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Kashiwagi's Hair Gel Adventure

Chapter Text

“Hello? ...Okay, got it… No… So there’s no change in the plan? ...Alright. Bye.”

Kashiwagi hung up the phone, mentally sorting through the newest developments. The caretaker of Sunflower Orphanage had made a panicked call to the Kazama Family office a few days ago, claiming to have seen a few unfamiliar-looking people too oddly-dressed to be townsfolk scoping out the orphanage. They’d been hanging around so much it had started to take the children’s notice as well – much to the caretaker’s chagrin, one of the children had tailed the group to a camp out in the nearby woods, fiddling with strange equipment that looked too dangerous to be ignored.

So here Kashiwagi was: him and a few of his trusted boys, on Kazama-san’s personal request, saddled with the task of calming the children’s nerves to guard against the potential threat – by bringing a few more similarly oddly-dressed men into the mix. Right.

Kashiwagi walked into the kitchen, looking to fix himself a quick breakfast. This wasn’t the worst assignment he’d been on, but he could confidently say the most difficult part would be surviving the boredom. He thrived on action, a perfect outlet for his hot-headed nature. It’s one of the reasons he became yakuza.

The rice cooker beeped, signaling it was ready. This little stint, however, was drying him out each day he stayed. The watchouts were growing increasingly dull, testing his already-thin patience. 

Pop!

“Ah!”

Soon as he opened the rice cooker a flurry of white exploded from within. The machine squealed a high-pitched beep.

"...ugh." Kashiwagi picked off the rice stuck to his blazer, grimacing. What a great way to start his morning.

"That's not how you're supposed to do it."

Kashiwagi located the source of the voice. Some pipsqueak with long hair and bright eyes was peeking around the doorway.

"Eh? What do you mean?"

Soon as he acknowledged him the boy retreated behind the door, getting ready to bolt.

"Hey! Wait!"

Too late. He heard the paps of little feet fading off in the distance…

...Then raised his eyebrows in intrigue when he heard two sets of feet close in on the kitchen.

The kid from before was joined by another. This one had a face that put hardened family members to shame, eyebrows drawn together so tight it was like he was born like that.

“Are you yakuza?”

Kid had no sense of propriety either.

This must’ve been a common occurrence; the long-haired boy shushed him with a harshly whispered, “Bro!”

The second hardest thing about this assignment was that Kashiwagi was not the best with kids. His lifestyle generally wasn’t kid-friendly, and that was at the best of times. He hadn’t joined the yakuza to become a babysitter. But here he was, doing just that, and if it were anyone else he’d be stuck in this kind of situation he would’ve laughed in their face, punched their lungs out and taken their lunch money. 

But, it was Kazama who asked, and his boss had a special albeit unknown interest in this specific orphanage, and he could never refuse Kazama-san. So babysitting is what he shall do.

Instead of answering, he said, “Do you ask every well-dressed man you meet if they’re in the yakuza?”

“We asked the others,” the long-haired boy answered. “They pretended not to notice us. You’re the first to actually respond to us.”

Dammit. Ten seconds into a conversation with ten-year-olds and he already walked into a trap. Least his men knew how to keep their mouths shut.

“And what if I was?”

“Then you must know of Kazama-san!”

Kashiwagi blinked. Now he really wanted to know why Kazama favored this place so much. And it seemed like he stumbled onto the boys who might give him some clue.

“What are your names?”

The long-haired boy – “Nishikiyama, sir!”

And the stone-faced boy – “Kiryu.”

“And what exactly do you two boys know about Kazama-san?”

“He’s amazing,” Kiryu surprised him by talking first, admiration flickering to life in his eyes at the mention of Kazama. "His car, his wealth, his confidence. The way people follow him without question, the authority he commands. I want to be just like him."

"He comes every year for Christmas and gives us presents!" Nishikiyama chimed in. "And the stories he tells us, man, his life is so action-packed. And he makes it out without a scratch – he's way better than Santa!"

Ah. All the things an orphan could want. Of course he'd appeal to them.

