CONTENT WARNING: illustrated depictions of gore, violence and body-horror.
After watching Ghost in the Shell: SAC with a friend, I was disappointed with the ending of season 1. It felt like a dismissal and neglected the emotional catharsis needed after so many hard-hitting developments.
So, here’s an alternative re-write (or, in my lingo: ‘let them cry already’). Spoilers to be expected of course, with at least some context provided for returning fans who haven’t seen the series in a while.
You can also read this fanfic on Archive of Our Own!
The peach shine of the morning sun gleamed across the heli-plane chrome body, interrupted only by the open door, and by Matoko as she turned around, mouthing something to him. It was so silent that morning, and yet he couldn’t hear it.
Then there was red. A red flag that blossomed from a pin-prick, pulled outwards by the force of a large calibre sniper bullet, until the fluids could not retain a singular form and splattered in a spray all across the stairwell, the tarmac. Her body, left without a head, tumbled over the railing too and joined the puddle of blood below.
“Matoko!” Batou’s voice sounded like a thunderclap in the silence, even to himself, “MATOKO!” he screamed as military soldiers surrounded him, beat him, locked his remaining arm behind his back and pinned him down.
The next time he opened his eyes, he was in a tiny room. On a springy, flimsy bed, looking up at a plain concrete ceiling, layered with chewing gum and other sticky things. Mementos of past patrons.
Batou, even with the haze of artificially-induced unconsciousness making him groggy, only needed two seconds to identify where he was. A prison inside of military operations. As if he was a war criminal.
The only other feature in the room, other than the bed, was a sink and a mirror, small and cracked as it was. Batou sat up, swinging his feet onto the ground. Orange garbs greeted him, instead of his usual khaki work outfit. They didn’t even let him wear his spare turtle-neck, dammit.
He looked up, at his reflection. He was clean, save for the bruises he’d accumulated, half of his right arm gone, and the gash on his forehead covered up by a bandage. How Matoko managed to bind it with only scraps to work with—
Batou remembered when, the last time he had a body upgrade, the engineers asked him if he’d like his tear ducts removed. He declined. They commented that expressing emotions was, indeed, a worthwhile thing to keep. He joked it was the contrary: so there was a way to remind him when to keep them in check.
There was no keeping them in check now.
His perception went spotty, distorted by the refraction of light through drops. Batou gripped the cloth on his pants until he was sure he’d tear it in shreds. He sucked in a whistling breath of air, and when he breathed out, he howled. Tears rushed down his face, adding to the grimy spots on the bed, ruining the perfect orange of prison clothes.
If a guard had come by to peek through the door slit, Batou wouldn’t have noticed. He screamed, and howled, bent over, crying to the point his prosthetic lenses might slip out.
His workplace for six years, blown to debris.
His workmates, disappeared, who-knew-where.
His Tachikoma bots, at the verge of individual identity and conscience, flattened.
His boss, the Major: the invincible, terrifying Matoko…
That’s what Togusa’s phone calendar said. He hadn’t checked in a week, almost forgot about it. Almost life went back to normal.
3 months had passed, which felt more like 3 years.
The man with the mullet of blonde hair - or chestnut was more apt - sighed. He had to stop doing this. His wife was most patient with him, allowing him as much time as he needed to recover.
After all, his job folded overnight. A secret government military agency known as Section 9, was overthrown - imploded - as if it were a fast food stall at a market. And with it, his colleagues went missing. As far as he could crack from local internet cafes, he found out that they all were imprisoned.
All except one. One never made it that far.
There was the running of plodding footsteps, accompanied by a gurgling laughter. Then there was a thwump, which turned the gurgle into a squeal.
“Oh, darling,” Togusa rubbed his nose, stood up, and went to his daughter’s rescue. The baby lolled on her back, screeching.
“Come on, sweetheart, let’s look at your nose,” he propped her up and, of course, she was completely fine. He gave her a smooch, then rubbed his nose against hers. Pretty soon, she was giggling again.
“Learning how to walk, huh?” he said, as she continued her expedition on all fours, lifting herself onto her feet thanks to furniture, but still too wobbly to keep it up, “Heh, I wished I had your tenacity right now.”
“It only went on a holiday,” his wife’s voice entered the room.
