Disclaimer: I don't own the DCMK characters
There were, Shinichi decided, two things that he wanted more than anything else right now. Naturally, what he wanted most was to be let out of this place so that he could go back to his team where he belonged. He missed Kaito. He missed Kaito's easy smile and the long conversations they had over coffee. He missed the nights they had spent working together on their hover racer, dreaming of the future. He missed the peaceful hours on the road with the landscape drifting by and the hum of the transport craft's engine forming a soothing backdrop that was almost like a lullaby. He even missed Kaito's teasing.
He wanted nothing more than to go back to that life. But if they weren't going to let him go, the least they could do was swap the analogue clock in this room to a digital one. The tick, tick, tick of the passing seconds was grating on his nerves.
Letting out his millionth sigh since he'd gotten here, he lay down on the bed and stared up at the plain, white ceiling. He had been given a room much like one he would have expected to find in a hotel. It had serviceable furniture and a clean bathroom. There was a phone on the desk, but it could only be used to make internal calls. After trying and failing to call Kaito with it, he had only used it to ask for food and coffee. All in all, he couldn't say he was being treated badly. All his daily needs were being seen to, and if he was bored, well, entertainment couldn't really be considered a necessity.
Rolling over onto his side, he gazed at the blank television screen where it sat in the corner of the room. Its black face taunted him.
"We know you must be concerned about the race," the Vineyard woman had said with that condescending smile of hers. "Rest assured, you will be able to watch the proceedings."
Shinichi was sure that she had arranged for him to have a TV just to torment him. It seemed like the kind of thing that would amuse her.
Fingers curled into the soft, white pillow. Kaito had participated in another semifinal race just two days ago. Shinichi's stomach twisted at the memory. It wasn't just that Kaito had come in last. No, his performance had been terrible. His turns had been sloppy and he'd missed multiple openings that could have given him a lead. In all the years Shinichi had been with him, he had never once seen Kaito perform so poorly in a race. Seeing it now made his heart ache because he knew that it was partly his fault. But he didn't want it to be. He didn't want his absence to cost Kaito the dream he'd been chasing all his life. It wasn't worth it. And it would be giving these bastards exactly what they wanted.
There was another race to be held this afternoon. According to Shinichi's calculations, Kaito ought to be called for this one too. The semifinals were coming to their end. Their points had been good, but after that terrible showing the other morning… Well, it might have only been one race, but it had lost them a substantial amount of their lead in the rankings. They couldn't afford another race like that one or they'd be out of the finals altogether.
Groaning, Shinichi levered himself into a sitting position and grabbed the remote. He didn't really want to, but he pressed the power button and watched as the screen blinked to vivid life. A replay of this morning's race was on, this time with the results already listed on the side and a running commentary by the newscasters as they described the current standings and speculated about the teams that were more or less likely to move on to the finals. Blue eyes zeroed in on the name of the first place team, recognizing it as one of the Foundation's teams. After Kaito's lackluster performance two days ago, this team was now the only one with a flawless record at this Red Diamond. With the points they had accumulated, they were also now the first team to officially qualify for the finals.
Great. Just great.
Now the newscasters were interviewing pilots. None of them were from the winning team, as per the way of the Foundation's affiliates. The other racers were, however, more than happy to answer questions. From his little "guest" room, it was like a glimpse back into the outside world, and yet it was not what he wanted to see. None of these people had any idea what was really going on. It was frustrating and humbling too because he could really see how small a single team's problems were in the grand scheme of things. He could disappear now, and the only person it would really affect was Kaito. Their team could go from being the favorites to being yesterday's news in a matter of heartbeats, and no one would be the wiser to the pain and the struggles that had led them to this point.
What was the point? Why did the Foundation want to win so badly? The police believed they wanted the financial boost that winning would bring them, and maybe they did, but couldn't there be more to it? Shinichi almost hoped there was. The race was about passion, not numbers and business marketing. For those who loved the sport, to win by cheating would be no win at all. Such fallacious victories were things to be ashamed of. If it was truly just about money though, well, then the race was being made into a mockery little better than a gimmick to sell another product. It would be stripped of its spirit and its truth. Either way, the race would suffer.
Shinichi wrinkled his nose. What was he thinking? He was starting to think of the race like it was its own animal; one that could grow when loved or shrivel up when abused. It had to be the boredom and the stress getting to him. What a combination. Bored and stressed.
On screen, the face of the last interviewee gave way to a bird's eye view of a rocky river canyon where the starting line for the next semifinal race had been drawn. Shinichi straitened abruptly, alert and focused entirely on the images playing across the screen. His gaze found the familiar silver gleam of Kaito's hover racer where it waited between a long, black and red racer clearly designed for speed and a green and gold racer with four thin, curved wings rather than the standard two. The announcer was giving a brief overview of each team in the running as everyone waited for the time to wind down to the start.
"Please," Shinichi murmured, barely aware that he was speaking aloud as the words slipped past his lips. "Kaito… You can do this."
When he'd watched the race two days ago, Shinichi had spent the entirety of the rest of the day trying to smother the world with his pillow. All their hard work blown on one bad day was not how he wanted to end their Red Diamond. It was okay if they didn't win, he thought, though Kaito would scold him for even thinking such a thing. But if they were going to lose, at least let it be a loss that they could be proud of. The kind of loss where you did your best and gave it your all. There were people who thought that kind of idealism was pitiful and naïve, but personally, if he had to pick one, that was the kind of loss he would choose because it was the kind that built you up and made you stronger in the future. Losses that you were ashamed of might drive you forward as well, but shame and anger were shaky foundations that were also short sighted.
