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Sticky air. The smell of dinner burning from the landing below. The moon barely scraping above the tops of the buildings before dipping back into the valley between them. Smoke curling from his fingertips as he leaned further over the balcony railing than he really should, knowing that it could barely support its own weight, much less his.

It was the same every night.

Majima would get up at three in the afternoon after a long day of not sleeping while the summer sun shone through the thin curtains covering the only window in the apartment. He’d eat whatever Saejima had made for him before work that morning, absently watching any news he could stand to hear without going crazy. Wait until the last second to get dressed before heading off to work the late shift until the club closed. Get back home, check on a soundly-sleeping Saejima, and have a smoke out on the tiny lip of a balcony that wasn’t even deep enough to stand on fully.

Go to bed and not sleep.

Do it all again the next night.

Sometimes he thought that he might be in a rut, dug so deep into the trench that his roots would never come free without destroying the space around him.

And other times he felt more like the smoke that drifted from his cigarette. Weightless. Opaque. Ghostly. Like there was so little keeping him in this life that all it would take was a tiny gust of wind to scatter him.

He wasn’t unhappy.

But he wasn’t happy, either.

Which probably shouldn’t have been so surprising, he thought. Sure, he had a decent job that paid enough to keep a two-bedroom apartment. Sure, he had his kyoudai, who he wouldn’t trade for the world. He had clothes that he liked and enough money left over to cover a really nice meal more than once in a blue moon. He had a lot of things that, on paper, should have added up to happiness.

But sometimes—as he traced the patterns of smoke in the air with his one good eye—he thought that it didn’t really matter what should make someone happy. That there was nothing in the world you could do to predict happiness. What could bring it and what could take it away. And maybe there was something in that unknowing that made it too hard for him to look for it. To see it shining ahead in the distance like a star winking up in the sky.

Or maybe he’d just forgotten what being truly happy felt like.

Maybe he was happy but just didn’t know it because—like the spaces between the stars—he was so comfortably still that there was no motivation, no ambition. He was warm enough where he was. Full enough where he was. Happy enough to just float along like smoke on the still summer air. He was glad for it. Grateful. Certainly not ungrateful enough to want something else.

But the wind was fickle and didn’t care if anyone had desires or dreams or happiness. She just shifted as she pleased, and no one could tell her which direction to go.

“Go to sleep, bro.”

“Hnnh,” he grunted to Saejima as he passed behind him, his heavy hand clapping him on the shoulder. “I will after I finish this.”

“And one after that. And after that, huh?”

Majima crooked his head back to roll his eye at Saejima. “Shut up, old man. I gotta get some stress relief from somewhere after gettin’ a bucket o’ice dumped over my head by a jackass host.”

“Thought you were always sayin’ how—” A yawn hitched out of him, interrupting his words mid-thought. “—hot you are in that suit.”

Real funny,” Majima deadpanned, taking a snap at his kyoudai’s hand as he ruffled it through his hair hard enough to loosen the tie holding it back. Saejima didn’t even flinch, grinning sleepily at him as he stole the tie for himself, putting his hair up in a loose bun as Majima grumbled and did the same as best he could without one. At least it was off his face and neck; the summer hadn’t set in properly yet, but it was already threatening to. The air was already much too close to go with his hair down anymore. Especially when he’d only managed to get his jacket off and a few buttons of his shirt undone before he’d gotten his smokes out.

He should really cut it. It would make his life a lot easier during the summer. But the women at the club always cooed over it and he was too lazy to care about maintaining a shorter style. He couldn't imagine finding the time to keep it perfect and anything less than that would annoy him.

So long and in a sloppy, tie-less bun it was.

"'M'goin' back t'bed," Saejima sighed, scratching at his hairline. "Try not to stay up too late, man."

"Yeah, yeah."

"Heh. At least ya won't be lonely even if ya do."

"Haw?"

Saejima jerked his chin towards the window and Majima followed his line of sight, breathing out his lungful of smoke. It took him a second to catch on to what he was trying to get him to look at—there was a couple of birds fighting over a scrap of food that someone had tossed onto a nearby roof that distracted him—but when he did, he just raised his eyebrows.

“Guess we finally got a new neighbour, huh?”

Majima grunted, brows drawing back down as he studied the man leaning against his windowsill in the building across the way, his hand slack with a cigarette tucked loosely between his fingers. He was tall—if the way he could lean halfway over the sill was any indication—and broad, the window’s width barely accommodating his shoulders. He had short, dark hair that swept back from his face like he’d just come from getting a model headshot. And maybe he had, because even though there was a little sprinkling of grey around his temples, his face was so beautiful in its quiet wistfulness as he looked up at the moon that Majima had to force himself to take a breath.

He was annoyed by the way it shook, but he couldn’t really blame himself. There was something about the man that kept his eye glued to him. Demanded it. He couldn’t help but drag his eye around the man’s features, utterly stunned. His full lips, his sharp nose, his golden skin, his prominent cheekbones. They all demanded attention equally, but there was nothing they could do to distract from his eyes once Majima had settled on them.

Majima had never been a poetic man, but he could certainly feel some goddamn poetry welling up in his chest at the sight of that man’s soft, sad eyes.

He only realised how long he’d been staring, open-mouthed, when Saejima chuckled and clapped him on the shoulder again, saying,

“Real looker, ain’t he? Saw him a couple days ago.”

“Did you—” Majima cleared his throat and tried again. “Didja talk to him or somethin’?”

“Nah. Why? Ya interested?”

“I—no,” he said, more gruffly than he’d intended. “Just wonderin’.”

Saejima rumbled out a laugh that made it clear that he knew just how much he was talking bullshit.

“Alright, bro. Night, then.”

“Ah...yeah. Night.”

Majima wanted to slap himself for his urge to ask Saejima to stay just so he wouldn’t be left alone with the mystery man. It turned out he hadn’t had to worry about it, though, because when Saejima closed the door to his bedroom and Majima let his eye wander back of its own accord, the man was gone, his window closed and curtains drawn.

He didn’t know whether to be sad or relieved.

He settled on neither, choosing instead to simply go back to his own cigarette and wait out the adrenaline still lancing through his body until he could finally collapse on his bed and start the cycle over again.

Until the next night, when the man came back.

Majima was only a little ashamed to admit to himself that he’d been looking for him—waiting for him, really—and without Saejima there to distract him from his nervous energy, he’d spotted the motion of the curtains the second that they’d pulled back.

He didn’t understand why he felt the need to look away after that. As though it mattered if he’d seen Majima looking. He didn’t know the guy. It wasn’t illegal to look at someone standing in their open window. He was just having a smoke just like he did every night. It wasn’t his fault that the man had moved in directly across the way.

