A/N: Again, almost certainly a oneshot. For those who've seen Welcome to the NHK, this is very AU, and Misaki doesn't exist. Also, this is pure crack. You have been warned.
Welcome To The Freelance Business
It's funny what you stumble into.
My name is Tatsuhiro Sato. With the exception of the occasional midnight outing for food, I haven't left my apartment in seven years. Not since my first year of college.
It was easier in the beginning – Mom and Dad supported me as well as they could, I guess, but a tanking economy blew that. They always wanted their little boy to grow up to be a salaryman. And eventually CEO of something, probably. Mister Tatsuhiro Sato, thank you very much. Important guy. As opposed to: "T. Sato, Hikikomori." Social Parasite. Leech.
I make my own money now. Lots of it. More than I need. Certain skills pay really, really well. Don't even need to leave home to do it. Per-fect. But I'm still a social parasite.
The apartment smelled. Plastic bags covered the floor. They were filled with cartons, cans, and the occasional half-eaten noodles. Most probably had mold, or worse. You know that green ooze at the bottom of trashbags? The kind you only get when you leave it too long? Yeah. That.
I tiptoed over the bags to my mini-fridge. As usual, my coordination sucked. My foot sank into one of the squishier bags, and the bag ripped. Something moist oozed through my sock.
No problem. No problem, no problem. Just stand on one leg, Sato. Oh. It's dripping. Look how the carpet's getting kinda green. But it'll dry. Right.
I lost my balance. The next thing I knew, I found myself lying in half-gooey, half-metal-and-glass filled bags. My back was wet. Beer cans poked my shoulders. Something stank in my hair.
…Ho-kay. Allright. All. Right. No problem…again! Sit up slowly, Sato. Ignore the slurping sounds. Re-pile 'em. Aaaand…
As long as the landlord didn't see it – he did have a key to this place. I knew he had one. Did he come in and spy on me when I was asleep? Peer under the door? Sniff near the windows for the telltale smell of mildew?
It was my mess. And I paid him good money, didn't I? More than most tenants. Double, actually. I wished I'd had the nerve to e-mail him the last week and tell him that I'd pay him triple if he stopped caring about my apartment's cleanliness. B-u-u-u-u-ut that would have raised more questions. I don't like dealing with questions. Or arguments. Especially those. Really. Couldn't he just figure it out on his own? "Rich Tenant: Leave Alone!" It's practically a keep-out sign. The double rent, I mean.
So it was a little smelly in there. The human nose gets fatigued quickly. Put an unfamiliar scent in front of it, and it'll register the stink for all of a couple minutes. An hour max. I made the exact figure up, but it's probably accurate.
The bottom line is that I was used to it, and I practically kept my room insulated anyway. Like the bathrobe I stuffed under the crack in the door. It was because of the neighbors. Neighbors are nosy. Always. It's like a rule. And they might be – no, they are – listening to you. It's none of their business what you're doing, but that never stops them. Nosy, nosy. Eugh.
My computer bleeped. A message? Oh.
I crawled toward my desktop to the sound of crinkling bags, crumpling aluminum, and the occasional plastic crunch of a soda bottle getting stepped on. I tripped again. The computer chair broke my fall.
And that is my daily exercise.
I blinked at the screen. My eyes blurred. Ten hours in front of a screen. Practically evening. They'd stare at that fuzzy white screen for at least six more.
My browser frame is pink. It's pink now, and it was pink back then. It's one of those cutesy ones, with flowers. Yamazaki changed it as a joke before he graduated, and I never bothered to figure out how to change it back.
Or maybe it reminded me of him.
He still sends me milk once in a while, from that family farm of his. I hate milk. Spoils too fast. Gives me indigestion. It's still a nice gesture. But I hate milk.
A line of links on the left side of my screen. Weapons magazines. Military newsletters. City directories. Google maps. Auto tag info. ZOrbitz trip scheduler – not for me. Police newsletters about new forensic techniques.
Crime stories from a dozen newspapers, digitally sorted. Woman drowns baby in bathtub. Man abuses wife. Mistress backs over lawyer with car, pleads emotional disturbance. Same old. GoodReads hereby informs you that A Killing in Detroit is out in Kindle. A Mystery Press book. Well isn't that nice.
I wondered whether it would have a love story. Sappy, preferably. No sex, or at least some very obliquely described sex. Too hard to visualize these days. The sense of realism wears off when you remember that it'll never happen to you. For all intents and purposes, it doesn't exist in this world. Might as well read stories about aliens.
