Manumission

Disclaimer: I do not own GTA.

A/N: This piece is sort of experimental. It was fun to write for GTA, but I'm not sure if I'd do it again.

O O O

The first time Toni Cipriani had witnessed a suicide, he'd been very young—too young, in his honest opinion. It had been a man walking down a street at midnight in Hepburn Heights, a .9mm in his left hand. He'd been steadily following a woman, quietly, though tears streamed down his face and his free hand had been clenched, ignoring the prying stares that he'd been given and focusing solely upon the woman in front of him. And then he had tackled her at a crosswalk, making onlookers shout and cry out, and pushed his gun to the back of her head. He'd pulled the trigger and then aimed the gun at himself, and collapsed upon the woman.

The first time Toni Cipriani held a gun, he had been very young, at a crosswalk at midnight in Hepburn Heights. The police had ripped it out of his hands and sent him on his way. What a boy was doing of his age out so late in the red light district, they hadn't asked, and Toni had dutifully trekked home.

The first time Toni had fallen in love, he'd been in high school. Her name was Lucy, and she barely acknowledged him. He stared at her when she wasn't looking, told all of his buddies he thought she was the fattest, ugliest, most pathetic chick he'd ever laid eyes on, gotten a good laugh at her oblivious expense, and then went home and fell asleep wondering if she'd talk to him the next day. Sometimes he wished she'd notice him staring at her, or walking to her classes and pretending he had his own classes nearby, because then she would realize that yes, he existed, and would thus be forced to occasionally look at him, too. She was quiet, but normal. Average. That was a tough trait to find in Liberty City, and for this, he loved her.

The first time Toni had a girlfriend, her name was Bella, and she was purely Italian in behavior and in blood. She was exactly like him, and he hated it. He was barely out of high school, in the middle-ground between going to college and pursuing a quick-and-easy semi-permanent means for cash. He worked at his mother's restaurant for a meager pay, one that mostly came from even more meager tips. Bella also worked at his mother's restaurant, charming customers with her suave, almost brashly so, Italian beguiles as a hostess.

The first time Toni had ever killed someone, it had been at the ripe age of twenty-two, and he had done so with a sense of relief and righteous indignation. How dare the bitch cheat on him? If she thought he'd lie down and take it like a faithful fucking dog, she had another thing coming. He'd killed Bella with his mother's own Uzi, stuffed her body in his trunk, and dumped the car in the ocean. The police came looking for her, he was listed as a suspect for five years, then a wonderful thing called statute of limitations came around, and he got off scotch-free. It was then that he discovered all the great things he could do with a gun, a car, and very little money.

The first time Toni had sex, it was with a prostitute, and he didn't know her name. He was still twenty-two, and when they were finished, he made sure that his money was returned to him. He deemed himself a lousy lover inside and out.

When Toni fell into organized crime, when his name became known and he was labeled a notorious mobster affiliated with the likes of Salvatore Leone and underhanded politician Donald Love, the first times came at such a rate that he couldn't remember any of them anymore. His emotions dulled until killing a man was like stepping on a cockroach, and fucking hookers was as routine as a confession at the church. Toni confessed at the church quite a bit.

Donald and Salvatore and all of his other contractors kept him very, very busy, and only when Donald was exposed and Salvatore was hauled off to jail did he have time to sit back and really think about his life.

There wasn't much to think about. He had money, fame—admittedly not the good kind; c'est la vie—as much power as he desired, and a big, comfortable home. It was an empty home, but it was his, and for this he was thankful.

Life seemed, all in all, good. He bided his time by walking the streets, picking up odd jobs or racing a stolen V8 Ghost, occasionally entertaining "guests" in his home, and smoking the odd cigar, just for shits and giggles.

And then he'd gotten a phone call that had honestly confused him.

Her name was Toshiko Kasen, and she spoke with a distinctly Asian accent. Japanese, he figured, and he also figured that she had some tie-ins with the Yakuza. Nobody that wasn't somebody would call his personal cell phone.

At her vague request, he'd taken it upon himself to travel back to Staunton Island, barreling out of Shoreside Vale with its expensive cars and expensive houses and expensive people. Her apartment complex looked more like an office building than anything, and a valet took his car while an elevator attendant ushered him to Mrs. Kasen's hall.