Still. It wasn’t until he heard the strike of a lighter that he looked back almost reluctantly. He didn’t know why he was so hesitant. Maybe he was just afraid that the guy he’d seen the night before didn’t actually exist. There was no way someone that beautiful was real, right? Right?

He was.

He was just as beautiful as the night before, only now he wasn’t wearing a shirt to diminish the effect of his broad shoulders and oh.

He was—muscles

Down, dog, he chastised himself, ignoring the heat that trickled along his collar, inching up his neck and ears. He looked away again, brows heavy as he took a long, slow drag to calm the thumping of his heart.

What was wrong with him? He’d seen plenty of muscular men before—hell, he was the floor manager of a host club. Pretty, muscular men were his forte.

None of them had muscles like that, the slinking dog at the back of his mind whispered, its mouth watering. They were all for show; all gym-born and -bred. Thick and flashy, but functionally useless. This man, though…

He was a fighter. Majima could see it in him like he could see it in the mirror every day. He'd earned those.

But what did it matter if he had? It wasn’t like Majima was going to walk up to a stranger just trying to live peacefully in his home and demand he fight him. He wasn’t an animal.

Just maybe pent up a little. Maybe could do with a quick spar with Saejima when they had a day off, next. He hadn’t really gone looking for a fight for a while—too busy at the club with the new billboards that had just gone up, showing off their prettiest men—so maybe that was all this was. Misdirected aggression.

He wanted to believe that as his eye inched back to the man again and again that night and all the nights for the next week, both of them chain-smoking in the lamplit nights, their smoke climbing high into the sea-drenched air together.

He was so tired, but every night he kept himself awake just to catch glimpses of the man, only stumbling back to bed when the man inevitably glanced back into his house, put out his cigarette, and disappeared inside.

Majima thought about him all that week at work, butterflies fluttering in his stomach at the memory of the dream he’d had one night where he’d said hello to him and they’d talked all night across the gap between their homes like they’d been best friends all their lives.

When he got home at the end of the work week, he didn’t even bother with taking off his coat or undoing his tie; he just hopped out of his shoes and padded across the tatami to throw open the curtain.

The man was there already.

Majima felt like an idiot for the way his lips pulled up into a smile unbidden and he worked hard to make his face go neutral once more. Easy enough when he bent over his cigarette, protecting the tiny flame from the unusual gust of warm wind that threatened to douse it.

Not so easy when he looked up and saw the man was looking back at him.

They locked eyes, Majima’s breath caught in his throat at the force of the man’s direct attention. It was like standing in front of a lion—a bear—a dragon—something that made him feel at once smaller and bigger than he was. There was heat in that gaze that had his stomach twisting and the dog in him rearing up, mouth drawn in a wild grin and fur rippling with excitement.

He couldn’t tell if he wanted to leap the gap between them to fight the man or ask what was so wrong that he felt the need to scowl so heavily at him, but he didn’t get the chance to do either. The man’s dramatically sloped brows twitched up in the middle and his mouth quirked up at the sides and Majima couldn’t think of anything other than that tiny smile and how loud his heartbeat was in his ears.

He almost wanted to just turn away and pretend like he hadn’t seen it, especially when the man raised the fingers holding his cigarette up in a casual wave. But he found himself unable to do anything other than raise his hand in a silent greeting of his own, a smile finding its way back to his face.

The man’s smile grew and Majima could practically feel the cartoon heart taking shape in his eye. He could only hope he wasn’t too obvious. He didn’t want to scare the guy away, just in case he—

Majima sucked in a breath through his teeth, his smile falling into a startled grimace as the man twisted to look at something in the apartment behind him and exposed the thick expanse of tattoo covering his back.

He acted entirely on instinct, spinning to slam his back to the wall beside the window, his heart thundering with panic, hammering the imprint of one word into his mind’s eye.

Yakuza. Yakuza. Yakuza.

He pinched the end of his cigarette out and tossed it down, biting his lip to keep completely silent as he listened for any sounds of guns cocking or knives being pulled from their sheath.

But there was nothing. Just the sound of the wind whistling through the slats of the balcony.

Until—

“Hello? Are—are you still there?”

Majima clamped his eye shut, trembling with adrenaline. The man’s voice was deep—rich and smooth like melted chocolate. God, whoever had sent him knew exactly his type. The only thing missing was the thick kansai accent and he would have been completely helpless.

He was so stupid.

“Guess not, huh?” the man said, quiet enough that it was clearly meant to be only for himself. A sigh followed, long and slow and almost sad.

Majima hated that he still wanted to talk to him—wanted to ask what had made him so sad.

He already knew why he was sad! He’d lost his target and was going to have to work harder to take Majima and his kyoudai out instead of getting an easy kill.

“Bro? Y’okay?” Saejima’s voice snapped him out of his stupor, his eye darting up to see him coming out of his room, eyes squinted with sleep. “Heard a big thump—”

Get down!” he hissed under his breath, grateful that the urgency of the situation so clearly got through to Saejima when he dropped to the floor on instinct, looking around for the threat that had gotten him so panicked. He clicked his tongue softly to get his attention before jerking his chin to the window. “Yakuza. Guy’s yakuza.”

“Wha?” Saejima breathed back, brows twisting up. “F’real?”

Majima nodded frantically.

“But I saw him yesterday—he was just…” He trailed off for a little bit, staring out the window before looking back to Majima with an intense focus. “Yer sure of whatcha saw?”

“Unless civvies are gettin’ bigass irezumi these days, then yeah. Pretty fuckin’ sure.”

“Maybe...maybe he’s just…”

Don’t,” Majima snapped through gritted teeth. When Saejima just gave him a level stare, he bared them at him in a grimace. “Don’t try to make excuses, man. Y’know what that could get us if yer wrong.”

A muscle in Saejima’s jaw twitched.

Majima shook his head minutely. “We gotta split. Find a new place. Maybe—maybe skip town entirely.”

Bro—”

“Nah, listen Saejima, I know ya like yer little school here, but I ain’t gonna letcha take a bullet for it. We’re gettin’ outta here.”

No,” Saejima said, surprising Majima with his vehemence.

“Wha—”

“Y’gotta just chill, man.”

Chill? When there’s a fuckin’ yakuza—”

“I know, alright? I know. But maybe y’ain’t got the whole picture. Think about it—if he was gonna pop us, wouldn’t he’ve done it already? He’s been there at least a week. Not just campin’ neither—puttin’ himself out there just as much as you have. If he was an assassin, then he’s a real shit one.”

The gears in Majima’s brain were chugging, grinding together, trying to listen to Saejima’s logic through the lightning panic. He could tell that it made sense, but his muscles were screaming to run, get them somewhere safe where no one could take this life from them.

