Disclaimer: I don't own the DCMK characters
Genre: Romance/Science Fiction
Pairing: KaiShin [KaitoxShinichi]
"Have you heard the legend of the Red Diamond?"
Shinichi shook his head. "I don't think so."
"They say that if a racer can win the Black, White, and Red Diamonds then he will open the gateway of the sky."
"You've mentioned that before," Shinichi said thoughtfully. "What is it?"
"No one knows for sure, but they say it's a road that will lead a person to Paradise. Others say it's a path that the racer will find that will take him to a temple above the sky where he will be granted one wish. Another saying is that it's a map that can be unlocked by the medals for each of those races. The map will give you the location of either a great treasure, the aforementioned temple, or any other number of amazing things and places depending on what story you hear. One version goes so far as to say it leads to the fountain of youth."
"None of that can be real though."
"Oh? So you don't believe in legends?"
Shinichi shook his head. "It's not that. Many legends are born from facts. But the three races in question have been going on for centuries. The Black Diamond, for example, was originally a race held by the northern tribes on the longest night of the year. It was a ritual representation of the bringing of light into the world by the thief who stole pearls from the goddess of the sky. They say he stole the pearls because his sister was ill and she wanted to see light before she died. He promised her that he would bring light to her, and so the pearls. He succeeded in bringing the pearls to earth, but on his way back the sack he was carrying them in split and the pearls were scattered and became the stars to light the darkness of the night for all the nights to come."
"That's an interesting story. I didn't know that one. But why does the race being an old tradition make you think the myths can't be true?"
"Because someone would have found the treasure or whatever it is by now. Think about it. All three of these races are old, but they happen periodically. That means there have been many winners in the past. There must have been someone who got a hold of the medals for all three and looked for the treasure by now if it's real."
"Ah, but I've checked and there are no records of a single person winning all three races. Many have tried to multiple times, but so far no luck."
"But you can't make me believe no one tried borrowing or buying medals to use."
"They say the map will only reveal itself to someone who has proven his or her worth."
"Oh well that's convenient then. If no one ever finds anything then it just means no one's proven their worth, right?"
"…Yeah, I think maybe you're missing the point."
"Is that what you're looking for then? This map to an amazing treasure?"
Kaito laughed. "Nah. Not that I'd mind finding a little treasure. It sounds like a grand old adventure. But I just want to be the best. What about you?"
"Am I interested in treasure?"
"That too. But I meant to ask what you want out of all this. You said something once about creating a hover craft that can shine even when it doesn't win. Is that your goal?"
"I…guess it is and it isn't. I want to help create something like that—a craft that will be the most amazing thing ever seen on a track. But that means it has to be a craft that is also perfectly suited to its pilot. A vehicle isn't complete until it finds the right pilot for it. It's the two of them working together and being able to perform to the best of both their abilities—that's when the work is truly complete. I want to see when a racer and his hover craft are more than just a man and a machine but two parts of a whole capable of doing the impossible."
Kaito chuckled. "Someone who can do the impossible huh? And you picked me? I'm flattered."
Shinichi blushed. "I just—I didn't—I mean…"
"I promise I won't let you down."
Shinichi opened his mouth then closed it again. Still blushing, he turned his gaze to the scenery flowing past the transporter's windows.
So here they were now. One year on their own had taught them both a lot, not all of it about racing. They learned that the real competition began long before the racers got onto the tracks and that some people would do anything to gain an advantage. They learned to say as little as possible to the reporters and to always have a spare of everything important. But more than anything else, they learned that they had to trust each other.
Now they were in the preliminaries for the Black Diamond as one of the teams most favored to win. They'd come a long way in a short time, Kaito mused.
"That'll be ten fifty."
"Here you go." He handed over the money and took the box from the young woman behind the counter. The smell of food seeped out from within the cardboard container. The whole thing radiated heat. It was making his mouth water. He was always hungry when he got off the tracks.
Giving the girl a smile and a nod, he headed back towards the lots. He didn't want to leave Shinichi alone for too long. The mechanic didn't like having someone hanging over his shoulder while he worked, but there was safety in numbers. As the smallest team in the competition, they couldn't afford to be anything but cautious. They had no backup racers or mechanics. If anything happened to either of them, they would be out of the running, if not right away then certainly before they reached the finals. There had been this one time when a girl he'd run into at a cafe tried to slip him a sleeping draft right before a major race. Kaito had caught her at it, but he'd decided not to press charges after having a long talk with the girl about proper customer service.
