Disclaimer: I don't own the DCMK characters


Racing Dreams

Part 7

Shinichi didn't get a wink of sleep that night. Half of him was worrying about their hover racer even though he knew that the police had it covered. The other half was preoccupied with fretting over the lack of progress with the shielding project and the fear that this could be the race where they needed it. When he noticed the first rays of dawn reaching across the sky, he gave up on sleep entirely and got up to make coffee. By the time Kaito's door opened, he'd already drank the entire pot and was in the midst of brewing a second.

Kaito did a double take when he saw his partner in the kitchen. Indigo eyes went immediately to the clock on the wall. It announced for all to see that it was only half past six.

In the morning.

Shinichi was never up this early if he had a choice about it. Normally, dragging him out of bed before nine was an enormous undertaking.

"Did you sleep at all?" he asked.

Shinichi smiled brightly at him. "I made omelets. Yours is on the table. I'm going to go take a shower." Ignoring the pilot's pointed stare, he wandered back into his own room to collect his things before disappearing into the bathroom.

Kaito shook his head and sat down to eat. When he'd finished his breakfast, downed a cup of coffee, and completed the crossword in yesterday's newspaper and Shinichi still hadn't emerged from his shower, he started to get seriously worried. Crossing the room in three quick strides, he took a moment to listen. The shower was still on, but aside from the pattering of the water, there was no sound at all.

He rapped sharply on the door with his knuckles. "Shinichi? Are you okay in there?"

On the other side of the door, blue eyes blinked. White and tan tiles stared back at him, glistening wet from the water raining down around him. Oh yeah, he was taking a shower. He couldn't even remember coming in or turning on the water.

"Shinichi?" Kaito's voice called through the door again. "If you don't answer me right now, I'm coming in."

That snapped him out of his daze. "What? No! I—I'm fine. Really. I'll be out in a moment."

Forcing himself to focus, he hurried through the rest of his ablutions. Their time was far too precious for him to go wasting it by zoning out. He exited the bathroom to find Kaito still hovering by the door.

"Sorry I took so long," he apologized, blushing. "You can use it now."

Kaito didn't move. "You can stay here, you know. Take the day off. We don't even know for sure if we're racing today."

"No, I'm coming," Shinichi insisted, face settling into a stubborn frown. "It's my responsibility to be there." And he had to be there if anything happened. "You should get ready. I'd like to be able to run a few checks before they announce the participants for today's race."

Of course you do, Kaito thought but didn't say. He had expected as much. It was times like these when he found himself seriously considering recruiting a few extra teammates. It might help ease some of the weight off of his dear mechanic's shoulders. Although, knowing Shinichi, the difference would probably be minimal. The boy was just too damned responsible. Not that being responsible was a bad thing. It was awesome in the right amounts. But like with most things, too much was still too much.

He decided then and there that the first thing he was going to do after they won the Red Diamond (because obviously they were going to win) was take Shinichi on a nice, long vacation.

X

Never a fan of big crowds at the best of times, Shinichi was eternally grateful that he had managed to find a moderately less crowded observation deck to watch the race from. Of course, less crowded only meant that he didn't feel like a sardine. There was still people in every direction, and the roar of their combined voices rang in his ears like a badly coordinated orchestra. Maybe it was because he was so tired, but it seemed like the noise level today was even worse than it usually was.

Sighing, he took another slow sip from his thermos. The race hadn't even started yet and he was already halfway through his coffee. Oh the horror.

"Yo! Kudo!"

Not having been expecting anyone, Shinichi didn't respond right away. It was only when a hand landed on his shoulder that he jerked straighter in his seat and looked up.

"Hattori," he said in surprise.

"And me," Kazuha piped up, leaning around her teammate to wave at him. "We heard about what happened with that guy who tried to wreck your racer. Are you both okay?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, we're fine. He didn't actually manage to get into the hangar."

"That's good." Hattori plopped himself down on the seat beside Shinichi with Kazuha beside him. "Any idea yet who sent 'im?"

"Not yet, but the police are working on it."

"I hope they catch whoever it is soon," Kazuha said.

Heiji nodded emphatically. "Yeah. Creeps like that take all the fun out of the competition."

A small, slightly wistful smile made its way onto Shinichi's face. "Yeah. If only everyone could understand that."

"That's where people like us come in," the dark-skinned pilot said philosophically. "It's up to us ta show 'em. Lead by example and all that."

