Do Idiots Dream of Electric Sheep?
Disclaimer: I do not own Hayate X Blade, Mai Hime/Otome, Madlax and whatever other slight crossovers I might add.
Their respective owners each share a piece of my soul however. As do the members of the Hoshitori staff. Guys, this entire fic is for you! (With the addition of Sean who beta-reads this. Kudos.)
Oh, and before I begin, though this is technically a mega-crossover AU, you need not know any of the other fandoms to appreciate this fic. You might as well see them as OCs. Haha. That was the hope anyway. Also, the title is originally from Philip Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? though admittedly, they have very few similarities if any. (I should read the book sometime.)
Chapter One – The Idiot Cast
"I have the contract." A rough, scarred hand slid a piece of paper across the table and placed a dark, gothic-style fountain pen besides it. Embossed on the fountain pen was the gilded letter 'M' in cursive. "You need only to sign it." The sound of rustling cloth filled the room as the other occupant leaned forward to examine the contents of the contract. Smoke veiled the man's face for a moment as he exhaled slowly, letting it drift out of his lips. He took another drag from his cigarette and left it in the ashtray before picking up the pen. A name was scratched out at the very bottom line.
"She's a stubborn lass," the other man added as he reclined back. "But I hope you take care of her all the same. She is," he paused, looking for the right words to say as he clasped his hands together. His lips stretched in a thin smile. "She is family after all."
"Oh, I will."
Light danced across Ayana's sleeping face in the dim light as the news on the television droned on monotonously. Jun placed a warm, red and orange polka-dotted blanket over her friend's curled up form and tucked the edges in, smiling slightly at this softer side of Ayana which Jun rarely saw. "In other news, the heiress of the Shizuma Corporation will be marrying into the…" The television closed abruptly.
"Welcome home," Jun said and turned to grin at her cousin. Natsuki Kuga placed her motorcycle helmet on top of the kitchen counter, besides the remote, and leaned against the counter with a heavy sigh. She tucked strands of dark blue hair behind an ear and smiled wearily.
"Glad to be home," was the brusque reply. She looked at Ayana quizzically, one eyebrow raised. "Have you seen her do something other than play videogames this week?"
"Well, if she'd let me watch her in the bathroom while she bathes, I would have said yes, but unfortunately, that was not the case."
Natsuki crinkled her nose. "Sometimes, I have to wonder how the two of us could ever be cousins."
"Maybe a monkey was swimming in the gene pool just before Kuga Junior was born." Ayana murmured sleepily.
"That would explain Jun's fondness for climbing up trees," Natsuki replied teasingly.
"Bah, stop being such a bad influence on Ayana, Natsuki-nee," Jun grumbled.
"Bad influence?" Natsuki shook her head. "Look who's talking. At least I don't have a stash full of questionable items underneath my bed."
"You know I'm always willing to share," Jun said slyly. "In fact, I saw you looking through them once. Why did you stop? Were you embarrassed?"
A red tinge slowly made its way up to Natsuki's face. She turned away and grabbed the small haversack she carried with her. "I have a job for us," she said briskly, her tone business-like. "In fact, I have two."
"Ah, Natsuki-nee is so shy." The brunette laughed. "But Ayana is shooting daggers at my back so I won't pursue that subject any further."
"Good call," Natsuki said dryly. She placed two photographs side by side on the glass coffee table for Ayana and Jun to see. On the first picture was an old, run-down building, three storeys high, with a lighthouse at the very top, while the second one had a golden scarab with sapphire inlays placed on a velvet cushion. Tiny symbols were etched along the edges of the scarab's wings. "Three days from now, there will be an auction among the underworld's elite class, held in this very hotel. Sugiura-san is willing to pay us a hefty price to steal this beauty." Natsuki grinned wolfishly. "Right from under the noses of the most professional of thieves. Ah, doesn't that sound like fun?"
The two younger women exchanged a knowing glance and a roll of the eyes. Natsuki had a penchant for tweaking the noses of those on the wrong side of the law, and usually, it was more trouble than it was worth.
"Ayana and I will be doing that particular heist," Natsuki continued, ignoring the looks that her cousin and young friend shared. "Jun, on the other hand, will be busy assassinating some important person from a big-name company."
Jun's light smile was replaced with an unhappy frown. She didn't protest however, simply asking, "Who, when, and where?"
