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Black Market Baby

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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.

Chapter Text

Kiryu is walking down South Pink Street on Monday afternoon on a mission to locate sweet potato shochu when he hears rapid footsteps behind him and a rough, thuggish voice calls out: “Kazuma Kiryu, stop right there!”

He turns around and spots a group of six yakuza jogging over, all looking slightly rumpled and out of breath. He vaguely recognises them from somewhere; some other context. He squints at their lapel pins and takes in the scattering of black eyes and split lips. It comes back to him then – the fake zombie apocalypse, one of Majima’s more elaborate pranks.

What is strange is that Majima himself is nowhere in sight and he can’t even hear a demented screech of ‘Kiryu-chan!’ floating on the wind. Majima would never send other people to fight Kiryu when he could have the pleasure for himself.

“Can I help you with something?” Kiryu widens his stance and stares them down.

“You’re comin’ with us!” shouts the foremost thug, who is wearing a shiny, silvery bomber jacket.

“Why would I do that?”

“Because the boss says so, that’s why!”

“He’s not my boss,” Kiryu shrugs. “Besides, Majima-san knows how to get in touch with me if he wants something. You can tell him he doesn’t need to send goons to strong-arm me. That’s just rude.”

“Who are you callin’ a goon, you bum!” silver jacket demands.

Kiryu cracks his neck and rolls one shoulder – he’s had enough of this conversation. “Last chance. You can either run back to your boss and give him my message, or you can try to drag me by force. The second option won’t turn out well for you.”

“We have orders!” the man standing to silver jacket’s left cuts in. He’s bald and heavy-set with a boxer’s nose. “You’re coming with us or else!”

“Or else,” Kiryu repeats, then he grabs the nearest thug by his ankle and spins him into the group.

Two bicycles, a street sign and countless punches later, there are prone, moaning bodies scattered about the street with only Kiryu remaining upright. He surveys the scene dispassionately from his place in the bare circle that marks the centre of the blast radius. He dusts his hands and tries to remember where he was supposed to go next – did the old lady say her husband’s favourite shochu brand was only sold at Don Quijote or Poppo? He turns at the sound of a car engine as a familiar blacked-out estate car mounts the curb and jerks to a halt and a man in a dark blue shirt and beige pants emerges. His oval face is perspiring lightly, his heavy eyebrows drawn down in consternation.

“Oh no,” he says. “I told the boss this would happen.”

Kiryu frowns. “Nishida-san?”

“Didn’t you get my email?”

Kiryu checks his phone.

NISHIDA: Please don’t ask me why but when a group of thugs tries to ‘kidnap’ you, you should just go along with it.

“Why would I go along with it?” Kiryu asks, looking up from the screen.

Nishida shakes his head emphatically, as if trying not to hear Kiryu’s words. “I said not to ask me that! I’m sworn to secrecy.”

Kiryu remembers what Goromi said about Nishida being a helpless gossip. “There’s no-one else here that’s conscious. What could be the harm?”

Nishida makes a puppylike whining sound. “Fine! This is the boss’ date idea. You’re supposed to get kidnapped because ‘it’s more romantic that way,’” he makes air quotes.  

“And when you say ‘boss’, you mean Goromi?”

Nishida rolls his eyes as if to say ‘well duh.’

“And where am I getting kidnapped to?”

“I can’t tell you. It would ruin the surprise.”

“You can tell me. I’ll act surprised.”

Nishida looks physically pained. “No offense, Kiryu-san, but you don’t seem like a very good actor.”

Kiryu shrugs – that’s fair. He looks at his watch. “Is it far?”

“No. But I’m supposed to drive you around the block a few times to make it look like it is.” Nishida yelps and smacks his own forehead. “Ah, I definitely wasn’t supposed to tell you that!”

“Why wouldn’t I notice that we’re just driving around in circles?”

Nishida produces a strip of red cloth from his pocket. “You’re supposed to wear this blindfold.”

Kiryu sighs and scratches his cheek. “Your boss spends a lot of time coming up with elaborate schemes to mess with me. How do you guys even get any work done?”

Nishida brightens at the question, raising one finger. “Ah, we’re all excellent multitaskers. This is something the Majima Family prides itself on.”

“Yeah, you can spare me the recruitment speech.”

One of the felled thugs rolls over and groans, getting onto his hands and knees before looking balefully at Nishida. He coughs and a gout of blood spills from his mouth onto the asphalt, followed by the plink-plink of a scattering tooth. “Ah, don’t worry, Mori-kun,” Nishida says brightly. “I can take it from here.”

Mori coughs again, crawling towards the sidewalk.

Kiryu wonders for a moment at Majima’s choice of lieutenant, who seems like he could not be further from Majima himself in terms of personality and attitude. “If it’s not too personal a question, why exactly did you join the yakuza, Nishida-san?”

Nishida looks sheepish. “Oh, well, you know… the boss head-hunted me, I suppose you could say.”

“From what?”

“Management accounting.”

“Accounting?”

“Yes, it was quite a prominent firm, but the hours are better in the yakuza,” Nishida scratches his ear. “Plus, they fired me for punching the director of marketing.”

“Why did you do that?”

“It wasn’t a good strategy, Kiryu-san. The profit projections were inaccurate and I had already told him so. I can’t tolerate dishonest people.”

Kiryu nods and follows this improbable person to the car.

“Could you please sit in the back? And also…” Nishida presents the blindfold.

“I’m not wearing this.”

“Please, Kiryu-san. You want the boss to be happy, don’t you?”

Kiryu sighs and takes the blindfold. He ties it on himself loosely, choosing half-assed compliance over outright refusal.

The car journey takes twenty minutes – Kiryu can definitely tell that they are going in circles but he takes the opportunity for a brief nap. The car comes to a stop and the door opens. “Here we are!” Nishida says.

“We’re still in Kamurocho, aren’t we?” Kiryu asks as he allows Nishida to take hold of his elbow. He can hear the musical bleeping of a nearby arcade, a barker clapping and shouting, and a drunk man complaining about being mugged.

“No, we’re in parts unknown!” Nishida insists with the thrilling intonation of a children’s storyteller. “A magical place where all your wildest dreams can come true!”

This might as well happen, Kiryu decides – his entire philosophy these days. He moves along with Nishida’s urgings, still at least able to see the ground at his feet due to the fashion in which he tied the blindfold. They mount some tile steps and then Kiryu hears the jangle of a keys before they step into an elevator car. The elevator dings when it reaches its destination and Nishida urges him forward. The floor beneath Kiryu’s shoes is tile, his shoes clicking loudly. He can hear the sound of string music and the gentle bubbling of water.

Nishida tugs on his elbow to bring Kiryu to a halt. He clears his throat. “Behold - our mysterious destination!”

Fingers tug at the knot of his blindfold and the cloth unwinds. Kiryu blinks as his eyes become accustomed to the light again. They’re in a lobby area done up to look like a forest, fake vines and plants scrolling around a small fountain. Statues of naked women peep out here and there, all covering themselves with coquettish hands and scraps of plaster of Paris cloth. There is a line of chairs placed against the wall and a reception desk standing in front of a beaded curtain – a waiting area.

He turns to Nishida, brow creasing in suspicion. “Is this a brothel?”

Nishida lets out a high-pitched, abrupt laugh. “What an idea, Kiryu-san! This,” he waves his arm expansively, “is a magical grotto, where adventure and pleasures beyond mortal understanding await!”

Kiryu puts his hands on his hips and lets out a long, deep sigh.

“But what’s this?” Nishida says in the flat tones of a celebrity athlete being forced to shill a product they don’t believe in, cupping one hand to his ear, “I think I hear the approach of dainty footsteps. What enchanting creature could it be?”

The beaded curtain parts and a woman clip-clops into the room on an extremely high pair of clear platform shoes. She is wearing a long auburn wig, a PVC fetish dress, and an incongruous pair of children’s fairy wings (orange to match the wig).

“Why, it’s Nutmeg,” Nishida announces, clasping his hands together before his chest, “a fairy of the glen.”

The woman – Kiryu suspects one of the establishment’s regular employees – sighs and flips her hair before sitting down on the edge of the fountain.

“Oh my,” Nishida continues, “it looks like she’s brought all her fairy friends! It’s Bluebell, Acorn, Buttercup, uh… Enoki and uh… What’s-her-face – the most beautiful of them all!”

The curtain rattles and five more colour-coordinated women in a combination of fetishwear and wings traipse into the room, all looking like moody teenagers in an after-school detention. They arrange themselves about the fountain, avoiding Kiryu’s gaze as if he’s done something to offend them. Enoki is blatantly scrolling through her phone.

“What a bewitching scene!” Nishida says, waving his hand to encompass the room. He drops his voice to a stage whisper: “I have heard tell… that these fairies will fulfil the deepest, most carnal desires of mortal men.”

“That’s… nice,” Kiryu comments. He’s not sure what expression his face is making.

Nishida stares at him, his eyebrows doing some kind of urgent semaphore. “So… which will you choose to grant you her favours?”

“They all seem lovely,” Kiryu says diplomatically. “I couldn’t choose one over the others.”

Nutmeg sighs again, more pointedly. What’s-her-face is filing her nails.

“So, you’re saying you wouldn’t choose one of these divine creatures?” Nishida prompts. He is making a cutting gesture below his chin and still attempting to communicate something with the rolls and twitches of his eyes, like someone in a hostage situation.

Kiryu turns to the assembled fairy court and performs a low bow, hands on his knees. “Forgive me, ladies,” he announces. “I cannot accept your most gracious favours, for my heart belongs to another.”

He hears a loud gasp from an adjoining room and the sound of furniture toppling over followed by swearing in a thick Kansai dialect. “Hey, Nishida – sounds like there’s one more fairy hiding over in the bushes.”

Nishida gives him a frozen grin. “Oh, that’s not an ordinary fairy, Kiryu-san. That is the Queen of the Night herself!”

“But it’s 3PM.” Kiryu glances down at his watch for confirmation.

“She’s always the Queen of the Night, even in the daytime,” Nishida snaps. “If you’re very lucky she will grant you an audience.”

“Ok.” As Kiryu makes a move towards the room, Nishida grabs his arm, raising his voice to its previous theatrical volume: “Wait! Kiryu-san, you have already passed The Test of the Pure of Heart, but to be granted an audience with the queen you must pay homage.”

Kiryu sighs again. “Ok. And what counts as ‘homage’, exactly?”

“You will kneel at the entrance to her chambers and knock. You will ask her majesty… to please take pity on a mortal man.”

He stares at Nishida, who just shrugs helplessly.

Kiryu walks through the waiting area and down a hallway to a large set of double doors carved with a scrolling fig leaf design. He can see two shadows in the gap at the bottom of the doors as if someone is standing there, waiting. There is a scrabbling sound and a glint of light appears at the peephole before it once again goes dark. He turns to look back at Nishida who points downward with his index finger in a jabbing motion.

Kiryu grumbles as he gets to his knees. He raises a fist to knock and clears his throat before calling out: “your majesty!”

A high, exaggeratedly feminine voice rings out. “Who dares to knock at my fairy bower?”

“It’s Kiryu, your majesty.”

“Who?!”

“Kazuma Kiryu, a poor mortal man.”

“What do you want, Kiryu-chan?”

“I want you to please…” Kiryu pauses, closing his eyes in ignominy. “Please take pity on me.”

There is an excruciatingly long pause. Kiryu has time to consider everything that went wrong in his life to result in the fact that he’s here, kneeling on the floor of a brothel, petitioning someone pretending to be a fairy.

“Your wish is granted,” comes the voice. “You may rise and enter.”

He gets up and opens the door, looking back just long enough to see Nishida grinning and giving him a double thumbs up.

Kiryu enters a room that appears to be a VIP suite. There is a genkan and then a raised dais that forms a seating area with a small recessed bar. At the back of the room a pair of large French windows covered by gauzy curtains look like they lead out onto a balcony. To their right is a gold screen patterned with fleur-de-lis, partially obscuring a large bed draped in oyster-coloured satin. The furniture is Louis XIV by way of Disneyland, the couches and chairs painted gold and upholstered in purple velvet.

Draped across a chaise longue is the Queen of the Night herself. She wears a black bustier embroidered with gold and silver stars and a ragged multi-layered skirt in green taffeta. Black fishnet stockings go all the way up to her thighs, held in place with ruffled garters, and crushed velvet high-heel slippers hang negligently from her feet. Her wings are pale green with large circles that look like eyes and tapered, swallow-like tails: a moon moth. She holds a wand with a star on its tip and a multitude of trailing silver ribbons. Her blonde hair is piled up in a loose bun behind a tiara and her earrings are a string of gold stars of increasing size. The eyeshadow is smoky and her lips blood red. Her eyepatch is adorned with a rhinestone crescent moon.

She smiles at his dumbfounded expression. “Bow before me, mortal.”

Kiryu bows. He pauses to take off his shoes and then he pounces on her, kissing her face, her lips, crushing her close until she fends him off with several painful smacks on the head with her wand. “Uncivilised beast!”

“Goromi,” he says, rubbing his face against her neck, breathing deep.     

“Shit,” she says, breaking character, “at least buy me a drink first, ya horn-dog.”

Kiryu squeezes her one last time before he groans and gets to his feet. He crosses to the bar alcove to assess the options. “What do you want, Yamazaki or Macallan?”

“They’re probably both watered-down piss, the mama-san’s kinda thrifty.”

“Hmm,” Kiryu uncaps the Yamazaki 12 and sniffs before pouring out two measures into cut-glass tumblers. He puts his own drink down on the coffee table and kneels, presenting Goromi’s drink in the open cradle of his hands. “Your majesty, please enjoy.”

She waves her wand in a figure of eight and taps his head lightly, “that’s better.”

She takes the offered drink and rummages in her bustier for cigarettes. He lights one for her and she sits back – a fairy queen with a whiskey and a smoke. Kiryu is overcome with another wave of helpless affection.

“Huuuh - what’s that goofy look for?” she asks, taking a deep draw that makes the cigarette paper crackle. They’re Hi-Lites, which is Majima’s brand – she must be out of the fancy-coloured ones.

“Oh, I’m the one that looks goofy?” Kiryu asks, seating himself cross-legged at her feet.    

“You–” another elaborate trace of the wand, “have no sense of drama or romance. I mean, can ya even imagine a better place for a grand seduction? Atmospheric lighting, classy art, sturdy locks on the door, D-rings on the bedposts – what more could a couple of lovebirds want?” She kicks off her slippers – Kiryu has to duck as one goes whizzing past his head – then plants her stockinged feet in his lap and looks extremely pleased with herself.

Kiryu cups her right heel and presses his thumbs into the arch of her sole, pushing upwards. She makes a deep sound of pleasure, setting her drink down on the table before leaning back, arms spread out over the back of the couch. She takes another drag of her cigarette, looking at Kiryu with one half-lowered eye, then tilts her head back and exhales a long, even stream of blue-grey smoke. Her left foot pushes at his stirring cock and she smirks to see his mouth fall open and his posture stiffen – Kiryu has never been so turned on, so quickly in his entire life.

His thumbs circle the joint of her ankle before slipping up, tracing the parallel lines of her shin, up over her knee to hook under the band of her garter. She gives a very mean smile and smacks his cheek sharply with the wand. “No hands, baby. That’s too easy – gotta work for it.”

Kiryu frowns for a second before it dawns on him. He takes his hands away and folds them behind his back.

“That’s it,” she says approvingly, stroking under his chin with the wand’s star tip. “Now you’re gettin’ it.”

He leans down and rubs his face against her knee and up her thigh, opening his mouth to grasp the garter between his teeth, then tugging. The band stretches and resists before finally slipping over her knee and from there easily down. As the stocking falls and pools around her ankle like shed snakeskin, her hand slips into his hair, long nails scratching faintly: “that’s it, good boy.”

He mouths kisses along her inner thigh – the skin is freshly shaven and very smooth. Her toes flex against the underside of his cock and he gasps, panting against her bare skin. “Not gonna leave a job half-finished, are ya Kiryu-chan?”

He looks up, brow furrowing. “Will you ever call me Kazuma?”

She laughs, scratching his cheek with a curl of her nails. “Nah, don’t think I will. Gotta keep ya in your place somehow.”

Kiryu bites her other thigh through the stocking before dragging off the garter. She takes her foot off his crotch to let the stocking slip onto the floor, then she leans past him to grind out her cigarette in the ashtray. She flops back, foot pushing at his chest and toes dragging at the fabric of his shirt. “Take it off, baby. Gimme a show.”