He also vividly remembered that evening three months ago when a pair of suspiciously dressed men had followed Shinichi from a parts shop. They had stolen the parts he'd bought and nearly broken Shinichi's arm. Fortunately, Kaito had been coming to meet Shinichi. The two men had run when Kaito showed up, and so Shinichi escaped with only a nasty bump on the head. They had lost the parts though. That had been a trying time. The parts that they'd needed to replace were both important and expensive. The theft left them with both a damaged hover craft and not enough in the way of funds to make the repairs they needed to before the race on the following morning. They had reported the robbery to the local police, but their hopes hadn't been high.
The two of them had returned to their assigned hangar that night with low spirits and a certain amount of frustration. Kaito couldn't remember the last time he'd been that angry. Not only had the robbers stolen essential parts from them, they had also dared to hurt Shinichi. It made him even angrier that he could see Shinichi feeling guilty about the loss—like it was somehow his fault, which it wasn't.
"Damn it, just this one race," Kaito remembered saying, slamming his right fist into the palm of his left hand. "If we can get through the race tomorrow, we can qualify for entering the Black Diamond! If we miss this chance, we won't get another for another two years!"
He had paced around and around the hangar while Shinichi sat by the hover racer, holding an icepack against the bump on his head and staring glumly at the hover craft. Then the mechanic straightened abruptly and called Kaito over.
"We just need to rank in the top five tomorrow to qualify, right?"
"Then I need to get to work." Setting the icepack aside, Shinichi stood, swayed, and would have fallen if not for Kaito catching his shoulders and steadying him.
"Hold on there. You're in no condition to do anything."
"So you want to just forfeit?"
"Who said anything about forfeiting? The damage to the engine is pretty bad, but I think I can patch it up a little. It'll be tough without the stabilization system, but I do practice without it regularly. As for the rest, I've flown with defective equipment before. I know I can do it. I just need to be careful. I probably won't get first place, but squeezing into fifth, I can do."
"Not with your kind of patch job you can't."
"Hey, that hurts my feelings. I thought you said the patch I did for it this morning was good."
"For this morning, it was. But you're always so rough with the crafts when you're flying. That last round was hard on her too. The damage is a lot worse now than it was this morning."
"So you're saying it's impossible for me to patch it up enough to fly."
Shinichi sighed. "No, I'm saying that we have to work together if we want to patch it up enough to fly. My eyes are having difficulty focusing, so you're going to have to look for me. Tell me everything you see, and I'll tell you what the diagnosis is and how you can patch it up. It won't be perfect, and don't expect to pull any of those fancy stunts you love with them, but they should be able to get you one good flight."
"Deal. So where do we start?"
They had worked all through the night. Kaito was glad that he was at least a proficient mechanic. With Shinichi's knowledge and his own ingenuity, they managed to piece together a working hover racer without the stolen parts.
On the following morning, Kaito flew their patchwork racer and secured third place. The points he earned allowed them to qualify for entering the Black Diamond.
Afterward, Shinichi had kicked Kaito out of the hangar and worked on the hover craft for three days straight, never once setting foot outside the hangar. The money Kaito had gotten from placing second made it possible for them to repurchase the parts that had been stolen. And this time Kaito made sure that the parts reached Shinichi (along with his meals, water, and coffee. Seriously, that boy would catch his death one day from either forgetting to eat or not bothering to sleep). Finally, Kaito couldn't stand it anymore and busted down the hangar door.
"You've been in this stuffy place for four days! Do you know that?"
"Now I do," Shinichi muttered, not looking up from where he was peering under the racer's hood. "Did you need something?"
"Need something?" Kaito repeated, slightly thrown off by the question. He'd come storming in here to drag Shinichi out—literally if need be—for some fresh air and relaxation. "No, I don't need anything. We're on a break. We don't have to even start traveling towards the location of the next race for another three weeks. Not needing anything is kind of what we're supposed to be doing right now. So why are you still in here?"
"I have to make sure the hover racer is at one hundred percent by the time we reach the next race."
"And it is! You told me yesterday that everything was correctly installed and in perfect working order. What more do you want?"
"I'm still running tests."
"How many are you doing?"
"Sixty today, and another fifty tomorrow."
"…What?! Why the hell do you need to do so many? Don't you think it's a bit overboard?"
Shinichi straightened and planted his hands on his hips. "No, it isn't overboard. It's my job to make sure that this craft is safe for you to fly in." Unspoken but also clear in his posture and the determination in his eyes was the vow that Kaito would not get injured while flying a craft that Shinichi was responsible for. That was the arrangement, right?
Kaito shook his head and left the mechanic to it. That didn't mean he was giving up on making Shinichi take breaks though. Like now.
"I got us some lunch," he announced, sitting down on one of the rocks marking the corners of their assigned lot. "There's mashed potatoes, fried chicken, some kind of wilting salad, and—oh, hey, they gave us two ice cream bars. Awesome! You should come eat before it all gets cold or melts."
"Chicken doesn't melt," Shinichi said absently, opening up the control panel.
