So, I really need to try and stick to my update schedule :/ Otherwise, I just know one of my stories is going to end up being accidentally forgotten for too long. Even so, I finished this chapter and decided there was no point in making you guys wait if this was done. Plus, I was starved for reviews. ^^'
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters.
A mass of guards escorted him down to the party hall. Takeda was glaring at him heatedly, even though he had tried to explain that it was a misunderstanding. His old friend had simply wrenched the painting from his hands, and now he cradled it close to his chest as they marched. Hitsugaya, meanwhile, clutched the money Kage had given him tightly, almost crushing it in his anger at her. He knew by now that she enjoyed both playing mind games and cornering him in uncomfortable situations, but this; she had gone too far.
Forget his strange obsession with her, or his unexplainable need to keep all the evidence to himself. So far, he'd been treating her lightly, careful not to reveal too much to others because they could possibly track her down and turn her into the police. He was well aware that he had been subconsciously protecting the mysterious woman, treading lightly during the cases because of his strange attachment to her. Since that first night, the two had entered some sort of secret bond that was not easy to break, and his curiosity about her only added to his desire to keep her for himself, if only for a little while.
But now she had crossed the line. Not only had she attempted to rob his friend blind, but she had tried to use him as an escape route. Their exchanges were to be kept private, unknown by others and just for themselves, but now she had brought others into their little game. He would admit that he had respected Kage on some level because of her strange ethics during crimes, but the thought that she had paid no mind to how this would hurt him had him bristling.
The party guests watched them curiously as they walked in, a group of guards surrounding them closely and keeping a wary gaze on the uncomfortable detective. Takeda led him to a table in the middle of the crowded hall and gestured towards a seat. He obliged the man by sitting, hanging his head as his friend took the chair opposite him. Placing the painting safely by his side, Takeda intertwined his fingers and leaned towards him, using his elbows on the table as a support.
"Care to explain?" he finally asked rather bitterly. A crowd of police folk gathered around them, murmuring to each other and gazing at him curiously.
Damn her. Well, he could get even. He knew what she looked like, and he knew her criminal patterns. He could have her arrested very soon, and she would learn that no one could mess with him so easily, no matter how pretty or captivating they were.
He hung his head lower, taking the chance to glare at the bill in his hand. It was like a slap in the face. What, did she think she could bribe him into keeping quiet? After everything she had caused tonight, the very idea was laughable. Surely her opinion of him wasn't so low, as to think that the detective on her tail would crumble so easily because of an offer of money; the thought left him bitter and enraged. There was absolutely no way...
As he stared at the bill, he realized there was something rather strange about it. It didn't really look like any bill he had seen, especially when he took notice of the minute changes from a regular one. Well, yes, it was Italian currency, oddly enough (how had Kage come across that?). But when he looked closer, he realized there were small differences between it and government issued bills; the ink was smudged in several parts, the borders were uneven, and the serial number on the bottom was unevenly spaced, with each character a different shade of color.
After working with the police for so many years, Hitsugaya had come to learn a little something about money, and this almost looked like a counterfeit bill. And really, he suspected that Kage had known he would notice the contrasts. She, after all, knew better than anyone about his attention to detail and his expansive knowledge on information regarding the police force. A small voice in his head concluded that she had handed him fake money on purpose, so he raked his brains for any connection he could make with her small hint. And then he remembered that Takeda had only just recently returned from Italy, where he would have had to use Italian currency. Narrowing his eyes in suspicion, he looked up at the painting Kage had been trying to steal, now clutched tightly in Takeda's hands.
"Hey, who painted that?" he questioned the man, feigning curiosity. The chief of police looked at him in surprise, which quickly turned into mistrust. Hitsugaya immediately held up his hands in defense. "I promise, I'm not trying anything by asking. I'm simply just very curious, because it's a very beautiful piece. It must have cost you a lot of money."
