To longtime readers: A reread of the previous chapters is highly recommended, as they have been digitally remastered for your visual pleasure. Indeed, several aesthetic and logic changes have been made due to late realizations on the part of the writer.
Do go over to my profile and click the links to the full-view version of the awesome cover image by Patience Memory and the face shots of DC-style Danny that were drawn up for the event of this update. Amazing likenesses if I do say so myself.
Your eyes reflect your inner fire; do not be consumed.
Through the Fire
Chapter Eight: Facing Off
Decoded: Chapter 15 (excerpt)
To you guys in Yin Squad,
I know you've had your doubts about this—your last letter was really clear on that, Kinesis. Believe me; I've had my doubts as well.
We're not heroes. We've gone too far to call ourselves that. We're hardly villains, though. Instead, we fall in that dangerous gray zone between the two, especially me; I qualify as a literal shadow in the game. My job is the hardest, because it's so easy to do more than I should. I've accepted it, as you know very well. It comes with the territory of being an Unseen/mod—a code-defying game changer.
We might bend the law. Break it, sometimes. Following procedure was never really our thing anyway. Vigilantes? That's what you might call us, but none of us think we're above the law. To survive, we've had to act. Rest assured, the Raven Murder clan (aka CALCULUS) will be brought to justice—not by our hands, but by the hands of the law.
So much rides on us keeping our secrets. When you poke at CALCULUS, they know. I'm not willing to risk anyone else unless they have both an open mind and a strong firewall or reliable system backup.
Outsiders might call this a paranoid conspiracy theory, but we know CALCULUS is real. We're not chasing a fleeting dream of closure—we know what their tracks look like. You and Chaos were the ones who found the anomalies, remember? Accidental crashes. Fatal errors. BloodLord himself (that fruit loop of an Unseen/mod) was shocked at the corruption in the network, in his own company.
So no, I wouldn't say we're quite heroes. Not anymore. We're more like… watchdogs. But since that name is far too placid and isn't very flattering to our image, I'd like to call us falcons.
I hope this answers your questions, Kinesis. Tell Chaos not to mess with Blood's company records too much before Techie gets a look. Stay strong, both of you.
FirstIn, signing out.
Danny woke up with a start, tense before recognizing his surroundings. He looked down quickly at his visibly-ungloved hands, briefly flexing them with trepidation. His core pulsed coldly in response to a testing tug on intangibility as he pressed a hand firmly against the wall. He sighed when it remained solid to him though he waved his other hand through its brother without problems.
If I thought Hakuba wouldn't notice and ask questions, I would've had Tucker tear that cursed paper to pieces and burn it to ashes by now. No quick wall-walking escapes for me in this house, he moped.
With sleep still weighing him down, he sat up and rolled off the bed in one motion. Back, meet floorboards.
The half ghost lay staring at the ceiling for a moment, gathering his thoughts. A low screech from the corner of the room made him roll his head to the side. "Yugure? How did you get here?" Danny questioned the culprit. The young peregrine was no less proud and lethal for his diminutive stature. He merely spared his keeper one baleful golden-ringed eye before returning to preening his feathers. "I should've named you Bandit, the way you keep escaping," the teen commented amusedly.
"I think Spooky would be more apt. He sure fits the description." Blue eyes shot to the other side of the room where Tucker sat against the wall, toying with his favorite red yoyo with one hand and updating the ghost files with the other. "That was an interesting night, huh?"
"Understatement." Danny rubbed his head, groaning, "I must've been really out of it once we got back. I can't even remember getting in bed. Do you?"
The tech genius shrugged. "That was all Kenshin, dude. Whatever he did knocked us out like lights."
"Teleportation, I think. From what my ghost sense picked up—more accurately, what it couldn't—he could've done more than that. Not to mention he teleported us through that stupid paper," he muttered back, picking himself off the ground.
Tucker cocked an eyebrow over the top of his laptop. "Do you trust him?"
"I respect him," Danny admitted, not at all reluctantly, "but he's definitely not someone we should take lightly. Because either his power being unaffected by ofuda is normal, or he's just that much stronger than me. Not to mention that even when his power is sealed… there's a bit he can't control. Either way, I can't sense him. We don't want him as an enemy."
"Kenshin's aura of truth really freaked you out, huh?" The yoyo swung like a pendulum before curling upward into Tucker's hand with a soft smack.
"Blurting out your real identity to a complete stranger can do that," Danny said dryly. "Himura did say it wouldn't have happened unless we wanted it to, but… I would've attacked him anyway."
"Why didn't you?" the tech genius asked curiously. That was what he'd been pondering in the morning hours as his friend slept on. It surprised him that Danny had actually listened to Kenshin's explanation and not gone into a literal panic attack after the sword-spirit's involuntary show of power. An undetectable aura that encouraged truth-telling could be dangerous if used against them, after all. Assurances that Himura couldn't force people to speak the truth (sans intimidation via blade and mysterious draconic smile) would do nothing to stave off the half-ghost's distrust once earned.
