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Bridges Built and Burned

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“It’s good to see ya get down and dirty like the rest of us once in a while,” Shimano is laughing, a thunderous rumble that shakes his broad shoulders and the hand he’s got on Sagawa’s brow. “Been startin’ to think you were some kind of fuckin’ pencil pusher.”

Sagawa winces, canting his head to the side and yanking the ratty handkerchief out of Shimano’s graceless paw. He waves him off and Shimano shrugs, murmuring something about “ungrateful bitches”. He reaches up and pats the new cut over his eye himself, giving Shimano the dirtiest look he can muster as the man turns around and fishes through the pockets of poor bastard they’d just laid out in the alley. Some punk, completely forgettable – bland face, blander ambitions.

Still, getting bum rushed by a goon stung his pride something fierce; Shimano had been all too happy to shatter the kid’s knees in retribution. Sagawa knew better than to think it was entirely on his behalf.

He shoves the cloth into his pocket and watches Shimano turn the squirming body over with his foot. Face ruddy with tears, the kid is begging forgiveness and swears he’ll never do something like this again.

“I think he gets it,” Sagawa says, feeling impatient – the wailing is starting to attract a crowd, and he feels the beginnings of a headache crawl across his skull. “Let’s get a move on.”

Shimano raises a brow at him but for once keeps his mouth shut. They leave the alley and move past the appalled housewives and curious teenagers. A few girls are watching him from behind their hands and giggle when Sagawa gives them a wink. He feels the blood drying up into his eyelashes and keeps himself from reaching up to rub at the spot where the cut stings. He’s annoyed, tired, and the humid summer heat makes his clothes stick to his skin. Restlessness jumps along his muscles and makes his fingers twitch.

The two of them take a shortcut and are winding down the stairs next to the riverbed when Shimano plants one of his big hands on his shoulder, stopping him in his tracks.

Sagawa’s got a couple years on him, but even at eighteen Shimano is the biggest man he’s ever met, with the freakish strength to match. Everyone in town knows the hulking silhouette that works at the butcher shop and knows to shrink back at his brutish strength. If Shimano wanted to stop walking, they would stop walking. Doesn’t keep Sagawa from sending an irritated huff his way, though.

“What now.”

Shimano is looking down at him, considering, black eyes roving the cut and the bruise on his cheek. For a man with little qualms about expressing himself, he’s very good at giving nothing away if he doesn’t want to.

It’s a tense moment; Sagawa braces himself for just about anything.

Then Shimano chuckles and reaches up with a thumb to roughly rub some of the blood away.

“That’s gonna scar.”

“You know that’s going to be a real tragedy, right?” Sagawa shoots, though he indulges Shimano being handsy for whatever reason. It feels a bit like being pawed at by a damn ogre. Completely graceless. “I actually got a nice face, unlike yours.”

The man barks a laugh again, genuinely amused; Sagawa remembers why he likes him.

“Tragedy? You outghta send that kid a thank you, pretty boy,” he smirks nastily. “Maybe this’ll man you up some, make it look like you’ve actually got some hair on your balls.”

“Been thinking about my balls, huh?”

He feels the thumb press him hard right above the cut and into the brow. He’s fully aware Shimano could crush his head like a peach if he wanted. Distantly, he wonders if Shimano’s ever fantasized about it, sick as he was.

He jerks his head back at the sharp sting, feeling Shimano’s hand fall to his shoulder instead.

“Quit prodding at me.”

Shimano says nothing, just watches him and clearly thinking hard; a frown drags his brows together and his mouth downward. His jaw works at something, words he’s chewing on but is unsure if he wants to say. Sagawa watches back, curious underneath the trepidation.

Because it crystalizes for him right then and very suddenly he knows: Shimano wants to fuck him.

Sagawa isn’t particularly interested in him that way, but he also isn’t opposed to the idea of it – if it would’ve yielded anything beyond a sated curiosity (for Shimano) and a day of walking funny (for Sagawa) he might’ve even considered it. But he never liked to do things if there were no promises of results or intrigue. Nothing was shittier than doing something for nothing.