Kiryu stands to strip, feeling his face and neck grow hot under her lazy, appreciative gaze. He sheds his outer layers and turns to her, thumb rasping at the band of his underwear. “All of it?”

She clicks her tongue. “Every scrap.”

He pushes off his briefs and steps out of them. She tilts her head, considering.

“What?” he demands, a flare of anger and embarrassment.

“Just thinkin’… ya know, you’re like that Michelangelo’s ‘David’.”

“Statuesque?”

Her eye roves downwards and she smirks. “Bigger in person.”

Kiryu flushes and puts a hand over his dick to partially conceal it.

She tisks. “Now why you gotta do a thing like that? Covering up a national treasure.”

Kiryu shifts from one foot to the other, unsure what to do next. She beckons with one hand and points with the wand held in the other to the space between her spread knees.

Kiryu kneels, fists resting primly on his thighs like he’s at a clan ceremony. She gives his dick another idle fondle with her foot and Kiryu shivers – the polish on her toes is still cherry blossom pink.

She bites her lip, coquettish. “I seem to recall ya saying once upon a time that you’d kiss me all over. Aint ya gonna make good on that promise?”

He starts at her toes, works his way up her left leg and switches sides to kiss his way down the right. She lets out soft, breathless laughter and clutches at the back of his head. “C’mon, now, don’t be coy.” She spreads her thighs wider, props one foot up on the coffee table, free hand clenching in the leaves of her taffeta skirt.

Kiryu cups the back of her thighs and leans in to rub his cheek against the bulge filling out the front of her lace panties, which are hot pink this time – perhaps because the rest of the outfit was sadly lacking in her favourite colour. He traces the shape of her with his lips, then presses his nose to the crease between her thigh and hip, breathing in deeply. He smells perfume, laundry soap, and under it a musky, human scent.

“Fuck!” she says, leaning back and fumbling to free her dick from the constriction of the panties – it slaps Kiryu right in the face, hot and damp. He groans – thrilled by the thought of what he must look like. “Oh yeah, fuck – it’s like that?” she sounds a little distracted.

Kiryu drags his lips up the length of her shaft and opens his mouth to taste the tip, sucking experimentally. Overexcited, he tries to take it deeper and chokes almost immediately, saliva flooding his mouth.

“Easy, tiger,” she hisses, gripping his shoulder. She opens her eye and fixes him with a sudden suspicious look. “You done this before?”

Kiryu shakes his head. “I want to, though.”

“Aw, shit,” she drops her head back and laughs breathlessly, rubbing her forehand with shaking fingers. “Please tell me I’m not about to pop your cherry, Kiryu-chan. I can’t deal with that idea – it’ll blow what’s left of my mind.”

“No, I mean I’ve had sex before, just not…” he gestures towards her lap.

“With a dick involved?”

“Besides my own.”

She laughs, then looks suspicious again. “Hey. You ever fucked someone in the ass?”

Kiryu blushes. There was a woman once – a friend of Nishiki’s he hooked up with a few times in his early twenties. She was older than him, experienced and assertive. “Yeah.”

“Thank fuck for that. Your party girl can’t deal with too much responsibility.” She strokes herself and Kiryu is mesmerised by the sight of her manicured hand around the base of the shaft – almond-shaped nails with a black undercoat and gold holographic glitter. “C’mere and suck it slow now, baby – take your time.”

He leans in, more cautious this time, curling his tongue over the head to feel out the shape of her. He starts to bob shallowly and she lets out a sigh, strokes his hair with her free hand. Kiryu swirls around the tip and when she leaks onto his tongue he feels his own dick give an answering twitch – he’s doing this for her and she loves it. He takes her deeper; feels his throat clench as he hits up against the point of his gag reflex. She drags him back again and he pops off with a sucking sound, chin wet with saliva.

“Fuck, baby,” she looks down at him and Kiryu finds his vision is spotty at the edges. “You’re a quick study, huh?”

He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, takes a deep breath before leaning in for more. She tugs him back painfully by the hair. “Cool it for a minute, would ya?”

“Goromi, I want–”

“Yeah,” she gives him a smug grin, stroking herself slowly, “I know what you want. Let me just savour the moment.”

He gives her a disgruntled look, sitting back on his heels. Her hand trails from his hair down his cheek, thumb rubbing over his wet bottom lip. “Not every day a girl gets the Dragon of Dojima kneeling at her feet with a fuckin’ glorious hard-on. Waited ten years for this, honey.”

Kiryu frowns. “For this, really?”     

“Oh, like ya don’t know what effect you have,” she leans in and kisses him. Kiryu sinks into it greedily, mouth sliding against the waxy remains of her lipstick. He grabs her waist, resting one knee on the couch as he pushes her backwards and climbs on top. He fits his hips against hers and they both moan as their dicks press together, their joined voices startlingly loud in the room.

“Listen,” she says, a little breathless, “much as I appreciate the enthusiasm, I aint gonna let ya fuck me on some rickety reproduction piece of crap. Bed’s right there, stud – don’t let the satin sheets go to waste.” She twirls her wrist, index finger pointing up, and lets out an ear-piercing two-tone whistle: “let’s go, let’s go!”

Kiryu takes the hint – dating her is hell on his back. He hoists her up bridal style and moves to the bed. She slips from his grip at the last moment and bounces on the mattress.

“Agh, fuckin’ wings!” she winces, rolling back and forth.

“Take them off,” he says, already ripping at the hook and eye catches of her bodice.

“Beauty is pain, Kiryu-chan. Don’t you want this moment to be magical?”

“It’s magical enough,” Kiryu growls in frustration. “I want to see you.”

“Well fine,” she says, sitting up to awkwardly shrug her way out of the now warped structure of wire and pale green fabric. At least the wand is back where they left it – crammed down the side of the couch – so Kiryu doesn’t have to worry about weapon damage this time.

He tears the bodice open and tosses it aside, then drags down her skirt and panties all in one go as she lifts her hips to assist. All of a sudden, Goromi is lying spread out beneath him in nothing but an eyepatch and tiara and this is the best day of Kiryu’s life.

She grabs him by the waist and wrestles him down onto the bed with a flip that punches the air from his lungs. She kisses him, groping his chest with a sound of deep enjoyment and pressing her thigh between his. His hips twitch and he groans to finally get some pressure on his neglected dick – hers is still damp from his mouth, rubbing up against his stomach. He doesn’t know what to touch first and his hands flutter at her waist, kneading the patterned flesh at the small of her back.

“C’mon,” she says, breaking the kiss. “C’mon, ya have me naked and you’re still just holding on like we’re slow-dancing.”

He runs his hands up her back, sweeping expansively over the tattoo, and back down to her ass for an enthusiastic squeeze. Beyond her lower back the red and black pattern of blossoms forms a swirling vortex, terminating at the mid-thigh. “Your tattoo goes all the way down,” he observes, staring over her shoulder.

She looks back to follow his gaze. “So?”

“And you have a whirlpool on your ass.”

She laughs, a strange yelping sound that sounds like genuine surprise. “Didn’t ya know my ass was treacherous?” her eye twinkles. “Here be dragons.”

He gropes her again, squeezing her cheeks and spreading them. “Yeah.”

She hums against his ear. “Since you offered, Kiryu-chan, I am gonna need your help. Because, y’know,” she holds up her hands and twinkles her manicured fingers.

“That’s my job, huh – opening things for you?”

“It’s one of your jobs.” She rolls over to the bedside cabinet and pulls out a drawer. Inside is an array of colourful sachets of condoms and lube, lined up as enticingly as the display in a patisserie.

She walks her fingers through the selection and then flings a packet at him like a shuriken. He catches it out of the air before a sharp corner can spin into his eye, then he has a sudden lapful of Goromi again, mumbling impatient encouragement between kisses.

He gets lube all over his hand and the bedsheets, too distracted by Goromi rocking in his lap and biting his earlobe to be smooth, but he gets there eventually. She curses and tosses her head back, demanding more, faster – until he’s two fingers deep and his wrist is starting to hurt from the angle as she grinds down on him. “C’mon, c’mon you pussy, give it to me already,” she growls, turning to insults when she doesn’t get her own way – greedy and demanding – then going limp in his arms and all but purring when he gets it right. “Oh yeah, that’s it. Baby, right there.”

She pushes at his shoulder and he pulls out, wet fingertips trailing down the inside of her thigh. She flops sideways onto the bed, flexing her toes and arching her back as he watches. “Hey, c’mon,” she prompts, “you’re not done.”

Kiryu didn’t think he was, but all the same he quietly waits for his next instruction. She spreads her legs, knees up and feet flat on the bed. “How about you give me some more of that sweet mouth?”

Kiryu is introduced to a new level of complexity as he tries to coordinate both getting his mouth around her dick and moving his fingers to meet her impatient thrusts. He likes the sensation of foreskin sliding under his lips; she’s leaking more freely now and every burst on his tongue feels like victory. She digs her heels into his back and lets out a steady stream of appreciative moans. He can feel his neck burning from the stretch and sweat prickling on his scalp. “That’s it, good boy – shit, you’re really goin’ to town there. Just got started and look what a mess you are,” she runs her hands back and forward through his hair, tugging it into tufts – he can only imagine what he looks like – face sweaty and flushed, chin wet with saliva. She tugs harder and he pulls off her dick with a pop.

“Goromi,” he gives her a helpless look.

“What’s that, sweetheart,” she says with false sympathy, “ya want somethin’? Think you’ve done enough to earn a little treat?” There’s a layer of sweat sitting on top of her makeup and she has never looked more regal.

“I don’t know. Please.”

“Get up,” she points to the edge of the bed. “Stand right there.”

Kiryu scrambles up and moves where he’s directed. He’s still embarrassed by how obvious his arousal is when she’s barely touched him – she must know he won’t last if she does.

She consults the condom drawer, looks back at Kiryu’s dick with a cocked eyebrow before selecting one. She walks over to him on her knees on the bed, biting the corner off the foil packet. She reaches down and strokes him a few times and he almost comes immediately at the sight of her hand on him, the light scintillating on the glitter every time she twists. “You proud of this, hmm?” she asks in a low, teasing tone. He shakes his head. “Liar. I know how men are. The ones with big dicks can’t stop bragging about ‘em… swingin’ ‘em around.”

“I don’t,” he insists.

“No?” she cradles the weight of his balls, one pointed thumbnail pressing at the base of his shaft. He lets out a long, uneven breath and tilts his head back to concentrate on the ceiling. Plaster satyrs chase nymphs through a repeating forest; the gold paint along the crown moulding is splotchy and uneven. She makes a considering noise: “so ya never been out with your bros, some sauna or spa or bathhouse, and let ‘em take a gander. Huh?”

Kiryu shakes his head, eyes closed. “No. I mean… maybe they looked? I don’t know. I didn’t… encourage it.”

She laughs, low and rich. “Bet they couldn’t help themselves, but you – sweet boy that you are – wouldn’t know a come-on if it grabbed ya by this right here,” her hand slides up and she squeezes.

Goromi.”

“‘Goromi!’” she mimics in an idiotic treble. “C’mon already, ask for what you want.”

He breathes in and out, steadying himself before he dares look down at her. Her mouth is open and pulled into a grin, tongue curled behind her teeth like a viper about to strike.

“Please,” he says. “Please, your majesty – take pity on me.”

“O-oh,” her eye flashes and the smile widens. “Oh, that’s good. Points for style!” She leans in and he shivers, closing his eyes again. He feels the curl of her breath over the head of his dick. “Hey – eyes open. Look at me.”

Kiryu blinks until she comes back into focus. Traces of red lipstick remain on her bottom lip – she drags it up his shaft and sucks the head of his dick just once, lingeringly, before pulling back.

Kiryu lets out a deep, heartfelt groan. He has to get himself under control because he wants so desperately to please her, to be good for her, to make her come.

She rolls the condom down over him and strokes him again – the barrier does nothing to mask the heat of her hand. Then she adjusts her tiara and lies back, stretching her limbs out and sighing like someone relaxing into a warm bath. Her heels come to rest on his shoulders. “You may adore me now, Kiryu-chan.”

Kiryu leans down and kisses her, bending her knees back to her chest and forcing out a gasp. He kisses and bites both nipples and she rolls her head from side to side before slapping his flank in irritation. “Come on, gimme your big dick already. I’m not lyin’ here for the good of my health.”

Kiryu rubs himself once with his still lube-slick hand, lines up and pushes in slowly – her back arches and she makes a sound like a snarl, digging her heel into the curve of his shoulder and neck until a nerve impulse lights up his whole left side like an electric shock.

She’s so tight it takes a few thrusts before he’s all the way in; she pushes against him and lets out a groan like Majima’s when Kiryu gets in a good gut punch. Is he hurting her? He stills his movements and she opens her eye and thumps him hard on the hip. “Motherfucker, I swear–” her knees slip down around his chest and she starts to squeeze his ribs threateningly.

He moves, picking up speed in response to sounds he now understands are enthusiasm. She’s almost bent in half and he wonders how she’s still getting air in her lungs, but she keeps scratching up his back and crushing his chest with her thighs, clinging to him and demanding more, harder. He grasps her waist just above the curve of her narrow hips and pulls her onto him with each thrust; she wails and clenches her fingers so hard he can feel the skin of his back puncturing under her nails. He’s so far gone the pain isn’t even a turn off – it’s just about enough to drag him back from the edge.

One set of claws retracts and he watches, enraptured, as she reaches down and starts to stroke herself. He puts his back into it, feeling sweat trickle down his spine from the effort. She’s slippery under his palms and it’s hard to keep a good grip on her, to move her the way she needs and he needs. She’s tight and flexing around him, so perfect – her eye opens and they both seem caught by the startled realisation of what they’re doing, who they’re doing it with.

“Kiryu– ah, fuck,” she arches her spine, rising up off the bed like she’s being exorcised before slumping back down with a cry. She tips her head back and her mouth opens and trembles as she starts to come. Kiryu works his hips, deeper, faster – she’s right there; he made it, he held on, and it’s incredible. She goes limp, sinking into the sheets, her arms flopping to the sides as she lets out a breathless laugh. Kiryu looks at the whitish streaks on her heaving stomach, her hair like a tangled halo and tiara completely askew. There’s a tear-track of mascara running into her temple and only the faintest trace of lipstick around the edges of her mouth. His hands tremble on her hips and he bends down over her low enough to gasp into her mouth as he comes. She bites his bottom lip and gets an arm around the back of his neck like she’s about to put him in a headlock and he just shudders against her, over and over.

For a long moment there is no sound in the room except their heavy breathing. Kiryu pulls out slowly with an apologetic wince and she puts her feet on the floor and groans, shifting and rubbing at the small of her back, flexing her toes. He discards the condom in a thoughtfully provided trash receptacle and steps into the bathroom, blinking when the lights come on to show a baroque monstrosity of black and white marble-effect tile, more plaster statues, and plastic ivy. He washes up and returns to the bedroom with a clean, wet cloth that he holds out to her. He imagines, for a delirious moment, getting down on one knee to offer it with both hands like the waiter in a hostess club.

“Full service, huh?” she says, still sounding a little breathless and loopy. She wipes herself off half-heartedly and then just lies there. Kiryu hooks his arms under hers and drags her up so she’s at least lying fully on the mattress, then half-falls, half-crawls over her so he can flop down on the other side.  

They lie there on their backs like exhausted shipwrecks freshly crawled from the ocean, jammed sweaty shoulder to shoulder. Goromi’s arm flops across his chest and he grasps her wrist to turn it, giving him access to the tender flesh of her inner arm. He plants a trail of kisses there and when he reaches the crook of her elbow he can feel her pulse fluttering against his lips. He gives the spot one more lingering kiss and relaxes back against the pillows, stroking her arm slowly up and down with the lightest, skating touch. He listens to the distant rumble of the traffic passing storeys below; the faint echoes floating up from the street of arguments, solicitation and singing. Minutes pass. Outside of a fight, it is the longest he has ever heard her go without talking.

“This is nice,” he says, turning his face towards her. Her eyepatch is uppermost so he can’t see much of her expression. “Wish we could just stay like this forever.”

She grunts and raises herself on her elbow, patting his chest. “Well, hate to break it to ya, but the fine ladies of this establishment need the room back by five. Some high-roller comin’ in from Osaka tonight.”

