A conversation that could have happened during Ai's big fat world tour we never actually saw. Why did Takeshi get all those tattoos, anyway?
By the way...this isn't meant as a Takeshi/Ai one shot. I mean it only as a Takeshi having a platonic few minutes of meaningful conversation with Ai one shot.
/text/= flashback/memory/thought/thing. Heck, I only use it once, it shouldn't be too confusing.
"Pit stop, children!" The driver called.
"Sit down, Princess," Takeshi called over and across the back of his seat. "You're staying in."
"Think, Princess. You're a diva. There are some fifty different satanic cults worshipping you, and another hundred holy ones claiming that you're bringing Armageddon. Not to mention those Harpy things tailing you. No 'fense," He added quickly at Tess's dark look. "It's just true."
"Ai, it's for your own safety," Jen said soothingly. "And we'll be right back! Promise!"
"I'll stay in if you want," Kent offered.
"No! Kent, don't keep yourself cooped up in here," Ai protested. "Go on out and stretch for a bit. And maybe you could get me a drink in there?"
"Gotcha." Kent looked over to where Takeshi was sitting. "You staying in?"
"Yeah," Takeshi sighed. "God knows what'll happen if we leave her to herself. This bus might get wiped off the map."
"Shut it, tattoo boy!" Ai snapped.
"We'll be back soon," Kent rubbed her shoulder gently. "Try not to kill him."
"I love you too, Kent," Takeshi yawned. "Get outta here."
"I should stay," Tess said quietly. "It's my job to protect you."
"Tess, you need some air too. You know you do," Ai said kindly. "The Dougen weren't meant for cramped buses. And neither were princesses," She added scathingly, shooting all the venom in the comment she could in Takeshi's direction.
Tess looked like she was about to protest, but instead sighed in defeat. "We won't be long."
The rock star fumed quietly in her seat as everyone except her and Takeshi exited the bus. She looked up and across to where the talent agent/bodyguard/yakuza member (or was he? She'd only heard rumors) was sitting.
Takeshi half turned in his seat. "What's the problem, Princess?"
"Those stupid tattoos," She jabbed a talon in his direction. "I've had to stare at those stupid symbols for almost five hundred miles!"
He raised a thin eyebrow. "And?"
"And I'm sick of them! Move to one of the back seats!"
Takeshi snorted and turned back around in his seat. As he lit a cigarette he replied, "Princess, I've got some breaking news you might like to hear: the world does not revolve solely around you."
"Funny how you keep telling me it does."
"Yeah, make sure to hit me if I ever tell you that again."
An awkward silence fell. Finally, Ai asked:
"Why do that anyway? Get tattoos. Mark up your skin like it's paper."
"Symbolism, my dear. And they're pretty," He cackled.
"Better than what they could be," Takeshi shrugged, talking around the cigarette clenched in his teeth. "Tattoos aren't for everybody."
"Meaning what? They could be piercings instead?"
Takeshi shifted deeper into his seat. "Not piercings. Just ugly. Scars, you know."
Ai sat up fast. She knew a good deal about scars. "Scars?"
"Yeah. This job isn't exactly risk free. Especially when divas try to drown you," He added pointedly.
Ai tossed her head indifferently. "You were asking for it." Takeshi didn't respond, just chuckled and took another puff from his cigarette.
"So," Ai continued. "What kind of scars?"
"What, you wanna hear about all of them?"
"There's nothing better to do. And I'm stuck on this bus, thanks to you," Ai settled back down again. "Tell me some stories."
"Yoshi's your babysitter, not me."
"Yoshi is outside, and Yoshi isn't covered in ink. Start with these," Ai pointed at the flames on his wrists. "You weren't cutting yourself, were you?"
"No," Takeshi snorted, finally relenting. "Those were the first tattoos I got. I don't remember what happened with those. It was probably just an impulse thing."
"How about that horse thing on your shoulder, then?"
"It's a unicorn, sweetheart. I got that jumping out of a car."
"You jumped out of a car?"
"Yeah, sure, why not? My shoulder was dislocated and all torn up," He turned to stub out his cigarette on the armrest of his seat. "It was pretty gross."
Ai pulled a face. "Ow. And yuck. So you got a tattoo to cover it up?"
"Why a unicorn?"
"You know that Chinese legend?"
Ai sighed. There was so much about this world that she didn't know. "Actually, I don't."
"Well, I won't go through that whole thing...but this one unicorn is supposed to be good luck. And I didn't want to fuck up my shoulder again. So, I figured, unicorn for luck."
"Okay...and that one on the other shoulder?"
"Is that also a luck symbol?"
He shrugged. "Yeah, kinda."
Ai crossed her arms. "Not very lucky, are you? Was it another car?"
"Actually, it was flying glass shards. Took forever for the doctors to pluck them all out. The scars were gonna be even uglier than the dislocated shoulder, so I decided to get something to cover it A-sap."
"That's so GROSS!" Wailed Ai.
"Hey, you're the one that wanted to hear some stories. I can stop if you want," He added hopefully.
"No! I wanna know what the one around your neck is for."
"Oh, yeah," Takeshi rubbed the design. "I almost kinda forget it's there sometimes."
