Disclaimer: I don't own DCMK
Path of Dappled Light
14: Family Matters
This was starting to look bad. Not that it had looked good before, but now… If he continued to pretend to be sleeping, he was going to be burned to a crisp. He supposed that if the man left early enough, he might be able to inch his way to the other side of the tree and let the flames take care of the ropes for him. It didn't look like Makoto was done yet though. His back was still to the detective, but Shinichi could hear ominous, metallic sounds that he was sure he recognized.
It was time to get moving. Throwing caution to the wind, he began to pull at his bonds, twisting and tugging in an attempt to loosen them. The rough weave of the rope scraped at his skin but it seemed to be working. Just a little more and his left hand would be free.
That was when the sound of a gun being cocked reached his ears.
"I was wondering how long you were going to play at being asleep."
Carefully, Shinichi lifted his head. The first thing he saw was the cold, black mouth of the gun. The next thing he saw was the calmly smiling face of the man behind it. The contrast was almost jarring.
"I don't usually kill anyone if I'm not being paid to," the man continued conversationally. "No profit in it. But family is family."
Family. The word echoed in Shinichi's head and blue eyes widened. A face flashed through his thoughts—a different face than the one before him now, but the features were most definitely similar. The man had murdered his wife in a fit of rage.
"Murashima Ryuji." The name slipped out of his mouth unbidden.
"Ah, so you remember my brother after all. Unfortunately for you, you're a little too late." He raised his handgun. The cold, metallic click of the safety being switched off was loud in the softer, living rustle of the forest. "Any last words, Detective?"
"You're making a mistake."
The man actually laughed at that. "Is that really what you want to spend your last breaths on? Or do you really believe you can change my mind?"
No, he supposed he really didn't think the man would listen, but he had caught a glimpse of movement in the trees behind the man. That, and he felt that everyone deserved a chance to change their ways, whether or not they took it.
"I'm just saying that even if you get away this time, your crimes will catch up to you eventually," he said, making sure to keep his eyes fixed on Makoto's face and not give away the shadow sneaking up behind the guy. "It's only a matter of time."
"If it makes you happier to think so, then by all means go ahead. I'll be sure to—" The man stopped abruptly as he felt something cold and sharp press against the side of his neck. Gray eyes widened. He hadn't heard or sensed anyone approach, but he knew that that edge against his throat was not his imagination. Nor was that voice.
"Drop the gun."
The man slowly lowered his weapon, letting it slip from his fingers to land on the dried foliage carpeting the forest floor. Then, with the abruptness of a striking snake, he spun. His fist was already clenched and swinging as his feet shifted him half a step away from the cold, metal edge, but despite his speed he wasn't fast enough to avoid the blast of smoke that caught him full in the face. He let out a cry of shock that led to a brief fit of coughing before he landed on the ground in a sprawl. He lay still.
Kaito nudged the prone form with the toe of his shoe, watching for any signs of pretense. Satisfied that the man really was out cold, he turned his attention to Shinichi—who was jiggling frantically where he sat like someone had stuck a pile of hot coals under him.
"The fire!" he exclaimed before Kaito could ask. "It's spreading!"
Pivoting quickly, Kaito was mildly astounded to see that what had been a small and almost friendly looking flame only minutes ago had now tripled in size. Nor was it a single bushel of flames any longer. It was a spattering of fires chewing their way hungrily through the dry foliage. Cursing, Kaito hurried to kick dirt over the worst of the flames, scattering the embers and doing his best to stamp them into oblivion. Then suddenly Shinichi was beside him, smothering what was left of the flames with his jacket.
Once they were sure that every last spark had been snuffed out, Kaito turned to give Shinichi a careful look over. The detective's wrists and hands were scraped where he'd forcibly wrenched them through the ropes, but otherwise he seemed unharmed. He breathed a sigh of relief and smiled.
"One of these days, I'm going to sit down and make a list of all the times I've saved your life. You've got to owe me like a zillion favors by now. You really do need to start being more careful."
Shinichi grimaced. "I know. I'm sorry… But what about you? What if he'd realized that wasn't a knife? He had a gun!"