"Because… I didn't want to," the young leader murmured.
I don't even think I got angry then. Scared, yes, but angry? No. How could I? No matter how calm and mysterious Himura looks, I could see it in his eyes. He's accepted his power—he said that much, but… he never wanted it. I know, 'cause… I've been there before.
Silence hung in the air. Danny continued with a small breath. "It took me a while to catch on, but… even when he first appeared, he wasn't planning on fighting us. See, the sword was at his right side. In Japanese sword-speak, that's like saying you're not gonna fight. I think he was hoping we didn't know that," he mused thoughtfully.
Not all ghosts are evil… some just want to be left alone. He's conflicted. On one hand, he drives people off with illusions and masks. On the other…
Well, Kenshin wanted company. Having complete strangers send letters to friends in Kyoto who—Danny realized with a start—who the sword-spirit probably didn't know the exact whereabouts of, was a pretty good sign of this. Said friends were almost certainly yokai themselves, which probably should make him worried.
"You've been reading into sword facts. Very interesting." Tucker's voice snapped him out of his thoughts. The training detective shrugged.
"Eh, even seemingly useless information can be useful sometimes." It had saved his butt quite a few times, actually.
"There's no such thing as useless information, O great detective," the tech genius smirked.
"That's what you think, O genius of technology and unexpected things," the half-ghost returned airily.
Tucker shrugged carelessly. "Anyone who's confronted their fears would learn somethingfrom them. You of all people definitely know that by now."
Danny inclined his head in agreement. The two-year trip to England had been the perfect environment to not only sharpen their old talents, but add new ones to the mix; Tucker in particular acquiring… quite the unexpected skill set in addition to his considerable skill with technology.
"Speaking of fears, Kenshin seems pretty convinced that we'd be lunchmeat in his world. I'm not sure what to think."
"No offense dude, but he could be right. You've been training a lot as a human—we both have, but as Phantom… when was the last time you've gone all-out?"
Danny winced, one hand instinctively rising up to rub at the back of his neck. "Yesterday was the first time in months I've stayed in ghost form for over an hour. In England, I really didn't need to transform; living with Hakuba, it made sense to avoid it when I could. I can use most of my abilities pretty easily as a human, anyway." He sighed deeply. "On hindsight, what we did last night was pretty stupid. If Kenshin hadn't been peaceful…" he trailed off, meaning clear.
Tucker snapped another full round with his yo-yo even as he continued to type, casting an intrigued glance at his friend. "Do you really think ghosts and yokai are different things entirely, or is Kenshin just a weird one?"
"Anyone would be a bit… off if their soul was fractured to pieces." His tone was dark, a glint of memory reflecting in blue eyes. A blink—it was gone. "I think it's the intent behind the split that really affects the result, but in this case, Kenshin sounded like he didn't even know how it happened. I don't know about his other soul shards but… this version of him I think I can trust not to hurt anyone."
Anyway, he seems to trust we won't try to expose his dojo. Not that it would be much more than an annoyance to him if we did, but… I think I can give him a bit of trust back. Our names for his privacy. His messages for information. We're equal in exchange.
"He seems to be an alright guy now, but only time can tell whether he's really a good guy or not," Tucker voiced, closing his laptop with a quiet click. The yo-yo disappeared into one of the many pockets of his nearby backpack.
Danny shrugged, ducking head and shoulders into the nearby closet. He emerged shortly with his pressed and ironed school uniform. "Either way, the information he gave us is more than valuable," he noted, inspecting the blue fabric closely. "Sam would hate this," he chuckled, "it kills individuality." He turned and continued, "I still find it kinda weird how he told all that stuff to us. I mean, we're so obviously foreigners. I guess you could chalk that up to him having no human contact for over a hundred years, but…"
"But that doesn't mean he's had no outside contact, especially with some of the things he said," Tucker finished the thought, brushing past to retrieve his own uniform.
A calculating look briefly crossed Danny's face. "I think he meant what he said about becoming friends, but it doesn't hurt to be careful." He snapped his gaze back with a small smile. "Hey Techie, by the way, I call shower."
Saguru listened to the footsteps padding softly down the cherry-wood staircase as he leaned against the nearby wall. Finally. His… colleague and his constant shadow sure had taken their time getting ready. The detective wondered briefly what their response would be when they saw him—more specifically, what he was wearing.
His all-nighter in the lab had given him invaluable information about Kaitou Kid, and he meant to exploit that information even if it meant leaving his mysterious companions to their devices. While he regretted losing a prime chance to meet a Kudo Shinichi, a fellow detective of his age and caliber, he figured it was for the best. It was hard enough trying to convince Ekoda High to receive him when contacted at such a horrifically impolite hour and on such short notice.
Saguru wondered again at what his… associates' reactions would be. Would Yan even care that he was switching schools this late in the game? The detective shook his head. When did he start caring about that kind of thing?
If they ask me if I had anything to do with them waking up in their beds, I'll deny everything, he told himself.