It was the only thing driving Sagawa’s life, and how he wanted to go out: living cushy and unbothered. A fucking high roller.

Still, it was something new – and interesting. Something about Shimano he never expected. There was a lot about Shimano he never expected.

He gives the man a chance to say what he clearly wants to say. But he gets nothing, so he shrugs the hand off his shoulder and gestures down the alley: “let’s get moving, I’m starving and I need a damn wash.”

On the way back, they come across a stray cat with a mouse in its mouth. It stops in its tracks to stare intently at them, devising its escape should they interfere with its path. Looking closer, Sagawa could see that the mouse wasn’t dead yet – it was twitching fruitlessly, beady eyes wide and fearful.

It’s in for a slow, painful death.

“Poor sucker.” Shimano quips absently, then he starts walking again.

Sagawa lingers, and watches the cat turn its head to walk away, the little mouse’s tail swinging like a worm. He remembers little Mametaro, shrieking horribly in a pool of feathers and gore. Remembers his young self watching helplessly, so scared he hadn’t even be able to cry. Remembers his parents, bored at the display of misery, turning to go back into the house, leaving little Tsukasa to tremble alone in the tall summer grass.

The cat disappears around a corner, and Sagawa keeps walking.

Chapter Text

The night they take their oath as brothers Shimano tells him he’s planning to pack up for Tokyo.

“The hell do you mean, Tokyo?!”

Sagawa is slamming his fist down onto the tatami mat before he’s finished grinding the question out, forearm trembling with the force of it and sake cup tumbling to the ground. He never liked big displays of anger, found them to be a crass waste of energy. But this was Shimano, his newly-sworn oath brother, the great big monster he had taken a shine to, and damned if it didn’t sound like one stupid fucking decision.

A face like Shimano’s wasn’t capable of gentleness; his heavyset brow and persistent frown made him the perfect thug, prickling those fight or flight instincts at a glance. The man couldn’t do serenity if his life depended on it. But right now, that face was watching Sagawa with all the unperturbed peacefulness of a monk, brow cocked and mouth relaxed.

“You’re gonna have to catch me up here, bro, because I’m afraid shit’s a little unclear from where I’m sitting…” Sagawa grits his teeth, rankled by Shimano’s silence. Bastard loved to hear himself talk, and now Sagawa needed him to do some damn talking.

Shimano leans back on one hand, the other setting his sake cup down nice and easy. He takes his time answering, looking out onto the deck of the compound they decided to have the ceremony in. Clear, cloudless sky and a beaming moon in the distance – peaceful. Finally, he says, “Tell me it to me serious, Tsukasa – what do ya think is really here for me, besides a fuckin’ dead-end?”

“What?”

“Let’s see – I join the ranks, tough it out as an Omi man. Put in the work, suck off the right people, and hustle day in and day out. Where am I gonna end up at the end of it, hm?” Shimano leans forward, beady black eyes glinting in the dim light. His voice is low and rumbling like a beast; despite himself Sagawa shivers, feeling the sake warm in his gut. Feels the grit in that voice rake across his skin. “I’ll tell ya – working under some crusty Osaka fossil until I die, gettin’ dicked around in this relic of a town, watchin’ while the boys in Tokyo rise up and take fuckin’ county.”

“Tojo’s small fry,” Sagawa says, impatient. He reaches over to pick up his sake cup and places it gently next to Shimano’s, the anger simmering down. “Or did you hit your head? Someone been feeding you bullshit?”

Shimano laughs – a short, rough bark: “Small fry for now.”

He gets up and the floor creaks under him. Shimano owned every space he was in, by sheer virtue of his size and rage and greed. It was the force of Shimano’s desires that sparked Sagawa’s interest in the first place, those scant years back. It fascinated him because it was unknown; Sagawa’s never known that kind of desperate hunger himself. Ambitiousness was part of the world they lived in, but some clung to their ambitions tighter than others, let themselves become swallowed up in them. Sagawa was not one of those men, would never allow himself to be swept up by that kind of unruliness.

