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Café Kiryu

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The first time Kazuma Kiryu met Goro Majima, he had the distinct, uncomfortable feeling he was about to be murdered.

It wasn’t the first time he’d felt a bit unsafe in this job before – that’s what’ll happen when you’re working the graveyard shift at one of the dime-a-dozen cafes in Kamurocho that stay open until the crack of dawn – but it was the first time he’d ever experienced anything so downright threatening. And confusing.

It was so late on a Wednesday it was slowly turning into Thursday morning, so there weren’t many people in the cafe. Calling it a cafe was pretty grand, Kiryu thought, when it was more like a few chairs squeezed into a room down a tiny alleyway. But it had a good reputation, and it was usually quiet and cosy, so there was often a handful of people around.

Kiryu leant against the counter and looked around. At the moment there was just a young couple sitting at a table near the counter and a guy leaning back in his chair in the corner with a manga issue half-covering his face.

Kiryu had been working in real estate only a few months ago. Had been working there half his life. It was decent enough work, paid well, but in the end he’d been driven by … something he still couldn’t quite put his finger on. A restless energy that had slowly driven him crazy; the urge to do something different, to spend his time interacting with people rather than computers, to work with his hands and move around, make more of an immediate difference rather than being cooped up in that little office counting down the hours till he could go home and smack some heads together in a video game.

All it took was a short course and a few late nights watching latte art videos online, and there he was, making coffee at all hours for whatever motley assortment of people stumbled in from the busy Kamurocho streets. You met different people everyday, he liked working on his feet, and it was easy enough work while still giving him pride in what he did. Didn’t pay half bad, either.

Kiryu was in the process of wiping a mug and putting it back in the cupboard when he heard a loud bang outside. He paused, still holding the mug, and cocked his head. When no more sounds came he put the mug on the shelf and closed the cupboard, turning around.

That was approximately when the door slammed open. Standing there with his jacket open revealing curled tattoos, panting heavily, and holding an absurdly long knife, was a man with an eyepatch.

Lights washed in from the street and Kiryu could only stare at the knife, blue in the reflected neon haze. Well, shit.

The man dashed forward and Kiryu recoiled, heart hammering, but then the guy fucking vaulted over the counter with his free arm, falling into a crouch. He looked up at Kiryu and flashed the blade, pressed a finger to his lips. Kiryu only stared, uncomprehending. The guy smirked. Kiryu probably looked like he was pissing himself. It wasn’t far off.

There was a clattering noise and some shouts and then another guy came crashing in through the doorway, and Kiryu’s heart nearly stopped. What the fuck was going on?

‘Where is he?’

Kiryu felt the distinct cool of metal pressing through material against his leg. All he could let out was a garbled ‘who?’

The guy stalked closer, and Kiryu saw how well dressed he was. Tailored suit, slicked back hair. He scanned his neck quickly, looking for tattoos peaking out his collar, but found none. Probably not yakuza, then, he thought. Unlike the guy currently holding me at knifepoint.

‘Goro. Fucking. Majima,’ the man spat out.

Kiryu had the faintest idea that name might be related to the guy who currently had a fucking knife pressed against his calf, but like hell he was going to say anything.

‘I don’t know who that is,’ he grit out after a moment.

The man eyed him for a second and then let out an annoyed grunt, turning on his tail and stomping out of the shop in a huff. He slammed the door behind him.

The other customers turned to look at Kiryu in unison and he’d almost laugh if not for the fact he was this close to passing out and there was still a madman holding him at knifepoint. After an exceptionally tense few seconds, the man – Majima, apparently – stood up, sheathing the knife. He ran a hand through slick hair and let out a chuckle.

‘I owe ya one,’ he chirped, grinning, and Kiryu blinked. ‘Ya really saved my ass back there!’ He clapped him on the shoulder once, like they were old buddies, and vaulted back over the counter. Kiryu could only stare. The guy turned back and caught his gaze.

‘Aw, don’t look so put out!’ he said, still grinning, voice a singsong cadence. ‘I was never gonna hurt ya. Thanks for the help.’ He looked around at the other customers, who were staring with open mouths. Probably just like Kiryu was. ‘Well, I’m off. See ya round. Or not.’

He walked toward the door and exited with a ‘laters!’

The couple near the table immediately started into frantic whispers, and the guy in the corner only looked for a minute before shrugging and lifting his magazine again. But Kiryu was rooted to the spot, adrenaline still pumping through his system, staring at where the eyepatch guy had been standing only a few seconds ago. One question ran on repeat through his head.

What in the everloving fuck had just happened?

 

*

 

At 5am he finished up, replaced by a scrawny kid with spiky hair and glasses. He stepped outside and walked down the alleyway, and then paused. On the main street close to the alleyway entrance there was something of a scene. Half a broken beer bottle (he could still see the familiar black Asahi sticker), some scrapes of black smeared on the wall (from somebody kicking it?), and, puzzlingly enough, a lone bicycle wheel leaning against the stone. With no bike in sight.

Kiryu looked around. The scene wasn’t so noticeable that a stranger walking past would necessarily notice it, but Kiryu had been on edge since the incident with the crazy guy before. It was all probably connected, but how? All he could imagine was a scuffle, the guy getting in bad with somebody, but the single bike wheel was an extra layer of mystery. God knows.

Kiryu shrugged. It wasn’t his problem. He was hungry, and, as he suddenly felt the weight of the day’s events on his shoulders, pretty damn tired too.

He walked slowly through the slowly reddening streets of pre-dawn Kamurocho. Sometimes he resented the city, the filthiness, the crime, but at times like this he loved it here. The rainbow wash of the neon lights, the huddled people going to work or coming home. Even the griminess became pleasant, a smeared sign of a lived-in city.  

He stopped at a stall to get takoyaki and ate it as he walked, eventually crossing over a bridge. He paused for a moment, looking out over the dark waters, and when the mayonnaise was licked from his fingers he fished a battered pack of Hi-Lites out of his pocket and lit one, the ember glowing red in the pre-dawn twilight.

In that quiet space between night and day, his thoughts flickered back to the man in the cafe. It wasn’t the first time he’d gotten caught up in some sort of trouble - it was almost a guarantee when you were built like he was, and working in a place like Kamurocho. But he certainly hadn’t been held at knifepoint before. By who he now heavily suspected was a member of the yakuza. Maji-something? What was his first name? Kiryu had already forgotten.

Kiryu took a long drag and blew the smoke up into the sky, watching it twist grey against the paling black. For the first time in a long while, he thought about Nishiki. After everything they’d been through...

After a moment, Kiryu dropped the cigarette and stubbed it out with his heel. He hunched his shoulders and kept walking, threading his way through the groups of people going to work amidst the muddy light. When he got to his apartment, the small one-bedroom he’d lived in for the past twenty-five years, he walked up the narrow stairs and opened the door, tugging off his clothes and crashing onto the futon as soon as he got inside. Within minutes, he was asleep.

 

*

 

Two weeks later Kiryu had all-but-forgotten about the terrifying encounter with the one-eyed man. He’d mentioned it to the manager when he came the following night, but he had no clue who it’d been, and neither did any of the other staff.  Kamurocho was a big place after all, with a ridiculous amount of people crossing through its streets every night and day. It was likely that it’d just been a freak one-off encounter. Kiryu had briefly thought about going to the police, but dismissed it almost immediately. It seemed like trouble was following the guy, and Kiryu didn’t want to stick his nose where it didn’t belong. Plus, he’d seemed genuinely unhinged. Not somebody Kiryu wanted to cross.

He knew it was unlikely they’d cross paths once more, but that didn’t soothe the slight ball of nerves in his gut when Wednesday night rolled around again. He’d watched the door anxiously, shifting on the balls of his feet. But nothing had happened. The rest of the week was uneventful, and slowly he relaxed and slipped back into the groove of things.

By the Wednesday night after that, the one-eyed man was far from his mind.

‘Whaddya mean you don’t serve beer here?’

Kiryu bit his lip. ‘Sir, this is a cafe.’

The man in front of him, arm slipped over the girl he was with, squinted at him with bleary eyes. She looked distinctly uncomfortable and Kiryu felt a pang of sympathy.

‘B-bro, it’s fucking Kamurocho a-and it’s like four in the morning. What the hell do you serve?’

‘Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to keep your voice down.’ Kiryu darted a look at the other customers.

‘What the-’, the drunken man lurched forward and pointed a finger at him, ‘I’m a freaking customer, I deserve what I want.’

‘We don’t serve beer here, sir,’ said Kiryu, biting his tongue. ‘We serve a variety of coffee and tea. I’d recommend you find another establishment.’ The other customers were glancing up and he didn’t have the authority to throw this guy out on the street, though his hands were twitching to do so. He was distantly aware of the door opening. Fuck, not more people to see this.  

‘This is bullshit!’ The drunk guy lurched forward again, hand hitting the counter with a loud slap, and the shop went silent. Kiryu’s heartbeat thumped in his ears.

‘Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,’ he said as levelly as he could.

The guy’s mouth pulled back into an ugly smirk. ‘Fucking make me,’ he said, raising a hand, ‘you piece of–’

‘I think that’s enough,’ came a hiss. A gloved hand caught the drunk guy’s wrist, fingers curled tight enough to bruise, and Kiryu followed that hand down to a yellow jacket and a bare chest and oh my god-

The one-eyed man’s face was curled in a sneer. ‘Ya think ya have the fuckin’ authority to come in ‘ere and be a dick to staff? Ya fuckin’ weasel.’

The drunk man had already paled. ‘L-look, I don’t wanna cause no trouble.’

‘Ya already caused enough trouble,’ the one-eyed man replied. ‘Ya clearly been disruptin’ nice guests and this guy here, so I think it’s time ya leave.’ As if to emphasise his point he brought up his other hand and gripped the guy’s shoulder, hard enough that Kiryu winced. ‘Ya think so?’

The drunk guy nodded quickly in return. He made to leave, but the one-eyed man was still holding onto his wrist and he jerked him back roughly, nearly pulling him over.

‘Uh-uh,’ he said. ‘I believe ya owe everyone here an apology.’

The man flushed. ‘Y-yeah.’ He bowed quickly in Kiryu’s direction, and then to the rest of the cafe. ‘I-I’m very sorry for my actions. Please forgive me.’

‘Good,’ smirked the one-eyed man. ‘Now don’t lemme see ya back here again.’ He let go of his wrist.

The man nodded and hightailed it out of the cafe, the poor girl following him. The door shut behind them.

‘Thank you,’ were the first words out of Kiryu’s mouth. Then he blinked. The one-eyed man – what was his name again? – turned and gave him a crooked smirk. Kiryu had been petrified of seeing him again, but now that he was here, well… that had been kind of awesome. Kiryu was begrudgingly impressed. The slight ball of nerves that’d been curled in his stomach for two weeks melted away completely.

‘Don’t mention it,’ the guy said, stepping up to the counter. The handful of customers were giving him appreciate stares and whispering amongst themselves, but he didn’t seem to notice. ‘I always hate people like that who think they can jus’ treat workers like shit.’

‘I, uh–’ Kiryu began, but got cut off.

‘Yeah, yeah, I know how hypocritical that is, given what I did a few weeks ago,’ the guy waved a hand, ‘but believe it or not I actually came in ‘ere to apologise to ya.’ He flashed a toothy smile. ‘If you’ll accept it.’

‘I-um… yeah?’ Kiryu stammered. Really the guy had held him at knifepoint and he was very much not okay with that, but he seemed oddly genuine, and christ what was Kiryu even doing? He should be telling him to get out and calling security instead of accepting his apology.

But it was too late, because the guy splayed his hands and beamed.

‘Great! So I’ll have a large caramel latte with a hazelnut shot.’

‘Uh … okay,’ Kiryu mumbled, feeling faint. This night was going from bad to better to downright confusing. He pinched the skin on his arm and winced. Definitely not dreaming.

He moved behind the coffee machine in a daze, grinding the beans, steaming the milk, and then stepped back to glance sideways.

This guy, whoever he was, looked a hell of a sight. He wasn’t exactly the most out-of-place guy in Kamurocho, but that was mostly because a lot of yakuza prowled this area, and Kiryu had become used to picking them out. And this guy looked like yakuza. The throaty, lilting way he seemed to chew his words before spitting them out, along with the tattoos coiling across his chest, and presumably across his back, pointed to that. And the knife too, of course. And the eyepatch. And the ridiculous snakeskin jacket and the slicked hair and the gloves and the boots, and--the whole guy looked like he’d walked right out of a shitty yakuza movie, actually. It was almost comical.

Still, despite the fact that an apparent member of the criminal underworld was standing about six feet from him, Kiryu didn’t discriminate against his customers, so he focused on making the great coffee he’d been hired for. A minute later he passed the large paper cup to whatever-his-name-was, who smiled and took it with a gloved hand. Kiryu looked at his gloves. Really, did he wear them because he thought they looked cool? Was it a fashion thing? Was it related to the eyepatch? He’d probably never find out – it wasn’t like he planned on seeing the guy again.

‘Thank ya kindly,’ eyepatch-man said. ‘How much do I owe ya?’

‘Uh … it’s on the house.’

The man chortled. ‘Really? ‘N here I was thinkin’ you weren’t scared of me anymore.’

Kiryu swallowed. ‘I-I’m not scared–’

The man snorted. ‘I could see ya shakin’ like a leaf before buddy, ya can’t fool me.’

Kiryu felt a flush begin to crawl up his neck.

‘Anyway,’ the man said, and his expression turned serious. It was deeply unnerving how quickly the smile slipped away and how harsh his face looked without it. ‘I really am sorry about last time. I hope I didn’t frighten ya too much.’

Kiryu looked at him. His uncovered eye, soft brown and ringed by a surprisingly thick row of eyelashes, gazed back.

‘It’s alright,’ he said eventually. ‘I won’t ask questions and I won’t pry. Just… maybe try not to do that again.’

His politeness was clearly amusing, and the man’s mouth curled into a slight smile. ‘I don’t exactly plan on it. Getting on the wrong side ’a those guys once a month is enough for me.’

Kiryu didn’t press any further. If this guy was half as honest as he seemed to be, he’d have nothing to worry about if they talked a little, but still, this was dangerous business and he’d be smart to ignore it. Head down and walk away, Kiryu, he said to himself. No interfering.

‘Thanks for before,’ he settled on saying. ‘You kinda saved me back there.’

The guy blinked once, deliberately, and Kiryu wondered if he was trying to wink. ‘Don’ mention it.’ With that he turned on his heel and walked out of the cafe.

For the second time that month, Kiryu was left staring after the one-eyed man, except this time it wasn’t fear but curiosity that coiled in his gut. Curiosity was bad, if Kiryu’s track record of getting involved in things that weren’t his business was anything to go by. It was very bad indeed.

 

*

 

It was only several hours later when he was lying in bed, that he realised the guy never did pay. 

Chapter Text

Life in Kamurocho ticked along smoothly for a while. The customers were as polite as he was used to, his favourite takoyaki stall was just as delicious as always – maybe too delicious, he could swear the elderly owner had been smiling at him the last few times he’d gone and given him extra mayo – and one-eyed-apparently-yakuza-but-still-oddly-nice-man was nowhere to be seen.

Kiryu wasn’t disappointed, per se. He certainly had enough memories of the yakuza that he knew not to get involved with them. But their conversation had been more interesting than the usual. Once you got past the knife, the guy was intriguing. And he’d come all the way back to the cafe to what – apologise to Kiryu? That didn’t exactly scream ‘don’t fuck with me’. 

He’d made him a free coffee, too. With syrup.

The cafe kept him busy. Weekends were crazy and had him on his feet most of the time. Everyone came out to Kamurocho in droves, and that meant not only making drinks almost non-stop for young couples and bleary-eyed-businessman and lone people who’d come here after a late movie, but also dealing with the drunks who’d wander in looking lost. Luckily no one gave him as much trouble as the guy the one-eyed man had dealt with.

Weeknights were much better. He had enough downtime that he’d started bringing books into work and reading them in the early hours when there weren’t many customers.

He was about a quarter through a Murakami book Yumi had recommended to him when he heard the door open.

‘Well, ‘ello ‘ello,’ came a too-familiar voice.

Kiryu looked up. Well, damn. He closed the book and slid it to one side.

One-eyed man with the short, lank hair smirked as he walked up to the counter.

‘What can I get you?’ Kiryu asked, attempting to be polite.

‘Aw, no pleasantries?’ The man pouted. ‘And here I thought we were buddies.’

Kiryu stared, feeling unimpressed.

The man chuckled. ‘Don’t look so put out, I’m just teasin’.’ He looked up at the menu board and stroked his chin. ‘Ya know what, the drink ya made me last time was so good and I can’t remember what it’s called for the life ‘a me.’

‘Large caramel latte.’ Kiryu paused. Sounding a little eager there. ‘With hazelnut syrup.’

The man raised his eyebrows. ‘Ya certainly do have a good memory.’

‘I really don’t.’

‘Psht, of course ya do! What’s my name?’

Kiryu flushed. What had it been? Gojima? Kazama? Shit. 

The man pouted. Kiryu floundered for a response.

‘Gojira.’ Wait, fuck--

Not-Gojira threw his head back and laughed. ‘I mean, last time I checked I wasn’t a fuckin’ hundred-foot-tall mutant lizard rampaging through the streets of Tokyo, but I appreciate the effort.’ He pretended to wipe away a tear. ‘What the fuck, kid. You’re pretty funny.’

‘Hmm.’

The guy finally stopped chuckling. He held out a gloved hand. ‘I’m Majima.’

Goro Majima, Kiryu finished in his head, the name coming back to him. He reached out and grasped Majima’s hand. His grip was firm, fingers slender but strong.

‘Not ta complain or anythin’, but I’d like if ya gave me your name too,’ Majima said after a long beat. ‘Might be nice to stop referrin’ to ya as “that muscly barista guy” in my head.’

Kiryu blinked in response.

‘I’m Kiryu,’ he said after a pause, feeling thrown off balance. Majima was ... unpredictable to the extreme. 

‘Kiryu, hmm.’ Majima brought up a hand to stroke at dark stubble. ‘I like that. Rolls off yer tongue nice and smooth-like.’ Amusement tugged at the corner of Majima’s eyes, drawing a faint web of wrinkles. He was probably about the same age as him.

Kiryu cleared his throat. ‘Sure. So, I’ll, uh, make your drink now.’

Majima chuckled. ‘Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna make a move or anythin’. Jus’ fun to see ya getting all flustered ‘n shit.’ 

Kiryu felt a flush creep up his neck all the way to his hairline. If he looked in a mirror now, he knew he’d see the familiar warm red dotting his cheeks. As he set about making the drink, hands following muscle memory, Nishiki’s words from when they were both younger floated back to him. Kiryu, he’d tease, you always look so fucking constipated that I can never tell what you’re thinking. Then some hottie talks to you and you light up like a fucking Christmas tree. Kiryu shook the thoughts out of his head, though the memory eased his embarrassment enough for him to look at Majima again while the milk was steaming.

Last time Majima had just stood behind the counter looking pensively around, but now he was leaning forward on his elbows, tapping long fingers on the metal countertop to the beat of a song Kiryu didn’t recognise.

Kafka On The Shore?’

Majima had seen the book, tilted it to read the title. Kiryu looked back at the coffee machine.

‘Yeah, a friend recommended it to me. It gets a bit boring in here some nights, you know. Not so many customers on weeknights.’

Majima hummed. ‘It’s a good book.’

For some reason that startled Kiryu. He couldn't quite picture Majima reading modern literature.

‘You like to read?’ he asked, brows furrowing.

‘Aw yeah, every now ‘n then. Jus’ whatever interests me, mostly.’

He picked up the book and thumbed through the pages. ‘Murakami’s real good. He’s weird, I like that. Inventive as all hell, too. ’ He put the book back down and slid it to the side. He resumed tapping the beat of the song and Kiryu was momentarily distracted by the graceful movement of his gloved fingers before he finally looked away.

He finished the drink in silence and handed it to Majima.

‘Oh.’ He suddenly realised. ‘I forgot to ask if you wanted dine-in or takeaway.’

Majima smiled and waved a hand. ‘Don’ worry about it, I got places to go anyways.’ He took a sip and made a hum of approval, his eyebrows lifting. ‘Yeah, that definitely burned my tongue. Good stuff though.’

Kiryu snorted. ‘Be careful.’

Majima did that slow, deliberate blink again – and okay he was definitely trying to wink at him, Kiryu could tell by now – and smirked.

‘For you, I’ll try my best.’

He walked out of the cafe and closed the door behind him.

Kiryu looked after him for a few seconds, his brows furrowed. If he didn’t know better, he’d almost say Majima had been… flirting with him. But that was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. 

He begrudgingly had to admit that Majima was interesting though. Really interesting. He cleared his throat and set to work wiping the counter. When he was finished he pulled up a chair and picked up his book again. Now, where was I up to?

 

*  *  *

 

Several hours later, he realised that once again, Majima hadn’t paid. ‘Goddamnit,' he muttered into his pillow. ‘Goddamnit.’

 

*  *  *

 

The next week ticked by slowly. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to when Majima had been showing up, so Kiryu had no idea when - or even how, come to think of it -  to prepare for him. One morning while getting dressed, he noticed with a flush, that he felt like he was almost holding his breath, waiting for something. 

But waiting for what?

Later, amidst the bustle of making endless lattes and black coffees for his customers, he realised with a pang that he was, once again, bored. 

His usual clientele were tired businessman who mumbled their order and shuffled out of the cafe clutching overly-caffeinated drinks, or young couples who ordered something sugary sweet and spent the next hour sitting close together chatting quietly and giggling. When he’d first started this job, they’d been intensely interesting to him; he’d loved talking, asking about somebody’s day, giving advice on some sort of financial or marital or work-related problem. He’d loved coming to work, loved the stream of different people all living unique lives as varied as his own. Loved helping out wherever he could. Loved the thrill of making people smile.

Then Majima had whirled in, with his stupid snakeskin jacket and tanto and unpredictability and interesting conversation, and suddenly it wasn’t quite enough. Kiryu hated to admit that he spent more than one shift silently praying for a customer to leave just so he could get back to hunching over his book. What he wanted was to hear the bell over the door jingle and for that crooning, ridiculous sing-song cadence to begin. It was ridiculous because he’d met Majima what, two, three times? It was stupid to feel this way. Absolutely stupid. 

Knowing that didn’t help, though. 

Majima was… unpredictable, when Kiryu’s life had become anything but. Perhaps he just needed some more excitement in his life and his desire wasn’t about Majima at all but a sign that he needed to make that excitement himself - after all, he had the feeling that wishing for the conversation of a one-eyed yakuza member would come back to bite him in the ass sooner or later. 

But all the same, when the door jangled and there wasn’t the flash of a snakeskin jacket, Kiryu couldn’t help the soft pang of disappointment in his stomach. It was all so stupid because he barely knew the guy. But still, he hoped that Majima found his way back to the cafe sooner or later.

As luck would have it, a week later he got his wish.

*  *  *

 

Kiryu was walking down the usual grimy street to get to the cafe that he always did, when a loud scream suddenly echoed up ahead. 

He blinked, takoyaki in hand, then with a grimace, shoved the rest into his mouth and ran, his cheeks probably puffed out comically. He rounded the corner and came skidding to a halt. 

There was a crowd of men surrounding something on the ground. Most of the men, Kiryu noticed, were flat on their backs, wheezing for air. Kiryu looked into the centre of the circle. For a moment he could only pick out a blur of legs, of yellow and black, a spinning whirlwind. Then he blinked, and the figure righted itself, and Kiryu recognised him with a jolt.

‘Come on, ya bastards!’ shouted Majima, twirling a tanto in one hand. His hair was messy and his jacket was streaked with dirt. ‘Come get me!’

One of the two remaining men rushed forward and Kiryu winced as Majima made light work of him, stepping lithely to the side and moving his hands so quickly that Kiryu barely saw them move, and the guy slammed into the ground. He cringed. 

Kiryu saw the last man stumble to his feet and rush towards Majima and he stepped forward automatically, a warning halfway out of his mouth and panic rising in his chest. ‘Maji-’

But Majima had already spun around, catching the guy in the stomach with his elbow. He twirled the tanto and Kiryu’s breath caught in his throat. But Majima simply caught the man in the side of the jaw with the blunt hilt, and he went toppling to the ground where he lay still as a corpse. 

Kiryu could only stare, dumbstruck. For a long moment, Majima simply stood there, now puffing, his chest heaving. He looked around and caught Kiryu’s eye. His eye widened momentarily, as if in surprise, and then a grin - weary but almost proud - spread across his face. 

‘Oi!’ he cried out, waving his arm above his head as though Kiryu hadn’t just seen him take down a small army of men.

Kiryu looked around nervously. There had been a small crowd gathered that were now starting to dissipate, and despite the admittedly imposing body he’d worked hard to get, Kiryu liked to lay low. He tentatively raised his hand in an awkward wave and nodded in the direction of the cafe, trying silently to signal to Majima that he’d prefer talking in private.

Majima’s eye twinkled, and he watched Kiryu for a moment before turning away, his focus switched to the men on the ground, who were writhing around and groaning. One had even taken out his wallet and started throwing bills to the ground at Majima's feet.

Kiryu continued walking to the cafe, unlocking the door and slipping inside. He busied himself fixing up things behind the counter, turning on the coffee machine and getting things ready for the opening shift. There was something rising in his gut that he couldn’t quite name.

When Majima walked in a few minutes later, Kiryu turned to him. 

‘What the hell was that?’ he said. The anger in his voice surprised even himself for a second and he bit his tongue. Oh, so it’s this again. 

Majima hadn’t missed the venom in his voice and his eye widened, an eyebrow shooting up. ‘I wouldn’t know what you’re talkin’ about, Kiryu-chan.’

Kiryu-chan??? Kiryu pushed that thought to the back of his head and fixed Majima with a stern glare. ‘Look, I know that you’re-’ he gestured broadly to Majima’s entire being, ‘- you know, but seriously?’

‘What do you mean, “you know”,’ said Majima, making air quotes, looking pointedly at him with one slowly narrowing eye.

Kiryu sighed and bent to get a towel from under the counter. He started wiping the countertop, ignoring the fact that it was already pristine, and kept his eyes down. He felt so… on edge. It had been a long time since he had felt like this, and the familiar emotions came back, anger and fear mingling with his current state. He gritted his teeth. ‘You know what I mean.’

‘You can say it, ya know, it’s not like it’s a fuckin’ swear word,’ said Majima flatly. Kiryu looked up as Majima pulled back the collar of his jacket, exposing the web of an intricate irezumi curling over his shoulders and down his chest. ‘This, right?’ Majima let go of the jacket and looked at him with an expression that was almost wounded. ‘So, I’m yakuza.’ 

Kiryu’s jaw clenched at hearing the word. It was one thing to know it, to exchange polite conversation with Majima and make him a drink, but it was another to hear it from his own mouth, to finally acknowledge the elephant in the room. Deep down he knew that Majima didn’t mean trouble. And hell, Kazama, the orphanage, everything that he’d done for them was proof that the yakuza weren’t evil. But all the same, it was a world Kiryu didn’t want to get tied up in. He’d done everything he could to get out of it.

Unfortunately, Majima had no way of reading his thoughts and only noticed his sour expression. His eyes clouded over. ‘So,’ he barked, ‘Ya see one fight and that’s it, suddenly you’re scared of me? Think I’m a monster?’ 

‘It wasn’t that,’ said Kiryu, looking away. And it really wasn’t. There was a long pause where Kiryu stared distantly to the side, out the window at the people milling past. Twenty years, he thought, was a very long time, until suddenly it wasn’t. He looked back at Majima. 

There was dirt smeared on his crinkled jacket and his hair was wild. Bruises seemed like they were already starting to form on the man’s stiffly held jaw, and the golden skin of his bare chest was dotted with red marks and several small gashes. There was a small cut along his forehead that was slowly crusting with dried blood.

Majima was simply watching him, his eyes reserved. 

‘How often do you fight?’ said Kiryu, crumpling the towel and dropping it on the counter. He folded his arms across his chest.

Majima blinked, then shrugged. ‘I dunno.’ He scratched the back of his head. ‘This week, ya mean?’

Kiryu glared at him.

Majima snorted. ‘Hey, don’t get too sour there, princess. I mean, whaddya expect?’ He shrugged. ‘Ya know what I am, I gotta defend our clan ‘n all that.’ 

Kiryu made an unimpressed noise. He realised he was too tense and consciously relaxed his shoulders. There was no reason Majima had to know anything about his past. ‘Just seems dangerous.’ 

Majima looked genuinely confused. ‘Dangerous?’ 

‘I mean, look at you, you’re all beaten up. Why’d you even fight just now?’

Majima blinked at him. ‘They started it.’ 

Kiryu sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘Look, just please, try to stay out of trouble, at least? And no fighting outside the cafe, I do like to have my customers think this is actually a safe place to be.’ 

Majima’s brows were furrowed. Slowly his expression cleared and a wide grin slowly spread across his face, his brown eyes flicking up to bore into Kiryu’s own.

‘You’re worried about me,’ he said, staring at Kiryu with something that looked uncomfortably like amazement. 

‘I’m not,’ said Kiryu flatly, though something flickered in his chest. ‘Just don’t want you to get yourself killed outside my workplace.’ 

Majima grinned, his lips wide and warm. ‘You totally are, big guy.’ His voice was filled with mirth. ‘Big ol’ Kiryu-chan worried about lil’ old Majima.’ 

‘Please stop calling me Kiryu-chan.’

‘Not gonna happen.’ 

Kiryu glared at him, trying to ignore just how weird it was that he enjoyed Majima saying Kiryu-chan in that awful crooning accent. He sighed, then unfolded his arms. He stretched out his fingers and took a deep breath, ignoring Majima’s curious glance.

‘So, did you want a drink?’ 

‘Ah, tryin' to get rid of me already? And here I thought ya weren’t scared of me.’

Kiryu snorted. ‘Believe me, I’m not scared of you.’ He had a brief, intense flashback to the first night they’d met, when Majima held the tanto against his leg, and bit his tongue. Not anymore at least. 

‘Well then, I’ll have the usual,’ said Majima, splaying his hands. 

‘Large caramel latte with hazelnut syrup, got it,’ said Kiryu, turning to the coffee machine. Though it had barely been a confrontation, his limbs felt drained all of a sudden, like he’d been fighting, and it was a relief to relax and let his muscle memory take over.

Last time Majima had mostly stood quietly, but barely ten seconds went by before he opened his mouth again. Kiryu normally disliked constant chatter, but Majima didn't annoy him for some reason. 

‘You’re different than I expected,’ said Majima thoughtfully, leaning on the counter with his head propped on a hand. ‘Mos’ people hear yakuza and run the other way. And here ya are, makin’ me a coffee.’ 

A wry smile tugged at Kiryu’s lips. ‘Guess I’m not most people, then,’ he said. He paused a moment, before adding quietly, ‘I guess there’s a lot you don’t know about me.’ 

Majima chortled and Kiryu felt his cheeks flush. 

‘Well, look at mister mysterious over here,’ said Majima, pretending to wipe away a tear, and Kiryu scowled. He hadn’t meant to make it sound quite that dramatic but Majima was acting like it was the best joke he’d ever heard. He was tempted to say that if Majima knew anything about his past he probably wouldn’t be laughing, but he bit the words back. 

Majima caught a glimpse of his scowl and chuckled quietly. ‘Look, sorry if I hurt ya feelings there, sweetheart.’

Sweetheart? Kiryu glared at him.

Majima’s grin slipped away and his face became more thoughtful, though his eye still retained that slightly unhinged twinkle. Kiryu wondered if Majima was ever totally serious.

‘So, tell me then. Abou’ the mysterious life of Kiryu-chan.’ 

Kiryu worked on the coffee machine for a moment. ‘I don’t think there’s that much to tell.’

‘Sure there isn’t. Tell me ‘bout yourself. Where’d ya grow up? Why’re ya working in a cafe?’ Majima leaned forward on the counter, his eye fixing Kiryu with a curious look he couldn’t quite place. ‘Lemme guess, ya grew up with rich parents. Nah! Poor parents?’

Kiryu rolled his eyes. How much was he willing to actually tell him? It wasn’t like they’d known each other for that long, had only crossed paths three or four times. He liked talking to him - maybe a bit too much - but Kiryu was also wary of becoming too close to someone who was a tanto-wielding, mildly unhinged yakuza member. 

It was best not to say too much, he thought. After all, they barely knew each other. But Majima could know the basics. 

‘No parents, actually,’ he said, reaching to get a lid for the coffee, his eyes firmly fixed downwards on his hands. ‘I grew up in an orphanage.’ 

