admit that it hurt enough to make him want to say something. He’d never breathed a suggestion of that before, and almost made him sad to hear it now.

“But you don’t,” Majima murmured. Kiryu was surprised to catch a distant affection in it, but then Majima blinked and took a breath and wound back to smash his fist against his jaw again, and he convinced himself that he’d just imagined it. “Ya fight me. And ya fight me. And ya fight me. In every way ya can, even though you know what’s going to happen,” Majima said, dotting each sentence with a punch. Kiryu was starting to feel faint enough that it took actual willpower to stay conscious.

But with every punch, there was a fire in him that burned hotter and hotter, spreading through his limbs in a way that made him feel drunker than ever.

“It’s almost like you’re lookin’ for somethin’ that no one else can give ya, Kiryu-chan,” Majima growled, taking Kiryu’s head in both hands and bending his face close enough that he was the only thing Kiryu could see. “Not any girl in a bar. Not Kazama. Not even your kyoudai.”

They locked gazes, the unspoken ending to that sentiment crackling between them as they shared breath. For a single, surreal moment when Majima’s eye closed, Kiryu had the thought that he could wrest some control back if he just lifted his head and fit their mouths together.

Instead, as though the ludicrousness of that thought had swung him from one extreme to the other, he dug deep into that well of fire and anger in him and gave Majima a swift headbutt.

When he grunted in pain and, strangely, confusion, Kiryu followed it up with a heaving throw that gave him enough leverage to allow him to finally wrestle Majima for control.

“Majima-san,” Kiryu began in a hoarse voice as he dove onto the other man and got his arm twisted behind his back, struggling to keep him from escaping. “What—is— wrong with you?”

“Wh—what’s wrong with me ?” Majima squealed after a second of hesitation, bucking back like a wildcat. “ You’re the one who—”

“I came down here to take you back to the family and instead of just getting to finish my job and go back home peacefully, you make me go to a bar because you think I care about something that I hardly ever think about!” Kiryu said, speaking very quickly in his anger. “And when I go along with it because I respect you more than—than—you get angry when I try to relax and have a good time despite not being interested, like you said I should .” Kiryu gave him a shake before tossing him away, both of them stumbling at the force of it. Majima whirled around, teeth bared, but Kiryu didn’t give him the chance to speak.

He’d said enough already.

“And even though I didn’t want to do something as embarrassing as what I did, I did it because you wanted me to. And you got angry at me because you think I’m so bad at it that the only explanation is that I must like men.”

“You looked—”

“You left me to apologise to Kiku-chan for your rudeness. You left me to pay the bill. You wandered out into Sōtenbori, drunker than I’ve ever seen you, and started a fight for no good reason, both with those men and then with me.” Majima opened his mouth again, clearly trying to argue, but he just shook his head. “There’s no good reason, Majima-no-niisan. You’re an integral part of the clan. Your life is too important to waste it on a single, useless fight. You’re better than that.”

Majima’s eye narrowed, but his posture had relaxed as Kiryu spoke, and by the time he finished, he was looking almost embarrassed.

And then, when silence fell in the alley for a very long time, Kiryu felt it creep over him, too.

He shifted from foot to foot before looking away, his eyes catching on the rumpled pile of his jacket and the box peeking out from beneath it. He glanced over at Majima, who was glaring down at his feet, before hobbling over to the air conditioning unit. He could already feel how much this was going to hurt in the morning, but while he still had the rush of adrenaline in him that deadened the pain, he was going to have a cigarette.

It had been a hell of a night. He felt he deserved it.

He rooted around in his jacket for his cigarettes and lighter, sighing when the gift-wrapped present tumbled out with them and clattered to the ground. He thought about bending down to get it out of the pool of water that had leaked out of the unit, but what was the point. His stitches were probably ruined by now and his spine felt bruised in several places. Not to mention the way his vision pulsed ominously when he moved his head too fast. It just wasn’t worth it for someone who didn’t even care to tell him about his birthday in the first place.

“Wh’s’that?” Majima grumbled in a small, petulant voice. Kiryu glanced over his shoulder to see him giving the present a side-eyed, manufactured look of disinterest that did little to hide how interested he actually was.

Kiryu couldn’t help but sigh again, giving himself the permission to at least take out and light himself and Majima a cigarette before bending down to scoop the necklace up. Just as he thought, his body protested wildly. But he felt it was worth it when he limped over to Majima and offered both the cigarette and the box and mumbled, “Happy birthday, Majima-no-niisan,” and got to see the look of unchecked surprise on Majima’s bloodied face.

It was almost comical enough to laugh. Almost.

“How did you know?” Majima asked, looking strangely wary of accepting his offerings.

Kiryu couldn’t help but smile. “I have my ways.” He gave the box a little wiggle and Majima finally, with a shrewd glance at Kiryu, took both the gifts. The cigarette went directly between his lips, the long inhale he took impressing even Kiryu. He sighed it all out appreciatively after holding it in for a moment, their smoke curling together in the air above them.

“Inami-han toldja, didn’t he?” Majima mumbled as he tore his finger down the wet edge of the gift-wrapping, balling it up and tossing it onto Kiryu’s jacket.

“Don’t know who that is to say yes or no. Does it matter so much?”

“Nah,” Majima said, his lip curling in what could be irritation or affection. It was difficult to tell with him, sometimes. “Just figures, is all. Man’s never been able to keep shit to himself.”

Kiryu huffed out a gentle laugh, moving over to lean against an old, rusted bike rack as he bent over his cigarette. He watched surreptitiously as Majima thumbed open the box with one hand and stared down at the necklace.

He was quiet for so long that Kiryu felt it was necessary to explain, “I know you already have one just like it, but I figured you could keep it as a spare or something, just—”

Kiryu stopped, his stomach fluttering as Majima just propped his cigarette between his lips, took the necklace out of the box, and silently hooked it around his neck.

“It—it looks nice on you,” was all Kiryu could think to say when Majima came to join him against the bike rack.

“I know it does, fool,” Majima said, grinning sharply at him as he tossed the box onto Kiryu’s jacket as well. “It’s almost the same as what I had before. Of course it’s gonna look good on me.”  

“Sorry,” Kiryu said half-heartedly, knowing that he didn’t need to apologise when he’d just been trying to give something on such short notice, but feeling the sentiment all the same. “I got you cake, too, but it got all smashed up.”

“Fuck, is that what you were carryin’?” Majima cried, his voice whiny. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was pretty busy getting punched at the time,” Kiryu said, giving Majima a dry look.

“Fuck off. How was I s’posed ta know y’had cake?”

“The cake box might’ve been a clue.”

“Whatever! Give it here; maybe it’s still alright,” Majima demanded, crooking his hand impatiently. Kiryu smiled gently to himself, reaching over to grab the dented box and hand it over. Majima tore into with the greed of a child, his face going on a journey from excitement to despair to inspired determination as he surveyed the mess of a cake. Before Kiryu could even consider what that might mean, he watched Majima tear off a corner of the lid and use it to scoop up a pile of the wreckage directly into his mouth.

The moan he gave was practically obscene, but it only made Kiryu smile wider.

“Good?” he asked needlessly.

“Kiryu-chan, you fuckin’ tease,” Majima said with his mouth full. “Y’had this shit the whole time and you just let me get all riled up about those chodes out there?”

Let you —”

“You want some?” Majima interrupted him, getting a bit of cake on his makeshift spoon and holding it out to Kiryu.

He shook his head. “No. It’s for your birthday. It’s yours.”

“Don’t be such a stick in the mud. I’m offerin’ it, ain’t I?”

Kiryu thought that over for a moment before saying, “I suppose you are,” and taking the offered bite. Sweetness coated his mouth, the icing rich enough to make his eyes water. “It is good.”

“It’s a good fuckin’ cake, smashed to hell or not,” Majima reiterated without missing a beat, taking another spoonful for himself. “And you weren’t gonna give it to me.”

Kiryu chuckled to himself, leaning back and letting the smoke trail drift upwards into the sky.  There was no other sounds besides Kiryu’s breath and the little groans of appreciation that Majima gave after certain bites for a long while, and for some reason, either despite or because of everything else that had happened that night, Kiryu had never felt more content.

“You’re welcome, Majima-no-niisan.”

 

Chapter Text

 

When Shimano called him to his office that day, he didn’t know why. He didn’t know what he’d done wrong, or how he’d strayed. But he went because when the boss said jump, he asked how high. He’d had no way to prepare, though—to adjust for it—and so when it was over, everything was very far away. 

The clink of his belt buckle. 

The strike of Shimano’s lighter.

The people muttering quietly outside the door.

His body made the movements of getting dressed while he drifted somewhere else for a while. One arm in one hole of the jacket. The other in the other. He could feel the handprints on his body, but only from the outside. When he bent to slide his feet into his shoes, the second necklace was cold against the bruises. Soothing.

He knew he’d come back soon. He always did. He’d tried for a long time to not go away in the first place, but his head had other ideas.

Speaking of. He ran his fingers through his hair to sort all the knots, memories strobing black and white like disco lights in his eyes. He ran them through again, softer this time to make it lay flat, unwillingly remembering when another pair of hands had done the same. His breath caught and he had to untangle it, too.

“Kazuma Kiryu is gettin’ his own family soon.”

Majima froze, Shimano’s words like icicles down his spine. They shocked him back into his body bit by bit until he shivered hard and woke up. He blinked, staring down at his stained hands.

“As of now, yer off yer leash.”

So that was why.

Part of Majima wanted to turn and look Shimano in the eye as he spoke those words, but he still couldn’t manage that just yet. 

“Wha’d’ya mean, Boss?”

“I mean that if anyone is gonna get that kid workin’ with us, it’s gonna be you. Yer both so hard for each other that he wouldn’t care what we did with his boys ‘s’long as you were there to distract him.”

A cold hand slowly clenched around Majima’s heart, squeezing harder with every word. It was surprising that he was surprised by this, he thought absently. To be fair, while he hadn’t exactly been subtle about Kiryu before he’d left, he had tried his best to avoid him after they’d come back. It was bad enough that Kiryu had been the one to bring him back after he’d avoided all the others. He hadn’t wanted to bring any more attention to him than necessary.

Once again, he’d underestimated Shimano’s nose for weakness.

“Don’t give a shit how you get it done. Fight him. Make him yer kyoudai. Suck his cock. Whatever you need to do. Hell, why not all of them, just to be sure? Nothin’ builds a partnership more than the bed. Consider it my reward to you.”

Majima just nodded, trying to remember how to loosen his muscles. He was still scrambled and cold and the only thing he could see was Kiryu’s face looking up at him with respect, all those years ago.

“Y’got it, Boss.”

“That’s it?”

Majima wiped his hands off, sliding his gloves on slowly. There. Back to his old self again.

“Thanks, Boss.”

“‘S’more like it. Now get the hell outta here. You look like shit.”

Majima left.

He left and didn’t think about where he was going any more than simply putting his feet on the pavement one in front of the other. 

The season was changing. When he walked past that clothes store with the cute dress, it was hot enough that he began sweating. Then he turned that corner, the smell of hot food wafting down the street, and he was tensing with the chill in the air, trying not to shiver. 

Didn’t matter. Wasn’t like he was gonna change with it.

But every turn of the season made him anxious. If it could go from hot to cold or cold to hot in the span of a single day, he’d be happy. It was the back and forth that made him as fidgety as a kid with a bag of candy. 

It didn’t help that he was still trying to process the news.

Kiryu was getting his own family.

On the one hand, it was about damned time. He’d been hustling for Dojima for years, never complaining about the shit he put him through. If it had been anyone else working that hard, they would have had their own family years ago. But for all that Dojima was only good for sitting in his office and getting slobbering drunk now, he could still put the vice on anyone who suggested that Kiryu deserved to climb the ranks. 

But he couldn’t stop it forever, it seemed. 

Made sense. Everyone in the clan looked up to Kiryu even though he’d helped throw it into turmoil years before. Most of its members had long since accepted that it had been for the best. There hadn’t been any clear, good contender for Third Chairman back then. Kazama and Kiryu had helped to fix that, and the Tojo Clan had managed to get through the Bubble bursting with a minimum of problems. 

Majima had known in the back of his head for a long time that he’d come to this point eventually. The Kazama family was already a pain in Shimano’s ass. Imagine how difficult he’d find it to reach his goals if Kiryu got his own family and took them on.

Majima found himself imagining, despite himself, and couldn’t help but smile.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want Shimano to succeed. He was completely loyal to his boss and would be until the moment he proved too weak to wield a weapon like him. But it was an interesting thing to think about. Kiryu was one of the strongest people he’d ever fought, and he’d had years to get even stronger. The rumours about his strength he’d heard recently were getting frankly ridiculous, though. Some were saying that he was the strongest yakuza who had ever lived. Almost everyone talked about him as though he were a living legend.

And though Majima knew that they were probably right, he couldn’t help but notice that nobody said those things when he was within visible earshot.

It had made him itchy again. Every time he spotted Kiryu strolling through Kamurocho’s streets, hands in his pockets and shoulders squared and confidence rolling off him in waves, it made him want to—to— 

It made him itchier, not knowing what exactly he wanted from Kiryu. 

He wanted to fight him again. That much was obvious. He wanted to either see for himself that Kiryu was the strongest or to remind him that Majima had always been his superior.

But ever since Kiryu had convinced him to leave Sōtenbori, there had been something else there, frustratingly out of reach. 

It had been easy enough, at first, to call it horniness. But he’d taken a king’s share of women and men back to his bed in the years since and none of them had doused that tiny spark.

He had stopped trying after the last few times. When all he could see as he fucked his partner into a whimpering mess was Kiryu’s face as he got aroused by that girl in the bar and met Majima’s gaze. The strain of his muscles as they clashed in the alley. The barely restrained fire in him as he’d forced Majima to his knees. The way his breath had gone ragged as Majima held him pinned. His eyes glancing down at Majima’s mouth. 

Majima had cum more times than he’d care to admit, thinking on what might have happened if Kiryu had kissed him. 

It just seemed pointless, somehow, to try to focus on fucking someone else when all he could think about was having Kiryu in his bed, instead.

Because he knew he couldn’t have him. Even if Kiryu had kissed him, and they’d fucked right there in that alley, and Majima had taken him back to his apartment so they could go at each other all night—that’s all it would have been. As soon as they’d come back to Kamurocho, they would have had to go their separate ways anyway. He had slipped his leash for a brief, heartbreaking, beautiful time, but his master always called him back.

So he’d decided instead to focus on his job. He’d always been good at ignoring the problems in his life by working himself to death. It was what he’d done after Saejima, it was what he’d done after Makoto, and it was what he was doing after Mirei. He was good at his job. It came easy to him. Easy enough that he could slip his masks on and disappear into them for a while if he needed to.

It had been better, this way. Better that he and Kiryu were both working hard for the clan instead of getting distracted by whatever force was between them that kept pulling them together.

Majima had spent years catching Kiryu’s scent in the air and forcing himself to turn away and go the other direction.

But now he’d been given new orders. 

Fight him. Fuck him. Tie himself to him in any way he could.

Do it however he wanted.

But do it.

Majima realised that he’d drifted to a stop in the middle of the street when he began to feel movement past him instead of around him. He looked out into the city at the lives walking past. None of these people knew jack shit about what happened below the surface. The years of planning. The backstabbing. Stepping over partners’ bodies to reach the next rung of the ladder.

Sometimes he wished he didn’t know, either.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be a yakuza. That was the only life for him, really. It was in his goddamn DNA. But he’d love it if—just for a little while—he could be back at the bottom again, just busting heads for his boss for no other reason than he was good at it and he loved to do it.

He wasn’t great at the psychological shit. Figuring out his enemy’s weakness, sure. Reading people, definitely. But espionage? Nah. He’d rather go directly at someone than from any other angle. 

He thought that might be why this felt wrong, but he wasn’t sure. 

He’d done a lot of things for Shimano that had made him feel wrong. Why should this be any different?

“Boss! Hey! You feelin’ alright?”

Majima blinked, realising that he’d been staring directly at a group of his boys as they approached him. 

“Hnh?” he grunted, glaring at the man who had spoken. “Whatcha mean? ‘Course I’m alright.”

“O-Okay,” the guy stammered, shifting from foot to foot in front of him. “It’s just...” 

“What?” he growled. “Spit it out already.”  

The other two guys were trying to signal the talking one to shut up, which Majima thought was pretty wise of them.

“I-It’s just. You’re standing in the rain without an umbrella.”

Majima finally realised how soaking wet he was. He must have been walking in the rain the whole time. That would explain why he felt colder than usual.

“So?” he asked dully.

The guy had nothing to say to that. The three of them looked uncomfortable with both each other and him.

Majima sighed, feeling twenty years older than he was. “Fine. Gimme the fuckin’ umbrella then.”

The man that had spoken looked more than happy to hand over his umbrella, giving several bows and thanking him profusely. Majima looked down at it for a second before gently releasing the clasp, closing it down, and tying it.

“If I say I’m alright,” he said quietly, his words laced with venom as he looked back at his men, “I’m alright.”

“Y...Yes, Sir.”

As he slung the closed umbrella over his shoulder, the rain stopped. He hummed, looking up to the cloudy sky before setting off down the street again without a word. He felt his boys follow, flanking him loosely so that the crowds were forced to part for him. He stared absently into the store windows, barely listening as his boys gossiped at each other like hens in a coop.

“Y’hear about Tomomi-chan and Hirota?”

“Naw, what’s goin’ on?”

“The fuckin’ idiot nutted in her and now he’s gonna have a kid.”

“Whaaat? Th’fuck was he thinkin’?”

“Dunno. I was there when he got the news.” Big guffaws. “I think he actually shit himself. Kept askin’ her ‘How? How? How?’”

“How?! What’s’e think babies come from?”

“Dunno. He’s a fucking idiot. Heard him mutterin’ about how it couldn’t be his because she’d always taken a bath afterwards.”

The three of them went silent before hooting and hollering. The civilians around them looked nervous. 

“Goddamn! How dirt stupid could ya be?!”

“This is the same guy who thought he could take on the Dragon of Dojima in an arm-wrestle because he ‘jacks off all the time.’”

Majima stopped dead.

Oh, right.

He had orders.

He’d almost forgotten.

“Boss? Y’alright?”

“No,” he said simply, turning to one of the guys. “You. Go find Kiryu-chan. And tell everyone else to keep their eye out for him.”

“Oh. Uh. Did he...did he do something wrong?”

Majima shook his head. “Chill. You’re not gonna have t’fight him or anything. Just call me if you see him.”

The relief on the guy’s face was palpable. “You got it, Boss!”

Majima watched as the guy rushed off down the street before continuing to walk as well, not bothering to look as one of the others asked, “You want us to go too, Boss?”

“Nah. It’s not urgent,” he said, trying not to think about how little he wanted to find Kiryu. 

Because if he found him, then he’d have to do...something. 

He didn’t know what he was going to do. How was he supposed to know? He hadn’t spoken to him for months, and even then, it had just been a cursory thanks and job-well-done for helping one of their subfamilies out with a tough customer who didn’t want to pay up. He hadn’t even really looked at him. Looking at Kiryu had always been the mistake that had gotten Majima’s blood hot, so he’d done it as little as he could. 

How could he know how to approach this? 

He…didn’t want to, did he?

That was the problem.

As though he could see the cage around him, he saw himself standing at the door, the lock unlatched. Kiryu stood on the other side, watching him. 

He had two options.

One option.

No options, really.

Kiryu’s nature was to gather friends and family around him like a warm blanket. Majima knew that they could both feel the something between them, and it was obvious that, if they let themselves be vulnerable to it for even a second, they’d end up as friends. But he’d been prickly enough and mean enough that it had kept Kiryu away so far. 

But now, he saw himself slipping the lock off and pushing the door open. Crooking his hand at Kiryu with the promise of finally letting him closer. And when he came in willingly, happily— 

Shimano snapping the door shut and locking it once more.

Majima was almost angry with himself when goosebumps crawled along his body.

What did it matter if Shimano wanted Kiryu for himself? Shouldn’t Majima be glad that he wanted Kiryu on their side instead of telling him to take him out before he got to be trouble for them? 

He was. 

He knew the other option wasn’t good. But it still chafed and he didn’t get why. 

Was he jealous? 

Of Kiryu having Shimano’s attention or of Shimano having Kiryu’s attention?

Either way, that probably wasn’t it. While he could be possessive, he had never particularly felt jealous over sharing if he liked the person he was sharing with. Sure, he wasn’t about to let just any jackass think they could take Kiryu on, but it was an exciting prospect, watching Shimano bring Kiryu to heel like he had Majima.

...Could he?

Would Kiryu ever bend?

Or would he simply break under the pressure, unused to that kind of guidance?

He’d heard that Kashiwagi and Kazama weren’t exactly easy bosses, but at the same time, Majima knew for a fact that they wouldn’t be able to go toe to toe with Kiryu. Kazama was only a shadow of his former strength now and Kashiwagi hadn’t been able to stop Majima back in ‘88. 

He figured they probably knew that as well, and that was why they’d been training him up for his own family. But if Shimano were to get involved, then Kiryu would have to learn how to take more than just gentle encouragement.

A thought occurred to Majima, then, and he had to keep walking while his throat constricted tight enough to make him wheeze for air. 

What if Shimano told Kiryu to— 

Kiryu hadn’t even been able to go to a soapland. 

Maybe he’d changed since then.

Or maybe he hadn’t.

Kiryu had looked so disappointed when Majima had pointed out that some people would have made him do more for them than just fight. 

In the days after, when Majima thought about it closer, he realised something.

When Kiryu had told him that he was a virgin, he hadn’t meant with a girl, but at all.

Maybe he wasn’t one anymore.

Maybe.

But what if he was?

Could he take what Shimano gave?

Even if Majima wanted to believe that he could, he knew deep down that Kiryu wasn’t that kind of person. It meant something to him. If he was still a virgin, then it could only mean one thing: he was waiting for someone specific.

And everyone knew that he was in love with that girl from Serena.

Yumi.

Her name was Yumi.

Majima had seen her once. She and Reina had been closing up the bar, chatting happily together as they left the alley. Majima had followed them out of curiosity, watching from a distance. Reina was still just as elegant as when Majima had first seen her while fighting Nishikiyama in her bar. And Yumi—Majima could see why Kiryu loved her. She was delicate and beautiful, like a flower blooming at night. She’d seemed thoughtful, at that moment, and Majima had wondered what she was thinking so closely on.

Only he didn’t need to wonder at all, did he?

She was thinking about Kiryu.

He was always thinking about Kiryu, and he wasn’t in love with the guy.

He’d felt something strange, then, and had left them to continue on.

It couldn’t have been guilt.

Majima had nothing to feel guilty about.

But it was the closest reasonable family member to what had kept him in his office, working all night until he passed out in the corner. It hit him like a baseball bat to the head the next day: he felt bad for what he’d said back in Sōtenbori.

He hadn’t been in a good place, back then. Hell, he still wasn’t in a great place. He still couldn’t look at happy families without his gut clenching. But these days, he could manage a smile even through it.

But bad place or not, it didn’t seem to matter to his conscience. He’d said some things back then that he’d meant at the time and still felt, but it had gotten all tangled up when he’d seen the woman that Kiryu loved.

He couldn’t take it back, obviously. Even if he had been on speaking terms with Kiryu, he wasn’t really a take-it-back kind of guy. He said what he meant when he meant it and when things changed he said something different.

Only he couldn’t figure out what the something different was, this time, and it didn’t matter anyway because he also couldn’t figure out how to even look at the guy normal.

But now, he had to figure it out. He had to figure it out, and fast.

Because no matter how slow his boys found him, it wouldn’t be slow enough. Majima had orders and for the first time since he’d been brought back into the fold, they were choking him. 

How could he ask Kiryu to be his blood brother, knowing that someone already had a claim on their lives?

How could he seduce Kiryu, knowing that he loved Yumi enough to wait so long?

How could he fight Kiryu, knowing that it would build that connection between them until there was nothing left for him but the locked cage?

How could he do any of this, knowing that Kiryu would never give in and Shimano would never give up?

That was simple enough.

He’d do it because that’s what he’d been told to do.

Orders were orders.

But he could try to figure out which would have the least amount of collateral damage. 

In the end, it took three days for his boys to give him a call that they’d heard that Kiryu would be at a place called Peace Finance that night, helping out a lesser family to collect. Three days where Majima didn’t think too closely on why he’d run all of them ragged on useless tasks until they were too tired to stay out on the streets of Kamurocho. Three days where all he could manage to do was pace in his office and put movies on that he didn’t watch and blow off steam with the punching bag in the corner until his knuckles were bloody.

Fighting.

That was all he could do.

It was what they knew, after all.

He would find Kiryu and he’d bait him into a fight and he’d figure out what to do next from there. He always thought better after a good fight, anyway.

Three days he’d thought this through, day and night, and he still wasn’t ready as he threw on his coat and gloves and headed out. He didn’t even realise that a couple of his boys had followed him until he was nearly at the place. He considered telling them to buzz off, but he figured it wouldn’t really matter if they were around. Most of them were pretty good at telling when they weren’t welcome anymore by now. It was the new ones that seemed to sign up every other day that were giving him headaches. He was constantly having to teach them the three basic lessons of being a Majima boy: 1. Talk to Nishida first, 2. Don’t bring the rest of the family into personal squabbles, and 3. Don’t fuck with Kazuma Kiryu. 

Out of all of them, he would’ve thought that not fighting Kiryu was the one that would be natural instinct for anyone with a working brain. He only included it so everyone would know that being one of his boys meant respecting Kiryu, too. But here he was, standing near the Kazama family office and staring at one of his more recent recruits as the dumbass got up in Kiryu’s face, clearly trying to start a fight.

“What family you from?” the fucking idiot asked with the Dojima pin staring him in the face. 

Kiryu looked like he was thinking the same thing even as he tried to apologise and move past the man. Because of course he was apologising. Kiryu was the most goddamn level-headed yakuza that Majima had ever known. 

Except around him, of course, but that was exactly what he was banking on.

At least, that was how it had been before. 

Majima watched Kiryu finally give in to the fight and proceed to demolish his boy in several quick strikes that left him almost breathless.

Oh , yeah, Kiryu had gotten stronger.

Majima drank up the sight of Kiryu standing proud over the man who, unbelievably enough, had to ask who he was, and couldn’t wait any more. He had planned to play it cool. He had planned to gently bait Kiryu into challenging him. He had planned, he had planned, but Kiryu’s unexpected show of strength had gotten his blood singing and even as he announced himself, he could tell that his plans weren’t shit.

“It’s been a while, Majima-no-niisan,” Kiryu said, looking wary but not displeased to see him. 

That was a good start. He clearly wasn’t expecting an attack.

Maybe he could still follow the plan even though he was already buzzing to leap on Kiryu and sink his dagger into him just to hear how he’d beg him to stop.

He had a few options as an opening gambit, but he decided to go with Yumi, straight out of the gate. Girlfriends had always been an easy target of his when he was looking to rile someone up, and nothing had ever been more effective than suggesting that a big group of yakuza wanted to have a go at them too. 

But Kiryu just stared at him as though he knew exactly what he was trying to do, and said nothing.

Well, that was weird.

“Anyway,” he said after a few seconds of silence, a bit off-kilter by the lack of response. He took another second to think of what might get a better reaction out of Kiryu, but in the end he just continued with his usual mnemonic: GEAR. Girlfriends, Empathy, Aggression, Respect. He’d tried Girlfriend. Now to something that was sure to get Kiryu. 

Majima glanced over at his boy, jerking his chin at him. “Wha’d’we do with this fool?”

He watched in excitement as Kiryu followed his line of sight, kindness in his eyes as the guy apologised profusely.

Ah, just as he thought. 

With the sorry state of his boy after taking a beating from Kiryu himself, Majima figured it should only take a few solid whacks to get him to jump in and stop the abuse, and to his intense delight, that was exactly what happened. 

But that was all he did.

Kiryu didn’t berate him, he didn’t throw a punch—nothing!

He just stopped him. 

Majima stared at him in confusion, his arm burning where Kiryu had a tight grip on it. He wanted badly to snap his own hand down to Kiryu’s forearm, twist him around, and pin him to the ground just to see how long it would take him to get him off this time, but he just looked, instead. 

Maybe it was the look that did it, in the end.

“That’s enough,” Kiryu said sternly, his gaze piercing into him. Majima felt exposed and childish. How could Kiryu possibly know what he was up to? He’d never been able to before.

“I was only doin’ it for you,” he said, hating how his voice went whiny and soft.

“And I say it’s enough,” Kiryu reiterated, his voice dipping lower as he tightened his grip on him in a subtle warning before allowing him to drop his arm slowly.

He’d held him in check so effortlessly, so instinctively.

Majima’s heart was pounding.

Kiryu’s bruise settled over the one that he’d gotten days before, and somehow that felt…

It didn’t fucking matter what he felt about that! He had orders. He had orders! He had to fight Kiryu, but Kiryu wasn’t taking the bait and he was getting fidgety the longer he kept him pinned under those eyes. 

“Fine,” he muttered, trying to keep his cool and remember that he had a plan, he had a plan, he had a plan. “But when y’get your own men, you’re gonna hafta lay down the law.”

There. That ought to be enough. Surely, he wouldn’t be able to resist telling him off. He’d never been able to resist a good jab at him. 

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Majima looked away, trying not to grimace. Then again, he’d never been able to resist a fight before, and now it definitely seemed like he was dismissing him entirely, unwilling to fight, unwilling to give Majima what he needed from him.

“But.”

Majima froze, that single word like lightning in his veins. He looked slowly, slowly back at Kiryu, his lips twitching with barely restrained emotion. Kiryu’s scowl softened for a moment before deepening even more.

Having to resist the urge to encourage him to be insubordinate was one of the hardest things Majima had ever done. He could see it in the set of Kiryu’s mouth and the tilt of his head that he wanted to, but something was stopping him.

Well, that wouldn’t do at all. Not when he was so close .

“But what?” he prompted when he couldn’t stand waiting anymore. 

“I’ll do things my way.”

Oh, Majima could kiss him. 

“Hmm?” he asked, dropping his voice low. “What way is that?”

“It’ll be the right way,” Kiryu said, giving him the best excuse in the world to start a fight with one simple sentence.

It was like Christmas had come early for him. He wouldn’t have to think about this anymore. He wouldn’t have to think. He could just follow his orders. He would fight Kiryu and show him that he was strong enough to satisfy that need in him for as long as he wanted and they would get close enough that he would naturally see why Shimano was the right man to be calling Boss.

But then, when he tried to make that connection with a growled, “Eh? You tryin’ t’start a fight or somethin’? C’mon, let’s do this!” Kiryu just said,

“No.”

Majima’s gut clenched at the terse refusal. 

“I’ve got no reason to fight you.”

Why did that hurt? Why did that hurt ? Majima seethed, the pain like a thorn jabbing into his ribs.

“There’s no point.”

No. No, he couldn’t lose control of the situation. He couldn’t get so close and then lose it because Kiryu apparently didn’t think he deserved his time or respect anymore.

 He hadn’t even meant to slap him. He’d just acted on instinct, body following through before he could think on how it might hurt him more than it would Kiryu.

He probably should have thought about that.

But even the pain he felt at Kiryu's momentary shock was useful, he supposed. He could take it. He could take the memory of another strike just like that deadening his arm like a poison crawling up his veins until he heard his mouth talking without him saying anything.

If it got Kiryu to fight, then it was worth it.

He had to do this.

He could handle the disappointment in Kiryu’s eyes despite how he’d smiled at him years before.

He could .

...No. He couldn’t. 

He couldn’t handle that or the tiny, disgusted sigh, or the words, “If I’ve made you angry, Majima-san, then I apologise,” or the way he took Majima’s hits after that without saying a word, his fists clenched and his eyes finding his after each one, the naked hurt in them urging Majima on and on until he felt like his skin was too tight, too tight, and he was on the verge of becoming someone else as he held his knifepoint to Kiryu’s face and only got a tiny upturn of his brows as though he knew .

Why did he get to look at him like that?

Why did Kiryu get to make him feel like something on the bottom of his shoe?

He didn’t. He didn’t get to make him feel shit. He didn’t get to ignore him for two fucking years after making him feel something he hadn’t felt since he was a dumbass kid and then expect him to feel bad when he was just trying to help him. Majima had just tried to help him. He wanted to help. He’d been willing to take everything that life had to give him if it meant that Kiryu or Shimano or Makoto or Mirei would be free to climb higher, to grow, to reach their goals. 

Oh.

Oh .

Maybe that was where he’d gone wrong. Maybe that was why all of this felt wrong.

Hadn’t he said, years and years ago, to the man who had crushed him into a tiny cage and dangled freedom always just out of reach: 

“Goro Majima is gonna live his own way.”

He’d told Sagawa back then, speaking it like a promise to not only himself, but the whole goddamn universe. He’d taken everything. He’d sworn that it was his turn to live. But look at him now, getting all twisted up just because some kid didn’t give a shit about him anymore. 

Well, fuck that.

If Kiryu thought he was better than Majima just because he had some high-and-mighty ideal about fighting when there was no fucking point to anything anyway, well then— 

He could fucking have that ideal until the moment that Majima sliced all that shit away and showed Kiryu who he really was inside: a goddamn dragon, roaring to prove that he was the strongest.

And he’d love every minute of it.

There was only one fucking problem with that plan: Kiryu went and got himself arrested the next day.

For ten years minimum.

Majima could hardly believe the news when he heard it. 

He didn’t, in fact.

Because who the hell would believe that Kazuma Kiryu would kill his boss right before he was set to get his own family. Other than Majima, of course. That was the part he could believe easily enough, actually. Your girl gets assaulted, you don’t exactly think straight.

It was the ‘shot with gun’ instead of ‘beaten to mush’ part that baffled him.

At least it did until he went to see how Reina was holding up without Kiryu around to protect the place and found Nishikiyama drowning himself in whiskey.

Then the gun part made more sense.

For a little while he was tempted to ask Nishikiyama about it. See why he’d let Kiryu go instead of turning himself in. Majima didn’t have the highest opinion of him, but he’d thought that at the very least, he loved Kiryu enough that he wouldn’t have let him take the fall. Kiryu had always insisted that Nishikiyama was a bigger man than Majima gave him credit for. But every time Nishikiyama spotted him headed his way, he turned tail and got the hell out of there. 

Which was weird.

It got weirder, though, when about a year into Kiryu’s sentence, Nishikiyama seemed to get particularly twitchy. Majima chalked it up to new family jitters at first, but then one day it was as though he’d taken the stick out of his ass and finally figured out how to be a yakuza.

Not a good one, of course, but definitely a yakuza. 

It wasn’t long before Majima got his curiosity sated over the sudden change in Kiryu’s kyoudai. The answer was as simple as it was unexpected: Shimano had simply found Kiryu’s replacement.

“This works better for us in the long run, prob’ly,” was all Shimano said about it when Nishikiyama began hanging around the offices, smirking at Majima like he knew something no one else did. 

Majima wasn’t sure he agreed with his boss, but at least Nishikiyama was a lot easier for Shimano to manipulate. The kid had a laundry list of insecurities and traumas that were practically begging to be exploited.

Not that Majima was one to talk, but at least he knew about his. Nishikiyama just looked lost without Kiryu. For a little while after he got his new attitude and hairstyle to match, Majima watched him with a distant sort of interest. He’d gone from one extreme to the other, and Majima could appreciate the effort in that. He really seemed determined to get to the top of the food chain no matter the cost. That was something he could admire. If Majima had thought that Saejima would want anything from him other than his life when—if—he ever got out, he would have clawed his way up, too, just to be sure that his brother would have something to come back to.  

But then he walked in on Nishikiyama shouting at Reina, who was clearly trying not to cry, but couldn’t stop the tears from spilling down her cheeks.

And that was when Majima realised that Nishikiyama didn’t just seem lost.

He was lost.

It had taken more willpower than Majima realised he contained for him to not beat the hell out of Nishikiyama right there. But somehow he managed to just pin the fucker down with his eye until he smirked and slunk out of the bar as though he’d wanted to do it all along. 

Majima had been ready and willing to get revenge for Reina—it was the least he could do, really, and he’d have a blast doing it—but she very politely, very tearfully turned his offer down. Not knowing what else to do, he’d just helped her clean up the bar of the mess that Nishikiyama had made in his rage.

That, and he’d quietly begun to plan.

If Nishikiyama was willing to do something like that to someone who had done nothing but love him, then there was very little chance that he’d get over his insecurities enough to take care of Kiryu once he was out. Kazama had his hands tied, and everyone else was still convinced that Kiryu had killed Dojima.

Which meant that it was going to be up to Majima. 

That was fine with him. Being in Kamurocho without Kiryu had made him dull. He could hardly remember what he had done at the end of the day, every day. He knew he’d worked on something, though, because his muscles were always sore and he was always dead tired. Sleeping didn’t help one bit, though, as usual.

Because when he slept, he dreamt of Kiryu.

It was never happy. Even when it was—even when he woke up cackling to himself about something that Kiryu had said in the dream—it made him unhappy. He couldn’t win. He wanted to look forward to those dreams, like he could with everyone else who had left his life. But there were still eight years to go and he had work to do.

He started with what he knew best: hustling pool. Easy, fast cash, no reason for Shimano to care. Every yen went straight into a fund for the next job, which quickly turned up when some asshole tried to pay back his interest by giving him a fucking chicken. When life gave Majima lemons...

Seven years to go.

He got distracted by a big job for a little while, but when he dove back into his plans, he really dove. He’d saved a big enough piggy bank to buy a fancy-ass computer, so he had a dizzying amount of options for money-making available to him. He started with the one that let him pass the most time without thinking: gold-farming. He never stopped being amazed at how much people were willing to pay for shit that didn’t even exist. Oh well, more for his stack.

Five years to go.

He’d branched out into the real world long ago, using the frankly ridiculous amount of cash and—interestingly enough—fame he’d earned from MMO scamming to start both a merch line and a truck designing business. That was when he began to make more money than he really knew what to do with.

Three years to go.

Shimano definitely knew that he’d been side hustling, but he was so busy with keeping all the pieces on his chessboard from either killing each other or finding out that he was planning to kill them that he didn’t have the time to care what Majima was doing. Which was good, because Majima had his fingers in so many pots that at this point, he was mostly doing it just to pass the time. He’d long since gotten enough to make sure that Kiryu would be comfortable. He was producing talent now just to give people the chance to get somewhere in life. He brought some of his best boys down to the ocean with him to trawl for treasure for the hell of it. 

It helped, but not by much. He dreamt of asking his friend in the force to slip him into jail just so he could see him again.

One year.

Hopefully.

Hopefully, because Majima could feel himself waking up bit by bit with each passing day, and if Kiryu didn’t manage parole, then he really would break in, orders or not. He’d had enough of the boredom and loneliness after a few months ; he wasn’t going to be able to last another two years on top of the ten. He’d been warned by several higher-ups not to do exactly what he would do, but would they really try to stop him? Kazama himself had willingly checked into prison years before. Sometimes, it was the best thing a yakuza could do. 

But hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.

One year to go.

Six months. Five. Four.

He trained every day, fantasising on the moment that he would get to feel Kiryu’s strength again.

Three.

His boys seemed to catch his excitement, and the Majima family grew as they worked their asses off. He wasn’t sure how it happened, but they’d managed to get enough numbers that some of the other patriarchs were eyeing him with envy and more than a little annoyance.

They could look all they wanted. He knew there wasn’t shit they could say to someone who brought manpower to the clan like he did.

Two.

Nishikiyama was having him watched. He’d picked up several shadows the closer the day crept, and Reina had been asking him some very particular questions when he went to check in on her.

He just waved at the shadows, smiling wide, and answered anything that Reina asked. 

What the hell did he care if they watched him? They were fucking babies compared to what he’d had before. 

Nishikiyama himself, especially. 

Despite the years of bloodthirsty, cutthroat clawing to the top, Nishikiyama still couldn’t bring himself to do more than bluster at him. He was still that same boy on the inside that had tried to make himself look big to scare the Mad Dog away from his kyoudai. Only now, he didn’t have anyone to protect and everyone to suspect.

Majima didn’t envy him. 

One month.

It wasn’t just him. The entire clan had a tension to it, as though they could feel the day drawing nearer and nearer as well. But where he smiled, the others scowled, bent over themselves angrily at the meetings.

Majima was watching Nishikiyama too, now. Watching as he puffed himself up and swung his dick around and tried everything he could to prove that there wasn’t fear behind his eyes. Majima wondered if Kiryu would even recognise his kyoudai when he saw him again.

He wondered if Nishikiyama wanted him to, or if—deep down—he was ashamed of where he’d ended up. Ashamed of what he’d done with the opportunity that Kiryu had given him. 

He wondered if Nishikiyama dreamt of Kiryu, too.

Shimano came to Majima, finally. He had been expecting him. He’d been doing an awful lot without Shimano’s express permission, lately, and that never sat well with his boss. He had never let Majima’s chain slacken too much before he choked him with it again just to remind him who was in control.

As if he needed reminding.

He took what he gave him and counted down from thirty.

Those days seemed to at once fly past and drag on longer than the entirety of the ten years before, until he was prowling the streets of Kamurocho every night like a cat marking off his territory. He put thugs and idiots down with precision, feeling like he was a kid again who knew exactly what he wanted and would happily kill for it.

Then finally, finally , as he strolled through the gate at Tenkaichi one day with a cigarette dangling from his lips and his knuckles busted from the gang he’d just knocked out, the wind shifted, cutting through the crowds of perfumes and body odour and food stalls.

He stopped dead, the cigarette tumbling from his lips as he breathed in the scent like a drowning man who’d broken the surface. 

Kiryu .

He scanned the street lightning-fast, but he hardly needed to. His eye fell onto that familiar grey-and-red suit immediately, almost as though he had been looking for it for ten years.

He took a deep breath, and then another, until it didn’t shake anymore.

His body couldn’t wait for more than that, though. Before he was fully ready, he was already stalking closer, bumping through people in his single-mindedness. He was concerned that Kiryu was oblivious to his approach to the point that he could have easily pulled his knife out and taken him down without a fight if that’s what he was after. But he decided to give him the benefit of the doubt—he’d seen plenty of guys coming out of prison for the first time in years having that same noise-deafness that Kiryu seemed to be having. 

Kamurocho had to be like a goddamn fireworks show compared to the dullness of prison.

So instead of simply leaping on him like he had fantasised about for so long, he called out, “Hey. Hold up.”

And finally, Kiryu turned, his eyes landing on him with surprise. “Majima-no-niisan?”

Majima could hardly breathe, he was so happy to hear that smooth, deep voice again. 

“Kiryu-chan,” he said, his voice high and excited. “It’s really you.”

Kiryu gave a little bow, a smile tugging at the edges of his mouth. “It’s good to see you again. It’s been a long time.”

“You’re fuckin’ right it has,” Majima snapped, though he was smiling as well. “Knew it was gettin’ to be that time, so I’ve been keepin’ a look out for ya.”

“You have?” Kiryu asked, brows raising. “Why is that? Has something happened?”

“Wha’d’ya think, dumbass? It’s been ten years—of course somethin’s happened!” he cackled, shaking his head. “But forget all that for now. I was lookin’ for ya because I said I would back then, didn’t I?”

“Oh.” Kiryu hummed, his eyes going distant for a second. “Yeah, I guess you did. A long time ago.”

A long time ago. 

The years suddenly hit Majima like a wheelbarrow of bricks to the head.

Ten years. Kiryu had been gone for ten years .

He’d lived ten years of life without him and now he was back, standing across from him looking as though he’d never left.

So much had changed and yet, nothing at all.

“Too damn long,” Majima agreed, shrugging his shoulders. “Shit happens, though. At least you’re out now, and I don’t gotta figure out how I could get myself thrown in there with ya.” Kiryu blinked, staying silent for long enough that Majima felt like fidgeting. “What?”

“If you missed me, you could have just visited.”

Majima was embarrassed when his mouth actually fell open in surprise. He snapped it shut again, laughing it off and rubbing the back of his neck. “Nah, I couldn’t. I tried, once, but they wouldn’t let me see you. Think all the higher-ups thought that if I even went to see you, I’d just stay.”

Kiryu’s only response was to hum and say, “It seems they were right.”

“Fuck off,” he said without ire, breathing out a laugh and slumping forward for a second before squaring his shoulders again. “Anyway! Enough shootin’ the shit. Let’s do this.”

“Do what?”

Majima rolled his neck to limber up. “You know what. I told you back then that I’d be on your ass 24/7. You’ve had a nice, long vacation, but it’s time to get back to work, bud.”

Majima was a little surprised when Kiryu puffed out a laugh that sounded affectionate , of all things, and his clenched fists relaxed in the wake of his smile.  

Had Kiryu missed him, too?

“I should’ve known you’d stand by your word,” Kiryu said softly, almost as if he spoke to himself. “But I told you once before and I’ll tell you again: I don’t have a reason to fight you. I won’t fight you unless I have a reason.”

Majima studied Kiryu’s face, wondering if he was reading him correctly or if it was just wishful thinking to feel that instead of his words being a repeat of the open rejection he’d given so long ago, Kiryu was asking him to give him a reason this time around.

“Alright,” he said, deciding to just go for it. If he was wrong, he could always figure out another way. He wasn’t going to waste the opportunity, just in case he was right. “You need a reason? How ‘bout the fact that I coulda shivved ya just now without ya even knowin’ what had hit ya?”

Kiryu grunted thoughtfully. “I don’t see how that’s a reason.”

“You wanna die or somethin’, bud?” Majima asked, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling. “Because that’s what’s gonna happen if you don’t take this town seriously. These ten years have turned Kamurocho into a goddamn viper’s den and you’re the juiciest prey of all, Kiryu-chan. So by all means, if you wanna die, then be my guest. Keep bein’ a fool who’s gone soft and get dead real quick ‘cause of it.”

“You think I’ve gone soft?” Kiryu asked, his deep voice carrying an edge to it. His eyes sparked beneath his sudden scowl.

Ahh, that was what Majima wanted to see.  

“You’re damn right I am,” he said. He put on a narrow-eyed smirk as he stepped forward into Kiryu’s personal space, leaning right up to him to whisper, “You wanna try to prove me wrong?”

The spark in Kiryu’s eyes caught on his kindling and blazed forward, making Majima’s breath catch with anticipation. 

Oh, he’d waited so long for this.

“Not here,” Kiryu muttered back, practically chewing on those words before he turned and lead them down into a poorly-lit alley. Majima skipped after him, bouncing with the flood of adrenaline pumping through him. It seemed as though Kiryu was feeling much the same way, considering they barely made it to the back lot before crashing together without so much as a ‘Come at me.’ 

Majima’s squeal of delight rang out into the night as Kiryu swung high and loose over and over, leaving himself wide open every time. Majima took several of those swings on the chin, wanting to know how weak he’d gotten in his time away. 

It was like being punched by a goddamn butterfly.

He ducked the next few punches, jabbing quick with his fists to test Kiryu’s reactions and getting his answer immediately when they all connected. 

Tsk, tsk. Someone had gotten sloppy.

“What, were you too busy napping all day to get any practice in?” Majima threw at Kiryu as he dropped down low and gave a swift upwards kick to his chin that rattled him enough for him to try a charge. Majima was pleasantly surprised when Kiryu remembered that Majima favoured his left side for a twisting dodge and adjusted for it, catching him off guard enough to slam him against the wall and pin his arm across his throat.

“You think that prisoners get to fight, Majima-no-niisan?” Kiryu growled, his breath puffing against Majima’s face. 

Majima laughed, squirming at the feeling of Kiryu’s leg pressed roughly between his. “‘Get to,’ Kiryu-chan?”

Kiryu scowled. “You know what I mean.”

“‘Fraid I don’t,” Majima said, grinning wide and hooking his leg against Kiryu’s thigh just to see him get flustered for a second before jamming his heel into his knee and putting him off-balance. He followed through with a headbutt to send him reeling back. “‘Cause from where I’m standin’, it sounds like you’re havin’ fun for the first time in ten years, bud.”

“You’re wrong, Majima-no-niisan. I don’t like fighting,” Kiryu lied, his words cut short by Majima spinning himself into a heavy kick to the side of his neck.

Majima cracked up as he watched Kiryu stumble into a wall before whirling back to him, arms up and ready just in case he’d come at him while he was distracted. They circled each other, his laughter sharp in the tiny alley clearing as it echoed back at him. 

“Okay. So you didn’t want this? You didn’t crave this after going without it for ten years?”

Kiryu’s frown deepened as he grabbed at Majima’s jacket lapel, clearly going for the high ground by getting him pinned again. Majima only barely managed to react fast enough to avoid getting slammed to the ground.

Ahh, so he still had the instincts, but they were rusty.

This was interesting.

“Of course I didn’t,” Kiryu insisted, panting now as they traded punches. Majima could see that he was nearing his limit already, and couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. “You called me weak. I was just responding to your challenge.”

Oh well. It was his fault for expecting anything else from a recent parolee. 

“No, Kiryu-chan. I said you’d gone soft. And I said it because—” 

Majima pulled out his knife with a euphoric sigh as he ducked underneath Kiryu’s high kick, swung his leg heavily into the back of Kiryu’s knee, and sprang up to slam the butt of his knife into Kiryu’s temple as he unbalanced.

“—you have .”

Kiryu’s only response was to groan and hold his head from where he’d crashed to the ground like a ton of bricks. Majima resheathed his tantō, tucking it tighter into the back of his pants so it didn’t fall out. He had barely broken a sweat, but Kiryu looked utterly wrecked by their little playtime, face like a thunderhead as he struggled to sit up.

Majima briefly wondered if Kiryu would try to have another go at him, but was surprised when all he said was,

“You’re right.”

“...Huh?”

Kiryu met his eye again and suddenly Majima was finding it hard to breathe.

“You’re right. I’m not moving like I used to.”

“I know y’aren’t, dummy,” he said, grinning down at him as he held out his hand for him to take. Kiryu looked between him and his hand for a second before he took the offer, allowing Majima to hoist him up. “It’s like I said. You’re just another punk fresh out of prison who can’t figure out his ass from his head anymore. It happens. What matters now is what you’re gonna do about it.”

“What do you mean?” Kiryu asked warily, wiping at a bit of blood from his cracked lips and only managing to smear it.

Majima had to cross his arms over his chest to stop himself from helping him clean it off. He wasn’t Kiryu’s goddamn girlfriend. “I mean, if you stay like this, then you’re either gonna get picked clean by the vultures in this town, get a bullet between your eyes for being a patriarch killer, or feel my knife between your ribs.”

Kiryu frowned. 

 “You wouldn’t. You’ve got no reason to kill me.”

“Well that’s the difference between us, Kiryu-chan,” Majima said with a toothy grin. “I don’t need a reason to do jack shit.”

Kiryu seemed shocked at that, but Majima wasn’t sure why he would be. He’d thought that it was fairly obvious that he did whatever he wanted when he wanted and only by earning his respect could anyone change his mind.

They locked gazes, then, and Majima watched as Kiryu silently came to grips with the fact that he had lost so much in the time away, before he eventually broke the silence.

“What should I do?” Kiryu asked, his voice steely with resolve.

Majima took a deep, slow breath before releasing it in a laugh. “Ahh,” he sighed wistfully. “There’s the Kiryu-chan I remember! Get him up against a wall and he only gets stronger.”

Kiryu looked a little embarrassed at that, but no less determined. “I thought you just said I was weaker than I’ve ever been.”

“Physically, sure. You ain’t even half of what y’used t’be. You lost all your technique, all your stamina. You’re like a salaryman tryin’ t’punch out a heavyweight champ, right now.” 

Majima hummed in appreciation as Kiryu’s eyes sparked again at the insult.

“Oh, but that’s one thing you haven’t lost. Those eyes. That fire.”

Kiryu was definitely embarrassed now, but Majima was pleased when, instead of looking away like he used to, he just let him keep him trapped in his gaze as he spoke.

“You’re still burnin’ hot as ever, Kiryu-chan,” he said, overcome with the sudden intensity of his desire. When he continued, his voice was low and rough with it, and the fact that it was clearly affecting Kiryu only heightened the feeling. “And I’m gonna feed that fire with everything I got until you not only get back to what you were, but become something greater than you’ve ever been.”

“Nii-san…” Kiryu whispered, the respect in his words sending Majima’s heart into a furious gallop. He hadn’t looked at him like that in so long.

“I’ll be on your ass day and night, Kiryu-chan, and I’m going to come at you hard. You sleep on this, and you’ll die a worthless death without ever reaching your potential. Because even if it kills us, I’m going to see the Dragon return to this city.”

Silence fell over the alley as Kiryu’s gaze burned into his, reforging the connection between them that had weakened with time and distance. When he stood tall again, his shoulders squared and fists clenched, Majima’s breath caught at the impressive sight of him.

“You’re right,” Kiryu said. “I can’t let it end like this. Dying now would be a disrespect to everyone who’s made me what I am. So even if it takes using you as a stepping stone, I’ll rise back up.”

Majima couldn’t stop himself from smiling even if he wanted to, feeling like everything was realigning.

“Can’t wait to see you try.”

 

 ~*~

 

And just the next day, at Sera’s funeral, it flew entirely off its axis.

Majima finally realised why he’d always felt so itchy when he watched Kiryu fight, as his world tilted and shifted right before his eyes.

Kiryu won.

Kiryu had won and Shimano had lost.

Majima was finally breaking through his old skin, becoming someone else.

Shimano had lost to a Kiryu who wasn’t even a fraction of his old self and when the master and his dog locked eyes, the truth was naked and raw between them.

Shimano had lost more than the fight that day.

 

Chapter Text

 

When Majima told him that first day that he was going to be everywhere, just waiting to fight him, Kiryu hadn’t thought that he meant everywhere . They’d both been talking in extremes at the time, and so he’d simply assumed that he’d meant that whenever they happened to cross paths on the street, he would start a fight that Kiryu would have to agree to or lose face.

Because he couldn’t really be everywhere, right?

Right ?

Oh, how naïve he’d been.

He’d already lost count of how many times he’d turned a corner—looked up from a magazine—even just walked down the street only to realise that he was being watched right before hearing the familiar crooning of,

Kiryu-chaaan~ !”

And that was just the times that he’d surprised him with a fight. There were also the times that he got a call from Majima’s captain, Nishida, dropping not-so-subtle clues. 

Kiryu had no one to blame but himself for those, he supposed. It wasn’t like he could say that he wasn’t expecting Majima when Nishida told him nearly outright that he would be waiting for him there. 

It was the effort, though, that he could allow himself to be baffled by.

Every time, he didn’t think he could be more shocked by the effort that Majima went to just to fight him, and every time, Majima proved him wrong. 

Kiryu still didn’t know how long Majima had waited under that cone before he had noticed the way it rattled, but considering how stiffly he’d fought, he felt like it must have been a lot longer than anyone should ever be under one.

He’d been genuinely concerned for Majima after that, but as usual, he’d just shrugged it off with a laugh and left with little more than a see-you-later. He always did that: left just as suddenly as he’d come.

After the shock that he’d gotten at the funeral—his father shot, attacked by the entire clan, fighting Shimano and seeing Nishiki looking at him like he was pitying him, of all things—he wasn’t a huge fan of surprises. So after the first few times, Kiryu had found himself actually expecting Majima to be everywhere. He was peeking around cars, checking every aisle in the store, looking under trash can lids, just to be sure that he wasn’t going to be jumped when he wasn’t prepared.

Which, he supposed, was exactly what Majima had been hoping for. He was now more than ready for any attacker that sprang out of the shadows, trying to catch him off guard.

So he had no clue how he’d managed to still be surprised when he went to Club Shine to ask around for information from the people who heard more gossip in town than anyone else and, instead of one of the usual girls, he found himself seated next to Goromi.

He’d even been clued in about this. He’d read the text. How had he forgotten that?

Still, as always, he was first and foremost impressed by the effort. While the dress was extremely busy and as Majima as it could be, it did seem to fit as though it had been made for him. Kiryu didn’t know what to feel about the fact that it hugged Majima’s waist in a way that accentuated his curves. Not to mention the fact that, while not exactly subtle, his makeup and hair were certainly more well-applied than Kiryu could have ever managed were he to attempt something like that.

It made him wonder if Majima had done this before, especially when he’d simply accepted Goromi as his cabaret girl for the night and he—she?—had begun talking with a soft, high voice that wrapped around Kiryu’s head like a silk scarf and made his stomach flutter strangely. The longer they talked, the more that Kiryu forgot that Majima was a man, which meant that every time he switched voices, it jarred him more and more. He felt as though he had swung between being flustered and enjoying himself in one hour more than ever before in his life.

How was Majima so good at pretending to be a woman when he was also the strongest man Kiryu had ever known?

He was so confused by the end of the session that when he automatically turned down a date with Goromi—or had she asked as Majima?—he actually felt a little guilty for it. For the rest of their session, while Kiryu had played along, Majima—Goromi?—had been flirtatious and unusually open with stories about his past and had seemed...happy, almost. Relaxed in a way that Kiryu had never seen outside a fight before. But then Kiryu had turned him down and the coy smile had fallen in an instant, replaced by Majima’s usual scowl and prickliness, and somehow they’d ended up right back to where they’d been before the session. 

Kiryu was extremely perplexed by the whole thing.

Especially when, as Majima demanded a fight from him this time, it didn’t seem to come from a place of simple desire for a brawl, but of something else. He’d looked genuinely angry with him when he’d said that he wasn’t a woman.

But Kiryu fought him anyway despite the way his stomach twisted when he hit someone who looked like a woman, and when he won, it didn’t even feel good. Even the way that Majima stroked his ego afterward put him in two minds. A tough man, he said, but in a way that seemed wistful rather than proud.

Kiryu felt like he was missing something important, and it took until the moment that Majima was striding away from him for Kiryu to realise what it was.

“A tough man,” when Kiryu had just offered to prove he was strong enough to go out with Goromi.

The confident, feminine way he walked in his heels over the uneven pavement. 

The way his arms were crossed and tucked down at his stomach as though he were cold but didn’t want to make a fuss, the eyes of his hannya peeking morosely over the top of the dress.

Oh .

Goromi was so good at pretending to be a woman because she wasn’t pretending.

Kiryu felt like an old-fashioned idiot, suddenly, for making everything more complicated than it had to be.

“Hey.”

Kiryu was glad when Goromi stopped as he called out and looked over her shoulder at him, her mouth tense and unsure. Kiryu wasn’t as glad knowing that he’d made a woman feel like that, but he knew how he could try to make up for it.

“Wait a second.”

Or he knew how a normal woman would want him to, at least. 

“Hm? What’s up, Kiryu-chan?” she asked, turning toward him as he closed the distance between them.

But just as Majima was no ordinary man, Goromi wouldn’t be an ordinary woman, surely.

Damn. This was still complicated.

Oh well.

The only thing he could do was try, and hope that fortune favoured his boldness. 

And so, with a deep breath and a heart racing faster than it ever did while fighting, Kiryu slipped out of his jacket and slid it around her bare shoulders without another word.

The look that she gave him, then, was scarier than facing down the barrel of a gun.

It was so shocked and wary—so openly vulnerable—that Kiryu almost apologised and took it back. It felt wrong, somehow, to see Majima look at him like that. Majima had always been his superior. Always ten steps ahead of him. If Kiryu had surprised Goromi with something so simple, then it truly meant that they were in uncharted waters.

And while that was more than a little unnerving for him, he found that it also felt very, very good.

Maybe a little too good.

“What the hell? What are you doing with this shit?” Goromi asked, her voice peaking and dipping as she couldn’t seem to decide which register to use.

“Goromi,” Kiryu began softly. “Would you like to go out with me tonight?”

He wasn’t sure if it was a good or a bad sign when all she did was stare down at him, her lips parted and a deeper hint of pink joining the blush already dusted across her cheeks.

For some reason, Kiryu had never noticed how long Majima’s eyelashes were until Goromi was looking away, a pouty scowl pulling at her mouth.

“Don’t be stupid, Kiryu-chan—”

“Please,” Kiryu interrupted, waiting until Goromi’s gaze was in his again before saying, “call me Kazuma.”

Goromi continued scowling, but that did nothing to stop Kiryu from catching her sharp intake of breath and her blush darkening into more than just a hint.

“Fine,” she said, looking away again even as she shoved her arms roughly into the sleeves of his coat as though she were trying to be as manly as possible. When she continued, though, her voice was soft and feminine again. “But can it about the date thing. It’s not nice to tease a girl, ya know.”

“I’m being serious,” Kiryu insisted, tucking his hands into his pockets and cocking his head slightly. “Did I not prove that I was strong enough to be with you?”

Goromi made a noise that was halfway between a laugh and a cough, her eye wide with disbelief.

“Hm?” Kiryu asked. 

“Nothin’, I just didn’t realise you were wantin’ that ,” Goromi said, grinning devilishly. 

Instead of letting himself get flustered, he just reminded himself that Goromi knew exactly how experienced in sex—or inexperienced, as it were—he was, and wouldn’t actually be expecting anything from him. It was nice, in a way, the thought of letting himself just play along without worrying about those usual expectations. He’d never had that before.

“Hmm,” he began quietly, giving Goromi a playful smile. “We’ll see. How about we start with dinner, first?”

It almost made him laugh, the look of utter bafflement on Goromi’s face. After staring down at the hand he offered for a long few moments, she looked back up at him and said faintly, “Shit. You’re—you’re really serious, aren’t you?”

“I’m a serious kind of man, Goromi.”

“Y’wanna take me out? On a date? A real date?”

Kiryu did laugh, then. “Of course I do. I had a lot of fun tonight. Why wouldn’t I want to continue?” 

“Well, for one, y’just turned me down not ten minutes ago,” Goromi grumbled.

“Ten minutes ago, I wasn’t taking you seriously,” Kiryu explained. 

“That’s ‘cause I wasn’t being serious.”

Kiryu blinked, suddenly feeling foolish.

“Oh. I—sorry, I didn’t even think of that,” he said, reaching out to take his jacket back. “I’ll just let you go, then.”  

He stopped when Goromi jerked away from him, tucking the jacket tighter around her and biting out, “Who said I wanted to leave? Stop bein’ a jackass and just take me out, already!”

Kiryu couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his mouth as Goromi looked away petulantly. 

“Okay,” he said, tucking his hands into his pockets without another word and setting off down the street at a casual pace. It was a nice night; the air was crisp but not too cold and everyone who passed seemed to be in a jovial mood. That was what Christmas did to people, he supposed. 

He suddenly wondered what he would be doing at Christmas now that everything had gone wrong, but he pushed the thought aside. He was on a date for the first time in ten years and he wasn’t going to ruin it with melancholy thoughts. 

“Where would you like to go tonight?”

Goromi tutted, turning a critical eye back to him. The sound of her heels clacking against the pavement punctuated her words as she spoke. “You don’t hafta ask cabaret girls where they wanna go, Kiryu-chan. You’re just supposed to do whatever you want.”

“You’re not a cabaret girl, Goromi,” Kiryu pointed out, amused. 

“Well, I’m not a woman at all, so what’s that matter?”

Kiryu felt the words nick at him the same as Majima’s knife, quick and deadly. Part of him wanted to argue his side, to explain that he’d had no way of knowing that Majima hadn’t just been messing around with him, but that was a lie, and even Kiryu knew that. The truth was, he was just an old fashioned guy who took a long time to figure nuanced stuff out. Most of the time, he just kept silent if he didn’t know how to refer to someone, not wanting to upset them. But he’d never been able to keep his foot from his mouth where Majima was concerned.

“I’m sorry,” was all he could think to say to that.