But sappy love stories, now…? Yeah. I remember emotions like that well enough. Carefully husbanded. You need to let them out to play once in a while. Exercise them, you know? Otherwise, they start decomposing. Like milk. In a mini-fridge.
Huh. New drug arrest. It was far enough away from Tokyo that I didn't have to worry about anybody making connections. Some witness was expected to testify. Wonder if the dealer really didn't want the guy talking…?
Or…Hey, hey. Society column. New ultra-rich divorces. Lots of infidelity, too. Always a good source of revenue.
...Then again, she didn't usually like taking those kinds of jobs ("It's fucking petty, Sato"). Paid well, though. Oh, did they pay-
I felt the cold wave of adrenaline that always accompanied that sound. Limbs froze. Heartbeat always seemed to stay the same, but anyway.
I didn't get much. Almost nothing, really. Blocked most of the sites that tried to send me junk, too. When you've whittled your life down to a couple people, it's like every conversation is meeting somebody for the first time. Same goes with e-mail. Angry landlord? Did he find my alt email? Or—cops? No. No, no. Not them.
Cue butterflies in my stomach.
Yeah. Two things. First off, your plan worked.
Thanks for the payment in advance. I don't know what Swiss fucking bank account you've been stashing all this money in over the years, but you must be rolling in it by now. How do you find these jobs?
Before you let it go to your head, your plan didn't work perfectly.
For starters, the flight you booked for me Sucked. Ass. No fucking meal service. ORANGE JUICE instead of booze? You kidding me? Do better next time, or it'll be your ass. I'm not joking.
The businesswoman-to-college-girl disguise switch at the airport bathroom was just cheesy. Car worked okay. Traffic routes worked. Fake identity worked. Target's home layout was pretty much like you described it, right down to the glass fucking chandeliers. What kind of douche has chandeliers? It was one of those young professionals' neighborhood developments. I swear every house was fucking cloned. Like Stepford or something.
I avoided the dogs. Good catch. And you booked a motel room with a perfect path to the target's yard. Plenty of cover thanks to those bushes. He goes swimming like clockwork. 9:00 PM on the fucking dot! I swear I got within two feet before I killed him.
…Seriously, how do you set this shit up? You must have contacts out the wazoo. Or way, way, way too much time on your hands.
Anyway. Cleaned the scene up, burned the evidence, disposed of the body, yada yada. I'm sending you the video file. Your "tactical analysis" of that hit had better be pretty fucking insightful, since you SAT THIS ONE OUT and all. (You're really just jerking off to the footage, aren't you? Admit it.) I didn't have time to do streaming, but it would've been PRETTY FUCKING HELPFUL if you'd done your usual "mission control headset" thing this time instead of…Oh, I dunno…sitting on your ASS in your ivory tower and leaving it to me. Bastard.
Did you have a "special" occasion with a significant-fucking-other that night, or what?
I'll find out soon enough anyway. Hey, whaddya know – a segue.
So, second thing. I was bored recently. You know how I get when I'm bored? Yeah. I gave a couple people I know a LOT of money to do some research for me, and we found this guy called "Tatsuhiro Sato" in Tokyo. Same last name as you. Cool, huh?
Funny thing? He went to the same high school as Yukio "I've Got A Psycho Yakuza-Samurai-Ninja-Butler" Washimine. Same Washimine family that you've COINCIDENTALLY got me doing plenty of jobs for. And I don't believe in fucking coincidences.
So I'm a few blocks away from your house. Call it curiosity.
Or maybe I just got tired of talking to a faceless guy who insists on speaking to me through a keyboard like Steven Fucking Hawking even when we're on a fucking voice chat.
I was frozen. Completely frozen.
Why did I give Revy part of my real name? Why did I give her part of my real name? Why, oh why, did I give Revy, a hardened assassin, part of my real name? Why did I give her –
I knew the answer to that. I knew it. Knew it. Lo-o-o-o-o-onely young man. Right in one. Bingo.
Gotta clean up. It's a mess in here, and—
-and you're about to meet a fucking assassin. Who. CARES. About. The. Carpet.
…Which was all gooey and stinky.
ALL RIGHT. I'LL CLEAN THE FUCKING CARPET.
It was unprofessional. That's what it was. You contact a stunningly beautiful former convict through your underworld connections to be the hit-woman of your assassination business, and the next thing you know, she's paying you surprise housecalls.
Had Duke Togo ever done this to me? Kiritsugu? Zwei? No. No, they hadn't.
