Pre-canon and Yotsuba arc. Higuchi survives a deadly apartment fire and grows to believe some people are worth more dead. Minor crossover with Winter Sonata (ep. 13 spoilers)
Pairings/Characters: Higuchi main, Chelin of Winter Sonata, Misa, Yotsuba members.
Warnings Language, violence and adult situations. Child abuse, murder, traumatic thermal burns and their aftermath. Character death. Substance abuse. Greed. Higuchi's not a nice person. Spoilers for Yotsuba arc and most of Winter Sonata.
Edit 1-8-09: I originally wrote this for the "Skin" week at dn_contest (original title: Burnout) in October and a winner was me! It's been changed some and had things added but is essentially the same, I think. I don't own Death Note and I make no money of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's paper baby. Chelin Oh belongs to her creators, KBS and all other rights holders. I haven't seen her character design for the WS anime yet, she better be in it (er, duh, why wouldn't she be unless they did a major plot overhaul).
Kaneboshi Kyosuke was seven, almost eight, and in second grade, a scrawny ratlike child living in a cramped apartment in a building that reeked of five decades of cigarette smoke, urine, cheap alcoholic beverages and stale grease. His mother worked on an assembly line, surrounded by noise, dust, heat and plastic fumes. She was pregnant when his father left her at the altar. When Kyosuke was five, his mother married a bouncer who worked at the pink salon where she cleaned and tended bar. Like most men in this crumbling shit-yellow dump, Kaneboshi's real job was drinking Japan dry while dreaming of opening his own pachinko parlor while his wife worked herself sick. The bastard made money placing bets, playing go or shogi for money, or running numbers in smoke-filled subterranean parlors among the hard-drinking leather-hided walruses and scaly snakes of men old before their time. At a certain stage of drunken exhaustion, Kaneboshi was almost pleasant, laughing and telling wild stories. Most of the time Kyosuke went about like a ghost, silent and feeling invisible, to avoid Kaneboshi's taunting and his fists. Kyosuke got into enough fights in school and with the neighbor kids to keep suspicion off the bastard raised by visible bruises and cuts. He dreamed of owning a samurai sword. No one would fuck with him, not his mother, not her husband, and the kids at school would properly fear him.
A commotion same as any other, one he usually slept through, jarred him awake. Something always ended up broken, a lamp, his mother's nose, while the TV or the radio was turned on full blast. She deserved it by being such a shrieking bitch and staying married to the bastard. Same as always. This night was like any other, neighbors yelling for silence. Silence they got. Silent as a ghost, Kyosuke slipped to the door and cracked it open. His mother lay still on the floor, back toward him, a pair of socks knotted tight around her neck. He was nowhere in sight. Kyosuke waited for the door to slam, so he could slip out to Suzuki-san next door, who had a phone. The only sound above the street noise was a splash and a rhythmic glump-glump of air entering a jerry-can as liquid sloshed out. Gasoline! In here? The bastard called his name and struck one match after another, snarling and laughing, a wall of flame trailing him. Kyosuke raced for the balcony, throwing himself again and again at the boarded-shut door.
He woke up lying on the street, coughing, shivering and sobbing in the wash of the red lights of fire engines as cold water was poured on him again and again. Radios crackled and the neighbors in their night clothes stood and whispered. They thought he cried for his parents, two sheet-covered mounds on stretchers he'd glimpsed before the suited bulk of a grandfatherly old fireman blocked his view. Someone carefully placed a rubber mask over his nose and mouth. On the ambulance one bottle of cold sterile saline after another were poured over him, over and over.
The right side of his upper body from waist to his scalp was burned, some of it third-degree. In the hospital, he measured time in dressing changes and medications, for he had wet dressings over his eyes and the windows were covered with sunproof shades. Everything reflective was covered or removed so he had no idea what his face looked like during the short intervals his eyes were uncovered. He asked for the clock and got it back. High above the head of his bed, its ticking was a comforting backdrop to all the noise, smells and pain.
"You'll have to use your left hand for a long time," he was told.
"I'm left-handed," he admitted, blindly stabbing his tray of pureed slop, almost knocking over his shake. His mother had made him use his right hand for everything for some superstitious reason which she refused to explain. He struggled with the scrambling of his spatial ability, gradually becoming ambidextrous as a result. Time and space were thrown again when he was bundled into an ambulance and moved to another facility. There his eyes were uncovered and he saw his face for the first time since before the fire. He had been warned about the damage as much as could be said to a child. The left half of his face looked the same, if puffier than normal, while the right was an angry pink and red network of raw skin and forming scars. To the surprise of the medical staff, Kyosuke smiled at his reflection, fascinated by his "half face" and grumbling when he had to surrender the mirror and have his eyes covered once again.
