A/N: Okay, so. As requested here and elsewhere, I'll be writing at least a snippet or two from time to time in this universe. Here's the first. I warn you that I'm not sure when the next one will come out. Maybe not for a while
I don't remember the first hours of that night very clearly. The street smelled like unfamiliar people and gasoline. Neon signs. Horns honked. It was snowing, and it flurried in our faces.
We stopped in warm bars with red-faced patrons. Most were sweating. Like boiled octopi. One of the places had a yellow ceiling with lights shining down through cigarette haze. And a potted fern. Revy leaned against the bricks on the wall and threw back shot after shot of something. I drank, too. Not much.
The faces. I hated the faces. They're all the same in the city, since they're all hostile. Two variants, like the NPCs in one of those old shooter games: Male Hostile Face #1, and Female Hostile Face #1. I felt equal parts adrenaline and nausea.
Alcohol always makes it worse. So does nighttime. Daytime people still have manners. They know that you're supposed to keep your eyes ahead and mind your own business. When they're drunk, though…that's when they get social. They snicker at you. Stare at you. Shout something about how douche-y your stupid fucking baseball hat looks. And it is stupid looking. You know this. But how else can you stop them from looking into your eyes?
Not that they said anything that particular night. But they were thinking it. And it's happened before. Oh, yes.
The people of that neighborhood had an understanding with me. The Washimine Clan "protected" the neighborhood. Miss Washimine protected me. So the neighborhood weirdo got a pass. It didn't stop them staring, but they stared less. Maybe. I didn't look up much.
I could hear their questions in my head. Never mind that they didn't say anything out loud. They were thinking it. We all knew.
A girl like her, and…? What's wrong with this picture? That guy?
What conclusion would they come to? Beautiful woman. Toned legs. Fit. Energetic – almost hopping around. Under thirty.
Creepy emaciated young guy.
I blushed a little. More shame. They'd think Revy was a hooker or something, wouldn't they? And that I hired her. I knew the Washimine Clan's leader, after all. They must've figured I had money.
Yeah. As if I'd have the guts to hire a hooker. You need to go up and talk to them first.
After a while longer, the sounds of the street faded again. I could see lights in the distance, where the houses on Tokyo's outskirts straggled over a hill. This was closer to the park near my apartment. I think? Dunno. Looks vaguely familiar. Kinda. Lamps on a suspension bridge twinkled.
"Looks like a fucking Christmas tree," Revy muttered.
We trudged through snow. Iron railings barred us from the park itself. Revy rattled a stick along them until she either got bored or spotted an opening – not sure which. We ducked in.
The footsteps, I mean, not the snowfall itself. Snow is silent unless provoked.
Revy sauntered to a wooden pavilion near the water and leaned over one of the fence posts. They were wooden. The sort I'd have played on as a kid, weaving my way in and out like a snake.
Revy put her hands behind her head like a cushion, and leaned back a bit. She blew out a cloud of cigarette smoke.
"So you're the criminal fucking mastermind I've known for the last four years, huh?" she said.
"So what's your sob story, huh?" Revy said. "Just gave up on other people? What, were starched shirts and cubicles too fucking scary for you?"
If I hadn't been suffering from disorientation, I would have gritted my teeth. Or even said something mildly rude. How was I going to get home, anyway? It's not like I had a map. This was what? Seven blocks away from my apartment? Nine? At least double the usual, anyway. Did Revy think I was fucking Ulysses? Tatsuhiro Sato: landwrecked wanderer of the Tokyo suburbs.
"Something like that," I said.
"Poor little rich kid," she said.
"My family isn't rich."
Revy spun around. She poked me in the chest through her fingerless gloves. The other hand gripped my collar, holding me within proper poking range.
"You think this shit would fly where I came from?" Revy said. "Huh? Pfft. Yeah. Right. Good luck growing up near Mott Street, ya fucking pussy."
Pause. Revy sucked down the contents of a beer bottle. Tossed it. Smash.
"So what's the deal with you and the Washimine bitch, anyway?" Revy said. "Why did you help her in the first place?"
"Not much to tell," I said.
Revy waggled her eyebrows. She needled me in the ribs with an elbow, surprisingly hard.
"What, did you two fuck back in high school or something?" she said.
Hm. How to answer.
