AN:/ Obviously a bit of time disparity between this reality and the original. Once again, super depressing version of events, not that canon was ultimately cheerful or anything. Differences in canon start to become very apparent in the third part. Enjoy! And when 'zawa's appear above your head during integral decisions in your life, take heed.
Gambling Apocalypse Kai : The Human Derby/ The Bridge of Death
Blood. Blood was everywhere. On her hands, in her hair, spattering against the white, hospital floor. It was real blood throbbing down her face, it was imaginary that she could feel on her hands. People stared, their eyes jaded enough to look away after a few seconds, their faces flushing with fear and indignant disgust.
"Missus," the nurse was insistent, pestering her, "Please go to the desk if you need help. Is that your blood? Does it belong to someone else? What's your name, is there family you can contact? Miss?"
She couldn't speak, couldn't function. The number that had been on her back might as well have been etched into her skin. She was in pain, agonizing pain, she'd pass out any minute. The ice in the bowl she was clutching had melted.
"Miss, you're bleeding!"
Horror, fear, it was all irrelevant. She had experienced it all, she had come out alive. She had beaten Tonegawa at his own game but had lost in the final round at the cost of twenty million yen. The hand tightened around the bowl she had carried in, the nurse became insistent. Kai couldn't speak, the world was growing dim. She ripped at the bandages on her head in frustration causing a fine splatter to land on the floor.
"Ah! The lady has no ear!" a little kid screamed.
She thrust the bowl at the woman in uniform, she heard her screaming. Blood spattered on the floor, her mutilated hand was bleeding her out. But it was nothing compared to the pain inside her head.
"I need a surgeon!" she choked out.
She was suddenly swarmed by emergency personnel. She'd be in surgery immediately, every minute time was running out. Soon they wouldn't be able to stitch them back together. Tears ran down her face, why had she let herself get carried away! Why had she failed!
Months ago, everything had been different.
"I'm moving up," she'd told herself, "Every day, I'm moving up."
The trash bag ripped, spilling the contents on the ground. She swore and swept it up, balancing the other bag on her shoulder. Every second was an exercise in self control, every minute was lousy work; sweeping, mopping, stacking softcore idol magazines on a convenience store shelf. Their breasts were covered by tiny bikinis, their cute smiles covered in make up. Her serious features reflected in the window glass were a harsh reminder.
"It's not any easier if you're cute," she reminded herself.
Women who were attractive just attracted more trouble. It was disgusting the way men reacted to Nishio always asking her on dates and trying to get her attention. Nishio laughed it off but it made Kai angry. What right did they have to carry on like that around another human being? It pissed her off!
Everything had become an irritation, a distraction from her real goal. Once she had gotten off the ship she had cursed her anger and her impetuousness. If she hadn't saved Ishida-san, she could have had almost ten million left over. Her life could have moved forward. When it came down to it, she had been a weak person moved by her emotions, throwing her further into debtors hell.
"Even 100,000 wouldn't begin to touch the principal, " she thought, "At 900 yen per hour part-time, only a masochist would be motivated in this situation!"
She worked as though she were in a coma forcing herself not to think. She dragged the soap bucket and window wipers out to the front by herself. What was a two person job was delegated to one, this was her lot. She wasn't congenial or pretty like Nishio; she was shabby and uncouth, a miserable excuse for a woman.
"Kai," the boss said, "You're stronger than that, move your arms more. Cheerfully! Customers hate a sullen woman."
The manager had come out of the store as soon as he had seen her drag her buckets, to peck at her like a vulture. He knew she hated this work and all of the menial labor associated with it.
"Your hair, do something with it. Pin it back, it's unbecoming to be so shabby," he said, yanking at her head.
Wincing at the sudden harassment, she glared at him in return.
"What's that look for? You're attitude for a grown woman is -"
"Manager!" Sahara interjected, "Tea is ready."
"We're still on the clock," the manager complained.
Nishio's sweet smile caused the manager to blush.
"We have daifuku and everything," Nishio said, "come in and have a few."
Makoto Sahara worked in back the same way she did, only he was gifted with much easier tasks. There was something about him that everyone seemed to like but Kai found detestable. If she could have pinned her dislike down to a singular thing, it would have been the insincerity of his smile.
"Kai-san, you're invited too," he said cheerfully, "Come and eat with us, yeah?"
A moment's hesitation led to capitulation. She had sat stiffly in the break room while Nishio and Sahara had chatted amicably with their boss. She never had fit into that kind of atmosphere, small talk was her bane. It wasn't as if she could bring herself to talk about the weather, nice day we're having, must be wonderful not having 6.8 million yen in debt. Human relationships were slimy and dishonest to their core.
"Empty smiles and greetings," she thought, "no connection to reality."