"Better than Santa, huh?" Kashiwagi huffed a laugh. "That's a big claim to make–"

“Wait!”

Kashiwagi’s hand hovered over the rice cooker. Nishikiyama’s exclamation made him stop short.

“You don’t wanna get pelted by rice again, do you? Here, lemme do it.”

He went around the back, unplugged the cooker, then gingerly opened the pressurized lid. A nasally hiss filled the room.

“You gotta let the steam out slowly. It’s the most important part, so it doesn't burst open and make a mess. We can’t afford to waste food.”

This is enough to give me a headache at breakfast, thought Kashiwagi, but he didn’t say anything. He poured out three bowls of rice.

“Eat up,” he nodded. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

“We already had breakfast.”

“Have another. You boys are growing, after all.”

The boys ate like maniacs. If they hadn’t said they had breakfast beforehand Kashiwagi would’ve assumed they’d been intentionally starved – and god did that thought ignite something so fiercely protective in him that took him so aback he filed it away for later. Nishikiyama was talking about something.

“Hm?” He didn’t hear that first part.

“I said you would look so cool! Like the people you see in the fashion magazines.”

“Eh? What in the world are you talking about?”

“Your hair,” Nishikiyama beamed, vibrating with excitement. Did he not have an off switch? “According to the latest fashion magazines hair gel is the hot new trend. I tried it on Kiryu and look how badass he is!”

He looked at Kiryu, who finished his bowl first, looking uncomfortable in his seat as the spotlight was temporarily on him. He looked like he wanted to ask for more rice but was too polite to interrupt. Oh, so he did have manners.

“And you believe I’d look irresistible if I follow this ‘trend’? Also, language. And don’t point with your chopsticks, it’s rude.”

“Yeah! You’d turn heads! Aren’t I right, Kiryu?”

Kashiwagi filled Kiryu’s bowl. When he set it down in front of Kiryu, the boy’s face was red.

Na , Kiryu?” Kashiwagi chose to indulge. “What do you think? Should I trust Nishikiyama’s instinct?”

Those eyes were something else. Kashiwagi almost balked at how intense those brown eyes were. Kid would grow up to be a terrifying man.

If only he could get the burning blush to go away, that is. Kiryu nodded stiffly, expression impassive as ever.

“See? Now you gotta try it! Let’s go!”

“Hold on!” Kashiwagi barely stopped Nishikiyama, already halfway out the door. “The orphanage is under lockdown. Didn’t the headmaster tell you you have to stay indoors because of the threat?”

Nishikiyama had to think about that for a moment. “Are you talking about those people camping out in the forest?”

“Yes. It’s too much of a risk to go outside for now. Stay here until we figure it out.”

Nishikiyama and Kiryu exchanged a look, and Kashiwagi somehow felt like he was the stupid one.

“They’re sightseeing,” finally said Kiryu.

The silence grew. Nishikiyama piped up. “They’ve been here a few weeks now, said something about how this place is far enough from the city to watch the stars. We sneak out to visit them at night whenever we can. To be honest they’re kinda weird but they’re harmless. And they let us use their telescope! It’s pretty awesome.”

……..

This was all just one big misunderstanding, wasn’t it.

“Fuck,” Kashiwagi said, with feeling.

“Language! Hehe.”

Smart-ass little punk bastards. They’d be a menacing pair. He liked that.

Making up his mind, Kashiwagi got up. “Okay, then. Let’s go.”

He told himself he was only sticking around because of Kazama, and what was so significant about the boys at this orphanage: to unveil the mystery surrounding his boss, to get closer to the man who inadvertently saved Kashiwagi from a petty life, gave his life meaning by accepting him into the yakuza.

These boys were simply a means to an end, he assured himself, following Nishikiyama’s excited chattering around the convenience store, chuckling at the shy glances Kiryu threw his way every so often. He winked back once; Kiryu huddled into Nishikiyama’s side, his brother giggling knowingly, ears visibly red.

Nothing more , thought the yakuza, heart and fists made of steel. Hm. Rice cookers were on sale.