He wished he could see Kaito's face. The camera panned along the waiting hover crafts, but you couldn't really see the pilots through the glass shielding their cockpits. If he could see Kaito's face, he'd be able to see if Kaito was in the right frame of mind or if he was still distracted. Shinichi huffed. Kaito got distracted so rarely. Why did he have to start now? He should know better!
"Don't forget why you're here," he said to the flat, apathetic television screen, leaning closer to place a gentle hand on the warm glass of the screen. "Don't forget what's really important. Right now. Right here. Don't let them get in your way. You never have before, so don't you dare start now. I know you can do this."
There was no answer, naturally, but speaking the words out loud gave them weight, and that in itself made Shinichi feel better for saying them.
"Ready then," the reporter started, voice bright and full of elation. "Here we go. The fifth to last race in this long but absolutely thrilling Red Diamond semifinal!"
The hover racers rose into the air like a fleet of bejeweled beetles. Then they leapt forward as one, leaping into that world that only they could enter where all that existed was the joy of motion and the fire of passion.
Shinichi had eyes only for one craft. Silver and blue, it flew down the track straight and steady without a single tremor of fear or breath of uncertainly. It cut across the river, sending sprays of water skyward to fall back to earth in a sprinkling of crystal droplets. It danced through the crystals then shot down the length of the river, trailing white water and droplets like sparkles in its wake. Then he was off again. Shinichi couldn't tear his eyes away. Even the newscasters had stopped talking.
It was…beautiful. The energetic yet fluid movements of the silver hover racer as it flew—no, as it danced down the track, leaving all of its fellow competitors far behind. It darted through the grove of giant trees like a silver bird through a bamboo forest, tracing intricate patterns in the air as it dipped and rolled, skipped and dove. It flew circles around the five hundred meter waterfall that was the hardest water route available to pilots in this race. Watery blossoms bloomed in a downward spiral as it went, brought to life and flung out for all to see by the power of its passing only to fall away again to become the same beautiful but ordinary waterfall it had been before his coming.
It wasn't a race so much as a work of art in progress. At every turn and at every obstacle, the flash of silver would draw the eye then vanish, leaving spectators to gaze in awe at the marks of its passing from spiraling sands to blossoms set loose to fly upon the wind and petals drifting like snow over stone and earth and tree.
The reporters had gone silent. Even after Kaito had passed the finish and brought his craft to a smooth stop, there was nothing to be heard on the broadcast but a stunned silence.
Then the commercials came on, and it was like time started back up again. Resisting the urge to throw the remote at the TV, Shinichi flopped back onto the bed. That phantom streak of silver flitted across the backs of his eyelids. He hadn't even known that Kaito could fly like that.
"And now let's have a word with our winner!"
Shinichi sat up quickly. Kaito appeared on the screen with one of the commentators.
"That was…" the woman started to say, stopped, then started again. "What was that? I've never seen anything like it! And I'm sure I speak for a lot of the Red Diamond fans out there. Some of my peers think it was your way of showing us you're still up to the challenge after your recent setbacks."
"I guess you could say that was part of it," Kaito replied with his usual, easy grin. Then his gaze sharpened as he stared straight into the camera. There was a challenge in his eyes. "But what I really wanted was to show everyone just what hover racers are capable of. It's not just about being fast and winning races. I once promised someone that I would show the world how amazing these crafts of ours can be—their spirit and their art. I intent to keep that promise whether or not I win."
The interview continued, but Shinichi wasn't really listening anymore. His hands had curled into fists on his knees without his knowledge. He felt strange. Warm but also anxious, giddy yet just a little bit sad. That sense of displacement was back stronger than ever, and the pang of Kaito's absence settled in deeper than before. At the same time, a new spark of understanding had awakened as well.
Eyes that had been clouded for days now cleared. He might not be by Kaito's side right now, but he was still part of the team. And he had his own part to play. He just had to figure out how he was going to do this.
"I think we're getting there," Hattori announced, slumping onto one of the many benches around the practice track they had booked. It was the most remote practice track they could find. Situated almost two hours hard travel outside the city limits, it had been built on a rocky plateau halfway up one of the many mountains that guarded the vast expanses of the Red Diamond territory. Kazuha hadn't even known there were any practice tracks outside the city, let alone one this secluded. It was Kaito who had found the place. It was far enough and secluded enough to ensure them some privacy. It wasn't just the distance and the wilderness though, Kazuha mused, letting her gaze drift around the plateau. High, craggy walls marched along one side like a wall between them and the rest of the world. They were ridged but bare stone in shades of brown and gray and red. When she stared at them too long, she could almost see faces looking back at her from their rocky edifice. They were solemn faces full of age and the wisdom of the generations. The thought gave her comfort. After all, if you were going to be part of something crazy, you liked to know that someone or something—some higher power perhaps or even some kindly spirit of the earth—might be watching out for you. Her mother had always told her that the land listened to the hearts of men. Kazuha had believed all of her mother's old stories when she'd been little, and even now… Well, part of her still held on to some of those superstitions and folk wisdoms, though she was embarrassed to admit that the idea of telling anyone that made her want to blush and deny it. People these days were so set in the sciences. A set of low, boxy buildings formed another wall around their track. The buildings contained a few simple rooms for guests to sleep in, an un-stocked but usable kitchen, and a fairly well equipped work shed where hover crafts could be checked and repaired. That particular corner of the area had been seeing a lot of work since they'd arrived. The other side of their track was guarded by a sharp, rocky ridge beyond which the forest began: lush and thick and green. She knew from her brief venture into their leafy domain that traversing those forests off the beaten trails would likely be the death of anyone but the toughest professional adventurers. Suffice to say, she felt pretty safe from prying eyes here. What she didn't feel quite so safe from was the constant crashing. She was also starting to worry about their health. Kaito and Hattori had been practicing almost nonstop since they'd arrived—well, except when they were forced to stop because they all had to get together to repair the damage. They ate when they remembered and slept when they found their thoughts wiggling away from them. Kazuha herself was just as guilty as the boys when it came to that. They were all jittering on their nerves, really. But it was starting to look like their hard work might be paying off.