Togusa let out a dry laugh, “No, I think it might have moved out altogether.”
“Then the best way to encourage it to come live with us again is to be less overbearing on it,” she came to him, kissed his head, then followed their daughter.
The man smiled, although it dissolved. She was right, in a way. The more he delved, stuck at home, into ‘getting over’ Section 9, the less he would.
“Alright,” he stated, picking up the newspaper on the coffee table, looking at the job tabloid at the back, “Guess it’s time for a new career.”
He mused through the options, writing notes down on paper, until his concentration gave out and he switched on the TV. The news rattled on in the background, but became Togusa’s foreground when a name jumped out at him:
“… the military head, Yakushima, is set to be taken into custody this afternoon…”
“What?” he breathed, turning up the volume.
He tuned in with his full attention, then frowned. Without even wanting to, his detective braincells pieced the story together. The investigation case, which Section 9 had spent months on solving, was finally in effect. They exposed a corruption on the use of questionable spying technology installed inside people’s prosthetic eye retinas. But more so, it linked to a strategic suppression of a vaccine for cybernetic-caused brain tumours, fueled by industry jealousy and greed. After chasing clues a genius hacker - The Laughing Man - scattered across the web and seemingly disconnected cases; after sacrificing time and literal blood… the ones taking the credit for the resolution was a police department that never even lifted a finger.
Togusa gripped his pants, his heart rate rising.
Yes, this pissed him off. Pride was difficult not to hurt. But what was worse was that this military politician, even if the plan succeeded and they convicted him as the lead perpetrator of this scheme, the punishment would be minimal. As politics were, rather than spending years in jail for killing sick people by negligence, he’d get shoved to a different division and, at most, be limited to serving in a lower house.
Togusa shook. There was no justice, was there? All his friends were gone. Their job; insubstantial. Their purpose; pointless.
He walked, in a daze, towards his writing desk. Bottom most drawer, secret pocket, it was still there. Untouched by the investigators who interrogated him after Section 9 was backstabbed. He shoved the pistol in his jacket, and left, dressed in his tracksuit pants and shirt.
The ruling party’s political building towered over him as he shambled over. A crowd of people gathered at its base, protesters and journalists alike. A velvet car squeezed between them to the front entry, awash in camera flashes. Togusa reached into his jacket-pocket…
The click of a gun.
“Don’t move a step further.”
Togusa felt a metal prod on his back… but that voice—
He inched around, and had to look up to see the face of the tall man threatening him.
Armed with not just a gun, but a smirk, was silver-haired Batou. As menacing and simultaneously cheeky as he always was.
“As lousy as you are, you’d get caught before you could even see Yakushima,” Batou joked, as he flipped the gun handle towards facing his colleague.
“Big….guy?” Togusa stood agape, taking the gun, which happened to be his own. Had he not noticed Batou pinching it from him?
“You’re a dummy, you know that?” Batou said, patting him on the shoulder, “Let’s go.”
Togusa was at a loss of words, even as the cyborg drove him to a high rise building. They got out of the car, went up the elevator in silence, and walked through hallways unfamiliar to him. He was still at a loss of words when they entered a computer room… and there stood the core team of Section 9. Borma, Paz, Ishikawa, Saito…
“And the star arrives,” Borma commented, who, like Batou, also had lenses instead of eyes. Except he preferred a bald look.
“What took you so long?” Saito said, the team’s sniper with one hyper-focus eye.
“So, where’d you end up tailing him?” Ishikawa, their bearded data surfer, seated at one of the computers, asked Batou.
“Just like we figured, he went to the ruling party HQ, with vengeance in his eyes,” Batou chuckled. The other men joined in the mirth.
Togusa stared at them each in turn. He was vaguely aware his eyes were heating up, but more than that a smile crept in. Batou was the only who noticed, and his brows softened. He stepped up to the back of Ishikawa’s seat, blocking everyone else’s view of Togusa’s moment, glancing at the screen.
“So? How are the reports on Mr. Corrupt Ex-Military going?”
Ishikawa browsed the barcode text at lightning speed, and nodded, “Not bad, the old soldier is playing along with the investigations.”
“Damn it, that means this’ll get a heroic fanfare by the end,” Borma grumbled.
“Wait… so all the work we did…” Togusa began.