Chapter Text

It was quiet in the Kazama Family office. Quiet, but no less tense that day. Kashiwagi sat hunched over a spreadsheet, as if the strength of his stare would unlock the elusive secret.

Kazama spoke up. "Kashiwagi."

No response. "Kashiwagi," he tried again. Then sighed. "Maybe it's time we called it a day."

"No!" That seemed to spark a reaction from Kashiwagi, who then immediately rectified his tone. "I mean. Kazama-san, please, I believe I can do this. I just need a little more time."

"If you're going to sit there and stare all day, then I think it's a waste of time."

"I'm not staring! I'm… absorbing the information."

"That's not how math works."

Kashiwagi glanced up at his superior. "Respectfully, sir, who's the expert here?"

"You are," he said slowly.

"And who called me in here to manage redistribution of family funds for next month?”

“I did,” he said, looking away.

They lapsed into silence, Kazama temporarily subdued.

"It's not that I'm bad at math," Kazama grumbled. "I just prefer not to do it."

"You don't have to convince me. What the boss says, I do. No questions asked."

“Heh. You just asked me two questions a moment ago, Kashiwagi-san.”

Kashiwagi ducked his head further to the spreadsheet, hiding his flustered expression. “Doesn’t count.” Kazama rarely gets so cheeky nowadays; he forgets how much it catches him off guard.

Clearing his throat, Kashiwagi changed the subject. “How was physical therapy today?”

“Same as always. No likelihood of any more improvement.”

He ignored the sullen color of his tone. “And your meds? Got them refilled?”

“Said there’d be a delay in getting them in, but I told them it was fine.”

Couldn’t ignore that. Kashiwagi’s mouth dropped open. “O-Oyaji!"

"I don't need them anyway," Kazama waved his protests off before he could even voice them. "I'm so busy I don't have the time to pay attention to some year-old leg wound. Besides, I've been through worse."

For such a logical and calculating man, Kazama could play the part of a petulant child rather well.

Maybe it’s all part of his elaborate scheme , wondered Kashiwagi. He let out a forced breath, pinching the bridge of his nose. "That’s because the medicine counteracts the spasms you get in the first place.”

“I can live with muscle spasms for a few days.”

Kashiwagi shook his head. “It’s not just that. You have to stay on the prescribed schedule. Otherwise adverse side effects could pop up.”

“Are you a doctor in addition to a math enthusiast?”

“Unlike you, I actually paid attention to the doctor.”

Kazama huffed. Kashiwagi felt his scar tingle forebodingly.

He wished he hadn’t pushed the subject, because Kazama then said in a quiet voice, “My injuries were the farthest thing from my mind when we were at the hospital.”

Right. The Snake Flower Triad had kidnapped Kiryu, and Kazama had risked his life to bring him back.

“I told Kazuma not to join the yakuza, to not even think about it,” Kazama slouched as an invisible weight pressed on his shoulders, sounding very far away, “because even if you’re the nicest goddamn crime lord in town, these things will inevitably happen to you. Your enemies have no such qualms about moral compasses.” He chuckled but it came out humorless. “And what did that boy want? One of the two things I hoped he’d never ask for.”

He gripped the handle of his cane. “All the wealth and power and influence is trivial as long as you have something to lose. Kazuma was born bereft because of me. I intended to fix that. To give him another chance at a fulfilling life. Ah, if he hadn’t been so bull-headed as to go against my wishes...”

Kashiwagi didn’t know what to say to that. Anguish twisted his gut as he met his eyes: eyes that never showed weakness, looking so vulnerable for him right now, right this moment.

Just the two of them – Kashiwagi never felt so pained yet honored to see his boss like this.

“You squeeze your cane any more it’s gonna snap.”

Kashiwagi leaned forward, placing large hands over Kazama’s nimble ones. "Kiryu always makes it."

He pried each finger loose. "He's surpassed your expectations time and time again," he felt the tension, the second-guessing, the irony and regret at an assassin having too soft a heart to deny a boy’s one true desire to follow in his father figure’s footsteps, "and he'll continue to do so."

