Actions

Work Header

Black Market Baby

Chapter Text

She’s whiskey in a teacup

She gives blondes a lousy name ('Black Market Baby')

 

Kiryu has butterflies in his stomach as he fumbles through the calls received list and hits the last number. It rings three times before a muffled, suspicious sounding voice answers.

“Uh. Hello, Kiryu-san?”

“Nishida-san,” Kiryu turns his back to the wind and adjusts the phone against his ear. “I was wondering – that hostess you asked me to visit last night…”

“Hostess?”

“Yes, Goromi-chan.”

“Oh,” says Nishida. “Her.”

“You didn’t tell me that she’s very beautiful. Stunning, in fact.”

“Ah. Well I didn’t expect… that is, I didn’t think she would be your type, Kiryu-san.”

“She is. I can’t stop thinking about her.”

There’s a pause on the other end of the line – a hand grappling the receiver and the sound of voices so muffled as to be incomprehensible, as if spoken from deep under water. Then Nishida is back. “My apologies. Are you still there, Kiryu-san? You were saying… about Goromi?”

“I want to see her again. Not at the club – an after-hours date. Do you think she’d be interested in something like that? She mentioned it, but then we had a misunderstanding and I think I left her with a bad impression of me. Could you contact her, do you think? Explain the situation?”

More grappling and muffled voices, this time higher in pitch.

“Ah, apologies, Kiryu-san. Are you saying you want me to ask her on a date with you? Goromi?”

“Yes, if it wouldn’t put you in an awkward situation. I mean… you don’t like her that way, do you?”

Nishida makes a squawking sound. “No! Nothing like that!”

“Please. I would be very grateful if you could pass along my interest – wherever she wants to go, my treat.”

“I’ll let her know.”

“Thank-you, Nishida-san.”

This time it sounds like the phone has been wrestled out of Nishida’s grip. There comes the sound of heavy breathing, cursing and then the phone bleeps and goes to a dial tone.

Twenty minutes later Kiryu receives a text.

NISHIDA: The lady gracefully accepts your invitation. She asks you to meet her in Bar en Seine in the Champion District. 9PM.

Kiryu texts a reply that he’ll be there and rushes back to Serena for a change of clothes.

*~*~*

He half expects to be prevented from keeping his date by one of Majima’s ambushes, but he makes it to the Champion District without incident (beyond intervening in one mugging). He winds his way through narrow alleys and discovers Bar en Seine perched on the north-eastern corner between a shuttered café and a cho-han parlour. Inside, the bar has the feeling of someone’s living room – it is lit with velvet-shaded lamps placed on a few tall, spindly tables and there is a thick fog of cigarette smoke rising from the few scattered patrons. The gloom is deepened by wood panelling, thick velvet drapes, and the Francophile memorabilia cluttering the walls – vintage beer advertisements of pink-cheeked monks; gaudy posters of can-can girls; photographs of the Eiffel Tower. A record player in the back room is churning out a scratchy, warped version of ‘La Vie en Rose’.

Goromi is sitting up at the bar, smoking. She wears a halter neck bodycon dress in blue and pink animal print, her blonde hair once again tied up with a matching hair bow. A pink fur wrap is draped with a chic abandon around her shoulders and her lipstick is a bright shade of coral, as are her nails. Her earrings are thick gold hoops and she is wearing multiple bracelets that clank and tinkle musically as she raises her cigarette to her lips. She has on fishnets again and a wicked-looking pair of black stiletto boots. Kiryu has never been in love before but he’s pretty sure this is it, the moment.

She catches him staring and gives him a quizzical look as she stubs out the end of her cigarette. The fur wrap slips another inch down her tattooed shoulder. Kiryu thinks he might pass out.

He takes a deep breath and forces himself to approach; quietly and deeply terrified. He bows in an awkward jerk. “Goromi-chan.”

“Hey,” she jerks her chin. “Kiryu-chan. What the fuck?”

“You look beautiful this evening,” he stumbles on. “Thank-you for meeting me.”

“Now I know for a fact that ya don’t have a sense of humour, so I guess this aint a ‘bit’. What is it, exactly?”

“A date?”

“Huh?” she leans her elbow on the bar and her coral nails fan towards him in an abstract, vaguely threatening gesture.

“At least I hope it is, but I don’t want to presume. Can I get you a drink?” He points towards her cocktail glass, which contains the dregs of something violently orange.

“Sex on the beach,” she says with a mean smile and a jerky, reflexive laugh. “But we’re in Paris – y’know, in spirit – so ya should buy me champagne.”

“Of course,” Kiryu gestures for the bartender’s attention and orders before sliding on to the stool next to her. Their knees brush and she lets out another cackling laugh, hand in front of her mouth in that coquettish hostess fashion.

“Oh my, look at you. You’re blushing like a schoolboy – this is too good!”

“Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve been on a date. I was in prison for ten years, after all.”

“Huuuuh?” she feigns surprise. “Oh yeah, that’s right. You’re a dangerous criminal – Goromi, you really can pick ’em.”

“If that’s a deal-breaker, I understand.”

“Oh no – I like a bad boy.” She winks at him – at least he assumes that is what the slow, pointed blink of her single eye indicates. She scrabbles in her black snakeskin purse for another cigarette and offers him one from the pack. They have coloured paper and gold filters. Kiryu lights hers (pink) before sparking his own (blue) and they sit in companionable silence for a moment before the bartender returns with the champagne.

The bartender – presumably the establishment’s owner – is ancient and stooped. His eyebrows project in a mad tangle, like an undiscovered species of caterpillar from the Amazon, and his thinning hair is carefully smoothed back over his skull with pomade. Despite being Japanese, he wears an incongruous red neckerchief tied at a jaunty angle and a striped, long-sleeved shirt – all he’s missing for the full French caricature is a beret and a rope of onions around his neck. He struggles for several minutes with the foil on the champagne and untwisting the wire cage. Kiryu looks on with a pained expression as the old man then yanks ineffectually at the cork, wanting desperately to intervene as time drags by. He looks over at Goromi and finds her staring blankly into the middle distance and blowing smoke rings. The record has moved on to ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’.

The cork finally pops and Kiryu breathes a sigh of relief as the bartender shakily pours out two measures into dusty coupe glasses. He squints as he does so, leaning close to the glasses, and Kiryu wonders if this is why Goromi chose the establishment – with his myopia the old man probably doesn’t catch details like her neat beard or the brazen tattoos scrolling over her shoulders. “Madame,” he says as he places her glass on the bar top.

“Merci, Jacques,” she returns primly before lifting the glass and throwing the contents down her throat with one toss. She clanks the glass down and taps the rim with her fingernail to produce a musical note. “Encore, s’il vous plaît.”

Kiryu is no expert, but even he can tell her French accent is atrocious.

‘Jacques’ bows and tops up her measure and Goromi finally turns to grin at Kiryu and raises her glass for a toast. “Santé,” she says, clanking their glasses together so violently that wine dribbles over Kiryu’s fingers.