And Shimano was different – different from all of the rest, even him, loathe as he was to admit it. His hunger was clear to those who knew what to look for and to challenge him meant to be trampled, stomped into the ground as he forged onward.

Standing tall and broad, a big ghastly shape cutting through the moon’s glow, Shimano stares out into the courtyard.

Finally, he says: “The future’s in Tokyo, Tsukasa, like it or not. Tojo’s not gonna be small forever, and when the time comes they’re gonna run show on everyone else. And I’m gonna be there, leading the goddamn charge. Stay here if ya want, but don’t think I’ll let even you get in my way.”

*

Before the night ends, they fuck for the first time.

In the hot haze of alcohol and high emotion, secluded in their own little corner away from everything else, surrounded by moonlight, cicadas, and a ripening world. Shimano has one of his bulky hands holding Sagawa down by the sternum, pinning him on his back like a bird. His newly-sworn brother, bursting with ambition and desire and violence. He channels it all into Sagawa in that moment, splitting him on his enormous cock, with no regard for pleasure or for comfort.

On his back, panting and rocking his hips back into those brutal thrusts, Sagawa grits out through his clenched jaw: “Go then, go on to the fucking Tojo – just make sure you walk the walk, huh Futoshi? Don’t come back with your tail between your legs, you make something of yourself you hear me?”

And Shimano, looming over him, moonlight casting shadows across his horrible, hateful visage – laughs at him, joyful and victorious: “Just fucking watch me, brother.”

Chapter Text

Time passes. They see each other sporadically. Rising tensions between the Omi and the Tojo make meeting difficult, and neither of them were men governed by sentiment. Whatever fondness Sagawa felt for Shimano, whatever the nature of his attachment to the man, did not demand proximity. He was reasonably sure it was the same for his brother.

The first time they meet again would be many years after that fraught night of the ceremony. Seeing Shimano in a pressed, expensive suit is a sight indeed. The sharpness of the shoulders make him an even more impressive figure. The effects of time have left him alone, his face ageless like a ghoul. Meanwhile, Sagawa has begun to grey far earlier than he would’ve personally liked, though the hostesses at the cabarets are certainly charmed whenever he drops in, calling him, “distinguished” and “charming”.

Speaking to Shimano again is easy as breathing, despite the distance. Despite the time. They sit in their own corner of a dimly-lit bar and fall back into place with each other, trading barbs that were now more refined with life experience. They’ve left those wound-tight, rowdy boys behind them and have become men, with more money and power than either of them could have tangibly imagined in their youth. Sagawa takes a drink, eyeing his sworn brother over the rim of his glass as the man speaks disparagingly of his current patriarch. There’s no envy in his tone, just a sharp, passing judgement. It will take no time at all for Shimano to come charging out of that man’s shadow, whoever he is. Sagawa almost feels bad for the poor bastard, sitting back in Tokyo, unaware of the demon he has in his midst.

They’ve been eying each other up all night, grading each other. Underneath it, still, is the faint sting of desire. It doesn’t take long for understanding to settle upon them both, when they leave the bar.

Afterward, Shimano drags him to a hotel and it’s there that Sagawa sees his tattoo for the first time.

A tiger; a big damn cat with sharp eyes watching Sagawa from the man’s back. Its jaws are wrenched open in an eternal snarl, latent power and hunger coiled into something as majestic and cruel as Shimano himself.

Shimano’s fingers close around his neck as he leads him to the bed, and they feel like the teeth of a great hungry beast.