"They're about to start," Kazuha exclaimed suddenly. Her last words were drowned out by the jubilant uproar that rose from every spectator stand and observation deck as, far below them at the starting line, the fleet of hover racers set off in metallic streaks of color.

For Shinichi, everything else fell away. The audience, the newscasters, the city—everything vanished. All that mattered was the blue and silver spark flying down the track like a shooting star. In moments he had to switch his gaze to one of the many giant screens displaying a bird's eye view of the race in progress. He was on the edge of his seat, heart pounding in his ears. It wasn't until his head started to spin that he realized he'd stopped breathing. Gasping in quick breaths, he sagged back into his seat, his eyes never leaving the broadcast. His knuckles were white from gripping his thermos like a lifeline.

He knew he wasn't going to be able to breathe easily until Kaito crossed the finish line safely.

This was not, he reflected, what he had thought life would be like working for a pro team. He'd known it would be hard. It was a lot of work—the kind of work where people's lives depended on you. He'd always known that. But what he hadn't expected was having to look over his shoulder everywhere he went and treat almost everyone outside the team with suspicion. He was getting more paranoid by the day, and he knew it. And he really didn't know what to think about that.

A hand smacked him heartily on the shoulder. "Come on, lighten up there Kudo! Kuroba's doing great. He's got this one in the bag!"

A crack appeared in the shell of tension, and Shinichi looked up. Hattori had already withdrawn his hand though. Both he and Kazuha were cheering with the crowd around them. It seemed they had no compunctions about cheering on an opposing team.

Something inside Shinichi loosened at the sight. Surprise and gratitude bubbled up in his chest. He didn't understand it, but seeing their untainted elation set his own nerves at ease.

Perhaps what he'd needed after the debacle last night was this simple, clean reminder of the joy and the spirit of the race. In the midst of all his worries about the Foundation and other shadows lying in wait for them to drop their guard, he had lost sight of what had made him want to be here in the first place.

Silently, he thanked them both for the reminder.

X

Kaito was a little surprised when he hopped out of his hover racer at the finish line to see not only Shinichi but Hattori and Kazuha too making their way towards him. He greeted them with a cocky grin.

"So how'd I do?"

Shinichi rolled his eyes. "You came in first. Do you really need us to tell you that you did well?"

"No, but it would be nice."

"I thought you were incredible," Kazuha announced, brown eyes bright with sincerity. "Especially on those turns at the end there. I've never seen anyone do so many tight turns while wasting so little motion. It was amazing!"

Kaito beamed and swept the girl a deep, showman's bow. "Thank you. Your kind words are greatly appreciated."

"Hey, how come ya never say things like that about me?" Hattori complained. "I mean, my record so far is almost as good as his."

"Almost," she pointed out. "You dropped two races in the preliminaries, and you made that huge mistake in your first semifinal race when you got bigheaded and tried to use that maneuver you knew you never even managed to get right in practice. I still don't know what possessed you to do something so stupid. Did you think it was suddenly going to work when it hadn't been for months just because you were in an official race?"

"Aw come on, give me a break. It almost worked, didn't it?"

"Again with the almost. You're just making excuses."

"I am not! You'd be singing a different tune if I had pulled it off."

"No I wouldn't. 'Cause we'd all know it was dumb luck."

Forgotten by the bickering pair, Kaito whistled and leaned into Shinichi's ear. "And here I thought you were a harsh critic. I'll never say that again."

Shinichi blushed. "I just think it's best to be honest."

Laughing softly, the pilot draped an arm over his shoulders and spun them both around so that they could see the scores now being paraded across all the many massive, broadcast screens. "Looks like I've moved ahead."

"You're not the only racer with perfect scores so far."

"I know, but one of them bit the dust today, thanks to yours truly."

"All right, all right," the mechanic muttered. "You were great." He took a deep breath then looked up into Kaito's face. "This was one of your best flights. You didn't even scratch the racer at all."

"Somehow I just knew that that was going to come up." Kaito chuckled, reaching up to ruffle Shinichi's hair. Inside though, he was honestly touched and elated by the compliment. Shinichi gave compliments so rarely. Hearing those words from him made Kaito feel like he'd won something even greater than the race itself or even his record.

"Oi, you two. Kazuha and I were going ta go catch a movie before dinner. Did you guys want to come with us?"

"Sure," Kaito agreed. "We'll need time to get everything back to the hangar and under lock and key though. We don't want another visit from someone like that not-so-handyman from yesterday."

