by Quicksilver

Note: The entire story has been re-edited to make it more grammatically compliant. There's no major content changes.

Part Fourteen

Miyako listened as Pakkyamlamao-sensei gave a lecture on Japanese literature – or tried to. Her attention was divided by the two seats which were conspicuously empty. She kept stealing glances at them as she made a half-hearted attempt to take notes.

Both Maron and Chiaki hadn't come to school. When she'd stopped by Maron's place, there had been no answer. In the past, she would have just gone right in, but she'd cravenly taken the easy route and gone ahead on her own, muttering that she wasn't Maron's keeper.

That wasn't the real reason, of course. She could admit, in privacy of her mind, that she was glad. She wasn't ready to face Maron quite yet.

Speaking with the priest yesterday had inflamed her doubts about her best friend. Somewhere deep inside she'd always believed that Jeanne was Maron; there was too many similarities in face and form – and Miyako would recognize Maron's gymnastics style anywhere. It had been too hard for her to accept, so she'd never confronted the possibility. Instead, she had joined the Kaitou Jeanne Task Force because she'd wanted to prove her doubts wrong.

Those doubts had only grown deeper the last few weeks, and they didn't extend just to her best friend. Miyako wasn't stupid. Chiaki's arrival in town had coincided too well with Kaitou Sinbad's relocation for a rational person to accept as "coincidence." There was too much in her life that she'd been deliberately blind to, and now she was going to have to come to terms with that.

She didn't want to arrest Jeanne – arrest Maron – but if it came down to it, she would. She would never forgive herself for the betrayal, but it might be the only way to save Maron from herself.

The ring of her cellphone was a welcome distraction from her dark thoughts. Pakkyamlamao-sensei gave her a nod, indicated with a tilt of her head that she should proceed to the hallway and answer it. Miyako was the only student in class allowed to take calls since her position with police offered special treatment. Some of the teachers resented it, but Pakkyamlamao-sensei had always been understanding as long as Miyako stayed on top of her school work.

She ignored the dirty looks a couple of her classmates shot her, hurrying out into the hall. By the fifth ring she answered, feeling a bit breathless. "This is Miyako," she said in a brisk voice.

"Miyako, dear..." She was surprised to hear her mother on the phone.

"Mother, you shouldn't be calling me-" she started, but stopped when she reflected on her mother's tone. She had sounded worried. "What's wrong?"

"You need to come home right away."

"Why?" Miyako felt panic start to rise in her chest. Had her father been hurt? Did Maron have a serious relapse? Or did they find out that Maron was Jeanne? A bunch of worst-case scenarios started to flit through her mind.

"I'll tell you when you get here." Her mother paused before continuing again. "Darling, I love you." She hung up.

That was not a reassuring way to end the conversation. Miyako listened to the silence for a long moment, realizing that her mother was shaken. Things rarely got to Toudaiji Akiko, so Miyako knew it had to be bad.

She opened the door to the class and stuck her head in. "Excuse me, sensei, but I'll have to get going," she said, before shutting the door too quickly to be stopped. Her inconsistent attendance was starting to annoy Pakkyamlamao-sensei, understanding or not. Miyako didn't bother collecting her books, knowing Minazuki would get them for her. He was good about that kind of thing.

She ran most of the way home, pausing only to catch her breath. She tried to keep her mind empty of speculation; a good detective worked from facts, and right now she had none. Jumping to conclusions or making assumptions wouldn't benefit her. All it would do was make her edgy. Miyako saw a squad car pass, its lights flashing as the sirens screamed, and had to suppress another surge of unease. Just because they were heading in the direction of her home didn't mean that they were actually going there.

It was too bad that her paranoid instincts were proved right. Turning the corner, she saw more police than she'd ever seen gathered outside of the station – and that included on heist nights. She slid to a stop outside of her apartment complex, gaping in horror. The building had been roped off, and uniformed officers kept members of the gathering crowd from getting too close.

She only had to look up to see why so much attention had attracted so much attention. Her eyes fixated on the seventh floor – her floor, Maron's floor, Chiaki's floor – and stared at the hollow area where Maron and Chiaki had lived. The side of the building was completely gone, but the damage had been limited only to those places. On the ground below, pieces of glass littered the roped-off area, but otherwise there was no debris. The floor below looked fine; covering her hand with her face, she imagined that there was no damage.

"Maron!" she yelled, glancing around the crowd and hoping to catch sight of her best friend. Surely Maron hadn't been in there, surely she was alright and safe -

She would never be able to consciously remember how she found herself at the doorway. A policewoman she didn't know grabbed her by the shoulders, keeping her from getting any closer. "I'm sorry, miss, but the building's been sealed for safety," the woman said, and her tone was not unkind. "Do you know anyone who lives here?"

"I'm Toudaiji Miyako," she announced, hoping her hastiness would be interpreted as professionalism. "I'm associated with the Jeanne Task Force – and that's my apartment building."

The hands fell away from her and the woman treated her to a crisp salute. "I'm Sayamino Fukemi, miss," she said. "Attached to the 63rd precinct, currently filling in as security. Your father told us to send you in when you arrived." She stepped back. "They're on your floor investigating."

"Is everyone okay?" she demanded. "Were there any casualties?"