He held his gaze steady on his work, doing his best to sound assured where Kazama couldn’t. “Just have faith in him.”

He rubbed a thumb across each of Kazama's overworked fingers, stopping every so often to gently massage the joints Kazama pretended didn't have arthritis.

“What is this, your third cane? Least you didn't crack it over some punk's head this time."

"Heh. Fourth. And he had it coming."

Whatever he'd been doing it worked, Kashiwagi realized, confused but relieved. It was rare to see Kazama in one of these moods; Kashiwagi simply acted on instinct.

“No room for people like him in Kamurocho.”

Kashiwagi smiled. The throbbing his scar ebbed. "You know Kiryu. If there isn’t room, he’ll punch one out for himself. That’s just how he is."

"Right. Just how he is."

This time he seemed to believe it, a fond smile chasing the clouds of doubt away. With a last squeeze of his hand Kashiwagi got up. "Well, that's enough of this budgeting crap for me. I got one more piece of business to take care of, and then I'll call it a night." The numbers had begun to swim across his vision, but he wasn't about to admit that out loud.

"Oh? What would that be?"

“Gonna pay a visit to that lazy doctor and see if I can’t expedite the process.”

He was expecting Kazama to put up some type of protest, and was pleasantly surprised to hear only an amused chuckle. “Don’t give them too much of a hard time.”

He packed up the spreadsheet, storing it in one of the drawers. They’ll get to it tomorrow with fresh heads.

“Osamu.”

He didn’t have to turn around to feel the heat of his stare, but he did anyway. A shiver of anticipation ran down his spine.

“Come here,” Kazama beckoned, standing up, gaze fixed and unblinking.

Kashiwagi obeyed. Kazama reached out.

“Can’t say I hate this new hairstyle of yours,” a hand made its way up into his hair, “but it is missing a little personal flair.”

It took a moment for Kashiwagi to process what he said; he was drinking in the contact, eyes half-lidded. Petting up and down, looking for something, it felt. “You don’t… like the hair gel?”

“It makes you look stiff as a board, Osamu. And I know for a fact that is not true. So...”

A tug, then a lock of hair fell out of its gelled position, stopping short of crossing his eyebrow. “There,” Kazama said, pleased, “now you look… how do the kids say it… ‘badass’.”

Kazama’s smile was too admiring for Kashiwagi to object. His hand didn’t retreat, either, staying cupped on his cheek, thumb tenderly tracing the line of his scar.

Kashiwagi felt so full. Fuck, he could stay like this forever. Leaning in, lips curling into a teasing smirk, he murmured, “You like the bad boys, huh, Shintaro?” 

Suddenly the office door flew open.

“Kazama-san, you’re not gonna believe this! The stupid shitstain you sent me and Kiryu to rough up was actually–”

Out of all the people to waltz in unannounced, it had to be Nishikiyama. Behind the stunned expression Kashiwagi could see the half-baked theories forming from across the room. He braced himself.

“KIRYU SAVE YOURSELF OUR BOSSES ARE HAVING SEX !”

Huh?? “Nishikiyama, you…!”

“Akira?”

“I’m sorry, sirs, but in the office ? C’mon, people work here!”

Kashiwagi took a threatening step towards Nishiki. “If you don’t shut up in the next three seconds, it’ll be the last thing you see.”

Nishiki howled with laughter. “You’re not even trying to deny it? Aw man, this got so much worse. I can’t look at you two the same way anymore.”

That utter imbecile. He was doing this on purpose.

Nishiki, finally seeing the threat in Kashiwagi’s eyes, turned tail and ran.

“You’re not getting away that easy!” Kashiwagi roared, rushing forward to catch him in a headlock.

“I–I’m sorry, Kashiwagi-san! Please forgive me!”

The apology didn’t sound very sincere while guffawing like an idiot.

“I’ll teach ya some goddamn respect,” Kashiwagi gritted his teeth, accent thickening, “but apparently I first gotta teach this shit for brains how to knock .”