“Yeah,” he says, “cheers.” He gulps his drink. The bubbling feeling in his stomach isn’t just champagne, he’s pretty sure.

After two glasses of the wine have slipped down he finally gets the courage to ask: “Goromi-chan, will you dance with me?”  

“Hey, what’s this ‘chan’ bullshit?” she protests. “I’m not at the club playing cute and nicey-nice, so ya can drop it.”

“You want me to just call you ‘Goromi’? But we don’t know each other that well yet, do we?”

“What’s to know? I’m a freewheelin’ kind of gal. Go on, get real familiar,” her eye narrows. “I dare ya.”

“Ok Goromi, let’s dance.” He gets to his feet and holds out one hand. She looks at it with her eyebrow cocked in surprise and slides from the stool, leaving her wrap and purse behind. Kiryu feels the pressure of her strong fingers and the prick of her nails as he leads her to the area cleared between the tables. They move to face each other and she grins at his obvious embarrassment and reaches up to sling her arms around his neck. His hands flutter indecisively before settling on her waist. He can feel the fierce heat of her body through the thin fabric; the lean, powerful muscle that shifts under his hands as she moves, laughing against his ear as they sway slowly to the music.

“Never thought of ya as the dancin’ type,” she says.

“Why not?”

“Seem kinda stiff and uptight. Unless you’re in a fight, then it’s poetry in motion.”

“I used to go to dance clubs a lot, you know. Before the bubble burst.”

“Huh? Say, grandpa, what dance did ya do then – the Charleston, the Lindy Hop?”

He squeezes her waist. “Are you going to tease me all night?”

“Yeah, probably. You’re a sad case, Kiryu-chan. I can’t help myself.”

She leans up into him, pressing her firm chest against his. A strand of her hair tickles his cheek and he hears her bracelets jingle. He turns his head to try and catch a deeper whiff of her scent – something with jasmine. He wants to rub his face against her neck.

“Ya doin’ ok, Kiryu-chan?” she asks. “Gone pretty quiet.”

“I’m just enjoying myself.”

“Oh yeah?”

“It’s been so long since I’ve been close to someone like this.”

“Prison must be lonely.”

“Yeah. No-one touches you. After a while you feel like it might drive you crazy.”

“No-one visited ya? Not even what’s-his-face – Kazama?”

Kiryu shakes his head. “He couldn’t.”

“Your bro – Nishikiyama?”

Kiryu shakes his head again but doesn’t make excuses.

“Fuck, Kiryu-chan. That’s rough.” She shifts her stance, laying one arm across his shoulders and raising the other with palm outwards until he takes the hint and grasps it, moving into a form that is more elegant, and less awkward middle-school slow-dance. “Ya regret it?” she asks, looking up. Her false lashes are so thick and long he wonders how she keeps her eyelid open.

“Regret what?” he turns her, just narrowly avoiding bumping into a table.

“Pluggin’ Dojima, that lizard piece of shit.”

Kiryu shakes his head. “He deserved to die – hurting a woman like that, a civilian. Yumi was – she was the sweetest person.”

“She your girlfriend back then?”

Kiryu shakes his head, thinks, with a lump in this throat, about the ruby ring, sticky with blood. “No, not exactly.”

“I heard she was a real looker. Never saw it for myself, though.”

“Yeah, she was beautiful.”

“But it didn’t do it for ya, what she had going on?”

Kiryu felt a deep love and tenderness for Yumi that time has not faded, but he was never sure if his feelings were romantic, though sometimes he suspected that hers were. He struggles to articulate his thoughts: “it’s not that… but we grew up together. And Nishiki…” he trails off.

“O-oh, I getcha! She was his idol, and you’re far too noble to go treadin’ on your bro’s toes like that.”

“I didn’t resent it. I didn’t feel that way about her – you know, physically. Not like…”

“Not like what?”

“Not like I feel about you, Goromi,” he shifts his hand on her hip, fingers brushing the small of her back.

A machine-gun rattle of laughter in his ear startles him. “Oh Kiryu-chan, you are killin’ me! What did I do to deserve a big, eager boy like you? Goddamn.” She yanks him close and it’s exactly like the move Majima pulls when he’s about to try shanking Kiryu with his tantō. He feels claws digging into his shoulder as she peers into his face. “Keep this up and one of these days I am just going to ruin you.”

“You can try,” he quips, wishing desperately that she would kiss him. She grins and shoves him back so hard he stumbles, crashing into a table before righting himself. The lamp topples and a glass ashtray skitters on to the floor and smashes. A nearby patron lowers his copy of Le Monde and gives Kiryu a disapproving look.

“Come on,” Goromi says, crossing back to the bar to grab her purse and toss the fur wrap over one shoulder. “I’m starvin’ over here. You in the mood for takoyaki?”

Kiryu pays their bar tab and hurries to follow her out into the night. He has always wondered at those guys who trail around after their high-maintenance girlfriends, mutely submitting to being bossed and berated by a shrill, skinny thing in heels. Now he understands. It’s not even humiliating –  it’s thrilling, like being part of a royal retinue. He feels like a noble courtier as he slips off his jacket and wraps it around Goromi’s bare shoulders.

Goromi leads the way to a stall by the small park on Shichifuku Street. They take their food to a bench and Kiryu watches in bemusement as Goromi digs in, exhaling steam as she tries to cool the food when it’s already in her mouth.

“You really like takoyaki, huh?”

“It’s got me through some rough times, ya know? Sometimes you feel like everything’s gone to shit and ya can’t go on. But get some good-ass fried food and sit down for a minute, you’ll be surprised how it changes your perspective.”

“That’s… surprisingly insightful, Goromi.”

“Oi,” she spears an octopus ball on one chopstick and waggles it at him. “Just whaddya mean ‘surprisingly’? You takin’ me for some bimbo? Blonde jokes aren’t funny, Kiryu-chan. It’s 2005.”

Kiryu frowns, struggling once again to express himself. “That’s not what I meant. I meant you know – it’s the simple things that really matter. We spend so much time striving towards the future, we forget to enjoy the moment.”

“Not me. I’m always enjoying the moment. That’s my entire philosophy – zen and the art of bein’ a party girl.” Goromi stuffs another takoyaki ball into her mouth and grins at him. She has a smear of sauce on her cheek. Kiryu licks the edge of his thumb and reaches over to rub it away.

“You’re a mess, party girl.”

“But a hot mess, right?”

“A very hot mess,” he agrees.

She picks up her can of orange soda and pushes it towards him. “Hey, open this for me. I don’t wanna ruin my manicure.”

“Yes, your majesty.” Kiryu pops the tab and passes it back, watching as she grasps the can with two hands, hostess style, and takes deep gulps, throat bobbing. “Goromi, I’ve been meaning to tell you… I’m sorry for what I said, last time.”

“Huh?” she lowers the drink and squints at him.

“You know…” he winces, “about you not really being a woman.”

“Oh, that.” He thinks she’s going to say more, but instead she just gives him a flat, unimpressed look and digs back into her food.

“I didn’t mean it. I was just… confused. And you were switching back and forth. But there’s a difference, I can see that now.”