As I stuffed sludge and cans back into the thin, white veils that divided the human and garbage worlds, I scanned the apartment. Hanging clothes. Hm. Black button-up shirt. Sniffed it. Still smelled OK. Hadn't laundered it in a couple days, but it would do.
Oh. Wearing 'em. Just go with that. I crammed rubbish into shopping bags, and shopping bags into garbage bags. And garbage bags into bigger garbage bags.
Another room scan.
Calendar. Garbage. Desk. Hentai pinup. More garbage. Printer—
I ripped the pinup from the wall and stuffed it into the trash. It was so adorable, too: a doe-eyed girl, a gun, and a birthday suit. For shame, Sato. For shame that you would—
Save it. For the love of all that's good and pure in this world.
I snatched it from the garbage and lovingly brushed off the grease and sauce stains. Oh, what I had almost done. My beautiful Kirika. So what if you weren't an "official" release.
I stuffed her under my upper bunk bed.
I clapped a hand over my mouth just in time to suppress the terrified yelp. A muffled voice came from the other side.
"Hey. 'Sato'. Open up."
Just go away.
"You know I can pick locks, dumbass."
"…and I'm gonna be REALLY FUCKING PISSED if I have to break in and then find you standing there."
Slowly, I rose and crept to the door. My voice came out as a squeak.
Oh, just get it over with.
"…Coming, ah, R-Revy."
Mental checklist time.
Black shirt? Check. Not-quite-filthy jeans? Check. Disgusting goo cleaned out of hair? Mostly. At least I brushed my teeth regularly. And I wasn't bad looking, exactly. Just socially…challenged. And emaciated. Yeah, that.
The door opened, and the most beautiful woman I'd ever met stepped through. Delicate face. Tanned, muscular legs. Tattoos covered by a green turtleneck. And guns. Like a model crossed with a Bond villain.
She stopped dead when she saw my room. And breathed.
"What. The. Fuck."
"Um…hi," I said.
She didn't say anything.
"Beer?" I said. "It's a little stale. Sorry."
"Ooookay," Revy said. "I can sure pick 'em, can't I?"
Technically, I'd picked her. Of course, back then she'd just been Rebecca, former Chinese-American juvenile delinquent, former prison inmate, and sometime murderer. Good shot as well. And maybe, just maybe, I find a lack of impulse control really, really, really attractive.
Well, better get it over with. I scratched the back of my head. Something wet stuck to it. Um. How do I get this off?
Etiquette for this situation? Anyone? I need it.
"I'm…uh, just a little..."
"Nuts?" she said. "Bonkers? Crazy? Out to lunch? Off your fucking rocker? Playing the bedlam banjo with Ted Kaczynski?"
"…Housebound?" I tried.
"Nuts," Revy agreed.
I sat down on the bed, and used the opportunity to surreptitiously wipe my hand on the covers. Revy was staring at a nude Sailor Moon statue that my frantic clean-up had somehow missed. Possibly because the statue was buried in a pile of diagrams of our last target's house.
Revy shook her head. Her hand was hovering dangerously close to one of her shoulder holsters. Twitch. Twitch.
"I've been taking orders from John Fucking Nash," she muttered.
Not wanting to make things worse, I stayed silent.
"Nash," Revy repeated. "You know. Crazy mathematics fucker who—"
"I saw A Beautiful Mind," I said.
"Oh," she said. "Well excuse me for believing that you might be a little—"
Revy pulled up a seat – mine – and twisted it backwards, so that her legs were straddling the seat-back. She was wearing a plaid skirt over her stockings. Fingerless gloves clenched.
"Okay," she said. "See, this would almost be funny if I didn't fly halfway across the Pacific. So you get one chance, 'Sato'. What. The. Fuck?"
"Um, I'm not sure what you—"
Revy lunged out of her chair, arms spread, encompassing my tiny apartment like the spirit of Victory basking in glory over Greater Europa. Or something like that.
"THIS!" she said. "All this shit! You expect me to believe that you're the guy who helped the Washimine Clan kick out the Russians? The guy who chopped down out the J.R.A. into practically nothing?"
"Balalaika wasn't as thorough in setting up her base of operations as she'd originally believed," I said. "She didn't hide it well enough. Miss Washimine went to high school with me, and I do have a lot of free time."
Revy's eyes widened a smidgeon.
"And the J.R.A.?" she said.
"Japanese Red Army?" I said. "Oh yeah. Riiight. Right. That's easy. They're working with those bastards at the NHK. Can't let 'em get away with that."