Majima whistled through his teeth. ‘Shit. Sorry for jokin’ before.’ 

Kiryu shrugged. ‘You didn’t know.’

‘So what after that? Ya became a muscly barista?’

Kiryu’s lips twitched. ‘I worked in real estate, actually. Right from when I graduated high school to a few months ago.’ The half-lie rolled off his tongue too easy. He'd done other things between high school and getting that real estate job, but Majima didn't need to know that. He placed the coffee on the countertop in front of Majima, who was gazing at him thoughtfully. 

‘Somehow I can’t picture you as a real estate guy.’ 

‘Me neither,’ said Kiryu, deadpan. ‘That’s why I work here now.’ 

Majima snorted, grabbing the coffee and tapping the lid with his forefinger. He looked up at Kiryu, his gaze indecipherable from behind a row of thick eyelashes. ‘Well, I’ll admit ya are interestin’. Guess there’s a lot more secrets wrapped up in that big muscly body ‘a yours.’

Kiryu blinked, feeling for the second time that Majima’s tone was almost flirtatious. But that was ridiculous. Wasn’t it?

There was a long pause where Kiryu didn’t quite know what to say. He felt the blood slowly pooling in his cheeks, and they only felt warmer as Majima’s gaze flickered to them like he’d noticed. Nishiki’s words echoed in his head, mocking him. Stone-faced ‘till somebody compliments you, then you might as well be shouting your feelings to the rooftops.

‘Oh, that’s um…’ Kiryu coughed and looked down at the coffee, feeling his cheeks burn, ‘four hundred yen.’ 

‘Ah shit, I never did pay ya for the other ones, did I? Here ya go.’ 

Majima fished into his pocket and pulled out a battered wallet, from which he grabbed a handful of crumpled notes and handed them to Kiryu.

Kiryu took it, breathing a sigh of relief that the strange moment, whatever it’d been, was over.

‘Well …’ said Majima. ‘I’ll see ya around, Kiryu-chan.’ He shot him a crooked grin, eye twinkling. 

Kiryu’s lips pursed. ‘See you.’

Kiryu didn’t know why, but he watched as Majima’s messy black hair and obnoxious jacket disappeared out the door, and then stood there for a moment looking after him. 

The cafe felt strangely quiet. 

Kiryu focused on cleaning the coffee machine, setting up cups and lids neatly. He had the feeling Majima would be back, and he wasn’t sure if he was relieved or worried.

Chapter Text

Majima came back three times that same week, and the week after. If there were other customers around, he’d simply order a drink and make brief small talk, ignoring the - occasionally frightened, usually just curious - glances from the other clientele before exiting with a wave (this was Kamurocho after all, and people were used to seeing, if not interacting with, the yakuza). But he seemed to come at totally random times of the day - Kiryu didn’t know when he slept, if he did at all - and so late some quiet weeknights Majima would lean on the counter and linger while Kiryu tidied, or swept, or did stocktake.

The first week, their (short) conversations generally went like this:

‘Oi, Kiryu-chan!!!’ 

‘Please don’t call me that.’ 

‘Aw, you're no fun, Kiryu-chan. Pretty please?’

‘No.’ 

‘Come on, I’ll even let ya call me Majima-chan!’

‘That’s ... really not going to happen.’

‘Then I guess we’re both stubborn as shit. Gimme the usual, ya big grump.’ 

[sighs] ‘Coming right up.’ 

By the second week, Kiryu had learned to stop protesting the nickname. The conversation moved faster that way. 

 

*   *   * 

 

When Majima came in on those quiet weeknights and lingered a while longer, he'd converse with Kiryu about whatever seemed to take his fancy.

He’d ask about what bars Kiryu went to (whatever was quiet and cheap), what Kiryu did in his free time (bowling, reading, and sleeping, mostly), stuff that happened in Kamurocho (he had little news except for the gossip customers told him, and he wasn’t about to share that). Kiryu learned that Majima was a few years older than him, that he loved the same little takoyaki stall that he did, that he’d lived in Kamurocho for at least a few years, and that he was probably pretty high-ranking in the yakuza - Kiryu had seen his petrified-looking underlings scurrying around him or driving him away in an expensive car at least once. 

But Kiryu barely learned anything beyond that. He didn’t know anything about Majima’s personal life, his childhood, where he’d grown up, what he actually did in the yakuza, how he’d gotten into them in the first place, even if he was married or single. 

Majima, in turn, barely asked anything personal about Kiryu - for which he was quietly thankful, given his past - seeming content only to learn what Kiryu did in his spare time, to spend time chatting about the city and their favourite places to go for a drink. 

However, Kiryu did learn several things about Majima that piqued his interest.

Firstly, Majima really liked books. If Kiryu had brought a book to read during breaks it was rare Majima wouldn’t know the title or at least the author, and more frequently he would say that he’d read it himself and enjoyed it. He read widely too - the local classics like Murakami and Ishiguro, modern Western books, and, he admitted once, with a grin bordering on sheepish, some of the long-running fighting manga in shounen magazines. 

Secondly, Majima seemed to fight. A lot. Kiryu didn’t know much about the yakuza these days, but surely there were rules about getting into fistfights in broad daylight? But that didn’t seem to stop Majima, who came in every other day with a new bruise blossoming on the olive skin of his bare chest, or a scrape healing on his sharp jaw, or his eye swollen, surrounded by bluey-purple blotches. Kiryu would be worried - still was worried, sometimes, when Majima stepped forward into the light of the cafe and there was a bruise marring his face and shadows under his exposed eye - but he’d seen Majima fight and the guy, for lack of a better word, was fierce. He seemed like he always won, and he rarely seemed to get into so much trouble that Kiryu was nervous. 

Thirdly, Majima always got the same drink - a large caramel latte with hazelnut syrup. By the end of the second week Kiryu wasn’t totally sure if Majima was ordering it because he didn’t know what else to get, or if he really did have that much of a sweet tooth. It was yet another one of those mysteries that almost seemed to permeate the air around Majima, like tendrils from a thick cloud of chaotic energy that signaled he’d come from another world, fighting and hawwing and crooning his way into this one.

Kiryu had never met anyone else quite like him. 

 

*   *   * 

 

That weekend, Kiryu woke in the early afternoon to sunlight streaming into his apartment. As he made his usual cup of weak green tea, he noticed that he felt almost … lighter than usual. He brushed it off, but after getting showered, dressed and heading off on the familiar route, he couldn’t deny that there was a slight spring in his step. It was as though he’d slept extra well, or had just been on a fantastic date and was stumbling home euphoric and slightly drunk. But that was absurd. Kiryu hadn’t been on a date in years, and the mattress had been the same lumpy-but-comfortable-enough affair it always was. 

Still, even as he was lining up at the takoyaki stall, he couldn’t shake the feeling. When he paid, the elderly man serving him looked him up and down and said, ‘Ah, in a good mood, today?’

‘Yeah,’ said Kiryu, his brows furrowing. ‘I am.’

As he walked down the street towards the cafe, shoving octopus balls into his mouth, he realised that was exactly it, and stopped still. He chewed thoughtfully. The small amount of foot traffic flowed past him, but for a moment Kiryu was stuck in his own world. 

He was in a good mood. 

More importantly, he wasn’t bored. 

Kiryu wasn’t sure when he’d started feeling that small spring in his step again, the eagerness to get to the cafe and serve drinks, but it had to have been within the past week or so. As soon as the question popped into his head, the answer followed suit - but that particularly glaring answer had an eyepatch and a filthy mouth, and Kiryu was not about to admit that he actually, what… enjoyed Majima’s company?

Kiryu swallowed. That's a thought for another time. For now, he had work to do. He hastily shoved the last takoyaki ball into his mouth and kept walking.

 

*   *   * 

 

‘Ya like video games, Kiryu-chan?’

Kiryu tried not to think of the stockpile of fighting games currently strewn around his apartment. He bit his tongue. ‘I do.’

‘Whaddaya play?’

‘Some fighting games, just here and there.’ Lies.

‘No shit! What’s ya favourite?’

‘I-uh, I like the old-school ones. Tekken, Street Fighter.’

‘Ah, nostalgia freak, huh?’

He wondered if this was embarrassing to admit. ‘Well, I used to go to the arcade a lot back in the eighties. I always liked those games. The racing ones, too.’

‘Ah, a man ‘a culture, I see.’ 

Kiryu snorted. ‘I’m pretty sure everyone used to go there back in the day. It wasn’t exactly unpopular.’

‘Ya ever go on those claw machines? Haw, I could jus’ never seem to get those freakin’ toys. I swear they were rigged or some shit.’

‘You wanted one?’

‘Well, they were pretty cute, ya know?’

A mental image flashed abruptly through Kiryu’s mind, long forgotten, of fat plush sparrows with little hats, all thirty or forty of them, staring at him with adorable beady eyes from the floor of his apartment, and Nishiki beside him mute, before turning his head and saying ‘Yo, Kiryu, what the fuck?’

‘Yeah,’ said Kiryu, biting back a smile. ‘They were.’

 

*   *   * 

 

Later that night, as he was lying in bed, he felt quite relieved that Majima hadn’t asked about what else he did in the eighties. He wasn’t sure he was ready to admit his disco past, for one. 

Kiryu rolled onto his side, a smile on his lips. When it came to Majima, though, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

 

*   *   *  

 

‘You can get something else, you know,’ he finally said the next Saturday night, when Majima had strolled in with his now typical greeting of ‘Kiryu-chan!’ By this point, Kiryu simply accepted it as one of Majima’s many quirks - something he could protest but that wouldn’t change. ‘You don’t always have to get the same drink.’ 

‘I like it,’ said Majima, leaning on the counter. ‘It tastes real good.’ 

‘Are you sure?’ Kiryu frowned. ‘I mean, I’m sure it’s good, it’s just ... you are allowed to get something else. We have a variety of other syrups - caramel, coffee, even strawberry. As well as the typical other drinks, cappuccino, hot chocolates, too.’ 

Majima looked at him, that single eye narrowing slightly. Even after all this time of Majima coming in, Kiryu had never asked how he’d come to wear an eyepatch. He knew it wasn’t his business, and he had no reason to pry. He knew firsthand just how dangerous the yakuza were, and didn't like to imagine just what awful things Majima might have been through.

‘Strawberry, ya say?’ said Majima, stroking the seemingly permanent stubble on his jaw thoughtfully. ‘Sounds kinda fancy.’ 

‘It’s alright,’ said Kiryu, then bit his lip. Way to sell the product to a customer. Though Majima wasn’t exactly his usual regular customer. 

‘But you’re allowed to order the same drink, I guess,’ Kiryu continued lamely, scratching the back of his neck. 

Majima grinned. ‘Oh, I am, am I?’ He leaned forward on the counter, and Kiryu automatically shifted back on his heels. 

Majima didn’t scare him much anymore, but it was still intimidating seeing him up so close. 

Majima tilted his head and rested it on his hand, his dark brown eye boring into Kiryu. At this distance, Kiryu could see the pores on his cheeks, the red mark on his forehead where the strap of the eyepatch had dug in, the stray hairs of his dark eyebrows, the redness of his full lips. As Kiryu was looking, Majima opened his mouth and a pink tongue flicked out to wet his lips. Kiryu stared. 

Majima grinned. 

Kiryu blinked. 

‘Strawberry sounds delightful,’ murmured Majima at last, his eye roaming over Kiryu’s face and twinkling. ‘But I’ll be honest, I like gettin’ the hazelnut shot because I used to have hazelnuts when I was younger. It was a bit of a treat, ya know? So I like havin’ it now. Feels like a taste ‘a home. Plus,’ he murmured, leaning  even closer, and Kiryu was frozen solid, heart hammering in his chest, as Majima’s warm breath fluttered over his face, ‘you make it so damn nicely.’ 

‘I...’ Kiryu swallowed. Was this flirting or...? Surely not. Maybe this was just Majima. Definitely just Majima. Definitely. 

‘I’ll get that right away,’ Kiryu said, stepping back and to the side, ignoring how his cheeks were on fire. 

Judging from the way Majima stepped back and turned his head away, looking like a wide smirk was lifting his cheek, that fact hadn’t escaped his attention. 

Majima turned around and leaned back on the counter on his elbows, one leg crossed over the other at the ankle. 

Kuso...’ he muttered, looking up at the ceiling. 

Kiryu snorted. Majima had a way of switching conversations that left him feeling off balance, like when you get to the bottom of a flight of stairs and think there’s an extra step. He was slowly getting used to it, though. ‘Long day?’ 

‘Ya don’t know the half ‘a it, Kiryu-chan,’ moaned Majima dramatically, throwing a hand over his eyes. ‘Though I ain’t gonna tell ya shit.’ 

‘...Thanks?’ Kiryu bit back a smile. 

‘I mean, I would, but ... yer clearly uncomfortable with everythin’ related to my uh ... line of work, and anyways,’ Majima straightened and turned around to look at Kiryu. ‘We got more interestin’ things to talk about.’ 

Kiryu finished steaming the milk and poured it into the overly-sweet latte. ‘We do?’ 

‘Yeah! Like, have ya seen that new action fightin’ movie?’ Majima made a fist with one hand and punched it into his other one, making a loud thwack. ‘I heard a shitload 'a people die in it. Apparently heads get blown up left an' right with a fuckin’ shotgun.’ 

‘Surely you’ve got enough violence in your own life.’ 

Majima laughed. ‘Sure, but it’s a helluva lot more fun to watch it on the big screen.’ 

Kiryu’s lips twitched. ‘I haven’t seen it. Haven’t seen many movies lately, to be honest.’ 

‘You’re kiddin’. What was the last movie ya saw?’ 

‘Depends.’ Kiryu put the finished coffee cup on the counter and pretended to think, but internally he was struggling to hold back laughter. ‘When did Titanic come out?’ 

‘Kiryu-ch—‘ Majima spluttered, then fixed him with a glare that would be intimidating if Kiryu didn’t notice the corner of his lips twitching. ‘Are ya fuckin’ serious right now?’ 

Kiryu’s lips pursed tightly, and he mustered an overly serious expression. ‘Deadly.’ 

Majima gaped. ‘Ya know what year it is, right? You’re telling me ya haven’t seen a fuckin’ movie since 1997? That’s like ...’ he held up his fingers to count and Kiryu bit his tongue. ‘Nearly ten fuckin’ years.’ Majima looked at him plaintively, his eye wide and shimmering like he was a dog Kiryu had just booted off the sidewalk, and that was it. 

Kiryu laughed. A wide grin split his lips, and he almost doubled over, the deep laughter bubbling out of his chest.

The sound seemed to echo around the small, empty cafe, and only a second later Majima’s lips stretched into a wide smile, his eye fixed on Kiryu’s grin. He didn’t laugh like Kiryu had, but he chuckled lightly, his eye sparkling with amusement. 

When had it been so much fun to tease somebody else? thought Kiryu as his laughter slowly faded and he wiped a hand over his face, taking a deep breath. A soft feeling crept through Kiryu’s chest, a lightness he couldn’t place. But it made him feel floaty, a little like he was walking on air. It was the sort of feeling he got after reminiscing with Nishiki, or going to dinner at Yumi’s. It was the same feeling that had slowly been creeping up on him, he realised, for days now.

Majima was simply watching him. 

‘That smile looks real good on ya, Kiryu-chan,’ he said softly. His expression was unreadable, but his eye was unmistakably warm. 

Kiryu smiled, despite himself. If Nishiki could see him now, no doubt he'd be gaping at him, probably tease him about showing expression for once in his life. 

Kiryu waited a moment, matching Majima's gaze, then looked away and started wiping the countertop. 

‘So no, I haven’t seen that new fighting movie,’ he said. 

‘Tch. Ya wound me, Kiryu-chan. Ya gotta go to the cinema again soon.’ He stroked his stubble. ‘Haw, if ya didn’t always seem to be workin’ here I’d take ya one day myself.’ 

Kiryu glared. ‘We’re not going to the movies together.’ 

‘Eh? Too scared to be seen in public with me?’ 

‘Not scared.’ Kiryu paused, but to his horror he couldn’t find an immediate good reason not to go with Majima. It’d been a long time since he’d been out anywhere with someone else, and the prospect of sitting in a dark cinema watching a violent movie and shoveling buttery popcorn into his mouth sounded pretty good. 

But Majima had already picked up his coffee and taken a sip. ‘Well, I’ll let ya know how it is.’

‘Please do,’ said Kiryu, his voice feeling quiet.

Majima turned on his heel and left the cafe, calling out a ‘laters!’ with a now-characteristic wave of the hand. 

Kiryu stared after him. That soft feeling in his chest had grown throughout their conversation, had probably been growing for days without him knowing, was probably the cause of the spring in his step and the smile on his face, and now, only now, did he finally realise, with a faint, rising dread, what it was. 

He was starting to become friends with Majima.

Chapter Text

Years ago, during one particularly long, hot summer, the television at the orphanage had broken. It had been old even in those days, bought in the late sixties at best, but suddenly their main form of entertainment at night had been ripped away from them. Kazama had been away on a “business” trip at the time, so a replacement hadn’t been possible for at least a week. 

When they’d gotten over their dismay, Kiryu and Nishiki had spent the first night aimlessly talking with each other, while Yuko busied herself reading and Yumi had done some extra chores around the big house. When Kazama was away he had someone - one of his underlings, Kiryu thought in hindsight - look after them, and he remembered, clear as anything, that first night sitting on the zabuton shoving bland undercooked rice into his mouth, eyeing Nishiki and Yumi chattering, with the pedestal fan blowing the humid, sticky air about the dining room and the distant sounds of cicadas chirping pleasantly in the night. 

But it’s the next night that’s firmly stuck in his brain. Yumi had disappeared partway through the hot day to go to the local convenience store, and returned a short while after with a plastic bag that she’d stuffed away in her room, ignoring their questions with a small smile. Then she’d disappeared again, walking quickly through the house and avoiding them if they tried to follow her. They’d heard her humming throughout the house and looked at each other, perplexed. 

That night, when the younger kids had gone to bed - Yuko included, despite her protests - and Nishiki and Kiryu were sitting around chatting idly, Yumi had reappeared with that plastic bag in her hand. She’d led them to a room of the house that was rarely used, thrown open the door, and ushered them in. There had been three cushions arranged around a small, portable charcoal grill on the floor that was already burning. The lights in the room were off, but around the room on the floor were several candles and lanterns, the soft flames emitting a warm, golden light that sent shadows flickering around the room and across their faces. In that quiet, delicate way Yumi had of doing things even back then, she’d simply stepped forward and sat cross-legged on a cushion, opened the bag and pulled out a packet of marshmallows. 

Kiryu remembered, acutely, standing behind Nishiki at that moment. They had both been silent; Kiryu had wanted to walk forward, but remembered stopping at the last moment, caught off-guard by Nishiki’s stillness. Nishiki had simply stood there, his face turned away from Kiryu, his expression only visible to Yumi, shoulders slightly hunched, and Kiryu’s eyes had traced the hair at the nape of his neck, the skin exposed there, the few small beads of sweat that betrayed the summer’s heat. 

Nishiki’s back had suddenly straightened, and he’d nodded in Yumi’s direction. Judging by her soft, almost embarrassed smile, he’d done a little more than simply nod. Nishiki had finally walked forward, taking a spot on the cushion nearest to Yumi, and Kiryu had sat on the last one, able to see his adoptive brother’s face at last. There had been a genuine smile on his lips, one Kiryu wasn’t sure he’d ever seen. The candlelight and the glow from the charcoal grill’s embers painted their faces a warm yellow and red that reminded Kiryu of a sunset.

In hindsight, Kiryu thought, as he leaned against the wall of the grimy Kamurocho alleyway and took a drag of the cigarette, feeling the burn in his lungs, Yumi had always been like that. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever been able to make Nishiki smile quite like she did. 

He heard someone swearing from the cafe and sighed. Stubbing out the cigarette, he headed out of the alleyway and back through the main door. Just like they’d been when he left them, there was the owner of the cafe - a man with hair down to his chin and wearing a white suit as always - and an electrician, talking loudly.

‘I’m telling you, it’s a wiring problem,’ said the electrician, gesturing to the lightbulb above his head - currently non-functioning lights, as Kiryu had discovered upon coming to his evening shift an hour ago. Apparently they’d stopped working early in the morning sometime, but the cafe owner had only been notified a few hours ago, and then it’d taken this long to get someone down here to fix it. 

‘So what does that mean?’ 

‘It means,’ said the electrician, ‘It’s a little more intense than just patching up a bad connection. I don’t know where it’s coming from, I’ll have to have a proper look around, even get into the walls. And that could take hours.’ 

The cafe owner sighed and Kiryu felt a pang of sympathy for both of them.

‘Hours, are you sure? You know we have a cafe to run here, we do a lot of business at night…’ The owner’s tone was soft, polite but firm. 

‘Unfortunately, yes,’ said the electrician. ‘I understand your frustration, but it’ll take a while…’ 

Kiryu spoke at last. 

‘Kazuki-san, do we have any candles lying around?’ The cafe owner turned to Kiryu at the mention of his name. His delicate features morphed into a frown. ‘Candles?’  

Kiryu’s reminiscing in the alleyway had given him an idea. ‘Yeah, candles. Lanterns. Any other source of light we have.’

Understanding dawned on Kazuki’s face. ‘I think that might work, Kiryu.’ He turned back to the electrician. ‘Thanks for your work. Can you come tomorrow morning first thing?’ 

‘Can do.’ The electrician began packing up his tools, and Kazuki walked over to Kiryu. 

‘So, candles?’ 

‘Or lanterns,’ Kiryu added. ‘Or torches, anything with a soft light. We could set them around here, and here’ - he pointed to spots around the cafe - ‘and explain what’s happened. I think customers would be okay with it. And maybe place a lantern outside the front door, so people don’t think we’re closed.’ Kiryu shifted on the balls of his feet, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. He hadn’t quite meant to boss around his employer, but Kazuki was only looking around approvingly, nodding his head. 

‘Great ideas, Kiryu.’ He cracked a grin. ‘Guess that’s why I hired you.’ 

Kiryu smiled and rubbed the back of his neck. He’d never been totally comfortable with being praised, though he always appreciated it. 

Twenty minutes later, as the sun slowly started to dip below the horizon, Kiryu looked around at their handiwork. They’d found some old candles and lanterns in the storeroom, and Kiryu had got to work positioning them strategically around the cafe after Kazuki had left. One small candle on each table, several on each alcove in the wall, and a few bigger lanterns on the countertop and near the door. It was almost ... homey, just how he’d pictured it, and he smiled at his work. 

Finally, he flipped the sign on the door to “open” - they’d been closed since the electrician arrived over an hour ago, and fired up the coffee machine, which thankfully was still functioning. 

He pulled up a chair and sat with his arms folded on the countertop, gazing at the flame flickering in the little glass jar in front of him. The orange light seemed to dance, move back and forth, hypnotic almost. That night, so many years ago, somehow seemed so close at the moment... 

Yumi had torn open the bag of marshmallows as their giggles settled down. Nishiki had remembered a crass joke and told it with many hand gestures and much enthusiasm, and it had left them all in fits of laughter. Kiryu was still holding his sides, wheezing, when Yumi held out a marshmallow to Nishiki, along with some chopsticks she’d presumably procured from the cutlery drawer. He took them both, then looked at her as if he didn’t know quite what to do with them. 

Yumi’s eyes had twinkled in the firelight. She’d taken a marshmallow of her own, her fingers already white and powdery from the dusting, and using the chopsticks  placed one delicately on top of the little charcoal grill. As it sizzled away she hummed softly, the same pretty tune she often did, and Nishiki twisted to the side, shifting the cushion under him so it was in front of him, laying on his side  with his head lazily propped up in his hand. 

They had waited in silence, broken only by the distant noise of cicadas and fans whirring in other rooms. Sweat crawled down the back of Kiryu’s neck, but when he looked at Nishiki’s wide smile, listened to Yumi’s soft humming, and smelt the marshmallow slowly grilling above the embers, he’d known that at that moment he didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. 

After one or two turns of the marshmallow on the grill, Yumi picked it off carefully with the chopsticks, admiring the black grill lines and sniffing it before popping the entire thing into her mouth. Her eyes had widened, tears prickling in the corners, and she fanned at her mouth, the chopsticks clattering to the ground. 

‘’S hot!’ she mumbled past a mouthful of the sticky sweetness, gasping. ‘Agg...’

Kiryu and Nishiki hadn’t been able to hold back their laughter, and her pointed look of indignation only made them laugh harder, until the sound seemed to fill the whole room just as the golden light had. 

Kiryu was brought back to the present by the cafe door opening and a young couple timidly stepping through. They gazed around for a moment, warily looking at the candles. 

‘Hi, yes we’re open,’ called out Kiryu, putting on a friendly smile. ‘We’ve had some lighting problems today, but we’re open for business!’ 

The couple stepped forward, their expressions less hesitant, and Kiryu felt himself slip back into his cafe role. 

 

*   *   *

 

Tonight had not nearly as bad as Kiryu had worried. It had been pleasant, even. 

They hadn’t been too overrun with customers - several couples who seemed to enjoy the mood lighting that flattered their looks and created a false layer of intimacy; several businessmen who blinked in the soft light like they’d just come off twelve-hour shifts staring into bright computer screens, which they probably had, several of whom ordered a hot chocolate and stumbled on their way out; and the regular night-time clientele of night owls, who came in looking like they’d just rolled out of bed and ordered large black coffees, humming appreciatively at the decor around them and commenting how nice it looked. Several of the customers expressed their pleasure at the lighting being so soft at nighttime, and that they wished it was always like this. It wasn’t something Kiryu had expected, but after spending several hours in the soft, orange light, he had to admit it was much more calming than the usual overhead lights they had blaring down all hours of the night. 

Kiryu’s shift was almost over and there was no one else in the cafe - firmly graveyard hours now, that awkward pre-dawn time where all the night owls were just starting to go to sleep, and all the early risers weren’t up yet. He was in the middle of muddling over whether to say anything to Kazuki about getting some softer lights when the door clanged open. 

‘Hi, welcome to-‘ Kiryu greeted automatically, but the words died on his tongue. ‘Oh, it’s you, Majima-san.’ 

Majima chortled and stepped forward. ‘Ya could at least pretend you’re glad to see me, Kiryu-chan.’ He stopped suddenly and looked around, taking in the soft light, his one eye winking rapidly. ‘The fuck happened ‘ere?’ 

‘Slight lighting problem. We’re getting it fixed tomorrow morning, or, uh-‘ Kiryu checked the clock on the wall, ‘-in about two hours, but for now we’ve got these candles.’ 

Majima hummed, and unlike Yumi’s soft melody, this was a growl, a throaty sound, like a laugh that hadn’t quite managed to escape. 

‘Well, it’s certainly cosy.’ Majima tipped his head to the side. ‘Ya still got coffee?’ 

‘Yeah,’ said Kiryu, nodding. ‘The usual?’ 

Majima crooked a smile, and Kiryu’s eyes were drawn to it. He couldn’t help but notice how the slight movement almost seemed to change the structure of his whole face, made his eyes seem warm and his features soft all of a sudden. Majima’s sharp nose became smudged by shadow, the stubble on his chin darker than usual, the shadows playing around the hollows of his eyes making his eyelashes seem longer, his eyebrows more defined, highlighting the lank, short hair falling over his forehead. In this soft light, the effect was pronounced, his features both softer and thrown into definition more than Kiryu had seen before, and something rose in his stomach - an aching familiarity , of all things, that he couldn’t place. Instead of worrying about the lingering feeling, he busied his hands making the same coffee he’d made for this strange man many times now. 

Majima was quieter than usual. He stood at the counter and tapped his fingers, occasionally making a quiet hmm and running a gloved hand through his hair, fingers skimming over the band of his eyepatch, which in this dim light seemed to blend into his straight black hair. 

Kiryu steamed the milk and poured it into the takeaway cup, then snapped on a plastic lid, clicking it into place. 

His hands stilled around the hot cup, and then, slowly, driven by that lingering feeling he couldn’t place, he pulled out a ceramic mug and began grinding the coffee beans again. He gently shifted Majima’s drink to the side, aware that Majima was now watching him curiously, that dark eye almost invisible beneath the curved shadow of his brow. 

‘Ya makin’ me two drinks, Kiryu-chan?’ His voice shifted into that absurd singsong cadence on the last word, the clearest marker of a proud Kansai accent. ‘That sweet on me?’ 

‘Tch.’ Kiryu finished steaming the milk and poured it into the mug, then picked up the shaker and dusted it with chocolate. ‘Half-strength cappuccino,’ he said, pushing both drinks to the side and wiping off the machine. ‘My drink.’ 

Ooh. Sounds fancy as shit.’ 

Kiryu merely stepped to the side, pulled off his apron, and laid it on the counter. As Majima watched, eye curious, Kiryu picked up both drinks and carried them to the table nearest the counter, where a candle was still burning but starting to flicker down low. He tried not to think too much about how similar this scenario was to the orphanage all those years ago, and the other conversation years later. At least, he hoped, Majima wouldn’t try to play truth or dare with him this time. 

Kiryu pushed back the chair, wincing at the scraping noise the wood made against the hard floor, then sat down, careful not to bump the table. 

Majima was just standing at the counter, his brown eyes looking intently at him, and for a brief moment anxiety thrummed through Kiryu, making him wonder if he’d assumed too much. But the feeling left him as soon as it arrived, quick as lightning, leaving him only with a quiet resolve. 

‘I thought we could chat,’ he said. Since we’re apparently friends now, and all.

Majima whistled through his teeth, but stepped forward and folded himself into the chair, a movement that was somehow both awkward and oddly graceful. ‘Sounds intense, big boy.’ 

‘Big boy?’ Kiryu rolled his eyes. ‘Well, if you insist on coming to this cafe so much, I figured we could actually talk. I like to know my regulars.’ 

‘Ah, so I’m a regular now?’ 

‘What else would you be, Majima-san?’ 

‘I dunno.’ Majima scratched the back of his head. ‘Feels weird for ya to put up with me here. Bet I cramp ya style something awful.’ 

Kiryu had to smile at that. ‘Having yakuza hanging around the cafe isn’t ideal, I guess. But you don’t cause any trouble, and we are in the middle of Kamurocho. It’s not like I don’t see yakuza all the time.’ 

Majima hummed, tilting his head back to scratch idly at the stubble under his chin. ‘I did slightly hold ya at knife-point the first time we met, though.’ His head tilted to look at Kiryu with one dark eye, the muddy brown flecked with orange in the candlelight. 

‘And then you came back to apologise two weeks later,’ said Kiryu flatly. There was a slight pause as he chewed over his next words. ‘You’re not...’ He took a breath. ‘Not really like any yakuza I’ve met.’ Or person, for that matter.

Majima snorted. ‘An’ how many yakuza have you met?’ 

Kiryu took a sip of his cappuccino, enjoying the much-needed boost of caffeine this late into his shift. He put the mug down and clicked his fingernails against the side of the ceramic once, twice, before answering. 

‘More than you’d think,’ he said, without looking up. 

‘Eh?’ Majima leaned forward, elbows folded on the table. One hooked finger poked at the side of his coffee, as though he’d forgotten he had a takeaway cup and was trying to lift it like Kiryu did; his hand seemed to realise after a moment, fingers curling round the cup and lifting it to his lips. ‘Whaddya mean by that?’ 

The hair on the back of Kiryu’s neck prickled. Did Majima need to know about this? About Nishiki? 

‘It’s nothing,’ he lied after a moment. He leaned back. 

‘Tch, that’s unfair,’ groaned Majima, running a hand through his hair. ‘And yer shit at keeping secrets.’ 

Despite the serious topic, Kiryu almost smiled. ‘It’s just... personal.’ He shrugged.

‘Haw?’ Majima leaned forward and glared at him. ‘Ya can’t just dangle a bombshell like ya possibly know a whole bunch of yakuza an’ then yank it away from me at the las’ minute.’ 

This time Kiryu couldn’t help smiling. ‘It’s more fun to tease you.’ He hid his smirk in his coffee mug as Majima spluttered and gave him a dirty look. 

‘And here I thought you were just some nerdy, muscly barista himbo. Teasin’ me ‘n shit like that, keepin’ secrets.’ 

Kiryu frowned. ‘Himbo?’ 

‘Yeah, like the male version of a bimbo. Ya know bimbos? Those women who are real pretty and dress up real nice but ain’t got a thought in their thick heads. It ain’t an insult, though’, he added quickly, tongue flicking over his lips, ‘some people even really like those type a’ people. Find em’ loveable.’ 

‘So ... himbo means,’ the phrasing struck Kiryu as he tried to parse it, and his brow furrowed. ‘I’m an attractive, loveable idiot?’ 