Finally they entered his sights: the messy black hair of Yan—Shigawa, Saguru amended (the part of him that still regarded him as a colleague rather than a friend)—and the dark head of Yamada, noticeably devoid of any kind of red hat. Having washed up and dressed in Teitan's cerulean school uniform and light green tie, they appeared blissfully unaware of last night's travel upstairs.
Saguru smirked mentally. Now that I think about it, how do they think they got upstairs? Sleepwalking?
The detective watched as Shigawa took a long look at his attire, which was dark blue—almost black. There was the expected side-glance at Yamada, who shrugged.
Saguru stepped away from the wall as the two greeted him with a belated "ohayo". He silently congratulated himself on helping them conceal most of that horrible American accent. Yamada seemed to be more skilled in hiding it than Shigawa though the tech genius was forbidden by Saguru from trying an English accent ever again. The half-Brit shuddered at the thought (which was almost as horrifying as the tech genius's singing) before returning the greeting. "I hope you had a good rest," he said, "though doubtless you would after such a late-night excursion in the snow."
Shigawa had the grace to look embarrassed. "We did. But we were back here and asleep before you got back," he said quickly.
"I know. It would be hard not to notice you two sleeping downst—" Saguru paled at what he caught himself about to say, which would be no better than outright admission of his weight-bearing task the night before. Though not very experienced in his chosen field, Yan was no slouch in connecting dots. "—st…aying across the hall from me. Especially with Yamada's snoring," he finished smoothly. He was rewarded by a small chuckle from his colleague.
"I resent that! I do not snore," the tech genius muttered.
Shigawa crossed his arms with a small smirk Saguru feared he would become well-acquainted with. "So… Either your clothes got mixed up at the dry cleaner's, or you've switched schools on us. Ekoda High? Is it because of the task force, or are we just boring you?"
The living mystery in front of me can never be boring, Saguru thought. "Well, the natural reaction when receiving a lead is to follow it, is it not?" he replied aloud, mouth curling at the corners when the light dawned on his colleague's face.
"You found something last night, something big. A suspect?" Shigawa voiced in admiration.
The smirk remained. "Hai. And I'm confident in my deductions."
"That was quick," the teen muttered under his breath, "I almost pity the poor guy…" He straightened suddenly. "Ekoda is a little far from here though, isn't it?" he probed.
"Just a shinkansen stop or so away," the detective shrugged. "I will return in the evenings if I can. If not, I'll be staying with my father. I trust you won't do anything… idiotic while I'm gone." Saguru flipped his cell phone into visibility for emphasis. "Yes, Yamada, you may do whatever you like in the lab. And if something does happen, you at least know how to reach me."
Yamada's eyes widened slightly. "Thanks Hakuba," he responded, surprise evident in his tone.
"Don't worry. I won't let him blow up your place," Shigawa assured him.
"Please be sure not to," the half-Brit replied dryly.
Saguru was truly questioning his sanity. There were no guarantees when it came to experimentation, even with Yamada and all the precautions he and Shigawa took. The less-experienced detective himself had said the tech genius could be a mad scientist under the right circumstances. Still, the half-Brit comforted himself, nothing truly damaging ever came from these experiments. Yamada hadn't yet found a way to reanimate corpses like that in Shelley's Frankenstein.
Saguru shuddered at the image of the dark-skinned boy cackling insanely over a body on a gurney, lightning flashing through large, gothic windows as he chanted, "Rise, riiiise!"
The detective mentally steeled himself with a short head shake. If he finally got a clue to those two living mysteries through this sacrifice, it was worth it.
"Ja ne." With a curt nod to both of them, Saguru shouldered his book bag and left.
As the door shut with a click, the teens looked at each other in disbelief.
"There's no way that just happened. Him, switching schools this suddenly? Even if Hakuba did do it just for a suspect, even if he did get a big break… did he just hand us a freebie?" Danny voiced incredulously.
The tech genius nodded, a grin flashing on his dark features. "He said it himself—he trusts us! Is it… Could it be?" he gasped in feigned shock, "Are we finally getting through his steel defenses?"
Danny shook his head and smiled. "He trusts us not to be idiots, Tuck. He's Britanese to the bone; he never says exactly what he means unless he has to or wants to. Being who he is, he got a double dose of that from both sides of the family," he said a touch ruefully. "Like Kenshin said, formality likes to get in the way of making friends."
"Well, progress is progress," Tucker shrugged. "So… chances of survival?"
"Eh, it'll be fine. I'm not too worried."
"With my luck, our meeting was bound to happen whether or not he went to our school. Honestly, I'm more worried what his fan club will do when they notice this," a hand passed over Danny's face.
"Face trouble can be a bumpy situation. Human or ghost, you just can't escape it," Tucker joked, quickly leaning back to dodge a smack from Danny.
"Try Proactiv. It'll get you the clean skin you deserve," the half-ghost quipped dryly.
"Even if he does figure us out, I think we're fine… unless you can be arrested for being illegally alive. Can you?"
