You're being followed.
It's the sort of thing that you hear about on the news more than you would like, especially here in Kamurocho, but it's also the sort of thing that you would never imagine could happen to you. Not when you stick to well lit streets and crowded places, never staying out even past eleven at night. How these men - three of them, all wearing flashy suits with a telling golden pin in their lapel - even homed in on you is a mystery in itself when you're hardly extraordinary. By all rights, you're just another drop in a vast ocean.
But that's exactly it, isn't it?
You don't stand out. Who would ever notice?
But you would.
Your family would.
You have a life, and you have a right to live it.
With a trembling hand, tempered and fueled by will, you raise your phone a little higher, angle it just right so that the front facing camera points over your shoulder just enough for you to get a good look at the men tailing you. They're nonchalant, casual, and though they have been tailing you since you left Theater Square, they haven't drawn anybody's attention other than yours. But of course they wouldn't - just a passing glance at their attire, their confident saunter as they walk the streets, is more than indicative of what they are: yakuza.
And in this part of town, not even the police will raise a hand against them without a reason and a warrant; everybody simply looks the other way whenever they see a suit that's too gaudy to ever be in an office walking the streets. Hell, you did it too. So you can't really blame people for not noticing. For whatever reason, you wound up in this situation, and you will get yourself out of it. No matter the cost.
The men have picked up their pace, murmuring between themselves, perhaps privy to the idea that you've caught on. That makes your heart thrum wildly, your fingers squeezing your phone until the plastic creaks as the three sets of footsteps behind you quicken in a jog, closing the distance between you and them.
Your mind races.
You have to find people.
Even if just one other person.
But the street you're on is empty. Kamuro Hills lies dark and silent on one side of the street, and on the side you're walking, the restaurants have closed, their signs dimmed at least for one more night, tables empty, storefronts devoid of light and life.
Except for one.
Charles, the sign reads, upon a washed out pastel board, dulled not only by time, but by trends too; a vintage game arcade that has clearly seen better days. Not that it matters much to you. As long as the lights are on, even if sparking and barely clinging to life, it means somebody is in, and right now, that's good enough for you. You turn into the building, one long, but brightly lit hallway at a nervous pace, your heels clacking against carpeted flooring, hardly audible when your pulse hammers, wild and erratic, right against your eardrums. You follow the sign at the end of the hall, pointing down a short flight of stairs, ignoring the irrational fear that all you're accomplishing is backing yourself into a corner. If nobody is down there, there's no way out; you've made yourself easy prey.
Someone will be there, you tell yourself, with a voice louder, more insistent than the one that whispers, sinister, into your ear.
You come upon a set of double doors, glass, and partially emblazoned with what were once bright colours, but, much like the signboard out front, have faded over the years. The air smells heavily of tobacco down here, and something a little stale, a little bitter. Something pungent. Alcohol? It's hard to say for sure when your mind is so turbulent, jumping rapidly from one thought to another. As a testament to this, the smell falls to the back of your mind as your hands reach for the door handles, pulling back on them with all of your weight and rattling them right inside their flimsy steel frames. But they don't budge, firmly locked by a set of bolts adorning the top corner of each door.
Is this place shut too?
But the lights are on?
And so are the ones inside, you notice, rising on the tips of your toes to peer over the coloured segments of glass. All of the arcade machines are still on too. Someone must still be in.
Somewhere above, behind you, echoing a fate you don't want to consider, you hear the three men turn into the building, their voices clearer now that they're in a confined space. Angrier now too, with that rolling snarl that all yakuza seem to possess like it's an innate trait. You don't have much time now.
You slap both hands upon the glass, not knocking, but slamming upon the doors until they're being forced back inside their frame. They're not opening of course, you don't think you're strong enough to snap the two bolts holding the door in place, but you're not intending to force your way in. All you need to do is make some noise. Loud enough to either garner attention or scare your followers off. Either, or. You're not picky at this point.
"Let me in!!" you cry, pulling desperately on the door handles again, voice pulled taut by fear on end, and, strangely, anger on the other: this cannot be how it ends for you.
Somewhere inside, out of your line of sight, a door opens, and with a curious, perhaps even annoyed squint, a man emerges, stepping into your view with a creased brow and a frown.
"We're closed." He replies, curt, as if your existence before him is tiresome. Under regular circumstances, you'd be able to understand - what could possibly be more annoying than a customer demanding they be let into your business after hours?
But these aren't regular circumstances.
Even though you've long established it's futile, you try pulling at the doors again. "I'm being followed!"