Majima took a big gulp of his coffee and swallowed it down, his throat bobbing with the action. He wiped away the cream from his stubble and scratched the back of his neck for a second, not meeting Kiryu’s eyes. 

A grin spread over Kiryu’s face. ‘I’m a loveable idiot.’ He leaned back and chuckled, and Majima broke too, hunching over and huffing out a laugh, a breathy ‘haw’ sound. It reminded Kiryu of a donkey and the thought sent him into full-blown laughter. Before long, both he and Majima were wheezing, arms on the table, the cafe ringing with their laughter. 

At last they died down, and Majima leaned back, still chuckling intermittently. His face was wide with a grin. 

‘That smile looks good on ya, Kiryu-chan,’ he said, for the second time in a week, and Kiryu tried not to flush. 

‘It’s been a long time,’ he admitted, leaning back and straightening the creases of his shirt, where they’d crumpled during their bizarre, but much-needed laughing fit. 

‘Haw, that’s sad,’ said Majima, reaching into his pocket and fishing out a packet of cigarettes. ‘Mind if I smoke?’ 

Kiryu shook his head, and Majima plucked out a cigarette, settling it between his lips. 

Kiryu watched him for a long moment, the laughter fully gone, eyeing the cigarette dangling between Majima’s lips. In the shadowy, yellow light of the cafe, Majima looked as much a stereotypical poster boy of the yakuza as ever. His face was thrown into strong contrasts; the sharp, aquiline nose, the thick eyebrows curved over moody eyes, the eyepatch black and stark against the olive skin. Majima flicked open his lighter and the flames lit up his face, a brighter orange halo against the soft light of the cafe, and the effect was magnified. Kiryu realised, not for the first time, that he didn’t really know much about Majima at all. Who he was, what he did with his time. 

Majima pulled the cigarette from his lips with his thumb and forefinger and exhaled, the smoke curling into the air, the bitter taste already on Kiryu’s tongue. Majima sank back languidly, hooking an arm over the back of the chair, one leg crossed over the other from knee to ankle. 

Kiryu watched him, saying nothing. The cappuccino in front of him was finished, and the cafe was quiet. 

Majima eventually met his gaze. His eyes seemed hooded somehow, and he looked about as relaxed as Kiryu felt. 

It had been a long time, since he’d really let himself unwind like this. 

He cleared his throat. ‘So, Majima-san,’ and his voice felt too loud in the soft atmosphere that had settled on them, ‘... what do you... do?’ 

‘What do I do?’ Majima huffed. ‘I’m guessin’ ya mean my day job.’ 

Kiryu hummed. 

‘Do ya really wanna know? Ya seem like ya know enough already, anyways.’ 

‘I want to hear it from you, though.’ 

Majima hawwed and plucked at the band of his eyepatch, finger slipping underneath to rub the skin absent-mindedly.

‘Well, ya already know what I am. Didn’t seem too pleased about it las’ time we talked so I wasn’t sure if ya wanted to hear anything.’ 

‘I mean, you don’t have to discuss it, if you don’t want,’ said Kiryu. He felt brazen, all of a sudden, and added, ‘I just have a bit of a history with them, is all. It’s not a world I want to get involved with.’ 

Majima looked at him, his eye piercing. ‘Then I don’t wanna involve ya.’ 

‘...Thanks.’ 

‘But since ya asked, and since I get the vibe you ain’t gonna sell me out, I’ll tell ya.’ He pulled the takeaway cup closer and tapped the butt of the cigarette on the rim. Ashes wafted down. 

‘Ya know my name is Goro Majima.’ 

‘Yeah.’ 

‘Well, I run my own clan. Used to work for another one for a long-ass time, they’re the shitheads who gave me this-‘ he gestured to the eyepatch, ‘-an’ then after I left those pricks I worked for another clan for another long-ass time.’ He took a deep inhale of the cigarette. ‘But now I run my own joint.’ 

‘What do you... do?’ 

Majima laughed but the sound was black this time, harsh, a world away from their light-hearted laughter before. ‘Full a’ questions today, Kiryu-chan?’ 

Kiryu flushed. ‘I’m just curious.’ 

‘Well, it’s probably a good thing ya ain’t yakuza, ‘cause that curiosity would get ya shot in less than a year if ya were.’ 

Kiryu felt an objection rising but Majima leaned back and waved a hand. 

‘Naw, I’m just teasing. Sorta.’ He looked into Kiryu’s eyes, his face serious. ‘But for real, ya’d be way too good for that world. It’s hard to believe you were ever involved in it.’ 

‘I wasn’t involved in it, per se,’ answered Kiryu, finger tracing the smooth rim of his coffee mug. ‘Well, I was, but... it’s complicated.’ 

‘I’m all ears, if you’re ever interested in tellin’.’

Kiryu hesitated, and he felt his brow furrow. ‘It’s not exactly my story to tell. I mean, it involves someone close to me and I don’t think they’d like having their secrets spilled.’ It wasn’t a total lie - he’d never asked Nishiki if he was comfortable having people know about their past, but they both had lives now that were far away from that violent underworld. Or at least, Kiryu had been far away until Majima stumbled into his cafe. 

‘How noble of ya.’ Majima took another drag, the cigarette nearly down to the embers. ‘Well, I can’t say I have many secrets as mysterious as that.’ 

Kiryu smiled. ‘I’m sure you have a lot of secrets, Majima-san.’ 

That single brown eye, flecked with the gold of the candle, gazed at him. There was a long pause. 

‘I work in construction, mostly,’ said Majima at last. ‘Built one a’ the big joints in the downtown area not along ago, do a few other jobs around the place. Used to work at a few clubs in my youth.’ He laughed darkly again. ‘Used to be the talk a’ the town, doubt you ever went to them though.’ 

‘Where were they?’ 

‘Both in Sotenbori.’ 

Finally explains the accent. ‘What were the names?’ 

‘The Cab Grand and Club Sunshine.’

Kiryu recognised the names. ‘The Grand. Was that the big place near the riverfront?’ 

Majima cracked a smile. ‘Sure was.’ 

‘And you worked there?’ 

The smile widened. ‘Naw. I ran the damn place.’

‘Wow.’ Kiryu had fuzzy memories of ice clinking in an expensive glass, the soft plush of a red velvet seat, Nishiki’s arm draped round his shoulders, though there was another, stronger memory involving a young man with soft hands and long hair that he pushed away for the moment. ‘I think I went there, what, in the eighties?’ 

‘That would be right. Started workin’ there in about ‘85.’ 

Kiryu hummed. The memory was coming back to him in bits and pieces. He’d lived in Tokyo most of his life, but when he and Nishiki were young, real young, still with peach fuzz on their cheeks and red spots, they’d gone to Sotenbori for a trip, at Nishiki’s insistence that they had to live extravagantly if just for one weekend. It’d been a hell of a trip. The Cab Grand had been on their list, and Kiryu had been overwhelmed by the glamour of it all. He remembered parts of the trip well, but he’d forgotten how much fun it’d been, and the memory of the club itself - for the most part - had slipped away in the far reaches of his brain, especially after everything that had happened not long after. 

‘Ya look wistful, Kiryu-chan,’ said Majima, propping his head up on his hand. 

‘Just thinking about an old trip there.’ But something didn’t seem right. He and Nishiki had only been twenty in 1988, which meant Majima… ‘Wait. Majima-san, how old were you then?’ He knew Majima was a few years older than him, but nothing beyond that.

‘When I started in ‘85 I was about twenty-one, I think.’ He drew in the last of the cigarette and stubbed it out in the cup like what he’d said was no big deal. 

Kiryu stared. ‘How the hell did you get that job?’

Majima eye clouded over, and he chewed his lip for a moment before answering. ‘Just luck, I guess.’ 

His tone made it clear it wasn’t a topic he readily discussed, and Kiryu didn’t pry further. But there was something else … He looked down at the dregs of his coffee, mulling it over. It was a long shot, but...

‘Majima-san … did you ever have a ponytail?’ 

Majima startled, then blinked at him. ‘Eh? A ponytail?’ 

‘Yeah.’ Kiryu lifted a hand to his shoulder. ‘About this length. And wore a black tuxedo.’

Majima looked at him like he’d lost his mind. ‘Yeah, I did. Wore that all the damn time.’ He huffed. ‘Nicest damn clothin’ I ever had in those days.’ 

The lingering feeling that had followed Kiryu ever since he decided to make that drink and sit down with Majima swirled around him.

He looked at Majima’s face again, really looked. 

And suddenly, he couldn’t breathe. The hair was different, he had dark stubble now, looked much older, had very different clothes, even talked differently, but still … it was him. 

Oh.

‘What’s the matter?’ Majima frowned at him. ‘Ya look like ya’ve seen a ghost.’ 

Kiryu had to look away. He… Majima… 

He nervously looked back, and Majima was staring at him. For a long, painful moment, Kiryu forgot how to breathe. 

How hadn’t he seen it before? How hadn’t he recognised him? But then, Majima hadn’t recognised him either…

‘I’m not familiar to you, am I, Majima-san?’ 

Majima’s brow furrowed, and he fixed him with a curious look. ‘Whaddya mean? Ya think we’ve met before or somethin’?’

Kiryu bit his lip. On the outside, like always, he knew he probably looked stone-faced but inside he felt like his brain was screaming. It had been a long time ago and Kiryu looked different, and Majima looked, well, very different, but all the same the memories had come flooding back, and now Kiryu’s face was burning, and this was just awful --

‘Ya turning a little pink there, Kiryu-chan,’ said Majima, looking bemused. 

‘Agh, shit,’ said Kiryu, lifting a hand to his cheek. His face felt like it was on fire. ‘It’s nothing,’ he lied, ‘just happens.’ 

‘Uh-huh.’ Majima perused him. ‘Did we meet at The Grand or somethin’?’ He grinned. ‘Did ya suddenly remember that I kicked yer ass for fondlin’ the hostesses?’ 

Kiryu glared at him, but the joke had at least eased his embarrassment. ‘Of course not.’ 

‘Well, what then? Did ya steal something’? Run out on ya tab? Start punchin’ the waiters?’

Kiryu snorted. ‘Nothing like that.’ 

‘Well, ya obviously remember me, but I can’t say I remember you.’ Majima looked at him curiously and then sighed, the disappointment evident on his face. ‘’S a pity, I’d say I’d definitely remember meetin’ the great Kiryu-chan.’ 

‘Well, I was very different back then,’ murmured Kiryu, eyes down. ‘And I was only twenty when I went. But I remember you.’ 

There was a long silence, and when Kiryu finally looked up, Majiima was gazing at him pensively. ‘Tch. Should’ve known, somewhere like Kamurocho where everyone’s in each other’s business. Small world.’

When Kiryu didn’t answer, Majima continued. ‘Sounds like I made an impact on ya,’ he said thoughtfully. 

In ways you can’t even begin to imagine, thought Kiryu. 

Silence stretched on for a little longer, before Kiryu noticed that the shadows inside the cafe had started to dissipate. He looked to the left and, outside the window, the first soft rays of dawn were beginning to creep over the horizon. He looked at the clock and was surprised to see that he and Majima had been talking for almost an hour. His shift was almost finished.

‘Looks like daybreak,’ he said simply. 

Majima hummed. ‘Stupid sunlight,’ he said darkly. ‘Interruptin’ Kiryu’s secrets.’ 

Kiryu laughed, the sound lighter than he was used to. He wasn’t sure when he’d started finding Majima so funny, but it was … nice. He wasn’t used to laughing so much. 

Majima’s lips were curved in a smile when Kiryu’s gaze flickered back over to him, and Kiryu’s breath caught in his throat, his eyes fixed on the delicate softness of that smirk. 

It wasn’t the first time in his life he’d stared at the man’s mouth like that. But it was the first time he’d known his name.

As he and Majima sat quietly, watching the dawn’s light creep into the room, he remembered doing something like this long ago.

Several years after that night at the orphanage, when everything was much more messed up but somehow more relaxed with the nature of youth, Kiryu sat on the edge of a hotel room bed in Sotenbori, watching the early sunrise. Nishiki stumbled out of the shower where he’d spent the past twenty minutes after they got back from The Grand, but Kiryu simply sat at the edge of the bed, looking at the sunrise and trying very hard not to think of anything at all. 

‘Come on bro,’ Nishiki said, slapping him on the shoulder, his hand damp from the shower, ‘I got an idea.’ 

Kiryu shook his head, trying to unscramble his brain. He didn’t answer, but watched as Nishiki pulled the pillows from the bed and put them on the floor, then got two blankets and, wrapping one around Kiryu’s shoulders, pulled him to the carpet so they were sitting cross-legged side by side. 

‘What are you doing, nii-san?’ Kiryu said at last, when the other man didn’t speak. 

A beat. 

‘Remember that week the TV broke at the orphanage? And Yumi bought the marshmallows and we ate them hot and she burned her mouth.’ Nishiki laughed. ‘We played truth or dare that night, but I remember sitting there and laughing because you didn’t have any secrets. If we tried to make you tell a truth, you’d just be honest and it wasn’t any fun.’ 

Kiryu smiled faintly, but he felt the back of his neck prickle. ‘That was a great night.’

‘It was. But… you know, people change. And I used to be able to read your face better than anyone, but sometimes you get this… this look, you know? And it’s like you’re so scared that somebody will find out your secrets that you close off your face to the entire world.’

‘Nishiki …’

‘Do you like guys, Kiryu?’

A sensation of something icy cold, like steel, hit Kiryu’s heart. He tried hard to keep his voice steady. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I think you know what I mean.’

Suddenly the room felt very big and cold and Kiryu felt exposed, like a live wire, his muscles taut. 

‘I don’t.’

‘Kiryu …’ 

‘I don’t-’

‘You know I’ll always still love you, even if you do, right?’

Kiryu felt a catch in his throat.

‘You know, it’s not exactly the old days anymore, it’s not like being gay is a crime even.’ Nishiki slung an arm over his shoulders. ‘You’re my kyoudai, and that means I look out for you no matter what, right? I mean, fuck, I’ll even wingman you in an okama bar if you like.’

Kiryu barked out a laugh, but his chest was shot through emotion, anxiety and relief. He felt a prickle of shame. It was embarrassing that he was relieved, because it meant what Nishiki had said was true. It meant he was … well.

‘You liked that guy at the Grand, didn’t you?’ said Nishiki, and for the second time that night Kiryu forgot how to breathe. He closed his eyes, but all he saw was a strong nose and dark eyes, long slick hair, a suit that fit like a glove, and a voice that sent shivers right down his spine. He opened his eyes.

‘I like girls too,’ he said after a moment. 

Nishiki hummed. ‘How long?’

‘What?’

‘How long have you known?’

That was a good question. Kiryu looked out at the sunrise, the sky streaked with pink and orange and red. He thought about the man he’d seen, standing in front of their table, bowing, his voice like velvet. How he’d glanced at Kiryu only briefly, that soft eye flicking over him, but how that had been enough for Kiryu to flush from head to toe and spend the rest of the night sneaking glances, like the desperate, pathetic, teenager he was. 

‘Forever, I think.’ 

Nishiki squeezed Kiryu’s arm, and they sat together in silence, looking out at the soft sunrise beginning to fill their room with light. 

Kiryu, in the present day, took a deep breath through his nose and snuck a glance at Majima. For a very long moment, he debated saying something, anything. But Majima simply continued looking out the window, his eye unreadable, and eventually the moment passed. Kiryu turned back to look out the window at the sunrise, the light painting both him and Majima with gold.

Chapter Text

Kiryu couldn’t sleep. 

He was lying on his futon, staring out the window of his apartment at the full moon. The pillow under his head felt lumpy and the sheets were rough on his skin. He’d meant to wash them, but time had slipped away from him recently. There were dirty dishes in the sink, and the rubbish needed to be taken out. It was a far cry from the cleanliness he usually had. 

Kiryu looked away from the window and ground the heels of his palms into his eyes, enjoying the black that enveloped him. 

The last few days had felt like a daze. 

He’d made more mistakes at work than usual, drifted off, slept less than usual, felt... on edge. 

He removed the hands from his eyes and let them fall onto his bare chest. The muscle there was solid, thick, and the mental image of someone he now knew was called Majima flashed behind his eyes. A sharp collarbone, high cheeks, wiry, muscular arms. The mental image he’d carried around for almost twenty years. 

The futon, which he’d always found comfortable, loved collapsing onto after a long day, now felt very big and very empty. 

Kiryu hadn’t given much thought to relationships over the past few years. Maybe ever. His love life had been nonexistent as a teen - despite Nishiki’s best efforts - and then after everything that’d happened, that disaster he and Nishiki had shared when they’d just barely left childhood, he’d just kept his head down and worked in real estate. 

The world hadn’t been as kind back then, either. Okama bars certainly existed but they had always seemed seedy and gross and Kiryu, at the time, hadn’t been able to explain to anyone - let alone himself - that he didn’t want a casual, dirty fuck in an alleyway, but something more. The memory of one particular okama bar floated back into his brain and Kiryu groaned, throwing an arm over his eyes. 

It would have been easier, he thought with a loud huff, if he’d ever, once in his life, just been content with a casual, heavy-handed fuck every now and then. A hand dipping into his pants, a warm wet mouth around him. Spilling himself into somebody else instead of always into a tissue that chafed against his skin. 

But he’d always wanted more. Apart from the okama bar, he’d never come close to dating, or fucking, or kissing, or even flirting with another man. That had simply never been his style. 

Nishiki used to tease him about it, once upon a time. Kiryu had always been the same with women for a long time, still was if he was honest (though he’d progressed at least a little further there than he ever had with men). 

But the barbs about him being too traditional and slow-moving eventually faded into occasional comments wondering how his love life was going, and then finally even those stopped. He knew Nishiki wanted the best for him, had caught him looking at him once or twice with a soft expression. But that world - the world where somebody woke him up with coffee and pressed against him in the evenings - had always seemed far away, and Kiryu had never seemed to make it there. 

He’d never even been able to make the first step. 

He twisted onto his side, sighing. He tried to put all his other worries about relationships and whatnot out of his head, and focus on the big issue here. 

The Majima he was now (unofficially) friends with, and the guy he’d briefly lusted after as a teen, the guy who’d prompted him to come out to Nishiki, were one and the same. What now?

Well, one thing was certain: Majima didn’t remember him. 

Maybe he’d lied? 

But Kiryu had seen his face, seen the obvious confusion, and knew Majima well enough by now to be pretty sure that he hadn’t been lying. 

So, what then? Explain to Majima that Kiryu once had a huge crush on him almost twenty years ago? Confess to him? 

Kiryu groaned and buried his face in the pillow, feeling too much like the awkward, anxiety-filled teenager he’d been half a lifetime ago. 

There was no way he could ever confess to Majima. He had zero clue if Majima even liked guys, he was enjoying their weird quasi-friendship, whatever it was, and besides, it wasn’t even the same Majima he’d be confessing to. 

That Majima he’d seen decades ago had been cool as anything, level-headed, the refined, in-control host of a large nightclub, all wiry muscle and slick hair and low, velvety voice. That man, whoever he’d been, was worlds away from the Majima that existed now. 

So… did he like the Majima who existed now? 

Kiryu lifted his face from the pillow, and shifted so he was on his back again. The ceiling above him was painted with moonlight. He stared at it, as though trying to make patterns out of the pale shadows. 

Well … he didn’t not like Majima. It’d probably been almost two months since they first met, and over that time Kiryu had come to appreciate the other man’s humour, his unpredictability. He’d seemed a bit unhinged at first, but as they’d talked he’d slowly unfurled, seeming to reveal that Majima was much deeper than that outer manic shell implied. 

Still, Kiryu barely knew him. Sure, now he knew that he was yakuza, that he apparently worked in construction, that he liked books, that he had a sweet tooth, that he liked fighting movies… but he didn’t know him.

Kiryu knew enough about him to call him a friend, but suddenly everything he knew about Majima felt frustratingly superficial. Goro Majima, the real person hidden behind that outer shell, was still a mystery. 

Kiryu was almost forty, and all those heady days of falling in love without really knowing the other person were far behind him too. Painfully inexperienced as he was, he knew that mature, healthy relationships were built on mutual understanding and affection - or at least, he thought of Nishiki with a smile, that was true for the best relationships he knew. 

He knew he liked Majima, but as a friend. That other version of Majima, years ago, had been just a fantasy - he’d accepted that a long time ago. But Majima, now? He was real, and he was funny, and interesting, and Kiryu would be a goddamn idiot to risk that budding friendship by getting feelings. 

Kiryu quietly promised himself that he would forget entirely about the man he’d had that brief fiery crush on all those years ago, and just focus on his friendship with Majima as it was right now.

The sudden decision came to him as a relief, and he curled up in the sheets, finally feeling comfortable. 

There was no reason anything had to change, and whenever Majima came back into the cafe, Kiryu would slip right back into their usual roles as though nothing had happened. 

With that thought, he finally fell asleep. 

 

 *   *   *

 

As luck would have it, the next day Majima didn’t show up at the cafe. 

Kiryu wasn’t worried, but quietly missed his company. He’d slept much better the night before, finally, and his hands were sure and firm on the coffee machine, manoeuvring just as fluidly as he was used to. He chatted with customers, enjoyed hearing their small amounts of gossip, how their day had been going. Despite it being a weekday shift he even found time to make himself a cappuccino and read some more of a manga he’d picked up from his local Kinokuniya. He half expected Majima to walk in and interrupt him like he usually did, but the cafe remained quiet.

*   *   *

 

The next night, Majiima didn’t show up again, and Kiryu felt the first twinge of worry. Ridiculous. He brushed it aside. Majima didn’t have to stop by the cafe so often. He was probably busy. Kiryu had wondered for a while now how he did actually have so much time to stop by the cafe in the first place, so maybe this was good for him. He was likely just caught up with work and couldn’t find the time. 

Still, there was a deep part of him that couldn’t shake the feeling something was wrong. 

The next day passed, and the next, and the feeling grew, until Kiryu passed his shifts trying hard not to think about how empty the cafe felt without Majima’s voice filling it. There was nothing wrong, had to be nothing wrong, but Kiryu soon realised that he’d idiotically never gotten any personal information from Majima, no phone number, no address, no email, nothing. There was no way for him to find out what was happening. All he could do was sit and wait, as that feeling grew inside his gut and festered. 

 

*   *   *

 

Majima didn’t come back to the cafe for two weeks. 

 

 *   *   *

 

Kiryu was on day fourteen of not seeing Majima. He knew this because, as much as he wanted to avoid thinking about it, he hadn’t been able to stop mentally counting the days as they dragged by. His sleep had been shit again, and several nights he’d been up late trying to swallow his panic with a few too many bottles of Suntory and rounds of Tekken on his ancient Playstation that stretched into the early hours of the morning. Work was fine, but he didn’t like that it was just fine. For a while now it had been so interesting - and he didn’t like to think of exactly the reason why he’d found work so interesting, and why the absence of that reason was all he could think about. 

It was the graveyard shift. He was gently putting a mug on the shelf with his back to the door, when the bell above the door chimed, and there was the noise of someone shuffling into the cafe. 

‘Hello,’ he said, turning around, ‘welcome to--’ 

Air caught sharp in his lungs. 

A muscular, tanned, leather-pant-clad man with a ridiculous snakeskin jacket stood in front of him, arms folded across his chest. 

Majima raised an eyebrow, a faint smile on his lips. 

Intense, heady relief ripped through Kiryu, engulfed him like a wave and threatened to knock him over. Majima was here and alive, he wasn’t dead or washed up in a ditch like the awful scenarios that had plagued Kiryu’s daydreams the past two weeks. 

However, the initial wave of relief was tampered by an obvious, impossible to overlook point: 

Majima looked like shit

‘What the fuck happened to you?’ Kiryu was too stunned to say anything else.

‘What, this?’ Majima looked down at himself, as if just noticing the bandage wrapped around his waist, the several cuts on his chest that were crusted with dried blood, the dark bruises around his eyes and jaw. He looked absolutely wrecked, like he’d been to hell and back.

‘Jus’ a fight that got a bit outta hand.’ His voice was softer than usual and when he wheezed slightly Kiryu realised with faint horror that he sounded pained with each breath. ‘Sorry I didn’t come back here for so long, didn’t wanna worry you.’

Kiryu stared. ‘Just a fight?’ 

Majima nodded, but Kiryu didn’t miss how the sudden movement made him wince. 

Kiryu pinched the bridge of his nose and forced himself to take a breath. Majima was here, he was back, but he looked worse than ever, and Kiryu was not having it. 

He untied his apron and threw it onto the countertop, then crossed to the front door past a silent, frozen Majima and locked it. 

‘Back room, now.’ He pointedly didn’t meet Majima’s gaze as he made his way to the other side of the room. 

Majima slowly followed him as though he was in pain - of course he was, Kiryu thought with a grimace - and Kiryu opened the door to the storeroom, immediately crossing to the opposite shelf where the first aid kit was. 

‘I’m already bandaged up, Kiryu-chan,’ came Majima’s voice from the doorway. 

‘Sit down.’ 

There was a pause, then the creak of a chair as Majima sank into it. 

‘Do you need to go to the hospital?’ His voice was calm, still, the complete opposite of how he currently felt. He picked up a roll of white bandages and placed it in a cardboard box next to the first aid kit on the shelf. 

‘Nah, Nishida helped me out when it happened.’

Nishida must be one of his subordinates. ‘And when did it happen?’

‘Well, I been in all sorts ‘a shit since about the time I stopped comin’ in, but all this happened a few days ago.’ 

Kiryu pulled out the last of the items from the kit and, picking up the cardboard box, moved forward and sank into the chair next to where Majima was currently sprawled. He placed the box on a table next to them, then finally met Majima’s gaze. 

Here in the bright lights, up close, Majima looked even more awful than Kiryu had realised. Majima’s brown eye was reserved, his body somewhat relaxed as though he wasn’t bothered by the lacerations on his chest and the bruises on his face. But there was a slight hint of tension at the corner of his mouth that betrayed the pain he obviously felt, along with some other emotion Kiryu couldn’t place. If he weren’t currently sitting right opposite Majima, he wouldn’t have been able to see it. 

And, Kiryu suddenly realised with a flicker of nerves, he was sitting very close to him. Close enough that their knees were almost touching. He pulled back slightly.

Kiryu bit his tongue and turned away, acutely aware of Majima’s eye following him. 

‘Okay, so, uh… where does it hurt?’

Majima chuckled, but it was followed with a sharp grimace as something twinged. ‘All over, big guy.’

Kiryu rolled his eyes. 

‘Well …’ Kiryu looked over Majima’s body. ‘First of all, take your jacket off.’

Kiryu had been tense, almost angry, ever since Majima had walked through that door, but when Majima didn’t so much as blink at Kiryu’s statement - no jokes, no stupid flirting - the fire leaked out of him. Majima stood, turning away, then shrugged off his jacket and slung it over the back of the chair.

 Kiryu stared at the tattoo on his back. It was a hannya, a fierce demon with glaring yellow eyes, long white horns, and an open, angry mouth. The rest of Majima’s back was covered in an intricate pattern of what seemed to be cherry blossoms, bold against a black and white background. The whole tattoo stretched as far as Kiryu could see, down below the white bandage around his waist and even below the waistband of Majima’s pants. 

Majima sat back down before Kiryu could continue ogling ( if it was that, anyway) . He slumped and fixed Kiryu with an indecipherable stare. 

‘So, nurse, how’re ya gonna fix me up?’

Kiryu’s eyes roamed over Majima’s bare chest, littered with crusted-over scabs. Only a couple had been covered by bandaids and the rest looked painful and red. 

‘Well, first of all, some of these cuts look pretty nasty, so they need to be disinfected.’ Kiryu picked up a bottle of antiseptic and opened it. He found a cotton ball and dabbed some liquid onto it. 

When he swiped it over the first cut, Majima didn’t say anything, but he tensed slightly, and Kiryu frowned. 

‘Sorry,’ he said quietly. 

‘S’okay,’ said Majima. A pause. ‘Thanks for helpin’.’ 

‘It’s alright.’ Kiryu put more antiseptic on the cotton ball and swiped it over another cut, dried blood coming off as he did so. ‘Why didn’t anyone do this when it happened?’

‘I dunno.’ Majima shrugged and scratched the back of his head with one gloved finger. ‘It was all pretty hectic, has been for a coupla’ weeks now. I meant to get around to patching everythin’ up but I’ve been focusin’ on other stuff instead.’ 

From the injuries Majima had sustained, Kiryu could only guess what this ‘other stuff’ was, so he didn’t press for details. Instead he continued methodically swiping the antiseptic over the cuts, some of which were deeper than others but none that looked like they needed stitches, thankfully. Kiryu knew how to do stitches in a hurry, but it was outside his area of expertise and he hadn’t done it in years. 

Eventually the cuts on Majima’s chest were free of dried blood, and Kiryu ripped open a box of bandaids. He began applying them, one by one. Majima’s skin next to the cuts was smooth and soft, softer than Kiryu would have expected. Majima was mostly hairless too, though he knew that already, given the other man’s apparently common habit for walking around with his jacket open all the time. 

Kiryu’s hand brushed a white scar on Majima’s ribs and without thinking, he traced the pad of his thumb along it, following the curved ridge of soft flesh. 

Majima jerked sharply and Kiryu drew back quickly. He blinked. Majima’s eye narrowed at him, the gaze muddy. ‘Ticklish,’ he mumbled. 

‘Sorry,’ said Kiryu, trying to hold back a smirk. Ticklish, huh? He wasn’t sure what had come over him, but now that he was paying attention he saw that Majima had several fairly significant scars striping his tan flesh. 

It brought him back to a place when he’d been surrounded by men with scars like this most of the time, to when he and Nishiki had picked up more than a few themselves. 

The memory sobered him up and he continued working with the bandaids, silence stretching between them. 

Majima broke it first. 

‘Ya seem… less jumpy than before.’ 

Kiryu looked up at him, but Majima had his head tilted back and was looking at the ceiling. The smooth skin of his throat wobbled as he spoke. 

‘When I first walked in I thought you were gonna finish the job those thugs started.’ 

Kiryu snorted. But then Majima’s words sank in and that hot fire in his belly flared up slightly. He wasn’t sure why he suddenly felt the urge for, well, revenge against whoever had done this to Majima, but it wasn’t something he’d felt in a long time. Nishiki had always said Kiryu had a protective streak a mile long. He withdrew his hands from Majima’s chest. 

‘All done,’ he murmured. ‘Your chest, anyway. Can you turn around?’

Majima made a small noise, but stood up and did as he was told. Then he was settled again, now facing away from Kiryu with his legs on either side of the chair and his chin resting on his arms on the back of it

It was a … vulnerable position, Kiryu realised uneasily. Majima’s back stretched before him, slender and scarred. His hair was messy at the back, and there was stubble at the base of his neck probably from a fresh haircut. For a second Kiryu wondered how it would feel if he stroked it - prickly? soft? He cleared his throat, trying to shake the thoughts out of his head, and picked up the antiseptic again. 

‘Ya seem to know what you’re doing with all this too.’

‘This?’ 

‘Ya know. Patching people up.’ 

Kiryu’s hands twitched involuntarily. ‘I just have some experience,’ he said, trying hard not to remember doing something almost exactly like this twenty years ago, except then, he’d had to get patched up too. 

‘Ya said ya knew yakuza last time we talked.’ 

Kiryu’s hands stilled. He stared at Majima, who had tilted his head and was looking back at Kiryu out of the corner of his eye. ‘What are you trying to say?’

‘Nothin’.’ Majima looked away. ‘Don’ worry about it.’ 

‘No, I--’ began Kiryu, but Majima cut him off. 

‘If ya don’t wanna talk about it, I won’t make ya. But nobody freaks out about some person they barely know getting a bit cut up if it hasn’t happened to somebody else they care about.’

Kiryu cleared his throat. ‘What makes you think that?’ 

‘I saw ya eyes when I walked in here. I was jus’ comin’ in to say hi, let you know where I’ve been in case you were worried. But either ya care about me more than you let on or somebody close to you has been hurt before and I freaked ya out.’ 

Kiryu stared at the back of Majima’s head, the bristly undercut, the smooth skin of his shoulders interrupted by scars and cuts. How Majima had managed to figure out the cause of Kiryu’s feelings was beyond him, but there was something wrong with what Majima had said, and when he realised exactly what it was the words were out of his mouth before he could think.

‘Why would you think I don’t care about you?’  he said. 

Then he flushed, red burning his cheeks. 

Fuck. He knew he should take it back, because that had sounded much more forward than he meant it to, but his brain wasn’t cooperating. 

