Disclaimer: Cameo's off the port bow! So, if you recognize it, that's probably intentional … but still not mine. And, yes, the mini-crossovers might be getting a bit out of hand. Still, they entertain me while I write, so I hope they're not totally wasted.
.: Chapter 16 - The Broken Coda :.
"Three things cannot be hidden for long—the sun, the moon and the truth."
~ Hindu Prince Gautama Siddhartha, 563-483 B.C. ~
Yukiko had brought him a book hours ago, but he hadn't turned a page in the last quarter hour. It wasn't much of a distraction from the quiet breathing across the room.
Two dark heads were buried in pillows, evoking memories he had spent twenty years forgetting. Forbidden thoughts, those. He'd spent everything for the good of becoming Kudou Yuusaku: mystery writer, sometime consulting detective, and only child.
The buried memories were shaking the sand away and slipping beneath the doors he had locked them behind. He could see a younger set of dark-haired heads, pillowed on backpacks and gathered cushions, and surrounded by books more often than not. Libraries were warmer and safer places to spend nights than the actual streets, until he and Toichi had managed to create their various bolt holes around the city. He had spent half of those nights reading and keeping watch for security guards, until it was his turn to sleep.
"Oji-san?" Yuusaku looked up to Kaito watching him and fighting back a yawn. "What time is it?" The boy stretched around to peer at the clock.
"Early," Yuusaku answered. "You should try and get some more sleep, Kaito-kun."
Yuusaku glanced towards his son and set the book he wasn't reading in his lap. "No changes either way yet. Which, I believe is a good sign."
Kaito scratched at his wild hair and sat up, looking alert. He looked towards the bed, reassuring himself that Conan had not reappeared. "I'm awake now." He stretched hugely, limbering up gangly limbs before speaking again. "Go get some sleep. I'll stay up with him."
"I doubt I would sleep tonight either way," Yuusaku said, chuckling tolerantly. "And I don't mind standing lookout."
Something in his voice caught Kaito's curiosity, and he settled back thoughtfully before saying, "You're thinking about my dad, aren't you?"
"And what makes you say that?" Yuusaku asked, amused at the sleepy-eyed deduction being directed his way.
"Mom." Kaito yawned in earnest this time. "She looks at me like that sometimes. Asked her why once. You miss him a lot, don't you."
It wasn't really a question, but Yuusaku nodded in answer all the same. "I did from the beginning."
Kaito frowned at that, and hesitated only for a moment before pushing onward with a question. "Oji-san, why did you set up your identities like that? You could have become anyone you wanted. Why not create identities where you and dad knew each other, or were still related, and move further away?" Why didn't you we know, was unspoken, but hung prominently in the air.
Yuusaku didn't answer for a moment, but leaned back, allowing his head to fall against the wall behind him. "We did. And they found us. When we first left the Organization, Toichi and I set up new identities and moved as far away as our resources let us. I could create passports, and work histories for both of us. Toichi was one of the best cat burglars in the world, and we knew how to look for a fence. We were careful, we kept our efforts small, and we did our best to fade into normalcy, and leave Cognac and Chambord behind."
Kaito leaned back against Shinichi's bed, and drew one knee up against his chest, looking down at the floor in thought. "Which of you was which?"
"I was Cognac. Your father was Chambord. We were not fully fledged members of the Black Organization, but we were very close to it before we left. That is why they tracked us, and with more resources than my brother and I had access to at the time. We burned a lot of luck and all of our collective skill surviving that night. After that, we didn't dare recreate anything we'd used before. We needed new identities, new names, and new families."
Yuusaku took a deep breath, and smiled a bit. "We still found ways to communicate, though: riddles, notes, chance meetings in public places… I never knew if the shrine attendant offering directions, or the old man demanding help with carrying his groceries was really my brother stealing a bit of practice and time for himself. It became our game, and I'm quite sure it's the origin of Kid's heist notes to the police."
Kaito smiled, bright even in the shadows cast by the desk lamp and a setting moon, but stiff around the edges from a shared sense of grief. "I miss him."