"The details will be provided by our client tomorrow." Natsuki replied.
They talked idly for a little while longer, mostly about how they would get the floor plans on the hotel, who would do the cooking that night, and when might Jun meet their client tomorrow, in no particular order.
Ayana, after a bit of grumbling, went to their bedroom for a proper nap, the polka-dotted blanket wrapped around her shoulders as she staggered towards the room at the end of the hallway. Once she was out of earshot, Jun turned and gave Natsuki an accusatory glare. "Since when do I take solo assassination missions?"
"Since today," Natsuki answered calmly. "Triple Speed thinks you're ready."
"And what if I don't think I'm ready?"
Natsuki gave her a long-suffering glare. Jun pouted and crossed her arms in silent reply. "This mission's too good to pass up, Jun. I hear the reward money is pretty big. I'd have the three of us go, normally but"—her eyes warily flickered towards the bedroom door—"Ayana isn't ready for this. It's much too soon for her."
Jun sighed. "I know. But I still don't see why I should do it, Natsuki-nee." She put some extra emphasis on the honorific, making the older girl grimace.
"When it comes to stealth, you're the best of us three, Jun. I don't even trust myself to finish this job successfully." Natsuki paused, looking at Jun thoughtfully. "Not with a lower casualty rate anyway."
"And that's supposed to make my conscience feel better?" Jun shook her head fiercely. "There's something you're not telling me."
"How about, 'we don't have much money left in the bank'? Does that satisfy you?" Natsuki demanded.
"I had to pay for the hospital expenses—both Ayana's and Someya-san's." Natsuki explained, her gaze steady. "Now do you understand?"
Jun fell silent, her anger gone. Finally, she asked, "How is she anyway?"
"The scar is healing nicely, or so I heard from Kamijou-san." Natsuki bit her lip. "If you really don't want to do it, I'll call Triple Speed now. I heard she just came back from a bloodbath in Gazth-Sonika," Natsuki spoke, referring to one of the best assassins money could buy, "so maybe Triple Speed can ask her instead—"
"I'll do it," Jun interrupted her. "I may not be as good, but I'll give a try anyway." She flashed her cousin a proud grin. "Then, all those years of infiltrating into the public baths and peeping at those luscious masterpieces will have finally paid off!"
"…You're a girl. You don't need to infiltrate into the girls' public bath."
The air whistled as the train flew past Momoka's bent figure. She took long, deep breaths, cursing as she found a pillar to lean against. She had ran all the way from her building two blocks from the train station, but unfortunately, the train had already shut its doors when she skidded to a stop at the platform.
"Just great," she muttered to herself and straightened her back. Her chest still moved rhythmically as she took in as much air as she could.
"You're early today." It was a statement, not a question.
Momoka turned her gaze to glare at Kijimiya who was standing a few metres away. "Not early enough," she muttered darkly.
"Oh? Is that so?" Kijimiya smiled thinly. "What's the rush anyway? Are you in any hurry to come home? I wasn't aware you were that attached to your," she paused, eyeing Momoka with a teasing glint, "roommate."
"I was hoping that I wouldn't have to spend the train ride home bickering with you," Momoka growled.
"Bickering?" the other girl asked innocently. "I wasn't aware we were bickering." Kijimiya smoothened her rumpled skirt, making Momoka blink in realization. She had been running too. "Anyway, I'll be imposing myself to you again, if you don't mind. I've already bought dinner." She gestured at the plastic bag she carried in one arm, smiling slightly.
"Fine," Momoka said acidly. "But you are not to sit besides Isuzu-san again. You made her feel uncomfortable the last time you were over." Her frown deepened. "You even made your friend, Sagara-san, uncomfortable." She looked at Kijimiya thoughtfully. "Is she coming over too?"
"Of course," Kijimiya said offhandedly. "She would be lonely if you didn't invite her as well."
"I didn't invite anyone," the brunette retorted. "If Isuzu-san wasn't so gosh darned nice, I wouldn't even let you in our apartment."
"Well obviously she would want me over to brighten your dull dinners together."
"We were plenty happy without you."
"Now, now. There's no need to cover your weaknesses. Not to a friend."
Momoka was quite grateful when the train finally arrived at that point. Talking to Kijimiya just riled her further, and she didn't want to see Isuzu's concerned face directed at her. The last time she went home angry, the other girl had practically cowered in her presence.