“Too bad,” Kiryu says. He gets an arm around her and she tolerates it for about as long as she is capable of sitting still for anything. Her leg starts to twitch and then she rolls away, sitting up with an aggressive yawn and stretch before clambering out of bed. He watches as she pulls on her underwear and stands in front of the bar mirror to reapply her lipstick, making careful turns of the angled head to keep within the lines. She licks her thumb and wipes away the smeared eyeliner, then stands back and presses her lips together with a goldfish popping sound, scrutinising the effect. With a hum of frustration, she reaches up to drag off the listing tiara, a shower of bobby pins scattering onto the floor. She scratches at the back of the mop of mussed blonde hair and attempts to untangle it with her fingers.

“You can take that off if it’s bothering you,” Kiryu says. “The wig, I mean.”

She tosses a snarled curl back over her shoulder. “Just what are you implyin’? Sayin’ I’m not a natural blonde – the nerve!”

Kiryu takes in her neat black goatee and the happy trail leading under the waistband of the pink panties. “I like your hairstyle. Both your hairstyles.”

She looks at him thoughtfully as she taps out a cigarette from the pack and sticks it between her lips. “Big of ya.”

Kiryu stretches and lets his eyes close for a moment. He hears meandering footsteps, the sound of doors opening with a creak and the bustle from the street below becoming louder and more immediate. A cool breeze makes goosebumps rise on his skin, bringing with it the trace of cigarette smoke.

Eventually, Kiryu gets up and locates his own cigarettes and underwear, then steps past the rippling curtains and out onto the balcony. It’s a small, cramped space – just big enough for the two of them to stand and look across the street at the flashing, varicoloured signs advertising clubs, brothels and bars. Goromi has one foot up on a lower rail, her elbows folded on the top as she rocks back and forth and gazes down at the street. She has scraped her hair back into a low ponytail and looks strangely casual, at home in her femininity in some way that’s different from her usual full-glamour look.

“Got a light?” Kiryu asks, realising he left his inside. She turns and offers the cherry of her half-smoked cigarette, craning her neck so he can touch the unlighted end of his own and inhale until it catches. He puts a hand to the small of her back and moves his thumb in circular strokes, a casual, possessive touch.

“O-ho,” she says, leaning out over the balcony “Someone’s startin’ early.”

Kiryu looks down, following her interested gaze. An extremely drunk man in the rumpled remains of a business suit is making his way up the street, less walking than he is zigzagging between handholds, grappling onto lampposts and walls like he’s struggling against a gale.

Goromi leans out over the rail and gives him a round of sarcastic applause. “Do your best, Mister Salaryman! I believe in you! You CAN make it to that next bar if you try!”

The man almost topples over in surprise to see Goromi’s grin looming over him from an upper storey, like the face of God peeping out of a cloud. He staggers back and crashes into the corner of a vending machine before righting himself, crumpling against a wall and squinting upwards to get a good look at her.

“Hey, darlin’!” he shouts back. “How much?”

She snorts. “More’n you’re worth, honey, that’s for sure.”

“Hey, don’t be like that! I got a big…” he pauses, hiccups, and waves his hand in a circle as if conducting the orchestra of his thoughts back into order, “big bonus! How much for an hour of your time?”

“Ten billion yen!” she shrieks.

“That’s too much,” he says, frowning as if this is a real, serious figure and he suspects her of trying to fleece him. “Come on darlin’, you can’t afford to be that choosy.”

She leans over the parapet. “Huh? And why’s that?”

“All those…” he gestures, almost topples forwards, “tattoos. And hardly any tits at all! He’s got bigger ones than you!”

Goromi looks over at Kiryu and explodes into laughter. Kiryu crosses his arms under his bare chest, then awkwardly drops them. “Can’t argue with that, Kiryu-chan! Ya do have an ample bosom.”

“C’mon,” the man whines pitifully, “I’m lonely! I need the touch of a good woman!”

“Can’t help you, buddy. Got my hands full with this one,” she nods towards Kiryu. “A real difficult case, testin’ even my considerable skills.”

Before the drunk man can appeal his case, two men in flashy suits converge on him from different directions. They each hook him under an armpit and drag him off down an alley and out of sight, his whiny sounds of protest fading on the wind.

“Those your boys?” Kiryu asks.

“Yeah,” she takes a thoughtful drag and ashes her cigarette on the rail. “They know we can’t have guys like him making a racket. Drives away business.” She rolls her eye at Kiryu’s frown of consternation. “They aint gonna hurt him. Not much. He’ll wake up from his nap in a dumpster somewhere out by Showa Street. With a lighter wallet, of course - gotta pay the Majima Family stupidity tax.”

“So you’re a benevolent tyrant?”

“Oh come on – like ya never clonked some rude dumbass on the noggin and took his cash as a call-out fee. Don’t act so high an’ mighty.”

“Maybe I felt sorry for him. He was clearly enamoured of you.”

“Well, he’s only human.”

Kiryu cups the back of her neck, stroking the edge of her jaw. He drops his voice lower and quieter: “the truth is, the whole time he was talking I was thinking about jumping over this rail and breaking my fall on his skinny neck.”  

She laughs and claps. “Kiryu-chan! This manly and jealous side of you is really turnin’ me on!”

He kisses her neck, nuzzles against her ear. “You already know how much I want you to be mine.” She allows his enthusiastic pawing for a moment and then wriggles out from under it as if ticklish. “Hey, I’m not the marrying kind, ok, so don’t get any ideas!”

Kiryu smiles, toying with a stray lock of blonde hair. “That’s a shame. I was just thinking about you in a cute frilly apron, waiting at the door with a cheerful ‘welcome home, honey!’ and dinner on the stove.”

She cackles. “You ate my cooking you wouldn’t live to tell the tale. Besides, married life is for chumps.”

“You would know?”

“Sure,” she ashes her cigarette again. “I was married once. For a hot minute.”

Kiryu regards her sceptically, crossing his arms. “You? Really?”

She shrugs with one shoulder. “If you can call it that. Less than a year, all told. Not much to write home about.”

“I mean… how? Who?”

“Just a girl, real young and real pretty. Talented… strong, too. So goddamn young.”

“I never even heard about it. Was this while I was in prison?”

She shakes her head. “Before that. Had to keep it on the downlow, though. She was in showbusiness, if you can believe it.”

“What happened?”

“Just my charming personality comin’ through. And a secret that… lookin’ back, I think maybe she was right to keep. Can’t say I rewarded her confidence any.” She’s slipping, flipping between watashi and ore.

“Did you love her?”

She gives him a scornful look. “Does it matter?”

“Why wouldn’t it?”

“Love’s cheap, especially in Kamurocho.” She leans on her folded elbows, eyeing the beetling street below. “This place is a playground, somebody’s fever dream. It doesn’t last.”

Kiryu wants to tell her that he feels the opposite – that all he has is love; that everyone around him changes or is lost, and he’s just stuck in his own head with all these memories that are of no use to anyone, least of all him. Instead, he clears his throat and asks: “did she know about you? About Goromi?”

Goromi breathes out smoke through her nose in two dragon-like streams and stares ahead. “Yes and no. Sometimes we’d get drunk and I’d try on her idol costumes, y’know – as a joke.”

“Except it wasn’t?”

“Nah, it wasn’t. I wanted her to see, I guess. But she couldn’t,” she shakes her head, smiles a little ruefully. “Can’t exactly hold it against her that I couldn’t use my fuckin’ words, now, can I? What’d I expect her to be, a goddamn psychic?”

He touches her shoulder, hesitant. “I see you, Goromi.”

“You see too much,” she reaches over and grabs his chin, squeezing. “Might have to poke out an eye, to make it fairer.” She pinches the stub of the cigarette, brings it close and grins when Kiryu doesn’t flinch away. She turns and grinds it out on the rail, leaning out to toss the butt in a perfect arc into a trashcan on the street. It reminds Kiryu that the funniest thing he knows about Majima is that he has a quirky sense of civic pride.

She taps her fingernails, clenches her hand around the railing until the knuckles turn white and then releases. She clears her throat. “I’m tellin’ the story all wrong, anyhow. Me an’ her didn’t come into it, the split – that shitshow was all him and his goddamn stupid male pride.”

Kiryu doesn’t understand – she’s speaking in riddles. She looks up and a muscle in her cheek jumps. “Don’t hide shit from me, ok? I don’t do well with secrets. It’s some kinda control thing, I guess. You can say anything – tell me you offed a hundred guys, kicked a puppy, fiddled your taxes – I don’t care. Just gimme the truth, I can take it.” She sniffs, rubs her nose with the heel of her hand: “ah, shit. I’m a mess.”

“Goromi,” he hugs her, arms down at her sides. She doesn’t wriggle away, just rests her chin on his bare shoulder and stands there, strangely passive. Her skin is raised with goosebumps from the cool breeze, but she still radiates heat. She smells like face powder, like sweat, like him; he loves her with a sort of aimless, desperate intensity.

“I didn’t kill Dojima,” he says.

“Huh?” her head snaps up. When he doesn’t say anything, she takes a step back, breaking the circle of his arms. “Come again now, motherfucker - you didn’t KILL Dojima?”

Kiryu shakes his head, holds her gaze. “I picked up the gun, afterwards. I waited for the police.”

Her eye is wide. “Then who the fuck did kill him – the girl… Yuki? Yumi?”

Kiryu shakes his head.

“Then who else – oh fuck me. Nishikiyama, that little rat!” She grabs him by the shoulders and shakes. “Kiryu-chan, tell me you did not eat ten years just out of noble feelings for your bro.”

“I just wanted them both to be safe.”

“You stupid goddamn idiot!” she spits. “You absolute fuckin’ moron! You dumb, sad-sack piece of shit!”

He takes in her terrifying look of cold fury and thinks she might slap him, or punch him, or shove him off the balcony. He grasps her elbow: “Goromi.”

She jerks her chin haughtily. “Oh nah, you are not gonna look at me with those big dumb doe eyes and expect me to take pity on ya again. Her majesty is fresh out of pity today.” She pulls her arm out of his grasp and shoves him aside to stalk back into the room. He hears the sound of her swearing under her breath, kicking something, and then flopping onto the bed with a heartfelt sigh.

He stands outside long enough to finish his cigarette and grinds it out on the rail before flicking the butt into the street. Then he leans in the doorway with his shoulder against the jamb. She is lying propped up on the pillows furiously texting with a click-clack-clack of her false nails.

“Honey, you said you wouldn’t be mad,” he says, attempting a smile.

“Get fucked, Kiryu-chan!” she says without looking up.

A terrible suspicion comes over him. “Who are you texting? Goromi, you’d better not– you’ll only make things worse if–”

“Relax, numbnut. I’m not textin’ Tojo Clan HQ or the national newspapers about your stupid self-sacrifice,” she glances up at him and then back at her phone. “This is just family business. I swear, it’s like havin’ a bunch of kids – little shits can’t go five minutes without squabblin’ or tattlin’ or pissin’ themselves for attention. ‘Boss, Takuma needs bail money!’ ‘Boss, those Korean punks are on our turf again!’ ‘Boss, Mori got his front teeth knocked out, what should we do?’”

“I mean, take him to a dentist?” Kiryu suggests.

She rolls her eye – well duh. “See, this is why ya rose through the ranks like you did, Kiryu-chan. It’s these kinds of sparklin’ insights.” She glares at the phone screen, thumbs clickety-clacking double-time.

Kiryu pours her another whisky as a peace offering and brings it over to the bedside cabinet. He climbs onto the bed next to her and lies down on his side with his head resting on her stomach. She smacks the top of his skull once and without much feeling, then strokes his hair. He thinks about a corner store near Sunflower where there was an old cat that slept on top of the rice sacks. If you tried to stroke her she would bite you and then immediately lick your hand as if in apology.

Kiryu drifts, somewhere between waking and sleep. Goromi swears under her breath and keeps up the typing, pausing every now and then to swirl her fingertips along his back, following the coils of the dragon. He listens to her breathing, the faint gurgling in her stomach – she must be hungry.

“It’s a real shitty thing to do, you know.”

“Hmm?” he replies drowsily. “What is?”

“What you did to your bro.”

He groans, rubbing his eye. “How do you figure that?”

“Every day he’s gotta think of you in there… while he’s walking around with the stink of shame on him and no way to pay. It’s enough to make a guy bitter.”

“It was my choice, I always knew that. Nishiki doesn’t owe me anything.”

“He agree with that?”

“He should.”

“You’re naïve, Kiryu-chan. Walking round with your halo shinin’, thinkin’ everyone’s as noble and selfless as you.”

Kiryu hums, refusing to rise to her bait. “This isn’t about me. This is about you and Saejima.”

“Think you’re smart, huh? Think that’s a real big fuckin’ psychological insight?” she scoffs. “This aint about me and Taiga. I paid for that, with interest.”

Kiryu thinks about what he would prefer: a year of torture, or twenty years of languishing in prison. He knows what choice Majima would make, if he were given one. He wonders if Saejima feels the same.

“You ever write to him?”

“My bro?”

Kiryu nods, up and down on her stomach.

“Nah. Fuck would I say to him?”

“Anything.”

“After all this time I just send him a lil’ postcard like: ‘hey, what’s up Tai-kun? Sorry it seems like I skipped out and you had to waste all those dudes back in ‘85. Anyway, what’s new with you?’”

“You wouldn’t have to write about the past. You could tell him about your life now, all the crazy shit you get up to. What you had for breakfast that morning, it doesn’t matter.”

“That’s the dumbest shit I ever heard. Fuck does he care about my daily routine?”

Kiryu closes his eyes. “No-one wrote to me in prison. I felt like… I didn’t really exist, like I wasn’t real. The world outside was going on but it wasn’t for me anymore. I would think about my friends out there, what they were doing, who they were hanging out with, but it was like a worn-out record, a fairy tale.”

He lets out a long breath as her fingers keep combing through his hair, scratching lightly against his scalp. It’s the kind of thing he used to dream about back in prison: casual touches, just being with someone in an easy, quiet way.

“Hey,” she says, after a pause. “They let you guys get spicy pictures in the joint? Like lonely wives and girlfriends shit?”

“Yeah. I mean some guys showed them around, which was gross.”

“Maybe I’ll send my bro a little something to keep his spirits up.”

“You don’t mean a picture of you, Goromi?”

“You don’t think I could pass muster? I know his type – real cutesy shit. Just need pigtails and like a dump-truck of blusher.”

Kiryu turns his head to look at her down the barrel of her long torso. “I don’t like the idea of you sending out pictures for horny prisoners to drool over.”

“Oh no, don’t tell me you’re the controlling type, Kiryu-chan!” her eye widens in mischief. “This party queen can’t be tied down.”

“Were you… you and Saejima…”

She laughs. “Nah. Told you, he liked nice girls.”

Kiryu smiles. “And you’re not nice.”

“Not even a little – I’m bad to the bone. I’ll do what other girls won’t.”

Kiryu raises himself on his knees and crawls over her until he’s close enough to catch her smirking lips. They indulge in deep, lazy kisses, eyelashes fluttering as they let out deep, appreciative groans. Her nails scratch ticklish circles on his back and shoulders. Her leg hooks over his waist and a heel digs into his lower back. She breaks the kiss to pant against his ear: “we got time for another, if you’re quick. C’mon, c’mon Kiryu-chan – gimme what you’ve been holding back for ten years.”

Before he can even get out an enthusiastic reply, her phone rings. She grabs it off the table with a snarl. “Leave me alone, ya rugrats! Mama’s busy gettin’ it on with your hot new stepdad.” Then she catches sight of the name flashing up on the screen: Futoshi Shimano. She freezes, then gives Kiryu a patronising pat on the hip. “Shit, guess I’d better take it. Make yourself scarce, hot stuff.”

Kiryu sighs and gets up to go to the bathroom. He catches the greeting, the shift back to the lower register. Then he turns the shower dial and the rest of the exchange is lost.

When Kiryu emerges, she is sitting up against the headboard nursing her whisky and another cigarette.

“Everything ok?”

“Yeah. Hunky fuckin’ dory. Same old clan bullshit. You’re causin’ quite a stir.”

“Am I making things difficult for you?”

“Nah. My boys know how to keep it to themselves. I aint got no snitches in my ranks.”

“What about Nishida?”

“Ah, he only gossips about the dumb shit, nothin’ that matters.”

Kiryu crosses to the lounge area and finds his shirt, balled up on a chair. He shakes it out before shrugging into it. “Did you really head-hunt him from an accounting firm?”

“Huh?” she looks up quizzically. “Where’d ya get that idea?”

“That’s what he told me.” Kiryu glances down, concentrating on his buttons.