Morning light crept through Shinichi's room on little cat feet … the sort of cat feet that ferried in a cat to sprawl across an unsuspecting sleeping face. The encroaching light forced one dark head out of the pillows and a second dark head to burrow more deeply into them. Shinichi, who was marginally the more awake of the two, hauled himself out of bed and stumbled over Kaito before reaching the windows to pull the drapes shut. Who had left the drapes open on a Sunday morning, anyway?
With the room cloaked in shadow once more, Shinichi headed back towards his bed, planting a foot in Kaito's side again on the way. Kaito's hand snaked out to swat at him as Shinichi flopped back onto his matress.
"Sorry." Shinichi yawned, and rubbed at the itching needle mark in his arm. Pillows muffled Kaito's answering grumble. Shinichi stretched out full length, enjoying the feel of his hands and feet touching both ends of the bed. He was himself again, and he chased away the instinctive, uneasy dread that accompanied that thought; the feeling that he was running out of time. Haibara's cure must have run out sometime the night before, but he hadn't turned back into Conan. Thinking back, he couldn't remember exactly what had happened the previous night – which was strange.
He remembered details, normally, with sharp clarity. The night before seemed … fuzzy, blurred around the edges. Even his date with Ran was only coming back to him in snapshots and flashes. And he remembered being irritated with Kaito over …something.
Abrupt pain tore through him, followed by a terrifying moment of paralysis as his lungs struggled to breathe. It passed, almost as quickly as it came, leaving Shinichi gasping and darkness creeping into the edges of his vision. He dimly heard rustling and Kaito's voice calling him before the darkness swallowed him.
It lifted moments later, and Shinichi pried his eyes open to find Kaito leaning over him, who seemed to sag a bit in relief when Shinichi focused on him, and offered a slight smile. "Only a minute that time. You scared us last night. How are you feeling?"
Shinichi rolled far enough to look over the side of the bed. "I … what happened? It felt like I was changing back into Conan, but …" he held up a hand and wiggled his fingers, "I'm still me."
"Last night? Haibara's temporary cure wore off. You passed out, and were smoking, but … stayed you. Mom says your system took over like it was supposed to, it was just more of a strain than anyone was expecting, and you're probably out of the woods. Just now? You were only out for a few seconds, and no smoking." Kaito carded his fingers through the back of his hair, and hopped up to claim the end of Shinichi's bed. "That is a tenacious poison, detective. I don't think it wants to let you go. But, it looks like you've got it pinned."
A knock at the door caught their attention, causing both of them to swivel their faces towards the door as the handle turned and a Shinichi's mother stuck her head into the boys' room. "Shin-chan! Kai-chan! Breakfast is ready." Yukiko took in their matching looks of curiosity and burst into a fit of giggles. "Oh my, look at you two." Shinichi and Kaito looked at each other and blinked. Shinichi's hair stuck up as wildly as Kaito's in the pre-comb morning. "Wait right there, I'm going to get a camera." Shinichi sighed.
Kaito stared at the door for an instant before pushing to his feet and heading for the closet. A moment of rustling later, Shinichi sputtered as a pair of jeans flew into his face. "What the … Kaito!"
Kaito stepped back out of the closet wearing jeans of his own and a skull-printed shirt, as he tugged a ball cap over his unruly hair. "Get dressed, and let's get out of here before she comes back. I don't know about your mom, but I know my mom, and she uses cute pictures as blackmail. She gives them to Aoko."
Shinichi blinked at him in confusion, fingers clutched around the clothes sitting in his lap. Kaito launched a balled-up shirt at him, and Shinichi caught it. "We'll never manage to sneak past her."
One of Kaito's eyebrows quirked upward, and he grinned, letting the shadows of the ball cap cover his eyes. "There's always the window. Now hurry up, detective. I even have something for us to do, and we can pick up breakfast on the way."
Shinichi bit down on a sigh and threw off the blankets of his bed.
