A/N: Bit shorter, but I didn't want to force anything. This is complete and the next story will be Chloe and Noel. Heh.
Conner saw his last customer of the day out the door with his purchase, pleasant smile frozen onto his handsome face. It remained even after the door had clicked shut, as he grasped his pink duster and began a cursory clean up of his quaint little shop. It wasn't long into his task that the bell above his door jingled merrily and he realized he had forgotten to put up the sign announcing that he was closed.
"I'm sorry, but right now I'm afraid I'm closed." He announced, turning.
He blinked upon noticing who exactly was standing in the doorway. "Ah, it's the little detective! What can I do for you?" He returned the duster to the tie on his arm with a flourish.
Mackenzie smiled at him, though the expression was far more nervous than he had ever seen her. She looked to be struggling over what to say.
"The usual?" She seemed to settle on, though it was apparantly, by her grimance, not what she wanted precisely.
"Another case?" He prompted.
It was closing time, and normally he entertained no one after closing, but for her, and for her amusing but impressive adventures that had thus far been entertaining to watch or be a part of, he couldn't find it within him to mind. Just this once. But her next words threw him for a loop.
"That depends on you." Her anxiety was still present, but she peered at him keenly. "Am I going to have another case soon?" She took a hesitant step forward, a blush on her face.
A spike of apprehension shot through his chest and he did his best to ignore it. "I'm not sure how I would know such a thing." He told her.
The Touch Detective shifted from one foot to another and then sighed. "I talked to my dad today." She said.
Conner tilted his head, not hiding his confusion.
Mackenzie's brow furrowed. "It was a weird conversation, but I think I got what he was trying to say." Her large eyes zeroed in on him again. "He was a detective before, so I trust that he knows what he's talking about."
Conner felt his muscles tense and his heart pick up the pace as he wondered. Did she figure it out? He had mastered packing quickly, and she didn't appear to have backup. He could knock her out and leave her on the couch... Gently, he told himself, she's still a child.
"Um... he said that rivals were important. That he and my mother... were like that. Before she was imprisoned."
This gave him pause. "What was she imprisoned for?" He couldn't help but ask.
Mackenzie's mouth twisted into a bemused frown. "She was a thief." She said simply, shuffling again.
"Really..." He honestly didn't know what to say to that.
"But I guess... what he was implying was that rivals were important to a detective's growth. He said that we're incomplete without one." This time the look she shot him was sharp and demanding, lacking the typical insecurity that came with her obvious crush on him. "So be careful!"
He took a step back in surprise. "What?"
Her face scrunched up and put her emotions on display, something he always found endearing about her, but at the same time always mentally scolded her for. There were people who would not hesitate to take advantage of a young girl with her thoughts in the shop window, unobscured and advertised. Nonetheless he watched her eyes flash with doubt, apprehension, determination, and then a sudden sureness that made him, inexplicably, feel proud of her.
"When I saw him again." She began. "I knew, somehow, but doubted it and didn't say anything to Daria. Or anyone. But when I got home I thought about it. The voice was familiar the whole time. And he always goes after antiques. And sometimes you even almost said it outright to my face and I never realized it!"
Mackenzie was very nearly pouting, but her upbringing must have let her control at least that much. Conner smiled at her expression and received a light glare in return. He chuckled and backed up a step to lean against his counter.
"So what is your deduction, Touch Detectice?" He prompted.
"You're the Cornstalker." She said simply. Surely.
"What will you do?"
"I'm not going to turn you in." She decided. "But I hope you don't end up like my mother."
"I'm very good at disguise, you know?" He responded gently.
She scowled at him. "Not in hindsight. I know now that you were the Mayor. I knew there was something off then, but..."
He shrugged. "You didn't know what to look for then. I see. I will work harder on that element, detective." His lips curved further upward. "Since rivals are meant for self-improvement." He stated, amusement coloring his voice.
Mackenzie sighed in relief. "Right."
"And if I may suggest..." He trailed off and waited for her look of interest before continuing. "Please learn to shield your thoughts more adequetely, lest someone use that against you." His tone turned teasing. "I don't think it would be quite right if the thief went and rescued the detective." His smile turned sharp. "Usually it's the detective that pulls strings and sabotages to protect the criminal, in such relationships."
Mackenzie looked vaguely uncomfortable. "I'm aiding and abetting." She shook her head. "But if my dad did it..."
She jerked in surprise as Conner laid his hand on her head, right atop her hat. "Family traditions should be honored accordingly. New or not." He patted twice and stepped back again. "I look forward to our new working relationship." He informed her, closing his eyes and tilting his head with a mischievous grin. "Afterall, the old one was fun enough. This should be completely delightful." He shooed her mildly. "Get some rest, detective." He ordered her pleasantly. "You will have a case this week. I'll write you like always."
"Ah!" She started in surprise as she found herself ushered out the door. "Conner?"
"Oh, and..." He paused in the threshold. "The shop will not be open again until Monday." He smirked. "Good night then, Mackenzie."
The bell of his shop jingled as he closed the door. This time he flipped the sign and locked up, sparing only a brief look to the confounded young lady just outside before spinning around and brandishing his duster, feeling renewed and energized. All the better. The store would need to be sparkling if he intended to let it sit for the rest of the week. He laughed, quietly, controlling the sound and tuning it. It was laughter that had given him away before, and it wouldn't do for someone to hear the familiar cackle of the Cornstalker from his shop.
Since he's promised Mackenzie that he would not be caught. And promises between rivals, well...
"They're a bit stickier than those between friends." He mused. "Does that make them stronger?"
They'd find out in due time.