Disclaimer: I don't own DCMK
8: The Last Shard
He had woken up in the middle of the night to find Kaito watching him with this look on his face as though he was trying to imprint the moment into his memory. Like he was afraid that Shinichi was going to vanish at any second. It bothered him, but when he tried to ask Kaito about it the thief just shook his head and changed the subject. It made Shinichi feel a bit sad but he didn't push the issue. Kaito would tell him when he wanted to and not a moment sooner.
"I'll be gone next week," Kaito told him one evening when they were once again watching the sunset from their private sightseeing alcove.
"Do you have another lead?"
He wondered why Kaito didn't sound quite as enthusiastic as he thought he would. "Is something wrong?"
Kaito only grinned. "I was just thinking that I'm going to miss you."
Shinichi rolled his eyes. "If you don't feel like talking about it, just say so. I…do wish you would tell me what's been bothering you though."
Kaito sighed, taking one of Shinichi's hands and lacing their fingers together. "Maybe when I get back. But really, it's not worth mentioning just yet."
"If you say so…"
"So where's he off to now?"
Shinichi dragged his gaze away from where Kaito and his horse had just disappeared into the distance to find Heiji standing behind him with his arms folded across his chest. "He got another lead."
"So he's going to go steal another stone," Heiji surmised.
"And you're okay with that?"
The accusatory note in his friend's voice made Shinichi wince. "I don't like it, if that's what you mean, but it could be one of his. If it is, then he has every right to take it back."
"So you believe that story."
"Yes, Heiji, I do. You would too if you'd just open your eyes and look."
Heiji stared at him for a second before letting out a frustrated sigh. "I just don't get it. How can you all believe something so—so unbelievable?"
"Because I could tell he was telling the truth when he told me," Shinichi replied, catching his friend's gaze and holding it.
"But how can you know?" Heiji demanded. "How can you know anything he says is true? He's an outlaw, Shinichi! And from what we've seen he's one hell of a good liar. For all you know, he's just using you. How can you trust him?!"
Shinichi bit down on the urge to snap that Kaito wasn't like that. He knew Heiji was just worried about him. Instead he turned a few answers over in his head before letting out a rueful laugh.
"I know this will probably sound weird to you, but…I just do—trust him I mean. And he's never given me any reason not to. I don't believe he's ever been anything but honest with me, and I will continue to believe that until he gives me a reason to think otherwise." If anything, what he didn't understand was why Kaito had trusted him.
It was Heiji who looked away first. "You really do like him don't you?"
"I guess if you really believe in him that much, I'm not gonna argue with you. Who knows, maybe you can talk him out of this whole stealing thing."
Ran stepped back from where she had been peeking around a boulder at her two friends, content in the knowledge that things were going to be all right. She had been worrying lately about Heiji's persistently sour mood. It seemed though that he was finally coming around.
"Do you spy on your friends a lot?"
She jumped, spinning around to find Aoko standing a step behind her. The other girl giggled at the look on her face. "Oh don't worry, I won't tell them. Would you like to join me for breakfast?"
Ran relaxed and smiled. "I'd love to."
The two girls made their way to the main campfire where the man on breakfast duty that day gave them each a bowl of oatmeal and an apple.
"He never was creative when it came to cooking," Aoko mused as they left to find a good place to eat. They ended up sitting outside of her tent where there were a handful of boulders that were just the right size for sitting on. They chatted idly as they ate, but Ran's mind kept returning to the sight of Kaito heading out that morning and the memory it had stirred in her until she couldn't stay silent any longer.
"Um, Aoko, can I…ask you something?"
"Of course. What is it?"
"Well… Before we came here, we heard something about an incident involving you guys and Lord Hakuba…" She trailed off, not sure how to phrase the question without sounding pushy.
"Oh, that…" Aoko looked down, a shadow falling across her face. "I suppose you want to know what really happened."
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," Ran said quickly.