Later that day her ugly temper would appear, the foolish impetuousness she'd carried with her since a teenager. An envelope had gone missing near the check out area at the back of the store, Kai was leaving for the day when the manager took her aside.
"You're the most suspicious no matter how you look at it!" the manager had said, reaching for her bag.
The search for a stolen packet of money had escalated into accusations. A bet had been made in the heat of the moment that the manager had refused by calling her a thief.
"You bastard!" she'd cried, leaping at him.
Two strong arms had grabbed a hold of her, pitiably begging her not to get carried away.
"You too manager!" Sahara had cried.
It hadn't done much good. Kai was ready to beat the manager until he relented, the aspersions on her character totally unacceptable. She was many things, a great deal of them unpleasant but she was absolutely not a thief. She shouted until she was harassed out the door by Sahara, desperately trying to assuage her.
"Let go of me!" she screamed.
"I will, just calm down!" he said, "That manager would never get into a fight, or bet a large amount of money. He's all talk, Kai-san. That's the way adults are these days."
Sahara had rescued her, or that's what it had seemed like, until he followed her like a dog. The reason had become clear to her the moment he'd told her he'd quit.
"The manager was sure the money was gone," she had said, "Only staff members can enter the office. Or Nishio but Nishio was at the cash and never had the time to be alone..."
Sahara had been incredulous that she'd seen through his gambit. He had told her in full what he had done and how he had planned to use her as his mule. He was a sleazy nobody like her, with bleached hair and no direction in life. But unlike her he was a man, he had the born and bred ability to succeed if he had wanted. It pissed her off, dealing with a no good boy like him.
"Hey, let's go for a drink," Sahara waved the ill gotten envelope in the air, "my treat."
Sahara had distinguished himself as a person of questionable morals, but with debt over her head and a hellish day working behind her, there wasn't a single reason to say no when the booze was free. They went to several cheap bars and ordered a large quantity in pitchers. She drank a lot, hoping to dismay Sahara with the sheer quantity she was imbibing. He just grinned while watching her drink herself into a stupor, footing the bill with the dirty money their boss had been skimming off their pay.
"You have any family?" Sahara had asked her, "Got a boyfriend? Kids?"
Her mood had darkened. Whenever the door jingled, she nearly shot out of her seat every time. The men in the bar who were mostly sad looking business types, were all potential enemies. All she needed was one debt collector to find her, it would be over then.
"A kid," she said, tossing back another glass, "I haven't seen him in years. Ex-husband."
The last bit had been a lie, without money the divorce was never finalized. She knew her ex was keeping that over her head as collateral and as long as he had an interest in her, there would be no one sided separation.
"Hey, don't look so down," Sahara said, "My family's all messed up too. Step-mom and Step-dad, none of them really like me that well, I moved around a lot as a kid."
She wiped her mouth with her hand, "My ex is a rich bastard, the kid's okay with him. He doesn't need me."
With the back of her hand over her mouth she trembled. That was such a depressing statement, she was almost crying at the thought. She missed her kid, even if she'd barely known him. What would he be doing in ten years?
Sahara smiled at her, sheepishly, "A kid with money has an easier life than one without. Believe me, I'd know."
The door jingled and crashed, her body nearly shot up. Sahara had been watching her, absorbing her movements. He was intelligent if unscrupulous, his eyes roaming over her calculating her actions. He pushed his other beer towards her, leaning in close.
"You smell different from other people," Sahara said, his voice low, "at this place and the last one you sat facing the door, to be sure you could see who came in. I thought it was a mean ex you were worried about but I think this is something bigger. Something to do with money."
Her eyes widened. The cold beer glass touched her hand, the ice on the outside of the glass stung her.
"Huge sums of money, the kind you make taking incredible risks. Do you know about deals like that, Kai-san?" he said.
Losers like us can't work our way into society.
"You're being chased, aren't you?" he'd accused.
Kai was laying on her back in her hospital room. Surgery had taken hours, it had been three days since the doctors had stitched up her hand and her ear. There was always the risk of the body rejecting the appendages sewn back on; there was a chance she might never be able to use her hand again. Despite that, she had to get out of the hospital as soon as possible. Every day ate into her debt, the blood money that she had literally poured from her wounds into a golden cup. The screams of Ota echoed in her head when she closed her eyes, the money she had tried to collect from Ishida's death, like a reaper that had sewn a garden of blood. Disqualified. No one was disqualified from dying. If she hadn't decided to cross, they may have made another choice.
Don't be stupid, she thought bitterly, They were just like you. There was no other choice.
Not to mention there was now a whole squadron of men at Teai who likely wanted her hide for usurping Tonegawa, their boss. Sweat beaded on her brow, she was a dead woman here.
The door to her room burst open and she shot up in bed. Her heart was pounding with impossible force.
