Author's Note: I loved Kaiji, but damn, the ending was depressing - I just had to write a different one to make myself feel a bit better. D: Besides, I just kind of liked Tonegawa...
In second grade Tonegawa Yukio wrote notes on his desk, and when the teacher got suspicious during a history test he spilled ink over them, making sure that it only splashed his paper without ruining his correct answers. Tanibata who sat next to him tried the same thing, but he spilled too much in the wrong place, soaking his test and leaving half his notes clear and plain. The teacher yelled and threatened him while Tonegawa quietly wiped away his own notes with the ink. Tonegawa got a perfect score. Tanibata got a beating and detention for a week.
His head still ached from the Chairman's cane. The pain spidered along his nerves, irritating him more than any of the damned fool things the damned trash in front of him had said. Tonegawa had always been too valuable to hit; that was for the trash and the lower ranks, not the executives. He shuffled his cards and stared at his watch, watching the dials spin - blood pressure, pulse, everything was spiking, either from Kaiji's relief at his win or nerves for the next round. Didn't matter; he would calm down enough in the first draw that the readings would be useful again. Not that Tonegawa had needed the readings much so far. Kaiji's body language was as ambiguous as a slap in the face.
They drew, tied, drew again. Tonegawa won.
In third grade Tonegawa had started going to his father's office after school to get a feel for the business. His mother, rarely a woman of strong opinions, had protested.
His parents hadn't argued loudly, but Tonegawa had good ears and could hear them from his room even when they were in the kitchen. "- going to cram school, or something else," Mother said, "like sports - he could be so good at sports..."
"You really want that? You want him to waste his time kicking a damn ball around or studying to be a salaryman?"
"He could be a scientist," she said desperately, and Yukio made a face into his pillow. He hated science classes. "Or study real business, become a big businessman honestly, not - that way."
His father laughed, and said, "You think big businessmen get big honestly? Takako, this is the best way, it really is, and you know it. Yukio's a smart kid, talented, lucky - you don't want him to waste away in cram school or running around bowing to a bunch of bosses that ought to be bowing to him. He can do better than that, and I'm gonna show him how."
Tonegawa had to slide his door open a little to hear his mother speak again, her voice subdued. "- don't like it, Yoshiro. The new boss scares me, and that business - it makes people so cruel..."
"You saying I've been cruel to you?"
"No - never, dear," and then Yukio closed his door on the sound of them kissing. He didn't want to hear that; it was good enough knowing that he could keep going to Father's office.
They could all hear him thrashing around in the restroom, yelling and smashing glass. Tonegawa let Haruno light a cigarette for him and smirked. Kaiji could pitch all the fits he wanted, but he couldn't get rid of the transmitter, and if he really was stupid enough to come back and bet that eighteen millimeters - well, what was one more piece of trash to be rid of? Though ten bodies in one night was a little much; he'd speak to the Chairman later, that last trick with the air pressure was unnecessary. A corpse was no substitute for actual concrete.
Hyoudou was cackling to himself, also unnecessary, and Tonegawa lost a little of his smirk to a mental grimace. He had no sympathy to waste on the desperate, inferior scraps of humanity that ended up in the Chairman's clutches, but he was going on fifty now and beginning to think he'd spent enough of his life playing games he couldn't lose, watching the street trash scream and die and never get a single finger out of the gutter that they and the Chairman had dug.
This one wasn't any smarter or luckier or gutsier than the others who had made it as far as E-Card, but he still had some smarts and luck and guts, and for a moment Tonegawa found himself wishing that it wouldn't all go to waste, that Kaiji would walk out of the Starside Hotel with his twenty million yen and his pride and his ear intact, and become something more than trash.
The moment passed, and Tonegawa laughed at himself. He was getting soft in his old age, thinking that a punk like Kaiji had any kind of potential. He glanced down at his watch and saw the dials begin to calm down, and when the door to the hall swung open and Kaiji walked in with a towel against his bloody face, Tonegawa was ready to grind him back into the street he'd crawled up from.
Kaiji slapped his free hand down on the table, glared across it, and said, "Eighteen millimeters."
Behind Tonegawa the Chairman cackled again.
zawa zawa zawa zawa zawa
Tonegawa was a dutiful if uninspired student through high school, cheating as necessary, and he studied busines at a mediocre college. He had a bluff sort of handsomeness that won him a wife, and they lived in reasonable comfort in a house one street over from his parents after he finished with school and began to work.
