*kicks door in*
Sorry this took so long! Since I started writing it last February, I've had to write two books, do four semesters of school, and adopt two kittens. So, yeah, I've been busy. But it's finally here! And now I'll stop talking so you guys can read it, I know that's what you're here for.
The lab was quiet. Really quiet. That time of day, Penelope was always down there. Was something wrong?
Wheeling himself down the hallway, Bentley entered the lab and was surprised to find it empty. If Penelope was going out, she would have mentioned it. Where was she?
He searched the entire lab, becoming more and more frantic as he did. When he called Penelope's number, he found her cell phone on the desk with the mouse nowhere to be seen.
Just as he was starting to panic, the warning alarms on the device analyzing the Thievius Raccoonus started blaring.
"What on Earth...?"
Hurrying into the analysis room, Bentley plucked the Thievius Raccoonus from where it hovered, letting it fall open to Rioichi Cooper's entry.
The words seem to lift away from the page, like they were being written in reverse. Not just the words, but the diagrams and pictures that had been drawn centuries previous started to peel away. Before his eyes, Rioichi's entire entry vanished.
Bentley found himself still sitting there four minutes later, trying to process what he'd seen.
Cleary, something was very, very wrong.
When I first woke up, I wasn't immediately sure why. I don't know about you, but when I first wake up, it's not an instantaneous thing. It takes me a little while to recognize that the world even exists. But this time, when I woke up, I was immediately alert, which confused me until I saw the blinking light on my phone.
Groaning in annoyance, I relaxed back into the pillows and fumbled with the device. The bright light speared my eyes as it cheerfully informed me that I had a text from Kristian Garter.
Kristian, I firmly decided, was the devil. Whenever he texted or called, he liked to do it first thing in the morning, knowing I was too polite to ignore him and also that I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep afterwards. He said he was helping me out, because my sleeping schedule was pathetic. I usually grumbled at him for it, but the fact remained that I got more stuff done in the morning when he woke me up.
This text was informing me that he was going to have to postpone our monthly lunch tomorrow due to a case. We got together once a month mostly so he could make sure I wasn't up to anything and, presumably, report back to my dad. I didn't mind for two reasons. First, I was never up to anything and it was hilarious giving him vague answers and watch him try to puzzle out if I was actually up to something or if I was just screwing with him. Second, we always went somewhere nice and I never had to pay for it.
I texted him back that I hated him and that next week was fine for me. Then I dropped my phone back on the bedside table and glared at the ceiling. Nope. Still totally awake, no getting back to sleep for me.
I rubbed a hand over my eyes and started to shift to get out of bed, only to be stopped by something heavy attached to my waist. I frowned in confusion, then rolled my eyes and threw the covers back.
"You have your own bed, you know."
The sugar-glider attached to my waist blinked sleepily at me, then yawned and made a valiant effort to burrow into my stomach, drawing his overlong tail up over his eyes. I poked him in the side.
"C'mon, time to get up. You're six, you shouldn't be sleeping in till noon for at least a decade, Tate."
Tate did not get up. Not even when I did. Rather, he preferred to just cling tightly and have me drag him around. At least, until I asked if he wanted to put on The Lion King while we made breakfast. Then he was downstairs in a flash.
Ahanu had brought Tate home one day with no warning or explanation. He just showed up with this traumatized little kid clinging to his hand. Neither Ritsuka nor I had any idea where Tate came from, but we assumed it had something to do with Ahanu's work, even though he continually insisted he was just a translator.
I walked into the kitchen and asked Tate what he wanted for breakfast. He rummaged under the counter for a few minutes and produced a box of pancake mix and a bag of chocolate chips, looking hopeful. I laughed, tousled his hair, and took out a skillet.
Tate could talk, he just didn't much like doing it. English wasn't his first language, but I had no clue what his first language was, just that he and Ahanu would sometimes speak in it at length and I couldn't identify it at all.
