A.N: There was supposed to be more to this chapter, but since the rest is still being difficult, I decided to go ahead and put up what I had. Hopefully the rest will sort itself out soon ^.^
Disclaimer: I don't own DCMK
Path of Dappled Light
13: Piece to Piece
Left to his own devices, Shinichi sat with his arms folded atop the empty table. His fingers tapped idly on the surface as his thoughts drifted.
He hadn't missed the tracking device Kaito had snuck onto his jacket. Did Kaito think he was going to just wander off? Had it been a simple precaution? That would be understandable, and yet… That feeling that there was something he wasn't being told was back again.
The way Hattori had behaved at the fountain had been…odd. Closing his eyes, he pictured the moment in his mind. Shinichi hadn't been able to hear everything the Osakan detective and Makoto Seiji had said, but it had been obvious that the former had been reluctant to hand over his phone-turned-camera. Of course, in this day and age, there were a lot of reasons not to simply hand your phone to almost-strangers. The little devices simply contained too much personal information. That hadn't looked like what the Osakan had been worried about though, especially since he handed it over in the end anyway. Why had he been so disappointed that he didn't get to take the picture himself? Had he not wanted to be in the picture? Or was it something he did want in the picture? That did seem more likely. He hadn't made any fuss over the rest of the pictures they'd taken today though. So what had been different about the picture at the fountain?
His thoughts were interrupted by several soft thuds. He looked up to see that Makoto was back. The noise had been the sound of the cups he was carrying being set on the table. Shinichi looked over the man's shoulder then frowned. "Where's Hakuba-san?"
"He spilled a little juice on his clothes so he went to clean it off," Makoto explained. He slid one of the drinks over to Shinichi before claiming another and sitting down. "You may wish to be careful too. This stuff is rather sticky when dry."
Shinichi nodded and took a sip from his cup. The blend of fruits was surprisingly sweet with a dash of sour and a tangy quality that suggested the presence of certain citrus fruits.
"So what do you think?"
"It's good. Do you know what's in it?"
The man chuckled. "Something like a dozen different fruits and then some. They're pretty protective of their recipes. All they'll say is that everything's fresh. But that's craftsmen for you. Never want to tell anyone anything about their techniques."
An image of Kaito's knowing smirk flashed through his mind and Shinichi smiled. "That's true." He paused, considering the man quietly drinking his own juice on the other side of the table for a long moment before he spoke again. "There's something I've been wanting to ask you, Makoto-san."
The man raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Have we…met somewhere? Before you came with Hakuba-san, I mean."
The man's face went blank for the fraction of a second before shifting into a puzzled expression. That momentary lapse, however, made Shinichi tense. That familiar sense that something was wrong tingled through his nerves. Taking a deep breath, he spent a moment making sure his expression didn't change too much. Then he pushed his chair back and stood.
"Can you watch the table for a bit? I'm going to see if Hakuba-san needs any help," he started to say only to pause as an unexpected wave of vertigo made him stumble. Had he stood up too fast? No, that wasn't it—
His vision spun and blurred. Reaching out blindly, he grasped at the table, fingernails scraping across the surface. There was a clunk and something cold and wet slithered past his hands. He must have knocked over his drink.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Makoto's voice reached his ears from somewhere far away. "Kudo-san?"
Then that too distorted and faded into nothing.
Laden down with steaming trays of festival food, Kaito, Ran, and Heiji had almost reached the dining tables when they spotted a familiar head of blond hair running in the same direction.
"Isn't that Hakuba-san?" Ran asked, startled.
Hattori cursed. "I thought we told him to stay at the table! What's he doing here?"
Kaito lengthened his stride, indigo eyes already beginning to search the tables. "Why can't you detectives ever just do what you're told?"
"Hey, don't lump me in with him! We are absolutely nothing alike!"
"Guys, I don't see Shinichi!" Ran interjected, face going pale. There also seemed to be a greater amount of commotion than there had been when they'd left the dining tables earlier. She couldn't remember exactly which table had been theirs, but she did remember roughly which section it was in and, well, it wasn't there anymore. Or rather there weren't any empty tables there anymore. Nor was there any sign of her childhood friend. She did, however, spot Hakuba talking to a group of strangers in the midst of the hubbub. She opened her mouth to point him out only to realize that both her companions were already halfway there.
Kaito shoved his tray onto the table between two startled teenagers with a quick apology before grabbing the blond detective's arm and spinning him around. "Hakuba! Where's Shinichi?"
Panic flickered across the detective's face before he managed to collect himself. "That is what I am trying to find out. This lady here was telling me what happened."
"The poor boy who was sitting here earlier collapsed," the woman in question explained, offering Kaito what she probably meant to be a reassuring smile. "But it should be all right. The hospital's not too far from here and his friend said he had a car. If you'd like, I can write down the directions for you. Are you his brother?"
The magician ignored the 'brother' comment in lieu of more important things. "His friend? Was it a tall man? Dark hair, thin mustache, kind of narrow, gray eyes?"
"That's right." The woman paused then, apparently realizing that her words weren't having the desired effect. Hattori's renewed cursing in the background as he began berating Hakuba for running off to who knew where wasn't helping. Hakuba snapped back that he'd had his reasons, and the two devolved into another argument.
"Um, is there a problem?" she asked hesitantly.
Employing all his acting prowess, Kaito smiled at the woman. "It's nothing you need to concern yourself with. It's just that our friend's been sick and we were worried when we didn't see him here."