It was a much better cover than ink, Tonegawa thought, and his father agreed. "Hiding in plain sight," he said at the office one evening, after he'd sent everyone but their personal guards home, "is one of the best strategies, as long as you don't get too cocky. You being careful, Yukio? You know your mother will never let me hear the end of it otherwise."
"I'm perfectly careful," Tonegawa said. "All the neighbors think I work in insurance."
"And so you do," Father said, "just not the kind they're thinking of," and laughed. "C'mon, son, let's hit the bars and throw some money away." Tonegawa Yoshiro liked to launder his money through the group's drag bar, tipping the "girls" big and re-collecting most of it from the bartender later as change.
It wasn't a bad way to spend an evening, but Yukio shook his head. "I said I'd meet with the Chairman later."
"Ah," said Yoshiro, and leaned back in his chair, blowing smoke rings. "The Chairman, huh... Well, I can't say anything against that." This was a lie; at home Yoshiro always had plenty to say about about that damn young whippersnapper Hyoudou (despite Hyoudou having twenty years on Yoshiro's own son), very little of it good. At the office, even after hours, was another matter. The Chairman wasn't technically yakuza and technically had no power over the Tonegawa family, but the Chairman also didn't give a damn for technicalities and had the money to back up his indifference.
"He said he's found a use for some of our debtors," Yukio offered. "Once I've had a look we can decide whether it will work out..."
"Yeah, of course," his father said. "Good idea." He blew more smoke rings and said, "That Chairman, he's a little... He knows his way around a business, he'll go far and he'll take you with him if you play your cards right, but be careful around him, Yukio. He wasn't born to this, he doesn't always understand how we do things here."
Yukio already knew. Tsukamoto's face would never be the same; losing a finger would have been better. "I told you, Dad, I'm careful."
"You can never be too careful with a man like Hyoudou," Yoshiro said. "Remember that. I don't want to break off a profitable working relationship because you make a stupid mistake and Hyoudou burns your face off."
"You won't have to," Yukio promised, but it felt good to know that his father would anyway, profits be damned.
Two years later Tonegawa Yoshiro was dead of liver failure, and his son brought the entire Tonegawa group into the growing Teiai Corporation, under the security of Hyoudou's money. There was nowhere for him to go but up, he thought.
The Chairman's insults ground on and on into Tonegawa's ear, as irritating and relentless as the whine of the metal drill in Kaiji's ear had been. It would have been bad enough to endure in private; in front of his subordinates it was intolerable.
Tonegawa had the drill and ear lying on the table in front of him and he still couldn't believe it. Where did a worthless little punk like Kaiji get the nerve to cut off his own fucking ear? It was a sick joke, it had to be.
The brief sympathy of earlier was gone; he didn't care now if Hyoudou drilled all the way through Kaiji's head, and he was savagely glad when Kaiji said, "I'll do it again. I'll bet eighteen millimeters."
The Chairman was in ecstasies, going on and on about life and risk. Tonegawa knew the basics of the speech by heart and saved his attention for staring down Kaiji - until Kaiji said, "You're going to apologize, Tonegawa."
zawa zawa ZAWA
Unlike the trash across from him, Tonegawa had an excellent poker face, but he couldn't stop himself from reacting as the Chairman laughed and agreed. You stupid punk, he thought desperately, you have no idea what you've just done...
He had no choice but to win now. He called for a towel to clean off the table, shuffled his cards, and tried not to think about the consequences of failure.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
Nakamura was practically banging his head on the floor with every apology, but the Chairman only sighed with disappointment. "It's not sincere," said Hyoudou. "If you were sincerely sorry, you wouldn't have let that man go without paying his debts. No, I can't accept such an insincere apology..."
Tonegawa and Endou exchanged a glance. Nakamura had been an idiot, falling for a sob story and a worthless promise, but he was still young and learning the ropes, and it set a bad example for a businessman to punish him instead of his own boss. Tonegawa stepped forward and put one hand on the Chairman's desk. "Sir, you know that normally I would never even think of interfering," he said, "but Nakamura-kun is one of my subordinates. Perhaps it would be better to allow us to handle this matter in the usual way, not -"
He moved his hand a bare instant before the Chairman brought the solid iron paperweight down on it, then took an extra step back from the desk at the look on the Chairman's face. Hyoudou spat, "If this piece of insincere garbage belongs to you, you should shut your mouth and be grateful that I will not make you kneel with him to apologize! Your 'usual way' is already useless with him -" the chairman gestured at Nakamura's hands splayed on the floor, clearly missing one pinky, "and I will not repeat your soft-hearted mistakes!" He gestured again, to Endou and Haruno. "You two, make the preparations. And quickly. I want my apology."