Majima didn’t say anything. He slowly tilted his head to the side and fixed Kiryu with a glare. Kiryu met his gaze, tongue caught in his throat. Unless he was imagining it, Majima’s tan cheek was just a little pink. At last Majima turned away, and his shoulders relaxed slightly. 

‘Tch,’ he mumbled.. ‘Ya wear ya heart on your sleeve like no one else I’ve met. It’s nauseatin’.’ 

Kiryu flushed even deeper. It wasn’t the first time somebody had said that to him, but the tendency to say exactly what he felt was sometimes embarrassing. He couldn’t help it. Subtlety wasn’t exactly his forte. 

Majima’s back was thankfully less cut up than his chest, so it only took Kiryu a few more minutes to finish disinfecting everything and applying bandages. 

‘Okay,’ he said, leaning back. ‘All done.’ 

Majima clambered up awkwardly from the chair, then rolled his arms and his neck. ‘Huh. Does feel a lil’ better, thanks.’ 

‘Don’t mention it,’ replied Kiryu. He began putting the disinfectant and the rest of the first aid equipment back in the cardboard box. When he looked up again, Majima was looking at him curiously. 

‘Ya know,’ he said, ‘for such a big, gruff guy ya got awfully soft hands.’ 

Huh? Kiryu opened his mouth but could only look blankly at Majima. 

‘Nice steady hands too.’ Majima stroked his chin thoughtfully. ‘Next time I get banged up I might have ta’ pay you another visit.’ 

Kiryu snorted and managed to find his voice. ‘Well, hopefully there won’t be a next time.’ Even as the words left his mouth he recognised how futile it was to hope that Majima wouldn’t get hurt again. Next time… 

A thought crossed his mind. 

‘Just in case…’ he began. 

Majima looked at him curiously. ‘Yeah?’ 

‘Well…’ Kiryu coughed awkwardly. ‘I’ll admit, I started to get a bit worried when you didn’t come in for a whole two weeks.’ 

A big grin slowly started to spread across Majima’s face. ‘Ya big softie. Yeah?’ 

Kiryu grimaced, already regretting the idea. ‘Yeah, so I was thinking…’ he took a breath and pressed on, ‘maybe we could exchange phone numbers?’ 

A flicker of surprise passed across Majima’s face but then he grinned. ‘Though ya’d never ask, big boy,’ he said, hand diving into a pants pocket and whipping out a little phone that - Kiryu noticed with horror - was monstrously pink, covered with tiny glittering gemstones, and had a staggering assortment of little colourful keychains hanging from it. Majima flipped it open and clacked his fingers on a few buttons, before pausing and looking up at Kiryu expectantly. 

‘Uh…’ Kiryu pulled out his own phone, a little black brick that Yumi had pressed into his hands on his last birthday, insisting that he could use it to keep in touch more often. At the time, he hadn’t ever thought he’d be using it to enter the number of a yakuza member who’d once held him at knifepoint who’d gradually become his friend. But then, life was unpredictable.

He clicked through to the contacts menu and recited his number to Majima. Majima tapped briefly on his keyboard, brow furrowed, and a moment later Kiryu’s phone dinged in his hand.

Unknown number

02:47 :D

Kiryu looked up at Majima and raised an eyebrow before looking back down and saving the contact. 

‘What does this mean?’ 

Majima stared at him. ‘God, ya really are old.’ 

‘We’re basically the same age.’ 

‘In numbers, sure, but in spirit? Not so much.’ Majima grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair and shrugged it on. ‘It’s a smiley-face, ya big doofus. Turn it sideways when you get a chance.’ 

‘Doofus? What are you, twelve?’

‘Only in spirit.’ 

Kiryu bit back a smile.

Two hours later, long after he’d sent Majima on his way and made his own way home, Kiryu collapsed onto his futon feeling exhausted but better than he had in days. Majima was fine. He’d helped patch him up. And if Majima ever went missing again, at least now Kiryu had a way to contact him. 

He opened his phone and went to his recent messages. Majima’s strange smiley-face-in-text was there, and remembering Majima’s advice, Kiryu turned it sideways. 

Huh. It did kinda look like someone was smiling a big grin. 

As he looked at the message, now with Majima written above it, the urge hit him suddenly to talk to Majima, to say something, anything. His thumb hovered hesitantly over the keys.

Finally he opted for something simple. 

04:51 Glad you’re okay. Goodnight - Kiryu. 

When the message popped up with the time, Kiryu belatedly remembered it was almost five in the morning. Majima was probably sleeping, and he hoped he hadn’t disturbed him. 

He changed for bed and turned off the lights, settling into his futon. Barely a minute passed before his phone buzzed. Kiryu hesitated, then reached out for it.

Majima 

04:53 god you might be the biggest softie ever I swear

Kiryu felt his face prickle with heat. His phone dinged again. 

04:54 also you don’t have to write your name dumbass, i know who you are 

Kiryu flush deepened. 

Kiryu 

04:56 Okay.

And after a moment’s pause, he sent another message. 

04:56 Goodnight :) 

The reply was quick this time. 

04:56 night :) 

 

* * *

 

Kiryu slept better than he had in a week. 

Chapter Text

Majima texted him everyday for the next week.

Kiryu would’ve found it weird with anyone else - he wasn’t exactly used to keeping in contact with anyone on a regular basis save for Nishiki and Yumi - but the daily texts quickly became part of his routine. 

They ranged from mundane to bizarre, and it soon became clear that Majima texted about anything he had on his mind. One morning he messaged Kiryu about that fighting movie they’d discussed a while back. Another day, he sent a series of fawning messages about a new ramen place he’d discovered. One afternoon all he sent was a heavily pixelated image of what looked like a ball of fluff on a street corner, accompanied only by the word CAT with several exclamation points after it. 

No matter the content, however, they all succeeded in making Kiryu smile. He wasn’t lonely exactly, he talked to far too many people in the cafe for that and knew Yumi and Nishiki would always be there for him, but there was still something about waking up to a message from a friend that warmed his heart in the mornings. 

And he and Majima were friends, there was no doubt about that now. Occasionally the thought made him pause throughout the day; in line at the takoyaki stall, when he was making a latte, when he was brushing his teeth. He’s my friend. 

At his age, he knew not to take that for granted. 

 

* * *

 

Five days after Majima came back to the cafe, Kiryu had the nightmare again. 

Fluorescent lights beat down on him. Moisture prickled his palms where they touched the handgrip of the gun, clammy with his own sweat. 

Shouting. Gunshots, red hot, traced a coiling line of fire through the darkness, striking them both. Pain, sharp hot pain, lanced through him, but not just him—

Screaming that wasn’t just his own. Blood, so much blood. Pain. His palms prickled with sweat and grime and Nishiki’s red, oozing blood wasn’t stopping, would never stop, an ocean of it rising up around him, no matter how much he tried to press the wound, tried to force all the blood back inside his kyoudai’s body, screaming, but the ocean of blood-red just kept rising, up his legs, staining everything, rising over his head, choking him, drowning him in the abyss—

Kiryu jerked upright, gasping for breath. His panicked gaze found the clock on the wall. It was four-thirty in the morning. Moonlight was streaming in through the window. 

He clenched the sheets hard, chest heaving. 

Breathe in, breathe out … breathe in, breathe out … one … two … one ……. two …… 

Repeating the mantra softly in his head, Kiryu waited for his pulse to stop thrumming so fast. Eventually, he was able to relax his grip on the sheets. 

When his heartbeat had settled and he no longer felt like he was about to pass about, Kiryu took a last long, deep breath and scrubbed a hand over his face. 

He stood up and splashed some cool water on his face from the kitchen sink, then returned to the futon. The sheets were clammy on his skin and he grimaced. He’d been sweating in his sleep. 

He pushed the sheets off and exhaled heavily. 

I’m fine. Nishiki’s fine. You’re okay. 

It had been… months, Kiryu thought, since he’d had that nightmare. There had been a time when it was a weekly, if not nightly occurrence, and every single time it left him flailing in his sleep and gasping for air when he woke up. Nishiki had been the one back then to teach him how to slow his breath, to soothe himself with calming thoughts. It had been ironic, really, since Kiryu had escaped with only some scars, and Nishiki, well… 

It rarely changed. Sometimes he would be the one who couldn’t stop bleeding. Sometimes one of them would start bleeding randomly, with no gunshot to warn them, just a sudden gushing forward of red hot liquid and the dream tilting on its axis, dizzying and nauseating. 

The worst one was when he was holding the gun that shot Nishiki. 

But without fail, there would be blood, and it would rise over him until he was gasping and crying out and drowning and even though he’d been having them for god, decades now, it still made him feel awful for hours after he woke up. 

It had been … how long now since it all happened? Kiryu mentally counted back the years. He’d been twenty at the time, and now that he was almost forty that seemed a depressingly young age to experience what he and Nishiki had gone through. So much time had passed since then, and the wound had mostly healed - the mental one, at least - but it never healed all the way, and on nights like tonight it was like the scab had been ripped off and the memory ached, burned in his stomach like a fresh stab wound. 

He hadn’t gone to visit Nishiki in a long time, Kiryu realised with a jolt. Between his cafe shifts and dwelling over Majima recently, the weeks between his usual visits up to Katori had turned into months. Yumi had texted him occasionally and they’d chatted once on the phone, but Kiryu felt a surge of guilt at how long it’d been since he’d visited her and Nishiki. 

Kiryu reached for his phone to pull up Yumi’s number and belatedly remembered it was the middle of the night. He slowly set his phone back down and shifted around in the sheets, pulling them up to his neck. 

Tomorrow. I’ll call them tomorrow, maybe see about heading up next weekend… 

Sleep didn’t come for a long time. 

 

* * * 

 

The next morning Kiryu stumbled from his futon hours after he’d usually get up, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and grabbed an energy drink from the fridge before he wandered out to get a late breakfast. 

Fifteen minutes later, he was standing in line at a takoyaki stall and checking his phone. 

Today, Majima had simply sent: you workin at 3? 

Kiryu fired off a quick yes , not bothering to ask how or when Majima had started to remember his shift times. He sent another text to Yumi - call later? :) 

After he’d ordered and been handed his food, the kindly old man behind the counter gave him a concerned smile. 

’Is there anything the matter today, young man?’

Kiryu raised an eyebrow. ‘Nothing in particular,’ he replied, keeping it polite. He frowned. ‘Why do you ask?’ 

‘Well, everyday this week you’ve come to buy my lovely takoyaki’ - here the old man chuckled and tapped the bench of his stall affectionately with a wrinkled hand - ‘and you’ve been so overjoyed. But today you seem quite down, which is unusual. Of course, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.’ 

Kiryu blinked, surprised and a little taken aback by the old man’s perceptiveness. Part of him wanted to admit that he was still feeling shaken up from the nightmare, wanted to admit that he was tired and anxious in the hope of getting some sort of sympathy in response, but he knew there was no way he could make a total stranger shoulder that burden. Where would he even start, anyway? It wasn’t like he could explain what his nightmare had been about. 

Kiryu realised he’d been standing deep in thought for at least a few seconds, long enough for someone else to line up and clear their throat impatiently. 

‘Thank you for asking,’ he replied sincerely to the old man, standing up a little straighter. ‘I’ve been better, but it’s something I can work on by myself. Your concern is appreciated.’ 

Kiryu gave him an enthusiastic thumbs up that the old man returned with a wide smile, then moved away from the stall. 

Halfway down the street and three bites into the takoyaki, his phone vibrated. Kiryu pulled it out and read the message, wondering if Majima had replied. 

Yumi

11:37 A call would be lovely. We’re free all of today, so just whenever you get off work. p.s. since when did you learn to use stuff like that? :33 xx

Kiryu snorted, familiar with the little symbols now since Majima had started texting him. He looked up into the sky, chewing thoughtfully. Two birds were flying together, weaving against the blue in a graceful dance, and Kiryu smiled, feeling a little of the anxiety in him subside. 

11:38 A friend taught me how to do it :) 

 

* * * 

 

Kiryu was leaning on the counter reading a book when Majima walked in ten minutes after three. 

Kiryu slid the book to the side, then began wordlessly making Majima’s drink as the other man approached the counter. 

‘Kiryu-chan,’ said Majima, ‘How’s my big guy doin’ today?’ 

‘Majima-san,’ replied Kiryu smoothly. ‘I’m doing well.’ 

‘Ya don’t look so well, if ya don’t mind me sayin’.’

Kiryu threw an unimpressed glance Majima’s way before turning his attention back to the coffee machine. First the takoyaki man, and now Majima. Was he really that easy to read?

The anxiety from the nightmare had quietened to a steady simmer but now there was a sharp tinge of frustration alongside it. He wasn’t exactly angry at himself, just annoyed more than he usually was at his apparently total inability to feel emotions without broadcasting them all over his face. It was something that’d dogged him all his life, and it never ceased to make him feel awkward and embarrassed and—

‘Hey, hey,’ said Majima, interrupting his racing thoughts. ‘I was jus’ wondering, no need to get panicky or anythin’.’ 

His gaze was fixed on Kiryu’s hands, and Kiryu looked down. His fist was gripped so tightly around the milk frother that his knuckles were white and he was surprised the metal hadn’t bent and snapped in two. 

‘Sorry,’ he muttered, relaxing his grip. He continued making the coffee, but could feel Majima looking at him out of the corner of his eye. 

‘What’s going on?’ said Majima, and for the first time that day Kiryu heard a real note of concern in his voice. It eased some of the tension in his chest. 

Kiryu cleared his throat, fully prepared to lie, but instead the truth slipped out of his mouth before he could stop it. ‘Do you ever have nightmares, Majima?’ 

Majima’s visible eye darkened and Kiryu immediately felt like an idiot. He’d never asked about the eyepatch, but he could only imagine it would be an awful tale to tell, probably just as bad or even worse than the one he and Nishiki kept folded up inside them. But before he could apologise the darkness cleared and Majima smiled sympathetically at him. 

‘From time to time, I guess,’ he said, then hummed. ‘You get ‘em too?’ 

Kiryu looked down. ‘Yeah,’ he admitted. 

Majima hummed again. ‘They suck. I ain’t gonna ask what they’re about, ya know, that’s your business, but if ya ever get another one you can jus’ text me, ya know that?’ 

Kiryu looked up, half-expecting Majima to be repressing a laugh for some reason, but instead the man’s face was completely serious, his visible eye fixed on Kiryu. 

They stared at each other for a long moment before Kiryu let out a breath he didn’t realise he’d been holding. 

‘I’ll take you up on that offer if I ever need to,’ said Kiryu, feeling grateful. 

A faint smile ghosted across Majima’s lips. ‘Ya better.’

Kiryu finished making the drink and slid it across the countertop. Majima took a swig and his smile bloomed, making his eye crinkle. 

‘I swear, Kiryu-chan, ya make the best damn coffee in all a’ Kamurocho.’

‘You’ve said that before.’

‘Well, it’s true.’ 

At that moment Kiryu’s phone let off a loud ding from his back pocket. 

Majima looked at him and raised an eyebrow. Kiryu gave him an apologetic smile before fishing the phone out and reading the text. 

Yumi 

15:17 We went out for lunch since the weather’s so nice, so if you could give us a call after 5 that would be great! Can’t wait to hear from you xx

Kiryu smiled softly at the words, feeling the warmth in them even through a tiny pixelated screen. Yumi had always been sweet, considerate, everything he’d wanted in a friend. In another lifetime when she hadn’t ended up with Nishiki, Kiryu might’ve fallen in love with her and pined after her for a long time. 

‘What’re ya grinning at?’ said Majima, swilling the contents of his cup and frowning, though Kiryu didn’t know why. ‘Your girlfriend texting you or somethin’?’ 

Kiryu ignored the jibe and didn’t reply, focusing on texting back a quick sounds great :) . When he looked up from the keypad again, Majima was scowling into his cup. 

‘She’s an old family friend,’ said Kiryu, sliding the phone into his back pocket. ‘I’m probably going to take time off work this weekend and go up north to see her.’

‘Ah, ‘s that so…’ said Majima, his lips pursed. He opened his mouth like he was going to say something, then seemed to think better of it, instead opting to take a sip of his coffee. Kiryu watched with a raised eyebrow as Majima finished swallowing but still said nothing. He worked his jaw for a moment and Kiryu stared at the muscles tense underneath the tan, stubbled skin. 

‘Well, I’ll leave ya to it,’ Majima finally said, and drained the rest of his coffee. He set the empty cup on the counter and fished for a couple of coins, sliding them across the countertop, his gaze downwards. 

Kiryu blinked at the sudden goodbye. Majima normally stayed for much longer, and that along with his shifting, uncomfortable expression made Kiryu feel like he was missing something, like he’d said something wrong. 

But he hadn’t, had he? There had just been the coffee, the talk about nightmares, and the text from Yumi, but Kiryu didn’t have the slightest clue why that would’ve caused him to suddenly close up. It made tension gnaw in his gut and anything he might’ve said to fix the situation caught in his throat. 

Majima stepped back to leave and overcome by an urge he didn’t recognise, Kiryu blurted out, ‘You could come with me, if you wanted.’

Time froze in the cafe. Only the steady thumping of Kiryu’s heartbeat in his ears marked the seconds. Majima had frozen mid-step and was staring at him, his eye wide with surprise. Kiryu’s face was prickly with heat and his hands felt sweaty, and he clenched them into fists at his side. 

Then Majima snorted and the tension eased. ‘I appreciate the offer, but I’m busy this weekend,’ he drawled, voice casual but eye still flickering with an emotion Kiryu didn’t recognise. ‘‘Sides, I’m not the type to intrude on another guy’s date.’

It took a moment for the words to kick in, but when they did Kiryu let out a laugh. He had no doubt that Nishiki would disembowel him before the thought to ask Yumi out had even crossed his mind. 

‘It’s not a date.’ He smiled. 

Majima’s eye narrowed. ‘Really.’

‘She’s an old family friend,’ Kiryu repeated, frowning, unsure why Majima still seemed annoyed. Then something clicked in his head - was this why he was upset? Surely not… Why would he be? Still, after a moment he spoke again, his voice exaggeratedly even.  ‘And so is her husband.’

Majima blinked owlishly and his expression cleared. He straightened a little. ‘Ah… ‘s that so…’ If Kiryu didn’t know better he’d say Majima was close to blushing, and he would’ve found it oddly endearing were it not for the fact that it seemed to confirm that Majima, for whatever reason, had been annoyed when he thought Kiryu was going on a date, and was now embarrassed when Kiryu called him out. 

It was… well… Kiryu didn’t really know how to feel about that or even where to begin to think, and silence stretched between them for a long moment. For all he knew, Majima had simply wanted to go see a movie or something with him and was frustrated that Kiryu had made other plans, but honestly who knew what went on in the other man’s brain at times. And Kiryu wasn’t about to expend any more energy trying to figure this out when he was still sleep-deprived and on edge from the nightmare the night before, so he decided to put it out of his head for the time being. 

He took a breath before speaking again. ‘I appreciate the consideration, though,’ he said dryly. ‘Good to know I can count on you to be my wingman.’

Majima glared at him. ‘I ain’t anybody’s wingman,’ he muttered quietly, then louder, ‘I am still busy this weekend though, so I won’t be goin’ up there with ya.’ 

Kiryu bit his tongue, thinking to himself that he’d probably also have to examine later why he’d actually asked Majima in the first place, and why he now felt oddly … disappointed that Majima wouldn’t be going with him. He shrugged off the thought. 

‘That’s a shame,’ he replied instead, gazing at Majima with a little more intensity than he meant to. 

Majima met his eyes for a moment and whatever he saw there seemed to make him even more embarrassed because his cheeks turned a little pink before he looked away and hummed. ‘Well, I hope ya have a good weekend, I guess.’

‘You too, Majima-san.’ 

Majima waved at him as he left the cafe and Kiryu tried to return to his book. 

Majima had acted … strangely, and Kiryu didn’t know why, but his head already hurt and he knew that he had to admit Majima was just a puzzling enigma of a man. Kiryu loved figuring him out, but sometimes that meant he had to accept that he didn’t always understand him. 

The soft paper of the book brushed against Kiryu’s thumb, and for just a moment, the image of Majima’s soft brown eye and cheek flushed pink sprung unbidden into Kiryu’s mind. That shade of blush always had such an interesting effect on Majima’s skin; there was just something deeply inviting about the soft red on that tan, smooth skin, how it warmed his cheek and made his whole face appear more inviting and open and vulnerable, made some deep part of Kiryu want to reach out and stroke a thumb across the flushed skin, cradle his jaw—

Kiryu froze, baulking at that train of thought. He wanted to do what now, exactly? He exhaled heavily through his nose and blinked rapidly, the book completely forgotten in his hands. This was Majima he was thinking about, and even though he had been acting weird today during their conversation about Yumi, almost jealous, if Kiryu could even admit it, that didn’t mean that— god, it wasn’t as if Majima was interested in him or anything, and Kiryu certainly wasn’t interested in him. 

Was he? 

No. Kiryu shook his head, already feeling his concentration beginning to slip even though it was only mid-afternoon. He was tired and still anxious, and he’d had a shitty nightmare that always messed up his head a little even after so many years, and Majima was a friend, and that was that. Tonight he’d sleep better and by tomorrow he’d have forgotten all about their strange conversation and his weird thoughts about Majima blushing and everything would be back to normal. 

And if for the next five minutes, every time the paper brushed against his thumb, he couldn’t help but remember what it felt like to trace the soft ridge of the scar on Majima’s ribs, well… 

That was just another thing for him to forget about. 

 

* * * 

 

Kiryu got permission from Kazuki to take the weekend off and so on Saturday morning he found himself boarding the train at Shinjuku to head up to Chiba prefecture. An overnight bag sat between his feet, the sun shone down pleasantly through the windows of the carriage, and the distant city buildings whipped past the windows of the shinkansen. 

Nishiki and Yumi lived in Katori, which was a town - a city now, really - that lay neat and orderly next to a river a two hour train ride from Tokyo. They’d moved up there years ago, back when the city had been a little smaller and quieter, but there had been a merger with several other towns in the same district in the past few years and it wasn’t nearly as quiet as it’d once been. 

Compared to Tokyo though, Kiryu thought as he leaned back in his seat and watched the landscape rushing past outside transform from sterile apartment buildings and carparks into rich farmland and paddocks, Katori was practically the most peaceful place on earth. Any tension he had from working in a busy district in the busiest city in the world slowly melted away. He leaned his head on the window and smiled as the late spring sun warmed his face. It’d been too long since he’d gone to see Yumi and Nishiki, and too long since he’d been out of the city in general. He always felt calmer when he was surrounded by greenery and trees and fresh air and a wide, blue horizon uninterrupted by skyscrapers. 

A book kept him company for most of the two hour train ride, and before long the train pulled into the station at Katori and Kiryu shouldered his overnight bag, strolling off the train into the sun. 

Yumi had messaged him to let him know she’d meet him at the station. Kiryu raised a hand to block the glare from the sun and saw her quickly, standing in the shade of the station roof nearby. 

Yumi was as beautiful as she’d always been. It had been rough for her and Nishiki at times and Kiryu’s eyes could trace the tension of all those hard years in the wrinkles at the corner of her eyes and her mouth. But whenever she smiled to reveal deep laugh lines, and whenever her eyes sparkled at a joke, the kindness and joy inside her shone out and her beauty was unmistakable. 

Her hair was cut in a neat bob, grey just starting to touch the roots, and she was wearing a flowing skirt patterned with flowers and a loose white shirt. Silver earrings dangled from her ears. Kiryu couldn’t help the wide smile that bloomed across his face when he saw her. 

She saw him as soon as he stepped off the train and began walking towards him. 

‘Kiryu,’ she said warmly as she neared him, her smile beaming. ‘How was the trip?’ 

He grinned back. ‘Great, thanks.’ 

‘I’m glad.’ She reached him and then crossed her arms, fixing him with a suddenly intense expression, her eyes narrowing. ‘I’ve got something for you.’

Kiryu tried to suppress a shiver and hesitantly replied. ‘What?’ 

Her fist flew out and clocked him firmly in the shoulder. Kiryu staggered back, more out of surprise than anything. 

‘That’s for not coming up to see us for such a long time,’ said Yumi, glaring at him. Kiryu felt himself wilt under her gaze. He wasn’t scared of many people, but he would readily admit that Yumi terrified him sometimes. 

He offered an apologetic grimace, feeling guilty. ‘I’m sorry,’ he muttered. ‘I meant to, it’s just … the cafe, and…’

Yumi’s wide grin slowly returned at his awkward stammering. ‘I know, you big dummy. I’m teasing.’ She smirked. ‘Mostly, anyway.’ 

Kiryu pursed his lips, mouth twitching with a smile. ‘You’re the worst.’ 

‘You love me,’ she said, then held her arms open wide, her expression soft. 

‘I really do,’ said Kiryu, and wrapped her up closely in his arms. She felt warm and a little fragile against his chest, and with a pang Kiryu realised he couldn’t remember the last time he’d hugged her, let alone anybody. It probably would’ve been Christmas, one of the last times he was up here, and that was months ago. He rested his cheek on her shoulder and felt his whole body relax as her arms tightened around him. She smelled like woodsmoke and freshly cut grass, and he held her tighter for a long moment before finally letting go. 

He shifted the overnight bag on his shoulder and gestured down the path that led away from the station. It was shadowed by tall trees and ran alongside the city’s main river, which was currently sparkling in the sunlight. ‘Shall we?’ 

Yumi chatted enthusiastically to him during the short walk to the house, asking him about work and the cafe and what he’d been up to, and in return he asked questions about her and Nishiki, keeping it light. 

Yumi also left a comfortable silence between them at times, walking along beside him with her hands clasped behind her back. He knew she was quiet so Kiryu could spend time enjoying the view of the wide blue river and the trees throwing dappled shadows on the path and the beautiful traditional-style Japanese homes flanking it all, and for that he was thankful. 

‘It’s so different,’ he said at last. 

‘Mmm?’ 

‘The houses, the streets. How…’ He paused, but he could only hear the gentle sounds of the river, birds chirping and the distant whistle of a train mixed with children laughing. ‘It’s so quiet. It’s nothing like Tokyo.’ 

Yumi hummed in thought. ‘Do you like it?’ 

Kiryu thought for a moment. ‘I do,’ he said. ‘It’s different, but I do.’ 

‘Why don’t you move out here?’ 

Kiryu looked at her then. ‘Move? 

She nodded, eyes sparkling but serious. ‘You’ve got the savings, haven’t you? Rent is so cheap here, and I’m sure you could find a job in a cafe nearby. The town is busy enough for that now.’ 

Kiryu blinked. Move here? 

Katori was lovely, of course, but Kamurocho had been his home for most of his life and he wasn’t sure he’d ever want to leave it. He liked the endless food stalls and convenience stores, the way the city always thrummed with energy, the endless, vast variety of people. 

Especially one particular person. Kiryu had to look away and hold back a smile. He had to admit that Majima had grown on him, and he knew part of him would miss getting to see him most days. 

‘I’ll think about it,’ replied Kiryu, ‘but I still love Tokyo.’ 

‘Of course, sweetie,’ said Yumi with a gentle smile. ‘But you should know you’re always welcome here.’ 

Kiryu returned the smile and they enjoyed the rest of the walk in comfortable silence. 

A few minutes later they turned into a street lined with old houses with beautiful curved roofs, all clustered together. It was a walk Kiryu had made many times and he couldn’t resist increasing his pace just a little, eager to see his old kyoudai.   

They stopped in front of a house with little yellow flowers blooming in the front yard, so many that they’d started intruding a little through the gaps in the wooden fence, though the effect was overwhelmingly pretty rather than messy. 

Kiryu paused with a hand on the fence, looking at them - carnations, he vaguely remembered Yumi mentioning - as she went ahead of him and opened the door. He followed her.

It felt like returning home. 

Inside the house was bathed in sunlight, the smell of the wooden floorboards rising and mixing with the subtle scent of the flowers outside. It was a traditional home with wooden accents, delicate in some ways but lovingly looked after for years so that it always felt cosy and welcoming. Kiryu looked around to admire it like he always did as he kicked his shoes off at the entrance and followed Yumi into the main living area, a spacious room with wide windows and rush screens on the far wall, a kitchen and table to the right, and tatami that was soft under his feet. 

Someone was reclining on a couch on the far side of the room and Kiryu saw the sunlight painting golden highlights in Nishiki’s hair before anything else. 

Kyoudai,’ he breathed. 

Nishiki snorted and tossed aside the magazine he’d been reading. His clear brown eyes met Kiryu’s and a wide grin followed immediately after. ‘Bro,’ he said. ‘Took you long enough.’ 

Kiryu was already at the sofa, bending down to wrap his arms around the slightly smaller man. Nishiki’s black hair, long as ever, tickled the bottom of Kiryu’s chin. Nishiki’s arms were immediately around his back, holding him somewhat awkwardly around the waist. 

Kiryu heard Yumi clear her throat after a few long moments. ‘Really, you two,’ she said, but her tone was unmistakably fond. 

Nishiki gave him a pat on the back and Kiryu drew back to get a proper look at him, holding him at arm’s reach. 

Nishiki looked much the same as ever, the heavy furrow between his dark eyebrows omnipresent, the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth maybe a little more present than the last time Kiryu had seen him. 

‘If you stop inspecting me, I’m sure I’ll be able to get up and chat properly,’ grumbled Nishiki, raising an eyebrow. 

‘I’ll make some tea,’ added Yumi helpfully, and Nishiki gave her an affectionate glance over Kiryu’s shoulder. 

‘You’re looking well,’ said Kiryu, withdrawing his hand from Nishiki’s shoulder. 

‘Well as I can be, I suppose,’ sighed Nishiki. ‘Yumi’s been on my case recently about relaxing more—’

‘Because he insists on going for walks everyday, and you know what he’s like, he says “it’ll just be a little walk” and we wind up half an hour away.’

‘Well, I’m not an old man yet and I’m perfectly able to go for a long walk if I want,’ shot back Nishiki, scowling a little at Yumi’s back where she was busy setting out little cups on a tray. 

‘You sound like an old man,’ said Kiryu monotonously, and heard Yumi giggle. 

Nishiki switched his gaze to Kiryu. ‘Bro,’ he said softly. His face was heartbroken but his eyes twinkled. ‘I trusted you.’ 

‘Don’t know why,’ Kiryu deadpanned. ‘Yumi’s the one making my tea, I have no idea why you think I’d disagree with her.’ 

‘Oh, I see. It’s all coming together. You’ve both been scheming against me all this time, trying to shatter my self-esteem.’ 

‘You’ve found us out,’ replied Kiryu.

‘If you two can stop bickering like an old married couple for just one moment,’ interjected Yumi. ‘The tea is almost ready.’

She placed the tray of cups on the low table in the centre of the room, surrounded by small zabuton cushions. 

Kiryu made a move to sit down, then remembered. He turned back. 

‘Do you need any help?’ he asked. 

Nishiki shook his head, but his expression was a little more serious than before. ‘It’s no fuss,’ he said. 

Kiryu nodded and sat down cross-legged on the soft zabuton, his knees nearly brushing the underside of the small table. 

Nishiki shuffled to a seated position, massaging his left thigh for a moment and grimacing, and then swung his other, intact leg over the couch and onto the floor. He pushed himself up with a grunt and hopped to the zabuton

Kiryu reached out automatically to steady him but Nishiki shooed him away. 

‘I’m fine, honestly,’ he said. ‘You don’t think I’ve been doing this long enough?’ He sat down on a cushion and started fiddling with the cups. 

Kiryu didn’t have a reply for that. Instead he eyed the prosthetic leg propped against the sofa next to where Nishiki had just been reclining. 

‘You’re not wearing it?’ he asked, genuine curiosity colouring his voice. For a long time Nishiki had worn it whenever anyone else was around, even if that someone was just Yumi or Kiryu. It had never bothered them but Nishiki had insisted and Kiryu assumed that he was self-conscious, though he’d often wished badly that his kyoudai didn’t feel that way. 

‘Not when I’m home,’ said Nishiki, meeting his eye, having handed out the cups. ‘It’s nice to get a bit of sunlight on it.’ He looked down. Where usually his left leg was covered in a bandage to fit into the prosthesis, now Kiryu could see the way the skin tapered, ending just below his knee. ‘Feels nice.’ 

Kiryu smiled. ‘I’m sure it would. It’s still comfortable to walk, though?’ 

‘He’s due for a new one,’ said Yumi, setting down the full teapot on the table and sitting down on Kiryu’s right. ‘The leg’s been giving him pain the past few weeks.’ 

‘That’s not good,’ said Kiryu, frowning. ‘Why haven’t you got a new one?’ 