Goromi snorted roughly, her voice still sharp as she said, “Forget it. Yer not wrong. I just wanted t’make ya angry enough to fight.”

Kiryu’s stomach went funny and his mouth tensed. He didn’t know how to respond to this. He wanted to reiterate that he didn’t actually feel that Majima wasn’t a woman, now, but feared that it would come across as insincere. 

Kiryu wasn’t experienced enough for this.

The only girls he’d taken out on dates were cabaret girls who just wanted to have a nice meal and do some karaoke and they’d give him a hug and thank him and that was it. But he’d just said it himself: Goromi wasn’t a cabaret girl. She was just as guarded and unpredictable as she was when she was Majima, always prepared to escape behind a mask the moment that he made a mistake.

Harder still, this seemed to be something important to Majima, if the way that Goromi kept slipping away back to Majima whenever Kiryu was unintentionally insensitive was any indication. He’d never quite gotten a grasp on how to handle Majima even with something as simple as fighting; how could he possibly hope to navigate a date with Goromi?

Silence bloomed between them, pressurised and hot, until Kiryu no longer cared how badly he looked. He had to say it.

“No. I spoke from a place of frustration before, and I’m sorry.” He let out a rumbling sigh. “I’ve just never seen you like this and—I’m slow to realise, sometimes, when it comes to these things. I didn’t mean to hurt you, but if I did, I’m sorry about that too.”

When Goromi didn’t answer for a little while, Kiryu snuck a look over at her and was surprised to see her watching him, a tiny, amused smile on her mouth. 

“What?” he asked, suddenly unsure again.

Goromi just shook her head, her smile growing. “You’re hopeless, Kazuma. You know that, right?”

Kiryu felt a bit flustered at the sound of Goromi’s smooth, feminine voice using his given name with such fondness, but he’d been the one to request she use it, so he couldn’t exactly take it back. Before he could think of how he could possibly respond, Goromi saved him by hooking her arm in his and declaring cheerfully,

“C’mon! Let’s get some takoyaki. I’m always starvin’ after a good fight with ya.”

“O-Okay,” he agreed, allowing himself to be lead over to the Gindaco. He hadn’t noticed until just now, but Goromi smelled good. Unusual, but good. Like fruit roasting over a campfire, sweet and smoky, with just a hint of spice underneath. He had the ridiculous urge to put his face into the graceful, muscular curve of her neck just to breathe it in closer.

Luckily, he was distracted from that thought by the man behind the counter asking what he’d like, and so he didn’t do something so incredibly stupid that it would likely only earn him a knife in the gut. He ordered whatever his eyes fell on first, more than a little shaken by that sudden urge. Where had it come from?

“Y’alright?” Goromi asked as they headed down to Public Park 3, balancing her beer and takoyaki in one hand as she used the other to pop one of them in her mouth whole. “Ai, fuck! Hot, hot, hot—!” she gasped around a full mouth, flapping her hand as though that would help cool it down.

 Kiryu tried not to laugh, still feeling strange, but he couldn’t help himself. “That’s what you get for being greedy.” 

Goromi glared over at him with a watery eye. “Shu’p!” she cried, levelling a stiff punch to his arm that only made him laugh more. 

Clearly steeling herself for the pain, Goromi quickly chewed and swallowed the ball before sighing out a breath that was hot enough to cloud in the air. She whined for a second, sticking out her tongue and delicately scraping at it with a nail before immediately going for another. 

“Hey, didn’t you learn your lesson?” Kiryu asked, still chuckling. “Your mascara is going to run now because you couldn’t wait five minutes for them to cool down.”

“Waterproof, fool,” she growled, powering through the heat this time. 

“Huh,” Kiryu grunted, testing out one of the takoyaki balls himself. It was still very hot, but so delicious that he couldn’t manage to care that it was burning his mouth. “Didn’t know they made that kinda stuff.”

“What, you think us girls were gonna put up with havin’ to reapply this shit every time some asshole made us cry?” Goromi asked. “Nah, fuck that.”

Kiryu hummed as they sat down on a bench in the park. “Guess that makes sense.”

“‘Course it does. Cinderella’s gotta be ready for Prince Charming, y’know? Can’t go around lookin’ like a wreck or she might lose out on true love.”

“If it’s true love, though, wouldn’t the prince want her no matter what she looks like?” Kiryu asked thoughtfully, bending to grab his beer that he’d sat on the ground and taking a sip. Oh, that was good . He took another drink, longer this time, feeling his throat working in his eagerness. He sighed as he realised that he’d managed to drink it all when he went for another gulp and met only air.

“‘S’at good?”

Kiryu looked over at Goromi, his face heating when he realised that she’d just watched him gulp his beer down while grinning toothily.

“Y-Yeah,” he said, shoving another ball in his mouth to distract himself. He took his time chewing and swallowing before explaining in a mumble, “It’s been ten years since I’ve had anything this nice. It can be a little overwhelming, still.”

 “Hmm, bet it is,” Goromi said, nodding. She gave a jerk of her chin at him. “You’re lookin’ less shell-shocked than you did when y’first came back, though.”

“Hm?”

“That first night. Y’looked like y’were about t’pass out.”

Kiryu thought back to those first steps into Kamurocho after ten years inside the same dreary grey prison walls. Looking into neon lights so bright he thought he could feel them burn his skin. The chatter of voices like jackhammers in his ears. So many smells that he’d forgotten, good and bad, strong and subtle, and all of them like an injection of old memories straight to his heart. 

Kamurocho hadn’t changed at all, and yet, he could hardly recognise it anymore. 

“It’s totally different now, ain’t it?” Goromi asked, as though she could read his thoughts.

He nodded, staring down at his food. It seemed he didn’t need to say anything more than that, as Goromi just sighed and silence fell over them.

After a little while, though, a hand holding a plastic cup of beer came into view, and he looked up at her in surprise.

“Go on. You need it more than I do.”

Kiryu looked between her and the cup. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” she said, giving it a little wiggle. The liquid inside sloshed perilously, and Kiryu took it before it could spill. “I’ve had plenty of time to indulge in all my vices. You’ll have to work to catch up.”

“I’m not sure if I could ever catch up. Even this is a lot for me now,” he muttered, taking a sip. 

“Aw, ‘course ya can!” Goromi insisted, crossing her legs as she popped her last ball in her mouth. “Y’just gotta get rid of all those dents that prison knocked into ya and you’ll have plenty o’room for more.” She gave his knee a pat. “Don’t you worry, Kazuma. Aunt Goromi will bang ‘em outta ya soon enough.” Kiryu made a face, earning him a cackle. He didn’t know what to do with the spark of pride he felt at making her laugh, so he just ignored it in favour of watching her reach into the bust of her dress and pull out a pack of cigarettes. “Here. Have you even had a smoke since gettin’ out?”

“No, actually,” he said, accepting the cigarette she offered and sliding his lighter out of his pocket before she could get hers to light. He bent toward her, holding the flame steady while their eyes met. She took a long, slow drag as he leaned back again and lit his own, sighing with satisfaction and letting his head fall back.

“Now, see,” Goromi whispered, “that’s one dent banged out already.”

There was something in her voice, silky and suggestive, that got the interest of Kiryu’s cock enough to make him need to shift and bend over himself again. That was as good of a reminder as any, really, that there was definitely something he needed to indulge in after so long of having no privacy. He wasn’t sure when he’d get the time, though, if he was honest with himself. Even taking time to have this date was making him feel more than a bit guilty. He had work to do, but— 

If there was something he’d thought about a lot in prison, it was the fact that he’d taken his relationships for granted. He’d sworn to himself that when he got out, he wouldn’t make the same mistake.

So instead of balking at Goromi’s flirting, Kiryu looked over at her with a gentle smile and said, “Thank you for taking care of me, Goromi.”

He was starting to see how dating was something that people enjoyed enough to do it all the time, especially when he could say something so simple and get that pretty blush to appear on Goromi’s cheeks and see that flustered pout as she looked away.

“D-Don’t act like I’m doin’ this outta the kindness of my heart or some shit,” she muttered, her voice halfway between hers and Majima’s. When she looked back at him, her eye was fierce. “I’m only butterin’ ya up so I can devour ya later. No use pluckin’ a chicken when it’s all skinny and depressed.”

Kiryu held her gaze as he deliberately lowered his voice and said, “Then I’ll work hard to satisfy you.”

Kiryu thought he might have imagined that her breath caught at that, but knew that he hadn’t when she smiled slow and said breathlessly, “ Kazuma . You tease.”

“Who says I’m teasing?” he asked calmly, taking a sip of his drink.

Goromi laughed joyfully, throwing her head back. “You’re a real flirt when you want to be, aren’t you? How come you’re only showin’ me this side of ya now?”

“Hmm,” he hummed thoughtfully, not sure if she was asking him seriously or not. “I guess it’s just natural for me to flirt when I’m out on a date with a beautiful woman. I want to make her feel as good as I do for getting to be with her.”

“Shit, that’s romantic as fuck, Kiryu-chan,” Majima said, his voice deep and impressed.

Kiryu grinned. “I don’t mean to be. It’s just how I feel.”

“That’s even more romantic, ya tool!” 

Kiryu chuckled. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Goromi said, her voice sliding back to feminine. “Ya gotta be true t’yourself. And it’s not like there’s gonna be any ladies out there complainin’ about a man like you sayin’ shit like that to ‘em.”

“A man like me?” he asked, curious. 

“Yeah. Some guys, they can’t talk romance for shit. Comes out all weedy and insecure. Girls know when a guy is just readin’ lines from a book, ya understand?”

“Mm,” he grunted in acknowledgement, taking a drag from his cigarette.

“But you’ve got the confidence to make it sound genuine,” she said, flicking ash onto the ground and bobbing her foot. 

Kiryu studied her face as she smoked, thinking about the way she’d said that. She looked thoughtful and unoffended, despite how clearly she seemed to believe he was feeding her a line. It was almost surreal, realising that while Majima was completely confident in himself as a man, he might be a little unsteady as a woman.

“Goromi,” he began, waiting for her to meet his eyes before saying, “You are beautiful.”

Her eyelashes fluttered as she blinked in surprise and he took that as encouragement. 

“The reason I don’t have to try to sound genuine is because you really do make me feel good.”

Goromi snorted, but it seemed forced. “You know you don’t have to angle to get me back to a hotel, right? You can just take me if you want me.”

“I’m not.”

Goromi’s eye narrowed. “Well, if you really thought I was beautiful, wouldn’tcha wanna jump on the opportunity to fuck me?”

“You deserve better than what I can afford right now,” Kiryu said simply, ignoring the whirlwind of thoughts that sprang up just under the surface of his mind when he chose to say that instead of insisting that he didn’t want to take Majima to a hotel at all. There was too much to look at and he didn’t know why he’d said it at all, so he just ignored it and told himself he’d said it because he was having fun playing along with the date.

The sharpness of Goromi’s eye made him feel as though she were looking straight through him to the tumultuous thoughts inside, but in the end, she just grunted and said, “I already toldja I don’t give a shit how much money a guy’s got as long as I’m havin’ fun. But I getcha. A man’s gotta make a good impression.”

“Exactly,” he agreed eagerly, grateful that she hadn’t pressed him further.

“So what’re ya gonna do, then?”

“Hm?”

“To impress me.”

“Was the fight not enough?” he asked.

“Kazuma, Kazuma, Kazuma…” Goromi tsked. “Strength is more important than anythin’ else, sure. But a man’s gotta be well-rounded. He’s gotta have talents other than punchin’.”

“I—”

He stopped, face twisted in concern.

What were his talents?

“C’mon,” Goromi said softly, leaning closer conspiratorially. “Y’must have somethin ’ else to ya.”

 “I—I can—” He thought through the things he used to do before prison. There wasn’t much that wasn’t punching. He’d focused pretty intensely on getting good at the punching. There was one thing that he’d always been good at, but it was so ridiculous, he couldn’t tell Goromi. He just couldn’t . It wasn’t impressive at all. 

“I’m pretty good at the UFO machines,” he heard himself saying anyway, through a wince.

Goromi was quiet for so long that he began to feel very foolish, but then she broke the silence with,

“There’s no way you’re better’n me. Pick somethin’ else if you wanna impress me.”

Kiryu stared, baffled. “How do you know whether I am or not? You’ve never seen me on one.”

“I’ve seen your weapon technique. You don’t have the finesse,” she said matter-of-factly, stubbing out her cigarette and tossing it into the bin.

“I am good,” he insisted, getting more than a little frustrated with her snap judgement. “I’ll show you.”

“Oh?” she said, smiling wide. “Is that a challenge I hear?”

“If that’s what it takes to prove to you that I’m not lying, then yes. I’m challenging you.”

Goromi gave a hoot of excitement, clapping her hands hard. “You got it, son! Let’s do this shit!”

Kiryu downed the rest of his second drink and tossed their trash away before nodding solemnly and striding alongside Goromi to Theatre Square, confident in his abilities.

That was, until he graciously offered for her to go first and watched her drop a prize into the hole on each turn. He could only stare in shock when she collected all three, held them out to him with a smirk, and said,

“Here you go, sweetie. I won these for you.”

Even if Kiryu couldn’t feel his face settling into a stoic mask while his insides coiled with dread, the laugh she gave at his expression would have clued him in.

Your turn ,” she chirped, saccharine-sweet.

His turn. 

Oh, why hadn’t he gone first?

Now that he’d seen such a feat performed right in front of him, his hands were sweating as he gripped the stick. He couldn’t focus for the smug aura emanating from Goromi. He deliberated over which of the remaining toys to aim for. There was a large Bun-chan left, which could give him an easy win if he could manage to grip onto its hat. But right next to it, a squirrel had fallen onto its side, potentially sabotaging his chances. 

There.

On the left side of the enclosure, an Opa-Opa lay all alone, tantalisingly angled so he could latch onto its wings.

He took a deep breath.

He inserted his yen.

As the music chimed cheerily through the tinny speakers, his knuckles went white against the stick.

He adjusted the claw slowly, stopping directly over the spaceship. 

He clicked the button, watching in painful anticipation as the claw descended over the plush. It was aligned perfectly; surely there was no way for him to lose this?

It didn’t go all the way down.

He felt his stomach sink as the claw stopped halfway down before rising again, empty-handed.

Well, that was that, then. He’d lost already, in one unlucky swoop.

“Aww, what ?” he was surprised to hear Goromi say as she leaned in and gave the glass a hard smack. “That’s not fair! It didn’t even go all the way!” She turned to him with a scowl. “Don’t worry, I won’t count that one as one o’yer three turns. ‘S’no fun winnin’ if it isn’t fair.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. He appreciated that she saw the unfairness of it, but, “It’s okay. Taking the unfairness of the machines into account is part of being good at UFO catchers. I lost, fair and square.”

“Kazuma—”

“But I can still try to win something for you, at least,” he continued, determined.

Goromi gave him a shrewd look before nodding and backing up again. 

He re-aligned the claw, laser-focused on his intention. Even if it killed him, he was going to win Goromi a prize tonight.

When he was happy with the position, he clicked the button again. This time, it went all the way, and he breathed a sigh of relief that was cut short when the plush slipped out of the claw at the last second, landing just at the edge of the hole but not dropping in.

“Ah,” was all he could say to that.

“Don’t give up,” Goromi said emphatically. “You’ve still got one more try. You can do it!”

Kiryu nodded, gritting his teeth as he stared down at the plushes that taunted him so. 

What should he do?

The Opa-Opa wasn’t in a place reachable by the claw anymore, which left the Bun-chan and the squirrel. Which one should he go for?

It had to be the Bun-chan. If he went a little over the position he’d normally aim for, he could probably remove the chance of the claw angling badly because of the squirrel.

He lined it up, feeling more than a little desperate now, but at the last second, his hand slipped off the stick. 

It went too far.

He bit back a desolate groan, squinting at the smug, knowing eyes of the Bun-chan as he just gave in and pressed the button that would seal his fate. The claw descended like an executioner’s axe.

But then— 

“Wh—”

The claw went off-kilter as it fell over the Bun-chan and, when it closed, it somehow managed to catch the curl of the squirrel’s tail as well.

“Whoah!” Goromi exclaimed, leaning in to watch with her hands on the glass.

Kiryu held his breath as they wobbled and threatened to escape on their journey, and let it out in a rush of exalted disbelief when they not only made it the whole way, but as they dropped, knocked the Opa-Opa into the hole as well.

Whoah !” Goromi squealed, turning to him with wild excitement in her eye. “Kazuma, what the fuck !”

Kiryu bent to gather his hard-earned prizes in a daze, mouth agape as he held them in his hands.

Without a word, he solemnly presented them to Goromi, who gave a choking laugh and took them from him and said, “ Shit . What’re we gonna do with six fuckin’ toys?”

“I don’t know,” Kiryu said, chuckling at the ridiculousness. “Should we just give them back to the clerk?”

“Screw that,” she said, going to get a bag from the clerk and tucking the toys inside as they left the arcade to a few funny looks from people. “We won this shit fair and square. Like hell I’m givin’ it back.” She looked down at the toys and hummed in consideration. “Think some o’my boys might have kids. I’ll just give ‘em to them.”

Kiryu was about to agree with that plan when a voice shouted from behind him,

“Oi! Who the fuck do you think you are!?”

He sighed and turned around, surprised that it had taken this long for someone to start a fight with him. Normally he couldn’t walk a few steps without some punk or other thinking he was easy prey. He frowned when he saw the man who’d called out looking at Goromi, though.

“Yes? Is there a problem?” 

The guy turned to him, jerking his hand in a gesture between him and Goromi. “I asked who you think you are to steal someone’s girl!”

“Excuse me?” he asked, blinking in surprise. Out of all the complaints he might’ve expected from an aggressive thug, that wasn’t one of them. He’d never been accused of that before.

“You heard me! I saw you in there, actin’ like a fuckin’ peacock! You think you can go out with someone’s girl and get away with it?”

The guy took a swing at him, but Kiryu had been fighting Majima so much that he might as well have been in slow-motion. “Peacock?” Kiryu repeated after he dodged, glancing over at Goromi, who looked about as bored as she could be. Kiryu took that as confirmation that she wasn’t actually involved with him. He looked back to the guy, saying, “I’m not sure who you think I am, but—”

This time, the punch connected, and while it didn’t hurt even a fraction of one of Majima’s, it did annoy him.

“Alright.”

There had been a crowd gathering around as soon as the guy started shouting, but when Kiryu grabbed him by the collar and slung him over his shoulder to the ground, they began to scatter, squeals and shouts following behind. 

Kiryu sighed.

“Do you actually know him?” he asked Goromi as the man groaned and rolled over, trying to get up but clearly struggling. 

“Unfortunately,” she said, making a face. “Got a drink off him once and he thought that meant I was his girl now.”

Kiryu took the guy’s charge head-on and simply tossed him aside, sending him rolling to the ground once more with a guttural, “Gngh!”

“What?” Kiryu asked, frowning. “Why?”

“You don’t know much about men, do you?” Goromi commented as the guy jumped onto Kiryu’s back and tried to choke him. 

“I guess not,” he grunted, stumbling forward and bracing himself against the wall before slamming his head back against the man’s. He turned to the man as he fell off him, and started saying, “Look, it would be best for all of us if you’d just take the hint and leave—” when another voice rang out.

“Hey! What are you two doing fighting in the middle of the street?!” 

“Time to go!” Goromi yelped, grabbing Kiryu’s hand and yanking him away from the policeman jogging toward them. The guy shouted after them, but they’d already taken off running. They weaved through the streets of Kamurocho, bumping through the crowds and ducking through shops where they could to avoid their pursuers. By the time they finally lost them, they’d made it up to the Hotel District and were both worse for wear, but laughing.

“Aw, fuck, Kiryu-chan, did you see the look on that granny’s face when we vaulted over that wall?” Goromi puffed with laughter, bent over her knees as Kiryu collapsed against a wall. “Bet we made her fuckin’ life with that shit.”

Kiryu chuckled through his gasps. “I have no idea how you managed that in that outfit.”

“Didn’t,” she cackled, kicking off her shoe to point out that she’d lost the other one. Kiryu realised that she’d also lost her wig somewhere along the way, and her usual black hair was tousled badly from being under it all night.

He had the sudden urge to smooth it down for her, just it to see if it was still as soft as it had been before. He was so lost in his exhilaration, in fact, that he had pushed himself away from the wall and had lifted his hand before he caught himself. 

She—he’d called him Kiryu-chan.

Oh.   

He was Majima again.

Kiryu’s arm fell back to his side, thankful that Majima had been too busy lighting a cigarette to notice. He cleared his throat and stepped back, adrenaline leaking out of him until his limbs felt heavy and dumb and he didn’t know what to do with his hands anymore.

“Wonder where it dropped off,” Majima mused, tucking his cigarette between his lips and bending to roll down his fishnets. Kiryu looked away, more than a little unsteady. It was difficult for him to shift gears from being on a date with Goromi to— whatever he had with Majima—so quickly, so he waited until he heard Majima tuck them away in the plastic bag and sigh before looking back. Majima ran a hand through his hair and breathed out a line of smoke, saying out of the corner of his mouth, “Oh well. Anyway, this was fun. I’ll see ya ‘round, Kiryu-chan.”

“Wait, can I...walk you home?” 

Kiryu didn’t know why he said it. He had no reason to say it. Goromi wouldn’t have needed him to walk her home, and Majima definitely didn’t. But he’d obviously wanted to ask enough to let the question out and he wasn’t going to take it back now, so he would just wait for Majima to finish looking at him as though he’d grown an extra head and get around to telling him to fuck off.

But all he said was, “You do know who you’re talkin’ to, right?”

Kiryu looked into Majima’s narrowed eye and thought about his options.

He could back out. Say he’d thought that he was still Goromi and they were still on their date and that it was just a mistake.

Or he could double down. 

The look that Majima gave him then was enough to make up his mind. Wary, watchful, and already disappearing behind that indifferent mask of his; Kiryu couldn’t give up the chance to have more of what he’d already gotten that night.

He nodded. 

Majima blinked before grunting and tossing the plastic bag over his shoulder. “Suit yourself, then.”

Kiryu watched him stroll a few steps before his feet finally made the move to follow. 

After he’d caught up, Majima silently popped up a cigarette from his pack and held it over for Kiryu to take. He accepted it with a mumbled thanks, shielding it with a hand as he got it lit. The wind had picked up a bit as the night wore on, blowing the gathering clouds out of the sky. As they headed further away from Kamurocho and into the residential areas, the stars began to twinkle into view one by one. 

The memory of living at Sunflower washed over him, then: the musty smell of the porch, the tall grasses tickling his face, the distant sounds of families living their lives. When he was still just an angry orphan with an attitude problem instead of a failed yakuza, he would sit outside and just gaze up into that blanket of stars. It was the only time he’d ever felt at peace, back then. Whenever he needed them, they were always there waiting for him. Distant, but constant. There was something comforting about that that he’d never been able to place.

He’d spent most of his days back then starting fights and getting punished badly for it, which only got him in trouble with Yumi and Nishiki, as well. All they’d ever wanted for him was for him to be happy, but he’d never managed it. His blood burned too hot at the unfairness in the world and he was too strong not to do something about it.

Maybe that was why he couldn’t leave Kamurocho, despite everything.

It glittered like the stars.

“This doesn’t change anything, you know.”

Kiryu let out a long breath, watching the smoke make shapes as he turned to Majima with raised brows.

“Tonight,” he said gruffly, his gaze serious. “It doesn’t change anything.”

“I...didn’t think it would,” Kiryu said, surprised that Majima felt the need to clarify.

“I’m still going to be hounding you,” Majima continued. His voice gradually emptied and his eyes went distant until he was completely flat as he said, “I can’t let up on you; not even after this. You have to get stronger.”

“Nii-san,” Kiryu began, concern coiling in his gut, “are you alright?”

Majima blinked, as though Kiryu’s worry had pulled him out of wherever he’d gone. He swallowed visibly before a scowl pulled at his mouth. “Yeah, ‘course I’m alright. Jus’ didn’t wantcha thinkin’ that you were gettin’ a free pass just ‘cause y’spent all night butterin’ me up.”

Kiryu frowned. “I wasn’t trying to butter you up.”

“Uhn-huh,” Majima grunted, giving him a canny look. “So you were callin’ me beautiful and tellin’ me that I deserve better than a love hotel for your health, huh?”

Kiryu felt extremely stupid all of a sudden, but he wasn’t sure why. He couldn’t tell if it was embarrassment over hearing a repeat of what he’d said to Goromi or anger that Majima couldn’t seem to accept that he would actually feel that. There was still that confusion in him, as well, over the separation between Goromi and Majima, and whether there was any separation at all. 

When he looked at Goromi, he could see the full, sensual shape of her mouth. The high cheekbones. The slender neck. The way her eye seemed to catch the light differently at certain angles, so that it always showed a slightly different shade of brown. 

But Goromi...was Majima.

And when he looked at Majima, all he could see was his aniki. The man who had beaten him down with one hand and lifted him up with the other. The man who had forced him to see that there was always someone stronger out there, no matter how legendary people thought you were.

He wasn’t attracted to Majima, but Goromi confused him. 

They weren’t two different people.

If he could see beauty in Goromi, it meant that he could see beauty in Majima.

But Kiryu never been interested in men before, so why should it start now? That didn’t happen, did it? He was 37. He couldn’t possibly have changed sexuality so late in life, and if he’d always been attracted to men, shouldn’t he know it by now?  

Maybe Majima was right. Maybe he’d just been saying what he thought he should say in that situation.

Even so. “I meant what I said. I wouldn’t have said it otherwise.”

That got a laugh out of Majima. “So you’re tellin’ me that if I’d insisted that we go to whatever hotel you could afford—or hell, I paid for a fancy one for us so your gentleman’s panic alarm wouldn’t go off—that you would’ve fucked me?”

Kiryu took a little too long to answer, earning him a snort.

“Like I said.”

“I guess we’ll never know now, will we?” he mumbled mostly to himself. He knew that Majima had heard, though, when he threw a sharp look his way. He didn’t call him out on it, though, choosing instead to say in a suddenly cheerful voice,

“You did suddenly learn to do magic to impress me, though, so I’m not mad at all.” Majima grinned as he shook the bag of toys at Kiryu. “Plus, I didn’t have to beat the hell out of Okamura myself, this time.”

“This time?” Kiryu asked. “You mean he’s done this before?”

“Not recently. He must’ve found someone else willing to step on his balls.” Kiryu stared over at Majima, who just smirked. “What, you think he likes Goromi for bein’ demure?”

“I don’t think anyone would accuse you of that, Majima-no-niisan,” Kiryu said. “I guess I just didn’t think that you had actually…”

“What?” Majima asked when he trailed off.

Been with him.”

Majima squealed with sudden, helpless laughter. “Oh, Kiryu-chan .”

“Hm?”

“You don’t have to be jealous .”

Kiryu was so caught off-guard by the suggestion that he could only splutter, “ What ?”

“You don’t have to be jealous of Okamura. I only beat him down to get him to shut up about taking me out,” Majima said blithely, smiling from ear to ear as he leaned into Kiryu’s personal space. Kiryu wanted to lean away, but he knew that would be as good as admitting Majima was right. “Don’t worry, Kiryu-chan,” Majima crooned. “You’re still the only man who can get me hot with a single punch.”

“I didn’t—I’m not—” he stammered, forgetting his determination not to be flustered. He cleared his throat before trying again with, “Don’t be ridiculous. I just didn’t know, so I mentioned it out of curiosity. That’s it.”

“Uh huh,” Majima said, still smiling as he leaned away again. “Anyway, this is me.”

Kiryu looked up to the building Majima indicated with a jerk of his shoulder. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected out of Majima’s home, but a run-down block of apartments definitely wasn’t it. It wasn’t like he had any room to talk, though, considering he was basically sleeping out of Serena while he figured out what to do next. But still. He’d thought that one of Tojo’s biggest earners would have been given a little better than what he’d had as a man barely out of boyhood.

“It’s been fun, bud,” Majima said, getting Kiryu’s attention as he began to shrug out of his jacket. Before he could think about how odd it would be to say it to a man, and especially Majima, he was saying,

“Keep it.”

Majima looked up at him through his lashes, his brow furrowed.

“What? Don’t be an idiot. It’s fuckin’ cold out here.”

“I’ll be alright,” Kiryu insisted, tucking his hands in his pockets. He wasn’t sure why he felt the need to make this gesture. Maybe it was the way that their date hadn’t had a typically satisfying end. Maybe he was trying to make up for that somehow. And since he couldn’t exactly give Majima a hug or a kiss, this was the best he could do. “I’m just going back to Serena for the night anyway. Won’t be long without it. Like you said before: tonight hasn’t changed anything. I’ll see you soon enough.”

Majima just studied him for a few moments before shrugging and resettling the jacket on his shoulders. “Not wrong about that, I guess. Whatever, then. See ya around, Kiryu-chan.”

“Goodnight, Majima-no-niisan. Sleep well.”

Majima just gave him a careless wave and headed up the stairs to his apartment. Kiryu stood and watched him until he unlocked his door and disappeared inside, the click of the door loud in the silence left behind. 

Kiryu took a long breath of cold air, letting it blow away the strangeness of the night before turning and heading back. As he walked, he watched the stars fade away, replaced by the lights of Kamurocho. He stopped by a convenience store on the way, buying a pack of cigarettes and a bento he’d eat for breakfast and not thinking of Majima asking him if he wanted it heated up. He lit himself a cigarette, not thinking about Majima bent over with one just like it in his mouth, rolling fishnets down his thighs. He kept his head down as he slunk through the back alleys, not thinking about the clink of Majima’s bat against the concrete.

But when he stopped dead in the middle of one alley and faced down a pink and white high-heeled shoe, he couldn’t help but think of the woman that had held his hand as they ran through the streets laughing like teenagers pulling pranks.

He thought about leaving it.

In the end, though, he bent down and picked it up, a smile tugging at his mouth as he tucked it into the plastic bag to return to Majima the next day.

Goromi…

What a woman.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Majima had been in a lot of situations in his life where the options laid before him were all shit.

He’d gotten pretty good at making the most of a bad thing because of it, though, which was a handy skill to have, he thought. Meant that even when life gave him lemons, he could whip that shit up into a fucking four course meal for himself.

But there were some lemons that were lumpier than others.

Kidnapping a little girl was already pretty lumpy. He’d done plenty of kidnapping in his time, but it was always scumbags who needed the reminder that they were strutting on the cracked glass surface of a shark tank. Having to snatch up a little girl from the streets gave him none of the satisfaction and all of the guilt, even if his boys were as nice about it as they could be.

Which, considering they’d beat the hell out of that cop before putting a bullet in him for some goddamn reason, wasn’t as nice as others might have liked.

So by the time the girl got back to him at the batting cages, he already knew he was in for it.

Oh well. In for a penny...

It was probably better this way, anyway. He’d briefly floated the idea of just going to that cop and giving him the rundown so he wouldn’t have to go quite this far, but he’d figured that wasn’t going to get the job done. The guy didn’t seem like someone who was too keen on listening to a yakuza, no matter how reasonable he tried to be.

And Majiima wasn’t feeling particularly reasonable.

Most likely because while it was bad enough to be targeting a little girl, it was lightyears worse to be targeting a little girl that Kiryu had taken under his wing.

And boy, did it feel not amazing when she recognised him as ‘Mister Kiryu’s friend.’

“We ain’t friends, kiddo,” he growled at her as he tied off the ropes around her, hoping to scare her into shutting up. But either the kid had balls of steel or she’d already seen some shit worse than him, because she just frowned at him in a way that reminded him eerily of Kiryu.

“Yes, you are. I’ve seen you two smoking together outside of Serena.”

In fact, there was something eerily familiar about her in general, he realised as he studied her face. Something about the eyes. “Doesn’t mean we’re friends. Just means he wanted a smoke.” He brushed it off, thinking that it was probably just his head making shit up again, and sat back, crouching down next to the girl as she struggled against the ropes. 

“Hey. Cut that shit out. Y’ain’t gettin’ outta that anytime soon so you might’s’well get comfy.”

Surprisingly, his words seemed to work. Instead of continuing to wriggle angrily, she just settled awkwardly back against the metal shelves, glaring up at him. He started to smile and praise her for her smarts, but then the little shit said,

“You should let me go, you know.”

Majima blinked, torn between amused and impressed and annoyed dissatisfaction. Who was this girl?

“Eh? And why’s that?” he asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

“Because Mister Kiryu will be coming for me soon and he’s going to be mad at you.”

“Oh yeah?” he said, landing solidly on impressed. The girl didn’t seem to be even a little scared of him. He knew she must be, by the stiff way she sat and the fact that she wasn’t blinking. But if he wasn’t looking for it, then he might’ve thought that she was as stoic as the man that had somehow earned her unshakeable trust quick enough that she was willing to bet her life on it. “You think he cares enough to come rescue some brat? He’s a yakuza, you know. We ain’t exactly known for bein’ heroes.”

“I don’t care about that,” the girl surprised him with. Her frown deepened in disapproval, her brows lowered and mouth thin, and Majima could swear that he’d seen that exact look on Kiryu before. It got his hackles up for some reason, seeing that look on this little girl that had gotten everyone’s shit in a spin. “Mister Kiryu is a good guy.”

“Yeah, well,” Majima said in his meanest voice as he narrowed his eye, “ I’m a bad guy, kid. The baddest out there. So—”

Haruka .”

Majima’s mouth was still open, still trying to form the words of the threat he’d been saying before being interrupted. The two of them got into a glaring contest, facing off like two angry cats in an alley. Eventually, when Majima realised how stupid it was to be even doing this with a goddamn kid , he bit out,

“What?”

The girl’s voice was so tiny and girlish, and yet she managed to sound as sharp as any knife as she said, “Haruka. I’m not ‘kid.’ My name is Haruka.”

And with that, Majima was forcibly yanked back almost twenty years by the scruff of his neck, sitting on a cold bathroom floor and looking up into the dark to see a man barely out of boyhood, talking back to his superior without hesitation. 

He shot to his feet in the present, head spinning with the sudden change. He waited until he’d gotten over the surrealness of that coincidence before grumbling,

“Didn’t ask.”

Haruka just kept glaring up at him.

“Whatever,” he said after a few seconds of silence. He opened his mouth to continue, but before he could, the juddering clank of the spotlights turning on and ball machines starting up echoed in the tiny room, followed soon by the roar of,

Majima !”

Kiryu had arrived.

That was faster than he’d expected. 

Guess all that time spent running away from him in the streets was doing good for his stamina.

With one more glance down at Haruka to make sure she was going to stay put, Majima turned and slid out of the supply closet, taking one of the bats propped against the wall as he left. 

Kiryu’s eyes found Majima’s the moment he stepped into view.

Majima had seen Kiryu pretty angry several times in their lives. A few of them were because of things he’d done just to rile him up. A few of them were because someone had threatened a person that Kiryu cared about.

Majima felt it was safe to say that the combination of the two had granted him the sight of Kazuma Kiryu at his angriest. 

In a way, it was pretty breathtaking. 

Then again, in another way, it made him want to puke, there was so much adrenaline pumping through him.

So that wasn’t a great way to start.

But it would have to do.

“Kiryu-chan—”

“Where is she.”

Majima closed his mouth on the teasing he’d intended to use to his advantage. 

His boys closed in on Kiryu from all sides, gripping their bats tight and limbering up, but Kiryu only had eyes for Majima and they were blazing with barely-contained rage.

Majima knew he’d have to tread carefully from now on or risk getting into some bad habits just to get that sort of attention. 

 But for now, he allowed himself to bask in it. He’d made his decision and now he’d reap the rewards, bad and good. “Right through this door,” he said, pointing to the closet and smiling. “Go ahead and take her.”

Kiryu strode toward him without hesitation, pushing through the wall of his boys as though they were nothing more than flies buzzing around him. When he reached out to the doorknob, though, Majima flipped his bat, slamming it onto the metal door before Kiryu could touch it. Kiryu whirled on him, eyes narrowed dangerously.

“If you can.”

They locked eyes for several tense moments until Kiryu spat out, “Get out of my way. I’m not going to fight you.”

“We both know that’s not true, Kiryu-chan,” Majima said in a singsong voice, smiling beatifically as he crooked his bat onto his shoulder and tilted his face close to Kiryu’s. “You gotta stop denyin’ yourself like this, y’know. After I went to all this trouble just to get you here, and you’re tryin’ to—”

Kiryu’s fist slammed into his mouth, splitting his lips against his teeth as he flew to the ground, rolling to absorb the impact and getting back to his feet in the same motion. Kiryu’s breath was rough and fast as he stalked toward him, the promise of more pain in his gaze.

“Ah, hell yes! Here we go, boys!” Majima cried, voice reedy with excitement as he launched himself at Kiryu, bat forgotten in favour of his knife. When he slashed high at Kiryu’s face, though, he found himself not only expertly dodged, but scooped up and slung aside like a bag of trash. He choked for air when his gut slammed into one of the cage bars, eye watering as he looked back to Kiryu, who had moved onto his boys with a clinical precision. 

They tried, bless them, but even with weapons, they couldn’t hope to stop the force of the dragon. 

Of course they couldn’t. Majima had been the only one who’d ever stood a chance.

But Kiryu would not fight him. 

Every time Majima rushed back at him, ready to catch him by surprise while he was busy with laying out one of his boys, Kiryu would just dodge or disable him in any way he could. Majima was so spitting mad at being deliberately denied that it took him until his last man was sprawled on the ground to realise that Kiryu wasn’t refusing to fight him.

He was just taking care of the fodder first.

And when Kiryu turned to him, not even out of breath, and said, “Let’s do this,” Majima was so giggly that he might as well have been a schoolgirl about to receive her first kiss.

“Kiryu-chan. If you wanted to get me alone—”

Kiryu strode toward him, scooping up an abandoned bat as he stepped over one of Majima’s men, and took a swing directly at his head. Majima had to use the sharp edge of his knife to deflect along the length of it as he barely ducked out of the way, the metals singing against each other.

Oh .

“—you just had to ask,” he finished breathlessly as they spun to face each other again.

Majima’s bones were buzzing from the force of Kiryu’s swing, but he didn’t get the chance to shake out the impact. Kiryu was already coming at him again, bat wild and heavy as he aimed for his weak points. Majima’s heart pounded in exhilaration as it cut through the air where he’d just been time after time, Kiryu’s eyes locked in his like a predator unwilling to let go of his prey.

Majima loved it.

They bobbed and struck, spun and kicked, sliced and swung in a dance that had become their own language, bodies knowing how to talk when there was nothing either of them could possibly say. They traded blows, both of them managing to avoid the other except for minor hits, until Majima backed away a little too far from Kiryu’s grasping hand and tripped over one of his boys, stumbling backwards.

And before he could get his footing back, Kiryu took the bat in both hands and swung hard, clipping the side of his head in a blow that sent him to the floor, reeling and confused.

He let out a high, grunting groan, brain scrambled from the force and the intention. Kiryu had done it. He’d actually done it. Majima curled into himself involuntarily, vision wavering ominously with the pounding of his head. For a few seconds, it went entirely black, and Majima wasn’t proud of how he trembled until it faded back in, slowly, slowly.

There was the sound of a bat clattering to the floor, the green carpet hardly cushioning the hollow clang.

Majima peeked up through the mess of his hair, feeling a chunk of it stick to the side of his head on what must be blood. Kiryu stood slack, mouth parted and nostrils flaring as he stared down at him with a strange mix of emotions barely showing in his eyes. Majima wasn’t sure if it was the likely concussion talking, but for a moment, through the confusion and the anger and the regret, Kiryu looked...lost. Betrayed.

But then their eyes found each other again and that tiny hint of something else disappeared, consumed by the anger until Kiryu’s face closed off entirely. Before Majima could even figure out how to talk again, Kiryu was mounting him, his weight pressing him into the floor as he smashed his fist into his face again and again. Majima was choking on blood and what was possibly a tooth by the time that his own anger reared its head. 

With a guttural shriek, Majima bit into the arm that was pinning him down, sliding his arms free and grabbing his abandoned knife when Kiryu yelped in shock. He slashed at his face, slicing a long line across his jaw before Kiryu jerked back, giving him the room to kick him off entirely. He sprung at him, making to stab him in the gut, but Kiryu palmed his forearm and slammed an elbow into his to dislocate it. Majima gasped as his knife flew out of his useless hand, his elbow snapping back into place like a thunderbolt through his arm. 

That was fine, he didn’t need the fucking thing! He’d tear Kiryu apart with his own two fucking hands if that was what he wanted! 

They slammed into each other like clumsy idiots, locking together as Majima hit low and Kiryu hit high, elbowing him in the back of the neck as Majima went for the ribs. Their grunts and cries of pain rang out in the center, echoing off the walls and coming back to them, almost ridiculous in their impotence. The industrial fans lined on the side of the wall blew against them hard enough to chill the blood dripping down his front, both his and Kiryu’s.

When they fell over another body, Majima’s legs gave out under him and they went down hard, rolling on the floor like boys in the schoolyard. Majima got the advantage first, grabbing Kiryu’s hair and slamming his head into the carpeted concrete, but it didn’t take long for Kiryu to regain the upper hand. He pinned him against the wall that they’d rolled into, his hands wrapped around his throat, squeezing so tight that Majima was immediately stiff, his cock straining against Kiryu’s ass. He scrabbled at Kiryu’s face uselessly, pulling in tiny wheezing gasps as their eyes locked like lovers in the night, his vision fading on the beautiful sight of Kiryu’s passion overtaking him.

He had a brief, tiny moment of regret that he hadn’t been able to hold out for Saejima, but if he had to die to someone other than his kyoudai, then he was happy it was Kiryu. Distantly, he felt his body spasming, giving in, and he was somewhat surprised at the relief that flooded him.

He hadn’t consciously known how much he’d wanted this.

But then— 

“Mister?”

—air crushed back into his lungs fast enough to keep him choking. Kiryu’s weight left him, and he curled up, thumping his chest to loosen the dumb muscles so the sudden breaths didn’t feel worse than death. His vision was like a strobing mirage, white and black and dotted with swimming yellow shapes that slowly became Kiryu and Haruka. Kiryu held Haruka close, bent over her as protectively as a father, and Haruka had her arms tight around his middle, eyes closed in relief.

Poisonous emotions bloomed in Majima’s gut at the sight, and he closed his eye so he didn’t have to feel it burning dangerously.

“Mister Kiryu, I was so scared.”

“It’s okay, Haruka. I’m here now. I’m here.”

A little hiccuping sob wormed into Majima’s heart, gnawing, tunneling through the meat of him to get to that dark place inside, and he rolled onto his hands and knees, needing to get away right that moment. Nothing else mattered—not the unsatisfying end to their fight, not the unspoken change between them, not checking to see if he was even fit to be walking. 

He just had to go .

But before he’d stumbled more than a few steps, Kiryu’s voice stopped him dead, commanding him effortlessly with just a simple, “Majima. Wait.”

He wanted to ignore it, angry at the dog inside him that wanted to slink up to Kiryu with its tail between its legs and head hung low. Kiryu didn’t want him like that—didn’t want him at all—and even if he did, Majima didn’t want to give that part of himself to him. There was too much standing between them for that. There was too much history in the place they stood and it made him feel backed into a corner again, fighting to maintain the edges of himself before he bled out.

But he couldn’t find the words to tell Kiryu that, so he just glared over at him, waiting like the good dog he was.

“I’m not finished with you,” Kiryu said, his words stony and distant, a stark contrast to the position they’d only just been in. Majima could still feel the mark of Kiryu’s hands on his throat, the bruised skin raw and tingling.

“Don’t give a shit,” he rasped. “We fought. You won. You can take the girl, so just fuck off.”

Kiryu stared at him for what felt like a long time but was probably only a few seconds before asking, “Why?”

Majima knew exactly what he was asking—why had he betrayed Kiryu by taking the girl?—but he didn’t feel like having a fucking heart-to-heart, so he just said, “‘Cause I’m sick of th’sight of ya.”

Kiryu scowled, a little of his typical impatience with him returning as he opened his mouth to argue. But Majima wasn’t listening, even if Kiryu was speaking, because he’d only barely just noticed the slight movement behind Kiryu, and it almost took him too long to realise what was happening. 

“Die, Kiryu!”

Kiryu wasn’t fast enough to turn and stop the man who was rushing him with Majima’s tantō. Majima knew this like he knew his own name. So, without any conscious thought, he leaped forward, meeting his man’s attack with his own body.

The knife slid into his gut like it was warm butter, spreading icy numb through him with a distinct wrongness that stuttered his brain and made him stupid.

His only thought for a few moments was: it wasn’t so bad. He’d had worse in the Hole.

But then he looked into the terrified eyes of his boy and was overcome with the stupidity of what had just happened. Majima was going to die to some worthless piece of shit just because he’d thought that someone like the Dragon of Dojima deserved a knife in the back. The irony of him giving Kiryu this exact warning was not lost on him, and he choked on a laugh, slapping one bloodied hand onto his man’s shoulder as he coughed out,

“How many times do I gotta tell you fucks that Kiryu-chan—is mine , you—fucking— dumbass .”

Mustering up the last bit of strength he had in him, he punctuated his words with a haymaker that floored the idiot before he stumbled forward, laughing breathlessly.

“What a fucking joke,” he muttered, holding the knife tight against his gut as he collapsed. 

The last thing he saw before everything went dark was Kiryu’s panicked face bending over him, his mouth forming the shape of his name.

And for a little while, there was nothing.

Not relief, not sadness. Just...nothing.

But then he began to dream. 

Or was it another life? 

It must have been in another world, entirely, if it was, because time never seemed to stay still in this life. One moment, he was relaxing in a field of wheat, peering up into the blue sky with his arm over his bad eye and the next he was sitting up, looking out at the night sky over the ocean with both eyes, marveling at the memory of depth. 

There wasn’t anyone for a long time, or no time at all. But then there were children running past, stumbling over themselves in their eagerness and collapsing onto the sand, rough-housing and crying and laughing and just being children. Majima watched them disappear around the corner of a rock cliff, the waves crashing over his feet.

It was sunset when he felt someone kneel behind him and press their lips against the nape of his neck, bending his head forward as they nuzzled into him. He knew that he loved this person, but no matter how hard he tried to turn to look at them, he couldn’t see their face. He struggled against their embrace, needing to see them. He had to see who it was, but they just laughed softly, biting the curve of his neck in a gentle reprimand that sent shivers through him, his heart clenching.

It was only when he sighed and gave in, letting them wrap their arms around him and hold him close, that he began to recognise the shape of them.

They smelled like— 

“How is he?”

Majima blinked, his train of thought broken by the whisper that echoed in his head. Where had that come from?

“He’s stable. The knife missed anything vital, thankfully.”

When Majima stood up to follow the voice and looked around, he realised that he wasn’t at the ocean at all, but in Kamurocho. 

Then he looked back, and saw that the person was gone. Their absence left such a hollow pit in his stomach that he had to grit his teeth through it, until it faded the same as they had.

“If he’s stable, why is he still asleep?”

He was fine. It was for the best. He’d lived through it before and it was always for the best.

“He had other substantial injuries that he needs to recover from as well. Rest is always best for the system at these times.”

That was true, Majima thought as he watched the faceless people of Kamurocho march past him.

“But I…is there...”

He drifted amongst them, peeking his head around their umbrellas to see if they would bother to react. They didn’t.

“Yes?”

He strolled through alleys past drug deals between laughing kids, yakuza shakedowns, and a woman getting her cock sucked by a man dressed as a demon. He wondered what he was supposed to be cosplaying as, or if he just liked the idea of being a demon.

“Is there anything I can do?”

There was never anything anyone could do, Majima thought, wincing as his stomach clenched in pain again. That question had haunted him in all his lives, and there never was. 

Maybe he was just too complacent. Believed in inevitability a little too deep in his bones.

“Not really.”

Majima grinned, nodding. See?

“Oh.”

He knew that feeling well.

“Can I stay here for a little while anyway?”

That would only hurt worse. Seeing stark reality for too long was never good for the health of those left behind.

But had they really been left behind?

The voice had said that they were only resting.

“Of course. Please stay as long as you like.”

So maybe they were just hoping to be at their side when they woke up.

He could understand that.

He walked through the gate at Tenkaichi and down the steps to the river in Sōtenbori, resting against the railing with a sigh. The river was choppy and black, white foam cutting across the surface like clouds at night. 

There was only silence and the faint memory of neon lights and barkers calling from Sotenbori Street, until the voice returned.

“Nii-san…”

Another spike of pain stabbed into Majima’s gut at the familiarity of that voice. 

Kiryu .

It was Kiryu .

He stood up straight, the city around him wavering. Memories returned like buckets of water dumped over him. Taking Haruka. Fighting Kiryu in the batting center. The knife.

He was the poor asshole laid up in bed, and Kiryu was the one waiting for him to wake up.

“Nii-san...I’m sorry.”

Don’t be, Majima wanted to say, becoming aware of the space of his own body and where it lay as Kiryu spoke to him. He grabbed onto that feeling and, like a child learning to walk, tried to remember how to wake up. He didn’t have time to be laying around. He had shit to do.

Starting with punching Kiryu for letting him sleep when he’d only gotten a single sorry stab wound. And for apologising to him for something that they’d both had to do. Majima hadn’t had any choice but to take Haruka, and Kiryu couldn’t have just let him. They weren’t like that. What had happened between them was only natural.

“I didn’t mean to—to go that far,” Kiryu was saying as Majima gripped his body back to himself and remembered the feeling of snapping awake. And like a magic spell, he woke up, rubber-banding back into his other life.

“I lost control and I’m—”

“Kiryu-chan,” he mumbled, his throat raw and tight enough that he wondered who he’d deep-throated before remembering that Kiryu had nearly choked him to death. He tried to swallow past the pain instinctively, but that only made it worse, so he just ignored it and said, “Shut the fuck up.”

Then he opened his eye and saw Kiryu hunched over in a chair that he fit in so poorly that it must have been a child’s seat, and lost his goddamn mind.

“Oh fuck,” he croaked, wincing and holding his hand over his gut as he wheezed with helpless laughter. “Oh, shit. Fuck, you could’ve warned me. I’m dyin’ here.”

Kiryu looked so miserable at his laughter that Majima lost it again, cackling despite the way his head throbbed in warning.

“Majima-no-niisan, I don’t see how this is a laughing matter.”

“Ah, of course y’don’t, ya fuckin’ Easter Island head,” Majima sighed, tears of both pain and laughter streaming down his cheek. He wiped them away with the hand that didn’t have a drip fed into it. He looked around the room, trying and failing to place what hospital he was in. Kiryu must have noticed, because he mumbled,

“You’re at a clinic of a doctor I know. Your men wanted to take you to the hospital, but I thought this would raise fewer questions.”

“For who?” Majima asked, genuinely curious. “You think anyone gives a shit what injuries a yakuza comes in with?”

The answer became obvious when Kiryu just looked away, his mouth thinning.

He didn’t want anyone asking him questions about Majima’s injuries.

“Hm.” Kiryu still didn’t look at him or say anything, and Majima hummed. “So how long have I been out?” he asked, figuring it was a safer option.

“A day,” Kiryu said, looking even more miserable.

“You let me sit on my ass for a whole day ?” he rasped, sitting up higher in bed as best he could with the pull of his stitches and sharp resistance from his stomach. He growled in frustration when Kiryu put a firm hand on his bare chest, keeping him from swinging his legs over the side.

“You have to rest,” Kiryu said, no quarter given in his voice. “You were stabbed . You can’t do anything right now.”

“It don’t matter what shit I got wrong, I got a boss to report to, unlike some people —”

“I said , you’re not going anywhere.” Kiryu’s eyes narrowed in a steely glare. 

Majima just glared back at him, teeth bared. “And I’m sayin’, you ain’t stoppin’ me.”

When he tried to shift from underneath Kiryu’s hand, he just stood and pressed him back down harder, keeping him pinned to the cot-like bed. The paper-thin sheets rustled as they slid from Majima’s hips to the floor, leaving him feeling cold and impotent in ill-fitting sweatpants, which got him angrier than ever.

“Nobody asked you to be my fuckin’ nursemaid, Kiryu!” Majima barked up at him, viciously throwing his hand away from his chest. “Now fuck off so I can—”

“So you can lose your finger to Shimano for not getting Haruka’s pendant for him?” Kiryu asked, his voice flat with barely-restrained anger as well.

Majima wanted to be surprised that he’d found out part of why he’d taken Haruka, but Kiryu had enough informants now that he would have been more surprised if he hadn’t figured it out.

“Yeah,” he said matter-of-factly, breathing through his nose to ease the pain of sitting as he was, with his stomach bent. “What about it?”

“Nii-san,” Kiryu began, but Majima felt like it was his turn to get a jab in, annoyed as he was.

“Don’t fuckin’ ‘nii-san’ me,” he grumbled, turning to the IV in his arm and prising it out of him, holding his hand tight over the hole while he hobbled out of the bed to where he could see some bandages. His jaw was slack as he struggled to breathe through the pain while he yanked open the closest box and quickly wrapped a bandage around his bleeding arm. He could feel Kiryu approach, but didn’t turn to face him. He just made slow, sloppy work of patching himself up before looking around for his clothes. “Where’s my shit.”

“Majima-no-niisan,” Kiryu said behind him, his voice stiff and formal once more. For some reason, that got Majima’s goat worse than the familiarity, but he didn’t have the time to be starting fights. He needed to check in. The longer he put it off, the worse it would be. Shimano had been extra rough lately, ever since the funeral. And even though Majima was stronger than ever, it had hurt worse, somehow. Left him with angry eels squirming in his stomach now, where he might have felt drained but satisfied before. 

He didn’t want to think about why that was. He knew , but he didn’t want to think about it. It was bad enough for Majima already, having Kiryu so close, without him thinking about how they had gravitated towards each other ever since he’d gotten out of prison. Without thinking about how he couldn’t stop thinking of Kiryu’s strength and what he wanted to do about it. Without thinking about the dog in Majima that wanted to offer himself to Kiryu and promise to be at his side forever, as long as he wanted him.

Majima wasn’t going to think about that because Kiryu didn’t. He didn’t want him or his loyalty. He had made that clear enough with all the times that Majima had reached out to him to try to be closer despite the wriggling panic that coiled around his chest like balls of worms, threatening to fill his limbs and climb out of his throat with his manic, screaming laughter. 

He’d known every time that Kiryu would reject him, would tell him that he wasn’t in the mood for him, would never be in the mood for him, didn’t have time for him, and he’d never disappointed. 

But he’d thought—after Goromi—after that moment that they’d shared—that Kiryu might have changed his mind. Might have seen something in him that even Majima wasn’t sure was there anymore. Stupid, of course. Kiryu and Majima were still polar opposites even if he’d spent every waking moment trying anything to get his attention, and for what?

For what.

So he could be the pathetic one who did things like kidnap little girls and take knives in the gut for the man who had nearly killed him minutes before that?

Majima hadn’t changed at all. At all. Still that same kid waiting for someone to just look at him , see him, tell him he was worth keeping around, if only for his venom. His bite. If he couldn’t be anything else, at least he could be the sharpest knife anyone could hope to wield.

But there was no use courting a man like Kiryu with the promise of a deadly weapon. He was already deadly enough. Why knock at a man’s house and try to sell him another? 

Fuck that. Fuck all of it.

And so he limped around the tiny room, checking drawers and cupboards and everything else he could think that would hold his belongings, his breath ragged and sore in his throat as he prepared himself for the punishment that Shimano would have waiting for him. 

Majima .”

“What?” he snapped, slamming a metal drawer back into its cabinet and finally turning to Kiryu, who was frowning deeply at him. “What do you want from me? I’m tryin’ to do my goddamn job here, so if you have somethin’ to say, then you need t’spit it out already.”

Kiryu didn’t seem fazed at all by his temper, simply crossing his arms and stating, “You’re not going.”

The finality and confidence in his words were the straw that broke Majima. He stared at Kiryu with a wide eye, pushing forward into his space aggressively. “You think this a fucking game? You think I have a choice here? You think I’m gonna sit on my ass like a good boy just because you feel guilty for putting me there?”

A spark lit in Kiryu’s eyes and Majima felt a mean satisfaction in the doubt he saw there.

“You wanted to fight me. You only got what you wanted.”

“Yeah, I did,” Majima agreed, voice hoarse with how much talking he’d done on such a raw throat. “And now I want to report to my fuckin’ boss before he decides that I deserve more than a slap on the fuckin’ wrist!”

“And I told you: I’m not letting him hurt you at all when you’re like this.”

Majima gaped at Kiryu. “What the fuck are you talkin’ about? D’ya even know who you’re talkin’ to? Did those ten years in the clink scramble your fuckin’ brains so bad that you think a yakuza has a choice what punishments he takes from his boss?”

“It’s my responsibility to make sure you heal properly,” Kiryu repeated stubbornly, putting himself bodily in Majima’s way when he tried to just leave. 

Majima didn’t like that one bit. He didn’t like feeling caged. Kiryu was making him feel caged. 

“Get out of my way,” he said, his voice hollow. He was already looking for weapons to use. He had to get out of this room. He had to go or there would be hell to pay and Majima didn’t know how long he’d be out of commission if he had to take Shimano’s worst. He couldn’t let that happen. He had responsibilities now. He had to be sure Kiryu was ready for what was coming whether he wanted to be or not. The pieces were moving on the board, getting ready to strike. Majima couldn’t—he couldn’t let Kiryu lose. Kiryu couldn’t die.

“You aren’t strong enough to take Shimano’s punishment right now,” Kiryu said, the gentle, but firm concern in his voice and eyes making him panic more. He couldn’t deal with this. He couldn’t deal because the longer he listened to Kiryu argue, the more he wanted to just agree and lay back down and let Kiryu look after him.

That wasn’t Majima. That wasn’t him. He wasn’t soft like that. He was rough; sharp and hard like broken glass. 

But Kiryu put his hand on his shoulder and murmured, “Please, Nii-san,” and he felt himself begin to bend, becoming pliable under his touch. Majima struck instinctively, slapping Kiryu with as much force as he could muster and Kiryu staggered so hard that he knew he’d surprised him. 

He’d surprised himself, too. But at least he’d given himself the opening he needed. So even as regret flooded him, he made for the door, determined to escape before he did something he’d regret even more. 

Kiryu hadn’t been staggered enough, though, it seemed, because as soon as he got his hand on the doorknob, he yanked him back from it, digging his fingers into Majima’s wound so hard that it was obviously deliberate. Majima gasped, his body falling forward as his vision flashed white, and Kiryu used that as an opportunity to scoop him up and toss him roughly back onto the bed. After he got his breath back, Majima glared up at Kiryu, his fingers sticky with the blood leaking through his bandage.

He opened his mouth to snap as many obscenities at Kiryu as he could, but when Kiryu simply asked, “Do you want to die so badly?” he couldn’t manage to do more than stare dumbly. 

“You know what will happen if you go back to Shimano with nothing,” Kiryu continued, voice and body so tense that Majima knew he was holding something back. “But you’re still trying to go. I’m not telling you not to go at all. I’m offering you a safe place to recover before you go. I know what sort of man you are, Majima-no-niisan. You would never run away from your responsibilities. But I’m asking you, this time: please, don’t go yet.”

Majima was still so shocked by how emphatically Kiryu felt about this that he couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

“Use me if you need to,” he continued, the barest hint of unsteadiness coming through his voice as his eyes burned into Majima’s. “Tell him I locked you up. Tortured you to get information about the ten billion.”

“No one would believe that,” Majima said, finally finding his voice at the ridiculousness of that suggestion. 

“Nishiki wants it,” Kiryu said, his throat working for a moment before he continued. “They’d believe that I’d do it for him.”

“No, they wouldn’t,” Majima said, suddenly very tired. He dropped his head back against the lumpy pillow, taking a few shallow breaths through his nose as the light overhead flickered annoyingly, the smell of antiseptic and blood making for a nauseating mixture. “Not even Nishikiyama believed that.”

Kiryu was silent for so long that Majima eventually rolled his head to see what was going on with him, but he was just studying his face. Probably looking for the lie, he thought, but then Kiryu just said,

“Nishiki came to you about Haruka, didn’t he.”

Considering it wasn’t phrased as a question, Majima didn’t feel it needed an answer other than, “Your old man, too.”

That got more of a reaction out of him. Kiryu’s scowl returned, deep and shocked. “What?”

Majima sighed, punctuating it with a laugh. “Yup. Sent some guy to Shimano’s office to bargain with me. Knew that Shimano wanted the pendant and wanted me to give Haruka to them, instead. Turns out your girl’s some kinda ace in the hole for everyone at the table.”

Kiryu mulled that over, arms crossed and head bowed. “Father…”

Majima struggled to prop himself up against the freezing cold metal headboard, holding a hand over his wound to ease the pull of the few stitches that hadn’t broken with Kiryu’s rough handling. “Shimano just wanted the pendant, but Nishikiyama and Kazama’s man—they specified that they wanted the girl, too. No clue why. Didn’t ask.” He huffed out another laugh. “Was frankly too impressed by the balls on them to come to Shimano’s captain asking him to betray his boss to ask too many questions.” 

Kiryu’s mouth thinned enough to almost disappear before he looked to the floor and muttered, “I know why. Haruka, she’s—she’s Yumi’s niece. Yumi was apparently separated from her family at birth. Her sister Mizuki is Haruka’s mother.”

Majima blinked, the memory of seeing Mizuki at Serena for the first time slotting into the puzzle that was Haruka’s familiarity and sending him into a spin.

Back then, he’d taken one look at ‘Mizuki’ and had thought to himself: oh, Yumi is back, that will be one less worry for Kiryu when he gets out. But then Reina had introduced her to him as Mizuki and he’d stopped himself in the middle of asking where she’d been for five years. He’d just nodded and sat with Mizuki, asking her careful, but innocuous questions about herself. She’d expertly dodged his attempts to get her to admit to him that she wasn’t Yumi’s sister at all, and he’d just shrugged it off, thinking that it wasn’t really his business. If she wanted to make a new life, that wasn’t any problem for him. He wasn’t about to sell out a woman who’d obviously needed to escape something.

And now Majima knew exactly what she’d been escaping.

He’d seen Yumi and Jingu around the Tojo offices, giving each other doe-eyes that made it clear that there was more than just casual acquaintance between them. But Majima hadn’t expected that they’d actually had a goddamn kid . That put Yumi’s disappearance and rebirth as Mizuki into a new perspective.

No fucking wonder Haruka had looked so familiar. She had Yumi’s eyes.

But the big question was, now: did he tell Kiryu?

Majima studied Kiryu’s troubled face and knew in an instant that he couldn’t do that. It wasn’t his place to say anything. This was between the two of them. 

Three of them, now, he supposed.

Fuck. No wonder, too, that Kiryu had attached himself to the kid so fast. He probably didn’t even know why he had. 

What a shitshow.

And Majima hadn’t exactly helped it with his stupid curiosity about why everyone wanted this one kid enough to approach him about it. It had seemed more than a bit strange, coming to him of all people. Anyone could kidnap a little girl, after all. Why would they approach the one man who had made it painfully obvious that he didn’t stand for that kind of shit?

Guess he knew, now, and as it often happened when his curiosity was sated, he wasn’t happier with the knowledge.

They’d come to him specifically because he was the kind of man that wasn’t into that shit. They’d known he would do it out of curiosity, though, and he would keep the girl safe until either they could come collect her or he’d die to Kiryu. Either way, Shimano wouldn’t be getting the pendant.

He was a little annoyed with being played, but at the same time, he was the one stupid enough to fall for it. It wasn’t their fault he was a fucking idiot when it came to Kiryu.