"No, it's okay, it was a long time ago anyway." Sighing, Aoko leaned back on her hands, looking up at the cloudless sky. "I was spending a couple weeks in town that time. I guess you could say I was on vacation. I met Saguru there at the summer festival. He asked me to dance at the festival and we got to talking. One thing led to another and… well, I knew he was a noble, but I… I really thought…" She swallowed, shaking her head. "Anyway, it turned out that there were some people with a grudge against the family in town too. They were planning to kidnap him and get money from his father. I found out because I heard them mention KID's name and thought I'd listen in. They were talking about using us as a scapegoat. The thing was I heard about it a bit late. I sent Kaito a message about it and went after them. Things sort of went wrong though and Saguru nearly got killed, then Kaito showed up and… It was just a big mess." She grimaced. "Long story short, Saguru really believed we were behind it, accused me of tricking him, and wouldn't listen when I tried to explain. I haven't seen him since then."
"I'm so sorry…"
Aoko shrugged. "Don't be. Like I said, it was a long time ago." She picked up her empty bowl and stood, offering the other girl a reassuring smile. "It's my turn to exercise the horses. Wanna come?"
"Sure." Ran stood and followed after her. These people, she thought as they returned the empty bowls to the day's dishwashers, certainly were an unusual lot.
Shinichi was reading a book he'd borrowed from Eisuke after having spent an hour helping said boy organize the camp's remaining supplies when something gold and sparkly dropped down before his nose to spin gently between him and the pages. He went cross-eyed looking at it before he realized what it was. Reaching up, he caught it and turned it so he could see the lid where eleven sapphires gleamed back at him.
He looked up to smile at Kaito who was now sitting beside him with a smug grin. "You're back! So that means you only have one more shard to go, right?"
He was a little confused when Kaito's grin faded slowly. "I…already know where the last piece is."
"Are you sure?"
Shinichi hesitated a moment, wondering where the catch was. "But then why don't you go get it?"
Kaito was silent for so long that Shinichi thought he wasn't going to answer when he finally spoke. "Because I can't."
"Why? Where is it?"
Kaito chuckled, though he didn't sound very amused. "Can't you guess? It's at her house. That witch sent them all away but one, just so she could spite me."
Shinichi frowned, the excitement from before turning to anxiety. "What do you mean?"
"I—can't enter her house or any of her lands," Kaito explained, sounding a bit sheepish at having to admit it. "It's like it doesn't exist for me. If I try to enter, I just end up going back the way I came or all the way on the other side."
"So it seems this is it." His fingers closed tightly around the pocket watch. "Fifty years and this is as far as it goes. It's strange, you know. I almost wish now that there were more pieces to find. I guess while there were still other shards to find I could at least tell myself that I was getting closer. One day you're going to leave me and all I'll be able to do is watch."
The bitter anguish in his voice made Shinichi's heart ache. "You're…not giving up, are you?"
Kaito let out a frustrated breath as he took the pocket watch back and popped it open to stare at its blank face. "I don't want to, but I might not have a choice. I thought at first I could just wait until she, ah, passed with the ages as it were. But I think she might be like me in some ways. So she's not going anywhere anytime soon."
Shinichi's brows furrowed as he thought. "So where does she live?"
"You might already know actually. Have you heard of Akako Koizumi?"
"Koizumi?" The name did sound familiar. "Doesn't the family own a lot of land in southern Ekoda?"
"Not the family, just her," Kaito replied darkly. "I'm not sure there's ever been a family. Or at least there hasn't been since I've known her. And I've known her for quite a long time now."
"Why did she curse you?" the detective couldn't help but ask. He had been wondering about it ever since Kaito had first told him about the curse but he hadn't felt like he could ask about it until now.
"Uh, well…" The magician laughed a bit sheepishly. "I guess it started when Dad and I were passing through her lands. We were searching for a rare breed of medicinal flower rumored to be growing there. The county wasn't all that well populated back then and I didn't know anyone was living in the area. So when I saw this huge mansion I just couldn't resist taking a look."
"So you broke into her house?" Shinichi guessed, voice dry.
"Not really," the thief hedged. "I just climbed into the garden for a look and lo and behold there's the flower we were looking for. That was when I met her. She kind of caught me collecting a few."
"And she got mad just for that?"