Nakamura was still bowing, weeping now through his apologies, and Tonegawa folded his arms and felt the pistol hanging beneath his suit jacket. Useless. One shot would end Nakamura's agonies before they began, but at the cost of the Chairman's good will, and Nakamura wasn't worth even a millionth of that.
Well, he thought, as Endou and Haruno wheeled in the smoking steel plate, if he lives through it maybe he'll be worth something, at least. But Tonegawa doubted it. Break a man enough and he became useless, and the Chairman was never satisfied until he had gone past that point.
Shock ran through Tonegawa like a snake's venom.
He could hear his subordinates muttering nervously, the trash from the Human Derby cheering and laughing with relief, the crunch of the drill's remote as it fell and shattered on the floor, but all he could see was the bloodstained Slave, resting its chains on the Emperor he'd dealt.
He was ruined. He could feel the Slave's chains on his own neck, forcing him down to -
zawa zawa zawa zawa
Tonegawa slammed his hands down on the table and shouted, "Kaiji! Didn't you switch the cards?" You fool, you fool, you goddamned punk, why didn't you switch the cards...
"Unfortunately, no," Kaiji said, and every word of his explanation was another link in the chains, another serpent's fang biting and chipping away at Tonegawa's sanity. Thank you. I trusted you. You're first-rate. Bullshit! What kind of person would say that to a man who had held their death in his hands?
But it was sincere. Everything about Kaiji was sincere; it was his worst trait. Tonegawa collapsed back into his chair and lay his head on the table. He heard them place the last nine million yen on the table and could have wept when he heard the Chairman say, "You remember that the money isn't the end of it, right, Kaiji-kun?"
Tonegawa stopped listening; he knew what was coming. He lifted his head slightly, just enough to look for Haruno and Tateyama (and damn Endou for not coming tonight, but Tateyama was popular with the lower ranks and Haruno was a tough bastard, they'd do), and caught Tateyama's eye.
He tapped the table twice with his right pinky finger, not loud enough to make a noticeable sound. Tateyama scratched the back of his neck nervously, but he moved closer to the game table, turning slightly to face out towards his subordinates. Haruno had been standing by the Chairman; beneath Hyoudou's gleeful words Tonegawa could hear him shift away from Hyoudou's chair. Good. Tonegawa turned his face back to the table before he could be noticed.
All of his concentration was bound in his ears, now, every sound life or death. He heard wheels squeaking as Aizawa and the others brought in the plate, the creaking of the heated metal, hissing steam, Kaiji's shocked breath.
zawa zawa ZAWA ZAWA
Would Kaiji still have asked for an apology, if he had known? Maybe; he was an angry little bastard. But not cruel, just desperate and afraid and fighting with everything he had... and he had won, beaten Tonegawa, escaped the Chairman. If Kaiji had any sense he would walk out when the bloody mess was done with and never go near a gamble again, but Tonegawa knew better than anyone now that Kaiji had no goddamned sense at all.
Tonegawa was beginning to stand when the Chairman said, "Right, Tonegawa? You can show me some sincerity, right? True sincerity."
His arms shook, his sweat dripped on the table. He could. He knew he could do it, he could kneel on that plate and let his flesh sear away, but Hyoudou would still laugh and never forgive him and Kaiji would still be that punk bastard who had beaten him and then he'd do something stupid and lose it all again, and Tonegawa thought, No. I can do better than that.
"I trusted you," Kaiji had said. Let's see how far that goes.
Kaiji was standing just behind the Chairman, eyes darting between Tonegawa and the plate. Oh God, he hadn't thought - this was too much, way too much; as badly as he wanted an apology for Ishida and Sahara he didn't want this.
Another pulse of blood leaked down the side of his face, and he winced and wadded the towel tighter against the hole where his ear had been - fuck, he needed a doctor soon, and everyone who had fallen, and Tonegawa would too if he did this insane Roasting Kneeling thing...
