... Sait's fault. This is why I can't have nice things, I keep taking them for myself.
Also, goddammit Hakuba, why must you be so wordy and refuse scene breaks? Why?
It would have surprised a great many people to know that Saguru was fond of Tokyo's club scene. Those who inquired further would have had their surprise completely alleviated to discover that, rather than losing himself among neon-tinted bastions of hormonal youth, Saguru patronized quiet establishments whose draws were twofold: excellent fare, and finer music. Those who inquired still further, however, may have been startled that said establishments were not cutting-edge jazz clubs, where one would perhaps find twenty modern-day Mycrofts basking in strict silence at twenty tiny tables, nor were they themed to a Victorian bent.
Saguru, it must be said, had a finer appreciation of humanity than he did of instruments, and of authenticity than he did of pretense. He frequented several places around Tokyo that, had they been in America, would have been called speakeasies by the layman only familiar with such venues from movies set post-Prohibition. None fit comfortably into such simple categories as bar, restaurant, or theatre; most had an unwritten policy of firmly ejecting uncouth parties. All of them featured vocalists, usually singular, in styles that were not so much 'forgettable lounge act' as they were 'Billie Holiday' and 'Norah Jones'.
Tonight, Saguru desperately needed the peace of a quiet drink and a warm voice. It was not any one thing in particular. School was going well; his current cases were entirely matters of theft and a bit of minor corporate sabotage, nothing in the line of homicides or missing persons; he hadn't even had to tolerate Kid or any youthful detectives of mutual acquaintance for some time.
Perhaps that was precisely the problem.
In any case, sometimes Saguru's moods simply built up, all the little polite nooses of manners and responsibilities twisting slowly ever-tighter. It hurt to always be just a little more intelligent, a little more observant, a tiny bit eccentric; to never browbeat people about the head with how obvious they all could be, that Koizumi practiced a Neo-Egyptian witchcraft with far too much labdanum in the incense, that Toryou had a part-time job at a grocery in Beika, that Juui was half-deaf rather than stupid...
That Kuroba and Aoko were no more in love than any blood siblings. Though they stood to rake in quite the pot should they join forces and discover the betting pool. (Honestly, a betting pool. Had none of his classmates ever heard of the Westermarck effect?)
Saguru's fingers dug wrinkles into the knot of his tie, and he tore it free to start over again.
His fingers were far too tense. Tonight, then, was clearly a night for Blue Rose, the most difficult club to reach from both Ekoda and Beika alike. The cover charge and the distance kept him from visiting it as anything other than a treat. And since it was a treat, Saguru set the tie aside and reached into his closet for his favorite suit.
How inobservant people were. So many would think that his favorite suit would be the same one - or of a similar style to - the off-the-rack garments he wore while toting Watson on his arm, working with the potential for copious amounts of blood and worse, or on rustic retreats. Or perhaps they might equate it with his good suit, the one he was locked into for formal events such as the policeman's ball.
Hardly the case at all. His favorite was a subdued three-piece pinstripe, fine wool the exact color of wet slate that threw blue sheens in strong light. It went well with a copper-brown silk shirt and a matching blue tie, in which his favorite detective's motifs were woven in glossy thread.
With his pocketwatch in place, gold chain glinting against the waistcoat, polished oxfords and a hat - not a true fedora, but close enough that most people would call it one and leave it at that - in the same colors completed his outfit. (Some may have called the use of hat and pocketwatch together too much like a costume. But Saguru would not leave home without his dear watch, and the hat was necessary tonight. It blocked out a goodly portion of the world blaring information at him, and added that edge of formality that, coupled with his demeanor, kept people from bothering him en route.)
It also was strong enough signal to keep Baaya from calling out after him when he left.
The train ride from Ekoda only grated on Saguru's nerves all the more. Packed with salarymen (late project, briefcase full of office supplies, dating the coffee girl) and dating couples (going to propose, not attracted/homosexual on an omiai to please parents, bored), the train swayed and clattered from station to station in a manner that was fortunately so well-memorized as to not impunge upon Saguru's consciousness.