She tilts her head back, chewing and exhaling more steam. “I thought ya’d be pissed. Or thought ya’d laugh, maybe. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you laugh.”

“Guess you’ll have to try harder. Say something that’s actually funny.”

“Hey – fuck you, Kiryu-chan,” she says pleasantly, saluting with her soda can before drinking off the rest of it. When she’s finished with her meal she sorts her trash from recycling and Kiryu dutifully does the same.

“Can I walk you home?” he asks.

“You can walk me to my ride. And ya’d better not get fresh because Nishida is a terrible gossip. Legitimately can’t help himself.”

“Ok. Can I hold your hand until we get there?”

“Can you what?” she pivots on her heel and stares him down. “Kiryu-chan, are you for fuckin’ real?”

“Of course.”

She groans and stamps one foot, throwing her head back as if in exasperation. Then she takes her hand out of the pocket of Kiryu’s borrowed jacket and holds it out, stiff as a paper doll. Kiryu grasps it and smiles, squeezing gently.

“You’re a pervert,” she says, grinning. “A real kinky weirdo.”

“If you say so,” he agrees mildly, swinging her arm as they walk along. A young hoodlum walking along the same side of the street towards them elbows his friend and opens his mouth to make some kind of obscene catcall but in a flash of motion almost too fast to see he takes the corner of a snakeskin purse to the throat and crumples to his knees, clutching at his neck and gasping. Goromi hasn’t even broken stride or let go of Kiryu’s hand – it’s like a magic trick.

“Musta been new in town,” she tuts. “No respect.”

Kiryu smiles, enjoying the night air and the thought that this is the one time he can walk through Kamurocho safe in the knowledge that he’s not about to get ambushed by Majima. “I really enjoyed spending this evening with you, Goromi. Can I see you again soon?”

She rolls her eye at him. “Hey, listen, I know you been livin’ under a rock for the last decade but that kind of earnest bullshit doesn’t cut it in this day and age. Ya gotta play it cool – leave the girl hanging for a few days before ya text and ask for a second date.”

“I’m not going to play any mind games,” Kiryu shakes his head. “You’re a beautiful woman with a lot of options – if I try to act cool you might get snapped up by someone else.”

She squeezes his hand so hard he feels the bones grind together and winces. She looks furious and this is the moment Kiryu realises that she is every bit as mercurial and dangerous as her masculine counterpart. “Say that again,” she hisses.

“Uh, I’m not going to play mind games?”

“No, the second part.”

“You’re a beautiful woman, Goromi.”

She twists his wrist to the point of pain and leans in, voice lowering to a threatening growl. “You’d better not be fuckin’ with me. Because if you are, I’ll kill ya for real.” Then she smiles sweetly and gives his hand one last painful squeeze, voice shooting up two octaves to its bubbly, feminine height. “Ok, Kiryu-chan?”

“Ok,” he says, trying to ignore the throbbing in his hand. “I wouldn’t, for the record. I can’t stop thinking about you and it’s driving me crazy.”

Goromi peers into his face again as if searching for a punchline. She takes a step back and looks left and right down the street before grabbing a handful of Kiryu’s shirt and shoving him backwards into an alley. He gasps, winded, as his back hits a wall and he finds himself wedged into a corner next to a vending machine that sells smutty magazines. The stark, bluish light of its screen illuminates Goromi’s face and leaves deep shadows beneath her cheeks and in the socket of her remaining eye. When she kisses him it’s like the last thing the victim sees in a vampire movie – a white mask coming towards him and then teeth and the blood-hot wetness of a mouth.

He groans because it has been so long – ten years, eleven? – since he has kissed someone. His hands slide up under the jacket to rest at her waist again. Hers are grasping his face like she’s about to headbutt him, sharp nails pressing into his scalp as she tilts his head to a more preferred angle. She bites his lip and pushes between his legs with one long, muscular thigh, grinning against his mouth in triumph when she feels a distinct stirring of interest.

“Huuuuh?” she says, pulling back with another look of feigned surprise. “Oh shit, ya really are hard up for it. C’mon honey, you’ve been out of the joint for a few weeks. Must’ve found a nice girl to take pity on ya by now.”

Kiryu rubs her back through the thin, clinging fabric of her dress, thinking about the grinning hannya tattoo he knows is underneath. “I did find one, but I don’t know if she’s the kind to take pity.”

“Uh-uh, I don’t do pity fucks. You want me, you’re gonna have to show you’re worthy. I told ya before, the only thing I respect is strength.” She rubs down his shoulders and back up again, getting one hand around his throat.

He glares at her. “I’m not going to fight you again, Goromi. That’s not what this is about.”

She leans in, threatening. “Who says you’re the one who makes the rules?”

“I already have a deal to fight with him. Two against one isn’t fair.”

She looks amused by this, dark eye twinkling. “I suppose that’s true. Can’t have poor Kiryu-chan gettin’ all worn down to a nub. Guess ya should be entitled to some R&R.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” Kiryu says, in what he hopes in his most reasonable and persuasive tone. “Let me take you out again, show you a good time. I bet I can convince you there’s more to romance than brawling.”

“Ha! An’ if I’m not convinced?”

“Then I’ll lose your number. Stop hassling you for dates.”

“You don’t even have my number, ding-dong. You make Nishida be your go-between like it’s fuckin’ middle school.”

Kiryu reaches inside the jacket still hanging on her shoulders and produces his phone, turning the screen to present it.

“Well, shit, guess I walked into that one.” She rolls her eye and takes the phone, nails clicking as she enters her number. “Fine. Don’t be sendin’ me dick pics. Not unless they’re good.”

Kiryu frowns. “Dick… pics?”

She cackles and shoves the phone into his stomach like brass knuckles. “Oh, you’re just too precious.” She takes a step back and smooths down her dress, then shrugs off the jacket and holds it out to him. As he takes it and slips it back on, she reaches out to grasp his chin, peering at him and then grinning. “Hey, you’re a mess, party boy. Covered in some dame’s lipstick.”

“Yeah, I wonder whose.”

She grabs the end of the pink wrap and scrubs at his mouth as he stands there like a kid being made presentable by a fussy mother.

“Beautiful,” she says, kissing her fingertips and pressing them to his lips. “Shit, ya got a picture in the attic, Kiryu-chan? You don’t look like you’ve aged a day in ten years. Little sharper than before, but still that same righteous baby face.” 

“Could say the same about you.”

“Ah, but you never knew Goromi back then.”

“That’s true, but you don’t look a day over twenty-one. In fact, are you sure you’re not jailbait? I should check your ID.”

She punches his arm. “Hey shut up, you. You’re not funny.”

She turns and makes her way back towards the street, her walk that same cocky, unhurried sway that Majima has. Kiryu pauses to adjust himself, hissing and buttoning up his jacket for more coverage before jogging to catch her up. He catches the trailing end of her wrap and tucks it around her, leaving his arm there. She gives him a fond, amused look.