*

Sagawa meets Homare Nishitani some years before the tiger, a fresh face that makes waves in the Omi as soon as he takes his oath. At first Sagawa only sees him from a distance – a tall, rakish form with a slouched and easy posture. He’s younger than Sagawa and handsome too, with a thick head of hair and a flirty set to his mouth. But even from where he stands he can see something off-kilter in those eyes; there’s a screw loose in that head of his, one that threatens to send madness tumbling down on whoever gets too close. When he learns that Nishitani has been inducted into the Kijin clan, it all makes sense. Another nasty addition into the local house of freaks.

There’s plenty of upstarts and shit disturbers in the Alliance, but Sagawa knows special when he sees it. He makes a note right then to keep an eye on the man.

When he finally gets the chance to meet him one-on-one any semblance of interest piqued by his good looks crumbles. But it had to be done, meeting him; they had to cross paths sooner or later. The event isn’t his – a meeting called by the head of his family – and Sagawa must do his best to represent his people. He strides over to that lanky form, stiff-backed and nearly scowling. It feels as though that garish purple suit is burning his eyes.

“Welcome.” He bows. Gets one in return that’s so shallow it borders on disrespectful.

“Hn,” Nishitani appraises him immediately, dead eyes raking up his figure. If a look can leave a trail behind itself, then Nishitani’s does exactly that. Sagawa schools his face to keep his disgust from coming through. “Pretty, aren’t you?”

There’s a leering, dirty quality to his voice that Sagawa hates instantly. Uncouth, with all the refinement of a junkyard dog: a mangey fucking mutt trying to chew off his leash. He’s the type that should have died a dozen times over, a bloated corpse floating in the river, but somehow manages to stick around to annoy any person with sense.

“I’m Sagawa.” He says, voice flat. “Mind your manners, kid. You’re in a patriarch’s house.”

“Ha! Barely got any seniority over me and you’re already all over yourself, eh? Don’t get bent outta shape tightass, Yokoyama likes me.”

“It’s all earned, Nishitani-kun.” He says, brows furrowed. “And even the boss makes mistakes.”

“Oh-ho! Pencil-pusher can bite after all!”

Nishitani looks delighted, laughing to himself – just loud enough to get some looks their way, and Sagawa swallows down the embarrassment. What a fucking clown. Distantly, Sagawa thinks of Shimano, wondering what his old friend would do with a man like this.

Probably pull his head off, he thinks. Futoshi never liked crazy that he couldn’t control.

Nishitani laughs and laughs and laughs, and Sagawa wonders at the state of his own life – the only sane man in the world, surrounded by animals. Beasts with snapping teeth. All fighting over scraps of meat. Of power in this shitty world.

Then he remembers, vividly, being a kid sitting at the edge of the riverbank at sunset. He can still feel the heavy, squirming weight of the sack he had dragged with him all the way from his house.

As he watches the sharp edge Nishitani’s teeth, peeking from behind his laughing mouth, he remembers shoving the bag into the water, feeling the cat’s body thrashing inside. Feeling every bit of its strain, its desperate grabs for air.

He remembers feeling the body go limp in his hands, remembers letting go and watching the sack drift down the river like a leaf, remembers his mother yelling when she discovers the bag – by complete chance – a day later on the way back from the market.

The other man’s laughter simmers down, and something glitters in the black of his eyes as he settles them on Sagawa, satisfied.

His memories draw back like a cloud. Tiredly, Sagawa knows he’s brought all the madness upon himself.

The only sane man in the world, he who runs with beasts.

Chapter Text

Sagawa comes out of the meeting room to find Nishitani lounging on one of the couches outside, idly playing cards with himself on the coffee table. There’s a cigarette hanging from his lips, and grudgingly, Sagawa admits he cuts a fine figure. The other man looks up, and those eyes take him in slowly in turn. Sagawa wonders what he sees.

As always, Nishitani smirks: “Looking a little frustrated, sugar.”

“Something like that.”

It’s late in the evening and Sagawa doesn’t recall ever feeling this way in his life – carved out from the inside and yet, full of something that’s slowly eroding at his sense of self. He’s resigned. He’s tired.