Nishiki yelped in surprise, laughter stuttering against the ruthless noogie. He somehow managed to worm his way out, the slippery bastard…

...And was now hiding behind an immovable wall of pure muscle. Whose face was completely red.

“Kiryu,” Kashiwagi cracked his knuckles, “step aside so I can beat up your insufferable kyoudai.”

“Tch, c’mon, you messed up my ‘do...”

“Sure. Go ahead.”

Kiryu surprised them all by stepping aside.

“Nishiki,” he faced his brother. The blush still hadn’t gone away but Kiryu looked determined to say his piece. “It was wrong for us to burst in unannounced. We interrupted a private moment between you two.”

He bowed towards Kashiwagi, way too serious to be joking. There was probably dramatic music playing over his monologue in his head. “Love is a wonderful thing, or so I’m told. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Even if you’re both old. And also our fathers. And also–”

“Kazuma, please stop talking.”

“Kiryu, you are such a fucking romantic.” Nishiki shook his head, amused, dragging his bro down the hall. “Give us a call when you’re done banging!” He yelled over his shoulder. “We’ll be at Serena!”

“We’re not– Ugh–!”

Kashiwagi kicked the door. Behind him, Kazama chuckled.

“Kid watched too many movies and not enough porn vids… Kazama-san?”

Arms circled Kashiwagi from behind, hands resting atop his stomach. Kazama couldn’t stop laughing.

All the anger drained from Kashiwagi as he felt the body behind him wheeze with unrestrained laughter, an infatuated smile wiping the stress away.

“Those boys,” a forehead pressed into his back, voice rumbling up his spine, “I remember a time I’d never tolerate the shit that comes out of their mouths. Where did that Shintaro go, huh?”

Somehow, Kashiwagi knew that there was no regret remaining for the man Kazama once was. He slipped his arms around the man he swore loyalty to, hugging him tight. To keep his balance, of course. “Shintaro…”

“His parents.”

“Hm?”

Kazama met his eyes. They were so tired. “The second thing I hoped Kazuma would never ask for. For his parents to come back.”

Kashiwagi kissed his forehead. He smiled knowingly, enough faith for the both of them. “I have a feeling his real parents aren’t too far away from him at all.”

Kazama has been bearing these burdens alone for far too long. He’d seen so much, but even he wasn’t invincible. “Now, c’mon,” he stepped back, offered his elbow, all gentleman-like, “we need to go teach our idiot boys a lesson. Let’s pick up your meds and then steal Nishikiyama’s keys so we can take a well-deserved joyride in his precious car. Perfect revenge plan, eh?”

Hesitation, until what Kashiwagi was really saying got through to Kazama. He looped his arm through, wanting to be with the people he loved.

“Make sure you go ham. I wanna hear those troublemakers scream in the backseat.”

“Heh. You got it, boss.”

Chapter Text

“Unbelievable...”

Kashiwagi muttered under his breath, exiting the Tojo HQ meeting hall. The yakuza around him buzzed with energy, all excited faces and chatter, riding the hopeful high of the recently delivered news.

Only the young and naive ones. Although he hadn’t hinted to it, Kashiwagi thought this whole ranking system the new Chairman created was a mockery of the yakuza way. Terada didn’t give a damn about the future of the Tojo Clan; he just wanted to make as much money as possible while installing his own Omi people at the same time. 

‘Tojo Clan Reformation’ my ass, Kashiwagi thought bitterly. Just an excuse for infiltrating the ranks. His scowl gave him a wide berth as he walked downstairs. Maybe a walk out in the private courtyard would cool him down...

“Un-fucking-believable.” He was out of smokes, too?

It was hot in the midday sun, not helping his rising temper. Just as he was about to crush the empty pack of cigarettes, he heard a grunting sound.

“Hm?” There it was again – rhythmic and controlled. Sounded like someone was training in the open dojo across the small decorative pond.

“Yah!”

The glint of a long blade caught the sun’s rays, cleanly cutting through the air. Kashiwagi crossed the bridge, smiling at its wielder.

“Yayoi-san.”

Immediately the point of her sword swung to meet the tip of his nose. She, too, was smiling.

