Tokyo Demons Short: Curiosity Killed the Cat
After the detox, it took a few weeks for Nick to start feeling like himself again. He did gentle versions of his old work-outs to try and regain his lost muscle mass…and was surprised to see how quickly it came back. Even without the regular dosage of Pitch, he grew stronger and faster than he’d ever been in the army, almost reaching the levels he’d hit on Pitch in the first place. He was…different. Permanently.
But when he worked out too hard, the nausea and pressure in his chest reminded him of the price of that. He didn’t know what his new limits were, and the lingering threat of sickness and heart failure loomed over his new strength. He felt…fragile. Artificial. And he hated it.
The minute he was strong enough to escort Hatsumi home, he fulfilled his end of the bargain. She lived in a small apartment in a slightly less sketchy area of town. The first three times he brought her there, she invited him up.
“No,” he insisted. “I’m not safe.”
And that was his main reasoning, but he was also…starting to get a little uncomfortable with her in close quarters. He spent half of his nights watching her pour drinks for other men, the right strap of her slip dress carefully positioned to slide off of her shoulder. As his body was regaining its strength, so was his dick, and he didn’t like how it reacted to her.
But one night, he didn’t have a choice–she twisted her ankle on the walk home and needed help up the stairs. He silently ordered his dick to behave as he supported her through the apartment door.
The place was a mess. Clothes were strewn over chair backs or left in wrinkled piles on the floor, except for a few pristine work dresses, which hung from clothes hangers hooked over anything that could hold them. She had dirty dishes in the sink, bags of garbage tied up and left in a corner of the kitchen. When he flicked on her bathroom light, he saw loose toilet paper rolls and unused tampons strew across the floor under a sink smeared with makeup, matching the colors of the crusted bottles that crowded the basin.
“Nice place,” he commented in his developing Japanese. “Do you come home a lot?”
She shrugged and turned on the sink. “I need the toilet.”
He left the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He’d planned to just leave, but a book under a plastic bag on the kitchen table stopped him. He pushed aside the half-empty bag of convenience store sundries.
It was a textbook. He couldn’t read the Japanese, but he could guess the contents from the picture on the cover–a photo of a frog, its insides reduced to medical drawings of internal organs.
He flipped through it. When she limped out of the bathroom, he looked up.
“What’s this?” he asked. “Are you a student?”
She’d scrubbed the makeup from her face and replaced her contacts with her clunky glasses. She furrowed her eyebrows at the book.
“Oh. No.” She rubbed her eyes under her glasses. “I’m finished.”
“You quit school?”
“No. I finished.”
Nick flipped through a few more pages. “This looks like a university book.”
“It is. I have a…” She paused, switching to formal English, like she were rattling off her credentials. “…undergraduate degree in biochemistry.”
Nick frowned. “Why don’t you get a job with that? Why are you a hostess?”
She shrugged, but didn’t answer. She pulled a bottle of tea from the fridge.
“Is it because your father was Yakuza?”
“No. My mother was a hostess, but he didn’t want me to be a hostess. His money paid for school.” She took a swig from the tea bottle.
“Did you like school?”
“Did you want to work in…science?” he asked, switching to the English.
“Then why are you a hostess?”
She leveled cool eyes on him from over the edge of the plastic bottle. “Why did you come to Japan?”
Nick slowly closed his mouth. He grunted and looked away.
Because I make bad choices.
He didn’t press the issue, but the question gnawed at him. He was no stranger to sex workers, but in America, at least, a degree was someone’s ticket out of sex work. As far as Nick could tell, Hatsumi didn’t have a kid stashed somewhere, and her rent probably wasn’t exorbitant. Was she trying to pay off a loan shark debt? Was she blackballed from working as scientist, or was she blackmailed into working as a hostess?
And all the new questions fed into his original one, the burning unknown that still kept him staring at the ceiling at night:
Why had she saved his life?
He wouldn’t drop it. The more he learned about her, the closer he felt to the answer.
“Also,” she suddenly said, breaking his thought process. “You can’t live in the club anymore.”
He blinked. “Huh?”
“Maybe the boss didn’t tell you. The office you sleep in is, ah…” She paused, clearly trying to simplify her Japanese so Nick would understand. “The owner wants to fix it and use it. You can’t sleep there anymore.”
Nick grimaced. He’d known that set-up wouldn’t last forever, and he had enough money to find himself a scummy place to live, but he was worried about Ito. Renting an apartment required way too much paperwork. Even motels were a risk, since using cash and no papers for the long-term would make him stick out like a sore thumb.
“You can live here,” Hatsumi offered evenly.
“Ah, because you’re dangerous.” She swallowed the end of her tea. “Because bad men are looking for you?”
Nick kinda regretted telling her even that much, but it was for her own safety. He sighed and scratched his beard.
“Yeah. I don’t want them to hurt you.”
“Then why are you still in Japan?”
He opened his mouth. I’ll leave, he wanted to say. The first chance I get.
But he slowly closed his lips. His mind wandered back to that little vial of Pitch, hidden inside the hollow leg of the desk inside his crappy office home.
The longer he stayed in Japan, the more…responsible he felt about that little vial. About the monster Ito had become. Nick had helped Ito start Core without really understanding it, working in his lab and guarding the locked doors of Ito’s mysterious meetings. Nick had stupidly gotten in over his head, and now Ito was out there, injecting that poison into other people.
Nick had deserted the U.S. Army in the Gulf War, then joined the French Foreign Legion, only to later quit that with Ito. He had no problem starting something and then leaving it, consequences be damned.
But even he thought he’d crossed a line this time. Ditching Japan when he’d helped start the mess with Core… He wasn’t sure he should leave. But he also didn’t know what the hell he could do, so he was locked in place, paralyzed with indecision.
“I…might leave Japan soon,” he offered vaguely. “And I can’t stay here. I don’t want them to hurt you,” he repeated.
“I don’t want them to hurt you,” she countered. “You will be safer here.”
Nick stopped at that. Hatsumi pointedly avoided his gaze as she crammed the tea bottle into an overflowing recycling container.
“Uh…no,” he insisted, slowly. “I’ll find another place to live.”
The complete story is available in the complete Book 2.