"I was talking about the ice cream."
"You're not actually listening to a word I'm saying, are you."
"Yeah, that's what I thought." Setting the food out on a handful of neighboring boulders, Kaito got up and strode over to stand behind Shinichi. He waited until the mechanic sat back on his heels to think before moving in. He crouched, wrapped his arms around Shinichi's middle, and stood up again, lifting the smaller teen bodily off the ground. Shinichi let out a squawk of shocked protest and began to flail. Unfortunately for him, Kaito had expected this. Shifting his grip with the ease of an expert, he gathered up Shinichi's legs before the mechanic could kick him.
"Kaito!" Blue eyes glared balefully up at him. "Put me down!"
"That's what I'm doing," Kaito assured him, pivoting on his heel and striding back to where the food was waiting. Once there, he deposited Shinichi on an unoccupied boulder and resumed his own seat. "Now eat. The hover craft can wait a few minutes."
"You didn't have to be so drastic," Shinichi grumbled, but he took a plate and fork anyway. "I don't suppose you got any coffee?"
"Sorry, they only had soda." He hid a smile at the way Shinichi seemed to wilt at the news. The boy sure loved his coffee. "I'll buy you some when we get back to the hotel."
They were nearing the end of their meal when a woman with a mane of platinum blond hair came to a stop at the edge of their lot just within the line of stones marking the boundary. She was dressed in a pristine, black business suit that made her look just a little out of place against the dry, dusty landscape.
"Excuse me," she said, gaze focusing on Kaito. "You are Kuroba Kaito, correct?"
"I am." Kaito stood up. This woman was not the kind of person you spoke to while sitting down. "Can I help you?"
"Perhaps." The woman smiled. It was a beautiful smile, he noted, except that it didn't reach her eyes. Those eyes like chips of ice set above the curve of her lips made the smile the opposite of nice. "My name is Chris Vineyard. I represent the Noir Foundation. We have been following your career. You are an amazing pilot."
"I am here to offer you a position on our team."
Kaito hid his surprise behind a polite smile. "I'm sorry, but I prefer to be my own team."
"Your friend is included in this offer." The woman cast a quick glance Shinichi's way before returning her attention to Kaito. "You both have skills that would be very valuable to us. We can also supply you with the highest quality equipment and accommodations. You're not going to get a better offer."
He didn't like this woman. "Sorry ma'am, but as I said, I have no interest in joining another team. I prefer to be my own boss. But thank you for your offer."
"I see." The woman studied his face for a long moment before nodding. "In that case, I wish you the best of luck. If you change your mind, call me. Here's my card."
Kaito waited until the woman was out of sight before sitting down again. "The Noir Foundation huh? The name sounds familiar, but no faces come to mind."
"That's not surprising," Shinichi spoke up for the first time, his own expression pensive. "They're a big organization but very secretive. They've had a team in almost every race as far back as I can remember, but their members don't do interviews and never advertise. They go around recruiting all the most promising new racers and mechanics, but the owner and core members have remained mostly the same."
"Oh yeah, I think I read something about them. I thought it said they weren't racing anymore though."
"They stopped racing under their own name, I think." Shinichi thought for a moment. "If I remember correctly, they were on the verge of getting the triple diamonds. They were—are—only missing a win at the Red Diamond. They came close ten years ago, but that year they were disqualified for being suspected of cheating. That also got them a ten year ban. Because of that, they haven't been seen in any of the diamond circuits for a while. They continued competing in other races to keep their points up though. This is the first year since the ban that they're being allowed back into the Red Diamond."
"So we'll be facing them when we enter."
"Most likely, yes."
"You know, I think we can take this as a good sign."
Blue eyes stared blankly at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Isn't it obvious? If they were trying to recruit us, it means they consider us a threat."
"That's…not a good thing."
"Look at it from the other side. It means we're making progress." Kaito grinned. It was a sharp, predatory grin like that of a shark. "And you know what? They're right to be worried, 'cause I refuse to let someone else be the first to win at all three diamonds."
It was the kind of claim a lot of cocky pilots made, Shinichi thought, but coming from Kaito, he found himself thinking that it could very well turn out to be true. There was just something about Kaito that made people believe he could do anything. And, well, over the course of their association, Shinichi had come to really want Kaito to succeed. It wasn't just because he'd seen how hard Kaito worked. It was also in the way he could tell that Kaito wasn't in it for fame or money but for the sheer love of the game. He admired Kaito's dedication, and Shinichi was sure that he had the ability to do what no one else had yet to accomplish.
"What are you thinking about?"
Blue eyes blinked across at inquiring indigo ones. "Huh?"
"What were you thinking about?" Kaito repeated patiently. "You were smiling."