“Kashiwagi-san. Here to spar with me?”

“I didn’t even know you’d make the extra trip down here today.” He shrugged. The sword tickled his skin. “What’s the occasion?”

She sheathed her sword, standing up straight. “No occasion. Studying up on Tojo Clan procedures was getting dull and I needed a break. One shouldn’t let their swordsmanship go rusty.”

She said this with a pointed look. Kashiwagi raised his hands in defeat. “You know I’m more of a fists kind of guy.”

“All the more reason to practice with me, Kashiwagi.”

Though she had exerted herself, a vigor that rarely showed itself since Dojima’s death shone in her eyes.

“Maybe later. First, tea.”

The two walked together, enjoying each other’s steadying presence. They didn’t see much of each other these days. The urge for a smoke, Kashiwagi noted as they entered their usual private meeting room, disappeared rather quickly.

"You know," she poured out two cups of tea, handing one to Kashiwagi, "you may not think it, but there are times where a blade is more useful than your fists. A hostage situation, for example."

"How do you think that?"

"Stealth means the difference between life and death. Knowing when to use which technique will open up your possibilities." She leaned forward, a coy smirk upon her lips. "You know what Sera-san told me?"

"Besides the juicy gossip he's fond of?" He snorted in his tea.

"He hid a knife inside a blind girl's walking cane. Apparently it worked wonders."

"He must've been very proud of that one."

"Yes. He was."

He couldn't help chuckling. Sera's innovations knew no bounds.

"I can think of a few others who could use that kind of subtlety," Kashiwagi said, swirling his cup. "Kazama-san was always breaking his canes over young punks all the time. Perhaps that's why he kept getting jumped on the streets so often; you hear rumors of an old man like that, you’ve gotta check it out for yourself."

"I'm afraid to ask how many canes he's gone through."

"About as many times as I've had to help him limp back to the office."

The memories stirred a yearning of days long past in Kashiwagi. Though time had dulled the pain of Kazama's passing it still made the scar on his heart ache bittersweet.

"A hidden sword, indeed," Yayoi mused. "I feel as though a bat would suit him better."

Kashiwagi shook his head. "No way in hell. Kazama-san had a grudge against baseball."

"Is that so?"

“He certainly had no love lost for the sport. And the fault lies mostly with me, if I’m being honest.”

Yayoi laughed heartily. It was a good sound. “What did you do?”

“Be better than him.” She gave him a disbelieving look. “I’m serious! He was different back then. My competence was enough to offend him.”

“So different from the man we know him to be: regularly had delinquents nipping at his feet and went so far as to hate a whole sport because of one man.”

“Hey, he has an image to maintain. Don’t go spreading these secrets around.”

“He must’ve loved you very much to stick around despite that.”

Kashiwagi tightened his smile, unable to answer. He watched his finger trace the rim of his cup, the sudden pressure of tears choking him off.

Yayoi handed him a cigarette. I'm sorry , she seemed to say. She lit it for him.

Taking it between his lips Kashiwagi tilted his head back and didn't let it down until he felt the urge go away.

“You need to treat yourself to cold noodles more often. You can’t have gained any weight since I last saw you, right? That won’t do. You need some meat on your bones.”

It was clear she was changing the subject in order to lighten the mood. It was kind of obvious, but Kashiwagi appreciated it anyway. He lowered his head, blew out a long puff of smoke, and was glad to hear his voice wasn’t shaky, “That’d be great, Yayoi.”

The cold noodles really did help. His mind felt clearer as he processed Yayoi’s frustrations.

“...The Tojo Clan is so caught up in itself. We go to war, innocent people get caught in the crossfire, and all we can do is count yen. What good is money if the people we’re supposed to be protecting are dying by our hand? Kamurocho or Kansai, it doesn’t matter. There’s so much more to being yakuza than building an empire. We could do so much more if we weren’t bitching and whining amongst ourselves.”

Truer words were never spoken, Kashiwagi nodded along. “Seems that all we do these days is bitch and whine. Today’s meeting was especially bad.”