I remembered that evening in the classroom, when the sun lit everything orange. Remember, Sempai? The glint on the desks, and your glasses. That silly dark-blue sailor dress you wore for school. Not like the schoolgirl uniforms of male fantasies, either. Long skirt. Conservative, as always. Trees rustling out the window. An empty playground below us. And shadows in the clubroom.
Philosophy always interested you, didn't it Washimine Sempai? I wonder if that's why you made a club out of it, or if it was just that you were bored. Lonely? You quote that Sartre bullshit a lot less these days than you used to. Or was it Hegel? Kant? Whatever. I always loved listening to it.
That was always the theme. Wasn't it, Sempai? Fate and the encroaching darkness. Like you were some sort of Norse goddess waiting for the end of the world. Or—Yakuza princess. Close enough.
But again, I remember that evening in the classroom. The sound of silk swishing as you undid your collar. Rustling fabric. Warmth, and the air conditioner's hum, and wetted lips on mine. Fumbling, too. Birds cawing in the schoolyard. You would have appreciated them if you'd listened, Sempai. Would you have been philosophical, and imagined they were ravens?
I wonder if that was disappointment in your eyes back then. Had we not gone far enough? My soul hadn't rotted yet, so I was better at reading the signs back then, Sempai, but I didn't know. You should have told me.
You wanted Ginji, of course. So, so badly. I knew that. And you got him in the end. Well done.
And I wanted…?
"No," I said. "No, we didn't."
Revy's nose wrinkled. She gave an exaggerated roll of the eyes.
"You didn't need to stare at me like that," she said.
"I wish you'd put it more politely."
"Heh. If you think that's bad, you need to get out mo—Oh, right. Never mind."
Revy had brought along another six pack of beer. She nudged me with one of them. I declined. With a shrug, she opened it.
Click. Fizz. Ping.
The bottle cap fell. Revy chugged the contents down.
"…So how'd you come up with this NHK conspiracy theory bullshit?" she said.
"Oi. What do you mean 'theory'?!"
Revy rolled her eyes.
"You mean before or after my refrigerator mentioned the possibility?"
Revy stopped walking and stared at me.
"…your refrigerator," she said.
Okay, fair point.
"Well, the toaster might have contributed," I admitted. "Idea bouncing and stuff. You know how it is sometimes."
"Not even a little," she said.
"So," Revy said. "Your refrigerator talks to you."
"…I might have imagined it."
"Might?" she said.
We walked in silence a while longer.
"In my defense, I'd been listening to a three-day loop of the Magical Girl Pururin theme song at the time," I said.
"I'd say that it all makes sense now, but I'd just be kidding myself, wouldn't I?"
Revy lit a cigarette. Its glow highlighted her dainty cheekbones, hugging the softer curves of her face. Oh, and was her skin ever smooth.
"…So that's what you were doing instead of helping me in our last job, huh?" Revy said.
"Fapping to magical schoolgirl 'toons?"
The thought of it. Oh. Eugh. Urk. How my stomach churned at the thought. Revolting. Pururin. Beautiful, unsullied Puririn tainted by Revy's disgusting imagination. A symbol of the childhood I'd long ago left behind. Pururin. Pure. It's even in the name. Sick. Sick, sick. Revy doesn't know what she's saying. Ignore her. Ignore her, my lovely, sweet, innocent, social interaction surrogate.
I glared at Revy.
"No," I said. "I wasn't."
Revy was getting that Cheshire grin again. The kind with canines showing. Fangs, kinda. Like, little cute fangs. Adorable little foxgirl fangs.
Ugh. I was doing it again. And Revy could tell. I knew she could tell. They can read what you're thinking, and they get this unhappy look on their faces. Frown. Scowl. Lowered eyebrows. Everything that foreshadows disapproval.
But she was still grinning. So…why?
She nudged me.
"C'mon," she said. "I wanna hear it."
"It's stupid," I said.
"I'm sure it is. And I wanna hear it."
Harder nudge. Growl.
"Fine," I said.
And then mumbled something.
"What?" she said.
Mumble, mumble. The ground was interesting. Re-e-e-ally interesting. Oh; my left shoe was untied. Huh. Look at all the asphalt; it must have rained recently, since it was all glistening and stuff.
Revy was yanking my hair, wasn't she? Not that I could look at her to make sure, but I sure felt it. Irony.
"Oi, dumbass," she said. "What did you say?"