Kiryu’s eyes slid up to meet his as he watched him, and a silent conversation passed between them, then. Majima could never bring himself to apologise out loud, but there was an unspoken regret from both of them in that one look, and he knew that it was understood. 

 Kiryu sighed after a moment, his arms relaxing back to his sides as he moved to sit on the edge of the hospital bed, back slumping tiredly. Majima’s lip twitched and he let his head fall back again as he muttered,

“Can’t believe I was played by Nishikiyama, of all people. What a fucking buttmunch.”

He was surprised when, after a second, Kiryu snorted with laughter, resting his face in his hands as he chuckled. Majima couldn’t help but smile wryly at the sound.

“He is, now, isn’t he?” Kiryu sighed again, shaking his head and looking solemn again when he dropped his hands to his lap, letting them hang between his thighs. Majima hated how defeated he looked. He wanted to take his bat and smash Nishikiyama’s head in for making someone so strong look like that, but that wouldn’t bring Kiryu’s kyoudai back. It wouldn’t bring him back to a simpler time, when they’d laughed together and drank together and fought together, back-to-back. Nothing either of them could do now would bring that back. “I wish...I just wish I could...”

“I know, Kiryu-chan,” Majima said, and it was the truth. “I know.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Do you know the club Asia, Kiryu-san?”

Kiryu turned his head to check the tiny, unlit screen of his phone, making sure that it really was Nishida who had called him. 

Yes, unfortunately, it was. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear the rest of this phone call, all of a sudden. Why would Majima be calling him about a bikini bar? “Yeah. What about it?”

“Well! Boss couldn’t help but notice that no one has properly welcomed you back from prison, so he’s decided to throw you a party there! He’s booked the whole place for the night, so if you’re free—”

“I’m not.”

“...O-Oh.”

There was silence on the other side of the line for so long that Kiryu thought the call had dropped. He checked the phone again, but the timer was still counting up, second by silent second. Had the call really only lasted less than a minute? It felt like years.

It lasted so long that Kiryu was debating whether he should just hang up and continue with his day, but in the end he just sighed in defeat and said, “I can find some time.”

 “Oh, good!” Nishida said immediately, and Kiryu couldn’t help but feel as though he’d been manipulated somehow. “Just come when you can and the bouncer there will let you in!”

“...Fine.”

“Thank you, Sir!”

“Don’t call me sir,” Kiryu grumbled.

“You got it, Sir!” Nishida chirped. “We’re all so glad you’ll be able to come! The boss has been thinking very hard about how to make it up to you!”

Kiryu frowned. “Make what up to me?”

“It—he—I’m sorry, Sir, he said you’d understand what that means.”

Kiryu blinked. Majima wanted to make something up to him? What could he possibly— 

And then it hit him that this was Majima’s way of apologising for what he’d done to him and Haruka.

Kiryu wasn’t sure how he felt about that. On the one hand, he’d thought that it was clear in the hospital that they were both sorry for what had happened. They’d both done things they weren’t proud of, and he’d thought that Majima had also been happy to mutually drop it. On the other hand, he was oddly touched that Majima had thought to do this for him. He hadn’t expected anyone, least of all Majima, to think to officially welcome him back to civilian life. It hadn’t exactly been a happy occasion, and now that he was in the thick of the Tojo plotting once more, brought there by Nishiki and his father no less, it was doubly strange to think of someone expecting him to celebrate this.

But the idea of turning down Majima’s thoughtfulness left a sour taste in his mouth, so he just thanked Nishida, told him he’d be there, and hung up.

“What the hell are you thinking, Majima?” he mumbled under his breath to the phone, earning him some wary looks from passers-by. He grunted out a frustrated sound before tucking his phone away and trying to focus on what he’d been doing before the call. He didn’t have a lot of daylight left and if he was going to go to this thing, then he was going to go early and leave early. He may not want to hurt Majima’s feelings by declining, but that didn’t mean he had to enjoy himself at a bikini bar, of all places.

As usual, though, that was nothing more than a pipe dream in Kamurocho. 

In the hour or two he’d had before night fell over the city, he’d managed to finish exactly none of the tasks he’d needed to do, and had, in fact, picked up several more. Not to mention the split lip he’d earned from some punk who’d caught him by surprise with a lead pipe to the face when he was busy laying out his friends. 

So by the time that he trudged slowly down the stairs to Asia, he was in a considerably foul mood already, and the sight of a sad, empty room full of chairs with no decorations or food or anything was just the last straw.

Out of everything he’d needed to be reminded of that day, the fact that he had no one left to care about him wasn’t one of them.

He turned to Majima, watching him sliding and spinning along the pole mounted in the center of the stage for a moment before grunting, “I’m leaving.”

Kiryu-chan ,” Majima crooned, wrapping his thigh around the pole and dipping himself back to face Kiryu, his jacket sliding down far enough to show off the snakes wrapped around his shoulders. “Don’t you want to have some fun tonight?”

Kiryu just gave him an unamused look and said, “You shouldn’t be bending like that, you know. You’ll open your wound again.”

Majima spun himself around the pole, grinning wildly as he hiked himself up it and got into an upside-down, spread-legged position that looked frankly uncomfortable to Kiryu, but didn’t seem to bother him. If anything, he seemed to be having the time of his life. Especially when he twisted back up and held the pole high above his head before kicking out his legs that sent him in a slow spin down it.

“C’mon, Kiryu-chan,” he breathed seductively, annoying Kiryu with just how affected he was by it. “I’m feeling great. Why don’t you come up here so I can make you feel good, too? You can touch the dancers all you want tonight.”

What a ridiculous thing to get flustered over. 

“I don’t have time for this, Majima-no-niisan. Thank you for your thoughtfulness, but I have to go.”

Wait ,” Majima called out when Kiryu made to leave. He looked over his shoulder to see Majima getting back to his feet, a tiny pout on his mouth. Kiryu had no idea why he’d be looking at him like that. It wasn’t like Kiryu had been the one to play a mean trick on the other when they’d just started to build an uneasy sort of trust between them again. “Are you really going?”

“I told you; I don’t have time for stuff like this.”

“Stuff like what?” Majima asked, face twisting with a sudden indignation that got Kiryu’s own rising up to meet it.

“I don’t have time for your jokes,” he said slowly, irritated that he was having to spell this out for Majima. He hadn’t even wanted to come, but he hadn’t wanted to be rude to someone he had started to consider a possible friend. It seemed that Majima had no such qualms.

“You think I’m joking?” Majima asked, eye narrowing as he stepped forward to the edge of the stage, glaring down at Kiryu. “You think it’s a joke, me offerin’ to help you fuckin’ relax for once in your life? What, did you think there would be girls here or somethin’?”

Kiryu didn’t consider his words beyond the sudden desire to make Majima feel as bad as he’d made him feel with that empty room. 

“I can’t see how it could be anything other than a joke,” he said scornfully. “I wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot pole.”

He immediately regretted the words, but then Majima threw the first kick, and he was too cowardly and annoyed to do anything other than follow it up with several of his own, sending them into a full-blown fight that Kiryu wasn’t sure Majima hadn’t planned from the beginning. 

If that was what he’d wanted all along, then Kiryu couldn’t understand why he didn’t just say so. There was no need for him to try to hurt Kiryu. He would have just given him the fight. It seemed to him that Majima had just been cruel for cruelty’s sake, this time, and he wasn’t about to let that go without some kind of punishment.

But in the end, his heart wasn’t really in it. That must have been clear enough to Majima, as they only fought for a short time before, while circling each other, he simply stopped and dropped his hands, looking so openly miserable that Kiryu nearly apologised.

“Jus’ forget it,” he said after a few moments of conflicted silence from Kiryu. “Y’might as well just go.”

Kiryu stared, dropping his hands slowly as well, wary of the possibility of a trick. But Majima just looked away, mouth tense and unhappy.

“Majima-no-niisan—”

“Fine, I’ll go,” Majima said, wiping away a bit of blood on his face before stepping over the chairs they’d broken in their brief skirmish. Kiryu watched him leave, feeling more lost than he had around Majima in a long time. 

What had just happened?

Kiryu looked down at his busted knuckles, watching the way the pooling blood slid down the curve of his fingers before dripping onto the floor. 

Had he missed something in that interaction?

Because to him, he’d just been the victim of a thoughtless prank, had retaliated out of frustration, and had defended himself when attacked.

But after seventeen years, he knew better than to only look at what happened on the surface with Majima. There was always something that had happened underneath that he’d misunderstood. But the problem was, he’d never been able to figure what it was without Majima there with him. 

As it was, he was simply left to stare down at his own spilling blood and listen to the silence of the room where ten years ago, there might have been dozens of people crowded around, all laughing and having fun. 

It would have been at Serena, though, instead of this dingy basement club. He would have been drinking with Nishiki and Yumi. Reina would be leaning back against the shelves, smoking and chuckling along with them while still somehow managing to serve everyone. She’d always been able to multitask like that, and Yumi had always talked about how she admired Reina for her ability to keep it together under pressure. 

His father would be there, of course, but he wouldn’t stay for longer than it took to have a drink and congratulate him. Kazama had always hated parties, especially where there was alcohol involved. Kiryu had wondered about that for the longest time, but then when he got deeper into the yakuza life, he realised that alcohol made people unpredictable, and he’d found it harder and harder to enjoy parties, himself.

He’d wasted his opportunities, back then, he realised now.

He’d had the time to spend with the ones he loved, but he’d taken it for granted.

And now he was standing alone in an empty bikini bar, bleeding on his shoes after somehow chasing away the one person who hadn’t given up on him.

He’d never appreciated Majima then, either.

He was beginning to see that.

Even if it had been a nasty prank, the truth was that Majima had realised that no one had welcomed him back. Not even his father had thought about something so innocuous. He’d just immediately thrown Kiryu back into the midst of the Tojo’s problems without thought. 

Kiryu could understand that—these things came naturally to Kiryu, so why shouldn’t he help out?—but at the same time, part of him was angry that it took someone as unpredictable as Majima to think of anything else. Nobody else had looked at Kiryu the way Majima did: as someone who could take on the world, but needed to be encouraged and trained back to what he’d been before in order for him to do so. Nobody else had even considered that Kiryu might be weaker for having spent ten years in prison. 

To Reina, he was still Nishikiyama’s brother, someone who could bring him back from the darkest places with his guidance alone. To Kazama, he was still a boy trying his best to convince the world he was tough enough to bend it to his will. To Nishiki, he was still the man who had been called a dragon from the start, when he still had yet to reach that gate.

To everyone else, the Dragon of Dojima.

After ten years, he was still a legend to them.

But to Majima, he was Kiryu. Just Kiryu.

He’d never realised how much he needed that until now.

So when Majima suddenly burst back into the room, determination written on his face as he spat out, “Okay, fine, you don’t want to touch me with a ten-foot pole, that’s alright, but there’s gotta be someone you’d touch,” the first thing Kiryu thought to say was,

“I’m sorry.”

“I said, there has to be someone —”

“No,” Kiryu interrupted, shaking his head. “I meant that I’m sorry. For saying that.”

He might as well have suckerpunched Majima in the balls, he looked so comically stunned.

Eventually he recovered enough to say, “What the hell are you talking about? Don’t apologise for sayin’ what you feel. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with bein’ honest.”

“I wasn’t being honest, though,” Kiryu insisted. 

He watched Majima absorb that, his face falling flat for a fraction of a second before a teasing smile spread across it. He drifted toward Kiryu as though there were a force pulling him across the space that separated them, stopping well within Kiryu’s personal space before saying, “ Kiryu-chan …” in a soft, lilting voice. 

“What?” he asked, leaning away nervously, worried that being honest with Majima had been the wrong thing to do.

“Are you saying that you want to touch me?”

Kiryu distantly felt his ears go hot, but he just shook his head and said, “No. I’m just not saying that I wouldn’t.”

Majima’s face twisted with disappointment and he groaned, falling back. “Aw, what the hell does that even mean?”

Kiryu had no answer to that. Even he didn’t know.

“Fine,” Majima said, clapping a hand to his shoulder and giving him a little jostle. “Then what I said before still stands: there’s gotta be someone you wanna touch.”

Kiryu frowned, his brow raised. “What do you mean?”

Majima growled out a sigh. “Look, I know it’s probably hard for you to grasp, but I wasn’t tryin’ t’make a joke outta this.”

“You mean you weren’t just looking for a fight like always?” Kiryu asked, suspicious but amused at Majima’s theatrics.

“Well, sure, but I’m always up for a fight with you, Kiryu-chan,” he said matter-of-factly. “The point is: I was actually tryin’ to getcha to relax tonight. I might’ve made a bad judgement, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still wantcha t’have a good time.”

“Oh,” Kiryu said. “Hm.”

“What?” Majima asked, peering at him.

“It’s just that I don’t really want to— touch —anyone.”

Majima blinked. “No one?”

Kiryu shrugged. “I told you before, I don’t have anyone special in my life.”

“I thought you were just saying that to play along with Goromi!” Majima wailed.

Kiryu shook his head. “When would I have had time to find someone, Majima-no-niisan? I’ve been too busy.” He thought about that before continuing to say, “I’m still too busy. I was supposed to be finding an old man a cabbage, but I came here instead because I didn’t want to disappoint you.”

“What the—who the hell wants you to get them a cabbage?”

“There’s an old man who works at my favourite butcher shop who has a sick child at home right now, and his wife wants to make her cabbage rolls since they’re her favourite, but he can’t leave the shop, since his assistant has come down with the flu as well.”

Majima stared at him with a dull look before asking, “So?”

“So I offered to get him a cabbage,” Kiryu explained as if to a small child.

Majima’s face scrunched up. “Why?”

“Because it seemed like the right thing to do?”

“...Of course it did.”

“Either way, I’m sorry, but I’ll have to take you up on your offer another time,” Kiryu said, giving a tiny bow of apology. “Thank you again for thinking of me.”

“Aw, fuck that,” Majima said without missing a beat, flapping his hand dismissively. “Don’t try to make me into some do-gooder asshole who cares about shit like this. I just didn’t want you walkin’ around with a stick up your ass. Makes you sloppy.”

Kiryu just grinned. “Whatever you say.”

Majima gave him a suspicious look for a second before shaking his head as though trying to clear it and said, “Anyway, this cabbage shit ain’t gonna take you all night, right? So how ‘bout I just come with ya and then we can go to a cabaret club and get you a nice girl to call you handsome and laugh at your jokes or whatever the hell statues like you think passes for flirting.”

“I don’t tell jokes, according to you,” Kiryu pointed out, his smile growing when Majima just gave him a huffy look. “I can’t, though. The cabbage won’t take all night, but I have a lot of other things I need to do, too, that probably will take me all night.”

“Oh. Okay,” was all Majima said, but by the way he looked away, fiddling with the bandages at his stomach, Kiryu knew that it wasn’t actually okay. If it had been, he would have just said see you later and left without another word. Majima wasn’t someone who was afraid of goodbyes in the slightest. So maybe, if he sounded hesitant, there was something that Kiryu had said that didn’t sit well with him.

When Kiryu thought back over what he’d said, he realised that he could be kind of oblivious sometimes.

“If you aren’t busy, though,” he began, waiting for Majima to look back at him to say, “I’d appreciate the company.”

“I’m not a fuckin’ charity case, Kiryu-chan,” Majima groused. “I got other shit I can do that don’t make me hang out at some sweaty vegetable stand.”

“Do you think all my errands are related to vegetables?” Kiryu asked, choosing to simply step around the wreckage towards the door instead of argue.

And as he’d hoped, he heard Majima following him after a second. When he held the door open for him, he got a pissy glare in return that he just smiled at. They climbed the stairs up to the street side-by-side, Kiryu making sure his knuckles had crusted over before shoving his hands into his pockets. He still felt very conspicuous out in public with his busted face and blood stains on his shoes, but all it took was a cigarette propped between his lips to make him not give a shit what anyone thought. 

“Ahhh, fuck, that hits the spot,” Majima sighed, clicking Kiryu’s lighter closed and tossing it back at him. He spoke out of the corner of his mouth, his cigarette bouncing as he readjusted his knife in the back of his trousers. “Fightin’ you always hits the spot, though. Even when you’re holdin’ back, you’re still better’n the best fuck.”

“Wouldn’t know, but thanks, I guess,” Kiryu said, puffing out playful circles of smoke as he pointed himself toward the nearest shop around the corner.

He thought that Majima was going to make fun of him when he heard him chuckling, but then he just said, “I wondered. Tonight was worth a shot, but I hadn’t really pegged you as the sort of guy who would wait so long for one girl and then just end up knockin’ boots with somebody else after all that time.” He paused to take a drag. “Even if Yumi is still technically missing,” he finished, almost as an afterthought.

Kiryu thought Majima’s words over, taking a minute to absorb his meaning before clearing his throat and saying, “I wasn’t waiting for Yumi.”

“Eh?”

“I wasn’t waiting for Yumi,” he repeated, holding a breathful of smoke before letting it trickle out of his nose. “I hadn’t even told her I liked her before I went to prison.”

“What the fuck?” Majima asked, looking over at him in shock.

He shrugged. “I thought I had time.”

“Kiryu, you fucking idiot,” Majima said, and he could only agree. After a few moments of silence, Majima asked, “So, what? You weren’t waitin’ t’pop the question and marry her before y’took the plunge, then?”

“Not really,” he said thoughtfully. “Like I told you and Nishiki years ago, it just doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. Other than Yumi, I haven’t met any girls I liked.”

“And you’re sure you aren’t—” Majima cut himself off as Kiryu flicked his cigarette away and pushed through the door of a small shop, heading to the refrigerated section where the produce was. The fact that he’d stopped himself from asking the question in the small space made Kiryu think that he wouldn’t like it. 

Both lucky and unlucky for him, then, that they didn’t have cabbages, which gave him the excuse to go up to the counter and ask if they had any in reserve, prolonging the time in which he didn’t have to hear it.

“Not right now, sorry,” the middle-aged man told him with a bow. “But only because our supplier hasn’t answered their phone when we’ve tried to request more. They usually have lots, though, so if you feel up to the walk, they’re just down the street.”

“Thanks, I’ll do that,” Kiryu mumbled when they gave the name of the supplier, turning to the door and steeling himself for Majima’s question when he heard the worker call to him, 

“Sir, if you do manage to track them down, would you mind bringing some chillies back with you? There’s been flu going around, and everyone and their dog seems to want to make hot soup to fight it.”

Kiryu stared at the man in disbelief.

“I’ll make sure you’re compensated, of course!”

“...Fine. I’ll try.”

He left, propping the door open for Majima as well, who had just watched the exchange silently. When they headed off towards the supplier, though, instead of continuing his question, he asked instead,

“Is this why you have a million things to do? Because you can’t say no to every goober who wants you to do something he could do himself if he wasn’t fuckin' lazy?”

“He looks busy. He probably has a lot on his mind. I’m already going there, so it isn’t any bother.”

“Fuckin’— you’re busy! Up that!”

Kiryu grinned softly, looking over at Majima, who hadn’t bothered to get rid of his cigarette despite going into the shop. “I’m glad you worry about me, Majima-no-niisan, but it’s really okay. I don’t mind helping out where I can.”

“Who said I’m worried about ya?” he grumped, deliberately blowing a puff of smoke in his face that got a laugh out of him. “I just don’t want any ol’ asshole thinkin’ he can click his fingers and get ya to come runnin’. That’s how people are, you know. Give them an inch an’ all that.”

“You don’t give people enough credit,” he said, kicking a pebble absently and scratching at his sore lip. Majima looked at him like he’d grown another head.

“Are you for real? Kiryu-chan, how many times—this week alone—has someone tried to scam you?”

“Yeah, sure, some people are scammers, but not all. They’re just a couple of bad apples that need tossing out with the rest of the garbage.”

“The rest of the garbage is Kamurocho itself, bud.”

“That’s not fair,” he argued, frowning slightly at Majima. “And you don’t mean it anyway. You love Kamurocho.”

“Hunh,” Majima grunted dismissively, flicking ash into the gutter as a group of schoolgirls giggled and whispered as they passed. “Who knows.”

“I do,” Kiryu insisted. “You wouldn’t have fought so hard to come back to it if you didn’t love it.”

“Yeah, so what?”

“So nothing,” he said, ducking his head against a gust of wind that carried dirt and trash into his face. “I just don’t want you lying to yourself, especially when it’s so obvious.”

“Huh!” Majima barked, and Kiryu knew that he’d said the wrong thing. “You’re one to talk about that !”

“I don’t know what you mean,” he tried, knowing it was a long shot.

“Yes, you do, you big liar!” Majima crowed, making several people startle around them. Kiryu sighed, his breath clouding in front of him in the mist that was venting from a nearby convenience store. “What else have ya done but lie to yourself about why ya fight?”

“I’m not—lying.”

Majima took him by the arm, pushing him roughly into an alcove in the alley off the main street and whipping out his knife to hold to his throat. Before he could fully process what had even happened, Kiryu slapped Majima’s hand away from him and dodged his follow-up slice.  He slid effortlessly into a defensive stance that worked well against Majima’s knife-wielding fighting style, already assessing the state of him and where his weak points might be that night.

But Majima was just cackling, head thrown back in utter satisfaction. Kiryu scowled, slowly forcing himself to relax when he realised that there would be no more attacks.

“That’s childish,” he said when he got tired of Majima’s hollering.

“So is lying to yourself!” Majima threw back at him, wiping the tears from his eye as Kiryu just left the alley, feeling more than a little perturbed. Majima jogged to catch up to him, giving a clap on the back and saying smugly, “One day I’ll getcha t’admit that you enjoy fighting, Kiryu-chan. And oh, what a day it will be.” He grinned over at Kiryu, who just gave him a deadpan look in return. “We’ll have to have a party that day.”

“No thanks,” he muttered. “I’ve already had enough of your parties.”

Majima went quiet, making Kiryu a little concerned, but then he realised it was just because they’d arrived at the produce supplier. They walked around the boxes of fruits stacked up on display to get the woman’s attention as she bent down behind the counter, swearing under her breath. 

“Hello?” Kiryu began, twitching back a bit when the woman banged her head as she leapt to her feet. 

“Hello, welcome, sorry!” the woman said rapidly, bowing and wincing. “What can I get for you today?”

“Uh,” Kiryu said, looking around the little shop. “I was sent here by the shop down the street? They said that you have cabbages. And chillies,” he added after a second.

The woman looked suddenly very annoyed and Kiryu wished he hadn’t asked. But the woman just turned and gestured to one wall that had conspicuously few vegetables or fruits in the boxes. “Normally, we’d have restocked by now, but we switched delivery companies recently, and they’ve never been to the city before, so they got lost.”

“Not really a delivery company, then, are they?” Majima pointed out unhelpfully. “Y’gotta deliver somethin’ to be called a delivery service.”

“They’re my nephew and his friends,” the woman said by way of explanation, looking as done as she could possibly be. 

“Well, do you know when they might possibly arrive?” Kiryu asked, starting to feel pretty harried himself. All he wanted was a single head of cabbage. How hard could that be in this town?

“No!” the woman snapped, giving something under the counter a swift kick. “Because when they were describing where they were, the phone gave out! Think it’s the cord for the line; I told my husband that it needed replacing, but he’s such a penny-pincher—”

“Would it help if we got a replacement for you, ma’am?”

The look that Majima gave him did not help.

“Oh, really?” the woman gasped, holding her hands to her mouth. “You’d do that?”

Kiryu opened his mouth, ignoring Majima’s “ Kiryu —” warning and said, “Sure. If it helps get the cabbage.”

“Oh, that’s so kind! You can take as many cabbages as you like for being so thoughtful!”

“Just...just the one will be fine,” he mumbled, taking down the information about her phone before saying goodbye and heading back the way they’d come. The closest place for something like a phone line would probably be on Nakamichi Street, he thought, staring down at the little slip of paper in his hand.

This is what you’d rather do? Be an errand boy for the entire city?”

He glanced over at Majima to see him looking irritated as he pulled out another cigarette and lit the new one off the old one. “Rather than go to another of your ‘parties’? Any day.”

“I meant rather than go to a cabaret club, but it’s nice t’know how y’feel,” he said dully, rolling the tip of the old cigarette to put it out before tucking it in his jacket. He took a long drag, looking to the ground as they walked and saying thoughtfully, “That really messed ya up, didn’t it?”

“Hm?”

“Expectin’ a party and just gettin’ me.”

Kiryu studied Majima’s profile for a few moments, watching his lips pucker slightly as he smoked. “It wasn’t ‘getting you’ that bothered me.”

Majima’s eye widened just the barest amount as he glanced over at Kiryu, and there was something in that look that made Kiryu turn away.

Majima was quietly, smugly pleased when he said, “So y’liked my dancing, huh?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Kiryu said. “But I can’t argue with your skill.”

“Hah!” Majima hooted suddenly, giving him a punch on the arm. “Y’ did like it!” He leaned in to murmur, “Did I get ya hot, Kiryu-chan?”

Kiryu met Majima’s gaze, ignoring how his breath ghosted across his ear and neck. “I haven’t gotten off in months, Majima-no-niisan. I’m always hot.”

Majima’s eye went wide, his mouth agape. “ Months ? Y’haven’t choked the chicken for months ?” Kiryu gave him a look of distaste, and Majima whistled in awe. “No wonder you’re so tense.” 

Kiryu just grunted. 

“D’ya need privacy to get one out or somethin’?”

“Do you not?” Kiryu asked.

“Y’won’t catch me whippin’ it out in public or some shit, but I’ve taken care of a few morning woods at the office.” Majima shrugged. “Bein’ a teenager in an orphanage kinda made it hard to care if I’m all alone. Y’gotta do whatcha gotta do, y’know? Just taught me to be quiet.”

“I grew up in an orphanage too, but I could never do that. Nishiki and Yumi and some of the other kids would come to my bed if they were scared, so I could never risk it.”

“I getcha,” Majima said, nodding and breathing out a cloud of smoke. “Things mighta been the same for me if people trusted me like that, too.”

Kiryu wanted to ask why they hadn’t trusted him, but he didn’t know if it was prying too much. The question must have been obvious on his face, though, because Majima gave a huff of laughter and said,

“I wasn’t a goddamn golden boy like you, Kiryu-chan. Already pretty fond of knives even as a kid. Everyone knew I was gonna be a yakuza. It’s in my blood. I never had another option.”

“And I did?” he asked, curious.

“‘Course. You might have a mean face now, but I bet you were soft back then,” he said, musing. “If your old man hadn’t been one o’Tojo’s best, I bet you woulda gone into somethin’ like...nursing. End of life care. Stuff that’d make good use of your strength and marshmallow heart.”

Kiryu thought that over for a little while, a comfortable silence falling over them while they headed to the electronics store. When they arrived, he went straight up to the counter and asked for the phone line instead of trying to figure out which of them it might be, himself. He was hopeless with technology, having had to admit that to himself a long time ago.

“Thanks,” he told the young man working as he bagged the phone line for him with hardly a glance in his direction. He left, heading to where Majima had waited outside so he could keep smoking. He held up the bag as proof of success, to which Majima grinned and said,

“Finally found the end of the fetch quest sequence, huh?”

Kiryu blinked in confusion, but Majima only laughed, refusing to explain himself as they headed back to the vegetable stand. They walked in silence again, the splashes of puddles and the distant, dull roar of the city’s life the only sound between them. Kiryu was still mulling over what Majima had said before when he broke the silence.

“I’m not sayin’ that’s a bad thing.”

Kiryu raised his brows in question.

Majima sighed. “The wantin’ to help people thing. I’m not sayin’ it’s bad, y’know. I just don’t want you givin’ more’n you got to give and bein’ left with nothin’. ‘S’why I wanted to do somethin’ for ya tonight. Y’don’t ever just let yourself recharge.”

“I don’t have nothing,” Kiryu argued, but the thought of that empty room came back to him and he sighed, too. “But it’s close enough.”

“Then all ya gotta do is tell me what you want and I’ll get it for ya, Kiryu-chan,” Majima said, his earnestness making Kiryu feel strangely touched. “Anythin’ at all.”

Kiryu hummed thoughtfully as they approached the woman at the stand again, who clapped her hands at the sight of them. He gave an obliging smile, handing over the cable and waiting for her to replace the old one. He turned toward Majima as he mumbled only loud enough for him to hear,

“What I’d like most?”

“Or at least somethin’ that would help ya relax.”

Kiryu didn’t have to think it over for long before he answered, “A good night’s sleep.”

Majima had a strange look on his face at Kiryu’s response, but the woman shouting down the phone distracted them both. The sheer amount of insults she had to hand for whoever was on the other end made Kiryu glad he wasn’t trying to do business with her. Eventually, though, she slammed the phone back down with a growling huff, glaring at it for a second before turning back to them with a bright smile.

“They’re just off East Taihei.”

Kiryu blinked in incredulity. “But that’s—”

“That’s right next to where we were to begin with!” Majima snapped.

“Oh, what a coincidence! Well, if you’re in a hurry, then feel free to go meet them on the way! And thanks again for your help.”

 The glare that Majima levelled at the woman should have cowed her, but she seemed incapable of that emotion, as she just smiled dead-eyed back at him. Before Kiryu could think to apologise or thank the woman as well, Majima dragged him aside, turning his focused glare on him.

“Kiryu,” he said, his voice intense and quiet, “is Haruka somewhere safe?”

“Wh—yeah, she’s fine.”

“Will she be fine in that place all night?”

“Probably? Why?”

“Stay here.”

“Majima-no-niisan—” was all Kiryu got out before Majima walked back to the vegetable stand, talking to the woman quiet enough that he couldn’t hear from where he stood. He watched, more than a little worried about what he might be saying, as the woman pulled over a notepad and nodded, taking notes with a pen she pulled from her hair. She looked up after a minute, nodding again with a pleased smile, and Majima slid something across the counter before turning back to Kiryu, smiling wide as well.

“Okay, let’s go,” Majima said once he’d drawn level with Kiryu again.

“What—”

“The thing about helping people, Kiryu-chan, is that sometimes you’ll find that with a little lubrication, they can get themselves unstuck just fine.”

Kiryu looked over his shoulder to see the woman counting out cash, giggling to herself.

“You gave her money? For what?”

“She’s got a delivery team. There’s no reason why we should do the deliverin’ when she’s already got the system in place. I just paid for the service and gave her the directions.” Majima gave him a thumbs-up that made him feel like he was teasing him. “Now c’mon.”

“Come on where?”

“You’ll see.”

“It isn’t going to be a cabaret club, is it?” he asked, looking around for clues about where Majima might be headed. They seemed to be headed north, towards the Hotel District, but he wasn’t sure what that meant.

Majima laughed openly, picking up his pace. “You’re the only guy in the world who says that with dread in his voice, y’know? Most guys would love to be treated to a night out with a pretty girl.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the pretty girl, I just don’t want to take the chance right now on getting a girl who I have nothing in common with,” he said, making a face. “I don’t like trying to figure out what to say to them.”

“Y’did just fine with Goromi.”

“That’s different,” he argued. “I know you.”

“So you can only hold a conversation with people you already know?”

“I didn’t say that. I can hold a conversation, I just don’t know what a cabaret girl expects from me.”

“She isn’t expectin’ nothin’ from you , Kiryu-chan,” Majima chuckled. “She’s there to make your night better, not the other way around.”

“She might not be expecting it, but I still want to,” he said.

“Once a gentleman, always a gentleman,” Majima said, snorting. “Easy to see how Yumi fell for ya.”

“I don’t think it can be called gentlemanly when I mostly just want to make it easier on myself,” Kiryu pointed out, avoiding the thought of Yumi. Lately, when he thought of her, he was confused, and his confusion made him even more confused. Ever since they’d been kids, he’d known exactly how he felt about her. She was pretty, and sweet, and gentle, and everyone had always assumed that they would get together eventually. They’d always paired them up, as though there had never been another option. He never argue it because, well—he loved Yumi. Why should there be anyone else?

But the years and separation had muddied things. 

He’d missed her, yes. But he wasn’t sure if he’d missed her the same way that a man would miss the woman he loved.

He desperately wanted to find her. But whether that was because she was like family or because he couldn’t live without her, he didn’t know.

And that was the scariest thing of all, the not knowing.

So he didn’t think about it.

“Girls like that ain’t gonna look a gift horse in the mouth, bud. A man with selfish motivations treating her kindly ain’t even gonna be half of the worst she’s dealt with.”

“So you are taking me to a cabaret club, then?” he asked, curiosity and nerves overtaking him. He’d never seen a club up this far. Was there a new one or had he just not noticed it?

“Almost there,” Majima said ominously, and Kiryu just followed him as he turned a corner and pushed them through a glass door of a fancy-looking building. It was decked out in gaudy marbles and clean steels, the juxtaposition of the two making him think they were trying for a specific style, but he didn’t know enough about it to know what it was. He followed Majima through a lobby to a giant oval counter tucked into a corner, where a snobbish-faced man waited for them, looking like he’d smelled something bad. “Gimme your best room.”

It took a second for Kiryu to catch up to what this place was, but he didn’t want to make a scene right there, so he just silently scowled at Majima, who didn’t even seem to notice. Kiryu had thought that the man might refuse them because of how roughed-up they were, but that must have just been the way he always looked, as he simply said,

“Thank you very much for your patronage, Majima-san. We have one available on the top floor. The Pearl Suite.”

“Nice. See ya later, Hori.”

The man bowed stiffly as Majima dragged Kiryu over to the bank of elevators, hopping on the one that opened immediately. Kiryu waited until the doors closed before turning to Majima and biting out,

“Majima, whatever you’re planning to have me do in a hotel room, I’m not sticking around for it.”

Majima snorted with laughter. “Easy there, champ; don’t get your chastity belt in a twist. I’m not comin’ onto ya.”

“Then why—” 

He felt very stupid when he realised that he had just told Majima that he’d love nothing more than a good night’s rest. 

Majima was trying to be nice .

And he’d just accused him, in so many words, of being a pervert.

“Oh.”

Majima just cracked up harder.

“Well, can you blame me?”

“I can’t,” Majima said through his laughter as the elevator came to a smooth stop, the doors dinging open. “If you’d wanted to, I would’ve done a lot more than give you a show tonight.”

“Wait—so you were planning something?” Kiryu asked, suddenly nervous as he stepped into the fancy hallway. “Majima—”

“No,” Majima cut him off. “I mostly just wanted a fight.” Kiryu began to relax, safely in known territory with that, but then Majima added, “Just sayin’ I wouldn’t’ve said no.”

“But why ?” 

Majima shrugged. “Why not?”

Kiryu opened his mouth to ask how he could possibly be so casual about offering himself like that, but stopped dead when Majima keyed in a code and threw open the door to the room. It looked expensive . There were couches and chairs and a kitchen and a gigantic wall of windows that looked out over the city, framed by heavy curtains and long sheer curtains and short ones at the top and how many curtains did one window need? He wanted to take a step inside to see if that was really a door that lead to another room entirely, but he couldn’t bring himself to stop hovering in the doorway until Majima gave him a little shove over the threshold.

“Go on,” he said, smiling mischievously when Kiryu just looked at him helplessly, his eyes wide. “It’s all yours. Code’s in the book by the phone. Have it as long as you like.”

“Majima-no-niisan,” Kiryu said in a voice that sounded stiff and uncomfortable even to him, “I can’t accept this.”

“Sure ya can,” he said cheerfully, before he seemed to take pity on him, his smile growing affectionate in a way that made Kiryu feel frustratingly vulnerable. He was looking at him like he cared about him. Nishiki used to look at him like that. “Go on. Eat good food. Take time for yourself. Sleep in.”

“I can’t,” he tried one last time, already feeling himself giving in. He didn’t like refusing gifts, even if they were extravagant. It seemed rude.

“C’mon, Kiryu-chan,” Majima said in a soft voice that hid something underneath that Kiryu couldn’t quite reach. “Didn’t I tell you I’d give you everything I have?”

Kiryu couldn’t argue with that. Majima had said that, even if he’d meant something else at the time.

But there was something else he could argue with.

When Majima had sensed Kiryu’s acceptance, he’d given a little wave and turned to go, but stopped when Kiryu said,

“Stay.”

“Eh?” he asked, looking over his shoulder at him. “You need somethin’?”

“No,” Kiryu said, feeling a little like he was jumping off into shark-infested waters. “I just wanted you to stay with me.”

Majima turned to face him, brows pulled together and eye searching his. Kiryu didn’t know what he saw there, but it was enough to make him say, “Okay,” and step inside, closing the door behind him with a sense of finality.

Kiryu wasn’t sure what had just changed between them, but when they both silently slipped out of their shoes and set them carefully by the door, side-by-side, he couldn’t deny that something had.

There was a few seconds of awkward silence where they were clearly both trying to figure out where they fit together in this new space, until Majima just gave a growl of frustration and asked,

“You want somethin’ t’drink?”

“Sure,” Kiryu said, relieved for the familiarity of the question. “What do they have to order?”

“The room’s got a bar, so whatever you want,” Majima said, moving over to open some of the cabinets in the kitchen and reach into them.

“Whiskey, then,” Kiryu was saying just as he saw Majima wiggle a miniature of a familiar-shaped bottle at him. He grinned, going over to join him and looking around for glasses as Majima fished out some ice balls. “Am I that predictable?”

“With your drinks? Oh yeah.” Majima turned to drop the ice in the glasses that Kiryu held, cracking open the bottles and pouring a whole one in each. “It’s the rest of the stuff that y’make me work hard for.”

“Such as?”

Majima raised his glass to him and he mirrored, both of them taking a sip before he said, “This, for one. Haven’t quite figured out if you’re jus’ lonely enough to ask me to stay or if ya really are planning to use me to blow off some steam tonight.”

Kiryu took another, bigger gulp of his drink. It burned hot and smooth all the way down and his skin prickled with the taste. “How could I be planning anything?” he asked, shrugging out of his jacket and moving over to look out the window at the view offered him. It was breathtaking. He could see not only all of Kamurocho, but further into Tokyo as well. It was like he stood over the sea as it reflected the stars. “I didn’t even know for sure that you liked men.”

The cackle that came out of Majima then was the most startled he’d ever heard from him. He looked back to see Majima taking off his jacket as well and falling onto one of the chairs, one leg propped over the arm. He looked up at Kiryu with a delighted, amused smile, his hair flopping over his eyepatch as it got ruffled at the back. “Kiryu-chan, you’re adorable.”

Kiryu just raised his eyebrows.

“It’s just been a while since someone’s looked at a man like me and thought, ‘sure, he seems straight,’” he said, taking a drink.

“You have a look?”

Majima shrugged a shoulder.

“Do I have the look?”

Majima spluttered into his drink, giving his chest a hard thump and wheezing out, “No.”

“Hm,” was all he said to that, looking out the window again while Majima coughed out the drink he’d inhaled. An airplane flew past low enough that he could feel the rumble under his feet. He watched an ad scrolling along the top of a building, promising him god-like energy. A tiny draft blew in from the seal of the window, curling around his ankle and making him shiver at the temperature difference between it and the heated floors.

“Why?” Majima finally asked, his voice rough from the hacking coughs. “Do you want to?”

“I don’t know,” Kiryu answered truthfully, feeling oddly calm. It was like the room was a different world, one in which he didn’t have to hide behind a scowl just to get anything done.

“Kiryu,” Majima said, the teasing laughter trickling out of his voice until he, too, was left with something calm and curious. Kiryu half-turned to look back at him and saw his brows turning up in the middle the barest amount, as though he was concerned. “Are you…?”

“Am I what?”

“Do you...like men?”

“I don’t know,” Kiryu said again.

Majima stood up once more, leaving his drink on the coffee table as he moved around it to approach Kiryu. Kiryu was suddenly very aware of the fact that Majima wasn’t wearing a shirt when he stopped only an arm’s length away, keeping his gaze trapped in his. Part of Kiryu wanted to look away, but a bigger part of him knew that there was no need. Majima had told him that he wasn’t trying to make him do anything, so he knew he wouldn’t.

Kiryu trusted Majima.

Even after everything—even after he’d broken that trust by taking Haruka—he trusted him.

“Do you want to know?”

“...I don’t know,” he said once more, smiling when Majima gave him a frustrated frown. He downed the rest of his drink in one gulp and set his glass on the table beside the window, sighing. “I really don’t. For my entire life, I thought that I only liked women because I’d never looked at a man and thought that he was beautiful. But now, I—I don’t know anymore. I’m starting to realise that there are more shades to it than black or white.” 

He shrugged lightly, helplessly. “But even if I am some shade of grey, after all, does it really matter? I’m 37. I’m an ex-yakuza and an ex-convict. I’m not going to find someone willing to let me figure this out with them. Men my age are usually married with kids. Who’s going to take a chance with all of that on top of my inexperience? When would I even find the time to find someone who would?” Kiryu gave a little breathless, humourless laugh. “I haven’t even kissed a woman , much less a man.”

“You’ve never...?”

 Kiryu looked back to Majima to see him studying him intently, his lid heavy. He shrugged again. “When I was a kid, I thought that it would happen with Yumi, but I didn’t know how to approach her. So for a long time after that, I thought it would just happen with some stranger. It isn’t a big deal or anything, but it turns out that I’m both very difficult for women to approach and completely clueless when they do. There have been more times than I can count where Nishiki told me after a party that there was a woman who’d thought that I’d liked her, but she’d left because I hadn’t done anything about it.” 

He looked down at his feet before snorting with sudden laughter, letting it out as he said, “I didn’t even know. I just thought they were all being nice to me because I was Nishiki’s brother.”

“You’re right,” Majima said plainly as Kiryu laughed openly at himself. “You are clueless.”

“How are you supposed to know the difference?” he asked, shaking his head and coming down from his sudden laughing fit. “Women are hard to read.”

“You read Goromi just fine.”

“I told you; that’s only because Goromi is you ,” Kiryu said, sighing. “It’s easier for me to focus on figuring out what someone wants from me when I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not for them. I’ve always been able to be myself around you, Nii-san.”

“So can y’read what I want from ya now?” Majima asked, his voice low, but casual enough that it actually worried him more than if he’d been openly aggressive or angry or flirtatious. Casual Majima was a masked Majima, and Kiryu had never figured that side of him out.

“No,” he said, hoping that being truthful with him would help offend him less. “Goromi was easier because she just wanted to have fun. But Majima—he’s more complicated. I’ve never gotten a good read on you.”

“Y’say Goromi and Majima as if I’m two different people. I’m not. They’re both me.”

“I know,” Kiryu said, omitting the fact that he’d struggled pretty badly with that very thing the night they’d gone out. It had gotten a tiny bit easier when he hadn’t seen Goromi again, but not by much. The memories were still there. “But I guess I’m just more experienced with what women want from me. I’m not used to men who expect more out of me.”

“So y’ have realised that I’m a man,” Majima said cryptically, his mouth thinning just the smallest amount. Kiryu just gave him a confused look and Majima shook his head. “Kiryu-chan, you’re really, completely stupid.”

“What? Why?” he asked, a little hurt by the sudden insult. He didn’t think that he’d done anything to deserve that.

“Y’just stood here and asked yourself, ‘Where would I possibly find a man who is willing to let me figure out that part of myself?’ when I’m right in front of ya, only five minutes ago that I said that all y’have to do is ask.” Majima huffed, his lip curling in disgust as he leaned away, looking out the window. “And y’say I’m hard to read. I think y’just don’t wanna understand the words.”

Kiryu blinked, too shocked by that anvil of truth slamming onto him. 

“I mean,” Majima continued, the disgust falling away and being replaced by something murkier, “I wouldn’t mind if you just came out and told me straight that you didn’t want to, y’know? Y’can’t help what y’feel about someone. But I keep offerin’ ya the chance to turn me down clean, and y’just keep—”

“I don’t want to,” Kiryu said suddenly, his voice breathless as if the words were pulled out of him.

Majima froze, his mouth still open on the word he’d been forming until it slowly closed. “Okay,” he said, his throat working as he swallowed. “See, that ain’t so hard, is it?”

“No,” Kiryu said when he realised how his words had come out. “I meant, I don’t want to turn you down.”

Majima’s eye went so wide as it snapped back to his that Kiryu almost laughed, feeling as though he were much drunker than he was. 

Why had he said that?

It was the truth. That was why he had said it.

“I—I don’t know how things like this work,” he admitted, swallowing thickly past the nervous lump in his throat. “I don’t want to get it wrong.”

“There ain’t many ways to kiss wrong, Kiryu,” Majima said, a grin creeping onto his mouth. “Especially if you’re just tryin’ t’see if y’even like the feel of it. Y’might not.”

Kiryu swallowed again, his hands feeling hot and swollen. 

Oh. He was thinking about doing this.

He was thinking very hard about doing this.

“C’mon,” Majima said in a voice barely above a whisper as they locked eyes. Kiryu felt that same adrenaline coursing through him that came whenever Majima pulled out his knife in a dark alley, his smile both a challenge and promise. “It don’t have t’be that complicated.”

Kiryu thought that he made a good point, and took that single step that separated them, his mouth finding Majima’s as though they’d done this a hundred times before.

Despite his egging Kiryu on, Majima seemed to be just as shocked that Kiryu had done it as he was, himself. Kiryu felt him tense and heard his breath peak sharply, but when Kiryu put his hands on his upper arms, he relaxed in an instant. Kiryu watched his lid drift shut as he began to move his mouth over his, testing himself with this strange new experience. He approached it the same as he had with all of Majima’s challenges: with determined fervour. 

He fit their lips together in different ways, at different angles, seeing what felt the best before taking Majima’s bottom lip between his own and giving it a gentle suck. His heart hammered hard enough to make his breaths shake and hands tremble as Majima made a tiny whimper in the back of his throat.

Oh. 

Oh

This was what he’d been missing out on? This feeling of utter, boundless power that made him suddenly want to wrap his arms around Majima and carry him to the bed and make him make that noise again and again until he knew without a shred of doubt that it was him that had that power over him. Not Shimano. Not the Chairman. 

Kiryu .

But before he could do more than begin to part his lips to deepen the kiss, Majima broke away, taking a clear step back that forced Kiryu to let him go.

He was so stunned by the sudden change that he didn’t even think to follow him. 

“You—” Majima began, his breath hard as he looked anywhere but at Kiryu. He paused for a moment, clearly getting himself under control again before saying with a weak laugh, “I think it’s safe to say that y’definitely like men, Kiryu-chan.”

...Oh.

Was that all it was?

Was Majima right? Was that just what it was like to kiss a man? He’d always imagined that kisses with women would be soft and slow and sweet. But kissing Majima made him need more in a desperate, clambouring way, and there was nothing soft about what he’d wanted from him in that moment. 

But maybe that was just what happened when two men kissed. Maybe the dynamic was different, and so the reaction was different, too.

He trusted Majima to know better than he did, and so he just licked his lips and croaked, “Okay.”

There was a few beats of tense silence between them before Majima took a breath, stood up straight, smiled and said, “So! How’d’ya feel now, knowin’ that?”

Kiryu needed another drink, right now. 

“About the same.”

That got a laugh from Majima, but Kiryu was already headed into the kitchen with his glass to get a refill, and so when he spoke, his voice was muffled.

“Stoic as always.”

Kiryu didn’t feel stoic. He had to try several times to work off the top of the bottle of whiskey. His fingers were still shaking for some reason, and so he had to take a second to just put his hands on the counter and scowl at them until they steadied. When they finally did, he got his drink and took a big swig of it before pouring another. 

He wasn’t going to think about this.

He was good at that.

Majima seemed to think that it wasn’t a big deal, and he’d felt the same before he’d actually done it. So the only thing he could figure was that he was still just jittery from the adrenaline and he’d calm down, given time. 

He understood adrenaline.

That was easy to understand.

And so when he went back into the main room with a full glass and found Majima lounging on the couch with a movie already playing, he just shoved his feet aside and joined him.

“Oi!” Majima cried, giving him a swift kick to the hip that only made him smile. “Don’tcha gimme that smirkin’ shit! This is my spot!”

“It’s my room,” Kiryu reminded him, relaxing further into the plush couch with an appreciative sigh, letting his head fall back against the cushions.

“Yeah—yeah, well—”

Kiryu rolled his head to look over at Majima and saw him pouting, clearly trying to find his next argument. Instead of giving him the time to do so, he just grabbed Majima’s ankles and tossed his legs over his lap, letting him stretch out on top of him.

“There. Now we can both relax.”

Majima looked like he’d still like to argue for him to have the couch to himself, but in the end, he just settled further against the other armrest and watched the movie with a little scowl. As Kiryu thought, though, the scowl didn’t last long. Especially once he’d gotten another drink and the movie had finished and switched to an old-fashioned zombie movie, complete with guts-eating and eye-gouging. 

“Aw, fuck, look at that one back there! He doesn’t even look like he’s in costume!” Majima giggled helplessly, his laughter infectious to a Kiryu with several drinks in him. 

“He looks lost,” he said, voice rough with tiredness. “‘Wait a minute. This isn’t my carpool group.’”

“Oh, shit,” Majima cackled. “What if he just wandered on set and everyone thought ‘This guy looks enough like a zombie already, let’s just leave him in!’”

Kiryu chuckled. “Believe me, it happens.”

Majima looked at him suspiciously. “How would you know? You couldn’t even figure out that I wasn’t actually a zombie, ya brickhead. You were gonna mercy kill me for the sake of Kamurocho.”

“That was different,” Kiryu argued, his chest warm and head fuzzy. “You just came at me on the street after I got a very distressing call from Nishida. You tried to bite me!”

“That’s what zombies do, Kiryu-chan.”

“But you weren’t a zombie!”

“That’s my point exactly!”

“What—” Kiryu shook his head, realising he was still holding his empty glass and setting it down before turning to gesture at Majima in explanation. “Look. There’s a huge difference between someone surprising you with a convincing act out on the streets and a closed set where you know that the people coming at you aren’t actually zombies.”

“How would you know?” Majima asked, cracking up. Before Kiryu could even explain that he’d been on a set with zombie actors, though, Majima’s eye shot open wide and he pointed, his mouth agape. “You! It was you!”

Kiryu was suddenly full of dread. “What was me?” he asked warily.

“Miracle Johnson! The zombie song! That was you !” Majima cried, waggling his finger. 

Kiryu could only stare, completely flabbergasted. “H-How did you know?”

“You’re lookin’ at Kamurocho’s prime zombie expert, bud!” Majima whooped in vindication. “I knew I recognised you from something! They did their best to cut you out of the video to make it seem like Miracle was knocking them back with his dancing, but there’s one shot where you can see a punch for a second and then another with some guy lurking in the alley in the background, holding a shop sign like he’s about to deck someone with it, and I knew I recognised your style!”

Kiryu watched Majima violently slap the couch in delight and holler with laughter, the warmth in his chest blooming hot. 

“I can’t believe it! Kiryu-chan was in a Miracle Johnson video!”

“Not really,” Kiryu mumbled, unable to keep the smile off his face despite Majima figuring out his ‘secret.’ “I was just the muscle to make it look more real. Miracle refused to do it if it didn’t look real.”

“So y’got to meet him, then?” Majima asked, his excitement shifting focus like a hyper dog chasing after a ball. “What’s he like?”

“He was...energetic,” Kiryu said, trying to remember more of that time. “And generous. He treated me like a friend even though I barely knew him.”

“Who doesn’t?” Majima asked, and Kiryu could only laugh.

Before Kiryu could think of what else to say about Miracle, though, someone died loudly in the movie and distracted Majima again. They went back to watching it, Majima ripping into it in the most loving way that Kiryu had ever seen, and when it ended, Majima told him it was his turn to choose.

Kiryu just found another zombie movie and relaxed further into the couch, his head tucked in the curve of the arm and cushion and his arm draped over Majima’s legs. As the night wore on, he drifted off to the sound of Majima’s giggles, trying his best to stay awake as long as he could just to enjoy this strange bubble of friendship that the room seemed to have built around them. But before he knew it, he was snapping awake after having a nightmare about Nishiki using Majima’s knife to stab him in the stomach, and it took him several panicked moments to remember where he was, his eyes darting around the room before they found the shape laying next to him on the couch. 

Majima, curled into himself as though cold, mouth hanging open and neck crooked uncomfortably against the armrest, dead asleep. 

Kiryu sighed, his heartbeat already calming as it realised that it had just been a dream. He studied Majima’s face in sleep for a few moments, feeling himself drift off again. Before he did, though, he reached up and grabbed his jacket from the back of the couch and tossed it over Majima sloppily, not wanting him to be cold all night. 

With that done, he let himself fall back to sleep, comforted by the solid weight of Majima’s legs and his quiet snores, knowing that as long as he heard them, he wasn’t alone.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The hospital lights buzzed and flickered morse code at Majima as he dragged open his eye, feeling like he’d been salted and baked like a goddamn chicken. He could feel his limbs, but they were sort of disconnected from him, as though someone had replaced his joints with cold butter. His mouth was so dry. He tried to swallow, but it only made it worse, especially when he coughed and it was like the sun had touched him, there was so much pain that exploded through his body.

He groaned pathetically, trying to move his hands but forgetting how that sort of thing worked. He could still move his head, though, so that was good. That was one thing checked off the ‘What the hell happened to me?’ list. 

But when he moved his head and opened his blurry, crusted eye again, he realised that the blob shape next to his bed wasn’t actually a blob shape at all, but Kiryu.

“Don’t try to move, Majima-no-niisan. You’ll only make it worse.”

“Wh—”

Nope , that wasn’t going to work. His throat was too fucking dry to even talk. He bared his teeth in frustration, but before he could try again, Kiryu reached behind him and came back, sliding his arm behind Majima’s head to prop him up as he held a glass of heaven to his lips.

Majima was too grateful for the mouthfuls of cold water to get angry at being treated like a sick child by the one man he wanted to only see him at his strongest, which was good, because goddamn, did he need that water. Kiryu helped him drink three glasses of it before he finally turned his head away, embarrassment returning in full force once he was sated.

“Wh’appened?” he rasped, his head clearing bit by bit. He made a fist and released it, testing his muscles for injuries. None on the arm itself. IV in the other arm and wires all hooked up to his chest, though, so it must be something pretty bad for him to be in a hospital in the first place.

“You were shot,” Kiryu said, his voice grim.

Ah.

Yeah, that would do it.

He searched his brain for how the hell he’d managed something like that, and could only come up with the memory of fighting with his back against Kiryu’s, his heart racing with ecstasy, feeling truly alive for the first time in twenty years.

So now he was feeling shot and guilty, which was nice.

It wasn’t like he had any reason to feel guilty, though. Fighting with someone else at his back wasn’t exactly cheating. Saejima wouldn’t give a shit who he fought with. He wouldn’t give a shit what he did with Kiryu. Especially anything like what had happened in the hotel room, which had gnawed at Majima ever since they’d left that next morning, leaving that bubble of possibility behind. Saejima wasn’t really a ‘friends’ kind of person. He was more like a bear that could talk.

But Majima still felt guilty.

And that made him angry.

“Fuckin’ stupid,” he growled, looking away from Kiryu back to the ceiling. The ceiling didn’t have Kiryu’s chocolate brown eyes and tense concern on its face. It was just the same boring tiled ceiling that every hospital room had. Majima had seen plenty of them before.

“What is?”

“Gettin’ myself shot,” Majima said, his voice catching again on its dryness. When Kiryu tried to help him get another drink, though, he slapped his hand away and took the cup himself, forcing his short-circuited body to just work . Like hell he’d sit there and let Kiryu baby him. It was his own damn fault for getting himself laid up in the first place, even if he didn’t remember how it had happened.

“You didn’t get yourself shot,” Kiryu argued, his own frustration clear as Majima huffed and grunted to get himself upright enough to drink. “You were just blindsided.”

Good, a mean part of Majima thought. He was frustrated, so why shouldn’t Kiryu be, too? After a few hopping pushes, though, he managed to get himself onto one elbow. Once he did, he saw the bandages wrapped around his stomach, his movements making a patch of blood bloom from underneath them. Of course he’d been hit in the same place as his stab wound. Lucky him. 

“Shouldn’t’ve been,” he grumbled, focusing intently on getting his elbow to just bend at the right angle for him to drink. He could see out of the corner of his eye that Kiryu was holding tight to the arms of his chair, and he knew that he must be chomping at the bit to help him.

Let him chomp.

“What, you think you can dodge a bullet?” 

“I know I can,” he said, choking a little when the water spilled down his throat too fast. He coughed it all out, growling with the frustration and pain before throwing the emptied cup to the floor and collapsing back to the bed, glaring up at the ceiling.

He didn’t even move when Kiryu covered him with the thin hospital blanket.

He did, however, tell him to fuck off.

“No,” was all the answer he got.

So he just laid there, hoping that if he was quiet and still that Kiryu would get bored and leave.

But Kiryu just sat back in his chair, seeming perfectly content to just exist there next to him, which made Majima even angrier. 

“How did ya even get in here?” he asked eventually, still refusing to look at Kiryu. “They aren’t s’posed to let strangers into hospital rooms.”

Kiryu took the implied insult in stride, only saying, “I told them I was your brother.”

Majima let that wash over him and slide off so he couldn’t look too closely at it. “They didn’t believe that.”

“I don’t care if they did or not,” Kiryu said plainly. “I only care if they let me stay.”

“How didja know where I was?” 

Kiryu didn’t answer that until Majima finally gave in and looked over at him. His scowl was deep and forbidding, though it clearly wasn’t aimed at Majima, considering his eyes were turned to the floor.

“I was the one who brought you in.”

Majima frowned, and he began to piece things together in his head. The messiness of Kiryu’s hair. The little flecks of white on his shirt. The concern. The stiff, almost flaky coating on Majima’s skin. The taste in his mouth. 

And then the memory of stumbling backwards, backwards, his legs going numb and cold from the metal inside his gut. The shock of being submerged in freezing water, his body forgetting all the things it had learned in that single moment. Sinking and sinking with no way to tell up from down. Darkness.

A mouth over his, pushing air into his lungs that brought up his gorge. Being rolled onto his side so he could expel all the saltwater that he’d stupidly inhaled. Darkness again as he rose into the air, limp in strong arms that held him tight to a warm chest.

His name, whispered again and again by a shaking, terrified voice punctuated by the roar of an engine, begging him to stay awake.

“Kiryu…”

“Don’t,” Kiryu said suddenly, his voice hard. “Don’t say anything.”

“I wouldn’t—” Majima stopped himself, thinking that the best thing in this moment might actually be to listen to Kiryu’s request. He knew well enough that there was nothing that someone could say to the person who had rescued them to make it easier to deal with the knowledge that they might have died. Especially when Kiryu had only just lost Reina and Shinji.

He hadn’t known.

No wonder Kiryu was frustrated with not being able to help him. He probably felt like a mother hen, wanting to make sure he was really alive. 

On the one hand, Majima wanted to apologise for his nastiness. But on the other hand, he wasn’t the kind of man who apologised and he was still annoyed with himself for getting in that situation in the first place. He didn’t ask Kiryu to save his life or to worry about him, but he wasn’t naïve enough to think that he shouldn’t. Whatever was between him and Kiryu, it was too much to expect that he wouldn’t care if Majima died. 

Kiryu had almost lost him, and it was Majima’s fault that he’d had to go through that. He should have been more careful.

Which felt strange. 

He hadn’t had someone to care about him like that in a long, long time.

It made his heart clench almost painfully, panic lancing through it. 

“Majima-no-niisan? Are you alright?” Kiryu asked suddenly, his head snapping up and his eyes looking at something over Majima’s shoulder. He looked very worried. “Do you need me to call a doctor?”

“What? No,” he said, frowning. “What’s wrong with you? I’m fine.”

“Your heart monitor beeped,” Kiryu said, and Majima looked back at the machine he was hooked up to, glaring in betrayal.

Stupid snitch.

“I’m fine,” he insisted, gripping fistfuls of his blanket to wind his panic back in. It would be fine. It didn’t mean anything, Kiryu saving his life. He would have saved anyone. “Must’ve just glitched out.”

“Are you sure? The doctor said that if it went off, there might be complications. I’m supposed to tell them—”

“I’m fine ,” he insisted, grabbing Kiryu’s wrist to stop him from pressing the call button. He struggled to break away, standing up press it with his other hand. 

“Majima-no-niisan, I really think we should—”

“Kiryu, I’m fine!” he snapped, gripping both of Kiryu’s wrists and giving him a little shake to snap him out of it. He realised that Kiryu had ended up bent halfway over him with his hands on either side of Majima’s shoulders, though, when he looked into Kiryu’s eyes and saw the naked, desperate concern for him there. 

And the heart monitor beeped.

Kiryu frowned at the sound, but before he could try to press the button again, there was a knock at the door. Kiryu stood up straight and turned to see who was coming in, giving Majima a chance to take a breath. 

Until the door opened and Haruka came in, eyes wide and curious as she swept them around the room. 

“Haruka?” Kiryu asked, his frown only deepening. “What are you doing up here? I thought I told you to stay with Date-san.”

“I wanted to see if you were alright. You’ve been up here a long time. Date-san’s downstairs,” she said, as though that were a perfectly reasonable answer. “The nurses wouldn’t let him come up because he’s not related.”

You aren’t related either, kiddo,” Majima felt compelled to point out. 

“They don’t know that,” Haruka said with an angelic smile that belied the mischief behind her eyes. She looked up at Kiryu. “I told them you were my dad.”

Majima’s stomach flopped at the reminder of how they’d looked in the batting cages, but he and Kiryu had made their peace over what he’d done and why. If he hadn’t earned Kiryu’s trust back, he wouldn’t have continued to play along with Majima’s insistence on fighting him even after they’d settled things. The excuses he used had gotten more and more ridiculous as he’d run out of good ones, but luckily they were at a point where Kiryu didn’t even need it. More often than not, when Majima noticed him in the street these days, Kiryu was already headed for him, a smile in his eyes that felt like it was just for him.

And when they fought, they moved like they’d been born to do it.

Majima knew he wasn’t the only one who felt it. When he’d fought Kiryu at the batting center for a second time as they settled their score that had started ten years ago, he’d noticed moves used on him that he’d used on Kiryu . He was picking things up from him, often repurposing them for his larger size. And Majima was doing the same with him. 

They’d both grown so much, even in the short time they’d been together again. Majima knew that he felt as strong as he had 10 years ago—hell, stronger. Kiryu, too. Majima felt like he could take on the world, if Kiryu was there with him.

Maybe that was why he’d really been so upset by waking up in a hospital bed again, a worried Kiryu at his side. It was an unwanted reminder that he wasn’t actually immortal when they were together. He didn’t want to think about that shit. He didn’t want to think that Kiryu might get hurt even if he was around.

“Again? And it worked?”

“Mmhm,” Haruka said, nodding. “We must look a lot alike or something, because nobody ever thinks I’m lying!”

“Do you think?” Kiryu asked, humming thoughtfully. 

“It’s the expression,” Majima said before he could think not to. They both turned to him with the same high-browed look of surprise and he cracked up for a second before groaning in pain, holding his stomach. “Aw, don’t. Don’t.”

“Do you need me to call the nurse so you can get more painkillers?” Kiryu asked.

“Don’t bother. They don’t work on me. Some sorta fucked up genetic shit,” he said, sighing and trying to adjust his position to get comfortable, but vertical. Kiryu came over to help and instead of arguing, Majima just let him get his arms around his back and legs and sit him up. 

“Better?”

“Yeah,” he grunted, making a nasty face down at the wires attached to him. What a bunch of horseshit. “I’d be a lot better if I wasn’t here at all, though. Hate hospitals.”

“Don’t try to convince me to let you leave,” Kiryu said, dragging over another chair for Haruka and sitting in the one he’d been in before. “I’m not going to.”

