The warden hands him his suit and his pin, and a crumpled-up letter. “This is everything,” he says, dirty grin on his face telling Daigo the man knows how true the words are.
He changes quickly, efficiently, one button at a time. He secures the pin and tucks the letter into his breast pocket with careful fingers, careful not to rip the parts where his tears had thinned the paper. He knows its contents by heart, etched into his mind like letters on a tombstone. They’re words that promise the end of one part of his life, and the start of another. Fatherless, once again.
The warden stands to the side stiffly as Daigo steps towards him to the door, freedom just two breaths of stale prison air away.
“Well, take it easy out there,” the man says, still grinning, his once-yellow teeth now blueish white, scrubbed fake and clean with dirty money. “Do me a solid and tell your boys to behave themselves better when they get thrown in here, yeah? I hate fucking dealing with yakuza scum.”
If he were a better chairman, he wouldn’t let anyone talk to him like this. But his hands and lips are tied, as they always are. He just nods and shoulders past him, into the bright light of an early spring morning.
It’s endless procedures, then, more checkpoints and fences and bored guards. He gets handed his cellphone halfway across the empty fenced space surrounding the prison and finds a message from Majima, saying him and Saejima are on their way.
Finally, he steps through a gate in a high wall and onto the prison parking lot. Freedom stretches out in front of him in the form of asphalt and fresh air. Birds chirp. He makes his way across the lot towards the street. The sun almost blinds him, glinting off the metal of a lone car slowly crawling past. It’s a beautiful day, the smell of cherry blossoms thick and cloying in his lungs, and with a sigh, he sits. He folds his legs under himself and goes to get his lighter out before he remembers that his cigarettes were thrown in the trash when he got booked. All the better - he closes his eyes and just breathes.
When was the last time he was this relaxed? All he can remember is being high-strung, all the time - when he still lived with his Dad, dreading every new day. When he cut loose to fuck around Kamurocho, blackout drunk and stupid-high every other night. The last ten years, just trying to do good by everybody.
Fuck, he’s exhausted.
The sun, beating down on his face from straight ahead, suddenly cuts out. As he tunes back in to his surroundings, he can hear someone’s heel grinding over the ground in a nervous tick, smells a strong aftershave, shoe polish and dry-cleaned wool - and he knows.
“I didn’t expect you,” Daigo says as he opens his eyes. Mine looks like he hasn’t aged a day.
“I would’ve been surprised had you expected me, seen as I am dead,” Mine deadpans, face rock-steady and immoving as ever. It’s the casual indifference belying turmoil that drew Daigo in, all those years ago, made him wary.
“Am I seeing ghosts, then?”
Mine exhales audibly through his nose in a fascimile of a snort, but otherwise his face remains void of any emotion. “I am a resourceful man. You said so yourself, when you first made me Lieutenant.”
“I haven’t forgotten.”
Mine stares down his nose at him. Daigo looks for it, and there it is: a slight twitch in his right eye, a barely there quiver in his upper lip. Hidden uncertainty that reminds Daigo of what he’d seen on Toto Hospital, right after waking up from his coma; right before Mine’s sacrifice. A man strayed from his original path, unsure of his next step, but powerful and determined. A dangerous combination.
Of course Daigo knew Mine was dangerous from the moment he laid his eyes on him among Kanda’s ranks, but it solidified there, over Kamurocho’s rooftops. Not that it ever mattered how dangerous Mine was. Daigo had to deal with dangerous men all his life. Sohei, who abused him. Majima: loyal to the bone, but even the most loyal dog might remember its true nature one day and bite. Even Kiryu (his father, god) was dangerous, in the righteousness in his eyes, the cut of his fists. All men throwing themselves against Daigo’s sense of self, thrusting their ways on him. Time and again he’d bent and not broken, and it’s taught him one thing: How to keep dangerous men close and pull all their teeth from their mouth, one by one. Make them stand at his heel, as allies.
It’s a strategy that always served him well, but Mine - Mine had been dangerous, and he’d made Daigo’s mind a dark place. Life just loved throwing these men at him. Men like Goda, strong in body and mind, making Daigo into a man possessed, obsessed, longing . Where he could do nothing but grovel at Goda’s feet though, infuriated with his own shortcomings, Mine looked at him with endless devotion, a ferociousness bubbling under the surface that promised consequences if Daigo ever dared shatter the golden idol Mine had created in his mind.
So he’d learned to keep danger close, but Mine - he was one to keep close, but not too close, always at arm’s length. For all of their benefits, not least the Tojo clan’s. Daigo was a figurehead, a symbol - he couldn’t follow his instincts and let himself be eclipsed in adoration, drowned in someone else’s ideals.
“Why are you here? I must make a pitiful sight,” Daigo says, his voice sounding far away as he surfaced from his past. The wind picks up, swirling pink cherry blossoms around Mine’s legs, the lone strand of hair in his face bobbing strangely, catching on his lashes. The trepidation in Mine’s face grows as he purses his lips in an effort to hide their steady tug upwards; as he fights to keep his eyes from crinkling up. It’s the first sign telling Daigo that Mine has aged, that he isn’t actually a ghost. With another gust of wind, a strand behind Mine’s left ear flies lose, and as it whips and strokes across his face, it’s like something breaks; shards of Mine’s porcelain face scattering around Daigo on the ground, begging to be collected and fixed with gold later.
“Let me be the judge of you, please, Daigo-san.” Mine extending a hand towards Daigo is like the sound of a gong. “And you be mine.”
Daigo grabs his hand, lets him lift him effortlessly, and it’s a pardon; a prisoner’s release. Mine shudders as Daigo comes face to face with him and, finally, smiles.
The car pulls up and as they get in, Majima is immediately on-guard, teeth bared - of course he remembers. But Daigo makes him stand down with a wave of his hand. If there’s anything he’s earned, it’s his turn to be irrationally attached to a murderer - his turn to seek comfort for himself in the unhinged, the irrational. He’s kept it together so well. As he looks at Mine by his side, the brand new day brushing past his profile in the car’s window, he feels himself start to relax, and take an uncertain step ahead.