On a different day, one eye was uncovered and he was introduced to a Higuchi Jiro and his wife, Yoshiko. They were well-groomed, bright-eyed, and dressed like people in magazines, casually but in clothes that were pressed, clean, and new. The lady was round and gentle, her voice soft and low, her skin a pale gold and pristine, not a blemish anywhere. The man was small and thin, with narrow pointy features, a lantern jaw and an overly-wide three-cornered grin. Kyosuke's eyes were covered once again and the lady spent hours holding his hand, reading to him, soothing him to sleep when the nightmares came. The man played chess with him on a magnetic board, when he had time to spare from his long hours with a company that made cranes and steamrollers. This Higuchi was his natural father and Kyosuke couldn't blame him for leaving his mother for greener pastures. There were no surviving clear pictures of Kyosuke before he was burned, so the surgeons based his series of facial reconstructions on childhood photographs of Higuchi Jiro. They looked alike enough to be related but not the same. Jiro was far from conventionally handsome but he was dashing, charming and interesting-looking enough that he turned a few female heads. Kyosuke looked forward to being dashing, even if he didn't care about girls yet.
A long series of skin grafts, plastic surgeries, learning to walk, visiting the Higuchis' lavish home, which led to papers being signed. Learning to write his new family name was different but Higuchi involved fewer strokes than Kaneboshi. Much as he liked his new parents, it was weird calling them tou-san and kaa-san. They were kind, they had money, and they cared about what he liked, disliked and how he had to deal with the stares at his face, his patchy hair, his red-seamed skin. He did not attend school, for his rebuilt skin was too delicate for temperature extremes and he was unable to sit in one position for long or walk very far. Six different tutors, one for each school day, held lessons in the library or the exercise room. He studied tai-chi at first, to strengthen his muscles, then switched to kendo. He no longer wished to be a samurai but one day, he vowed, he would own his own sword and everyone would rightly fear him.
Higuchi found the papers in his father's desk when he was seventeen, buried under a stack of legalese about how the company was bought out by Yotsuba Group and how Higuchi Jiro was now vice-president and had his own department. The yellowed papers under this, dated in 1980, had paid Higuchi Jiro on behalf of Higuchi Kyosuke an unbelievable sum, were in the names of The Bastard and The Bitch. If they had this much, how come they lived in a such a dump?
"Some people are worth more dead," he pronounced. He left the papers as he found them, closed the desk drawer and returned to his room and his stash. He sliced a neat, even line on an old hand mirror and snorted this through a tightly-rolled 5000-yen note. The bitter-tasting numbness draining down his throat faded and the boring essay he tapped-tapped on his computer keyboard quickly breezed through.
He cared little about the girls he dated, for him they served to show he didn't need to pay for companionship and he never spent a single night home if he could help it. His classwork suffered but with a little white coffee, he managed his way through Wasegi, his poli sci major chosen by his father. Sometimes, sober, he wondered if anyone really cared about what he thought, what he felt, then quickly got over it. He had no desire to be vulnerable, going so far as to never undress completely and make certain the women faced away from him when he had sex with them. Years of scar reduction had not erased the marks from his torso, flat patches of faint pink remained along with pale spots that pigment tattooing did not blend away. His right arm bore heavier scars, ridged and webbed. He frightened some girls off who had seen more of him than he intended. Others he viciously verbally abused until they fled, for their pity (real or imagined) was harder to take.
He briefly dumped Wasegi University and the poli sci major his father had chosen for him for a brief fling in the early '90s with a former American adult film star. Her skin was not the golden tan or fine alabaster in her movies and still photos and her arms and legs were a landscape of old track marks and blown veins. Her tits were spherical, hard from scar tissue and the skin at their sides stretched into folds, twisting with the weight when she moved. One set of implants was not enough for her so a second pair had been stacked atop the first. She was either too wasted or too self-absorbed to notice his scars and sex with her was a joke most of the time. In a post-shooting up stupor, she just lay there and let him do whatever, not caring if his English was broken or if he was speaking it at all. He peeled himself off the floor and flew home, treating his shakes with Jack Daniel's from LAX to Narita. His welcome home was a long worried and disappointed (yet indulgent) lecture from his parents. The chemically-induced weight fluctuations had affected his burns and he tended to them soon as possible, berating the doctors as incompentent fools when he was advised to watch his diet. He needed to gain weight, these people made no sense. When he buckled down and returned to Wasegi, he learned his erstwhile lover had shot herself dead, hearing that she was devastated after totaling her white 'Vette and breaking her nose. His only reaction was to wonder if she had life insurance and who benefited. Under probation he finished his degree and with his father's influence, was given a high-paying job doing next to nothing in Yotsuba's technology division, stirring himself from paper-shifting to play with computers, cell phones, and other expensive toys.