They walk down Senryo Avenue until they come upon a parked black car with tinted windows. Goromi hammers the passenger-side door with her fist and a startled scream emanates from inside.

“Oi, Nishida. You napping?”

There comes the click of the doors unlocking. Kiryu opens the back door and offers his hand to ease her down into the leather seats.

“Such a gentleman,” she says in a rich, playful tone. “Hey Nishida, ya could learn a lot from this.”

Kiryu catches sight of an oval, sweaty face with heavy eyebrows as Nishida turns to look over his shoulder. He catches a purse to the ear for this. “Eyes on the road, buddy. Let’s go.”

Kiryu closes the door and steps back, lifting a hand in farewell. He watches the car pull away as a light drizzle starts to fall, thinking of the musty futon that awaits him in a cramped storage room back at Serena. He fumbles in his pocket for his phone, scrolling through his contacts until her finds ‘GOROMI <3’.

He types: Hey, gorgeous. How is Friday for you?

*~*~*

Kiryu’s time is always filled from the moment he leaves Serena in the morning until crawling into bed at night. There are leads to follow up on in his search for Yumi and the ten billion yen; solving the random dilemmas of strangers (why Kiryu looks like the man to approach with your problems and missing items is anyone’s guess); and the ambushes of Majima in a fantastical parade of costumes and hiding spots. Busy as he is, Friday can’t come fast enough. He lies in bed at night aching all over with fresh bruises and thinks about Goromi – the tickle of her hair against his cheek; her overpowering perfume and the way her mouth opened against his; the surging of a body as hard and slender as whipcord. He texts her often and she sometimes graces him with a reply.

GOROMI <3: Thought you said it was lady’s choice, Kiryu-chan.

I did. But are you sure you wouldn’t like to go somewhere more glamorous?

GOROMI <3: The batting center is EXTREMELY glamorous. My athletic look makes strong men cry.

I’m sure that’s true. Especially when you’re carrying a bat.

GOROMI <3: :)

What does that mean?

GOROMI <3: It’s a smiley face Kiryu-chan, oh my god. Texting you is like writing a letter to fuckin grandpa. 

On Friday, Kiryu arrives early to the batting centre, running the whole way there to avoid being aggroed by local thugs or solicited by needy citizens. He goes to the medium-difficulty cage and smacks a few balls off into the ‘HOME RUN’ range, rolling his shoulders between hits.

Just as he’s about to hit his last curve ball he hears a piercing wolf-whistle and he looks around, jerking his head to the side just in time to avoid the ball whizzing past his ear. Goromi walks into the room wearing what can only be described as a sexy baseball costume: navy blue hotpants and a white pinstripe shirt knotted to show off her washboard stomach. She is wearing knee-high wool socks and a red peaked cap twisted sideways atop her voluminous blonde hair. Her shoes are some hellish combination of trainers and stilettos. She has an aluminium bat slung over her shoulders and walks with a threatening swagger. She is wearing minimal make-up, for her – just bright red lipstick and a scrolling flourish of eyeliner.   

“Kiryu-chan, the little leagues, really? You’re a real disappointment. This is some weak shit and I only have one eye.”

“Just warming up, I swear.” He approaches her and kisses her cheek.

“Oi, that’s some weak shit, too,” she grabs his collar and yanks him into a deeper kiss. He drops his bat with a clatter and grasps her by the hips. He’s still struggling with the novelty of kissing someone taller than him (which, in heels, she definitely is). She pulls back with a breathless, triumphant look and touches her fingers to his lips. “Well look at that – no trace. This lip-lock technology really is somethin’. Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline.”

“How’ve you been?” Kiryu asks, suddenly awkward. “I mean, I’ve been thinking about you. Also, you look great.”

She laughs, stepping back and executing a twirl, leaning jauntily on her bat like it’s a dancer’s cane. “Right? Gotta look the part. But also, this aint just for show. I’m about to beat your ass in extra hard mode.”

“Not literally, I hope.”

“Nah, we got a deal, remember?” she flutters her eyelashes. “Where you teach me the true meanin’ of romance?”

“Oh, right.” Kiryu’s brow lowers, his expression becoming determined. “I suppose I’d better go easy on you, then.”

“Hey, I’m a pro – ya aint gonna have a chance to go easy.”

In the extra-hard batting cage Kiryu appreciates his warm-up, shoulders feeling loose as he smacks fastballs up into the boards. He fumbles a few, but comes out with a respectable score of 1600 – all the more proud of himself for having withstood Goromi’s psychological attacks, which range from schoolyard taunts to suggestive remarks about how he handles his bat.

She swaggers up to the plate and immediately misses the first pitch, bat catching only air. She swears like a sailor and Kiryu smirks to realise that, just like Majima, she’s part helpless braggart, compelled to inflate and exaggerate her skills. She growls and adjusts her stance, then pitches the next two into the number board with vicious, resounding smacks. He shouts encouragement and she seems to find her rhythm after that, briefly wobbling around the pitch-17 mark and hitting the ball weakly off across the mats. She jumps and shakes herself before crouching into a ready stance, single eye narrowed, and knocks the next three so hard into the boards that the number displays flicker and lose pixels.

After smacking the last ball home she throws her bat down with a cry of triumph when her score flashes up: 1820. “Take that, Kiryu-chan!”

Kiryu grins and claps, too amused by her elation to feel the sting of losing. She takes a running jump into his arms and he grunts and staggers backwards under her weight. She is all sinew, her bare thighs squeezing his waist with the crushing force of a crocodile’s jaws. He gets his hands under her ass and tries to keep them both vertical as she gives him another amorous mauling, once again testing the staying power of her lipstick. Kiryu doesn’t know if he can survive being in love with her, but he is determined to die trying.

He breaks the seal of their mouths to suck in a lungful of air “Ah, Goromi, my back!”

“Tch,” she unlocks her knees and slides down the length of his body to plant her feet on the floor. “What kinda Prince Charming are you? Can’t even bear your lady aloft.”

“You’re a little heavier than the average princess.”

“Ya shouldn’t say that to a woman with easy access to a bat.”

“I didn’t mean…” Kiryu frowns, aware he’s put his foot in it. “Your figure is perfect, Goromi.”

“Damn straight,” she makes a twirling gesture with her wrist and rubs a hand over her bare stomach. “Haven’t gained a pound since ‘88, I’ll have you know.”

Kiryu doesn’t actually think that’s a good thing, but he is distracted from saying anything by the idle glide of her fingertips towards the button of her hotpants.

“Damn, I’m thirsty,” she announces with a quirk of her eyebrow. “Whose dick does a girl have to suck around here for a soda?”

Kiryu blushes furiously and she cackles. She looks at him the way the sex workers on his first collection job for Dojima did as he wandered into the soapland in his ill-fitting suit – a mix of amusement, tenderness and scorn.

They adjourn to the waiting area outside and stand by the vending machine as Kiryu fishes for coins in his pockets and Goromi debates her beverage choice. Kiryu fervently hopes she doesn’t choose any of the extra-strong coffee drinks on offer, because he’s not sure he’s prepared to deal with her caffeinated. She eventually selects a peach-flavour tea, based on its cute packaging. Kiryu gets some kind of probiotic drink with dubious health claims and she makes a disgusted face at him.