Revy raised an eyebrow.
"The NHK?" she said. "You mean the broadcasting company?"
I leaped out of my bed.
"That's just what they WANT you to think!" I shouted.
I paused and looked down the barrel of a pistol that Revy had shoved next to my nose. Click. Maybe I'd stood up a leeetle too quickly. And shouldn't have shouted. Um. That's…kinda intimidating, actually. Sweating already. Armpits especially. That's considered really unattractive, right? So…what to do. What. To. Do. Raise my hands and get Revy to lower her pistol, or keep them down and disguise my embarrassing armpits?
I couldn't decide.
"So," I said. "The NHK. Right. Those guys. Did you ever stop for just a moment and consider that the Japanese characters for 'NHK' were also an acronym for 'Japanese Hikikomori Association'?"
"Well, you should have!" I snapped.
"Whoah there, Rain Man. Are you trying to get me to blow your head off?"
Bother. I'd have to explain the whole thing, wouldn't I? Was I the only person in Japan who PAID ATTENTION, or what?
"The NHK masterminded the giant conspiracy behind my fear of going out in public," I said. "Heck, agoraphobics in general. Everybody with social anxiety in Japan. And just maybe the world. Haven't confirmed that one yet. You ever wonder why so many Japanese young people are hiding at home? No?! Hah! Because shut-ins like me watch LOTS of anime. And who markets anime? The NHK! And don't get me started on my 'world is an alien hologram' theory, because I'm pretty sure the NHK is working with the little green fuckers—"
And again, the Revy-staring-at-me thing. I paused mid-gesticulation.
"Question?" I said.
Revy's brow pinched a little. She rubbed the bridge of her nose with a pistol.
"So you exterminated the largest Communist terrorist organization in Japan…" she said.
"Yup," I said. "Killed the bastards. Bam. Dead. Splattered 'em like pancake batter. Well, hired people to splatter 'em like pancake batter. I did the research legwork, though. You like pancakes?"
"…And you killed them because you believed the Commies were part of some giant conspiracy to keep you indoors."
"The NHK," I supplied.
"Right. That. And that's the reason why there's no more Communist terrorist movement in Japan."
"Yep," I said.
Had I said something…Oh, Revy was wondering about the job! How stupid of me. Must be.
Major oversight, there. Revy was all about cash, at least if the files I'd compiled were any indication. Missions against Evil are nice and all, but I needed to assure Revy that I was all business. Idealism doesn't pay the bills. The NHK could wait.
"So about the next job," I said.
No response yet. I squeezed past her (gun still firmly planted in my face) and printed something off the computer. A gentle whirr later, and the printer spat it out. I handed it to her.
A mustachioed man sat on some sort of verandah, surrounded by potted plants. His shirt was pink. My printer was black and white. The detail was lost in translation.
"Diego Lovelace," I said. "The Colombian cartels offered us lots of money for this guy. Best part? I tracked his financials. His trust fund's got a one percent stake in the NHK."
"The broadcasting company," I said. "Well, same difference, I guess. I mean, a one percent stake in the company probably means he's a ranking member of the Conspiracy Committee, right? Or something like that."
"Okay, assuming for a minute that I don't just cap you right here, right now… how much is this worth?" she said.
I told her.
She became a lot more enthusiastic. Or at least she lowered the pistol. It's hard to gauge enthusiasm in girls. Women. Young women. Whatever they prefer to be called these days. I don't get out much.
"Oh, right," I said. "Almost forgot. The maid's a former FARC assassin."
A silence dragged on for several minutes. Finally, Revy pushed herself up with another sigh.
"I really don't want to think about this shit right now. You want to get a drink or something, Rain Man?"
I stopped and considered. My gaze strove mightily to avoid the Sailor Moon statue staring accusingly from behind her pile of assassination blueprints.
"I know a great vodka vending machine a couple blocks away," I offered. "Wait another hour and the street'll completely deserted. Absolutely zero human contact—urk!"
Revy grabbed me by the collar. She kicked the door open and pulled me into a rather crisp Tokyo night. Adrenaline - equal parts fear and exhilaration - flooded through my stomach. OUTSIDE. MY. APARTMENT.
…Not as bad as I thought. Well, not quite as bad as I thought. Almost as bad, maybe, but couldn't see any people, and…oh. Wow. No stale, re-breathed air or anything.
Revy rolled her eyes.
"I can tell this is going to be a long night," she muttered.