The man's eyebrows shoot up as surprise overtakes his expression. You watch him consider your plight, tossing an unseen amount of possibilities within his head, but every second he spends deliberating, the closer the men pursuing you approach. Sweaty palms press right up against the glass, fogging up the cool surface immediately surrounding your hands, and your heart very nearly gives out when he finally reaches up to undo the latch that's barring your entry. He pulls the door open for you, standing to the side, giving you a proper look at the man who has just perhaps saved your life.
A crisp, pale suit.
A flashy button down shirt.
A gold chain necklace.
...and a golden pin on his lapel.
He's yakuza too.
You stop, and with wide eyes and a fresh chill washing through you, you stare back up at him. Your mouth opens, your breath catches in a choked gasp, and you scorn your rotten luck and your horrendous lack of foresight; of course a yakuza run establishment would still have somebody manning the store at this time of night. The night itself belongs to them.
"...please…" you whimper, though what you're asking of him, you don't know. Mercy? From someone of his kind? That's laughable.
Footsteps sound out behind you, ringing loud and obtrusive in such a small space; the three men from earlier have finally caught up with you, their crude laughter cutting off when they spot an unwanted guest. You shrink into yourself, trying to will your own body into a form that's as physically small as you feel when walled in by four men who live below the law. What happens to you now? Kidnapping? Ransom? Being sold into lord knows what? But the first indication that something isn't quite right, that they're not working together like you'd assumed, is the silence. Long and drawn out, caught within a standoff, they size one another up, chests puffing, shoulders squaring, eyes darting this way and that, scouring memories and bodies alike for any identifiable traits.
But in the end, it all comes down to the pins they're wearing, and what - who - those pins represent.
You don't really understand what they see in each other - or perhaps, what they don't see - but the first sound you hear is an annoyed click of a tongue from the man who'd opened the door for you, and suddenly you feel a large hand, surprisingly soft on the inside of his palms, grip your wrist to yank you behind him and into the arcade itself, where the air is thicker with the smell of smoke and booze. Your mouth opens in protest, but your words are muffled when he closes the door on you, providing one more layer of security, one more hurdle that the three men who were following you have to face.
The lone man in the pale suit half turns to regard you over his shoulder, his eyes meeting yours just over the rim of his tinted glasses. "If shit goes south, lock the doors and call the cops." And that's the last thing he says to you before he turns back to face the three men, poised and oddly confident despite being outnumbered. But you suppose that's just how yakuza are. He scoffs, as if amused. "Real big 'if' though."
The fight takes only a few minutes, barely two; either a testament to the strength of the man you had the fortune of running into tonight, or the lack of it in those three men, now lying beaten and bloodied on the floor. They pick themselves up, murmuring, sobbing really, about revenge, and how the "Kyorei clan" will not stand for this, but the bespectacled man stands tall, one corner of his lips pulling back to bare a row of teeth.
"Then fuckin' bring 'em," he snarls, his baritone voice raising for the first time in a display of genuine anger, "and I'll show you what this city does to uninvited pests."
They hobble away after that, arms around each other, scrambling up the stairs and out of sight. It's only when even the sounds of their shoes above fades into the distance that he finally relaxes, breathing out one long sigh that makes his shoulders sag. The door swings open as he lets himself back into the arcade, and you find yourself taking a step back, giving him a wide berth as he walks by you; you're afraid of this man, even though he'd inexplicably saved your life tonight.
Blood drips from his nose, dotting the front of his jacket with spots of crimson, but otherwise, not one hair is out of place on him; his glasses still sit perfectly on his nose; his stride is true; he barely even seems tired. But there's something in the silence between you. A certain uncertainty that lingers and stifles the air with something more prominent than the smoke that hangs about the ceiling.
You realise it when he mills about awkwardly, looking down at his drink (liquor, on the rocks), the cigarette he'd set down before he was disturbed, a stain on the far wall, at anything but you, really; he doesn't really know what to do now.
You realise this because that's where you're standing too.
"Do you want me to call a taxi for you?" He finally asks as he settles behind the arcade's front counter - just a tiny, waist high counter painted in a friendly yellow. Most of the arcade is adorned in these kinds of bright colours, you belatedly realise, with printed images of cartoony mascots lining the walls. Do children really come down here? Your eyes wander down to the (almost full) ashtray and the glass of whisky he has set atop the counter. Does he drink and smoke in the presence of kids too?
"I… um…" the best you can manage is a broken stammer of half words, still shaken from the string of events in the last half hour, all the more poignant now that the adrenaline in your blood is beginning to thin. Your hands clutch at your skirt, balling the material into tight wads with trembling hands.
He sighs, reaches behind him into his pocket to withdraw his phone, dialling a number he has memorised if only because he sees it cruise past him on the streets so often. It's a nuisance honestly, but perhaps more pressing (and annoyingly concerning) is that he'd rather you not walk the streets in your condition.