It only left room for other things. A jpop beat from a salaryman's headphones, the melody too high for anything but a teen girl group (sex and love, pretty little me, need a man - ego boost or just bad taste, lonely salaryman), a punk bobbing his head (no wear on any of the clothes, brand new and trying too hard), a woman with her nose buried in a manga (gore horror, not specific enough to deduce-)
Oshiage Station. Finally. Saguru escaped in the flow of commuters, tugging his hat low over his eyes and using the gesture to block his view of most of the crowd. It tipped the hat brim at an angle, with the bright streak of Tokyo Sky Tower cutting towards the sky. The new television broadcast tower was lit up in its sky blue scheme tonight: a single spot of color halfway up, barely higher than the rising gibbous moon.
Had the blasted thing been another block closer to Blue Rose, the construction noise would've put the place out of business. As it was, the tower had nearly prevented Saguru from discovering the club at all.
Past the police box (753: codename "holiday", the lieutenant doesn't appreciate the joke and needs a transfer), past the restaurants doing a brisk business (overpriced tourist fare, a hotel bar, don't take a girl in a dress like that for pizza you moron), down side streets and past tiny noodle stands and neighborhood grills, into a cluster of apartment buildings over local shops. Coffee, grocery, convenience, bank.
A pair of unassuming officefronts rose to one side of a cul-de-sac, and Saguru ducked into the narrow alley between the two. The concrete here remained exactly as worn and cracked as it had the day he'd first set foot here; the lone lamp at the far end shone on a rose formed of steel rebar, painted ocean blue and equally unchanging. A plain door stood in the shadowy corner next to the rose.
He knocked. Then, when a small sliding panel at eye level opened, he offered his card and a couple of banknotes, nearly twice as much as he'd give at any other of his preferred clubs. Taken in a flash of (well-kept but unmanicured) fingers, the panel snapped shut and the door opened to let him inside. There was no obvious sign of the bouncer (behind the door, eiditic memory, knew whose sight to stay out of), and Saguru headed down the dimly lit stairs.
The club itself lay at the end of an L-shaped passage at the bottom of the stairs. A soundproofed door there gave access to a vestibule draped in heavy brown velvet, each end roped back to give the effect of a foyer here and an open door within the club proper. Once past that, the room opened up into a cozy miniature amphitheatre. Half-circle booths in the same brown velvet stretched across the top three tiers, alternating between larger and smaller circles. The lowest level, surrounding the stage extension, held a scattering of little freestanding tables. A multicolored glass vase at each table held a tea candle.
Saguru settled into the well-brushed old velvet of his chosen seat, in the second tier up from the stage and just off to one side of its small catwalk. A parlor grand piano took up most of the stage proper, usually tucked to one side so that its curve could accomodate the featured vocalist, but at the moment it stood proudly at center stage. A graying man, face weighed down by an actor's weariness more than by truth, crooned the next-to-last verse of a familiar song as he played his own accompaniment.
A waitress came over in cat-footed silence, bowing low enough to set her necklace (outline of a rose, enameled blue, matches the rebar sign outside the door, employee reward for good service yes I know shut up) swaying.
"Coffee," Saguru told her. "Please." If he didn't order a liqueur coffee, then he could pretend he didn't recognize the warmth of it as anything but simple temperature when it came, paid for in the otherwise exorbitant cover charge. She bowed once more and left for the bar.
Onstage, the music died away. The musician bowed to a round of scattered, unobtrusive applause, then exited stage left as the spotlight died. Ten minutes until the next performer, then. Saguru let his head fall against the booth's cushioned back. The familiar lamps above held no secrets - Saguru had worked out the techniques for the intricate Venetian glasswork several visits ago - but he amused himself calculating the chemical composition once more. Silica, sodium oxide, nitrate, arsenic... sulfur and carbon, iron salts, combined into iron polysulfides to get the amber canework... copper for the deep reds...
A faint tap caught his attention, and he let his gaze slide to the table. The waitress had returned with his coffee, in a short-stemmed glass goblet to show the drink's thick layer of foam. Next to it, she'd set a small plate of biscotti and a small black-lacquered bowl, lidded in the Japanese manner of serving soups and savory chawanmushi custards. The tap had been the custard spoon clicking against the bowl.
Another point Saguru was fond of in the Blue Rose. The recordkeeping was top-notch: his card at the door was sufficient to bring his usual order, for all that he visited only rarely. Other than the initial request - coffee to identify one menu over the other, which was marked by tea and hot or chilled tofu according to the season - he would not be spoken to for the rest of the night.