“Did I say I was gonna?” Majima grumbled, fiddling with the IV tube. He’d gotten away with yanking the other out, back at the clinic, but he didn’t know how far he’d get if both Kiryu and the doctors tried to stop him when he was so beat up.

Guns were dumb. Bullets were dumb. 

“Don’t mess with that, Mister,” Haruka said, scooting back into the chair and letting her legs swing. “It hurts a lot if you wiggle it.”

“You get one o’these before?” Majima asked, brows raised.

Haruka nodded. “Aunt Yumi got me a second-hand bike for my seventh birthday and I was trying to figure out how to ride it and I swerved into traffic and got scared and rolled down a hill. I was only in the hospital for a day but they said that they had to check my bones inside to make sure there wasn’t anything else broken. I broke my leg.”

“Was the bike okay?” Majima asked.

“Yeah! I can’t fit on it anymore though, so I gave it to the other kids at Sunflower.”

“That was nice of you,” Kiryu said, pride in his voice.

Haruka shrugged. “I guess.”

“Nah, it is, kid,” Majima said, scratching at the skin around the heart monitor pads. “Y’coulda just kept it for yourself even if y’didn’t fit on it anymore. Or y’coulda thrown it out. Trust me. I’m a bad guy, remember? I know marshmallow hearts like you two when I see ‘em.”

Kiryu looked as though he’d like to argue with what Majima had said—which part, he didn’t know—but Haruka was grinning and he didn’t seem to want to argue with her, as well.

“Majima-san, I don’t think you are. You saved Mister Kiryu’s life. Bad guys don’t save people’s…” Haruka trailed off when she looked over to the door, and Kiryu and Majima exchanged worried glances. “Mister Kiryu, there’s a scary-looking bald man outside looking in here.”

Majima’s heart stopped, and distantly he heard the monitor beeping erratically.

Kiryu looked over at him, and when Majima just said faintly, “I never reported to him about Haruka,” he stood up, stiff and angry. The monitor beeped again, and Majima ripped the pads off of him in a panic, already wrenching at the IV. Blood poured from the hole it left as Shimano stepped inside, wearing a shark smile and filling the room with his bulk. 

Majima hadn’t known he could feel this afraid of Shimano, but apparently more had changed than he’d realised.

“Well, look at this! Happy little family having a visit. How come Uncle Shimano ain’t invited to the party, eh?” 

“Kiryu-chan,” Majima said, trying to keep his voice calm. “Couldja give me and the boss some privacy?”

“No,” Kiryu said stubbornly. Majima wanted to glare at him, but he wasn’t about to take his eye off of Shimano.

“Just get the fuck outta here, wouldja?” he snapped. “Don’t need you two gettin’ in the way.”

Majima had figured that Kiryu would argue the point until he physically forced him to leave, but he must have realised that it was a bad time for stubbornness, as after a moment of tense silence, he just took Haruka’s hand and walked around Shimano, keeping himself between them. Possibly even more surprising was the fact that Shimano just let them go, smiling as though he knew something they didn’t. Kiryu glanced back at Majima as he closed the door behind them, his eyes telling him a lifetime’s worth of emotions in one look. 

Majima just clenched his jaw and waited for the click of the door.

His tongue tasted metal and he realised that he was biting on his cheek.

Shimano’s smile fell.

“Sagawa told me that you’d gone soft, back then.”

Majima held his breath, dizzy with what he knew would happen.

“That you weren’t the same inside anymore.”

Shimano rolled up his sleeves, tucking the folds in carefully each time. 

“You know what I told him?”

The open-palm slap that levelled him made his ears ring, his cheek cracking off the hard plastic of the hospital bed. 

“I told him he was crazy. That if a year in the Hole hadn’t done shit to Goro Majima, then no fucker on this planet was gonna dull his edge.”

He stared at the splatter of blood from his mouth that had splashed across the wall behind him, drops of it streaking down the silent screen of the heart monitor.

“Guess that’s what I get fer givin’ ya too much credit.”

A hand in his hair, yanking him back, dragging him to his feet, his stomach screaming with pain.

“Yer not quite soft yet, though. Just stupid.”

Majima took the punches as they came, letting them push him down further and further. If it gave Kiryu time to get Haruka away, he’d take as many of them as he needed.

“Just gotta retrain ya. Get rid of all that shit in yer head makin’ ya think.”

Majima hadn’t been thinking about anything. He was just waiting for it to be over so he could assess how much of him was left. But then— 

“Knew I shoulda just toldja t’kill that asshole Kiryu. Knew y’couldn’t handle it. Don’t fuckin’ think I’m makin’ that mistake twice.”

—something in him snapped.

“What?”

Majima turned to get his eye on Shimano as he gaped in shock. He couldn’t blame him. Majima had never talked back while taking a punishment.

But things had changed. Majima was not the same man anymore and the skin he wore now didn’t thrive under Shimano’s touch.

Shimano scowled after he got his bearing back, looking as mean as he could, but Majima had seen him crumble under Kiryu’s fists and there was nothing he could do to him now that he didn’t want him to.

“I said it’s about damn time that y’take Kiryu out,” Shimano growled. “He’s a pain in my ass and he’s got ya chasing after him with yer dick hangin’ out. He’ll be headin’ over t’Shangri-La right now, so I wantcha t’get off yer ass and finally use that knife o’yours for what it was meant for. No more of this pussy shit. I want his fuckin’ head.”

Majima listened to Shimano barking but it no longer worked like wires tied directly to his limbs. 

He didn’t know what that meant, though. He didn’t know where that left him.

He was still a yakuza. He couldn’t ignore orders.

Could he?

...He’d ignored plenty of orders before. Not only the ones that were for things he would never do, but little ones, too. Things he just didn’t feel like doing. Things he felt they hadn’t earned yet.

“Are you listenin’ t’me?”

He hadn’t told Shimano about what had happened at the batting cages. He knew he was supposed to, but every time he remembered that he should, he heard Kiryu’s voice telling him that he needed to heal. To please let himself heal. He’d remember the sound of Kiryu’s uncertain voice in his dreams—the ruthlessness of his concern when he felt that Majima was trying to get himself hurt—the feeling of his hands on his bare skin, soothing in a way that he couldn’t consciously understand.

Until now.

Looking into Shimano’s eyes, at the fear he saw wriggling deep down inside the man, he knew.

Shimano had been the leash that had wrapped itself around Majima’s throat, choking him when he strayed too far because he was afraid to lose control.

But Kiryu was the man who waited for Majima to come to him of his own free will after proving he was worth following.

When Shimano had opened that cage door ten years ago, he hadn’t lured Kiryu in.

He’d let Majima out.

“Hey, wake the fuck—”

“No.”

“Eh?” Shimano asked after a second of stunned silence. “Th’fuck did you say to me?”

Majima let Shimano reach for his throat, but the moment that his fingers touched his skin, he clamped his hand around his wrist and floored him with one stiff punch. The chair he fell over on the way down clattered and banged against the wall, knocking over a tray of equipment. There was a shout from just outside the door, but Majima could only hear his heart thumping, thumping, thumping.

“I said... no .”

Shimano’s jowls trembled with fury and fear and Majima knew that there was nothing left to say.

He left.

He left despite the doctor calling after him. He left despite the people that tried to ask if he was okay, did he need help, he was bleeding . He left despite Kiryu’s cop friend trying to block him from leaving the hospital. He just pushed through them all and left.

He didn’t know where to go.

He knew what he needed. He’d always known what he needed, but there was a big fucking difference between knowing and accepting.

Maybe it was finally time to start accepting.

 

~*~

 

“Mister Kiryu, is Majima-san going to be okay?”

Kiryu gripped Haruka’s hand tight, telling his feet to keep walking. He couldn’t go back. He had to keep Haruka safe.

“I don’t know. I hope so.”

“You don’t know? But then why did we leave if you don’t know if he’s going to be okay?”

Kiryu couldn’t look at Haruka. He could barely see anything in front of him. Keeping himself pointed forward instead of back to the hospital was taking all of his willpower. “Keeping you safe is more important.”

“That’s not true!” Haruka argued, tugging his hand hard. “Mister Kiryu, you can’t just leave a friend behind like that! You have to stick together!”

Kiryu finally turned to Haruka, scowling. “Haruka. Don’t. We have a job to do.”

“But—” 

“No buts,” he reprimanded. “Majima-san made the decision to protect you and the best thing we can do right now is respect that decision.”

“But what if he gets hurt?” Haruka asked, looking more distraught than Kiryu had expected. Instead of giving her the harsh truth that Majima was used to getting hurt, he decided to be kinder.

“Majima-san is strong,” he said in a soft voice, hoping it would comfort her. “He’ll be fine.”

Haruka didn’t look convinced one bit, but Kiryu was already continuing on, refusing to see the replay of Reina’s body tossed in front of him like an old rug, or Shinji finally giving in, his eyes scared in that last moment of life, or the surprise on Majima’s face when he looked down to the bullet wound, as though he’d thought that he was immortal. 

The breathless moment before he fell off the dock.

Kiryu couldn’t see these again. He couldn’t. He couldn’t. Majima didn’t belong with those memories yet. Kiryu hadn’t left him to join the memories of Reina and Shinji and Tachibana and Oda and everyone else he’d lost—he hadn’t . Majima was strong. Majima wouldn’t— 

He couldn’t think the word die.

He just had to keep moving. He had a job to do that no one else could. 

“Can we at least go back to see him after we go to Shangri-La?” Haruka asked as they approached the massive, imposing building, her voice very small. 

Kiryu blinked through the dryness of his eyes, looking over at her in surprise. “Do you really care that much?”

Haruka nodded, her mouth set in a resolute line.

“Why?”

“He saved your life,” she said, as if that was all it took. When he just raised his brows, she lowered hers thoughtfully. “He told me at the batting center that you weren’t friends. That he was a bad guy. But I’ve known a lot of bad guys and they wouldn’t have even saved a friend’s life.”

“Hm,” was all Kiryu could say. That was Majima in a nutshell: saying they weren’t friends and then taking a knife for him. 

Kiryu couldn’t think about that knife, either.

“Is he really a bad guy, Mister Kiryu?”

Kiryu didn’t even have to think about that before he said, “No. He’s done bad things, but he’s not a bad man.”

“Just like you?”

Kiryu wasn’t sure if he could agree that he wasn’t a bad man, but before he had to decide how to respond, they’d reached Shangri-La’s doors. The bouncer let them in after a bit of persuasion and Kiryu trudged up the stairs, completely lost for what he was going to say to Akemi.

He wasn’t sure what he did say, in the end. He thought of Shinji and just let the words come as they could. Akemi accepted them solemnly, telling him of Kazama and Terada with a strength in her eyes that Kiryu admired. He was trying his best to accept what had happened, but he knew he’d never be able to do it so gracefully.

He was about to ask what else Akemi had heard about Sera’s will when the building shook underfoot, a deafening crash coming from down below. The girls gasped, Haruka clinging to him as Akemi asked,

“Is it an earthquake?”

“I don’t know,” Kiryu said, trying to remember if there were any exits on the way up that they could use to escape with. “Let’s go, just in case.”

Akemi nodded, taking Haruka’s other hand as they rushed from the room, waiting for the telltale rolls of an oncoming earthquake. But as soon as they got to the stairs, there was a group of men grinning maniacally up at them, picking up whatever they could find to use as weapons. 

“What? But why—” Akemi mumbled, her hand over her mouth in shock.  

“Take Haruka and get the girls out of here,” Kiryu told her, putting himself between the men and them as she nodded and did as he asked. Most of the women were already scrambling to leave, bursting from their rooms with screams as more armed men kicked the doors in with shrieking laughs. Kiryu didn’t wait to see who they worked for or what they were planning; he just punched, keeping one eye on Haruka as she fled with Akemi. 

The first few men went down without a fight, too busy looking for anything light enough to wield in a hallway full of only chairs and tables. The next few were ready for him, but were still no match. They swung their vases and bats and he kicked them down the stairs, jumping down over them to get to the next floor. He barrelled through another floor of men just like that, going into an almost meditative state as he dispatched them all one after another. 

Until he heard a piercing scream and Haruka cry out, “Don’t! Just leave her alone!” 

He’d never run so fast as he did then, tripping down the last few stairs and skidding to a stop at the scene on the landing before him.

Kiryu-chan ,” Majima sighed with a smile, sliding his arm diagonally around Akemi’s chest and holding her tight against him, the sharp edge of his knife crooked across her neck. Akemi stared at Kiryu with wide, pleading eyes, her hands gripping Majima’s arm. Haruka had hold of his other arm, obviously trying to dislodge him but failing miserably. There was a look in Majima’s eye that scared Kiryu more than he’d ever been scared by Majima before. Manic. High, almost. “What took ya so long? I wanted t’see ya.”

“Majima…” Kiryu said slowly, edging closer carefully. “Let her go.”

“Eh? Why?” Majima asked, his voice whining and childish. “I just wanted to know where she was off to in such a hurry with your girl.”

Kiryu took another step. He was within tackling distance if he had to. “Just let her go and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.” 

Akemi inhaled sharply as Majima’s arm tightened around her, and Kiryu froze, swallowing past the panic closing his throat. He couldn’t read Majima’s face at all. He was baring his teeth in something that Kiryu might have called a smile on someone else, but on Majima, it looked aggressive and rictus. His eye was wide, his pupil engulfing his iris and making it look almost entirely black. His hand was gripping his knife hard enough to shake, his skin deathly pale and sweating. Kiryu glanced down for a split second and saw that his bandage was soaked through with blood.

“Anything…” Majima breathed, his voice distant and strange as his jaw went slack.

Another step. “Yes, anything,” he promised.

Kiryu almost took another step, but then Majima shrieked with sudden laughter, his eye watering. Akemi flinched and Haruka gave a rough tug of Majima’s arm, crying out in a stern voice,

“Mister Majima, please let Miss Akemi go! She’s scared!”

“Haruka!” Kiryu snapped, afraid in a way that he didn’t understand when Majima turned his manic eye down to her. He didn’t want to have to put Majima down when he was already so hurt, but he wouldn’t hesitate if it came between him and Haruka.

But Majima just blinked, his brows twisting up and his smile twitching down in uncertainty.

Please ,” Haruka said again, and Kiryu saw his opportunity. He leapt forward, gripping Majima’s wrist and pulling it hard enough to free Akemi, who fell forward with a tiny sob of relief. Kiryu caught her with his other arm before guiding her to Haruka.

“Haruka, take care of Akemi. Run to Serena as fast as you can. Understand?”

“Got it,” Haruka said, taking Akemi’s hand and backing toward the stairs. She looked worriedly between Kiryu and Majima, who hadn’t even fought against Kiryu’s grip, just letting him keep his knife hand held safely away as he slumped, staring down at the floor. “Be careful, Mister Kiryu.”

Kiryu just nodded, watching as she and Akemi fled. He waited until he heard them leave before turning back to Majima, who hadn’t moved a single inch. Kiryu studied his face, feeling his heartbeat fluttering against his fingertips as he gripped his wrist.

“Majima…” Kiryu began, unsure of how to approach this. Especially when Majima looked up at him through the fall of his hair and their eyes met. Majima looked half-dead, but his eye was still roiling with emotions. Kiryu couldn’t place what they were, though, so he just asked, “What happened? Are you okay? Did Shimano—”

Majima jerked away at the name like a puppet that had had his strings yanked. Kiryu tried to follow, to get him back under his grip so he couldn’t hurt himself any more than he had already by leaving the hospital, but Majima took a swing at him with his knife and Kiryu had to dodge back or risk getting sliced. They stared at each other, Majima’s breath coming in fast pants through his slack jaw. Kiryu’s stomach twisted with dread even before Majima giggled, looking helpless to the laughter, and said,

“I dunno what you mean, Kiryu-chan. I’m just fine. Feeling great. It’s you we should be worried about, y’know.”

Kiryu frowned. “What?”

Another giggle. “Well, you’re toast, aren’tcha? Got orders. Gotta follow orders.”

“What orders?” Kiryu asked, but Majima was running his thumb along his knife and sighing as it left a bloody line. “ Majima . What orders?” he insisted, trying to reach for him again, only to get another stab levelled at him. 

“You’re so eager, Kiryu-chan!” Majima giggled breathlessly, his head lolling back before he slid into a low stance, his knife taking point as he faced Kiryu once more. His words were slurred and loose as he continued, but his eye was sharp with intent. “Don’t worry, darlin’, I’ll take good care o’ya. I’ll make it good for ya. It’s what y’deserve.”

Kiryu wanted to ask again what had happened at the hospital, but then Majima struck, and he suddenly didn’t need to ask anymore. Majima might be out of it, but Kiryu could put two and two together to get four: he’d seen Shimano and was suddenly talking about orders as he came at Kiryu with the clear intent to kill. 

It was a strange thought to have, but Kiryu was actually glad that Majima had gotten shot and stabbed only recently, because it meant that he actually stood a chance of avoiding death. Even with them, Majima was as fast as a wild animal and as precise as a marksman, striking at him so relentlessly that he felt himself pulled between two instincts: respecting Majima’s serious intent and fighting him back with everything he had and risking serious injury for one or both of them, or trying to disable him and convince him to stop, so he didn’t hurt himself.

In the end, he did both. After a couple minutes where all he could bring himself to do was dodge, Majima faked him out with a punch aimed at his side that he avoided easily, not realising that he was moving his head directly into his high knife swing until he’d instinctively struck, slamming his fist into Majima’s gut in a panic. Majima reeled back with a choking grunt, tripping down several steps before catching himself on the bannister, slumping over it with fast breaths. 

Kiryu immediately tried to help him up, but got a slash across the chest for his attempt, his shirt sticking to the blood that welled up. He hissed in pain, barely managing to avoid a follow-up stab that would have sank into his gut if it had landed. When Majima swung wide to try to catch him off his dodge, Kiryu grabbed his arm and twisted, slinging them off-balance down the stairs to the next landing after a brief, panicked moment of slipping. Kiryu slammed Majima into the wall, pinning him with his knife arm pressed between their chests, the sharp side slicing into Kiryu’s collarbone. He ignored it, focused entirely on keeping the writhing, snarling man under control. 

“You don’t have to do this,” Kiryu huffed, his muscles straining at the effort. How did Majima still have so much strength in him, after everything? “Majima, please . Just look at me!” But when he took his chin and shoved it up to force him to meet his eyes, Majima just closed his lid and heaved at him. Kiryu fell back, stumbling down the next flight of stairs until he landed at the bottom.

“Shut up ,” Majima growled roughly, his stuttering breath reminiscent of laughter, but unfocused, shaking. He stood at the top of the stairs still, glaring down at Kiryu, his body slumped with exhaustion. The bandage at his stomach was entirely crimson now, a slow line of blood oozing down his bare stomach. “Y’don’t understand a fuckin’ thing about me, d’ya? Even after all this?”

Kiryu breathed hard, his body tired and sore from the hits he’d taken. He had nothing to say to that. It was both ridiculous and true, at once. He’d begun to understand bits of Majima that he’d never thought he’d understand, after they’d clashed again and again. He understood what kind of a man he was. Where his priorities lay. What he did and did not respect.

But did he understand Majima, himself?

Not yet.

But still— “I understand enough to know that you don’t actually want to kill me.”

The snorting, hacking laugh that burst from Majima then felt like it had been pulled from him forcibly. “You think I don’t wanna do this?” he squealed, throwing his head back and braying with laughter. Kiryu watched him, mouth thin, until he met his eyes again, smiling that stiff smile. “I don’t do anythin’ I don’t wanna do, Kiryu-chan.”

“So you wanted Shimano to come to the hospital and beat you?”

The laughter disappeared between one heartbeat and the next. Majima stared at him, his mouth slack, and Kiryu realised what he’d seen in his eye before. 

Majima was scared. 

Or, no—not scared.

Unsure.

“You don’t—ya don’t know shit,” Majima said, voice barely above a whisper. 

“So tell me,” Kiryu said, and for a few moments, he thought that Majima actually would. His shoulders relaxed and his brows turned up and his eye searched his, desperate and hungry for something. Kiryu took that as encouragement and slowly approached, taking each step up toward him deliberately, holding his gaze and hoping that his desire to help him was clear.

When he got within arm’s reach, though, Majima’s face closed off and Kiryu knew that he’d failed even before Majima struck, leaping onto Kiryu hard enough that he lost balance. Time slowed down with his hands gripping Majima’s wrists, the knife poised to sink into Kiryu’s heart as he bent back, back, back. And for a split second as they tumbled over the side of the bannister, it felt as though it stopped entirely, their hearts racing together in that deathly silence. 

And then they landed.

But before Kiryu could figure out whether he’d died from that fall, they were falling again, limbs tangled and heads tucked together in a mockery of an embrace before they slammed back to reality with a crash to the rubble-strewn floor. 

Kiryu only realised that he’d briefly passed out when he was snapping back to life at the sound of raspy breath and rocks tumbling over themselves.

Majima was not with him anymore.

He struggled to his feet as fast as he could, vision swimming and shifting as he looked into the darkness of the basement for any sign of the injured man.

There—was that...? Had that been some movement? 

“Majima!” he called out, limping as he headed towards the movement. His entire body felt bruised and broken, but he didn’t have time to care about that right now. Majima was in no state to have fallen down a staircase through the floor below. He had to find him and get him back to the hospital. “Majima, where are you?”

There was no response. Kiryu fumbled in the dark, his eyes trying to find shapes to recognise in it as he tripped over rocks and concrete, dust flying up to make him cough. His body protested wildly with each cough, but he kept on, sweeping his hands in front of him.

And then he heard it again: a rattling breath, just to the side of him.

Or was it in front of him?

He couldn’t see anything. It was pitch black except for the column of dim light streaming down from the floor above and the low ceiling made it difficult to pinpoint exactly where sounds were coming from. 

He felt like he’d been dipped in a tar pit, his throat stiff with dust and panic the longer he couldn’t find Majima. There were sounds all around him, tiny but constant and confounding. He was feeling watched.

Hunted.

There were no walls he could find. Only that endless darkness that was relieved by the tiny bit of light. He turned back toward it, thinking that there was no way Majima had gotten this far— 

—and fell forward with a surprised grunt just at the light’s edge, the body leaping onto him and wrapping its arm around his throat catching him utterly by surprise. He slammed down onto his knees and barely caught himself with one hand, the other going up to grip at the arm instinctively.

“You’ve never learned to watch your back, have you, Kiryu-chan?” Majima whispered against his ear, his facial hair tickling the sensitive skin there. Kiryu wasn’t sure if the shudders that wracked him were because of the hot breaths puffing into his ear, the way that Majima’s body was flush against his as he bent over, or the lack of air in his lungs, but the fact that he had to question that was enough to frustrate some strength into him. He wheezed in as much air as he could before thrusting himself back, knocking Majima’s head into the floor with enough force to make him fall off.

Before Majima could do more than turn to push himself onto his knees, though, Kiryu spun around, bent low over him and threaded his arms through Majima’s, pulling them taut enough to keep him pinned. Majima bucked back against him, but Kiryu just locked his elbows, giving him no room to escape. Majima gave in after a minute or two, his body limp and head falling forward, and Kiryu let out a sigh of relief. As they knelt like that for several long moments, just catching their breath, Kiryu could feel Majima’s blood soaking through his shirt, sticky and warm.

“What’re y’gonna do now, Kiryu?” Majima whispered in a hoarse voice. “Y’gonna take what ya want from me?”

Kiryu didn’t know what to say to that. He didn’t know why Majima had asked it in the first place, much less how to say that he didn’t want what he was suggesting. So the only response he had to was to ignore it entirely and say, “I’m taking you back to the hospital. You’ve lost a lot of blood,” while standing them both up. When he didn’t fight it at all, Kiryu eased his grip cautiously, keeping himself ready when Majima turned and gave him a hard stare.

Before Kiryu could figure out what had prompted that look, though, Majima was smiling meanly and saying, “Yeah, I have. So why don’tcha gimme some o’ yours !” as he leapt forward and sank his teeth into the curve of Kiryu’s neck.

Kiryu jerked away, gasping low in shock more than pain, and pushed Majima off him. He stumbled back, holding one hand to his stomach as he hunched over like a wounded animal. Kiryu touched the place where Majima had bitten him and was surprised to find that there was a tiny bit of wet left behind on his fingertips. 

Majima smiled when he saw the gesture and Kiryu noticed the streaks of blood on his teeth. He wasn’t sure if Majima had actually broken the skin or if that was his blood. Either way, Kiryu’s frustration was at a peak, and before he could think to temper his anger, he had taken Majima roughly by the jacket lapels, shaking him hard.

Why ?” he bit out, falling back again when Majima broke his grip and threw a punch that cracked across his jaw. He didn’t know why, but that punch loosened all the tension that had held him back, and he was on Majima in the next second. They locked together in a vicious, sloppy fistfight, falling back into what they knew best. Kiryu hated every second, but he couldn’t stop himself. There was something between them that made his blood boil and now that Majima had shown him how good it could be, he didn’t know if he actually wanted to stop.

Harder still, to stop, when it became clear that Majima didn’t want him to.

With every punch, every grab, every kick, every touch , Majima seemed to come more and more alive under Kiryu’s hands. His eye was shining with feverish energy as Kiryu slowly but surely overpowered him, his guttural animal noises practically begging Kiryu to keep going, give him more, show him how strong he was, give him brute force until he couldn’t fight back anymore even if he wanted to, force him to give in, bring him to heel.

And there was a part of Kiryu that desperately needed to give him what he wanted.

But Majima was falling apart, bit by bit. He never stopped coming—took every hit and gave his share back—but Kiryu knew what that tightness around his mouth meant, and that tremble in his fingers, and that ramrod-straight spine. Kiryu knew better. He’d learned Majima’s language by now and he knew that neither of them could keep this up forever.

 So when Majima surprised him by leaping and twisting his body mid-air to land a kick that knocked him to the ground, he gathered what strength he had left and decided to take matters in his own hands. He rolled back to his feet, his thigh muscles bunching as he sprang into a run, and leapt onto him, bracing himself on the way down before slamming his head into Majima’s.

They crashed to the dusty floor, sliding for a moment before they went still, Kiryu panting hard against Majima’s neck as his head wildly protested the headbutt. Majima’s hands gripped loosely at Kiryu’s arms—not trying to get him to move, just holding on—as he drew in shallow, exhausted breaths that ruffled his hair with each exhale. Kiryu realised that he was still holding him, too, their bodies tangled together again as they lay how they’d landed: on their sides, front to front, legs threaded and heads bent toward the other. If it had been anyone else, he would have felt like it was deliberate. That they were using their tiredness as an excuse to just feel the other there.

But he was Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, and it wasn’t anyone else that he held in a tentative, almost intimate embrace. It was Goro Majima, and there was too much between them for it to be what it seemed to be. 

That didn’t mean he was going to stop.

“Why?” Kiryu croaked against Majima, his throat thick with more than dust and exhaustion. “Why did you do this?”

The only response that Majima gave was a quiet, humourless laugh and a whine so soft that Kiryu wasn’t sure he’d meant to do it.

“Majima.”

“Y’know why,” Majima said after a minute of silence, his voice dull and flat. “Already toldja why.”

“That’s not why,” Kiryu said, trying and failing to keep the anger from his words. “You’ve had orders before this that you ignored.”

“Yeah, ones where I had t’off a guy t’make an example when I could just tell ‘em I did and he ain’t gonna be complainin’ ‘bout losin’ a hand instead of his life, is he?” Majima sighed, his words slurring again. “Never ones like this.”

“You did it ten years ago.”

Majima went stiff beside him, and Kiryu had to sit back, pushing himself into a slumped sitting position so he could read Majima’s face. It was too dark to see much, but still light enough that he knew that he’d surprised him. Kiryu scrubbed his face with his fingertips before sighing as well, massaging his scalp to ease the throbbing pain under it. 

“Ten years ago. Right before I went to prison. You found me that day, too, just like this. Wanting to fight. Trying to get me angry.” He paused, dropping his hands to his knees again. “That was Shimano back then, too, wasn’t it?”

Kiryu watched Majima as he struggled to sit up as well, wanting to help but not knowing if he would accept it. 

“You’d barely looked at me for over a year and then you suddenly appeared, goading me for no reason a week or two after Shimano starts acting unusually interested in me,” Kiryu explained, smiling wryly. “I may not be known for my smarts, but I’d have to be slower than a rickshaw to not figure that one out, Majima-no-niisan.”

Majima’s winced as he finally managed to get upright, pressing his fingers into his bloodied bandage with a sharp hiss of breath through his teeth. He didn’t have anything to say to Kiryu’s accusation, his eye turned to his own body as he inspected himself, swaying slightly.

“Shimano obviously gave you orders to do something back then. You didn’t do it. He gave you orders to get Haruka’s pendant and you didn’t do that, either. So what’s different this time?” Kiryu continued anyway, needing to know. “Why follow them this time?”

Majima still didn’t respond, and after a few moments, Kiryu sighed. “Fine. I need to get you back to the hospital anyway,” he said, easing himself to his feet carefully. He was hurting, and he didn’t want to make any possible internal injuries worse. He had to be the strong one, right now. Majima needed his strength.

When he bent down to get his arms around him to help him up, though, he got a faceful of fist as a reward. He made a disgusted noise, meeting Majima’s glare with one of his own.

“That wasn’t a request,” he said stiffly. “I’m taking you back.”

“Like hell,” Majima said, kicking at him when he made to lift him again. 

Kiryu clenched his jaw and ignored the pain.

They had a brief struggle, punctuated by Majima’s growl of “Fuck off!” and his responding, “ No .”

Just as he’d figured, though, he eventually just outlasted Majima, overpowering him enough to get his arms behind his back and under his legs. Before he could lift him, though, Majima jammed his fingernails into the cut on Kiryu’s chest and he yelped, pulling away unintentionally.

“Stay still and let me help you!” he snapped once he’d recovered, frustration making his compassion disappear in a puff of smoke. “I’m trying to help you, Majima!”

“I don’t want your fucking help!” Majima barked back at him, a sudden strength returning to him as his gaze burned. He bared his teeth up at Kiryu, who stood over him, fists clenched. “Take a fuckin’ hint, Kiryu, you fuckin’ idiot !”

“Give me a hint first and I will!” he shouted, trying to keep from falling right back into that familiar violence. He couldn’t understand why Majima couldn’t just stop for once—just let him help—he wanted to help, so why couldn’t he— 

“You want me to spell it out for ya?” Majima asked, his voice going high as he surged to his feet, moving like a zombie barely reanimated. He put his face right up to Kiryu’s, biting out, “ I came here to die .”

Kiryu only realised that he’d stopped breathing when his vision throbbed white at the edges. Majima’s ragged breaths fanned across his face, sour and metallic, and there was something real enough in that simple stimulus that it kept Kiryu from retreating.

“No you didn’t,” he said faintly. “You knew I wouldn’t kill you.” 

Majima stared at him for a second before laughter bubbled up, mean and shrewd. “Y’really believe that, huh? Even though y’almost did me in for takin’ Haruka?”

Kiryu had nothing to say to that, shame crawling through him with needled limbs.

“Truth is, I came here t’getcha t’put me down before Shimano or anyone else could do it,” Majima continued, his words hitting Kiryu like a wheelbarrow of bricks. He felt unsteady and confused, as though he’d been walking up stairs and had taken one too many steps, only to slam his foot down on nothing. “But you couldn’t even do that for me. And now I’m tellin’ ya t’fuck off so I can at least go out on some of my own terms.”

Silence fell between them.

Kiryu was trying and failing to fully process what Majima had said. Not only because he apparently thought that Kiryu was capable of losing control again like he had before, but he’d thought to use that to commit suicide. 

Kiryu thought he might be sick.

He couldn’t understand this yet.

And so he just said, “No.”

Majima’s eye narrowed. “No? You’re really gonna tell me no to dyin’ with a little dignity?”

“No,” Kiryu said again, swallowing when his tongue felt too big to say the words he needed to say. “I’m saying I’m not going to let you die.”

“Don’t be a fuckin’ idiot, Kiryu,” Majima said, grinding out a sigh. “I disobeyed orders. I put Shimano down. I’m out. Can’t survive another year down there. Not the same guy anymore. Can’t. No way I’m livin’ through it this time.”

“And I’m saying you will,” Kiryu said, steel in his voice. He reached out and gripped Majima’s shoulders, holding him tight when he tried to shrug him off, his eye looking away. After only a few moments, though, he gave in, the tension trickling from his muscles under Kiryu’s touch. “Majima.”

It was several more moments before Majima’s gaze crept back to meet his own, sullen and unsure. Kiryu wasn’t sure what he saw in his eyes to make him whisper, “Don’t,” but he could guess. 

“You’re not going to die.”

A shiver ran through Majima as Kiryu held him in his gaze. 

“You’re not going to die,” Kiryu said again, like a mantra for himself as much as Majima. “I won’t let you.”

“Kiryu-chan,” Majima murmured, his brows twisting up. “Y’can’t just change reality like that.”

“I can,” Kiryu insisted, gripping him tighter. “I can help you. You just have to let me help you.”

Majima tried to look away again, a frown pulling at his mouth, but Kiryu gave him a tiny shake and whispered, “ Please ,” his voice thick and uneven with everything left unsaid. Majima seemed unable to look away, then, staring into his face as though in a trance. “Please,” Kiryu said again. And as though that simple repetition had loosened the knot of his feelings, he realised, “I can’t lose you, Majima. I almost lost you before and I can’t—I can’t lose you. You’re the only one I can trust. I need you.”

He took a long, deep breath, feeling as though he were re-aligning with that sudden realisation. Things were clicking into place that had been frustratingly crooked.

It was the truth.

Kiryu needed Majima.

He’d made him into the man he was today and without him, he didn’t know if he could stay that man. He was a force of opposition, a gravitational pull that kept him on the right path. The mountain he had climbed to regain his old strength and more. The chaos that brought him out of his comfort zone and the comforting constant that brought him peace when the world was chaotic.

And with the look in Majima’s eyes, he knew he felt the same.

They just stood together like that for what felt like a long time, both clearly adjusting themselves to hearing such a vulnerable truth spoken out loud. It felt like they were shifting into something new—like putting on new clothes after wearing ones that were too tight your whole life. For the first time in a long time, Kiryu felt like he could breathe. But like all adjustments for the better, there came a fear that he might lose it now. Especially since Majima hadn’t spoken at all, much less accepted Kiryu’s vulnerability. 

But Kiryu understood Majima more than he gave him credit for, and so he squashed down that insecurity and reminded himself that Majima had never been the kind of person to say these things out loud. 

Which was fine. 

Kiryu could say it for both of them, if that’s what Majima needed.

And he would, he realised as Majima silently broke the stalemate between them by shifting himself into a position for Kiryu to support him so they could leave that dusty basement together.

He would say it as many times as Majima needed, until there was never a question in his mind that he had someone out there who wanted him to live. 

Because that was what friends did.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Christmas had never been a holiday in Majima’s radar, particularly.

It was meant to be a time you spent with family and friends and the ones you loved most, celebrating the year and what was to come, wasn’t it? And everyone that Majima loved was either dead or in jail or had forgotten him or was a combination of the three. He’d always given all his boys a little something for it, of course, and he often exchanged a Merry Christmas with Nishida at midnight on Christmas Eve when they were both still working. But for twenty years, that had been the extent of his ‘celebration.’

It hit him suddenly on Christmas Eve, though, that he had someone he could spend it with that year.

He wasn’t going to, of course—more than a lot had happened in the last two weeks and everything had changed for Kiryu. He wasn’t about to shove in on the new family’s first Christmas together, especially considering it had been his boss that had been responsible for the death of Kiryu’s father.

Didn’t really matter that Shimano had gotten himself killed in the process, too. The damage was already done.

But that wouldn’t stop him from playing Santa. 

He finished up the job he’d been out on, tossing the briefcase at Nishida the second they left the gambling hall. “Here, bud. Take that to the office and then go on home. Yer mom’s visitin’ this year, yeah?”

“Yes, Sir,” Nishida said, tucking the briefcase between his thighs while he fished out a handkerchief and wiped his fever-sweaty face down underneath the mask he wore. Majima gave him a look of disgust.

“Y’better pray y’don’t get me sick, too, Nishida.”

“I won’t, Sir,” Nishida said thickly, his sore throat making his voice deeper than usual. He almost sounded like a yakuza, now, with that kind of voice, instead of the cooked prawn he usually was. “You never get sick anyway, even when the boys cough with their mouths open. I’ve worn a mask this whole time.”

Majima gave him the side-eye, nose wrinkled. “Yeah, well. Better pray just in case.”

Nishida was too busy sneezing into the handkerchief to respond, and Majima just left him with a grunted, “Get somethin’ nice for ya mom from me, wouldja? Take whatever y’need from the piggy for it.”

“Yes, Sir,” Nishida said, giving him a thumbs up in between sneezes as Majima strolled off down Tenkaichi Alley, whistling as he swung his bat. He was in a pretty good mood, despite everything that had gone down only a little while ago. If he’d asked himself five years ago if he’d ever thought that he’d be this unbothered by Shimano’s death, he would have laughed himself off the stage.

Shimano was his life. 

Even when he’d been busy with his side jobs, he’d been working his ass off for his boss, doing his best to take him further. 

He’d been everything to Majima, and now he was gone.

They’d tried to give him his ashes.

Majima had refused them. He didn’t know what had happened to them, and he was surprised most of all that he didn’t want to know. 

Everything had changed.

Even before Shimano had died on that dock while Majima was back in the hospital, resting off his injuries like Kiryu wanted him to instead of at his boss’s side like he should have been. Maybe even before Kiryu had gotten out of prison. He had no way of knowing when exactly he’d started down this path.

But he was down it now and Shimano was dead and there was no going back. He’d made his decision, and Majima didn’t do regret.

Often.

So instead of moping and trying to figure out how to continue his life outside of Shimano’s shadow and firm grip, he just did it. He kept working. He slept and woke up and ate breakfast and got dressed and looked out for his boys and went to meetings and checked on his piggy banks and drank his dinner in the office or his apartment and jerked off while thinking about kneeling in front of Kiryu and swallowing his cock down until he came apart inside his mouth just as eagerly as he’d kissed Majima back in that hotel room. 

Because after what had happened, he had to find another way to get his nervous energy out. Just as he wasn’t going to force himself on Kiryu and Haruka for Christmas, he’d held back from jumping Kiryu on the streets. For as long as it took normal people to accept the death of a loved one, Majima figured Kiryu would be taking at least double that. He’d never been great at dealing with his issues, Kiryu, and so Majima felt he should give him at least a little time to do the normal grief stuff. 

He wasn’t about to let him wallow in it or anything, but most people needed some time. Majima wasn’t exactly the usual in that regard. But maybe he’d already done his grieving and all that had been left was the paperwork.

Who the hell knew. His brain was all kinds of fucked up anyway; he had no way of knowing what part of it was caused by what.

Either way, it meant that Majima had been allowing himself to fantasise about whatever the hell he liked, instead of trying to guide his thoughts to someone a little less complicated. He’d tried to watch porn, but all the stuff that usually worked seemed all wrong now and everything else just made him giggle too much. So Kiryu it was, despite it all. 

It was probably going to hurt him in the long run, he knew. Majima had fallen head first into a pit with Kiryu, both literally and figuratively, when they’d fought in Shangri-La.

He’d lied to Kiryu, back then. He’d told him that he’d gone there to die, but that hadn’t been the only thing he’d wanted. He’d weighed up his options as he’d left the hospital and had come up with two distinct possibilities for seeing Kiryu in the state he’d been in then—that state being Not Great.

One: Kiryu would believe that he’d come to kill him and would take him out in a way that he wanted instead of having to go back to the Hole for god knew how long until he was finally eaten up by the place that had tried to claim him before.  

Or two: Kiryu would overpower, but not kill him, in which case he’d be completely fucked. 

Majima still wasn’t sure if the outcome being the latter was fortunate or unfortunate, even in his cheerful times.

Because Majima had already been besotted with Kiryu. How could he not be? The man was beautiful and strong and annoyingly kind and respectful. A fucking idiot of a man that didn’t even know that he’d had Majima wrapped around his finger since the first moment they’d spoken. 

But now—now, Majima had gone to Kiryu to be sure he’d made the right choice by betraying Shimano for him, and instead of putting him out of his misery, he’d lifted him back up and told him to keep living.

For him.

Kiryu had no idea what he’d done to Majima with those simple words. He’d been barely holding it together even before, with the blood loss and exhaustion and panic burning him from the inside out, but with those words, Kiryu had broken him down completely.

Keep living for him, because he needed him.

Oh, he was fucked.

Kiryu might as well have jammed his fist into Majima’s ribs and yanked his heart out, he was so immediately fucked. It probably would have been kinder, considering. But he hadn’t. He’d just taken Majima by the waist and had helped him limp back to the hospital. And he had let him, because after hearing those words, Majima would have done anything for him.

But Kiryu didn’t have to know that.

Majima wasn’t about to tell Kiryu that all he had to do was give him a look and he would come running, ready to earn another bit of that affection. Because he knew what that meant, his willingness to go to any length for someone just for a smile, or a laugh, or even a look. 

Just to hear his name on their lips.

He wasn’t going to admit it. To himself or anyone else. If he admitted it to himself, then he’d want to tell Kiryu sooner rather than later, and Majima didn’t think Kiryu was ready for that. Not least of all because he’d just lost the woman he loved.

So instead, he just let his mind wander and didn’t think about when the time might come that he would admit it to himself. Because that was then, and this was now, and Goro Majima lived in the now.

And right now, he was buying Haruka a bike.

Had already bought her a bike. 

Was staring at the bike as it rested against the bike shop wall, realising that he’d forgotten it was Christmas Eve and there were absolutely no delivery services available. And maybe that wouldn’t be so bad—he was still pretty sore, but not an invalid—but he’d also gotten Kiryu two big presents that he still had to go pick up. 

Fuck, being Santa was hard. They’d better like this shit.

In the end, he just hoisted the bike over one shoulder and dealt with the pokey bits jabbing into his side as he collected Kiryu’s presents and headed to their apartment. They didn’t live too far from his place, so at least he knew it wouldn’t be a long hike to be carrying stuff on his person like some kind of donkey. He smiled to himself as he thought about the look on their faces when they got his presents in the morning. Kiryu had given him a key for emergencies on the day that they’d moved in, but he rarely locked it anyway unless he was out, so it would be easy enough for him to just leave them inside the door for them to find. 

He’d overheard Kiryu getting chewed out by his cop friend for not keeping his door locked at all times, but Majima understood. Sure, anyone with a lockpick and half of a brain could get through the locks they had on these kinds of apartments, but once they did, they’d have Kiryu to contend with. Especially considering most burglaries were done by people who knew the victim, he couldn’t see anyone around their neighbourhood thinking they should pick a fight with the muscled statue. 

Except for him, of course, but he’d only break in to steal a fight with Kiryu, and he could get those whenever he wanted now.

Speaking of—just as Majima rounded the corner into the alley that lead up to Kiryu’s apartment, he spotted the man himself. He was leaning against the railing and staring up at the night sky, the cigarette held loosely in his hand left to smoulder, forgotten. The streetlamp that bowed over their house cast one side of him in an orange glow while the rest was deeply shadowed. His hair was messy and he wore a grey sweatsuit, the jacket barely zipped. Majima recognised the look of a man who’d tried and failed to sleep. He knew that he should probably just leave the presents at the alley and send a text telling Kiryu where they were so he didn’t intrude on his thoughts, but he’d never been great at doing things he should do.

“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” he said with a wide smile, putting on his best theatrical voice for Kiryu, who had looked down to where he stood with raised brows and a tiny quirk of the mouth. Majima pressed one present-ladened hand to his chest, saying, “It is the east, and Kiryu is the sun!”

“Huh?” 

Majima’s smile widened. “Romeo and Juliet.”

“Oh,” Kiryu said, brows pulling together again. “You’ve read it?”

“Nah, I don’t read shit like that,” he said, shaking his head and bumping it against the bike accidentally. “Had to help Nishida practice his lines once, though.”

Nishida ?”

“What? Like a yakuza ain’t allowed t’have more to him than extortion?”

“No, but—I guess I just didn’t expect Nishida of all people to play Romeo.”

“He’s surprisingly romantic when he wants t’be.”

“Huh,” Kiryu grunted, blinking as he barely seemed to realise that his cigarette had almost burned itself out. He flicked off the ash and stubbed it out on the railing, jerking his head down at Majima as he muttered, “What’s the bike for?”

Majima decided that was enough of an invitation and walked around to climb up the steps to Kiryu’s apartment, dropping the presents down behind him with a, “Ho, ho, ho.”

Kiryu looked between him and the presents, face caught somewhere between a scowl and a smile. “You got Haruka presents?”

“And you, Mr. Chairman,” Majima teased, giving him a little clap on the arm. Kiryu winced and Majima suddenly remembered that Kiryu had taken a bullet not too long ago. “Still hurtin’, huh?”

“Yeah,” Kiryu said, gingerly touching the spot under his jacket as he looked away.

Well, shit. That conversation had gone to bad places real quick. 

“Alright, well,” he said, clearing his throat and running his hand along the hair at the back of his neck. “See ya later, Kiryu-chan. Merry Christmas ‘n’all that. Try to get some sleep. You’ll be up again soon enough with a kiddo in the house.”

He started to leave, but when he glanced back, he saw Kiryu watching him go, brows drawn together. Majima almost asked what was wrong, but then he searched Kiryu’s eyes and saw the quiet desperation buried deep in them.

He didn’t say anything, but Majima could hear the words anyway.

‘I need you.’

And so he turned back despite what he’d just told himself about not intruding on the new family’s first Christmas and settled himself beside Kiryu against the railing. He knew he’d made the right decision when Kiryu just exhaled slowly, his eyes falling shut. Majima took the opportunity to study his face, to notice the uneven stubble along his jaw and neck. The lines cut into the skin under his eyes and the tiny crow’s feet starting at the corners of them. His lips slightly cracked by the cold air. The spiderweb of broken capillaries on the slope of his nose, no doubt from the punches he’d taken time and again. The set of his brows made him look severe, but the softness of his mouth told Majima that he was at ease.

Troubled, but calm.

And that was enough for him.

He let himself relax, their elbows pressed together on the railing as he bent forward. That touch grounded him, soothing the anxious, nervous energy inside him. He let his head drop, looking down to the slatted balcony below. 

His shoes were scuffed.

The metal caps needed polishing.

He hadn’t realised.

“I’d offer you something to drink, but the walls are pretty thin and I don’t want to wake Haruka.”

“Wouldn’t take it anyway. Booze’s been makin’ me feel pukey lately.”

“Yeah? Bullet wound healing up finally?”

“Yeah, prob’ly. Just another reason to not let it happen again. Drinkin’ on Christmas’s my bread and butter. Gonna feel weird without it.”

Kiryu huffed out a laugh. “That’s sad.”

“Yer not wrong.”

There was a pause. “You can stay with us, if you want.”

Majima shifted, not sure how he felt about being openly invited to share Christmas with Haruka and Kiryu. “Nah. Not gonna crowd ya.”

“Are you sure? Haruka would like it, I think. She asked after you yesterday. Seems to have taken a shine to you.” 

“Yeah?” 

What a stupid thing to feel happy about. He didn’t even know the kid. Why should he feel happy that she liked him?

“She wanted to know why she hadn’t seen you around lately. Thought you might be sad because of Shimano and wanted to give her condolences.” Majima blinked, glancing over at Kiryu, who looked back solemnly and asked, “Was she right?”

Majima laughed quietly in surprise. “Kid’s too old for her age.” He shook his head, turning back to look at the small concrete patch in front of the building, littered with various household trash that had obviously collected over the years. “Nah. I’m good. Told ya, didn’t I? No hard feelings. I’ve just been givin’ ya space.”

“I don’t remember asking for space.”

Majima shot a shocked, perturbed look towards Kiryu. “You sayin’ ya wanted me ta keep jumpin’ ya in the streets even after everythin’?”

“Not necessarily. There are other things we can do besides fight, you know.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m really gonna call y’up right now and say ‘Hey, Kiryu-chan, how ‘bout we play a round o’mini-golf?’”

“I don’t see why not.”

“It’s disrespectful . I know ya think I’m an animal, but I got my honour.”

“I don’t think you’re an animal. And it wouldn’t be disrespectful at all.”

“Kiryu—” Majima began, frowning slightly as he searched Kiryu’s face. He just looked back curiously. “You need time t’grieve. I’m not gonna take that from ya.”

“You haven’t taken any time, either.” 

“I don’t need time,” Majima insisted. “What happened with Shimano was his own fault. What we had was only a formality by the time he died.”

“Mm,” Kiryu hummed thoughtfully, nodding. “And what happened with Nishiki was his fault, too. He wasn’t even the same man anymore. So why should I take time to grieve a man I didn’t even know?”

Majima stared, completely dumbfounded for an embarrassing amount of time before he realised that this was just part of Kiryu’s process. 

“Y’did know him, Kiryu-chan. Sure, he changed a lot without someone t’keep him on the straight and narrow, but didja really think that he didn’t have that in him the whole time?”

Kiryu shook his head. “No, he wasn’t like this before. I wasn’t the one who kept him right. He was that for me .” He paused for a moment before his lips twitched down and he said, “All those times you’ve insisted that I’m soft-hearted...you really don’t know what’s inside me. What he held back.”

Majima knew exactly what was inside Kiryu, but he still said, “Yeah?”

Kiryu took a breath and let it out slowly, saying, “I know you probably think that Kazama or Nishiki dragged me into the yakuza life, but it’s the other way around. I begged Kazama to let me be a yakuza, so I could get rich and make something of myself, too. Nishiki never wanted this life. Kazama didn’t want this life for us. It was me.”

Well that was something he hadn’t known. But before Majima could think that over, Kiryu was talking again as if in a trance.

“Nishiki was always getting bullied in school. Everyone got bullied for being orphans, but for some reason, everyone just decided that Nishiki was the easiest target. Maybe it was because he wouldn’t stand up for himself. Maybe it was because he was afraid that if he didn’t take it silently, they would target his sister, Yuko, instead. No matter why they did it, the fact was that they did it.”

He took another slow breath, as though bracing himself for what he was going to say. 

“And one day, a bunch of the boys went too far. They—they’d always said that Nishiki might as well have been a girl, he was so small and frail. So they—they—”

“Y’don’t hafta tell me,” Majima said gruffly when he struggled to get the words out. He knew that story. He’d lived that story. 

Kiryu looked grateful for that, pausing to gather his thoughts again. “I looked everywhere for him after class. Normally we’d go out and share a cigarette behind the fences, but that day he never showed up. And when I found him lying there on the floor of the bathroom, I—I lost it. They’d waited for the one hour when we were apart. They’d waited until he was all alone.”

Majima could hear the echoes in his voice of the rage he’d felt back then.

“Nishiki wouldn’t tell me who’d done it. Even after that, he was trying his best to be strong, but I didn’t care about honour or strength. I can’t remember what happened after that, but I did enough damage to anyone I saw that I was expelled and several kids ended up in the hospital in critical condition. Only reason I got away without jail time was because Kazama pulled some strings.” 

He blinked, coming back to the present with a little shake of his head. “I still don’t know if those kids were a part of the group who’d done it, but it didn’t matter to me back then. I just wanted blood. So when you say that Nishiki always had that in him—you’re wrong. That’s who I was. That’s who I’ve always been. I wanted this life. He didn’t. He wasn’t—he wasn’t really strong enough for it, and I should have seen that.” 

Silence fell again.

Eventually, though, Majima broke the silence with, “Ain’t your fault, though, is it? Wantin’ more outta life—that’s every kid’s dream. Not just us sorry orphans that got nothin’. You saw an opportunity and ya took it. It’s no wonder they put that dragon on your back.”

 Kiryu looked over at him, a frown pulling at his mouth. “I’m not proud of that time.”

“Y’should be!” Majima snapped, his teeth bared in his sudden conviction. “They were pathetic scum and you were just doin’ what anyone would’ve done. They deserved more than what they got.” Kiryu looked like he’d like to agree, but Majima wasn’t even half done. “Shitheads like that are a dime a dozen, Kiryu-chan, and if no one ever put them in their place, then they’d take everything they wanted without a thought about how they were ruining the lives of good people. People like us were born to keep them in the trash pile where they belong.”

Kiryu studied Majima’s face, surprise written all over it. “I thought you considered Nishiki one of those people.”

Majima waved his hand sharply. “He did some trash shit—abusin’ women, for one—but he still had the potential to come back from it until he let the woman who’d stayed at his side through everything die. He wasn’t born trash. He just got too far into it and had no one to help him out. That he wanted help from, anyway,” he added as an afterthought, remembering how many times Nishikiyama had tried his best to make him his enemy, when Majima would have been happy to help him along if it weren’t for his treatment of Reina. 

Majima could understand the motivation behind a lot of bad shit, but abuse of women wasn’t one of them. He still hated himself deeply for that single moment between him and Mirei, and he probably always would. If he’d thought that there was any reconciling what had happened and what they wanted out of life, he would have spent the rest of his life trying to make up for that moment. But he hadn’t, and so he’d done what he’d thought was best at the time. 

Who knew if it had been the right thing to do. But it was done now and there was no going back.

Kiryu’s hum brought Majima out of his past. “Reina told me that he tried to make up for it, for a while. It wasn’t until his sister passed that he became—what he was.”

“It happens,” Majima said plainly. “No one can make it through death the same person they were before. It either makes ya appreciate life more or it makes ya see that nothin’ means anythin’ when we’re all gonna eat dirt soon enough anyway.”

“I should have been there to help him through it. Things might have been different if I hadn’t left.”

“Ya didn’t leave , Kiryu-chan. Ya went t’prison for him. Stupid t’blame yourself for that.”

“Kazama wanted me to,” Kiryu said without missing a beat. Majima’s brows shot up high and Kiryu looked over at him again, his face empty. “When I got the call, he was there. He wanted me to stay with him and let him take care of it.”

“Fuck,” was all Majima could say to that. After a second, Kiryu just looked away again and Majima breathed out, “I always wondered why Kazama didn’t reach out to help Nishikiyama, but— fuck . That’s cold as hell.”

“Kazama was always better at strategy than I was. Maybe if I’d listened to him, he could have saved Nishiki.”

“What, and just leave Nishikiyama there? Nothin’ else y’could do . Y’don’t just leave your kyoudai t’take the fall for somethin’.”

“But maybe—”

“Ya don’t ,” Majima repeated, voice leaving no room for argument. “And if Kazama thought that ya would, then he wasn’t that great of a strategist after all, was he?”

Kiryu raised his brows in question. 

“If he thought that keepin’ ya outta prison and lettin’ Nishikiyama take the fall—even for a little while—was gonna fix the shit that happened, then he didn’t know his boys at all. Part o’why Nishikiyama turned out like he did was ‘cause he had a laundry list of insecurities a mile long that everyone either fed or exploited. Just happens, I reckon. How else could it go, when he was the koi and you were the dragon?”

“I didn’t ask to be this.”

“But you were. And it ain’t easy, walkin’ in the shadow of a dragon.”

“I thought you said that I shouldn’t feel responsible.”

“Ya shouldn’t,” Majima said, shrugging a shoulder. “Wasn’t your fault for castin’ the shadow. Ya didn’t push him to walk the same path; that was everyone else, wasn’t it?”

Kiryu’s head slumped forward.

“That’s the thing about love, though. Love and hate, violence and sex—they’re all two faces of the same coin, Kiryu-chan. If enough people push at that coin, it’s eventually gonna fall off the table and flip to the other side.”

“What do you mean?” Kiryu asked, his mouth pulling into a frown as he glanced over at Majima.

“Just sayin’ that I know the confusion that Nishikiyama had in him. Sometimes you just look at a person and you can’t decide if ya want to kiss or kill ‘em, stick your knife or your dick in ‘em. Or both. He loved ya, Kiryu, but everyone else made it too hard. He couldn’t figure out what he wanted from ya and was too scared to ask for help.” He paused. “Or maybe he knew and just couldn’t figure out how t’ask ya for it before it was too late. Who knows. Same sorry result.”

Kiryu’s face had pulled into a deep, pained scowl the longer Majima had talked, his eyes cast down. He stayed silent for long enough that Majima felt it was necessary to remind him, “Don’t blame yourself. Ya didn’t do anythin’ wrong. All ya ever did was love him.”

But Kiryu just shook his head and scowled deeper, saying, “I should have told him.”

Majima took a sharp breath, silence falling heavy and thick. The emotion in that simple sentence was like a bucket of cold water poured over his head.

“I never told him I love him.”

Majima held the breath inside his lungs, the thickness of Kiryu’s voice having an immediate, echoing effect on him.

“There was time to tell Yumi. My father, too. But Nishiki—”

Majima swallowed. He had to look away or risk letting himself get overwhelmed by the naked pain on Kiryu’s face.

“I never told him I love him.”

Majima waited in the silence that settled back over them, memories washing over him from lifetimes ago of a man who Majima loved more than life itself but had never figured out how to say the words until it was too late.

“He knew.”

The breath that Kiryu took then was shaky and thin. “How could he? I took our time for granted. I took him for granted. He was my brother and I loved him. Why did I never say it? I should have said it.”

“Y’can’t change who ya are, Kiryu.”

“That’s a sorry excuse. Anyone can change.”

“He knew who ya are. He knew ya loved him. Ya took prison time for him. That’s a hell of a bigger ‘I love you’ than any words can say.”

“But maybe if I’d—maybe if I’d told him, he wouldn’t have gotten so lost.”

“Nishikiyama’s decisions had nothin’ to do with anything you did or didn’t do.”

“He needed me and I wasn’t there.”

“Because y’were locked up. Nothin’ you could’ve done about that.”

“I should have—”

“There was nothin’ you could have done,” Majima insisted harshly. “Nishikiyama made his bed and hid himself under the covers ‘cause he couldn’t stand the thought of facin’ you after what he’d done. Everythin’ he did when ya got out was just him swingin’ first so ya couldn’t hurt him with your forgiveness. He didn’t want t’be forgiven.”

Kiryu’s voice was tense and angry when he spoke again. “You keep talking about him like you knew him, but you never knew him like I did. You can’t possibly understand.”

“I may not have grown up with Nishikiyama, but I knew him. I understood him. He made his choice.”

“Just...go.”

Majima’s eye snapped over to Kiryu, but he wasn’t even looking at him. He was glaring down at his hands as though he’d like to curl them up and punch Majima. 

And as much as he’d like to insist on staying just to see if he would go that far, he just said, “Fine,” and turned to go. He didn’t have to stick around and hear Kiryu talk shit about himself until the sun came up just because it was too hard to hear that he couldn’t change the past. He only made it back to the stairs, though, before Kiryu spoke again, voice dull but words sharp.

“I don’t know why I expected anything more from you.”

Majima stood stiff, one hand gripping the railing as he tried not to respond. Kiryu was grieving. People said lots of things they didn’t necessarily mean when they were grieving. So he understood where that had come from.

But he’d be lying if he said it didn’t hurt.

“You’ve always hated Nishiki. Even when we were still practically kids, you tried to put a wedge between us. Was it jealousy? Did you just hate that we had each other and you had no one?”

It took more effort than he had to spare to not to talk back, so he just continued to leave, taking the stairs quickly so he didn’t turn around and shout at the man who had lost his entire family at once. He cared too much about Kiryu to let him goad him into a fight, but it was against his nature to refuse it. If Majima thought that it would make him feel better, then he would have given him one in a heartbeat. He’d give him anything.

But Kiryu didn’t want to fight him . He wanted to fight himself right now, and Majima couldn’t help with that. It would only make him feel worse. Majima knew better than anyone how ultimately futile it was to punch these kinds of feelings away. It was exhilarating, but still useless in the face of something as big as death.

Kiryu surprised Majima by taking his arm and spinning him around just as he got to the entrance of the alley. He hadn’t even realised that he’d followed him, he’d been so intent on leaving before he said something he’d regret. “This is exactly what you wanted, isn’t it?” Kiryu spat. “He’s gone now and I’m all alone. Is that why you’re here now—giving me gifts —as though that could make up for anything? As if I want any of it? Do you really think you can replace him?”

Majima stared, more shocked than anything to be hearing something like that from Kiryu. He’d never suggested before that he thought that Majima did anything to or for him with some ulterior motive in mind, much less that he wanted to replace Nishikiyama.

“How can you tell me what I should feel about losing someone I love?” 

Majima made the mistake of meeting Kiryu’s eyes as he spoke, his glare fierce and self-righteous. 

“How can you talk to me about love when you don’t even know what it is?”

“Let me go, Kiryu,” Majima said quietly, hoping that there was enough sense left in Kiryu to listen. “I don’t want to fight you.”

“Why not?” Kiryu spat, jerking him hard. Majima let him, falling forward until they were standing close enough for him to smell Kiryu’s sweat and the fabric of his clothes. They must be new. “That’s what you do, isn’t it? You fight. You follow me day and night and invade my privacy and force me to fight when I don’t want to because that’s what you do. So why not now?”

“Don’t always fight things out,” he said, his voice flat, knowing he shouldn’t be talking at all, much less saying this. “Sometimes I fuck. Don’t think that’ll work for ya, though.”

Kiryu’s punch was hard enough to crack his neck as he fell back into the fence surrounding their apartment building. There was a wild fluttering and annoyed animal noises that called out in the silence that fell after Majima caught himself, fingertips tracing the bloom of pain at his jaw. Kiryu was visibly conflicted, face closing off the longer they locked eyes.

But instead of leaping forward and giving back what he’d gotten, Majima just pushed himself off the crates that he’d fallen onto and left. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but Kiryu just letting him go wasn’t it. 

It hurt.

More than any punch he’d taken from him, it hurt.

He could take it. He’d had worse. He was strong enough to take whatever he could give.

But he wasn’t strong enough to leave him, he realised only a few streets away. His chest had gotten tighter and tighter the further he’d gone, his legs like lead weights. He knew that he should go. Kiryu didn’t want to see him right now. He was a reminder of things he didn’t want to think of.

But he couldn’t.

And so he turned back, brain crackling with the emotions warring inside him. Traumas and memories and scars all yanking him around like a fucking ragdoll. He wound himself up the whole way back, pulled between his instinct to bite back and the knowledge that it would only make things worse, until his teeth creaked under the pressure of his clenched jaw as he turned back into the alley that lead to the apartment. 

Where it all left him in a rush at the sight of Kiryu sitting on the stairs, shoulders slumped in defeat and face twisted with pain as he looked up into the sky. Majima’s breath caught at the strength of his heart constricting, and he floundered long enough that Kiryu noticed he was standing there again, his eyes snapping down to his. 

They were shining with unshed tears and Majima’s heart gave in. 

He closed the distance between them, Kiryu’s lips parting softly in surprise as Majima bent over him and wrapped his arms around him.

It took several long moments for Kiryu to do more than take shallow, shaking breaths against Majima’s neck, but when he gave into it, he gave in fully. His arms slid around Majima’s waist, his hands digging into his back desperately. He pulled their bodies closer, squeezing him tight as they fell clumsily to the ground, kneeling together in an embrace that felt just as right as when they danced with knife and fist. 

Majima buried his face against Kiryu’s shoulder, swallowing thickly as he felt Kiryu’s breath tremble with barely restrained tears. He fumbled to take his gloves off, pressing a naked palm into Kiryu’s back and sliding his other hand into his hair, gripping it tight. “It’s okay,” he whispered through the knot in his chest. “It’s okay, Kiryu. Let go. I’ve got ya. I’m here.”