"Oh, I see. Well, like I said, I'm sure you have nothing to worry about."
The woman nodded to him one last time before excusing herself to return to her own table. Kaito watched her go before starting out of the dining court with long strides. He heard several of his companions calling after him but he ignored them. He had to find Shinichi.
"Hey Shin-chan, have you considered taking lessons in some kind of martial arts?"
"…No? That was random. Why do you ask?"
"Let's see, Ran-san has her karate, Tantei-han has kendo, and Hakuba fences. I recall that even Kazuha-san does some martial arts. And, of course, I have my skills as both a gymnast and an experienced kaitou—and the ability to hide more nasty surprises on my person than anyone could expect—"
"And the silver tongue not to need any of it," Shinichi muttered.
"Naturally. You, on the other hand, play soccer."
"Hey, don't talk about soccer like it's useless," Shinichi huffed, offended.
Kaito held up his hands in a placating gesture, though he didn't look very apologetic. "Hey, I didn't say it was useless. Trust me, I know how hard you can kick. The problem is, that's not the same as being battle-ready."
"I doubt any of us could actually be considered battle-ready," Shinichi replied dryly.
The thief waved a dismissive hand. "Skirmish-ready then. It would help if you were at least a little better at retreating, but you could use a lot of work in that department too."
"Well forgive me for not being a professional escape artist."
"That's not exactly what I meant. I mean, let's face it, you're much better at running at trouble than away from it, but there are some situations where it's better to retreat and regroup."
"What exactly is the point of this conversation?"
The magician's face grew abruptly serious. "I just want you to be safe. Much as I'd like to, I can't watch over you all the time, and at the rate you're going it's only going to be a matter of time before you bite off more than you can chew."
When he opened his eyes to a blur of blue, green, and brown, the first thing that surfaced in his mind was confusion. Where was he and how had he gotten here? The second thing that crossed his mind was alarm. Forget where he was: why couldn't he move?
Panic fought against the strange, woozy fuz in his head. Blinking to clear his vision, he realized that he was looking at leafy boughs twined together between him and the sky. He was also pretty sure that that was dirt and dry leaves under him. So he was in the forest. Shifting a little, he realized that he was leaning against what had to be the trunk of a tree. Giving himself a light shake, he took another moment to take in the rest of his surroundings.
He was at the edge of a small clearing. As he had guessed, it was somewhere in the forest. The ground sloped slightly and he could see the shadow of the mountains looming along one side of the sky. There was no sign of the town through the trees and no distant sounds of traffic.
So he was definitely back in the mountain forest, but he couldn't remember how he'd gotten here. Granted, it didn't take a genius to guess, considering that even through the static in his head he could feel that his hands had been tied behind him. But how long had he been here? Judging from the quality of the light, it was some time in the afternoon. His stomach was telling him that it wanted food, but the hunger pangs weren't bad enough for him to think he'd been here for days. So it had probably only been a few hours.
Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, he shifted slightly, pretending to still be unconscious. Cracking his eyelids open just a little, he watched as a man he recognized emerged from the forest carrying a camper's pack.
And of course now it all made sense. The others had suspected that Makoto Seiji was the man who'd tried to shoot him at the village—maybe even the man who'd driven him onto the bridge to begin with as well. Only they must not have been sure. That was why they'd agreed to stay for the festival. They were trying to make sure so they could deal with the man while they knew his location. The pictures—he'd bet anything they'd wanted one with Makoto in it so that they could ask the police to run it through their database.
It would have been nice to be told, he mused, annoyed, but there wasn't any point in getting upset about it now.
Dropping his pack a few feet from where Shinichi was, the man cast a look at him before turning away and crouching. He began to pull tools out of his pack. Shinichi studied his actions in mild confusion.
It looked like the man was making a campfire? Strange. Did that mean he intended to camp out and move on to somewhere else tomorrow? But why bother? Was this not the same person who'd been trying to kill him then? Well, whatever he was up to, it couldn't be anything good.
Since the man had his back to him, Shinichi took the chance to test his bonds. Rough bark scraped against his hands as he scrabbled at it in an attempt to free his arms. It seemed they were not only tied behind his back but also anchored to the tree itself. Any serious attempt to free himself would immediately alert Makoto to the fact that he was awake.
He paused to reevaluate his options. He knew Kaito would be looking for him. His clothes didn't seem to have been disturbed much, so it was possible that the tracer the magician had left on him was still there. That would help as long as they weren't too far away for the signal. The man also didn't seem to be in a hurry to do away with him since he was still making his fire. So Shinichi could wait. On the other hand, it was possible that the tracer had been removed or was out of range. In that case, he would need to find a way to free himself because the chances of a third party just happening upon them were slim, especially since he couldn't see any actual trails nearby.
While he'd been thinking, the man had finished building his campfire and stood up. Taking a step away from it, Makoto stretched before dusting off his hands. With him out of the way, Shinichi could now see the campfire clearly—including the fact that Makoto hadn't prepared it properly. There were no stones to shield it and the ground hadn't been cleared of dry foliage. The dead leaves and twigs near the flickering tongues were already beginning to catch the sparks. The flame was still fairly small, but it would start spreading soon, and once it did he knew it would only grow faster until it became a full on wildfire. The man had even left a few random camping tools by it to complete the careless camper image.
So that was what the fire was for. Well, the man had just officially crossed the line to crazy extremist.