"No. She just asked me why I was defiling her garden. I apologized and told her why I was there and we got to talking. It turned out she hadn't had any visitors in a long time and she lived all by herself. She seemed really lonely, so I promised I'd go back to see her once we'd delivered the flowers to the people who needed them. She didn't seem to want me to at first, but she eventually agreed. I started visiting her every few months or so. It was about a year after we first met that I mentioned some people who'd been giving Dad and me a hard time. It was just this guy who was hassling Dad over an artifact we'd found. Anyway, a few days after that he turned up dead. Got thrown by his horse. I mentioned it to Akako the next time I visited her, and I found out she'd been behind it."
Shinichi drew in his breath sharply. "She murdered him?"
Indigo eyes grew grim as Kaito nodded. "Well, not directly, but she cursed him with bad luck. The thing was, she didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with that. We argued. I told her she didn't have the right to play with other people's lives like that. She said she'd only been trying to help, and I…uh, kind of called her some things I shouldn't have. Told her she might know more about how to be human if she didn't hole up by herself all the time… What she did wasn't right, but, thinking back, I think I might have been a little harsh. I said a lot of things I regretted later. And I know she hasn't gotten any more people killed so I think maybe she did regret it at some level."
Shinichi mulled this over. "Did you apologize?"
"I did, but I kind of also told her again how wrong she'd been. Apologies aren't really my strong suit. So it just sort of made her madder. That was when the whole curse thing started actually. I tried to go back to talk to her again a few times after that, but that's when I found out I couldn't."
Kaito blinked. "What?"
"I'll go get your stone from Lady Akako."
"No. Haven't you been listening to me? She's dangerous!"
"I know, but you can't go yourself. You said she seems to have changed—"
"Seems—as in not sure."
"And Besides, it's been fifty years, maybe she's mellowed out by now."
"I said no."
"Don't you want the last shard?" Shinichi challenged, crossing his arms.
"Of course I do, but it's too risky."
"Even you can't make it fly out to you, you know. Eventually someone is going to have to go inside."
Kaito was silent for a long moment. "You're not going to listen to me if I tell you not to go, are you?"
He sighed and made the pocket watch disappear before pulling Shinichi onto his lap and wrapping his arms tightly around the smaller boy as though trying to hold on to the moment. "I guess if I can't stop you… But you have to promise me to be careful. And if she shows any signs of being upset at all, just leave. Agreed?"
"You're going to see a what?"
"A witch, Heiji, how many times are you going to make me repeat myself?"
"Until you start making sense, that's what."
"Just ignore him," Ran sighed before leveling Shinichi with a frown. "But really Shinichi, are you sure it's safe?"
"I hope so."
"But you really want to go…"
"I just think it's worth a try."
"Can we go with you?"
Shinichi hesitated a moment then shook his head. "I'd feel better if you didn't."
He could see she didn't like the answer, but she didn't argue the point—something for which he was very grateful. "All right then. Just be careful okay?"
Shinichi couldn't help but stare at the building before him. Kaito had told him that Lady Akako's house was big, but the reality far exceeded his expectations. It was a single building that could have easily housed an entire town within its walls. And no, he was not exaggerating. How was he even going to be able to find the lady to talk to her? Especially if she lived alone? Would she even hear the doorbell?
Well, there was only one way to find out.
The doorbell looked ridiculously small compared to the monster of a house and Shinichi couldn't hear anything at all when he rang it. Hoping that just meant the bell was ringing somewhere far away rather than that it was broken, he settled back to wait. Five minutes later he reached out to ring the bell again when the door suddenly let out a creak that raised goose-bumps on his arms and opened.
There was nobody there.
Wait, no there was something. It was a shadow that hung a little thicker than the rest of the darkness inside. It looked almost human shaped. Even as he stared at it, it seemed to bend at the waist—bowing?—as the piece of shadow that would be an arm swept out in a clear invitation. Then it vanished, dissolving into the darkness of the hall beyond like so much mist.
That was…kind of creepy.
Well, it looked like he'd been invited in anyway. So he stepped inside. Not really sure where to begin looking for the person he'd come to see, he started walking. Sharp eyes noted how every time he reached a branching set of corridors, only one would be lit. He followed them.