Shinichi ducked his head. "It—it was nothing."
Their encounter with the woman from the Noir Foundation passed from thoughts unheeded as they both turned their attention back to the competition. It wasn't until much later that it would come back to haunt them.
It was the second round of the quarter finals. Shinichi had managed to get a seat near the finish line. Kaito had been in the lead for almost the entire race. The hover racers were charging down the final stretch of the course when it happened.
This particular race was being held on the wiggliest course Shinichi had ever seen. In fact, he knew that this track was famous for having more hairpin turns and unexpected swerves than any other course in the world. Other than that, it was a fairly straight forward course with no traps or other natural hazards. It was just the kind of track Kaito loved, and Shinichi had been sure that it would be a breeze for the older teen.
Sunlight flashed silver off of Kaito's hover craft as it came flashing around the bend, a shooting star on land. The next turn was even sharper, but it was nothing Shinichi hadn't seen Kaito do a million times before.
But as Kaito's hover racer swerved, wings tilting, Shinichi knew something was wrong. The craft didn't stop. It kept on tilting. In the blink of an eye, the hover racer had completely flipped over. Shinichi felt like his heart had stopped. He couldn't take his eyes off the track.
Hover crafts were, as per their name, designed to hover a certain distance above a given surface. However, that technology was useless if the craft was actually turned over onto its back. That was why the stabilizers were so important. But right there before his very eyes, Kaito's craft hit the ground at full speed. If it had had wheels, they would have been spinning at the sky. Sand fountained into the air behind the vehicle as it barreled out of the course and into the desert, digging itself into the dunes. The first few that it encountered were completely blasted apart in plumes of red sand and dust.
Shinichi didn't remember starting to move. He couldn't hear anything. He couldn't even feel the people crowded around him, screaming for their teams. All he could see was Kaito's hover racer lying in a silver heap at the foot of a rocky ridge several miles off course with a trail of destruction marking its path. The rest of the racers were still going, but Shinichi had no idea who was in the lead.
Kaito. He had to find Kaito.
Elbowing his way through the crowds, he ran along the back of the audience's seating area until he found a set of steps that allowed him to race down towards the track. Reaching the bottom, he leapt over the rails, ignoring the shouts from a security guard for civilians to get back. He crossed the track quickly, not wanting to be run over by the other racers, and struck out across the desert sands. It was hard to run on the shifting sand, but he kept running. The commotion of the race faded away into the background. He thought he might have heard the cheer that signified a new winner, but he didn't care about that right now.
From the stands, the point where Kaito's hover racer had come to a stop hadn't looked that far, but now that he was on the ground, he was starting to realize that it was quite a distance away. He slowed his pace a little. He needed to pace himself if he was going to make it, but he had to get to Kaito as fast as he could.
"Hey, you need a lift?"
Looking up through sweat soaked bangs, Shinichi found that a hover racer had come up beside him. The hatch had been opened, revealing the pilot seat and the dark-skinned young man seated there. He was one of their competitors, Shinichi recalled. Hattori Heiji, if he remembered correctly. The young man was supposed to be quite a good racer and fairly good natured too.
"You want to get to your friend, right? I can give you a lift."
"But aren't you in the race?"
The newcomer gave him an odd look. "The race is already over. Come on. The medical crews are coming down, but they're pretty slow. The faster someone gets to him the better."
"Right. Thank you." Shinichi let the stranger help him up into the cockpit. He was relieved to see that it was one of the models that provided a space behind the pilot's chair. It was meant to allow them to adjust their chairs for more relaxing jaunts, but it meant Shinichi had somewhere to stand, even if it was a bit of a tight squeeze. While he wanted to reach Kaito as quickly as he could, he hadn't relished the thought of having to sit on a stranger's lap to get there.
"Man, I've never seen anyone go over like that,' his helper said, shaking his head as he flew them across the desert towards the gleam of silver. "Hope your friends all right."
Shinichi nodded, not trusting himself to speak. The moment they were close enough, he popped open the hatch and jumped out.
"Oi, that's dangerous!" Hattori called after him, but Shinichi ignored him.
He ran to the half buried hover racer. It was definitely Kaito's. Circling it, he found the edge of the hatch. Brushing away sand, he peered through the darkened glass, half afraid of what he might see. As it turned out, he couldn't see much. It was dark with the cockpit mostly buried under heaps of sand.
"Kaito?" he called, tapping on the glass. "Kaito! Are you okay?"
Had something moved in there?
Mouth dry and hands shaking, Shinichi scrambled over to begin digging the sand away. Handfuls of dry, gritty grains flew in every direction as he worked. He barely noticed the way his hands were beginning to burn.
"We found them!" a stranger's voice called out from somewhere startlingly close by. Then suddenly there was a bright light shining down on him. He threw up an arm to protect his eyes. When had it gotten so dark?