Kaito twirled the metal ruler through his fingers and grinned. "It's all in the delivery, my dear. Well, that and how you apply the pressure. Besides, you don't really think I would have given him the chance to shoot me, do you? You know me better than that."
That was probably true. Knowing the magician thief, he'd probably had two dozen different plants ready in accordance to each variable in the situation. That was just the kind of person he was (if he hadn't been, he would have been caught a long time ago). Even so, it had scared him to see Kaito so close to being shot. Burying his face in the magician's chest, he focused on the other's steady heartbeat. The reassuring sound helped stave off the dizziness and nausea wreaking havoc on his head.
Kaito wrapped his arms around his detective and held him close, waiting for the other to recollect himself. He could tell that whatever the bastard had given Shinichi was still effecting him. A pang of anger shot through his veins, but he ignored it. He didn't tell Shinichi that he had seriously thought about bringing a real knife, but he'd decided against it because it would take extra time to procure one (that, and he didn't trust himself not to do something he shouldn't if he'd arrived late).
"Makoto—no, I mean Murashima—he was at the house…"
The magician raised an eyebrow as he looked down at the top of Shinichi's head. "What was that?"
"He…he killed the owner. I found the body. I tried to call the police but there were no phones in the house and my cell wasn't getting any reception…"
"Go on," Kaito prompted gently when he stopped again.
"I…decided to drive back down to town, but then…then someone shot out one of my tires. Someone had tampered with the brakes and I couldn't stop the car. So I got out as fast as I could." He paused to draw in a slow breath, eyes still squeezed firmly shut. "I—I got a look at the sniper when he shot at me again and I ran. I remember thinking he looked familiar then too. He chased me through the forest until I got to an old bridge. I decided to try crossing it, but it collapsed."
"And then the Kitas picked you up."
"Yeah…" The detective exhaled slowly. "My head hurts."
"Here." Moving to sit on the ground, Kaito pulled the detective down with him so that he could rest his head on Kaito's shoulder.
"Where're the others?"
Kaito blinked then chuckled. "I'm not sure. They were right behind me earlier, but I guess I lost them on my way here. I'll send a bird to show them where we are. You just rest and let us handle cleaning up."
"Hey, is that cake for me?"
Shinichi jumped and spun around from where he'd been squeezing icing onto the cake in question. "Kaito! When did you get here?"
"Just now. I saw you through the kitchen window and I remembered that Ran-san was supposed to be here for one of your cooking lessons today. I didn't want to interrupt, so I decided I'd let myself in."
"Don't you always do that?"
"That's true," the thief agreed, actually sounding proud of the fact. "So was today dessert day?"
"Kind of," Shinichi hedged. The truth was that Ran had only intended the day's lesson to involve baking. It had been Shinichi who'd chosen cake for the subject (because he knew Kaito would be coming over. The magician always did on the days of Ran's cooking lessons since they'd started a month ago). "We just thought we'd try something sweet for a change."
"About time! So is it for me?"
"Why do you keep asking me that? It was just for the lesson."
"Well, yeah, but it has my name on it, so I thought maybe it was for me."
"I—I just didn't know what to draw on it with the icing but it would've been a waste not to use it."
"And the first thing you thought about was my name? Aw, how cute."
"That's not it at all!"
"I don't believe you~."
"Well, the police finally got back to us," Heiji announced, barging into the hotel room followed more sedately by Hakuba. "Nothing we didn't already figure out though. Guy was that Murashima Ryuji's older brother. They really did grow up around here. According to the people who knew them, they were always pretty close, though they both moved away some time ago. Seems he's been a hired killer for several years now. In fact, the real owner of that house up in the mountains was his last assignment. So when he heard through the grapevine that his little brother was arrested, he decided he'd kill two birds with one stone and use his last victim's house to avenge his brother."
Kaito shook his head. "Really, Shin-chan, next time try to make sure you know if someone you've arrested has a professional assassin for a brother."
Shinichi managed a brief laugh from where he was leaning against a pile of pillows on the bed, nursing a massive cup of coffee and a headache. "It's not like that's something people advertise."