She massaged her forehead furiously, trying to remove the knots of tension forming in her temple. She sat between an old lady playing with her cell phone, and a young man reading a dog-eared paperback. She shot one last withering glare at Kijimiya before closing her eyes, the rhythmic sound of the train plunging forwards making her feel calmer.
The rest of the walk home was silent. Momoka refused to reply to any of Kijimiya's attempts at conversation, her eyes simply trained at the small apartment building not far from the train station. She nodded absentmindedly to a neighbour taking out the trash and bounded up the steps to the second floor, not waiting for her companion. When the door opened, she gave Isuzu a quick peck before walking past her to nod at Sagara who was already seated in their tiny dining room. She felt Kijimiya's hot, jealous gaze directed at her and grinned, feeling immense satisfaction at pissing the girl off. It was good to be home.
Benibachi leaned against her desk, staring at the city street below her with weary eyes. A cigarette dangled between her lips. She wore a pale cream blouse with ruffles along the neckline, slopping downwards to reach the waistline, and a black pencil skirt. Draped on a shoulder was a simple dark, wool blazer. Where is that assistant of mine? She wondered crossly. Soon, the city would be teeming with people, especially in the subway areas. She stifled a sigh and grinded the butt of the cigarette, leaving it in the ash tray. She wanted to be home before then.
"Sensei," a breathless voice squeaked from behind. Well, finally. Benibachi swung her blazer around and slid her arms into the holes.
"What took you so long, Hayate?" The older woman asked as she adjusted her jacket.
"Well, I was coming back from the police station after giving the report, and there was this old woman, see, and she needed help carrying her groceries because it was so heavy and—"
"Let me guess," Benibachi said idly. "You offered to carry the bags for her, brought her home and, before you could leave, you were offered some tea and biscuits as a sign of gratitude?"
Hayate looked at her with wide, unblinking eyes. "How did you know? Were you following me?"
"There are some crumbs on your cheek." Benibachi paused as she turned the key, locking the door of their small office. "Also, I know you well enough to guess what you've been up to."
They walked in silence, the patter of Benibachi's sensible shoes and Hayate's sneakers the only audible sound in the hallway. They nodded to a few tenants downstairs in the second floor, continuing downwards with neither speaking a word.
The sun-streaked detective shifted her gaze slightly to stare at her young charge thoughtfully. The child had stumbled into her office, just eight months ago, wearing nothing more but a hospital gown and a blank, downcast expression. She had no memories whatsoever. The only clues on her person were the hospital tag wrapped around her left wrist and a crumpled-up piece of paper in her right hand with the address to Benibachi's office. Benibachi turned sideways to let someone pass by and hurried down the last flight of stairs, touching Hayate's shoulder to slow her down. The young girl flinched and twisted abruptly. "A-ah, Sensei," she sputtered and touched the door's latch to steady herself. "You surprised me a little." A silly grin hid her unease, though it was too late. Benibachi had taken note of it already.
"Slow down, runt," Benibachi growled. "You're giving this old woman a heart attack from all that running around."
Concern filled the kid's gaze. "Are you alright?"
"Oh. I'm sorry for walking too quickly, I guess," Hayate said, shamefaced. "Would you like to hold my elbow so you won't fall accidentally? It'd keep me from going fast, coz you know I do that un-unconcernedly."
"Unconsciously," Benibachi corrected automatically.
"What?" Hayate looked perplexed.
"Never mind," Benibachi said, sighing. Hayate offered her arm. "And I'd rather not, kid. I'd have to stoop to reach your arm."
"I am not that short!"
From the grins they exchanged, Benibachi knew that Hayate wasn't offended.
The foot traffic was lighter than Benibachi had expected. They managed to catch the eight o'clock train just in time, settling in the back seats of a compartment. Hayate soon gave up her seat for an elderly man with osteoarthritis, his red-rimmed eyes crinkling from a small, grateful smile. The trip home was almost uneventful, if not for Hayate who suddenly collapsed just as the train lurched into motion once more, two stops away from their home district. She fell into a young woman's arms, her face contorted in an expression of pain, blood trickling down her nose. Maki Kamijou, who had just left the hospital that day, looked down at the girl in her arms, dismay etched across her pretty face. Why do I have a feeling I'll be seeing Yukari twice today?