"Kai-chan!" her sister in the doorway, "I was so worried!...what are you doing with that table?"
It had been her first instinct to pick up something to throw. She put down the bedside table, flushing.
"Ah, shit," she said, helplessly, flopping onto her back.
Her sister smiled, "I caught up with you, after all this time. Kai-chan, those injuries...is it true what your husband said?"
"What did Anegawa say,"she spat bitterly, "That I was a no good loser in a heap of debt?"
"Something like that," she said, sitting at the side of her bed, "But even if you're a loser, you're still my sister."
"It's not something you can pay, Saori" Kai said, "So don't even think about it."
"I knew that much," her sister said, her smile sad, "I missed you."
Kai nodded in agreement. She'd missed her sister too. Saori was irritatingly insistent to fluff her pillows and get her water. Her suit looked freshly pressed as though she had just come from work. She looked cute, her hair pulled back and eyes shining with determination.
"I haven't told your husband anything," she said, "Mom's still pissed. She didn't even know you had been living with that boy."
"Sahara," Kai said, her eyes watering.
The pain killers were working better today, her head was floating in a much more pleasant state of mind leaving her unnaturally calm. She should be arguing, screaming, throwing things to get her sister out of here and away from danger. Instead she was laying on the bed in a graceless splayed position with big sis hovering near her head. It was deeply comforting and uncomfortable at the same time.
Her sister nodded, "His father went to your address," she said, "We met up, we were both looking for someone. I knew something was wrong when neighbors said that a strange man in a suit had been around."
The memory of Sahara behind the partition, pretending he wasn't listening to Endou's proposition. He'd been so determined to join her on the death march she had decided to undertake. He hadn't understood anything.
"Please let me in the party!"
His screams echoed in her head, why had she let him...!
"Is he your boyfriend? Sahara-san..."
"Ro-ommate," she stuttered.
"I understand," her sister had a knowing smile, "It's complicated when you still have a husband."
"It's not like that," she snapped.
She'd jarred her head and her ear began aching again. She reached up to touch it with her good hand, the pain making her eyes water.
"Kai-chan," her sister said, helping her take more pills, "I'm your older sister and a woman besides. Go back to sleep. I promise I won't tell anyone you're here."
"Really?" she said, the pills making her head foggy, "Promise me!"
Desperately she reached out but only air was captured in her hands. Her reach as always, was too short.
Her sister blurred into a shadow.
Sahara had followed her home after the bars. Her steps had been shaky, she'd had an incredible amount of beer desperate to hold onto that feeling. Well aware that with no job, the chance to get completely wasted might not come again for quite some time.
"Stop following me!" she shouted, exasperated.
She was extra pissed off now, he'd pulled one hell of a stupid prank. She had nearly died of a coronary when he'd told her someone had left a number. And the few terrifying moments between calling and hearing the line pick up wouldn't leave her anytime soon.
"Kai-san," Sahara said, "I apologized! Besides, my place is far away, can't I crash at yours for now?"
"You're shameless!" she yelled back, nearly falling over.
"Besides, you're in no shape to head home alone," Sahara said, "Let me help you. I promise I won't do anything, okay? I'm not that kind of guy."
It's not like she could trust anyone, particularly men, but she had a gut feeling that Sahara's intentions were directed at the information he thought she could give him and not any unsavory interest in her body.
"All right," she said, "But if you pull anything, I'll smash your nuts and leave you for dead."
Sahara raised his hands up, "Understood. You're a tough lady, Kai-san. It's pretty cute."
"Sleaze," she muttered under her breath.
A misstep had sent her tumbling and upset what little restraint she'd had. She'd puked in a bush that night, and spent a few hours at her apartment with her head over the toilet. Sahara had smoked while watching over her, his presence an irritation. She'd said as much between barfing, her words choked out even when he offered her water.
"If you drown in your own puke, how would you ever tell me about those big deals?" he'd laughed.
She'd called him a slimy bastard, and he'd laughed.
Sahara had two kinds of smiles, one that was open and honest and another that was sneaky and insincere. It took her ten minutes to figure this out while working with him in a convenience store, and another ten to understand that half the time his smile was lying anyway, obscuring his true feelings. He wasn't honest or noble and had no motivations other than his own satisfaction. But that was the difference between them she had believed, he was motivated at all.
"Two losers living together," Sahara had said, "Tend to do better than one. I quit, but I still have the rest of the money. How about sharing expenses for a while?"
He had worn his sly smile, she knew it was a trick. He wanted in on the 'big deals' he had talked to her about. She'd never get rid of him at this rate.
"Still worried they'll find you?" Sahara asked.
But if she thought about it, it might not be a terrible idea. He was cover, a good liar and by sharing expenses even though her debt would still strangle her every second of every day, she might be able to buy a manga. The last consideration was her least noble and swayed her the easiest.