"No kidding. We'll help."

X

The cinema four blocks from their hotel was almost the size of a hotel itself. It housed thirty good-sized theaters and a lively food court offering twenty different flavors of popcorn, thirty flavors of hot dog and burger, and fifty types of fries. In an attempt to battle the fat and the starch, management had also set up one of the biggest salad bars Shinichi had ever seen and a stall that sold sixty different blends of fruit smoothie.

"Is this a theater or a restaurant?" Kaito asked, quirking an eyebrow at the many colorful tables almost all occupied by laughing, chattering men and women of all ages.

"This is the food court. The ads for the movies they're currently running are up there." Kazuha pointed at a digital bulletin board. "The numbers mark which theater each movie is playing in. The way this place works is you buy generic tickets here out front. You can buy as many as you want. All the tickets are the same. Once you have tickets, they let you into the food court. You can eat or just hang out as you wait for the movie you're interested in. If you see something else that looks cool, you can just go ahead and head to that theater instead. You hand over your ticket to enter a theater. If you run out of tickets, you can come back here and buy more."

"So the tickets are like tokens," Kaito summarized. "You pop them into the theater you want to see that movie instead of purchasing tickets for a specific show."

Hattori nodded. "Yeah. And the best part is, you can change your mind about what you want to see at any time. Hell, if you suddenly decide you don't feel like watching right now, you can get your tickets specially stamped then leave and come back another time to use them."

"So what do you guys want to watch?" Kazuha asked, turning from Kaito to Shinichi and back again.

"Shinichi likes mysteries," Kaito said.

Hattori brightened. "Me too. They're playing a good one in half an hour about some millionaire whose daughter gets kidnapped by—"

"Don't tell us everything before we watch the movie," Kazuha interjected, smacking her friend on the arm. "You're going to ruin it for everyone!"

"I was just trying to explain why it should be good and worth watching."

"We'll just take your word for it then," Kaito said. "And you can owe us one if it turns out the movie stinks."

"But what about you?" Kazuha turned to Shinichi, a faint furrow of concern appearing between her brows. "You haven't said anything. Do you have a different movie that you want to watch?"

"Huh? Oh, uh, no, not really. I'll watch whatever you guys pick," he said. He just had the strangest feeling about that plot Hattori had started to describe…

The thought nagged at him as he followed the others up to theater number 21. The previous movie had just ended and its audience was still in the process of leaving. Once they were gone, the four teens were left with their pick of the best seats. Shinichi leaned back against the plush backrest and let out a quiet sigh. All the tension that had had him in its grips was now finally letting him go. There wouldn't be another race for another three days, and Kaito wouldn't be in it because he'd raced today and no one was called twice in a row. That meant they had a bit of breathing room in which to try and really crack down to working on that shield generator. Kaito would probably be annoyed if he found out that Shinichi was already thinking about work.

The theater lights dimmed.

Almost immediately, an arm slid across the back of Shinichi's chair. The hand attached to said arm dangled down over the mechanic's shoulder. Shinichi glanced down at it then around and up at its owner.

Catching him looking, Kaito grinned. "Problem? If you're regretting not getting popcorn while you had the chance, you can always share some of mine."

"No, that's okay. I'm not a huge fan of popcorn. I'm happy with my coffee."

With the opening of the movie, silence fell over the theater. It did indeed, as Hattori had said, begin with the kidnapping of a millionaire's young daughter. Shinichi was enjoying watching the mystery unfold as the worried father, determined to rescue his daughter and bring her kidnappers to justice, set about investigating the most likely culprits. Along the way, he met a young police detective who—

Shinichi shot bolt upright in his seat, choking on his latest mouthful of coffee. Kaito immediately began to pat him on the back.

"Hey, hey, are you okay? Here, have some water."

Shinichi grabbed the water and took a few slow gulps to clear his throat. "Thanks." Breathing in then exhaling slowly, he handed the water back to Kaito.

"What happened?" the pilot asked, concerned.

Shinichi smiled a bit sheepishly, scratching at his cheek. "I, uh, I was just…surprised."

"By what?" Kaito glanced back at the police detective and the millionaire talking on the big screen then back at Shinichi. The plot certainly wasn't surprising. Someone in the audience then? "Did you see someone you know?" he asked, now searching the seats for any familiar features.