“Would not get credited,” Batou said, “Yeah, it sucks. But the chief had it lined up like this the whole time.”
When Togusa gave a blank expression, the rest explained the situation to him. How their chief, Aramaki, had to work around political knots with the prime minister. Since the latter was reluctant to re-elect a new military official before the upcoming elections, he threatened to pin Section 9 as being involved in the case… and not as its investigators. With no other option left, the only way to ensure the Prime Minister would at least send government officials on Yakushima’s tail… was to play along.
“Sacrificing Section 9…” Togusa said beneath his breath, “Even if that was the case, do you have any idea what it was like for me for these past three months? I had no way of knowing what had happened to you guys!”
“Well, it’s not like we had a great time either,” Saito shrugged, “If anything, you had an extended vacation.”
“I— no I’m not complaining about how I was living, I meant…” Togusa said.
“And hey, you were the squishiest of us,” Ishikawa said, “Almost no prosthetics, right out of hospital, and a married man. Chief took good care of you. If you found out too early, you might’ve gotten in political crossfire. Hah! You almost did it on your own! He wanted us all back, in one piece.”
Batou flinched at the statement. This time, Togusa noticed, but he refrained from drawing attention to it.
“I understand that… but…” Togusa sighed, “Still. I thought… I’d never…”
“Hey, look, he’s tearing up,” Paz said.
Togusa sniffed, fighting against the overwhelming pressure in his throat and the urge to wipe at his eyes. A few of the men began chuckling, but before he could retort, his friend did it for him: “Hey, give ‘im a break! Can’t the poor guy say he missed the hell out of us?”
Batou nudged Togusa, with that big grin of his, “The living room TV is nowhere near as funny as we are, ey?”
The blonde man took a breath and composed himself, allowing also a smirk, “The comedy selection has been especially poor this season.”
They laughed for a moment, until Togusa thought of something else: “Oh! Hang on a second. What about the Major? What happened to her? I read that…”
The room went silent.
All the men present looked at Batou. His grin was replaced by a mighty scowl.
“Who cares, I don’t give a rat’s ass about that bitch.”
Togusa blinked. This… didn’t sound right.
The other men began snickering, and Borma took this chance to jibe: “That’s odd, weren’t you balling your eyes out a few months ago?”
Paz cackled. Togusa glanced between the group, completely out of the loop. Then, Batou let out a hiss: “Yeah, I did. So what? Not like she’s gonna return the favour.”
For a moment, they went quiet. Togusa didn’t like the venom in his tone, and was about to grab his shoulder, when Ishikawa turned back around in his seat towards the screen, “Oh really? In that case why don’t I grab the satellite footage from that scene?”
“You oughta send it to the major too,” Paz added.
The comment elicited a few more chuckles, although restrained this time, as Batou’s expression grew ever darker.
Ishikawa made hocus-pocus motions in the air, as if he was typing without touching the keys. He made a mockery of a yowl: “Matoookoooooooo!”
“Guys… I don’t think…” Togusa began.
There was the grinding of an electric door wrenched open, then drawn shut with equivalent intensity. Ishikawa blinked, looked behind him. And Batou was gone.
The remaining members stood still.
The data analyst ran a hand through his bushy brown hair, “Damn… did I take it too far?”
“You did,” Togusa confirmed, and he frowned at the rest, “You all did.”
He left the room to follow Batou, leaving the others to rub their arms or their faces in shame.
The blonde man jogged through the hallways, but couldn’t locate the big soldier. Perhaps he’d even gone so far and activated his invisibility cloak, but even without, it was surprising how fast he could move.
Togusa wandered around, not giving up his search, until after a few rounds, he heard tell-tale shouting.
She heard a woman’s voice. It was her girlfriend Kurutan’s.
“Some days, the way you surf so long terrifies me.”
“What… are you doing here?” Matoko said.
She sat up, dressed in a hospital apron. Wires were still hooked up to this new body, but judging from the lack of doctors present and the panel lights next to the ‘bed’, the procedure was long over.
“Your boss gave me permission to wait here until you wake,” Kurutan said. She smiled, but her gentle brown eyes were tinged with concern, “Besides, I promised I’d be an official witness for your body transfer last time… until it went badly.”