‘It’s expensive,’ replied Nishiki wearily, and Kiryu got the feeling he and Yumi had already talked about this many times before. 

‘Kazama said he’d pay for everything, though—’

‘I don’t want Kazama to pay for everything,’ Nishiki grimaced. ‘He’s already done enough for us.’ 

Kiryu bit his tongue and glanced at Yumi, who’d poured out the tea and was now staring into her cup. 

‘Then I’ll pay for it,’ said Kiryu. 

Nishiki’s eyes flicked up to him. ‘Kyoudai, I appreciate that, but I couldn’t possibly…’ 

‘I have plenty of savings,’ said Kiryu. He knew how expensive prosthetic limbs were so plenty might not have been the right word, but he still had enough money. 

‘We can afford it,’ replied Nishiki, but now his eyes were soft, some of the tension in his shoulders gone. ‘It just hasn’t seemed important, it’s barely been two weeks since it started hurting.’ 

‘Well, your health is important,’ replied Kiryu firmly. ‘And Kazama…’ He took a deep breath. ‘When it happened and we left, he said that he would always be there to help. I know you don’t like relying on him—’ Nishiki huffed, ‘—but he can help and you should let him.’ 

‘Kiryu’s right,’ added Yumi quietly. 

Nishiki looked at them both, then sighed exaggeratedly, reaching out for his cup of tea. ‘You two, I swear…’ he muttered. ‘Ganging up on me like this.’ He took a sip. ‘You know how much I hate relying on him like this. He already got us out, got us jobs. I mean, shit,’ Nishiki gestured at the room around him, ‘he even helped us get this house because he owned the place and sold it to us cheap.’ 

Yumi leaned across the table and put her hand on Nishiki’s where it was resting next to his cup. ‘And we’re grateful for it. You know he doesn’t pity you, he’s doing it because he cares.’ She smiled. ‘So stop your stupid wallowing in despair and let him know you need help.’ 

Kiryu hid a smile. ‘She’s right.’ 

Nishiki sighed. ‘I guess I should.’ At their pointed glares he threw a hand back and said, ‘Okay, I will!’ He glowered at them, but Kiryu noticed how his hand had curled against Yumi’s. ‘Getting you two in the same room is always a mistake.’ 

Kiryu snorted and was about to answer when a loud ding rang out in the room. 

Kiryu flushed. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled, fishing the phone out of his pocket, ‘forgot to turn that off before.’ 

He glanced at the screen and then blinked rapidly and had to squint to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. 

Majima

13:37 I miss you 

Kiryu stared. 

How could he possibly respond? He was keenly aware of Nishiki and Yumi both looking curiously at him as he struggled to think of what to do.

The phone pinged again. 

13:37 someone else is working at the cafe and he didnt understand my order and then didn’t even make it right!! my day is fucking ruined. 

Kiryu raised his eyebrows, relief flickering through him. A joke, then. Another message pinged in a moment later, this time with a picture attached. 

13:38 have fun at your friendly get together thing but also get your himbo ass back here pronto okay 

Kiryu opened the attached picture and let out a laugh before he could stop himself. Majima had taken a picture of himself from an overly low angle, so that his exaggeratedly grumpy face and unimpressed mouth filled the whole screen. It was extremely unflattering and also so ridiculous that Kiryu couldn’t help laughing. 

He fired off a quick You’re an idiot, I’ll be back soon, then set it to silent and turned it off for good measure. 

Nishiki was looking at him with a dumbfounded expression when he looked up again, and Yumi was eyeing him suspiciously. 

‘Kiryu…’ she began with a shy grin, ‘didn’t you say you’d made a new friend recently?’ 

‘What?’ interjected Nishiki, looking delighted. ‘Is that true?’ 

Kiryu glared. ‘Don’t sound so surprised.’

‘I know, but … a friend, Kiryu,’ Nishiki replied, his eyes twinkling. ‘What kind of friend are we talking about?’ 

‘Just a friend. A normal friend.’ He frowned, knowing how much weirder those words made it sound. 

‘Well, I’ve never heard you laugh like that with anyone except us, Kiryu,’ said Yumi, ‘so they must be pretty special.’

‘How’d you meet?’ asked Nishiki, leaning forward. 

Kiryu shifted back unconsciously, Yumi and Nishiki’s intent stares making him feel uncomfortable. 

‘We met at the cafe,’ he mumbled. ‘We’ve been talking for a while, they became a regular, I guess we just hit it off. But we’re just friends,’ he added again, glaring at them both. 

‘Oh please, Kiryu,’ said Nishiki. ‘If she’s got your number, you’re practically dating.’ 

Kiryu spluttered, his cheeks warm. ‘I— we’re not dating,’ he said, horrified. The she bothered him more than he’d admit. 

‘Really? What’s her eye colour?’ 

‘Brown, but it’s not—’

‘Favourite books? Hobbies?’ 

The conversation was slowly spiralling out of control. 

‘Kafka, Murakami, reading, movies, I don’t know…’ 

Nishiki whistled through his teeth. ‘Wow, a real artsy chick.’ He grinned. ‘Is she hot?’ 

Something inside Kiryu snapped and his voice came out harsher than he intended. ‘First of all, it doesn’t really matter to me if they’re hot, and second of all, his name is Majima.’ 

The silence was so sudden and heavy that all Kiryu could hear was his heartbeat thumping in his ears. He looked down at his untouched cup, too embarrassed to meet their gaze and fully aware that his cheeks were burning. Well, he could’ve phrased that better. 

Nishiki broke the silence first. ‘...I’m sorry,’ he said, and Kiryu looked up at his tone. ‘So it’s a guy, huh… well, I’m glad you’re finally dating.’ 

Kiryu stared. Nishiki smiled tentatively. 

‘We’re still not dating,’ Kiryu said, his brow furrowing. 

‘If you say so,’ hummed Nishiki in a tone that heavily implied he thought that was a lie. ‘He texts you though?’ 

‘Just the past week or two,’ Kiryu replied, feeling a little dazed. What the fuck was this conversation? ‘He didn’t come in for a while and I got worried, so we exchanged numbers.’ 

Nishiki smirked and Kiryu’s cheeks flared again. ‘Hey, it’s not like that!’ 

‘I didn’t say it was!’ Nishiki replied hotly. 

‘Boys, calm down,’ said Yumi. Her warm eyes landed on Kiryu. ‘Sweetie, if you’re just friends, that’s fine. But if it’s something a little more, well…’ she shrugged and reached out to pat his hand. ‘We’re very happy for you. And I hope he’s a nice guy.’ 

‘He is,’ Kiryu replied automatically. ‘I-I mean…’ He trailed off, words escaping him. Him and Majima, dating

The strange conversation with Majima earlier that week hadn’t entirely escaped his mind, as much as he’d wanted it to, and neither had the few minutes afterwards when his sleep-deprived brain had thought it was a great idea to dwell over what Majima looked like when he blushed and how his skin had felt under Kiryu’s hands, and now under his friend’s intent gazes Kiryu felt his skin prickle with heat at the memory.

And now Nishiki and Yumi thought they were dating? It was so baffling he didn’t even know where to begin. Sure, Majima was great. They were friends. They had fun talking. And Kiryu wasn’t going to say that Majima didn’t have a certain chaotic, roguish charm about him that was handsome at times and— what the hell was even happening? 

His cheeks were so hot he could probably start a fire and he scrubbed at his face, exasperated. This was stupid. Nishiki and Yumi looked at him expectantly. 

‘Majima and I are friends,’ he grit out at last. ‘Nothing more. He’s great and I like spending time with him, but we’re not dating.’ Thinking … otherwise was too embarrassing to think about. ‘I’m not exactly young either,’ he added after a moment’s silence, during which he finally took a sip of his tea. 

‘You’re not that old, kyoudai,’ said Nishiki, and the affectionate term softened some of the tension around Kiryu’s mouth. 

‘Too old to date another man for the first time, surely.’ 

‘I disagree,’ said Nishiki, and the firmness of his voice made Kiryu blink. ‘I’ve known you for a long time, Kiryu. We’re kyoudai. You’re a great guy and anyone would be lucky to be with you, experience or no experience. I’m sure there’s someone out there who can see that.’ 

Before Kiryu could respond, Yumi cut in. ‘I agree, Kiryu. You’re a wonderful person and if this Majima is as great as you say, I don’t think your age or experience would matter to him.’ She brightened. ‘Actually, there’s a man at my work who met his partner only last year. He’s our age and they’re very happy together.’ 

Kiryu blinked owlishly at them over the rim of his teacup, then set it down and took a deep breath. ‘Thank you for your kind words,’ he said. ‘But we’re still really—’ and here he clasped his hands together and tried to make his voice as firm as possible, ‘—me and Majima are really not dating.’ 

Speech finished, Kiryu stared down at his tea, watching the pale liquid ripple gently outwards from the centre of the cup for a long moment. 

‘You’re both very kind, though,’ he said. ‘Thank you.’ He wondered if they heard the slight quaver in his voice, but if they did they didn’t mention it. 

‘Anytime, bro.’ Nishiki smiled. 

Kiryu drained the rest of his tea and set his cup down. ‘So, how’s the garden going out front? It looks beautiful.’ 

Yumi beamed and neither of them mentioned the abrupt change in subject, for which Kiryu was grateful. 

 

* * * 

 

When the sky was dark, Kiryu left the warmth of his futon to pad barefoot outside and sit on the back patio, the screen door half-shut behind him. He lit a cigarette and enjoyed the way the tip glowed bright and warm in the darkness of the night, the skin of his hands illuminated only faintly in the soft moonlight. 

It was quiet, much quieter than Tokyo, and a faint warm breeze tickled the hairs on Kiryu’s exposed arms and chest. He shivered, though it wasn’t from being cold; just the unfamiliar sensation, air touching places that hadn’t seen sunlight in months, maybe years. When was the last time he’d sat outside like this? 

The phone sat next to him on the wooden patio, the sheer presence of it taking up more space in his brain than he was comfortable with. He hadn’t looked at it in hours. After a long, deep draw of the cigarette that made Kiryu’s head swim, he picked it up and turned it on. 

Majima

13:51 i can only assume you’re having a banging time catching up with your friends. i’d say say hi for me but i feel that’d be a little weird since they don’t know me huh

14:04 sorry for the message spam 

14:06 work is boring is all, you know how it is. also i realised me saying hi would be even weirder since they probs don’t even know i exist lol

22:05 hope you’ve been having a nice time :)))

Kiryu re-read the messages a few times. Majima’s inane rambling dispelled some of the tension that’d lingered in his gut after the talk with Yumi and Nishiki, and he fired off a reply without much thought. 

00:07 I’ve been having a great time. Sorry for not replying, my phone was off. And don’t worry, they know you exist :)

Kiryu barely had time to take another drag of the cigarette before his phone buzzed again. 

Majima

00:08 nice. don’t worry my man. i’m glad to hear you’re havin a nice time :3 

Kiryu smiled at his phone. He tipped his head back and blew smoke into the night sky, then took a moment to look at the stars, visible in dark patches between the slow-moving clouds, little beautiful pinpricks of light twinkling so far away.

00:08 do you ever miss the night sky in tokyo? 

The message was impulsive and as soon as he sent it his first thought was, what a weird question to ask some guy you barely know. Though Majima was hardly just some guy he barely knew, was his closest thing to a friend and probably the person he talked to most at the moment - and wasn’t that a strange thought–

His phone vibrating in his hand interrupted his thoughts, but when it buzzed again, rhythmically, Kiryu realised it was a call and not a text. He stared at the phone and that little ball of tension in his gut flared again, though he couldn’t say why. 

Finally he answered it and lifted it to his ear. 

‘Kiryu-chan?’ 

‘Majima-san.’ 

‘What’re ya doin’ waxing poetic about the sky for? You drunk or somethin’?’

Kiryu nearly snorted. Trust Majima to get straight to the point. 

‘I’m not drunk. I’m just sitting outside and the stars are …’ He gazed up at them again. ‘Really beautiful here.’ 

Majima hummed. ‘I haven’t seen a night sky with lotsa stars in … I dunno how long,’ he said. 

‘You should come up here sometime.’ 

Majima was silent for a moment, long enough that Kiryu thought he might’ve overstepped a boundary and opened his mouth to apologise. But Majima spoke again.

‘That would be nice.’ His voice was quiet. ‘But what, with your, ya know–childhood friend, was it? And her husband?’ 

Kiryu coughed. He hadn’t really thought this through. Then again, Yumi and Nishiki were friendly people, and he wasn’t embarrassed about being friends with Majima. Even if they seem to think you and Majima are dating, his brain suggested unhelpfully. 

He ignored that thought and continued, fighting to keep the uncertainty out of his voice. ‘Yeah. I’m sure my friends would be more than happy for you to come along next time I do.’ 

Majima was silent for another long moment, and that little ball of anxiety flared in Kiryu’s gut. They hadn’t talked about the conversation earlier that week and Kiryu was content to let it die but maybe he was being presumptuous, maybe he was being too familiar—

‘Kiryu, I swear, you …’ Majima started, then faltered. The quiet tension stretched for a few seconds. 

‘...Yeah?’

He heard a snort. ‘You’re a really nice guy. Too nice.’ 

Kiryu exhaled a long breath he hadn’t even realised he’d been holding. ‘Is that your version of a compliment?’ 

‘Take it or leave it.’ 

Kiryu chuckled lightly. ‘Then thanks.’

Majima hummed again, and there was the tinny sound of distant rustling, like he was moving the phone around. 

‘Where are you at the moment? Work?’

Majima snorted. ‘Naw, they made me go home early. Said somethin’ about not wanting  to see my grumpy face yellin’ at ‘em anymore.’ 

Kiryu frowned. ‘You shouldn’t be yelling at your employees, Majima-san.’ 

‘Trust me, you’d be yellin’ at them too if ya had to boss ‘em around everyday.’ 

Kiryu made an unimpressed noise. ‘Is the … grumpiness usual then? Or was it just today because the other guy messed up your order?’

Majima groaned. ‘God, I thought you’d never ask, Kiryu-chan–’ He launched into a story of the day’s events and how deeply he’d been wronged by being given the wrong coffee order, and before long Kiryu was holding back a smile. He lit another cigarette and enjoyed drawing on it quietly while Majima continued his angry rambling. 

Finally Majima finished. ‘So yeah, I hope whatever you’re doin’ up in Chiba is worth it ‘cause that cafe will fail miserably without ya.’ 

Kiryu chuckled. ‘Noted.’ 

Majima suddenly made a strange, breathy sound that Kiryu belatedly realised was a yawn. He realised Majima hadn’t answered his question.

‘So if you’re not at work, where are you?’

‘At home,’ said Majima. ‘In bed.’ 

Kiryu felt heat prickle his face, feeling chagrined. ‘Ah, sorry for texting back so late, Majima-san–’

Majima huffed. ‘I texted back as well, remember? An’ I called. If I didn’t wanna chat I would’ve ignored ya and gone to sleep.’ 

‘You sound tired, though.’

Majima’s huff this time was lower. ‘I’m always tired, Kiryu-chan,’ he said, so softly that Kiryu had to strain to hear it, then louder, ‘I’m fine. I don’t sleep much anyways. Ya know I’m always textin’ ya at weird hours.’ 

Kiryu hummed. It was true. ‘Still, I don’t want to keep you up.’

‘You’re not, Kiryu-chan.’ Now Majima’s voice was tinged with exasperation. ‘I promise ya, I like talking to ya, I like textin’, I like–’ His voice abruptly cut off. 

Kiryu paused. ‘You like … what, Majima-san?’ 

Majima’s voice came back, tinged with annoyance. ‘Huh? What was I sayin’? Sorry, fuckin’ cat jus’ jumped onto my bed.’ 

Kiryu blinked. ‘You have a cat?’ 

‘Not really. Saw this lil’ guy in the street today, lookin’ miserable.’ His voice grew distant, but Kiryu could pick out a look you lil’ shit, I’ve given ya enough pats tonight in the distance, followed by a loud sigh and what sounded distinctly like purring. Majima’s voice came back. 

‘Sorry about that, he’s such an attention-seeker.’ 

‘Did you seriously rescue a cat?’ 

There was a pause, and when Majima spoke again he sounded almost embarrassed. ‘What was I gonna do, leave it to starve? Tch …’ 

A wave of affection warmed Kiryu’s chest. ‘You rescued a cat,’ he repeated simply, smiling. 

‘Look, don’t go gettin’ any ideas about me bein’ soft-hearted or any of that bullshit,’ Majima replied. 

Kiryu held his tongue, wanting to say exactly that. Instead he took another drag of the cigarette, down to its embers now, then stubbed it out on the dirt at his feet. 

Majima huffed. ‘I’m gonna take your silence as an admittance that you were thinkin’ just that.’

‘I’m not saying a word.’

Majima snorted. ‘Kiryu-chan …’ he began, affection warming the syllables. 

‘Yeah?’

Majima paused, for the second time that night, and this pause was even longer than the first, long enough that Kiryu thought Majima may have hung up or was distracted by his apparently new cat, but when he strained to listen he could hear Majima’s breathing on the other end of the line, and part of him sensed that Majima was thinking, turning over words in his head, though what those words might be Kiryu couldn’t tell. 

‘Thanks for texting back.’ Majima’s voice was quiet. 

Kiryu had the odd feeling that Majima had planned to say something completely different, but he took it at face value.’ You don’t have to thank me,’ he replied, that strange feeling in his chest making the words catch slightly in his throat. ‘I wanted to.’ 

Majima hummed. ‘Well,’ he replied a little awkwardly. ‘Thanks for that, then.’ 

Kiryu didn’t reply. Majima moved again, the rustling of what Kiryu now knew were probably bed-sheets in the background. He scrubbed a hand over his face, trying to erase the sudden mental image that had sprung into his brain of Majima in his bed at home, curled up in the sheets. Was he still wearing his eyepatch or would he have taken it off for comfort the way Nishiki did with his leg? What type of bed did he have? Where did Majima even live?

One question in particular rose to Kiryu’s mind that made his cheeks flush, made him glad for the distance between him and Majima right now. Did Majima wear clothes to bed? Or was Majima now … was Majima …

Kiryu gulped. It wasn’t like he hadn’t noticed that Majima was an attractive guy, but they were truly just friends and it’d been a weird week and despite Yumi and Nishiki’s prodding, he didn’t really think Majima was someone he wanted to date. He put the mental image out of his mind forcefully, tried to think about anything else. 

‘You okay there, Kiryu-chan?’ murmured Majima, his voice sounding a little sleepy. 

‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ Kiryu breathed too quickly. ‘I’m … I’m probably going to head back to bed. What time is it?’ he added belatedly, realising he couldn’t exactly check the time on his phone when he was talking into it. 

‘It’s um,’ there was the noise of Majima shifting, ‘’s about a quarter to one.’ 

‘Huh. We talked for a long time.’

Majima hummed. ‘It was fun.’

Kiryu smiled, feeling a little less on edge. ‘It was.’

There was another silence, but this one was more comfortable. 

‘Well, goodnight,’ said Kiryu after a few seconds. 

‘Night, Kiryu-chan,’ said Majima. The phone call clicked into silence. 

Kiryu took a deep breath and looked up at the stars again. The clouds had shifted and the pale moonlight was stronger, but even with that light the stars still twinkled brightly in the inky blackness. 

It would be nice for Majima to come out here. Kiryu could picture it easily, the two of them sitting here on the patio smoking and chatting, brushing shoulders. Majima would be intimidating to Yumi at first, but Nishiki would think he was funny, would see why Kiryu liked him, and both of them would warm up to him quickly. They could have tea, cook dinner together, play mahjong after the sun had set. It would be nice for Majima to come here and meet the two most important people in his life, whether as his friend or otherwise.

Or otherwise.  

That strange feeling in his chest spread until it seemed to permeate his entire body, made his nerve endings thrum and his breath catch in his throat. He thought of Majima, alone in bed. He thought of the hard set of Majima’s jaw before Kiryu had explained who Yumi was. He thought of the affection in Majima’s voice when he’d murmured Kiryu-chan and how that had made him feel, made him ache . How it made him long for a type of affection that was more than just friends, more than anything he’d known for his entire life, more than what he’d denied himself by pretending that he was okay with being alone, more than a lifetime of not dating men because he was too fucking scared–

And he was scared. A more courageous man would be able to look at that strange feeling in his chest and put a name to it, but Kiryu didn’t have the courage tonight, and he wasn’t sure if he ever would. 

What he did know was that he was nearly forty, had been single for most of his life, and had so little experience with the same sex that he’d never kissed another man, let alone done anything else. Who could possibly want a guy like that? He sighed heavily and rubbed a hand over his face. The exasperated gesture was becoming too familiar recently. 

Except… He rested his chin in his palm and stared at the ground. 

Except… Nishiki and Yumi had insisted that it wasn’t a big deal, his age, his lack of experience, who he was as a person. Sure, they were like family and they’d never be cruel to his face, but he also trusted them not to sugarcoat the truth and they had been so firm that someone, somewhere would be interested in him that he couldn’t help but believe they meant it. 

He looked up at the stars again. It pained him to admit it, but he’d spent a long time, a really long time, thinking that a relationship with another man - and god his brain still tripped over the thought - simply wasn’t possible for him. 

It wasn’t like he was totally undesirable. He was fit, he had a job and hobbies, he looked good for his age; he’d attracted his fair share of attention from women when he was younger and some (rarely) from men, so he knew he wasn’t completely unattractive. His self-esteem wasn’t so shit that he couldn’t admit more than a few people would call him handsome. 

Back in the eighties, his excuse had been yeah it’s legal, but it’s not exactly smiled upon and after they’d left the yakuza in such a dramatic way and Kazama had found him a good real estate job, the last thing he wanted was to draw any unnecessary attention when his life was just starting to become normal again. He simply didn’t see many other, well, people like him around the place unless he went to an okama bar, and that had never really interested him. 

Along the years, his excuse had remained the same, but in all fairness it had been a good excuse and Nishiki had never pressed him. It was legal back then, but the world still frowned upon it and at the time, having a relationship had been the furthest thing on his mind. 

But the way Nishiki and Yumi had talked had piqued his interest, and so had the guy Yumi mentioned. Was it so different now? Would it really be that easy for him to date another man? 

Kiryu hummed and shivered as the breeze shifted, bringing with it the hint of a cold change. 

Maybe I would be able to date someone. He huffed. Of course, that was if he could find one who was interested. 

Kiryu’s thoughts gravitated back towards Majima. There was… something there, he could sense that. But they were friends and this was all new, and Kiryu had made the mistake when he was younger of reading too much into the friendly mannerisms that happened between close male friends sometimes, of mistaking an arm over your shoulder, sharing a bed, an intense gaze held too long, of being something more . Fuck, he’d even thought Nishiki of all people might be interested in him when he was younger. His cheeks burned at the memory. 

Majima was probably just overly friendly; it wasn’t as if Kiryu could see how he interacted with other guys since he only ever saw him in the cafe. 

Majima was probably also straight. Kiryu knew that he was an anomaly, knew the chances were low of meeting someone else like him. And apart from that, they were such different people. Majima was chaos personified and Kiryu, as much as he liked that chaos, couldn’t fathom living with it day in and day out. Kiryu didn’t know exactly what he craved in a partner, but he seriously doubted that Majima would be interested in cooking pancakes and holding hands and being a couple in the way that Kiryu ached for. 

And he did ache. He groaned as he folded his arms and rested his head on his knees. This whole week, Majima, the conversation with Nishiki and Yumi, all this stupid thinking… it all seemed to lead to him sitting here on a wooden patio, listening to the sound of his heavy breathing and realising that he ached, burned for something more than friends and had done for half his goddamned life. 

He sat on the patio for a long time, until the butt of his cigarette went cold on the dirt and the breeze turned cold and made him shiver. The stars overhead twinkled endlessly at him. By the time he crept inside and curled up in his futon and tried hard not to think of anything at all, the moon had set in the sky. After a long time the darkness embraced him and he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

 

Kiryu woke up to the sound of eggs frying in a pan and sunlight spilling onto his face.

His eyes were still sticky with sleep. He blinked them open slowly as he swam into consciousness, instantly noticing the gross stale tang in his mouth that showed he’d only slept a few hours. Then a hand grabbed the top of his head and mussed up his hair, and he groaned.

‘Rise and shine, sleepin’ beauty,’ grinned Nishiki.

Kiryu scowled, shifting to rest on one elbow. He could see Yumi bustling about in the kitchen on the other side of the room. The smell of food cooking was enough to shake most of the fogginess from his head. ‘What time is it?’

‘About eleven,’ replied Nishiki cheerily. ‘Time to get up.’ He poked Kiryu in the shoulder repeatedly and Kiryu glared back with all the force he could muster, which, given the amused look Nishiki gave him, probably wasn’t much.

He let out a loud yawn and threw back the sheets of the futon, remembering too late that he’d slept shirtless and was only wearing thin sweatpants. He grasped at the sheets and pulled them up to his chest, shooting a glance Yumi’s way.

Nishiki followed his look and rolled his eyes. ‘It’s nothing she hasn’t seen before.’

‘Still feels weird,’ he mumbled.

‘Kiryu, sweetie,’ Yumi called from across the room, ‘I was there when you two were running about in the yakuza and you can bet I saw enough shirtless men to last me a lifetime. I don’t think one more will kill me.’

Kiryu snorted and stood, letting the sheets fall. He reached for his bag on the couch, rifling through it while Yumi switched off the stove and brought over plates to the low table in the middle of the room.

Kiryu could feel Nishiki staring at him and his skin prickled under the scrutiny. Finally he turned around, clean white shirt in his hands. ‘What?’

‘How often do you work out?’

Kiryu looked down at his bare chest. He’d been slacking a bit recently, sure, but was it really that obvious? ‘Not as much as I used to,’ he admitted with a sigh, shrugging the shirt on and starting to button it up.

‘Figures.’ Nishiki turned away and sat down and Kiryu eyed the back of his head, beginning to feel insulted.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

Nishiki busied himself by spooning rice into his bowl and Kiryu started to have the uncomfortable feeling he was being teased.

‘It’s nothing.’ Nishiki forked a wad of steaming rice into his mouth. ‘Some guys are just born lucky, I guess.’

Yumi barked out a laugh that she hid with a polite hand when Kiryu looked at her.

‘Born lucky?’ he asked.

Yumi giggled again, then offered him a gentle smile. ‘Ignore Nishiki. But you know, when we said any guy would be lucky to have you, we meant that in… more ways than one.’

Kiryu fought back a flush as they both burst into giggles, their words clicking at last.

‘Honestly, you two,’ he said, stiffly lowering himself down onto one of the zabuton cushions and reaching for the food. ‘You know, your teasing is bad enough at the best of times, but I especially don’t appreciate it when I’ve barely slept.’

Nishiki huffed out an amused breath. ‘Well, it was a compliment, so just take it as that.’

Kiryu made a disgruntled noise and began piling scrambled eggs onto his plate.

Yumi touched his arm. ‘You didn’t sleep well then, Kiryu?’ When Kiryu looked up from the plate her eyes were wide and genuine, and Nishiki for once was quiet too.

Kiryu patted Yumi’s hand and smiled in a way that he hoped was reassuring. ‘Don’t worry, really. I was just up late talking on the phone.’ The words were out of his mouth before he realised it might be a mistake to bring this up again - especially considering everything he’d dwelled on the night before.

Yumi brightened. ‘To Majima?’

Kiryu nodded but said nothing, instead opting to shove as much rice as humanly possible into his mouth instead.

‘So you guys text, and talk how often exactly?’ asked Nishiki, tone playful.

Kiryu refused to look up. ‘Not much.’

There was a long silence where he kept his eyes down and fiddled with the food on his plate. Guilt slowly but steadily built with each passing second. Nishiki and Yumi were his closest friends, after all. Sure, he was tired and he didn’t particularly want to have this conversation, but he didn’t need to be acting like a moody teenager. He cleared his throat and met their curious gazes.

‘Last night was the first time we’ve really talked on the phone, but he comes into the cafe a bit.’ A bit was a serious understatement for someone who knew his schedule and showed up nearly every shift, but they didn’t need to know that.

Yumi smiled widely. ‘Yeah? What sort of things do you guys talk about?’

Kiryu thought. ‘Lots of things. Hobbies. Movies he’s seen. He reads a lot of the same books I do, Murakami, classics, comics. We’re roughly the same age, so… I guess we have that in common?’

‘So I wasn’t wrong.’ Nishiki barked out a laugh.

‘About what?’

‘Sounds like a real artsy guy.’

Kiryu gave him a dirty look over the top of his teacup and opened his mouth to reply when his phone beeped loudly from the couch. He got up to check, ignoring the knowing glance Yumi and Nishiki traded.

It was Majima, of course. Kiryu felt a slight flush crawl up his neck as he sat back down with his phone on the zabuton. Him and Majima really didn’t talk that much, did they?

Majima

11:03 mornin sleeping beauty. when’re you coming back to the cafe? :3

Kiryu blinked at being called sleeping beauty for the second time that day. From Nishiki it was just a joke, and an expected one given the guy was practically family, but from Majima it felt … different, somehow, in a way that Kiryu couldn’t place but that made his mouth dry and his chest feel light.

‘Majima, I’m guessing?’ Nishiki smirked into his tea and Kiryu fought the urge to kick him under the table.

His fingers hovered over the keys, uncertainty coursing through him. Flirty was definitely one way he could describe Majima’s message, unless he was badly mistaken, and he felt the skin on his neck prickle with warmth Should he match the teasing vibes that seemed to be coming from the message? He might be badly overthinking what might just be a joke, but his thoughts flickered back to the night before, the way Majima had paused before speaking in a hushed voice multiple times, like he’d changed what he was going to say at the last second. And his apparent jealousy at the cafe earlier that week was hard to brush off.

Kiryu had dwelled afterwards for a long time on what Yumi had said, how it was apparently possible for him to date men now if he wanted to, could probably date Majima if he was interested–

Kiryu coughed into his fist. He was sleep deprived and this was ridiculous and Majima was probably flirty with everybody, probably straight, and with that thought Kiryu typed and sent off a short message.

11:04 I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon, usual time. See you then? :)

He put his phone down. Yumi’s eyes were on him, contemplative. He didn’t know how long she’d been watching.

‘You like him, don’t you?’

Kiryu shrugged, but the gesture made him feel even more awkward. When Yumi’s affectionate gaze became too much he looked down at his hands, clasped tightly in his lap. He smoothed the skin of one knuckle with his opposite thumb, tracing the ridges of faint scars. He wondered distantly if Majima’s hands were just as scarred beneath those leather gloves.

‘We’re just friends. I don’t think it’s anything more than that.’ He unfolded his hands and took a sip of tea, hoping that neither of them noticed he hadn’t answered the question.

Thankfully, Yumi always knew not to push too much. Kiryu caught her shooting a swift glare at Nishiki across the table when he opened his mouth to speak, and he shut it with an audible noise that had Kiryu smiling into his tea. Their conversation turned to other topics and soon Kiryu was simply enjoying the chance to catch up with his two favourite people.

It was Sunday and both Nishiki and Yumi only worked during the week, so at Yumi’s suggestion they decided to go for a walk through the neighbourhood. After breakfast Kiryu excused himself to the bathroom to pull on a change of pants.

When he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, Nishiki’s born lucky swam back to him and he stopped to peer at his reflection. He lifted up the hem of his shirt and frowned. Compared to the average person he was probably pretty muscular. But nothing like he used to be – then again, he wasn’t exactly picking fights every weekend and running around Kamurocho like it was the eighties, and there was a softness in the muscles of his abdomen and his hips and his arms that showed it. He dropped his shirt and stepped closer to the mirror. Tired brown eyes stared back at him beneath dark, furrowed eyebrows. There were fine lines at the corner of his mouth and his eyes, and he brushed them gently with his fingers, feeling suddenly, unfathomably old.

At least Majima had crow’s feet, too.

Outside it was a beautiful day, the sky a cloudless blue. As he fell into step with Nishiki and Yumi, Kiryu felt like a weight slowly lifted off his shoulders. They meandered through backstreets lined with tall trees and colourful flowers, chatting all the while, while the river murmured and glittered in the distance.

They got lunch at a local ramen place with some of the best noodles Kiryu had eaten in a long time. Kiryu hadn’t missed the occasional twinges of pain on Nishiki’s face when they were walking, or the muted relief when he sat down. When they’d finished eating, stomachs full of rich broth and beef, Yumi suggested they walk back home instead of continuing and Kiryu agreed. Nishiki only grumbled a little, which Kiryu took as a win.

Back at the house, Kiryu helped with dinner, chopping vegetables and making tempura that melted in their mouths later as the sun set outside.