A heavy hand landed on his shoulder. "Leave the rest to us, Lad," a gruff but kind voice said somewhere in the darkness over his head.
Blue eyes blinked hazily. "I can't. I have to…"
"You've done more than enough." A different hand took his and he gasped as pain shot up his arms. His world tilted, flashing dark.
The voices over his head sped up, growing more urgent, but he couldn't understand what they were saying. He could hear all the sounds, but they weren't forming words.
His vision too was spinning. Then everything went black.
When Shinichi opened his eyes next, it was to see the ceiling of a hospital room. The events of the race flashed through his head like streaks of fire and he sat bolt upright. He had to bite back a gasp as pain shot through his hands and up his arms all the way to his shoulders. Looking down, he found that both his hands had been completely wrapped up in bandages. He stared at them for a long moment, mind a numb blank.
"Oh, Kudo, you're up. Are you feeling better?"
Shinichi looked up to see a nurse smiling kindly at him. He opened his mouth to respond then winced. His throat was in agony. It felt like he hadn't had a drop of water in centuries.
"Here." The nurse handed him a cup of water. "Drink slowly."
Shinichi did as he was instructed. He had to trickle the water down his throat to begin with. It wasn't until the pain started to ease that he was really able to drink the water. Then he went through four more cups before he felt ready to speak.
"Feel better?" the nurse asked.
"Yes, thank you. I…can you tell me what happened?"
"The racing committee's medical team brought you and your teammate in. They said that your friend had an accident and you were trying to dig his hover racer out of the sands with your bare hands for hours with no water. It's no wonder you don't feel well. You're lucky that Hattori boy made sure they knew where to look for you two or it would have been even longer. Honestly, I understand that you were worried about your friend. It's right that you worry about friends. But that doesn't mean you have to forget your common sense when something goes wrong. That can only make things worse. What you should have done is call the medical crew and go with them."
Shinichi's shoulders sagged. "I—I guess… I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking."
"Oh, I didn't mean to scold you," the nurse said quickly. "Well, you need to get some more nutrition in you. You're far too skinny."
"A balanced diet is important especially for people who are always traveling in who knows what kinds of places."
"Excuse me, but can I see Kaito?"
"Kaito? Oh, you mean your teammate. Yes, you can. He's in the next room. He woke up a few hours ago. Might be in better shape than you are right now, to be honest. Half my staff is fighting the other half to get to be his nurse."
"He's a real charmer, that one. So did you want to go see him now?"
Shinichi nodded mutely. Climbing gingerly off of the hospital bed, he followed the nurse out of the room and into the one next door.
Shinichi bit his lip, feeling suddenly nervous. Kaito's hospital room was much like his own had been, except that the windows here were open. Kaito himself was seated on the bed with his back against a mountain of pillows. He had a bandage tied around his head, but other than that he seemed none the worse for wear.
Indigo eyes brightened at the sight of them. "Shinichi! I heard you were still out cold. How're you feeling?"
"I'm fine," he replied automatically. "What about you?"
"I had a concussion, or so they tell me. But I feel much better now."
"I'll leave you two alone then," the nurse who had brought Shinichi said. "Call if you need anything. One of the doctors will be by to check on the both of you later."
There was a long pause after the door shut behind her before Kaito broke it. "You can sit down, you know."
Shinichi hesitated before moving to perch on the chair by the bed. "Do you…remember what happened?"
"I knew you were going to ask me that." Kaito let his breath out in a puff, leaning back into his pillows. "It's a bit of a blur. I remember what happened in general, but if you want to know what actually happened—well, I don't really know. One moment everything was great then nothing was working."
"What do you mean?"
"Just that. Everything was great the entire first part of the race. Then I go in for that last turn and it's like the controls all froze up on me."
"All of them?"
"Well~, I didn't exactly have a lot of time to experiment."
"O—oh, right. Sorry."
"Don't apologize. Accidents happen. Fact of life."
Shinichi looked away. It was true that accidents happened, but this wasn't that kind of incident. At least he didn't think it was. Hover crafts did not simply stop working in the middle of a race for no reason. There must have been some kind of problem with the craft that had caused it to stop responding. And that meant it was his fault. He must have missed something.
Guilt twisted his stomach into knots. If Kaito had had his accident on a different course, one not surrounded by sand, the crash could have been much worse. Kaito could have…could have…
He couldn't finish the thought—couldn't bear the idea that he might have been responsible, no matter how indirectly, for the death of his closest friend. He wouldn't be able to live with himself if that ever happened.