"Hey Kazuha, what did you think?"
The girl turned to her friend of many years, seeing that hopeful and expectant grin that meant he was pleased with his own progress and wanted to be praised for it. She hid a smile. Honestly… "We're getting closer, but it isn't perfect yet. If we pull this stunt for real, you and Kaito are going to get yourselves hurt."
"Which is what we are working on avoiding," Kaito commented as he joined them at the benches. "I think we might need to adjust the armor on both our racers a bit more."
Hattori grunted in agreement as he chugged a bottle of water. Once it was empty, he tossed it into the cooler and grabbed a second bottle, twisting the top off with a deft twist of the wrist. "Hey, have you talked to those police people you mentioned the other day yet? That Nakamori and Hakuba?"
"Not yet. I want them to focus on finding Shinichi."
"But don't you think they kinda have to know? They could be helpful."
Kaito shrugged. "Perhaps. I'll let them know when the time is right."
"But how will we know when that is?" Kazuha asked.
"I want to be sure we can do this first. No point raising everyone's hopes prematurely."
Hattori nodded in agreement. "They'll probably just think we're crazy if we go to 'em before we can do this."
Unwrapping one of the sandwiches she had prepared for their lunch, Kazuha stared at it for a moment before taking a bite. "I've been thinking."
"Yeah? 'Bout what?"
"You two do realize that, well…"
The dark-skinned pilot cast her a look. "Come on, spit it out. Don't tell me you're getting shy all of a sudden."
"Fine." She shot him an annoyed glare. "Being the idiot that you are, I guess maybe you didn't think of this sooner, but if we have to use this plan then we're probably going to lose whatever race it happens in. If it's the finals—which is getting likelier with every passing semifinal round—then that's going to be it. You're both going to be out. Are you two okay with that?"
Her declaration was met by silence.
It was Kaito who broke it first. "I have to do this. They killed my dad, and they tried to kill me. Now they've kidnapped Shinichi. I can't let them get away with it."
"He's right," Hattori said, face serious. "These people are a menace. As for the Red Diamond, it'll be a bummer, but there's always next time. You…don't mind, do you?" His tone grew anxious as he turned to search Kazuha's face. "I mean, I know we'll sorta be wasting all that effort we put into getting' here and stuff, but—"
"Oh come on, you don't think I'd be more worried about winning a competition than stopping a bunch of criminals do you? What kind of a heartless person do you take me for?" she huffed.
He laughed. "Sorry, I didn't mean it like that."
"You better not have! But really, don't say we wasted effort again," she added. "We wouldn't be here to help if we hadn't put in all that work. And frankly you need every ounce of experience you've accumulated so far if you're going to be any use in this plan."
"…Hey, why do you always have ta end up insulting me?"
"What do you mean? All I said was that you need the experience you've gotten from everything we did to get here, so you shouldn't go around belittling it by saying that you're wasting it by focusing on this plan."
"Oh…" Hattori scratched at the back of his neck. "Yeah, I guess you're right. This is probably gonna be tougher than the racing, to be honest."
"Which is why we should get back to work." Rising to his feet, Kaito wadded up his sandwich wrapper and dropped it into their trash bag. "Are you two ready?"
"I see you've been keeping up with the semifinals."
Shinichi glanced around at his visitor. Before him, the television hummed, displaying the latest rankings for the current Red Diamond. Today, his visitor was Chris Vineyard herself.
"It's the least I could do," he replied with a shrug.
The woman invited herself into a seat. He noticed the rather false edge to her smile and the hard sheen in her eyes that suggested her pleasant mask was being a bit of a strain today. He smiled grimly on the inside. Serve them right.
The various Foundation members he had been "chatting" with had been growing more and more uptight with every passing day. Their smiles were getting brittle and their questions less subtle. The degree of their unease and agitation was growing exponentially with every race that Kaito aced.
Shinichi had to admit to a certain amount of glee at this realization. Now he was sure that the reason they were keeping here under false pretenses was because they had hoped his absence would shake up Kaito's concentration and drag down his performance. But now they were finding out that their team wasn't going to be that easy to deal with. They had underestimated their adversaries, and now they were worried.
"We're sorry for how long this investigation has been dragging on," the woman remarked as the television screen switched to commercials.
Shinichi bit back the urge to snort in disbelief. "Does this mean your team has finally come to a decision?"