He only remembered to check his phone after dinner and saw Majima had simply texted back see you then a few hours ago. His thumb hovered over the keypad for a long moment, before he put the phone on the futon.    

They spent the night playing mahjong and drinking sake, and after Yumi had gone to bed he sat out on the patio with Nishiki, smoking and drinking lukewarm beer, shoulders brushing. The sun had set hours ago and a warm breeze ghosted over the hairs on Kiryu’s arms.

‘It’s funny...’ Nishiki began, then shook his head and took a drag of his cigarette. His right leg twitched and Kiryu watched it idly, feeling comfortable and hazy after so much alcohol and food.

‘Yeah?’

‘That shirt you’re wearing today… somethin’ about it reminds me of what you used to look like back when we were in the yakuza.’

‘It does?’

‘Yeah. Crazy, isn’t it...’ Nishiki leaned forward and stubbed out the cigarette on the dirt. ‘In the years after we left it always felt like hardly any time had passed. And then it felt like a year. A few years. Then suddenly it’s been twenty fuckin’ years and when you try to remember everything you can’t, except for these little flashes of... stuff that seemed irrelevant at the time, except now it’s the only thing you can remember about what happened at all.’ He grimaced down at his left leg. The prosthesis was inside, resting against the couch again.

‘...I get it.’ There was still a small, round scar on Kiryu’s back that itched unpleasantly when he stretched the wrong way and he couldn’t forget that. But there was so much else from that time that was just a blur.

‘Still, it’s crazy... isn’t it?’ Nishiki watched the sky. ‘We’re old men now.’

Kiryu huffed out a laugh. ‘Last night you were saying I wasn’t that old.’

Nishiki rolled his eyes. ‘If I remember correctly, and I do, I didn’t say that you weren’t old, I said that you weren’t too old to date.’

‘There’s a difference?’

Nishiki looked at him. ‘Of course there is. It’s the difference between being totally fuckable or not.’

Kiryu spluttered and choked on his beer while Nishiki doubled over with laughter.

‘Fuck, that’s just…’ Kiryu gasped when he’d finally caught his breath, ‘that’s just unfair kyoudai, you can’t say things like that–’

‘I’m right and you know it. I’m sure this Majima guy agrees.’

Kiryu’s stomach lurched. ‘I’m not answering that.’

Nishiki chuckled, quieter, then took a long swig of beer and peered down at his bottle. He brushed his thumb over the ragged edges of the label where it’d lifted from the glass, back and forth, and Kiryu watched him.

‘You ever wonder what would’ve happened if we stayed in the yakuza?’

Kiryu wasn’t sure what he’d expected his kyoudai to say, but it certainly wasn’t that.

‘After the accident or... before?’

‘Either. I’ve devoted enough time wondering what life would be like if I hadn’t lost my leg.’

Kiryu mulled over his next words.

‘I don’t know.’ He took a drag from his cigarette and exhaled heavily, the stream of smoke rising up into the night sky. ‘But I’m not sure it would’ve been good.’ He paused. ‘Sure, sometimes I feel like I miss parts of it–’

‘I miss it.’

Kiryu held his breath.

‘I miss it,’ Nishiki repeated quietly. He was staring at the ground, but Kiryu could see that his dark brown eyes were wide, distant.

‘Not enough to ever go back. Not enough to want to be in that world again, especially now that Yumi’s here with me. But still… it was fun, wasn’t it?’ He let out a pained laugh. ‘Running around in cheap suits, getting wasted on shochu, having a mission to do each morning instead of waking up late and doing nothing, absolutely nothing meaningful for a whole day–’

‘Nishiki–’

‘The worst part of me admits that I miss–’ he looked away as if embarrassed, ‘I miss the power of it too. You spend your whole life just being some poor, helpless orphan and then suddenly you’re in the yakuza and that fucking means something.’

He fell silent, then glared at the nearly empty bottle in his hand. ‘Shit, I’ve had too much to drink.’

Kiryu slung an arm across Nishiki’s shoulders. He didn’t miss how Nishiki leaned easily into his side and it occurred to Kiryu that it’d been a long time - too long - since they’d touched like this. When they were younger they did things like this all the time, getting wasted together and stumbling back home from a bar, falling onto a single futon in a mess of limbs and waking up in the morning with a sour taste in their mouths, Nishiki laughing at Kiryu as he groaned and tried to hide his face from the sunlight.

The stars above them twinkled, silent and waiting.

‘I miss it too sometimes.’ The words were steady now that the conversation had sobered him up some.

‘I miss spending time with you, like we used to. When it was just us against the world, two baby-faced idiots in suits running around and getting into trouble. I miss the arcades and the drinks. And I’ll admit I even miss the satisfaction of getting my knuckles bloody in a fight because usually it meant I’d clocked someone perfectly–’ Nishiki snorted but Kiryu pressed on, the words tumbling out of him, ‘–but I think I miss all of that mostly just because…it used to be easier. It used to be easy to know exactly what to do, it used to be easy to take orders and get something concrete to do each day, to be congratulated when you did something right, and– and you’re right, the yakuza did give us a mission, something that we could– that we could live for each day and it’s weird not having that now, but…’ Kiryu trailed off.

‘But that world nearly got us killed.’

‘Yeah. I don’t think… It wasn’t worth the danger. We both got injured. You…’ he swallowed, ‘you lost a leg. It wasn’t worth it.’

Nishiki gave him a sad smile. ‘We were pretty immature, huh? No wonder Kazama was so against us joining.’

For a second Kiryu was back kneeling in mud, thunder and rain pouring down, his throat hoarse from pleading for a chance to prove himself. He’d forgotten a lot of things, but that night would be seared into his memory forever.

‘We didn’t know any other life, nii-san. We were orphans, and being yakuza gave us a way out. We thought it’d give us a future. And we loved Kazama.’

Nishiki huffed. ‘Fat lot of good that did us.’

Kiryu squeezed his shoulder. ‘I know I’ve said it before, but he’s helped us a lot. We should appreciate it.’

Nishiki’s eyes darkened. ‘We tried to appreciate it, Kiryu. We wanted to appreciate him and thank him so much that we up and begged him to let us join a fuckin’ criminal organisation when we were still teenagers.’ His voice rose. ‘And we couldn’t even fucking do that right. We fucked up a mission, both got shot, and now I’m stuck with one shitty leg and a crappy job and–oof–

Kiryu twisted and pulled him into a tight hug. It was an awkward angle, but a small price to pay for Nishiki letting out a heavy sigh and relaxing into his arms. He buried his face in Kiryu’s shirt and Kiryu’s heart warmed, thankful that even if they’d lost so much, they hadn’t lost this.

There was a muffled noise against his shoulder.

‘Mmm?’

Nishiki turned his head. ‘You give nice hugs.’

Kiryu laughed quietly. ‘I’m glad.’

‘...Hey, Kiryu?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Thanks.’

Kiryu tightened his grip. ‘I can’t pretend to know what you’ve gone through. But… you have this. You have Yumi. You have a beautiful house in a beautiful town. And you’ll always have me.’

Nishiki sighed and Kiryu felt the warm breath on his neck. ‘Even now that you’ve got a boyfriend?’

Kiryu coughed. ‘He’s not my boyfriend.’

‘You still gonna come visit?’

Kiryu fought the urge to roll his eyes. ‘Nishiki, I’m not going to stop visiting just because of–’ he huffed, ‘I’ve even asked him to come visit at some point so he can meet you two.’

Nishiki laughed and mumbled something against Kiryu’s shirt.

‘What?’

Nishiki shifted. ‘Nothing,’ he replied, voice faux-innocent. He pulled back so he was sitting upright and Kiryu’s arm slid off his shoulder. Nishiki was looking at him with an expression Kiryu couldn’t name but didn’t like. Like he knew something Kiryu didn’t.

‘What is it?’

Nishiki raised an eyebrow. ‘Sorry, when was the last time you brought literally anyone to come meet us?’

‘There’ve been people.’ He chewed his lip. ‘Probably.’

Nishiki looked like he was fighting back a grin. ‘Kiryu, the answer is never. You’ve never brought anyone to meet us.’

‘Bullshit.’

Nishiki’s other eyebrow raised. ‘Kazuma.’

Hearing his first name shouldn’t have felt like a bucket of cold water being emptied over his head, but Kiryu shivered anyway.

‘Why would you call me that?’

‘Why not? We’re close, aren’t we?’

‘Obviously. But,’ Kiryu squinted at the other man, ‘you never say that unless you’re angry at me.’

Nishiki tilted his head back to drain the last of his beer. He dropped the bottle at his side and it clunked on the ground.

‘I’m not angry, Kiryu,’ he said. ‘I’m just– this guy obviously means a lot to you, huh?’

Kiryu glanced away. ‘I guess he does, yeah.’

‘How long have you known each other?’

‘Maybe a couple of months?’

‘That’s a decent amount of time to get to know somebody. How’d you meet?’

Kiryu bit his lip. If he told Nishiki that whole story, he’d know Majima was yakuza and he’d probably have more than a few words to say about it, but then again the truth would come out eventually and he’d probably prefer hearing it now.

But that wasn’t actually the first time you’d met.

‘O-oh,’ said Kiryu, blinking at the realisation.

Nishiki looked at him, eyebrows furrowed. ‘What is it?’

‘It’s just…’ Kiryu took a deep breath. ‘Do you remember that crazy trip we did to Sotenbori back in the eighties?’

Nishiki frowned. ‘Vaguely, yeah.’

‘Remember that night we went to the Cab Grand, and I, uh,’ Kiryu cleared his throat awkwardly, ‘I saw that guy, and then we talked a bunch when we got back to the hotel room?’

Nishiki’s eyes softened. ‘Yeah? I’m not totally sure where you’re going with this–’

‘Well, it’s him.’

Nishiki stared. ‘What do you mean, it’s him?’

‘I mean, that’s Majima. The guy from the Cab Grand, that’s the guy I’ve been talking to.’

Surprise blossomed over Nishiki’s face and he let out a low whistle through his teeth. ‘Jesus, what are the fucking chances? Small world.’

‘You’re telling me.’

‘So, do you—I mean, does he know that you’ve met before?’

Does he know that he used to be your teenage self’s biggest wet dream?

Kiryu winced. ‘I don’t think so. We talked about it – sort of – and it seems like he doesn’t remember me.’

‘Damn.’

‘Yeah, well.’ Kiryu tilted his head in thought. ‘To be honest, it’s kind of a relief. I don’t know how he’d react to knowing that I—well, you know.’

‘But even apart from that, he’s completely different nowadays. I didn’t even recognise him until he mentioned he’d worked at the Grand.’

Nishiki chewed on his lip. ‘Kiryu, don’t take this the wrong way, but wasn’t he yakuza back then? I wasn’t sure at the time, but you know, between that eyepatch and the rumours I heard about who was managing the Grand…’

Kiryu stared at the ground. Silence stretched between them, broken only by the distant mumble of the river and wind rustling in the trees.

Finally, Kiryu whispered, ‘He still is.’

He heard Nishiki’s heavy exhale and felt rather than saw the other man’s eyes burning into him.

‘And you’re okay with that?’

‘To an extent. I’d prefer he wasn’t, obviously, but,’ Kiryu sighed and ran a hand through his hair, ‘at least it seems like he’s not working for anyone dangerous. Looks like he manages his own clan nowadays. Said he does construction, mostly.’

‘Well, that’s better than it could be.’ He heard Nishiki take a quick breath. ‘Does he know about you?’ About us.

‘I think he suspects it. I’ve dodged the topic a few times, but you know how it is. It’s hard to shake off old habits, and I know there’re things I’ve said, things I’ve done that make him… suspicious.’

‘Yeah. Once you’ve been in that world, it’s like it marks you, somehow. Even after so long.’

‘In more ways than one,’ Kiryu laughed mirthlessly and reached back to touch his shoulder blade where he knew the twisting black lines of an unfinished tattoo still coiled. ‘Hasn’t seen my back yet, though.’

‘Yet?’

Kiryu couldn’t help laughing and smacked his kyoudai on the shoulder. ‘Dumbass.’

Nishiki laughed back. ‘You seen his?’

‘Yeah.’ Kiryu didn’t mention the circumstances in which he’d seen it. Felt it. ‘It’s nice. Flowery.’

Nishiki leaned back and stretched his arms over his head until one shoulder made a quiet popping noise. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Sorry, but it’s getting pretty late, and I’ve got work tomorrow.’

Kiryu shrugged. ‘It’s okay. I had a great time, doing this.’ He gestured between them and Nishiki smiled.

‘Yeah. It was great.’

They picked up the beer bottles around them and headed inside. The house was dark, Yumi already in bed, and Nishiki bade Kiryu a good night at the door to their bedroom with another tight hug that made Kiryu’s heart swell with affection. When they pulled apart Nishiki didn’t let go entirely, holding onto Kiryu’s shoulders.

‘What is it?’

‘Good luck with Majima,’ said Nishiki, his face unreadable in the shadows. He opened the door and disappeared into his bedroom.

When Kiryu could move again he went and sat on the couch in the living room and unbuttoned his shirt. He shucked off his trousers and pulled on thin sweatpants, crawling into his futon and feeling much more sober than he had a few hours, or even minutes ago.

The screen of his phone was dark. Majima hadn’t texted that night. Kiryu felt the urge to message him, but what would he even say? He felt like Nishiki and him had touched on a lot of things tonight, and part of Kiryu’s chest felt open and tender and exposed. Talking to Majima when he felt this way seemed like a bad idea.

Kiryu set the phone down and rolled onto his back. In the dark, Nishiki’s sad eyes floated back to him. The curve of his lips when he’d said I miss it in that wistful, slightly tipsy voice.

Kiryu stared up at the ceiling.

He missed being yakuza too.

It was easier to admit, here in the dark. No dry mouth or anxious, fidgety hands like when he’d been out there with Nishiki warm under his arm.

But he hadn’t told the whole truth.

What he’d said had been real enough - he really did miss the camaraderie, the sheer fun of it, the endless drinking, that sense of belonging that was like nothing else he’d ever experienced. Like it was the world’s most exclusive boys’ club that’d ever existed and he was lucky to be there in the middle of it. And yeah, he really did miss the fights sometimes, the sheer adrenaline of a punch landing just right, the metallic taste of blood between his teeth, the victory of being the only one left standing.

But what he’d left out was that there’d always been this small part of him, even back then, that despised the yakuza and everything they stood for.

He’d hated the meaningless violence. Hated the hierarchy, having to swear loyalty to some asshole who’d just as soon praise him and buy him a drink as turn around and stab him in the back if he stepped so much as a toe out of line.

He’d been a reckless teenager like Nishiki, so certain that rubbing shoulders with criminals would be his life, that one day he’d rise up the ranks and be the best of them. But the first time he saw a member of his clan beat someone half to death for no reason, he’d stood there in shock, horrified, and a little ball of loathing had edged its way under his skin, like a splinter he couldn’t get out.

By the time they got injured years later, the splinter had festered long enough and it was the easiest thing in the world for him to walk away. Kiryu had never admitted that to Nishiki. How relieved he’d been. How happy he was not to be in that world.

How much he regretted that it took Nishiki losing a leg for them to finally get out.

Kiryu suddenly felt very tired, the weight of everything pressing down on him. It’d been a long couple of days, felt more like a lifetime really, and the conversation with Nishiki hadn’t helped.

He’d always known that Nishiki enjoyed the yakuza more than Kiryu ever had. He’d fit in scarily well in that world. Kiryu knew that his sworn brother had always wanted power for himself, had wanted status and money and recognition, but he’d never heard him admit it so boldly before.

And on one level, Kiryu knew he wasn’t so different. Hell, he’d only just left an easy real estate job a few months ago to work in a cafe for similar reasons: he’d been bored, wanted excitement, wanted to do something more with his life than sitting in a stuffy office and shuffling papers every day until he died.

But even then, Kiryu had never really desired power and leadership in the same way Nishiki always did.

He’d let another concern go unvoiced tonight. He’d hated himself for it, but it’d been the very first thing that crossed his mind when Nishiki said he missed that life.

‘I’m glad we left,’ he’d murmured in his head. ‘Because I don’t think I would’ve liked the person that life turned you into.’  

Part of Kiryu wanted to curl up into a ball, worried for Nishiki, his own stupid thoughts. But he could reassure himself by knowing that Nishiki had Yumi and him, and a house and a job and tomorrow he’d be completely sober and back to normal.

Still, tomorrow he’d tell Yumi what Nishiki had said, maybe try to ask her in a subtle way to take care of him. Not that she wasn’t already.

And what about me?

Well, Kiryu thought bleakly, tomorrow I go back to my cafe job and Majima, and I’ll continue the massive sexuality crisis that started because Yumi and Nishiki are convinced I’m dating him.

He rolled over onto his side, praying for the blankets to swallow him whole, like that weird horror movie he’d seen on television a few years back. Sleep was already pulling him down, but last night’s memories floated back to him, and he remembered that he’d thought a lot about what to do when he got back to Tokyo. It didn’t seem like it really was such a massive taboo to date a guy or do anything that gave away that he liked men - if he even still did. Hell, he could probably walk into an adult shop and buy a gay porno and nobody would care.

He blinked. Now that’s an idea. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d even been in an adult store, let alone bought anything sexual. It’d been years, certainly. And fantasies were fine, but trying something else might be interesting.

A video seemed too much though, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to buy something so explicit without dying inside of embarrassment. A magazine, maybe? At night he could go to a convenience store he didn’t usually frequent, avoid eye contact and leave with it tucked into his jacket, though that would just attract more attention. Or were there actual bookshops he could buy one from? He went into Kinokuniya enough but he couldn’t remember if there’d been a gay section.

It occurred to Kiryu through the haze of his impending sleep and the remnants of alcohol still thrumming through his system that he had absolutely no idea what he was doing.

He buried his face in his pillow and groaned.

This should’ve been the least of his problems. Nishiki, Majima, everything …But at least this was something he could do that felt like a wobbly, tentative step forward, if it could even be called that.

At least, Kiryu thought, as he pulled the sheets up to his chin, it’ll help me know if I’m still attracted to men. He was certain enough but it didn’t hurt to do more research, if he could call it that.

Kiryu snickered into his pillow and let sleep drag him down.

 

*    *    *

 

Tokyo was bright and noisy and Kiryu blinked hard when he stepped off the train late the next morning. Two days wasn’t a long time to be away, but he’d already gotten used to the distant sound of the river at nighttime and dirt crunching under his feet. Tokyo was a jungle of concrete and people and neon signs, and it alternately made him feel uneasy and entirely at home.

He stopped by his apartment to drop off his bag and change into fresh clothes. There were still hours before his afternoon shift and even though last night was hazy, he remembered the plan he’d made just before sleeping, and in the bright light of day it didn’t seem like the worst plan in the world. It’d at least help him know if he was still attracted to men.

Now he just had to find somewhere that sold what he wanted.

Kamurocho was warm and crowded and Kiryu’s shoulders brushed against other people as he kept his eyes peeled for a sign, anything that would point to what he wanted. A convenience store was always an option, but he’d spent enough time looking at the magazine displays to know they only stocked the drawn kind of what he was after, and that wasn’t exactly his type.

He narrowed his eyes against the glare of the sun and finally saw something: a less-than-subtle sign pointing down an alleyway.

Kiryu ducked down the narrow laneway, and, after a quick glance around, into the shop.

It was dark after the brightness of the sun and he had to blink a few times to see anything. There were displays in front of him holding objects that already made a flush creep up his neck. Shelves lined with books and videos and everything else stretched to the back of the room. The young man behind the counter offered a friendly smile and bowed slightly, and Kiryu nodded back, voice caught in his throat.

It didn’t take long to find the magazines - there was a whole wall of them to one side of the shop. His face grew warm as he looked at the covers. It wasn’t like he’d never bought something dirty before, but it’d been a while and there was a big difference between buying a cheap gravure magazine from 7-Eleven on your lunch break and going to a gay adult store to buy what was - from the look of it – something incredibly explicit.

Kiryu searched the racks, feeling completely out of his depth. There didn’t seem to be any reason to how they were ordered, though he did notice that there was a cluster of magazines to one side where most of the men were wearing copious amounts of leather, which he avoided.

He finally picked up one that looked tame enough. On the front cover a tanned young man with short black hair was sitting on a chair with his legs spread. He was wearing nothing except briefs, black ones, and he was leaning back on the chair with his hands clasped behind his head so that his body was all long lines and smooth skin. The muscles of his inner thigh were prominent, defined, and Kiryu suddenly had the intense urge to be on his knees, teeth nipping at that sensitive skin as the man groaned above him.

His cheeks burned, heart light in his chest. Taking a deep breath, he shook the image out of his head and flicked through the pages, gulping a little as he did so.

It was all more explicit than he remembered. He wasn’t a prude, though admittedly inexperienced when it came to this, but the positions, the expressions on their faces, the clothing that wasn’t really clothing, and— was that a whip? But after a glance it seemed the tamest of the selection in front of him.

The guys are pretty cute too, said a quiet voice in the back of his head. He shifted restlessly, then folded the magazine in his hand and walked back to the front of the shop.

The man made polite eye contact and Kiryu offered a tight smile as he handed over some coins. The embarrassment of doing something like this hadn’t worn off, but he took solace in the fact that a middle-aged guy in an adult store buying a gay magazine probably wasn’t the worst thing this shopkeeper had ever seen.

He tucked the magazine into his jacket as he left the shop. In a strange way he felt lighter than he had in a while. Plenty of people bought these types of magazines, people… like him.

He re-joined the crowd in the main street, feet tracing a path back home, but his mind was elsewhere.

It was one thing to know that you probably weren’t straight. But to be carrying that truth in his jacket pocket on a sunny afternoon in Kamurocho– well, it felt great in a way that was hard to describe. It was a small thing to do, but it felt like an acknowledgement. Who he really was.

Back at his apartment, Kiryu fished out the magazine and stared at the cover again. He toed off his shoes, shrugged off his jacket and slung it over the back of a chair, then sat down on his futon, back against the wall. 

Shit, I need tissues. But standing up to get them now seemed like too much effort, and besides, he didn’t want the whole thing to feel like some ridiculous clinical exercise, even if it sort of was.

Kiryu unbuckled his belt and slipped a hand down his pants to find he was half-hard already.

It surprised him. He could get it up, of course he could, but these days it took more effort than simply fantasising about someone - and fuck did that make him feel old - but here he was with his fingers warm against his shaft through his boxers and he could already feel himself straining against the fabric even though he’d done nothing except buy a dirty magazine.

Well, this is it. He thumbed through the magazine and gasped quietly when his dick twitched against his hand.

Two slender young men looked back at him. One was standing up wearing a loose white shirt and nothing else, eyes closed and mouth wide with pleasure, and the other was kneeling behind him with his fingers digging into the other man’s hips and his face firmly between–

Kiryu’s face burned. Would that actually feel good for a guy? To be licked there? His hand slid under the hem of his boxers and he shivered at the sensation of skin on hot skin.

He’d fantasised more than a few times about how it might feel to be… inside someone else, another guy, and sometimes, when he was drunk enough, how it might feel to have someone inside him. But this was a new concept, and as he stroked himself to hardness he was quietly surprised to find that he didn’t hate the idea. A tongue there, swiping against such an intimate spot… It would probably be wet and warm and his toes were already curling, shit.

He flicked to another page and groaned out loud.

Two tall, tanned men this time, one with his fingers clenched in the other’s hair, the other sucking hungrily, cheeks hollow.

Kiryu had always loved the idea of blowjobs, the thought of sinking his length into another man’s hot mouth. The image stuck in his head and he moaned again as precum slicked his cock and his hand and that tension in his gut began to climb and build with the fantasy.

Someone – a man – kneeling between his legs. Pressing kisses to his inner thighs. The slick hot head of him pushing past their lips. Their tongue swiping again and again on that sensitive spot on the underside until his toes curled, taking it all in until that sharp nose nestled in the dark hair at the base, until he was sheathed so deeply in his mouth that it was hard not to come right then.

He wouldn’t be able to resist reaching out and grabbing at the strands of silky black hair that drove him crazy, that was always falling over his face in a way that thoroughly disarmed him. He’d feel a lurch in his gut at the sight of that singular dark brown eye gazing heavy-lidded and hungry, straight back into his own–

Kiryu froze.

His eyes snapped open. He breathed in and out shakily and it sounded too loud in the small apartment. The magazine had fallen onto the futon next to him. His dick was still hard and aching against his palm, and after a long moment he began stroking himself, feeling close again already.

It wasn’t the first time he’d jerked off to Majima, but back then he’d never had a name for the pretty man with the full lips and velvety voice and long, silky hair. Now they were friends, and it felt deeply wrong to use someone he knew for a fantasy.

He couldn’t do that to Majima. He wouldn’t. No matter how hard he was, how much his brain was suddenly supplying him with images of Majima smirking and lapping between his thighs, Majima’s tattoos rippling beneath his hands, Majima bent over and scrabbling on the kitchen counter for purchase, Majima’s head thrown back and eye blown-wide with pleasure, a throaty groan erupting from his lips.

Kiryu’s free hand curled into a fist on his thigh, even as he stroked himself with the other and tried not to moan. He wouldn’t do that to Majima, he couldn’t, he couldn’t

He fumbled for the magazine and flicked to a page, any page, glued his eyes on two men entwined with each other, sheer unadulterated pleasure written all over their faces. He jerked faster, twisted his hand just like that, and when he neared the crest of his orgasm he groaned and kept his eyes wide open, fixed on the magazine so he couldn’t picture a tanned, wiry body bucking beneath him.

Wind rushed in his ears and Kiryu came harder than he had in a long time, back arching against the wall and days of release spilling warm into his fist.

For a long moment he simply sat there. The apartment was quiet. His chest heaved. He surveyed the scene in front of him. Magazine on his lap. Hand still in his pants. He wiggled his fingers and cringed. Tissues. This is why you get tissues.

Kiryu stood and groaned when the movement caused the mess in his boxers to spread. He stripped off his pants and underwear and threw them both in the laundry basket, then wiped himself off.

Redressing and getting a beer from the fridge helped him quell the slight shakes in his hands, and when he sat back down against the wall and took a long swig of the cold drink, he felt much closer to normal.

The magazine was still next to him, half-open to the page he’d just come to. Even now when he was soft and recovering from the orgasm, he couldn’t deny there was a thrill of attraction when he looked at the naked men. When he imagined having the same thing done to him.

Kiryu took such a long drag from his beer that it nearly made his eyes water. In a detached, clinical way, he could acknowledge that whatever this was had been a success. He was clearly attracted to men. There was no doubt. There would be no trouble there.

But what worried him was the fantasy that’d rushed into his brain, the images that’d flashed behind his eyes.

It’d been a long, confusing weekend. He was a nearly forty-year-old yakuza-turned-salaryman-turned-barista who’d been single most of his life because he was terrified of showing people who he really was. In the past two days he’d been told, multiple times, that he could have a relationship - that being romantic with another man was possible. He’d made a new friend, someone he cared about, and the two people closest to him in the world were hellbent on the idea that they were dating or that he had feelings or something.

Kiryu ground the heel of his palm against his eyes until fireworks sparked in the black. They faded and a face with an eyepatch and full lips and tanned skin and a crooked smirk swam into view. He opened his eyes, shook his head and took another swig, thinking distantly that he should slow down.

Majima’s looks had never captivated him in the same way as the man he remembered from his youth – but then, they were both older now, sun-wrinkled with bad backs and grey streaks in their hair, and Majima no longer possessed that soft, feminine quality that had always been Kiryu’s weakness when it came to men. The current Majima couldn’t have been more different to the one in the Cab Grand nearly twenty years ago.

And yet here Kiryu sat, quietly drinking a beer after having just come harder than he had in years. He could lie to himself and say it was all because of the magazine, but now there was a little ball of anxiety thrumming in his gut, and he refused to admit that a tattooed, chaotic man with an eyepatch was the reason why.

 

*    *    *

 

Dragging himself to the cafe that afternoon was harder than usual.

He showered, washed his hair, cleaned the dirt from his fingernails. Scrubbed away the slight scent of flowers that always clung to him after a trip to Chiba. Tidied his apartment as much as he could be bothered. Read some of a light novel Majima had lent him a while back, though it was hard to focus on the words and he retained nothing except that the front cover sported a lively-looking teen girl with yellow ribbons in her hair.

When there was nothing else to do in his apartment, he took a deep breath and left, ignoring the magazine still on his futon.

The cafe was disorganised even though it’d only been a handful of days since his last shift, and Kiryu glared at the messy stacks of plastic lids on the counter and mugs still in the sink, though quietly he was glad for something to do with his hands.

He was arm-deep in dirty dishwater when the bells above the door tinkled and all-too-familiar footsteps approached the front counter.

‘Kiryu-chan.’

Kiryu swallowed and wiped his hands off, then turned around.

‘Majima-san.’

Majima was sporting a wide grin that crinkled his eyes. It dimmed a little as he took in Kiryu’s expression - he didn’t know how he looked right now, but frozen and quietly freaking out was probably a decent description.

‘Everythin’ okay?’’ Majima tilted his head to the side and dark eyes searched his face.

Kiryu’s mouth went dry.

There was a tiny patch of hair on Majima’s neck where he’d clearly missed a spot shaving, dark on the smooth tan skin, and it should not have caught Kiryu’s attention, should not have been somehow deeply, oddly endearing but suddenly it was all he could focus on and he let out a long, shaky breath he hadn’t even realised he’d been holding.

‘I’m fine,’ he managed to croak out.

Majima raised an eyebrow.

‘Really,’ said Kiryu, stepping forward to the counter, which all of a sudden seemed both too narrow and too wide for his liking. ‘Just…’ he scrubbed a hand through his hair and spoke honestly, avoiding Majima’s gaze. ‘Been a hell of a weekend, to be honest.’

‘Haw, really now,’ said Majima. ‘What, ya get up to some wild parties or somethin’?’

Kiryu couldn’t help smiling. ‘Nah, more of the, er,’ he fumbled for what to say, ‘the “spending time with old friends and questioning life” kind of thing.’

Majima snorted at that. ‘Believe me, I’ve been there. Can’t imagine what kind ‘a questionin’ the amazin’ Kiryu-chan would have ta do, but sounds pretty heavy.’

‘I don’t think I have my life sorted out as well as you think I do.’

Majima’s lips quirked up at the corners. ‘You ‘n me both, big boy.’

Big boy. How many times had Majima called him that?

‘So,’ Kiryu said, clearing his throat. ‘The usual?’

‘The usual.’

Kiryu busied himself making the sugary coffee abomination while Majima peppered him with questions about the weekend. How they all knew each other, where they lived, what Katori was like, what they got up to, what food he ate. Kiryu answered it all as truthfully as he could as his hands worked by habit, frothing the milk and adding syrup and snapping on a plastic lid.

It was only when he was sliding it across to Majima that the other man asked, ‘So, what’d they say about me?’ and Kiryu froze on the spot.

‘Wha–’ he tried not to look too shocked, ‘what do you mean?’

Majima blinked and rescued his coffee from Kiryu’s motionless fingers. ‘I think I asked at one point if they’d heard ‘a me, and ya said they know I exist. Do they know I’m, ya know–’ he gestured to his open snakeskin jacket and the tattoos coiling over his shoulders, ‘--this?’ Yakuza.

Kiryu grimaced. ‘Not exactly. I mean, my friend Nishiki knows, but I don’t think his wife does. Though they tell each other everything, so she probably does by now.’

‘Ah, ‘s that so…’ murmured Majima, tapping a gloved finger against the side of the cup. Kiryu saw the tension in his jaw.

‘They don’t care, though.’

Majima chewed his lip. ‘Really?’

‘If I don’t care, they won’t,’ murmured Kiryu honestly.

Majima smiled and took a swig of his drink, then immediately let out an overly loud and pleased moan that had Kiryu looking at his toes and trying to contain his flush.

‘Kiryu-chan, I’ve missed this freakin’ coffee. I swear, ya some kinda magical creature or somethin’.’ Majima’s eye sparkled in the light of the cafe.

‘I’m glad.’

‘Seriously, the past couple of days…’ Majima drifted off and glanced down at his drink, swilling it idly. ‘Well, it’s good that you’re back.’

I’m glad to be back, too.

‘Thanks, Majima-san,’ said Kiryu quietly.

‘I’ll catch ya round, yeah? Gotta go take care ‘a some business.’ Majima walked out of the cafe, lifting a hand in farewell and Kiryu waited until he was out the door before slumping onto the counter with his face in his hands.

One weekend should not have felt like a lifetime. It’d been what, two, three days since they’d seen each other? Nothing should have changed. Nothing.

