Disclaimer: I don't own the DCMK characters.
Moon Over Eventide
24: When the Stars Shine
Letting out his breath in a long, half relieved and half exhausted sigh, Kaito shut the door to his quarters. The familiar whir and sparkle of his many experimental creations was soothing. The silence was even more so.
It had taken a long time and a lot of magic to get all the kidnapped humans from the lab under the Millennial Tree to a waiting room in the Kuroba's castle. Then they had had to modify the humans' memories. They hadn't changed much. The kidnap victims would be released back into their world believing that they had been abducted by a crazy organization that had believed it was gathering people with the potential to develop special powers. They had been kept separately in small rooms that were likely underground because they had had no windows, and none of them had seen any of their captors' faces as said captors had only spoken to them over speakers, and even then, they had spoken rarely. They had not been mistreated, but they had been given strange foods to eat that would supposedly stimulate their supernatural skills.
Then one day a pair of young men had broken into the facility and set them free, instructing them to run. The demons sending the kidnap victims back were currently searching for a good location to deposit the lot of them that would make it easy for them to so happen to run back to where they were supposed to be. But that part of the release was still going to take a little more planning. Kaito had contacted Takagi and given him a set of instructions to help smooth the transition process.
All in all, it was barely a lie at all, as far as cover stories went. And the victims should be able to go back to their regular lives without too much hassle. They would have some unpleasant but mostly boring memories, and, if they remembered anything more demonic, they would attribute it to the strange substances they had been forced to consume.
They would need to figure out a way to have the "organization" cleaned up so the police wouldn't keep hunting for them, but he felt they should probably wait for Shinichi's opinion on that before acting.
Opening the bedroom door, Kaito walked inside to see his detective lying on his bed, still and pale and breathing in shallow gasps. Though he no longer had a fever, he was still sweating. It was cold sweat, the kind that usually heralded sickness.
The girl sitting on a chair by Shinichi's bedside looked up as Kaito walked in. She regarded him solemnly, not trusting exactly but not afraid either. She was wary, but she was willing to listen, and that helped.
"How is he?" Kaito asked. Moving to stand next to the bed, he ran his fingers through Shinichi's black hair, noticing that they were damp.
"I'm not sure," Kazuha replied, gaze falling back to her friend's pale visage. "It looks like a really bad flu without the runny nose or coughing to me."
"Did the doctor say anything when he came today?"
"You mean the unicorn in the white lab coat?"
Kaito cracked a smile. "Yes, that's the one."
"He said it's magic poisoning all right, but he didn't explain what that meant. All he told me was to be patient and wait it out, and make sure that he's warm."
"I guess that makes sense."
Hiding his disappointment behind a jovial smile, he sat down on the edge of the bed next to Shinichi and reached over to tuck the covers more firmly around him. Shinichi whimpered in his sleep, shifting and curling in on himself before he went still again.
"So…are you going to explain what this magic sickness is?" Kazuha asked, watching the way the magician's hands lingered on Shinichi's skin, his hair, his shoulder—as though not wanting to lose that contact.
"Magic poisoning," Kaito corrected. "It happens to magical beings when we consume too much magic. Everything in this world has magic. It's in the air, the water, the earth, everything. So you're always consuming certain amounts of it in your daily life. We believe it is that continuous intake of magic for many generations and centuries that caused us to evolve into what we are today. But if you eat too much, your body can't handle it, and you get sick. It means that the magic is burning you from the inside out. You have to expel it as quickly as you can. If you can't or don't know how, then you just have to wait. If you're lucky, your body will slowly release or assimilate the new magic. It might change you a little, but you'd live, and you'd very likely get stronger. But if your body goes into rejection mode and tries to force the magic out too fast then it could kill you, depending on how it leaves."
"I'm not sure I understood all that," the girl murmured. "But basically, all we can do for him is wait."
"That's pretty much it. Yes."
A slightly awkward silence fell over them. Kaito was much too preoccupied with his concern for Shinichi to pay much attention to Kazuha, and Kazuha had always found Kaito to be a little strange and unapproachable. She supposed she now knew why.
So many things made so much more sense now that she knew there were other worlds and demons and magic and, well, all of it. That was why she had refused to let them alter her memories. She wanted—no, she needed to understand.
She could still remember what she had felt like down in the roots of the tree. She remembered that living, honey light as it called out to her. She remembered its sweet, untainted promises: of peace and light and an eternal sunshine beneath forest canopies.
That sense of true contentment… Was there a way that she could find it again?
Her eyes drifted to the pictures on the wall, and her thoughts derailed again, this time onto much more familiar grounds. She smiled.
"You really like him, don't you?"
Kaito paused in his absent stroking of Shinichi's hair and turned to follow Kazuha's gaze to the pictures. The sight of them made him feel warm like they always did, and he nodded. He felt no need to hide his feelings.
"He taught me a great deal," Kaito said, his lips quirking into an amused smile at the puzzled look that that comment would surely have elicited from Shinichi had the boy been conscious to hear it. His detective wasn't the social type, so he probably wouldn't understand, but it was the time he had spent with Shinichi that had taught Kaito to believe in the goodness in people, both human and demon alike. He had found in Shinichi someone who strove to live the ideals that Kaito himself had always admired but never believed.
"I knew I wanted him even back then, but then I had to come back here for a while. I honestly thought he would forget about me, but it turned out he never did."
"That's sweet," Kazuha mused, her face turning faintly pink. "To be honest, I used to think Shinichi would end up with Ran. They were pretty close growing up. Ran gave him a few hints, but he never asked her out. Eventually, she moved on. Everyone in school decided he was just the kind of guy who isn't interested in anything except his work."
Kaito chuckled. "He's never been very quick on the uptake when it comes to social subtleties. I always thought it was a side effect of being too logical."