Danny looked at his friend pointedly. "Keyword: illegal. For one thing, we're not in America any more. For another, we can't prove we were victims of attempted murder. Even if we could, remember what our names are now? That's why I'm trying to break Hakuba's cast-iron logic. No matter how much I want to keep this in our team, we can't. When he does find out about us—and I know he will sooner or later—I'd rather have him on our side."
It seemed the grasp of winter was fading from the land, albeit temporarily. Snow melted to mere vapors, skimming and sailing the blue skies in delicate fluffy formations known as clouds. It was a beautiful day, absolutely stunning in the warm, golden light of morning.
Really, there was no way this could possibly be better, except, of course, for the fact that a giant, glowing, evil eyeball in the sky, known in common terms as the sun, was following their every step. Wonderful. Were they paranoid? Maybe. Shaking like they'd seen a ghost? No. It was hard to be scared of something they beat up on a semi-regular basis.
Teitan High was almost exactly what could be expected of most other schools: long, featureless mazes of hallways lined with lockers; classrooms around every corner; bathrooms with working plumbing. Actually, the Yang side of Team Phantom had stopped in awe to admire how clean the boys' bathrooms were. Compared to the ones in their old school, which were oftentimes as haunted as they looked, it was the epitome of cleanliness.
Having taken Kenshin's warnings seriously, Danny was somewhat relieved, for he remembered reading about a type of yokai that loved haunting dirty bathrooms. He really didn't want the Japanese equivalent of a ghostly cockroach hovering over his shoulder while he answered the call of nature (long story, which Yang Squad swore never to tell their female counterparts).
As they "traipsed gaily through the field of blossoming scholars" as Tucker said in a moment of lighthearted sarcasm, they took care to keep to the edges of their fellow students, Danny in particular keeping his face hidden under his dark bangs—no use stopping for a chat so soon before class, after all. There would be plenty of time between and after. He knew that after the school was aware of his existence, it would become a lot harder to walk unnoticed.
If several strategic blinks of invisibility and intangibility factored into his current success, none of them would ever know. Also, why work through the maze when he had the ability to go from point A to point B?
Through this careful progress, the two members of Yang Squad, the male half of Team Phantom, quickly found themselves in a room full of all-Japanese teenagers. The duo sat side-by-side on the extreme left side of the third row. Danny took the seat adjacent to the window for outdoor surveillance and extra light.
The young detective tapped Tucker's shoulder. "Am I in ghost form or is it normal for them to be staring like that?" he asked nervously.
The tech genius smiled lopsidedly. "Not complaining, dude. I've never seen so many students not skipping. Or that many girls actually looking at me," he whispered back, outright grinning now. "See, it's not all bad. Here, girls obviously know quality when they see it. I might as well enjoy the rest of high school while it lasts!"
Stifling a laugh at his friend's antics, Danny continued to survey the seated students around him. It took all his resolve not to fidget under the scrutiny. Black spikes, dark brown bangs, and even a few bleached-orange mops: Japanese teens filled nearly every desk in the room. And there, discreetly so as not to be impolite, multiple pairs of eyes peered at them over hands and open books.
For a nation that supposedly has predominantly brown eyes, there's a crazy amount of blue-eyed people here. Can't tell if they're natural or contacts from this distance. Maybe I will fit in after all.
The stalemate was broken as their teacher—sensei, rather—closed the door with what Danny thought was a rather menacing click. Standing behind his desk, the man surveyed his students quietly. Satisfied, he nodded.
The high-schoolers rose from their seats almost in unison. Danny and Tucker quickly scrambled to their feet a split-second after.
So this is what it's like in real life, Danny realized, now prepared for the call he knew would follow.
"Onegai shimasu!" they chorused with their native classmates as the entire room bowed deeply toward the sensei.
The half-ghost breathed out as everyone was allowed to sit, opening ceremony now over. Though he'd done his research and read about Japanese customs, this had still surprised him. He would have to be more careful remembering the cultural differences from the Western world. The "stand, bow, sit" tradition was only the tip of the iceberg.
"I hope you have all had a restful weekend," their teacher said. There were a few affirmative nods. "As some of you might have noticed, you have two new classmates. If you please, tell us a little about yourselves."
"Hai, sensei." Tucker stood back up and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with a small grin. "Good morning to you all! My name is Takeru, Yamada Takeru—seventeen years old. I just transferred here from London Bridge in London, England. I know quite a bit about computer technology, but I've also studied many other things to a level of proficiency. I'll be sticking around for a while, so I hope we can be friends," he ended with a wink. There were a few soft giggles around the room. "Thank you very much for your kind welcome." He bowed briefly and sat back down.
Danny rolled his eyes in a longsuffering way as he got to his feet. Tucker never changed. At least this time the tech genius would get a fair chance at a date. Facing the room now, the teen smiled slightly, letting some of his old awkwardness bleed into his tone. "I-I'm Shigawa Yan. I'm also seventeen. Like my friend here, I also transferred from London Bridge School, which is… really far away, so… please go easy on us." He too bowed and took his seat.