"What happened there?"
"I got pinned down and half-strangled."
Ai raised her eyebrows, confused. "You got scars from that? What, did they dig their nails in?"
"Nah, all I got was bruises. But hey, how often does somebody try to strangle you?" Takeshi asked. "I figured the event was worthy of commemoration."
Ai rolled her eyes. "Whatever. And the tire-track things under the unicorn?"
"Got scraped by a bullet. Barely dodged in time. A few more inches and it would've hit my heart," Takeshi said smugly. "It was a close call."
"That's nothing to be proud of," Ai glared at him. "Almost getting killed."
"Yeah, but I didn't get killed. That's the cool part. And that's why it got a tattoo."
"Guess those lucky tattoos were doing something for you after all," Ai said. "So what's that big sun thing on your stomach for?"
"Oh, that time a bullet really got me."
It wasn't so much the idea of Takeshi getting shot that made her gasp; Ai had considered shooting him herself plenty of times. It was the casual, off-hand, don't-give-a-crap way he said it that really got to her.
"You were shot? Like, the bullet went in?"
"Sure. Why do you think the tattoo's so big? It was like somebody put a bomb in my stomach," Takeshi sighed. "Man, that was a close call..."
The rock star didn't get it. "So you were able to dodge one bullet just fine, but that one...?"
Takeshi patted his abs lightly. "That one I took on purpose. For Hayabusa. What?" He asked quizzically upon seeing Ai's stricken expression. "I'm not just a talent agent. I've done a fair amount of body-guarding too. Besides," He continued doggedly. "You gotta be able to take stuff like that if you're gonna work for Hayabusa. It's dangerous."
"Yeah," Ai said darkly. "I'm seeing that. So...there was a little bit more below the sun, wasn't there? Little flames, like on your wrists and neck."
Takeshi gave her an odd look. "Good memory. Have you been spying on me in the shower or what?"
"Oh, shut up! That's disgusting!" Ai snapped. "I have no reason to spy on you."
"Aw. Oh yeah, that's right. You have darling Kent to satisfy all your personal needs," Takeshi leered.
"Shut up, I said! Just tell me about the little flames."
"Um...knife wound. Same story as the sun-thing. Somebody was trying to get Hayabusa, but got me instead."
Ai stared at him. "How many hits have you taken for Hayabusa?"
Takeshi shrugged carelessly. "Part of the job. Not to mention an easy way to get promoted. This little baby earned me my own car, paid by the company." He seemed to be enjoying disturbing her.
"That's sick," Ai whispered. "That's completely sick. Selling yourself out like that."
"Who's selling myself out? I'm not the one letting my face get plastered on posters and singing my heart out so Hayabusa can get a bonus on his monthly checks. Which, by the way, are huge thanks to you."
Ai swallowed her usual angry retorts and the desire to kill Takeshi. She'd been the one who'd started the conversation, and she'd need a punching bag later if the bus got lost or they made another pit stop that she couldn't enjoy. Instead, she gritted, "And the angel?"
"Oh, you like her?"
"I hate her. She's the worst one."
"Ouch," Takeshi chuckled. "She wouldn't like to hear that."
Ai raised an eyebrow. "She?"
"Sure. You've seen the tattoo. The angel's wearing a dress, isn't she? Obviously a female."
"So," Ai leaned forward. "Did you get hit in the back with a bomb or what?"
Takeshi scratched the back of his head. "Actually, it was a lamp..."
Ai almost laughed, but managed to smother it just in time. Takeshi didn't look like he found it very amusing. When she'd gained a little more control, she asked incredulously, "A lamp? How'd that happen?"
"Somebody threw a lamp at me," Takeshi pushed himself further into his seat, almost subconsciously, as if to cover the angel from her eyes. "Obviously."
"Oh, my ex."
Ai snorted; she couldn't hold it in anymore. "Which one?"
Takeshi glared at her halfheartedly. "I haven't had that many..."
"Sure you haven't," Ai rolled her eyes, but stopped. Takeshi looked like he desperately wanted to get out of the bus. She tried a more sympathetic approach. "So what happened?"
"We had a fight. She got mad and threw it," Takeshi shrugged, pushing himself deeper still into the seat. "I deserved it."
"What'd you do?"
The question seemed to throw him off a little. Ai tried to be patient while he thought. Finally, he said, "I wasn't there enough."
Ai curled her lip. "There?"
"Yeah, you know. I was never around. We didn't see each other that much. Most of our conversations happened over the phone. I had work," He added defensively when he saw Ai was glaring at him.
"Any girl would get mad at a guy who uses work as an excuse," She sniffed dismissively.
Takeshi slumped forward. "It wasn't just an excuse. I tried to see her as much as I could."
The sincerity in the statement hurt to hear. Ai could feel her opinions of him twisting around each other, trying to figure out how to deal with him, what to say. Meanwhile, Takeshi pulled out his gun and began fiddling with it, checking or cleaning or whatever else one could do with a gun. Before Ai could attempt to make a response, he continued.