He’s always, always tired.

“What are you even doing here,” Sagawa sighs, brow raised as his arms cross over his chest. “Shouldn’t you be skulking in town somewhere? Eating preschoolers or stabbing cops?”

“Man, you say some mean shit, Sagawa. What’d I ever do to you…?” the man chuckles to himself as reshuffles his deck. “Can’t even make some conversation without gettin’ my head bitten off, damn. All ya pretty boys always this moody? Need a hand turnin’ your crank? I can help y’know, I’m a team player like that. I’ll even respect ya in the morning.”

The rational part of Sagawa’s brain knows that Nishitani doesn’t harbor any real interest in him, the flirting just for show. Hell, he’s pretty sure that the intense dislike he feels is entirely mutual. Most days, he can put up with the upstart Kijin brat mouthing off just fine.

Some days, like today, he’s worn so thin that everything rankles.

“Fuck off, Nishitani.”

“Your boss didn’t give ya enough pats on the ass, big man?” Those deft fingers stop fluttering on the cards as he focuses his attention on Sagawa, scenting blood in the water. Sensing a break in his nemesis’ threshold for his bullshit. “Didn’t wanna kiss and tell ya you’re pretty after your regularly scheduled blo-”

“You shut your goddamn mouth before I shut it for you, you crazy freak.”

It’s the closest Sagawa has been to shouting in a long damn time. Only the heavy presence of Sakamoto in his office behind him keeps him from really laying into the cocky little punk. He’s so frustrated his head is throbbing. Agitation rakes down his back and leaves shuddering tension in its wake.

Nishitani keeps smiling, tilting his head back to look down his nose at him. The little stud he wears in his ear winks at him, like bait, like a taunt, like it’s saying: “Hey Tsukasa, his neck is just down there, go get it, shred him to pieces.”

He doesn’t, of course.

“Ugh, to hell with this.” He says, instead.

Sagawa makes his way out of the compound, feeling the eyes on his back all the while.

*

”The old man is reaching the end of his term, you could say.”

“I don’t…follow.”

“Let me tell you something, Sagawa-chan,” Sakamoto says, levelling him with a loaded look. “In this business, you have to pull your weight. Earn your keep. Give back to the brothers that give all for you, yeah?”

“Yes.”

“And in this business, you get a lotta bastards. Shitheels who don’t do any of that once they get nice and comfortable, thinkin’ they’ve paid their due. Thinkin’ the clan business don’t concern them no more. And all it does is drag everything down. It’s like we’re willingly strapping bricks to our ankles and jumping off a bridge, when we put up with them.”

“…”

“…These guys, well…” Sakamoto sighs, a rumbling thing in his big barrel chest. “Sometimes nature doesn’t do its job and they take too long to die. Which means it’s up to men like us – good soldiers like us – to pick up the slack. Do you understand?”

“…Yes, sir.”

“Good boy, Sagawa-chan,” the man nods, satisfied. Gives him a fatherly smile. “Doesn’t matter how long it takes you; just make me proud, tiger. You’ll go far.”

*

It takes him about two months. Two months to get into Yamanaka’s good graces: schmoozing with his cohort, and then finally the man himself. With Sagawa’s easy charm the whole thing is practically effortless. These old family men are so charmed and taken with this smooth, smart, and crafty young up-and-comer in their midst. Eventually, he gets the invitation to go for drinks out on the town with a whole group of them; he suggests this classy little place by his apartment, where none of them have ever been. It’s a simple, simple thing to slip something a little extra into the old man’s drink when he isn’t looking.

Everyone leaves one by one, only he and Yamanaka are left. His mark is drunk off his ass, so toasted that he can’t even lift his arm to hail a cab home. Graciously, Sagawa offers his apartment for the night. The invitation is accepted and Sagawa nearly has to haul bodily across the street. The drugs were doing their job.