His eyes went back to Tonegawa, who was still half turned away from the plate, and Tonegawa snapped, "Kaiji! Get down!"
zawa zawa zawa
Kaiji saw Tonegawa reaching into his jacket and said "Huh?" and felt metal graze his right ear, and then he got the hell down and out of the way and said, "What the hell!"
The Chairman was yelling something, raising his cane, but Tonegawa fired again and the Chairman's rasping voice cut off. One of the black suits - maybe the one who'd been marking the scoreboard, Kaiji couldn't tell - was shouting to the others, "Don't shoot! Hold fire and don't shoot," but Kaiji heard another shot from the doorway and saw Tonegawa stagger, red spreading from his right shoulder, and then a second suit leaped to cover him and fired back at the door.
The other racers were all panicking and yelling, trying to find a safe spot in the room, and one of them screamed as another shot rang out. The other suit with the gun fired again and Kaiji heard someone go down, but his eyes were fixed on the slumped body in front of him. Somehow the Chairman was even uglier dead than alive, but a bullet through the eye probably wouldn't look good on anyone.
Should've gone for the ear, like me, Kaiji thought, and had to clap his free hand over his mouth to keep from laughing wildly, he couldn't lose it now but oh God the image wouldn't leave him, an awful mental picture of the Chairman waving around an ear with a bullet hole in it and crowing "Gotcha! You missed me!"
Tonegawa's voice rose above the babble - "Hold your fire! I said HOLD YOUR GODDAMN FIRE!" - and the room gradually stilled. The second black suit had the two guys at the door covered, the first one had his hands out and up, talking quietly to the suits who'd brought in the plate, the injured men were crouching against the wall or by the chairs.
The Chairman was still dead. Tonegawa holstered his gun awkwardly and stepped over the body, and said, "Get up."
Kaiji pushed himself up, first to trembling knees and then to shaky feet. "Tonegawa," he said, then realized he had no fucking clue what to say next and said, "Your shoulder..."
"It's not deep," Tonegawa said.
Kaiji stared around the room, scrambling for ideas, and said at last, "The twenty million, is it still -"
"Yeah," said Tonegawa, "it's yours." He snorted a laugh and threw his arm out to point at the door. "That hundred million that the Chairman had lying around if you got really gutsy, that's yours too. It's all yours now, damnit."
Kaiji grabbed the arm of the Chairman's chair before he could fall down. "What?"
"It's - all - yours - damnit," Tonegawa said, enunciating carefully. "I'm making you the new fucking Chairman. Hyoudou hasn't named a legal heir yet and my group controls a third of Teiai's stocks, anyone who objects is going for a swim in Tokyo Bay. Do you get it? The corporation, the ship, the hotel, the money, it's yours." He turned around and roared at the black suits, "Any of you bastards have a problem with that?"
"No sir!" they chorused back.
"No," Kaiji said weakly, and sat down. "I don't think I get it." But his mind was racing already, numbers multiplying and exploding in his head - twenty million, a hundred million, billions - more possibilities for his life than he could have dreamed of. Everything - it's mine...
"And one more thing," said Tonegawa, and he grabbed Kaiji's collar and pulled him up and glared into his eyes. "You have my apology. I'll kneel on that thing for as long as you want or cut off a finger or however the hell you want it, but you will have my goddamn apology and I will mean it."
The steel plate still hissed and steamed, waves of heat rising above it. Kaiji shut his eyes and thought of Sahara screaming, Ishida with his mouth covered as he fell, Ota writhing with electricity.
He said, "I don't want it."
"I don't want that kind of apology," Kaiji said, and smiled even as tears began dripping down his face, the cut in his cheek stinging at the salt. "You still wouldn't mean it, right?"
"No," Tonegawa said, "probably not."
"Then I'll think of something else," said Kaiji, and Tonegawa let go of his shirt. Kaiji stood on his own and looked around the room again, seeing everything - the mess, the subdued black suits, the frightened men. "Something better than this psycho shit. Something that does mean something."
"I'll be looking forward to that," Tonegawa said. "Till then - what do you want?"
"The debts paid," Kaiji said instantly. "Mine, theirs -" he waved at the fallen racers "- everyone who fell, whoever had a debt here, I want them all paid off in full. Interest, too."
"Done," said Tonegawa. "Tateyama! Call Endou, start checking the books for the numbers."
The suit who'd been talking the others down earlier nodded and went to the room's phone.