It was the trigger that broke the barrier holding back gossip-vine.
"Shigawa Yan—interesting name," a girl in the far back row whispered to her friend. "But… doesn't he look too familiar?"
"He looks exactly like Kudo-kun. Besides the hair, I mean." She whispered back.
"But Kudo-kun doesn't have any relatives, does he? Hm… do you think he's single?"
"I doubt it. Foreign, cute, and a little shy-sounding—what's not to like?"
"A little mysterious too. He didn't say very much, ne? It doesn't hurt to try, I mean unless he also has a friend like Mori-san…"
"The captain of the karate club? I see what you mean," was the sympathetic reply.
The half-ghost stiffened more with every word as the conversation continued, blue eyes wide under dark bangs.
Tucker looked on, puzzled as Danny slammed his head on his desk. "Dude, class has barely started and you're already hurting the desk? It hasn't even had time to do anything to you!" he whispered.
The training detective's lips barely moved as he replied, "This is worse than I thought it'd be." He straightened with a sigh. "In maybe two hours, every girl in this school will see me as 'foreign, cute, shy, and mysterious' with the same face as their most public classmate!"
Tucker nodded sympathetically. "Especially if they find out your similar taste in careers. Don't let it get to you too much, dude. Anyway, the shyness factor was your fault," he pointed out with a crooked smile.
"I thought it would make them look less," Danny defended, sore at the comment.
Why does the face thing get to me? Do I miss my attention as Phantom that much?
After a moment, the half-ghost shook his head.
Nah. Popularity is overrated. Still, I do like to be recognized for my own work. I knew I would be working under the shadows of other detectives, but this is just ridiculous.
Unfortunately, it was only the beginning of a tendency worse than acne.
Danny walked the halls of Teitan beside Tucker between classes, resisting the tickling sensation on the back of his neck. Now that people knew about him, the detective figured he could travel without much identity confusion. He didn't factor in just how fascinating they would find his face, however. He glanced around from the corner of his eye. One, two… make that five total, all of whom quickly stopped staring whenever he turned his head. Maintaining a calm, unbothered, and almost clueless façade was getting difficult.
I would hate to be Kudo Shinichi if this is what he has to go through every day.
"Um, sumimasen—a moment, please," a timid voice spoke up from the side.
Danny stopped as his eyes lit on the speaker, a shy-looking boy with unremarkable features other than the pair of rectangular glasses perched on his nose and the pencil behind his right ear.
Whew, ink hands. Looks like he was changing some printer ink. Actually, he probably does it a lot, looking at his cuffs. A lower year then—he probably does that stuff for his seniors. And why spend time with printers a lot? An aspiring journalist or writer is what we have here. Journalist is more likely, probably for the school paper. But he really is shy. His posture screams it. He was definitely put up to this, so I'll humor him.
The kid fidgeted under his gaze. "Um, you're Shigawa-sempai and Yamada-sempai, ne?"
Danny sent a reassuring nod his way. "That's us. I'm Shigawa Yan—he's Takeru."
"I-I'm Yamashita Takeshi from the class below you. Shigawa-sempai, some of us wanted to ask you something, but…"
"Us?" Tucker echoed, looking shiftily back and forth in mock suspicion.
The boy straightened slightly, gaining confidence. "The creative writing and journalism club! We get the story and write it, too! Check out the Teitan newsletter. We accept writers from any background, whether new or veteran!"
Inwardly, Danny grinned.
Heh, I was right! Awesome! But hey, the creative writing and journalism clubs are one and the same? I've gotta pick up a copy of their paper. It should be a hilarious read. And even if he was put up to this, answering some questions might lessen the staring.
"Sure, I'll answer some questions."
Their nervous schoolmate grinned brightly and bowed. "Arigato, sempai!"
"No problem," Danny said, bowing back. It was becoming a reflex, seriously.
Tucker flicked his eyes at his friend pointedly. "We have to get going, Yamash- Yamashaw- oh, stuff it… Yama-kun. We're listening, but make it quick." He never did like how long some Japanese names could be.
"Oh, gomen nasai! Erm, It's not a lot of questions, really, not even enough for a real interview. I… we were wondering if…" The kid floundered a bit before gathering himself, "We were wondering if you are really Kudo-kun's long-lost twin brother who grew up in an orphanage for geniuses in England in order to be raised as a detective, only to discover your origins and return under a pseudonym in order to reunite with your brother after years of being separated, teaming up for the sole purpose of capturing an insane egotistic serial killer?" He paused, having spouted the question in one long breath, "or maybe you're a fan of Kudo-kun and decided to use some of your inheritance from a rich uncle in order to pay for plastic surgery to make your face look like his?"
Danny blinked, running that sentence (or was it a run-on?) through his brain several times. As understanding dawned on him, the half-ghost threw away any thoughts of keeping a straight face, sending a withering glare at Tucker. Mentioned genius was laughing his guts out.