"I was writing a novel, okay?" I snapped. "Fine. Fine! I'll tell you so you can laugh about it! Ha-ha. Am I right? There's this young emperor in a tower, and he's been there for forever – like the Outsider in Lovecraft, but not ugly or dead. Oh, and he's got OCD too. He's commanding this giant army that's conquering a fantasy world Sauron-style, but he can't get out of the tower. His only friend is an orc-girl, but she's a hot orc-girl, and she leads his armies. Like a general or something. She's also a ninja. And a maid. Except that she dresses like a butler. So anyway, the young emperor's equally-evil father appointed the orc-ninja-girl-general as the prince's guardian, and she's raised him ever since. They have this special bond through a soul-link, so she always understands him, and she's the only one who can—"
"Yeah, you're right," Revy said. "It's stupid."
She let go of my hair.
Her voice had sounded tired, for some reason. Not angry or mocking. Well, both. But tired.
Something burned a little in my chest. Heavy and empty at the same time. Aw, is that shame, Sato? Hurt? Well, what do you expect from a real-life girl?
If only she wasn't. Hm. Revy the erogame character. Revy in a maid costume. On my bed. Let's pretend she's laundered the sheets, too. In her capacity as a maid, I mean, since that's what maids do. Right. That way, I don't have to feel ashamed that I never wash them. They're usually itchy.
Anyway. She'd be nestled on soft blue sheets, lounging halfway between my pile of manga and the TV I kept at the foot of the bed. Hentai posters behind her. Blouse teasingly open. Almost. And oh-la-la, you can feast your eyes on my skirt, Tatsuhiro Sato…it's the one you like with white frills on the fringe, just like my pa-a-a-anties…
No, you do not see.
You never get to see.
That is the Rule.
And if you try to violate the Rule, the NHK supervisor in charge of Tokyo Branch will crank up your anxiety just enough to stop you. Juuuust enough. Crank on the anxiety dial. They had a special one for me, probably. Sato needed to continue living in an artificial world, didn't he?
"Why me?" Revy said.
Just like that, my thoughts bounced away in a zillion directions. Like pool balls.
"Buh…?" I said.
"Why did you pick me?" she said.
Revy's cheeks were still bright red from the cold, or the alcohol, or both.
But only that. Don't get me wrong. This wasn't schoolgirl blush or anything. Her eyes weren't glazed anymore, though...Had she sobered? Had she even been drunk in the first place?
I shrugged and returned my attention to the ground. Snow crunched.
"I needed somebody who could be my hands and eyes," I said. "You can only get so far as a planner, you know? Togo used me once or twice for minor stuff. Zwei, too. But you can't get consistent work if you need a partner all the time. Miss Washimine only asked me for help that once, so that wasn't gonna work. She's thinks she's all about helping me. Sure, throw money at the emotional cripple, but for crying out loud, don't let him earn it or anything-"
"But why me?" Revy said.
Oh. Good. Sigh of relief. A softball question.
"History of violence, for starters," I said. "You got away with a lot of that stuff scot-free, which meant you probably had good instincts. You were Asian-American, so you could kinda blend in for both of my major markets. You needed cash. Plus, you had a few underworld connections, great shooting skills, killer instinct..."
…You were beautiful…
Revy's eyes narrowed. Maybe she'd read my mind?
"How much do you know about me?" she said.
Revy stopped walking again. This time, she was looking down. She seemed shorter this way – and was shorter. It was easy to ignore. She didn't usually hold herself like a short person. Even the cutesy green turtlenecks couldn't hide toned arms and promised violence.
Snow swirled around her. Revy's hair looked blacker than usual.
Quieter voice, too.
"How much do you know about my life before all this shit?" she said.
"You mean before or after the policeman…uh…did that…thing to you in—AAAGH!"
Lancing pain. On my cheek.
Falling. Oomph. The back of my head struck something cold and wet and powdery and hard at the same time: the point where the snow met the asphalt.
I saw stars.
Six shots. Two ringing eardrums. All of them had impacted within a few feet of my head. The ricochets were almost as loud. Good thing that I'd closed my eyes, since stone chips scratched across my cheeks.
I threw my hands around my head. I was whimpering? Yes. I think I'd wet myself, but couldn't be sure. Anyway, I knew I was shivering. When my eyes cracked open a smidgeon, Revy was panting. Little puffs of steam rose into the air with each exhalation. Her pistol shook in her hands.
Revy's voice went quiet again.
"You don't know anything, you overprivileged, batshit little fuck," she said.
The lamp was humming overhead. Light glinted from Revy's pistol. Cutlass. That's what was inscribed on it.