“Hey, Goro.”

Majima’s eye darted back to Saejima’s and he could feel the gears clicking together, overriding his terror. He trusted Saejima. Saejima had good people-instincts.

“Wha?” he grumbled.

Saejima’s mouth twitched into a proud little smile and Majima felt his muscles grudgingly ease back from their tight coil.

“Don’t forget we got ‘em, too. We’re inked up just as much as that guy and we don’t wanna kill him.”

“That’s not...”

But he was right.

As much as he wanted to cut their losses and run, there might not even be a threat to run from. Maybe the guy was just like them—ex-yakuza trying their best to live a life without that blood on their hands anymore.

And if he made them uproot for nothing after building their life in this town for so long, he wasn’t sure if Saejima would forgive him.

“Yeah. Yeah, alright.”

“Yeah?”

Majima nodded stiffly, jaw still clenched tight.

“Alright. Proud of ya, bro.”

“Shut up.”

Saejima smiled.

“He makes one wrong move and I’m takin’ him out, though.”

“Fair enough.”

Majima curled his lip, sighing.

“C’mon,” Saejima said softly, reaching out a hand that he took after a second of childish hesitation. He let himself get dragged to his feet and pulled into his bedroom, where he collapsed on the bed, staring with a wide, dry eye up at the ceiling fan whirling, whirling. “Get some sleep, man. I’ll stay up and keep watch tonight, just in case.”

“Y’don’t gotta do that,” he said, guilt curling dark and viscous through his gut.

“I’m alright. Slept long enough already. I got some papers to grade anyway.”

Majima just grunted, unwilling to argue about it.

He was tired.

Maybe...maybe he’d feel better after a little sleep.

Or maybe he’d wake up twelve hours later to the sound of gentle humming, feeling like he’d passed through to another dimension after sleeping for so long.

He passed his tongue over his lips as he groaned and rolled over, muscles stiff like he’d been in the same position the entire time. Which—given the way the blanket was still folded neatly at the foot of the bed—he clearly had.

“Goddamn,” he coughed, running his hand through his mussed hair and wincing at the tangles his fingers caught on. “Knew I’d be in for it sooner’r’later.”

“‘S’at you, Goro? You awake?”

“Yeah,” he called out, slumping over himself after sitting up. He listened to Saejima tossing what was probably a book down onto the couch as he dragged his nails against his scalp and rubbed his good eye with the palm of his hand. He looked up at his kyoudai through a blurry film when he poked his head around the corner of the door.

“Feelin’ better?”

Majima’s lip twitched up in a sleepy grimace and he groaned again as he forced himself to his feet, swaying on his way to the bathroom.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

“Any movement?” he asked over his shoulder as he stood over the toilet, blinking to clear his eye. He hated being effectively blind every time he slept a little too long.

“Eh? Oh. Nah. Not really.”

“Not really?”

“Well, y’know…” was what he got in response, and so he had to forego washing his face just to go see what the hell Saejima was trying and failing to say.

“Whattaya mean, y’know—” was all he managed to get out before his eye caught on movement across the way and snapped over. He froze in place, mouth parted in surprise at what he saw.

The man was pacing slowly in front of the window, swaying back and forth gently with a smile curling his lips as he hummed, head bowed slightly over the blue bundle he held in his arms.

A baby.

He was singing to a baby.

Their little soft-booted feet kicked happily as the man’s voice dipped and rose along the path of the notes, their tiny hands grabbing at whatever they could reach on the man. He offered them his fingers to grab hold of when they pawed at his cheeks and they happily took them, shoving them directly in their mouth. The man’s song stuttered as he chuckled, his eyes softening even more.

Majima’s heart was so tight that he didn’t realise his breath had caught until Saejima came up to stand beside him, leaning an arm on his shoulder.

“Still think he’s an assassin?”

“I—uhh.”

He barely took note of the laugh that Saejima gave at his expense, he was so intent on watching the domestic scene. When Saejima gave him a little clap on the arm and moved away, though, he blinked and came back to himself enough to clear his throat and say gruffly,

“Maybe—but y’know, maybe it’s just an act.”

Saejima only had to raise his brows at him for him to nod loosely and make a face, running his hand through his hair, stress making his muscles tight. “Yeah, yeah. I get it. Don’t make any damn sense. Shut up.”

“Didn’t say nothin’.”

“Hmph.”

Saejima left him alone after that, which got him itchier than if he’d stayed and teased him. He watched him through a narrowed eye as he sat and picked up his book, adjusting his glasses so he could see the small print. Majima popped out a dismissive mouthful of air, sticking his hands in the pockets of his sleep-wrinkled suit as he slumped against the wall next to the window.

He wasn’t sure how long he stood there. The man never seemed to become aware of someone watching him, he was so intent on keeping the baby happy, and so Majima just let himself watch, a place in his chest hollowing out at the sight. He’d always dreamt of having a family—still did, even though he was much too old to start one now. But he had promised himself he wouldn’t bring a child into a life that could take him away from them without warning. He would never do to his child what had been done to him. And so he had buried that far, far down until it had just become a recurring dream that he took comfort in when he looked at himself in the mirror and saw a man that had done nothing more than run from his past his entire life.

But looking at that man—watching him smile as though that baby was his entire world—dipping back and forth just to make them giggle happily—cradling them to his shoulder when they hiccuped with tears—bending his cheek to their head as they finally fell asleep—he couldn’t stop it from welling back up.

This time, though, he just let himself feel it.

And when the man finally drifted away from the window further into his apartment, Majima had to take several long breaths to clear the strange emotion clinging to the pit inside him.

“You okay, bro?”

“Yeah,” Majima said automatically before glancing over his shoulder at Saejima. “Just feelin’ a little weird. Think sleepin’ that long knocked the sense outta me.”

“Ya had any sense before?”

“Ha-ha,” he said flatly, shaking his head and sighing out the last of the weirdness. “Anyway. Ya wanna go for a spar at the gym today? Maybe that’ll help me get the antsies out.”

“Yeah, sounds good. Could do with the exercise too.” Saejima put his book and glasses down again, rubbing his eyes. “You’d think that midterms fer children wouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s just as stressful.”

“Then why don’tcha give ‘em a break and let ‘em just go play at the arcade or somethin’.”

Saejima just pinned him down with his teacher stare and Majima smirked.

“C’mon,” he said after a second, standing up beside Majima with a groan. “Let’s go now. I wanna watch somethin’ later and I don’t wantcha bitchin’ about havin’ t’wait.”

“Like I ever complain about anythin’,” Majima teased, but hurried to get himself dressed. He’d already wasted enough of his day off thinking about the guy across the way and wanted to make the most of the rest of it.