"I mean, I know where she was coming from. It sucks being with somebody who can barely even go on real dates. When we did see each other it was one night stuff at motels, and then a few phone calls over the next few weeks until we could do it again. So she thought I thought it was just a sex thing. And subsequently got fed up with it."
"And you two had a fight. And she threw a lamp at you."
"And you got a tattoo for it? Did you have lamp shards in your back, or did the bulb burn you?"
"Neither. Just a bruise. Give this jacket a little credit," He gestured at his leather-encased sleeve.
"But you got a tattoo for it. An angel," Ai pressed. Takeshi nodded blankly. "Why an angel?"
Takeshi blushed. "Look, it was...um...it's kinda stupid. And...well, it...ah. It was a nickname."
"Like how I call you Princess. I used to call her Angel," He finished quickly, obviously embarrassed.
Ai tried to shove her personal feelings about angels aside. After all, the concepts of Angels on Earth and in Ai-Land were pretty different. "That's sweet," She said kindly.
The comment only seemed to make him more embarrassed.
"It's not like I didn't want to see her more," He was still going; out of guilt, or in defense, Ai couldn't tell. "It's hard getting any time to yourself when you're under Hayabusa."
"You don't have to be under Hayabusa," Ai pointed out. "You could've gotten a different job. One that wouldn't get you killed."
Takeshi scoffed, glaring at her. "You're always talking about getting away from HTA. Have you been able to do it yet?" He shook his head, disgusted. "Don't give me any crap about getting away. In case you haven't noticed by now, signing anything with Hayabusa's name on it is kinda like selling your soul to the devil. You get stuck, and you stay stuck."
"Gee," Ai stuck her tongue out at him. "Coulda used that warning a lot earlier."
"Hey, getting you onboard was my job," Takeshi said hotly.
Ai let the comment sit for a few second before asking, "But here's the part I'm not getting...why get a tattoo? It was a bad breakup, wasn't it? Not exactly something you'd want to...what was that word you used? Commemorate?"
Takeshi muttered something incoherent. Ai leaned forward, hoping to catch something a little more. "What?"
"Well, she apologized," The talent agent said weakly. "How people apologize for throwing a lamp at you?"
"How many people throw lamps at other people?"
"And the whole thing---I mean, while we still had a thing at all---wasn't all bad. I mean, when we actually saw each other...and when we talked..." He glanced at her desperately. "You know?"
Ai had to smile. "Yeah. I do."
A rather awkward silence ensued.
Finally, Ai cleared her throat. "So...what happened then?"
"Well, we stopped seeing each other."
"And...I was kinda depressed. Then I met Mika."
"Oh, yeah," Ai sniffed. "Miss Bitch."
"And then I got even more depressed. And it went like that for a while." He half turned to her. "Then I heard you singing on that street corner."
Ai blinked, shocked. "You were there?"
Takeshi chuckled. Ai was relieved to hear it. "Half of Kabuki-Cho was there, Princess." He glanced away, looking thoughtful. "Things got better from there. I got you on with Hayabusa, got a big fat raise for it, and got to hear you create more music." He pulled a wry face. "The only downside is your bitching. And...some other things," He finished awkwardly, looking down self consciously at the gun that was still in his hand. He stashed it away quickly.
Ai became thoughtful herself. People were always telling her that her music was uplifting, touching. She'd only just begun to truly believe it herself. She glanced at Takeshi shyly. Would it be fair to call him proof?
"I guess I should say thank you or something," Takeshi said softly. "Things were getting pretty bad."
Ai wasn't sure what to say. "Well...you've been looking out for me all these months. Almost a year now, isn't it? I should probably be thanking you. You're pretty sweet, you know," She continued eagerly. "When you let yourself be."
Takeshi didn't seem to like the sound of that. "Princess...um, Ai...listen---"
"Ai, I'm here to rescue you!" Kent yelled. "I come with mochas!"
"MOCHA!" Ai screamed greedily. "Gimme, gimme, gimme!"
Kent laughed as Ai dragged him down. He turned halfway to Takeshi. "You want? I got a couple extra cups for the road."
Takeshi shook his head. "Not thirsty."
As the group piled back into the bus, Hiro managed to catch Takeshi's eye. "Are you all right?" He asked quietly. "You look a little sick. Maybe you should have gotten off for a few minutes."
Takeshi teethed his bottom lip. "I'm fine," He said firmly. "Sit down, we need to get going if we want to get there in time."
Hiro gave him an odd look, but shrugged and moved on.
The talent agent slumped back into his seat, felt the pocket where he'd stashed his gun, and sighed.
"This sucks," He said to himself softly.
The bus lurched, and they were moving again. Takeshi glanced back and across his seat at Ai. She didn't see him; the rock star was too busy slurping up mocha and chatting with Jen, Yoshi, and Hikaru. Tess and Kent were hovering protectively nearby, and Hiro just a little further away. Takeshi turned right ways, and sighed again.
"Record more songs...take her on a stadium tour...shoot every moment of her on video...and then take her out."
"This sucks," He repeated. "I was hoping you'd be a keeper, Ai."
He looked ahead through the window. He could see the road passing under them, and Ai's blissful reflection.
At least there was still a little time.