Two forms, one for himself, one for his wife, signed and official. If one of them died, the other would benefit. Handsomely.
Two forms, one for himself, one for his wife, in the sterile urethane-and-leather air of a Porsche showroom in Stuttgart. Higuchi ordered his car in bright Guards Red with savannah leather interior. She teased him about deliberately making his car look tacky with all that beige. She tapped the brochure with one glittery maroon-lacquered nail. "Get black. Better yet, get the two-tone charcoal and silver. That'll look sexy."
"Black? Do I look like a biker?"
She pinched her round lips into a knot, scowled and elbowed him. "Beige is for old men in white trucks." The salesman, a strapping iron-haired, onyx-eyed fellow of fifty named Uwe or Otto or Heinz, understood little of the conversation and decided that the pretty Koreanerin married that repellent creep for his money.
Higuchi teased his wife about ordering her car to match her lipstick and nail polish. It didn't matter. The beautiful, successful wife of a wealthy, successful executive could and should be as extravagantly flashy as she wanted. Though he really wished she would pick a 911 instead of the cheap-looking Boxster and thought that Carmona Red was too gloomy a color. A Porsche should be have a bright, eye-popping, suitable-for-racing color so people notice it from far away.
He'd spotted Oh Chelin in an upscale lounge where his division had gone drinking. Two years his junior and looking ten years younger than he, she wore too much pink and white, her hair in fussy waves in a style too young for her and gathered at the sides by a pair of crystal-rimmed metal barrettes shaped like dahlias or asters or some other pointy-petaled fat flower. Something an old lady with more money than taste would wear-- what he thought were rhinestones were actually diamonds. She swayed a little taller than he even without her spike-heeled sandals, her full, round mouth was slack and her eyes hard with disappointment. He put on as sympathetic a face as he could manage while she drunkenly ranted about one disaster after another. Her fiancé had dumped her for some "pinched-faced little crybaby interior decorator" who had been jealous of her since high school, her contact in Tokyo backed out on her soon as her flight from Incheon touched down at Narita. In her condition, it was hard to believe she had established herself as a women's clothing designer, studied in Paris, spoke four languages and had her own upscale boutique in Seoul. She had the most fetching beauty mark near the outer corner of her right eye, fine-textured skin and the cutest little absolutely symmetrical nose, a knockout despite the tears, drama and sheer amount of booze she put away. He kept her glass full but she had enough judgment left unimpaired to refuse to spend the night at his house.
"I'm quite the gentleman," he assured her yet again, and had bundled her off to a nice hotel, charged to his Yotsuba expense account. That nosy little Midou in Finance would undoubtedly ask him about that instead of minding his own business. Midou was soft enough to buy that Higuchi had a humanitarian streak if he said that he couldn't leave a stranded drunk girl to get raped and killed. What the hell was her name? he wondered, unable to read the hangul on her business card. He stored her cell number under the name "Cherry" and returned to his own drinking.
He saw her again, they saw each other as often as possible. Drunk, high or sober, he had some trouble pronouncing her name and nicknamed her "Cherry-O", a flip of her own name. She laughed. "Kyosuke-ssi, that's tacky. How about 'Cherie'?" Fine, he said. He had little trouble wooing her, for she was greedy and hungry as he for money and status. They married in a chapel in Karuizawa, with neither his parents' blessing nor her parents' presence. They disapproved of him marrying a showy foreigner instead of a suitable homebody daughter of a Yotsuba executive. As far as her parents were concerned, she may have washed up ashore fully grown if she hadn't mentioned her school buddies in Chuncheon over and over. With her money and his influence, he set her up in a shop of her own and before long, she'd expanded her repetoire to include distinctive styles from antique Western patterns to appeal to a younger crowd. She was a hit among recovering loligoths who felt that lace and dollishness was too babyish now they were in their twenties.