As if his words were the key to a locked floodgate, Kiryu shuddered and choked on a sob. Majima held him tighter, closing his eye on the burning tears that threatened to fall. He had to be strong right now. He needed to be strong for Kiryu. But the noise that Kiryu made, then, as he shook with tears that soaked into Majima’s skin—a confused, angry, choked whimper—was too much for him, and they spilled down past his lid, leaving his mouth wet and salty against Kiryu. 

“He was smiling when he died, Majima,” Kiryu gasped. “He was smiling .”

There was nothing Majima could say that would make this better, and so he just nodded and let him get it out in his own time. 

“I thought that if I—that if I took that burden on my shoulders, instead—that everything would work out. I’ve always been—the strong one. But Nishiki and Yumi, they—they had to—they shouldn’t have had to—it should have been me. It should have been me. It should have been me.”

Kiryu’s tiny, breathless cry of pain broke Majima’s heart, and he wished that there was anything he could do. But there never was.

“It should have been me. They didn’t deserve this.”

Kiryu buried his face tight against Majima, holding onto him like he was the only thing keeping him afloat in a storm as he whispered those words again and again. Majima just listened, and held him, and waited until his choked, gut-wrenching sobs slowed with exhaustion until they finally stopped before he eased himself back.

“It ain’t about deservin’, Kiryu,” Majima whispered, angling Kiryu’s head to look him in the eye. The sight of Kiryu’s trembling mouth and bloodshot eyes made him fiercely protective and his voice was rough when he continued. “They did what they thought was right. Jus’ like you. Jus’ like all of us. They died to protect you and Haruka and y’can’t say that it should have been you without disrespectin’ that.”

Kiryu searched his eye before his gaze drifted up to the door of his apartment. He looked lost. 

“She needs ya,” Majima said softly, letting his hand fall down to Kiryu’s neck even as Kiryu’s hands still gripped at his back. “She don’t have anyone else t’look after her.”

“I—I don’t know how to be what she needs,” Kiryu forced out, his jaw working as he clearly fought to keep himself in check. “I don’t know who I am anymore, without them.”

“You’re the man who took on the world for her. You saved her life and gave her a new start. You’re her father .”

“Jingu was her father. I’m—no one, now.”

Majima gave him a little shake that got his attention, his eyes widening slightly as they met his again. “You’re more her dad than that fuck ever was!” Majima bit out. “Just ‘cause he helped make her don’t mean shit!” He took Kiryu’s face in both hands, his thumbs pressing into his temples. “ You’re the man that Yumi fell in love with. You’re the one she woulda raised Haruka with. You’re that girl’s family whether ya think y’are or not, Kiryu.”

Kiryu’s brows twisted up in the middle, but he didn’t say anything. 

“Y’gotta keep livin’,” Majima said, his voice softening again as he shifted his grip back to Kiryu’s shoulders. “Y’can’t give up when you’re all she’s got.”

“But I don’t know what to do,” Kiryu whispered, his eyes begging Majima to help him. “I don’t know how to live without them. I’ve always had them to keep me right. I’m not a good man, Majima. I’ve only ever done what I thought they would want me to. I’ve never had to do this on my own before.”

“That’s alright, Kiryu-chan,” Majima said with a gentle smile, “you won’t hafta do it alone. You’ll always have me.”

Kiryu’s breath caught audibly, but Majima wasn’t sure what that emotion was in his expression. He could see surprise and relief, but there was something else underneath it that evaded him. 

“I promised, didn’t I? Wouldn’t leave ya alone even if ya wanted me to.”

Pride bloomed warm in Majima when Kiryu’s lips twitched up into an affectionate, reluctant smile.

“Yeah, I guess you did.”

“Damn right I did,” Majima said viciously, giving him a rough punch to his uninjured arm and waggling his finger. “So don’tcha go thinkin’ y’can run away. The Mad Dog’s got your scent, Kazuma Kiryu. I’ll never letcha go.”

Kiryu just watched him with that smile as he spoke, and when he’d finished, it only grew. Majima’s chest was tight at that look. Part of him wanted to look away, but he was helpless to it. After a long moment where he could hardly breathe for how exposed he felt, Kiryu finally took pity on him and said,

“Thank you, Majima.”

 He found himself unable to say anything that felt remotely helpful, and so he just looked away and mumbled, “Nothin’ t’thank me for.” He ignored how his neck got hot when Kiryu just gave a shrewd hum and chose instead to shift himself onto the bottom step of the staircase with a sigh that ghosted in the air in front of him. 

And when Kiryu joined him, sitting close enough that their knees still touched, Majima suddenly wished that he was wearing anything other than leather just so he could feel Kiryu’s warmth. He leaned back, folding his arms behind his head and resting against the upper stairs as he looked up at the stars. They were bright in the winter night, despite the streetlight that stood nearby. The sparse clouds that drifted along were like patches of ink, blotting them out lazily. 

Kiryu mirrored him once again, and Majima was suddenly wrapped in the smell of him. He closed his eye, letting himself just breathe it in and feel the way it tugged at his heart. 

He wasn’t sure when it had happened, but Kazuma Kiryu smelled like home to him.

“I’m sorry,” Kiryu’s deep, tired voice interrupted his thoughts after a while of just sitting there together. “About before.”

“Hnh?”

“For saying that you were jealous. For saying that you didn’t know what love is.”

“Oh. S’alright. You’re hurtin’ right now, Kiryu-chan. I know y’can’t help it.”

“I’m still sorry.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout it. Not like y’knew it was wrong when ya said it, anyway.”

Kiryu grunted in dissatisfaction.

“What? Y’didn’t.”

“Everyone loves someone .”

“Not everyone. How were ya s’posed ta know if I never toldja?”

There was a pause before Kiryu said quietly, “So tell me.”

“Huh?”

“Who do you love?”

Majima thought about what he could say to that.

He had a lot of options. He could make someone up, someone that had no real connection to his heart and wouldn’t hurt to dig up out of his memories. He could laugh it off and say that of course he’d just been making shit up, he didn’t actually love anyone. Mad Dogs didn’t know how to love; they just ran around biting people and howling at the moon. 

But Kiryu had just given him his trust in a tangible way. He’d not only let him close when he was at his most vulnerable, but he’d accepted his touch, his help. There were so few people in the world who had ever allowed him to get that close. 

It was overwhelming. It was terrifying beyond the thought of any torture or death. But he felt like anything other than the truth would be a betrayal worse than everything else he’d done. It was one thing to cut a man with his knife when he’d been warned it was coming. But to have someone as strong as Kiryu willingly show him that side of him, that soft underbelly that he knew would be so easy to tear open, only for him to close himself off—that felt like real cruelty. The kind of violence he’d sworn he’d never do to another person. 

So it had to be the truth.

The only question that remained was who he should share with Kiryu. Everyone he loved was a soft spot inside him that he kept protected. He’d never told anyone about a single one of them, much less all of them.

But maybe that was the exact reason why he lined them up for Kiryu, offering like for like. He told him about Saejima and Makoto and Mirei and how he’d fallen in love with each, in very different ways. He told him about how he’d lost his eye trying to stay true to his kyoudai—how he’d lost his chains trying to protect Makoto from the cruelty of the world—how he’d lost his heart to Mirei while trying to help her escape her parents and then, only a short time later, how he’d lost himself in that single moment of pain, when he’d realised that he was no better than the men who’d done the same to him.

And everything he’d gained from them, too: identity, self-hatred, self-worth, determination. The ability to not only survive through despair, but thrive. He wouldn’t be the man he was if he hadn’t had them in his life.

And in return, Kiryu told him stories of him and Yumi and Nishikiyama and Yuko, all growing up together in Sunflower. He told him about Kazama’s revelation—that the children of Sunflower were all there because Kazama himself had killed their parents. That he didn’t care about that, that Kazama had always been and always would be his father. 

But how there had been times recently where he’d wonder. He’d wonder about that family. What were his parents like? Did he have siblings? Would they have loved him? Did they love him when they were still alive? Would his life be different? Would he be the same man?

Majima didn’t envy him those questions. He’d never really known anything about his family. It wasn’t easy, but at the same time, at least he didn’t have to wonder what he’d lost out on. Sometimes, knowing was so much worse than the alternative. 

They exchanged the only memories they had left of their birth parents. For Majima: the smell of cherry blossoms as his mother rocked him to sleep, her heartbeat loud in his ears. For Kiryu: bouncing on someone’s knee and the laughter that came when he sneezed, the sun shining in his eyes.

They talked about Makoto and how Kiryu had kept in contact with her even after Majima had written himself out of her life. How she’d asked Kiryu to look for him without ever knowing that she’d already met him again. How Kiryu had figured out in an instant who she was describing, but had decided that if Majima hadn’t told her, then he would have his reasons. 

For some reason, that made Majima laugh.

Sure, he had his reasons. He’d had a long list of reasons why he should cut himself out of Makoto’s life, but hearing that Kiryu had never even thought to do the same was enough to make him wheeze with laughter. He’d gone through hell both with and without her and there she’d been, just on the other end of the man he’d obsessed about in her wake. It was ridiculous enough to go beyond tragic into funny.

Kiryu didn’t have to ask him what he was laughing about. He just let him get it all out.

They talked about how, back when Kiryu found Majima in Sōtenbori, he’d been in a very bad place after divorcing his wife. Trying his best to hurt himself in every way he could. It had only been a few months since he’d left her, and the people whose bar they’d had drinks at were his ex-wife’s chosen guardians. She’d felt more for them than her own parents, who had abused her her whole life. 

Majima didn’t spare himself when he talked about why he’d left. He didn’t spare the harsh reality of admitting how had he fallen for her despite her being barely more than a kid. He talked about their whirlwind romance and how it had been doomed from the start. She’d reminded him so much of Makoto that he’d been blindsided by his own feelings. He’d struggled with self-disgust even while they were together, spending sleepless nights thinking about what he’d done. About the differences in their age. Their experience. Their lives. About what could go wrong. About what he’d already done wrong.

He’d loved her, but even from the moment that he’d told her, he’d known that it was wrong. 

He should have been the one to see it. To be the one to end it before everything went exactly as it did. But he’d been selfish in the ugliest way; high on the freedom and manic with the power of making his own decisions after he’d been caged again. He’d looked at the man inside him who’d hated himself and told him that he could do whatever he wanted. That nobody could control him. Not even himself.

And when that man inside him turned out to be right, he’d lost everything. 

It was only right that he’d lost it all. He only wished he could have done something more for Mirei. But he’d already done enough. There had never been another option to him, back then.

It was a strange feeling, letting that out after twelve years. Bleeding it out like a poison that had turned to sludge in his veins, clogging the flow of life. It felt like holding his hand to a burning rod, searing off the flesh to expose the darkest part of him.

And when he finished, they sat in silence. He couldn’t regret telling Kiryu even if he was disgusted with him. He was made of those moments, dark and manic and delighted and still, and there was a blooming between them that night, a reaching out towards something that could be more than they were. He didn’t have it in him to betray that, to hide parts of him away. They were both stripped back, both more vulnerable to the other than they’d ever been.  

Whether simple human contact, or understanding, or if it went more personal than that, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that, after a long while of silence, Kiryu simply offered him a cigarette and lit both his and Majima’s and continued to sit beside him, staring up at the stars. 

Eventually, he asked him if he regretted knowing her. If what he’d done, if losing his chance at a family—a real life outside of the yakuza—outweighed the good that they’d had.

Majima didn’t have an answer to that for a long time.

Yes, he regretted it. He would never do it the same again, being the man he was now. He would never expose her to the things that lived inside him. He would save her from her parents and keep his distance and watch her flourish and grow without him, the same as Makoto had.

No, he didn’t regret it. What had happened was his darkest moment, further beyond anything ever done to him. He had never been the same since, knowing that he had that in him. But the times that they’d had that were good—he didn’t know how to regret that. He wanted to, when he fell into that place inside him where he had no form and no face. He wanted to call himself disgusting for being so selfish to cherish the moments where she smiled, and he laughed, and they kissed like they would die without the other beside them.

But more than regret or disgust or self-hate, Majima knew how to survive. He’d survived through everything even when he didn’t feel as though he should. It wasn’t a conscious choice most days. So the way his heart clung to those moments wasn’t something he could bring himself to hate, to regret. What had happened had happened and he could never hope to make up for it. But holding onto those moments of happiness had kept him alive and he was too much of a survivor to cling to big regrets. It just wasn’t in his nature. 

All he could do was hope that Mirei had found someone who could love her the way she deserved, and so in the end, he told Kiryu nothing.

Despite that, he seemed to understand. 

After another long while and another few cigarettes, Kiryu told him that he ultimately didn’t know if he regretted going to prison, either. It had been the only choice he’d felt was right, back then, but it had been a certain kind of hell that he had never anticipated—stealing ten years of his life and leaving him a man who had to relearn how to tell himself when to eat, when to wash, when to live. Speaking no longer came naturally to him. He’d forgotten how people on the outside talked. With abandon, with energy, with life inside them that burst out like popping a balloon full of water. Every interaction had to go through a filter that had been hammered into him. Don’t react. Don’t talk back. Don’t feel anything. Just let the time pass hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, counted by his heartbeats alone. 

There was no other way to tell time in a cell. 

He told Majima about the men who had been in there for much longer than him. The men he could hear tearing themselves apart because they hadn’t connected to another human in so long that something inside them broke. The feral despair in the sounds they made at night when there was no light and no hope for hours and hours and hours.

He’d only been there for ten years, but he knew that despair. He knew what it was like for his skin to feel hungry. To have to claw at yourself to stop it prickling with need. 

Only there for ten years, Kiryu kept saying. Only ten years, as though ten years wasn’t a decade. As though it wasn’t a measure of a generation. As though the world hadn’t changed, kept spinning while he sat in a single room and breathed stale air in complete, horrifying stasis for ten years .

Majima knew that despair, too. 

Silence that grew by layers. Thin at first, hardly noticeable. Then another layer, just as thin, piled on, a whisper of weight on the skin, on the ears. Then another. Another. Another until it was a physical pressure that stole breath and crushed bodies and you’d scream just to feel it pushing that silence out, away from you. Those weeks where he never heard a sound other than the hammering of his own heart, the THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP that was louder than a drum in that kind of silence was a torture beyond knives and pins, beyond fire and flaying. 

He’d spent years screaming with laughter to chase the sound of that silence away.

He didn’t know how Kiryu had survived ten years of that kind of dullness. He supposed that was just how Kiryu was. The things he could survive weren’t the things Majima could. That only made sense. He’d spent enough time watching Kiryu for the past few weeks that he had finally begun to understand why he did some of the things he did. Why he’d never truly appreciate the violence of cracking his fist into someone’s bones. Why he helped every person he came across that needed help. Why he couldn’t walk away from anyone crying out. Why he was willing to give his time to everyone, including Majima, despite how pressing his own needs were.

Even things like why he’d picked up Pocket Circuit and Mesuking and all those games that Majima might have made fun of him for at another point in their life.

He was making up for lost time.

Majima recognised that same drive to make up for the time that he’d lost, that realisation that he had never done things as a child or a teen or even a young man. Kiryu was feeling the loss of something he’d never had to begin with. A homesickness for normal experiences. 

When he mentioned it, Kiryu just smiled and nodded and told him that it was a happy place for him. A place that, just like him, hadn’t changed in over seventeen years. It was constant and it was pure fun and it took skill and dedication. He told Majima about how he’d looked around almost obsessively for new parts, better parts, because those races gave him something tangible to look forward to. Something that wasn’t the debauched, dirty, deadly sins that crawled through every corner of Kamurocho, waiting for him to tip the rock and spill out the insects underneath. 

He spoke fondly of the times he’d raced with Majima, and just like that, their conversation changed. Lightened. Eased off the pressures of the dark places that lay within them and pointed outwards, instead. The things they did for fun. The ridiculous stunts that Majima had pulled just to get Kiryu’s attention. The wild, hilarious things that Kiryu had helped people with in his life. 

Majima thought he might choke to death on his laughter when Kiryu told him about helping a dominatrix in training. Or when he told him about the woman who pitted him, Date, and the Florist against each other to be called a BAD-boy. Or how he’d once mistaken a woman’s request for a visa as her desperate need for a pizza. 

They continued to talk about everything and nothing until the sky lit up from beneath the horizon, the sun chasing away the night and leaving them exhausted and raw, but happy. When they finally noticed, Majima had a brief moment where he expected Kiryu to go inside by himself and leave him to head back alone, but he just sat up with a groan and told him that the coffee they had wasn’t the best, but it would keep them awake enough for Christmas morning.

And so Majima followed Kiryu inside, unused to the warmth that crackled inside his chest like a fire built after a long winter. He found himself making tea and coffee and breakfast for the three of them in their tiny apartment, trying not to dwell on the domesticity of it. Haruka only commented on his presence by telling him that she liked her eggs sunny-side up as she yawned into her hand, as though she’d known he would be there all along. 

He gave her a narrow-eyed look for her sass, trying to maintain his toughness, but when she spotted the bike and squealed, calling him ‘Uncle Majima’ as she thanked him profusely, he could feel the hardness around his heart crumble to dust, never standing a chance in the face of a smiling Kiryu and Haruka.

And even though he’d always preferred scrambled to fried, there were three very sunny eggs that were placed on the table that morning.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The thing about being an ex-yakuza, ex-convict 37-year-old without any experience to his name, Kiryu found out very quickly, was that even if you were willing and able to work, no one would want to hire you.

No one.

Not even the places that would hire one or the other or the other, as long as he wasn’t all of them.

But he was all of them.

And even though they were okay at first—still living off of the bit he’d had saved up in a place that had been co-signed by Date—that wouldn’t last long without some kind of income. 

It had been months of actively looking and every day that passed with another round of rejections for jobs that he would have no problems doing brought him that much closer to just accepting the “financial support package” that Majima kept swearing up and down was given to every ex-chairman. 

Kiryu didn’t want that, though. He wanted to try to make it on his own merits out in the world without falling back on old habits and easy money. He knew he could be a yakuza; it was in his bones. But Kazuma Kiryu the yakuza had just lost his entire family to the games the Tojo played and now he wanted to see what else he might make of himself. He wondered who might rise from the ashes, ready to take on these new responsibilities and make a fresh start out of them.

He just had to convince someone he was worth it.

So every day for months straight, he would wake up in a cold sweat hours before he needed to be awake, have a shower to wash the nightmares away, drink coffee for breakfast while filling in applications, walk Haruka to school once she actually woke up enough to get herself dressed, and head off for the day from there, hoping to get a single interview. Both Date and Majima had offered—with vastly different levels of frustration—to get him a job, but he wanted to do it right. He had to do it right. He needed to let everyone know that he was good for more than just being a criminal. He needed Haruka to be able to tell her friends who he was and what he did and not be ashamed.

He needed to know he wasn’t only good for being a yakuza. He had to make himself into something that wasn’t defined by the scars of his past and those he had lost. He could take a thousand rejections if it meant that one person would look at him and think he was worth something.  

It just wasn’t easy.

Frankly, he wasn’t used to being overlooked.

He was realising that about himself, the longer he went without a single person giving him a chance. He’d gotten very used to everyone looking to him for what to do and how to do it and even though he’d been out of the game for ten years, they’d all gone right back to it as soon as he’d gotten out of prison. 

So this was new. Understandable, but new. It wasn’t like he could put managerial experience on his resumé when the job he’d been managing for was shaking people down and collecting debts and roughing them up when they tried to run. He had taught a lot of kids how to punch without breaking their hand, but that didn’t sound as good on paper as it did in a bar.

But he tried to think of it as just another hill to climb—another mountain to conquer on his road to success. He told himself that he would be one of those stories that people used as self-motivators even though they had no idea how much he’d gone through to succeed. 

He’d checked out self-help books from the library, for chrissake. He’d read more in the last few months than he had in his entire life before. None of them really helped much, other than keeping him from losing hope. They might have only been full of useless platitudes, but on the days where he couldn’t even bring himself to lift the pen to fill out the paperwork, they kept him company at least.

And those days were coming more and more, recently. He used to tut at the kids he heard complaining about not being able to find a job and how they’d mostly given up. He understood now. He understood now, the silent effort it took to watch your dreams slipping away minute by minute on the face of a clock when no calls came and you only had rice left in the kitchen to last you three days.

That was a silver lining, at least. When he was younger, he’d never bothered to learn to cook. Why should he? He’d made more than enough money to eat out every night. But now that he had a growing child to feed no matter how hungry he went, he’d learned a trick or two. He’d learned that certain foods went further. He’d begun to remember the things he’d eaten in Sunflower and realised, now—with a guardian’s perspective on the price of groceries—just why they’d been served so many of the same kinds of foods. Curries and soups and rice dishes—they made you fuller, faster, and usually had leftovers. 

He wished he could give Haruka better, but he knew that she understood. She always thanked him for what he put on the table even if he felt like he was failing as her guardian. It helped. He only had to remind himself every other day instead of every day that they weren’t the only people in Tokyo who ate like this.

Another silver lining, he supposed, was the fact that Haruka seemed to be taking his work ethic to heart. More often than not, Kiryu would look up from his forms after dinner with the realisation that an hour had passed without them saying a single word only to find her sitting across the table from him, head bowed over her textbooks.

In those moments, he’d find himself so overwhelmed with pride that he’d have to use the excuse of needing coffee just so he could press his fingers into his eyes and remind himself that she wasn’t actually his daughter.

But then Majima’s words would echo in his head—that he would have been the man Yumi chose to help raise her, had things gone differently—and he’d just take a deep breath and wonder if maybe all parents had moments like this, regardless of biology. And he’d go back with a cup of coffee and a smile for Haruka and he’d tell her that she was doing a good job, just like he’d always wished someone would have told him.

The smiles that she’d given him at first were always embarrassed, but soon enough, she seemed to just accept that he was proud of her and they became easier. More natural. Seeing those smiles always gave Kiryu the strength to keep going when he was one button press away from calling Majima and begging him to help. 

Which would probably make the man in question scream in rage, if he knew. 

Majima had made his frustration with Kiryu’s insistence on doing things his way abundantly clear. Even though he’d gone quiet about it after Kiryu had explained to him that it was just something that he needed to do, he could tell that he was still simmering underneath. Just waiting for the moment when Kiryu gave him the go-ahead. 

Kiryu would be lying if he said it wasn’t something he thought about often.

It had become a daydream for him, almost. Throwing all the applications in the trash and walking out into the streets of Kamurocho where Majima would find him like he always did and just giving in. Letting Majima shoulder the burden and ease the strain of living on practically nothing. He knew he would do it in a heartbeat. He’d take Kiryu to go eat something unhealthy and delicious and they’d share a cigarette and a beer and they’d laugh about how he’d always done this, had always taken on impossible tasks when others would have given up long ago.

He’d have a full stomach. Someone to talk to who understood how poverty was more than stretched meals and thin blankets. How the bare walls but cluttered cupboards in a house that should be a home could hurt worse than a grumbling stomach. Someone who understood what he was trying to do and why he had to try. He’d have relief. He’d know that Haruka would be taken care of no matter what, because even if Majima tried to hide how much he’d grown to care about her, Kiryu could see it. He saw the worry in his eyes when they caught up and Kiryu still would not give in.

But he hadn’t said anything yet and for that, Kiryu was grateful. 

Both of them knew that it would come eventually, the day that Kiryu would have no choice but to come to Majima on hands and knees just so he could keep the lights on and Haruka fed. But the fact that he’d given him the space to come to him in his own time was comfort enough. Knowing that even if he couldn’t figure out some way to convince someone to take him on, there was someone there to catch them.

It was all he had, some days. 

Especially that day, when he got home in the afternoon after embarrassing himself all morning by asking in shops if they needed help and found four rejections, an overdue bill notice, and an ad for weight loss in his mailbox. He wasn’t sure what it was about that ad, but something about the woman smiling in apparent ecstasy because she’d lost ten pounds was the thing that tipped him over the edge. He shredded the papers up, growling in frustration when they bounced off the trash can lid and fluttered to the floor instead. 

Kicking the trash can didn’t help. It only made a bigger mess and, when he tried to get himself under control again by taking a deep breath and bending to put it to rights, he managed to get a blob of ketchup on his suit. 

His only suit.

He couldn’t afford to get it dry-cleaned. 

And where the ad had sent him flying into a rage, the sight of that stain made him plummet into despair. 

There was nothing he could think to do to get rid of that stain. He didn’t know enough about housekeeping. He’d never had to know before now. No one had taught him and he’d never thought that he’d be in this situation. 

But there was a big red stain on his grey suit now and there was no way of getting that out without some kind of laundering agent. He barely had enough to feed Haruka. There was nothing left over for this.

And so he just gently slid the coat off and folded it, stain-side up, sat on the old, beaten-up couch they’d been gifted by one of their neighbours, and stared at the clock.

His stomach gnawed at itself until his vision wobbled. That was pretty stupid of it, he thought. He’d fed it yesterday. He couldn’t quite remember what it was that he’d eaten. Something watery and bitter. Probably cabbage soup. He’d eaten a lot of cabbage soup lately. 

In the recipe books he’d read while passing time in the library, there were always sections on losing weight, and always a recipe for cabbage soup. He couldn’t believe there were people who did this to themselves willingly. 

He’d always hated cabbage.

The clock hands ticked.

He could swear they ticked backwards, but when he blinked, they were going forward as normal.

Two and a half hours until Haruka was out of school.

Maybe he should sleep.

But maybe not. 

There were always nightmares that found him in his sleep, of Nishiki’s eyes and Yumi’s smile and Kazama’s voice and Reina’s gentle hand on his shoulder and Shinji telling Akumi that they should get married and Makoto’s tears as she stroked her dead brother’s cooling cheek and whispered to him that he could rest now and Oda’s mouth full of blood as he begged him to tell Tachibana that he loved him, that he’d never told him, that he loved him, he loved him and, and, and, and, and— 

And so he stared at the clock and waited. 

That was, until his phone vibrated against his chest, the default ringtone deafening in the silence of the apartment.

He stared down at the ID, reading and re-reading the number. He didn’t recognise it. Was Nishida calling him on a different phone? Did Majima need him for something? Why would he have Nishida call him about it, though? They’d talked directly for months now. 

Whatever, better just to get it over with.

“Yeah?” was the word that changed his life.

It wasn’t Nishida. It wasn’t Majima. It wasn’t Date. It wasn’t anyone on the meagre list of people in his contacts.

It was a company that he’d applied to months ago, calling him back after the person they’d hired instead of him turned out to be too flaky to hold the position. 

They wanted him to start on Monday, if that was alright?

If that was alright.

They wanted to know if it was alright.

He said yes, thank you, that was perfectly alright. They thanked him for being available on such short notice. He almost laughed. He thanked them for the opportunity, instead. 

But when he hung up the phone, staring down at how his hand dwarfed the tiny thing that had just brought him a miracle, he really did laugh. He laughed and laughed and laughed until there were tears streaming down his cheeks and he couldn’t feel how his stomach almost felt full, it was so empty. 

He laughed until the only thing left to do was plan.

They wanted him to start on Monday. Rent was due in a week. He wasn’t likely to get paid weekly, which meant that he needed to come up with enough money to cover at least two week’s worth of food and bills and the rent. 

The rent was mostly covered—he’d kept enough back for that, at least. But he’d been floundering about what to do about food and the overdue bills. He’d known that his time was almost up. That he would have to go to Majima soon, and every day he put it off was just because he was being stubborn. 

But now—he had a job. 

He’d done it. He’d managed to convince a single person that despite everything on his resumé that pointed to the contrary, he could work hard and contribute just as much as anyone else. Moreso, apparently.

So when he looked around his tiny living room, feeling the cold embers deep inside him spark to life once more, he knew that he could bend now. 

Just a little.

He knew he wouldn’t feel great about what he was planning on doing to pay for the bills, but he figured Majima would forgive him. It wasn’t like he’d given Kiryu the TV and gaming console for Christmas only with a promise that he wouldn’t exchange them for money. It was expected that he wouldn’t, sure, but hard times call for hard decisions. He’d probably be glad that he’d be helping them, in a way.  

Especially since Kiryu hadn’t even opened the—box. Whatever it was called. He didn’t understand how it was meant to work and so he’d just let Haruka watch TV and left it to gather dust in the corner. So with another glance up at the clock—two hours until Haruka would be done—he scooped the unopened box into a bag and set out. 

Besides, he could always look into getting another one to replace it once he made enough money again. 

Majima wouldn’t even have to know.

And maybe he wouldn’t have, if the guy at the pawn shop hadn’t convinced him to take a part-trade of his box for another box because he didn’t have enough cash to give him at the minute, since someone had just sold him a diamond plate. But he did. And so Kiryu left with a bigger bag than he’d come with, full of all kinds of stuff that he wasn’t even sure what they did. He was tempted to be annoyed about it, but he’d made enough to cover the bills as well, so he couldn’t really be mad at the guy. At least this box would play Virtua Fighter, he’d been assured. It had been a long time since he’d just sat and done something for himself. Maybe it would do him good.

He had no idea what he was going to tell Majima, though, as he called him up and requested that they meet up to talk. He didn’t have time to bring the bag full of junk back to his apartment as well as talk to Majima before he’d have to pick up Haruka. These days, she would ride her bike more often than not, but it had been raining that morning, and so she’d left it at home. Kiryu always worried about her cycling in the rain. 

“Yeah, bud, be right there. Where ya at?” Majima was asking him on the phone, his voice thick and sleepy. 

Kiryu frowned. “Are you feeling okay? We can meet at Café Alps. I’m near enough.”

“‘M’fine,” Majima insisted, sounding like he’d just rolled out of bed. “Alps sounds good. Ya gonna buy me a cake?”

Kiryu almost scoffed at him for being a bastard, but then he did some not-so-quick math in his head and realised that he did have a little bit left over. It should probably go straight towards food that would last until he got his first paycheck, but he was riding a bit of a high and if all went well, he wouldn’t have to worry about that anyway. And so he said instead,

“Only if you share it with me this time.”

Majima’s giggle was so delighted that Kiryu thought he could hear it all around him as well as down the phone. “Sharin’ a cake, eh? Shouldn’t we wait until marriage for that, Kiryu-chan?” Before Kiryu could respond, Majima added, “Ya said yer near Alps, yeah? What’re y’wearin’?”

He blinked. “Just my usual suit. Why?”

Kiryu could feel the breath on his neck and the aura of someone standing very, very close before Majima whispered in a sing-song voice, “Liar!” 

He twisted around, falling back with a grunt of shocked annoyance and a scowl as his heart raced. Majima cackled, tossing his head back as Kiryu fought to get his breath under control. It had been too long since he’d been surprised like that, it seemed. Used to be that Majima couldn’t possibly hope to catch him out, he was so used to finding him everywhere.

Part of him felt sad that he’d clearly already lost most of that killer instinct, but another part of him was proud of that. He was trying to be a civilian now. Civilians didn’t expect an attack around every corner, especially from their closest friend.

That was just how they were, though. Kiryu couldn’t imagine them doing things differently. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to grumble, “I’m not lying. And you could have said something.”

“And not get to see that look on your face again after so long? No way,” Majima said, still giggling as he threw his arm around Kiryu’s shoulders and turned them towards Nakamichi Street. Kiryu let himself be led, switching the bag to the other arm as stealthily as he could, but there was no easy way to do that. “So what brings ya t’good ol’ Kamurocho, huh? Don’t say it was just t’see little ol’ me?”

“Kind of,” Kiryu admitted. There were plenty of other pawn shops in the city; he hadn’t had to come to the one in Kamurocho. “Like I said, I need to talk to you about something.”

“Somethin’ serious?” Majima asked, peering over at Kiryu with a suspicious eye that glanced between him and the bag. “Y’sure it’s alright t’talk in Alps about it? And what’s with the bag? Got a stiff in there or somethin’?”

Kiryu cleared his throat, pointedly ignoring that last question and saying instead, “It’ll be fine. It isn’t anything serious. Just a favour I want to ask.”

“Is the favour gettin’ rid of th’stiff in that bag? ‘Cause I’ll hafta call Nishida up t’help me with that one,” Majima said with a mischievous grin that did little to hide the hoarseness of his voice or the way he leaned heavily on Kiryu as they headed to Café Alps. Kiryu’s frown returned. 

“Majima-no-niisan, are you sure you’re feeling alright?”

“Right as rain, buddy,” Majima said without missing a beat, giving him a little chuck under the chin with his gloved hand. He leaned away from it with a grimace, much to Majima’s delight. Even his laugh was hoarse, though, Kiryu noticed now that he was paying more attention. “So cold, Kiryu-chan.”

“Your own fault for touching a statue,” Kiryu teased, wincing slightly on the inside at the reminder of Majima’s favourite nickname for him. It wasn’t exactly flattering, being thought of as nothing more than hard stone that had no warmth or give to it. But Majima somehow made it sound affectionate, just like every other thing he did that would feel malicious coming from anyone else. And so he took it in stride with the knowledge that if Majima actually had a problem with his stoicism, he’d just come out and say it.

“Aw, but if I touch ya enough, I bet you’ll warm right up,” Majima said slyly, his smile twisting in a way that made Kiryu’s neck hot, like always.

He wondered if he’d ever get used to Majima’s casual flirting. Probably, if his adjustments to everything else about the unpredictable man were any indication. For now, he’d just look away and ignore how easily he made him smile despite how low he’d been not even an hour ago.

It was always easy to smile with Majima. No matter how long it had been since they’d seen each other—an hour, a day, a week—Majima always made it clear that he’d missed him the whole time. 

Kiryu had never known how important that was to him.

He’d always been an independent man; happy to be alone with nothing more than his thoughts. It was probably how he’d survived ten years in prison without hardly speaking to a soul. But there was something inside him that craved that acknowledgement, that placement in a space that had gone from way too small to way too big very quickly. When he got lost in the wide open space of his life that lay before him now, in the hedonism and noise and pollution and lights, Majima could always narrow his focus down to him alone until he could catch his breath. He was the king of the chaos.

Kiryu wasn’t even sure if he did it intentionally, but he did it nonetheless, and so Kiryu found himself even more appreciative of the man who had reached out to him when he needed him most. 

In the months that followed after that Christmas Eve, Kiryu had spent many sleepless nights remembering the feeling of Majima’s arms wrapped tight around him. Keeping him together when he felt like he was crumbling away under the weight of what he’d lost in a single night. He’d lulled himself back to sleep after a nightmare with that memory more times than he could count, holding himself and wishing he could get the courage to ask for that again. That touch. That connection he’d gone so long without.  

But he wasn’t like Majima. He didn’t know how to bridge that gap. It was one thing to touch like they were now, in a casual way that he would have touched any friend. But to ask Majima to hold him again felt— intimate . He’d held Nishiki like that when they were little boys, but after they’d hit their adolescent years, he’d started feeling uncomfortable with that level of closeness. Started minding how everyone around him kept their distance from each other and changed himself to match. 

Some of his sleepless nights had been caused by nightmares about a life where he’d held Nishiki and told him that it was okay to ask for help instead of telling him he had to be strong all the time. They were the cruellest of all, beyond the ones where Nishiki would gut him and let him watch his heart spill out from inside his ribs, or where Yumi would walk with him and tell him that she was disappointed in how he was failing Haruka. Those were easier to shrug off, given time. 

But those dreams where he glimpsed another possibility would stay with him for days at a time, overtaking him at all hours until he could only see the moments that he’d failed to reach out to his brother and offer him help the way that Majima had done for him. 

In a way, that was probably why he was letting himself bend like this at all. He wasn’t positive that the Kazuma he’d been before would have ever gone to a café with a friend and ordered a cake for him for no reason other than he knew he’d enjoy it. But the Kazuma who had lost his brother and his love and his father in one night had gained the knowledge that he had to bend out of his comfort zone sometimes or he’d risk breaking when Haruka needed him.

 “Fuck, that’s good,” Majima sighed, bent over the cake that sat between them on the table as he took another bite. He groaned and sat back, his foot crinkling the bag as he stretched out. “Go on, try it.”

Kiryu was tempted to tell him to have it all, but then his stomach growled angrily and he knew he wouldn’t be able to refuse even if he wanted. He cut a chunk off, his mouth watering before he’d even gotten it on the fork. 

That bite was like all his daydreams coming true at once. It was way too sweet and way too rich and he got a little choked up at the taste. He hadn’t had cake since before Christmas. Hadn’t had anything sweet since Date had given Haruka a jelly cup when he’d looked after her one afternoon and she’d saved half of it for Kiryu. He hadn’t even liked sweets that much before. But these months had felt longer, in some ways, than the entire ten years he’d spent in prison. 

At least he’d known when the sentence would end, then.

“Haven’t eaten in a while, huh?”

Kiryu looked up in surprise at Majima, who was just watching him carefully, his face neutral. He was caught between denying it to save face and admitting it and leading directly into what he’d come for. In the end, he didn’t have to choose, as Majima just said in a gruff voice,

“Ask me already, Kiryu.”

Kiryu swallowed, the cream icing coating his mouth and making it hard to talk. He gently put the fork down and took a drink of water, giving himself time to think of how he should say it.

In the end, he couldn’t think of anything easier than just saying,

“I got a call back today, but I’m not sure how long it will be until I get my first paycheck. I wanted to ask if you would lend the money to me for Haruka’s food just until then. I’m not asking for interest-free, but I would appreciate two installments for the payback, just so I don’t have to do this twice. I understand if you won’t, though.”

Majima held his gaze, both of them refusing to so much as blink.

Then Majima just smiled wide and clapped his hands hard and hooted, “Ya did it y’lucky bastard! Y’really got someone crazy enough t’hire ya!”

And as if it had taken Majima’s excitement to make it fully sink in, Kiryu found himself smiling stupidly at the ridiculous pride he felt at achieving what he’d set out to do. Especially once Majima reached across the table and gave his shoulder a squeezing shake and beamed at him, saying, “Congrats, bud. Y’worked yer ass off for this.”

“Thank you, Majima-no-niisan,” Kiryu mumbled.

“How ‘bout ya thank me by eatin’ the fuckin’ cake before I forcefeed it to ya,” Majima said, leaning back again and gesturing to the abandoned plate. “Yer all skin and bones.”

Kiryu thought about arguing that even though he might have lost some mass, Majima was still much smaller than him, but he didn’t actually want to argue it. He wanted to eat. And so he did, ordering practically everything on the menu and gulping it all down before taking his time with the cake like he’d always hated Nishiki doing. Kiryu had always bolted down his food, and so when Nishiki inevitably ended up still working on his after he’d finished, it felt like a personal attack. He’d gotten in his fair share of trouble as a young boy just trying to sneak some of his brother’s food when he wasn’t paying attention.

“And now that yer mouth is full,” Majima began, interrupting Kiryu’s thoughts with his sneaky voice, “I’m gonna tell ya that there’s no way in hell that I’m givin’ ya a loan. The money’s already yours. Y’can’t pay back somethin’ that always belonged to ya.”

Kiryu swallowed quickly, frowning. “Majima—”

Kiryu , just once, wouldja shut up and listen t’me?” Majima leaned in closer over the table, keeping his voice low and cheerful even though his eyes were serious. “I know yer the chairman around here now, but don’t forget which of us was on top for longer. I can still kick yer ass if that’s what it’ll take t’make ya accept the money.”

Kiryu looked away, down to the half-eaten dessert, wondering why the challenge in Majima’s voice was more tempting than eating an entire cake right now. 

“Ya might’s’well just give in and let me take care of this,” Majima was saying, continuing quickly in a low, intense voice when Kiryu turned back to him. “I know ya want me to. I can see it in your eyes. Just let me do this. Won’t make ya less of a man. Won’t make ya weak. Everyone needs someone at their back. I’ll be that for you. Just say the word.”

Kiryu wasn’t sure if he could really argue, in the end. If he argued that he wanted to pay Majima back no matter what, it would really only be for his own pride. But it was for Haruka, and he couldn’t afford to let pride hold him back from accepting help for her. Pride wouldn’t put food on the table. 

He wasn’t fully convinced still, though, both of them locked in each other’s gazes, until Majima whispered, “Let me help,” in a way that made it painfully clear to Kiryu that it meant more to Majima than he was letting on.

It only took another minute of their silent battle of wills before Kiryu decided, “Alright.” Majima’s face slid into an expression of pure, smug satisfaction, until Kiryu followed up with, “On one condition.”

Majima blinked. “Eh?”

Kiryu sat back, stretching his knees out wider. “I’ll only accept it if I win in a fight.”

Eh ?” Majima’s brow furrowed, a bemused smile tugging at his mouth. “Kiryu-chan, you don’t gotta blackmail me into a fight, y’know. I’ll dance with ya if ya want, no strings attached.”

“I want the strings,” Kiryu said, not thinking about how that might sound before he’d already said it. And when Majima’s smile turned cheshire, his eye going wide, he knew that he wasn’t going to get away with it. 

Kiryu - chan .”

Kiryu sighed. “Yes?”

Majima bat his eyelashes at him, schooling his face into a coy, feminine expression and lightly touching his own cheek with a gloved hand. “First ya buy me this pretty cake and now you’re sayin’ y’wanna go steady! Y’gotta give a man a warning before blurting out things like that, ya know!”

Kiryu gave him a dry, long-suffering look. “Please. As though I’d propose a relationship without bringing some sort of gift. I have some class left.”

“But not enough not t’fight out in the streets, right?”

Kiryu chuckled. “With you? Anywhere.”

It seemed his words were enough for Majima, as he took him by the arm and yanked him out of his chair towards the door. Kiryu barely thought to grab onto his stuff before he was pulled out to an alley behind Café Alps.

“C’mon, c’mon, let’s do this ,” Majima chanted eagerly at Kiryu as he set the bag aside and rolled up his sleeves, grinning. 

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that patience is a virtue, Majima-san?” he teased, bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet to test his body. He felt great. Like he’d finally woken up from a months-long sleep. And when Majima dropped down from rocking his own body back and forth like a cobra about to strike to a low, upwards split kick that he knocked away with a quick palm, his blood began to sing. 

“No one who’s still alive,” Majima shot back at him once his surprise attack had been blocked and they faced off properly, both smiling wide. 

Kiryu had missed this. Had missed the dance between them—quite literally, in Majima’s case, as he came at him with his breakdance style of fighting that Kiryu had always especially appreciated. He’d never seen anyone else fighting quite like Majima did, like this. He was a force to be reckoned with; flexibility and powerful legs and sharp metal caps on his shoes barely duller than knives. He’d always reminded Kiryu of a snake when he danced, alternating between quick bites and coiling pins. 

Only now, instead of being hunted by that same snake, it felt like he was the branch that it rested on to recharge in the sun. 

“How are ya still so strong after being malnourished for months?” Majima cackled as Kiryu landed a heavy uppercut that sent him to the ground. He spun his legs to get himself back upright as well as fend off the follow-up attack that Kiryu had attempted. “Yer a goddamn beast, Kiryu-chan.”

“So you’ve said.”

“You been workin’ out still?” 

“Sometimes,” Kiryu admitted with a grunt as he took a flurry of kicks to his ribs. “Just normal stuff. Didn’t have time for much else.”

“Woulda had lots more time if you’da just lemme help before now.”

Kiryu grinned. “You would have been disappointed in me if I’d let you.”

“Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit,” Majima sang as he spun on his hands, his legs helicoptering at Kiryu as he danced away. 

“You know I’m right,” Kiryu said, eyeing the spin of Majima’s legs until he saw the opportunity to snatch at one of his ankles and twist him out of his balance, slinging him down to the ground. He didn’t waste his chance to leap down and kneel over him, holding an arm over his throat. Majima’s eye flashed for a moment before he just held his hands up in surrender.

“Looks like you win, Kiryu-chan,” he said, breathing hard through his laughter.

Kiryu gave him a narrow-eyed stare, also fighting to catch his breath. “You didn’t just let me win, did you?”

“Ask me that again and I’ll gut ya like a goddamn fish.” Despite the threatening words, Majima’s voice was still cheerful, and so Kiryu could only assume that he hadn’t. 

“Sorry,” he said, leaning back off of Majima and crouching beside him. Majima huffed out a theatrical groan as he sat up as well, making Kiryu smile again. “Just had to be sure.”

“Like I’d do ya the disrespect like that, ya butthead,” Majima said, reaching out to flick him on the forehead. “Ya won fair’n’square.” A slow, gremlin-like smile spread across his face and Kiryu was already up and leaving before he could start saying, “And as tradition dictates, the loser has to give the winner a big, sloppy, congratulatory—hey! Hey, c’mon, come back! Don’tcha want one o’Goro’s finest?”

Kiryu just kept walking, forcing Majima to chase after him as he cackled helplessly. When he caught up, he slung his arm around Kiryu’s shoulders again and said,

“You’re no fun.”

 But Kiryu just chuckled and stayed silent, enjoying the weight of his arm and the feel of him beside him. He wondered how long it would be before such a simple touch would no longer be a novel thing. Something to savour as much as he had savoured a slice of cake.

He supposed it would take as long as Majima indulged him with them.

After they’d barely managed to get back to Haruka in time to take her home and hashed out the financial matter, he spent the rest of the time before Monday just getting himself prepared to be working again. He hadn’t had a civilian job since he was fifteen, and that had only been a few hours a week just to pay for cigarettes and dirty magazines. He read more books about how he should dress and how he should talk and in the end, none of them did any good, because the second that he arrived at the warehouse, he was simply put straight to work with a cursory glance from his supervisor and a good job at the end of the day. 

He was left dazed as he walked home after that first day. 

He was sore and tired and his shirt stuck to his back, stiff with sweat from the heat inside the warehouse. 

But he was happy.

He’d done a good job. Had worked hard and kept his head down and joined his coworkers during the smoke break and when they’d invited him out for a drink at the end of his first week, he’d accepted.

No one had told him that he didn’t belong there—that he was clearly a yakuza and should stay away from honest citizens. They’d genuinely seemed to like him. 

He spent the rest of that week waiting for the other shoe to drop, for everyone to turn and pick a fight or try to pin accidents on him since he was the new guy, but no one ever did. He’d made a couple mistakes while he learned how things were meant to be labelled or what bay they were headed for, but other than a short reprimand from his manager, he was simply re-taught how it should be done and sent on his way.

He didn’t understand that. 

He understood being at the bottom of the ladder. He’d been there several times in his life. But where being the bottom rung of a family meant that you were used as a stepstool and a punching bag and a delivery boy until you clawed your way up, being at the bottom of this company seemed to be more about helping others who were there with you. 

It was different. Just as back-breaking—maybe moreso, as he’d never had to do this kind of hard manual labour as a yakuza; only using his body for brawling—but kinder. Everyone who worked alongside him was poor as well and so they understood the effort it took. It built a sense of easy camaraderie that he hadn’t had in his life before. It wasn’t life or death in the way that being a yakuza was. 

And so another week passed, and another, and Kiryu hardly felt the time. He could feel himself getting stronger again, healthier not only in his body but inside as well. He didn’t feel that pit yawning beneath him every day, gaping wider and wider with no end in sight while the ground shrank beneath him and Haruka. He felt steady again.

Thanks, in large part, to Majima’s help. He had kept his word and had wired over an amount of money that would be insultingly large if Kiryu wasn’t so grateful for his attention to detail. Kiryu had forgotten one key thing in their talks about how much he’d need: spring break. With Haruka home, not only did she not get the free meal at school, but he was spending his days worried about her being home alone in that neighborhood. He wanted to kiss Majima when he realised that the extra money he’d sent over was enough to cover him taking public transport so he could get home faster instead of walking as usual. 

He settled instead with inviting him over for a drink when he got his first paycheck. 

Majima didn’t respond, though, and after trying to get a response a few more times, Kiryu forgot about it, focusing on celebrating with Haruka. They ordered takeout for the first time in that house and ate until they were too full to move. Both of them were barely able to take themselves from the couch where they’d watched TV until late, to their beds, where Kiryu slept in, completely free of nightmares for the first time since Christmas.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Majima really should have seen it coming, he thought.

There were all the usual signs. A steady, upward spiral in his energy until he always felt like he was chugging energy drinks. A pinching around his eyes, the sensation of burning dryness even on his bad side. Heart clip-clopping like a newborn foal when he lay in bed, staring, staring. Dizziness. Giddiness. Loud, loud, loud. Could hardly hear his thoughts over himself and that was always the point because his thoughts, every single time this happened, were,

You should stop.

And when he finally heard them, that was exactly what he did.

He stopped. 

He stumbled into bed one late night—early morning?—after sticking his tongue down a man’s throat that had tight, eager muscles and soft brown eyes and a voice rich as honey that wasn’t him, it still wasn’t him , and when he opened his eyes again, he just stayed there. 

He barely breathed.

Couldn’t breathe.

Thoughts like a thousand grasping hands reaching from the pits of hell tore at him, kept him immobilised despite his screaming need to move— get up! get up! get up! —without him ever being able to see them. He’d shoved them away too far, where he couldn’t see their faces anymore.

But they could still see him, it seemed.

It had been a long time since he’d come to a complete stop. 

He was a man of action, of constant movement.

But every rolling stone met the end of the hill some day, and for Majima, that day had come again.

And so he lay. And he breathed. And he slept. And he breathed. And he stared. And the world turned around him. But not him.

His eye burned and his throat dammed up and there was something awful and decayed in his chest, swollen like a body left in the water. 

He slithered out of himself and saw his own body laying splayed and useless as if from very far away, the lines of sun from behind the window shade cutting him across the face, across his vision.

It took a long time for his body to react, and even then, it was only to pool salty water in his eye, as if that would help.

He counted heartbeats until the sun went away again and left him back in the dark.

He couldn’t breathe in the dark.

Clawed hands crushed his throat and weight pressed into his chest and he was back in that place for hours and hours and hours.

He couldn’t hear his heart beating over the sound of his blood, like waves pushing him down and down and down.

The sun jumped up into the sky.

And fell back down. 

Again. And Again.

And he was still.

Eventually, his body took over. It flopped itself onto the floor and crawled into the kitchen, finding only rotten food and mouldy bread. 

He’d been meaning to clean it out for a while, but he’d been too busy. 

Too busy. 

Too high on the change. Too busy not looking at the calendar as the day drew nearer and nearer. No longer a yakuza, no longer a family man, had to keep going or he’d trip and bust his head in on the new path. What was he if not a yakuza, though? What was he?

Better not to find that out, huh? Better to just keep at it, just keep going. Keep working. Keep shouting. Bolster morale. Don’t let them question shit because if they questioned, then he’d start questioning, and oh boy, did he not have answers. Pretend like he did have the answers. Be a good leader. Don’t look too closely at it. Don’t think too much about it. It was like those one paintings, the ones where you had to look at them from far away or they’d look like shit. 

Majima was both one of those paintings and the man staring directly at it from a foot away.

And fuck, what a mess that painting was. 

Handsome motherfucker, but a mess.

So he picked the mould off the bread and ate it, just like he’d pretended like there weren’t splotches of rot in him that he needed to get rid of. 

He collapsed where he knelt, laying in the kitchen for the rest of the afternoon, passing out with his head wedged against a garbage bag and the cupboard. 

He woke up in the middle of the night and sludged back into bed, forgetting that he’d slept on actual trash. His pillow smelled like it now. He didn’t move away. Just went back to sleep after staring at the reflection of someone’s pool warbling on his wall, like fairies dancing in delight. 

He dreamed.

About himself.

About Kiryu.

About Saejima.

He dreamed about crawling through tight spaces in an abandoned home, getting lost in the guts of the building but not being scared to not know his way. He was a part of that house and it was dormant and happy for him to be there, traveling its veins until he found an opening and climbed out into a bright, ragged, dusty room that had so much history layered over itself that he could only shiver at the weight of it.

Both Kiryu and Saejima were there, and when they smiled, a fire stoked in his chest powerful enough to consume him.

They kissed in that room—Kiryu laughing softly against both of their lips like he couldn’t hope to contain it and Saejima holding the three of them together in his massive, warm arms—and Majima almost cried, he wanted so badly for it to be real.

But when Kiryu whispered in his ear that he needed him, he woke up.

He blinked away the remnants of the dream, curling into himself as though he could keep it inside him somehow.

It was just a dream, though, and all he was left with was the ache in his heart and the hard-on it had given him. 

He contemplated it distantly for a long time before he gave in and fucked himself roughly, his heart beating faster with a stutter like it had to slough off jellied, atrophied blood first. 

He thought about Kiryu laying beside him—kissing him—touching his skin with his rough, beautiful hands. He thought about Saejima holding him back against his chest, his pulse like a drum telling his own heart when to beat. He thought about guiding Kiryu onto his hands and knees and how he would climb up behind him and bury his face between his ass just to hear how he’d whine. Get his fingers inside him while he marked him with bites all over his body so everyone would know that this dog had claimed the dragon for himself after all these years. That he was the lucky motherfucker that got to be with the two strongest men in history. 

And when he imagined the feeling of edging his cock into Kiryu as he pulled Saejima into him, bit by bit just so they both knew he was going to take his sweet fucking time with them after so long, his toes curled and his back arched, and he swore under his breath like a man praying to god.

But he couldn’t finish.

He tried and he tried and he tried until his muscles cramped and he was twitching with desperation into his hand.

But he couldn’t.

And when he screamed with frustration and slammed his fist back against his bedside table, he only ended up with a broken bedside table and a dick that grew more limp by the second.

He almost wished he could cry about it, but he wasn’t that sort of man and it was really just easier to close his eye and go back to sleep.

When he woke up, it was nighttime again and he thought he— 

He thought— 

He— 

Oh.

She looked down at her naked body on the crumpled futon and realised that she needed a goddamn shower.

But first she had to make herself move. Easy peasy. Flex the muscles in her back, roll out of the bed. Not so easy to stand, working against the tide of still, stop, still, don’t move, wait, don’t move , that crushing gravity that shook her muscles and shredded her intention but she didn’t need to stand to get herself in the shower, did she? Just had to make it there. So she wobbled on her hands and knees, arms shaking with the effort, picking her way through the scattered trash that littered the floor into the bathroom. 

She thought about being sick at the state of herself and her house, but there was nothing in there to come up, so she just breathed into the toilet for a while before she could convince herself to reach up and turn on the shower. Clean first. She needed to be clean. That was the hardest part to remember and the biggest change. Clean hair, clean teeth.

Couldn’t think about being a human again until she had those. 

She waited until the water was boiling hot before tossing herself in, sitting under the fall of the water and pulling in wet wheezes of air. Her chest was hollow and poisonous, sapping the energy from her limbs. There was a trickling in her head dragging her down and down and down, pointing fingers at the stink of her and the greasy slide of water through dirty hair that matted against her forehead. 

Grab the shampoo.

Can’t move .

Grab the shampoo.  

Too weak.

Grab the shampoo.

Still.

Grab the shampoo!

No point .

Grab the fucking shampoo !

The burn of rage was like a shock of electricity through her limbs, her hands spasming before she broke out of her invisible cage long enough to take the shampoo from in front of her and squirt a blob of it onto her head. The energy left her as fast as it had come, but thankfully she was bent over herself so she didn’t have to reach up to massage it through her hair. 

And when she closed her eye, she could almost pretend it was someone else’s hands massaging her scalp. Strong hands, big hands. Hands that could just as easily wrap around her throat and steal the life from her. He’d show up like a prince coming to rescue his princess from the tower but he wouldn’t look at her with pity when he saw how she lived when she was like this. He would just silently undress and climb into the shower with her and take care of her until she could take care of herself again.

Like a shot of adrenaline into a corpse, the thought of him beside her was enough to rattle her breath in her lungs. His lips on the shell of her ear, whispering that she was beautiful, that she made him feel good. That he’d work hard to satisfy her. The kisses he’d trail along her neck down to her breasts. The softness of his mouth around her nipples, his hands wandering over her body, bringing her to life under his touch. His chest pressing against hers as he held her against the wall of the shower, his cock nudging at her entrance but only pushing inside once she gave him permission. 

Oh, fuck she needed him. She needed him. She fingered herself, desperately clinging to the sparks of lucidity that the fantasy had given her. She curled her fingers inside herself, pretending it was her pussy, pretending it was his cock filling her up. She convinced herself so well that she barely had to touch her own cock before she came, choking on the strength of it and slipping on the wet shower floor in her eagerness. 

She came down slowly, still sliding her fingers in and out of herself just to feel them. And then she just lay there panting for breath, cheek on the clammy plastic of the shower floor as her head swam and water beat down on her atrophied body. 

She knew what she needed. 

She needed Kiryu.

She’d pushed herself too far again, given too much of herself without regard for her own needs. When this happened, she would usually just find or pay someone to spend a few nights with, getting them to play the part of a caring partner who was happy to give or receive, depending on her mood. It felt a little ridiculous, knowing that her deepest, most shameful fantasy was to have someone take care of her, want her around, need her. It was what it was, though, and so that was what she would normally do to recharge and snap back to herself before she lost too much time.

But now she had someone who could make her feel like that with only a look. 

He might not know it, and it might be a little pathetic, but he did, and that was good enough for her. 

So with the leftover buzz of energy that her orgasm had given her, she managed to clean herself up and drag herself out of the shower. She rooted around in the piles of clothes and trash for a clean towel, settling on one that was only a little dirty to wrap around herself. Tossing her pillow onto the floor, she knelt down in front of the tiny pocket mirror that she propped up and dug out her bag of makeup.

If she was gonna go see Kiryu, she was gonna knock his fucking socks off.

She lined up all her pieces of makeup like a painter organised her materials, surveying them all before beginning. Primer. Concealer. Foundation. The building blocks that she’d craft herself with. Contour and highlight. Blush. Eyeshadow. Eyeliner. On both eyes because she was not a girl who did things half-assed even if one would be covered. Eyelashes only on the right, though, because fuck having those underneath the patch. Brows cleaned up. Lipliner. And finally: cherry-red lipstick.

Just as she finished putting the last bit on her lips and mouthing a tissue to get rid of the excess, though, her phone rang. With a growl of frustration, she tossed the tube of lipstick down and looked around for where she’d left her phone. She was surprised it was still working, to be honest. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been out for, but it definitely wasn’t a short time, if the stink in her apartment was any indication.

Finally, she found it, though, grateful that she hadn’t started pressing on her nails yet as she flipped it open. “Hello?”

“Oh, thank god, Bos—wait,” Nishida’s voice wheezed through the phone. He paused for a second before asking, “Aneki? Is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me. What’s up Nishida? Kinda busy right now.”

“Aneki, where have you been ? Are you okay? Everyone’s been worried sick—”

“Oi, shut the hell up with that,” she barked. “Are ya tellin’ me that you all been wastin’ yer time worryin’ about me instead of doin’ yer jobs?”

“I—no, I—I told them that you were out of town on an important job.”

Goromi sighed, relaxing back against her heels again. Good old Nishida. Best damn choice she’d ever made in her life. Like hell she’d ever tell him that, though.

“Congrats on not fucking that one up, bud. Your shit gets to stay unslapped.”

“T-Thanks, aneki.”

“Don’t let it go to yer head. Now fuck off, I’m tryin’ t’get dressed.”

“Wait! Are you—do you need anything? I have the car right now. I can bring you something to eat, at least.”

“Y’better not be fishin’ for my safehouse, bud,” she said sharply, even though it might actually be a good idea to finally let him in on its location. It wasn’t like he wasn’t trustworthy. He’d taken more than his fair share of bullets, knife wounds, and torture in his time as her captain. 

Still. A safehouse was a safehouse for a reason, even if she was a little concerned about no one being able to find her if this happened again when she really needed help.

“No, ma’am. I really just wanted to make sure you’re alright in person.”

She grinned. “Tryin’ t’make sure I don’t gotta gun t’my head, huh? Attaboy.” She gave him a place he could meet her, a little walk from her house. “And Nishida?”

“Huh?” he asked, the scribble of note-taking scratching through the phone. What a goddamn nerd. Couldn’t even remember an address without writing it down.

“Bring me somethin’ big and greasy, yeah?”

“You got it, ma’am.”

“See ya later poindexter.”

She hung up without waiting for his reply, turning back to her mirror to check that she hadn’t forgotten anything. Nope. Just had to get her nails and hair on and pick out an outfit. She kicked around the piles of clothes to see what she had, eventually settling on a tight, short red dress with triangles cut out on one thigh and a black snakeskin jacket. She’d thought about being blonde again today, but she didn’t really feel blonde. She felt like brunette curls pulled into a high ponytail, and so even though she had to find her stupid curler, she forced herself to make the effort. 

She was going for full-on drool from Kiryu and for fuck’s sake, she was going to get it even if it killed her.

It might actually kill her, she realised when she slid her feet into her black heels and almost fell over as she tried to bend to tie the straps. She was feeling more than a little faint now that she was up and trying to move, and so she hurried herself before she could let her brain convince her this was a bad idea and shouldn’t she just lay back down for a while? Her body was so sore and tired —wouldn’t it be better to stay home? Shouldn’t she stay home?

No.

No

No, she shouldn’t, because she was already scrambling out the door to meet up with Nishida, who was waiting for her with a giant burger and fries and a ride to Kiryu’s house, which she didn’t need but still wanted. Her stomach almost rejected the food, but she growled and pressed down on it and forced it all to stay down , goddammit. She wasn’t going to puke up the only good food she’d had in—however long it had been. That was fucking wasteful . She thanked Nishida with a slap to the arm and tossed the trash in the back of the car as she climbed out. It took a little more grace than she had to walk up the slatted stairs without putting her heel through, but at least no one had seen it happen. 

She took a second to catch her breath on the top step, ignoring the insecurity hooking into her legs and arms that told her that Kiryu hadn’t meant any of what he’d said before. That she shouldn’t care even if he had, because wasn’t she supposed to live for herself? What happened to the woman who needed no one and nothing? What would she do if Kiryu didn’t even notice? What would she do if he was disgusted by her now? Was she going to go back home and cry about it? 

No, fuck that. Fuck that. She’d never cry over a man. If he’d changed his mind—if he’d lied to her before—she would make him pay, just like all the other men who had treated her like shit before. She’d take her knife and— 

Right in front of his daughter?

Then she would just— 

In front of Haruka?

In front of the girl who—for some reason—seemed to trust her implicitly? Did she really want to lose that just to feel better sooner? She would get back to herself no matter what. She always did. She could still easily go find someone else to help her. Was she really that selfish now that she would scare a little girl by fighting her father right in front of her just because she was getting picky with her partners? 

And then it hit her: Haruka had never even seen her.

She’d only ever seen her as a man.

Oh.

Maybe—maybe she should go. 

Showing this part of herself to Kiryu hadn’t been so complicated—sure, on some level, she’d hoped that he would accept her, but even if he hadn’t, she wouldn’t have been that upset. She’d only intended to get him to fight her, back then, so it was a win-win no matter what. And if he’d thought she was just cross-dressing, then hey, that was a good enough explanation. She had just been cross-dressing at first, back when she’d tried on Yasuko’s skirt as a kid and spun around in a circle just to watch it fly up. 

But at the thought of Haruka’s face curling into confusion at the sight of her Uncle Majima dressed like a woman , she suddenly balked. She wasn’t a coward by any means, but her usual response to someone thinking that she was weird or disgusting didn’t apply here. She couldn’t fight a little girl, as much as the idea of it made her laugh.

Or maybe it was the mania sneaking back up on her. 

Either way, it was definitely better if she just called Nishida to come pick her back up. She hadn’t really thought this out. Kiryu wasn’t a man she could just jump out of a garbage can at anymore. He was a working man with a daughter. He was trying to be a civilian. Someone normal. But when she fished her phone out of her purse, she finally noticed all the calls and texts she’d missed when she was not herself. 

Including several from Kiryu. 