“What did Terada propose? He may be Omi but he is a cunning man.”

“I wish I could say that the Tojo Clan Reformation plan was as cunning as he is, but it’s really nothing more than simple money acquisition. It’s almost laughable what he thinks of us. Trust has remained thin recently, especially with the rumors going around.”

Yayoi contemplated his words. Her brows were furrowed deep in concern. “I… should’ve stayed in the loop more. I had no idea the in-fighting was this bad.”

“You’re already neck-deep in clan research, you’re doing the most you can. I hardly get to sit down with you, you’re so preoccupied.”

“Hm. I know for a fact it’s not just me. I’ve heard you’ve taken to wandering these halls like an ever-present ghost. The Sleepless Scar, they call you. How barren is your Millenium Tower office with the amount of time you spend here doing damage-control at headquarters anyway?”

“First of all, that nickname is trash and who did you hear it from, and second, I am higher up in Tojo affairs. Makes sense to be here instead of the Kamurocho office. Hey, you’re here so much I might as well call you Ane-san already.”

“Ugh, please don’t.” Yayoi made a face, stress wrinkles cropping up out of nowhere. “From what I’ve gathered I’m going to quickly get sick of being called Acting Chairman...”

“And yet you’ll still do a better job than the numbskulls in charge.” The two shared a knowing laugh.

“But really, when it comes down to it,” Kashiwagi leaned forward, a quiet force infusing his words, “I have no doubt the actions you’ll take will lead the clan in the right direction. You make the hardest decisions but they are the right ones.”

Kashiwagi was simply speaking the truth; why did Yayoi look so flustered?

She bowed her head, posture elegant in her seat. "Thank you for your kind words, Kashiwagi."

When she finally met his eyes he had to take a long sip of his tea to cover his own expression, unfamiliar shyness creeping up on him. Her smile made her whole face glow with happiness; it sent elated flutters inside Kashiwagi.

In the next instant, however, she stiffened. "Did you hear that?"

Her tone of voice wasn’t enough to set off any threats of danger. Still, Kashiwagi sat up straighter in his seat, intently listening.

The two both came to the same conclusion. “Majima-san,” they groaned in unison.

...

“......nooooooo, I’m not Majimaaa~,” A high-pitched, squeaky reply came a few seconds later from beyond the door.

“You can come in, you know.” Yayoi rolled her eyes at Kashiwagi, who was trying to contain a fed-up snicker. “You are welcome to join us for tea. There’s no need for this sneaking around every time.”

The door suddenly burst open, and who but Majima sauntered in. “Me? Sneak?? Who says I sneak? Majima don’t sneak!”

“Oh, so the time you climbed in through the window didn’t count?” Kashiwagi reminded him. “Or the time you hid in the closet for three hours and you complained of stiff legs the entire time–” 

“Tactical! It’s called tactical positioning! An’ three hours ain’t nothin’. I hid in a traffic cone for eight hours once.”

“In any case you are now here, so please take a seat and have some tea, Majima-san.”

Yayoi took it all in stride. To be honest Kashiwagi should’ve realized the man was going to barge in sooner or later when he saw three empty tea cups instead of two.

“Fuck the seats,” Majima said. He kicked a sofa. “They’re all uncomfortable. HQ should invest in some supportive seating. I’m gettin’ old here!”

Abruptly he flopped onto the floor, long limbs spread on the carpet like a starfish. He let out a contented sigh.

“Now this is comfortable.” He wiggled, putting his arms behind his head.

“And how are you going to drink your tea?” Yayoi raised an eyebrow.

Silence. “Good point,” and he sat up to scoot over to lean on Kashiwagi’s chair. He knocked his knees childishly. “So, what are we talkin’ about?”

"Haven't you been eavesdropping this whole time?" Yayoi said flatly.

"Whaaat? I just followed the cold noodles and bam! There was Kashiwagi-san!” 

His reaction seemed genuine enough. "Then you must have an opinion on this new Reformation Terada has in mind." she pressed. "You were at the meeting, yes?"