They sit down on a bank of dingy grey chairs to enjoy their purchases and Goromi swings her legs over Kiryu’s lap. He puts his hand on her knee and rubs the bare skin, feeling the slightest prickle of stubble beneath his fingertips. It’s weirdly touching, the thought of her with her foot up on a shower stool, shaving - thinking about their date, maybe. He wonders also when the transformation happens – is it only when the wig, make-up and outfit are fully in place that she thinks of herself as ‘Goromi’, or is it more like a switch that flicks in her head, regardless of outer appearance? He would like to ask her, but it feels insensitive, maybe too private.

“Your… other half,” he ventures, falling back on euphemism rather than mentioning Majima directly. “He told me you have some attachment to this place. Special memories.”

She nods. “Used to come here with my bro, back in ‘83, ’84, when we were coming up. Good times. The best times, lookin’ back. When we were young and dumb and thought we were indestructible, ya know?”

Kiryu has heard the story about Majima and his oath brother, Saejima – it was whispered about in the late 80s when Kiryu and Nishiki were cutting their teeth in the Dojima family. He knows there was a hit that turned into a massacre; that Saejima was sent to languish on death row and something happened to Majima – some disgrace that resulted in him being thrown in the hole by Shimano for an entire year of torture. It’s not an experience he’s ever heard of someone coming back from. In all the time Kiryu has known Majima – before and after his own prison stint – he has never heard the elder yakuza allude to that time in his life, or the existence of his oath brother. Maybe there are places Goromi can go that Majima himself fears to tread.

“What was he like, your bro?” Kiryu prompts.

“Hmm,” she chuckles ruefully. “He was like you, Kiryu-chan – God’s own idiot. Strong as an ox and way too good for this shitty life. Had ideas about honour and shit. Tch, see where that gets ya.”

Kiryu knows exactly where it gets him – ten years of cold showers, bad food and grey walls closing in. “Did he know about you – about Goromi?”

She chokes on a mouthful of her tea, looks away. “Shit, Kiryu-chan, ya aint pullin’ your punches tonight. Not sure these are second-date questions.”

“Sorry,” he says, rubbing her thigh in apology and feeling the raised texture of a scar under his fingertips. “Forget it if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“These heels make me fuckin’ uncomfortable, your question doesn’t do shit to me.” She sighs and scratches at the side of her head. “Did he know? Dunno… maybe. I remember – we went to get our tattoos done – the line work, ya know? I guess what I have is kinda unusual – most guys get like an animal, a mythical beast.”

“Sure. But you have the hannya.”

“Yeah. My bro, he kinda smiled and he said: ‘I always knew there was an angry woman inside of you.’ Guess it was his idea of a joke.”

“Doesn’t sound like a joke.”

“What about yours?”

“My tattoo?”

“Your bro. Remember back when he was a little mousy wannabe, now he’s a full-grown snake. What’s with that – somethin’ send him off the rails while you were in the joint?”

Kiryu frowns and looks away. “I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him.”

 “Cagey, cagey, Kiryu-chan,” she wags a finger. Her manicure is navy blue to match her shorts. “Alright, fine – I don’t want to hear about your shitty problems anyway. I’m strictly a good-time girl.” She swings her legs off him and bounces to her feet to toss her empty drink bottle into the recycling. “Hey, let’s end this pity party and do somethin’ that’s actually fuckin’ fun.”

“Like what?”

“Like shots! And karaoke! I got it all worked out – I’m gonna be Cher and if ya play your cards right I’ll let you be Sonny.”

Kiryu smiles. “Sounds good.”   

At that moment the outer door swings open and a group of three young men enter, chatting and jostling, their cheap, flashy suits proclaiming them either junior family men or wannabes. Their leader, a man with a narrow, weasely face, and slicked back hair takes in Goromi and sneers. “The fuck is this – baseball or a freakshow?”

Goromi spreads her arms and screams with glee. “It’s your lucky night, fellas! Three for the price of two on beatdowns.”

The weasel laughs. “Yeah, like some pervert is gonna get the jump on me.”

One of the men behind him, a shorter, chubby guy, has gone pale and he shakes the self-appointed leader’s arm. “Uh, Kenji… I don’t think you should. Don’t you know who that is?”

Kenji shakes off the arm angrily. “Fuck should I care? Some fuckin’ okama.”

“That’s the Mad Dog of Shimano.”

“Bull-shit. The guy in heels?”

Goromi cackles again, obviously enjoying herself immensely. “Mad Dog’s off the clock right now, but Goromi is happy to assist with all your ass-kicking needs.”

“What the fuck’s a Goromi?”

“ME, fuck-face,” she turns to roll her eye at Kiryu as if to say, can you believe these clowns?

The third youth, tall and stocky, looks like he is struggling to comprehend the situation. “So are you Goro Majima or not?”

“I’m his cousin,” she says. “From out of town.”

“I suppose that explains the accent,” stocky guy concedes. He is clearly not the brains of the operation. He turns to his friends and says: “I don’t think we should beat up the Mad Dog of Shimano’s cousin.”

“Kiryu-chan, these numbskulls are killing me. They’re almost too stupid to club, like baby seals.”

“Hey! Who are you calling stupid!” Kenji shouts.

“Oh no,” says chubby guy. “Did you call that guy Kiryu? As in–”

“Alright! Talking time is over!” Goromi announces. She snatches her bat from where she left it leaning against the vending machine and jams it into Kenji’s chest, shoving him back out through the door and toppling his friends behind him like bowling pins.

“You want in on this?” she asks, peeking back through the door at Kiryu.

He shakes his head. “I’m good.”

“Suit yourself.” The door jangles and Kiryu hears the sound of heels on asphalt and mad cackling followed by cries of pain and the meaty thuds of a baseball bat hitting flesh. Kiryu looks at the ingredients list on his probiotic drink and thinks about how weird it is that bacteria is supposed to be good for you all of a sudden. He finishes it in one long swig and winces – it tastes like a cross between yoghurt and medicine – he thoroughly regrets his choice. He tosses the bottle and checks his phone for any new messages from Date.

The door jangles and Goromi reenters with her bat slung over her shoulder. She holds out her hand and shows Kiryu her one broken-off nail. He makes a sympathetic noise and takes her hand to kiss her bruised knuckles.

“Kiryu-chan,” she announces with a dramatic sigh, “ya ever take a look at your life’s work and just wonder what it’s all been for? Almost seventeen years I’ve been beatin’ the shit out of the disrespectful punks in this neighbourhood. There’s always more of ‘em – it’s like smackin’ cockroaches with a shoe.”

“I believe you’ve made a difference,” Kiryu says.

“That’s very sweet of ya.” She drops the bat with a clatter and it rolls away under a bench, leaving a red smear on the floor. “Gimme a minute for a quick change. Then let’s grab a real drink.”