The first was just inviting her over to have a drink with him in celebration of his first paycheck, and that was bad enough. She’d totally forgotten. Had been too busy stewing in her own violent juices, at first, fighting and fucking with abandon, and then wallowing in the sludge that always came after that stew. But the ones that came after made it worse, with Kiryu expressing growing concern with each day’s text. The most recent one was just from earlier that day, presumably before he’d gone to work, with just the words, ‘Please call. I’m worried.’

The text brought a warmth to her chest that annoyed her as much as it pleased her. Kiryu wasn’t normally this forthcoming about, well, anything , but especially not how he felt for her. She wished he hadn’t told her that he was worried about her. That was the sort of thing that would get her further into a rut later, as she’d be subconsciously waiting for Kiryu to give her that acknowledgement again. 

It was dangerous. She would have to tell him to cut that shit out.

But first, she needed to text Nishida and— 

“Hello?” Haruka’s voice interrupted her thoughts, making her freeze with her back turned to the apartment door. “Are you okay? You’ve been standing out here for a while. Do you need help?”

“No, I—” She what? She was just standing here because she was too chickenshit to face the music? She was torn between saying that she’d gotten the wrong house and just turning and getting the whole thing over with and out there in the open. She didn’t get the chance to decide before Haruka just bent into view, meeting her eye with curious concern that quickly shifted to surprise. Her stomach plummeted, but Haruka just asked,

“Uncle—Aunt—Majima?”

Goromi smiled in a way that was more teeth than happy. “No foolin’ you, huh kid?”

“Fooling…?” 

Well, this was it. The moment where she could either laugh it off and pretend like she wasn’t actually a woman just to make it easier or she could admit it and face whatever that might bring.

A bitter taste flooded through her at her instinct to cover up, to make excuses, to hide the weak points, don’t let anyone know how much anything meant to her because if they knew, they would use it against her. They would drive the needles and burning rods and knives straight into them until she scattered like leaves in the wind, too disconnected to make a whole face to show to anyone. 

So she could laugh it off and call herself a man, say that she was never trying to be a woman, that it was just a joke she played sometimes. A joke that took her over an hour to put together meticulously, like painting herself onto her own face to get her out of her self-imposed cell for just a little while. A joke that made her feel like she could slip into someone else’s brain that didn’t short-circuit at the stupidest shit. Because wasn’t it funny, a man dressing up like this? 

But Haruka wasn’t laughing—wasn’t even smiling. She was just looking up at her with patience and pure, uncritical curiosity. Just waiting for her to tell her which way it was. Uncle? Or Aunt?  

And before she could let herself fall back on that same response, she smashed down the words she’d almost said and forced out instead, “Aw, y’know, me bein’ a brunette today didn’t fool ya none, did it?”

Finally, a tiny smile crooked up the edges of Haruka’s mouth as she said, “I’d recognise you anywhere, Aunt Majima!”

“Goromi,” she offered softly, ignoring the almost painful ache in her chest at Haruka’s widening smile. How’d this kid end up getting her claws in her so easily? 

“What a pretty name!” Haruka cried, taking her hand and dragging her back into the apartment. “Did you come to see Uncle Kaz, Aunt Goromi?”

“I—yeah,” she said, bending to unclasp her shoes and slip out of them as she watched Haruka put the kettle on. “He not home yet or somethin’?”

“Nah,” Haruka said, her hair ruffling as she shook her head. “He called to say that he’d be home a little later today. Something about a shipment or—something. I dunno. I was watching TV.”

Oh. Kiryu wasn’t going to be home for a while, then. She’d come over for nothing. 

No, not nothing, she reminded herself as Haruka poured them both some tea. She’d at least been able to see Haruka again; she’d missed the kid a frankly stupid amount. “How’s school treatin’ ya?” she asked, tucking her legs under her as she sat on the couch. Haruka flopped down on the floor in front of the TV, bumping her head absently against the beat-up coffee table. 

“It’s alright,” she said, crossing her legs and taking a drink of tea as she rocked in that way that all kids did when they had too much energy. “Homework is easy, but it’s getting hot and there’s no air conditioning in the rooms where we have to practice for the play and Kouji-kun wouldn’t stop blowing pencil shavings into my hair, but I told him I’d saved them all up and slipped them into his curry when he wasn’t looking and now he’s paranoid about it so he hasn’t done it again.”

“Nice,” Goromi chuckled, scratching at a nasty-looking scab on her thigh. It must have been leftover from the fights she’d gotten in before; she hadn’t had enough energy, manic or otherwise, to hurt herself this time. “Gotta keep ‘em guessin’.”

“Exactly,” Haruka said with a mischievous grin before something seemed to occur to her, her face lighting up with sudden excitement. “Oh! Wait!”

“What?” Goromi asked warily.

“You wear makeup right, Aunt Goromi?”

“I—” She blinked before cracking up in snorting laughter. She had a lot of snarky things she could say to that, but in the end she just choked out, “Yeah.”

“Oh, then can you teach me how to do it, too?” she asked, turning and giving her wide puppy eyes with a big smile, holding her hands together before her in supplication. 

“Haaaw?” Goromi grunted, leaning forward and crooking her head. “What, d’ya got a crush on this kid too or somethin’?”

Haruka’s face practically turned green at the thought, she grimaced so hard. “No! Ugh ! Kouji-kun has a nose like a pig and talks like one, too!”

“Yeah, but didja forget that you gotta little piggy’s nose too?” she teased, reaching in to tweak Haruka’s nose despite her laughing protests. 

“Yeah, but mine’s cute!” Haruka said, grinning cheekily. “His just makes him ugly.”

Goromi cackled. “Alright, alright, then whattaya wanna know makeup for, huh?”

“The play!” Haruka said, nearly tumbling over as she bent back to grab her bookbag and drag it over. She dug inside, making a face at something before yanking out a separate bag and tossing it onto the table in front of her. “I was supposed to be one of the actors but there weren’t enough spots so I volunteered to do backstage stuff like costumes and makeup and stuff, but I don’t know how to do it!”

Goromi had a brief moment where she was gripped with a tight fist of regret. Just like her, Haruka had been robbed of a mother before she could learn this kind of thing. Unlike her, however, she did have someone else who could help, if only a little. But— 

“I dunno, Haruka-chan, I ain’t exactly doin’ stuff the usual way. Maybe you should ask yer Uncle Kaz—”

“I thought I could feel my ears burning,” Kiryu interrupted, his keys dangling in one hand as he appeared in the door, his eyes finding the two of them immediately. “Are you two talking about me?”

“Oh, hi Uncle Kaz!” Haruka said, standing up and skipping into the kitchenette, presumably to make Kiryu a drink as well. “No, I was just asking Aunt Goromi if she would teach me how to do makeup stuff!”

“Makeup, huh?” 

Goromi had not been prepared to see Kiryu in his uniform. She’d known that he worked in a factory or a warehouse or something like that, but she’d never really thought about the fact that he wouldn’t be able to wear his usual clothes. That instead, he would have a hard-wearing, dark green button-up cotton shirt that was bold against his tanned skin and black trousers that hugged his thighs and ass in a way that made her mouth dry. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to take a handful of his ass and kiss him until he saw stars or beat the shit out of him just so she could watch his muscles flexing in those rolled-up short sleeves.

She’d always had a little bit of a thing for uniforms. 

And seeing a gently smiling Kiryu toeing off his work boots and walking toward her with soft eyes as though she was his wife that he’d thought about coming home to all day was a little too much for her. Especially when he stopped beside the couch and said,

“It’s been a while, Goromi.”

She cleared her throat, making sure that she wasn’t actually gawping at him like she thought she might be. “Well I’ve—I’ve been busy.”   

“Mm,” was all he had to say about that, setting a big bag down on the table next to Haruka’s stuff.

“Whazzat?” Goromi asked, frowning at the logo on the bag. It looked familiar. “And didn’tcha tell Haru-chan that you were gonna be late?”

“Hm?” Kiryu asked as he headed towards his bedroom. Goromi had to dig her nails into her bare thighs to keep herself from following him. She couldn’t help but peek her head around the corner, though, feeling like a peeping tom when she saw that he was undressing in his room, his back barely visible through the crack in the door. When he spoke again, his voice was muffled through the wall. “No. I said I was going to go pick up a delivery that was late arriving. Why?”

“Just curious.”

“Uncle Kaz, do you want green or black tea?” Haruka called down the hall, head poking past the kitchen wall.

“Green, please,” Kiryu said with a groan of effort that Goromi recognised. Getting old sucked. Everything creaked more. She could get winded just from standing up too fast. 

It was a lot worse when she did things like not eat for days, but still.

Sucked.

“I forgot to ask, Aunt Goromi, do you want some cake to go with yours or—”

Kiryu made a loud throat-clearing noise that stopped Haruka mid-sentence. Goromi blinked.

“What?” she asked, directing her words down towards the bedroom. “Why can’t I have cake?”

“You can,” Kiryu said, stepping back out of his room wearing only a loose pair of sweatpants, leaving Goromi torn between mortification and immense amusement at her own expense as her mouth literally watered at the sight of his bare chest. “But I think you should open your present first,” he continued with a tiny, self-satisfied smile.

“Present?” Goromi trilled eagerly, sitting up. “Ya got me a present? What for?”

“Do I need a reason?” Kiryu asked, accepting a mug from Haruka and sitting down at the opposite end of the couch. 

“Yeah, otherwise I’m gonna think yer tryin’ t’get somethin’ outta me with bribery.”

As Haruka giggled at Goromi, Kiryu relaxed back against the arm of the couch, sighing and closing his eyes before twitching a finger towards the bag he’d brought home. “Early birthday present. It’s in a few weeks, anyway.”

“Awww, Kiryu-chan , lookit you, thinkin’ about me and shit. What a sap,” she teased, dragging the bag into her lap and peering down into it. There was a big square box and another smaller one resting on top of it, thin and velvety. “Wait, two presents?”

Kiryu just gave a little shrug and took a drink of his tea. When Goromi hummed and turned back to the bag, Haruka chimed in, saying,

“Uncle Kaz, Aunt Goromi said that she would help me with learning makeup if you said it was alright. It’s alright, right?”

“I don’t see—”

Cheesecake .” 

“—why not,” Kiryu finished, peeking out through heavily lidded eyes as Goromi slapped the big box onto the table and ran to get utensils. When she came back, he had another of those tiny smiles that meant that he was pleased with himself. She couldn’t blame him this time; he’d done good.

“Didn’t know how you liked them, so I just got it rare.”

“Look me in the eye and tell me I look like someone who gives a shit about how rare it is,” she muttered, getting a giant spoonful of cheesecake and shoving it all in her mouth at once. She took several more equally giant bites before she realised that Haruka and Kiryu were just watching her with amused smiles. She swallowed and blinked, using the knife to cut off the edges of the cake that she’d dug into and setting it down. “You guys want some?”

She felt a little nasty for the relief she had when they just shook their heads and turned to watch TV, but it wasn’t about to stop her from eating her fill. As soon as she’d stuffed as much as she could physically fit in her stomach and then another bite, she flopped back onto the couch and groaned. 

“I’m going to die.”

While Kiryu chuckled, Haruka bounced on her knees, saying, “You can’t die yet! You promised to help!”

She nodded sleepily, pressing her stomach and resisting the urge to just curl up on Kiryu and fall asleep like she might have with Saejima and Yasuko back when she was a kid with nothing to worry about. Her eye drifted shut slowly, but Haruka’s laughing whine of “Aunt Goromi !” got her snapping awake again. 

“I’m up, I’m up,” she groaned with a smile, shaking her head and blinking away her tiredness. “Alright, just a second. Lemme get my wipes from my bag.”

“Aw, no!” Haruka complained. “Your makeup is so pretty right now.”

“‘S’okay, kid, it’ll still be pretty when we put it back on, too,” she reassured her. Haruka didn’t look convinced, though, and so she puffed out a breath over her forehead. “Well we can’t really do it on yours, y’know. Y’gotta see how to do it on someone else.”

They hummed thoughtfully at each other for a second before turning to Kiryu, who was reading a magazine about gardening, of all things. When he realised that they’d gone quiet, he looked up, blinking at the two of them.

“Uh?”

Goromi grinned. “ Kazuma ,” she crooned, leaning close to him.

“What?” he asked, looking warily between her and Haruka.

“How’s about it? Wanna be Haruka-chan’s canvas?”

“Oh. Sure?”

“Yay!” Haruka shouted, crawling around to sit next to the couch as Goromi began pulling out the supplies. “Thanks, Dad!”

Goromi could practically feel the silence thicken in the air, a freezing stillness blanketing the three of them in the wake of that single word. She didn’t know if she should look or if she should look away. 

She had to look. She couldn’t help herself. It was like the opposite of a car crash but just as eye-catching. Haruka looked mortified, her face cherry red and eyes wide. But Kiryu’s face was what Goromi couldn’t look away from. He wasn’t an expressive man even at the best of times, but now, his expression was clear as water, clear as crystal. His face travelled the journey from surprise to disbelief to panic to something more complicated, something that was scared but undeniably happy. Hope, maybe.

And then, as fast as it had happened, he simply cleared his throat and nodded and said, “You’re welcome,” and that was that. The tension in the room dispersed and even though Haruka was still red-faced, she no longer seemed to be despairing about it. 

They all let out a breath and went right back to what they were doing, as though nothing had happened. Only it had.

“Alright, kiddo, first things first,” Goromi said, doing her best to distract them both from it by getting a big blob of foundation and smearing it onto Kiryu’s face. She grinned when he winced at the feel of it. “Cold?”

“Strange. Like mud.”

She snorted, scooting closer on the couch so she could reach his face better. She was close enough to smell the waft of his shampoo and the sweat at the end of a hard day’s work and something papery that was probably the boxes and tape he handled all day. “This is the light stuff, bud. You want somethin’ that really conceals, it gets a whole lot worse.”

“Conceal what?”

“Pores’n’shit,” she said, dabbing a little more onto his forehead with her brush as she glanced over at Haruka. “This stuff’s usually only for touch-ups durin’ the day. There’re types that make your skin look like it was carved from marble.”

“Why would you want that?” she asked, brow furrowed.

“Well ‘cause it’s like art, y’know—smoother and blanker your canvas, better the colour you put on pops out, yeah?” 

“Oh,” she said, turning back to watch her work on Kiryu, who was still frowning.

Goromi gave him a knock on the forehead for it. “Don’t frown. The lines’ll set in the foundation, dummy.”

Kiryu obliged, smoothing his face out and just watching her as she fixed up the creases. She had to ignore the way her heart beat a little faster from being so close and having his attention on her as she worked. There was no way she was going to let the two of them see her blush over something so stupid.

“‘Kay, that’s all fine,” she said once she finished. ‘S’way too light to match his skin, but that’s alright for now. If you’re not goin’ out or anythin’ then it don’t matter.”

“Who says I’m not?” Kiryu asked. “Maybe I wanted to go out after this.”

“Dressed like that?” she shot back.

“Not everyone can be as stylish as you, Goromi.”

She gave him a hard jab to his ribs that he barely reacted to as she bent back to dig in the bag to hide the smile on her face. He kept quiet after that, though, as she went through a basic face of makeup for Haruka, wiping off and re-applying certain parts of it for her when she got confused by the technique. She wasn’t the best teacher, she knew, but Haruka was definitely the best student. She soaked up all her advice like a sponge and easily replicated all but the most difficult parts after she’d wiped Kiryu’s face clean. 

“Aw, lookit that!” Goromi said, holding up a mirror so Kiryu could see himself. He’d been extremely patient through the whole thing, sitting still as a statue as they poked and prodded at him. He’d even gone back to reading after they’d finished with his eye makeup. When he looked in the mirror, though, he smiled. “Ain’tcha just the prettiest lady there ever was.”

“Did I do okay?” Haruka asked, craning her head to inspect her handiwork.

Okay ?” Goromi cried incredulously. “Y’did better’n’I can! Yer a natural, Haruka-chan.”

“Really?”

“It does look nice,” Kiryu agreed, pressing his lips together. Probably feeling out the lipstick, Goromi thought with a grin. She’d done the same thing when she’d first tried it. It was a strange sensation, having something globbed on your mouth like that when you’d never done it before. Like a dog dressed up in clothes for the first time.

Really ?” Haruka asked again, looking pleased as punch. “You aren’t just saying that?”

“I don’t have any reason to just say that. I want you to succeed at school. If I lied about it, then you would never learn any better.”

“What he said.”

Haruka smiled so bright that Goromi thought the sun might hide its head in shame. Before she knew it, she was getting tackled with an arm slung around her neck that brought the three of them close enough to bump heads. 

Goromi froze, her eye going wide as her heart constricted tight enough to steal her breath.

“Thank you!” Haruka said, oblivious to the war that she’d started inside Goromi. “I know I’ll do great now, thanks to you!”

Goromi took a deep breath, closing her eye. It was almost too much. It was too much. But she still couldn’t stop her arm from coming up around Haruka’s back and resting against Kiryu’s as his did the same. She couldn’t stop the warmth from washing over the cracks in her heart until another layer of hardness there corroded. She’d always told herself that she was happy with her life, with being what she was. And she was, most of the time. But she couldn’t deny that there had been something missing before, once she found it held close to Kiryu and Haruka like she was exactly where she belonged.

It was too much.

Thankfully, she didn’t have to spend too long panicking over how soft she was getting since Haruka pulled away after a minute, declared that she was going to make dinner for her as thanks, and ran into the kitchen, leaving Goromi alone with Kiryu. She stared after her for a second, wondering how she’d ever ended up doing something like this. Only a few months ago, she’d been cracking skulls on the daily. 

She was still doing that, but now she had this, too, and it was a strange mix. Surreal.

She’d given up or lost the opportunity to have this sort of thing several times in her life and she couldn’t help but feel like this wasn’t quite real. That it would all slip away like sand through her fingers any moment and she would wake up back in her bed, still lying in her own filth, still waiting for it to be over, still alone.

Because it couldn’t be this easy, could it?

It just couldn’t. It had never been this easy before; why should that start now? Why should she be able to just seek out company that didn’t want anything in return? How could it be so easy?

“Goromi.”

Goromi blinked, brought out of her thoughts by Kiryu’s voice. She glanced over at him, thrown for a second by his concerned scowl looking out from underneath a faceful of makeup before she just snorted.

“Yeah, Kazumi ?”

Kiryu frowned before he, too, seemed to remember. He sighed, though there was a smile pulling at his lips. “I just—wanted to know if you’re okay.”

“Yeah, ‘course I am.”

Kiryu hummed, closing his magazine and tossing it onto the table. “Are you sure?”

When he gave her a direct, unwavering look, she realised that he wasn’t asking if she was okay now . She looked away. There was no way she was going to talk to Kiryu about that. She might fantasise that he understood when he found out about that part of her, but actually telling him was another thing entirely. She didn’t actually think he’d understand. He wasn’t anything like her. 

“Yeah. Never better.”

“Hm. Alright.”

Goromi expected him to continue after a pause, but he just stood and headed back to the bathroom, coming back after a few minutes with a clean face. She was baffled by that; Kiryu wasn’t usually the sort of man who could let things go. 

Maybe he’d changed when she wasn’t looking.

Or maybe he was just waiting for her to let her guard down, lulled into a false sense of security by eating dinner and playing a game on that stupid, old console that Kiryu apparently traded in her gift for to pay the bills. Because the second that he came back to the living room after making sure Haruka was asleep in her bed, he stood over her with a determined face that she immediately knew was trouble.

But still, she tried to distract him by biting her lip coyly and saying, “Oh, Kazuma , what should we do now that the kids are asleep?”

Kiryu looked less than impressed. “Why don’t we start with you telling me why Nishida was calling me the other day, asking if you were staying with me?”

Ah. She probably should have realised that would happen. Part of her wanted to be angry with Nishida, but she would have been angrier if he hadn’t at least tried to find where she was. It was his job to keep on top of things like where everyone was and what supplies they needed and whether or not someone had been kidnapped. So she had no one to blame but herself, but still.

“Y’know Nishida,” she said, waving a hand. “Worries about nothing.”

“Goromi.”

“What?” she asked, feeling her smile go tight at the edges. She couldn’t talk to Kiryu about this. She could open up to him about a lot of things when she wore this face, but this was not one of them.

But then Kiryu sat down next to her, the length of his leg flush against hers and his hand resting close enough that their knuckles brushed together, and she could feel herself already leaning into him, already looking for more contact. He was like a drug, soporific and sweet as honey, and when he murmured, “Talk to me. Tell me what happened,” she almost let herself do just that before another part of her snapped back to life and yanked her back from the edge.

“Nothin’ happened, Kiryu-chan,” she said gruffly, his voice reaching out from behind her like bear shielding his cub with his body. And when he—when she—when they spoke again, it was as sharp as a bear’s claws swiping out. “Forget about it. Nishida was just bein’ stupid.”

 “It can’t be nothing,” Kiryu said, a frown pulling at his face. “You never just ignore my calls. You never leave texts for that long. I know you’ve been busy, but that’s not like you.”

Goromi’s—Majima’s—

Majima’s breath was coming faster, now, and when Kiryu reached out to take his hand, he yanked it away, standing up just to get away from his touch. He didn’t want to be touched by him. When Kiryu touched him, he did stupid things. Things that he regretted later. 

“Not like me—like y’know what is ‘like me’?” he said, the forbidding effect of his words diminished by his breathlessness. Kiryu stood up again, too, and Majima could feel the walls close around him at that soft concern in his eyes and the bulk of him blocking his path to the door. He took a gulp of air and wanted to spit it back out. It tasted like Kiryu and old furniture and leftover dinner.

He shouldn’t have come. What did he think would happen? Did he think he could just put on a dress and makeup like it was a whole other person’s skin he was climbing into and show up after going missing? He’d said it himself—he and Goromi weren’t two different people. Did he really think that Kiryu wouldn’t try to make him talk? 

“I do,” Kiryu said, his confidence raising Majima’s hackles in a split second. “I know you better than you think I do, Majima.”

Majima had heard enough. Instead of sticking around to argue and giving Kiryu the chance to convince him to do something he didn’t want to do, he just pushed around him and headed for the door. Kiryu didn’t let him get further than a few steps, though, his hand snapping out to catch him at the chest. Majima was angry with himself for the way he flinched back, but he knew he couldn’t do anything else. 

There was a growling dog inside his head, tail curled between its legs and ears flat, tucked into a dark corner, and it was only a matter of time before it leapt for a bite. But he was standing in Kiryu’s home, only a thin wall away from where Haruka slept, safe and happy in her bed. 

He couldn’t. He couldn’t. He wanted to—didn’t want to—needed to—but he couldn’t.

He was going to. He always did. His arms were tensing and his hands were flexing and he was going to hit him because that was what he knew how to do. He’d learned by receiving and then giving as good as he got and it had never failed him even when it had, because if you didn’t have regrets, then you were always right. 

He wasn’t going to. He wouldn’t do that anymore. It was one thing to fight it out when both of you wanted to, and another thing entirely when one was trying to be compassionate for a person who couldn’t understand that.

Or maybe he was just too chickenshit to admit that he was scared of Kiryu looking at him with pity. Anger, he thrived on. Disgust, easy enough to laugh off. But pity was the poison that killed a man from the inside out. Pity defanged a man; ripped away all his weapons until he was nothing more than a pathetic lump laying on the floor smelling of the trash that had piled up around him when he wasn’t looking. 

The kind of man that said, “Don’t touch me,” instead of talking with his fists.

“Fine,” Kiryu said, letting his hand fall back to his side. “I won’t. As long as you tell me what happened.”

“Nothing happened, Kiryu,” he said, voice flat.

“Nothing happened and you just decided to disappear off the face of the earth for nearly two weeks?”

Oh.

Two weeks.

Was that how long it had been?

Two weeks.

“Yes.”

Technically it was true. Nothing in particular had happened to push him over that edge. He’d just lost his footing, just like every other time.

“No. You wouldn’t do that. A few months ago, you could hardly wait two hours to attack me, let alone two weeks.”

“Got what I wanted from ya. Ya ain’t that interesting anymore.”

“Lying is a bad habit.”

“So is bein’ nosy.”

Kiryu ground out a sigh. “I wouldn’t have to be nosy if you would just tell me. I know something happened.”

“Stop,” he said, his voice distant in his ears. They were going fuzzy, his heartbeat creeping up like the roar of a stampede over the horizon.

“You’ve been acting strange all night.”

Stop .”

“Look me in the eye when you say that and I will,” Kiryu said firmly, and Majima’s heart skipped. He couldn’t. He couldn’t do that, and he knew that Kiryu knew he couldn’t. 

Kiryu hadn’t moved an inch, but that didn’t stop Majima from feeling like he was cornering him. Edging him back and back until there would be nowhere to go, nothing to face but him and his stubborn concern and the possibility that he would understand . Majima couldn’t bear the thought that he might, because that would be another thing he hadn’t seen coming. Hadn’t been prepared for. 

“I don’t understand why you won’t tell me. I can help you. You know I can.”

“What, didja think that just ‘cause ya spilled yer guts t’me at Christmas that I’d wanna do the same to you?” he spat, hands clenched into fists. He didn’t want to say that, but he couldn’t seem to stop. He was so scared of telling Kiryu the truth. “Fuck off. Y’don’t know shit.”

“I know you. I know when you’re not yourself. I know when you need my—”

“I don’t need shit from you!” he barked, going to slap Kiryu’s hand away as it reached for him again. But Kiryu just grabbed him by the wrist and redirected his hand up to his face, forcing him to cup his palm along his jaw and mirroring his own hand on Majima’s face. 

Majima dragged a rough breath through his teeth, the simple touch like a livewire against his skin. He could feel Kiryu’s rapid pulse at his fingertips, his skin hot and jaw tense under his hand. He wondered if Kiryu could feel his own heartbeat racing, pounding like he was running a marathon, straining against his ribs. He wondered if he would use that against him, say that it was more proof that there was something wrong.

But Kiryu didn’t say anything. He just stood there and held that physical connection between them through Majima’s uncomfortable squirming and attempts to break free, stubbornly pressing his hand tight to him until Majima’s breath slowed and his heart stopped skipping every other beat.

It was only then that Majima became aware of how close they stood and how it might look if Haruka walked in on them, locked in each other’s grips and gazing at each other like they were either about to kiss or throw fists.

He wouldn’t have minded doing either, just then.

Both would be nice, in fact. 

But even though he had calmed down enough for Kiryu to let their hands fall away from each other, it didn’t mean he wanted to stick around long enough for him to start the interrogation again. 

Because he knew that if Kiryu touched him like that again—looked at him like that again—he would tell him what had happened, chickenshit or not. He would tell him about how difficult it was to keep going as hard as he did as long as he did without ever stopping. Ever catching his breath. He would tell him that he couldn’t stop to catch his breath because if he did, he wouldn’t be able to move again. He had to chase that momentum; run across the surface of the water or he’d sink. He’d sink down and in the depths he’d see the things he’d been running from.

Saejima. Another year gone. Another year closer to the end.

Katsuya getting in contact with him again, “For old time’s sake.”

Makoto, her face happy, but wistful. Thinking about eighteen years that had gone by, hardly in the blink of an eye. Talking about him without knowing whose skin she touched. The press of her hands, confident and strong and full of care. The smell of her, so sweet. Like spun sugar candies, feathery and soft as flower petals. She’d never changed her perfume, even after all this time. She’d never changed.

Did she remember him? Did she hear his voice in the pretty, tinny clockwork of her watch? Did she ever dream of how they might have fallen together as easily as breathing? Did she know that he would do anything for her? Anything. Anything.

Anything but ask her not to leave him.

He’d already done that for her.

And so he kept going, pushing himself, thriving on the punishment. He would work his fingers to bloody nubs and then he’d bury himself in someone that didn’t know who he was because even that was its own form of punishment. 

He swung violently between hating himself enough to fantasise about turning the knife the other way just once, just once would be all it would take, and cowering and coddling and cradling himself, whispering that everyone deserves another chance, don’t they? Don’t they? Everyone deserves another chance, even after they’d spent a lifetime throwing away those chances just to forget that they’d fucked up the last one. 

Even broken things had some use, right?

And at the end of that road lay the rotting stillness that would overtake him every time. Ripped apart by the chaos inside him, his tendons snapped and muscles atrophied and meat, meat, he was nothing more than meat that existed apart from everything that meant anything because he couldn’t understand how to fit himself into that space anymore.

Sometimes he would just wait it out until the meat of him took over and carved him a new face that he could slip on to keep going. He had to keep going; had to stay alive. He would never be able to deny Saejima the satisfaction of grinding him to pulp, 20 years of violence screaming to its natural conclusion, the only conclusion. 

But there were times—times like now—when he would have something else that would drag him out of the hole.   

“Majima.”

Something—someone—that had seen into some of the darkest places in him and acknowledged them but didn’t make him feel as though they were everything that he was. That there was something else to him. Something...more.

It was a dangerous, dangerous game for Kiryu to be playing, making him feel like that.

Better not to play at all.

And so all he could say to Kiryu’s expectant look was, “Let me go.”

Kiryu’s exhale was quiet. Not quite disappointment, but somewhere in the family of it.

“Fine,” he said, taking a step back. “If I can’t convince you, then I won’t stop you from going. But take your presents, at least. Haruka helped me decide what to get, so just—even if you’re angry with me—”

“Gotcha.”

Majima quickly collected the bag with his presents and put on his shoes, cursing himself for wearing something that had a clasp when the tension was so thick in the room that he wanted to just bolt. As soon as he got them on and was about to do just that, though, Kiryu’s voice came from behind him, undeniably tired.

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but—we missed you, Majima.” There was a pause. “ I missed you. Next time—if there is a next time—I hope you’ll at least remember that there’s someone thinking about you.”

Majima left, too shaken by that to trust himself with words.

He ran like the coward he was, putting as much space between himself and Kiryu as he could just so he wouldn’t be tempted to go back. He didn’t go back to his apartment. It was too close. He just kept going, wandering through the city’s streets until he had to collapse against a wall, gasping for breath. He slid down it, banging his head on a jutting brick with a frustrated groan.

What a disaster.

What a disaster of a night in so many ways. Even the good things, the sweet things, were disasters. 

But he couldn’t say that it hadn’t been fruitful. 

He’d spoken to three people that day—three more than he had in a two weeks, apparently. Had done something almost normal with two of them. Worryingly typical, even.

A family having dinner together.

He couldn’t think about it.

Couldn’t let himself think about it.

Even if they made him feel like there was somewhere he could fit—somewhere sickeningly domestic—that didn’t mean he would fit. They didn’t even know the shape of him. 

He didn’t even know the shape of him.

He had to reluctantly give them credit for the cheesecake at least, though. And the other present, he remembered with curiosity, digging into the bag to bring the box out. He supposed that he’d been right on the money with the instinct to find Kiryu, as well. He was himself again, as frustrating and alarming the process had been, facing down a Kiryu who wanted to dig deeper into him. 

He didn’t know how to react to that Kiryu. He knew what to do with the Kiryu who fought him in the dirty streets of Kamurocho, or the Kiryu who would accept his challenges over the stupidest of things like a child’s game, or even the Kiryu who opened himself up to him. But the Kiryu who turned that on him and recognised Majima’s need for someone to reach out to him—

—the Kiryu who had thought to get him another necklace, only this time it was a slim gold chain with a pendant clasped at the center: a rearing dragon with twin snakes coiled around its body, their heads against its horns— 

—that was the Kiryu he didn’t know what to do with. 

Majima stared down at that necklace as he sat on the sun-baked pavement, wondering how he could possibly convince himself that Kiryu hadn’t meant anything by it. That it was just some cheap costume jewelry he’d found in the pawn shop and not one crafted specifically with the two of them in mind.

But in the end, he just unclasped the first gold chain from around his neck—the one given to him years and years before Kiryu had given him the second—and folded it up inside the box, silently replacing it with the new.

He didn’t have to keep it on. 

But for tonight, at least, he would allow himself this.

What was the harm?

...Just for tonight.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Kiryu had been riding high ever since he’d started earning enough to buy frivolous things and presents again, but he should have known that it wouldn’t last.

There was always something that came to knock him back down a peg. A thug giving him a black eye. A shipment sent to the wrong warehouse. A scammer trying to get him to give his personal information. 

It was always a mystery, how his fall from grace might happen.

This time, it came when Haruka knocked on his door one morning, startling him awake from a strange dream, and peeked her sleep-messy head around the corner. “Dad? You okay? It’s almost nine. Don’t you have to be at work soon?”

Kiryu blinked through blurry eyes, his head feeling about ten times too big. “Is it?” he asked, voice hoarse. Had he gone drinking last night? He couldn’t remember it, but maybe he’d managed to go out with his coworkers even though he’d turned them down, too tired to even consider staying out late. But he felt awful, like he had a hangover, so he wasn’t sure what else it could be. “I’m okay. I’m up.”

“You want me to put the kettle on?”

“Yeah, thanks,” he said, pushing his blanket off him and hanging his legs off the bed but unable to keep his eyes open or convince himself to actually put his feet on the floor. Oh, he didn’t feel good at all.

Still, he did have work today, and there was no way he was going to let himself miss it just because he’d apparently gotten blackout drunk.

He dredged up the tiny bit of strength he had in him and got himself upright, dragging his body around the apartment to get ready for work. He accepted the coffee that Haruka made for him with yawning gratitude, shaking his head to try to clear it after he downed it all. 

“Are you sure you’re okay? You look like you’re sick.”

“I’ll be fine,” he sighed, his throat prickling and raw. “It’s just a hangover.”

“You went out last night?” Haruka asked, the bobble holding her hair back falling out as she tilted her head. She made a face at it that got him chuckling, but he quickly stopped that. His head did not approve. 

“Must have,” he said, holding his hand to his head as he grabbed his keys and wallet. “Anyway, I’ll be home at the same time as usual. Stay safe. Keep the door locked and tell Mrs. Tanaka next door if you need to go out.”

“I know ,” she said, rolling her eyes a bit but smiling at him all the same. “Have a good day.” Kiryu returned her smile, giving her hair an affectionate ruffle that got him a squawk of annoyance before he just waved and left. 

It took only a few streets toward the train station for him to realise that whatever this was, it probably wasn’t just a hangover. Not only had he never gotten so drunk that he couldn’t even remember going out the night before, but he’d never gotten a sore throat from it. His entire body felt like it was weighted down with lead. 

And when his coworkers took one look at him and told him to leave so he didn’t get them sick too, he realised that maybe Haruka had been right. Still, he wasn’t one to give up without a fight, and so he just bowed and apologised and put on a mask and kept working, vigilantly pushing through the fog that covered him head to toe. 

But no matter how vigilant he wanted to be, he couldn’t argue with his manager sending him home out of concern for his health. If she thought he was too sick to work, then he was probably too sick to work. They didn’t call her manager for no reason, after all. 

He did not feel good.

He felt so not good that he not only got on the wrong train and rode it for several stops before realising, but he apparently missed several calls while doing so, as it took someone on the platform with him gently asking him if he could please answer his phone, as it seemed urgent for them to call that many times in a row.

He blinked, realising that his ringtone was blaring from his pocket still. He dug it out, holding it to his ear.

“Hullo?” he asked, before it continued ringing and he realised that he hadn’t even answered. He sighed and peered down at it to make sure he didn’t accidentally press the end call button before holding it up to his head once more. “Yeah?”

“Kiryu, where the hell have you been? Why haven’t you answered your calls?”

Kiryu took several long seconds to realise that it was Date on the other end, the man’s fast words garbling in his head and coming out all strange before he pieced them together.

“I’m—have a job. Was working.”

“What? Really?”

“Unh.”

“Congratulations! Why didn’t you tell me? Wait, you aren’t answering your phone on company time are you? Kiryu, you can’t do that—you have to wait until your breaks for that sort of thing. I know you don’t have much experience with this, but—”

Kiryu coughed loudly into the phone receiver long enough that Date just trailed off. Once he’d finally gotten it under control and had taken a drink of water from a bottle that a barker had given him for free, he said,

“Sick. Sent home sick.”

“Oh.”

Kiryu waited for him to keep talking, but he never did, so he said, “Thanks for calling, Date, but I gotta hang up now so I can get off this train.”

“W-Wait, Kiryu—!”

But Kiryu had already hung up and was waiting for the train to come to a complete stop before he pressed the exit button. He watched his step just like the voice told him to.

He hadn’t watched it enough, though, apparently, because he’d somehow ended up coming to Kamurocho instead of his apartment’s station. 

He blinked up at the cloud-covered sun, wondering why he always ended up in this city even when he didn’t mean to. 

His phone was ringing again.

“Yes? Kiryu here,” he said into it, still peering around him. There was a drugstore around here. Maybe they would give him drugs that would make his head go back to regular size.

“Yeah, I know—Kiryu, listen, I know you aren’t feeling great right now, but I need some help.”

“You never ask me any favours, Date-san.”

“This isn’t so much of a favour as a request from a friend.”

“Yes, of course, Date-san. Anything. You and I are good friends. I’d be happy to help.”

“I need you to come pick up Majima from the station.”

That got Kiryu’s attention, slow as it was still.

“Pardon?”

“Majima’s at the station and I’m trying to keep everyone else away from him, but he’s not making it easy. He keeps escaping.”

“What—why—”

“I don’t know. He was picked up for breaking and entering and apparently didn’t put up a fight. I called in a few favours to get them to let me handle it.”

Even through the fog of his cold, Kiryu could see the favour in that. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, he just quickly agreed and bought himself some medicine and drank one of them in several gulps as he jogged back to the nearest taxi stand. It wasn’t long before he was striding up to the police station gate, ignoring how much the world shifted underfoot. 

“Yes, hello, I’m looking for a man,” Kiryu said at the front desk, wondering why the man just cracked up laughing before he noticed that Date was waving him over from down the hall. “Thank you, I found him.”

He ignored the laughing protests of the man behind the protective glass and went over to where Date waited for him, looking stressed to bits. 

“Kiryu, thank god. Took you long—”

 Kiryu wasn’t sure why he’d decided that he needed to hug Date to thank him for not putting Majima in jail, but he did. Date just gave him a stiff pat on the back before leaning away and looking up at him with narrowed eyes.

Kiryu blinked. “Yes? I’m here to help.”

But instead of letting him help, Date just ground out a sigh and let his head hang as he shook it, grumbling, “Useless. Gonna have to take both of you home myself.”

“No, no,” Kiryu said, waving his hands. “I’m fine, really. See? Took some medicine and I’m feeling alright now.”

“How much medicine did you take?”

“I’unno. There was a bottle of it so I took the bottle. Where’s Majima?”

“Waiting out in my car,” Date sighed, turning him with a hand to his shoulder and leading him out the front doors again. Kiryu swept his eyes around the parked cars before they landed on the only one with someone inside. 

But— “Date-san, that isn’t Majima . That’s Goromi.”

And it was. Even though she had different hair and clothes and was hidden slightly behind the car’s tinted windows, he could tell it was her.

“Who?”

Kiryu almost kicked himself when he realised that maybe he shouldn’t have said that. Haruka had told him once that telling other people about gender things if they didn’t already know wasn’t good. He hadn’t consciously realised that it could feel like being forcibly exposed, but once she said it out loud, it made perfect sense. 

And so he just bit his tongue and hoped Goromi would forgive him and walked stiffly over to the police car, opening the door and climbing inside. “Sorry,” he said to Goromi, who looked torn between surprise and happiness to see him. She looked especially pretty today, with long red hair tied up in a loose bun, casual clothes that made her look soft, with a pink cropped shirt that showed off her stomach and baggy pants that gathered at the ankles and that same bright red lipstick that made her lips shine.

His heart leapt like an overexcited pet when he realised she was wearing the necklace he'd given her, and he knew he was probably wearing a smile to match, goofy and puppyish.

“‘Bout what?” she asked, her voice scratchier than usual. Kiryu couldn’t stop looking at her lips. He wondered what brand it was that she wore. It looked good on her. Much better than it had on him.

“Told Date-san you were Goromi. Didn’t think about it. I’m sorry.”

Goromi blinked as the driver’s door opened and Date climbed in, saying over his shoulder, “Close the damn door, Kiryu. I’m taking you both home.”

“Aw, what?” Goromi complained, giving the chair in front of her a hard thump. “What’s it take for a girl t’get arrested around here?”

“More than you’d think, when you’re friends with the Fourth Chairman and an ex-cop.”

“Bullshit,” she said without ire. She slumped back in her seat as Date pulled out onto the highway. “Thought you cops were s’posed t’wanna catch us criminals.”

“You weren’t being a criminal so much as a public nuisance, though, were you?” Date said, glancing up at the rearview mirror to give Goromi a pointed look. “Not up to your usual speed, I’d say.”

“What did you do?” Kiryu asked, fumbling with the seatbelt in the back. It was a little too small to fit comfortably over his shoulder, and he wrinkled his nose at how it dug into his neck.

“He was found trying to reprogram some of the billboards around town.”

Kiryu wanted to laugh, but he was more bothered by something else to allow himself to. He looked over at Goromi to see how she would react, but she just looked away out the window so he couldn’t see. Her mouth was turned down in a scowl at the edge, though, and Kiryu frowned. 

Should he say something?

His gut was telling him to say something.

But Haruka had said not to.

But Goromi looked unhappy and Kiryu didn’t want to see her looking unhappy. He wasn’t sure if it would help, but he knew he was too invested in making her smile again to not turn to Date and say,

“She.”

“Hm?” Date asked after a second, glancing to the side as he merged with traffic. “Did you say something, Kiryu?”

“You called her a he. She’s not a he.”

Kiryu could see Date begin to process the information before he turned to see if Goromi was angry with him. She was staring at him openly, eye confused and a little wary. He tried to ask silently if he’d overstepped a boundary, but she just blinked and looked away again, fiddling with the hair at the nape of her neck. Her mouth wasn’t twisted in a frown anymore, though, and so Kiryu could only hope it was okay. 

“Really?” Date asked finally, looking back at Goromi again. “You aren’t just messing around with all that?”

 “‘S’at really surprise ya?”

“Honestly? Yeah. Never thought you of all people would take anything serious enough to stick with it.”

Goromi made a face up at Date, brows scrunched up. “Y’think someone can look this good their first time, ya idiot?”

Date chuckled. “Got me there, I guess.”

“Goddamn meatheads, all o’ya.”

There was a few seconds of silence before Date said, “Sorry. Didn’t know.”

“Just shut up and drive, ya walkin’ trenchcoat.”

Date didn’t look at all offended, which was a relief to Kiryu, who really didn’t want to have to play mediator between his two friends. He’d much rather sleep.

And so he did, propping his head against the corner of the window and the seat and falling asleep almost immediately, only waking up when the rumble of the engine fell silent. He groaned as he startled awake, banging his head on the glass. 

“You’re home, Sleeping Beauty,” Date said with a grin over his shoulder. “You can snore away the day in your own bed now.”

“Thank you, Date-san,” he mumbled, holding his hand to his head with a wince. “I’m going to go do that now. Thank you.”

He wasn’t sure how he managed to work the seatbelt or the door handle or navigate his way up the stairs or find the right key for his door, all without realising that Goromi had followed behind him, but it took Haruka coming out of her room with worried eyes and saying, “Aunt Goromi? What’s going on? Is Dad okay?” before Kiryu noticed. 

Goromi stood over him as he slumped onto the couch, blinking slowly up at her, and said to Haruka, “He’s fine. Just outta his mind with cold, prob’ly. Y’know how men get when they’re sick.”

Haruka’s laugh made Kiryu grunt in frustration. “You don’t get to make fun of me when you’re the one who got me sick, Goromi. Don’t think I don’t remember how sniffly you were when we talked last.”

“Yeah, a week ago,” Goromi pointed out. “Can’t get ya sick with hayfever, dumbass.”

Kiryu just turned his face into the couch cushions and went to sleep again.

He woke up several times during the day, each time feeling more out of it than the last. He was pretty sure he’d developed a fever at some point, but that could have just been the fact that the window was open and letting cold air in while someone had covered him with a blanket. Every time he drifted into barely lucid consciousness, his eyes would find Haruka and Goromi before he could let himself fall back unconscious. He didn’t dream during the day—he’d never dreamed when sleeping during the day, sick or not. But when Goromi—or Majima, maybe, when he felt the tickle of his actual hair against his cheek—helped him into his bed after he woke up late that night, he dreamed.

And in the way that fevers always made dreams feel real, he fell into a different life. One that started with him and Nishiki and Yumi and little Yuko back in Sunflower and followed through his childhood and adolescence and adulthood. Only this time, he did everything right. He saved everyone.

Everyone. Not only in his life, but in Majima’s. Everyone was alive and happy and together.

He dreamt of everyone at Christmas, playing games and talking about the silly things they’d all done as children and toasting the new year, the warmth of all of their shared hope like a balm for his scars. There were children that played in the halls and underfoot, tugging on his hands to get him to play with them. Makoto and Tachibana stood together in the kitchen, happily washing plates while chatting about her family. Haruka sat with her head on Yumi’s shoulder, giggling helplessly at the stories that Reina and Yuko and Yumi told about her uncles. Nishiki and Kazama and Kashiwagi sat together over a game of cards, arguing over the best kind of noodles to pair with this alcohol. Majima and Saejima had their heads bent together on the balcony, sharing shots of a nice whiskey and grinning mischievously. 

And when he went back to his bedroom after saying goodnight to everyone, he dreamt that there were arms that slid around him. Lips that traced the line of his muscles, soft and warm, breath hot against his skin. 

He dreamt that he knew their body better than he knew his own, and when he turned and held them against the wall and met their mouth with his, they sighed at his touch. They needed him. They’d always needed him. So he gave himself to them. Buried himself deep inside them, slow and appreciative. He took his time with them, like they deserved. They deserved everything. They deserved the world and more. He wanted to give them everything, but all he had was his love. 

And he loved them.

He shook with the force of his love, like a sun that had been hidden behind clouds until they were gasping together, moaning together, writhing together like snakes in the grass. He’d never loved anyone like this before. When they shared breath with each messy, desperate kiss, Kiryu needed them more. More. More. He needed to see them like this forever, safe and loved and taken care of in every way he could. He needed to make them happy .

He needed— 

He needed to see them. Know their face. 

But no matter how he tried to see it, he couldn’t quite manage. They buried it in a pillow, groaning his name. They flipped onto their stomach, fitting their body against his and riding him desperately. They bent back and kissed him hard enough to steal his breath. 

But though he couldn’t catch a glimpse of their face, he could still feel their name on the tip of his tongue. Just out of reach, but coming closer. Just a little more. Another kiss. Another gasp of his name, so familiar in its need. Another clawing grip at his arms as he gave them more, faster, feeling their name rise to the surface at the trembling tension in his thighs and gut, but just as he strained desperately into them, mouth forming the shape of them—

He woke up.

Hard.

Very hard.

He swallowed past the dryness in his throat, working to get his breath under control. His heart was pounding in his chest, still fooled by the trick that his mind had played on his body. He could still feel the heat of that bed, the slickness of their sweat. He could still taste their mouth. The kiss of their skin on his.

What a horrible dream.

What a stupid body, to be fooled by something that had never happened.

He shuddered in the chill of the night air, looking over at the glowing clock face. 

5:00am. 

He’d slept all day and night. He could have still slept more, but that stupid dream had fucked him up and now he was rock hard and he just wanted to sleep again, but he was awake and hard and frustrated .

Maybe he could just ignore it?

It might go away. He was tired enough still, even though his head didn’t feel like an overfull balloon anymore.

Worth a shot, anyway.

He rolled over onto his side, ignoring the throbbing of his cock and thinking very hard about how he’d love to just go back to sleep. He wanted to sleep and get rest because he was ill and that was what you were supposed to do when you were ill. He wanted to sleep and not have a massive erection because his mind had played a nasty trick on him.

Ugh.

It would have been one thing, entirely, if he’d just dreamt about having sex with some faceless person. That wasn’t unusual for him. He’d had plenty of dreams like that, where someone that he didn’t know but also somehow knew very well would push him down and slide their mouth around his cock and make him come hard enough that he would sometimes wake up soaked in it.

He hated those nights. He’d thought that that was supposed to stop once he wasn’t a teen anymore. No one had told him that grown men could still have wet dreams. After the second time in a month that it had happened, he’d started jerking off fairly regularly to try to stave off those sort of incidents, and it had worked pretty well, thankfully.

But this was another beast entirely, this dream.

The cruelty of it was in his mind showing him how deeply he could not only love someone, but connect with them. 

He didn’t have anyone like that.

He didn’t have anyone he’d touched so intimately that he’d know them without sight or sound. He didn’t have anyone that would whisper his name in a way that sounded like a prayer, as though they’d happily stay with him until the end of time. He didn’t have anyone he would kiss just to be closer to, because he’d never felt more complete than when they were touching.

And the worst of it was painfully clear to him now: that was something that he wanted to have, whether or not he’d known. But he’d lost his only chance. He couldn’t see another coming along. Not anytime soon, anyway. He was too old and too busy. He was a single father. He was poor.

That wasn’t even mentioning his past.

The best he could hope for, at the moment, was getting some sleep. 

Which clearly wasn’t going to happen, either, unless he did something about his erection.

Then again, he didn’t really want to do anything about it, either. He didn’t want to get himself off thinking about that imaginary person that he’d been so desperate to know the face of. He didn’t want to get himself off thinking about anyone, now. He was a little morose and definitely annoyed and he wished he could make his body see that he wasn’t actually in the mood for that kind of thing.

But he couldn’t. And so after ten long minutes of fighting the inevitable, he just checked that his door was closed properly, rolled himself toward the wall, and shoved his hand down his underwear. He took hold of himself almost clinically, feeling detached from the whole process as he stroked along his length. His mind began to wander almost immediately.

He couldn’t keep his eyes open. His throat was sore. His sheets smelled like sweat. He needed to pick up more bread. The bills were due in a week. It was pretty cold for the time of year, almost like winter had snuck up again. He probably should be wearing more than just his briefs to sleep in, but he hadn’t exactly planned to go to bed. 

He gave the tip of his cock a few gentle brushes with his thumb, taking a shuddering breath as his hips jerked forward instinctively. 

He wondered how he’d ended up like this, almost naked in bed. It had to have been Majima getting him undressed last night. Kiryu never undressed himself while sleeping, even if he had been pretty out of it. He was a little embarrassed about Majima having to do that for him and more than a little mortified to be thinking about him at all while jerking himself off, and so he forced his thoughts elsewhere. 

But nothing else came to mind easily, and so he fell back on his usual fantasy: phone sex. Sometimes he’d think about being in a telephone club again and connecting with a woman who, while they talked, started to touch herself, quietly moaning in his ear and urging him to stroke himself, too. Sometimes it was even simpler, with a woman that had just gotten the wrong number when she called him and they ended up talking all night about everything and nothing until they got loose and let it slip that they were both touching themselves.

It was silly, but it had always worked before where dirty magazines often didn’t. He wasn’t sure what the difference was, but he always felt a little bad about getting off to someone who had likely been coerced into doing that by some yakuza he probably knew.

So he thought of the smooth, deep, but nebulous woman’s voice he usually conjured when he needed to get off sooner rather than later. He thought about her saying all the things she’d usually say, about how his voice made her wet and how she wanted him inside her and how she needed him to go faster, or she wouldn’t be able to hold out for him.

And it did get his heart racing, but he still couldn’t come. 

He kept at it long after he knew it wasn’t working, though, until his mind shifted the fantasy slightly, making the woman’s voice drop deeper. Her words a little rougher and impatient rather than pleading. And when he realised that his strokes were more sure, more interested, he just gave in and began to fantasise about connecting with a man through the phone club. 

It wasn’t the first time he’d thought about what sex with a man might be like, ever since Majima had helped him figure that out about himself. He’d spent more than a few nights getting himself off to the thought of a man’s rough stubble scratching his mouth as they kissed, their cocks pressed hard together as Kiryu thrust against him, dominating him in a way that he’d never wanted to with a woman. 

But as though the thought of who had given him that revelation was a weed that invaded the garden of his thoughts, Kiryu suddenly realised that the man’s voice he was picturing was Majima’s. The words he said to him, Majima’s. And when Kiryu shied away from the thought, all he could hear was Majima whispering to him in that hotel room,

“It doesn’t have to be that complicated.”

He sat frozen, cock aching in his hand, desperate for him to keep stroking. He’d gone from completely uninterested to this , just because Majima had slipped into his mind.

What did that mean? 

Did he want to have sex with Majima?

Or was he just that desperate to go back to sleep that his mind was willing to take anyone that it was comfortable with and put them in that fantasy?

He didn’t know if he was comfortable thinking about his friend like that.

But maybe Majima had been right, back in the hotel. 

Maybe it didn’t have to be so complicated.

Maybe he wasn’t actually attracted to Majima, but he was the only one he’d had actual experience with, and so it was easy for his mind to picture him. 

Or maybe his mind just liked the idea of doing something forbidden.

There was no way for him to know.

But he did know that he was panting at the memory of Majima’s lips on his, despite his effort not to think about it. Kiryu could still remember that single, tiny taste of him he’d gotten when he’d taken his bottom lip between his. Tobacco and whiskey and the sourness of his saliva and something sweet and sharp underneath it all, like toothpaste.

He’d felt overwhelmed, back then, when Majima had given him that single noise. That breathless whimper that had brought something roaring out of Kiryu. He hadn’t known what he’d wanted, back then. 

Did he know now?

He wasn’t sure. 

But his body was straining against his hand and it wasn’t enough to just stroke himself anymore, it wasn’t enough until he shifted onto his stomach and braced himself with his forearm and thrust his hips into his waiting palm, pressing his face into his pillow and feeling his hot breaths cocoon around him, making him drowsy and sweaty with the effort until he could only remember the dream that had started this. 

And just as his mind began to slot Majima into that dream instead of his phone fantasy, a knock came at his door.

Moshi moshi ?” he choked out, awash with shame and horror and adrenaline as he yanked his hand out of his briefs.

“Kiryu, are you—”

Oh, thank god , it was just Majima.

“...did you just say ‘moshi moshi?’”

Oh. It was Majima .

Majima, who he’d just been sleepily fantasising about while fucking his hand like a horny teenager.

His closest friend. Majima.

“No,” he lied quickly, begging his erection to go down faster. It was still frustratingly hard despite his shame and embarrassment. 

“You did,” Majima said, his voice going flat and then high as he snorted suddenly, pressing his fist against his mouth and wincing through a massive smile. “I knocked on the door and came in and you said, ‘moshi moshi?!’” 

“Did you—can I help you with something?” Kiryu stammered, his cheeks burning hot as he coughed, his throat catching on itself as he talked, still swollen with cold. 

Majima made several squawking choked noises in the back of his throat that made it clear he was trying very hard not to howl with laughter.

Kiryu frowned. “Don’t. You’ll wake Haruka up.”

Majima just came further into the room and shut the door behind him, making a pained whine through his barely-restrained, quietly honking laughs, and Kiryu rolled over to face the wall again, grunting in dissatisfaction.

Was this really the man that he’d just tried to fantasise about?

He must have been desperate.

“Aw, don’t be like that, Kiryu-chan,” Majima wheezed behind him, his footsteps approaching before Kiryu felt the bed dip behind him. He tensed for a moment before Majima’s arm came around his middle, dragging the blanket up over them and digging his chin against the curve where his neck met his shoulder. He wasn’t sure why that made him relax again, but it did. Maybe it was too innocent—too familiar—of a thing for him to stress about. “I was just comin’ in t’check on ya. Heard ya tossin’ and turnin’ and didn’t wanna leave ya trapped in some fever dream.”

Kiryu just grunted again, deciding that was safer than the alternatives, and Majima gave him a hard pinch on the side.

“Hey!” Kiryu snapped, still trying to keep his voice down as he levelled a quick elbow back at Majima. “If you’re going to act like that, then I’m not going to let you stay.”

“As if you could make me leave, jelly-bones. Y’couldn’t even take yer own damn pants off.”

“I didn’t ask you to take off my pants.”

Majima dug his chin in harder, laughing mischievously. “Y’did. Y’said—” He put on a deep voice, making his words stiff in a clear imitation of Kiryu’s. “Goro-chan. Will you do the honour of being the first man to remove my pants from my succulent ass? Please, be gentle with me. It’s my first time.”

Kiryu couldn’t help but smile, but thankfully Majima couldn’t see it. “‘Succulent?’”

“Y’kiddin’ me, Kiryu-chan?” Majima practically squealed in his ear. “Y’got the nicest damn ass I ever seen. Almost as good as mine.”

Kiryu shook with silent laughter, glad that Majima’s antics had worked to distract him long enough for his erection to dissipate, so he could roll over and face him instead. Still not without difficulty—considering how much of the bed he already took up, much less having someone else there beside him—but he managed. He could only see a little bit of his face in the low light of the very early morning, but there was no mistaking one thing this close up:

“Oh, your patch.”

“Eh? Oh, yeah,” Majima said, lightly touching the brow over his bad eye with his fingertips. “Took it off last night. Would normally keep it on so I don’t gross ya guys out or nothin’ but it drives me crazy when I got allergies.”

“Isn’t gross,” Kiryu said, and was happy to see Majima’s hand slip back down onto the bed between them. “Just haven’t seen you without it.”

“Really?” Majima asked, face scrunching up in confusion. It was strange to see it whole, without being bisected by the patch. Strange, but nice in a way. Like seeing someone without glasses for the first time and realising that they had freckles that hid underneath. “Thought ya had.”

“When would I? You’ve never stayed the night before.”

Majima’s lips curled up in a devilish grin. “Y’sad about that, sweetheart?”

Kiryu knew he was joking—teasing him about how it had sounded—but he still said, “Sometimes.”

Majima’s eye widened, his smile twitching unsurely.

Kiryu knew he should probably stop there. That the last time he’d tried to open an honest communication with Majima had ended with him running. But he couldn’t stop himself. He couldn’t stop himself from wanting to capture some of what they’d had at Christmas. It had been strangely hypnotic, related to the bubble of that hotel room before in its tentative possibilities. Under normal circumstances, neither of them could manage to just talk without it devolving into violence or frustration or both. But those nights, something different had gripped them, easing the tension in their chests and showing them that they had the potential to be more than what they were. 

Kiryu craved that again. 

He wasn’t ashamed of that craving, but there was definitely something unsettling to him as a man in his late thirties to want that sort of thing. Men weren’t supposed to want to open up. They were meant to be stoic and not only strong, but not weak , and Kiryu hated that. He needed someone in a startlingly powerful way to know that he didn’t have it all together. He wanted someone to know that he was human .

Up until a week ago, Kiryu had thought that Majima wanted to be that person for him. And maybe he did, in a one-sided way. But Kiryu didn’t work like that. If Majima was going to see inside him, then he wanted to do the same. He wanted to help Majima like he’d helped him. But he’d miscalculated Majima’s willingness to open himself up and be vulnerable like Kiryu had with him, and had spent the whole night staring down at his phone, wishing that he could take it back. Wishing that he could have just sat with Majima instead of trying to force him to talk. Wishing he could call him and apologise for it, but not wanting him to misunderstand why he was apologising. 

Because he wasn’t sorry for trying to get him to open up. What he was sorry for was taking it too far. He hadn’t wanted to scare him. He hadn’t meant to put him on the defensive. He’d just wanted— 

He’d just missed him.

He’d been worried about him. So worried that he’d been distracted at work by his thoughts about what might have happened. Who might have taken him. If he was hurt somewhere, all alone and needing someone to find him. And when he’d walked home that night, his guts twisting as he carried the gifts he’d bought for him, he’d never expected to see Goromi just sitting on his couch. Gorgeous and alive and there , right there, looking up at him with an expression that he couldn’t quite place but got his heart racing all the same. It had taken all his willpower not to scoop her up in a hug right there, his relief washing away his frustration with how predictably unpredictable she was. 

And even though Kiryu knew better than to push Majima now, it was too much for him to have him lying next to him, bare-faced and disarmed by something as simple as honesty. Like a moth fluttering helplessly against a lamp, he couldn’t stop himself from trying to reach the light inside. 

“Sometimes,” he said again, his voice softer. “Having you here is nice. Makes me happy. I miss you when you’re not around.”

“Kiryu,” Majima breathed out in a way that sounded unintentional. He seemed to catch himself, shaking his head against the pillow and twisting his face up in that familiar smile that meant he was trying to hide something. “Why’d’ya always say the cheesiest shit?”

“It’s just what I’m feeling.”

“Have ya tried feelin’ somethin’ else, bud?”

Kiryu raised his brows. “Why would I?”

This close, Kiryu could see the way that Majima’s eye flitted between his, as though he was searching for something in them. He could see the tiny movements of his mouth. The words that he held back. The tension in his jaw and the single moment of naked insecurity that disappeared before Kiryu could act on it. 

And then Majima looked away, rolling onto his other side as though he was going to leave. Before Kiryu could think not to, he was reaching out and wrapping his arm around his waist, clinging to him in a way that would have embarrassed him if he hadn’t already used up his embarrassment for a lifetime by being interrupted in the middle of getting himself off to the thought of his friend.

“Chill,” Majima said, a quiet laugh in his voice as he just settled back down on the bed, his back to Kiryu’s chest. “Not goin’ anywhere. Just turnin’ ‘cause ya breath smells like hell and I ain’t gettin’ paid enough for this nursemaid shit to put up with that.”

“Oh. Sorry,” Kiryu said, letting his arm fall away from Majima’s waist. “Can’t breathe through my nose.”

“Yeah, ya think?” Majima snickered. “Yer talkin’ like a cartoon character right now.”

“I’m not talking like a cartoon character.”

“Ya are.”

“I’m not.”

“Alright, then. Say my name.”

Kiryu hesitated for a moment before croaking, “Majima.”

Majima cracked up, kicking his feet in delight and crumpling the blanket between them. “Oh my god! It’s better than I thought! Who the hell is Bajiba?”

Kiryu pulled the blanket straight again, frowning and refusing to say anything else until Majima stopped giggling and saying, “ Bajiba .”

“Is this how you take care of all of your sick friends?” Kiryu grumbled, rolling back to face the wall again. 

“Who the hell do you think I am, Kiryu-chan? D’ya think I look after sick people on the regs?”

“Are you saying I’m special, Majima-san?”

“Shut up and go back t’sleep, sicko.”

Kiryu smiled to himself and closed his eyes, hoping to do just that. The press of Majima’s back against his was at once comforting and distracting, though, and even as he drifted in and out a few times, he couldn’t quite manage to clear his head enough to fall asleep.

He eventually felt Majima sigh behind him before muttering, “What’s eatin’ ya, Kiryu?”

Kiryu shifted guiltily, pressing his sweat-sticky forehead against the cool wall, goosebumps prickling up along his body at the difference in temperature. He tried his best to collect his thoughts, to compose himself in such a way that he wouldn’t accidentally scare Majima away again. 

But he was too tired and too sick to do anything of the sort and so he just blurted out, “Are you feeling any better now?”

Majima was silent for so long that Kiryu started to apologise, but he interrupted him with, “Yeah. Yeah, I’m a little better now.”

Kiryu crooked his head back, but he couldn’t see Majima’s face from the angle he was at. He frowned softly and laid back down. “Will you...tell me what happened?”

Majima sighed again after another long moment. “Nothin’ happened, man.” Before Kiryu could dispute that, he added, “Really. It’s just—that time of the year.”

Kiryu almost asked him what he meant by that, but then it hit him:

“April. It happened in April, didn’t it—the thing with you—with your—”

He felt Majima nod into the pillow.

Kiryu took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling the weight of that settle over him. There were a lot of questions he wanted to ask—how many years did his sworn brother have left? did he keep in touch? did he ever wonder if he was a different man now, after so many years lost to prison?—but in the end he just said,

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Majima said without hesitation, as if he’d expected it. “Y’didn’t know.”