"I know they'll find me," she muttered.
"It doesn't bother me," he said.
She finally understood why people fell all over themselves to be around him, Sahara's smile was infectious. It made her blush even if he was an idiot playing with her emotions, trying to worm his way into whatever mystery he thought she was hiding.
A memory of a warm Sunday in her apartment that she had spent in abject idleness. The cigarette butts in the ashtray attested to her disinterest in activity and the empty ramen bowls in the sink had been sitting in tepid water for so long, they had begun to collect fuzz.
"Kai-san," Sahara said, "It's kind of pitiful, a grown woman living all by herself. Don't you have a boyfriend?"
She had choked on her beer, not gracing him with a reply.
"Doesn't it get lonely?" he asked, putting his arm around her.
She punched him in the stomach and he doubled over, laughing.
"Asshole," she said, her face burning.
Sahara had found another part-time job quickly. He bought more beer and more cigarettes and cheap food like ramen and curry, simple things they could make in the postage stamp sized kitchen and not bother cleaning up for weeks. It matched the piles of trash that were never taken out and the dirty clothes strewn around the floor.
"Was the ex rotten?" Sahara had asked her one time, during a summer evening.
Kai had been puffing on a cigarette, her head buried in manga.
"No," she said, exhaling a cloud of smoke, "I was the rotten one."
Sahara was staring at her curiously, she could tell when he was in one of his moods. The questions would be endless, he wouldn't let up until she went into the bathroom and locked the door.
"So, what did you do," he pressured, "Cheat on him?"
She had flipped a page of her manga, hoping vainly to dissuade him.
"No, of course not," she said, "It was horrible being a rich man's wife. Totally insincere. So I went to Tokyo to get a job for myself."
She had stopped mid page turn to find Sahara smiling at her again in his irritating, prideful way.
"What's your problem, Sahara," she said, "There's nothing more to say."
"You really are a cool woman," Sahara had said.
That night her body was shaking, it was freezing. The reality of living in a cheap apartment was that the walls were pitifully thin, they couldn't afford heat so windows were kept shut and sweaters worn even indoors. It wasn't fall yet, but the weather must have turned in the night and now she was huddled under the blanket, too cold to leave them for more clothes and too miserable to do anything about it. Just when she'd given up having to brave the freezing cold to get another pair of socks, Sahara put his arms around her.
"Sahara-!" surprise mixed into an exclamation.
"You're cold," he mumbled sleepily against her shoulder, "I'm freezing."
Cold legs against cold legs until she wriggled herself hunched over into a fetal position. She felt his maleness rubbing against her back, a natural response at night that didn't mean anything. She had been married. Why was she so nervous, he was just a man! She would have probably caught a nasty cold if he hadn't crawled in next to her.
"Kai," said Sahara, "Stop wiggling, it's keeping me awake."
Warm breathing on her hair, it felt nice. Kai had been cold but suddenly she was engulfed in a hot sweat. Desire and want hadn't entered her head since her spiral into debt had started. She had more pressing things to worry about besides getting laid by strange men. More importantly she simply wasn't interested in other people.
He's been totally benign this whole time, she thought, he hasn't lifted a hand towards me.
Sahara was different from average men. For all his irritations and teasing, he wouldn't exploit her for his own needs. He was a gentleman, if she pondered it, an absolute gentleman. Not a single occurrence of untoward behavior. By that standard, her thoughts right now were entirely perverted. She was the one being a creep and thinking dirty thoughts about a young man who had barely passed legal age! It was disgusting, totally repulsive.
What are you, some kind of sex maniac? she reasoned with herself, he's practically a baby.
Sahara sighed into her hair, "Kai, if you don't stop moving I'll hit you with a Shounen Jump. I'm tired."
She couldn't help herself, she laughed into his arm while he grumbled into her hair. Whatever dire atmosphere she had felt earlier had been dispersed. They were just two people fighting off the cold and discomfort. They had bodies filled with needs, like everyone else. There was nothing special at all about their situation or themselves.
"Sahara," she said, "Do you want to...?"
Her question could have an infinite number of possible answers, easy enough to feign misinterpretation and toss it aside. Sahara's hands moved up her waist over her body, they cupped her breasts.
"You haven't hit me yet," he said, his voice next to her ear, "So that's what you meant, yeah?"
"Yeah," she said, a little needier than she hoped, "But no attachments, okay?"
His arms stiffened, but then relaxed.
"All right," his voice a little feint, a bit sad.
She refused to notice.
"I want to be on top,"she insisted.
Sahara laughed, "Kai...you're really cute, you know?"
She straddled his waist and arranged the blanket over them, it was still cold outside of the sheets.
"Don't be stupid," she scoffed, "Let's just do it."