"The biggest problem is how many points we lost," Kaito went on, making a disgusted face. "And the doctors say I have to stay here for a few days for observation." His tone conveyed exactly what he thought about that idea. "So we'll be missing out on the next quarter final round too. That means I'm going to have to place in the top three every race after that to make it to the semi finals. Not that I can't, obviously," he added, cocky grin returning. "But I hate having to play catch-up. It just isn't my style."
"The doctors are right though. Head injuries are tricky."
"Yeah, I know. Don't worry. I'm not going to climb out the window or anything—though I must admit the thought has crossed my mind. I've only been awake half a day and I'm already bored."
"I think they might have magazines you could borrow. Do you want me to go ask?"
"Nah, I can do that myself later. Right now, I just want to listen to your beautiful voice."
Shinichi rolled his eyes. On the other hand, if Kaito was teasing him then clearly he was feeling fine. "Have you called your mother? Or Jii? You should let them know you're okay."
"I'll call them when I get the okay to leave."
"Isn't that a bit…late?"
"Are you kidding? If I tell them I'm in the hospital, they're going to want to come over and fuss. Then Mom might want me to withdraw from the competition, and I'd have to say no, and then she'd be upset and worried for months. Best not to go there."
Shinichi frowned. He had a hard time believing that Chikage would not have heard about the accident. Though she didn't watch the races, Jii did, and they were now living within walking distance from each other. Surely the old man would have said something to her. Unless, of course, he thought the way Kaito did. Although even if he did, Jii himself would most definitely be hoping for news. The young mechanic made a mental note to call the old man the moment he had access to a phone.
The conversation turned to lighter things, and the sun crept across the sky. It wasn't until one of the nurses brought them dinner that they realized what time it was. The meal was followed by the doctors. Shinichi left with one of them for his own examination. When he returned, he told Kaito that he would be heading back to their hotel.
"I'm just supposed to be careful about my hands for a while."
"You understand that that means not working, right?" Kaito's tone was joking, but his eyes were sharp. When Shinichi mumbled something incoherent, those eyes narrowed. "You won't do anyone any good if you exacerbate your injuries by not resting when you should."
Shinichi sighed. "I know. So, um, is there anything I can get for you before I go?"
Kaito let the obvious dodge slide for now. Instead, he gave the blue-eyed mechanic a suggestive smirk. "You could always keep me company." He patted the space on the hospital bed beside him. "After all, it doesn't make much difference if you go home now or in the morning."
Shinichi turned red and stood up. "I'm leaving." He left still grumbling under his breath. At the door, he paused and turned back to give Kaito a disapproving look. "And don't talk like that to the nurses. It's disrespectful." That said, he marched out the door, still blushing.
Kaito settled back into the pillows, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. Shinichi was just too fun to tease.
The smile fell away though as he turned his gaze to the window. He could tell Shinichi was upset. Well, that was no surprise. If Kaito had learned anything about his blue-eyed angel over the last two years, it was that Shinichi had a very strong sense of responsibility. It was one of the things Kaito admired about him. The problem was that it also meant the boy stressed a lot about things that he couldn't necessarily do anything about.
That moment in the race had been strange though. He'd never even heard of a hover racer completely freezing up like that, especially not one that was running perfectly a moment before. He was going to have to send out some feelers about this.
He saw that moment every time he closed his eyes. The flash of silver, the explosion of sand, the upside down hover racer half buried in the ground like some remnant of a forgotten civilization—it played across the backs of his eyelids and followed him through his dreams in those brief moments when he slipped reluctantly into the arms of sleep.
He needed to see them more clearly though, distressing as they were. He needed to figure out what had happened.
He had gotten recordings of the race from the reporters. At least three different cameramen had caught the accident on tape. He collected copies of all three and watched them over and over again. They were all from slightly different angles, and he'd hoped that they would show him something—anything—that could serve as a clue as to why the hover racer had malfunctioned so drastically. Hundreds of reruns later, however, he still had no answer. All he could say was that it wasn't the engine.
Their hover racer had been moved back into their assigned hangar, and what time he didn't spend re-watching the tapes was spent examining the craft. There too though, all he could find was a puzzle. All the damage he could see was from the crash itself. And it was mostly superficial damage. There was nothing that could have caused the accident. Or at least nothing that he could find.
It was slowly driving him insane.
He was running out of time. Kaito would be discharged from the hospital in just one more day, and then there would only be three more days before the next race they were scheduled to participate in. Kaito, being Kaito, would definitely insist on diving right back into the competition.
Another day passed.
Kaito returned. Together, they asked around until they found the team that Hattori Heiji was racing for. They tracked him down to one of the town's most famous restaurants.
"Oh hey, it's you," he said when his eyes landed on Shinichi. "How're you doing? Last time I saw you, you were in the hospital."
"I'm much better now, thank you. Actually, we both wanted to thank you for your help the other day."