Though his heavy alcohol and cocaine use made him look gaunt and dry, it was no turn-off for her. She thought he looked interesting-- "like a young Keith Richards or Johnny Rotten". He didn't see the resemblence but plenty of chicks thought he was hot. He didn't look as drugged out as Keef or as scrawny ratlike as Lydon, did he? No. He could stand to cut back on the chemicals and eat a little better but he could still get it up and he had muscles. Over all, money was better than sex, wine, hard liquor, cocaine and heroin. Cherie changed her hair from rusty brunette streaks to an all-over black cherry and her assistants and the models went on about how young and pretty she was, even if she was a hard taskmasker and some thought her humor and manner coarse and unladylike, especially for someone with such a lovely face.
While he recovered from a septoplasty to repair the effects of chronic substance insufflation, Cherie wormed her way into a sort of friendship with Midou Shingo, setting Higuchi in fear she would leave him and in disgust at why she would see anything worthwhile in such a drab little bespectacled Brooks Brothers-wearing dork who reeked of moldy old money. Especially one who went so far as to show up at work with a shining red face after a short absence, old acne craters peeled or lasered or sandblasted away. Higuchi paged through an old photo album filled with pictures of Cherie's friends from Chuncheon and business associates in Seoul. Despite the obvious differences in profile shots, Midou looked far too much like some lump named Joon or Hyung, her four-eyed ex-fiancé. Their blond streaky dye jobs were damn near identical. Higuchi doubted a rambling story about amnesia and America. It was all probably some bullshit the man-stealing Yujin and her pie-faced pals fed her. She was determined to believe it and presented Higuchi with detective reports, which were of course in Korean and if she nagged him any more about learning to read hangul, he was going to tell her again she needed to learn how to speak Japanese properly. In the depths of the fireproof underground garage of his ostentatious house, Higuchi donned coveralls, a pair of nitrile gloves, rolled the Boxster on a pair of shop ramps, and stared for a long time at its undercarriage.
He returned the jumpsuit to the repair shop he'd stolen it from, shredded the gloves and disposed of them in multiple garbage cans in Aoyama. All he had to do now was wait.
A message marked "urgent" from a police department. Chelin (who habitually drove far too fast for any conditions) was dead, killed instantly when her car struck a barricade at one hundred kilometers an hour. He covered his face with his hands to keep from laughing and headed for the nearest toilet. In a stall, he cracked open two ammonia capsules and breathed deep through his nose, and dropped them in the wastebasket. With eyes instantly bloodshot and streaming like faucets, he hid the evidence with crumpled toilet paper and staggered to the sinks. He added some eye drops for extra effect and waited. No one entered and his nose itched and leaked. This wasn't working, he needed a witness, something... he screwed his eyes tight shut and her smiling face swam in front of him but her dark eyes were baleful, demanding why. Murderer! she screamed in his head. Fuck her. She was annoying, insipid, whiny, spoiled, lazy, and worst of all, a drunk. No better than his stepfather, drinking up what money they had. Worth more dead.
He forced a hoarse breath to rise into a harsh, rattling cry tearing from his throat and he threw a wastebasket at the mirror, noisily shattering it on impact. He pounded and pulled out shards of glass, staring at his twisted reflection and at his furiously bleeding hands. Blood spattering the Carrara marble counter, in the low lighting, looked almost like the dark red Boxster's paint job at night. Hard shoes pelted and echoed down the granite hallway tile and he forced a sob and pounded the counter. Someone grabbed him in a bear hug from behind, bellowing, "Higuchi, stop!" It could only be Ooi, that musclebound bald freak who was born with no irises and wore mirrored pince-nez to keep out the light. Faint from pain, the sight of blood and the ammonia, Higuchi sank to his knees. In front of him, Midou knelt, handing him towels, patting his arm, and talking consoling nonsense. This was just too funny, he hoped people mistook his choked laughter for crying. It worked, for a sobbing office lady stood helplessly, trying to offer him tea when he couldn't hold the cup with his mangled hands and damned if Midou didn't have tears in his eyes, the sap.
She was gone, out of his life, and to his horror he realized he was crying for real. He glanced up at the sound of an ambulance cot clanking further down the corridor. Right in his field of vision was Namikawa from Sales, who glanced at him with no expression on his stupid dead girly face as if Higuchi's grief was Nothing Important and lumbered on, his long greasy hair shining like cheap patent leather in the overhead hallway lights.