He was extensively playing on the man's ego. From knowing him for so long, Hitsugaya was well aware that the man desired fame and glory more than anything else in this world; it was what had prompted him to abandon his own team and take up a job as a chief of police in a completely new district, because the job came with much more prestige than his last one. The detective had an inkling that he had brought them back to the party hall just so he could draw attention to himself. He could never resist the chance to boast, especially with the number of people crowding around them now. And sure enough, his suspicious gaze instantly transformed into a proud one at his words.
"This was painted by a young Italian artist by the name of Abele Marino," he bragged, holding it up for everyone to admire. "He's the latest celebrity in art over there, and I was one of the first people to buy his work. I bought this in Milan five weeks ago. And you were right – cost me a fortune." As the crowd admired the painting and praised Takeda, Hitsugaya's mind was churning with information. Not wanting to believe it, he gazed between the bill and the painting before gritting his teeth.
"Takeda, do you have any Italian money with you?" he asked carefully.
The man froze in place, gazing at him in surprise at the words. "What?" he asked with a chuckle, as if his question was completely absurd.
"Italian money," the detective repeated, determined to discover the answer to his dangerous musings. "I want to see it. I've never been to Italy, you see, and I'm curious about the currency. And you were just there a few weeks ago. Didn't you tell me earlier at the party that you haven't been able to finish all your errands since you got back, like stopping by the bank?" Some of the other officers, who had been a part of that conversation, murmured along in agreement with him, looking curious themselves.
"Oh. Uh, all right. Yes, I do believe I have some." He slipped a hand into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, unable to refuse when he had himself said such a thing in front of so many people. Opening it to reveal a few bills, he handed one to him. Toushiro took notice of the quick flash of worry that passed through his features, but then it was instantly replaced with a look of cool reassurance, as if he thought there was no way anyone could notice anything out of the ordinary. This just flared Hitsugaya's temper, as he had never taken well to such blatant disregard for police authority. Surprisingly enough, he didn't actually feel that same vibe from Kage.
"Amazing," he murmured with fake interest as he took it, looking at the bill from all angles and fingering the numbers. Almost immediately, he saw it; the money Takeda had handed him was identical to the counterfeit bill he'd received from Kage. A sick feeling churned in his stomach, but his anger was greater than even that, which allowed him to keep up the act. "How interesting that it's really different from our... Hey, does this look a little strange to you?" Faking an expression of bemusement, he held it up.
"Italian money is just really strange," Takeda stuttered, grabbing for it. His face had twisted into one of horror, and the detective inwardly smirked at making him sweat. Served him right. So he dodged out of the way and instead held the bill out to someone standing in the crowd around them – a police officer.
"Does this look strange to you?" he asked innocently. The man, though surprised by the sudden question, took it and peered at it closely, holding it up to the light a moment later.
"Hmm. It does. But, why...?" His eyes widened as he finally made the connection Toushiro had been hoping for. "It's counterfeit," he whispered in shock, and his gaze snapped up to the sweating Takeda. "Why do you have a counterfeit bill, Takeda-san?"
"Let me see!" someone cried almost excitedly, and soon, multiple police officers were passing it around, confirming the observation and gazing at the party host suspiciously.
"It's just evidence from a crime here," Takeda made up, but his eyes were moving around rapidly as he desperately tried to avoid making eye contact. Anyone could tell he was afraid of slipping out the truth, or that someone would catch his lie.
"Check his wallet!" someone cried out. Hitsugaya's heart jolted when he realized it was the same gentleman who had been Kage's date. He was sporting a rather satisfied grin at the moment, looking at Takeda with nothing but mirth in his eyes. The detective gazed at him curiously, wondering whether it was because he was simply glad the man was being brought to justice, or for his own personal gain. The tattooed man noticed his gaze and looked up, winking at him mischievously when he caught his eye.
Someone took his advice and made a leap for Takeda's wallet, tucked into his shirt's pocket. Ignoring his protests, he opened it and grabbed the bills, pulling them out one after another. "They're all counterfeit!" he confirmed, causing an uproar. Two officers seized Takeda, and the guards made no move to help, lest they oppose the law. The party broke up in light of this new revelation, and both the painting and the money were taken into the police's custody as evidence.