At his apartment, the old retainer lies facedown on the couch, sleeping like a baby. Sagawa watches from where he sits, across from him in the dark. The sound of Osaka’s nightlife is a muffled force against his windows, though his apartment is blissfully quiet but for the soft sounds of Yamanaka’s snoring.

He wonders how this is going to go. There’s all manner of ways he can pull it off. His brain is numb with the possibilities, and time seems to have stopped – just for this.

The choice is made for him in a moment of serendipity.

Yamanaka’s body starts to twitch, his throat bobbing. Sagawa sees the telltale signs of vomiting and the idea materializes in an instant. Quick as a viper, he strides over to move the man’s body onto his back. He clamps a hand over the old man’s sputtering mouth and nose.

It takes only a few minutes, though he’s not precisely sure how many – too distracted by the gritty texture of vomit grinding under his palm. The smell is awful.

It takes only a few minutes, and Yamanaka is dead.

It takes only a few minutes, and Sagawa has killed a man.

It’s easier than it should have been, this sinful thing he’s done. Not fanfare – no hail of bullets or car chases. No sense of his world being pushed off kilter and his soul cleaves itself in two, or some such.

As he gingerly moves off the body and heads to his kitchen to wash his palm, he ponders, distantly, at the stillness he feels within himself. He watches the chunks of food sluice off his hand and into the drain, and listens to the silence of his apartment.

He thinks of Futoshi, wondering where his friend is now, what he’s doing. What he would think of all this.

He doesn’t go to check on the body, feeling reasonably sure it’s just where he left it. Instead, he goes to his bedroom and crawls under the covers, still listening to the quiet.

Sagawa sleeps well that night, and he doesn’t dream.

Chapter Text

The morning is blissful and serene when he wakes, and for a moment he remembers nothing of last night. Sagawa is shirtless against the sheets, and the breeze drifting from his open window is warm. He’s always been an early riser, waking to the sounds of the city waking with him – burgeoning traffic, and sluggish footsteps on the pavement.

Memories of last night creep in slowly, and the blissful warmth of the morning seeps away from him.

Sagawa rises from his bed and walks to the living room, eyes seeking out the still body resting exactly as he left it – eyes closed, mouth slightly agape. Dried vomit crusting at the edges of pale lips. A chest that does not rise.

Sagawa takes his time looking at it. Fleetingly, he let’s himself wonder how he’s ended up here in this place and time, with a body on his conscience, and where the hell his conscience went. All the grave lessons he’s learned during his time in the business, the broken, wizened men whose lives have touched his…all were supposed to have prepared him for misery at this. He figures he should be quivering with guilt by now. Instead, his hands are steady as they pick up the phone and his fingertips deftly dial the number for the compound.

As it rings he wonders, maybe, if something important died in the field behind his house all those years ago – in the tall grass, shrieking in fear, amidst sparrow feathers and bloody, hissing teeth.

When the call is over, after a show of faked fear and panicked cries for help, he places the phone back on its hook and breathes.

*

Nishitani is at the ceremony, face contemplative. Something snide in Sagawa’s head wonders if all that thinking is hurting the poor little headcase.

Afterward he sidles up to Sagawa, fidgeting with a ring of keys in his fingers. Always so animated, this one. Couldn’t keep still if his life depended on it. Sagawa imagines that one day he’ll die as he lived – restless.

“It’s real funny – man like that dying in such a bitch way?” He barks a quiet laugh and his eyes watch the tall forms of the other officers walking ahead of them. Sagawa glances at him, annoyed.

“Show some respect.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He says dismissively, pursing his full lips. “Y’know, I never liked him much, but I knew him. Knew his type. Man went drinkin’ every other night. You do that shit long enough you should know better. Fuck, had him over at mine a few times too. Always took so much fuckin’ care to sleep right and everything. Real stickler for doin’ it right. Guess he had a lot to live for, or some shit…”

Nishitani looks at him, lips quirked at the side; his gaze is sharp and wild. Razer wire keeping back a hungry, lustful beast – sparkling and ravenous. There’s something oily in his voice when he says: “It’s all just so strange, y’know? Guess all it takes is one.”