If he had thought the house looked big from the outside, it felt even bigger now that he was wandering through its endless supply of hallways and stairwells. A person could probably spend a lifetime inside its walls, he thought, and never see the same corner twice. Maybe it really was larger on the inside than it was on the outside. For all he knew, there was a whole city's worth of space in here. He felt like he'd been walking for hours when he finally reached the first door that the lights had led him to.
He hesitated a moment to steady his nerves before reaching out to knock, but the door opened before he could touch it. Stepping cautiously over the threshold, he looked around. The chamber he was now in was spacious. Glass display cases lined the walls, each one filled with things that glittered and glowed. Above the cases elaborate tapestries hung on every wall. The only display that wasn't behind glass was the one on the far end of the room before which a woman in an elegant, black dress stood with her back to him.
"Welcome to my collection, Detective," she said before he could speak without turning around. "This is where I keep my most—unusual trinkets. Quite the collection, wouldn't you say?" She laughed quietly before finally turning to face him. Long, crimson hair framed a face that looked little older than his own but for eyes that looked much older. "So tell me, why did you wish to see me?"
"I came to ask you to give Kaito the piece of his time that you kept," he replied, deciding not to wonder how she knew he was a detective. He had the distinct impression that she knew a lot of things.
She looked amused. "And why do you think I would do that?"
"I…guess I just thought that fifty years is a long time to hold a grudge."
"Do you think so?" she asked airily.
"And what do you think gives you the right to tell me that?"
Shinichi blinked, taken aback. "Nothing. It's just what I think."
"Is that so?" She studied his face for a long moment with eyes that seemed to see right through him. "I must admit that time is of little importance to me." She cast a glance back over her shoulder at the display she had been examining. "It is a pretty thing to look at, but little more than that. I suppose it was a rather petty squabble. Since you had the courtesy to ask, you are free to have it if you wish," she concluded, the corners of her mouth curling up with a hint of some private amusement. She stepped aside in a clear invitation.
Shinichi waited for a moment, expecting her to voice some kind of catch or at least say something else, but there was nothing. So he turned his attention back to the collection of jewels sprawled out upon their velvet display. He could see the blue shard he needed lying beside a jade pendant, for all the world like just another gem in a collector's horde. He looked again at the lady but she only continued to watch him with that slightly creepy smile that made him shiver with some unknown fear. Deciding he didn't really have anything to lose by trying, he stepped towards the display.
The moment his foot touched the rose patterned carpet he felt a waft of frigid air sweep over him like he'd walked into a room full of ice. A quick look around however revealed that nothing had changed. Although…was that mist he saw there out of the corner of his eyes? He frowned slightly. Another step and he could have sworn that he saw a sheet of fire rise to his right. He could feel the heat against his skin—see the air ripple as it was distorted by a gust of flames—but when he turned his head, there was again nothing there. Yet he could still feel the phantom presence of the fire.
He turned forward again and fixed his eyes on the display as he picked up his pace. One moment the ground seemed to quiver and heave, the next darkness leapt up like hungry beasts seeking to devour all light and color, but through it all the spread of red velvet remained clear and he focused on that. The rest had to be all in his imagination—some kind of illusion probably to deter people from taking the jewels arrayed so openly on their velvet throne.
It felt like an eternity before he reached the table. Letting out a quiet breath of relief, he reached out and picked up the shard of blue stone. It was cool to the touch and pleasantly solid after the way the world had been fluctuating. Closing his fingers over it, he turned back to Akako who was still watching him from her spot by the wall in the exact same position he'd last seen her in.
She caught his gaze and her smile grew a fraction, still dark and full of secrets. "Very good. But you were wrong about one thing."
He frowned slightly in confusion at the odd statement. "What do you mean?"
"It was not in your imagination. If you had come for any other reason, it would have been very real indeed." Then she threw back her head and laughed and everything from the carpet to the jewels to the candles and Akako herself melted together in a whirl of bloody crimson and deep, midnight black—
And Shinichi was staring at a stretch of open grassland beneath a late evening sky. He stared for a moment, turning around slowly, but the witch's house had vanished entirely. There was no sign at all that anything had ever been there.