"Can I say 'I like you' Kai-chan," Sahara teased, "Is that okay?"
Kai snarled, "Stop talking, it's killing the mood."
She'd hold his wrists down, and do it at her own pace. Sahara seemed to enjoy being helpless under her, as much as she enjoyed being in control. This way they were equal, her strength versus his, each body fighting against the other. She was having, and not being had.
She'd curse herself for it later, forming attachments was always wrong no matter how benign they might seem. She'd thought screwing hadn't changed anything, well, perhaps it hadn't to her. But to young men...she'd forgotten all about how innocent they could be. And lonely young men with no future were the worst. When the invitation had arrived after a surprise visit from Endou, she had intentionally neglected to inform Sahara. She hadn't realized he'd gotten his own already.
"I'm going out," was all she had said, aware that the atmosphere around them had cooled, "I'll be back later."
Human relationships were still slimy, her feelings on the subject hadn't changed even if she'd found a small respite with her roommate. When she'd been herded by the suits into the Starlight alone with a cigarette in her mouth, Ishida-san had been the last person she'd expected to see.
"You don't have any friends here, you and I are strangers. No, more than that. We're enemies!" her hands on the man she had saved, confusion all over his face.
Her speech had been heard by Sahara, who appeared from behind a pillar. A nasty smile on his face, not unlike the one she remembered from the convenience store days.
"Don't worry Kai-san," he'd said, "I've been thinking the same thing. Only one person here is likely to get twenty million."
She could see right through him and his posturing, the swaggering he did to maintain his pride. He'd felt hurt because by entering the contest she had betrayed him. By showing up to the race her ambition had been summarily declared more important than his own. But unlike Sahara, he hadn't hurt her by making an appearance. She already knew the score; men wanted everything. They wanted to own the world while women begged for the scraps.
"Though I could run the race for you, if you don't feel up to the challenge," he'd said.
She scoffed at him, "Get real!"
"Then that means you're also my enemy that I have to drag down," with the cigarette still in Sahara's hand, likely from the box they had shared that morning, he blew smoke in her face as he passed, "see you later, Kai-san."
She had been convinced that everything had been a game to him, especially their relationship, but his impetuousness had powered his legs across the first round of the human derby. He'd made it when others had failed by being the first, the fastest. He had raced to the finish avoiding the ethical dilemma that haunted her, flooded her eyes with tears, especially now when she knew what had come after.
But even during the cruelest race, he had rooted for her. He'd been looking out for her as much as he could from a distance while still focusing on his own goals. When she announced she would still run the electric girder crossing, she saw tears in his eyes.
Tonegawa had gloated, "The one who creates their own path is a woman! What a courageous young lady to make her success all on her own."
A discontented rustling had fluttered through the contestants, Sahara was sweating bullets. The fear written across his features was startling, they hadn't signed up for something this dangerous.
"If you lose this time," Sahara had said, "You'll die!"
"She's well aware," Tonegawa said, "That's what a hero would do."
Sahara had been looking at her imploringly, it had irritated her. So it was all right for him to risk his life, but not her? Fuck that shit!
"I'll do it," she had said, "Sahara, this is our last chance. There's an exception, each one of us will only have to cross this bridge ourselves, no competition. In life as in anything, we end up pushing people aside. If we miss out on this possibility, it's gone for good."
Stay calm, she had reminded herself, you don't have to compete with him here.
Miraculously, after the others had fallen and their lives washed ashore on the concrete twenty-two stories below, only herself and Sahara had stood on the steel bridge together.
"Kai! Are you still there!" he'd screamed desperately.
The wind had been blowing, her hair had been flicking wildly around her face. She'd felt the tiny connection bursting between them as their voices cried out across the night sky. It was different than the fumbling in their shared apartment, a world apart from the small talk endured between them. The warmth in her heart had blossomed, she had known this boy. He was her friend, her lover until the bitter end. The breath of the living could make a difference in the loneliness endemic to the universe, even when cried out into chaos.
"I'm okay, Sahara!"
The closeness she had avoided in her life; kindness, love and affection, it was worse when death was staring you in the face. She'd cried out her anguish when the wind hurled his body from the platform and all of his hopes were destroyed. Her lover, Sahara, had paid for ambition with his life.
"Kai-chan," her sisters voice, "Ka-aai-chan."
Kai blurrily woke up to her sister's concerned expression. Her cheeks were puffed out and her lips pursed in deep concentration.
"If you keep making faces like that," Kai said blearily, "they'll stick."
Her sister grabbed her own cheeks flushing. In a lot of ways, she was still like the little girl Kai had looked up to as a child.
"The doctor said I should see if you're okay to eat anything," she said, "You've been asleep for a long time."