And he did, he and Saejima having a few long, exhausting sparring matches at the room they rented out at the gym that was meant to be for something like squash or some other fancy sport, but did just fine for what they needed. By the time they left, he was limp and happy, his muscles like pounded mochi as they walked back home. He was in a much better mood than he had been the night before, especially once they ordered in and watched some dumb TV, falling asleep curled up on the couch. He woke up with a smile and a bounce in his step just like every time he and Saejima’s days off lined up.

But then everything went back to normal that night and for the next two weeks, he slowly descended back to the place he’d been before, only now with the added stress of sharing his smoking time with someone who may or may not be tracking his movements. The man never attempted to talk to him again, though, which was at once a relief and a disappointment, even if he tried to shove the latter far away. He had no time to care about talking to his actual neighbours, never mind one that might want him dead.

Or worse.

But he still couldn’t fully rid himself of the desire to say hello, to start a conversation, even when he scowled every time he watched the man throw his window open and light his cigarette with a tired sigh. He spent those weeks in increasing conflict, growing more annoyed with himself every night.

He didn’t want to talk to the guy.

He did.

He didn’t want to know his name.

He almost told him his own one night when he looked especially sad.

He forced his eye to stay focused on everything but him.

He saw him in his dreams.

It got so bad that even the boys at work noticed how tired he looked, the newer ones giving him tips on how to cover it up with the thick foundations they had even though he’d taught the ones that had taught them.

Every night that passed by without incident, he got more and more anxious, feeling like he was walking on pins and needles every time he passed by the window. He tried his best to reason with himself—the man had a baby, there was no way he was an assassin—but it didn’t do any good. If anything, it seemed to work him up more. His mind began to imagine all sorts of horrible scenarios, going so far to suggest that the kid had been kidnapped.

But then, one day, the man never showed.

Majima stood there for hours, shifting from foot to foot, ignoring how his stomach sank the clearer it became that he wasn’t going to show.

Why should he care?

He should be happy he wasn’t going to ruin his relaxation with his unnerving presence.

He should be happy not to catch glimpses of his tousled hair—his muscles flexing as he stretched—the silly smoke rings he blew sometimes—

But he wasn’t.

He went to bed that night feeling sullen and dissatisfied and when he didn’t show up again the next night, or the next, he got so cranky that Saejima surprised him with his favourite meal just to try to cheer him up.

The fact that his eye burned at the sight of the little smiley face he’d drawn on a sticky note for him made him think that he probably ought to get a little more sleep than he had been.

The only problem was, he couldn’t. He couldn’t stop thinking about the man across the way—worrying about him, as much as he refused to admit it even to himself. He hadn’t shown up for almost two weeks now and Majima had gone from imagining a man who had stolen a baby for some kind of nefarious purpose to thinking that something had happened to them and they were in the hospital or what if they had gotten in an accident or what if they were still in there and unable to move and needed help—

He burned through his cigarettes like a kid chowing down on candy, toe tapping nervously with every night that passed with no show.

“Y’gotta get some sleep.”

Majima flinched at Saejima’s voice breaking the unbearable silence that permeated the apartment.

“I will. After this.”

“After what? Y’pass out from lack of oxygen? C’mon, man, put it down and come to bed.”

“I will, I will.”

Saejima sighed and palmed his head like he used to when they were kids and he was just a scrap of a thing, too skinny in his borrowed clothes with the belt nicked with his tantō to fit beyond the manufactured holes.

“Get. Some. Sleep. That thing ain’t gonna calm ya down none. Put it out.”

“Alright!” he relented when Saejima snatched at his cigarette, holding it out of reach. “I’ll be in in a second, just gotta get changed.”

“Alright. Good. Ya better be.”

Majima made a face at him that he ignored, choosing instead to scratch at his scalp before letting him go and shuffling back through to his room. He watched him go, puffing out his cheeks before letting the air out in a rush and stubbing his cigarette out.

He really should sleep.

But just as he’d turned to head into his room to get changed, his eye caught movement from across the way for the first time in weeks and he froze, fingers still on the buttons of his shirt.

The man was back.

Only he was looking...different. Majima couldn’t quite put his finger on what was different about him, as he could only see snapshots of motion through the flap and flutter of the curtains. He looked like he might be pacing. Or looking for something? Either way he was flitting back and forth in front of the window, his movements almost erratic. His hair was disheveled and he wasn’t wearing a shirt again, his sweatpants hanging off of his hips and looking like they’d seen better days. He swayed a little when he bent down below the window’s view and came up again, fingers pressing into his temple with a visible wince.

Was he sick?

He didn’t look well.

Majima tried his best to tamp down the alarm growing in his gut, but in the month or so he’d watched the guy, he’d never seen him looking even half this flustered. And maybe it was the strangeness of it or maybe it was the fact that he hadn’t slept well for a long time, but when the man dipped down again and came up with a plastic bag of white powder held triumphantly in his hands, Majima’s first thought was that he was about to snort a line when he had a baby in the house.

“Hey,” he heard himself say as he watched the man drop the bag onto the table and bend over it, his guts churning with disapproval. When the man stood back up, sniffling visibly, a white-hot indignation flared in his chest. “Hey!”

But the man’s window was closed.

And so the only thing Majima’s exhaustion-addled brain could think to do was turn and slam out of the apartment, sprint down the stairs and across the street, and navigate the dingy, mouldy halls of the complex across the way until he was banging on the door he was pretty sure was the man’s.

“What the—just a second!” the man’s voice called from behind the door, punctuated by the sound of a baby’s high wailing.

No—open the door now,” he barked, his voice rough with anger. Who did this guy think he was, endangering a child like that? Getting high when his kid—his infant—needed attention. Yakuza or not, Majima wasn’t about to let that go.

The wailing got steadily closer before the door opened a crack, catching on the chain. Majima almost lost his train of thought, seeing the man this close up. His eyes were so richly dark and intense that they stole the breath out of his lungs, even as tired as they were, trying to soothe the wriggling baby in his arms.

Yes? Is there a reason why you’re banging on my door and demanding to be let in at three in the morning?” Majima only realised he was staring instead of responding when the man’s nose wrinkled with annoyance as he continued stiffly, “Wait. You’re the man from across the way.”

“I—” Majima finally managed, which he felt really showed not only intelligence but the toughness he was trying to get across.

“Well? I’m kind of busy, if that’s all you have to say.”

No—” Majima snapped when the man tried to close the door. He slapped it back open before he’d thought of how that would come across and growled, “Listen, I don’t know who you think you are, but I ain’t about t’sit by and watch ya do that sorta shit when ya got a baby in the house.”

The man was scowling deeper than Majima thought a human face could scowl as he said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about and I think it’s just about time for you to leave.”