Really, the only things I knew about Tate were that he had a sweet tooth, he didn't like talking, he carried his huge tail around like a beloved stuffed animal, and he loved The Lion King. But that was okay. He was a good kid.
Just while I was trying to explain the concept of putting the chocolate chips in the batter while in the skillet instead of in the bowl where they would all sink to the bottom, there was a knock on the door. This would seem pretty normal except for one thing. Ahanu's 'translator' job provided him a level of security that meant there were 24-hour guards stationed at the road that led to his house in the country side. We weren't expecting company and they would have called if they were letting someone up to the house.
Tate and I exchanged glances. I turned off the stove and pushed the skillet off the burner while Tate jumped to the floor and folded himself into the cabinet under the sink.
I casually stepped out into the entryway, taking my trusty baton down from the top of a dresser and holding it out of sight as I slowly opened the door... and promptly let out a sigh of relief.
"Geez, Bentley, give me a heart attack, why don't you?" I asked, stashing my baton in the waistband of my pajama pants and opening the door wider so Bentley could wheel himself in.
The turtle gave me a smile, "Sorry, but I couldn't exactly go through the proper channels. Wanted thief and all."
I shook my head and smiled back, "Of course." Then I knelt and wrapped my arms around him, "It's really good to see you, Bentley."
It had been about eight months since I'd last seen Bentley and I'd really missed him. That was about seven and half months too long.
He returned the hug with equal fervor, "You too. It's been too long."
I pulled back and noticed that Bentley had his pith helmet on, which pretty much guaranteed that he was either about to pull a job or just had. The text from Kristian flashed through my mind and I felt my stomach bottom out.
"I'm guessing this isn't a social call?"
The smile dropped from his face and he shook his head, sighing, "No, I'm afraid not. I- ummm..." he trailed off, looking behind me with a confused and faintly horrified expression.
I glanced over my shoulder and had to hold back a sigh. Something else that was weird about Tate is that Ahanu let him carry around a taser, which the little sugar-glider currently had pointed at Bentley.
Standing, I walked over to him and patted him on the head, "It's okay, bud. Bentley's an old friend of mine. He's joining us for breakfast, why don't we finish the pancakes?"
About twenty minutes later, we'd settled in at the table. Tate happily devoured his pancakes (and the fruit I forced on him), but he kept a wary eye on Bentley. Bentley, for his part, looked utterly terrified of Tate. That may have been because of the whole taser thing, but I made a mental note to ask Bentley if he was scared of kids.
"So," I started around a mouthful of plain pancakes and fruit (I didn't actually like chocolate chips), "How's Penelope?"
It was the wrong thing to ask. Bentley sighed, setting his fork down, "That's why I'm here. She's... missing."
I froze, but then forced myself to relax, "Define 'missing'?" Because I knew for a fact if there was any evidence of foul play or that something bad had happened, there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell Bentley would have bothered with breakfast. He'd have called, told me to get my tail to Paris, and hung up.
"She just... vanished. I searched everywhere, but there was no evidence of anything. Then I noticed the Thievius Raccoonus... I've been examining it, you know. Well entire sections have started going missing out of it, words just vanishing right off the page. And I've been working on a time machine lately so I figured if I have the technology, who's to say someone else doesn't?"
I nodded along slowly. Time travel was hardly the weirdest thing I'd encountered with the gang. "Okay, so you think someone's messing with the time line."
"Yes. And they seem to be targeting Sly's ancestors."
Okay... so if it was a timeline issue, that would explain Bentley's lack of rush. Fixing the timeline would bring Penelope back safe and sound.
"So lemme guess. Get the gang back together, epic adventure?"
"That's what it's looking like."
I hummed and started clearing away plates so I wouldn't have to look at Bentley while I said, "Well you'll have to count me out this time."
I heard him sigh, "I was afraid of that."
Bracing my hands against the sink, I clenched my jaw and turned on the water, "I just... I can't do it again. I can't go back and forth between normality and the gang, I have to pick one, I can't do both."