Kai went to rub her face with her hand and realized it was in enough bandages to be called a mitten. The drugs must have been really strong, she barely felt a twinge. Lunch was offered to her on a hospital tray. She picked at it, more interested in the scrutinizing look her sister was giving her.
"If you're going to ask something," she snapped, "Ask."
Saori huffed, "I don't know if I'll get a straight answer."
Kai poked at the rice and vegetables, "Try me."
"They found eight bodies by that place, the Starlight Hotel," her sister said, "What happened there?"
Kai's hand froze, chopsticks hovering over her food.
"It's," she searched for words, "there was a gamble."
Kai's mind filled with horrible images. Her marks on everyone's shoes, the hesitation and sudden trembling. Ishida's tears, he couldn't win for his wife. Sahara's tumble into darkness, the contorted faces she saw as the other men fell to their deaths.
Kai told her sister as little as possible. She wouldn't discuss her ear, the fingers that had been cut off. Only that she had lost a gamble that had spiraled out of control. It was better to keep her family away from the mess she'd made, it was better to acknowledge the failure as little as possible until she was stable enough not to throw furniture at the thought of the money she threw away because of her pride. Instead she told her about Sahara and his last attempt at winning a future.
"Sahara! There's something wrong!"
The rich guests watching had leered at them in expectation, arms linked in anticipation for the blow back that would send Sahara hurtling away from the platform. Sahara had fallen so close to her, her hand could have reached out to touch him. But saving him was impossible, if she had been the one to fall he would have been in the same position and would have had to let her go. There was no saving anyone from certain death.
Of all people, why did it have to be him? Why is the universe so cruel!
Tears dripped down her cheeks, her sister clung to her.
"Kai-chan," her sister said, tears in her eyes, "Why would you do something that dangerous!"
"You don't understand!" Kai had said, "There's no way to pay off the debts we had! All of us would have spent twenty years slaving away, starving, barely making the down payment!"
"Then why did you do it!" her sister's sharp voice assaulted her ears, "What possessed you do make that debt in the first place! Why didn't you think!"
Kai sat miserably in silence, she had nothing left to say. What was there to explain about having no future? Her sister lived in a different world, one filled with hope and possibilities. She worked well in society, she had friends and co-workers, relationships and people she cared about. Kai disdained all of those things, it was her nature. There had never been another way. Impossible. Living was absolutely impossible without the gamble. She was terrified the men at Teiai would find her but she also longed for it, longed for another chance to win from Endou.
"Kai," her sister said, "Sahara-san didn't have any serious debts. He could have walked away."
"I know," Kai choked out, "Of course I didn't want him to enter the race!"
It wasn't as though she had tried to talk him out of it.
"Why did he?" Saori asked.
"He's like me," Kai said, trembling, "We're the same kind of person."
The man that was her equal had plummeted because he couldn't resist the same pitfalls that she had. The pursuit of money, it blinded people. It threw them into their own graves, it cost them everything.
"We should apologize," her sister said, "Both of us, to Sahara-san's father."
Kai nodded stiffly. If only she had won the 100 million, she could have had something to give him in consolation.
"He visits everyday," she said, "it's really sad."
It was a weird number.
Her sister sniffed, "It's terrible, what happened to Sahara-san. He barely survived."
Alive. He was alive!
Kai leapt out of bed, her visions swirled, the burning feeling in her hand increased.
"Kai! Get back into bed! You're still recovering!"
"I want to see him!" she shouted, "I want to see Sahara!"
"It's," her sister paused,"It's really horrible what happened to him. The doctor's said he might not ever be the same again. Do you have the strength right now to deal with that? He looks barely human, his face is so swollen! His body is covered in bandages, it's unlikely he'll even know who you are!"
Kai faltered, Sahara was alive but...
She had to see it herself!
"I don't care!" her vicious movements made her ear hurt, "I just want to make sure he's okay!"
She tore through the hospital, her sister on her heels. Running through the murky hallways, she burst onto the intensive care unit and nearly went blind. The hall was white with the bright light falling through the windows. She had to cover her face with her arm, it was like falling into the sun.
"Room C-14," her sister said to her, "At the end of the hall. Kai, are you sure in your condition-"
"I'm fine," she snapped.
Her steps faltered, she didn't have to do this. She didn't have to go in seeing someone in that state...
I wasn't lying, the memory of his soft breath in her hair, you really do smell different from other people.
One step after another had her feet passing into the doorway, the darkness as disorienting as the bright light in the hallway. Her eyes adjusted. It was an ordinary room except for the single, enshrouded bed, all intensive care rooms were private. She could see stacks of machinery around the curtained area, quiet beeps monitoring the condition of the patient.
One step, two step, the same fearful shuffle across the metal beams until she reached the bed. The curtain blocking her way, she took a deep breath and threw it open.