"Yeah," Kaito agreed, slinging an arm over Shinichi's shoulders and offering the other racer a cheery grin. "Thanks."
"No problem. Hey, are you two hungry? My teammates should be here soon. You can join us for lunch if you want."
Shinichi opened his mouth to decline but Kaito beat him to the punch. "Sure."
So they had lunch with Hattori and his rather lively teammates. They were nice people, but Shinichi was too lost in his own troubled thoughts to pay much attention. Fortunately, Kaito was all too happy to direct everyone's attention towards himself.
There were only two days left.
"I got you a cup of coffee."
Shinichi sat back on the hangar floor and accepted the paper cup. He looked up at Kaito with a grateful smile. Kaito smiled back, but on the inside he was frowning. The dark circles under Shinichi's eyes were getting worse. Over the past few days, the blue-eyed boy had been doing nothing but poring over the hover racer and watching recordings of that race. Kaito felt like he could see the boy slowly falling apart under the strain, but there was nothing he could do. Telling someone to stop stressing himself out was only helpful when the other party was willing to listen.
"I was wondering if you'd like to call Jii…"
"Um, well, I just… I haven't been able to find anything wrong with the racer…"
"You make that sound like a bad thing."
"It is a bad thing," Shinichi replied, entirely serious. "It means I still don't know why the controls froze last time. If I can't find the problem then I can't fix it, and if I can't fix it then it can happen again."
"But if you can't find anything, I don't think Jii would either."
"Besides, don't you think it's possible that the problem isn't with the hover racer?"
Shinichi's brows furrowed. "What do you mean?"
Kaito glanced around to make sure they were alone (not that he really expected anyone to have snuck into their hangar, but it never hurt to be cautious). Satisfied that no prying ears would hear, he continued in a much quieter voice. "Isn't it possible that the problem was caused by an outside source? Like someone who wanted to take me out of the running."
Blue eyes widened. Sabotage… It was a horrifying thought, but while Shinichi would have liked to believe that none of the competitors would sink so low, he couldn't deny that it was a possibility. If he looked at the incident from that angle, many of the anomalies suddenly made sense. It was a terrible sense, but sense nonetheless.
"I've never heard of technology like that though," he said slowly.
"I haven't either," Kaito admitted. "But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist." Sitting down beside Shinichi on the hangar floor, Kaito propped his elbow on his knee and his chin on his palm, eyes fixed on his hover racer. "You're a mechanic. Tell me, if you were going to build a device to interfere with the controls of another hover craft, how would you go about it?"
"Well… I guess something that would disrupt the connection between the controls and the rest of the craft would make the most sense. There aren't a lot of ways to do that remotely though. Maybe some kind of electromagnetic wave…? If you could find the right frequency and broadcast it… But wait, if that were the case then yours shouldn't have been the only craft affected."
"What about a short range broadcast? I was pretty far ahead of everyone else last time."
"I suppose that's a possibility." Shinichi fell silent, biting his lower lip as he thought. "But then what can we do? We can theorize about how someone might have done it all we want. Without any facts to work with, we can't guard against it."
"I'd say the main question is who would benefit. I checked the rankings. At the time, we were well ahead in points. Hattori's team was ranked second. They're first now."
"You're not suggesting it was them, are you?" Shinichi asked, disbelief evident on his face.
"I don't want to think poorly of them either, but at this point everyone is a suspect."
"I assume that means you have others."
"Far too many, I'm afraid."
"Then what are you suggesting we do? If we had solid proof incriminating anyone, we could go to the committee about it."
"Is there any way to protect the racer from the kind of interference you were talking about?"
"I can try, but like I said, without any more information to work with, it's like trying to block arrows with chainmail."
"Better than nothing then. Just do what you can, and leave the rest to me."
Shinichi finished the rest of his coffee in two gulps and got up to return to his work. Now that he had some direction, he felt much better. He wasn't sure how good a job he could do with the limited amount of time he had, but that just meant he had to start as soon as possible. Indigo eyes watched him intently, picking up the subtle changes in his demeanor.
"Can I help?"
Too absorbed in his work to hear anything, Shinichi didn't answer. Kaito shook his head in fond exasperation. Grabbing the computer Shinichi had been using to watch the race recordings, he pulled up the list of this year's Black Diamond participants. Time to do some more research.
Far too soon, it was their turn to step out onto the track again. Shinichi was on the edge of his seat through the entirety of the race, hands clenched so tightly on his knees that the knuckles were white. Every time Kaito swerved into a turn, the mechanic would stop breathing, heart in his throat. Kaito was only just barely ahead of the racers behind him throughout the race. That, he realized, was what Kaito had meant when he said to leave the rest up to him. After all, if someone was broadcasting disruptive waves, they couldn't do so without catching the whole group at once, and that many simultaneous malfunctions would definitely draw attention. Still, it was a risky move, especially considering they had little on which to base their theories. By the time Kaito crossed the finish line, Shinichi was exhausted. On the bright side, nothing had happened. On the down side, there was still the rest of the quarter finals then the semi finals and the finals yet to come.