"This is undeniably the creepiest shop I've ever been to," Shinichi said, looking up at the wood-paneled storefront that squatted in its barren courtyard, with small, high windows that promised dim gloom inside. "And we're not even inside yet."
Kaito repressed a shudder of agreement, that he turned into a nonplussed shrug. Without fail, this part of the city set his hair on end. "The selection here is good … or as good as we'll find anywhere with the options we have right now. I need a few things the professor doesn't have, and this place doesn't ask a lot of uncomfortable questions we really don't want to answer right now." Kaito shot his cousin a teasing grin and added, "And maybe you'll find something nice enough for Mouri-chan. Can't exactly walk into Ginza or Okachimachi and use the Kudou credit account, can we?"
Shinichi grumbled under his breath, and Kaito decided to dig at him a bit more. "Or, maybe Yukiko-oba-san has something sparkly and not held in a bank vault that she would part with." Kaito paused for a moment in exaggerated thought. "Not that being in a bank vault would be such a problem. Wouldn't want to tip anyone off that the whole family's back in town..."
"You're retired," Shinichi reminded him pointedly, pinning Kaito with an annoyed glare. "No safe cracking. Or jewel heists."
"But this would be for a good cause!" Kaito grinned, stretching his arms over his head before folding them behind his head. "I could even do a special performance and send the heist note to oba-san, and you can try to catch me. You'll be more fun to outrun now that you're taller than my waist."
Shinichi's hands twitched, but he forced them to stay at his sides. "Explain why I decided to go anywhere near jewelry with you in tow?"
"Because I'm a jewel thief and you thought this trip wasn't stressful enough," Kaito answered, grinning through the paint and carefully blended latex that reshaped parts of his jaw, cheeks and nose into a blunter-featured teenager. Shinichi had grudgingly undergone a similar transformation, squirming uncomfortably the entire time. "That, and I know jewels better than you do. Do you know enough to pick out anything decent? Or not fake?"
Shinichi folded his arms with a long-suffering roll of his eyes. "I know enough to figure out your next targets when I need to."
"When I tell you where to look," Kaito agreed, slipping past and vanishing through the doorway of the shop.
"Welcome!" a voice called out in greeting, preceding its owner by an instant as Shinichi followed Kaito with a challenging glare firmly in place. "Can I …" the shopkeeper that hailed them trailed off and looked at them both from the shadows of a green-striped hat, one hand tucked into a dark haori while the other folded a small fan and lowered it from its greeting wave, "offer either of you a weapon?"
Kaito skipped forward, waving his hand and smiling disarmingly. "Don't mind my cousin. He's been a bit jittery since they adjusted his medication."
Shinichi grumbled, pulling his hands out of his pockets to shove at Kaito's shoulder and snaking a foot around the other boy's ankle to trip him. Kaito twisted, shifting his weight and slapping a palm to the floor to turn the potential tumble into a truncated handstand before a controlled fall set him back to his feet, just outside of Shinichi's reach. Shinichi sighed before bowing politely in silent apology.
The shopkeeper leaned casually on his cane as he watched the antics of the two, eyebrows raising enough to vanish into the shadows beneath his hat and shaggy hair. "Were you looking for anything in particular?"
"He's looking for a ring," Kaito chimed in, grinning at Shinichi's sudden squawk of protest. "And I have a delivery to pick up." Kaito pulled a folded sheet of paper out of his pocket and passed it to the man in the funny hat.
"I am not looking for a ring." Shinichi dragged his dignity back into place and shot a glare at his cousin. "And, no offense," he rubbed self-consciously at the back of his neck as he turned to the shopkeeper, "but this doesn't really look like the place to be looking for jewelry."
"None taken," the shopkeeper, with a knowing smile half-hidden in shadow. "Though you may be surprised." He paused a moment, just long enough to scan over the list Kaito had handed to him before turning and waving them both to follow.