“Should have realised.”

“Hell, I didn’t even realise what was going on and it happens every year.”

“I—forget, sometimes, too,” Kiryu said, forcing the words out. “December has never been...a good month for me, but I still forget, sometimes.”

“Hard to keep on top of all this shit, huh?”

It was Kiryu’s turn to nod.

Majima huffed out a laugh and fell silent. Kiryu drifted slightly, lulled by Majima’s steady breaths. He wasn’t sure if he should try to stay awake and keep talking, but he also wasn’t sure if he had a choice. Even that small conversation had reassured him enough that his fidgets had subsided and his muscles had relaxed. And as though he could tell how hard he was struggling to stay awake, Majima eventually whispered,

“Go to sleep, Kiryu. I’ll look after ya.”

So he did.

It only felt like a few minutes before he opened his eyes again, though, and when he did, Majima was no longer beside him and the clock told him that it was half past nine.

Shit .

He scrambled to get out of bed, nearly falling over himself in his urgent attempt to get his work trousers and shirt on at the same time. He didn’t bother calling out for Haruka; she’d hopefully already taken the initiative to get herself dressed and off to school without him. 

Ugh, he felt awful. He couldn’t believe he’d slept in, sick or not. His stomach churned, sickeningly empty, but he didn’t have time to eat. He was already late to— 

‘Called your work, got you off sick again, sit your ass down and eat breakfast or I’ll fuck you up more than any stupid cold you baby.’

Kiryu stared at the note left behind on his front door, the scratchy handwriting warming his chest. 

Majima had left him a note.

Had not only thought to let him know what he’d done, but had actually sat down and written it out. Left it in a place that he would see. 

Made him breakfast .

The sight of the messy plate of omurice waiting for him on the kitchen counter was enough to make him hotter than any fever. He couldn’t pinpoint what exactly it was about the idea of Majima making something like omurice that pleased him so much that he felt like his entire body had been wrapped in a thick blanket, but it did. Even when he stepped closer to it and saw that he’d drawn a dick in ketchup on the top.

Kiryu hadn’t eaten omurice since he was practically still a kid.

But he’d be damned if he didn’t eat every bite of it now.

And after he’d shoved the last bit in his mouth and took a long shower that made him feel like a human again when the steam let him actually breathe through his nose, he dragged the blanket off his bed and into the living room, where he sat with it wrapped around his shoulders. 

It smelled like Goromi.

He wasn’t sure how he felt about his compulsion to shove his face into the blanket and breathe in the smell of her perfume. It smelled so good, but that didn’t really seem like something that he should want to do. Especially considering what had happened earlier that morning. 

In his early-morning, sickness-laced arousal, though, he’d been able to convince himself that there was nothing more to it than ease. That he needed to get off and for some reason, the thought of Majima was what had worked, and so he’d just gone with it.

But now that he was wrapped in the smell of Goromi’s perfume and—once he’d given in to his urge to go grab his pillow and bring that through, as well—Majima’s shampoo, the excuse was muddy. Weak in the light of day. He couldn’t get enough of it. He closed his eyes and just breathed, hugging the pillow tight and nuzzling into it.

This probably wasn’t normal. Sure, he wasn’t exactly a normal man, but he’d never heard any of the men he worked with notice something like another man’s smell. The women would compliment each other on that as easily as saying good morning, though. He could hear them exclaiming over things like that to each other at their lockers, sharing tips and brands and spritzes of things that made him sneeze. And all the men would roll their eyes at him, inviting him to join in on the silent ridicule, the dismissal of something that didn’t matter to them, so why should it matter at all?

Kiryu always turned away from that kind of mocking, and he’d clearly gotten a bit of a reputation already because of it. There had been more women and less men approaching him about going out for drinks after work. He didn’t mind; he didn’t care who he drank with, as long as they weren’t troublemakers. He’d had enough of troublemakers for a lifetime.

Being close friends with the king of troublemakers was plenty for him.

There was one woman in particular, though—Suzume—that seemed interested in him. He’d tried his best to let her know that he wasn’t looking for a relationship, but she didn’t seem to mind that. She’d told him several times that she was just happy spending time with him in any way she could. 

He wasn’t sure how to feel about that, either. He knew that their coworkers had started talking about them. Assuming that they were together.

Suzume never corrected them, but then again, neither did he.

And there were times when he wondered if he should just give in and try . Try to like her as more than a coworker who was pleasant to talk to. She had plenty of good things to like about her. She was pretty, with big brown eyes and a soft, small mouth that curved up sly and fox-like when she saw him, like they were always in on a joke together. 

She was funny. She was kind. She had a protective streak a mile wide that he admired. She looked after the younger women at work like a brooding rooster.  

There were more reasons to like her than not.

But he couldn’t seem to make his heart beat faster at the thought of her.

Part of him hated that he couldn’t.

What if she was his second chance? What if he was throwing that away just because he couldn’t imagine himself kissing her? Or taking her to bed? Who cared about kissing? Who cared about sex? If she would make a good partner in everything else, then shouldn’t he try ?

But he still hadn’t, and she still hadn’t asked him to, and so he just sat in his cocoon while off sick and breathed in the smell of his closest friend, holding the pillow with his scent lingering on its fibers and wondering if there was something wrong with him.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

When Majima looked up from his work again expecting a week at most to have gone by, he found that it was summer and more than a month had passed without seeing Kiryu. 

He blinked down at the calendar, seeing the explanation for his exhaustion staring him in the face. It was no wonder, now, why he constantly felt pulled through a wringer and beaten to hell. He’d been working nonstop on the Hills project, trying his best to keep everything running smoothly when they were being threatened near-daily. It was a lot harder than he’d reckoned on, running a company that was (mostly) above board. So much paperwork. Keeping his men in line. 

The recruiting…

It was a fucking nightmare.

But the Hills were his baby, especially now that he could see it start to take form right before his eyes, and there was no way he was going to abandon it just because shit was hard.

Still, he knew he probably should have taken a little break around, oh, two weeks ago. There were laws about how long someone could work without a day off, but oh well. Wasn’t like it was the first time he’d broken a teensy tiny little law here or there just to be sure things went well at the site.

Plus, he was the manager; the laws probably didn’t apply to him, right?

Manager? CEO? Owner? President? 

Oh, he liked president. He hadn’t really settled on what to be called yet, but he liked president.

President Goro. President Majima.

President Goro Majima, of Majima Construction née Family. 

...He should probably get some sleep. 

But where? was the billion-yen question. He could easily pass out in his office chair or down in Purgatory—many of the rooms were stuffed full of storage boxes, but he’d slept in worse. Or he could stumble his ass down to his apartment and sleep on that ratty futon that he hadn’t washed in…

Had he ever washed it?

He couldn’t remember.

That was probably a good enough reason to just sleep in his chair. 

Or, his brain sidled up to him with, he could go crash on Kiryu’s couch again. That was always nice. Not the couch itself—it was probably as old as he was, with all kinds of lumps and springs poking out—but the company. Their apartment was nearly as bare as his was, but being around Haruka and Kiryu made it feel like a real home. Like he’d become part of their family. 

The thought of seeing Kiryu again made his tired heart lift its head with eager interest, and so that was decided. He tossed the paperwork he’d been working on aside, leaving a text for Nishida saying he wasn’t coming in the next day unless there were assholes that needed beating. 

He’d never pass up the chance to break a man’s legs.

But he found himself hoping there would be no calls. He was actually getting excited at the thought of hearing Kiryu’s voice again after so long. Seeing the smile that he seemed to keep in reserve just for him. The feeling of him leaning unconsciously into any touch that Majima gave him. 

Majima had missed him.

He hadn’t realised how much he’d missed him; how much it could drain him, not being physically near Kiryu for so long. He craved contact with him like a starving man craved a hot dinner. He was practically giggling with excitement as he bought a pack of beers and some snacks for the three of them, thinking of the look that Kiryu would give him. He’d be so happy to see him. Majima knew that Kiryu would have missed him, too. He was such a soft heart under all that beautifully chiseled stone.

And so by the time that he rounded the corner to Kiryu and Haruka’s apartment, he was whistling merrily, swinging the plastic bag with each hopping step. He could already see Kiryu’s shadow against the wall of the building, and he smiled wide, shoving his head around the fence to sing up to him,

Kiryu-chan ! Guess who—” 

Wait.

That wasn’t Kiryu.

That was some tall, weedy guy who was watering the plants hanging over the side of the railing, looking down at him with something akin to terror. That may or may not have been his fault, considering the frown he was wearing as he looked the guy up and down.

“You’re not Kiryu.”

“Wh—no, sir. I’m not.”

Majima made a face. “Don’t call me sir, ya weirdo. Y’don’t even know me.”

“I—okay. Can—can I help you with something?” the guy asked, looking like he might piss himself any second.

Who the hell was this guy? Was he one of Kiryu’s coworkers or something?

Or was he— 

The possibility hit Majima like a cartoon anvil.

Was he Kiryu’s partner ?

He couldn’t be. Kiryu would never be into someone as gelatinous as this guy was. He liked soft people, sure, but soft and a lanky pile of sweating goo were two different things. 

But he was wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, as though he’d gotten dressed for bed before coming out to do some quick gardening. 

Who else but a partner would make themself so comfortable in someone else’s home?

Majima sighed, accepting that he was likely looking at Kiryu’s significant other, and tried to keep the disgust off his face as he said, “Yeah. Couldja tell Kiryu I’m here t’see him? Majima’s here to see him,” he added as an afterthought, ignoring how his gut twisted. No use getting cut up about Kiryu finding someone else; he’d always known he would. Hell, he was happy that he’d finally found someone he could be comfortable enough with to let them in. Kiryu deserved to be happy.

But instead of scooting inside and fetching Kiryu for him, the guy just cleared his throat in a way that let Majima hear just how wet his mouth was, and said, “I’m sorry, but I think you might have the wrong house.”

“Eh?” he grunted, scowling up at the guy, who visibly shrank back. “Y’callin’ me stupid, kid? Y’think I don’t know whose house this is?”

“I—no, sir, I don’t think that,” the guy choked out, wobbling like a fucking jelly mold. “But maybe the person you’re looking for moved out? I only moved in a few weeks ago.”

 Majima blinked. “You—this’s yer house? Y’live here? Alone?”

The guy nodded, wincing as though Majima was going to hurl one of his beer cans at him, but he barely noticed, so slowly was he grasping the truth. 

Kiryu didn’t live here anymore?

But— 

“Why didn’t he tell me?”

The guy’s face did a thing, then, that got Majima’s hackles snapping up. It went from completely understandable fear to fear that was laced with pitying empathy, and Majima really did almost chuck the bag up at him, especially when he said, “It happens to the best of us, man.”

 “Shut yer fuckin’ mouth!” Majima barked, glaring viciously. “He wouldn’t—”

“What’s all this ruckus out here? Dai-chan, do you need me to call the—oh, hello Goro-chan!” the elderly lady—Mrs. Tanaka, his brain provided unhelpfully—called out cheerfully from where her head poked out of her door. “It’s been a while! How are dear Haruka and her father doing?”

Majima stood there, his heart sinking straight to his shoes with those simple words. 

Kiryu really wasn’t there.

He’d left without telling Majima.

Maybe—maybe he’d just forgotten. Kiryu was busy with his job and Haruka and everything, and Majima had also just lost a whole month to work, so maybe it had slipped his mind. No reason to jump to conclusions. He’d just call him. 

And so he did, turning and leaving Kiryu’s old apartment with barely a wave to the old woman. He called him and held the phone to his ear and waited for him to pick up, but he never did. 

Maybe he was busy making dinner. 

A very late dinner. 

Majima would give him some time and call again. 

He didn’t pick up on the second call, either.

Or the third. 

Or the fourth.

But when he scrolled down to Kiryu’s name in his contact list for the fifth time that night, he saw that his fingers were trembling, and wondered if maybe he should just stop.

He pressed the call button.

Kiryu didn’t pick up.

The phone was ringing, but he wasn’t picking up.

He’d never not answered before.

Majima looked around him in a daze, realising that he’d ended up in Kamurocho again, but not really recognising where he was. His heart was hammering against his ribs and his chest was tight. 

He needed to calm down. Kiryu would be fine. Just because he’d left and wasn’t answering his phone didn’t mean anything. It didn’t mean that he and Haruka were hurt. 

Or worse.

It didn’t mean that. 

Maybe he was sleeping. 

Oh, that was probably it! He was probably sleeping off a hard day at work and couldn’t hear the phone. Majima would call him in the morning after he got some sleep, too.

With that thought bouncing around his head and duplicating, Majima pointed himself towards West Park and let his feet take over.

It would be okay. Kiryu was just asleep. 

He dropped the bag on the floor and slumped into his office chair, resting his head on his arms after folding them on the desk. 

It would be okay. Kiryu was just asleep.

He passed out for a couple hours with the thought echoing and echoing and echoing before he snapped awake and checked the time. 

Still nighttime. A little longer. Kiryu would still be asleep.

He slept twenty minutes before jolting awake again.

A little longer. Kiryu would still be asleep.

He couldn’t sleep. He had to sleep. His eye was stiff and burning and watering and he could only take in short breaths. He had to sleep. He needed to rest just in case.

No, no, no, there would be no ‘in case.’

Kiryu was fine. He was just asleep. Majima would call him in the morning and he would answer and tease Majima about how paranoid he was.

He fell asleep to the memory of Kiryu telling Haruka silly stories about Yumi when she was a child and the laughter that rang through their house and settled over Majima like a warm blanket he hadn’t asked for, but needed more than anything. 

He woke up to the sun beating down on him from the open window and Nishida’s worried frown.

“Boss?”

Majima took a deep, rattling breath, moving his stiff body slowly back into the chair and scrubbing at his face. There was a sore, aching line where his patch strap had dug in awkwardly all night. He sighed, scratching at it. 

“Weren’t you going to take today off?”

Take the day off. Take the day off, because he was tired. That sounded good. He could go get some breakfast and maybe go see Kiryu— 

Kiryu .

He snatched at his phone so fast that it almost rocketed off his desk to the floor, and he barely managed to catch it before slamming through the contact list to Kiryu’s number and pressing enter. 

C’mon. C’mon. C’mon

Answer , goddamn you!” Majima growled.

“Boss? Are you okay? Did something happen?”

He ignored Nishida, his leg bouncing as adrenaline jetted through him. Kiryu wasn’t answering. Kiryu wasn’t picking up the phone and it was ringing and ringing and he hadn’t answered last night either. 

Something was wrong.

He didn’t stick around to tell Nishida what had happened or where he going—he just ran from the office and jumped into the nearest taxi and threw money at them on his way out of the car when they stopped at Date’s new workplace. He shoved through the line of people straight to the front and demanded to see him.

His jaw was clenched hard enough to make his teeth creak when the man at the counter opened his mouth and began to argue that he couldn’t cut in line and he certainly couldn’t talk to him with that tone, but before he lost control and got himself in trouble, he heard the man in question say behind him,

“Majima-san? What are you doing here?”

Majima whirled on Date, yanking him by the arm to the nearest empty room.

“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Kiryu’s in trouble.”

Date’s eyes went wide and he put the cup of coffee he’d been holding down on a desk, shaking his head. “What? What happened?”

“I went to go see him last night but he doesn’t live there anymore and he isn’t answerin’ his phone. I know the Florist works for your cop friends again, so I need ya to find out what happened.” Date stared at him for long enough that Majima bit out, “ Before we die of old age.”

But instead of getting the Florist on the phone, Date just pulled out his cell phone, pressed a button, and held it up to his head, staring at Majima with a furrowed brow as he waited for a moment before saying, “Oh, hi, Kiryu. Just checking to make sure everything’s fine. Someone gave an anonymous tip that you were in danger.”

Like an old balloon left in the sun, Majima deflated slowly. 

Kiryu had answered. He was talking. He was alive. Majima could hear his deep voice on the other end when Date pointed the phone at him. It was him.

But— 

But if it was him, then that meant that he’d deliberately ignored Majima’s calls.

Was he... avoiding him?

The thought planted itself in Majima’s head and grew and grew until he could only turn and leave the office despite Date calling after him, his insides being chiseled out and left with nothing but prickling unease. 

Why would Kiryu be avoiding him? He hadn’t done anything to earn that, he thought. Nothing he could remember, at least. Had he gotten drunk and done something stupid? Had he had another blackout? But what could Majima have done that would make Kiryu want to not only avoid his calls, but move and not tell him? Hadn’t he made it clear that he wanted to be there for Kiryu? What could he have done to make him forget that?

He couldn’t think of anything, and that was the most frustrating of all. 

If he’d done something while manic or depressed or whatever , then he wanted to know. He didn’t like not knowing that his body had done something that was apparently so heinous that the man he—the man he cared deeply about would want to cut him out of his life without even giving him the benefit of a goodbye.

“Majima-san!”

Majima blinked and looked back over his shoulder, realising that he’d not only left the building, but was now wandering down the road towards Kamurocho instead of calling a taxi. Date was jogging to catch up, puffing with exertion when he stopped in front of Majima.

“Majima-san,” he huffed, bent over himself as he fought to catch his breath. Majima had no idea how Date had ever managed to catch any bad guys if he couldn’t run down a single road without getting wrecked, but maybe he wasn’t really the running-to-catch-villains sort of cop. “Listen. I don’t really know what’s going on, but do you want a ride to Kiryu’s place? If we leave now, we’ll catch him before he has to be at work.”

Majima’s lip curled at the thought. “No.”

“But—”

“No,” he said again, shaking his head. “He’ll have his reasons.”

“Well, don’t you want to know what they are?” Date asked, standing straight again, his brows raised in concern that needled Majima and made him itchy.

“Why would I? Not gonna crawl after him like some kinda bitch. Kiryu doesn’t wanna talk anymore, then we don’t gotta talk. Simple as that.”

Before Date could do more than frown at him, he turned and continued walking down the road, calling Nishida and telling him to come pick him up.

He had work to do.

And work is what he did, throwing himself into the project with gleeful abandon. 

No time for thinking when there were Hills to be built!

He spent every moment at the site, working even after everyone else had left. He single-handedly beat the hordes of men down that came to steal the plans, ignoring how his body would often refuse to do more than slump to the ground after those fights. It didn’t matter if he couldn’t move; he would be found by Nishida the next morning and carried to his bed or his office to sleep fitfully, just like every other time before.

He refused to think about what day it was in the middle of June, choosing instead to earn himself a concussion in a bar fight that was only started because someone couldn’t handle being called a lumpy bag of trash when that was exactly what they were.

The skeleton of Kamurocho Hills grew, casting a bigger shadow every day.

When he stood at the top, staring down into the city, he imagined that he could see every house, every nook and cranny that hid a million lives inside them. That if he searched hard enough, he’d see one in particular that he pretended he wasn’t actually looking for. But then the wind shifted and brought the scent of sunshine and metal and solder, and when he raised his hands up to his face to block it out, the mixture of the leather and sweat and ozone and the blood from his blisters overwhelmed him, and he had to lean against the girders and just breathe, his skin prickling with physical hunger. His hands had always smelled like that after he’d fought him.

It was always those times that were the hardest to stay still instead of chasing after him. Hunting him down and—and he didn’t even know, and that was why he never did. He didn’t know what he would do.

And so he worked. 

His hands were scarred and his heart had begun to skip a beat every once in a while and every day he woke up felt like he was dragging himself out of his grave, but there was work to do!

He would show the world what Goro Majima was made of!

When he opened the bottom drawer of his desk in his quest to find one of his boy’s lost pliers, a strip of photos he’d tossed there months ago stared up at him, the smiles on his and Kiryu's and Haruka's faces like white-hot skewers shoved into his gut.

He closed the drawer again. The pliers wouldn’t be in there.

He kept working. A week passed. Another. Another. A month. Another. Every day, the cloud over Nishida’s head grew and he would give him those looks and ask him when he was planning on taking a break until Majima couldn’t take it anymore and shouted at him to cheer up or fuck off. He didn’t have room for sour faces in his company!

But Nishida just nodded and left, taking his stupid fucking cloud and leaving Majima alone. 

All alone.

And maybe it was that last tiny straw, but Majima found he couldn’t breathe in the silence that Nishida had left behind. There was barbed wire tangling tighter and tighter around his heart until he thought he might have finally done himself in, but in the end, he just sat in his chair and choked on nothing, his throat wheezing hilariously with each breath. 

Such a fucking joke. 

Such a…

He woke up the next day with a sour taste in his mouth and clouds covering the sun.

He’d slept for fourteen hours.

He dragged himself out of his chair and stared out the window at the steel giant rising up before him. The skeleton was almost done. He wasn’t sure what he felt about that anymore.

He was proud, definitely. 

But he wasn’t sure what exactly he was proud of.

Building something that was only intended to cater to—and take advantage of, sure—the rich?

Maybe. He’d never been above tailoring his work for a specific audience, and who better to drain funds from than those that had more bills than brain cells?

Maybe it was just the sight of something so huge growing before his eyes where there had only been concrete before. 

And homeless people. That had been displaced by the project. He might not have done it personally, but he sure didn’t do much to stop it.

It was almost like cartoon villainy. 

Maybe he deserved to be alone after doing the shit he’d done. Maybe the pride he felt was the only thing keeping him at it. Maybe he was proud because the alternative was much worse.

Or maybe he was just a jackass who didn’t know when to quit.

Whatever the reason, he had work to do. Couldn’t stand around moping when he’d already lost so much time sleeping. With a sigh, he shrugged on his jacket and looked around for his hat. He couldn’t find it, which was weird, considering he hardly ever took it off these days. After digging around every nook in his office, he threw open the window and looked around for where Nishida usually sat eating his breakfast every morning while reading the newspaper like some kind of old man. He spotted him in an instant, cupping his hands around his mouth and shouting,

“Oi, Nishida! The fuck did my ha—ey!” He cut himself off, his eye catching on the door to the site creeping open as someone’s head poked around the corner. “Hey you! Whattaya think yer doin’! This is a closed site!”

Nishida looked around to where he was shouting, but Majima was already on his way out of his office, waving as he jogged over to the entrance. “Hey, you can’t be in here! You gotta—”

He skidded to a stop just before the door, gaping at who had come through.

Haruka-chan ?”

Haruka looked up at him with a cheeky grin that reminded him so much of his younger self that he felt he only had himself to blame for this. This was karma.

“Hi, Uncle Majima!”

“Hi yourself, kid,” he said sternly, leaning his head around to see behind her. “Why’re ya here all by y’self? How’d ya know where t’find me? Where’s yer dad?”

Haruka’s face fell into a deep scowl like a thunderhead had moved across the sun. Before she could say what was on her mind, though, Nishida slid up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder, handing over two hardhats with a cautious smile.

“Don’t encourage her to stay , dipshit,” Majima grumbled, snatching up the hats and giving him a hard whack on the arm with his. He barely flinched, which meant that either Majima had weakened or Nishida was getting stronger. 

He preferred the latter, strange as it was to think about Nishida being anything more than the noodly minion he’d always been. Maybe the construction work had done him good after all. He was looking beefier than usual, now that Majima was paying attention. 

“Have you been working out?” he asked, bemused at the way the arms of his shirt seemed to be tighter. 

“Uh—no, sir? I haven’t had any time for anything like that, being on the site so much.”

“Huh,” Majima grunted. Before he could continue, though, Haruka smiled and said,

“You do look a lot stronger, Nishida-san! I bet you could take Uncle Majima in a fight now!”

“Oi!” Majima barked, shoving the second hat out to Haruka with a narrowed eye. “Who asked you anyway, huh?” He couldn’t be mad, though, when she just giggled and put the hat on, clipping it underneath her chin and smiling up at him.

“How do I look?”

“Like a girl who shouldn’t be on a construction site ,” Majima said, slapping his own hat on and putting his hands on his hips as he peered down at her. “Now are ya gonna tell me what’s goin’ on or am I gonna hafta putcha t’work?”

“I can work! I don’t mind!” she said eagerly, practically bouncing.

Majima exchanged a bewildered look with Nishida before saying, “Think there might be some laws that mind a little kid workin’ though, Haruka-chan.” He shook his head. “Anyway, I toldja. Y’can’t stay. Gotta getcha back t’your dad before he comes tearin’ the place up lookin’ for ya.”

Out of all the things he expected Haruka to argue about, “He’s not my dad,” was not one of them.

Majima’s frown returned full-force in the face of Haruka’s sudden childish anger. There were a lot of things he wanted to say to her about that, but she wasn’t his kid and he didn’t want to step on Kiryu’s toes, so he just said, “Yes he is.”

“No, he isn’t!” she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest and scowling. “He’s not even my real uncle. We aren’t related at all, so I don’t have to go back there with him.”

“Haruka...” Nishida began, sounding just as shocked as Majima was to hear her talk this way. She was normally sweet as an angel.

“I don’t! I can just go back to Sunflower and there’s nothing he can do about it!”

On the outside, at least. She definitely had a gremlin streak in her. 

But still, she’d never talked about Kiryu like this. She loved him. 

But the way that she crossed her arms tighter over her chest and looked away with shining eyes and a tense mouth made Majima wonder if something had happened. 

Aw, fuck. Fuck

He was going to have to ask.

Fuck, he didn’t want to have to ask, but he had to. He would never be able to live with himself if he didn’t.

So with a look over at Nishida and a jerk of his chin to let him know that they needed some privacy that he quickly gave them, Majima steeled himself, glancing around to make sure no one else was close enough to hear. His insides clenched and flopped as he said,

“Haruka. Y’know you can tell me anythin’, yeah? Anythin’ at all.”

She looked up at him out of the corner of her eye, mouth trembling, and Majima’s heart cracked. He looked up to the sky for a second to get his bearings before meeting her eyes again and saying quietly,

“Haruka, if he—if he did anything to you—you don’t have to go back. I won’t make you go back. You don’t have to tell me what it was he did. You can just say that you don’t want to go back.”

Haruka’s face twisted up and Majima’s gut plummeted in despair as she leapt forward in a hug that he quickly returned, holding her tight. But then she said through her tears, “He didn’t do anything like that, Uncle Majima! But Uncle Kaz—Dad, he—” and Majima felt like he could breathe again even though she was still clearly distressed. 

Thank god. Oh, thank god.

It wasn’t the worst case.

He could handle anything else.

“Think y’better tell me what happened, kiddo,” Majima said softly, easing her back so he could brush her hair away from her face and give her an encouraging smile. “Y’feel up to it?”

Haruka sniffled and nodded, clearly trying to stop herself from crying, but the tears just kept coming. Majima gave her a pat on the back, guiding her over to one of the park benches that were still left over from before the site. He hadn’t bothered taking them all out, considering he’d have to provide some kind of place for his men to rest anyway, much as he wanted to keep cracking the whip day and night. He let her choose which side she wanted before sitting next to her, keeping his eye on her as worry lanced through him. 

He’d never seen Haruka this upset before. She’d had a few tears here and there when her friends were mean or when she’d done badly on a test, but never this hiccuping kind of sob that seemed like it was coming from a deeper place. She kept alternating between covering her face with her hands as she cried quietly into them and staring narrow-eyed with a familiar scowl down at a single point on the ground, clearly trying to get herself under control as she took shaky breaths. Majima just waited, letting her get out what she needed to before she could talk, turning away to give her at least a semblance of privacy.

It couldn’t be easy, he knew, being the child of a man like Kazuma Kiryu. Especially since she’d never really had anyone to take care of her properly before, to lay down the foundations of a healthy coping system. Kiryu wasn’t exactly a hard man, but he wasn’t the best at handling overwhelming emotions. 

That had been okay, before, because Majima had been happy to help him open up.

But Kiryu defaulted to stoicism in the face of big emotions and that wasn’t something that a child could or should emulate no matter how admirable he was. Haruka was a strong kid, and that was exactly why she needed someone to tell her plainly that she could be weak sometimes. He remembered what it was like, being that kid that had lost everything and spent every day shoving down the tears until he’d forgotten how to let them out. 

Majima didn’t want Haruka to become that kid.

But he didn’t have a choice. This was all he could do for her. 

She wasn’t his daughter.

And so he sat with her until her tears had finally calmed down enough for her to just slump back against the bench and take slow breaths that sounded more exhausted than any child should be.

“Feelin’ a little better?” he asked finally, keeping his voice low.

Haruka nodded, though she looked ashamed of herself. Instead of bringing attention to it, though, Majima just took a long breath and let it out, saying,

“Good. Sometimes that’s all y’can do before y’can even think about fixin’ the problem. Like drainin’ the water out a sinkin’ boat before patchin’ it up, y’know?”

Haruka looked over at him in surprise, her watery eyes making his own burn empathetically. He smiled, and was happy to see her return it. He gave a pretend-hiss, holding his hand up as if to block himself from a bright light.

“Whoah! Did the clouds just part and let the sun through?” He peeked around his hand to see Haruka smiling wider at his dumb joke. “Oh, no, it’s just Haruka-chan’s smile! No wonder I thought I might go blind!”

She giggled, and he dropped his hand, feeling proud that he could cheer her up with something so stupid. “That’s cheesy, Uncle Majima.”

“Yeah, well I’m a real cheeseball, y’know,” he said, chuckling. “Not as much as your dad—Kazuma “Wears Wraparound Sunglasses to Karaoke Because He Thinks it Makes Him Cooler” Kiryu—but I’ve still got my fair share of cheddar.” 

At the mention of Kiryu, Haruka’s smile fell again and she looked away, face miserable. Instead of letting it discourage him, though, he just nudged her and said quietly,

“C’mon, Haruka. Can’t help ya fix up the boat if y’don’t tell me where the hole is, y’know.”

She shook her head, twisting her hands in her lap. “I don’t think you can help with this, Uncle Majima.”

“Never know ‘til ya try, right?”

Haruka peeked up at him before she looked away again and sighed, clearly giving in. “I ran away because Uncle—because ever since we moved, Dad won’t listen to anything I say about you. I tried to convince him to let us stay because I didn’t want to be so far away from you and my friends, but he wouldn’t listen. And when I tried to run away the first time, he just told me that I had to get used to it because we weren’t going back no matter what I said or did.”

Haruka’s mouth trembled again and Majima wished he could make it better, but he was hurting, too. He didn’t think he could still hurt about it, months later, but hearing that Haruka had wanted to see him reopened the wounds.

“But I thought—I thought that even if he wouldn’t let us stay, that for my birthday, at least—”

Majima froze, doing some quick calendar math and realising that today was, in fact, Haruka’s birthday. Oh, shit . He’d buried himself so deep in his work that he’d completely forgotten. He felt like a swamp of old shit, but there was no time to wallow, as Haruka was still telling him what had happened.

“He invited all my old friends to come over!” she said indignantly, expression fierce as she gestured sharply. “So I just thought...but when I asked if you were coming to the party, too, he just ignored me! I got really mad about that, I guess. We got in a huge fight last night and he told me to stop asking about you because I wasn’t going to see you ever again. So I—I ran away this morning before he woke up.”

“Aw, Haruka…” Majima didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to tell her that there was no sense in missing someone like him. That even though he’d put on a new hat, he was still just yakuza trash. It felt like that would be deflecting what the actual issue was, which seemed to just be growing pains between Kiryu and Haruka that had coincidentally centered on him. And so he just said, “I’m sure your dad has his reasons.”

“I don’t care what reasons he has, though!” Haruka cried, gripping fistfuls of her trousers and clearly trying not to cry again. “He took away one of the only people I care about! I don’t care why! I just—I just missed you, Uncle Majima. Why can’t he just let you come visit? Is that really such a bad thing?” 

Majima floundered, wanting to comfort her but not wanting to make it worse when she had to leave him again. Because she would. Majima would have loved to be able to be a part of Haruka’s life, but Kiryu had clearly made a decision about something and he wasn’t going to be the cause of a rift between them if he could help it. More than anything, he just wanted them to be happy, and if him being around was going to take that away, then he’d gladly give up that chance.

It would hurt like a bitch, but he’d survived worse.

“Haruka, listen t’me,” he said seriously, waiting until she met his eye before continuing. “Your dad loves you, no matter what it prob’ly feels like right now. He might not say it—might not ever say it. But he does. I know him better’n anyone in the world, and if he decided that y’needed to move away ‘n’all that, then it’ll be important. He wouldn’t’a done somethin’ like that fer nothin’.”

“But Uncle Majima—”

“Nah, no buts,” he said, shaking his head. “I know it hurts like hell to hear it, but y’dad’s right. Y’need to get used to how things are now. He’s tryin’ his level best t’give ya a good life and y’can’t just throw that back in his face by runnin’ away when things get tough. Y’gotta stick together, kid.” 

He smiled, feeling strange for it when his heart was crumbling with each word, turning to dust at the pain in Haruka’s eyes. “I’ll letcha in on a secret about Kazuma Kiryu, too.” He leaned in slightly, conspiratorially. “He needs ya just as much as ya need him, y’know. Prob’ly more.” He sat up again when she smiled sadly, as though she didn’t want to but couldn’t help it. “So y’gotta stick together. ‘M’not tellin’ ya t’let him get away with bein’ a dumbass or nothin’, but y’can’t keep runnin’, Haruka. Y’gotta be strong. Things’ll get better eventually. Promise.”

Haruka stared at him after he finished, her mouth shaking with barely restrained tears, until they finally just spilled over. As if that had been the last straw, Haruka’s face crumpled and she leaned into him, burying her face against his jacket and clinging to him as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and held her as she silently cried. He looked up to the sky to keep his own tears from spilling, wishing he could have told her to raise hell, to fight back against her old man who was just trying to control her life, but he’d never been in the business of lying. 

It would be better this way, for her. She’d eventually forget that she cared about him. That was the silver lining to losing someone as a child. Gave you more time to get over it.

At least he’d gotten the chance to say goodbye. It would do her good, that kind of closure.

It was for the best.

He just kept telling himself that as he watched her leave, climbing into the car with Nishida, who had volunteered to take her back home without Majima even having to ask. 

It was for the best. 

He stared at the space that the car left behind when it turned a corner, taking Haruka’s sad eyes with it. 

It was for the best.

It was for the best, but it had carved out his heart again, as always, and left him with even less of himself than before. 

He was so tired.

He was so tired of saying goodbye.

Majima was tired.

He was tired, and there was work to do, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He couldn’t bring himself to turn and step back inside those walls and pretend like he hadn’t just lost one of the few good things he’d ever had in his life.

He felt cold and exposed and empty and so he did what he always did when he was out of whack: he headed for the batting center, leaving his helmet abandoned on the ground outside the site. Who gave a shit if someone stole it? He could always replace it. 

He was surrounded by things he could replace. 

He could pick up anything around him as he walked down Shichifuku Street and do whatever he liked with it and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him, technically. There was no fine large enough that he couldn’t pay, no amount of money that someone could demand of him that he wouldn’t be able to just write a check right there.

It didn’t mean shit. 

None of it meant anything. 

The only thing that had ever meant anything to him had just left him again. On the one hand, he couldn’t really believe that he’d let himself be vulnerable again. But on the other, he didn’t think he had a choice. He’d never figured out how to protect himself fully. To stop giving people the key to his heart and then getting surprised when it got smashed.

He deserved what he got, was what his kyoudai would say about it. He hadn’t kept his guard up, so any attacks that got through were his fault alone. Can’t get hurt if you’re always prepared to dodge.

Some good that did either of them, though. One of them rotting in prison and the other dragging his sorry ass down to a place that he clung to out of desperation, the only standing reminder of a life he used to have. It was always like stepping into a haunted house, now. The ghosts of memories thick in the air with each swing, like hands dragging themselves along his skin. Whispers in his ear of a time when he was still good, before he’d been chewed to hell and spat out. 

But he still went, because he didn’t know what else to do. At least he knew the motions to make in the center. He knew what to expect.

At least, he usually did. 

This time, though, as he looked up from his trudging walk to climb the stairs like a man about to be hanged, he was thrown even further off balance by the sight of Kiryu staring back at him. His hair was a little longer. He had stubble along his jaw and neck. His skin was a little darker with sun.

They locked eyes, Majima’s chest compressing with pathetic happiness at seeing his face, scowling or not, after so long. His body was stupid; it didn’t understand that everything had changed. He could feel it reaching for Kiryu, wanting to hold him inside his arms again, wanting to drag in the scent of him just so he could pretend he still had a home. His body needed Kiryu’s like it needed air or water, but Kiryu didn’t need him anymore, and he wasn’t going to beg. He was never going to beg. 

And so he just said, “Nishida’s taking her home now,” in a voice that was hoarse, but steady, and skirted gingerly around Kiryu to push through the door.

He stepped inside one of the cages, grateful that there was no one else there, at least. He’d gotten lucky. Even the clerk on duty had just nodded in understanding when he’d paid, closing down the shutter and giving him some privacy. They knew him in the batting center. He was probably like a mascot to them, an old puppet that kept coming back even though all its stuffing had fallen out and its skin was patchy and faded. 

At least they knew him, he supposed. That was something. Being known was better than disappearing entirely. 

The crack of the first homerun was like working out a crick in his neck. His body knew this therapy well. It never failed him.

Second homerun.

Third. 

Fourth.

Someone was behind him.

Fifth.

It was Kiryu; he could smell him even through the fans blowing the metallic, leathery smell of the center in his face. He smelled like the sun on a hot summer’s day, beating down on long grasses that hid everything from the world.

Sixth.

He said his name, but Majima wasn’t listening. He was watching for the curve and waiting for that telltale shunt of pressurised air.

Seventh.

He got closer, saying his name again. He could almost feel the heat from his body.

Eighth.

Again, anger in his voice. Majima didn’t care. He hadn’t done anything for Kiryu to be angry about. He hadn’t asked him to follow him. He hadn’t asked him for any of this.

Ninth.

But when he lined up for the tenth, getting the ball in his sights and adjusting for the sweet spot that would sink a perfect round, Kiryu’s hand shot out just as he swung and stopped his bat before it could meet the ball.

It sailed past, leaving him with only a near-perfect and a dissatisfaction that flooded his mouth like old, sour blood.

Majima .”

Majima was suddenly burning with the desire to crack his bat across Kiryu’s skull until he stopped saying his name like he had any right to it anymore.

But instead of giving in to that instinct, he just firmly tugged his bat out of Kiryu’s hand, turned, and left the center. 

If Kiryu was going to invade the last space he had left to him, then he’d find another space. He’d build his own fucking batting center in the Hills, exactly the same as this one but only for him. It wouldn’t matter that it wasn’t the same carpet as he’d stepped on in his other life, or the same lights shining into his eyes as he smiled with childish abandon. It would have to be enough, just like all the other things that weren’t the same but had to be enough to keep him upright and moving forward.

But first, he’d have to lose Kiryu, who had followed him out of the center and was walking several paces behind, as though willing to follow him for as long as it took. As though Majima didn’t know he was there. As if he wouldn’t always know he was there.

Kiryu was true north for Majima’s compass.

And so instead of taking the less-populated path that he would normally take, he deliberately walked down the busiest road, pushing through groups and slumping so he stood out less. He peered behind him after doing this several times and was pleased to find Kiryu had gotten delayed more and more each time, unwilling to cut through people like he was. 

His coup de grâce came when he headed for a group of drunken women and quietly whispered the suggestion to them that didn’t Kiryu look a lot like that one pop idol, they knew the one, and simply continued on, listening for the chatter and squeals as they rushed Kiryu. 

He almost felt like smiling as he ducked down a different path, thinking of Kiryu’s frustration at being accosted. But he didn’t have long to taste the sweet satisfaction of outsmarting him before he was shoved hard into a secluded corner of the street that was always dark no matter the time of day, his head knocking against the cladding and bouncing off. He grimaced, but couldn’t touch the busted spot, as his attacker had taken hold of his arms. 

Kiryu had taken hold of his arms, keeping him pressed into the corner. 

And for one brief moment, Majima thought that Kiryu might press his lips into his, as well, but then he looked away from his mouth, giving Majima the opportunity to yank himself free from Kiryu’s grip. 

“Don’t follow me again unless you wanna die, Kiryu. I’m done playing with you.”

“Just stop , Majima. I’m trying to talk to you.” Kiryu’s scowl was deep and frustrated and even though Majima wanted to just leave again, he knew he couldn’t. He still cared about Kiryu, no matter what he felt for him, and so he told himself that he would just listen to what Kiryu had to say and then he could leave.

“Fine.”

“Fine?”

“You said you’re tryin’ t’talk to me,” he said, pulling himself to his full height and slinging his bat over his shoulder. “So talk.”

Kiryu just stared at him, looking between his narrowed eye, his bat, and his other hand that swung loose. “You don’t look like you’re willing to listen.”

“And that don’t sound like talkin’. What’s yer point.”

“My point is—” Kiryu cut himself off, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers before spreading his hand wide and shaking his head. “Nevermind. I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea. I don’t have time for this; I have to get back to Haruka.”

“Sure do, bud,” Majima said, telling himself to stop there as Kiryu turned to leave, but not being able to help himself. “And hey, maybe next time ya tell a ten-year-old girl who’s seen her parents die right in front of her that she can’t see one of the only other adults she cares about ever again, y’check and make sure it ain’t her fuckin’ birthday the day after. Might save ya some trouble next time.”

Kiryu whirled on him, his fists clenched and ready, but not raised. “The day that anyone takes parenting advice from a man like you is the day that it snows in summer.”

“Poetic,” Majima said with a vicious smile. “But I’m not the one that lost my fuckin’ kid on her birthday.”

He could tell he’d struck a nerve when Kiryu’s nostrils flared. They only did that when he was really angry. 

“Truth don’t feel good, does it?”

“The truth?” Kiryu bit out. “The truth is that this is exactly why I told Haruka she couldn’t see you anymore. She was too attached to you and you’re too immature to understand that just by associating with us, you put her in danger. I couldn’t—I can’t let her grow up thinking that yakuza are good men.” 

Majima’s grip on his bat tightened. 

“That’s why you left?”

Kiryu took a breath, clearly working to calm himself. “Yes. A few months ago, someone—sent a message. Through Haruka.” Kiryu’s jaw worked visibly. “Telling me that they were watching us and that they were going to take her because of what I’d done. She hadn’t—she hadn’t thought anything of taking the letter from him because he wore your pin.”

 Majima’s skin prickled. “He couldn’t—”

“Don’t try to convince me it wasn’t one of your men,” Kiryu snapped. “She described it to me. I would recognise it anywhere.”

Majima’s mouth clicked shut audibly. 

Someone was going around wearing his pin after he’d dissolved the family. Threatening Kiryu and Haruka.

Someone was going to die.

“What did he look like?” he asked roughly.

“It doesn’t matter—”

What did he look like .”

Kiryu looked at him with something like disappointment. “It doesn’t matter, because Date already found out who it was and brought him in.”

“Y’think that’s enough? Y’think a few years in the clink’s gonna stop someone that stupid?” Majima asked, barking out a humourless laugh. “Don’t be fuckin’ naïve, Kiryu.”

“Only a yakuza would think that justice is naïve.”

You’re a fuckin’ yakuza, ya prick!” he shouted, wanting to tear at his hair in frustration. “The fuckin’ ex-leader of ‘em! Y’can’t look me in the eye and tell me that prison is enough t’protect Haruka! Ya know more’n anyone how easy it is to make it through and get back out again.”

“Protecting Haruka isn’t your job, Majima,” Kiryu said, his voice hard. “She doesn’t need you to protect her.”

“Clearly she does—”

“I don’t want you to protect her. I don’t want you around her at all.” 

As if Kiryu’s words had dunked him in a bath of ice water, he came to his senses. He remembered what had happened and who he was to them now. He wasn’t Kiryu’s superior or his friend. He wasn’t Haruka’s confidant or her ‘uncle.’ 

He wasn’t anything to them anymore.

He took a few panting breaths, the air he expelled chilling the sweat that had broken out on his skin. He looked away from Kiryu, nodding and mumbling, “Got it. You’re the boss.”

“Majima—”

“Y’should get back home, Kiryu. Don’t wanna miss her party.”

He waited in the thick silence, just watching the clouds race in the sky, until he heard Kiryu’s steps retreating. He took a long breath that caught at the end before shaking it out of him and standing straight again and looking over to the Hills. 

His eye caught on Kiryu standing at the end of the street, instead, his face inscrutable as he watched Majima.

But as much as Majima wanted to go to him, he couldn’t bring himself to. It was as good as begging, in his mind.

And so they stood apart in a standstill until Kiryu finally came forward slowly, his legs stiff as though he didn’t want to come closer. 

“I didn’t want this,” was what he said when they stood close enough that Majima could smell Kiryu’s sweat. It beaded on his chest, sliding down beyond the closed buttons of his shirt. Majima wanted to drag his tongue along that exposed skin. Taste every part of him. Make those memories before he left him again. Wanted to press him against that wall and kiss him until he couldn’t catch his breath. Make him gasp his name as he buried himself inside him so he’d never forget it. 

Beg him on hands and knees to let him stay with him. He didn’t know how to live without him anymore. Please let him stay.

“So go home,” was what he said, instead.

“No,” Kiryu said, sounding exasperated and, as bittersweet as it was for Majima to hear, affectionate. He still cared about him. “I meant, I didn’t want to leave like we did. Even though it was your man who threatened us, I still wanted to tell you. But we couldn’t, at first. We were advised not to tell anyone where we’d gone.” He shook his head, hanging it and sticking his hands in his pockets. “Once we could, though, I just got—angry. Terada told me you’d dissolved the family, but there was no mistaking it, no matter how I wanted to try, and I couldn’t—”

“Y’don’t gotta explain nothin’ to me, Kiryu,” Majima said, looking down as he tapped his bat onto the metal toe of his shoe. “I get it.”

“Do you?” Kiryu asked, anger lacing his words. Majima glanced up again to see him studying him with narrowed eyes. “Because you still talked to her today, didn’t you? You still let your captain drive her back instead of calling me.”

Majima met his scowl with a sudden glower. “Like you woulda fuckin’ answered?”

“Today, I would have.”

“Oh, well, let me just go back an hour or two and whisper in my own fuckin’ ear.” He leaned over with his hand cupping his mouth, keeping his gaze aggressively in Kiryu’s. “‘Hey, Goro, y’know that pisslord that ghosted you? He’ll actually answer his phone today, since his daughter is gonna come t’sob on your shoulder ‘cause she misses ya just as bad as y’missed her and her dad hasn’t figured out how t’just explain to her that yakuza are bad men, so she’s gonna cry even harder when ya hafta tell her that y’can’t argue with her dad. Have fun !’”

“Are you expecting me to feel sorry for you?”

“No, Kiryu,” Majima said, twisting his mouth in a mean grin. “Out of all the things I ever expect from you, feelings aren’t one of them.”

Part of him had hoped for the punch that Kiryu threw at him as soon as the words left his mouth, but he was still somehow surprised when it collided, sending him flying into a road divider. Maybe he’d thought they’d never get to do this again. Maybe he’d thought that Kiryu was above it now.

No matter why he’d been surprised by it, though, it didn’t stop him from immediately taking a swing back at Kiryu with his bat, catching him with the length of it in his gut when he tried to dodge. Kiryu bent forward over himself, groaning and stumbling back as Majima gave his bat a cheeky little spin. 

“Toldja already, didn’t I?” he said, smiling at the glare he got. “Done playin’ with ya.”

“I don’t believe it for a second,” Kiryu huffed, leaning on a signpost with one hand held to his stomach. Before Majima could fully realise what was happening, Kiryu gripped the post with both hands and roared as he uprooted it from the concrete.

Majima’s heart skipped a beat and his mouth filled with saliva like a dog looking at a steak. He was pretty sure he made an obscene noise, but his heart was pounding in his ears and he couldn’t hear much else.

“All you’ve ever done is play games with me.”

Majima had been so busy gaping at the swell of Kiryu’s muscles and the hole left behind in the pavement that he almost took the signpost right in the face. He barely managed to jerk his head back at the last second, managing to only get a long, but shallow cut along his neck and collar before Kiryu spun around for another swing. Majima could only react on instinct, bracing his bat against the ground and flipping over it to give him the height needed to leap over the post. He used his momentum on the downswing to slam his bat onto the post near Kiryu’s hands, rattling it hard enough that he bared his teeth. Instead of letting go of it, though, he just scooped it up and into Majima’s back, sending him stumbling forward into a car. 

Kiryu was on him in a second, grabbing a rough fistful of hair and dragging him backwards, bending his back with the force. Majima hissed, his legs going weak as his cock stiffened uncomfortably with arousal. Luckily, he was soon distracted by the blinding pain in his spine as Kiryu slammed him onto a road divider. 

Fuck ,” he gasped, sliding down to the ground limp as a ragdoll, his legs forgetting how to do what legs generally did. He groaned, rolling weakly to free his bat enough to use it to help him stand again, looking up to see Kiryu hadn’t been waiting for him honourably as he might have before. 

Instead, he’d gone to go pick up a fucking moped.

He should probably not let him hit him with that, even if it was like being in heaven, watching Kiryu properly throw his weight around for the first time in a very long time. And so when Kiryu stomped back over to him and wound up to swing the moped, he threw himself into a backwards bend, letting the semicircle of death sail just over him.

Their eyes met in the space left by the footwell as it passed over him, and he smiled.

Kiryu had to dig his feet in to stop the momentum of the bike as it skidded along the ground, the rubber tires squealing on the road before he grunted loudly and hefted it up again. But before he could make another attempt to hit him, Majima jumped onto the hood of the nearest car, used the windshield as a bracing point, and leapt onto the moped. Kiryu let out another grunt with the added weight, but Majima didn’t give him time to adjust before he wedged the length of his bat under his chin and used it as the fulcrum for his legs to prise the two apart until Kiryu had to let go or choke.

He held on for much longer than expected, their eyes locked and Kiryu’s lips parted so temptingly in his gasps for breath that Majima was leaning forward to slip his tongue inside when Kiryu finally let go. Majima yelped as he crashed to the ground with the moped, rolling forward to break the impact and get him away from the weight of it falling onto him.

“Y’call that playing , Kiryu-chan?” he said breathlessly as he got to his feet, giggling. “Whattaya do when ya take things seriously?”

Kiryu didn’t respond, but Majima got the feeling that he was about to find out anyway. He stalked toward him, foregoing any weapons this time despite Majima still having his bat. He almost didn’t want to fight whatever Kiryu was planning, but that would be no fun. Not when he could barely make him pause with each swing of his bat that connected with a meaty thump to Kiryu’s legs and arms and back as he danced around his punches. 

Kiryu was slow with his rage right now, but he could tell that if any of those punches hit, he would be very sorry. 

Which made him wonder why he took so many right after having that thought. Kiryu managed to just clip him on the shoulder with one wide, arcing swing, but even that was enough to throw him back into a car. He tried to roll over the hood, but Kiryu grabbed his leg and slung him like he was made of feathers, sending him skidding along the litter-strewn ground. He could feel blood already welling up on his chest, but he didn’t have time to look, as Kiryu reached him just as he almost got to his feet, grabbing a fistful of his jacket and yanking him into his truck-like punches to his gut. 

Majima could only hold on to Kiryu’s arm and wretch with each one until he finally managed to stop him with a sharp knee to the crotch. And for a single moment as Kiryu choked and bent forward over him and Majima’s legs shook with the weight of him, weak with the gorge of blood rising in his throat, someone might have seen them leaning on each other and thought that they were simply embracing.

But then Majima slung Kiryu away, swaying for a second before cracking his bat across Kiryu’s hip, stomach churning at the cry of pain he let out. He couldn’t stop now, though. He had to take his advantage, and so he kicked Kiryu onto the ground and wound up for a heavy swing that would likely knock him out. That was, if Kiryu hadn’t dodged it at the last second before springing at him when he was distracted by the painful vibrations ringing up his arms. He wrapped his arms around him and locked his hands at his back, effectively pinning Majima's arms to his side.

Kiryu .” Majima panted out a laugh, not having to fake the arousal in his voice one bit as they breathed hard together, the heat from their bodies building a stifling cocoon around them. “If y’wanted to cuddle, ya coulda just—” 

Kiryu’s muscles constricted around him and Majima could only choke out a groan as he crushed him, his back screaming with pain. He crumpled to the ground when Kiryu released him, but before he could figure out how to move again, Kiryu planted his shoe on his face and slammed him down to the pavement, grinding his face into it roughly. 

Majima hadn’t really considered that one of his turn-ons, but apparently, with Kiryu’s shoe doing the stepping, it was.

Before he could let his dick grab the controls, though, he took hold of Kiryu’s ankle and threaded his leg up between Kiryu’s, wrapping his torso around his thigh and wedging his boot against Kiryu’s throat as he twisted him down to the ground as well. He grunted in surprise, falling hard on his ass as Majima coiled around him in a fast, tight pin that got him bent at his mercy. It didn’t stop Kiryu from thrashing and trying to break free, but the firm pressure Majima applied to his joints seemed to convince him that he wasn’t getting away without serious injury. 

“That’s my good Kiryu-chan,” Majima murmured breathlessly against Kiryu’s ear, chuckling when he rumbled ominously with frustration. “Just sit and rest for a sec, hm?”

“Let me go, Majima-no-niisan,” Kiryu growled under his breath.

“Aw, back to that old shit again?” Majima groaned, shaking his head in disappointment. “C’mon, I know ya don’t wanna be buds anymore, but d’ya really gotta demote me back to that ?”

Kiryu froze under him, his muscles going very tense before relaxing bit by bit. Eventually, he was still enough in Majima’s arms that he let himself ease up just a bit. When he did, though, Kiryu didn’t try to break free. He just kept glaring at the ground between his knees until finally he said,

“I didn’t—I didn’t say that I don’t want to be friends.”

Majima blinked, dumbstruck. He wanted to crane his head down to look at Kiryu’s face properly, but he was feeling strangely hesitant. 

“Y’might not’ve said it with yer mouth,” Majima said, instead, “but everythin’ else was clear as crystal.”

 Kiryu’s head bent forward even further, his voice barely audible even to Majima as he said, “That’s not what I wanted.”

And just like that, all the fire and giddy adrenaline trickled out of Majima, leaving him empty and distant once more. He let Kiryu go, looking away from the sorry sight of him slumped on the ground, and picked up his bat, turning back towards the Hills. 

“Ya might not’ve wanted it, but it’s what y’got. Y’can’t crack eggs and cry about the shells left behind, Kiryu. Y’just gotta make the best damn omelette ya can.”

“I didn’t want to ‘crack eggs,’” Kiryu bit out, and Majima looked back to see him getting to his feet, the exhaustion in his body making Majima ache to help him. 

But he’d already felt Kiryu’s touch more than he’d expected to—more than he should have allowed himself, really—and so he just stood there, wiping away a trickle of blood that tried to slip into his mouth.

When Kiryu met his gaze, though, there was a pull there that was almost too much to resist. Gravitational.

“I didn’t want to leave you, Nii-san.”

 Majima exhaled as though Kiryu had punched him in the gut again.

“Already toldja ya don’t gotta explain shit t’me,” Majima grumbled, looking away. “Do whatever ya need t’do t’keep Haruka safe. Or you’ll have me to answer to.”

“I wanted to explain, though,” Kiryu insisted, his shoes clicking softly against the pavement as he approached Majima. “I owed you an explanation, at least. I came here so you didn’t think that I was the sort of man who would leave for nothing.”

“Never thought that,” Majima said, his eye sliding up to meet Kiryu’s again. He stood close. Close enough to reach out and touch. “Like I told Haruka, I know ya better’n anyone else in the world. Knew ya had yer reasons.”

“I don’t know if those reasons were good enough if it meant that I’d lose your respect.”

Majima grinned. “You’d hafta become a whole ass other man for that to happen, Kiryu-chan. Bein’ a workin’ man’s clearly not dulled ya one bit.”

Kiryu’s lips twitched up in a tiny answering smile, though his eyes were still serious. “Your friendship, then, if not your respect.”

Majima shrugged lightly at that. “Anything’s worth keepin’ ya kid safe.” Kiryu’s jaw clenched as he nodded, and Majima sighed. “But I never said you’d lost it, anyway.”

Kiryu blinked, brows turning up in the middle.

Majima ran his gloved hand along the bristles of his undercut, puffing out a breath. “Know I’m always just gonna be a yakuza to ya, but if ya ever have a change of heart, I’ll—I’ll always—” He paused, finding the words sticking in his throat. They were too awkward to push out, too close to his heart. So he just growled, “Aw, fuck, you know what I’m tryin’ t’say. Don’t make me say it.”

 And when Kiryu responded by closing the distance between them and pulling Majima into his arms, it left a bittersweet taste in his mouth. 

The shared warmth of their chests pressing together, the feel of Kiryu’s fingers bunched in his jacket, the tickle of his facial hair against his ear, his breath fanning down across his back as it slipped inside his collar—each one carefully pasted over the cracks in his heart, mending as easily as it had broken. 

But Kiryu wasn’t going to stay, and the knowledge of that made the healing more of a cauterising fire.

Kiryu had so much power over Majima and he was helpless to it. He couldn’t ask him to look at him and see anything more, to see that even though he had the family life carved into his skin, he would die for Kiryu and Haruka. Had lived for them. 

He could only drop his bat to the ground and wrap his arms around Kiryu as well, burying his face into the curve of his neck and breathing him in, desperate for more with each inhale. His chest ached, knowing that this was all he would have for a long time. Only this moment. 

And so he was bold with desperation, pressing his mouth against the swell of muscle at Kiryu’s shoulder and listening for the catch in his breath that came when he was unsure. He trailed his lips along the path of his neck. There was so much heat there, as though Kiryu always held a fire burning within him. Majima knew for a fact that he did. He’d brought that fire out of him more times than he could count. He could tease it out of him better than anyone else. 

It seemed to be a different fire that lit between them, though, when he nudged his cheekbone along his jaw, tracing the path of Kiryu’s facial hair with his nose. And when he trailed it through the longer hairs at his sideburns, nuzzling him slowly, gently, Kiryu’s breath shuddered down his back, his hands gripping Majima tight. 

His hair was so soft. It made him sigh, the contrast between their stubble scratching together and the silkiness of his hair against his nose. He wanted to live in this moment. Soak it up until it sank into his bones. Deeper and deeper until he could never forget the feeling of Kiryu inside his arms. 

He wanted more.

But he’d always want more. He would never be able to have enough of Kiryu. Until the moment that he’d gasped his last breath, he knew he’d be craving his touch.

He loved him.

Majima was in love with him.

And as though Kiryu could hear him confess the words to himself, he shivered. 

But all he said was, “Come back with me.”

Majima indulged in that thought—the thought of nodding and letting Kiryu take him back to his new house where he could spend all day next to the two people he’d come to think of as family in the past year, basking in Kiryu’s attention after so long and teasing Haruka for somehow being a better sleuth than a hard-boiled ex-yakuza, where he could begin to remember what it was like to have more than the drive to succeed, to build, to show that he was strong enough to perform great feats even when he was half-dead, and in that remembering, learn how to slow down again, to just sit and exist beside another person—but he knew he was only letting himself daydream. Even if Kiryu was willing to let him back in, Majima wasn’t willing to take that risk anymore, now that he knew. 

If anything ever happened to them because of him...well.

And even if one single day wouldn’t hurt in the short term, it would hurt worse when he had to say goodbye all over again. He didn’t think he’d be strong enough to walk away from Haruka’s tears a second time.

Better to just say, “I gotta get back t’work. Tell her happy birthday for me, will ya?” and ignore the disappointment on Kiryu’s face at his refusal. Majima knew that Kiryu understood why he’d refused. He’d probably missed their friendship just as much as Majima had.

There wasn’t much he could do about that now, though. He’d just have to make it up to him and Haruka some other way. Some other time.

“If you’re sure.”

“Wouldn’t say it if I wasn’t,” Majima said with a grin, picking up his bat again and giving a salute with it before heading down the street. “Anyway, I’ll catch ya later. Eat an extra piece of cake for me, eh?”

He heard Kiryu quietly say goodbye behind him, and it took every scrap of his willpower to turn the corner away from him instead of run back to him. 

And it was a scrap too far to expect him to do anything other than collapse against the wall there, slumped and wretched. 

“Aw, Kiryu-chan,” he whispered to himself, “What’ve ya done t’me?” He rolled his eye up to the sky as it began spitting rain down on him and winced. “What am I s’posed t’do now?”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

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?

Nothing. 

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.”

“I know.”

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.

Speaking of—

“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.

“I’ll wait.”

“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.”

“H-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?”

“It’s—complicated.”

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.”

Nothing. 

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.”

“Twelve weeks.”

“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.

By laughing.

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,

“Please, Nii-san.”

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,

“A tournament.”

“Tournament?”

“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.

Kiryu had.

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.

Oh well.

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.”  

Oh. Oops.

“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…

Special.

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?

Probably.

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— 

He’d never— 

“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?”

“Yup.”

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, 

“Hey.”

“Hm?”

“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.

Very far.

“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.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“So run this by me...one more time.”

“I wanna use your Hills to fight Kazuma Kiryu.”

“You wanna use my Hills to fight Kiryu-chan.”

“That’s right.”

“Right.”

There was a long pause.

“So—”

“Yeah, sure, don’t see why not,” Majima decided, slapping the top of his desk hard enough to make the papers stacked over it flutter. Ryuji Goda gave him a wary scowl—or maybe that was just his face. The kid had been making that same face for twenty years now.

“Just like that? No terms? No price?” he asked, twitching his hand around in a confused gesture from where it rested on the hilt of his sword. 

Majima shrugged. “S’long as that’s all yer wantin’ outta it, then kick his ass, seabass. Kiryu-chan ain’t had no one else to have a good tussle with for a while. It’ll be a real treat for him.”

Ryuji grunted in that gravel-chewing way of his. Majima envied his ability to really ham up his accent; he’d never been able to quite manage that. Still, he figured that was the end of that conversation, so he just went back to his endless piles of paperwork to fill in now that he and Kiryu were actually making headway with the gangs. Work had been stalled for a long while, but they’d managed to make real progress that week, so he was neck-deep in forms at the minute. 

Fucking sucked. He couldn’t wait until Nishida came back from picking up Haruka; it wasn’t his job to do paperwork. Nishida thrived on that shit and he whooped asses—that was the perfect balance they’d struck a long time ago, and this massive backlog was throwing off that perfect balance. Made him grumpier than usual. 

Maybe he’d go out and stand on the wall of the site and just shout at punks until they tried to attack the site just so he could call Kiryu in early for some good tension relief. Surely he’d appreciate it. He’d been looking alternately stressed to bits and dead on his feet for a while now. It had gotten bad enough that he’d finally agreed to let Haruka come and stay with him instead of in that orphanage where literally anyone could walk in and kidnap her again. Majima hadn’t gotten any work done at all the day that Kiryu had taken him aside to ask him if she could have her own room there. He’d just bounced rapidly between a racing high that made him unable to focus on anything more than a second and an almost terrified stillness at the aching warmth that had blossomed in his chest. 

He’d given him another chance.

He didn’t want to mess this up again.

He hadn’t wanted to be too obvious about how much it mattered to him that Kiryu trusted him again, though, and so he’d played it cool at the time, just nodding and agreeing with a flippant smile. He had to have some mystery to him.

“You two kyoudai or somethin’?”

Majima blinked out of his thoughts, looking up to see Ryuji still standing over him, eyes canny and curious. “Whassat?”

“You and Kiryu-han. Ya kyoudai?”

“Why?” Majima asked with a sly grin, leaning back in his chair and bouncing it back and forth lazily, arms crossed over his stomach. “Ya lookin’ to take up the position?”

“There ain’t room enough in Japan fer two dragons bein’ kyoudai,” Ryuji stated, as though that made any sense at all.