Something deep in Saguru began to ease. He took a sip of his coffee, and savored the warmth of the cream liqueur.
Up on the stage, the piano had been reoriented, and now a different man (sixties, balding, padding in his jacket) took the bench. The spotlight returned, warmer and dimmer now with an amber lens in place, illuminating the curtain and the curve of the piano rather than the player (not the singer, then, but the accompaniment: the singer cannot play or wishes to move freely). With a flex of his fingers, (an affectation, no musician would set foot onstage without his hands warmed up and ready), the elderly man set them on the keys, and pressed a soft chord into the hushed lounge.
It looked almost as if a piece of the spotlight had twisted gently free. A young woman in a pale, vintage satin dress, beads cascading from both shoulders on either side of a plunging back, curled out from behind the far end of the piano with the microphone in one gloved hand. Her hair was mostly caught back, a few loose waves softening her half-familiar face. But she wasn't one of the singers Saguru knew. There was a resemblence to someone, though... perhaps an advertisement somewhere.
She opened her mouth, and all thought of resemblences fled Saguru's mind.
"I flew on my own airs, reaching for a star..."
He didn't know the song. It didn't matter. Her voice, low and smooth, reached deep within and muffled the world away.
"I could not see the sun was rising. Could not see the sun was you..."
Saguru didn't resurface until she fell silent for the bridge, a full two verses and the chorus later. Slowly, he reopened his eyes, finding that at some point she'd wandered from the stage. Her hands trailed along a chair's back, a tabletop, stole a pair of tiny red camellias from a vase. The flash of color drew Saguru's eyes to the beadwork on the front of her dress, a brooch and long fringe pretending to conceal the side slit in the skirt.
The same bright flowers tugged Saguru's gaze away from her long legs, up past modest cleavage to her dark, sultry eyes. Something flashed deep in them, something that tugged at Saguru's attention almost as strongly as her voice had. He half-knew this look...
"Catch me if you can."
No. No, it couldn't be. That was just paranoid. Saguru must've seen the girl in the crowd at several heists. Perhaps she or a friend had even written the song from watching Kid's many and varied escapes.
But he knew that heated amusement in her eyes, even if he didn't know the shyer glint behind them.
"I fell, I fell..."
Her eyes slid away, pinning another patron with a warm flirt of a smile... but she leaned against Saguru's table. "With the rain, with the stars..." Beads swayed across her skin, bared from just above the small of her back to the nape of her neck, where silver filigree pinned tiny braids around a very particular triangle charm.
"I fell for you."
Saguru wasn't surprised to find a card lying in the candlelight when the singer returned to the stage.
Only if you've left the badge behind.
... Well then.
He spent the rest of the performance as if it were the last minutes before a heist began, in the same centered calm when the stage was set, the preparations readied and waiting, and all that remained was for the thief to either appear or prove their deductions wrong. That calm was all that allowed him to eat his dinner under the thief's disguised eyes; it would've usually left Saguru feeling awkward, now that the performer was no longer anonymous to him.
But the calm was there, and the world had gone still, poised on the brink... so afterwards, when the stage was dark once more, Saguru took the card and headed for the far end of the room.
He'd long since made note of all the club's exits, even hidden as they were behind brown and gold curtains. One next to the bar, just behind the brass-railed gap reserved for wait staff to fill their trays, led backstage... presumably, at least, judging by the nature of the traffic that occasionally passed through.
The bartender (sleek ponytail, impeccably clean glasses, martial arts calluses on his knuckles) caught his eye before Saguru quite reached the curtain hiding the door. Saguru raised an eyebrow and presented Kid's card.
That got a flicker of surprise, but the man merely bowed, then fixed Saguru with a perfectly polite and perfectly cool smile.
"This way, please."
It was far dimmer in the hallway behind the bar, which had been carpeted from ceiling to floor to muffle sound. The corners of the ceiling were lit with entubed fairy lights, to match the theater-style emergency lights along the floor. A fire exit sign at the far end of the passage had an arrow pointing to the right, following the sharp turn of the lights.
What if I'm wrong?
It would not be the first time he was mistaken. Lavender Mansion came to mind, the entirely too understandable urge to beat that reckless hothead Hattori spurring him to declare his theory before he was unshakably certain of it.