Kiryu makes a sound of agreement and sits back in his chair to watch her walk away. He feels like some knuckle-dragging pervert the way he can’t keep his eyes off her ass in those navy blue hot pants. There’s a broad strip of bare skin on show between the waist of the shorts and the hem of her cropped shirt and he can see the gaping mouth of the hannya caught in its perpetual scream. Or maybe it’s a laugh?

She emerges some minutes later wearing black pumps that lace criss-cross halfway up her calves, a black snakeskin miniskirt, a hot pink satin bustier with thick chain straps, and a paler pink cropped jacket made out of what looks like teddy bear fabric. She has changed out her hat for another hair bow and refreshed her make-up to be the frosted pink of a fast food milkshake. She is somehow wearing more jewellery than ever before, and she jangles with each step like a cowboy in spurs.

“What are ya starin’ at?” she demands when she sees Kiryu’s fond, amused look.

“I’m looking at you, gorgeous,” he says in his best Telephone Club voice. He wants to pick her up and spin her around, to tell her how ridiculous, unnecessary and completely charming he finds it that she would bring a change of costume on a date.

She smiles, raises her hands to execute a twirl. “Nishida said it was ‘too much pink’ but what the hell does he know? There aint no such thing.” She hooks her purse over her arm and pats it affectionately. It is a completely different shade of pink from the rest of her outfit, and sparkly. It looks like a child’s drawing of a bag – a trapezoid with a bucket handle and a big shiny gold clasp. Kiryu might have a heart attack, he loves her so much.

“We ready to fuckin’ go, or what?” she says, as if it’s Kiryu who kept them waiting.

Kiryu has to rub his perspiring hands on his pants before he jumps up. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

The first evening with Goromi must have been some kind of test run, because this time Kiryu finds himself on an epic quest of debauchery – starting at a shabby, hole-in-the-wall bar where they each do a row of shots of some clear grain alcohol. Kiryu’s tolerance is shot after ten years of enforced sobriety and he can feel his face flushing bright red. The night fractures into stop-motion frames – a karaoke bar; some kind of drag queen cabaret show; a male strip club where Goromi claps, hollers and slips 2000-yen notes into the banana hammocks of gyrating, sculpted men. Kiryu reflects that it could have been him up there on a stage if the place he interviewed for didn’t close due to gross financial mismanagement. He thinks about telling Goromi about this brush with fate, but he’s not quite drunk enough to volunteer for that level of teasing.

The next destination on their whistle-stop tour is a basement dance club where condensation runs down the walls and the drinks taste like paint stripper. The pulsing lights and press of bodies do nothing to help with Kiryu’s disorientation – the bass is so low he can feel it buzz in his teeth, agitating the bicuspid that Majima cracked with his fist just the other day. He doesn’t recognise the music – not just the song, or singer, but the entire sound. Everything seems distorted and artificial, the singers’ voices altered to sound like robotic chipmunks. He dances anyway, Goromi grinding back against him with her arm flung behind his neck. He touches her hips, her thighs, the flat plane of her belly. He burns like he never has before – in prison he found it easy not to want, to diminish his needs until they fit easily into the cramped, barren space he had been confined. Before that he simply took what came with orbiting Nishiki: friends of the girls Nishiki pursued, bar girls, hostesses. He fobbed them off with polite flirtation and when that wasn’t enough, or he was bored, or lonely, he went to bed with them, looking down on himself from the outside.

He grabs Goromi’s hand and pulls her through the crowd. He finds a spot near the wall where the crowd is thinner, spinning and pushing her so she is standing with her back to it. She allows all this, eye alight with curiosity. She is sweaty, strands of her polyester hair sticking to her cheeks. She’s covered in flakes of silver glitter, somehow, though she wasn’t wearing any when the night started.

Kiryu kisses her, one hand planted on the wall next to her head. Her arms wrap around his shoulders, nails pricking him though his sweat-soaked shirt. He kisses her with sloppy teenage enthusiasm, angling to get deeper, sucking on her tongue – even the world’s most technologically advanced lipstick won’t survive this assault. His hand slips under her skirt and she laughs into his mouth and wriggles closer, grinding against him with a slow, forceful roll of her hips. His fingertips brush against lace and his feels his cock twitch so hard she must be able to feel it.

She has to speak right against his ear to be heard over the music. “You gonna feel me up in public, huh? Thought ya were a gentleman.”

He kisses her again, pressing her flat against the wall and working a finger under the lace. It feels like being twenty punches deep in a fight with Majima – that moment when he can suddenly feel all the energy of the universe just pouring into him.

Suddenly, a tug on his arm – nagging, not strong enough to break his fevered grip on Goromi. He looks around and finds a bouncer squaring up to them, yanking at Kiryu’s elbow. He’s shouting something Kiryu can’t hear but the facial expression says it all – what the fuck do you think you’re doing? This is a classy establishment!

Kiryu pulls his hand out from under Goromi’s skirt and steps back, ready to apologise for his sudden and complete break from reality. There is a blur of movement as Goromi leaps at the guy, face contorted in rage and fierce enjoyment. Kiryu’s reactions are just fast enough to make a grab for her and it’s like catching a rottweiler in mid-air – a hundred and seventy pounds of snarling, twisting muscle. He isn’t quite fast enough in dragging her back, however – one foot flies up and cracks the bouncer under the chin; he pitches back with arms spread, blood spraying in a calligraphic arc across the wall. Patrons are flattened, people scream, and Goromi is still struggling to break free from the strong grip Kiryu has around her waist. He does the only thing he can think to do under the circumstances, hoisting her over his shoulder and making for the nearest fire escape. She kicks at him and struggles, swearing as he pushes the door open and dumps her into an alley. She reels, disoriented, and it takes her a few moments to find her balance in the heels. She swears and scrabbles at the wall.

He grins at her new-born foal gait and she slaps him with enough aim and force to make his ears ring. “Ow, fuck. Goromi, that hurt!”

She looks at him and starts to laugh, doubled over so she has to grab the sleeve of his jacket for support. “Your face, Kiryu-chan. So offended!”

He shakes her shoulder, trying to inject some urgency into the situation. “Hey, we should probably get out of here before they figure out where we went,” he jerks his thumb towards the closed door behind them.

“Sure, have it your way, killjoy,” she grabs his hand and they half run, half-stumble through the maze of alleys until they arrive at a dead end. They slump down onto a pair of upturned crates outside a derelict bar, both gasping for breath.

“Ah, fuck,” Goromi says, patting over her body. “I had a coat, didn’t I? And a purse. Shit, my favourite knife was in there!”

“Want me to go back in and get it?” Kiryu offers, nodding back the way they came. There were only three bouncers on the door, he could easily take them – for a good cause.

“Nah, I’ll send a couple of the boys over. That shithole’s late on its protection payments anyhow.”

Kiryu finds his cigarettes and taps one out, lighting it in his own mouth before passing it over. He watches Goromi take a deep drag, the cherry of the cigarette lighting up her face like an oil painting. She looks insane, makeup thoroughly smudged and melted. He probably looks similar. His head is still swimming and he’s overcome with some vital emotion he wants desperately to explain.