Her suite was donned in traditional Japanese decorations, complete with a caged songbird in front of a window. There were shoji screens on all sides of him—so much so that he couldn't discern which was a door and which was just a wall.

Toshiko herself was all-traditional. Her hair was tied into a loose bun, and she wore a silky yellow kimono. Toni thought she looked absolutely ridiculous, but she probably thought she looked gorgeous in a natural sort of way. He found himself wondering more who she thought she was trying to impress than what she had summoned him for in the first place.

"Mister Toni," she called him, and when she spoke, sometimes she pronounced her L's as R's. She seemed so pathetic and frail on the surface, but at the mention of her husband, and at the mention that said husband—one Kazuki Kasen—was the head of the Yakuza, he knew otherwise.

Her instructions were simple. Bring upon Mr. Kasen an imminent downfall. Torture him, and use the Yakuza to do it. And honestly, he didn't exactly want to… She could offer him money, but so could the next Joe Blow, and he didn't have to fuck with the Yakuza to do it. But he accepted the mission, and when she smiled and bowed, he wondered if it was really worth it.

He carried out the few missions perfunctorily, often more excited by seeing Toshiko than by performing the mission itself. She was interesting; he had to give her that. He just wanted to sit down and stare at her all day, observe her actions and mannerisms. It wasn't that she was exponentially attractive or unattractive, she was just…different. Almost unique, but not in the way that most of Liberty City was. Despite what he knew lay beneath, Toshiko felt pure.

As the weeks wore on and the Yakuza became more restless, he realized that he had no real concrete reason for helping this woman. She'd made it abundantly clear that she would reward him, yes, and handsomely at that, but the costs far outweighed the benefits at any angle he could perceive the situation. Barring the fact that he was tearing up the Yakuza from the virtual inside, if he was seen affiliating with their leader's wife, he would stir up all of that hot Italian blood in the other mobs. Again. The Forellis already felt rather sour toward him.

Was Toshiko Kasen's company—and money—worth it?

Toni had never been a good student in his economics class, but he whipped up a quick cost-benefit analysis where he stood, in front of Toshiko's massive penthouse.

Cost 1: His life.

Cost 2: His mother's life. (Good riddance.)

Cost 3: His relations with Salvatore.

Cost 4: His freedom. (Prison was not an appealing idea, though he risked this every day of his life.)

Cost 5: His infamy. (Who was threatened by a man who worked for a soft-spoken Japanese woman?)

Cost 6: Etcetera.

Benefit 1: Toshiko's company.

Benefit 2: Sex?

Okay, so at some angle, the pros were greater than the cons.

He felt a sense of smug determination as he rode the slow elevator up to her suite, the attendant standing next to him and whistling.

She wasn't in sight when he entered her room, so he stepped about cautiously, eyeing every thin shoji screen that he passed. "Hello? Anybody home?"

"I'm here, Mister Toni. I'm changing."

He'd busied himself with periodically rapping his knuckles against the bars of the birdcage as she spoke, half listening to her and half listening to the music she perpetually played from some unknown origin within the room. She talked of her husband again, how frustrated Mr. Kasen was of Toni knowing where and when exactly to attack, and when she stepped out from behind a screen that Toni could have sworn was just a wall, he was momentarily surprised.

Why was she dressed so formally? Why was she staring at him so intently? Why was she leading him by the arm down the elevator and to the front steps outside? His head was swimming at the connotations of all of this.

He found himself bringing her private limousine around without even fully realizing what he was doing. His mind had stopped processing information as soon as the word "date" had left her pretty little Japanese mouth. This was bad. Very, very bad. The Forellis would be furious. He was suddenly glad that he'd taken care of Paulie Sindacco; otherwise, the Sindaccos would have shared the sentiment. And the Yakuza… He didn't even want to think about how the Yakuza were going to react. Toshiko was ballsy—certainly more vindictive than he had ever felt the need to be in his entire pockmarked, corrupted life.

Toshiko climbed inside gracefully, holding the dark red gown slightly up at her hips. Her shoes were black and so were her gloves, and it matched her hair, falling around her shoulders. It looked almost unnatural on her. If he had seen her anywhere else, he wouldn't have recognized her.