Sagawa shrugs and looks away. Nishitani is disgusting but honest, and that honesty makes him feel flimsy in a way he doesn’t like too much.

When he responds his voice is clipped: “A hundred times, a thousand times – doesn’t matter when all it takes is one fuckup. Man got unlucky.”

“Heh. There’s unlucky, and then there’s timing. And gettin’ on the bad side of somebody’s ambitions.”

“Say what you mean or get out of my sight, Nishitani.”

“Think you know what I mean, doll.” Nishitani chuckles low in his throat. He speeds up his pace and walks ahead of Sagawa, but not before winking over his shoulder: “Tell Sakamoto-san congrats on the climb for me, will ya?”

Sagawa doesn’t allow himself the indignity of glaring at he man’s back, but it’s a near thing.

*

Ages later, in a hotel room in the throbbing center of Osaka, he would mention it to Shimano – spurred on by the revelation of the tiger on his back.

“Hn,” says Shimano, puffing on his cigarette. “Tell me about it.”

Casual. Not like an invitation to a confessional; there will be no peeling the layer of sin off his soul, a layer slick like grease. Like oil – like he’s anointed and waiting to be set alight. Waiting for someone or something, some divine hand, to burn the rot from him.

But no one has that power yet, and so he’s content to be here as he is, naked back against expensive sheets, bathed in raucous noise of the city. Untouchable.

So maybe he’s not at the top, but he’s still high enough to see the holes dug into the ground – graves he’s narrowly escaped filling, time and time again. He looks over to Shimano and thinks of his friend – his brother – with those beastly hands on one of the shovels.

He tells Shimano about it, leaving out the details of the who and the when; Shimano is his brother, and in many ways his friend, but he’s still a Tojo man. He turns to face Shimano’s back as he relays the story, his tone distant. He stares into the eyes of the big roaring tiger on his skin and feels like he’s facing judgement. Sagawa gets to the part about holding the poor sucker’s mouth closed as he writhed, and reaches out to run his fingertips down the slope of the man’s enormous back. He feels the heat of him, the expanse of him as he breathes in, something strong and magnificent.

He finishes his little tale and Shimano snuffs out the cigarette in the fancy crystal ashtray on the nightstand. The man doesn’t turn around entirely, just peeks over his shoulder at him as he asks: “Did ya enjoy it?”

“Tch,” Sagawa snorts, tracing the black lines of the tiger’s body. “Hell of a thing to ask, Futoshi. Think I’m some sort of pervert?”

“Heh,” Shimano shifts around, slightly, enough to face him and to take his jaw in one of his massive hands. “You’re even worse than me, bro. So rotten even I can’t see past see past the fuckin’ filth, sometimes.”

He leans down, smelling of smoke and booze, and his brows draw together in consideration. Again, he asks: “Did ya enjoy it?”

Sagawa reaches up and brings him down by the back of his neck, fingers sinking into the meat of him, crushing his mouth against Shimano’s and swallows that rumbling laughter down; he hears judgement in it. He hears admiration, he hears pity. Approval. Superstition. He hears everything that he can’t feel for himself in it.

The tiger moves with purpose above him, drenched in dreamy city lights, and the three of them don’t talk again for the rest of the night.

*

Many years later, in a fit of frustration and stinging pain that threatens to shred the fine bones of his hand, he thinks back on his choices – fleetingly – and wonders again how he’s got here, in this time and place.

“Majima-chan, man. Didn’t I warn you?”

His voice is as steady as he can make it, still rough from smoke from the car bomb and painkillers. He means it, when he says: “If you can get by without killing, do it.”

The look of pure loathing sent his way is the most thrilling thing to happen to him in years. It’s bright and angry and full of judgment. Righteous, threatening to set him ablaze. He supposes it’s a little sick, to enjoy it as much as he does.

But everyone in this business is.