Industry standards for disillusionment.
→ aida/momoi ~25 years later, heavily based on a love story written by fafoo, with several concepts and character(s) directly borrowed from it. written for misdirection winter 2014
"I climbed the dimly-lit stairs and opened the door.
I met eyes with a woman at a counter, and she asked me:
'Your time? Your health? Or your lifespan?'
And I couldn’t help but laugh."
When she finally made it home from the funeral, her feet were already sore to the point that she barely remembered that she even had toes. Her shoulders were hurt from carrying the unreasonable condolences that people offered her on the way out the door, her eyes were tired from avoiding direct confrontation with anybody she hadn’t seen or heard from in 20 years, and her mouth was dry from reliving a handful of happy childhood memories, most of which she’d been certain she’d previously forgotten. That wasn’t even the most amazing part--because she’d managed to hold in her tears for the entirety of the service, and honestly, there wasn’t anything worthwhile that she could recall about the whole afternoon. Funerals were probably supposed to be like that, anyway. In addition to it being kind of redundant, it was a reality that people nearing the end of their life were going to die. What was she expecting? Aida Kagetora lived to an age that was (in own his opinion) very satisfactory and fulfilling to his personal interests. He passed away peacefully two weeks ago, in a bed under a warm blanket with a pillow beneath his head. His daughter filled out five pages of front-and-back paperwork for the cremation service. What was anybody expecting?
Not like Riko really wanted to know.
Business resumed within the next fortnight, more people offered her more of their unreasonable condolences, her assignments at work returned gradually, and she painted her nails on one of those Saturdays when the clouds were too wet for anybody to feel happy about stepping outside. The varnish she used was a soft pink color, and quite naturally she felt silly immediately after she’d done it. The last time she’d painted her nails was probably five or six years ago, the paint from this bottle was at least twice as old as that. She wasn’t really at an proper age or time structure to be girly anymore. She wondered if she’d ever been girly at all. Even so, she felt like curling her hair.
The curling iron coughed up dust when she plugged it in, and while she waited for it to heat up she tapped her nails against her dresser table, chipping the varnish that she’d made such a painful effort to slick over her fingernails. Examined her face in the mirror and considered doing something else to it. Inwardly, she wondered what she was thinking. Perhaps the death of her father had affected her enough, in the end. Perhaps it was a side effect from reliving a handful of happy childhood memories. Perhaps she was simply rather heartless, and that was all.
"I kind of feel like selling away the rest of my life these days," she told Miyagi at the counter the week after the next, when she’d finally finished her last observer assignment for the month. It turned out to be somewhat worthwhile, talking to a man who was convinced that he’d received one of those magical handphones that could teleport him to another dimension if he pressed and held the '#' key for three days straight. "What's another imaginary friend added into the mix for me, when all's said and done?" he’d remarked to Aida, and that was the funny thing about people who had seemingly less control of their mental faculties than the rest of the world; they don't mean to be insincere, they don't try to sell you the truth for less than what they paid for. The man had pawned off the remaining number of days in his life on a whim. Aida had always been rather fond of people who wanted to die like that. Aida had always been rather fond of people who wanted to die.
"And I don't want to tell you to reconsider," was all Miyagi said to her in return. "It’s not my place to tell you how you should live your life, I guess that’s all I’m trying to say. By the way, I'm printing out your February assignment."
Riko shook her head with a smile. "You’re not cute at all, Miyagi-san." Never cryptic, all too unwilling to be held accountable for anybody’s acute mid-life crises. Miyagi was a nice person, either way. Easy to talk to, easy to admire, easy to fall in love with. "Have you ever considered being a bit cuter? I wouldn’t mind it if you were cuter. I think you’re already very cute."
"Are you maybe hitting on me, Riko-san?"
"Ah, is it making you feel uncomfortable? Or are you just not used to having a woman tell you that you’re cute? Maybe I can change your mind. Maybe we should go out for coffee sometime, Miyagi-san."
Miyagi laughed. It was a very easy laugh. "No, no, I was simply under the impression that you weren’t interested in dating a girl. In fact, I thought you had a husband."