"What about the hospital?" Ran asked. She seated herself in front of the vanity, leafing through a random magazine she'd unearthed from the dresser drawers. She wasn't sure if they'd been left by a previous tenant or the hotel staff since, instead of the usual travel guide type magazine she expected in hotels, it was a botanical journal, but it helped pass the time.
"The local hospital's fairly small," Hakuba replied. "But they told me that they do have someone with experience in head trauma on call. They said to let them know when Kudo-san would like to go in and they would arrange it."
Shinichi frowned into his mug. "I already told you, I don't need to see a doctor." His protests died under the girl's stern look.
"We were going to take you to a hospital when we got back to Tokyo, but since it looks like we'll be here a bit longer, you're going to go to this one. It's better to be safe than sorry."
"She has a point," Kaito agreed. "I know you said you're starting to remember more now, but it's not just about your memory. Head injuries are complicated. I've heard of cases where people thought they were all right only to keel over days or weeks later. It's better to get it checked out now and find out everything's fine than to learn at the ER later that there was a problem."
Hattori nodded sagely. "That's right. You're gonna see that doctor one way or another. You might as well go gracefully."
Seeing that he was outnumbered, Shinichi gave in.
Despite the long day they'd had, the night outside was still alive with activity as the rest of the town continued to enjoy the glamour of the festival. Ran rather envied their ignorance. The allure of an ordinary life… She shook her head, smiling wryly. She used to think of herself as living one of them: those ordinary lives. She'd never had big dreams or ambitions. To be honest, she never even used to think all that much about the future. She went through the motions and was happy with it. But being a detective's daughter and longtime friends with a major trouble magnet meant that life could only be normal for so long. The funny thing was that she hadn't realized just how strange her own life had been—still was—until she'd heard Shinichi's story all those months ago.
Now she was beginning to suspect that none of their lives were capable of being normal, and she wasn't sure how she felt about that. Worried, mostly.
They really had been lucky this time, but next time might be different. And even if it wasn't, she was sure now that there would always be another next time.
The whole event had left her with a strange, gnawing sense of unease even now that it was mostly over. It was like that feeling when you knew there was something important you were forgetting but you couldn't remember what it was except that every second mattered. Because of it, she had lain in bed for almost an hour before giving up and deciding to take a walk through the hotel's carpeted halls.
At this hour, those who weren't out at the festival were mostly back in their rooms. That left the hotel's interior almost eerily silent, especially when compared to the noise she could hear faintly in the distance. With no real destination in mind, her feet wandered until they carried her to one of the indoor seating areas near the hotel kitchens. There was an elderly couple seated at one table, talking quietly as they enjoyed steaming mugs of hot chocolate. The rest of the tables were empty but for a single figure Ran recognized.
The blond detective was seated at a corner table, his hands wrapped around a faintly steaming teacup. His gaze was turned towards one of the black windows. Ran hesitated for a moment before approaching his table.
The detective looked up, blinked, then smiled. "Mouri-san. Please, have a seat. I thought you had already retired for the night."
"I was having a hard time sleeping so I thought I'd take a walk around the hotel," she explained, taking the proffered seat. "What about you?"
"I was organizing the events of these last few days for my personal records," he replied, gesturing to the closed notebook lying on the table before him. "I finished two minutes before you came."
"Do you document all your cases?"
"I document everything to the best of my ability. It makes it easier to reference old information when the need arises."
"Isn't that kind of tedious?"
He shrugged. "Personally, I find it relaxing. It helps me sort through my thoughts. This trip has given me much to think about." He took a small sip from his teacup.
"Organize your thoughts huh? Then maybe I should try it some time," the girl mused more to herself than to her tablemate. She'd never been much of a writer, but it was true that writing forced you to shape your thoughts into something more solid.
"Is there something on your mind? If you wish to speak to someone, I may be of some service."
Ran blinked then laughed. "I think I'm just still a little bit on edge about today, but thank you for the offer. Maybe next time."
He nodded. "Then would you like a cup of tea?"
"That would be nice. Thank you."
"Why are there thirty three books in my library that I've never seen before?"
"Consider them a gift."
"And I would want thirty three books about precious gems because…?"
"They're interesting?" the thief suggested.