The black-haired transfer student couldn't decide whether to join in and laughing hysterically or scream. Probably both. It wouldn't be good for his reputation, but it would feel amazing. Creative writing club, indeed!
Don't kill the messenger, don't kill the messenger.
"You think that I'm…" The half-ghost slowly exhaled after imagining himself beating up the Box Ghost, slowly, methodically… His voice did not shake. Really. Finally, he calmed down enough to answer in a mostly civilized fashion. "Okay. First of all, I am in no way related to Kudo Shinichi—I checked recently to be absolutely sure of it. Second, I was actually raised in America, not England. Third, my uncle is very much alive. Fourth and most importantly, while I am a bit of a fan of Kudo's work, I was born with this face. Does that answer your questions, Yamashita-kun?"
The timid boy nodded quickly, looking slightly disappointed at the reply and unnerved by the strange smile the teen was sending his way. "Arigato, Shigawa-sempai." Then he perked up slightly, turning to the other transfer student. "Oh, and Yamada-sempai, A few of the club members wanted me to ask you something too."
The tech genius, who had gradually recovered from his mirthful fit during the exchange, cocked an eyebrow. I thought the attention was mostly on you, he conveyed to Danny through a quizzical glance.
The half-ghost shrugged, his face again calm as he made note of the curious bystanders listening in on the supposed interview. It can't be worse than what I got.
Tucker let a hint of curiosity leak onto his face. "Alright. Ask away."
Takeshi took a deep breath. "They wanted to know how you got so tan."
Tucker was struck utterly speechless.
Momentarily forgetting his aggravation, Danny burst into laughter at the look on his friend's face.
The tech genius groaned, "Dude, forget Proactiv. A plastic surgery wouldn't fix this!"
The poor freshman named Yamashita Takeshi could only look on in innocent confusion.
Hours after the disastrous "interview," Yang Squad could be found in yet another room, namely a history class with a teacher who seemed to like touching on elements of anthropology. As the discussion turned, the subject turned to the topic of names, their meanings, and a bit about their origins and symbolism if the sensei knew of them.
"…are not just labels. They each carry a meaning or symbolism in their etymology," the teacher lectured. "It was tradition for a warrior to change names at their genpuku—their coming of age. Names give identity. In some cultures, it is believed that the individual's life is defined by the meaning of his name. Is this something that should be lived by, or not?"
The history teacher paused, surveying the class sternly. Then she smiled tightly. "All right then. When I call on you, please come up and write your name on the board. Akimoto Keiko, you're first."
Danny looked up in curiosity. This class had suddenly become a lot more interesting. He watched as the class stood one after another and walked to the front, each teenager briefly discussing the kanji that composed their names. Some, like the common 'Yama' and 'Moto' names, were easily explained. Others… not so much. His chosen name definitely fell into the latter category. Tucker's, well…
Tucker strode forward and took his place in front of the board, marking his assumed identity down with confident lines.
Yama, three strokes; da, five strokes. Takeru… a crazy large amount of 'em.
The woman raised an eyebrow. "Your family name is fairly… straightforward, Yamada-kun."
Understatement. Tucker hadn't found out until later that Yamada was the equivalent of the name Smith in Japan. In fact, his chosen alias as a whole was pretty common. A strangled snicker disguised as a cough was audible from the side of the room. The tech genius glared at Danny, who looked back innocently. He was still a little sore from the Q&A with that kid, Yama-whatever.
"Hai," he agreed, turning back to the teacher. "Mountain rice field."
"Your given name, Takeru, uses the character for health and strength. Your full name is quite close to that of the legendary 12th emperor, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, though the kanji is different. It would not surprise me if you were named specifically for that reason."
Though of course he wouldn't be saying it aloud, that was something Tucker hadn't known when choosing his name. "Arigato, sensei." He received a nod.
"You may take your seat now."
It took several more names and some rather typical meanings and symbolism before Danny's. The black-haired training detective almost yawned, interest waning as it became evident he knew most of them already. After what seemed like an eternity, the list finally reached him.
Danny stood up in one smooth motion, resisting the urge to crack his back, neck, and other joints, and wended his way between the desks to the front, also managing to ignore the ever-present stares.
They'll get over it soon. They have to or I might go insane! he thought, turning to face the room of blue lasers pointing at him.
The half-ghost picked up a marker and began to stroke the characters neatly onto the nearest empty space.
The teen studied the hiragana and kanji that made up his alias, staining the whiteboard black with glistening ink that had yet to dry, so swiftly had he written it—very neatly, of course, or a certain half-Brit would be hounding him about it.
"Is there a reason why you wrote your family name in hiragana, Shigawa-kun?" the teacher asked. For good reason; in family names, the complicated kanji were the norm, not the simplified, curly hiragana. Kanji had meanings. Hiragana merely represented the sounds they made.
Danny smiled lopsidedly. "The kanji reading is actually Shinagawa, but my family wanted to keep the original pronunciation. It's not so easy to reflect that without writing out the hiragana."