A sound broke out from between her lips. She'd never have recognized him with his face so swollen, the skin a deep blue from bruising. He was in casts; over his arms, his neck and his chest. It was horrible, horrifying. Every cell in her body screamed. She had to leave and run out of this hospital, he'd never be the same again.
Look! Face your fears! This is what happens when your ambitions fail! Fingers are nothing compared to this! An ear is nothing compared to this!
A cold feeling snapped through her when her arm was grabbed, it was like being grabbed by the dead. Someone who had gone to hell and come back alive simply didn't exist; the weak fingers clenching around her hand, were illusions.
His voice snapped her out of it. She had to remind herself that he was alive, not dead. He had survived no matter how ruined, he had made it! Sahara's dreams - they were still living!
"I-it's me," she said.
"You're alive," he sounded so happy, she started to cry, "I wasn't sure."
The injuries to his body were unbelievably extensive, the bandages wrapped around his head so thickly she couldn't even see his blond hair. He had likely suffered a severe concussion, possibly bleeding in the brain. What little Kai knew about head injuries was generally that they were terrible. She was hardly an expert, but anyone who had fallen from that height was unlikely to be completely cognizant. It was astounding he had remembered her in this state.
"I'm so glad you made it," he was smiling, under his bandages, it must have been causing him pain.
She broke down, feeling like a pitiful sap, "Sahara! Don't strain yourself."
Her shoulders trembling, chest heaving, she hadn't cried this hard since she was a little girl. The grip on her hand was weak, the IV drip was likely packed with painkillers.
His voice was becoming faint, "Kai...I can't stay awake much longer. Can you do something for me?"
"Yes," she said, leaning in closer to hear his words, "Anything!"
"Lift up the sheet, tell me...," his voice trailed off, "Dad wouldn't say."
She knew what he was asking, it was something she would have asked if their situations had been reversed. Her good hand shook, she lifted up the hospital blanket. Her voice choked, she wanted to scream. How could anyone survive without...
"It's," she croaked, "Your left leg. It's gone."
It was a stump at the thigh, mangled by bandages, sutures, what she assumed were irrigation tubes to keep down infection. His left leg must have taken the initial impact from the fall, it was likely that its destruction had saved his life.
"I thought so," Sahara said weakly, "The drugs...I couldn't tell. It's worse not to know."
Like Sahara the ones who had fallen had felt their bodies shatter but the others had died on impact, no memories of pain to treasure later. Or so she had assumed; her imagination was suddenly filled with their moaning, bloodied corpses and pained groans. They'd been dead when the emergency teams had got there but Sahara could have been at the bottom for hours. Had he heard them? When the drugs wore off, could he tell her who had died at the bottom and who had lived long enough to endure their agony?
"I should," she stammered, "Let you rest."
"Kai," Sahara's murmur, "come back and visit, yeah?"
Kai's shoulders trembled, "Yeah."
The cold air hit her face after being in such a warm, healing cocoon. The sun had begun to snake down the horizon and the white hallway dimmed into a greenish hue. Kai stood outside the room, her shoulders slumped.
It's so much worse, she thought, worse than dying.
Tears were running down her face, her sister was pestering her.
" Kai. That's Sahara-san's father. Don't you want to meet him? We can apologize together," Saori said, tugging on Kai's sleeve.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but with Sahara's condition revealed her will was renewed. If the course of events were laid out from one end to the other, it was certainly her fault that Sahara had found his opportunity in a life or death gamble. But apologizing was idiotic, she'd never feel sorry for someone who had chosen to reach for something no matter how far out of their grasp. Everyone in the human derby had all been pitiful losers, worthless people with no direction in life, human garbage. But despite all of their failures, they were still human beings! They'd struggled to survive and fought with their own will! What Sahara had done had been incredible, he had been the closest to winning out of all of them. Where was the shame in that - there was none!
The man in front of her sitting on the hallway bench with his head in his hands, was undoubtedly Sahara's father. When he lifted his head, his features were very similar. They were just as handsome as Sahara's even at his age, and his eyes as painfully contorted with tears as Sahara's had been, when he had flown from the platform falling down into the darkness.
Saori bowed, "Sahara-san, please accept my apologies."
Kai was nudged harshly in the ribs but she didn't join her sister's bow.
"Kai!" her sister's voice, insistent and irritated.
She stood where she was. The man shook, his face contorting in rage.
"Itou-san," he said, "After all you've done, you can't say you're sorry? It's your fault he's struggling in that room to survive!"
She didn't know what was right. All the formality, what she had been taught to do didn't mean anything. Grovelling for forgiveness meant you were ashamed and Kai was not ashamed of anything.
"Sahara made his own decision," she said, "The best I can do is respect that."