Shinichi took a deep breath then tugged on Kaito's sleeve. When he had the taller teen's attention, he pointed back to the movie screen.

"That's…my mother."

Kaito stared at him then looked back up at the massive screen. The policewoman's face was currently the focus of the camera. Looking at it more closely, he realized that it was indeed Kudo Yukiko, the beautiful actress who had earned a name for herself at a very young age. He'd almost forgotten that Shinichi's mom was a movie star. Intrigued, he examined the woman's features, mentally comparing them to Shinichi's. It was clear that his dear mechanic had inherited his more delicate features from this woman as well as the brilliant blue of his eyes if not the dark color of his hair.

"Hey Shinichi, have you said anything about me to your parents?"

"I…may have," Shinichi hedged, a little pink in the face at the recollection of that phone call he'd made to his mother when they'd still been in Ekoda.

"I feel like I should meet them sometime," Kaito went on, tone thoughtful.

"You really don't have to," Shinichi said quickly.

"But as a gentleman and the captain of your team, I should at least go tell them in person that they don't have to worry because I'll be taking good care of you."

Shinichi's blush darkened, feeling just a little bit giddy for reasons he'd rather not ponder, but this was one point on which he had to stand firm. His parents were far too embarrassing to show to other people, especially not other people he wanted to stay friends with.

"They're generally very busy," he said. It was the truth too. "I prefer not to bother them."

"Maybe we should all go on vacation together somewhere then. They'll probably appreciate the break. We can bring my mom and Jii too. It'll be fun."

Right. Fun. Shinichi shuddered in horror at the prospect. He could already see the catastrophe waiting to fall upon them all when that time came.

"Hey, with your mom in the business, did you ever consider acting?"

Shinichi winced. "I didn't, but Mom did. She kept dragging me to auditions and insisting I participate in the local theater's activities for children."

"That sounds interesting."

"Interesting isn't the word I'd choose for it," he grumbled. "I prefer not to think about those parts of my life at all when I can help it."

Now Kaito was itching to know more, but he could tell that Shinichi was about to clam up if they didn't drop the issue. So he filed the questions away for investigation at a later date.

"Let's just relax and watch this movie," he said, settling back into his seat.

Shinichi nodded, doing the same. Watching his mother plying her art on the silver screen, he found himself feeling almost nostalgic. That had seemed like another world, those lights and sets and false people with false names and false histories made even more vividly real than reality itself by the blazing screens and stereo systems. It was a world with a magic of its own, but it wasn't the kind that he wanted to live with no matter how wonderful his mother claimed it was.

No. He wouldn't trade all the glamour and gold in the world for where he was now. This was where he belonged.

Things may not have turned out the way he'd thought they should, but the experiences he'd gained, the amazing sights he'd seen, and the friends he'd made—he couldn't regret walking this path when it had led him to them. It was worth the anxieties and uncertainties to be able to be here now. With Kaito.

He cast a surreptitious glance at the young man seated beside him. Kaito's eyes were trained on the glowing screen at the front of the theater. A half smile hung on his lips as one often did, like he was laughing at some secret that only he was privy too.

Shinichi's stomach fluttered, and he blushed, looking away. Hesitantly, he let his head rest against Kaito's shoulder.

He felt warm and safe here, with Kaito's sneaky arm having migrated down off the backrest to curl securely around his waist. He let his own fingers lace with Kaito's as they watched the rest of the movie in companionable silence.

When the credits started rolling across the screen, Kaito shifted and discovered that Shinichi had fallen asleep. Smiling fondly down at the mechanic's peaceful face, he debated whether to wake Shinichi up or just pick him up and carry him back to their hotel. Considering how little sleep Shinichi had gotten last night, he opted for the latter. Well, that and he just wanted to hold Shinichi. So he scooped the slumbering mechanic up into his arms and glanced back at their other tagalongs.

"Are you guys ready to go? Or did you want to watch another movie?"

"I was thinking about checking out that romantic comedy playing in 22," Kazuha said.

"I wouldn't mind another movie if it's a comedy," Hattori agreed before seeming to notice Kaito's armful. "He fell asleep? I didn't think the movie was that boring."

"No, I think he liked it. He's just tired because he didn't get any sleep last night after what happened."

"Oh, right." Hattori laughed sheepishly. "Guess you won't be staying then?"

"No. I'll take Shinichi back to the suite then call it a night. It's been a long two days."

"Good luck then."

"Thanks. I'll see you on the track."

TBC