She was clicking something with her mouse. There was a spreadsheet of time slots and working shifts on her monitor and Riko watched her intently, as the printer whirred behind Miyagi and began to spit out pages of a personal file. "I was married, actually. We divorced a while back, I guess I just never told anybody," Riko said, rather breezily. "It was very quick and clean. Neither of us were very hurt by it. I’d known him for a really long time, you see, and we were friends from high school. But he was still in love with someone else. Even after all these years, he finally told me that he just couldn't do it. I told him that I understood."
"I see," said Miyagi. "But how about you? Did you love him at all? Or were you in love with someone else, too?"
Riko chose not to answer that. "It was actually a bit of a messy love triangle between the three of us. But I think by that time I was getting really sick of both of their bullshit, so I took the easiest way out I could think of. We never had any children, so it was simple enough and I don’t even feel too guilty," she admitted, "and I have no idea why I’m telling you so much of this at all."
"Sometimes it’s necessary to talk to other people," Miyagi smiled. "Especially after a major life event, it could be really cathartic to share your thoughts with somebody else. In fact I’m glad that I was a small part of your catharsis, Riko-san." The printer hummed to a stop and Miyagi swiveled around in her chair to collect the loose file pages into one manila envelope. "Sign here, please."
"I guess you’re right," sighed Riko, and reached for the ink pen Miyagi offered her to sign off on the release forms, necessary before each field assignment she was given due to the sensitive nature of this line of work. Her gaze flickered downward casually as she scanned her assignment’s full name and vital details, and promptly dropped her pen on the ground.
How many people named Momoi Satsuki have you met in your lifetime?
Satsuki woke with her head pounding and her heart tired from being worn continuously on the inside lining of her breast pocket. The weird feeling was back. She sat up in the middle of the king-sized mattress and the world swayed slightly, closed her eyes with a groan and massaged her temples quietly for a few minutes. She took another few to perform a belated orientation of her surroundings, letting this mild sort of confusion bruise her thoughts while the disappointment of waking up to another morning bloomed high up into the ceiling fan. Deluxe hotel rooms were the same in any part of the universe, and plus it wasn’t like she was completely sober right now, anyway, not after the 12+ shots of Absolut she’d washed down her throat last night before the flight. If she had to hazard a guess, then her current timezone was probably somewhere close to home. She was so good at playing the timezone game now--20 years of slipping in and out of international airports can do that to a person’s biological acuity. And judging by the takeout flyers advertising correctly-seasoned yakisoba and authentic fucking sushi, she was probably right on this one.
So she was close to home. Not the Mayfair or the Manhattan home, but home home. The limp smell of Japanese soil and the dilapidated state of her overnight bag reflected this environment all too well. She wondered if anybody was in the area and ready to bother her at a moment’s notice. Her agent, definitely, although not as frequently since she’d decided to stop doing runways. And Kise, possibly, being that he was the one and only scumbag who made a pastime out of shitting on the hearts of all the women in the country. Kise was definitely a piece of work, likely waiting to string her along for another year or two just to give the tabloids a different schedule to run their misinformed drama advertisements. And she could fall in love with Kise again, she supposed, but it was all very stressful and unnecessary and probably not worth the emotional discomfort she’d been so desperate to drown out with the Absolut. Falling in love with Kise was the modern equivalent of selling your soul to the devil, and in her case she was more just redirecting her existing feelings onto another person. There was only one person in the world that Satsuki had ever really loved.
As it stood, Kise was spending quite a bit more time in Tokyo as of late, ever since he’d retired from professional modeling and started share-buying his way into every basketball team worthy of his attention in the premier BJ league. Satsuki saw through him quite clearly, because Aomine was back in Japan as well, rumored to be doing work in private coaching (clearly out of his mind; when was the last time Dai-chan ever cared about somebody enough to insult their basketball skills to their face?), but at least that left a quality motive behind everything Kise said or did in the past half-year or so. He could be less of a scumbag if he really wanted to. She settled with nursing her fond memories for both of them.
As if on queue, her handphone rang.
"This is Satsuki."
"I knew it," Kise crowed from the other side. "So you do wanna get married to somebody after all, don’t you? Heard from your agent, by the way. Although the drunken tabloid pictures would’ve alerted me regardless. Remind me, just how old are you again?"
"Ha ha, Kicchin, go fuck yourself."