As the competition continued, both Kaito and Shinichi kept a wary eye on their competitors. As far as Shinichi could tell, they all seemed to be decent. Kaito's research had shown only that everyone who'd made it so far in this year's Black Diamond had good, clean records. Most of them were old hands with a handful of fresh faces like Hattori. On a whim, Shinichi had checked for any teams affiliated with the Noir Foundation but found that there weren't any. All of the foundation's racers were currently competing in other races or off training for the Red Diamond.
The semifinals came and went. In the blink of an eye, it was the last round of the finals. Eight racers and one long, treacherous track.
Shinichi barely remembered the race afterward. All he remembered was the pounding of his own heart and the copper tang of blood in his mouth as he accidentally bit his own lip too hard. But then the entire audience was rising to its feet in a roaring wave of sound, and there was Kaito, standing up in the hover craft's cockpit and waving to them, grinning fit to split his face in two.
And still, nothing had happened.
Shinichi fell back into his seat, feeling totally drained in every sense of the word. Had that crash really just been a freak accident after all? Or had his modifications and Kaito's tactics successfully protected them from another attack? Or had the culprit decided to retreat for now in order to strike again when they were less alert? He didn't know, and he knew it was going to haunt him until the answers consented to be found. But for now, for today, they had won.
A slow, bright elation bubbled up from somewhere deep inside him. Kaito had won! Almost no one ever won any of the diamonds on their first try, but they had done it.
"This calls for a celebration!" Kaito announced as he grabbed Shinichi and pulled him away from the cheering crowds and celebratory parties that had taken over the entirety of the town.
They ended up on a hill just outside the settlement. There, Kaito whipped out a picnic basket. From their current vantage point, they could see far across the desert that had served as their battle grounds for the last few long months. They burned tawny gold and red beneath the evening sky. It was beautiful, Shinichi thought, nibbling at his sandwich. Vast and untamable yet full of its own brand of tranquility—the kind that came with age and the timeless grandeur of sand and stone.
"A toast," Kaito proposed, pulling a bottle out of the basket along with a pair of empty glasses.
"I don't like alcoholic drinks."
"I know. Don't worry. There is absolutely no alcohol in here at all. It's apple cider." Kaito poured the bubbling, amber liquid into two glasses and handed one to Shinichi. Then he raised his own glass with a grin. "To our victory and all those to come."
Shinichi rolled his eyes, but he raised his own glass as well. There was a soft clink as their glasses touched.
They settled into a comfortable silence, looking out across the desert dunes as they sipped at their respective drinks. The sun was falling towards the horizon now, sending streams of saffron fire across the sky.
"Next up, the Red Diamond," Kaito said suddenly. "You know, I never thought we'd be here already. I mean, I wanted to, but I didn't think it would happen for another few years at least. They say no one wins their first diamond race. But here we are, and this," he held up the medal he hadn't taken off since he'd gotten it at the awards ceremony earlier that day. "This is most definitely real. And it's mine. What's more, it's my second one. Two tries and two hits. I'm sure I've made a record!"
"You earned it," Shinichi told him, blue eyes soft with sincerity and the joy of seeing a friend achieve his dreams.
"I couldn't have done it without you." Dropping the medal so that it went back to hanging around his neck, Kaito turned his gaze to the side of Shinichi's face. "What about you though? What would you like to aim for next?"
"Well, I guess I'd like to see you win the Red Diamond."
"Really? So you actually do want me to win?"
Shinichi rolled his eyes and huffed. "What do you mean by that? I wouldn't be working for you if I wanted you to lose. That would be stupid."
Kaito laughed. "I guess that would." He slung an arm over Shinichi's shoulders, grinning broadly. "Hey, if I do win the Red Diamond, can I have a kiss?"
"What?" Shinichi flushed bright red and spluttered. "D—don't be ridiculous! Why would you even ask me that?!"
"Because," Kaito murmured, turning and leaning in until his nose was almost touching Shinichi's. He could see the smaller boy's blue eyes widen, their sapphire depths glimmering with the gold of the sunset sky above them. "I love you."
Shinichi froze. His breath hitched in his throat. Wide, blue eyes stared up into Kaito's earnest, open face.
"You don't have to answer me right now," Kaito continued, tone gentle. The look in his eyes, warm and kind yet fierce at the same time, made Shinichi's stomach squirm. "You can answer me when I win." Then that familiar, arrogant grin was back, and the taller teen winked. "That should give you plenty of time to think."