"Unfortunately, no. I'm afraid we will have to detain you a little longer. But rest assured, I am doing my best to help speed up the inquiries."
Yeah right. Did she think he was stupid? No, he could see it in her eyes. She knew that he knew that she was lying through her perfect teeth. But she didn't care as long as the pretense got her people what they wanted.
"Do you have more questions then?"
"I simply came today to see how you were. Has our staff been treating you well?"
"I can't complain," he said vaguely. After all, he added to himself, he knew better.
"I see. That's good. Do let us know if you need anything."
"I did have one question."
"Oh? And what would that be?"
"It's nothing really. I was just wondering. I was talking to Amuro the other day, and he mentioned that you really liked that old myth about a temple in the sky."
Something flickered behind the woman's ice-colored eyes. It was gone so fast that Shinichi wouldn't have caught it if he hadn't been looking for it.
"I have always found myths and legends to be amusing," she replied lightly. "They tell us so much about the human heart. Wouldn't you say so?"
"I guess so," he conceded, mildly surprised by the rejoinder. "I've never been all that interested in those kinds of stories myself."
"Many people in these modern times are not. But tell me, what was it about the sky temple myth that you were wondering?"
He forced a laugh. "I know it's silly, but I guess I was wondering if you thought the story might have any truth to it."
The woman's expression didn't so much as flicker, but the ice in her eyes seemed to grow colder. "I wouldn't say so. Myths are just myths after all. But what about you? Have you met anyone who believes in it?"
He shrugged. "I didn't actually even hear the story until Kaito told it to me," he said, deciding a little honesty here wouldn't hurt. It had come as quite a surprise when he'd heard it again from some of his new acquaintances. It seemed it really was important to them.
"So does your partner believe in it then?"
"I don't know. I guess he might."
"I think his father told him about it. Have you heard of him? Kuroba Toichi. He was a really famous pilot a decade or so ago."
"I may have heard his name, yes. He was the one they called the Phantom, wasn't it?"
"He was. I think he was a participant in the Red Diamond the same year your people got that charge brought against you. Isn't it strange how coincidental things can be sometimes?" He continued to rattle on while keeping a close eye on Chris Vineyard's reactions. "Things must have been really eventful that year. There were so many accidents, and everyone was accusing everyone else of being cheaters and sabotaging racers and such like. Just hearing about all that ruckus makes me glad it was a long time ago."
"I'm glad things aren't like that anymore."
"I would certainly have to agree. But of course," the woman added, apparently not quite able to refrain from doing so. "Accidents have always been a risk we have to take for the sake of our art. Wouldn't you agree?"
He caught her eyes with his own, dropping all pretenses of cheer. "It is human nature to err. Even the most careful and most skilled make mistakes sooner or later."
"Well, I see you've done a lot of thinking, certainly. That's good. A sharp mind is the beginning and the end of many of the world's greatest battles." Standing up, Chris Vineyard smiled down at him from the doorway to his 'guest' room. "But sometimes those who stare too far ahead find themselves falling victim to the shadows coming up from behind. It is a dance, you see. We have our lights and our shadows, and the real contest is in the overlap. Remember that, my dear Kudo Shinichi."
Then she smiled, bid him a cheerful farewell, and vanished out the door. The lock clicked into place behind her. The little, hard sound was so very final, but for Shinichi, it was a bell of triumph. His plan was unfolding slowly but surely. He just hoped that he knew Kaito as well as he thought he did.
"You three cannot seriously intend to go through with this folly."
"Hey, I thought it sounded pretty nutty too at the beginning," Hattori said. "But we've been practicing like crazy."
The blonde seated on the other side of the table gave him a droll look. "It isn't simply a matter of practice. This stunt you are suggesting is ridiculous. The only plausible outcome is that you two," he gestured at the two pilots in the trio, "are going to end up in the hospital. And that, I might add, would be the best case scenario."
Hattori bristled. That "better than thou" tone was grating on his nerves. Who did this guy think he was? So what if he was some kind of undercover agent? Did he think that made him cool or something? Whatever it was, he didn't have the right to go dismissing their plan just like that. "You can at least let us show you what we've got!"
"He has a point," Kaito agreed. "And by the way, we'll be executing this plan whether you approve of it or not. We simply thought we ought to let you know what was happening."
"But it's dangerous," Aoko said. It was the first thing she'd said all afternoon. She had listened to them outlining their plan with a serious, thoughtful expression and her hands wrapped firmly around her mug of hot tea. Now, though her words were of warning, her expression suggested that she already knew what their answer would be.
"It's dangerous anyway," Kaito replied. "We're just making sure that we get something out of it if things go pear shaped. Now did you two want to see our demonstration or not?"
"We will," Aoko agreed before casting her partner an inquiring glance.
The blonde sighed. "I suppose we may as well. However, it will have to be tomorrow. We have to attend a press conference this afternoon."
Kaito slid a folded paper across the table to the pair then stood up. "There's the location of the practice track. We'll be there all of tomorrow, so come by at any time."
Standing in the waiting zone where all the pilots and their respective entourages were waiting for the day's semifinal participants to be announced, Kazuha found herself rocking a little where she stood. She couldn't seem to stand still today, but she didn't want to start pacing either. This sense of impending doom had been hanging over her head since she'd woken up that morning, and she didn't know why. Or, okay, that wasn't right. It was nerves.
This was the second to last semifinal race. With every round that passed, her sense of unease grew.