Hitsugaya kind of wished he had a gyrfalcon feather to present to Takeda.
.. ღ ..
When he got home, Hitsugaya collapsed onto his bed, exhausted.
After Takeda had been found out, he had been taken to the police station. The party goers had asked that he be there, as he had been the one to make the discovery. When he had told them he needed to come to work early the next day for the Kage case, they had been more than happy moving to his police station, despite the long drive. The evidence had been laid on a table and looked over, and after two hours of tough investigation, Takeda had finally confessed to his crimes of counterfeit and thievery.
It was now nearing midnight, and the young detective was wallowing in self-loathing. Groaning, he put his hands over his face. He had been so blinded by friendship that he had almost let a guilty man go free. He had actually defended him! Countless times, too. He couldn't help but think of the people the ex-chief had conned, and how they would have had to go on forever with being cheated. The thought made him sick to his stomach.
Rolling over in his bed, he turned his thoughts to Kage. Momentarily, he wondered whether she had known of Takeda's crimes when she targeted him. That was the only explanation as to why she'd thought to give him a counterfeit bill, and from the same country too. Repeatedly throughout the night, she'd insisted that what she was doing was a good thing, but he just hadn't been inclined to believe her. Now, he could kick himself for his stupidity.
With a light groan, he laid down on his back and rubbed his face with his hands in exhaustion.
"Hey," someone suddenly whispered into the quiet. Startled, he looked out from his hands, and his heart jolted when he saw Kage by his window. She was perched on a tree branch outside and knocking on the glass pane; after her first arrival, he had remembered to keep it closed. He mechanically left his bed and opened the window for her, stepping back as she clambered in. She was still wearing her party dress and heels, and in one of her hands was a manila folder. He wondered how she could have possibly climbed up a tree like that.
"He got arrested?" she asked him cautiously, waiting in anticipation. He nodded stoically, his expression blank because the night's events had taken their toll on him.
She put a hand over her heart and sighed in relief before beaming up at him. "Great work," she complimented him. "I knew you'd figure it out."
She held up her free hand and mimed it rising – a higher notch of respect for him, he remembered from back at the Takeda mansion. He didn't say anything, though, too emotionally drained to make such an effort. Instead, he just eyed the manila folder in her other hand. She followed his curious gaze down to it, and then patted the file.
"Too big to stuff down my shirt," she joked, trying to lighten the mood. He didn't laugh, nor did he even crack a smile, and his lack of any reactions made her slightly uncomfortable; though he was a naturally icy man, he had never been outright impassive. It made her feel a little guilty for bringing him into this and causing such a reaction. Really, the only reason she had done so was because she knew he could handle such an important job. After observing him for all those times he chased after her, she knew that she could trust him to figure out her clue in the end. He had done a better job than she could, because his word meant more to the police officers.
But now she wished she had thought to pause and think about the effects it would have on him. She had grown up learning that not everyone was as they seemed, so coming to know that even a chief of police could go bad hadn't been such a shock. But Hitsugaya had only just learned tonight of the true nature of people and how twisted they could be. Discovering that his old friend was really a criminal had to have effected him strongly, hence his sudden unresponsive attitude. And she really didn't know how to handle him now, as handling things delicately had never been her strong point. Finally, she decided to just go ahead and say what she had come to say, to clear her name from his bad books; she just hoped he could handle it.
Meeting his blank gaze once again, she chewed on her bottom lip as she explained, "I wanted to show this to you. It's the file I received on the Takeda case before I was sent to make my recovery, and all the proof about his counterfeiting is in here. I know you're probably mad at me for what I did, but I just wanted to let you know that it was for a good reason." She stared at him in fixed determination, no longer nervous as she asserted the truth she had been hoping he would finally believe for so long. "Someone needed my help, and you can resent me for that, but you can't deny the facts–"
He closed the distance between them in a flash, grabbed the file from her hands, and tossed it aside without giving it a second glance. It hit the adjacent wall, where it slid down and landed on a sofa set against its surface. As she stared at it, flabbergasted at his action, he wordlessly wrapped his arms around her shoulders and jolted her forward, setting his cheek against the top of her head. After a moment, he felt her tentatively slip her hands around his waist in return.