She knew Saori was staring at her like a fish out of water, mouth wide, surprise evident. It had always been this way when they were teenagers. Her shock at the harsh words that came out of Kai's mouth during arguments. They weren't meant to be cruel, they were just the truth! It wasn't her fault that people took them the wrong way and of course, when that happened she would defend her position.
Kai's hospital shirt had been roughly grabbed, she was face to face with Sahara's father.
"That's my kid who's dying in there!" the man was hysterical, "My son! To waste his life on such a useless thing, he'd never have tried if you hadn't been there!"
Sahara had only told her the briefest things about this man; that he worked lousy construction jobs and was uninterested in his ex-wife, ambivalent about family duties. This was the man that had been Sahara's role model, the person who had shaped his life when he was young. She elbowed him hard, shoving Sahara's father onto his back.
"Shut up!" Kai said, her voice rising in volume with each word, "You don't know anything, he risked his life to be something! He risked his life to make something out of himself!"
There were tears in the older man's eyes, he was pitiful to look at. Kai could see it clearly these days, all the losers just like her.
"He relied only on himself to try and reach that goal!" she cried, "He never borrowed anything! He had no debts!"
Men and women were the same creature when they were impoverished; running themselves into the ground for a few scraps, fighting like dogs over the pitiful amount they had been allotted.
"Who gives a shit!" the older man screamed at her, "What do I care about worthless ambitions! He's useless now! He'll never be anything, he'd be better off dead!"
"Bastard!" she couldn't help it, she lifted her foot to kick him one more time.
"Kai-chan!" her sister's arms were wrapped around her, toppling her balance, "Sahara-san, please forgive my stupid sister!"
Saori had surprised her enough to cause Kai to lose her balance and stumble. Sahara's father had leaped up from his place on the ground and hit Kai across the cheek. Her sister screamed and Kai retaliated by kicking the old man in his guts.
"Stop it!" Saori was screaming, "Both of you, stop it right now!"
It was just like the human derby, beat them before they beat you. Hit before you get hit yourself, all of the pain and suffering in human life came down to hurting one another over misunderstandings. Grab as much as you can before you lose everything; like your leg or your life, your lover, a son or even just simple pride. The old man was writhing on the ground, she could send him straight to the emergency room. It was convenient really, the place was only a floor away.
Push him! Push him!
Regretfully, her stance faltered. Fighting wasn't the answer, she already knew that. She couldn't hurt the irreparably wounded; it was like torturing them, squeezing the last bit of blood out of their mangled bodies. Tears were in her eyes, how could she have forgotten that one essential truth. She hadn't survived to deal out punishment!
"Have some respect!" Kai spat at the older man, "Rotten old coot! What other choice did he have!"
She'd hit Sahara's old man pretty hard, but her own head was starting to ache. A strong handed slap had the potential to nearly do her in with all the drugs she was on, the blood she had lost. Her hand was aching again, her knees bent and she sank to the floor. Her sister was holding her shoulders tightly, out of anger or worry, probably a mix of both.
"I hate you!" the older man said, sniveling,"I'll make sure you never see my son again!"
"That's fine," she said, "I don't care!"
"Cold hearted bitch!" he cried from the floor, tears streaming down his face.
"Kai-chan," her sister's stern voice, "Stop making it worse."
The hospital personnel had arrived, they were giving the old man an earful about injuring patients. Before she knew it, someone had jammed a needle into her skin.
"No more fighting," the nurse said sternly, "Especially if you want that hand to heal properly. Really, what were you thinking?"
"Pride,"she choked out, "human pride."
"That won't save you from getting hurt," the nurse said, flustered.
As if she didn't know that! Her head was splitting, she was in agony. It took all of her will to not scream when they helped her onto a gurney, her limbs heavy and weak. The injection they gave her must have also been a sedative, she could barely focus on what was going on around her.
"Sahara-san, if you can't control yourself you'll be kicked out, no matter what condition your son is in. Beating up patients is entirely unacceptable.."
"I'm sorry, Sahara-san! Forgive her, please forgive her! She doesn't know what she's doing..."
Her sister's frantic voice, she'd always been like this during the fights at school, fights with their mother that would last for hours until they were all in tears.
She wished it with all her remaining strength, every ounce of her will. To be forgiven for losing. For ruining the wishes and the dreams of Sahara and Ishida, the other men who had fought for survival like Ota, dying from the anxiety brought on by their own imaginations. They had all wanted to be saved, and none of them had found a single savior in the entirety of their lives. Kai was determined, when she woke up she would leave this hospital. She'd leave the memory of Sahara and the others behind. She'd make something of herself, she'd take every chance she could.
One more chance!
She'd win this time, she knew what she had done wrong! Her pride, her stupidity it would all be washed away by the tears of the dead!
One more gamble!
She'd win! She'd make sure she'd win!
One more time!