She'd been nervous before the last few races too, but they had passed without incident. She was grateful for that. However, it also meant that the chances that today would be the day grew with every passing round.
Above them, the announcement board blinked to life with the names of today's teams listed for all to see. A hush fell over the gathering as people searched for their names.
Kazuha's heart skipped a beat. So they were indeed competing today. But what made her breath catch in her throat was the realization that the Foundation's team would be too.
"Hey Kazuha, you okay?"
Tearing her eyes from the announcements, Kazuha found Heiji looking down at her with a raised eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"You look pale."
"Oh." She let out a forced laugh. "I just… I'm fine. You should worry about yourself. This could be it."
"Ya know, you said the exact same thing last time—and the time before that, and the time before the time before that."
"Oh whatever," she huffed, rolling her eyes. Her stomach churned. Letting her breath out slowly, she dragged her gaze up off the ground to meet Heiji's green orbs.
The dark-skinned pilot froze, caught off guard by the sheer intensity in her face. "Uh, Kazuha?"
"You can do it. I know you can. Just be careful. I'll be rooting for you all the way."
As everyone who wasn't a pilot cleared out of the area, Heiji just stood by his hover racer, gaping after Kazuha's retreating back. It wasn't until he heard another racer's engines hum to life that he snapped back to the present. Shaking himself out of his daze, he hurried to climb into his hover craft's cockpit, blushing all the way though he didn't know why.
Over in his own hover racer, Kaito smiled a little to himself. He'd witnessed the entire exchange between the two. Seeing them reminded him of Shinichi.
"I'm coming for you," he murmured, starting up the engine and heading for the starting line. "So wait for me."
"Watching the races again today?"
"Well it's not like I have much else to do," Shinichi replied, not bothering to look up from the screen.
He heard the scrape of a chair as his latest visitor took a seat. "Mind if I join you?"
On screen, the conditions for today's semifinal round were being explained by a representative from the racing committee.
"You know," his visitor began a few minutes into the explanation. "You don't have to be stuck here."
"Oh? Are you guys finally going to admit that I had nothing to do with that data drive and let me go then?"
The newcomer laughed lightly. "Unfortunately, no. But there is a very easy way to solve this whole mess."
Finally pulling his gaze from the television, Shinichi eyed the young, blond man sitting at the table. It was the same man who had first abducted him from the hotel. During Shinichi's stay, he had been responsible for bringing most of the mechanic's meals to him. He had never been anything but polite, and Shinichi might have found him quite likable under different circumstances.
"What do you mean?"
The blonde smiled amiably. "Well, the only reason this is such a big deal is because the information in that drive was quite sensitive. It included a lot of the data and plans for our newest projects—information that no one outside of the Foundation can be allowed to have. However, that means that, let's say, if you were to become part of our group—"
"But think about it. You'd be gaining a lot of benefits too. You'd have legal access to the info, so it would no longer be a crime for you to have had it. We can also reimburse you for your time here and lend you some of our mechanics so you can quickly repair any damages to your team's craft that may have accumulated in your absence."
"Kaito's the one who decides who we ally with."
"We did ask him, but unfortunately, your partner is as stubborn as his father. But I think that, if the suggestion were to come from you, he may be more amenable."
Shinichi tensed slightly at the mention of Kuroba Toichi. Breathe. He didn't want to let his excitement show. It could alert the enemy. But now he knew for certain that they had indeed approached Kaito's father and found him uncooperative.
"What makes you think I'd want to try and convince him though? You guys have been doing your utmost best to convict me of a crime I didn't commit. Maybe it's different where you're from, but that's not really the kind of behavior I look for in potential allies, no matter how much money or technology they can offer.."
"What about security?" The blonde's demeanor had changed. Now his eyes were sharp and that smile looked somewhere between amused and intent. "If you join us, we can offer you the best security there is."
"You mean from burglars?"
"And perhaps more. Our pilots never encounter any major accidents. That alone should be a testament to the quality of our support and equipment."
It was a testament alright, Shinichi thought grimly. But not of the kind they were claiming.
"Well at least let us make up for taking up so much of your time. We can still have a team go help repair and run maintenance on your craft before the finals. You'd just have to give us an overview of how everything's supposed to be."
"I'm sure Kaito has that covered."
"I see. Well, let me know if you change your mind."
It happened as the track took a turn into a canyon where towering pillars of stone jutted towards the sky like a motley collection of teeth. As they had been doing for the past several races where they were both called, Kaito and Heiji had been flying their hover racers close to one another. To the spectators, it seemed like the up and coming Hattori Heiji was struggling to overtake the higher ranked Kaito and giving the Phantom a run for his money even if he had yet to actually manage to pull ahead. In reality, however, Kaito was taking great care not to lose his tail, and Heiji was endeavoring with just as much care not to actually catch up. He would fall back or speed up on occasion to add to the realism of the performance, but it was all just that—an act. He'd been a bit worried when they'd started that someone would figure out what they were up to. He'd never been a terribly good actor after all. Yet maybe it was because he was in his element when he was out on the tracks in a hover craft, but he had found himself growing more and more confident with his role in this madness. So much so that he might even venture to say that the plan no longer sounded insane to him when he explained it in his head.
But back to the now.