"I understand," Bentley said, sincere, but still regretful, "In that case, I just need Sly's cane. There's no way he'll stay retired with someone targeting his family."
I nodded, "Yeah, okay. I'll go get it."
Swallowing around the lump in my throat, I took the stairs up to my room two at a time. The cane was where I'd left it, at the back of my closet. Bentley had had me take it after he and Penelope completed the Cooper Vault 2.0. Said it was stupid to keep the key in the same place as the treasure, which I had to agree with.
I plucked the cane from its resting place, feeling the familiar weight of it in my hand. It was in good shape, I took it out once a month and polished it. Just because I was mad at Sly didn't mean I had to take it out on his cane, after all.
Taking it down to Bentley, I found Tate curled up on his lap, whispering to him quietly. I was really confused by that and would have stopped to try and eavesdrop if it weren't for the fact that Tate noticed me immediately and clammed up, climbing down from Bentley's wheelchair and walking past me into the living room, where I could hear the opening chords of Hakuna Matata start to play.
"What was that all about?" I asked, stepping forward and handing the cane over to Bentley?
"Uh, nothing." He took the cane, clearly noticing the state of it, but saying nothing. "Thank you."
"No problem. You taking off?"
"Yes, I should get going. Murray will be waiting for me in Paris. If you change your mind..."
I smiled thinly, "I know."
Bentley wheeled himself away from the old house on the hill with Sly's cane, but it was a hollow victory.
He knew Kaia was hurting still. And he knew why, it had been hard on all of them to get back to normal life, but it was hardest for her because she had nowhere to go back to. She'd thrown it all away when she joined the gang. And he knew she was wrestling with being angry at Sly because of it.
If he'd pushed harder, he knew she would have come with him, but if she didn't do it of her own free will, they'd all be miserable.
He just wished things could have gone back to the way they were. Sly and Kaia... they'd had something. Something good.
When they figured it all out and Penelope was safe and sound, then he'd tackle the problem of getting Sly and Kaia in the same room.
Right now, though, he unfortunately had other priorities.
"She did what?!"
Things had been peaceful for the rest of the day. Tate and I had hung out, I'd cleaned a bit, Ritsuka came home and we made dinner, then Ahanu had come home and Tate had dragged him into the living room by the wrist for a private conversation.
Which I was currently hearing the results of.
Ahanu stormed into the room. "Kaia. Dear, precious child, tell me Bentley didn't actually come here and ask you to come back to the gang and you said no."
I blinked at him, up to my elbows in soapy water from cleaning the dishes, "Um, am I supposed to be telling you that Bentley didn't come or that I didn't turn him down? Because I'm confused."
Ahanu took what looked like a deep, cleansing breath, "Ritsuka, dear, could you please take Tate out for ice cream so Kaia and I can have a little chat?"
Oh this was going to end so, so badly.
Ritsuka rolled his eyes, but got up from the table and offered Tate his hand, "Come on, bug. Ahanu and Kaia need to have a very loud, adult conversation about being idiots. You and me get to go have ice cream, as we are clearly the superior members of this family."
Tate seemed quite pleased with this turn of events, though he gave Ahanu and I a concerned look as Ritsuka led him out of the room.
"Now," Ahanu said, when we were alone, "Can you tell we what possessed you to do something so stupid?"
I bristled, "Ahanu, I'm in the middle of school. I already left school once to run off with the gang and it didn't work out. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice..."
"Kaia," the fox's voice was firm, "That's not a real reason and you know it. School will always be there, this opportunity won't. What's the real reason?"
See, that right there was the single downside of living with Ahanu. He let you get away with nothing. "It's my decision what I want to do, can't you just leave it alone?"
"No I can't because friends don't let friends make terrible decisions."
I let out an angry breath, turning my back and slapping the cloth I'd been using to dry dishes into the sink. "It's because he left, okay, Ahanu? And I know I shouldn't be as angry as I am because it's not like he owed me anything, but he left and he didn't say goodbye and he hasn't so much as sent a postcard since. And if he obviously didn't care, why should I?"