“I ain’t gonna leave until I know you ain’t gonna be snortin’—”

But that was the exact moment that the man shifted to hitch the wailing, thrashing baby higher onto his shoulder and cleared the line of sight to the table that Majima had seen from his apartment.

The bag of powder. A plastic bottle full of water that had steam drifting lazily from it. A measuring spoon dug into the pile of powder.

Formula.

It was formula.

Aw, hell.

“I—I’ll just—”

The man’s scowl twisted with confusion at his wide eye darting between the table, him, and the poor, probably hungry baby as he backed away from the door, hands held up.

“I’ll go. Sorry. Sorry for—all this.”

But before he could turn and run away from the mortifying mistake he’d made, the man’s voice stopped him with a curious, “Wait.”

Majima grimaced and looked down to the outdated, ragged carpet lining the floor.

“Did you—did you think I was—”

“Look, man, I’m really sorry,” he cut in, scratching at the back of his neck as he flushed hot. “Just a simple mistake. I’ll leave you and the kiddo alone now. Didn’t mean t’scare ‘em. Sorry.”

“Hm?” the man said, stopping him once again mid-turn. He looked back to see the man’s eyebrows curled up in the middle, his scowl mostly disappeared as he glanced down at the baby he was bouncing lightly, soothing their cries until they just rubbed their face into his collarbone, frowning deeply. “Oh, he’s not scared. He’s just hungry and tired.”

“Ah. Right,” Majima said, his skin tingling as he was torn between awkwardness and the desire to keep talking now that the man didn’t seem to be angry with him. In the end, he didn’t have to choose, because the man chose for him by giving him a slow, hesitant smile and saying,

“What would you have done if I had been getting high?”

“I—hadn’t really thought that far, to be honest,” he admitted sheepishly.

The two of them exchanged a brief look before Majima snorted and the man huffed with quiet laughter, both of them chuckling at the absurdity of what he’d done.

And just like that, the awkwardness dissipated.

“Well, I really should go’n letcha get the little man fed,” Majima said with a smile once their laughter had faded. “He looks like he’s thinkin’ about eatin’ ya if ya don’t get some food for him soon.”

“Oh, you mean the chewing?” the man asked, grinning as he gently eased the baby’s mouth away from gnawing at his shoulder in between snuffles. “He’s just teething. He’s been chewing everything in sight.”

“Y’got one o’those little water-filled rings so y’can freeze it to soothe his gums?”

The man closed the door in his face and Majima stared, blinking in surprise. That was the thing that got him shut out? But then the door opened again, wider, and he realised that he’d just been unlocking the chain.

“I did, but our freezer broke and I haven’t had the time to fix it,” the man said, his smile going sheepish. “Do you want to come in?”

“Oh, I’m no good with fixin’ that kinda stuff,” Majima said, waving his hands. “My bro’s the one who does the appliances.”

“For coffee,” the man explained after a second’s pause, making Majima’s blush return in full force.

“Oh. Uh. Yeah. Sure? Uh.”

The man’s smile grew as he stepped back to let him in and Majima’s heart fluttered.

He stepped over the threshold and slid past the man, trying his best to keep his knees from shaking. He smelled good.

“You said your...kyoudai?” the man asked as he closed the door behind them. “Is the one who fixes the appliances. Is he named Saejima, by any chance?”

Majima froze, staring at the man in growing horror. Had he just gotten himself into a trap, was he actually—

“I only ask because he works at the school next to Haruto’s nursery and we speak fairly often,” the man interrupted his panicked thoughts with, clicking his tongue and smiling softly at Haruto as he yanked at his hair. He turned that same smile onto Majima, saying, “He’s very kind.”

“Y-Yeah, he—he sure is,” Majima said, deflating with relief and returning the smile as best he could.

“So if you’re Saejima’s kyoudai, that must make you Majima,” he said, moving to set Haruto down on the couch and mix up the formula that he was hiccup-crying for, his tiny hands grasping at the blanket he’d been sat on. “He’s talked about you a few times.”

“Oh?” was all Majima could think to say, feeling more than a little out of his depth. He could sweet-talk even the pickiest of women, put the shyest of them all with the man of their dreams with barely any clues, and charm his hosts into being better at their jobs, but put him in a run-down apartment with this one beautiful man and his adorable baby and he could barely remember how to breathe.

“Mmhm. All good things, if you’re worried,” the man said with a chuckle as he shook up the bottle, leaning back on the table and reaching over to open the curtain. His hand stilled before he raised it in greeting and said, “Speaking of.”

“Wha?” Majima asked, moving over to see that Saejima had his hand up across the way, his eyes going wide and amused when he saw him there. “Oh.”

Saejima reached for the phone but Majima waved his hands and asked the man, “Can I open this fer a sec?”

“Yeah, go ahead,” the man said with another laugh. “I only had it closed so Haruto’s teething cries wouldn’t bother you while you smoked, anyway.”

“Wh—” Majima began, his face heating up despite the fan blasting against him as it oscillated. He didn’t have time to think about that right now, though; he had to let Saejima know everything was okay. He slid open the window and leaned out a bit as Saejima did the same across the way, saying,

“Bro, what the—”

“Long story, man,” Majima cut him off with, shaking his head. “I’ll tell ya la—”

“He thought I was about to do drugs and was coming to beat me up,” the man said with a jolly voice, leaning around Majima to speak to Saejima.

“—ter.”

Majima made the mistake of turning to stare at the man before he realised just how close he was. He smelled like sweet milk and coffee grounds and mint and when he turned to look at him, his eyes danced with delight.

His lips looked even softer up close, somehow.

“Ya thought—” Saejima began, the crack in his voice snapping Majima’s attention back to him as he felt the man lean back and move away, over to where Haruto was babbling with frustration. Instead of being angry, though, Saejima was shaking with barely restrained laughter that got Majima frowning. “Ya thought Kiryu was on drugs?”

Kiryu. Kiryu. His name was Kiryu.

It was annoyingly fitting and it made Majima just a little bit grumpy as his brain rolled it around, practically tasting the sound of it. A part of him felt like he should have had a boring name to balance out his extraordinary looks, but of course he didn’t.

He was a whole goddamn package.

“Shut up,” he said to Saejima as he giggled at his assumption, bending his head down on his folded arms on the balcony. “I just got a little mixed up.”

“Yeah, ‘cause ya need sleep,” Saejima said, rubbing at his eyes and standing straight again, chuckles still popping out of him.

“Yeah, I’m probably gonna—call in tomorrow or somethin’. Think when I start seein’ drugs in baby’s formula that’s about time t’call it a night.” He shook his head. “Kiryu asked me in for coffee, though, so I’m just gonna chill for a bit, yeah? Promise I’ll be good.”