When he started down the road, he thought, quite aimlessly, that with him driving and her sitting in the back, it felt more like he was chauffeuring her than taking her on a date. It was a petty, frivolous thought, and as Toshiko switched the radio to Double Clef FM, he shook his head, smiled grimly, and drove on to collect his tuxedo.

Turns out Toni Cipriani was rather dashing in a white-coat-black-pants ensemble.

Nevertheless, all through the opera, he fidgeted uncomfortably. He hated the music, he hated the atmosphere, he hated the fat, sweaty man sitting to his right, and tuxedoes were, without a doubt, a creation of the devil himself. His bowtie was too tight and his coat was hot and itchy. Every time he tried to loosen or altogether remove either of these items, Toshiko would put a small hand on his arm, petting and patting him gently as a plea to be still. By the end of the night he wanted to tell her to shove her tuxedo, her faux-date, and her perfectly manicured hand right up her dainty fucking ass, but the opera ended and Toni rose from his seat perhaps too quickly.

"Can I take off this goddamn jacket now?" he asked bitterly as they stepped into the lobby.

"Have patience," she answered, soothingly, taking his arm in hers and resting her hand on his bicep. "The night is not yet through, Toni-san."

"'Toni-san'? The hell does that mean?"

She laughed quietly, not even missing a beat. "It means you have my utmost respect. Would you rather I call you Mister Toni, or Mister Cipriani?"

And then he felt a little stupid. "No…Toni-san is fine."

The cold air outside of the opera house hit him like a ton of bricks, as well as the insistent, daunting sounds of screeching metal and shrill, loud ticking from the barrel of an automatic gun. The sounds were all too familiar to him, and he was on the defensive almost immediately.

At his prompting, Toshiko hid behind him, clutching his hip with one hand, maybe to make sure he wasn't going to leave her. "Save us, Toni!" With her free hand she pointed toward the street.

As if he didn't see them. Four Forellis, two firing shots in front of him and missing horribly, one lurking beneath a tree to his left, and the last whaling on their limo and the young valet with a baseball bat. The driver's side window had been shattered, and the hood dented upwards as if enraged by the man assailing it.

"Italian blood don't mix with no Japo blood!"

Toni took no more time to think, but he certainly spoke, making rude gestures toward the lot of them. "Andate tutti a 'fanculo!"

He unloaded a clip and a half on the men, barely batting an eyelash, then hurried a stunned and confused Toshiko into the limo. (She sat in the front this time, he noticed, with white knuckles and an even whiter face.) Soon the two of them were roaring down side streets and alleys, dodging an onslaught of kamikaze Forelli cars and the wailing police cruisers that followed them. Toshiko's place was the only save haven close enough he knew to take them both to.

An unseen curb forced the limo to coast on only the left two wheels for a good five seconds, in which Toshiko screamed his name and Toni tried to keep both the steering wheel and his nerves steady, and then a swift nudge to the undercarriage, courtesy of a flaming blue Forelli car, flipped the limo onto its roof and then slowly back onto four unsteady wheels.

"Are you alright?" Toni asked through the foreboding hiss of the engine, the howling of police sirens, and the Forellis yelling and cursing out of their car windows.

"I'm fine," she reassured, though she clutched onto anything solid for purchase. Her hair was a mess, and her dress had been torn in the front from her chest to her navel, leaving him with a brief view of one nipple and her stomach. He committed this to memory and kept his eyes on the road.

"Hang on, princess. We're almost there."

True to his word, Toni jerked up the emergency break, tore the keys out of the ignition, tried to open his jammed door, and then simply climbed out of his window, severely cutting up his hip as he did so. Toshiko's door was, thankfully, still intact, and she was quick to follow. The Forellis fell off his tail as soon as the two of them rushed inside the lobby, and neither of them missed the Yakuza car roll casually by when the dust had cleared.

Once inside her suite, Toshiko stepped behind a shoji screen and disrobed, while Toni watched her shadow do so. She didn't mention the dozens of cuts and scrapes on her shoulders and arms that he had seen, nor did she mention the number of bruises freshly blooming.

"You can stay if you like, Toni-san," she said as he heard her start the water in a bathtub. "My husband will not be home for quite some time, and you can rest in the guest bedroom."