"Because you so obviously do." Ahanu spun me around by the shoulder and leaned down to catch my eye. "Hey, that's the point okay? He makes you care. And he cares about you, even if he's an idiot. I don't know why he hasn't contacted you, but he does care. And you care too and it's just about the only thing you care about nowadays. You're mostly a zombie otherwise." He shrugged when I glared at him, "It's true and you know it."
"How is him making me rage a good thing?"
"Well, you can go and make his life a living hell and make him regret leaving you behind every single day. And, hey, maybe get some answers while you're at it. Because I'd bet that you have a lot of questions that need answers."
Well that was true, but, "But what if he doesn't want me there?" Now, see, I'm of the opinion Ahanu had a secret super power that made people tell him the stuff they never ever wanted to tell anyone because otherwise, that never would have come out of my mouth.
"You're an idiot." Ahanu said fondly.
I rolled my eyes at him and rubbed my forehead with the heel of my hand. "I need to think."
"Then go think." He gave me a light shove toward the door and took my place at the sink to finish the dishes. I stood there for a few moments more, then grabbed my coat and gym bag and headed outside.
When one finds themselves suddenly bereft of interesting experiences after spending upwards of a year traveling around the world with a group of some of the most fascinating people to ever inhabit it, one quickly learns that they really, really need a hobby.
I discovered my hobby one evening exploring my new campus when I stumbled into the gymnastics practice gym.
I'd done gymnastics when I was little. It had been my mother's idea. Because I was a hybrid and so ridiculously out of proportion, I'd had a lot of balance issues and problems with motor control. In gymnastics, you had to be very aware of what every part of you was doing. It had worked for my mom, who was also a hybrid, when she was little, so she thought it might work for me to. It had, but I hadn't done gymnastics in years.
Which explained why, even though I still had a pretty solid grasp of the basics, I was really crap at it.
I probably would have given up that first night if the captain of the gymnastics team, a girl named Charla, hadn't been watching my hilariously pathetic attempts and stepped in to correct my technique.
After that, I made my first new friend and found myself at the gym several times a week. The entire team was really nice actually, but I never joined. It just didn't feel right.
The gym had become a sort of safe haven for me and I could get in at all hours, so that was where I went after I spoke with Ahanu.
I'd been trying to build my upper body strength and coordination so, after changing, stretching, and braiding my hair to get it out of the way, I made for the uneven bars.
Launching myself off the spring board, I caught the lowest bar and swung. The burn of exertion in my arms was familiar and pleasant. Gymnastics had also provided me a way to stay in shape after leaving the gang. In fact, I was probably more in shape now than I'd ever been with them.
I wondered, briefly, if Sly would be surprised at my progress, if I'd finally be able to keep up with him in a race or if maybe I'd actually beat him now I'd been working out and he'd been 'retired', and promptly lost my grip on the bar and went sprawling across the gym mats.
Groaning, I sat up, rubbing the shoulder that had taken the brunt of the hit, and started when I heard slow, sarcastic clapping.
"Wow, and here I thought you were starting to get better. Did you seriously just forget to hold on?"
I jerked my head around and saw Charla walking towards me. She was a petite papillon, very pretty with her hair pulled back and bright blue eyes staring at me judgmentally.
Avoiding her gaze I rolled my shoulder and muttered, "I was distracted," under my breath.
"You've been 'distracted' for exactly as long as we've known each other," she said, dropping down on the mat next to me, crossing her arms over her knees and watching as I made sure I hadn't grievously injured myself, "But it's worse tonight. Did something happen?"
I sighed, turning away, "I don't really want to talk about it."
"Too bad, I'm not letting you get back on those bars until I'm sure you're not going to break your neck."
I groaned and flopped backwards, covering my face with my hands, "How did I only wind up with friends that are aggressively concerned?"