Shinichi sighed. "If you ran out of space at your lair, you could've just said so."
"Aw, how do you know I didn't bring them here because I wanted to share them with you?"
"If they really bother you, I could take them back."
A sigh then a small smile. "No, it's okay, I don't really mind, though it would've been nice to get a heads up. It'll make it easier for me to help you research if I know where you've already looked anyway. But I would appreciate it if you would put them on one of the reference shelves instead of in the middle of the novels."
The thief's grin faded a little bit as his eyes grew serious. "Shinichi, are you sure you want to do that? If you start helping me, you'll be making yourself an accomplice to my heists."
Shinichi looked down. "I know," he said softly. "But I want to help you. I wouldn't have made it to where I am now without your help. I…want to be able to do something for you too."
"You already have. I wanted them gone just as much as you did."
"Are you saying you don't want me to help?"
"No, of course not," the thief said, tone gentle. "I just don't want you to do anything you'll regret."
Blue eyes met his, bright and determined. "I won't."
Kaito studied his detective's face for a long moment before nodding slowly. Then his serious face cracked into an amused if slightly wistful smile. "You know, I really wish you could've met Tou-san. He would've liked you, I'm sure."
A soft, almost inaudible sigh whispered in the dark hotel room. Blue eyes stared through the gloom at the night sky beyond the window. The curtains had been left open since both he and Kaito liked the view.
He had been lying in the dark now for almost two hours, but he just couldn't seem to sleep. And it wasn't because he wasn't tired.
The memories were coming back piece by piece, but part of him still felt detached from them—like they were someone else's story that he was reading out of order. It was a little ridiculous, really, he thought. He knew fundamentally that they belonged to him. And yet…
The sound of movement from the other side of the room distracted him from his musings. A moment later the mattress dipped under a new weight.
"That's the twelfth sigh I've heard from you this evening. Care to explain or do I have to guess?"
"I was just thinking."
The magician chuckled. "With you, it's never just thinking. So what was on your mind?"
"It really isn't anything important."
"Let me be the judge of that."
"…Do you promise not to laugh?"
"Cross my heart."
"It's just that I…I still don't really feel like me."
"What do you mean?"
"I just…I don't really know how to put it. I just feel…different, I suppose. Like maybe I'm not really that person anymore."
Kaito was silent for a long moment before he spoke again, picking his words with care. "I don't think any of us are quite the same as we were before this all happened, but I think that would be true even if this particular fiasco hadn't come along. Everyone changes. That's just what happens in life. It doesn't mean you're not you anymore."
Shinichi mulled this over then smiled faintly. "I suppose you're right."
The thief laughed. "Of course I am. Now we better get some sleep so we're fresh for the trip back to Tokyo tomorrow. We can't leave too late if Hattori-kun's going to catch his train. We also have to return the rental to the rental place in Beika before we can head to Ekoda."
"What? Weren't we going home?"
"Do you remember what I told you just before you left to come up here to the mountains?"
"You…said there was someone you wanted me to meet."
White teeth flashed in the dark. "Yep. I called her earlier and said we'd be there for dinner."
Shinichi hung back as Kaito stepped up to the door. In all the time he'd known the magician from their time as rivals to friends then more, he had never once gone to Kaito's house (or at least not that he could remember, and by now he was fairly sure that he'd filled in most of the holes in his memory). Now that he was here, his insides were twisting themselves into nervous knots. Maybe he should have brought a gift? That was something people did, right? But he hadn't thought of it before, and it was too late now. Maybe he could tell Kaito and—
A woman with shoulder-length hair appeared in the doorway just as Kaito was about to open it.
"Kaito, you're home!" she exclaimed, pulling the magician into a quick hug which he returned.
"It took a bit longer than I expected. Quite a lot's happened."
"I'm sure it has. You can tell me about it over dinner. And who's your friend?" she added, smiling warmly at Shinichi.
Kaito grinned, tugging Shinichi forward. "This is Kudo Shinichi, he's my detective. Shinichi, meet my mom, Kuroba Chikage."
A.N: Ah, finally! I don't know why this one was so hard to write, and I'm still not entirely happy with it, but here it is.