Neither was there any sign of another living soul anywhere in sight.
Frowning, he looked around again before choosing a direction and taking a step forward. Yet even as he did so a wave of dizziness swept through him. Disoriented, he staggered. His limbs seemed to be made of led and exhaustion was dragging at his eyelids. He felt like he hadn't slept in a week and all the weariness was just now catching up to him.
He didn't even remember hitting the ground.
Someone was shaking him.
"Shinichi! Are you all right? Wake up!"
Groaning and wishing that whoever it was would keep his voice down, Shinichi forced his eyes open. The person leaning over him was difficult to make out, backed as he was against the brightly lit sky, but he would know that flyaway hair anywhere. "Kaito?"
"It's me," the thief agreed, relief clearly evident in his voice as he gathered Shinichi to him. "Are you all right? Where have you been? Do you have any idea how worried I was?"
Shinichi wrinkled his nose in confusion. Though it didn't stop him from leaning into the other's embrace. "What are you talking about? I couldn't have been gone for more than a few hours."
"A few hours?" Kaito repeated incredulously. "Shinichi, you've been gone for three weeks!"
He gaped, suddenly wide awake. "What?"
"The whole house vanished a minute after you walked inside," Kaito explained. "What happened?"
"I—I'm not sure," Shinichi replied, his own confusion growing. "I'm sure I was only there a few hours. I just walked around for a while. Then I met the lady, and she just said I could take the stone. So I did, and then I was here." Reminded of his original errand, he sat up straighter and opened his right hand. Lying on his palm was a shard of brilliant blue. He grinned and held it up for Kaito to see. "This is it, right?"
Kaito stared at it for a moment before unwinding one arm from around Shinichi and carefully picking up the stone. He turned it over slowly, gaze intent, before a slow, wondering smile spread across his face.
"I think it is," he breathed as though he couldn't quite believe it.
"So? Are you going to try it?"
Kaito stared at the stone for a moment longer before making it disappear with a flick of his wrist. "Later. Right now I think we should get back to camp."
"Are you nervous?" Shinichi asked curiously as Kaito helped him to his feet.
"Maybe a little," the thief admitted wryly. "But I'll get over it. Come on."
Having expected a long ride back to the Oasis, Shinichi was befuddled at the sight of the camp that had formerly been in the Oasis now sprawled out in full right there on the open, grassy field for anyone to see a mere half hour from where he'd woken up. It didn't look like a very safe place for them all to be even if there weren't any towns in immediate sight. He remembered from the journey here that there were several settlements just over that deceptively empty horizon.
He was apprehended by Ran and Heiji the moment they dismounted as Aoko dragged Kaito off to give them some time alone, saying something about needing to call off the search.
"Search?" Shinichi repeated, still trying to come to terms with the idea that his last few hours had been a great deal longer than he'd thought.
Heiji snorted. "Are you kidding? He uprooted the entire camp and had everyone come out here to scour the place for you. We went over like every town in this area with a fine tooth comb twice over!"
"Hey, don't apologize, it was more interesting than waiting around."
"Just don't do it again," Ran added. "So? Are you going to tell us the story or not?"
"There's not much to tell to be honest."
"Well, tell us anyway."
"I don't suppose I could get something to eat while we're at it?" he asked hopefully. "I feel like I haven't eaten anything in ages."
He didn't see Kaito again until later that evening. After recounting his story, he had retreated to Kaito's tent and slept until dinnertime. By then he was starting to worry. He'd expected the thief to be…well, more excited, but maybe Kaito was having second thoughts now.
Sighing, he made his way towards the main campfire to join the others for dinner. His motion was aborted however by a hand catching his arm. He knew it was Kaito before he turned around.
"Have dinner with me?"
"Aren't you eating with the others today?"
Kaito shook his head. "This is private."
Shinichi had no idea what he was talking about, but he was more than happy to have dinner with Kaito. It was like being back at Lake Pearl, he thought wryly. Just the two of them.
Kaito had brought a picnic blanket which he conjured with a flourish, complete with meal and a ring of lanterns. Short show completed, he turned and bowed, offering Shinichi his hand. "Shall we?"