"You're not mad?" she asked in a small voice, pressing her face further into his chest. She felt surprisingly safe and warm there, in his arms, and all the anxiety she had felt about facing him washed away in that instant. This was the way he had made her feel that first night, she remembered, when he'd held her closely with so much passion.
"No," he answered honestly, closing his eyes in his grief but squeezing her tighter. "Thank you, for helping me see that he wasn't a good guy." She nodded in response, and they lapsed into silence, save for the trees swaying with the wind outside. It blew past them, too, cooling them in the summer heat, and he breathed out deeply as he felt himself calm down. Having her in his arms, despite what he had been forcing himself to think all this time, was just what he needed to dull his raging emotions. He could never be mad at her now, not when she had looked so small bathed in the moonlight as she faced him head-on, despite her apparent nerves.
"You're welcome." She breathed in his clean, soothing scent as she answered, and then she sighed in relief when he allowed himself a brief chuckle at her rather late reply.
"...Is that what you do?" he finally asked, voicing a question that had been plaguing his mind all night. He kept his eyes firmly on the trees outside, masked with a far away look. Keeping her close, the two began to subtly sway in place together. "Take from the bad and give back to the victims?"
He felt her nod against his chest. "Well, they do pay me," she admitted, and he smirked at how sheepish she sounded. "But, yes. I don't steal."
It was something she had been trying to tell him repeatedly, and now, he could believe it. She didn't steal; she corrected crimes. She saved people from heartache and sorrow by recovering their beloved possessions. The gyrfalcon was a fitting feather in return.
He leaned back and took in the hopeful expression on her face as she looked up at him, obviously worried that perhaps he might still not side with her. But she had no reason to worry, because he had finally understood tonight, after discovering the truth about Takeda, that Kage was someone the world needed to protect those who couldn't protect themselves. He could never hate someone so selfless, who gave so much thought to others and even put herself at risk for it. With so much trusting emotion and understanding building inside of him, he did the one thing he thought was appropriate for the situation. He kissed her – lightly, slowly, sweetly, on the lips. She sighed happily and eagerly kissed him back.
He didn't really know how it happened, but next they were tumbling onto his bed, rough as they grabbed at one another, desiring the contact. It was for the second time, and yet he felt this time had a special meaning. This wasn't a mistake; he was sure of it. As he yanked at her dress, the unused feather drifted out, and he realized it was because he respected her now, as well as trusted her, fully and genuinely.
And in the moment where their passion harmonized at its peak, he realized he didn't even know her name.
.. ღ ..
When he woke up the next morning, she was gone again. However, rather than the relief he had felt after their first night together, when he had only worried over how he could possibly face her, he felt disappointment rip through him instead this time. A part of him had wanted her beside him when he woke up, so he could be sure that what they had done had a special meaning.
They'd talked late into the night afterwards, even though he had to report to work later. As he held her in his arms, they engaged in softly murmured pillow talk, like any pair of lovers that wanted to know more about each other. As the seconds ticked on, she whispered the truth into his ear; she told him of why she did what she did, all the people she had helped, all the crimes she had corrected, the reason she called in tips to the police station, and even why she used a gyrfalcon feather as an exchange for the target.
He couldn't once accuse her of lying, of hiding the full truth from him. Because every word she spoke added up, and everything clicked into place with what he had learned about her himself. Not once had he ever noticed her discriminate against others for her crimes; she went after lowly shop owners as well as nobility, never picking on just the rich nor going after money. And he agreed that whoever the police protected from her always seemed to hold no emotional attachment to their target, only monetary value. And when Kage had finally sighed and put an end to her confessions, he found himself feeling nothing but happiness at the fact that she had bested him in every single crime.