Hours of practice and multiple races in formation had given him a good grasp of what was and was not normal about the Kuroba team's blue and silver hover craft (which, he had to admit, he had come to greatly admire. He wondered if, when this was all over, Shinichi would be willing to look at his own hover craft and help him make some upgrades, but yeah, now really wasn't the time, was it?). His experience was telling him now that there was something wrong. Kaito was one f those pilots with an incredibly steady hand who could fly just as smoothly through calm air as he could through hurricane winds. But the racer flying in front of him now had just jolted on one of the vicious air currents whipping through the rocky pillars. Then, rather than adjusting to compensate for the sudden dislocation, the racer continued onward in what would be a collision course with one of those very canyon pillars.
All those long hours of hard work kicked in then and Heiji floored it. His hover racer blasted forward, accelerating even as he pushed the nose downward. In seconds, the bronze and gold craft had slid under its silver and blue counterpart. There was a thump and a shock as the two racers met. Gritting his teeth in concentration, Heiji hurried to flip up several of the stabilizer switches and give more power to the hover engine. Then he grabbed the steering controls and hung on like his life depended on it (which it sort of did, but he couldn't waste energy worrying about that). The first step had gone smoothly, but the real challenge was still ahead.
To the millions of spectators watching the race from the stands or on the many broadcast screens, it was one of the strangest things to ever have been witnessed at a Diamond race. One hover racer had just come up beneath another and now seemed to be flying for both crafts as it strained to maneuver the treacherous canyon paths. It meandered and bobbed like a drunkard, totally failing to leave the canyon. Finally it bowled them around a particularly spiky rock formation before its hitchhiker suddenly flipped a wing and sailed off to perform a pinpoint turn between two pillars then come boomeranging back just in time to clip the next hover racer to have entered this stretch of the track on the nose. The new hover craft jerked to the side and caught a wing on the canyon's rugged walls. There was a screech of tearing metal. Then the vehicle was sliding down the canyon wall to land with a heavy thump on the hard, sandy earth. Other racers, confused and curious, slowed and stopped. In a mere span of moments, the canyon was full of parked hover racers and anxious pilots.
"What happened?" one woman was asking. "Are you guys okay down there?"
"We're fine," most people replied, craning their necks this way and that to see more. "That guy looks hurt though. Someone call the medical teams!"
In the midst of the hubbub, the hatch of Kaito's hover racer popped open and he leapt out. "Don't let him get away!"
A chorus of "Who?" echoed off the canyon walls as all eyes turned to watch as one Kuroba Kaito pelted across the canyon floor. That was when several of them noticed for the first time that there was a stocky man wearing a trench coat the same color as the rocks around them. The man was already several hundred yards ahead of them, and he was still running.
Kaito charged after him. This was their chance. He was not letting this person get away. Lengthening his stride, he all but flew after the fleeing man. Then, with a leap, he tackled the stranger to the ground.
The man let out an "oof" as all the air was knocked out of his lungs. Despite that, he continued to struggle, scrambling to free himself from Kaito's grasp. But the pilot would have none of it. He planted a knee on the man's lower back and twisted the man's right arm up until the stranger grunted in pain. Then he reached under his captive and yanked out a small briefcase. A very familiar briefcase.
Somewhere over his head, the voices were multiplying. Now there were people asking why there were police officers repelling down the canyon walls like they'd been lying in wait.
"Shinichi!" Yanking the mechanic into a tight embrace, Kaito buried his nose in the hair on the top of Shinichi's head. When he let his breath out, it emerged as a much softer, more contented sigh. "I missed you."
"I missed you too," Shinichi murmured, face pink. "Thank you. For finding me."
"You're okay? They didn't hurt you, did they?" Releasing his death grip on Shinichi, he pushed the smaller boy away to arm's length so that he could scrutinize him from head to toe. Shinichi didn't appear to have any obvious injuries, but he did seem to have lost weight.
"I'm fine," Shinichi assured him. "Discounting the whole not letting me out thing, they were actually pretty civil."
"Probably because they were still hoping they'd be able to pick your brain about our craft," his partner replied, tone dry.
"You're probably right. That reminds me. I have something for the police." Removing the clover pin from his shirt, Shinichi turned to scan the riot around them. They were standing outside the Noir Foundation headquarters. The place was now swarming with police. Spotting Aoko, he waved. The female officer wove her way through the activity until she reached them.
"It's great to see you're okay," she said by way of greeting.
"Thank you. I need to give you this. I think you guys will find it helpful in the trial."
Aoko accepted the pin, her gaze lighting up in recognition. "Oh, so you did use it then!"
"Yeah. I recorded most of the conversations I had with their people. Most of it won't be much help, but they did let a few things slip that a court should be interested in."
"Right. I'll see that this gets added to the evidence."
"So they're finally going to be held accountable for everything they've done," Kaito murmured, more to himself than to his companions.
Aoko nodded, her expression growing serious. "The Noir Foundation is being charged with multiple counts of sabotage, abduction, extortion, and murder. The trial's probably going to be a long one, but I promise you, they'll get what's coming to them. Now," she continued, tone lightening. "You two can head back to your hotel. I'm sure you're both tired. I'll have one of the officers drive you there."
"No problem. It's the least we can do. You've both been a great help."
Blue eyes fluttered closed as Shinichi relaxed into his seat with a heavy sigh. The hum of the car engines was like a soothing lullaby. "I can't believe it's really over."
Kaito chuckled. "It does feel a bit surreal."