"Ah, well …" Shinichi began, but trailed off as Kaito grabbed his arm and pulled him along in the wake of the shopkeeper. He shook his cousin off, quite capable of trailing along behind on his own power. A case of jewelry tucked behind a stack of boxes caught Shinichi's attention for a moment, but a quick glance confirmed that none of them looked even close to what he would consider presenting to Ran. He wondered briefly why he didn't just ask his mother to help him find something appropriate, before internally wincing at the thought . His mother would be overjoyed to help him find something - especially a ring - for Ran … overjoyed and underfoot as she orchestrated a massive production starring her son and future daughter-in-law. And, knowing Kaito, Kudou Yukiko would have plenty of help, if for no other reason than that Kaito seemed to live to drive Shinichi crazy some days... most days … any day he could possibly get away with it.
The shopkeeper tapped Shinichi on the shoulder with his fan. Shinichi started, and shot a quick glare as Kaito coughed to cover up laughter. "That case is all costume jewelry. But, I do have something that you may want to consider for your young lady."
"Um … thank you," Shinichi started, only to be waved off over a shoulder as the shopkeeper stepped away and vanished into a backroom. Shinichi let out a slow breath and looked over at Kaito. "Do you know what happened the last time I bought Ran jewelry?"
"Mm?" Kaito looked up from a display of candy in foreign wrappers. "No, what happened?"
A black cat streaked past, a small girl clattering along in its wake. "Yoruichi-sama!" she entreated, nearly running into Kaito's legs as the cat switched direction and darted behind him. "Yoruichi-sama, at least let me cook it before you eat it!"
Kaito twisted to see the cat hiding behind him, and its stolen prize clear as it slowed. "Eat wha …. YEEAAGH!" Kaito's skin paled beneath the molding clay and make-up and he threw himself behind Shinichi.
"What the hell?" Shinichi turned halfway before Kaito's hands clamped onto his shoulders and jerked him back into place.
"What is your problem?" The cat and girl were blinking up at him, and Shinichi shrugged, both to tell them he was as confused as they were and to try dislodging Kaito's grip. "Kai …"
"Just stay there!" Kaito ordered, pulling Shinichi backwards a step. Shinichi dug in his heels and stopped any further retreat.
"Are you afraid of cats?"
Kaito laughed, a tinge of manicness tainting the sound. "Yes, detective, I'm terrified of cats. You don't know how many heists have almost been ruined by some woman's hairball of a persian."
Just admit you're a thief out loud, Shinichi sighed internally, and kicked the side of Kaito's foot. It's not like we're supposed to be laying low. "Stop putting on a performance. What's wrong with you?"
Shinichi reached up to pry Kaito's hands off his shoulders, swearing under his breath as it didn't work, and Kaito continued using him as a meat shield. "It's not nothing. You're telling me all it took for me to stop you was to borrow Goro from Ran's mom?"
"No!" Kaito sounded like he was gritting his teeth, and finally blurted, "I can't stand fish, okay? Now help me get rid of it!" A hand stabbed past Shinichi's face, finger pointing at the black cat that was sitting in front of them with a tilted head, fish still dangling from its mouth. The little girl stood just behind the cat, looking dubiously at the two older boys in front of her.
Shinichi ran a hand down his face and tightened it over his mouth. He was not going to laugh at his cousin and - he was man enough to admit it - friend. He wasn't. Kaitou Kid's legendary composure could be cracked by sushi, and he was not. going. to. laugh. Or use it against him too much. "Please tell me Aoko knows about this," Shinichi managed to choke out around his hand, congratulating himself on keeping his voice steady.
"Mom ratted me out years ago," Kaito grumbled, sounding sulky. "Now..."
The cat darted past Shinichi and twined herself around Kaito's ankles, and the tail fin of her fish slid across his ankle. Kaito shrieked and leaped upwards, clinging to the nearest stable thing that was away from the finned terror … which happened to be Shinichi.
Shinichi choked as Kaito crashed into his back and latched onto his neck, hands flying up to pry at Kaito's arms. The thief's legs wrapped around his waist and Shinichi freed up one hand to push ineffectually at them. When that didn't work, Shinichi jammed his elbow into Kaito's side. Kaito shifted to avoid the hit, instincts honed by years of dodging mops and detectives kicking in, and Shinichi found himself being yanked sideways by the movement.