So what if this wasn't Kid? What if the singer was just a fan (or perhaps too much of one, the kind who'd wear clandestine charms of her interests at work, who'd recognize several of the more prominent officers and invite them backstage)? So many people could have the same amused expression, the same air of I know you, come share the joke with me. What if...?
The invitation's wording took on a less than savory turn, in that case.
The corridor took a sharp zig-zag and opened up into a long hallway, lined with heavy black curtains, though they weren't blackout curtains: the expanse of fabric on the right was very faintly paler, specked with light coming through the weave. Saguru could dimly hear the murmur of the club in intermission.
"Sir." The bartender pulled back a curving bit of drapery on the left, revealing one corner of the hallway and a door. There was just enough space for one person to stand in the gap between door and drapes, presumably so that light from inside the room would not disturb the customers watching the stage.
"Thank you," Saguru murmured. The man bowed once more and left.
I can't be wrong. I... please don't let me be wrong.
Saguru pulled the drape to, then quietly knocked.
It wasn't Kaito's voice. But neither was it the singer's, even allowing for the difference between song and speech; Saguru wasn't entirely certain the voice had been female. Which was actually a bit reassuring for how likely that meant it was Kaito.
Warm light spilled from the room as Saguru slipped inside, shutting the door silently behind him.
He didn't see anyone immediately, though the dressing room seemed relatively spacious. A second glance showed that the airiness was an illusion, meticulous order belying the sheer amount of costuming filling the room.
Then a flare of pale skirts at the end of the rack moved, and the singer stuck her head out. "You came."
Half her face had changed back into Kaito's: the left side of his jaw sharp and heart-shaped again, eyes deep blue and one brow angled more impishly. Stepping out from behind the rack entirely, he scrubbed at his other cheek with a washcloth and the contours changed, leaving a streak of peach-colored makeup that matched several other staining the white cloth.
"I did," Saguru agreed. "And I must say, I am relieved that you're you."
"I had half-convinced myself it was wishful thinking."
Kaito's eyes lit up at that.
He stepped towards Saguru, eyes warm and impish and locked to Saguru's gaze... only to go right past him, so close that Saguru could smell the faint scent of makeup. Saguru turned in his wake, pulled to the scent and the mischievious (flirtatious) eyes that didn't leave his, as Kaito dropped the washcloth into a small hamper against the wall.
The gray hairstyle and suit of the earlier piano player hung on the back of the door.
"Kouun-chan's always the last performance," Kaito said, when he saw Saguru smirk at that. He turned in a swirl of skirts, leaning against the doorjamb with his ankles crossed primly. "The quick-change is a challenge, but it gives my voice the longest warmup and then an immediate night's rest."
"I see." Saguru paused, tried not to bite his lip. "So we have ample time to... er..."
"Discuss my inspiration?"
Kaito's grin widened. Then he leaned forward, plucked the fedora from atop Saguru's head, and flipped it around onto his own. A quick tug with his left hand, the fall of chin-length waves against his right cheek, and suddenly he became unmistakably Kid. "I thought so," he replied, smug as a cat.
Saguru tamped down on a very inappropriate reaction to seeing the feminine figure with Kaito's face and Kid's irrepressible allure.
"I think I've made my position rather clear," Kaito went on. "So it's just..." Fingers flicked out, a gesture that encompassed the rakish Kid-tilt of Saguru's hat and seemed to return the ball to Saguru's court, as the saying went. "What's yours?"
That, at least, was not a question that required time to think upon. Not as often as Saguru already had. "I did think, sometimes, that you were interested," Saguru answered slowly. "But there is a distinct difference between interest and welcome. All things considered," all of which tied into the existence of Kaitou Kid, "I did not think it wise to presume the latter existed at all."
"Ah." The hand dropped. "Well. Clearly, I wouldn't say no. The question's what you can give."
Ah indeed. 'Only if you've left the badge behind.'
Saguru was first and foremost a detective, someday an officer, and always a gentleman, but he could not uphold his duty without honor. And for all Kaito's quirks, his heart was fragile as any other's.
"I will catch you," Saguru promised, watching Kaito's gaze shutter. "In full view of the world, a gem in your hand and the monocle in mine. But without a note in the field, I am off the clock... as are you." He bowed slightly, offering his hand. "If you're not too tired, would you care to go on a date with me?"
Kaito stared at him in surprise. Then slowly, warily, he laced his fingers with Saguru's. "Tantei-san... I'd be delighted."