“Alright, bro. Don’t keep him up too late.”

“Don’t worry about me,” Kiryu said from behind him, and Majima crooked his head back to see him standing at the little kitchenette in the corner, stirring two mugs. “Haruto and I are up all hours anyway.”

“What’s he sayin’?” Saejima asked, leaning a bit to try to see Kiryu.

“Just that yer like a grandma, worryin’ about everyone all the time.”

“Wha—” Kiryu spluttered, looking up at him with wide eyes. He grinned and turned back to Saejima, who was shaking his head.

“Don’t tease him, man, he’s a nice guy.”

“Alright, alright,” he said, making a face. “Get back to bed, grandpa. I’ll be home soon.”

“Yeah, alright. See ya later, Kiryu. Tell Haruto hi for me.”

“I will,” Kiryu said, and Majima just nodded to let Saejima know he’d heard before waving back at him and watching him close the window and head to his room.

“Y’want this thing open or—oop,” Majima interrupted himself as he turned and saw Haruto had tumbled onto his back when neither of them were looking, his little feet kicked into the air as he happily drank from the bottle Kiryu had given him. He was an absolute mess, milk dribbling down his cheeks and chin. “Uh. Your, uh—”

“Hm?”

“Your baby, uh...fell over.”

Kiryu looked over with crinkled eyes. “I know. He likes to eat like that.” He turned back to the coffee mugs, clinking the spoon against the lip of one. “If he’s drinking fast, though, please sit him up. He gets too excited and makes a mess. At best.”

“What’s the worst?” Majima asked as he moved over to the couch, tense at the thought of having to save a choking baby.

“Swallows too many air bubbles.”

Majima stopped in the middle of kneeling in front of the couch, looking up at Kiryu with curled brows. Kiryu looked over and gave him an amused wince.

“Gassy babies aren’t happy babies.”

“Ah,” Majima said, kneeling in front of Haruto, who had his eyes on him even as he drank. They stared each other down, Majima feeling more intimidated by the thought of righting a stranger’s baby than by hardened criminals.

It couldn’t be that hard, right? He didn’t look that young, so he shouldn’t have to worry about the—the whatever it was. The thing on the head. And he could hold his head up fine before and everything. So it should just be a matter of—

“C’mon, little man, time to—alley-oop,” he grunted, tucking one hand under Haruto’s head and the other under his legs so he could shift him back up into a sitting position. He felt like his hands were about ten times too big and sweatier than an onion in a frying pan, but he managed to get him sitting without him ever popping off the bottle, his big brown eyes just watching him the whole time.

Easy peasy.

He didn’t feel like puking with nerves at all.

“There ya go, huh? Much better,” he said, looking around for a tissue but not finding one, so he just unbuttoned his cuff and used it to wipe the milk off of Haruto’s face. He got a kick to the stomach for the effort, and he looked down to see that instead of trying to hit him, one of his cloth boots was half-off and he was kicking it hard, clearly trying to get it off. “Hey, hey,” Majima said softly, sliding the bootie back on before he could manage. “Keep it on, bud. You’ll get cold toots if ya don’t. Even if it is warm outside.”

Haruto giggled, snorting into his milk.

Majima stared, mouth agape.

“Wh—” was all he could manage before he looked up to see that Kiryu had obviously moved away from the kitchenette without him realising, as he was just standing over him smiling, his hands full of coffee mugs.

He handed him one and Majima took it, clearing his throat and accepting the silent gesture towards the other side of the couch. Kiryu scooped Haruto up and held him against his chest as he leaned back against the couch arm, letting him get settled before taking a sip of his coffee and surprising Majima by saying,

“You must be kind, too.”

“Wha?”

Kiryu hummed, smoothing Haruto’s hair down absently. “Haruto doesn’t usually trust people so easy. There’s only a handful of people who can make him laugh.”

Majima gawped at Kiryu for a second before hiding it into his gulp of coffee, which he immediately regretted as it burned all the way down. He tried to hide what he’d done to himself, but the tears gathering at the corner of his eye gave him away and he was going to die if he didn’t puff out the pained breath he was holding in anyway, so he just let it out with a high “Gnnah!”—coolness be damned.

He was rewarded with another snorting giggle from Haruto, which may have made him feel prouder than he should. “I—” he began once his mouth was no longer tingling in pain. “I ain’t even meanin’ to, though.”

“Children don’t care if someone intends to make them laugh or not, though,” Kiryu noted, patting Haruto’s back idly and getting a burp out of him. “They just laugh at whatever’s funny to them.”

“Yeah, I guess yer right. Just not used to it.” He took another, slower sip of coffee, looking away from the intensity of Kiryu’s gaze. How had he managed to get out of the yakuza life, with eyes like that? It had been hard enough to live a normal life with an eyepatch; he couldn’t imagine trying to be a civilian with the eyes of a dragon staring out of his face. “I don’t, uh. Have any kids. Or get around ‘em ever, really. Kinda live on the opposite side of a family man’s life.”

“Mm? Could have fooled me,” Kiryu said curiously, reaching back to set his coffee down on a beat up side table behind him. “You must just be a natural. What do you do?”

“Oh, I’m a floor manager at a—” he said, hesitating to say the words in front of a baby. It wasn’t exactly a soapland, but it still wasn’t really family-friendly.

“Cabaret club?” Kiryu offered anyway.

“Host club,” he admitted after a second.

“You’re certainly handsome enough for it,” Kiryu said, shocking Majima into silence before continuing with, “Is that why you’re always smoking so late?”

“Y-Yeah. I don’t finish until closing time,” he said, looking down when Haruto’s bottle drifted out of his mouth with a quiet pop. He leaned over to be sure, but, “Think he’s asleep.”

“Good,” Kiryu sighed. “He hasn’t been sleeping at night for a few weeks now. He needs it.”

“Neither have you, huh?” Majima asked with a little grin that Kiryu returned, slow and tired.

“I’m fine,” he said, but the yawn that hitched out of him said otherwise. Majima chuckled, setting his mug down and standing up.

“I’ll leave ya to it, then. It was nice finally meetin’ ya. Get some good sleep. Sorry again about—y’know.”

“No, wait—” Kiryu said, but it was his hand on his arm that stopped him. He looked between it and Kiryu, brows raising. He was surprised to see Kiryu looking back with something like desperation buried deep in his eyes. Majima only recognised it because he saw it in the women and men in his line of work every night, and it always meant one thing: they were lonely.

Kiryu was lonely.

“Will you…?”