The detective rolled his eyes at the theatrics but took the hand anyway. "Why all the fuss?"
"I feel like it."
"There's not something bad that's going to happen that you're not telling me, is there?" Shinichi asked suspiciously.
Kaito paused in the motion of pouring them drinks. "What? Of course not. Why would you ask me that?"
"It's just you've been awfully quiet since I got back, and now all this," Shinichi waved at the admittedly rather romantic atmosphere Kaito had set up, "feels like some kind of… I don't know, farewell party."
Kaito stared at him, then burst out laughing. "Oh my dear Shinichi, what did I say about thinking too much."
"Well, remind me never to worry about you again then," Shinichi huffed. Picking up his plate, he dug into his food with a single-minded determination to ignore Kaito for the time being. He'd been unusually hungry ever since his trip to the witch's house anyway. Maybe some part of him had known he was actually spending more time there than his conscious mind had been aware of.
"Aw, don't be like that." Kaito finished pouring the drinks and moved to sit down beside him. "Really I just wanted to spend time with you before I put the final shard in."
That caught Shinichi's attention. "You haven't put it together yet?"
Kaito shook his head, indigo eyes growing distant. "I was going to do it after dinner. It's strange you know," he added, tone growing quiet. "I've been looking for these for fifty years… And now they've all been found. I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and find that this is just a dream."
Shinichi let out a snort of laughter that had Kaito raising his eyebrows.
"What?" the thief prodded.
Shinichi looked away, suddenly feeling embarrassed. "It's just… I've been thinking that same thing since the day we met."
Kaito laughed, and the last shred of tension that Shinichi had been sensing in him since that morning finally melted away. "Well, as long as you're beside me when I wake up, I don't care if this does turn out to be a dream."
The rest of their meal passed in a warm haze of quiet voices and golden lantern light. When they couldn't eat any more, Kaito made the leftovers disappear. Another snap of the fingers and his small, gold pocket watch was now dangling from his fingers. It spun slowly, wrapping the glow of the lanterns around itself until it almost seemed to be on fire. Both young men stared at it in silence as it twirled, round and round, slower and slower until it finally hung still.
Shinichi shifted restlessly where he sat. The air was practically humming with nervous expectation.
Kaito stood up abruptly and paced once around the circle of lanterns, his steps clipped and the watch still swinging from his hand. Then he stopped abruptly and caught the watch.
"Well, here goes."
Something blue glinted in his other hand. Shinichi could hear the faint clink of the stone being fitted back into the watch. He wondered for a moment if Kaito could make it whole again without any jewelers' tools, then all thoughts faded away as the watch in Kaito's hands burst into blue white fire.
It was so bright that it made even the lanterns look dim. Shinichi had to throw an arm over his eyes to keep from being blinded. Even with the extra shielding however he could see the light through his eyelids. It was as though this light, whatever it was, cared nothing at all for the physical rules or obstacles of the universe. Eyes watering, Shinichi turned away from it, but it didn't help at all.
Then the light died away, leaving the night in blessed darkness.
Blinking rapidly to clear his vision, Shinichi glanced around the circle of lanterns. Everything looked black and gray after that blaze of brilliance, and it took him a moment to locate the figure standing stock still near the middle of the circle.
"Kaito?" he asked hesitantly, getting carefully to his own feet and taking a cautious step forward. "Are you…all right?"
"I…I think so." Kaito sounded unusually uncertain. "The watch is gone."
"Do you feel different?" Shinichi asked curiously. His vision was almost back to normal now and he could see the thief examining his own hands as though making sure the watch wasn't hiding somewhere.
Finally, Kaito turned to look at him. Shinichi felt his breath catch in his throat as their eyes met. Kaito's eyes had changed. They were still that odd indigo color, but they seemed deeper—more real. He couldn't look away from them.
"Shinichi?" Kaito moved closer, now looking worried. "What's the matter?"
"I—I think it worked." Shinichi raised a hand to touch the side of Kaito's face as his voice grew more certain. "You look clearer."