The cat vanished, instantly out of the way as Shinichi's arms pinwheeled, and he tipped over, crashing into a stack of boxes. Kaito's breath rushed out in an undignified squeal as Shinichi landed on him. "Get. Off!" Kaito managed, after sucking in a painful breath.
"This is your fault!"
"It's … oof! Just move!"
Kaito pushed his cousin away and levered himself up onto his elbows, rubbing at his stomach with a wince. Shinichi shoved a box of cartoonish candy dispensers off his head and pinned Kaito with a glare. "What the hell …"
A polite cough interrupted, startling them both. The shopkeeper stood in front of them, looking at the chaos and scatter merchandise with a surprisingly mild look as he extended one hand and used the other to open the lid. "This should be what you're looking for." A box sat in the cage of his long fingers, its velvet exterior absorbing the light around it. The ring resting amidst the dark luster of black silk caught the light with a subdued glitter.
"That …" Shinichi trailed off and managed a glance at Kaito who had righted himself enough to look at the ring as well. Kaito's eyebrows were raised and he sent Shinichi an approving nod.
"Told you you'd find something."
Shinichi took a steadying breath before clearing his throat and accepting the box from the shopkeeper. "That will do very well indeed. Thank you."
Afternoon light brightened the city streets as dozens of small forms spilled out of the double doors, packs slung across their shoulders laughing brightly in the rain-cleared air. They moved across the school yard, alone or in packs, rushing for home and freedom, many running towards older children that waited by the gate.
She enjoyed watching them, these little snapshots of youth. And, particularly, she enjoyed the trio of children that clustered around two dark-haired teenagers who wore the uniform of the neighboring Teitan High. They were missing two of their number today: the ringleader of the little group, and his tea-haired confidant.
She tapped manicured nails against the back of the bench she stood beside, sipping dark coffee from a paper cup. Where are you hiding, Cool Kid? The thought brought her to focus on the older boy, who smiled and crouched to tousle the smallest girl's hair. He straightened easily and stretched his arms over his head, keeping a tight grip on the school bag that he held in one hand. As his hands fell back to his side, he reached out and grabbed the older girl's hand, smiling at her blush.
Vermouth's eyes narrowed. The thief was being awfully familiar with the angel. The other times she had taken the opportunity to stalk them, he had barely touched her, clearly aware of their pint-sized chaperon, and subtly uncomfortable beneath the practiced mask of Kudou Shinichi. A question chirped by one of the children intensified the blushes across the two teenagers' faces. They looked at each other before he nodded in acceptance of whatever question had been asked. The angel, for her part, stared at him with a bit of embarrassed, pleased, and happy shock flitting across her face.
The reactions were too natural, too intimate, and Vermouth realized abruptly that that was not the thief at all. One of her silver bullets was a higher caliber than he had been before. Absinthe's doing, she suspected. Or, more likely, a cocktail of Sherry and Absinthe. Between the two, it had only been a matter of time.
Vermouth turned from her observation, stepping easily into the foot traffic and vanishing into it before her scrutiny drew the attention of her silver bullet; she knew, he was very, very good at knowing when he was being watched. Her plans altered in her mind, incorporating the new dynamic and shifting themselves around to account for it. Or at least, beginto account for it.
It really was a pity, she mused, half fancifully, that both of the boys weren't singled out and acquired when they were younger. They were set in their ways at this point in the game. But a younger set – say young enough to be malleable and trusting would have been quite the gift for the Organization.
Vermouth smiled to herself and locked the idea away for better, more complex perusal later on. For now, she could wait and see who would step forward to begin the next move, and who would be left to react. Time, after all, was one thing she had in abundance.
Added to things Kat doesn't enjoy writing: slapstick. Though, Kaito's reaction to fish is based on mine to snakes. Yes, really. My family has come home to me perched on furniture, or dissolving into hysterics because something slithered across my path.