"Not in the mood to fight with me? But you love fighting with me."
"I’m not in the mood for anything right now, really."
"I figured that. Well, I guess I might as well share with you the good news. I fucked Aominecchi yesterday!"
"You have no shame," Momoi hissed, but a smile was starting to form on her lips. "Congratulations, though. How’d it go?"
"I don’t care to describe it to you. You don't appreciate Aominecchi in the same way that I do."
"Clearly I don't. So why did you call me?"
"Because I heard something weird yesterday. Tell me, Satsuki, did you know that Aida Riko’s father passed away last month?"
"Aida Riko?" Momoi stood up with a start. "What about her father? I haven’t heard from her in ages, you know." She stepped out of bed, and began to pace around the suite in her hotel slippers. Truth be told, she’d started wondering about Aida Riko recently. Maybe it was kind of out of the blue, maybe she wasn’t sure exactly how she’d even remembered who Aida was, maybe that was the case until her thoughts had fully settled on the issue of Riko being there in Satsuki’s thoughts and filling in the spaces when there was a sad sentiment in the air. There was only one person in the world that Satsuki had ever really loved, after all. That was kind of how the story went.
"Aida contacted me three hours ago," said Kise through the phone, and it was then that Momoi realized why she’d been feeling really fucking uneasy for the last three days. The incredibly circuitous plan had been set into motion at last. She hung up on the call without saying goodbye.
"You might be wondering why I’m here," Riko began, but Satsuki interrupted her before she could launch into the full explanation.
"I don’t. I know all of it already."
"Of course I do. I sold the remaining 24 years of my life to your agency last night. Alcohol poisoning was how I assumed I was gonna go anyway, didn’t you know? But I did it knowing the consequences of selling my life. I don’t need the money, of course, you’re aware of my work and how much of a name I’ve made for myself by following Kicchin in his profession. I did it initially to become friends with that one gravure idol Dai-chan was so obsessed with, isn’t that so silly? It was all for the two of them. I wanted to be a selfless person, you see. I wanted to be a selfless person, but I was ultimately selfish until the end."
"Wow," said Riko, genuinely shocked. "...I usually don’t deal with a case like this, where somebody I’m assigned to is already aware of the circumstances. And to think that you still remember who I am. Or do you not?"
Satsuki smiled. "I know that at this point there’s only five months for me left to live, so you’re here to monitor me and make sure I don’t try to do anything really desperate. I know that while you’re with me like this, I am the only one who can see and talk to you. I know that you’re like a ghost to everyone except me, that you’re mine to talk to, and mine alone. Doesn’t that scare you? That I did my research, that I knew you were working for the agency already. I spoke with Hyuuga Junpei, do you remember him? Of course you do. He’s living with your ex-husband now, I know that too."
"I came back from Paris just last night, and you’re already here. I was hoping you’d be the one to show up and monitor my progress in these last few days of my life," Satsuki said finally. "I guess I just wanted to find you, after all, Aida Riko. There's unfinished business that I would like to attend to."
"Death isn’t so easy," Riko cleared her throat. "Death is hardly something that you should decide so easily for yourself. You’re not thinking right, don’t you know that? Selling so many years just because you don’t believe that your life is worth living anymore." Her hands were shaking, but she held herself steady. Momoi, meanwhile, looked calmly back at her. Her gaze was hard but eerily determined. The childhood memories that Riko forgot on the day of her father’s funeral came back to her then, 800 days of high school basketball, a proposition and lip service paid in the form of a rain check that wouldn’t have happened at all, 12-year-old pale pink nail varnish, Kise telling Momoi to try to fall in love with somebody you actually like and not this scumbag who makes a pastime out of shitting on the hearts of all the women in the country. Two days at an onsen, one half of a missed kiss, an analog digital conversion that didn’t send signals to the heart, Seirin and Touou, Touou and Seirin. What was it that you promised me, what was it that you wanted me to say? It was certainly too late now.
"What the hell, you had 24 years. Do you even know how much those 24 years of your life were worth?"
"I am aware. I received a check for two billion US dollars."
"You’re crazy, Momoi. Completely crazy."
"I guess I am."
"Is your life worth nothing to you?"
"How much do you think these last five months with you will be worth to me, then?"