“Uh huh,” was all Majima said back to him.

“That ain’t an answer, though.”

“What are you, my ma? No, we ain’t kyoudai, bud.”

“Why not?”

Majima’s face scrunched up. “What kinda stupid question is that?”

Ryuji shrugged his massive shoulders with the confidence of a lion stretching in the sun.

“Fuck outta here, then, if yer just gonna say dumb shit.” Majima went back to his paperwork, but the looming mountain of a man just stayed where he was, staring at him with that expectant face. Majima wanted to be angry, but he was more curious about why Ryuji cared enough to ask. “What’s it to ya anyway? Ain’t ya plannin’ on pluggin’ him? Is that what this is? Y’checkin’ that I ain’t gonna come for revenge or somethin’?”

“Nah.”

“So what is it?”

“Just curious what makes a man like you do what ya did.”

Majima just narrowed his eye.

“Leavin’ yer clan like that. That ain’t some easy shit to do.” Ryuji flexed his fingers wide as he added, “And y’can’t spend two minutes in this shithole without hearin’ about the two legends clashin’ in the streets before limpin’ off to get beef bowls together like nothin’ ever happened. Don’t take a genius to know who they’re talkin’ about.”

“Don’t take bein’ kyoudai t’go for a beef bowl, bud,” Majima grumbled.

“Thought you were a no-bullshit kinda guy,” Ryuji said, relaxing his stance in a way that got Majima’s hackles up inexplicably. There was some kind of unspoken insolence in that and he wanted to take his knife out and give that scar on his face a brother of its own.

“What if I toldja I suck his cock just for the hell of it?” Majima bit out, smiling meanly. “Would that getcha outta my office faster?”

Majima was even more incensed when Ryuji just stared at him silently again, looking unimpressed. Beefheads like him usually balked at any hint of gay, but he didn’t seem phased at all. Majima hated that he respected him more for that. 

Boy, he was a real predictable dumbass, wasn’t he? Always had a soft spot for giant idiots.

“We’re friends,” he relented. “That good enough t’getcha outta my face, ya nosy pants-stealer?”

Ryuji grunted, but before he could say anything else, the door to Majima’s office opened and Kiryu stepped through, catching his eye with a tiny smile. Then he noticed Ryuji and it fell immediately into a powerful scowl, his fists clenching. 

“Ryuji Goda.”

Ryuji shifted only slightly, but the room was suddenly, definitely too small with both Kiryu and him in it. “Kiryu-han.”

They stared at each other with the silent intensity that only they could manage. Majima had the sudden urge to poke at the two of them just to set them off, like tossing two betta fish in the same tiny tank that was his construction site office. 

“Majima, what—” was all Kiryu managed before Ryuji just turned and left, the tension in the air easing noticeably. Majima spluttered out a wet sigh through his lips like a defective whoopee cushion, scowling at the missed opportunity to get a live version of what was to come.

“What was that,” Kiryu said to him as soon as the door swung shut, the words less of a question and more of an accusation. 

“Ryuji-chan wants to use my Hills t’fight ya.”

Kiryu didn’t look as surprised by that as Majima had thought, which tickled him more than it should. “And you said…?”

“Yes.”

Kiryu looked like he was torn between long-suffering affection and frustration. “Why did I think you might say otherwise?”

“Dunno, bud,” Majima said with a big smile, his heart fluttering as always when Kiryu got even a hint of a smile on his lips. He was stupidly pretty, Kiryu. Stupid enough that it made Majima stupid. “Whatcha doin’ here so early, anyway? Where’s Kaoru-chan and Date?” He paused, glancing around. “Not that I’m complainin’ ‘bout ya bein’ here early. I like ‘em eager.”

Kiryu gave him a Look, but made no comment about his flirting, choosing instead to tuck his rolled-up shirt sleeves tighter over his elbows. “Sayama and Date are both downtown checking something out. I thought we could maybe get Haruka’s room ready before she gets here.”

“Aw, shit, that’s a great idea, Kiryu-chan! We’ll get it all fixed up for her so she feels nice and welcome.”

Kiryu nodded, but as Majima jumped out of his chair, he gave him a sly look and said, “You’re just agreeing to this so you don’t have to keep doing paperwork, aren’t you?”

Majima held a hand to his chest in mock-outrage as they headed out of his office and towards Purgatory. “Ya wound me, Kiryu-chan. I’m hurt . Insinuatin’ I don’t want the best for our little angel.”

Majima heard the word as it was leaving his mouth and not a moment sooner. When Kiryu just hummed in response, though, he breathed a sigh of relief and made damn sure Kiryu forgot about it before he could comment, chatting noisily about their expected targets for the day and where they were likely to be attacked and what boys needed a rest from the last skirmish. By the time they got to the room that Majima had earmarked for Haruka, even he’d almost forgotten his slip-up.

At least he had until Kiryu exhaled softly through his nose at the sight of the boxes piled all over the place and said, “‘Our?’”

Majima bared his teeth and looked away, picking up the first box and carrying it out into the hall as he mumbled, “Well. Y’know.”

“No. I don’t,” Kiryu said unhelpfully, coming out to put another box next to the one he’d carried. “Why don’t you explain it to me?”

Majima shifted uncomfortably until he glanced up to see Kiryu smirking at him. “Oh, bite me .”

“After,” Kiryu shot back without hesitation as they continued tidying up the room. When Majima just scoffed, Kiryu’s smirk eased into a grin and he said, “Jokes aside, I’m happy you still care enough to do this for her.”

Majima grunted, a little embarrassed to be talking about stuff like this out loud. Usually, he’d rely on people making their own judgements of him based on how he acted and never, ever talking about it. Saying something with his mouth—something he actually felt and not more of the bullshit that he layered on himself like a kid smearing icing on a cake—made it more concrete, somehow. More real. 

“‘Course I do,” he mumbled. “Just ‘cause ya left don’t mean I stopped carin’. Thought I made that clear enough back then.”

Kiryu nodded and thankfully that seemed to be the end of that. Majima wasn’t sure if he could manage a talk about his feelings so early in the morning. They continued in comfortable silence for a little while, the only sound their grunts and quiet swearing when they bumped into each other in passing. Majima couldn’t help but notice the ease with which Kiryu did the task, his biceps distractingly outlined by his shirt, and part of him began to strain at its collar, itching to feel the power behind them. Before he could so much as twitch towards his tantō, though, Kiryu dropped the last box on the pile and frowned in amusement down at it, asking,

“What’s in these boxes, anyway?”

“These?” Majima said, forcing his tensing muscles to relax again. Down, dog. There would always be other times to fight him. Haruka came first. “Think it’s just Goro-chan merch.”

Kiryu gave him a curious look and Majima opened the nearest one, grinning. “Yup. Look at that handsome fella!” He took out the doll modeled after his idol persona and wiggled it in Kiryu’s face, who leaned away in exasperation as it sang a tinny rendition of 24-hour Cinderella. He couldn’t believe it still had battery—it must’ve been packed away for years now. “ C’mon , Kiryu-chan, give ‘im a little kiss!”

Kiryu sized up the doll with narrow eyes before he glanced over at him and, unbelievably, leaned in to press a soft kiss to its face.

Majima lost his breath as though Kiryu had physically reached down into his lungs and stolen it from him. He knew he had to be staring, and so he made an effort to blink and look away, trying desperately to think of anything to say that wasn’t, ‘My turn.’

He couldn’t. He really couldn’t.

Before the tension growing in the silence between them could get awkward, though, Majima’s phone rang, and he inhaled sharply, blinking down at himself in a daze. His eye flicked between the doll and his phone and Kiryu, who was giving him a strange look that was related in some way to affection. He realised he was still holding the doll out to Kiryu and dropped it like it had bit him, scrambling to answer the phone as he turned away. 

“Yeah?”

“Boss! There’s a gang trying to break into the site!” There was a distant sound of an explosion that was doubled; he could hear it all the way down in Purgatory as well, which couldn’t be good. “Oh shit they’ve got a rocket laun—

Majima looked down at the phone as the line cut out, and then over to Kiryu, who was scowling worriedly. Majima’s lips were pulling up into a wicked smile even as he said, “Welp, good thing you’re here already ‘cause it looks like we gotta clock in early today, Kiryu-chan.”

Kiryu just nodded and they took off running through the mansion, shoving through the throngs of people already lining the halls of Purgatory as they leapt up the stairs to the surface, where chaos had fallen in their absence. Majima swept his eye around the scene—the gang had obviously used the rocket launcher to bust through their reinforced wall, as they were pouring through it like a troupe of clowns streaming from a clown car. His men were doing well to keep them at bay without any direction, but he knew from experience that they would lose focus soon.  

That was alright, because the big boys had arrived. 

Majima leapt into the fray with a wild, howling laugh, happy to get the chance to redirect that strange energy he’d gotten from Kiryu into some good old-fashioned beatdowns. He could hear Kiryu sweeping through the men behind him, his ear tuned to his commands like a radio to a favourite station. They’d been working together for a little bit already though, so he knew exactly what Kiryu the foreman wanted from him even without them and was happy to provide. They were goddamn efficient together. 

It wasn’t long until the last man had collapsed, falling at Majima’s feet to the sound of cheers from his men. He grinned and wiped away the blood from his mouth, catching Kiryu’s eye as they both caught their breath, and the smile that he gave him made him feel as though he could fight another hundred men without breaking a sweat. 

As he relaxed his stance and began walking over to him, though, a hand on his trousers made him stumble and almost fall. “What the—”

“Yo—yo, you’re—”

Majima looked down at the kid who was clinging to his leg, his eyes wide and intense. He was definitely one of the gang members they’d just beaten down—the red track jacket and pants made that clear enough—but damn if he didn’t look like he should have been getting to school rather than launching an attack on a construction company. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen or seventeen.

Majima jerked his leg out of the kid’s grip, barely resisting the urge to dust himself off. “Yeah? Whattaya want?”

“You’re—so—” The kid climbed up to his knees, eyes practically sparkling as he shouted, “— cool !”

“...weh?”

“Yo, you’re like—the strongest dude I’ve ever seen !” the kid crowed, leaping to his feet and bouncing directly into Majima’s personal space. He had so many piercings in his face and body that Majima was surprised he didn’t jingle like a cat bell. “Could you, like—yo, could you, like, show me how to do that twirling thing you did?”

Majima stared down at the kid, confused. “No?”

“Aw, what —but— c’mooon ! Why not?”

“Because you’re barely outta diapers and I got better shit to do than babysit ya?”

“I’m 21! You won’t be babysitting me! I can fight!”

There was no way in hell this kid was 21. Majima could smell the lie like a stink bomb had gone off, but before he could tell the kid to get lost, Kiryu’s hand on his shoulder stopped him. He glanced over at it and then to his face, brows pulled together, but Kiryu was staring down at the kid. 

“What’s your name?”

The kid barely even flicked his eyes over to Kiryu before looking straight back at Majima and saying, “Minami. Daisaku Minami.”

 “Why do you want Majima-san to teach you that move, Minami-kun?” Kiryu asked, earning him a glare from Majima. Who cared why he wanted to know?

“So I can use it in a fight, duh,” Minami drawled, looking at Kiryu like was an idiot. Majima bristled. No one got to act like Kiryu was an idiot except him, and especially not some punk kid.

“In a fight for or against Majima-san?”

“F-For?”

“You don’t sound so sure about that, Minami-kun.”

Minami shook his head roughly. “That ain’t it, old man. I’m just—yo, would you really let me swear up?” he asked, looking up at Majima almost reverently.

Majima stared into the kid’s earnest eyes for a second before cracking up and slapping his hand back onto Kiryu’s chest. “Old man! Didja hear that, Kiryu-chan? Old man !”

“I heard, thank you,” Kiryu sighed. 

Minami chuckled along with him until he suddenly choked out, “Wait—Kiryu? Kazuma Kiryu?”

Kiryu nodded.

“Oh, yo—I, uh—I didn’t know you were the Dragon of Dojima, man.” Minami reached out and gave Kiryu a rough clap to the shoulder that didn’t even move him an inch. “No hard feelings, right?”

“Hm,” was all Kiryu said.

“Whoah, but—but hey—you’re like, super strong, right?” Minami asked, pointing at Kiryu with a gun-hand. “Like legendary , right?”

“Why?”

Minami’s eyes went alarmingly wide and he pushed into Kiryu’s space now, too, puffing his chest up like an angry bullfrog. Kiryu didn’t budge. “Yo, I’m gonna fight you , that’s why. If I beat you in a fight, then Majima-aniki will let me swear up.”

“I think you may have misunderstood—”

“Nah, nah, nah, he didn’t misunderstand nothin’, Kiryu-chan,” Majima said suddenly, cutting him off with a shit-eating grin. Kiryu’s eyes held the promise of revenge, at that smile. “If he can beat ya, then he can swear up to the Majima Family.”

Yes !”

“Majima—”

“To the coliseum!” Majima cried dramatically before Kiryu could refuse, pointing to the stairs down to Purgatory. Minami whooped, sprinting away down the stairs like he was being chased by zombies. 

Majima gave Kiryu a cheshire smile when he asked, “What are you doing?”

Nothing ,” he insisted as they headed back downstairs again to the hoots and hollers of his men crowding around excitedly. It wasn’t every day that they got to see the Dragon fight anymore. It had always been a special kind of treat for them. Especially since—before the family was dissolved—he’d taken on many of the men who’d hoped to join Kiryu’s family back in ‘95 and had thought he’d stay as chairman a year ago. Majima’s men had always had Kiryu’s back, but these guys really had his back, and he didn’t even know it.

Majima was fine with that. More eyes on Kiryu meant more free intel for him.

“I’m just givin’ the kid a chance like ya want,” he said cheerfully, kicking his heels up as they pushed through to the coliseum. 

“A chance for what ? There’s no family for him to join anymore,” Kiryu pointed out, shrugging out of his shirt and tossing it at him. Majima caught it and—to his credit—did not hold it up to his face to breathe in the scent that had washed over him. That was progress, he felt. Some real character development on his part.

“A chance to get his ass beat so he’ll go back to his mama scared and sorry.”

“Maybe he doesn’t have a mother,” Kiryu said, annoyingly considerate as always. “Maybe you’d be providing him with a safer alternative to being in a gang by letting him stay here.”

Majima groaned, which Kiryu seemed to take as his cue to enter the ring with nothing more than a significant look thrown his way. Majima growled to himself, barely able to focus on watching Kiryu and Minami face off in the open space.

Ugh.

As much as he hated to admit it, Kiryu was right. The kid probably didn’t have any family. Not like it was any of his business or his problem. But he’d made a name for himself—quietly—as being the patriarch in the clan that would take on strays and kids who were under pressure to keep parts of themselves hidden, no questions asked. The way he figured it, it wasn’t any of his business if his boys were gay or trans or questioning any part of themselves, as long as they were loyal and fought well. If they wanted to come to him for advice, they could, but he wasn’t interested otherwise.

And even though Kiryu had been out of the game for a long time, he’d clearly heard it enough before he’d gone to prison for him to throw that back in his face. 

Ugh .

At least the kid did seem to fight well enough. He was managing to hold his own against Kiryu’s onslaught despite having just lost a fight minutes before. Kiryu wasn’t giving him his all, though, which annoyed Majima more than the kid pulling a stunt like this in the first place. How was he supposed to see what he was made of if no one was going to push him past his limits?

“Fuckin’...forget this,” Majima grumbled, throwing his jacket off and jumping into the ring as well.

“Wh—Majima?” Kiryu spluttered right before Majima threw a high kick directly into Minami’s face to the sound of cheers and applause from his men and the scattered onlookers that had followed them into the empty coliseum.

“Kid ain’t gonna learn like that, Kiryu-chan!” he cried, launching himself at Minami and laughing as he saw the fear of god hit him. “Ain’t that right, Dai-chan ?”

“Y-Yes, sir!” Minami squeaked as he flinched and dodged away from Majima’s tantō, as slippery as an eel. “I want to learn, sir!”

“Well if ya got time to chat, then ya ain’t learnin’!” Another hard boot, this time to the gut. Majima was pleased when Minami twisted himself back and flipped away, crouching low like a ferret trying to sniff out its prey. Majima smiled wide and wiggled his tantō in a clear taunt that got the kid’s eyes flashing dangerously. Now that was more like it. If this kid wanted to impress him, then he had to show he had some fire in his belly. “ Come on !” he snarled. “Y’wanna prove you can fight, then fight !”

And to his immense delight, the kid actually did. He tried his best to deflect and dodge Majima’s tantō, but once he’d taking several slashes that would feel nasty as hell in the morning, he whipped out a knife of his own from somewhere. It was jagged and small but the fact that he’d started taking it serious enough to bring it out made Majima scream with laughter. 

The kid had promise .

In the end, though—promise or not—he couldn’t stop Majima’s blade from coming to rest at his throat, his hands held up in defeat as he huffed with exertion, eyes blinking spasmodically from the sweat that dripped into them. Majima was barely out of breath, but that was nothing new for him. The only person who could give him a real workout anymore was Kiryu, and he’d backed out of the ring immediately after Majima had joined. Majima glanced over to where he stood leaning against it, his arms folded before him on the mat.

“Well, Kiryu-chan? Whatcha thinkin’?”

Kiryu’s lips pursed slightly, but his eyes were on Minami and not Majima. He was quiet for a second until he sighed and said, “I’m thinking you should stop playing around with him and just give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Majima made a throaty noise of disgust, but before he could respond, Minami was biting out, “He ain’t playin’ around with me, old man! I asked for it!”

Both Majima and Kiryu turned back to stare at Minami at the sound of his whiny voice dipping into a rough approximation of Majima’s accent.

When Kiryu had no response forthcoming, Majima could only think to cuff the kid on the side of the head and growl, “Hey, shit-fer-brains, y’wanna be a part of my crew, y’don’t disrespect Kiryu-chan. Rule number one. Got it?”

Minami gawped up at him stupidly for so long that he had to snarl, “ Got it ?” again to get him to take a sharp breath and nod vigorously. 

“Good. Now get up and get me a fuckin’ latte.”

“A-A latte?”

“Yer a damn kid; don’t act like ya don’t drink ten of ‘em a day,” Majima grumbled, standing up again and tossing his hand dismissively. “Don’t care what kind, just need the caffeine.”

“Oh, uh—yes, sir! I’ll be back faster than you—faster’n you can blink.”

Majima didn’t respond, too busy hopping down the side of the ring to sit next to Kiryu and wiggling his fingers in the direction of his pocket where he knew he kept his cigarettes. Instead of giving him one, though, Kiryu just watched a point behind his back that he assumed was Minami running through the slowly thinning crowd to complete his first task. When he got too impatient with Kiryu, he just leaned down, reached his fingers into his pocket, and fished the crumpled pack and lighter out himself.

The only thing Kiryu had to say about it was, “You wouldn’t be out of breath all the time if you didn’t smoke a whole pack after every match, you know.”

“Yeah, well, if you didn’t—fuckin’—” he groused, cutting himself off by lighting the cigarette and taking a drag. He held it in for a sweet, satisfying breath before exhaling out, “Shut up.”

Kiryu snorted roughly, finally looking over at him. Majima tried to convince himself he wasn’t touched by the way he leaned far enough back to get in view of his good side, but he’d never been a good liar and the butterflies in his stomach were proof enough of otherwise. “So what are you going to do with him, then? Put him to work?”

“Nah, fuck that,” he said, waving his hand stiffly in front of his face, smoke trailing in its wake. “If I’m gonna do anything, I’m gonna go all in. Train him up like I woulda one o’my lieutenants. Kid’s too good of a fighter to waste on petty construction.” He turned to pin Kiryu down with an accusatory eye. “‘Specially once someone wasn’t holding back.”

“Who, you?” Kiryu shot back with an annoying little quirk of his lips. 

Majima just pointed at him with the fingers that held his cigarette.

Kiryu stood up straight with a quiet sigh, grabbing his shirt and throwing it on again. “Of course I went easy on him, Majima-san. He’s a child .”

“Says he’s 21.”

Kiryu’s roll of the eyes was barely perceptible, but Majima was looking for it. “Who wasn’t ‘21’ back when they were a kid trying to join?”

“At least you could pass for it.”

“Not to anyone who mattered.”

Majima flicked his cigarette at him roughly as a response to that slight, though the smile they shared reduced the effect. “Shithead.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Kiryu said innocently. 

Before he could throw the mean-spirited kick he was rearing back for, a voice caught their attention.

“Dad! Uncle Majima!”

 Majima’s neck nearly cracked, he swiveled so fast to look over at Haruka standing on her tiptoes at the entrance to the coliseum, smiling wide and bright at both of them. 

“Haru-chan!” he cried, kicking off the edge of the ring and striding to meet her halfway as she ran to them. He scooped her up and swung her around, delighting in her squealing giggles. “I missed ya, half pint!” 

“I missed you too, Uncle Majima!”

He gave her the biggest bear hug he could manage before she kicked her feet at his shins and squirmed to get down. When he put her feet back down on the ground, though, she groaned out a laugh and pushed him away, saying, “You smell like blood and cigarettes. Gross!”

Majima gawped at her for a second before growling out in a menacing voice, “Not as gross as you , pipsqueak!” and ruffling her hair despite her squawked protests. 

“Haruka, it’s not nice to call people gross. Even your Uncle Majima,” Kiryu said in that deep, level voice that he always used when parenting that shouldn’t make Majima’s stomach clench but absolutely did. 

He whirled on him. “Whattaya mean, ‘ even Uncle Majima ’?”

The tiny curve at the corner of Kiryu’s mouth told him that he wanted to tease, but he just said, “You have a thicker skin than most.”

Majima puffed out his chest proudly, giving it a little thump. “That’s right I do. Practically horsehide coverin’ this bad boy.”

“Is that why you kick so much when you fight?” Haruka asked cheekily. “And why you chew with your mouth open?”

Majima bared his teeth at her and said, “Yeah, and it’s why I snap at little girls' fingers when they get too close!” He clawed his hands like a monster and stalked closer, clicking his teeth. “And why I can snatch them up’n carry ‘em far away so they’re never seen again!” Haruka caught on quick to his game and made to run away, giggling madly, but he caught up to her in a few strides and tossed her over his shoulder. He swung back around to Kiryu and Nishida to more wiggling protests that were promptly ignored. “Should we get this little piggy all settled up in its pen before gettin’ back to work?”

Nishida lifted an enormous plastic bag. “Got all the stuff you asked for.”

“And the little piggy picked it all out herself?” Majima asked, jostling Haruka just to hear her laugh again. 

He was dutifully ignoring the look Kiryu was giving him, though he’d caught a glimpse of it when he’d turned around. Soft and pleased and a little disapproving and just this side of vulnerable, it had promptly turned his insides to mush even with that tiny glimpse. 

So he wasn’t looking.

Nishida nodded and Haruka said with a voice strained by the pressure at her stomach, “Yeah! Nishida-san let me choose whatever I wanted!” 

“And did you say thank you to Nishida-san?” Kiryu asked, shoving his hands in his pockets and coming up to stand beside them, crooking his head around to look down at Haruka with a tiny smile.

“Yeah!” Haruka chirped.

“Then the piggy lives another day without being bacon !” Majima crowed, leading the way back to the mansion. People gave them a wide berth, which was good, because he’d already kicked a lot of ass that morning and felt like a little variety was good for the soul. He set Haruka down at the bottom of the mansion stairs, giving her directions to her room as she bounced in excitement. She took off like a shot, leaving the three of them to catch up at their own pace. Which, for Majima, was taking off running after her until they’d both barrelled into the boxes that he and Kiryu had moved. A chorus of 24-hour Cinderella and distorted ‘Kiryu-chan!’s rang from the dolls that they’d fallen onto. They exchanged a look before breaking out into snorting laughter at the cacophony as Kiryu and Nishida caught up, walking as slow as snails down the hall. 

“You’re a bad influence, Majima-san,” Kiryu called down to him. Majima almost snapped back to his best behaviour, but when he turned, he saw that Kiryu was still wearing that expression that made him jelly in the legs and light in the head, and so he just gave him his best devilish grin. 

“The worst. And don’t you forget it.”

 The four of them went to work on Haruka’s room after that, quickly getting it set up for her in just the way she wanted it until it was decorated with a strange mix of idol posters and video game magazine covers and pictures of her friends. He was actually kind of jealous in a vague, but satisfied way at the sight of it. He’d never had a room like this growing up, so he was glad he could help give that to Haruka now. He’d worked so hard to get to where he was, and it was all worth it to see her grin and stick her tongue out at the three of them and close her door in their faces.

“I guess I deserve that, after all the piggy stuff,” Majima noted, scratching the stubble growing along his jaw. It would be time for him to trim his beard soon, if more was coming in. He sighed under his breath. It seemed to be growing faster these days. Drove him crazy.

Both Nishida and Kiryu looked like they’d like to say something, but a shrill voice shouting, “Found ya, Boss!” stopped them before they could even open their mouths.

Aw, shit. Majima had already forgotten about the kid.

He turned to see Minami jogging down the long hall towards them, waving both hands above his head in a distinctly cartoonish way. He had two enormous cans gripped in them and Majima hoped to god they weren’t full of anything carbonated. 

Minami skidded to a stop in front of them, slumping loosely over himself as he gulped in big mouthfuls of air like a dying fish. Majima grimaced at the sound of it. How was this kid so out of shape if he was only a teenager? Majima had been able to run for miles without breaking a sweat at his age. 

...Or, at least, he could jog down a hallway without breaking a sweat.

He’d have to put the kid to work on that, if he was going to be useful.

Majima realised that Minami’s wheezes were actually words and tuned in, straining to understand them.

“—didn’t have—any milk—so I tried another place—didn’t have coffee!—but some shitheads bumped—into me?—” Minami took a big breath and shook his head like wet dog shaking itself, sweat rolling off of him. Majima snorted when Nishida made a noise of disgust and wiped at his face. “Sorry bruh. Fuckin’ dying here.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Nishida grumbled.

“Thanks man. My ass is beat.” Minami made a loud whooping sigh that got Majima chucking one of the Goro-chan calendars at him.

“Hey, pisspuddle, some people’re tryin’ t’do their homework around here. Keep it down.”

Minami stared wide-eyed between him and Haruka’s closed door before he covered his mouth with a hand and said, “Aw, shit! Y’got a kid , Boss?”

I do,” Kiryu thankfully jumped in with before Majima even had to contemplate how to answer that. “What are the cans for, Minami-kun?”

Minami seemed to realise that he was still holding two fistfuls of cans and thrust them out to Majima. “Oh! Yo, these big suit dudes tried to jump me, so I just fuckin’ wailed on them and took their shit! You said you wanted a latte, but this probably has more caffeine in it, right? Looks like some kinda energy drink.”

Majima took one of the cans and looked at its black and purple label with the hannya mask peeking out.

Ah.

“Yeah—it, uh—”

“What’s wrong, Majima-san?” Kiryu asked, his voice carefully crafted to be as clueless as possible. Majima looked up to see him smiling at him. “Is there something wrong with that drink? Is there some reason why no one should ever drink it? Maybe that it probably isn’t legal to be in vending machines but the creator thought it would be funny to harass his friend with it by waiting until he’d found the one spiked with something so awful that he thought he’d been poisoned, and decided to record his reaction to it instead of letting him know he wasn’t actually dying?”

Majima grimaced even though he kind of wanted to laugh, still. Okay, he definitely deserved that. “Maybe.”

“Hm,” Kiryu said, before taking the can out of his hand and cracking it open deliberately. “It probably wasn’t that, though, right? No one would do that to their friend. So you should drink it, Majima-san.”

Majima stared down at the can before swallowing thickly and taking it from Kiryu, meeting the challenge in his eye directly, and chugging it all in one go. 

Aw, fuck .

Fuck !

It was the bad one. 

The really bad one.

What had he put in this shit?!

“Oh, what’s wrong, Majima-san?” Kiryu asked as Majima bent over himself, gagging on the rancidness coating his mouth. Oh, fuck, it was like it was eating away his tongue. Was that hot sauce? Vinegar? Cleaning fluid? “Does it not taste good?”

“Fuck you,” Majima choked out as Nishida gave him stiff whacks between his shoulder blades.

Kiryu just smiled.

“Yo...you okay, Boss?” Minami asked, bending down to look him in the eye. “You’re looking pretty green. You need me to get you a bag to barf in?”

Nishida’s hand stilled on Majima’s back and he groaned, realising what he was going to say seconds before he did. “That’s the second time you’ve called him ‘Boss.’”

“Uh,” Minami said intelligently.

“Boss?” Nishida asked.

Majima groaned again and bat both Nishida and Minami away, stumbling down the hall towards the nearest bathroom. He was going to kill Kiryu. Really give it to him this time.

Especially once he heard him saying cheerfully, “He’s thinking about training Minami-kun to be a lieutenant,” and Nishida’s aggrieved, “ What ?” just before he slammed out of the hall. 

Oh, he was definitely going to get him back for this.

Kiryu wanted to play hardball?

Majima would play hardball.

But first, he had to focus on not dying to his own creation.

Then, he could plan.

And plan he did, even while he and Kiryu worked together. He felt he deserved a medal for putting up with the inherent smugness that Kiryu wore for the rest of that week. He could have given in to the urge to jump him from behind and wipe some of that petty satisfaction from his face, but no. No, what he was planning was much better.

The way Majima saw it, he had two birds flitting around his face at the moment: Minami and his dogged insistence to become a part of Majima’s crew despite Nishida’s vocal objection to the idea, and his own desire to get back at Kiryu for his little stunt.

And in his eyes, there was a perfect stone to take them both out in the form of siccing Minami on Kiryu.

He dropped all his other responsibilities the second it occurred to him, leaving them in Nishida’s unwilling hands as he began to teach Minami the art of hunting his favourite prey. He started small—jumping him on the street. 

The first time went remarkably well, considering Minami wasn’t in the best of shape. They actually managed to surprise Kiryu, so the kid got to get a good few swings in before Kiryu ended the fight with a solid headlock and a stern talking-to for Majima, who just laughed and soaked up the attention like a cat in the sun. 

Minami was slightly less happy that first time, whining about his injuries until Majima threatened to ‘throw him in the brig’. Which didn’t technically exist unless he counted the old break room that still smelled heavily of the body odour of a hundred construction workers crammed together in the summertime and was cold enough without heating to blast the nipples off a polar bear despite having four relatively hole-free walls, but seemed to work on him nevertheless. 

He soon picked up the bug after a few more fights, though, until he, too, was giggling with barely controlled excitement every time he clashed with Kiryu.

“The dude’s so strong that I gotta just instinct that shit, you know, Boss?”

Majima knew. He knew very well.

With each fight, Kiryu looked to be more exasperated at their interruptions and Minami was getting stronger, so Majima was pleased as punch with the whole situation. 

Two birds.

He ramped it up. Now, they also surprise-attacked him from hidden spots as well, which tickled Minami more than it probably should, but it wasn’t like Majima could talk, considering he’d waited around corners for Kiryu for hours at a time, a year ago. After a few times, though, Kiryu had clearly caught on, and had started avoiding all the places that he’d hidden back in those days.

And so they were at where they were at now: showing up in places that Kiryu would least suspect.

“The first thing you need to know about Kiryu-chan, bud, is that he is predictable as hell.”

“Predictable. Got it.”

“He likes to eat at the same time, usually at the same places.”

“Same places, same time.”

“He uses the same paths to get around town, every time.”

“Same paths.”

“He likes goin’ for a drink before meetin’ back up with Sayama.”

“Going for a drink.”

“And just between you’n’me, kid—I think it’s ‘cause he’s startin’ t’like her and doesn’t know what to do about it.”

 “Startin’ to like—wait, do you mean the girl he’s with right now?”

 Majima nodded, eye trained on Kiryu and Kaoru as they chatted on the roof of Serena, leaning against the railing and having a smoke. As he watched, Kiryu’s arm brushed against Kaoru’s, earning him the sight of one of her cute blushes. Not that Kiryu noticed, too busy talking about something boring and Tojo-related, no doubt. He never cared about things like that. He could have a naked woman pressing herself against him and he’d probably just offer her his coat to cover up again.

“But she’s smoking hot. How could he not know what to do?”

Majima had a lot he could say to that. A lot of things he’d noticed that went beyond virginal nerves. But he’d never found any words that seemed to fit Kiryu perfectly, and he wasn’t about to spill secrets for no reason that weren’t his to spill. 

“That’s just Kiryu-chan,” he said instead.

Minami made a low, curious noise like he had taught him something deeply important.

Majima looked at him with a scrunched-up nose.

“So are we gonna jump him when he’s with the girl or what?” Minami asked, oblivious.

“Nah,” Majima said, turning back to the two of them. Kaoru was saying something now and Kiryu was giving her a soft smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling in the way that they did when he was particularly amused. She couldn’t seem to keep her eyes off of him for long when he did that, and Majima couldn’t blame her. Those eyes of his were killer. “It’s gettin’ late; she’ll wanna go back to base in a second.”

“But ain’t that—ain’t that at your place, Boss?”

“That it is, bud. But y’see—Kiryu-chan’s got stuff t’do and he never does that stuff when Sayama’s around, so he’ll make his excuses after puttin’ Haruka to bed and that’s when we’ll jump his ass.”

“Wait, but—”

“Eh?” he grunted when Minami looked torn between continuing and biting his tongue instead. “Spit it out if y’got somethin’ t’say.”

“Well it’s just—don’t you usually say goodnight to the kid, too?”

Majima stared slack-jawed at Minami before swearing and jumping out of the dumpster they’d been hiding in. He barely made it back to the mansion in time to wash off the smell of trash before Kiryu and Sayama arrived, both of them looking suspiciously at his wet hair. He ignored them pointedly, dutifully heading back to Haruka to say goodnight. 

Catching Kiryu off guard would have to wait.

And wait. 

And wait.

And wait .

By the end of the week, though, after days and days of interruptions, he’d almost given up on the idea. There had been several ’important, unavoidable, yes, Boss, you have to go’ meetings, four gang attacks on one day alone, and a man in a mascot suit shaped like a Staminan Royale challenging both Kiryu and him. He had nearly caught Kiryu in the middle of something embarrassing so many times that he wanted to scream with frustration. 

Coming out of Beam carrying videos that he quickly tucked away when Majima asked about them. Stumbling out of Fusion with another man and looking extremely harrowed. Standing in one of the dead end alleys near the Champion District, just holding onto a crystal —of all things—and looking down at an old VHS tape that had to be something illicit, if the way Kiryu ushered him and Minami away from it was any indication.  

Every single time—a few minutes too late to see any of the good stuff.

It was enough to make a man question his life choices when he never had the time to properly stalk Kiryu anymore.

But then—as the icing on the cake!—when he finally, finally managed to catch Kiryu as he was cutting down Pink Street towards West Park after wrapping up some business with a new startup that had set up shop over Serena, he had the gall to be doing something when Minami wasn’t even around.

“God dammit ,” Majima muttered to himself as he quickly sent off a text to Minami telling him to come find him. He slumped over once it had gone through, following far enough behind Kiryu so he didn’t draw suspicion. There was hardly any need. He was completely oblivious to Majima’s presence, absorbed in peering down at his phone and looking around him, as if searching for a particular place. 

What could he possibly be doing this far down Pink Street that required that much attention? Surely, if he was looking for some company, he could have just gone to his usual place.

Majima crooked his head around to see if he could guess which gaudy sign Kiryu was looking for, but they were getting close to the end of the street and unless he was looking to get the diaper treatment at Be My Baby , then he didn’t know where— 

Kiryu stopped at Be My Baby .

“What the fuck,” Majima exhaled, and as though Kiryu was telling him exactly what was the fuck, he double-glanced between his phone and the sign and went inside. 

Just—went inside.

Like he wasn’t killing Majima dead by doing that. 

Kiryu had just gone inside an adult baby joint. 

Majima stood gawping for so long that he wasn’t actually sure that a bug didn’t fly into his mouth and then back out.

Was he— 

Was Kiryu into that?

Out of anyone he would have pinned down for ageplay, Kiryu was not one of them.

He couldn’t deny that he was kind of proud of him for realising it about himself, but he’d never thought that Kiryu would go from blushing virgin to kink city in less than a year.

He was so, so torn between that strange pride and deep amusement, but before he could settle on one or the other, Kiryu was stumbling back out of the building and drawing up short, eyes wide as he spotted him. “Nii-san?”

Why did he have to call him that after coming out of an adult baby sex place?

Before either of them could do more than stare wide-eyed at each other, though, a whole fucking troupe of adult babies barrelled out of the building, as well, crowding around Kiryu.

“Hey you! You think you can just bail on us like that? After I showed you the kindness of my heart by bringing you to the best place in town?”

“I already told you, I’m not into—”

“Get him, babies!”

Majima could only watch in detached awe as the group of diapered men descended on Kiryu, the brawl that ensued scattering the barkers and civilians like water in an anthill. Kiryu was the eye of the storm, swinging hard and laying men out like they were no more than ragdolls. The beefiest baby, though, gave him more of a fight, and when he got a few lucky whacks on Kiryu’s head with his rattle, Majima finally snapped out of his stupor. He leapt into the fray with abandon, helping Kiryu despatch the remaining men until they were all rolling on the ground, whining in pain.

“Looks like it’s naptime,” Kiryu said coolly as soon as they stood down.

It seemed that was the proverbial straw for Majima’s back, as he just stared at Kiryu before wailing with laughter, practically screeching out, “What the fuck , Kiryu! What the fuck!”

“Wh-what?” Kiryu stammered, looking around him nervously as though Majima was the one making a scene. That only made Majima laugh harder, and he stumbled away towards West Park, clutching his stomach. He didn’t hear Kiryu catch up to him, but the arm steadying him at his elbow let him know he was there. It took until they were almost back at the Hills for him to calm down enough to say,

“Are ya fuckin’ kidding me? I been tryin’ t’catch ya all goddamn week and this is what you were doin’? Beatin’ up adult babies and whippin’ off cool one-liners like a cheesy action hero?” He wiped the tears of laughter from his cheek, heaving an enormous, amused breath. “ Oh my god . Did I really see ya rip one o’their diapers off and shove it in another one’s face or was that a wishful hallucination?”

“Trying to catch me all week?”

Majima gave him a smug look as they crossed the road to the site. “Minami’s comin’ along pretty good thanks to you, but he’ll never get ta see ya at your strongest unless he catches ya doin’ somethin’ embarrassin’.” He sighed wistfully. “Those were the good ol’ days, huh? Watchin’ ya turn red as a tomato and gettin’ my ass beat to hell just cause I caught ya rentin’ dirty videos.”

“It wasn’t dirty!” Kiryu protested without missing a beat, his cheeks picking up some colour as Majima cackled. “It wasn’t . It was just a samurai movie.”

“So ya did watch it, then.”

Kiryu huffed. “Of course I did; I’d already spent the money on it. It would be wasteful not to.”

“And did ya learn any... techniques ?” Majima asked, dipping his voice low and suggestive just to see Kiryu get flustered at the insinuation. 

“Some,” Kiryu said loftily, ignoring his teasing squeals as they headed to the site break room. “If you keep following me around, I might even use them on you.”

Oooh ,” Majima breathed, hanging off of one of Kiryu’s shoulders and batting his eyelashes up at him. “Ya sound like yer lookin’ forward to it! I love it when you talk dirty, Kiryu-chan.”

Kiryu looked at him from the corner of his eye, his lid heavy and eye dark, and Majima couldn’t keep his heart from skipping a beat. The last time he’d given him a look like that, he’d just kissed him.

“I have been looking forward to it, Majima-san.”

Majima’s mouth went dry as he stood straight again. Kiryu turned to face him fully, his hands tucked into his pockets and his expression vague enough to send butterflies raging in Majima’s stomach. Kiryu’s eyes flicked down to Majima’s lips before meeting his eye again and if he’d thought that he was nervous before—well goddamn, did that make it ten times worse. 

But then Kiryu shattered all his nervous anticipation by saying, “It’s been...nice. Seeing you around town again.”

Majima’s breath shot out of him like a balloon popped by a knife at a festival.

“Yeah?” was all he managed to croak out.

Kiryu hummed an affirmative. “Lately, things have been…” He hesitated, mouth thinning, but instead of continuing that thought, he just said, “And it was strange, walking through Kamurocho again without feeling like you were going to jump out of every hiding spot. Lonely.”

Majima knew he had to be staring, but he couldn’t make his mouth form words with any reliability. He was still recovering from the thought that Kiryu was going to kiss him again. He had no idea how to respond to the sudden, almost confessional way that Kiryu had spoken. 

He didn’t have to figure it out, though, as one of his boys swung open the door to the portable trailer that served as a break room and almost hit him in the face with it. “Oh, shit —sorry, Boss! Sorry, Kiryu-san!”

Majima shook the tingles out of the shoulder the door had hit and growled, “The fuck’re ya doin’, smashin’ doors open without lookin’? Don’tcha got somethin’ better t’do?”

“Uhhh—it’s just that—you told us to look after Minami, so—”

Majima narrowed his eye at the man, who made a particularly manly squeak and slapped his mouth shut. Instead of chewing the guy out more, though, Majima just scoffed grumpily and pushed past him, more than a little annoyed at having been interrupted.

Kiryu brushed his hand against the small of his back with his fingertips, though, smoothing the annoyance away in an instant even if he still huffed at him. Kiryu gave him an indulgent smile and he looked away, pouting. 

“Oh, yo, Kiryu-san! Are ya here to fight again?” Minami called from the opposite side of the break room. Majima looked over to see him sitting in front of a computer that was teetering on top of a pile of pizza boxes, a bunch of other guys crowded around him. So that was why he hadn’t responded to his text. He’d have to give him a lesson on how important it was to not ignore him

But not now. Kiryu had put him in a weird mood with his candour.

“Just a sec, lemme save this first!”

“Save…?” Kiryu asked as Majima frowned and strode over to the table in the corner, swatting away the crowd of guys. When he saw what was on screen, his nose scrunched up in confusion. 

“The hell is this? Some kinda movie?”

Yo . Boss, have you never heard of the Amigo Picante series?” Minami asked, gaping up at Majima. 

Kiryu made a choking noise in the back of his throat that got Majima raising his brows at him, but he wouldn’t look at him, and so he just turned back to Minami and said, “What’re y’babblin’ about?”

Yooo ,” Minami breathed, leaping up to grab Majima and plop him down in the metal folding chair he’d been sitting on. Majima grimaced at the way he slid slightly; why was Minami always sweaty? It wasn’t even hot. “Check it out, Boss. This is the good shit. Ain’t even released officially yet, but one of the boys found a torrent of it leaked online and you know we had to play it. This shit’s been anticipated .”

“Oh, it’s a game,” Majima said under his breath. He looked up to see Kiryu edging away toward the exit and frowned. “Kiryu-chan? Where ya goin’ off to in such a hurry?”

“Uh—you know, I—I have to get ready for Terada-san’s funeral. I’ll be late if I don’t—go.”

“Oh,” Majima said, blinking up at Kiryu. Why did he look so nervous? “Have fun, I guess.”

That, at least, got Kiryu’s scowl back in place. “It’s a funeral , Majima-san.”

“Yeah, and? The guy was a sourpuss. Least he could do was throw a party for his funeral.”

Kiryu didn’t even bother trying to respond to that. He just narrowed his eyes and turned to the exit, almost bumping into Kaoru as she came through the door at the same time. Majima watched in delight as they did an awkward little dance around each other, both of them trying to shift to the same side several times before chuckling painfully and finally making it past. Majima thought he might die of the cuteness; Kiryu’s cheeks were bright red as he glanced back at him and Kaoru before scuttling out of the break room with his metaphorical tail between his legs.

“Yo, Kaoru-chan,” he called, smiling wide. “What can we do ya for?”

“Just came to tell ya I’ll be out for a while, so I can’t go pick up Haruka from school.” Kaoru turned her eyes from where she’d watched Kiryu leave over to him, blinking. “Is he alright?”

“Who, Kiryu-chan?” he asked, and Kaoru nodded. “Yeah, yeah, he’s fine. Just gets like that when he’s around pretty women.”

Kaoru’s brows scrunched up together in something like vague discomfort, though he could see a tiny upward twitch at her lips. “He acts like that around you sometimes, though.”

“Yeah?” Majima said, tilting his head. “And sometimes I’m a pretty woman. What’s yer point?”

“Pretty?” was all she had to say about that, and he couldn’t decide if he wanted to throw a day-old piece of pizza at her or laugh at the sheer balls it took to insult someone like him. There was a chorus of indignation from his boys, but she just crossed her arms and smiled toothily. He’d known his instincts were dead on when it came to her: she was a goddamn spitfire. 

“Cold. Ice cold, Kaoru-chan.”

She snorted and jerked her chin towards him. “What’s with the idol boys?”

He blinked before realising she was talking about the anime teens shifting in an idle animation on the computer screen. “Oh. Dunno. Some kind of game, I guess? The boys’re pissin’ themselves over it.”

“What’s it about?” she asked, walking over to stand at his back. He crooked his head back to look up at her, upside-down, but she was just looking at the screen. He blurted his lips boredly and turned back to it as well.

“Dunno,” he said again, and Minami clearly took that as his cue to explain that it was about two childhood friends that had ended up at the same private school.

“So, like, they’re best friends , right—like knew each other as babies or whatever, right?—and they’re all worried that they’re gonna hafta bunk with some other assholes but right at the beginning they get the news that they’re sharing a room!”

“Okay,” both Majima and Kaoru said at once, sounding unimpressed.

“But it turns out that there are four people to a room at the academy, right?” Minami continued quickly, his words stumbling over themselves. “And we ain’t got further than the first chapter or nothin’, but there’s already some tension between the MC and the other boys and—”

“MC?” Kaoru asked.

“Main character?” Majima hazarded.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Minami and a few others answered, scooting toward the computer excitedly. “Anyway, we’re just about to decide who to spend our free day with! Go for it, Boss!”

Majima blinked at the two anime boys staring at him from the screen before exchanging a look with Kaoru, who just shrugged as though she were out of her element.

 “Nah,” he decided after a second, scooting back with a metallic hooonk . All the boys gathered at the computer groaned and argued with him the instant he stood up, piling on until he couldn’t hear himself think. Eventually, he just gave in with a snapped, “Alright, alright! Damn!” and sat back down to choose one of the options.

He would indulge them for five minutes and then crack the whip again. It was good for morale to ease up sometimes.

Five hours later, both he and Kaoru were arguing about whether the main character was being disingenuous about his best friend’s obvious romantic feelings for him by acting like he didn’t know what he was suggesting by saying they should spend the night alone together.

“There’s no other way to take that!” Majima insisted, his voice going high with conviction. “If yer askin’ someone to stay the night— alone —”

“No, no, no,” Kaoru cut him off, waving her hands between them. “When yer friends with someone, there’re things that ya gotta clarify ! Y’can spend the night with a friend—even in the same bed—all alone without havin’ sex!”

“Speak fer yerself,” he interjected, but had to grudgingly admit that she was right. Hadn’t he done just that with Kiryu time after time? And it wasn’t like he even had the excuse of only being friends—he knew Kiryu didn’t feel that way about him, but he was certainly in love with him . Still! “It’s different when it just happens . If ya ask someone to spend the night with you, it takes on a whole other meanin’.”

“Boss…” Minami groaned, flopping his head onto the table where the rest of the stalwart men had stayed, watching them play with keen interest. “Can’tcha just agree to disagree? We wanna see them get together!”

“You shut yer trap or I’ll make ya leave before the juicy bits,” Majima threatened, pointing over at him in warning. He snapped his mouth shut in a pout and Majima turned back to Kaoru. “He’s right though. No matter if this dumbass knows what’s up, there’s no way Michiue will let tonight pass without makin’ some kinda move.”

Kaoru nodded. “He’s plannin’ somethin’. Bein’ too twitchy. And what was that about askin’ what our favourite flower was?”

“Never woulda pegged ya for a buttercup kinda gal, by the way.”

“What kinda gal did ya think I was, then?” Kaoru asked, taking a swig of beer that Nishida had brought them earlier. “Roses and orchids?”

“Morning glories, actually,” he said, turning back to the game. There were mixed claps of excitement from his men, but they cut that out soon enough when he shushed them harshly. Kaoru leaned in closer when he hovered over the accept button. “Ready for this?”

Everyone gave a resounding “Yes!” and he snorted, clicking and sitting back to watch, crossing one arm over his chest and keeping the other on the mouse. As they’d predicted, Michiue immediately began laying the innuendo on thick, and he almost crowed with vindication before Abe’s response came and shattered his whole world in one spoken line.

“Wh—”

What .”

“Whoah!”

“Yeah, you’re right. I’m glad to finally have some alone time with you,” was what Abe said on the game.

That’s Kiryu-san !” was what everyone else shouted in the room.

Majima felt like he’d been punched in the gut and brought to heaven at once. 

“Hmm,” Abe said in response to Michiue’s question after Majima had clicked forward, his voice so distinctly Kiryu’s that Majima was gripping his jacket and leaning forward in utter disbelief. “To be honest, I’ve...always thought of you as a kind, strong man.”

The entire room was bursting with excited chatter, but Majima had no words. 

“I’m—that is Kiryu’s voice, ain’t it, Majima-san?” Kaoru asked, her mouth agape and eyes wide. Majima just looked back at her, his voice no doubt mirroring hers. “Oh, my god…”

“Oh my god,” was all he could say, as well.

“Does that mean—if they’re going to— ya know —that Kiryu…?”

Majima and Kaoru stared at each other as they clearly came to the same realisation at once. 

“Alright, party’s over!” Majima barked, scooting back fast enough to topple the chair as he made shooing motions at all the men in the room. “Get back t’work, all o’ya! I ain’t payin’ ya to fuck around!”

There was an attempt at dissent, but when he shouted at them in that particularly mean way he used when he really meant business, they scattered. Minami was the last one out the door, dragged away kicking and whining about how he didn’t get why they couldn’t see what happened. Finally, though, it was just him and Kaoru and the two blushing boys on the computer screen.

He rubbed at the back of his head, squeezing his neck in hesitation. “Uh—”

“I’m not leavin’, before ya even try t’make me,” Kaoru said firmly, her lips thin and her cheeks going pinker by the second.

“Wasn’t gonna,” he mumbled.

Silence fell over them, as awkward as it could be, until they both glanced over at each other at the same time, back over to the computer, and back at each other before a tiny, involuntary snort burst from him. That got her going until they were both snickering helplessly.

“Alright, alright, let’s see this shit!” she called out as he righted his chair and collapsed into it. She cupped her hands over her mouth and catcalled as Majima clicked through the scene, tears of laughter streaming down his cheek with each line delivered in Kiryu’s sultry voice. 

By the time the scene was over—grunting and sighing and all—they were both red in the face and hooting at the screen for more. The game ended pretty quickly after that, though, and as the credits rolled, they just collected themselves and eyed the other up, tiny giggles still popping out of them occasionally. 

Once the game had gone back to the title screen, though, Majima tilted his head and ventured, “Never thought you’d be up fer somethin’ like this.”

“What—listenin’ to Kiryu-san read lines for an erotic visual novel?” Kaoru shot back, grinning.

“That too,” Majima cackled, shaking his head. “Nah. Just...this. Sittin’ here playin’ somethin’ for a while. Just chillin’ out fer once instead o’runnin’ around tryin’ t’figure out where the enemy’s at.”

That seemed to sober Kaoru up and she sniffed, flicking the back of a finger along the length of her eyelashes to realign them, eyes turned to the ceiling. “Yeah. Probably shouldn’ta done it, really. Was s’posed t’go check in with HQ.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she said with a huff of laughter. “Fuck ‘em, though. There’s plenty o’shit they haven’t been tellin’ me, apparently.”

Majima grinned meanly, though it wasn’t intended for her. “That’s what I hear. Jingweon shit?”

She nodded, slumping over her crossed legs and bouncing her foot. “Who told ya?”

“Daigo-chan,” Majima said, shrugging a shoulder. “Kiryu’s got him earmarked for chairman, but the kid’s greener’n cow shit. Likes to get all the old guard’s opinions on shit like this, even when they ain’t got the collar ‘round their neck no more.”

“Kiryu seems to like him.”

Majima smiled. “Yeah, well. Kiryu’s a dumbass when it comes to other dumbass meatheads with hearts o’gold. Got a special soft spot for Daigo-chan, though. Kid used t’tag along with him everywhere and Kiryu lapped that shit up even though he liked to act like he was a pest. Some real found family bullshit, ya know.”

Kaoru raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. “Isn’t his mother still alive?”

“Who, Daigo-chan?”

Kaoru nodded.

“Yeah. Yayoi’s the baddest bitch around. Seen her tear a man to shreds with that sword of hers before he even knew what was happenin’,” he said, kicking his foot up on the table and pushing his chair back on two legs. It creaked in protest. “But his dad—that’s who woulda been better off pushin’ daisies a long, long time before he finally did.” 

He stopped, the memories from decades ago welling up before he could push them down again. Didn’t want to think about what might have been different if he’d just done the dirty work back then. Didn’t want to think about who could have been saved. What had been done had been done. 

“‘S’probably why Kiryu-chan feels so responsible for him. He’s always looked after him more than his own dad ever did.”

“Guess that explains why he looked so upset when Kiryu was the one who came to rescue him. Gotta be embarrassin’, gettin’ found by someone ya consider a big brother or father or whatever when yer all trussed up,” Kaoru noted, digging in her suit jacket for a silver cigarette case that she clicked open and held out to him. He bent over to take one with a nod of thanks and offered her his lighter before she could take one out. She lit her cigarette and leaned back again as he did the same, and they shared a smoke in comfortable silence for a few minutes. 

Eventually, she murmured, “Can’t be easy for him.”

“Hm?”

“Kiryu. This. Takin’ care of all of it when he’s not even...” 

When Majima just raised his brows at her, she puffed out a cloud of smoke and slumped, gesturing vaguely. “We don’t get the whole picture down in Osaka, but we did know that he’d left the clan.” Her mouth went thin for a moment before it relaxed again, curling at one edge. “The fact that he’s a decent man wasn’t in his file. The fact that he helps people. The fact that he has a daughter who thinks he’s a hero. That he’s about the polar opposite of a typical yakuza.” She shook her head slowly. “I didn’t expect it.”

“Expectin’ someone more like yours truly?” he asked with a grin that crooked around his cigarette. 

She smiled back at him, her eyes snapping to his in a canny way that got him understanding what it was about her that Kiryu could fall for. She had eyes like a fox; shrewd, laughing, clever. Kiryu had always been a sucker for someone who could see right down into that soft heart of his.

“Exactly,” was all he expected her to say, but was surprised when she continued with, “even though I’m startin’ ta think yer more decent than ya let on, too.”

He thought about everything he could say to that, but in the end he just smiled wider and bat his eyelashes at her, saying, “Aw, darlin’, yer flatterin’ me here. And here I thought you were a one-man kinda gal.”

“Huh?”

He chuckled, locking his fingers together at his stomach and leaning back further, further, testing the chair as much as he could. “You and Kiryu. Yer a cute couple.”

Kaoru looked unimpressed, but she couldn’t hide the creep of a blush along her ears and neck. “Don’t be stupid.”

“Not tryin’ t’be,” he assured her, kicking the table just hard enough to make him almost topple over before he flicked his legs and sent the chair crashing back into its place on the floor again. He bent over himself, bracing his elbows on his knees and taking a long drag before saying, “I might be half-blind, but even I can see how you two’re dancin’ around each other.”

Kaoru didn’t have anything to say to that, but he could see her throat bob in a nervous swallow.

He chuckled. 

“You should really try talkin’ t’him about it sometime. Think you’d be just as pleasantly surprised as ya were when ya found out he was a good man all along.”

It took her long enough to respond that he’d stood up to leave by the time she muttered, “What are ya doin’?”

“What’s it look like? I’m leavin’. Got work t’do.”

“No,” she said, standing abruptly and facing him down with a confused, wary look. “ This . Sayin’ that.” 

He just blinked.

She clicked her tongue impatiently, huffing. “Ya say you can see us dancin’ around each other like I haven’t seen how the two of ya do the same damn thing.”

A strange chill ran through Majima, prickling his skin into goosebumps before settling as a lump in his stomach. 

Had he been so obvious?

That probably wasn’t good. 

If Kaoru could pick up on it, then any of his or Kiryu’s enemies could, as well. And they’d sure as shit use it against him instead of just calling him out on it.

Then again, maybe she’d only seen it because she was feeling the same for Kiryu. 

He waffled for an embarrassing amount of time, unsure of how to proceed. Eventually, he settled on, “Promise ya, darlin’, we ain’t doin’ nothin’ like that.”

Kaoru didn’t look convinced.

“Cross my heart,” he said in a cheerful voice that was only a little forced, miming the action. “Yer in the clear to make a move to yer heart’s content.”

“So yer—what? Tryin’ t’tell me yer just kyoudai or somethin’?”

Majima took in her distrust with amusement. She was pretty fucking cute when she was huffy. “Not even that. Kiryu and I are good buds. That’s all.”

That seemed to throw her for a loop. “What? Ya aren’t?”

Majima shrugged a shoulder. 

“Why not?” she asked after a long pause, the question bursting out of her like she’d tried and failed to keep it in.

Majima cracked up. “Y’know, yer the second person in a week t’ask me that!”

“Who was the other one?” she asked curiously, arms crossed defensively over her chest. 

He tried his best to sober up again, flicking his hand in front of his face. “Don’t matter.” He gave her a level, direct look. “What does matter is what yer gonna do, now that ya know.”

She shifted slightly, her eyes slipping away from him, looking more than a little uncomfortable under his gaze.

“Are ya gonna go for it? Or are ya gonna let a good man slip through yer fingers?”

That got her eyes leaping back to his. He grinned, a strange cocktail of triumph and bitterness swirling in his gut. 

“That’s what I thought,” he said as he headed for the door. He paused with one hand holding it open, glancing back at her over his shoulder to say, “Little tip from yer ol’ buddy Goro: Kiryu likes bein’ pursued. Makes him feel real appreciated.” 

The wide-eyed look that Kaoru gave him made him desperately wish he could wink, but he just did the second-best he could do and threw a casual little wave as he parted with one last, “Knock ‘im dead, tiger.”

He closed the door behind him with a solid click , pausing to take a breath in the chilly, twilit lot before patting his jacket for his own smokes. One hadn’t been enough to get him through that conversation. 

“Good deed done for this lifetime,” he muttered to himself as he lit up another off the previous and hunched over it to protect it from the wind. “Better not fuckin’ waste it, Kiryu-chan.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

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.

Except Nishiki.

(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:

Hiroki.

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.

Grow up.

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.

“Yeah?”

“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?”

“Goro. I’m—hurt.”

“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?” 

“Fell over.”

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?”

Kiryu nodded.

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.

“Right.”

“‘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.”

“...Majima.”

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.”

“I wasn’t—”

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. 

“Haruka?”

“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.”

“By who?”

“Sengoku.”

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?

Oh.

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.

He had, Kiryu remembered suddenly. 

Several times.

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— 

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.

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.

“Hm.”

“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.”

“Sure, bud.”

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.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“I just can’t believe it!” Koyuki squealed, looking over at Yuki, who had her hands fisted in front of her face, eyes barely poking over the top as she stared at the final scores and the trophy being held out to her. “We did it! We did it ! We won!”

Majima watched as the actual realisation spread through the girls like a fire—slow at first, but once they’d all caught on, loud and wild. He loved seeing their excitement, the contagious energy. It reminded him of being back at Sunshine, his girls crying on his shoulders when all their hard work had finally paid off. For a long time, he’d thought about them and wondered if they had gone on to find their dreams and make them a reality. 

Well, he knew about one of them now, at least.

And just like they were back at Sunshine again, Yuki ended up clutching the trophy and bawling her eyes out on his suit as he patted her awkwardly on the back.

The only difference this time was, he could easily roll her towards Koyuki instead, who was more than happy to let her cry on her shoulder as she stroked her hair. The rest of the girls surrounded the three of them and Majima took his chance to slip out from the spotlight, having already finished his announcement duties. He headed straight for the bar, giving Kaoru a little nod.

“This really that big a deal?” Kaoru asked him when he sat on the other side of Haruka, who really shouldn’t have been allowed inside but had insisted on coming and for some reason, Kiryu had actually relented. “They all look...excited.”

“This ain’t even half bad,” he said, grinning at Youda as he poured him a drink. “My girls back in my manager days would all get so hammered after they won a championship like this that I wouldn’t even be able to open the next day.”

“Didn’t you have to man one of the booths one night because of it?” Youda mentioned.

“You? A host?” Kaoru asked, eyes wide on Majima. 

“Not a host,” Youda said in a sing-song way.

“You were a hostess as Aunt Goromi?” Haruka asked, bouncing excitedly on her stool. 

“A few times,” Majima said with a chuckle. “There were a few customers who always wanted “better than our best” girls and they wouldn’t believe there wasn’t such a thing as a diamond girl. So I had t’just—be one.” 

“Ain’t Yuki one o’those?” Kaoru asked as Haruka squealed about how cool it was that she knew someone who’d been a hostess. “Ya called her that when announcin’ her.”

“Diamond hostess?” Majima asked, taking a sip of his drink. It was some kind of soda mix; he’d told Youda at the beginning of the night that he didn’t want to get trashed since he knew he would be spending time around Kiryu. The last thing he needed at the moment was to have lowered inhibitions around him. “Maybe now, but back then she could only wish she was as graceful and hospitable as I was.”

Goro Majima !” 

Majima jumped at the sound of Yuki’s screech, sharing a wide-eyed look with Youda before turning to see her glaring daggers at him from the other end of the bar. “Oh, Yuki-chan. Is there somethin’ I can do for ya?”

“Still slandering my name after twenty years ?” she snapped, marching over to him and standing with her hands on her hips. “Have you not grown up at all ?”

“Not as much as you, clearly,” he sniffed, putting on a concerned face. “I’m surprised ya even managed t’hear us. Guess hearing is always the last t’go in yer old age, though.”

Uncle Majima ,” Haruka gasped in disapproval. He blinked over at her and she frowned. “That was mean , even if it was a joke.”

“Aw, Haru-chan, no, it’s not like that,” he said, trying to figure out how to explain that he never actually meant any of the insults he threw at Yuki. “Y’see, we’re just—gngh!” 

“He’s just a glutton for punishment, Haruka-chan,” Yuki said, squeezing her arm around his neck as she bent him in a tight pin and ruffled his hair. “He’s been saying stuff like that since he was a baby-faced brat just to get attention.”

“Oi! Lemme go, ya ogre, ya smell like onions .”

“Huh?” Yuki said, releasing him and bending to sniff at herself. “Urgh. Yeah. Forgot that one guy wanted me to make him a cocktail. He wouldn’t stop asking for more onions!”

“I saw that!” Shoko said as she came to sit beside Majima, shuddering as the other girls all nodded. “I don’t think I’ll ever get the image out of my head of that guy popping onion after onion into his mouth like some kind of chipmunk. Spooky stuff.” 

“On the bright side, I’ll never have to bring a bowl of onions to any chipmunk tycoons ever again,” Kiryu said, coming to stand behind Haruka and Kaoru and holding Haruka’s head as she leaned back to smile up at him.

Majima had to turn away from the smile on his face. He looked too good in his tuxedo and was standing entirely too close—close enough to smell the fancy cologne he always wore when working. Majima knew that one of the girls must have picked it out for him; he wasn’t exactly a cologne sort of guy, nevermind knowing which one worked with his chemistry in a way that practically turned it pheromonal. 

All the girls were groaning with varying degrees of disappointment and sadness at the reminder that Kiryu had announced a week ago that he was