“Goromi,” he announces, “you make me feel like nothing else matters. Like there’s no tomorrow, only now.”

She sniggers and pats his shoulder. “Baby, you’re drunk as fuck.”

“I mean it!”

She rolls her head towards him on the wall. “Kiryu-chan, don’t make a liar outta me, I swear.”

Kiryu frowns, no longer following her train of thought. “Huh?”

A sharp finger jabs him in the arm. “I told ya already that I don’t do pity fucks. But you are really testin’ my patience, you big sad, sexy man.”

“I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Kiryu says, aware how childish he sounds.

She gives a scoffing laugh. “State we’re in we’d probably just pass out the second we made it to a bed.”

Kiryu thinks he has some reserves he could draw on where Goromi is concerned, but also collapsing into a bed sounds really good. The greyish tinge to the sky is definitely the dawn.

“Hey,” she grinds her cigarette out beneath her shoe. “I bet Smile Burger is serving breakfast by now.”

Kiryu stares at her, incredulous. “Do you know what we look like? We’ll get arrested.”

“Nah, we are not the weirdest thing a fast food employee has ever seen. I guaran-fuckin-tee it. C’mon, my treat.”

“With what money, party girl? You lost your purse.”

“Oh, you think Goromi aint got reserves?” she sticks a hand into the cleavage of her bustier and comes up with a surprisingly thick roll of cash. Something goes clattering to the ground and when Kiryu bends to pick it up he discovers it’s a folding knife.

Goromi snatches it from him with a grin of triumph. “Huh. I guess the real treasure was within me all along!”

*~*~*

Kiryu wakes up at midday feeling more hungover than he ever has in his entire life and with only fractured memories of the previous night. A lot of these memories are of groping and/or making out with Goromi. His knuckles tell him he got in a fight at some point. He has a vague recollection of being set upon by a group of colour-coordinated street punks as he made his way back to Serena. Red? Blue? He can’t remember.

He fumbles around on the floor next to his futon until his fingers close around his phone. A missed call from Date. A voicemail from Nishida saying something incomprehensible about a masked man in the park. He looks at his sent messages and finds he sent Goromi a string of adoring and typo-filled messages at 6:15 AM that culminated in asking her on another date on Sunday. What day is it now? Still Saturday?

Kiryu puts his arm over his eyes to block out the light and groans self-pityingly. He bets that Goromi or Majima – whoever they are now – don’t have a hangover. Majima has always seemed to him more like some sort of avenging spirit than a person – popping up everywhere like he can teleport. Always laughing and shrieking, taking a beating and bidding him a cheery farewell, only to reappear, knife in hand, just minutes or hours later for another round. He has a sort of cartoonish quality, like he could be squashed flat by a steamroller and then just reinflate himself by blowing on his thumb –  good as new. Then again, the people Kiryu cares for always seem like they’re going to be around forever until one day they’re not.

Later that afternoon Kiryu is exiting a convenience store, sipping a Staminan X and wondering if its advertised rejuvenating properties really will do anything for his hangover, when he hears a familiar (strangely muffled) call of “Kiryu-chan!”

“Fuck this,” he says, turning on his heel and power-walking away, eyes scanning the horizon for a yellow snakeskin jacket.

He ducks down an alley, thinking he might actually have evaded his stalker for once. Then he hears a strange metallic scraping sound and Majima slides out from under a sewer grate looking absolutely thrilled at his own ingenuity.

“No,” says Kiryu. “Not this time. I’m putting my foot down.”

Majima squints and leans forward into Kiryu’s space like a sapling swaying in the breeze. “Say, you’re not lookin’ so hot, Kiryu-chan. Downright peaky, I’d say.”

“Says the guy who just climbed out of a sewer.”

Majima’s yelping cackle bounces around the inside of Kiryu’s skull. “Little bird told me that ya really tied one on last night. Out ‘til dawn with some tacky lookin’ chick hangin’ off your arm.” Majima tisks: “that’s not like you. Time was, ya had your pick of the hotties.”

Kiryu gets briefly, incandescently angry before his brain catches up to the absurdity of the insult. He stares Majima down.

“Time was,” Majima continues, “ya could hold your liquor, too.”

“Can’t drink like I’m in my twenties anymore, I guess,” Kiryu shrugs and takes another sip of his energy drink.

“There’s a lot of things ya can’t do like you’re in your twenties, Kiryu-chan. That’s what these training sessions are all about.”

“You’re not actually my trainer, Majima-san. I guess if anyone has that title, it’s that weird old man in the park who sometimes uses me for target practice.”

“Listen,” Majima jabs him in the chest with a gloved forefinger. “I know ya don’t take this seriously, but your old pal Majima is doin’ ya a favour by bein’ hard on you. Ya can’t afford to be walkin’ around this town in the sorry-ass state you’re in now. Can’t afford to go getting’ distracted chasin’ tail.”

“So you’re just here to give me some friendly advice, is that it?” Kiryu says sceptically.

“I’m here to fuckin’ beat your ass for gettin’ sloppy!”

“No means no, Majima-san.”

Majima slaps the Staminan bottle out of Kiryu’s hand. Kiryu looks down at it rolling on the ground. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“I’ll pick it up later,” Majima insists, almost apologetically. Then he punches Kiryu in the face, which doesn’t do Kiryu’s headache any favours. Kiryu dodges the next punch, retaliates with a knee to Majima’s stomach and then they’re off – falling into that pattern of violence that is almost balletic, the heady combination of Kiryu’s strength and Majima’s agility.

Kiryu is far from on top form and even Majima seems a little sluggish compared to usual – it’s not a clear victory for either side; they just keep punching and tussling until they’re panting heavily, both bleeding and doubled over. Kiryu puts his hand against the alley wall and has to breathe deep for a moment, one finger raised in a plea for Majima to wait as he fights back a wave of nausea. Projectile vomiting on his opponent would be a pretty underhanded finishing move.

When he has summoned the ability to stand back up he turns and finds Majima slumped on the ground, one foot stretched out, smoking a cigarette and holding his ribs.

Kiryu eases himself down into a squat, back against the wall, and lights his own cigarette. “What was that supposed to prove?” he asks aloud, to no-one in particular.

“Hey, you know what’s a good hang-over cure?” Majima offers after he has smoked his cigarette down to the filter. “That soup they do at the Vietnamese place. The bone broth with the rice noodles and fresh lime. Shit’ll set ya right up.”

Kiryu gets to his feet with a groan, spine cracking back into alignment. “Thanks for the tip.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Majima says absently, rubbing under his eyepatch as if it itches him.

Kiryu walks away without looking back – his day is already plenty weird.

*~*~*

Kiryu doesn’t get a reply to his incriminating texts until almost midnight and has by that time already gone through all the churning stages of shame and regret over everything he did the previous night. He grabs up the phone the second he hears the message tone.

GOROMI <3: How’s it hangin, stud? You recovered from our date yet?

Kiryu thinks about delaying his reply to seem cool and then realises how absurd that is. She already knows that he’s embarrassingly eager.