She cackles and slaps her bare thigh. “That little shit! I caught him trying to steal my hubcaps. I guess ya could call that head-huntin’ – he did show me he’s a real go-getter.”

Kiryu tries to incorporate this new information into his general picture of Nishida and fails. There’s a glint in her eye that suggests this new version of the backstory may be no more reliable than the first.

Goromi watches him appreciatively as he finishes up getting dressed, looking smug and debauched among the rumpled satin sheets. He returns for a goodbye kiss and she cups his cheeks, closing her eye and sighing into his mouth.

“I um, I had fun,” he says awkwardly. “So, thanks.”

“Shit, Kiryu-chan, I blow your mind after a ten-year drought and all ya can say is ‘thanks’?”

“Thank-you very much,” he amends.

She laughs. “Yeah ok, get outta here, wise guy.”

“Can I see you again soon?”

“Yeah. God fucking help me, I know I’ll be back for more of that,” she glances towards his crotch.

“I’ll text you.”

Her eyebrow raises. “Oh, I know ya will, baby. You’re chattier than a schoolgirl.”

Kiryu kisses her cheek just at the corner of her mouth – a soft, lingering press of his dry lips – and he catches her startled, slightly flustered look before he turns to go. He closes the double doors behind him and walks back down the hall to the reception area. The fairies have fled the glen and even Nishida is gone too – reassuring, at least, that he didn’t stay to hear Kiryu and his boss’ racket. They must have sounded like cats in heat.

As he makes his way towards the exit he can hear the sounds of activity behind the reception area curtain – the employees’ waiting and dressing area must be back there. He wonders what they’re doing – smoking, drinking coffee, applying make-up, changing clothes, complaining, laughing? A mysterious, unseen world.

Kiryu has spent most of his life among men. Ten years of that for obvious reasons, but even before prison it was all shabby offices full of overflowing ashtrays and stained coffee cups; the scent of body odour and spilled whiskey; a lot of jostling, joking and posturing. He thought, in some idle way, that one day he would get married, but it didn’t work out like that. He hasn’t lived with women since his days at the orphanage.

As he waits for the elevator, a memory comes to him of some Saturday night, back at Sunflower – Nishiki, Yuko, Yumi and himself in the TV room, lounging on the floor while the girls took the sofa. They were fourteen, fifteen; Yuko and Yumi giving each other makeovers with their meagre collection of cosmetics, gleaned from magazine covers and 100¥ stores.

Nishiki was watching some broadcast of a rock concert, the belt from his dressing gown tied around his head as he furiously mimed guitar solos. Kiryu was watching the girls as they took turns doing each other’s make-up, layering on pale blue eyeshadow and rosy pink blusher. They would bicker compliments back and forth as they worked:

“Yumi, you’re so pretty – you don’t even need make-up. I wish my skin was as clear as yours.”

“Stoooop, Yuko! You’re the pretty one – I wish I had your eyes. Your hair always sits so perfectly, I can’t get mine to hold a curl.”

It was Yumi’s turn to work her magic. Kiryu watched as she sat on the couch with her feet tucked up beneath her and leaned forward with a look of intense concentration as she brushed and blended. He imagined what it would be like to be in Yuko’s place, to close his eyes and feel featherlight touches on his face – the stroke of a brush, the dab of a correcting fingertip. Yumi swaying close, brushing him with her hair as she moved in for a particularly tricky part, like drawing a steady line of eyeliner across the top of the lid. She might even lean in to blow away the excess traces of powder. He imagined feeling the puff of her breath on his cheek.

He then watched Yumi untwist a tube with a sticky pop and sweep on a layer of sheer, pink gloss, so carefully keeping within the lines of Yuko’s lips. “M-mm,” she hummed, pressing her lips together for Yuko to mimic. She presented a hand mirror and Yuko fussed with the fall of her hair.

“Where did you learn to do that?” Kiryu asked. “The make-up stuff?”

Yumi shrugged. “Just picked it up, I guess.”

“Magazines,” said Yuko. “We can do you next if you want, Kazuma,” she leaned down to threaten him with a powder puff.

Yumi laughed behind her hand, eyes creasing. “No way – he would look so funny! Akira is the pretty one, let’s give him some eyeliner.”

“Hey, get off,” Nishiki protested when his sister crawled towards him over the arm of the couch. “I’m not pretty, I’m handsome.”

“Kazuma is handsome,” Yuko insisted, “you’re pretty, nii-san.”

Kiryu knew how much this kind of talk irritated Nishiki – there was something about the delicate shape of his face and eyes, the sleekness of his hair, that sometimes attracted the wrong kind of attention. Girls loved it though – flocked to him, pretended to mistake him for an idol.

“Why exactly does he get to be handsome and I have to be pretty?” Nishiki complained. “We’re both dudes, what’s the difference?”

“You just have different face shapes, I guess.” Yumi leaned over Kiryu, wielding some kind of tool that looked like a tapered stick with a tightly wound spool of bristles on it. She held it up to his face this way and that, like an artist judging proportions. “It’s his brow, maybe – it gives him a manly, intense look.” She combed one of his eyebrows with the spool as Kiryu gazed up at her, her smiling face half in shadow.

“‘Manly and intense’, what the hell?” Nishiki looked caught between amusement and offence. “You really should give him a make-over, though. I bet he’d let you.” Nishiki pouted at Kiryu in a deliberately provoking manner, but Kiryu provoked him right back by keeping his expression blank, seemingly uninterested. He knew that if he started protesting, Nishiki would dig in and push it too far. “Hey, let’s dress him up in some of your clothes, Yuko,” he grinned wider. “Have a fashion show.”

“You’re kidding,” she protested, reaching down to pluck at the fabric of Kiryu’s t-shirt. “Look at his shoulders – he’d stretch them all out. He’s not built like a girl.”

“Yeah,” Nishiki cocked his head to one side. “Plus I don’t know where we’d find dainty shoes to fit those monster feet.”

Kiryu smirked at the other boy in reply and planted one of the aforementioned feet right in his face, to Nishiki’s squawking protest.

Back in the present, Kiryu thinks about Goromi’s shoulders: almost as wide as his, filled out with muscle, splashed with tattoos, and rarely hidden. She’s an inch taller than him in her stocking feet and in heels she towers. She clearly didn’t get the memo about doing what you’re built for – she’ll stretch the whole world out of shape to fit her.

That’s a thrilling idea – not waiting for permission to reinvent yourself. Kiryu doesn’t have many profound thoughts, but this one seems important, somehow.

He realises that he has neglected to push the call button for the elevator, double-tapping it with a frown. He has another memory linked to the first one and it queues itself up like a slideshow. He thinks it’s a memory, but it’s so faded and fragmented that he can’t be sure if it really happened or he invented it. It’s really more of a feeling than a series of events – like something from a dream.

Kiryu recalls watching his mother at her dressing table as she got ready to go out some evening. He otherwise remembers almost nothing about her – her hair, he thinks, was cut in a long bob, turned under at the ends, and she was quite a plain and unobtrusive person. This must have been a special occasion, because there was an evening dress of green silk laid out next to Kiryu on the bed. He was playing with the sleeve buttons, which were tiny, shaped like pearls. He was half-watching her reflection in the mirror and sometimes their eyes would meet, and she would smile – as if this was a game.

The chime and clatter of the elevator door brings him back to himself – the brothel, the sounds of women’s voices just too far away to distinguish. He steps inside the car, wondering how long he stood there, lost in thought. He presses the door close button, thinking that he really shouldn’t linger too long. If he bumps into Majima on his way out, things might get awkward.

Chapter Text

On Wednesday night Kiryu is stirred out of sleep by the buzzing of his phone.

GOROMI <3: I got a plan for SPECIAL REVERSE DATE NIGHT!

Kiryu rubs his eyes and squints to make the backlit screen come into focus as he types: what is that?

GOROMI <3: It’s like a regular date but better and in reverse.

But how does it work? 

GOROMI <3: Good thing you’re pretty, ‘cause you’re dumb as a bag of rocks. How does a regular date go?

I don’t know, I don’t have that much experience except with you. I guess drinks followed by dinner, maybe a third activity. Like bowling?

GOROMI <3: The third activity is fucking, Kiryu-chan. Takin your sweetie back to a classy hotel or your swinging bachelor pad and blowing her mind for six to eight minutes.

I can last longer than that! Last time was just–

Kiryu presses ‘send’ before he can even think of an end to the sentence. He scowls and hurriedly types a follow-up message:

Anyway, it’s a compliment. Because you’re very sexy.

GOROMI <3: It was magical, baby – don’t get a complex.

GOROMI <3: Point is, by the time a couple of lovebirds have loaded up on 2-for-1 happy hour specials and complex carbs they’re not exactly on top fucking form.

GOROMI <3: So let’s cut to the chase. Work up an appetite, then head out for dinner and drinks. Sound good?

Yeah. Sounds amazing.

The next message he receives is the address of somewhere called ‘Hotel Fantassie’, a date and time.

GOROMI <3: See you soon, stud ;)

:)  <3  P)

GOROMI <3: ???

It’s me and you!

GOROMI <3: That’s the cutest fuckin thing I’ve ever seen.

GOROMI <3: I hate it.

Kiryu arrives at the hotel a little late due to an unusual density of delinquents on his run across town. He examines the illuminated screen in the lobby that displays available room numbers, but this of course tells him nothing about which of the greyed-out rooms might be hers. He can’t exactly go knocking door to door.

He calls Goromi and the phone goes straight to voicemail. The ‘leave a message’ recording is just swearing and the sound of someone getting beaten up. Kiryu suspects she set it by accident, maybe while hitting someone with the handset.

He approaches the reception desk. “Excuse me, is there…? My girlfriend might have left a key. She’s… tall, a lot of tattoos, blonde hair and an eye patch. Extremely glamorous, wears a lot of pink?”

The reception booth has only a small cut-out showing the attendant’s hands and torso – probably to protect the guests from curious or disapproving stares. It dawns on Kiryu that the attendant might not have seen anything. “Uh. She’s very loud and very Kansai. Laugh like a wicked witch from a fairy tale? You’d definitely remember her if she came in.”

A key card slides across the cheap wood veneer and Kiryu catches a glimpse of blue dress shirt. “Room 609.” The voice is familiar, though somewhat muffled.

“Nishida, is that you?”     

“… No?”

“I don’t know how much your boss pays you, but you should definitely ask for a raise. A lot of this stuff can’t be in your job description.”

A choking sound followed by a high-pitched: “have a nice stay, SIR.”

Kiryu rides a rickety elevator to the sixth floor and walks to the end of the hallway. The door opens with a bleep at the swipe of his card and admits him to a room lit by a soft pink glow.

The room seems to have an ‘Arabian Nights’ theme – the walls are painted red, yellow and blue in a tile pattern and there are tasselled carpets and cushions scattered about. The bed is a four-poster veiled in layers of a sheer pink fabric. The lamp placed on the far side of the bed shines through these draperies, revealing the silhouette of the person lying on the bed – a lean body with long, muscular legs, a knot of hair tied up with a bow. There is a trail of shed clothing leading from the door – tangled fishnets, a twist of something pink and sequinned, black peep-toe shoes – one on its side and the other standing upright – and a pair of pink panties with black lace overlay and frills.

“You’re late, Kiryu-chan,” says Goromi’s voice. The shadow wags a finger.

Kiryu’s blood has already deserted his brain from seeing the undergarments on the floor. He stammers out: “Sorry, uh – there was – I got held up.”

“I was so bored, Kiryu-chan,” she says in a nasal, complaining tone. “I had to get started without you.”

“I’m very sorry.” It’s true – the fact Kiryu wasn’t here in time to help undress her might be the greatest tragedy of his life. “I’ll make it up to you.”

An arm emerges from between the panes of fabric, a finger topped with a wickedly long acrylic nail curling in a beckoning gesture.

Kiryu leaves his shoes by the door and tears off his suit, tossing it over a dusty velvet ottoman. He parts the curtains and finds Goromi lying on her stomach with her hips propped up on a bank of pillows. She is naked – which he already knew, but somehow he is still unprepared for the full expanse of her flexing back and the saturated blacks and reds of the tattoo. Hannya mask bares her golden teeth at him and sakura dance in the static breeze. Goromi has her feet raised and crossed at the ankle, swinging back and forth in a restless rhythm like an angry cat thrashing its tail. The polish on her toes is watermelon pink.

“Goromi,” he says, kissing his way up her spine. He drapes himself over her and shivers at the feeling of being skin to skin. He nuzzles at her neck and tries to catch the corner of her mouth but she turns her face away.

A foot lands in his ribs, the awkward sideways angle robbing the blow of any real power. “Ah-ah, if ya wanted foreplay ya shoulda been on time.”

“Goromi, please. Let me kiss you, let me…” he drops his voice, “let me suck you.”

“Later, maybe. If you’re good. C’mon, don’t keep a lady waiting.”

There’s a condom resting on the pillow like a complimentary chocolate in a classier hotel. Kiryu works it on as she looks back over her shoulder, arms folded like she’s about to settle down for a nap. “Such a good boy – always hard and ready for me when I want ya. Now this is what I call room service.”

Kiryu flushes at the patronising praise. Her hips flex and legs spread where she’s propped up on the pillows and he catches something shining on her inner thighs. He makes a low, helpless sound, thumb slipping into the crease of her ass to confirm what he already knows – she’s wet and slippery with lube.

“Goromi,” he says, the tone of his voice somewhere between thrilled and accusing. He slips a finger into her up to the second knuckle and she looks back at him, glossy lips parted. He wonders when she had time to do it – before she came here? Or did she arrive in the room as Majima, working herself open before applying the manicure? He’s so enthralled by the mystery of her – how and where she blinks into existence.

“Kiryu-chan,” she replies with false sweetness, heavy eyelashes fluttering. He takes hold of himself and slides in. She gasps and her spine curves, hands spreading and then clawing in around the pillow, but she doesn’t move back to meet him – just lies there luxuriating like she’s receiving a massage. Fine, she wants pleasure, she wants satisfaction – that’s what he’s here for.

Kiryu pulls and arranges her so he can fuck her deeper. He watches his own hands flex around her hips, the rippling flesh of her ass, and the pornographic stretch of her body around him. The bed squeaks under them, thudding against the wall as he thrusts. She shouts encouragement like it’s a spectator sport: “that’s it, just like that! Shit, you’re a fuckin’ beast! Wreck me, Kiryu-chan, do it!”

He can’t be sure that he lasts any longer than the first time. The tight clench of her body, her obscene taunts and the flashes of her heated gaze he catches through a curtain of hair – all of it stokes a fire in him, and before he knows it he’s gasping and begging her to be allowed to come.

She laughs, face muffled in the pillow. “Aw baby, askin’ so nicely – like ya can even help yourself.”

“Goromi, please.”

“Yeah, yeah, c’mon champ. You earned it.”

Kiryu bends over her, sweaty chest to back. He buries his face in the back of her neck and pulls her down on him one more time as he comes, thighs trembling. He feels himself spiralling up out of his body, light-headed and breathless.

He pulls out, tries to steady himself on a post and gets briefly tangled in the hangings. Upon freeing himself, Kiryu leans over the bed to dispose of the condom in another discreetly provided waste basket. Goromi lies face-down, limbs sprawled – she looks like a murder victim from a lurid detective show. She is the dearly-departed blonde, legs up to here – a tragedy.

“Flip me over, honey,” she says. “This side’s done.”

He levers her up at the shoulder and hip and she rolls over with a groan. Much of her make-up has rubbed off on the pillow, leaving behind a blurry, impressionistic image of herself, complete with a void where the eyepatch sits. Her earrings are tangled in her hair and her sequinned bow is askew. Her dick is still hard and curving prettily up towards her belly, the tip flushed red and leaking. Kiryu leans down and sucks it, unable to resist, and she shoves him back with a hand on his chest. “Hey, hey, didn’t say ya earned that.”

Kiryu tries to look as pathetic as possible, not much of a stretch in his current state of desperation.

She’s distracted, however, groping his chest thoughtfully. “Anyone ever told you ya got an incredible pair of tits, Kiryu-chan? Truly fuckin’ spectacular.”

“They’re not…” he looks down, hissing as her long nails pinch his nipples. “I mean, they’re pecs.”

“They’re more’n a handful, that’s for sure. Think you can hold ‘em together for me while I get off?”

“You want to…?” Kiryu looks down, trying to work out the mechanics.

“Ya aint never had a titty-job?” she lets out a low whistle. “Missin’ out.”