A doctor shot him full of Ativan and he sat in dead-eyed silence at Chelin's funeral, his hands and arms bandaged, his mouth too dry for him to speak, his parents flanking him, a small group of women from her company and men from his black-clad and silent in Tokyo. At her final resting place in Chuncheon, he was dazed and lost, everybody speaking Korean and sounding to him like cats, nyan-nyan until he thought he would snap. A tiny, big-eyed woman struggled with Japanese through her tears. Kong Jin-suk was cute in a drab sort of way but he wished she would leave off with paying the bereaved husband her respects and leave them to her family and friends. The big-eyed girl's boyfriend or husband wept openly and unashamedly, making Higuchi feel like throwing up on him. The Midou-ish ex-fiancé and the girl he threw Chelin over for were there. Jung Yujin did look pinched and prim and Higuchi wondered how it was any man would dump Oh Chelin for that. And him... he was taller and looked far more lively and considerably less wimpy than Midou. He spoke English carefully in a quiet, deep voice and an accent that was definitely American. Maybe there was something to that weird story Chelin kept repeating. There was something about him that wasn't quite there.
The sale of her Tokyo shop was handled by lawyers. He paid an inspector a large sum to ignore the nick in the brake lines and sued Porsche AG for negligence and poor quality control. Her insurance paid off well enough for him to add lead walls to his basement and a sprinkler system throughout the house. Few questioned him on this, for his fear of fire was well-known and few wanted to deal with his unpleasant personality to ask any further.
- 2004 -
In his garage, a twisted wreck of German engineering sat covered by a tarp, its carmine skin cracked and crumpled. In one vault he kept a small sample of his late wife's wardrobe, her jewelry and many photographs. Another was wallpapered with posters, ad copy, and glossies of a young bottle-blonde idol. Two dresses, made by Oh Chelin and modeled once by Misa Misa, were displayed on dress forms that matched Misa's measurements.
What more could he want, being a rising young executive, rolling in money, soon to take over Yotsuba Group's Tokyo headquarters, all he needed was a beautiful wife and he'd be set! Higuchi's laugh was dry as old bones and his grin that of a skull. Hatori's death would stand to make him wealthier when his shares were divided among the surviving seven. He pondered who should be next. Namikawa Kenichi - or Kenny Namikawa as the president of the US Division insisted on calling himself, likely, but he could wait, much as hurting that smug faggoty prick Namikawa Reiji would rid the world of one less douchebag. Midou Shingo was a definite candidate for having his name written down (Higuchi had seen Namikawa shove his tongue ring into Midou's mouth when the two of them thought they were alone). Hurting Namikawa, who acted like nothing affected him, would be fun. Better to keep him alive and stick to criminals for now. He'd take care of the father and the boyfriend at the same time and maybe Namikawa would for once in his life have an actual facial expression. Shimura in Personnel's jaundice, overamped thyroid and constant sweating disgusted Higuchi almost as much but for now, he was too valuable, he had access to every employee record. He laughed uproariously at how Shimura hunched and skittered like a mouse the day after he'd received a nocturnal call from an untraceable caller with a scrambled voice. Higuchi could have stuck to bulletins and e-mails but this cheesy action movie trick was too much fun.
With Rem standing sentry, silent as a defleshed corpse with only ligaments and bone remaining at the bottom of the sea, he sifted through American sex offender registries for variety in his obligatory criminal weeding. Reading English was a pain in the ass and these people had too many aliases. There was some satisfaction in taking out a chronic child molester from Rusty Silo, Illinois, who looked like the offspring of a severely inbred steer and a dump truck even if he had to risk possible death writing each name down in case none of them were true. From the looks of him, nobody got any money when he died. Bad planning on his part. He already had the forms to buy two life insurance policies ready. All that was needed were names. Higuchi Misa, he thought, a little surprised she agreed to marry him. She had placed her tiny hand over his right arm, had seen the old burn scars and more recent white lines on his hands and wrists and gently stroked them. Either she was really that vacant or they made no difference to her. Much as he dressed well, drove fine cars, and had money to burn, a ghost in his mind of the frightened child who was as good as dead in that fire two decades ago, reminded him just how broken he really was, how much a failure he remained.
They still kept winning, they who deliberately mutilated their skin with tanning beds, tattoos, piercings, lasers and frostbite. But tiny Amane Misa with her flawless creamy skin would be his and soon, he would own all of them. He envisioned the Yotsuba Group logo taken down, replaced with "Higuchi International". First things first. Two forms were ready. All one needed was her name and signature, naming him sole beneficiary should she die.
Second Kira or not, he was not about to get emotionally attached to another feeder animal. Even if it killed his walrusy cigar-reeking scumbag of a step-cousin. Even if it had its own Death Note.
- now done is done -