"Ughhh, bawringgg." He slouched, clearly displeased at the line of questioning but answered. "It's a basic but good way to regain the economic clout we had before last year's shitshow. Kind of a no-brainer."

"There's gotta be more to it than that," Kashiwagi interjected, not wanting to be the only one who smelled something fishy.

"I ain't finished," Majima said, annoyed, and the way that mad glint in his eye gave way to perceptive sharpness made Kashiwagi glad to have him as an ally instead of an enemy.

"As I was sayin'," he continued. "It's a good move on the surface, but basing off your new hierarchy on who rakes in the most cash is weak and scummy. 'Specially if you're an outsider, double if yer Omi."

"And I don't like the look of those two newcomers, Uematsu and Ibuchi," Kashiwagi grimaced. "They're plotting something together for sure."

"Don't like 'em," was all Majima said on that, shaking his head with a frown. And then he shrugged, like it was no big deal. "But hey, that's just my opinion. Whether it's new blood or old guard... Doesn’t matter who’s running the show, Tojo’s been shit since the ten million yen vanishin' under everyone's noses. Hell, maybe even before that..."

Then why were you trying so hard to get back in? A memory came unbidden to Kashiwagi as Majima trailed off, a distant look in his eye: their first encounter in the '80s, Majima bruised and desperate to find Nishikiyama, how they fought a mean battle on the rooftops of the Kazama Family Office. Was it really your call?

"Be careful with your choice of words," Yayoi said gravely, "especially around the wrong people."

"Yeah, yeah," he waved her off. After all, what can you do against the Mad Dog of Shimano? "My point is I'm not surprised. What else can ya expect from someone who was Fourth Chairman for a single day? Nothin' much. Hey, let's talk about Kiryu-chan instead."

"You always talk about Kiryu."

"Yeah, 'cause he's fucked off to some corner of Japan without telling anybody. Kamurocho’s so boring without him..."

He let out a theatrically-heavy sigh, leaning his head on Kashiwagi's leg like a lovestruck princess waiting for her prince to come home. Through the dramatics, though, Kashiwagi could sense how real his longing was.

He felt an inexplicable need to cheer him up. "I doubt he's forgotten about you, Majima-san. Take it from me. Kiryu had a lot of enemies, but the one he didn’t speak ill about was you. Irritated, sure, but he understood what you were trying to accomplish.”

“He’s talked about me?” The starry-eyed look on Majima shouldn’t have surprised Kashiwagi as much as it did.

“Wasn’t often, but I managed to get a reaction out of him once or twice,” he chuckled, sentimental. “I’ve never heard him talk about anyone the way he does for you. From someone as reserved as Kiryu it was quite telling.”

Kashiwagi, apparently, had dropped a bombshell on Majima. How could someone be so smart yet so hopelessly dense?

“Besides,” he nudged a stunned Majima out of his stupor, “what kind of person could forget the man that threw a one-man stripper party for him, eh?”

Yayoi briefly closed her eyes in faint disgust.

"Aw shuddup," Majima smacked his leg with no force behind it. “Least I didn't need a bucket full of hair gel to tame my hair."

"Boys, boys, you're both pretty." Yayoi interrupted their bickering, throwing back the last of tea like a shot of liquor. She stood up. “Now that you’re both here let’s get back to the dojo for sword practice. And Majima-san, don’t pull any of your ludicrous nonsense this time.”

“I’ve caught swords between my teeth before. It can be done, I tell ya! My jaw’s still here!”

What an odd trio they were, Kashiwagi pondered as he watched Majima scramble up to throw an arm around the both of them, practically dragging them out the door like an overexcited puppy impatient to go outside. Why did he hang out with these people?

“...c’mon, Kashiwagi-san, you believe me, right?”

Two smiles turned his way. One begged not to humor him while she secretly enjoyed the ribbing, and the other was a tad bit more maniacal but no less genuine.

Ah. That’s why.

Kashiwagi patted the leather-bound hand draped over his shoulder, chuckling at Yayoi’s groan. “Gotta see it to believe it.”