She leans over the bed among all the rumpled sheets and he hears the click of a bottlecap, then she flops back with a sigh and he flinches as she spreads something cool and slick up the centre of his chest. She props herself up on the bank of pillows like a potentate at a feast, her legs spread, dick hard and expectant. Kiryu crawls between her thighs and lowers himself down, contemplating the positioning of his legs and arms in this advanced yoga move. He leans on his elbows as he pushes his pecs together from the sides. She tilts her hips, pushing back against him and ruffling his hair with smug affection as her dick slides in the wet, slippery crease. It’s faintly humiliating, but he’s too blissed-out and stupid from his own orgasm to care.

“Look at you, baby,” she coos. “Always so good for me, aint ya? Little tighter now.” She throws her head back, rocks her hips faster with a grunt. Kiryu leans into the uncomfortable stretch, drops his chin so the head of her dick brushes his lips with every thrust. He opens his mouth, flattens his tongue so she’ll rub across it.  He feels a burst of wetness that surprises him and he turns his face on reflex – the rest of her load goes over his cheek, into his sideburn and the hair at his temple. He’s both shocked and thrilled that he made it happen.

She slumps back, reaching out to squeeze his jaw a little meanly. “there you are – ruined just like ya wanted, huh?”

Kiryu swallows and nods. She rubs against his bottom lip with the pad of her thumb – he pushes his tongue up to meet it and he realises what she’s doing – making him lick off her come. He closes his eyes, tongue rasping against the inner curve of her nail.

“Good boy, perfect.”

He pulls off her thumb with a pop and as the feelings of warmth and satisfaction recede, he becomes conscious of how sweaty he is, the loose strands of hair curling and sticking to his brow; he is also streaked with lube and semen. He must look like… he doesn’t want to know. She is flushed and triumphant, but he can’t meet her eye – her smile is as far as he’ll go.

He takes himself off to the bathroom to clean up. She’s curled on her side when he comes back and he climbs back into the bed with her, trying to fit himself into the spaces between her bony elbows and knees, to get as close as he can without jostling her and risking pulling her out of her drowsy and compliant state.

He kisses her, wet and deep at first and then softer and softer until they are just pressing their lips together in a lingering moth-wing brush. He pulls back until her face comes into focus, then reaches out to touch her jaw, sliding his thumb across into the hollow of her cheek and then up over the bow of her lips. Her eye opens, iris as dark and shiny as a new-hatched chestnut. He rubs his thumb at the outer edge, feeling the tracery of lines that become crow’s feet when she smiles, and watches as the light plays across the glittering arc of her eyeshadow. She groans and shifts, a soft laugh in her exhalation. “Oi, don’t give me that dopey, lovestruck look.”

“Why not?”

“You know why not.”

Kiryu feels the danger in pressing this enigmatic comment. He charges on – bull-headed as always: “if you’re telling me not to fall in love with you, it’s too late for that.”

She laughs. “Kiryu-chan, only you could make a confession like that sound like a threat.”

Kiryu wants to press more, but he knows how it goes with her – as with Majima – there won’t be a direct route when it comes to feelings and intentions. A flicker at the edge of your gaze that vanishes when you try to look at it head-on: jokes, double-meanings, innuendos. He presses his forehead to hers, closes his eyes and tries to convey the depth of his feeling without words.

He knows it’s irrational, given who she is and the short time they’ve been dating. It doesn’t matter. She seems essential, a piece that has clicked into place in his life. His heart lifts in joyful recognition when he sees her, like a dog hearing the rattle of its owner’s keys in the front door. Goromi!

“Hey, don’t get too comfortable,” she says. “I’m hungry, ya know.”

“Hmm,” he smiles against her cheek, rubbing her arm. “You want to get dressed and hit the town?”

“Nah, wanna stay right here for a little while. Was hoping some chivalrous guy might volunteer for a supply run.”

“Oh yeah? Who?”

She curls against him with a sad little: “Kiryu-chaaaan.”

Manipulative, underhand – extremely effective.

*~*~*

“Honey, I’m home,” Kiryu calls out as he hops to remove his shoes, weighed down on one side by the grocery bags.

“Finally, I’m starving. Get over here.” Goromi stubs out her cigarette where she’s sitting at a low table surrounded by more scattered and bejewelled cushions (Kiryu is trying not to think about the hygiene implications of so many soft furnishings in a love hotel). She has refreshed her make-up (frosted blue eyeshadow, peony pink blusher and lipstick) but made no further progress in getting dressed than putting on her underwear – a fact that makes Kiryu extremely glad to be alive.

Kiryu deposits one of the plastic bags from the convenience store on the table and she grabs it like a racoon getting its paws on some particularly succulent garbage. He watches her face as she uncovers the treasures within, scattering snacks left and right.

“Only three kinds of chips?” she scrunches up her nose. “And I wanted that knockoff brand Pocky – the one with the artificial strawberry so strong it burns your tastebuds.”

“You didn’t ask for it.” Kiryu removes his jacket and, on second thought, his shirt. He feels overdressed for this occasion.

She points an accusing finger. “If ya really loved me you would know.”

“Please forgive me, your majesty, for not adequately anticipating your wishes.”

“Hey, which of these bentos is for me?” Goromi bends down and squints through the plastic lids.

“Whichever you want.”

“Which of ‘em was most expensive?”

“They both cost the same. They’re exactly the same except one has squid, I think, and the other has fried chicken.”

She scrutinizes both boxes this way and that, weighs them in her hands, then selects one, eyeing Kiryu suspiciously when he pulls the other towards him.

Kiryu settles himself cross-legged on the other side of the table and reaches back into the bag he left on the floor. His fingers close around two chilled cans and he pulls them out and hides them behind his back. “Pick a hand,” he says.

“O-ho, what’s this?” she gets the avid, delighted look that it always thrills him to see. “Eeeny-meeny-miney-mo…” she gives his right shoulder a sharp jab.

Kiryu shuffles the cans in his hand and produces the correct one, a peach and passionfruit soda decorated with the brand’s cartoon mascot, Supotto-chan – a black and white dog in a pink miniskirt. She has a hair bow and one of the black patches of her coat is directly over her left eye.

“It’s meee!” Goromi cries triumphantly, snatching it up.

Kiryu hums in agreement. “One of your relatives, anyway.”

Goromi’s eye is shining as she looks at the picture, turning the can in her hands. “Kiryu-chan, I will never criticise your snack choices again!”

“I’m glad you like it.” Kiryu puts his own can of amazake on the table and wipes the condensation from his hands onto his pants.

“Hey, take a picture of us,” Goromi cradles the soda can to her face and fans her fingers out like a model from a vintage advertisement. “Me and my sister from another mister.”

Kiryu pulls his phone out of his pocket and leans close to snap the picture, turning it to show her. “Very beautiful, Goromi.”

“Gonna keep that one for the spank bank, huh?”

“You can’t be romantic for even one second, can you?” He pulls the lid off his bento and breaks his chopsticks apart.

“Wait! Aren’t ya gonna be thankful?” Goromi puts her hands together, thumbs towards her chest, and grins at him – the good-mannered child lording it over a hasty classmate.

Kiryu presses his palms together, mirroring her gesture. “Itadakimasu!” they say in unison, the same sing-song intonation.

Goromi digs in like a starving person, scattering rice grains over the table as she chews and talks at the same time. She makes wasabi, soy sauce and mayonnaise into a repulsive slurry which she refers to as ‘special sauce’. She pouts until Kiryu gives her half his squid, sneakily deposits the radish pickles she doesn’t want on his side. Then she pushes her empty tray aside before Kiryu’s even finished his meal and demands dessert.

He lowers the piece of daikon that was halfway to his mouth. “Better go buy it yourself, then.”

“Kiryu-chan, don’t be mean,” she pouts. “You got me something. You wouldn’t deny me, I know it.”

Kiryu sighs and sets his chopsticks carefully across his tray. He reaches down into the plastic bag and produces a pastry box, which he slides across the table towards her like an engagement ring.

Goromi tears it open and her face lights up when she spies the strawberry éclair. “Long and pink, my two favourite things.” She bites into it suggestively, swiping cream from the corner of her mouth with the point of her tongue.

Kiryu finishes his own meal and sips his amazake. The last time he sat down to eat with another person was in the prison dining hall, so even the store-bought bento feels like luxury compared to that. Between bites, Goromi rambles about Majima Family antics: legendary brawls against those who dare encroach on their turf; all-night drunken adventures; karaoke battles. It’s maybe the best time Kiryu remembers having since he went away – food, light chatter, how beautiful she is.

“Kinda quiet there,” she says, sliding her can of soda towards him.

“Sorry,” Kiryu pops the tab and pushes it back.

She takes a sip and brushes the long tassels of her earring with a flip of her free hand. “Girl might get the idea you’re not interested.”

“I guess I’m just not a big talker since prison. I spent a lot of time avoiding people, keeping my head down.”

“You say that like ya were the life an’ soul of the party before. You’ve always been the strong, silent type.”

“Was I?” That’s not how Kiryu remembers it, but probably everyone seems quiet compared to Majima.

“M-mm,” she tilts her head back. “There’s something about you. This cool quality, ya know? Like ya can always take it or leave it. It’s hard to hold your attention, makes people want to try. Try too hard, maybe.”

“You make me sound kind of arrogant.”

“Nah, it’s not like that. The opposite, maybe. Like ya don’t really want anything, y’know? Other guys they go for what they want – graspin’, climbin’ the greasy pole. You always seemed to be above that.”

Kiryu shrugs. “I’m not a saint, either.”

“Don’t know what you are exactly. Some kind of gifted idiot, maybe. Does what’s right and never what’s smart.”

Kiryu shakes his head, a smile tugging up the corner of his mouth. “For a whole two seconds there, I thought you were saying something sweet.”

“Ya wanted sweet, ya wouldn’t be datin’ me. I’m keepin’ it real, Kiryu-chan.” She makes a gun cocking motion, pointing with two fingers.

“Sometimes a man likes to be flattered, you know?”

She rolls her eye and groans. “Oh, fine. We’ll play a game. It’s called ‘Nice Girlfriend Goromi’.”

“What are the rules?” Kiryu asks, sitting up at attention. “How do I win?”

“The rules are what I say they are and ya win simply by bein’ allowed to play.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Hey! Any more attitude from ya and we’ll play a round of ‘Mean Girlfriend Goromi’ instead.”

“How is that different from ‘Regular Girlfriend Goromi’?”

“You’re real sassy tonight, huh? You’re lucky I’m still a little loopy from all that good dick ya gave me earlier, ‘cause otherwise I’d be inclined to take offence.”

“I just don’t get why it has to be a game. Couldn’t you just… be nice to me?”

She wrinkles her nose. “Ew, Kiryu-chan – that’s perverted. A little fun in the privacy of a bedroom’s one thing, but I aint about that ‘lifestyle’.” She clears her throat and moves to a kneeling position, clasping her hands together before her chest, fingers interlaced. “Pleased to meet you! I’m your nice girlfriend, Goromi. I like puppies and kittens and cute things. I am modest and virginal, so please do not outrage my sense of decency. Let’s have fun together, ok?”

Kiryu thinks about pointing out that the only thing she’s wearing is a pair of lace briefs. He rests his hands on his knees to look more formal and nods towards her across the table. “Pleased to meet you too, Goromi. I’m Kazuma and I’ve never had a nice girlfriend before.”

“Eh?” she tilts her head, birdlike. “Never? But you’re so strong and handsome, Kazu-chan. How can it be that no nice girls have wanted to date you?”

“Just unlucky, I guess.”

She taps the side of her mouth in a thoughtful attitude. “Hmm, then I guess you’ve never done any nice girlfriend activities, like picnics in the park, cute photobooth sessions, or resting your heavy head in a soft and pillowy lap.”

“I haven’t done any of those things, you’re right.”

“Oh no!” Goromi claps her hands to her cheeks. “This is a tragedy. Hard to imagine how a man goes on living, so deprived.”

Kiryu tries not to laugh as he nods in agreement. “It’s a struggle.”

“You’d better come over here right away so I can soothe your fevered brow.” She pats her thighs, which are lean, taut muscle and in no way soft or pillowy.

Kiryu moves over to her side of the table, displacing pillows so he can lower himself down on his side and fit his head into the cradle of Goromi’s lap. She places one hand in his hair and rubs slowly in circles, the other stroking his shoulder and arm.

“Eh, Kazu-chan, you have a big, scary tattoo – you’re not a bad boy, are you?”

“No,” he says, letting his eyes droop closed. “Not anymore.”

“What shall we do now? Should I sing you a song, or do you want to tell me all your troubles and I’ll make sympathetic noises? Like ‘ahhhhh, that must be difficult?’ and ‘oh no, my poor darling!’”

“I don’t have any troubles when I’m with you, Goromi.”

“Hmm. I could make some for you.”

He turns his head to kiss her knee. “Tell me about the future.”

“Hey, ya want Psychic Girlfriend Goromi, ya have to pay extra.”

“I didn’t even know I was paying for this in the first place.”

“You’ll pay, alright – after this you’re taking me to Shellac for expensive cocktails.”

“I know, I remember – reverse date night.”

She slips back into the artificially sweet and formal voice. “Mmm, Kazu-chan is a good and generous boyfriend,” she leans down and kisses him on the temple, a lock of her hair tickling his cheek. She hums something quietly, a song he vaguely recognises from their trip to karaoke. “The future… let’s see. You and I will get married, obviously, because you have nothing but honourable intentions. The wedding will be in spring, so we can enjoy the cherry blossoms. And then we will move to the suburbs and adopt ten children.”

“Why so many?”

“Because you attract waifs and strays, that’s your nature. Everyone wants to be taken care of by Kazu-chan.”

Kiryu thinks about Haruka, cowering behind a bar in that scene of carnage. Her near-instant, unjustified trust in him. He left her asleep in Reina’s care, telling himself a few hours wouldn’t make a difference, but the sour taste of guilt is in the back of his throat. “That’s a nice picture, your future.”

“I know. I’m pretty good at this game, aint I?”

“Yeah.” Kiryu closes his eyes again, concentrates on the feeling of her fingers in his hair. He greedily hoards his memories of every moment with her. Sometimes it feels like these experiences are already second-hand, already tinged with the bittersweet pleasure of nostalgia. There’s always something on the horizon, closing in fast. Something he has to do, because if not him, who?

She’s humming again, finger and thumb toying with the lobe of his ear.

“What’s your song about, Goromi?”

“Who knows? Just some catchy love song, I guess.”

*~*~*

On Friday Kiryu is hurrying down Pink Alley when he hears an echoing “Kiryu-chaaaaan!”    

He looks left and right, scans the distance and looks back over his shoulder, checking for a flash of obnoxious yellow jacket. Nothing. He glares suspiciously at the nearest sewer grating, taking three steps back and then turning down an even narrower street, realising too late that it’s a dead end. There’s a sudden rush of wind and the unmistakable sound of Majima’s blade singing through the air – Majima appears from above, landing in front of Kiryu in a crouch and leaping up again like he has springs in his heels.

“Where did you even come from?” Kiryu dodges, looks up and sees that the ramen shop he was passing has a piece of low roof jutting out about ten feet off the ground. Majima must have been lying in wait, squatting up there like the world’s tackiest gargoyle. “Why?” Kiryu asks helplessly, aiming a kick at his stomach and looking around for a convenient sign to wield. This alley has nothing – not even room to swing a cat, let alone a specials board. Majima’s blade nicks his side and Kiryu falls back against the wall.

“You know why!” Majima cackles, dancing back with an almost come-hither look in his eye, tantō raised. “You’re like a broken record, Kiryu-chan.”

Kiryu kicks the blade out of his hand and grabs his knee before he can chase after it, pulling Majima’s leg out from under him so he goes down hard. He climbs onto Majima’s chest and gets a few good punches in, arm pumping like a piston. Majima scissor kicks and twists, rolls them over and over into the gutter, where they belong. Kiryu is pissed – he just got this suit dry-cleaned.

The fight goes on like music, increasingly complex variations on a violent theme. Finally, it looks like Majima is tiring. They’re grappling on the ground and Kiryu is gearing up for a finishing move – fingers clenched in Majima’s hair and fist drawn back to release – when Majima surges up and kisses him. Someone’s blood is in his mouth and Kiryu can feel a roll of hips from below, the hard line of Majima’s dick searing into Kiryu’s thigh like a brand.

“What the hell are you doing?” Kiryu demands, scrambling off him.