“The Chief is being more tardy with his rules lately,” Matoko muttered, “Not even the doctors are here.”
“They left a while a go. They said…” Kurutan hesitated, “It’d take you ‘a while’ to return.”
Fear crept into her voice, and the Major looked at the woman. Her usually cool expression loosened a little, as her girlfriend’s eyes glazed over, visualising some sort of glum, alternative future.
Matoko smiled, and grabbed Kurutan’s hands.
“Sorry to scare you. I wasn’t too far away, or too lost, I promise. Just in a very deep conversation,” she consoled.
“Was it a conversation with angels? I’m not sure being clinically dead counts as being ‘not too far away’,” Kurutan said, but then she smiled and patted Matoko’s hands in return, “Sorry, I promise I won’t whinge right as you’re back and recovering. But I want you to know I love you, and yes, I was very scared.”
Matoko closed her eyes, and nodded, “No, you’re right. This whole ordeal is on me,” she kissed her.
When they parted, the soldier said: “How about: this weekend, you take me to that pet bar you’ve wanted to go to for months. No ‘deep’ web surfing, no passive work, just petting… cats? Or was it dogs?”
“Both,” Kurutan laughed, “But… you won’t find it too silly?”
“On the contrary, something so benign and tactile will do me good. I’m a little tired of cyber space mysteries for the foreseeable future anyway.”
Matoko dressed in her work uniform, bid goodbye to Kurutan, and went through the hallways of what would, hopefully soon be Section 9’s new base. So long as Chief’s plan succeeded and they got the funding.
It wasn’t long until heavy stomping caught her attention, and she knew from experience exactly who it belonged to.
Batou rounded the corner and saw her. It was always difficult to tell his mood, since his eyes were lens-like prosthetics instead of organic-looking ones. But with that frown, that down-turned mouth, and his stooped pose, she could tell he was a mixture of angry and upset.
She smiled at him as he approached. He froze on the spot, staring, or glaring, at her without movement.
“Well? Aren’t you going to threaten me with a tackle hug?” the Major commented, when his silence became too much.
“I would, except I have accusations to make first.”
“Might be a while before I can get myself a lawyer, we don’t have a budget yet.”
“Cut the crap. Why didn’t you tell me you were alive?”
Matoko paused. Of course this is what it was all about.
“I’m… amazed that stunt convinced even you.”
“The body that was shot was a puppet. I knew we wouldn’t get away scott-free from our hide-out, especially with the ruckus at my safehouse earlier. So I made sure I wasn’t about to get killed.”
“So even back then you lied to me? That substitute body you were in first was actually you?”
“I was remote piloting both bodies, in turn.”
“Same difference! This isn’t the first time you’ve played mastermind on us.”
“You know that as your superior, I have to allocate information carefully. It’s not a personal choice.”
“Not a personal choice?? Matoko, there were two of us left, we were on the last string and even then you thought to leave me out of the loop?! What about team work?”
“It still applies. I trusted you would respond in all the ways I needed you to. Although I’m surprised you didn’t catch onto the plan… was my turning around on the heli-plane and mouthing ‘it’s okay’ too subtle?”
“Oh great, so my dignity was also on the chopping block. Did you and Chief cook that up in advanced too?”
Matoko sighed, keeping her voice level as best she could. Although even for her, frustration was beginning to slip in.
“Batou, you’re doing it again. You’re trying to say something you’re thinking but are running circles around it and want me to say it for you.”
“Look who’s talking, miss ‘my watch is not sentimental’,” Batou growled.
“You’re right,” Matoko stated, “And I admit I’m not very good at it myself.”
This stumped the general, and if he had eyelids, he would blink.
“But let’s move on from that. You’re being particularly harsh right now, and honestly? I already had a philosophical debate with the Laughing Man today. I’m not in the mood for more.”
“Fine. Fine, okay, here it is, served raw!!” Batou’s voice raised within a second, the volume booming across the hallways, “I saw your skull splattered into goop. You were gone! And then, after trying to piece myself together with the scraps left over from our office’s ruins, my Tachikoma, and your gib, I get the memo that, no, actually, everything is fine! Get back to work, everything! Is. Fine!”
He huffed, his eyes stung.