"Clearer?" he repeated, puzzled. Though it didn't stop him from catching the other's hand and pressing their palms together. "What do you mean?"
Shinichi let him. "It's hard to describe. It's like you're more here than you were before."
"Ookay, I'll have to take your word on that." His face broke out into a grin and he jerked on the hand he was still holding, causing Shinichi to fall forward into his waiting arms. "I suppose only time will tell, but we can still celebrate!" He really did love that shade of pink.
It was the restless movement that woke him. Confused, Shinichi pried open his eyes to the darkness of the tent. The thin sliver of sky he could see peering in through the tent flap was a pallid, predawn gray. Beside him, something shifted and let out an agitated sound.
"Kaito?" he whispered, not sure if the magician was actually awake or just having a dream.
"Shinichi, there's something wrong with me. I think I'm dying," Kaito's voice groaned.
All desire to go back to sleep fled as Shinichi sat up, fear and concern making his heart race. Beside him, Kaito had curled into a ball, holding onto his stomach. "What's going on?" Shinichi demanded, trying to stay calm. "Where are you hurt?"
"My stomach feels like its collapsing in on itself," the thief croaked in response just as said stomach gave a loud rumble.
Understanding dawned and Shinichi flopped back onto the bedding with a snort of exasperated laughter. "Kaito, you're just hungry. Go get something to eat and you'll be fine."
There was a moment of silence. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure," he sighed, grabbing the blanket and pulling it up over his head. "Ugh, I can't believe you woke me up before dawn just for that…"
"Hey, I haven't felt hunger in decades. It's not my fault I didn't remember what it felt like." He paused for a moment, then suddenly sat bolt upright. "Shinichi! Do you know what that means?"
"That you woke me up for no reason?" the detective's disgruntled voice grumbled from underneath the blanket.
"It means it really worked!" Letting out a whoop of laughter, Kaito grabbed Shinichi, blanket cocoon and all, and squeezed for all he was worth. "?It worked! It really worked!"
"Kaito!" Shinichi squawked, flailing in a futile attempt to free himself of the blankets and the thief's too-enthusiastic grip. "Get off me, I'm trying to sleep!"
When Ran got up that morning it was to find the whole camp in some sort of happy daze. Kaito was sitting at the main campfire with a mad grin plastered across his face as he watched the day's breakfast duty chef like a hawk watching a rabbit hole (which was obviously making said chef a little nervous). Beside him Shinichi was nursing a mug of coffee with the bleary-eyed pout he reserved for days when he was forced to get up at what he deemed to be an unholy hour and not allowed to go back to bed. She knew from experience that he wouldn't be worth talking to before he finished at least that first mug of coffee, preferably two or three of them.
She turned to see Aoko beaming at her. The other girl looked like she'd been up for a while.
"Did something happen?" Ran asked curiously as Aoko pulled her towards the main campfire.
"Oh, haven't you heard? The gem Shinichi brought back from that disappearing house yesterday turned out to be the right one after all. So we've finally found them all. We've been looking for them so long it's no surprise everyone's feeling a little loopy."
"Ah, I see." That made sense. "That means you guys can stop stealing, right?"
"Yeah. I have to admit, it's going to be a relief. Kaito always made sure he was the only one who ever actually stole anything, but having to be so careful all the time…" She shook her head. "I'm not going to be sorry to say goodbye to that."
"So then what are you guys going to do now?"
"That's up to Kaito. But first, let's eat!"
Shinichi looked up as they joined him and Kaito at the fire just as the chef rang the bell to let everyone know it was time for breakfast. The magician bounded up the moment it sounded like someone had released a spring, making a beeline for the food.
For some reason, Shinichi grimaced before glancing to Aoko. "I've been thinking, s it really a good idea to be camping here?"
"Probably not," she admitted, sending Kaito a pointed look as he returned to his seat with a large platter piled high with sizzling, egg sandwiches.
"We'll move the camp once the last scout gets back." Kaito assured them through a mouthful of sandwich.
"Don't talk with your mouth full."
Kaito swallowed and grinned. "Aw, are you still mad?"
"Your grumpy face says otherwise~."