Majima laughs, spreads his arms. “Come on, Kiryu-chan. Don’t act coy. We can mix a little pleasure with business.” He rolls smoothly to his feet – resilient as rubber – and moves towards Kiryu in a predatory, stalking pose, shoulders rounded and head lowered. Kiryu backs up until he hits a vending machine (always a vending machine), the collision dislodging several cans and sending them rattling into the pickup slot.

One of Majima’s gloved hands plants itself on the worn brick next to Kiryu’s head, the other on his chest and begins sliding down. When it gets to his belt, Kiryu grabs his wrist and squeezes. “Majima, stop.”

Majima leans in, grinning in a cocksure way. “Come on, don’t be a buzzkill. I got the boys back there on bouncer duty just in case some asshole decides to wander by and interrupt.” He jerks his chin towards the mouth of the alley. “There aint gonna be no audience, just you and me.”

Kiryu doesn’t know whether to be impressed or horrified by Majima’s level of forward-planning. His insistence on involving his underlings in his romantic schemes is certainly disturbing.

“Majima-san,” Kiryu says in a surprisingly calm voice. “I’m very flattered by your interest, but I have a girlfriend.”

Majima looks genuinely shocked. He blinks and his mouth opens and then shuts, then he lets out a strange bark of laughter. “Hah?”

“I’m very fond of her and I respect her,” Kiryu continues. “I would never want to betray her trust. So please take your hand away from my crotch.”

“Are ya fuckin’ FOR REAL?” Majima demands, spittle flecking against Kiryu’s cheek in his agitation.

“Nii–”

Majima jerks his hand out of Kiryu’s grip and punches him in the balls.

Kiryu crumples to his knees, then curls up onto his side. He breathes in shallow, rasping gasps and tries not to throw up. Not gentlemanly conduct – he’s disappointed in Majima. From his place on the ground all he can see is a pair of steel-capped shoes marching away. Their distinctive click-clacking fades and disappears.

“Fuck,” Kiryu huffs, slowly easing himself into a sitting position against the side of the vending machine. He reaches into the slot and pulls out one of the windfall cans, hoping for a medicinal Staminan X or Toughness Z. It’s barley tea, which is at least refreshing and fortified with vitamins and minerals. Kiryu is trying to keep a positive outlook, even though he has a sinking feeling that Majima’s campaign against him – already at ridiculous heights – is about to kick up another notch.

*~*~*

Kiryu doesn’t hear from Goromi for an entire day and starts to worry that Majima’s anger has seeped across and become hers. Just as he’s about to give in to the adolescent urge to text her ‘baby, are you mad?’ and a string of sad emoticons, he finally receives a message:

GOROMI <3: Got a special date idea for tonight – a surprise! 10PM: meet me back where it all started.

Kiryu texts back with his acceptance and follow-up questions, but she doesn’t reply.

‘Where it all started’ – does she mean that weird French-themed bar where they had their first date? The alley where they had their first kiss? He decides that the message implies something more fundamental: their first meeting.

Having learned his lesson from last time, Kiryu makes sure to arrive early at Club Shine and asks the manager to conduct him to a booth. He explains that he’s waiting for a friend, he won’t need a hostess just yet. He jogs his knee in anxious anticipation, scanning the entrance and the bar area for a flash of gaudy pink.

He flinches when a pair of gloved hands cover his eyes from behind, but then he hears a familiar high and playful voice: “surpriiiise, Kiryu-chan! Guess who?”

“Goromi,” he says, smiling.

The hands pull away and there comes a rush of air as the not-so-mystery guest jumps over the back of the booth.

“Wrong!” comes the sing-song voice.

Kiryu takes in the familiar snakeskin jacket and black leather pants, the shiny-tipped shoes. “Majima-san.”

“Aw, ya don’t look pleased. Were ya expecting someone else?”

“I think you know I was. I was waiting for my girlfriend.”

“Wrong again, dummy. Your girlfriend doesn’t exist. She’s me in a fuckin’ wig. Shocker, I know.”

Kiryu lowers his voice. “It’s not that simple. I think you know that, niisan.”

“Don’t ‘niisan’ me – I know ya only do that when you’re tryin’ to twist my arm and it’s not fuckin’ cute.”

The head waiter comes over and bows with a jerk. “Excuse me, gentlemen. Do you have particular girls you would like to request or–”

“We don’t need no fuckin’ girls, bud!” Majima snaps. “I’m tryin’ to have a serious conversation with this very sad and confused man right here.”

“But sir, this is a hostess club.”

Majima sighs. “Fuck it – who’s on the roster tonight?”

“Well there’s Sachiko, Aoi, Keiko, Mei–”

“Great, they’re all on break for the next thirty minutes. On me, ok?” He pulls a roll of bills out of an inner pocket and places it on the waiter’s empty tray. “That should cover the base fee, plus whatever drinks they want. Go crazy. Champagne for everyone!”

“But…” the waiter looks flustered. “You could just go to a regular bar… this is very unusual.”

“Unusual you don’t know the half of, buddy. Go on, bring us a couple a’ whiskies – Hibiki 17 if you got it.”

“Yes, sir. Right away, sir,” the waiter bows and walks off in a rapid penguin shuffle.

In the ensuing awkward silence, Majima lights himself a cigarette and sits back, crossing his long legs at the ankle, encroaching on Kiryu’s space. “Awful quiet there, Kiryu-chan. Ya got nothin’ to say?”

“If Goromi didn’t feel like coming out tonight she could have just texted me.”

Majima narrows his eye. “Still don’t get it, do ya? Her name is just mine with the character for ‘beauty’ jammed on the end. It’s a fuckin’ joke of a name – ‘Goro-but-hot’.”

“I don’t think it is a joke.”

“I’m the one who came up with it! Whaddya think, this is some Jekyll and Hyde shit? Your sweet girlfriend goes home and drinks a potion and becomes bad, mean old Majima? Nah, come on with that.”

“I don’t think that.” Kiryu frowns, struggling to articulate his fuzzy ideas. “I know she’s you, I know you’re both Majima – you have the same body, the same memories. But I also don’t think you made her up, not exactly.”

“You a shrink now, Kiryu-chan? Gonna explain my fuckin’ personal identity to me?”

Kiryu shakes his head. “You explain it, if you want me to understand.”

He leans forward, a wild, sadistic glint in his eye – mad dog slipping the leash. “Goromi is a bit. She’s a character I play sometimes, for fun. Like Everyone’s Idol Goro and Officer Majima and the fuckin’ zombie. You’re the one who took it too far. I thought it was just a joke, y’know – like Kiryu-chan finally learned to bat the ball back after all these years! But then I realised, holy shit, he’s in love with a fake girl. Like literally all I had to do to get ya to pay attention to me was put on some lipstick and a short skirt. It’s really that easy and you’re really that dumb. Or just fuckin’ lonely and pathetic.” Majima sniffs, takes another draw of his cigarette. “Anyway, I guess it was funny for a while, but the joke got old.”

Kiryu stares at him coldly. He feels disappointed – not for himself, with Majima. This is petty and unbecoming, like punching him in the balls. It’s tipping over the board rather than admitting defeat. “Why are you doing this?” he asks.

Majima shrugs with affected carelessness. “Because truth’s a bitch and so am I.”

Kiryu folds his arms. “That sounds like something she would say.”

“Yeah, guess what – I wrote all her lines. It was an inside job.”

“So it was all pretend,” Kiryu presses. “Every minute?”

“Yeah – ya got cotton in your ears or somethin’? I just said so.”

“So you painted your toes, which no-one else saw, for a joke?”

“Yeah.”

“You kissed me and had sex with me, for a joke? And you let me put my head in your lap, and you told me about your kyoudai, about your past, for a joke? And you ate with me and drank with me and danced with me, and you wore all those pretty clothes that fit you so perfectly, also for a joke?”

“Yeah. Ya don’t have to go on about it, I get the picture. I always take things too far, that’s my whole fuckin’ brand!”

Kiryu breathes out slowly, still staring straight ahead. “If I believed that, Majima-san... if I believed even one word of it, I would take you outside and put your head through a window. I would kick you from one end of Kamurocho to the other.”

“Hey yeah, that sounds like a great idea!” Majima slaps his own knee. “Good old Kiryu-chan!” He makes to get up and Kiryu yanks him back down by the tail of his jacket.

“Sit down. I said if I believed it, but I don’t.” Kiryu turns to look at him and sees the malicious smile waver – however Majima imagined this conversation playing out, this isn’t it. “You fooled me once, the first time we met in this club, but you won’t again. I don’t know exactly how it works with you and her. I really do want to listen, so you can explain, and I will try my best to understand. But whatever this is – you trying to make me angry, or upset, or humiliated, I won’t listen to that.”

The waiter picks this moment to return with their drinks, kneeling by their table as he offloads his tray. There is a moment of painful silence as they watch him fussing with napkins and placing the glasses just so. He tells them to enjoy, bows with the empty tray folded to his chest, and departs.

They each lift their drinks and sip moodily, no cheers. The silence stretches on: where to go from here? What is left to say?

Majima surprises him by cracking first: “well, can ya blame a guy for being a little jealous?”

Kiryu turns his head, takes in Majima’s sheepish expression. “Of who – Goromi?”

“Yeah. So she’s out there livin’ her best life, getting truly spectacular dick and generally bein’ treated like a princess. And what am I, chopped liver? Goromi’s phone is blowin’ up with date invitations and what’s Goro getting, more work emails? Quarterly reports from Nishida? Fuck that.”

“I’m sorry you were feeling neglected, niisan.”

“Quit it, I don’t need your pity. I’m just sayin’ how dumb it is that you’re chasin’ her and I’m chasin’ you. I’m literally in a love triangle with myself – that’s some Shakespearian shit.”

“It is pretty complicated, now that you mention it.”

Majima swirls his glass and gives Kiryu a quick glance before staring back down into his drink. “So do ya… I mean do ya genuinely not like men? It has to be her, only her?”

“I’ve never dated a man before, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”

“No offence–” Majima’s eyebrows crease, “well, some offence – but aren’t ya kind of long in the tooth not to have worked that shit out? I mean ya just came back from a decade-long sausage fest. How much more time do you need to figure out if ya like dudes?”

“I wouldn’t want to date anyone in prison, Majima-san. On my block, most of them were violent criminals and terrible people.”

“Violent? Oh no!”

“And also prison is not a very accepting environment for… those kinds of relationships.”

“No, really?” Majima makes an idiotic face of amazement. “Wow, guess we have it good in the enlightened yakuza.”

Kiryu almost complains about the sarcasm and bite of meanness, but then he remembers that Goromi is like that too. Only the knowing purr of her voice makes it charming.

Majima takes a long swallow of his drink. Kiryu doesn’t think he’s ever seen him look so uncertain. “So when you say you wouldn’t rule it out…”

Kiryu stares him down, merciless. “Is there a question there, Majima-san?”

“Stop torturing me, asshole. You know what I’m asking!”

“Do I?”

Majima makes a sound of frustration and puts down his glass with a thump. He points an accusing finger at Kiryu, then abruptly gets up from the booth and stalks outside.

Kiryu sits back, perplexed, and sips his drink. His phone rings and Kiryu answers in a daze. “Hello?”

“Ah, Kiryu-san. It’s Nishida.” There comes a breathless pause. “How are you?”

“I’m ok, I guess. What’s up?”

“I uh… I have a request from someone – do you remember a Goro Majima?”

Kiryu refuses to dignify this with an answer.

“I think you’ve met him a few times,” Nishida persists. “He’s my boss? Patriarch of the Majima Family, a subsidiary of the Tojo Clan? Sometimes known as ‘the Mad Dog of Shimano’? Six feet one inches tall, slim build, goatee beard, black hair shaved at the back, snakeskin jacket? Oh, and an eyepatch! He’s quite memorable, I think you would recall.”

“Yes, Nishida-san, I’m painfully aware of who Goro Majima is.”

“Oh good! He’ll be so happy he made an impression. The boss asked me to make this call because, you see… he’s a little shy.”

Kiryu considers responding to this by pitching his phone at the wall. “Sure, that’s believable.”

“He is! He might not show it, but boss is actually very sensitive and finds it hard to express himself to people he likes.”

“Ok,” Kiryu says in a defeated tone.

“So, he asked me to ask you if perhaps you would be interested in joining him on a date this evening. He has reason to believe you might be free.”

“Nishida-san, no offense to you – I know you have to go along with whatever ridiculous scheme he comes up with – but I’m hanging up the phone now.”     

“Kiryu-san – should I tell him–”

Kiryu presses the end call button, then calmly finishes the last mouthful of his whisky and gets up to leave. He finds Majima standing in the lobby with his arms folded across his chest, looking supremely amused with himself.

“You’re a chickenshit,” Kiryu says. “Why did you have to drag poor Nishida into this, yet again?”

“Huh?” the mischievous eye widens. “Nishida loves bein’ a go-between.”

“Somehow I doubt that.”

“He does! It lets him feel involved in our epic romance. He’s a real softie, y’know? Can’t count the times I’ve caught him cryin’ on the couch to a good rom-com. Besides, Kiryu-chan, I’m just copying your moves.”

“At least I had the decency to be honest about my feelings for Goromi. You’re just fucking around.”

“So is that a yes or a no?”

“Cut the performance,” Kiryu tells him sternly. “No comedy, no dragging Nishida into it – just tell me what you want.”

“What I want?” Majima steps closer, like he’s squaring up for a fight. “That’s a tough question, Kiryu-chan.”

“Why? Because you can’t admit it, or because you don’t know?”

“Because you make me want a lot of things. Right now, for instance, I wanna take ya outside for a good old-fashioned knock-down, drag-out fight. I wanna go on the tear with ya, drink ‘til I can’t feel my face or find my way home and you gotta carry me. I wanna take ya to dinner and make cow-eyes in the candlelight. I wanna take ya up to a rooftop and look at the stars, tell ya all my dirty secrets. And – not gonna lie – I really wanna take ya back to my place and ride you into the mattress ‘til dawn.” He jerks his chin, gaze still challenging. “So, what’ll it be? Gentleman’s choice.”

“I’m uh…” Kiryu blinks. “Those are all interesting ideas.”

“Interestin’?” Majima laughs and Kiryu feels the ripple of breath across his cheek. “Now who’s chickenshit?”

Kiryu reaches out and touches the lapel of Majima’s jacket, fingers sliding over the texture of the snakeskin. He can see Majima’s face looming close only in the periphery of his vision, softened and out of focus.

There was always something electric between them, something so powerful rolling under the surface that Kiryu was afraid to touch it in case it shocked him dead. Goromi was one degree removed and she let him take out his desires and turn them over, to look at them in the light. What would it be like to be loved by someone like Majima – a dynamo, a demon, a rival and something like a friend? The truest person he knows – unchanging in his wild freaks, his loyalty.

He thinks about doing it right – courting Majima like he did Goromi; allowing himself to be courted in return. He thinks about how time is always getting shorter and the list of missions always growing longer. He thinks about the promise in Majima’s eye ten years ago and how long they’ve both been waiting, wondering. “Is it far, your apartment?”

“Not too far,” Kiryu shivers as he feels lips against the corner of his jaw. “We can take a taxi.”

“Yeah, uh – yes please.”

He expects Majima to laugh at him for this, but instead he just puts his palm to Kiryu’s chest, a fingertip tracing the v of exposed skin at his open collar. His jaw tenses and his eye softens into an expression Kiryu has only glimpsed a few times before, in all the time he has known Majima – tired, a little sad.

“Goddamn,” he mutters. He looks at Kiryu like he’s seeing him for the first time, shaking his head. “If I’da known it was this easy…”

Kiryu takes Majima’s hand and lays it against his own cheek, turning into the warmth of the leather. “But it’s not easy for you – asking for things.”

“Yeah,” Majima rubs his thumb over the slope of Kiryu’s cheekbone and then lets his hand trail down to the edge of his jaw. He makes a noise of frustration: “can I?”

Before Kiryu can answer he’s being swept and turned like a dance move and shoved back into a coat rack. Majima kisses him with a desperation that feels familiar to Kiryu from the other side – when Goromi denies him, when she teases and turns her face away and then it’s so, so sweet when she relents. Majima licks into his mouth, drags his hands up Kiry’s back and down again. Kiryu grabs his hips and yanks him closer, spreading his own thighs so Majima can fit against him just right.

He sees Majima’s eye open wide and responds by sucking on his tongue, one hand in his hair and the other squeezing his ass. This body he knows – it smells the same, tastes the same – the only thing missing is the waxy slide of lipstick.