“I get we all got a job to do, I get we sometimes gotta have the wool pulled over our eyes so we play our parts more convincingly. But, that just… that was….”
He averted his gaze, sucking in a gulp of air. His next words came in sputters: “I don’t know… I don’t— my friend died, and all I could think about at the time was how I failed you and didn’t go with my gut feeling that—and now I find out it was all a set up?!”
Batou sobbed, and he clasped his mouth as if he could somehow catch it and suck it back in.
Matoko only kept her calm smile.
Despite having an almost full prosthetic body with a whole litany of programs and effects, controlling breathing while crying was not a feature Batou had installed.
“I felt.. I feel betrayed,” he let out, just as the waterfalls began, “Everything makes fucking sense but…”
He couldn’t continue.
“But it hurts all the same, doesn’t it?” the Major said.
The man shuddered on the spot, unable to cease the drops from hitting the floor. Matoko opened her arms wide and suggested:
“If you’re still in the mood to threaten me with a hug…”
There was a shuffle, the shifting of cloth, and a warmth engulfed the Major. Batou hugged her. She felt the big man quake, heard his quiet sobbing.
After a while, Matoko said: “See? Doesn’t saying that out loud feel a lot better?”
“You… m-mock me.”
“Truly, I do not, Batou,” she replied, “I appreciate you opening up. I apologise. For everything. It’s a shame you had to witness my… termination. I know I would’ve responded the same in your shoes.”
“Yes, you dingus. Stop pretending you don’t mean anything to anyone here.”
Batou squeezed a little tighter, because he knew she could take it. She returned the hug around his ribs, also pushing the boundaries of acceptable strength.
“I’m so glad you’re alive, Matoko,” he muttered.
The woman patted his back, “I’m proud of you for holding out so long. And we’re back to ‘major’ now, if you please.”
She heard him scoff, “Yes, Major.”
That’s when she saw Togusa round the corner, witnessing their hug. He looked worried, approaching with caution. The Major gave him a reassuring thumbs up, which he responded in kind and walked with more ease.
Coming after him were the other team members. The Major gave a stronger pat on Batou’s back as a forewarning.
She called out, with her dry monotone: “Help. I’m being unjustly reprimanded. Unpry me from this prison.”
“Unfortunately, Major, I have strict orders to double down on the punishment,” Ishikawa joked as he neared.
In a fit, Batou let go and rushed to fix the tears running down his face and storm off, but the other man was too fast, grabbed his sleeve, and pulled all three into a group hug. Togusa joined in, wrapping an arm around Batou.
The latter was frowning and pouting like no tomorrow.
“Hey buddy, sorry for earlier,” Ishikawa said, half muffled by all the cloth, “I thought the joking around might cheer you up, but looks like even I can miscalculate. Can I test for a renewal of my bad joke license?”
Batou glared at him, but his expression softened as Borma and Saito also added themselves to the huddle.
“Alright, you’re lucky the Major took off most of the edge.”
“She’s a professional,” Togusa nodded.
Paz hung back, observing the exchange as they all laughed. Ishikawa and a few others expressed their relief at their boss’s survival, her responding with a shrug and pleased they followed her orders at staying alive too. Paz lit up a cigarette, smirking, but it fell out of his mouth as he felt a tough shove at his back, and was flung into Borma’s grip.
“Thanks for the hand, chief, I couldn’t reach him from here!” Borma saluted.
“I felt that was the case,” their commanding officer, Aramaki, smirked, as his walking stick clicked within a pace of the crew.
Batou had wiped what remained of his grief with his sleeve, and his tell-tale, no-good grin returned.
“Any chance you want a slice of sappy reunion?”
“Oh, please, I’d die first from being crushed, before embarrassment. I’m too old for this, you know,” but the slanted brows and sparkle in his eye betrayed his cheer.
“Maybe next time we’ll have to organise some buffer pillows. For safety measures,” Togusa suggested.
“Okay, grade school children, time to study again. I have a briefing ready for you in ten. Remember, the room is to the left of the tech department now, not the right.”
The whole group made pretend complaining and groaning noises, with a few “oh man, I wanted cuddles for longer” thrown in. There was laughing, the tousling of hair, patting of backs.
It was, to all their relief, another regular, dangerous, busy day.
Sarah Ireland - beta reader!