"Not that we know of, but there's two people missing," the woman said, glancing over her shoulder. "You should go up and speak to your father. Grab a hardhat from the uniform in the hall." Miyako nodded and marched by the woman, in too much of a hurry to offer proper thanks. If her father was investigating, then he was fine. Her mother had called her, and that left only two people she cared about.

The hardhat was a bit too large for her, but the officer was patient as he helped her adjust the plastic straps inside. He also handed her a gas mask, "just in case" which she hung around her neck. "Miss, go straight to your apartment; someone will meet you there and explain the situation."

She climbed the stairs as fast as she could, remembering the times she and Maron had raced down them. It must have been six months since she'd taken them; luckily she was in good shape. As she'd gotten older, it'd just been more convenient to use the elevator than to work off her excess energy by using the stairs.

Another guard met her when she opened to door to her floor. It was Fuyuta., and his face was grimmer than she'd ever seen. He nodded to her when he saw her, pointing at her apartment as if she needed the guidance. "He's in there," he said.

She nearly sprinted to the door, noting as she passed that the hallway looked normal. Had she not already seen the outside, she would have believed that Maron and Chiaki's places were in their usual shape.

It was hard not to toe off her shoes as she usually did, but the weight of the helmet on her head reminded her that this was business. This was not supposed to be her home. The place had been transformed from the comfortable place she'd known. Her mother's face was carefully blank as she whispered "welcome home," before nodding toward the dining room. There was no mention of her not taking her shoes off, although usually her mother would have flipped. Miyako almost wished that she would, because that would resemble normality.

Her father sat at the table, flanked by the remaining three Seasons. They were studying what looked like the floor plans of the building. Her father looked up when she came in, and the look in his eyes made her heart skip a beat. Suddenly she felt very young. "Daddy?" she whispered. "What happened?"

"We're not sure," he told her. "Around eleven this morning, your mother heard a loud noise from across the hall. She grabbed the key to Maron's apartment to check, but when she opened it..." her father hesitated. "Well, the place is gone."

"Where's Maron? And Chiaki? Have you found them?" she demanded.

"No." Her father looked at her. "We contacted the school hoping they were in class, but both were absent today."

"I know that," she replied, trying to sound scornful but the words came out almost sobbing. "Daddy, what happened to them?" she demanded again. "Where's Maron?"

Her mother was there then, and her arms wrapped around Miyako's shoulders. Miyako broke down sobbing, afraid what had happened to her best friend. "Mommy, Maron's been sick for a while, so she could have been... have they looked...?" her thoughts came out in fragments.

"A team's already been through, and there was no sign... anyone was there," her father said tactfully. "They've tentatively pronounced the building structurally sound, but we're going to have to wait a day before we're allowed entry. I would say it was some kind of explosion, since it only affected Nagoya and Maron's place, but I can't guarantee that. The demolitions experts said there was no trace of any substance that would act like that, and the blast radius was amazingly contained, since it didn't damage the hall, the roof, or the apartments below." He hesitated again. "Miyako, we're treating this like a crime scene. It could have been an accident, but it does look suspicious."

"Suspicious?" Miyako echoed. "What do you mean? There's nothing suspicious about Maron!" She tried to sound indignant, not wanting anyone to sense her doubt about her best friend.

Her father exchanged glances with Haruto. "Miyako, Maron's under investigation as a possible suspect for being Jeanne."

It was only her mother's arm around her that kept Miyako from doing something rash. Instead, she clenched her fists at her side and practically growled, "Why would she blow up her apartment?" she demanded.

"Cover. If she and Nagoya disappear, some might write them off as victims," Natsuda said. He flinched at the look Miyako leveled at him, but didn't back down. "Nagoya would match Sinbad's general description if we discount his coloring,"

"Why pick on Maron?" Miyako demanded.

"It was just a hunch at first," her father said. "Jeanne reminded me of her, and I mentioned it to Akiko, who said Maron had been keeping some unusual hours. I asked her to keep a record if Maron left on heist nights, and sure enough, she has been."

"Mother, you've been spying on Maron?" Miyako demanded with disbelief.

"I've always kept an eye out for her," Akiko replied with no repentance and a stubborn set in her face. "Miyako, if she is Jeanne, she needs to be stopped for her own good. She's too young to ruin her life like that."

"Don't you think I know that?" Miyako growled back. She tried not to flinch at the expressions of shock her parents gave her. "I don't want her to be Jeanne, but I'm not an idiot!" The tears threatened to rise to the surface again, and her mother could only rub her shoulders. "If she's Jeanne, then I believe she has a reason! She wouldn't destroy her home just to avoid suspicion – she loves it here!"

"Miyako, you may not know-" her mother's words were interrupted by the sound of a door slamming open. In unison, the crew in the kitchen spun to see Fuyuta entering.

Her father scowled. "Didn't I tell you-" he started, but paused after taking a deep breath. "Report, Fuyuta," he ordered.

"A messenger just arrived from headquarters," he said, "with a notice sent by Jeanne and Sinbad for tonight at Tokyo Tower."

Miyako tried not to feel too relieved. She didn't have proof that Maron was Jeanne, but a part of her insisted that if a notice had been sent, Maron was alive. The familiar rush of irritation at Jeanne's notice didn't materialize, though.

"They each sent one?" her father asked. "Again?"

"No. It's signed with both their names, but there's only one. They're coming together."