Majima waited for Kiryu to finish asking what he knew he was trying to ask, but he couldn’t seem to get the words out. He got that. It could be the hardest thing in the world to reach out to someone, especially if they were just a stranger. Maybe he was just as reluctant to leave or maybe he was too tired to follow the usual rules for social visits, or maybe—maybe he just couldn’t stand to see someone as sweet as Kiryu looking so alone. No matter what the reason, he heard himself saying,

“Y’know, on second thought, Kiryu-han, I ain’t even finished my coffee yet. Would be rude t’waste it when ya went t’the effort.”

“Oh. Ah. Y-Yeah.”

“D’ya mind if I stay for a little while longer?” he asked, holding Kiryu’s gaze to let him know there was nothing to be ashamed of. That he knew what that kind of loneliness felt like. That he wasn’t about to leave when he could do something about it.

And for a moment, Kiryu just looked at him, his wide eyes showing a depth of vulnerability that Majima was not used to seeing. But then he cradled his hands against Haruto and looked away with a soft, pleased twist to his lips and said,

“No, I don’t mind that at all. Let me just get Haruto to bed.”

“Alright.”

“Could you—would you mind grabbing his blanket?” Kiryu asked, standing up so carefully that he somehow managed not to jostle Haruto at all and nodded down at the blanket he’d been sitting on. “It’s his favourite.”

“‘Course,” he said, hurrying to look away when Kiryu turned his back to him, exposing his tattoo. He followed behind him, eye on his legs and carefully ignoring the bit of ink he could see in his periphery. He didn’t think he’d been obvious about it as he watched Kiryu gently lay a completely conked out Haruto onto a messy futon and tuck his blanket around his legs, but after he’d given him a kiss on the forehead and followed Majima back out into the living area, he gave him a knowing look and said quietly,

“It’s okay, you know. You can look. I know you’ve seen it.”

Majima blinked, caught completely off-guard. “Seen...what?” he tried.

“My tattoo,” Kiryu said with a shrewd glance as he bent to scoop up Haruto’s abandoned bottle and bring it over to wash out in the sink. As he dismantled all the parts, he continued. “You can look. I don’t mind.”

Majima cleared his throat, trying not to take him up on his offer but unable to stop himself. He’d seen how intricate the design was even from his apartment, but up close, it took his breath away.

It was somehow both surprising and completely fitting that it was a dragon, coiled and twisting with its eyes sharp and mouth open in a snarl. Majima had no trouble imagining the man himself wearing that fierce expression before striking with the power he no doubt hid inside him. No one got to be marked with a dragon like that unless it really meant something.

The sides of Majima that lay dormant within him were both very, very confused as they warred with one another at the sight before him. The side of him that thrived on meaty violence and the spray of blood and knife-edge danger—the dog that sized up a man’s height, weight, build before everything else, just in case it came to a fight, no matter where they were—looked at Kiryu like a meal he’d been waiting for for a long, long time. Someone just as strong as his kyoudai but unknown. Fresh meat. A new grindstone to sharpen himself against.

But then the other side of him—the side that allowed him to finally rest, finally stop looking over his shoulder and just exist in a way that could maybe, someday, eventually let him be truly happy—settled softly over the rabid beast and turned its eye to the many scars that sliced pale against his skin, the freckles that dotted the spaces between, the length of his eyelashes as he watched his own hands washing his baby’s bottle.

The carefully hidden nervousness in his eyes when he turned back to Majima and said, “It’s who I was. If that bothers you, I would understand if you left. I wouldn’t want you to stay out of—”

“Kiryu-han,” Majima said before he could think not to. He held Kiryu’s eyes in his as he reached out to grip his shoulder, ignoring how the heat of their touch made his heart race. “Are ya really lookin’ at a man like me and thinkin’ he has a past any different’n yours?”

“I didn’t—want to assume,” Kiryu said, looking away.

Majima grinned and gave Kiryu a little rock before letting his hand drop. “Ain’t assumin’ if it’s plain as day, man.”

The tiny smile that crooked Kiryu’s lips up was unfairly cute, especially when he just cleared his throat and ran his hand through his hair and moved back over to the couch, sitting down with a huff of breath. Majima watched him lean his head back against the stained, threadbare cushion for a second before going to sit next to him.

“It isn’t as plain as day as you think, you know. You pull off civilian much better than I ever have, I think.”

“Bet I had more time t’practice it.”

Kiryu rolled his head over to look at him with raised brows. “I’ll take that bet.”

Majima grinned. “Alright, what’re we bettin’ for?”

Kiryu hummed, closing his eyes for a moment before opening them and saying, “How about...dinner? Loser pays?”

Majima definitely had to ignore the way that made his stomach twist up. As much as he wanted to think this was him getting asked out by the first man in twenty years that had gotten more than his passing interest, Kiryu had literally just put his child to bed. Sure, Majima didn’t see a mom, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t one. She probably just worked at night. And the last thing Majima was was a homewrecker.

But a friendly meal between neighbours, well—that was something else entirely. It was downright wholesome. And so he just smacked away the butterflies in his stomach and grinned, holding out his hand for Kiryu to shake.

Kiryu took it without hesitation and they shook, exchanging a laugh.

“Go on—yer turn first.”

“Well, uh…” Kiryu scraped his fingertips along the facial hair at his jaw and chin, rasping it quietly. “Technically? 21 years. But eleven years, definitely.”

“Technically?” Majima asked, curious.

Kiryu cleared his throat, holding his hands out flat in a sort of shrug. “Things got...complicated. Eleven years ago.”

“When don’t family stuff get complicated?” Majima snorted.

“Ah. This was. A little more than just...family stuff.”

Majima raised his brows, but when Kiryu looked uncomfortable, he just waved a hand. “Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna make ya talk or nothin’. I win, anyway. Got out 31 years ago.”

“Wow, you, ah…”

“Eh?”

“You don’t look old enough to have been recruited more than 31 years ago,” Kiryu said with a little laugh.

Majima leaned forward to brace his hand on his knee, eye wide with amusement. “Haw? Ya callin’ me a baby-face? I’ll have ya know—”

Kiryu’s chuckles made him so warm that he completely forgot what he was about to say.

“Not a baby-face,” Kiryu reassured him after a few moments. “Just very youthful. I could see you easily filling in for one of your hosts.”

Majima’s cheeks burned at that, but he just shook his head and grumbled, “Yer one t’talk.”

“Hm?”

“Nothin’. So,” he said abruptly, “what gotcha out? Y’said technically ya left 21 years ago, but definitely 11, so...Haruto-chan’s mom?”

“Ah. Yes and no.”

Majima leaned his elbow over the back of the couch and crooked his head, making it clear he was willing to listen.

Kiryu seemed to consider his words before he said, “There was a lot that happened that year. A lot that made me realise the life wasn’t for me anymore. But Haruka was ultimately why I left. She needed someone to look after her and there was no one else left.”