"Because you're a lucky person. Does this have anything to do with Cooper?"
That was the first time Charla had mentioned Sly to me at all. I hadn't even been sure she knew. "Sort of?" I wasn't worried about telling her, she wouldn't mention it to anyone. "The gang might want me back."
"Is that a bad thing? You've been moping ever since you broke up."
"But what? You can either go with them and be happy and maybe miserable later or you can stay here and definitely be miserable. It's not a hard choice."
"But what if I don't even have a place there?" I didn't take my hands away from my eyes, "I didn't even have a specific job the first two times, I was just there and occasionally had stuff to do."
"Okay, now you're just fishing. Nobody with a job title ever totally sticks to their job description, that's just part of being a team. As long as you're doing something, what's it matter? Hell, you could be providing moral support and still be contributing."
Now I opened my eyes to glare at here, "You're not helping me come up with reasons to stay."
"That's because there are no reasons to stay. You just need how much of an idiot you are thoroughly explained to you before you'll do anything about it." She informed me cheerfully.
"I hate you."
"Worth it. Now, if you're going to be leaving on me, I'm not letting you leave with such atrocious form on those bars. Get up, we're working on your landing."
Inspector Kristian Garter perused the files and monitors in front of him, trying to work out the best way to tackle his current problem.
When his cell phone buzzed in his pocket, the cougar spared just a moment to dig it out and flip it open, "Report."
"No activity on Jenks's passport yet, sir." His contact replied.
He grunted, semi-surprised, "Looks like she won't be joining them on this particular venture. How's Inspector Fox?"
"Angry, sir. She was not pleased with being taken off the case. We're keeping two agents near her so she won't slip away."
"Good call. This has been her case from the beginning, but she's too emotionally attached to the situation now. It had to be done."
"Easy for you to say, sir, you're not the one that has to watch out for that shock pistol."
Kristian chuckled, "Fair enough, Geoff. I owe you a drink."
"You owe me dinner."
"That depends entirely on how long you can keep her away from the museum." The Inspector challenged, hanging up. "Now..." he said, turning back to the monitors, "Where are you, Cooper?"
A shock of blue fluttered at the edge of a screen and Kristian smirked, sliding his service pistol into its holster and making for the door.
I barely caught the backpack before it could hit me in the face. Then I just stared at it for a second, "You packed my bag for me? That's a little presumptuous."
Ritsuka shrugged, "Am I wrong?"
"There you go, then."
I was still nervous, but at this point, I'd pretty much caved and decided to just do it and if it went horribly wrong, then it went horribly wrong. All I had to do was fight the urge to throw up and get to Paris.
"Here you go," Ahanu handed me an envelope and a brown paper bag.
"Did you seriously pack me a bag lunch?"
"Yes, and your train ticket is in the envelope, don't lose it."
"You guys just want to get rid of me."
"Gee, what gave it away?" Ritsuka deadpanned.
"We just don't want you to change your mind. By the way, your train leaves in half an hour."
"What?" I turned for the door, but stopped when I felt a tug on my sleeve.
Tate was standing there, looking up at me, before making the universal gesture for 'pick me up, tall person'. I immediately scooped him up and he latched his arms around my neck.
"Are you going away?" he muttered into my neck.
"Yeah," I said softly, "I have people waiting for me."
He nodded, then pulled back to press a kiss against my cheek, "Come visit soon."
My heart melted, as it often did around him, and I kissed his forehead, "I'll be back before you know it."
Nodding again, he let himself be handed off to Ahanu.
I was going to miss this haphazard little family, but for the first time in a long time I felt a stirring of excitement deep in my chest.
Maybe this wasn't going to go horribly wrong after all.
Sorry, no reunion/rage-fueled-beatdown this chapter, but I assure you that the gang is back together in the next one!
Until then, feel free to check out the blog for fanart, Q/A, Nightingale Syndrome's playlist, a link to the official Kaia askblog, and other assorted goodies!