"You almost gave me a heart attack with that stunt you and Hattori pulled."
"My apologies, but it was the only way I could think of for us to catch them in the act. But we did practice like crazy to make sure we'd get it right. He and Kazuha really were great."
"We should buy them dinner."
"Yeah. They'll be coming by tomorrow to return the shield generator. We can do it then."
"So I was right. You weren't using the shield." Shinichi frowned. "I'm still now sure what you were thinking. I get that you needed the monitoring device to record a disruption, but you could have just left it at that. The police would have the data, and you and Hattori could have finished the race once he carted you out of range of the disruptor. You didn't have to go knocking their pilot out like that. You could have seriously hurt him."
"Er, to be honest, that part really was an accident." Kaito laughed, rubbing the back of his neck. "We were really only trying to get our hands on one of those briefcases. I mean, proving that they existed was all well and good, but that wouldn't have been enough. We were afraid they'd still find a way to wriggle out of it if we didn't have the solid proof in our hands. If they had time, they might very well have destroyed all the evidence themselves. So since we knew the broadcast was short-ranged, we opted to hang around and find the source. The guy actually came out of hiding when we didn't both just crash. I think he thought the rock formations were interfering with the signal, so he was trying to find a better angle. Then he realized he was out of time as everyone else was catching up. When I saw him cut and run, I just had to go after him."
"So it was just an accident that you hit their team's hover racer in the process."
Kaito cocked an eyebrow. "How so?"
Shinichi coughed, face flushing. "I…was a little worried that you might have done it on purpose."
Indigo eyes darkened. "I can't say I'm not glad it was them I hit and not someone else. But I refuse to sink to their level."
Shinichi peered out of the corner of his eye. Kaito was looking straight ahead at something only he could see, expression grim. The mechanic shifted, biting his lip. Finally he reached over and placed a hand over Kaito's where it rested on the seat between them. The pilot turned towards him then, gaze softening as a smile tugged at the corners of his lips. He turned his hand over to catch Shinichi's and twined their fingers together. Shinichi blushed and turned back to his window, though he didn't pull his hand away.
"I'm surprised though," he said. "I wouldn't have thought Miss Kisaki would agree to let her team members participate in such a reckless plan."
"Actually, I don't think they told her."
"You mean they didn't tell the rest of their team?"
"Well, we didn't really think it was the kind of information we should be spreading around. We couldn't risk it reaching the wrong ears."
"In that case I hope we didn't get them into too much trouble…"
Kaito smirked. "Nah, it was all for a good cause. Besides, we were all heroes today. Their teammates couldn't blame 'em for that."
"Heroic or not, you guys are still lucky that you didn't get hurt."
"Success comes to those who dare."
Shinichi snorted, though a faint smile lingered on his lips. "I don't suppose you've heard anything about if they're going to reschedule the finals?"
"Not yet." Kaito paused then, mood taking a swing back into the somber. "If they don't postpone it, we probably won't be able to participate. The hover racer took a bit more damage from our operation than I thought it would."
"I could always take a look at it when we get back—"
"No," Kaito said in a tone that forbad argument. "You already look dead on your feet. And frankly I could use a good sleep myself. I…haven't been sleeping all that well these last few days."
"O—oh." Shinichi's blush returned, gaze fixed on the buildings passing by outside the car window. "I…guess I haven't either."
"We're here," the officer driving them announced, pulling up in front of their hotel. "Will you two be okay or do you need any help?"
Shinichi offered the man a grateful smile. "We'll be fine, thank you."
He wished them a good night before pulling away from the curb. They watched his car disappear down the street, its taillights bright pinpricks in the evening gloom. Then Kaito wrapped an arm around Shinichi's shoulders and pulled him inside.
They stopped at the downstairs diner for a small and rather quiet dinner before heading up to their rooms. That night, they both slept more soundly than they had in ages.
"I can't believe they're canceling the rest of the Red Diamond!"
Over at the kitchen sink, Shinichi sighed. "That's the fifth time you've said that today."
"Well I still can't believe it." Groaning, Kaito flopped onto the couch and glared at the object in his hands. "We were so close too."
"Well they didn't really have a choice. With so many of the teams with the highest scores unable to race due to injury, disqualification, or equipment damage, holding the finals would be pretty meaningless. It's not like you could race even if they weren't canceling anyway. There's no way we'd be able to fix our hover racer in time."
"Yeah, yeah, I know all that. But then they have to go and give us this!" He waved his clenched hand in the air like someone brandishing incriminating evidence.
Blue eyes caught the sparkle of red and gold between Kaito's fingers. Shinichi had to admit that he'd been surprised when the race committee announced that instead of the prize that would have been awarded to the winner of the race, it would be awarding medals to the two teams who had risked everything to help protect the integrity of the competition.
"I think you earned that medal," he said firmly. "You were willing to give up the entire competition to help bring justice. And you succeeded. There's no shame in being recognized for that."
"It's not that," Kaito sighed, sitting back up and frowning down at the medal as he turned it over and over in his hands. "It's just—this isn't how I wanted to get this. I want to earn it fair and square my way. If anything, this one should've been Dad's." He paused then nodded to himself. "I'll just have to win my own at the next Red Diamond."
"So in three years."
"Yep." Satisfied with his new conclusion, Kaito set the medal down on the suite's coffee table. Beside it, two other medals gleamed. He took a moment to admire the way they looked as a set. It would have been perfect if he'd actually won them all.