"I am not grumpy."
"Uh huh. Riiight."
Ran watched the two for a moment longer then shook her head, a smile twitching uncontrollably at the corners of her mouth. They really were quite the pair. It seemed someone had finally managed to drag Shinichi out of his shell. She still didn't know him well, but her original reservations had long since gone.
"You know, I don't think I've ever seen Kaito so happy."
Surprised, Ran turned to see Aoko watching the two just as she had been, her own expression soft.
Ran chuckled. "I guess we have something in common there."
"I don't want a sandwich," Shinichi's irritated declaration rang out over the fire. "Ah, hey, give that back!"
"Nope. No sandwich, no coffee. It's this stuff that's messing with your appetite anyway."
"It is not!"
"What do you like so much about this stuff anyway?" Pause. "Yuck, it's disgusting. Let me get you something better."
"No! Wait! Come back!"
And they were off, Shinichi desperately trying to rescue his precious mug from a laughing Kaito who was somehow managing to munch his way through sandwich number two while simultaneously hijacking said mug and threatening to pour it out.
The girls traded looks and burst out laughing.
By noon all but one of the scouts Kaito had sent out originally to search the nearby towns had returned and everyone was getting ready to begin packing. Heiji, Shinichi was a little surprised to see, was actually helping Eisuke with the after-lunch cleanup. He was actually beginning to act like his usual, upbeat self again. That was good.
"Hey, I see him!" Keiko, who was currently on watch, exclaimed suddenly. Those who heard her paused to follow the line of her gaze. Several of them waved, calling out greetings, but Shinichi frowned.
"He's coming really fast," he remarked.
Aoko, who he'd been helping secure the more fragile supplies, looked around and squinted. "You're right…"
The rest of the camp seemed to have picked up on the signals as well. All activity stilled as they waited. There was the faintest sounds on the wind that suggested shouting.
"They know we're here!" the man's yell finally reached them as he came within earshot. As if on cue, more riders appeared over the horizon.
"Whoa, he wasn't kidding," Keiko gasped. "Talk about short notice!"
The camp burst into pure chaos. In the distance, they all heard the cry of "You are all under arrest!" but no one was listening. All over the camp tents were collapsing like straw houses in a gale. Supplies vanished into packs so quickly it looked like they had simply dissolved. And just as the horsemen came sweeping into the camp the entire area flooded with smoke.
In the midst of the mayhem, Shinichi felt someone grab his hand. The next thing he knew he was being pulled up onto what felt like a horse.
"Hang on tight," Kaito's voice instructed and they were off.
Shinichi closed his eyes against the wind and the smoke. "What about the others?"
"The Nakamoris will have them covered. This isn't the first time something like this has happened. Our job is just to keep going, seeing as it's us they're gonna chase."
Shinichi cast a glance back over his shoulder and saw there were indeed a handful of men on horseback beginning to gallop after them. They were, however, too far back to have any hopes of catching up. Even as he watched they fell away like so many dust motes caught on the wind. But they were still struggling to follow.
"So what now?" he called over the howl of the wind as he turned back to burry his face in the back of Kaito's coat.
"Well, first we lose our tail. Then either you can come with me, in which case we'll send a message back to our respective cohorts and probably head up north for a while until they forget about me here, after which I think I'll go back into the treasure hunting business. With my network and your puzzle-solving experience, I'm sure we'd do great. Or you can decide to go home, in which case I'd let you off in the next town outside of Ekoda and head up north myself. But I'll warn you now, if you do decide to stay, I'll be back. I'm not very good at letting go and I don't like giving away what's mine."
"I'm not a thing you know."
"No, but you are mine."
Shinichi rolled his eyes, but he really didn't mind. After all, he didn't want to let Kaito go either. Kaito was wrong about one thing though, he thought. He didn't have to go anywhere to go home, because he felt at home right here.
A.N: Hmm, it turned out a lot more surreal than I originally intended. I also have no idea why the Aoko and Hakuba part turned out the way it did, it just…did. Poor Aoko…but anyway, I'm kind of sad that it's ended, but it was certainly fun to write. Anyhow, thank you all for reading! ^_^