To demonstrate, he quickly sketched down the mentioned kanji underneath the three curvy characters.
Hopefully sensei wouldn't notice the deflection and unanswered question.
Of course we had to change the kanji. The one Tucker originally used for 'shi' was the one for death (死). Along with 'gawa', river, it would have unnerving connotations. If a name that implies the River Styx doesn't call attention, then I don't know what does.
"Sou desu ne…" the woman nodded. "I see your given name is written in kanji, yet you use the Chinese pronunciation. You must be happy that it is, ne?"
Danny smiled wryly. "Yes, very. As you can see, Yan is the same kanji as Tsubame—the swallow—which is very much a girl's name." A couple boys snickered, stopping quickly, however, when their teacher's eyes swept severely over the classroom.
"There is nothing humorous about that," she stated sharply. "The swallow has great symbolism in many cultures and traditions throughout history." Danny knew quite a few of them himself. In fact, his new name had been the first thing he researched upon reaching England.
"In Egypt, the swallow is associated with the souls of the dead. It was thought that souls would transform into swallows on the journey to the underworld," the half-ghost ventured. He'd been pretty incredulous when Tucker swore he didn't know about the symbolism when choosing the name, especially since transformations and death were topics very close to him.
The teacher smiled at him. Danny found himself amazed at the swift expression change. Speaking of transformations! "That's correct, Shigawa-kun. In some cultures, it's also a symbol of loyalty; a promise to return home to those you love." A few distinctively female sighs permeated the room.
Danny had never told his friend about the promise he'd made, which made the coincidental name choice just that much more suspicious.
Especially since a different kanji for the Chinese form of Yan meant flame.
At the risk of sounding paranoid, I wonder… could a ghost have something to do with it?
"Arigato, Shigawa-kun. You may take your seat."
Relieved to get out of the spotlight, he did just that. He'd gotten quite a few more considering glances after his teacher's little addition about his name.
"If you need help finding your way around, do not hesitate to ask one of your classmates for help. Feel free to come to me or one of the other staff members if you have any other concerns."
"Thank you, sensei."
After bowing for what felt like the hundredth time, the two friends left their final class of the day and maneuvered their way through the throng of students.
The hallways extended onwards in their minds. So many people hurried to and fro, so many eyes… so many eyes! Oh, their classmates were very polite up front—it was in their culture—but that didn't stop Danny from hearing the whispers, feeling the gazes boring into his face. It felt like an eternity before they were down the front steps of the main entrance.
Day one, over, and no Kudo in sight.
He should've relaxed at the thought. Classes hadn't been terrible, and neither were the people. It was a far cry from Casper High, to be sure. Besides the little hiccup remembering the "kiritsu, rei, chakuseki" tradition, everything had gone by smoothly. But the compilation of certain events, namely the face issue and the underhanded staring, agitated the half-ghost to the point that even Tucker was getting edgy. "Dude, I haven't seen you this shaky since the first time you asked Paulina out. You won't start dropping your pants now, are you?" the tech genius laughed nervously.
One hand waved nonchalantly through the air. "Nah, I've got it all under cont—ow!" Danny yelped when his book bag landed full force on his foot.
"I can see that," Tucker said with a cocked eyebrow, poking a finger through his friend's intangible shoulder.
Danny sighed. "Point taken," he relented as his limb rejoined the corporeal world. He reached down to grab the strap of his bag. "You don't happen to have any suggestio—gaflught!"
Tucker watched in utter amazement as something, or rather someone, plowed at full speed past him and into his distracted friend and leader, resulting in a flattened half-ghost detective on the pavement, sandwiched comically underneath the unidentified runner. The tech genius hated to admit it, but he had been taken completely by surprise. Evidently the same was true for the black-haired teenager squashed on the ground.
I know me and Danny haven't gotten into any real fights in a long time, but are we really that rusty?
The culprit regained their feet with a short jump as if burned. "I'm so sorry! Are you all right?!"
Danny mumbled something unintelligible before shaking his head rapidly. "Déjà vu," he coughed out at last, recalling a very similar situation from two years ago. He accepted the hand that was offered him, grasping it firmly, and was levered up to his feet with surprising strength.
Calluses on knuckles, firm stance, nice grip—martial artist. Slender fingers. Female?
He glanced up through his hair at his observations, barely catching a glimpse of a feminine face with yet another pair of those unusual blue eyes. The figure bowed, hands clasped together over the vivid blues of a Teitan uniform skirt, with long, wavy dark brown hair covering her features.
"I apologize—I should've been looking where I was going. Are you injured?"
Very slight smoke smell under that soap. Not her; she's too clean, but someone who lives with her smokes quite a lot. She doesn't like it but can't do anything about it, so it's a parent. I'd guess the father, since men are more likely to chain smoke. Clothes and shoes are in very good condition, but not new: she takes care of the things she owns, is very neat, independent, and responsible. I'd go so far as to say she cleans up after the guy. Tough. I feel sorry for him.
The detective-in-training blinked, not betraying his thoughts.