He shouldn’t have been so fixated on the way that ridiculous snakeskin jacket fell over Majima’s chest. How the muscles of his abdomen were so pronounced even at his age. How that dark hair fell over his face. His stubble. The hard line of that jaw. That singular dark, burning eye that always looked right through him. Leather gloves curling around a cup. Full lips smirking, laughing, saying Kiryu-chan in such a lilting, singsong voice.

And that little patch of missed stubble, the undeniable urge he’d had to reach out and stroke it--

Kiryu opened his eyes and looked down at his hands. They were trembling slightly and he felt on edge, filled with anxiety and butterflies and something he hadn’t felt for years and years. Nothing had changed, except for him. He’d changed, and now one thing was agonisingly clear:

Kiryu was intensely, profoundly screwed.  

Chapter Text

Majima was dying. 

Not literally, of course. He’d been shanked by enough goons to know how it felt to have life creeping out of you droplet by dirty red droplet – the slash across his ribs still twinged when he moved the wrong way as a sharp reminder – and this wasn’t that. 

No, he was dying in a completely different way that hurt just as fucking bad. 

‘S-sir–’

‘Wha’?’ Majima looked up from his computer and scrutinised Nishida, who’d peaked his head around the corner of the doorway. ‘Thought I told ya not to interrupt me.’

‘I-it’s just…’ Nishida approached his desk timidly. 

‘What is it?’ Majima snapped. ‘Spit it out, ya big twit.’ 

‘It’s just, I know you said not to interrupt but,’ Nishida cleared his throat, ‘you’ve, er, been sitting here in the dark for about three hours now, and it’s past eleven and I– we’d rather like to go home. If you don’t need us for anything.’ 

Majima blinked, then glanced up at the ceiling. The lights were indeed off. ‘Ah.’ 

‘B-but of course it’s fine if you need me around!’

‘Naw.’ Majima leaned back in his chair with a loud sigh. The strap of his eyepatch had been rubbing against his forehead and he ran his finger under it, rubbing the sore skin. ‘Sorry for driftin’ off. Ya can go home, let the others know too.’

‘Of course. Thank you, sir.’ Nishida bowed deeply, yellow helmet slipping forward over his face, and Majima let out another loud sigh as his underling scurried off. 

Naw, he wasn’t dying literally. But a certain himbo barista with rippling muscles and warm brown eyes and a shy smile was gonna be the death of him, that was for sure. Especially when said beautiful himbo barista had gone up to some dinky little town in the middle of bumfuck nowhere for the weekend and was now barely responding to any of Majima’s messages. 

He shut down his computer after a few more minutes and fumbled his way out of the office in the dark. Outside Kamurocho was bright and thriving and Majima enviously eyed the wandering couples and people drunkenly eating takoyaki in the rainbow hue of neon lights. He lit a cigarette and took a long drag, relishing the taste of ash, and rubbed his forehead again. His eye patch had been bothering him recently, and already he felt the itch to get home and trade it for the soft, white patch he wore when he slept. 

Normally at this time Kiryu would be working a shift, but now he knew there’d be an unfamiliar face behind the counter of the cafe, and he’d made the mistake of ordering coffee from someone other than Kiryu once already today. 

Majima pushed off from the wall he'd been leaning against to join the evening crowd, and let his mind wander.

 

*   *   *

 

He’d never admit it to the guy, but the first time Goro Majima met Kiryu – and it pained him that he didn’t know his first name yet – he’d been high off his face and remembered almost nothing about the encounter.

Majima strolled down the street to his apartment and enjoyed the late-spring wind brushing warm fingers through his hair. A handful of lone images from months ago came to mind. 

Expensive wood, cold against his back. His tanto pressing against a man’s slender calf. The scent of tobacco and coffee and a laundry detergent that wasn’t his own, floral and delicate. 

Most of all, though, what was still etched into his brain this many months later was the split-second memory of the first time their eyes had connected; how he’d stared into those dark pools expecting hatred, and instead seen a sliver of curiosity mixed with fear.

Brown eyes. Such soft, brown eyes. 

People didn’t usually look at him with curiosity. But then, Kiryu had quickly proved he wasn’t just anybody.

Majima had been on his weekly bender; spent a day at the office shouting at his workers before scoffing down too many pills to remember, chasing them with peach vodka and a handful of cigarettes before stumbling out into the filthy Kamurocho alleyways. 

Some thugs had picked a fight and he’d never been happier to acquiesce. He vaguely remembered getting absorbed in the mad flurry of limbs; the sickening thwack of his fists slamming against muscle and bone was the only thing that grounded him, kept him from losing himself entirely. His last fistful of punches had landed with his eye closed and his nostrils flaring. Getting lost in the stink of sweat and their cries made him feel alive in a sick, visceral way, and he relished in it. 

When the silence stretched a heartbeat too long, he’d opened his eye and seen his gloves slick with spit and blood, but he’d only been able to smile at the sight for a short second before the next group of thugs came barrelling towards him. 

Too many, this time. He remembered running. Picking a random alleyway to duck down, one near a takoyaki stall – or was that the other time he’d done something like this– 

And then suddenly, he was flat on his ass behind the countertop of a little dinky cafe, soft kitschy music trickling from speakers somewhere, his tanto pressed flat against the calf – the very muscular calf – of a tall brunette his age with a hard jaw, stiff back, and distractingly pretty eyes.

Yakuza, Majima remembered thinking distantly, as he stared wide-eyed up at him. This guy has to be yakuza.

The rest of the night was pitch black like the bottom of an empty shochu can, but that wasn’t really a surprise – take too much of whatever he’d been snorting and drinking and taking and your brain turned to mush, your memory shattered into hazy fragments.

Like a sieve, he distinctly remembered thinking the next afternoon when he woke up stretched on his couch surrounded by beer bottles, and immediately threw up on the carpet. Like a sieve.

It’d pissed him off royally that he couldn’t remember half the night. When he’d been up to seeing daylight again he’d tried to retrace his steps, but it quickly proved futile. He knew Kamurocho like the back of his hand but he didn’t know all of it, and when every single alleyway was crammed with restaurants and cafes and adult stores, finding one cosy, out-of-the-way cafe was a challenge. Not to mention it’d been near impossible to find anything when he couldn’t remember fuck all of where he’d been that night. 

He’d always been the kind of person to be restless on his feet, on edge, and finding the cafe again had turned into an almost-mission, something that kept him going when he was slouching in meetings, or lying in bed for hours past noon, or prowling the streets in search of a fight. 

Holding civilians at knifepoint wasn’t his motto, even on his worst days, so the fact that he’d done that at all had made him want to apologise – but there’d also been this deeper, secret part of him that’d just wanted to see those eyes again.

He’d got his wish, eventually; it was just the waiting that’d been agony. Story of his life, really.

 

*   *   * 

 

Majima climbed out of the pit of his memories to buy a tray of takoyaki from an elderly street vendor with a toothy smile, and leaned against an old, ramshackle building with swaying lanterns that threw a soft, orange haze on the pavement. He checked his phone to see if Kiryu had texted. 

Nothing. The last reply had been… ugh, nearly ten hours ago, and now he was starting to feel that all-too-familiar tension broiling in his gut. Majima had texted him since then, the most recent message being a bit over an hour ago, but his phone had been silent all day and it was getting harder to forget that gleam in Kiryu’s eyes when he’d talked about his “childhood friend".

Majima had never really considered himself the jealous type, so his reaction in the cafe earlier that week hadn’t been a surprise just to Kiryu – if the look on the other man’s face had been anything to go by – and even though it’d been days they still hadn’t talked about it, and he still cringed whenever he thought about what he’d said; what he’d assumed. He resisted the urge to scream and instead inhaled the last of the takoyaki, wiping a hand across his mouth when he was finished chewing. He eyed the people streaming past. 

He’d been walking past a takoyaki stall like this one when he’d rediscovered the cafe. 

It’d been about two weeks since he’d locked eyes with the then-nameless barista, and by that point he’d nearly given up finding the place again. But then, he’d been strolling through Kamurocho late at night, when he heard the sound of loud, muffled voices. 

For a heartbeat he’d been back in Sotenbori, about to intervene and stop some idiot civilian from getting the shit kicked out of them for the millionth time that week, but when the voices rose again he'd come back to the present, and been able to pick that they were coming from the dim alleyway he’d just walked past. 

He’d felt a distinct prickle of déjà vu as he stepped cautiously down the alley. There had been voices coming from a door halfway down and he’d walked to it in a haze of mostly-forgotten memory, like falling into a recurring dream. He put his ear against the wooden door, listening curiously. 

'--a freakin' customer, I deserve what I want.' 

'We don't serve beer here, sir.' 

The low, rumbling voice jostled the memory like oil splashing into a pot and abruptly Majima knew that this was the cafe. The thought filled him with a weird, bubbly filling. It took him a long moment to place it as excitement. 

'We serve a variety of coffee and tea. I'd recommend you find another establishment.'

The guy’s voice was polite, but it carried an undercurrent of tension that brought back hot summer nights handling similarly annoying customers at the Grand too many years ago. Majima frowned, then before he could think he’d put his hand on the door and pushed forward into the room. A little bell tinkled above him. 

In a blink he took in the scene: a large, red-faced man swaying on his feet, an embarrassed-looking girl hanging off his arm, and a roomful of wide-eyed civilians trying (and failing) not to stare at them. But most of all, what captured Majima’s attention was the familiar man with a stiff jaw and wide, brown eyes even more vivid than his memory, standing at attention behind the counter. Majima didn’t have time to do anything else except look before the customer lurched forward and slapped a meaty hand on the counter.

'This is bullshit!' 

Ah. One of these dickheads, then. Anger throbbed in Majima's stomach and he felt his jaw harden.

'Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave.' 

'Fuckin' make me,' said the idiot, raising his hand in a fist, and rage flashed white-hot in Majima’s stomach, 'you piece of–'

Majima surged forward, and seized the drunk’s wrist, digging his fingers into the tendons where he knew it’d hurt. 

'I think that's enough,' he snarled, the words ripping out of him. More than one pair of eyes was on him but his attention was only on the bones creaking in his fist. 'Ya think ya have the fuckin’ authority to come in ‘ere and be a dick to staff? Ya fuckin’ weasel.’ 

All the colour had leached out of the guy's face, probably from pain as well as fear. ‘L-look, I don’t wanna cause no trouble.’

‘Ya already caused enough trouble,’ Majima spat. ‘Ya clearly been disruptin’ nice guests and this guy here, so I think it’s time ya leave.’ He ignored the overwhelming urge to draw his tanto and opted instead for switching his iron grip to the drunk’s shoulder. It drew a sharp wince. ‘Ya think so?’

The drunk guy nodded hurriedly and tried to run, but Majima glared and jerked him back roughly, so hard he nearly toppled over.

‘Uh-uh,’ he said. ‘I believe ya owe everyone here an apology.’

The man turned red. 'Y-yeah.' He bowed at the guy behind the counter and then to the rest of the customers. 'I-I'm very sorry for my actions. Please forgive me.' 

Majima grinned, and from the terrified gleam in the other man’s eyes, he knew it looked as twisted as it felt. 'Good,’ he said. ‘Now don't lemme see ya back here again.' 

He finally loosened his grip and the guy hightailed it out of the cafe. The asshole would be sporting bruises tomorrow, though not as many as Majima would’ve liked. 

He was halfway turned-around when the brief, tense silence was broken by a quiet voice.

‘Thank you,’ said the barista.

Majima slowly lifted his gaze to match two soft, if wide and slightly fearful, chocolate-brown eyes. 

Majima could only blink owlishly back at him. Thank you? The unexpected words leached the anger out of him, left him shifting on the balls of his feet, unsure how to proceed.

A faint, delightful flush crept up the man’s neck and stained his cheeks pink, as if he’d only realised who exactly he’d just thanked after the words left his mouth, and Majima couldn’t help but smirk. 

‘Don’t mention it,’ he said, stepping up to the counter, distantly aware of the other cafe patrons murmuring amongst themselves.

Up close, his first thought was that his memory really was shit sometimes – he’d remembered the eyes, sure, but the rest of the face, that jaw, that hair, the whole cut of him… His memory hadn’t done the guy justice at all.

‘I always hate people like that who think they can jus’ treat workers like shit,’ he said. The other man raised a thick eyebrow, and Majima recalled it’d only been two weeks since he’d been behind that exact same counter holding this exact same man at knifepoint. 

It was clear the other guy remembered too. ‘I, uh–’ he began, his brows knotting together, but Majima cut him off with a gesture that he hoped wasn’t too insultingly dismissive. 

‘Yeah, yeah, I know how hypocritical that is, given what I did a few weeks ago, but…’ 

He trailed off, and was all-too-aware of those deep, brown eyes fixed on him; but for some reason, he was suddenly finding it hard to get out the words he’d wanted to say when he’d walked in here. I’m sorry. I was an ass. Please don’t call the cops on me. Actually–I mean, I guess you can, ‘cause I’ll just run anyway, but I’d feel bad if you did. Would really put a damper on my week. 

It took Majima too long to realise he was feeling guilty. He’d wanted to apologise, sure, but real guilt was unfamiliar – he’d certainly lived most of his life without it for long enough by now. But this guy actually seemed nice, and despite the fact that he was built like some glorious bodybuilder straight out of Majima’s wet dreams, it was becoming increasingly clear that he really was just some worker at a nice little cafe in the sleazy part of town. Probably no yakuza, that’s for sure. 

Majima swallowed. ‘Believe it or not, I actually came in ‘ere to apologise to ya,’ he continued, quietly.

He attempted a genuine smile, ignoring how weak it felt on his face, like he was contorting his body into a stretch he hadn’t done for years (and if he was being honest, he probably hadn’t). ‘If you’ll accept it,’ he finished.  

Surprise creased the man’s brow, before it cleared and an amusing mix of worry, confusion, and apprehension fluttered across it, though mostly confusion. ‘I-um… yeah?’ the guy stuttered. 

‘Great!’ Majima spread his hands and searched for something to say before the guy could correct himself. Or come to his senses and call the police.  

A drink, maybe? Getting him to make a drink could be a good distraction. But the chalkboard menu on the wall behind the counter was crowded with tiny writing, so Majima spouted the first thing that came to his mind – a sugary abomination he’d discovered years ago that he’d always bug Nishida to make whenever he was having a bad day. So, most days. 

‘So… I’ll have a large caramel latte with a hazelnut shot.’

He was met with a blink. ‘Uh… okay,’ said the guy, looking faint. He shuffled to the side and started working the coffee machine, but not before pinching himself on the arm. Majima turned his head, but felt a smile tilt his lips.  

The mystery barista’s gaze was focused entirely on his hands, moving with quick, practised motions over the dials and milk frother and equipment. It was clear he’d worked here for a while, and Majima simply watched him, musing silently.

They seemed to be about the same age; Majima was maybe a little older, but he couldn’t tell. Thick dark eyebrows drew together over warm brown eyes, so sternly that Majima would be surprised if the guy ever smiled, with a deep line between his brows further proof of it. But… Majima squinted and saw the faint laugh lines at the corner of his mouth, the crow’s feet crinkling the skin at the corner of his eyes.

Maybe he only smiles sometimes, he thought. Maybe the whole stern, old man thing is just an act. Maybe it’s just you he’s not smiling at. Wouldn’t be surprising, why would it be? He should be calling the cops on you right now

Majima bit away that train of thought and allowed his eye to wander more. Tanned skin, neatly trimmed dark brown hair, a sharp jaw. Handsome,  Majima could admit, but in an old-fashioned way. The man’s back was straight as an arrow, head held high, muscles rippling under the collar of his shirt. The stance of someone ready to use their fists. Someone prepared to fight. 

Majima subtly eyed the hands working on the milk frother. There weren’t any silvery, tell-tale scars, no missing fingers. Even though he’d pinged him as yakuza the first time they met, it was seeming increasingly unlikely, even if he looked the part to a degree that seemed too much to be accidental. Majima stewed on that train of thought before stashing it away in his brain for later examination. 

The barista moved back in front of him, then, his fingers stiffly clasped around a large takeaway cup. Majima looked at the coffee and then at him, tilting his head in thought. 

Doesn’t look like the type for a casual fuck, either. Though of course that might be ‘cause I was holdin’ him at knifepoint two weeks ago. 

Majima didn’t have the best gaydar in the world – not that he really believed it could exist as a concept in the first place – but everything in him was saying that this quiet, wide-eyed man wasn’t interested in him. And it wasn’t like he’d had a definite list, per se, of things to do when he came back to the cafe, but he’d already apologised, and now he knew that getting railed by the muscular barista of his dreams was an impossibility. His work here was done, and now he had no reason to come back.  

Majima swallowed the bitter taste in his mouth, and took the coffee. ‘Thank ya kindly. How much do I owe ya?’

‘Uh, it’s on the house.’

Majima blinked hard, wondering if he’d misheard. But there was still a flush staining the man’s cheeks, and he was looking even more flustered than he had only a few seconds before.

Huh. 

Majima had held this man at knifepoint less than a month ago, and now the same man was, inexplicably, giving him free coffee. Either the guy was still scared shitless, or Majima had been wrong about him being straight, or the dude was a lot weirder (or dumber) than he’d first thought. The first one seemed the most likely of the three, and the fact that the barista could still stand here, polite as anything, and offer Majima a free coffee while still being frightened was so, so ridiculous, it actually made Majima laugh out loud. 

'Really? ‘N here I was thinkin’ you weren’t scared of me anymore,’ he said, incredulous. 

The guy swallowed. ‘I-I’m not scared–’

Majima let out a loud snort. ‘I could see ya shakin’ like a leaf before buddy, ya can’t fool me.’

The man kept his mouth shut, his cheeks stained pink, and Majima felt that unfamiliar, annoying guilt flail about in his stomach again. 

‘Anyway,’ Majima continued, trying to reassemble his face into something more sincere. ‘I really am sorry about last time. I hope I didn’t frighten ya too much.’

The man looked at him then, with an unreadable expression. Majima gazed steadily back.

‘It’s alright,’ the guy said eventually. ‘I won’t ask questions and I won’t pry. Just… maybe try not to do that again.’

Try not to do that again. Haw, just how polite was this guy? 

Majima bit back a smile. 'I don’t exactly plan on it. Getting on the wrong side ’a those guys once a month is enough for me.’

The man paused. ‘Thanks for before,’ he said, fixing Majima with an intense, warm gaze that nearly sent shivers down his spine. ‘You kinda saved me back there.’ 

Just how sincere is this guy? Talk about wearing your heart on ya sleeve. It was… charming in a way Majima didn't know what to do with. Charming. He strangled that thought before it could breathe properly. 

Majima winked instead, hoping the gesture came off as casual. ‘Don’ mention it.’ The barista just stared back at him. 

So much for being smooth, dumbass, Majima scowled at himself in his head, then turned on his heel and waltzed out of the cafe. 

 

*   *   *   

 

It’d only been later, much later, when he'd been sitting in his office drinking one of the best damn coffees he'd ever tasted, that he realised he never did get the guy's name. 

 

*   *   *   

 

Majima swam out of the memory of that first meeting, and cracked open a new, crinkling pack of cigarettes.

The city was still busy, though the crowds were thinning by now, and he watched the passersby straggling by as the cigarette smoke burned his throat. 

The days after their second meeting had been agony. 

On one hand, Majima had been dying to go back to the cafe. He’d tried to half-convince himself in the quiet, anxiety-ridden days following that it wasn't just because of a gorgeous, muscular barista with soft eyes and a rumbly voice who’d said weirdly intense things like thank you or you saved me back there

The coffee was damn good, he'd thought as an excuse, sitting in his office with his boots on the table. Better than Nishida ever made them, at least. That in itself had almost been enough to send him crawling back. 

But on the other hand, he’d known that going back would be a bad idea. If he went back a third time, he’d known that he’d finally have to ask the guy’s name, and he’d have to give his own in turn, and he knew then that it'd be too easy to drop in at the cafe at all hours of the day and drink coffee and probably do something stupid like lean on the counter and talk about movies or books or games or lean a little closer– 

But Majima had a rule. 

One time doing anything could be brushed off as an accident; one good hookup, one ill-fated meeting, one date that went sour. An accident.

The second time – you could probably say that was an experience. An experiment. Testing the waters. Going back to a ramen stall someone said was good after the chef forgot to put a boiled egg in your tonkotsu

But three times? Three times carved out a little nook in your brain and filled it with an expectation that said yes this is good, this will continue. Three times was a habit.

And creating a habit out of velvety smooth caramel lattes and a wide mouth he was already dying to see smile? He’d gone back and forth endlessly between it feeling like one of the best and one of the worst ideas he’d had in years. (Not to mention, after those two meetings, he’d already been tugging himself off in the shower every morning imagining what that mouth would feel like around him). 

In the end, it’d taken him a week before he’d gone crawling back. 

 

*   *   *

 

Majima stubbed his cigarette out on the ground, pushed off from the wall, and continued his trek home. 

He hadn’t spent a lot of time at the cafe in the following week or two, but he’d thought about it more than he could admit at the time. Aside from his infrequent trips down that now-familiar alleyway, he’d continued living his life like he always had; taking a lunch break to go eat a steaming bowl of ramen, or buying some takoyaki as a snack, and spending the time afterwards leaning against a dirty brick building smoking and watching the city roll past in front of him. No matter the time of day, there were always streams of people laughing, hanging off each other's arms, going to places and living their own little intricate lives, all totally separate from him. Separate. He’d roll the word around in his mouth until it became meaningless. 

Things changed, too. His smoking got worse. He’d smoke until his head spun, until his mouth tasted like dirt and ash, until the smell clung to his gloves and clothes and hair; until it felt as immovable a part of him as his skin, his eyelashes. It was lucky that Kiryu was  a smoker, because for a few weeks he’d been worried he was stinking up the cafe whenever he went. 

During those weeks, on the nights when he went to get food and instead smoked a packet looking out over the city, well– a small, desperate part of him ached for Sotenbori. He’d spent months, years of his life leaning on the railing of that bridge near his tiny hole of an apartment, watching the reflection of the city's neon lights glittering in the muddy canal while he smoked the cheapest cigarettes he could find. He’d spent what felt like a lifetime running the best joint in town; spent half his free time going to the disco and crashing heads together and getting green tea from the local konbini while Hikaru Genji played tinnily on repeat. 

His life back then had been torture, and he knew, deep down, that he’d always be thankful for finding a way out of that life. But sometimes, on those long nights that started with cup ramen at two am, and ended with the sun rising while he was still awake, he longed for the simplicity of that same shitty life; of having a firm goal, a direction, that kept him moving even when everything else seemed completely hopeless. 

Simple. As if anything had been simple in those days, tch. 

He was getting older, too. He could see it in the lines of his face and the wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, and while he was the furthest thing from vain, it scared him. But when he’d walk into the cafe and see the wrinkles in Kiryu’s face, the heaviness in his shoulders, and see that he was old too, well – that scared him the most. The guy wasn't some young piece of meat with long hair who’d let Majima screw him in a back alley, and neither was Majima, anymore. 

It’d be easier if he was, he’d contemplated more than once, leaning on the counter of the cafe and flicking through a book Kiryu was reading. If we could just fuck, I wouldn’t have to keep coming back and checking him out. But that didn’t feel right, either, and he could never put his finger on exactly why. 

So he smoked and prowled the streets and eyed off other men. On good days, he’d find himself fidgeting restlessly at the office, getting work done but looking at the clock until he could find an excuse to leave; and on bad days, he’d crawl out of bed past noon with his brain pounding out of his skull, popping tablets like they were sakuma drops and dreading the sun.  

Most days, though, he’d tried hard not to think of anything at all. 

 

*   *   *

 

As the weeks trickled by and he’d started going to the cafe more often, he’d learned a lot of things. 

They’d traded names, that third meeting. Kiryu was a nice, soft name that twisted his lips pleasantly, like a forgotten lyric from a song he might’ve heard as a child. 

Kiryu and him had a startling amount in common. Kiryu was only a few years younger, and had lived in Kamurocho most of his life. He had a favourite takoyaki stall that was close to the one Majima liked to go to. He even admitted, one night, that he still went to the arcade to play games from his youth like OutRun, and that sometimes he spent too much time getting his ass handed to him at mahjong parlours. It was surprising, really, that they hadn't crossed paths before now. 

He’d learned that Kiryu liked reading just as much as Majima did, and it was oddly endearing, the way his face brightened whenever Majima mentioned the name of a book he’d also read – he knew a lot of them too, even the more obscure ones that Majima had finished years ago, only to immediately wallow in despair because he didn't know a single soul he'd be able to ramble about it to. They talked for what seemed like hours about Murakami, and Dostoyevsky (they shared a laugh when they both admitted they’d only read Crime and Punishment because Osamu Dazai had liked it so much), and even half-forgotten manga like Maison Ikkoku, which Majima hadn’t talked about in years.

He’d learned very quickly that Kiryu was terrible at flirting, but absolutely delightful to tease. Sure, he was straight, but still, Majima would call him Kiryu-chan or spout something as bold as anything he’d whisper in the ear of a guy he bought a drink for at an okama bar, and all Kiryu would do was blush, or busy himself cleaning the countertop while the tips of his ears glowed cherry-red, and Majima would struggle to hide a smirk at the sight. After a while he didn’t know why he kept trying, frankly, but Kiryu’s reaction often made it worthwhile. 

He’d learned that Kiryu had been working in real estate up until a few months back – and he learned that Kiryu flushed a pretty shade of crimson when Majima teased him about being a salaryman, of all things, once upon a time. 

He'd learned that Kiryu liked fighting games, that he'd enjoyed the disco and arcade machines, and even the pocket car racing place back in the eighties, which delighted Majima to no end; that’d been a fun afternoon, reminiscing over coffee about the pocket car racing guy, wondering what he was up to now.

Most of all, though, he learned just by watching. 

Kiryu really did love working in the cafe, he could see that plain as day: the way his face palpably lit up when a customer thanked him for their drink; how he fussed over the machine with his brow furrowed, making sure that everything was absolutely perfect; how he was always polishing the countertop until it gleamed, or washing dishes, or wiping down tables, or rearranging the takeaway cups for the millionth time. He’d once picked him as perfect for being in the yakuza, but now it was impossible to imagine the big guy anywhere else.

He learned that Kiryu had a soft spot a mile long. Sometimes Majima would walk into the cafe when Kiryu was busy listening to another customer’s gossip, and when Kiryu gave them genuine, heartfelt advice with a soft smile he’d have to look away, overwhelmed by the ridiculous fondness thrumming in his chest. 

He’d learned firsthand what that kindness felt like. Kiryu had caught him scuffling with some idiots on the street not long after they met and chewed him out real good, which was expected enough. But what he’d mistaken for Kiryu being upset about fighting outside his business had turned into the dawning realisation that he was worried about Majima, and that, well–that’d floored him completely. He’d felt like he was walking in a daze the rest of the day, chewing over those words, to the point where he’d almost considered giving up on work and going home. 

Majima hadn’t said anything at the time, except for some jokes about Kiryu being worried. Looking back, he was glad he hadn’t said what he really felt. Because it probably would’ve been something stupid like, I can’t remember the last time anyone worried about me, and nobody needed to hear that, least of all the barista he’d only just met. 

He'd learned that Kiryu wore his heart on his sleeve. What Majima had first mistaken for overt sternness wasn't really the truth  – sure, the guy had a big case of resting-serious-face, but the more time you spent with him the more you saw the minute quirks that signalled exactly what he was feeling: a crook of the head in thought, a tilt of his mouth up or down, his brows furrowing, the tension he always seemed to carry in his shoulders, how clearly his eyes clouded with sadness, or glittered with joy. 

It’d felt like watching a camellia unfurl to reveal all the beauty at the centre, and the first time Majima made Kiryu laugh – the best sound he’d heard in a long, long time – something had swelled in his chest that he’d punched down as quickly as it rose. 

Making Kiryu laugh had felt good, and later that night, Majima had been sitting on his shower floor watching water spiral down the drain, and drinking his fifth beer in thirty minutes, when he’d realised that he hadn’t felt truly good for years. On one level, he didn’t want to admit it; but on the other hand, if he could admit it to himself…maybe he could also admit that the solution was something as simple as making someone he cared about laugh. 

Cared about. He’d drained the rest of the beer in one burning gulp. He’d had a rule for this exact reason: so that a kind, ridiculously attractive, and infuriatingly straight barista with a soft smile wouldn’t carve out a nook in his brain; wouldn’t become a habit that would kill him to cut out. And he’d been an idiot, and gone and made him a habit, and now it was unthinkable to stop going back to the cafe. 

He’d sat there for a long time, that night, until the water ran cold and he was shivering too much to stay hunched over on the dirty tiles. When he’d crawled into bed, the sun was rising, and sleep evaded him for a long time. 

 

*   *   *

 

Life in Kamurocho ticked along for a while. 

He drank too much coffee. He ate his body weight in takoyaki every week. He slept (infrequently). He tried not to think about that little extra spring in his step everytime he was walking to see Kiryu, and tried his best to ignore how he felt more on edge than he had even during those two weeks when he couldn’t find the cafe; like there was a rubber band in his ribcage being stretched tighter and tighter, until the tautness of it set his teeth on edge, and kept him pacing up and down the dusty carpet of his apartment most days. 

One afternoon, a few weeks after that night in the shower, Majima woke up surrounded by empty bottles, mouldy ramen cups, and the stink of his own hangover, and the rubber band inside him snapped clean in two. 

He knew he could’ve called Nishida for a maid, but instead he dug out some long-forgotten trash bags from under his sink and spent the next two hours shoving endless rubbish into them with his own two hands. Bottles, filthy takeaway containers, plastic wrappers from onigiri, miscellaneous plastic, and even a box of expired condoms that’d somehow made its way under his couch (Majima wrinkled his nose at that). 

With each clean space in his apartment that taut band inside him seemed to loosen a little more, until finally he finished, and sat on the now-clear space in the middle of his living room. He lit up a cigarette as the sun sank below the horizon, glittering through the floor-to-ceiling windows and painting the inside of his apartment blood-red.

He knew he spent too much time at the cafe. It wasn’t right, anymore, to say that he was going to check out Kiryu, and their conversations had long surpassed the talks Kiryu seemed to have with other regulars, and–

And it was ridiculous to worry about things like this – so he just kept going to the cafe, and drinking damn good coffee, and running his mouth off about anything and everything to avoid the elephant in the room. 

Life carried on. He vacuumed his apartment for the first time since he’d bought the place. He splurged on a bag of sweet, rosy apples from a local fruit vendor who watched him wide-eyed, and ate them all on his couch one by one with juice dribbling down his chin. The tightness in his chest eased a little more.

One morning found him staring at an unmarked bottle of little white pills in his hand, and after a deep breath, he tipped them all down the sink, watching them scatter on the metal and disappear one by one down the drain. 

Part of him worried that he was just having a long-overdue midlife crisis; but another part of him had been counting the days since he’d last drank to the point of passing out, and when that number hit double digits, he felt a rare, intense flare of satisfaction. He briefly wondered what Kiryu would say, if he knew, and that taut little rubber band inside his chest finally faded into nothing. 

 

*   *   *

 

It’d taken him a few more days to admit that the fondness he had for Kiryu wasn’t just the type of thing he felt for a young, slender man in a seedy bar, or even the begrudging affection he had for employees like Nishida. 

He’d been walking down the street to the cafe, wolfing down takoyaki at a breakneck pace like he usually did, when it suddenly hit him: he liked Kiryu. Genuinely liked him, not even in a specifically romantic way, but as a…friend.

The idea was so foreign to him that he’d actually had to stop for a minute in the busy street, barely conscious of the people bumping past and shooting him glares that instantly withered into fear as soon as they saw the tattoos on his chest. 

He’d had friends before, sure. His first thought was of Saejima, and Majima swallowed down the bitterness of knowing his blood brother was still rotting away in prison. 

But the clan life, as anyone in the yakuza knew, meant solitude. Guys usually had their sworn brothers and other clan members, but not much else. Hell, Majima had been that way his whole life, and he’d thought he was doing fine. 

But now Kiryu was in his life, and not only did Majima like him as a friend, but he also was pretty sure Kiryu liked him in the same way. It made a lump form in his throat, and he swallowed it angrily. 

He let out a quiet, humourless laugh. It was perfect, of course, that this was the thing to make him stop in his tracks; ever since he first saw Kiryu he’d been consumed by thoughts of what he’d be like in bed, what that mouth might look when it was curved in pleasure, had taken every opportunity to flirt with him or jokingly ask him out on a date, but being friends with the guy was apparently the thing that freaked him out the most. 