"Any other confessions before I waste you? I want to be thorough here."
A chance to atone? Death? I wasn't sure that it was a terrible option right now. I'd held off before because I could never work up the guts. Dying hurts.
"I…I eliminated that Triad guy who wanted to kill you in New York. Whatsisname. Er, anyway. Had him killed. Not the one in Roanapur. The guy you worked for in Chinatown way back. He took out a contract on you. Um. This was before I met you—uh—formally."
Revy's finger twitched. Just get it over with. Staring death in the face isn't pretty when you have to WAIT FOR IT. The fear just seeps back. And the cold.
"Uh…l-lots of other people, too," I said. "Those FBI guys who t-tracked you to Chicago took some doing, but they weren't careful about their room service. Ah. Right. There's the car bomb that I used to kill the gang leader in Philadelphia—"
Revy's mouth barely moved when she spoke. I almost missed it.
"Burns?" she said.
"Um…I think so," I said. "The guy who wanted to chop you up and feed you to his pit bulls, right?"
"Burns. Jake Burns."
"Okay…Yeah, right. Sorry. Burns. It took some finagling to find dynamite for my Philadelphia contact to use. Needed to get him to bribe a guy who worked at a construction site. And I killed…uh, Thatcher? Yeah. I killed Thatcher when he sent those guys after you in San Francisco—"
"That's enough," she said.
Just kill me already. Kill me and get it over with. Don't torture me. Please. I don't like pain. I don't like it.
Oh, so slowly, Revy lowered her pistol. She shoved it back into her shoulder holster. The metal snap, well, snapped. It was a sharp sound. A crack in that cold, skin-drying air.
"Stay away from me," Revy said. "You understand, you little shit? No more contacting me. No more interfering in my fucking life, or stalking me, or whatever the fuck you do. No more anything."
I found myself nodding. She pointed at me. And yes, there was a wet spot on my jeans. Needed to launder them now. Fucking crowded laundromat. Two, sometimes three people were waiting there. Like that woman with the pink smock. Always the pink smock. And at 2 AM? Who washes anything at 2 AM? Fucking laundromat.
"I'm leaving now," Revy said. "Stay down until I'm gone."
Nod again, Sato. Good dog. She'll abandon you just like you knew she would. A-a-a-always knew. Heh. If only she'd stayed away. You could have kept fantasizing. Reality's a bitch.
My throat caught. Breaths that could have convulsed into sobs (under different circumstances) were suppressed.
How many years down the tube was this, now? Four. I mean, who else did I know? Or do anything with? Revy had been a business partner, a real one: somebody other than Yamazaki and his stupid galgame. But HE was happy, now, wasn't he? Where did that leave me?
And where was I going to find another assassin who talked to me instead of just doing the job? Revy – two-hands, psycho-hit-girl Revy – was the closest thing I still had to a friend.
It wasn't fair. Not. Fair.
But I'd still do what Revy had asked. I'd stay away. Because I'm not creepy. I'm not. Not deep down. Right? I'm a gentleman. I stay away from beautiful girls when I'm not wanted. Which is often.
Okay, so I fantasized. So what? This was supposed to stay Platonic anyway. Except now, it was NOTHING.
The snow kept falling, and Revy disappeared into it.
I whispered goodbye.
Well played, NHK. Well played.
Preview of Next Episode:
My computer fan whirred.
So this was life. So-called. A cheerful jingle told me that I'd just signed in to AmmoWorld Online ("World's Only First-Person-Shooter-Role-Playing-Game. Build a gang. Kill the competition. Rule the city. Trademark.")
[YouAre(Not)Alone has signed in]
My avatar walked through Disneyland style buildings. It made crunching noises as it ran, as if the game designers had skimped on paying Foley editors, and had just eaten a box of cornflakes instead. The place was one of the smaller "cities" in the game, but I liked it for some reason. Looked Swiss.
My two best (online) assassins were waiting for me. Brother and sister. Freaky-good with the FPS stuff, but they weren't much in the planning department. That was where I came in.
Like everything else here, they had cutesy animal avatars: two cats in black clothing with little lacy collars. One male, one female. I guess it got past the censors better that way.
The female avatar waved.
[YouAre(Not)Alone]: Hey, guys.
[GothiCat]: It looks like our Fearless Leader has returned. Time to plaa~ay! Right, sora mea?
[GothiKitten]: Right you are, fratele meu.