Majima pulls back with a hiss as Kiryu drags his bottom lip between his teeth. “You are…” he grins, looking thrilled.

“What?”

Majima licks across Kiryu’s mouth and bites his ear. “In so much fuckin’ trouble when I get ya home.”

*~*~*

The taxi ride is torture. Kiryu doesn’t know where to look or what to say as Majima lies sprawled, knees apart, a look on his face like all hell is about to break loose. They pull up at a high-rise apartment block just beyond the bounds of Kamurocho and take an elevator up to the top floor. Kiryu stays on his side and ignores Majima smirking at him in the mirrored glass.

Majima unlocks a heavily reinforced door and it swings wide to reveal the penthouse apartment. Kiryu wasn’t sure what he was expecting – the fact that Majima sleeps, eats, bathes – or does anything besides cause mayhem – is news to him. If someone told him Majima actually lives in the sewers, or under a traffic cone, or in a back room at the batting cages, he wouldn’t be particularly surprised.

The apartment is – normal? Bland even, like a show home. It has pale wood floors and a big open-plan kitchen that doesn’t look as if it’s ever been used. The only signs of occupation are a collection of bottles on the kitchen island, a games console and a teetering stack of DVDs next to the widescreen TV, cigarette butts in an ashtray that has some kind of bar logo on it – probably stolen.

There is nothing on the rack by the door besides one sad, dusty house slipper, missing its mate. Kiryu wonders if that means Majima only owns the one pair of shoes. They are alike, in that respect.

“Welcome!” Majima announces in a sing-songy voice like a convenience store clerk. “Come in, make yourself at home. Ya want a drink?”

“Yeah,” Kiryu says, awkward and uncertain. He takes off his shoes and puts them on the rack. Majima does not, just striding in heedlessly and making his way to the bar area.

“Ya want a cocktail?” Majima offers. “I’m good at those – world famous.”

“Whatever you’re having,” Kiryu answers. He’s fascinated by this view of Majima’s secret inner world, and how empty it is. There are floor to ceiling windows in the seating area that provide a panoramic view across Kamurocho’s shifting neon lights. Kiryu wonders if Majima often stands there and looks out across his domain, drawing up battle plans.

Majima is talking, a kind of offhand chatter that seems casual but has a kind of manic edge. He’s reminiscing about his days running a cabaret club – crazy customers with outrageous demands; tricks the girls used to upsell the overpriced drinks; special menus he devised, all over the sound of rattling ice and glugs and splashes. Kiryu wanders into the bedroom and has the strangest feeling of déjà vu – he has seen this room before in Goromi’s pictures. There is the king-sized bed with the rumpled white covers, there is the full-length mirror. There are parts of it he hasn’t seen – the dressing table scattered with cosmetics, the walk-in closet with its sliding door open and the light still on.

Kiryu’s curiosity propels him forward. Inside is a veritable museum of Majima: pocket circuit parts; martial arts magazines; UFO-catcher toys; a tuxedo hanging half out of a garment bag; a police hat; tangled heaps of leather clothing; two jackets the double of the one he’s currently wearing. But what draws Kiryu’s eye is the entire side taken up with Goromi’s effects – a bulging rack of dresses, skirts and bustiers. Above that is a shelf of blonde wigs in differing styles sitting atop blank polystyrene mannequin heads; nestled next to them are jewellery trees dripping with bling. Kiryu has to struggle against the urge to bend down and bury his face in the clothes to see if he can catch her scent.

On a top shelf he spies the pink trapezoid purse with the big gold clasp that she brought on their second date. One of its corners is battered and there’s a big black scrape mark across the front like it got dragged across asphalt. An ancient artefact from simpler times – he reaches up to touch it reverently.       

Majima’s voice comes from close behind him, startling him. “Oh, so that’s where ya got to! Behind the magic curtain, huh? Y’know, people love sausage, but they don’t wanna see how it’s made.”

“I want to see,” Kiryu says, turning. “Would she let me watch, do you think?”

“Watch her getting dressed?” Majima’s eye widens. “Kiryu-chan, you really are a pervert. What kind of backwards-ass shit is this?”

“Forget it,” Kiryu flushes angrily.

Majima looks at him, thoughtful. “Ya wanna try on some of those outfits?” he tilts his head to indicate Goromi’s side of the closet. “Have a little fashion show?”

“No, of course not.”

“Why not?”

“I’d look stupid.”

“Who told you that? Hey, you gotta figure God gave you those big bouncin’ titties for a reason.”

“Majima-san, stop,” he says weakly.

“Here, drink your drink and stop lookin’ so goddamn tragic. I made it special for ya.” Majima hands over a tumbler containing a sphere of ice and some amber-coloured liquid. He holds out his own glass and they clink; Kiryu tastes the cocktail and finds it rich and smoky, with a bitter orange note.

“This is good.” Kiryu reflects that Goromi would never make him a drink – she’s queenly and demanding and refuses to do anything that might compromise her manicure – he likes that about her. But this is good, too.

“Don’t look so surprised,” Majima sets his glass on the dressing table next to a scattering of lipstick tubes and walks over to the bed, patting the space next to him as he sits down with a noisy sigh. “Why don’t ya come outta that closet and we’ll have some real fun?”

Kiryu sits next to Majima on the bed. His legs fall open and his left knee bumps against Majima’s right and he flinches back. Majima laughs, that abrupt cackle that seems like a tic. He puts his still-gloved hand on Kiryu’s knee and squeezes. “Jumpy, aint ya?”

“No offence, Majima-san, but every time you and I have been alone together for the past few weeks it’s meant a fight.”

“That aint true and ya know it. Besides, be against the code of hospitality to invite someone into my home and then attack ‘em. Tonight’s all pleasure and no pain… unless you’re into that.”

Kiryu shakes his head and puts his glass to one side on the nightstand. “Not that I know about, anyway.”

Majima makes a low sound and squeezes Kiryu’s thigh higher up. He leans over and kisses Kiryu, deep and lingering this time. Kiryu pushes off Majima’s jacket and rubs his hands over his shoulders, his chest, the well-defined muscles of his abdomen. He hesitates at the thick belt buckle and Majima bites Kiryu’s bottom lip, making a sound of amusement.

“Shy all of a sudden? Ya can’t keep your hands out of Goromi’s pants.”

“Her outfits are a lot more… easy access.”

“I’m offended by what you’re implyin’. Here, lemme help ya out.” Majima gets up and kicks off his shoes, then unbuckles his pants, shoving them down and stepping out of the pooled leather. His underwear is dark red with a lace band.

“That’s…” Kiryu trails off, staring.

“Oh yeah,” Majima grins, rasping his thumb against the lace. “Me and her got tastes in common.”

“So when we’re – when we’re fighting, you have these on?”

“Not always this particular pair, but yeah – always somethin’ pretty.”

Kiryu bites his lip. The thought Majima in lace underwear bounces around the inside of his skull like a screensaver.

“You need a minute there, stud?” Majima comes over to stand between Kiryu’s spread knees. Kiryu reaches up and touches the edge of the lace, then lets his fingers slide down to cup Majima where he’s stretching out the fabric. Feels like thick cotton, but softer. He leans down and rubs his cheek against it, breathing in deep. The musky scent underlying the fabric softener is the same and so is the hot jump of Majima’s cock against his lips.

Majima’s hand is in his hair, gloved fingertips rubbing circles on his scalp. “You know, the difference between me an’ her is she’s a pillow princess. Know what that means?”

Kiryu shakes his head, kisses Majima’s hip just above the waistband.

“Means she likes to lie back and let someone else do all the work. Me, I like to take a more active role. Understand?”

Kiryu sits back, frowning up at him. “Does that mean you want to – you want to be inside me?”

A yelp of laughter. “Nah, that aint what I had in mind. Your face, though, that is priceless.” Majima rubs Kiryu’s bottom lip with the pad of his thumb. “Wait – that somethin’ you’re interested in?”

Kiryu’s brow creases. “I don’t know. I’ve never tried. Seems like it would be uncomfortable.”

Majima grins. “Not gonna lie, it’s a learning curve. Worth it, in my humble opinion… but then I always had a thing for pushing myself. Sinking down on a big dick like yours, that’s an acquired taste – but once ya do get a taste for it – mm-mm – nothin’ compares.”

“Doesn’t it hurt?”

“Sometimes – that aint exactly a turn-off for me. But it’s more like… pressure. Lights me up like nothin’ else.”

Kiryu thinks about it, a lifetime of overheard jokes and insinuations. “Don’t you worry about other people finding out? Thinking you’re… not manly?”

“Fuck, my manly pride days are behind me, Kiryu-chan. I aint got nothin’ to prove, ‘cept maybe how good I am at suckin’ dick – which is very.” Majima sinks to his knees and starts unbuckling and unzipping Kiryu’s pants, sliding his hand inside to give him a fondle through his underwear until he’s fully hard, pulling him out. “Goddamn,” he says softly, then leans in and licks all the way up his shaft in one long stripe, making a sound of enjoyment as he sucks the head and then starts to swallow it down. Kiryu hisses and grabs at his shoulder and Majima makes a humming sound of amusement around him. He pulls back, closing his eye as his face falls slack with pleasure, then drops back down to take more, bobbing his head and building up a rhythm. It’s a proficiency Kiryu’s never seen outside of porn – this is the one thing Majima’s not just bragging about.

He touches the shorn part of Majima’s hair, ticklish and downy-fine against his fingertips, then slides up over the band of his eyepatch into the longer strands, which are thick and silky, still only finely threaded with silver. He never imagined Majima’s hair would be so soft – obviously Kiryu wasn’t paying attention all those times he used it as a savage hand-hold during their fights.   

He hears himself make a quiet, helpless moan, right thigh trembling under Majima’s spread fingers. Majima comes up for air with a slurping sound, opens his mouth wide to show Kiryu how his tongue looks curling over the head of his cock. He ducks down again and Kiryu gasps and reflexively closes his knees around the other man’s shoulders as he feels hot breath and the dancing point of a tongue threatening to send him over the edge. “Ah, Majima-san!”

“You really gonna call me that when I just sucked your dick?” Majima grins, strokes a gloved finger up and down Kiryu’s shaft and tugs it idly, letting go to watch it spring towards his stomach again.

“Majima,” Kiryu corrects, dopey with pleasure and a little embarrassed. 

Majima climbs to his feet with a groan, using Kiryu’s knee for support. He rubs a hand back through Kiryu’s hair, shaking his head as if in disbelief as he looks down at him. “Fuck, there’s something about you. No matter how many times I absolutely ruin ya it’s always like the first time. Get this sweet blush right here,” Majima traces his finger over the bridge of Kiryu’s nose, across his cheek, “like it’s a surprise, like ya can’t believe it’s happening.”

Kiryu can’t think of anything to say to that. He grasps Majima’s hips, stroking the seam between the lace and the cotton and then sliding one hand around to cup his dick, feeling out the shape of him and squeezing, rubbing his thumb over the wet spot. Majima grunts, lets out a low, filthy laugh. “Wanna get your mouth on that pretty bad, don’t ya?”

“Yeah.”

“Might let ya, if you’re good. If ya hold on for me while I’m gettin’ my fill of that legendary dick. Can ya do that for me, baby?”

Kiryu groans – when Goromi calls him ‘baby’ it’s bad enough – rich and teasing in a way that makes something curl tight in his stomach. When Majima does it, it’s downright obscene.

Majima takes a step back and pushes down his underwear, hard cock bobbing up towards his stomach. The last thing he removes is his gloves, and Kiryu gets a little lost in how hot he finds that, Majima tugging delicately at each fingertip to pull away the tight-fitting leather. Majima catches him staring dumbly and gives a sharp whistle out the side of his mouth. “Hey! Lose the clothes and get on the bed, chop-chop.”  

Kiryu almost trips over himself in his haste to comply – Majima makes him nervous, like Kiryu might lose his attention if he keeps him waiting too long. He leaves his clothes in a pile by the foot of the bed and lies back among the rumpled covers. They smell like Goromi’s perfume and there’s a black smear of eye makeup on one of the pillows. It feels like he’s conducting an affair – like the scorned woman might walk through the door at any moment and catch Kiryu in unspeakable acts with her husband. Is that how it is with them – like a marriage? He wants to ask Majima, but now is definitely not the time.

Majima rifles in a drawer and tosses a condom at Kiryu, placing a bottle of lube on the nightstand with a faintly menacing thunk before crawling over him. “C’mere, big boy. I’m gonna take that other half of your virginity.”

Majima straddles him and when Kiryu reaches for him he grasps Kiry’s wrists and pins them to the bed. “Uh-uh, this is my show. You just lie back and enjoy the wild ride.”

Kiryu pushes up against him, trying the strength of his grip. “Don’t you want me to…?”

“To what?” Majima smiles lazily, rubbing against him before sitting up and releasing his hands. Kiryu keeps them where he put them, clenching his fingers in the covers.

“To… get you ready?”

“Kiryu-chan, I was born ready.” Majima slicks up his fingers and reaches back where Kiryu can’t see –  only imagine how they look disappearing up inside him. Majima rises up on his knees and tilts his head back, letting out a deep moan. Sweat shines on the curve of his throat and he is magnificent. It’s about this time that Kiryu realises that the blinds are wide open and the overhead lights still blazing. If anyone in Kamurocho thinks to look up they might see a rectangle of light high up in the distance, indistinct shadows moving.

Majima wipes his hand off on his own thigh and goes for the condom, spitting the foil corner off among the sheets and unrolling it over Kiryu’s aching dick. Even the coolness of the latex feels good. He reaches behind himself to grasp Kiryu, angling him to sink down. There’s a moment of resistance where they both hang suspended and it seems like it won’t give, then Majima’s body opens up to him and there’s a smooth, tight glide as he sinks down.  

Instinctively, Kiryu reaches up to take hold of his waist and finds his hands grabbed and swiftly returned to the mattress. Majima laces their fingers almost tenderly and then squeezes until it hurts, a very mean smile on his face as he moves. “That’s it, Kiryu-chan. Just lie back and enjoy.”

Kiryu forces himself to sink into the bed, to become a passive recipient of this pleasure. The sensations are like a wet dream – weight, heat, filthy slickness as Majima grinds on top of him. It’s a little unnerving, he keeps thinking he should be doing something – angling, performing – but Majima has him pinned. Sweat is gathering under Kiryu’s back and even that is a strange, torturous pleasure. He wonders if this is why people like being tied up – it’s freeing in a way, the lack of control.

Majima unlaces their fingers and leans back, palms splayed out behind him as he changes the angle of his hips, adding a twist each time he drops down. He is fierce and vital, without a trace of self-consciousness. Goromi is beautiful but she always knows she’s being looked at, her every movement a kind of pin-up girl coy pose. Majima is just getting what he wants and he doesn’t care who knows it – he has a look of bliss on his face that reminds Kiryu of an animal scratching its itch on a fence: just there, oh yeah, that’s the stuff!  

Kiryu can’t help but touch him, clutching at his hip with one hand and his dick with the other.

“Oh – a rebel, huh?” Majima hisses, bouncing faster as Kiryu starts jerking him. “Just can’t keep your greedy hands off me like I told ya. Bad boy – is that what you are?”

“Yeah.”

“How come you’re good for her, huh? Always on your best behaviour – fuck! Think I’ll let things slide, do ya?”

“No, you know how to handle me,” Kiryu blurts out. “Keep me in line – ah!”

Majima’s eye opens and he grins wider than the hannya. “Yeah, that’s it. Shit, do it harder.”

Kiryu’s wrist is starting to go numb when Majima finally gives one deep thrust and tenses up, thighs shaking. He comes all over Kiryu’s stomach and lets out a gasp like he’s been punched, arms trembling with effort as he makes a valiant attempt to get back in rhythm so Kiryu can finish. Kiryu grips his waist hard and pulls him down as deep as he can, arching his spine as he comes, Majima just rocking on top of him and making a helpless sound like a whimper. They stare at each other in something like wonder, sweaty and limp with exhaustion.

“Holy shit,” Majima says, rising up on his knees so Kiryu’s dick slides out of him. He falls sideways onto the mattress, collapsing like a cowboy in a shoot-out from an old Western with one hand to his heart and eye squeezed shut. When Kiryu asks for directions to the bathroom to clean up he just grumbles and waves an uncoordinated arm.