Especially not after he just sent a few Kyorei clan idiots packing, too.
Fucking hell, they weren't even worth his time, but it's always the lower rung jobbers that are the most vocal, the most likely to get into scraps, the most eager to "show off". Doesn't matter to, or even with who.
He puts the request for a taxi in, making an affirmative noise low in his throat when it's confirmed before hanging up. Brief and curt seems to be his default. Is that a yakuza thing too?
"Said they'll send someone in 10 minutes."
Beyond a stiff nod of your head, your gaze downcast and focused on the worn and discoloured tiles beneath your feet, all that you answer him with is a timid hum. Nothing else. You continue to stand awkwardly near the door, afraid to move, afraid to take up any more time and space than you already have. The man sighs again, perhaps having realised this, perhaps feeling that your frayed nerves are contagious, he deposits his cigarette in the ashtray and blows a trail of smoke from between his lips. It follows him as he steps out from behind the counter, one hand in his pocket, fishing around for coins as he makes his way to the vending machine tucked away in the back corner of the small arcade. You hadn't even noticed it was there, your attention solely on him, even if only from your peripherals and fleeting glances.
He slips a few coins into the machine, fingers hesitating over the buttons as he decides what drink would be best for someone who just weaseled their way out of an abduction (or worse). Caffeine is an obvious no. So is anything too sugary sweet.
And like hell he's going to offer you some of his whisky.
There's a Poppo nearby - a convenience store he frequents regularly - but he doesn't think leaving you on your own is a good idea for now.
So that leaves plain water. Not the most hospitable choice, but it's the best option, all things considered.
He comes back around with a cold bottle, holding it out for you with a grunt. When you blink down at it, then shyly back up at his face, still afraid of what that tiny golden circle on his lapel represents, he thrusts it right into your hands. Then he tries one more time, voice softer, losing that honed edge you heard him direct to those other men. "Drink. It'll help."
You nod slowly, your fingers curling around the slim bottle. It's cold in your clammy hands, startlingly so, but it helps to ground you, to slow your thoughts back into a tolerable, cohesive drawl as your mind shifts to the way it feels in your hands; smooth, cool, and a little damp. Maybe he sees that shift in the way your expression grows slack, just a little, and the awkward, stifling air that had unwittingly settled over the two of you, just above your heads, but below the tendrils of smoke that lurk about the ceiling, begins to clear. Just a little. The water is surprisingly sweet on your tongue, but you figure that's just a byproduct of your evening; the remnants of dwindling adrenaline. And moreover, the crisp flavour helps in soothing you further.
"Were those men not with you?" you finally have the courage to ask.
He makes a face as if the very liquor he'd been supping on had soured right there in his mouth. For what it's worth, it may very well have. "No." He sounds almost offended. "They were Kyorei goons. From Kansai." The man seems so much more at ease now with his drink in one hand, swirling it idly and watching the honey-coloured liquid spin and spinl; talking about something he's so familiar with seems to bring him some measure of comfort.
So just like any other person, then.
"They've been fucking around in Kamurocho for a few months. We're getting sick of it."
You know you shouldn't ask - you're already treading murky waters. "'We'?"
His eyes meet yours again, their colour obfuscated by the darkened tint of his glasses, but behind them, his gaze glints like a knife's edge. "Who do you think?" The answer to his question is obvious, hanging unspoken between you.
The Tojo Clan.
You decide not to push that topic any further, and yet letting the silence blanket the room again is just too oppressive. Clutching the bottle of water in your hands, letting the chill calm you, you inwardly scramble for something else to fill the gaps with. What you end up reaching for is perhaps what you ought to have said first: "Thank you for saving me. I–"
"Don't." His hand covers his mouth, muffling the resonance of his voice, the lit cigarette peeking from between his fingers. The end of it brightens as he takes one long puff, glowing a bright, hypnotic orange that you watch with a half-lidded gaze. His own eyes trail off to the side, dismissive. "Didn't do it for you. It was a matter of pride."
For the Tojo. For the family he swore an oath to.
You don't quite know how to process that at first, but it becomes just a touch clearer when you take in his expression. When you notice that he's avoiding looking at you. Again.
For a yakuza, he seems to teeter constantly between overbearing and good-natured; a conflict of what he is inside versus what he means to be. Which is why you're not offended by his flippant attitude. You can't imagine a yakuza could ever accept the gratitude of a civilian without his reputation taking a dive, so you don't argue.
But you do smile. Weakly, nervously. "If you say so."
And with a short bow, you leave the spectacled yakuza to his brief and curt thoughts. Minutes later, when you're climbing into the taxi, you realise you never asked for his name. But that's alright. You'll be back.
It's a matter of pride for you too.