"You know, I think a lot of the Foundation members actually believed in those legends you told me about the medals," Shinichi said, placing the last dish he'd been washing into the drying rack and moving to sit on the couch beside Kaito with a mug of coffee in hand. He leaned forward to examine the pendants more closely. "It's almost enough to make me wonder…"
"Don't look much like a map to me," Kaito observed. "More importantly, we've got three years before the next Red Diamond. That's a lot of free time to fill."
"We still have to keep our points up," Shinichi reminded him. "And there's always room for improvement. This is no time to go getting complacent."
"Yeah, but I meant more for the immediate future. I was thinking we could stay here until we finish our repairs, but after that, maybe it's time for a break."
"I guess it could be nice to get away for a while… Did you have somewhere in mind?"
"Not yet. We can always ask around."
They fell into a comfortable silence, each lost in his own thoughts. Shinichi jumped when Kaito let out an abrupt exclamation of dismay.
"What?" he asked, heart thumping in his chest. "What happened?"
"The next Red Diamond isn't for another three years!"
"Um, I thought we already established that."
"No, no, what I mean is, does that mean I have to wait another three years before I can kiss you?!"
Shinichi flushed crimson and spluttered. "What?"
"Remember? You said I could have a kiss when I won the Red Diamond."
Shinichi turned even redder. He couldn't remember actually agreeing when Kaito had proposed that deal. At the same time, he found himself feeling almost as dismayed as Kaito sounded.
"Well, you did get an award," he mumbled into his mug, staring determinedly into the brown depths of his coffee as he fought to ignore the burning in his cheeks. "That's kind of like winning…"
Indigo eyes widened and Kaito turned quickly to his partner. A slow grin spread across his face. Scooting closer, he wrapped an arm around Shinichi and leaned in to murmur into his ear. "Is that an invitation?"
"I—I just meant that, I mean, if you really want to, I…m—might not mind—"
He never got to finish as Kaito's free hand caught his chin. The next thing he knew there was a pair of warm lips on his own, and suddenly nothing else mattered.
Or at least nothing mattered until Heiji and Kazuha came knocking at the door.
The dark-skinned pilot took one look at Shinichi's furiously blushing face and Kaito's mildly annoyed expression and smirked. "We were gonna ask if you two wanted to go catch a movie and have dinner with us, but we could come back later if we're interrupting."
"N—no, we're coming," Shinichi stammered and hurried into his room to get a jacket.
Standing by the window of his room, Kaito looked out across the glittering sea of lights stretched out beneath the night sky. It was already half past one, but he was far too happy to sleep. Closing his eyes, he could remember exactly how it felt when Shinichi had melted against him as they kissed (and the way his adorable mechanic had moaned and clung to him when he'd deepened the kiss). The feeling had been every bit as wonderful as he had dreamed. Unfortunately, Shinichi still insisted that they stay in their separate rooms, but Kaito was okay with that. He didn't mind waiting, especially not now that he knew for certain that Shinichi returned his affections.
He was going to miss this place. So much had happened here, both good and bad. It felt like years ago that they had first arrived. They had made allies who had become close friends. They had laid to rest a decades old case and emblazoned their names in the pages of history. They had been tested and come out the other side stronger and more sure of themselves. So much had changed.
So no, he didn't want to say goodbye just yet.
Deciding he wanted a glass of water, he turned away from the window and headed back out into the common room. His steps froze abruptly as he crossed the threshold. Indigo eyes widened.
The common room was filled with light. It wasn't the soft, phantom light of the moon shining in through the massive windows. No, this light was much brighter. It was rippling over the walls and across the ceiling, shifting through an entire spectrum of colors. Now it was blue, then purple, then pink and now gold. It was as though an aurora had invaded their suite.
And at the heart of it all was the trio of medals he had left on the common room table.
"Shinichi!" Crossing the distance to the mechanic's door in one stride, he pounded on the door. "Shinichi!"
There was a muffled groan from within. When he didn't stop beating on the door, he eventually heard shuffling footsteps before the doorknob turned and a rather tousled and very grumpy Shinichi appeared.
"What—" the mechanic started before the rest of his question died on his lips. Instead a gasp of wonder slipped from his mouth. "What's happening…?"
"Over here." Catching his arm, Kaito pulled him across the common room to the table. The light had intensified in the few seconds it had taken for him to wake Shinichi. And now it swirled over the table in an almost tangible nimbus of radiance. Looking into it, both young men fell into an awed silence.
There were images inside the light. Like the reflection of far off memories, they danced and changed. There were buildings shining gold beneath the sun. Silver waters gleamed beneath rose and lilac skies. There was even a ship, all tall masts and billowing sails, but rather than an ocean it sailed across a sea of clouds broken only by islands that were the white peaks of high mountains.
"It's beautiful," Shinichi breathed, wonder writ clear in his eyes.
Beside him, Kaito let out a laugh. The sound was bright and ecstatic and full of suppressed glee. "So what do you say?" he asked, turning to Shinichi with a broad grin on his face and a gleam in his eyes. "Are you up for some treasure hunting?"
A.N: To think I originally meant this to be a one-shot… ^.^ It always makes me a bit sad when I finish something. I really enjoyed working with this universe, so I may write more in it later on. Anyhow, I hope you guys enjoyed this story as much as I did, and thanks for dropping by. See ya!