He watched her shadow climb inside the tub, smoothing back her hair. It was a tempting prospect, but it was too dangerous. "Thanks, but…" He walked slowly—more like paced, really—toward the center of the living room. "I've got my own house I have to get back to." And then the thought of returning to his big, empty house in Shoreside Vale made him feel equally as hollow. He finally took off his bowtie and coat, setting them atop the low wooden table in the middle of the room. Small dots of blood stained the white coat, as well as a large streak where his hip had bled through the cloth. The wound barely distracted him.

"If you're sure," she said from the bathroom, her voice soft and strangely quiet. The whole suite was strangely quiet without the music playing in the background. A white sheet was draped over the birdcage, and the window behind it was closed. He suddenly felt uncomfortable.

"I won't make you stay," she continued, "nor will I beg you. I do find it, however, to be in your best interests to stay the night here. Those men will surely be waiting for you."

He scuffed the toe of his shoe on her wooden floor, putting a hand on his bleeding side. "No, I've got a few…things to tend to."

"Alright. Goodnight, Toni-san. And please make sure you stop by the hospital."

"Yeah…sure." He was silent as he exited, closing and locking the door behind him. The elevator attendant was no longer there, no doubt having fled from the disaster that had followed Toni and Toshiko, but he didn't mind. He hotwired a blue Bobcat truck in the back parking lot noiselessly, then revved the engine and rolled away. He did stop by the hospital, but he declined to take antibiotics. By the time he finally arrived home it was well into the morning, and right as his head hit his pillow, his cell phone rang.

He contemplated for a moment tossing it out the window or throwing it against a wall, but instead he picked it up and answered with a gravelly, "Yeah?"

"Toni-san, I am sorry to bother you."

He sat straight up. It couldn't have been more than four hours since he'd left her. "Toshiko? You okay?"

"Yes. But my husband is returning earlier than anticipated."

He glanced around his own room, suddenly wide awake and not fully understanding what she was trying to tell him. "Uh…okay?"

"I want you to kill him, Toni-san."

He couldn't say that he hadn't seen this coming. It had been as clear as crystal that this day was eventually going to dawn. Toshiko had said she'd wanted her freedom more than anything in the world, and to obtain that, Kazuki Kasen had to be put out of the picture.

He slumped, putting a heavy hand up to his face, shielding his eyes from the harsh sunlight streaming through his window. A sigh escaped him.

"Toni?"

"I'm here."

"I'm sorry, Toni." He didn't notice the lack of the honorific. "But we have come this far. I want it to be over."

"'We'?"

"Will you help me one last time, Toni?"

There would be plenty of other times for him to help her. But he agreed, hung up his phone, took a quick shower, and changed his clothes. When he was on his way back to Staunton Island, almost falling asleep when he had to wait for the bridge to come back down, Toshiko called him again and gave him explicit instructions as to where and when to find Kazuki. It would be hell trying to get through to the casino's rooftop, but in the end, he would be an easy kill.

It was sunset when Toni made his way to the casino. He had spent the afternoon sleeping at Toshiko's empty suite—she had left while he was asleep, and when he woke up, she was still gone. Dozens of Yakuza cars peppered the casino entrance, glinting silver and red, though the glint of their automatic guns was much more noticeable. He strapped himself into body armor and tore through the guards, killing whoever wouldn't move. The helicopter was landing as Toni ran up the steps to the roof.

Kazuki and four guards greeted him, standing on the helipad, as the helicopter made a hasty retreat. One of the guards handed the Yakuza leader a long samurai sword that made Toni raise an eyebrow in disdain.

The guards stepped back as Kazuki approached Toni. "My men dishonor me…but it is fitting that I kill you myself." He smiled, laughed, and then raised the sword at his side. "I'm going to enjoy thrusting my sword into you."

Toni reloaded his gun coolly. "Yeah, I heard that about you."

Thirty seconds after Kazuki broke down and ordered the guards to kill him, the five of them were dead, and Toni was panting hard. He dropped his gun and kicked Kazuki's bloody sword aside, grabbing his knees and hanging his head. His stitches had reopened and he was exhausted, and he couldn't count all of the other places he was bleeding and injured. But Kazuki Kasen was dead, and Toshiko Kasen was finally free. He tried not to think about what all of this meant for him.