"I have a hard head, so I'm fine," he replied, smiling wryly. "You were running pretty fast. I guess it was a good thing I was there to cushion the impact."
The girl flushed deeply. "If I'd been looking where I was going, I wouldn't have needed a cushion," she retorted, still not meeting his eyes.
Well, all the better for him. She couldn't comment on his face if she didn't look at it.
He shrugged. "What happens, happens. And, as it happens, you were running for a reason, right?"
"I'm trying to catch up with a friend—he was in the newspaper today, so I have to reach him before his ego carries him off!"
Danny hid a snicker behind his hand strategically as the girl looked up. "We wouldn't want that, would we? Go on then. I shouldn't be holding you up, Mori-san."
She smiled gratefully, blue eyes bright. "Thank you! Until next time—ja ne!" And before either member of Yang Squad could say a word, she was gone.
Danny dusted his blues off absentmindedly, staring in the direction the girl had gone. "We need a vacation," he deadpanned after a long pause.
"No kidding," Tucker agreed, having stayed silent through the exchange, "between studying, sending and reading team updates, flying over here unexpectedly, tagging along on Hakuba's cases, learning that we know nothing about the local Unseen… all we've been doing is rushing around with barely a break. At this rate, we'll run ourselves to exhaustion!"
A hand ran through dark hair. It was starting to become a habit. "Guess who the only Teitan student in today's paper was? There's only one truth. The others don't count."
"Kudo Shinichi," the tech genius replied, rolling his eyes.
Danny smirked lightly. "I don't believe in coincidences. That girl's no fangirl. She's his friend."
"Right, you knew her name." Tucker paused. "How could you tell? The friend part, I mean."
The half-ghost scoffed, pointedly flashing green eyes at the other boy. "Please, Tuck. I've had a lot of experience in both forms; I can tell a fan girl from a friend. And she's not just any friend; she's either his best friend or girlfriend, from how those girls talk. She's Mori-san, the captain of Teitan's karate team- a Mori-san who I'll definitely be looking up once we get back to base," he concluded, reaching down for his pack once again. Before he did however, he took a quick look to make sure no one else was charging blindly at his back.
Tucker looked at him silently. "…Besides the name, you got all that from the handshake, didn't you?" he deadpanned.
Danny grinned sheepishly. "Almost? More like I connected a series of oddly convenient coincidences."
"Coincidences, shmoincidences. Shows what you've learned." The tech genius nudged his friend in the ribs lightly. "Now about that vacation…"
"Yeah, well… what's one or two days off? We've been preparing for two years to track a cold trail. A couple days won't make much difference, but no longer than that."
"Not such a cold case, dude. Yin Squad found the discrepancies in the fruit loop's company, remember? You know, the guys using it as a cover?" Tucker reminded him.
Danny's grin turned positively feral. "Good times. There's just something about busting part of an international smuggling ring and plugging up what I suspect was a small chunk of funding for our Ravens." He shook his head. "With all the money he has I guess Vlad wouldn't notice someone siphoning cash off to hidden accounts in Japan. I just wish we saw it before anyone got hurt."
"That's as much my fault as yours, and don't you deny it," the tech genius said quickly. Danny had an annoying tendency to put all the blame on himself.
There was silence as Tucker tapped his touchscreen. "How's this sound?" he asked, flipping the device towards his friend. "After school tomorrow, we can have off. No talk of work, business, or serious stuff. Just plain goofing off. Like old times."
Danny smiled slightly. "A day at the amusement park, huh? Sounds good to me."
Like old times.
Yan: Yes, dear readers, we still exist. Looking forward to graduating high school and college, heh. Ah, but the break from trying to write what wouldn't come… so refreshing. I realized I was taking fanfiction way too seriously. I've since resolved not to force myself into it—if my heart wasn't in my writing, it would definitely show. So I went back, read the chapters over, changed some stuff and added stuff and felt a lot better. Next chapter is where things actually begin. Treat the chapters up to this point as a long introduction. Slow going, I know. Ah, the ambitions of a high school writer… I would love to go back in time and smack myself on the head. Seriously. Next chapter is full content-wise, but no promises on the update time.
Shadow: I'd apologize for the wait, but hey, life calls. Anyway, to the random facts! By complete coincidence, Takeru is the same name as the actor who plays Himura Kenshin in the live-action Rurouni Kenshin movie. And since the kanji in his name so well fits this version of Tucker, it is the one used here. This chapter may be mostly filler, but it actually reveals a few details and hints at others. But for what it's worth, sorry for the wait. Stay sharp! And do check out that fan art. I killed my pencils for my contribution. Oh, and I claim creative license for the word "gaflught!", which is the sound of a person being tackled by surprise.
Cultural note: Kiritsu. Rei. Chakuseki. Stand up. Bow. Sit. This is an introduction at the beginning of class. It shows respect for the teacher. Onegai shimasu in this situation implies "please teach us well." Besides things like this, I'll hold back on cultural realism or Danny and Tucker will get eaten alive.