Kaiji looked around, trying to think, and blood pulsed down his face again; he had to steady himself on the chair, and said, "Hospital - for the racers, too. And the hospital bills, they're part of the debts, they get paid off. Okay?"
Tonegawa nodded, said, "Nishiyama! Have the cars brought around." One of the suits at the door jumped, then said "Yes, sir!" and left the room at a near-run. Tonegawa looked back at Kaiji and said, "Anything else?"
Kaiji thought, and a grin split his face. "I think - I want to build a building."
"You'll have to bring that one up before the board," Tonegawa said, almost smiling back, and Kaiji reached out and grabbed his arm.
"Why did you do it?" he asked, his voice rough with exhaustion. "Why would you do something like that?"
Tonegawa jerked his thumb up to indicate his temple, still red and starting to swell where the Chairman had hit him earlier. "You punk," he growled, "you think I've got no pride of my own?"
Kaiji was getting dizzy with blood loss; he laughed, and had to sit back down, letting go of Tonegawa.
Tonegawa shrugged off his jacket and pressed it against his shoulder. "And I think that I want to see it," he said off-handedly.
"What the world ruled by a slave looks like," said Tonegawa, and smiled.
Tonegawa's hands were trembling as he lit his cigarette. Damnit, he wasn't that old, this was ridiculous; he frowned down at his fingers until they steadied, then stuck his hands in his pockets like a teenager and leaned against the brick wall.
Kaiji was just across the street, walking in the little garden outside of the Ishida Free Clinic and talking with a woman. His smile, Tonegawa thought sourly, was more obnoxiously bright than the orange lilies blooming by the door.
"Endou," he said, "who's that woman?"
Endou looked over. "That looks like Ishida Hiromi, the widow of Ishida Kouji. After his debts were paid off she used the extra money the Chairman gave her to return to school and earned a medical degree - in radiology, if I remember correctly. She works at the clinic."
"And what's she doing around Kaiji, hah?" Tonegawa blew smoke out and eyed the two suspiciously. "Not in debt again, is she?" They were all purely legit now, but old habits died hard, and Kaiji was still more than annoying enough to have people out for his head.
Endou coughed behind his hand as if he really thought that disguised his laughter, and said, "Not with us, anyway. It seems she's just recently found out that the Chairman is the one who saved her husband from the Espoir and paid his debts, and she's been spending a lot of time with him since - quite enjoys his company, too."
"Pretty woman like that?" Tonegawa said. "Hnh. You sure she doesn't owe us money?" Just a joke; the Reiai Corporation didn't deal in loans, at least not that kind of loan. Still, watching them get lovey-dovey in the sunlit garden was making his head ache. He stubbed the cigarette out on the bricks and said, "I'm just going to take a walk."
Endou nodded and kept his thoughts to himself as his boss crossed the street.
Ishida Hiromi was telling a story, waving her arms around to illustrate, and Kaiji started laughing, then looked over and saw Tonegawa stomping along the path. "Tonegawa!" he called happily. "Did you come to check on the clinic? Hiromi-san was just telling me about -"
"Yeah, yeah," Tonegawa said. "Pleasure to meet you. Kaiji, let me talk to you for a minute."
"Sure, of course," said Kaiji, and made an excuse to the woman before walking a few steps away with Tonegawa. "Hey, is something wrong at the office?"
"Nothing's wrong," Tonegawa said. He walked another step further, then turned and put a hand on Kaiji's shoulder. "Just thinking - it's about time for a reminder, maybe."
"A reminder?" Kaiji said, and his hand went up his ear, the left one with the ugly scarring around the base that never seemed to fade.
"Just a little reminder," said Tonegawa, leaning in. "Don't forget how you got here, Slave. Don't forget that you won everything only because you had nothing. And don't forget this -" He took his hand back, lit another cigarette, his hands perfectly steady now.
Kaiji was watching him like a snake, unblinking, and Tonegawa watched him back until Kaiji said, "Don't forget what?"
"Don't forget," Tonegawa said, "that I still owe you that fucking sincere apology."
"I don't," said Kaiji, and Tonegawa could see that it was true, that in Kaiji's eyes there was no greed, only grief for friends lost; none of Hyoudou's madness, only the determination that had kept Kaiji alive when even Tonegawa had wanted him dead.
"Good," he said, and walked back across the street to Endou.