Kiryu returns with a damp towel to offer Majima, who rubs his face and underarms, then rolls back to get the lube between his thighs. As Majima tosses the towel to land on the floor on the far side of the bed, it occurs to Kiryu that he is an odd mix of glamorous and slobby, just like Goromi. They like the big picture but keeping up the details is too much work. Everything gets bled or sweated away, eventually.

“Pass my cigarettes from the drawer, will ya?” Majima requests, lying back propped up on the pillows.

Kiryu sits down on the other side of the bed and rifles through buttons, condoms, lose change, and MesuKing cards until he finds the requested pack of Hi-Lites, which has a lighter tucked inside. Kiryu shakes out a cigarette for each of them and lights both in his own mouth before lying back and passing one over. Majima responds with a grateful mumble, rubs the side of his foot against Kiryu’s ankle. Kiryu glances down and notes that the polish on his toes is neon pink – they must have been refreshed since the last date.

Kiryu drinks the rest of his half-melted cocktail and finds an ashtray – miraculously clean – among the detritus in the drawer. It’s shaped like a clamshell and says ‘Greetings from Okinawa!’ around the rim. Kiryu pats down the bedclothes and balances it between them.

They smoke in companionable silence until Kiryu screws up his courage to ask: “can I talk about her – about Goromi?”

“Shit, Kiryu-chan,” Majima turns his head and squints resentfully. “I fuck your brains out and ya still want to talk about her?”

“About both of you.”

“Well, ok,” Majima grumbles, rolling his shoulders as he takes another drag. “So long as you’re not playin’ favourites. We’re both real big-time divas – so good luck with that, buddy.”

“Hmm. That’s ok. I like it – being someone’s. Having someone to keep in mind.” Kiryu frowns as he tries to articulate another idea that is only revealing itself to him slowly. “It’s like she said – about me being sort of cold and aloof. Maybe wanting things is good for me.”

“It’s progress, that’s for sure,” Majima scratches the side of his nose with the forefinger of the hand holding his cigarette. “Y’know what I think? Dr Majima’s expert psychological insight?”

“What?”

“Your shit,” he makes a circle with his fingertips to indicate Kiryu’s head, “is all about Daddy Kazama.”

“What about him?”

“That’s why you joined the circus, right? Get his approval. Aint about what lil’ Kiryu wanted, all about pleasin’ daddy. But Daddy is never pleased – tough love all over. Witholdin’.”

“Shut up niisan, this is nothing to do with him.”

Majima laughs, leans back further into the pillows. 

“Listen,” Kiryu tells him, determined to continue with his personal revelations even if Majima is the worst possible audience. “I’ve always done what other people want or need me to do. I don’t want things for myself, really – or not strongly. Other people’s wants bleed into me, their missions become mine. But it’s not like that with you, or with Goromi.”

“Sure.” For a brief moment Kiryu thinks maybe Majima is agreeing with him but then he announces: “hey, I’m hungry – you want take-out?”

Kiryu grabs his arm before he can pull away. “In a minute. Let me say this.”

Majima rolls his eye. “Ok, but if it gets too sappy I’m jumpin’ out the window.”

Kiryu frowns, ashing his cigarette. “Goromi – she’s so bright, and so beautiful, and so free. I’ve never met anyone like her. I’ve never wanted anyone that way, before. It’s a big thing for me.”

Majima looks displeased, brow furrowing. “Yeah, I get it – ya got the hots for her. That aint news – so what?”

“I think maybe… maybe she’s that way because you let her be. She’s your safety valve – what you need to be sometimes, to get a break from your responsibilities. But you can only be her in snatches, because she burns so hot. No-one could sustain that forever,” he glances at Majima, trying to gauge his reaction. “It’s amazing that she exists at all – that you exist in her, through her, and the other way round, too.”

“Yo, I scramble your brains or somethin’? Fuck ya talkin’ about?”

Kiryu frowns. “I know I’m not an expert in this kind of thing. Maybe not all of that is right, but I think some of it is.”

“Maybe.” Majima sits up, stubs out his cigarette with one last slow exhale. “Who wouldn’t want to be a party girl, huh? If ya could be anything, why wouldn’t ya want to be wild and sexy? Just singin’ and dancin’ all night long, gettin’ your drinks for free.” He glances up at Kiryu. “You make her sad, y’know. That aint even supposed to be possible.”

“Me? Why?”

“‘Cause you make her want to be a real girl.”

“She is a real girl.”

“A full-time girl, I mean. With a backstory and a future. Nice Girlfriend Goromi for real, not just playin’. Instead she goes to sleep and wakes up the patriarch of the Majima Family, forty-year old dude with more’n a few grey hairs and a ton of boring shit to deal with.” He spreads his arms, encompassing himself with a gesture. “Fuckin’ rip-off, right?”

“He deserves to be happy, too. I guess you two have to work it out, like a timeshare.”

Majima gives him a sharp look. “Motherfucker, I keep tellin’ you it aint no Jekyll and Hyde!”

“What is it, then? You haven’t explained.”

“What, you think I fuckin’ know? I don’t know why I do half the shit I do.”

“You said she doesn’t have a backstory or a future, but I don’t think that’s true. She came from somewhere.”

“Oh what, now it’s your turn to play shrink? You want the story about how I’m five years old in my mother’s closet, jammin’ my feet in her too-big high-heels and going ham with the lipstick?”

“Did that happen?”

“That’s not the point!”

Kiryu soothes him with fingertips at the back of his neck, sliding up into his hair and back down again. “What does it feel like, being her? Being him? How do you move between them?”

“Fucked if I know. What’s it like bein’ Kazuma fuckin’ Kiryu? Waking up every morning and thinking ‘ah another good day to be the big-dicked Dragon of Dojima. Sure am feeling manly today, and forever!’”

Kiryu scowls. “Majima.”

“Here. Get this – I’ll tell ya,” Majima sits back with a thoughtful look on his face, slinging his arm companionably around Kiryu’s neck. “Ya ever wake up and you’re just… not in the mood? The things ya usually like seem really fuckin’ boring, they’re not to your tastes?” His fingertips tap restlessly on Kiryu’s collarbone. “Like… like, maybe every day ya have rice and soup for breakfast, right? But every once in a while ya wake up and it’s like ‘I need me some fuckin’ pancakes and a gallon of maple syrup.’ Same feelin’ – some days, somethin’ clicks and I’m like: ‘you know what? just not feelin’ this manly bullshit today. Get fucked boring pants and shoes, and what kind of haircut even is this?’ That’s it – that’s her.”

“Only Goromi could consider the way you dress ‘boring’.”

“Yeah, ‘cause she’s me. She’s me in a mood. That mood is ‘fuck everything, I’m a party girl’.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that particular mood.”

“Yeah, it’s a Majima Exclusive. You could try it out though, I’ll lend it to ya.”

Kiryu hums. “It’s funny. She likes to blame you for stuff, you know. Like: ‘that was him, he’s the asshole that did that’.”

“Oh yeah, real convenient. Like I’m her imaginary friend. Who did that, Goromi? Mr Nobody, I guess.” He pats Kiryu’s shoulder and pulls away, swinging his legs off the bed. “I’m orderin’ pizza. You want some? Gonna get anchovies on it, just so you know. Might put on a movie – got some good kung-fu ones. You like kung-fu?”

Kiryu sees the evening he could have, lying around on the couch with Majima’s bare legs in his lap, ‘hi-yah!’ and ‘aieeee!’ from a flickering screen. They wouldn’t even put on clothes probably – he does a lot of socialising in his underwear, these days. “I wish I could stay.”

“But?”

“But I have responsibilities.”

“Like the kid, you mean?”

“You know about her?”

“How the fuck do you think I know where to find you every hour of the day? I got my eye on you Kiryu-chan. Got all my eyes on you.”

Kiryu doesn’t know whether to feel comforted or alarmed by this information. “How does your family get any work done?”

“Multitasking! Fuckin’… efficiency!” Majima stretches, ruffles the back of his hair, then coughs and goes searching for his underwear. Kiryu regards Majima sadly as he slips them on, thinking what a glorious sight he’s going to be missing out on. Majima’s toned ass accented in red lace – his all night long if he wants it.

“I keep tellin’ ya to take that tragic fuckin’ look off your face. C’mon – stick around for some pizza, then go do your hero shit.”

“There’s just so much to do,” Kiryu sighs, trying to remember all his tasks in order of priority – the mysteries that need solving, the heads that need cracked. He twists out his cigarette and sets the ashtray out of harm’s way up on the nightstand, stretching and cracking his neck.

“Shit!” Majima throws his hands up. “A granny with an errand, a cat up a tree, or a hostess with a love dilemma and you got all day long to fuck around. Everyone needs ‘me’ time – didn’t she teach you that?”

Kiryu reaches out from the bed and hooks an arm around Majima’s waist, dragging him back down with a squawk. He rolls him over onto his stomach and Majima chuckles and goes pliant. Kiryu kisses down his back, ending at the mouth of the hannya. A mask, two faces: rage and grief. It’s complex, not like him – a dragon is a very blunt metaphor.

“Who are you right now?” he asks. “Good boyfriend Goro?”

Majima chuckles, muffled by the pillow. “Goro aint no-one’s boyfriend. Might promote ya to ‘friend with considerable benefits’ if ya play your cards right.”

Kiryu flexes his hands around Majima’s elbows, leans down to rub his face against the shaven part at at the back of his head, breathing deep against his scalp. “You’re mine. All of it – every corner of you.”

Majima stiffens underneath him and lets out a low, desperate sound.

“Yeah, that’s right.” Kiryu kisses his shoulder and lets him go, rolling up off the bed as Majima lies there, propped on one elbow and blinking in confusion like he just woke up from a nap.

“Hey, that’s not fair,” he whines. “Ya don’t get to use the voice on me.”

“What voice?”

“Don’t act like ya don’t know, fucker.”

“I’m going to take a shower.”

“Oh yeah, make yourself at home, why don’t ya?”

“You invited me,” Kiryu points out, reasonably.

“Yeah, my mistake was thinkin’ you were cool and aloof. I’m startin’ to see that’s all a front. Been waitin’ to get your hooks in me, aint ya, Kiryu-chan? Lettin’ me chase ya was all a game. A trap.”

Kiryu shrugs. “You promised me food and martial arts movies. That’s the way to my heart.”

Majima laughs around the thumb poking at the corner of his mouth, lying there lean and catlike in his sexy underwear. Kiryu doesn’t think of himself as a particularly lucky guy – past ten years are testament to that – but maybe it’s finally turning around.

Kiryu takes his time showering. The bathroom is fancy and modern: acres of tile, big glassed-in shower, like something from a catalogue. The water falls scalding hot from a great height, battering his skull in a soothing rhythm. He wonders who cleans this place – obviously not Majima. He hopes it’s a well-paid maid service and not Nishida on his hands and knees with a toothbrush.

He investigates the bath products – it’s the same married-couple scattering of men and women’s products as the closet. There’s a shower gel that smells menacingly of bubblegum and has tiny flecks of pearlescent glitter.

He dresses and comes out into the living area to find the TV on, already blaring punching sounds and bird-like screeches. Majima is standing by the kitchen island mixing himself a drink, twirling a long glass stick inside a cocktail jug. He has taken off his eyepatch and there is a red, angry semicircle in his socket where it must rub and dig in all day long. The eyelid is intact, even the delicate fan of lashes – nothing to see except darkness where the eyeball should be. He looks like a completely different person, this weirdly symmetrical Majima. He’s humming another karaoke song and a tuft of bed-mussed hair sticks up at the back. Kiryu feels like a voyeur, like a zoologist observing a reclusive species in its natural habitat.

“Stop it, ya creeper,” Majima calls out, as if reading Kiryu’s mind.

Kiryu pushes off the doorframe and comes to stand behind him, kissing his neck, his ear, his cheek where the string of the patch usually sits, marked by a faint tan line. He puts his hands on Majima’s hips and slides his fingertips along the lace waistband.

Majima hums. “Someone’s got a little kink there, huh?”

“Mmm. Such a nice, pretty package,” Kiryu slides one hand down to cup him, fingertips gently cradling the weight of his balls, feeling the curve of the soft dick pressing into his palm.

“Fuck, Kiryu-chan. I’m getting’ old ya know – can’t be sayin’ shit like that or you’ll give me a heart attack.”

Kiryu kisses his neck, sucks against the skin hard enough to bring up a mark. Majima rocks in his grasp like he can’t quite decide whether to push back for more or shrug him off. The door buzzes and Kiryu finally takes his hand away from Majima’s crotch and steps back.

Majima clears his throat. “Get that, will ya? Cash is on the table.”

Kiryu answers the door to a delivery guy in a yellow shirt and red and white baseball cap emblazoned with the ‘PIZZA-LA’ logo. He holds out the takeaway box and then looks past Kiryu to where Majima is leaning his hip against the counter and drinking a highball, a very visible red mark on his neck. Majima flexes his neon pink toes and raises an eyebrow. An amused, challenging gaze: that’s right, it is what it looks like.

Kiryu flushes with a sense of unaccountable pride, like Majima is his achievement, somehow. He takes the box and slides a five thousand yen note into the delivery guy’s shirt pocket. “Keep the change.”

The delivery guy stammers his thanks and turns to flee. As soon as the door closes, Majima bursts out with hysterical laughter. “Must be new in town.”

They retire to the leather couch with classy cocktails to wash down greasy food. The movie looks like a bootleg – snowy around the edges and the subtitles seem like they’ve been through a few other languages before arriving at Japanese. Majima hooks his bare thigh over Kiryu’s knee, personal space a foreign concept to him as he drapes himself across Kiryu’s back with one hand in his hair and his chin digging in a little painfully atop one shoulder. He offers his commentary directly into Kiryu’s left ear like the voice of bad conscience, occasionally squeezing him too tightly in his excitement as he mimics the trajectories of on-screen punches with his free hand. Kiryu loves it.

“Let’s stay in again next time,” he says as Majima slides off him to reach for more food.

“Huh?” Majima rolls up a piece of pizza and sticks it into his mouth sideways, chewing obnoxiously.

“No bars, no clubs, no love hotels. Just like this.” Freed from Majima’s limpet grasp, Kiryu eases back onto the cushions. He touches Majima’s waistband almost tenderly, then frowns when he catches sight of a big greasy handprint on his own shirt.

“That don’t sound like much of a party.”

“It’s not. That’s the idea.”

Majima lies down on top of him with a huff like a dog, back to Kiryu’s chest. Kiryu thinks about cupping his crotch again, a nice warm hand-hold, but that would likely start something he sadly doesn’t have time to finish.

He closes his eyes, luxuriating in these final moments before he really has to drag himself away back to his never-ending quests. He kisses Majima’s parting and rests his chin there; Majima makes a half-protesting, half-pleased sound.

Kiryu thinks about sleepovers at Sunflower – that was what they called them, though of course they all lived in the same building anyway. Some Saturday nights when the TV had turned to a high whine and a flickering test card, and all the makeup had been wiped off and packed away, they would drag their bedding into the room and lie in a rectangle around the coffee table. Kiryu and Yumi were always head to head, every so often she would bonk him affectionately like a cat to check he was still awake. Nishiki was foot to foot with him and they would kick each other and toe wrestle. The conversation would die down, growing drowsier and more nonsensical, still punctuated with occasional giggles. One by one they all went out like lights and Kiryu would try to stay awake the longest so he could have that feeling of perfect security, surrounded by his friends in the warm dark, listening to their quiet mumbles and snores. This is what he has missed, for years – something he has had no equivalent for as an adult. Time spent without purpose, without sense. Animal closeness.

“When?” Majima asks, picking up the dropped thread of their conversation.

“Hm?”

“This cheapskate, lame-ass, indoor date you’re proposin’ – when?”

“Don’t know. I’ll text you.” Kiryu frowns. “Wait – do I even have your number?” 

“’Course ya do dumbass. You think Goromi has some kinda special hotline?”

“Oh.” Goromi has a hot pink flip phone with approximately ten clattering charms dangling from it like a medieval flail. That this is also Majima’s phone is not as surprising to Kiryu as it might have been before he saw the underwear.

“Here, gimme that jitterbug of yours.” Majima clicks his fingers and holds out his palm.

Kiryu rummages in his pocket, struggling a little under Majima’s dead weight, and hands him the phone. Majima does something with a brief click-clack, then turns it and presents the screen to Kiryu’s face.

The contact entry now reads: <3GORO(MI)<3.

Kiryu raises his eyebrows. “Huh. What did I do to earn the extra heart?”

“Don’t read too much into it,” Majima advises.