But now she was gone, and he couldn't help but feel that his bedroom was strangely lacking without her presence to brighten it up. Before he could fall too far into the pits of despair, however, he suddenly heard a light creak from across the room.
"Hey, Toushiro. You mind if I borrow some clothes?" His head snapped up in hope, and his eyes found her instantly. There she was, standing in front of the bathroom door, wearing his bath robe and bedroom slippers, and absentmindedly running a towel through her wet hair. She had stayed.
He let the relief wash over him, realizing that if he had taken the time to look over the side of the bed, he would have noticed her clothes still lying on the floor. The file he had tossed aside previously was still on the sofa, too. Feeling overjoyed that she had not jumped out his window like last time, he shook his head at her question and replied, "Uh, not at all."
She grinned. "Thanks. I can hardly head back in that dress." She picked it up off the floor and started folding it neatly. "That would definitely draw some attention."
"Oh. Are you heading back already?" He tried not to sound so crestfallen.
"Well, I wouldn't say no if you wanted to feed me..." she hinted with a chuckle. He saw that her eyes were twinkling in amusement and couldn't help but smirk.
"I'll make breakfast, then," he offered, and she nodded enthusiastically. He slipped out of the bed, grabbing his sweatpants from the floor and slipping them on again. Then he rummaged through his dresser, pulling out another pair of sweatpants and a button-up shirt. She was almost the same size as him, with only a few inches difference, so he was fairly sure they would fit. He tossed them to her, and she caught them gracefully.
"Thanks," she said, and immediately disrobed.
Trying to be stealthy about the fact that his ears had probably turned red at her bold actions, he quickly turned back to the dresser to give her privacy and pulled out a second shirt for himself, slipping it on painfully slow. When he was sure the rustling had stopped and all was clear, he finally headed for the door.
With his back turned, he didn't see the way Kage rolled her eyes, looking rather pleased with herself.
.. ღ ..
Breakfast was a lovely, quiet affair. They speedily worked together to clean up afterwards, and when the last dish was put away, she finally announced that she was heading home. She rested her belongings carefully in a bag he had provided for her, and he offered her a hand as she slipped on her heels.
"I'll return your clothes soon," she promised, grinning up at him brightly from the doorway.
"Hey, what's your name?" It had completely slipped out by accident, and he cringed at his tumble. Yes, he had been curious about it since the thought had entered his mind the previous night. But he had planned on not asking, instead forcing the nagging inquiry to the back of his mind. Well, apparently his mouth had other ideas.
She raised an eyebrow in surprise. "My name?" she repeated, and he nodded. If it was out, he might as well ask for an answer. "I have many names," she answered mysteriously, unable to keep a straight face. "Many prefer the Farukon no Kage, but Supreme Master of Awesomeness has always been a close second–"
"Be serious, would you?" he interrupted her as she broke off into snickers. Wiping at the tears of laughter in her eyes, she sent him a playful smile.
"Aren't you supposed to be a genius detective?" she teased, punching his arm lightly. "Figure it out."
"No clues to start me off?" he joked in return. It was meant to be nothing more than a joke, but to his surprise, she actually paused to ponder the idea. Placing her hand on her chin, she hummed as she considered his words.
"All right," she finally relented, and he waited for her to think of an acceptable clue, still rather taken aback. "...Karakura." He looked at her questioningly, unsure of what she had just said, and she expanded. "That's your clue: Karakura."
"Hmm." It was his turn to pause as he mulled over the foreign word. Trust Kage to come up with something he had never heard of before. He was unsure of whether this was a name, place, or even a real thing! But Toushiro had never been one to back down from challenges; in fact, the seemingly unsolvable cases were his absolute favorites. So she offered her a smirk. "All right. I'll see what I can do."
"Great! And if you can guess my name correctly, I'll..." She puckered her lips in thought, gazing off into space.