Had a rough afternoon, but I’m better now. You got your stuff back from the club?

GOROMI <3: Yeah, cash was gone but at least I didn’t have to get a new phone. That would have been a real kick in the dick. Couldn’t live with myself if I lost all my bun-chan charms. Plus your very… touching messages.

Yeah, sorry about that.

GOROMI <3: I understand that the sway I hold over men is very powerful.

Ran into your other half today. He seemed pissed about something.

GOROMI <3: That guy needs to calm the fuck down.                                                                            

Understatement of the century.

GOROMI <3: Oh Kiryu-chan can be sassy! Who knew? ;) 

Ha, it’s a winking face!

GOROMI <3: There you go, baby – finally joining us in the 21st century.

Kiryu flushes with pleasure to see the word ‘baby’ written down, even if she doesn’t mean it that way.

So can I see you again soon?

GOROMI <3: Yeah, not tomorrow though – there’s Tojo Clan bullshit HE has to show up for. But my Monday night’s looking open. How’s that, sweetcheeks?

Yeah, sounds good. You got a venue in mind?

GOROMI <3: I do! It’s a SURPRISE. I’ll send Nishida for you.

Hope it’s not another bar crawl, I might not survive.

GOROMI <3: Nah, Goromi doesn’t repeat herself. She is a woman of INFINITE variety.

Kiryu pauses before he texts: I wish you were here right now. What are you doing?

GOROMI <3: Nosy, nosy, Kiryu-chan. I’m giving myself a pedicure.

Can I see?

GOROMI <3: Oi, this aint some fetish thing? You playing the long game just for feet pics?

Is that something people do?

GOROMI <3: I forget you’ve barely been online. Stay innocent, honey.

A picture arrives and takes a second to load. It’s Goromi’s feet adorned with cherry blossom pink polish, her toes curled over the lacquered scabbard of a tantō, apparently for display purposes.

Looks great.

GOROMI <3: You gonna kiss those little piggies, K-chan?

I’ll kiss you anywhere you want.

GOROMI <3: Such a good boy. You already in bed?

Yeah.

GOROMI <3: What are you wearing?

Just underwear. Pretty hot in this room.

GOROMI <3: Show me.

Show you my body?

GOROMI <3: Yeah, make it a good one and I’ll give you something back.

Kiryu doesn’t have much practice in trying to make himself look appealing or sexy. He kicks the blanket down around his knees and holds the phone away from his body, taking shots at different angles. Scrutinizing the results, he finds just one where he’s mostly both in shot and in focus: a picture of him that shows the line of his jaw down to the waistband of his briefs.

GOROMI <3: Mmm, those are some cut abs. You should join a boy band, Kiryu-chan.

He flushes at the praise, reaching down to adjust himself before he types a reply. Thanks.

GOROMI <3: Pretty sure you’re holding out on me, though. Wanna see ALL the way down, stud.

That’s a little hard at the moment.

GOROMI <3: You mean you’re a little hard? ;)

Kiryu’s face is on fire. Yeah.

GOROMI <3: Gotta show me if you want the goods in return. Tit for tat.

Kiryu hesitates – he’s never done anything like this before, something so taboo and overtly sexual. He thinks about what he might get in return and his dick throbs where it lies up against his hip – he glances down and sees the way his erection is tenting out the thin cotton. He partially covers it with his hand before he takes the photo, embarrassed by how obvious it is.

GOROMI <3: Oh, BIG boy. Knew you would be. You gonna touch it and think about me?

Yes. Goromi, please.

GOROMI <3: Please what?

Let me see you.

There’s an agonising pause of an entire minute before the picture comes through. She’s a better photographer than him – it is taken in a full-length mirror, a mussed bed visible in the background. The lighting is dim but warm. The picture shows her body from the chest down to her thighs. She is wearing a plain black t-shirt or vest, the hem tangled up in her fingers to pull it up and reveal more of her stomach. The only other visible item of clothing is a pair of black lace panties that sit low on her hips. She’s turned at an angle, showing off the curve of her ass and a sliver of her tattoo. He can see just a hint of the front – the suggestion of a bulge fading into shadow.

Tease, he texts back, awkwardly with his left hand. His right has slipped under his waistband and he’s stroking himself slowly.

GOROMI <3: Who, me? Well that’s gratitude for ya.

You drive me crazy. I can’t get enough.

Kiryu scrolls back up to the picture and starts to stroke himself faster. He almost drops his phone when it rings in his hand. ‘GOROMI <3’ flashes up on the screen.

“Hello?” he answers cautiously.

“Sounding a little out of breath there, Kiryu-chan. Seems like somethin’ got ya a little worked up.” Her voice is the syrupy-sweet hostess tone, rising as if in question at the end of every remark.

“You’re a menace,” he says, groaning.

“How rude. Here I am takin’ an interest in you, calling up to check on your welfare. Did ya like my picture? Real artistic, I thought.”

“You are so fucking sexy,” Kiryu blurts out, his hand still on his dick. His strokes have slowed but he hasn’t been able to make himself stop.

She lets out a hysterical bark of laughter right in his ear. “I’m worried about ya, Kiryu-chan. You get this worked up over a little panty-pic, how’re ya gonna survive if I fuck you for real?”

Kiryu can only groan deeper at this thought. His dick throbs and he can feel wetness gathering at the tip.

“Mmm, it’s a legitimate concern,” she continues. “What if ya shoot off early and leave me hangin’? A girl doesn’t like to go home unsatisfied.”

“I would satisfy you,” he insists, panting harshly. “I’d give you everything you wanted. Kiss you all over, suck you – anything.”

“O-oh,” he can hear fabric rustling as she moves – she must be lying back on the bed. “Anything, huh? You’d take orders like a good boy?”

“Yes,” Kiryu can hear the low rumbling of his own voice in his chest. His hand is moving in short, fast strokes – he’s getting close. “You said you’d ruin me. I’d let you.”

A low, insinuating and amused sound – more like Majima in one of his mean moods than the bubbly hostess persona. “Just listen to ya, so carried away. So desperate to get your dick wet that you’d agree to anything. Shit ya don’t even understand, golden boy. Huh?”

“I just need you – ah, Goromi!” Kiryu arches his back, keeps stroking himself as he comes.

The laughter in his ear is quiet this time but no less mean. “Oh, baby, that’s it? That get ya there?”

Kiryu nods, panting before he realises she cant see him. “Yeah – yes.”

“Gonna have to work on your stamina, Kiryu-chan. Well, catch ya later.” The phone bleeps – a dial tone.

They’re going to kill him is what Kiryu thinks as he wipes at his stomach with a discarded towel and in so doing presses down on a fresh bruise from his earlier fight. It’s a double-pronged attack, a pincer movement: Goromi is going to bewitch his mind and then Majima is going to move in for the kill; a deadlier foe than the entire Tojo Clan combined.

Goodnight, beautiful, he texts just before he falls asleep. Hope you have good dreams.

She doesn’t reply to that – he hopes she’s pleasantly distracted.