You want to fuck everybody, though, added his brain unhelpfully, and Majima glowered at the ground. But Kiryu’s different. He’s interesting, and funny, and smart, and likes all the same books you do, and seems to care about you too–

‘Ugh.’ Majima cut that train of thought off with a groan and a hand wiping over his face, and started walking again. 

So, they were friends. Friends, fuck it. He kept chewing the takoyaki thoughtfully, and by the time he’d left the cafe an hour later, carrying coffee and Kiryu’s warm eyes vivid in his memory, he’d started to think that maybe being friends wasn’t the worst thing after all. 

 

*   *   *

 

In the end, Nishida had been the first one to say anything.

‘Boss…' he’d begun one afternoon when Majima was hunched over in his office chair, tapping away on his computer. 

'Mmm?' 

'Has, er… something happened recently?'

Majima looked up at that. 'Haw?' 

Nishida baulked. 'I didn't mean it in a bad way! You've just, well…'

'Spit it out before I make ya.'

Nishida gulped. 'You've been…different recently.' He hung his head. 'I knew I shouldn't have said anything,' he’d said miserably. 

Majima blinked. 'Different?' He leaned back in his chair and propped his boots on the solid table. ‘Whaddya mean?’

Nishida blinked at him. ‘Nicer.’

Majima opened his mouth, then closed it. He tried not to think of a certain barista making him soft – the last thing he should be as the head of a clan – and instead fixed a hard glare on Nishida. 

‘What makes ya think I’ve been nicer?’ He arched a brow. ‘Maybe I’ve been holding off ‘till ya least expect it.’

Nishida cleared his throat. ‘Well, to be honest sir, that’s what we thought, only it’s been a month now and…’

Majima narrowed his eyes, ignoring the fluttering feeling in his stomach. A month? That long? ‘And?’

Nishida cleared his throat. ‘Nothing, sir.’

‘Mmm.’ Majima leaned back and clasped his hands behind his head. ‘You’re too perceptive for ya own good, sometimes,’ he admitted. 

‘S-sir?’

‘Why’re you askin’, anyway?’

Nishida bit his lip. ‘To be honest, sir, the others were just curious, but…well…’

‘What?’

‘Well, we’ve known each other for a while now, and if there’s anything you need me to help with, I’ll gladly do it!’ Nishida looked at him with his eyes shining and Majima’s chest felt strangely warm. ‘I know your personal life is your own private business, but if you’ve met someone, I just wanted to say I’m really happy for you! Sir!’ 

Nishida bowed deeply and the warmth in Majima’s chest instantly vanished, replaced only with annoyance and, distantly, embarrassment. God, is that what I’m actin’ like? Like a fuckin’ hopeless romantic? 

He stared, dumbfounded, at the shining crown of Nishida’s yellow hard hat, and it took him a long minute to speak.

‘Nishida, ya fuckin’ moron, I haven’t met anyone.’ 

‘E-er…really, sir?’ Nishida blinked up at him. ‘B-but, you’re out most days at that cafe…’

A stronger tendril of embarrassment curled through Majima’s chest, and he resisted the urge to slap a hand to his face. Please, kill me, right now. End this, I’m beggin’ you. 

‘I’m only goin’ there for the coffee,’ said Majima, glowering, the lie smooth on his lips. ‘And the barista, he’s…’ He trailed off. ‘He’s a friend,’ he muttered. A friend. 

‘Oh, a-ah…’ replied Nishida, looking flustered. He scratched the back of his neck and made an apologetic gesture. ‘I’m sorry, sir, I shouldn’t have assumed…’

Majima waved a hand, too flustered to get angry. ‘Assume away, ya idiot,’ he replied, putting his feet down and tapping on his computer again. ‘Jus’ don’t bother me with everyone’s rumours about my love life.’

Nishida cleared his throat. ‘Understood.’ 

There was a long silence where Majima typed a few sentences on his computer. Finally, he looked up from his computer, just to see Nishida still standing there. His face was white and his shoulders seemed tense, though for what reason Majima didn’t have a clue.

‘You…can go,’ said Majima, very slowly, wondering if Nishida was sick or something. 

‘A-ah, of course, sir,’ said Nishida, then bowed deeply and backed out of the room. 

Majima blinked at his exit for a few minutes, his cheeks warm from their conversation, and feeling a little dumbfounded at the whole encounter. 

Finally, he switched his attention back to the computer and kept typing. 

 

*   *   *

 

Majima was startled out of his reverie by a group of teenagers laughing loudly as they stumbled out of a nearby karaoke bar. He pressed a hand to his warm cheek, and was chagrined to feel it burning, the flush of that ridiculous conversation with Nishida echoing on his skin. He’d been walking slowly, lost in his memories. It all felt like half a lifetime ago, when in reality he’d only known Kiryu less than six months, and he’d only accepted that they were friends a handful of weeks ago. But a lot had happened since then. 

He slipped another cigarette from the pack and lit it up. He was smoking more than usual tonight – he’d been cutting back recently, with some success, but with Kiryu gone he’d slipped into a melancholy, thoughtful mood that had him aching for the taste of ash. Memories of Nishida faded, replaced with something he’d much rather was left forgotten. 

He’d never really seen it coming, back then, and that was what scared him the most.  

A few weeks ago, he’d started to have the feeling he was being watched. But whenever he’d turn his head, watching the crowds like a hawk, trying to find the eyes burning daggers into his spine, there’d always been nothing except for civilians wandering the streets, bored expressions and polite, avoidant gazes. Eventually, he’d brushed it off as fanciful nerves gone haywire; it wasn’t so unusual to be overly suspicious when you had enemies and slept as little as he did.

One night the power had gone off at the cafe, and he’d shared a strangely intimate conversation with Kiryu by candlelight, the flame flickering and throwing stark shadows around them. He’d found out that Kiryu apparently did have some connection with the yakuza, though he clammed up the instant Majima tried to pry; but that truth bomb had been swept neatly to the side when he’d discovered that although he’d only known Kiryu for less than six months, Kiryu had known him in a roundabout way for a hell of a lot longer. 

Apparently, he’d met him back when Majima was still managing the Grand, though he was vague about the details for a reason Majima couldn’t get out of him, despite his best efforts. The yellow glow of the candlelight had made Kiryu’s eyes seem deep and achingly, indescribably soft as he held Majima’s gaze, and Majima had been on the verge of saying something incredibly stupid like why do you remember me so well , fingers twitching to reach across and hold Kiryu’s hand, when the conversation had been interrupted by daylight filtering through the little window across from them, ending Kiryu’s shift. 

Afterwards, he’d been near-staggering back home in a half-daze, alternately cursing his brain for not remembering someone like Kiryu, and wondering at the tone in Kiryu’s voice when he’d talked about their real first meeting almost two decades ago. How his eyes had been cast down, the candlelight making his eyelashes throw long, delicate shadows across his face; finger slowly running around the rim of his mug, hesitant; how he’d looked like he was chewing the words over in his mouth, how cautious and reserved he’d been, more nervous than any other time Majima could remember seeing. 

How much it’d seemed, of all things, like he was confessing a long-buried crush. Those halting, soft words were all Majima had been able to think about as he traipsed back to his apartment, the dawn light painting the desolate streets with a soft, orange hue. 

It was his own undoing, in the end; he should’ve believed himself. He'd felt those eyes on him for days now, stares prickling the back of his neck whenever he left the safety of the office or the cafe, but he’d brushed them off as nerves, and it wasn't until he stepped past the shadowy, gaping chasm of a long, dark alleyway that the wind changed and every muscle in his body tensed, and somehow, intrinsically, he’d known that something was wrong. 

A blur of unfamiliar figures had come rushing out of the shadows, and he’d cursed, drawing his tanto, but it was too late. The knife slash across his ribs had been wet and white-hot, and he’d collapsed at the surge of agony lancing through his chest, tanto clattering to the ground, only able to raise his hands and curl his body in a futile, automatic defence against more attacks. One of them had raised the butt of his gun above his head, smirking viciously, and Majima had only been able to stare numbly as it came down. 

He’d had a heartbeat to close his eyes and pray to whatever god was out there that he’d survive this, as he’d survived everything else this life had thrown at him. But all he’d been able to see in that last heartbeat, swimming hazily in front of him, was a soft, familiar smile, glowing brighter in candlelight than any sun he'd ever seen. 

Oh , he’d thought, in the split-second before the gun connected with his head, sending him hurtling into pitch-black. 

Oh. 

 

*   *   *

 

He'd disposed of them easily enough, in the end. Nishida found him in the warehouse he'd blinked his consciousness into what felt like a lifetime ago, pain flaring across his torso and his head pounding angrily.

'S-sir–'

Majima wiped off the dirty tanto on the sleeve of his jacket and grimaced. Good thing he always kept one in his boot, just in case. Pity for the idiots who were too dumb to check, though. He tried his best to ignore the groans echoing through the warehouse. He was pretty sure no one was dead, at least – didn’t think Kiryu would like being friends with a murderer – but none of them would be moving in a hurry. 

'How many days?' He closed his eyes, suddenly, indescribably exhausted, and felt himself sway on his feet without the sight of the bodies around him to anchor his vision. 

'Majim…' A long pause. 'Sir. '

'How many days?!' Majima opened his eyes and spun around, nearly stumbling, and something in his face turned Nishida sheet-white. 

'F-four days.' 

Huh. 'Only four, huh?' Majima glanced away. ‘Felt like longer.’

'We tried to find you as fast as we could–'

'Tch.' Majima tried to keep his eye on Nishida’s scared gaze, but his vision was starting to swim. 'Don' panic too much. These guys weren't much in the end…but they were crafty, I'll give 'em that.' He half-heartedly kicked at an arm on the ground and recoiled when the body it was attached to let out a moan. Four days. 

'W-what did they want? They don't seem to be associated with anyone we know.'

'They're not.' Majima's hands were itching for a cigarette and he felt the sudden need to lie down. Was the room swimmin' or is that just me?

Nishida's eyes widened. 'S-sir–'

A fresh burst of pain lanced through Majima's ribs, and he staggered, gingerly pressing a hand to his chest. His glove came away slick and stained crimson. 

He was dimly aware of Nishida rushing forward, his mouth open in a silent cry, but everything moved in slow motion for those few sickening seconds that he fell to the ground, and darkness engulfed Majima once more. 

 

*   *   *

 

When he could next climb out of bed it'd been a week and the first thing he did was go to the cafe, ignoring Nishida’s protests and the wide-eyed stares of passersby. 

He’d expected, on some level, for Kiryu to show concern - expected maybe a look of horror, a drink on the house, a where’ve you been for two weeks, if he was lucky.

What he didn’t expect was for Kiryu to turn as pale as if he’d seen a ghost, eyes blown wide and anger clenching his jaw. Majima had been half-afraid that Kiryu was gonna finish him off, but then he’d locked the door, whisked him into the storeroom despite his protests, and spent the next twenty minutes running his hands across Majima’s body. If he’d known, he probably would’ve spent a little longer making himself presentable. Would’ve cleaned some of the crusted blood off, at least. 

Kiryu’s fingers had tickled, now and then, as they lingered on the bad cuts and bruises, but mostly the gentle touch had sent tiny shivers reverberating across the warm soft points of contact; Majima had known it was in his head, had to be, but part of him felt like Kiryu was touching all these wounded parts of him to confirm, in some small way, that Majima was really safe and sound. The thought made his chest ache even more.

On any other day he knew he would’ve been hard, being touched like this, but today he was simply too exhausted to do anything except wince at the sting of the antiseptic, and wonder why Kiryu had seemed so upset when he’d first walked in. 

It wasn’t until he’d turned around so Kiryu could work on his back that he realised what a vulnerable position he was in; his back stretching forward with the full hannya glaring from his skin, arms bare and covered in goosebumps. He couldn’t remember the last time anyone had seen his back. It made him feel exposed in a way that wasn’t entirely pleasant. 

When Kiryu had started to patch his back it was both better and worse; better, because Majima couldn’t see that soft mouth close enough to his face for him to lean in and capture it if he wanted; and worse, because Kiryu’s hands on his back were bringing to mind other, more exciting experiences he’d had of a man’s hands being splayed on his back. 

All of it’d vanished, though, when he’d finally caved and asked Kiryu exactly why he’d been so upset – and Kiryu had answered, with so much firmness that it took his breath away: why would you think I don’t care about you?

Kiryu had a knack for surprising him, and Majima had only been able to stare, dumbfounded, at the distant wall for a long heartbeat. 

He hadn’t forgotten that the last thing he’d thought of before being knocked into unconsciousness had been Kiryu’s smile, golden from candlelight, bright with unreserved affection. He had a hunch that he’d never be able to forget it, and neither could he forget the feeling that’d dawned on him in the wake of seeing that smile in his last conscious moments. 

He’d felt it once before, years ago, and it’d scared him then as it scared him now. But here…

He’d turned his head slowly, taking in the burn of Kiryu’s cheeks and his steady, brown eyes, before looking into them made his heart clench too much in his chest, and he’d had to tilt his head to stare at the opposite wall again. 

That had been a week ago. A week of dwelling over those words, chewing on them until it all seemed like it’d just happened in his memory, a dream. A week of moving easier day-by-day, of texting Kiryu, of getting closer and closer to feeling like he had to say something, do something, or he was going to go insane–

Majima was startled fully out of his reverie by a loud, unmistakable meow

He stopped in his tracks. It was late and he was in a quieter part of town now; all he could hear was the distant sound of foot traffic and pachinko parlours. 

Loud, plaintive meows sounded again, and now Majima could pinpoint them coming from a nearby alleyway. He shifted on the balls of his feet, deliberating. On one hand, stray cats were a dime a dozen in these districts, and it wasn't unusual to hear them at night, usually fighting or god forbid, doing what cats do together. 

On the other hand, the little guy might be injured. It was getting late and Majima really didn't want to spend time taking it to a vet, but if it was injured, he knew he couldn't just leave it to die. 

The mewling started up again, more urgent, and Majima groaned, turning around. 

'Okay, fine, you win, ya lil' shit,' he muttered as he stepped down the alleyway. 

The lamps from the street were strong enough to throw golden light into the alleyway, but Majima could hardly see a thing. He squinted into the shadows, trying to shake off the uneasiness he felt, the still-healing cut on his ribs twinging as an unwelcome reminder. 

Something brushed against his ankle and Majima jerked back with a snarl, fist instantly curled around the hilt of his tanto. 

A small, black cat with wide green eyes looked up at him. 

Majima blinked. Actually, scratch that. 

He removed his hand from the tanto and bent down slowly, holding his hand out for the cat to sniff. It rubbed its head against his hand and meowed again. Majima stared at it curiously. 

The cat was missing an eye. In place of a right eye, a short, thick scar bisected that part of its face; panic flared in his gut, but he moved to the side so the light of the alleyway showed better detail, and could see that the scar was old. 

'What's the matter, lil' guy?' he murmured, stroking the cat's back. The cat mewled in pleasure and arched its back against his hand, and Majima smiled. 

'Ya like that, huh?' The cat nuzzled into his hand. 'You were mewlin' like anythin' just before, was that to trick me? Huh?'

The cat meowed in response. Majima huffed. 

'Maybe you're hungry. Well, sorry buddy, but I don't have any food, so I ain't any good to ya.'

The cat meowed loudly, as if in protest, and Majima laughed. 'Well, you're pretty cute, that's for sure…' Majima lingered at the scar on the cat's face. 'Looks like we're one ‘n the same, huh. Two peas in a sad little pod…' He let out a humourless laugh, then stood up and shook his head. 'Gettin' sentimental over a stupid cat, god…' He stared down at the black cat, who stared back at him with an annoyingly expressive, pleading eye. 

'Well, if all ya wanted was pats, ya got 'em.' Majima turned around and strode out of the alleyway, ignoring the curious meows behind him. 

He wanted to get home, climb into his bed, curl up, and message Kiryu. It'd barely been two days but that deeply buried part of him missed hearing his voice to an extent that was too embarrassing to admit. 

It took Majima a couple more minutes to realise he was being followed. 

He turned around and glared back down the street. 

A little black cat with one eye strode up to him, then plonked itself at his feet and meowed, looking up at him with one wide little eye. 

' No ,' said Majima. 'I dunno what ya want, but I ain't takin' ya in. I don't have any food on me, either, so scram.' 

The cat blinked at him, and if it wasn't a dumb animal Majima could've sworn the steady gaze was expectant.

He groaned. 'Look, I can't have a cat, alright? I mean, I…' Majima trailed off. 'I mean, I could probably afford ya, and I know my apartment block allows pets.’ He tilted his head in thought. ‘'N I guess having a cat would be kinda nice, if I'm honest.'

Majima slapped a hand to his forehead and glared down at the cat now rubbing itself against his ankle. 'I ain't keeping ya! Stop tryin' to make me.' 

The cat's solitary eye blinked up at him and Majima felt his heart soften a little more as his eye traced its scar. He didn't believe in fate, but the eye staring up at him was almost making him reconsider it. 

Majima tilted his head back and groaned into the night sky. 

'I can't believe I'm doin' this,' he muttered finally. 'Okay, just…lemme just go to the konbini, then home, alright?' 

The cat meowed in response and Majima snorted. 'Smart lil' guy, aren't ya?' 

A few minutes later he was standing at his door, cat winding its way around his legs, while a bag of supplies hung off his arm. 

Majima creaked open the door and the cat shot inside. 

'H-hey!' Majima called out, slamming the door behind him. 'Don't just go thinkin' this place is yours!' 

It'd just be for tonight – tomorrow he'd take it to a vet and get it scanned for a microchip in case it belonged to someone else, and then he'd have the little shit out of his sights. It was bad enough that he'd spent more than he wanted to admit getting fuckin' cat toys and tuna and milk at the convenience store for it tonight; he wasn't keen to pay for this stuff for however long the cat lived. 

Majima plonked down the bag in the kitchen and squinted to see what the cat was doing. It'd already sat down on his couch and was stretched out on its belly, licking its crotch. Majima sighed. 

'Okay, little guy, I've got some food for ya.’ Majima emptied a can of tuna into a clean bowl and poured some milk into another one, then frowned at it. Cats drink milk, don’t they? Or is that another weird myth, like how people think carrots are really good for rabbits?

Majima shrugged; food was food and it wasn't like the cat could complain. Still, he watched carefully as he set down the bowls on the kitchen floor and the cat came prancing over.

It chowed down the food while Majima lit up a smoke. He leaned on the kitchen counter and watched as it finished the tuna, then immediately started lapping at the milk. Huh. Well, it wasn't like a little bit of milk would be terrible for it. Probably. He'd look it up tomorrow, that's what he'd do, just suss out what would be healthy for it. 

Not that I'm keepin' it. 

In the light of the apartment Majima could see the thinness of the cat's body, though he'd definitely seen a lot worse from strays. It looked a bit dirty too, but he'd prepped for that. The amount of stuff you could buy in konbinis nowadays didn't usually surprise him, but the bottle of pet shampoo in his shopping bag certainly did. 

When the cat had finished its meal it looked up at him expectantly, and Majima pulled his gloves off one by one, sighing. 

'And now for the fun part…'

Half an hour, a lot of splashing, and one sad drowned-ass-rat-lookin'-cat later, and the newly clean animal was looking at him from the bathroom floor with a lot less admiration in his forest green eye. 

Majima folded his arms. 'Don't give me that look, ya little monster.' He used a towel to rub the little guy dry – or maybe it was a girl now that Majima thought about it, he didn't really know how to tell – and the cat arched against the soft fabric with a satisfied purr. 

Majima laughed softly. 'Ya like that, huh?' 

When the cat was dry he found a cardboard box and dumped some cat litter into it, then placed it in the bathroom. 

'Don't go pissin' on my floor, now.'

Part of him knew he should just lock it in the bathroom for the night, but the other, too-soft part of him knew the cat would be scared in a new place. Plus, its aggressive meowing would probably wake him up if he stuck it in here; it really was stupidly vocal. 

Majima fluffed up some blankets on the couch and plopped the cat into the middle of them. It nuzzled itself against the fabric and curled in on itself, and Majima felt his heart melt a little more. 

Really, he was getting soft, but when it came to cats how could he not be? 

He left his jacket and pants in a messy heap on the floor and finally slid into bed, sinking back into the sheets with a sigh. He grabbed the soft, white patch from the bedside table and slid his usual black one off, sighing quietly with relief. The other patch was soft on his forehead, and Majima rubbed the sore line where the strap had been until it stopped prickling. This part of the day was always bliss. 

From here he could see the cat on his sofa, and it was curled up, little chest rising and falling slower and slower as it edged towards sleep. 

Majima's phone vibrated on top of his blankets where he'd thrown it earlier, and he quickly grabbed it. 

 

Kiryu-chan 

00:07 I’ve been having a great time. Sorry for not replying, my phone was off. And don’t worry, they know you exist :)

 

It took Majima more than a few seconds of trying to parse what the message meant before his eye caught the messages he'd sent above, hours ago. Ah. 

He typed back a quick message, feeling a soft smile spread across his face. 

 

00:08 nice. don’t worry my man. i’m glad to hear you’re havin a nice time :3 

 

Majima leaned back against his pillow and closed his eyes. He really was beat; he hadn't been sleeping much lately, and he knew his body was still healing from the surprise attack. When he closed his eyes, more often than not he’d just see the inside of a too-bright warehouse, and unfamiliar faces and fists beating him senseless. He grimaced; it’d take a while to recover from that. 

His phone buzzed against his hand and Majima lifted it to squint at the screen. 

 

Kiryu-chan

00:08 do you ever miss the night sky in tokyo? 

 

Majima stared at the message, eyes widening slightly. In the short time he'd known him, he'd rarely heard Kiryu say something so… sentimental. The only other occasion that came to mind was that night at the cafe, when they’d been surrounded by candlelight and Kiryu had confessed that they’d met before, and that particular conversation had been playing in Majima’s brain on repeat since it happened. 

Before Majima could fully process what he was doing, he'd hit the little telephone icon in the top right-hand corner. 

It rang for a while, long enough that he was almost contemplating hanging up, but finally he heard a click. 

'Kiryu-chan,' said Majima. 

'Majima-san.’

‘What’re ya doin’ waxing poetic about the sky for? You drunk or somethin’?’

He heard Kiryu huff. ‘I’m not drunk. I’m just sitting outside and the stars are…’ A long pause, a rustling noise. 'Really beautiful here.’ 

Majima hummed. ‘I haven’t seen a night sky with lotsa stars in …' he wracked his memory but nothing came to mind.. 'I dunno how long,’ he continued.

‘You should come up here sometime.'

Oh. 

Majima bit his lip. There were a lot of responses dancing on the tip of his tongue, none of them particularly appropriate for what was still, as far as he knew, a phone conversation between just friends. 

Plus, wasn't Kiryu staying with childhood friends? The last thing Majima wanted was to step on any toes when it came to Kiryu. Then again, a weekend away in the countryside…He shuffled lower into the blankets, feeling unusually comfortable.

‘That would be nice,' he finally replied. 'But what, with your, ya know–childhood friend, was it? And her husband?’ 

Kiryu coughed quietly. ‘Yeah. I’m sure my friends would be more than happy for you to come along next time I do.’ His voice had this lilt to it that, if Majima didn't know any better, he'd say almost made him sound like he was embarrassed. 

Majima swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. On top of everything else that’d happened in the past month, he certainly hadn't forgotten their awkward conversation earlier that week where Majima had, of all things, assumed that Kiryu was talking to a girl he liked and then been openly jealous of it. He wasn’t the type to die on such stupid hills, but something in the memory of Kiryu's soft smile still made his fists clench, and he hadn’t been able to resist saying something back then. It made him cringe, knowing that he’d gotten it wrong, and he was still wondering why Kiryu hadn’t kicked him to the curb right then and there. 

Judging by the long pause right now, Kiryu hadn't forgotten either. And yet, here he was inviting Majima to go visit his childhood friends, spend even more time with him outside of the cafe, and if Majima wasn’t already deeply aware that this was all hopelessly one-sided, he’d swear Kiryu was…asking him out, or something. Stupid.

‘Kiryu, I swear, you …’

'...Yeah?' 

You're an idiot. 

You're hopeless. 

You have no idea how much you mean to me. 

Majima snorted. Yeah, that’d go down great. 

‘You’re a really nice guy,’ he said, finally. ‘Too nice.’

‘Is that your version of a compliment?’ 

‘Take it or leave it.’ 

Kiryu chuckled lightly. ‘Then thanks.’

You're welcome, Majima bit back. He hummed, then shifted into a more comfortable position when he realised his foot was getting numb. 

Kiryu piped up again. ‘Where are you at the moment? Work?’

Majima snorted. ‘Naw, they made me go home early.' Too busy sulking about you. 'Said somethin’ about not wantin’ to see my grumpy face yellin’ at ‘em anymore,' he lied easily. 

He could almost hear the frown. 'You shouldn’t be yelling at your employees, Majima-san.' 

‘Trust me, you’d be yellin’ at them too if ya had to boss ‘em around everyday.’ 

Kiryu made an unimpressed noise. ‘Is the … grumpiness usual then? Or was it just today because the other guy messed up your order?’

Majima groaned, quietly thankful for the change of subject. ‘God, I thought you’d never ask, Kiryu-chan. Seriously, who do they even get working at a cafe like that? Like, how could they have someone so incompetent–' 

He launched into a spiel of the day's events, rambling until he could practically feel Kiryu's smile radiating through the speaker. 

‘So yeah,' he finally finished, feeling significantly better now that he’d gotten that rant out. 'I hope whatever you’re doin’ up in Chiba is worth it ‘cause that cafe will fail miserably without ya.’ 

Kiryu chuckled quietly. ‘Noted.’ 

Majima felt a wave of tiredness engulf him, and he yawned loudly, stretching across the bed. 

‘So if you’re not at work, where are you?’

‘At home,’ said Majima, then felt his face prickle. ‘In bed.’ 

A long pause. ‘Ah,' said Kiryu, 'sorry for texting back so late, Majima-san–’

Majima huffed. As if I don't wanna talk to ya all the time. He bit back that thought and replied, ‘I texted back as well, remember? An’ I called. If I didn’t wanna chat I would’ve ignored ya and gone to sleep.’ 

‘You sound tired, though.’ 

Majima huffed quietly. ‘I’m always tired, Kiryu-chan,’ he said to himself, too softly for Kiryu to hear, then louder, ‘I’m fine. I don’t sleep much anyways. Ya know I’m always textin’ ya at weird hours.’ 

He heard Kiryu hum. ‘Still, I don’t want to keep you up.’

‘You’re not, Kiryu-chan.’ Majima felt a pang of exasperation. When would this idiot get it through his head?

The words poured out of him before he could think twice. ‘I promise ya, I like talking to ya, I like textin’, shit, 'I like–' 

Something small and dark rushed through Majima's doorway and he bit back a yelp. It leapt up onto his bed and he blinked at the fluffy cat that was now nuzzling against his ankles through the sheet, his heart hammering in his chest. Fuckin' hell. 

He brought the receiver back to his ear in time to hear his name, but kept his eye on the fluffy thing now attacking his sheets. 

Ya little menace. 

'What was I sayin’?' he lied, mentally beaming a million thanks to the little fluffball that'd stopped him from saying something incredibly stupid seconds ago. 'Sorry, fuckin’ cat jus’ jumped onto my bed.’

Kiryu paused. ‘You have a cat?’

'Not really. Saw this lil’ guy in the street today, lookin’ miserable.’ Majima pulled the phone away from his ear and glared as the cat let out a quiet, plaintive noise, trotted unsteadily up the sheets to him, and started nuzzling his hand. 

'Look you lil’ shit, I’ve given ya enough pats tonight.' 

The cat mewled again and Majima sighed before finally patting it, smiling when it turned its head to rub against his palm. He brought the phone back to his ear. 

'Sorry about that, he’s such an attention-seeker.'

'Did you seriously rescue a cat?’ Kiryu's voice was quietly stunned.

Majima shifted uncomfortably. 'What was I gonna do, leave it to starve? Tch …’ 

'You rescued a cat,' Kiryu repeated, and there was no mistaking the fondness in his voice. 

Majima's cheeks burned. ‘Look, don’t go gettin’ any ideas about me bein’ soft-hearted or any of that bullshit.'

Kiryu didn't reply, but Majima could hear him breathing quietly. Tch. 

'I’m gonna take your silence as an admittance that you were thinkin’ just that.’

'I’m not saying a word.’

Majima snorted. 'Kiryu-chan…'

'Yeah?' 

Majima bit his lip. For the second time that night, he was lost for words. 

In another lifetime, maybe, he’d be able to say them as easy as breathing. Somewhere, someplace, this would be as easy as opening his mouth, and laughing, and saying something like, hey Kiryu-chan, wanna go out with me?

But this was Kamurocho, and they were both men, and he was a forty-something-year-old yakuza boss lying alone in a bed he hadn't shared for years. And even though he was at a point where he could admit to the softness that’d grown in his heart over the past few months, to the thing that’d prompted him to stop smoking as much, and clean his apartment, and stop drinking and taking drugs for the first time in years, that’d made him jealous and wistful and aching, that’d solidified into something he could name that candlelit night in the cafe–

He still couldn’t get the words out of his mouth. 

I can’t thank you enough, he knew he wanted to say. You are amazing, and brilliantly kind, and you’re somehow both the best barista I’ve ever met in my life, and the worst for the role because you care so much and deserve so much more in return.

Thank you for likin' the same shit I do. Thank you for makin' my coffee so damn good all the time. Thanks for treatin’ me like a friend. Thank you for taking one look at me that second time I walked into the cafe, and givin’ me a fresh chance instead of tossing me out on the street like I deserved. Thank you for…thanks for being the first person, in a long time, for seeing me the way I am, and liking it anyway. 

Thank you for giving me back a piece of myself. 

Majima took in a deep, shuddering breath. 

In the end, he said none of it.  

'Thanks for texting back,' he said quietly, and hoped that Kiryu knew what he meant. 

Kiryu paused. 'You don’t have to thank me,’ he said, and the words were soft in a way that seemed like he’d understood, at least partly. ‘I wanted to.’ 

Majima's chest ached. ‘Well,’ he said. 'Thanks for that, then.’ He nestled down into the sheets, rolling onto his side with the phone still plastered to his ear. 

There was a long silence, and Majima frowned when he heard Kiryu's breath quicken. 

'You okay there, Kiryu-chan?’ 

‘Yeah, I’m fine. I’m… I’m probably going to head to bed. What time is it?'

'It's um,' Majima lifted his head to squint at his bedside clock, ''s about a quarter to one.’ 

‘Huh. We talked for a long time.’

Majima hummed. ‘It was fun.’

'It was,' Kiryu replied. 

Another silence stretched between them, punctuated only by the sound of Kiryu's steady breathing. 

‘Well, goodnight,’ said Kiryu at last. 

‘Night, Kiryu-chan,’ said Majima. He lifted the phone and ended the call. 

He let the phone fall to the bed and rolled onto his back. 

The cat clambered up the bed and nuzzled against his shoulder. Majima begrudgingly patted it. 

'Ya better not have fleas,' he muttered. 'I'll never forgive ya if ya give me fuckin' fleas.'

The cat meowed and looked at him with a singular, emerald eye, and Majima sighed loudly. 

'I really am gettin' soft, ain't I?' 

He settled back into the blankets and turned his lamp off. 

This was the part of night he always hated the most; those few minutes that stretched endlessly, sometimes into hours, when darkness enveloped him and he had nothing to do except be alone and think. 

Tonight there was a warm, furry weight on his shoulder, and that was something new, at least – and he admitted, comforting.

Still, his thoughts turned, as they always did, to Kiryu. Lying here in the dark, it was too easy to remember the halting rush of his breath, the way he'd paused and sighed and asked questions and…and the way that right here, right now, Majima would give anything to hear that voice next to him for real. 

Majima's breath hitched. 

They'd known each other for months, now. Kiryu knew him better than anyone had in years, and Majima liked to think he knew him in return. 

But it wasn't enough. Being friends had been fine for a while, but he thirsted for… more in a hungry, desperate way that scared him to his core. The same way he'd always hungered for other men; passionate, and yearning, and tinged with sadness, the knowledge that he'd rarely be able to have the thing he most wanted. 

The exhaustion of the day weighed down on him, and he could already feel himself slipping under.

His last thought was the same one it had been for the last three weeks; the same soft smile he’d seen that night when he’d been attacked, when he’d thought oh and known with such clarity what he felt. The same soft smile that he’d do nearly anything to see again. 

He saw Kiryu that night in the cafe, his curved lips illuminated by candlelight, his eyes brown and deep and tender, and warmth bloomed in Majima’s chest as sleep finally pulled him down.