"You don't have to give me anything," he told her, entertained by her childish antics.
She shook her head firmly. "This is like a game, and games have prizes," she argued. "Otherwise, it's no fun ...I've got it!" she exclaimed excitedly. Eyes sparkling, she patted his arm. "All right, Toushiro. If you can properly figure out my name – and you get one try. There's no wishy washy three guesses rule – then I'll show you where I live."
He was taken aback by such a serious offer. Showing him her home was like handing herself off to the police. Was she seriously willing to risk that? He would know of her secrets, her sanctuary, her hideout.
"But, if you guess wrong," she continued ominously, wagging a finger at him, "the next time I get a job, you'll have to do it."
Her challenging eyes bored into his as he considered such a serious proposal. Despite the childish and carefree nature of the game initially, it had taken a rather grave turn. Either he would make the most major breakthrough he could in his case, or he would go back on all of his morals and beliefs. Although, he had to remind himself, Kage didn't actually steal to take, but rather to give. Even so, actually doing a recovery could be too big a step for him just yet.
Then again, Kyoraku had always teased him for being too boring to take any risks in his life...
"Deal," he agreed instantly, holding out his hand for a final shake. She took it happily, smirking up at his determined expression.
"Someone's confident in their skills, huh?" Her eyes narrowed seductively, and she purred, "I like that in a man."
He coughed uncomfortably as he walked her to the patio, where she paused and turned back for one last good-bye. Their lips met in the middle, and the two shared a sweet kiss once again, as if they were a normal couple rather than a master thief and a genius detective duo. She bit his bottom lip inticingly before finally pulling away, ready to depart. Just as she was about to leave, however, he finally noticed her footwear.
"Will you be all right in those?" he asked in concern. Heels were hardly practical, but he realized that she probably had nothing else to wear. "Should I call a cab to take you home?"
She shook her head. "Nah, it's all right," she denied, waving a hand in front of her chest. "I have to do something before I head back, anyway, and heels will be more than fine."
He raised his eyes at the confusing idea of such high shoes being sensible for an extra errand, but shrugged it off. It was her choice.
"See ya around!" she called as she ran down the sidewalk, rather gracefully and too steadily for someone in such uncomfortable footwear. It truly struck him once again, then, that this was the Farukon no Kage, a deadly woman capable of so much.
It was just too easy to let his guard down around her, he mused as he shut the front door.
.. ღ ..
He was hit with a sense of deja vu when he walked into work later that day. Just as the last time he had spent the night with the dangerous thief, the police station was chaotic. Harried looking officers rushed past him, looking stressed and overworked, worries etched onto their faces. He offhandedly blamed it on the shocking discovery of the previous night. Just thinking of Takeda's betrayal sent a scowl to his face, and he breathed deeply as he headed to his office, trying to calm himself by thinking of something else. As he walked by the interrogation room he had spent time in hours ago, he briefly wondered what mysterious "something" Kage had planned to do before heading home.
He was answered, surprisingly, by a group of the same haggard police officers. Each looked like they could rip their hair out as they discussed the situation by the interrogation room Takeda had been in last night.
"Just completely gone."
"A couple hours ago, only this morning -"
"Right under out noses, too. Chief is hopping mad."
It was this last inquiry that halted him in his tracks. He quickly swung in their direction, peering through the glass of the room used for questioning. Though devoid of any people now, everything looked completely untouched and as he remembered. But then, one single, noticeable difference caught his eye, and he secretly smirked; a gaping empty space now disrupted the previous layout of the evidence table.
The painting was gone, and in its place laid a single, white feather.
Okay, how many of you totally forgot about the job? :P HitsuKarin love just has a way of making you totally oblivious to the outside world as you fall for their fluffiness.
Some of you had really good guesses last chapter about what you thought might happen next. Kudos to you! (And I told you Karin had a plan). But now I've presented a new mystery. :D So, what do you guys think? Can our genius detective figure out her name? I've got it all figured out, but what are your opinions?