Instead he took Kazuki's sword in his hand and made the long walk back to his car, then back to Toshiko's suite.

She was there, thankfully, when he walked inside. She didn't immediately turn to face him, but she held the songbird in her hands, staring out of the window as the sunset turned to a blue-orange dusk.

When he set the sword on that same low table, still spattered with some dried blood, she let the bird go, and it flew out the window and toward whatever horizon it could fine. Only when he could no longer see the bird did Toni speak.

"So, uh…Toshiko." He cleared his throat, tried not to breathe too heavily. His side was killing him. "It's over now."

She turned slowly to face him, her head down. She looked tired, but she still held that sense of unorthodox beauty. The bags under her eyes and her chapped lips didn't deter from the affection that Toni could feel forming, and that Toni fought with every ounce of his being.

"Yes," she said, carefully, enunciating every word, "yes, I knew that. Hello, Mister Toni."

The reversion to "Mister" made Toni frown, and he stepped closer to her as she backed toward the window. "Hey," he said awkwardly, watching her lean against the windowsill. So maybe she was the closest he'd come to a relationship since high school. They'd technically gone on a date, hadn't they? Nevermind that he'd rather put a bullet through his head than watch another opera, but he didn't particularly mind her company. He rather enjoyed it, in fact. "So, uh… You won." He smiled, and it was crooked. "You got what you wanted. Everything turned out great."

"Great, yes…great. Really great." She stared continuously at the floor.

He swallowed, unsure of what the say next. What was he supposed to do? Ask what was wrong? Tell her to close that window behind her, because it was making him just a little bit nervous? "So…it's payment time, sweetheart."

She moved to sit upon the windowsill, holding onto nothing and balancing precariously on the edge. "We're both of us fools and killers, Mister Toni." This time she did look at him, catching his gaze, and she looked so stern and sad all at the same time that Toni took another step forward.

"I guess we are." He wanted to pull her away from the window.

She shook her head and looked behind her, out at the buildings, the dark water in the distance, the lights shining, all of Liberty City, before turning back to him, her eyebrows upturned. "The world takes such a terrible toll on your spirit. Wouldn't you agree, Mister Toni?"

"…I guess." He was at a loss. What was she thinking? What was she doing? Why was she acting so strange? The sutures in his side felt heavy, and he winced. Still, he stepped closer to her, motioning toward her with outstretched hands. "But you're free now. I mean, you can go to Costa Rico or Aruba or some shit." He dropped his hands when she didn't react. "Start over new," he said, quieter this time, "that's what you always wanted."

She laughed and shook her head, leaning a little further out the window and making Toni tense. "I don't think I'm ready for a beach holiday, Mister Toni."

The next words out of his mouth were going to be, "I have a nice place in Shoreside Vale. Not as nice as this, but I ain't exactly as elegant as you. You can hide out there until things calm down—maybe a couple months or a year, who knows—and book the next flight outta Liberty City. There ain't nothin' for you here anymore." He would have offered her his own house to stay in. His house—his home. Not that he was much of a homebody anyway, but he'd basically offered to jeopardize his own gains and wants to ensure those of Toshiko's.

But she spoke again before he could make such an offer, and when she did speak, Toni felt peculiarly cold. "I've lost everything, and done so deliberately. I've been granted everything I've asked for." She paused and took a deep breath, still staring at him. Her eyes seemed to soften, and her shoulders fell lax. "Now, I just ask to be truly free."

Toni's throat constricted. He opened his mouth, but couldn't say anything. His side was throbbing, pleading for his attention, but he was focused entirely upon Toshiko.

She smiled calmly, tenderly, and closed her eyes. "Goodbye, Toni-san."

Even when he ran to the empty window, he did not look down. His fingers clutched the windowsill tightly, until it hurt him to do so, but he did not look down. Instead he looked across the expanse of Staunton Island, Liberty City, and looked up at the sky.

The second time Toni had witnessed a suicide, the second time Toni had fallen in love, he was thirty-five, and her name was Toshiko Kasen. She was the head of the Yakuza's wife, and he was the Leones' designated caporegime.

He drove home with the radio off.