Majima felt his face drop in sympathy. “She sick or somethin’?”

Kiryu nodded, his throat working.

“Know that feelin’. Saejima—he had a sister. She...she passed a few years back. Got real bad near the end.” He frowned at the memory of Yasuko quiet and still in her bed, days before the doctor had called out the time and he’d lost a piece of his heart. He didn’t want to remember her like that. He wanted to remember her laughter and the way she and Saejima would dance together as they cooked and the way she had always, always called him brother, squishing his cheeks and smiling like he brightened her day just by being there.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

Majima came back to himself, shaking his head. “S’alright,” he said gruffly. “S’just her time, y’know.”

“I—”

Majima’s eye snapped up to Kiryu’s and at the haunted look he saw there, he scrambled to reassure him with, “That ain’t gonna happen t’yer Haruka, though! Don’t ya worry ‘bout her!”

“I—you’re right. The doctors say she’s been stirring more, lately. So she’s likely to wake up soon.”

“That’s the spirit!”

Kiryu heaved out a sigh that sounded like it came from deep within and he glanced over at Majima. “Sorry to talk about something like this with you. I know we just—we aren’t—”

“Nah, nah,” Majima said, waving his hand. “Sometimes it’s easier to unload on a stranger, y’know? No attachment, no guilt. Just two ships passin’ in the night, huh?”

“I...suppose that makes sense,” Kiryu said, nodding.

“‘Course it does.”

Kiryu seemed to consider that for a little bit before he looked up at Majima again, face determined. “I just sometimes wonder if she had been raised by someone else, if she wouldn’t have ended up in that hospital bed. If having a man like me care for her was the thing that pushed her to do what she did.”

Majima took a second to go back over his words again, because when he first heard them, it sounded totally different than what he’d clearly meant.

“Look, I don’t know what happened or nothin’, but I do know the feelin’ that people would be better off if ya hadn’t been there,” he said after considering his words. “And ya know what I realised one day?”

Kiryu grunted softly in question.

“It ain’t ever true.”

Kiryu just turned that intense stare onto him for what felt like a very long time, his lips working in tiny movements as though he wanted to say something but kept holding himself back.

“Just sayin’. Easier t’think it’s yer fault ‘cause then at least ya have somethin’ t’blame.” Majima said, just letting him look after that, waiting for him to decide on whether or not what he had to say was important enough to let out.

And eventually— “But isn’t a father’s entire purpose to guide his children to do better than he did? To make wise decisions and not fall into the same traps that he did?”

Majima puffed out a breath, running a hand over his hair and combing his fingers through his ponytail. “I can’t exactly tell ya what a dad should be doin’, or whether or not he should be—hold up,” he interrupted himself, his brain catching up with his mouth. His brows twisted together. “Father? Ya mean...yer already worryin’ about how Haruto’s gonna turn out? He’s only a baby, man, don’t jump the gun too much, y’know.”

“Hm?” Kiryu asked, his head tilted like a confused puppy.

Majima blinked, the gears in his head catching on each other and grinding to a halt before slowly, painfully chewing through the information and processing it.

Kiryu’s snort and quiet huffs of laughter that followed got him staring in disbelief.

“Wait.”

“Majima-san, did you think—did you think Haruto was my—”

“Hey, hey, it ain’t like it’s such a wild concept!” he argued through his own growing laughter. He really was dense sometimes.

“I’m 48 years old.”

“And?” he asked, trying not to think about how Kiryu wasn’t as young as he’d thought. Only four years younger than him. Close enough that they would probably have things in common to talk about if he took him on a date. “Plenty o’women love an older man. Silver foxes are sexy.”

Kiryu shook his head, but Majima couldn’t help but notice the pink blossoming on his cheeks. “No one would want to date an old man taking care of his grandson.”

Majima would. He wanted that very much. It was exceptionally difficult not to simply pounce right there, now that he knew he wasn’t involved with anyone else. He couldn’t understand how that was possible. Was the rest of the world looking down at their feet when Kiryu passed by?

But, “I promise ya, Kiryu-han, that ain’t even a little bit true,” was all he said.

“Oh?” Kiryu asked, looking at him with a cautious curiosity.

“Yeah, I can’t even tell ya the amount o’women that would pay good money to sit next to a man as gorgeous as you at my club. And if ya had cute little baby pictures t’show or heartwarmin’ stories t’share, then hell—that’d just be the icin’ on the cake.”

“Oh,” Kiryu said again, seeming to deflate a bit. Majima mentally frowned, wondering what he’d said to cause that reaction before it hit him like a thunderbolt:

Was Kiryu expecting him to say that he would like to date him and then getting disappointed when he hadn’t said as much?

Before he could fully process and react to that idea, though, Kiryu was already talking again, saying with a wistful smile, “I used to think I would be pretty good at being a host, actually. Getting to sit and meet someone new every night. Free drinks. Good company. Making someone feel good. It sounds...nice.”

“Shit, if ya like the sound of it, why don’tcha come give it a try?” he offered, slapping his hand onto his thigh and leaning forward with a toothy smile that got Kiryu smiling wider. “Just t’have some fun and earn some extra cash? I’d snap ya up in a second fer my club if ya wanted.”

“Would you train me personally, Majima-san?” Kiryu asked plainly without missing a beat, startling him into staring with a wide eye.

“Well—” His voice cracked a little and he cleared his throat to try again, leaning back and rubbing at the nape of his neck. “Well, yeah. I—I train all my men up myself.”

“Hm,” Kiryu said, a twinkle in his eyes even though his face was perfectly calm. “Maybe I’ll think about it, then.”

Majima felt like Kiryu had suckerpunched him in the gut, but thankfully before he had time to freak out about it, Kiryu was moving on in the conversation, switching topics to something much lighter than before as effortlessly as any of his hosts ever could. Majima found himself getting absorbed in listening to Kiryu talk about his life and how he’d ended up looking after his daughter’s child, answering as many questions about his own life as he could without getting too dark.

And before he knew it, they had talked about everything and nothing until the moon had disappeared into the milky white sky, the sun already crawling over the horizon when Majima realised that he’d been rambling about nothing while Kiryu gently snored on the other side of the couch, passed out with his mouth parted softly and his head crooked at an angle.

He stared at the beautiful man that he’d been so close to speaking to for so long but had only held himself back because of the pain of his past. He briefly felt the usual spike of annoyance for denying himself something that had managed to make his chest warm and stomach ache with something like hope. But then he just sighed and smiled, shrugging out of his jacket and gently laying it over Kiryu before easing his head out of the awkward position so he wouldn’t wake up in pain.

He wrote out a quick note thanking him for the coffee before ducking out of the apartment, his steps light and his heart sore as he headed back home.