Home for the Holidays

Chapter One

Narutaki sighed as he passed the brightly-lit shops of Steam City's shopping district. Shoppers doing last minute shopping rushed past him. He turned when he heard some children laughing and watched as they pulled their unwilling parents into a toy shop.

"Would that I could have been them." Narutaki thought, sadly. His parents had died when he was just a baby, so he never knew them. He was jolted from his thoughts by something impacting into his back. He whirled around and ducked when a snowball flew past his head.

"Gotcha!" a boy a little younger than him laughed, as he threw some more snowballs. Without even noticing it, Narutaki felt a mischievous grin spread across his face.

"So, that's how you want to play it, eh? Well, take this!" Narutaki shouted, as he started throwing snowballs of his own. Within moments, other boys and some girls joined the snowball war. Even the two children that Narutaki had seen go into the store were out playing in the snow. Narutaki was having a blast; for once in his life, he'd let down the somber shell, and revealed that he was still young at heart. By the time the 'fighting' had abated, Narutaki had snow all over him and was soaking wet. But he could care less; for a moment he was free. For a moment, he wasn't the city's finest detective, he was just Narutaki.

"That was a great battle! What's your name?" one boy, the one who'd started the snowball fight, asked.

"Narutaki." Narutaki replied. The boy's eyes widened.

"Narutaki?! You're THE Narutaki?! Steam City's greatest detective?! No way! My name's Kakeru! Pleased to meet ya!" the boy said, enthusiastically.

"Pleased to meet you, Kakeru! I'll have to agree with you when you'd said that that was a great battle! I haven't had fun like that in ages!" Narutaki said, still grinning.

"But I didn't know you were THE Narutaki! Wow!" Kakeru said, his green eyes sparkling merrily as he talked.

"Hey, want to come back to the agency with me? Seeing as we're both soaking wet, I, for one, don't want to get sick. Ling-Ling can get kinda scary when she gets into nurse mode (especially when she pulls out the big needles)." Narutaki joked.

"Sure! I don't have anywhere else to go, 'specially since I don't have any folks." Kakeru said, with an air of nonchalance.

"You're an orphan, Kakeru?" Narutaki asked. Kakeru nodded.

"Hai. They died when I was small. I've been on the streets since then." Kakeru said, as he walked alongside his newfound friend.

"Do you miss them?" Narutaki asked, somberly.

"Sometimes. It gets kinda hard around this time of year, 'specially since all the families are celebrating together." Kakeru said, sadly.

"I know how that feels. My parents were murdered when I was a baby. As you'd know it gets lonely without having someone there to wish you a 'Merry Christmas'." Narutaki said, with a sigh.

"But you have Ling-Ling and Kawakubo! You're not completely alone!" Kakeru said.

"But it's not the same. Sure, they care about me, but it's not quite the same as the love and care only parents can give." Narutaki replied, his eyes showing the sadness of so many Christmases without his parents.

"That's true. But I'm sure they're somewhere watching you. Maybe they even come around at this time of year to be with you. Since they can't be here in the flesh, they can be around in the spirit." Kakeru suggested. Narutaki gave him a look of consternation.

"You believe that?" Narutaki asked, almost sounding like he wanted to believe that as well.

"Yeah. Who knows? Maybe they've been protecting you as your guardian angels." Kakeru said, as they climbed the steps to the door of the agency.

"Guardian angels?" Narutaki asked, as he unlocked the door and opened it. Kakeru grinned and nodded. Narutaki had to admit, that was one thing he'd never thought about. It had been a miracle that he'd pulled through so many cases with only flesh wounds and on some cases, only ruffled feathers. Maybe his parents were watching out for him, even beyond the grave.

"Thanks Kakeru." Narutaki said, honestly.

"No problem, Narutaki." Kakeru said, as he and the boy detective entered the warm detective agency.

"Welcome home, Narutaki-sama! I see that you have brought a guest with you!" Kawakubo said, with a smile.

"Hai. This is Kakeru, a friend I met on the way back. Are the boxes of old clothes still in the attic?" Narutaki asked.

"Why, yes! I will go and get them right now!" Kawakubo said, as he briskly set off to the task.

"Narutaki! Welcome home!" Ling-Ling shouted, as she gleefully hugged Narutaki, then noticed that he was wet.

"You're soaking wet!" Ling-Ling added, when she'd pulled away from him. She was surprised when she saw the glint in Narutaki's eyes.

"I got into a snowball fight." Narutaki said, with a laugh.

"I started it!" Kakeru said, not wanting to be forgotten by the two.

"You started the snowball fight?! Without even knowing who you were throwing snowballs at?!" Ling-Ling yelped, looking like she wanted to throttle the boy.

"Calm down, Ling-Ling. It's not like he threw a bomb at me or something like that. Besides, I threw some right back, so I'm just as guilty as he is about the snowball war that ensued." Narutaki said, chuckling when he thought back to the melee that he and the neighborhood boys had been involved in.

"Snowball war?" Ling-Ling asked, looking stunned about the fact that Narutaki had done something fun, for once. It was then that Kawakubo returned with the clothes.

"Okay, Kakeru. First thing for us to do is hit the showers. There's one downstairs and one upstairs. Which one do you choose?" Narutaki asked.

"Downstairs!" Kakeru said, as he got some of the clothing from the boxes and raced to the downstairs bathroom, eager to get a shower.

"See you in a few." Narutaki said, as he calmly went upstairs to get his shower. Moments later, both boys were back on the main floor, sitting in the parlor room.

"Ah………….I'd forgotten what a fire felt like." Kakeru sighed, contentedly.

"I couldn't imagine what that's like. I guess I'd better be thankful that I've never been without." Narutaki said, as he threw another piece of kindling into the fire and stood watching the flames.

"Yeah. It was rough. Hey, have you ever read The Study in Scarlet?" Kakeru asked.

"You mean that story about Sherlock Holmes' first case? I've read it before, but it's been awhile. Why do you want to know?" Narutaki asked, curious as to why Kakeru had brought it up.

"What'd you think of it?" Kakeru asked.

"It was interesting. But I'd heard that Holmes didn't appreciate the way Watson romanticized his detective specialties." Narutaki said, with a faint smile.

"Have you ever thought about getting someone to write about your adventures?" Kakeru asked.

"No, I've never thought of that. Why?" Narutaki asked, curiously.

"Well, I know how to write, so maybe I could be the one who could write about your adventures like Watson did for Holmes." Kakeru said, boldly.

"You sure you want to do that? It'll be tedious and sometimes even dangerous." Narutaki warned.

"If Watson could do it, so can I." Kakeru said, with eagerness in his eyes.

"All right. First case I get, you're going with me. Welcome to Steam Detectives, Kakeru." Narutaki said, as he sealed the partnership with a firm handshake. Ling-Ling and Kawakubo, who had been listening in from the doorway, looked at one another and exchanged a slight smile. A lifelong friendship had just begun.