Kazuha giggled. "Maybe."
A shadow fell over the room, and both Kazuha and Kaito turned towards the balcony doors to see a huge, feathery head and a pair of round, black eyes practically smooshed up against the glass.
Kazuha drew in a sharp breath, but she managed not to scream even though she did jerk in her chair. "What is—"
Her words were cut off by loud burbling then the clank of the bird's beak banging into the glass of the balcony door.
Leaping off the bed, Kaito strode over to the balcony and yanked open the door. The feathery, avian head immediately stretched inside, but he bopped it upside the head with his fist.
"Oi, you're not coming inside, Toki. I know you're worried, but if you come in here, Touga will want to come in too, and everyone else will follow. Then all of us would be squished flat between islands of dove. Shoo."
Toki's head drooped as he cooed unhappily, looking from Kaito to Shinichi and back again.
The magician's stern façade cracked, and he smiled, stroking the top of the bird's head. "I know. We're all worried. But you barging in here isn't going to help. You can sit on the balcony and watch if you behave."
The dove seemed to think this through. Then he bobbed a bow to Kaito and shuffled awkwardly out of the doorway. Kaito shut the door again. Through the glass, they could see the large, fluffy mound of dove settling down, filling half the balcony space.
"What kind of bird is that?" Kazuha whispered, still staring at the creature in question with eyes like saucers.
"They're actually from your world."
"They can't be!" she exclaimed. "People would know if there were birds that big."
"Oh, that. Doves don't grow that big in your world. It's the magic in the food and atmosphere here. Turns out doves react really strongly to it. We're still observing to see if they develop any more sophisticated magical abilities though. So far, they only seem to get bigger and more intelligent."
"That's still amazing." Kazuha fell silent, just marveling at the wonder of it all.
It certainly was, Kaito reflected, which, of course, was the problem. The Source… Right now, only a handful of people knew exactly what had gone on down there in the roots of the tree. No one aside from him, Shinichi, and Spider's trio had even set foot in the ancient city, let alone the story chamber outside of time. But now they knew, and that knowledge could change everything if they weren't careful.
He had told his father about the location of the Source and the story of its birth, but that was because he knew without a doubt that his father was trustworthy. However, what to do next was still a conundrum.
The best case scenario would be for the Source to remain a secret. And for now, they would endeavor to keep it so, but how long would that last? He knew he and his father could keep secrets, and no one would ask Shinichi or Kazuha. But Snake was a different story. The Burning Ash demon was currently being detained in one of the castle's more secure rooms, but they wouldn't be able to keep him there forever. They would eventually have to hand him back to his House for disciplining. When that happened… Well, it was very likely that Snake wouldn't want to share the location of such a treasure with anyone so that he could go back there himself one day to claim it, but if he did decide to speak, things could get ugly very quickly.
And of course there was always the slim possibility that Spider might one day find his way back into their world from whatever dimension he had fallen into.
Then there were all of Spider's assistants. How much did they really know?
On the bright side, it was unlikely in the extreme that anyone could stumble upon the ancient city without guidance from someone like Shinichi or Kazuha. And the entrance into the story chamber was fairly well hidden too, not to mention the doorway into the Source. So maybe he was worrying over nothing. Still, it might be a good idea to go back there sometime and add a few more layers of defenses of his own creation. But he would need Shinichi's help for that.
His attention returned to the boy sleeping on his bed. His chest tightened at the sickly color of his beloved's face and the way he was still struggling to breathe. There was nothing he could do but wait though. Wait and pray to whatever powers might be out there that Shinichi would recover soon.
"You can stay in this guest room," the wild-haired demoness said as she waved Kazuha into a simple but elegantly furnished room. It had a window but no balcony. Not that she minded. She was just glad to be able to see the sky.
"I went ahead and ran a bath for you, since I figured you'd want to take one after being held hostage for ages," the demoness continued, opening what turned out to be the bathroom door. A waft of scented steam filled the room with the aroma of lavender blossoms and mint. "There's a soap plant in the pot in the corner. Just pull a fruit off when you want soap. I put dry towels under the sink, and I'll bring some new clothes for you as soon as I find Keiko. She's good at whipping up human clothes."
"Oh, uh, thank you." Kazuha smiled hesitantly. "I really appreciate your help, Miss, uh…"
"Call me Aoko. And it isn't a problem. I never would have thought I'd see you here in my world when I met you at Kaito's university. I'm kind of embarrassed that your first visit had to be under such awful circumstances. I hope you don't hold it against us. This world is pretty different from yours, but it's got a lot of amazing things and people in it too."
"I'm sure it does," Kazuha replied, a soft, genuine smile making its way onto her face. "I was scared at first, but now that everyone's okay and we're all here, I think I'd like to learn more about your world. If that's all right with you. I…guess it might not be allowed."
"It's fine," Aoko assured her with a grin. "If Kaito can go gallivanting around your world to learn stuff about humans, I see no reason why you can't do the same here. Hey, how about this. You guys have a winter vacation coming up, right? For your end of year holidays after the semester ends. If you'd like, you could spend it here, and I'll show you around. I'm sure Kaito will drag Shinichi here, so you won't be the only human. It'll be fun."
"That does sound interesting."
Later, as she sank into her bath with a sigh, Kazuha found herself smiling in genuine wonder. Strange and frightening as some of it had been, she found she didn't regret the fact that she had had this adventure.
The stars were shining. That was the first thought that entered Shinichi's mind.
The stars were shining against a vast, dark sky in which a moon hung, neither full nor lost. Slowly, he sat up, and he realized that he knew this place.
He was sitting on Kaito's bed. The pictures of their childhood were still arrayed across the walls. But his eyes were drawn to the lake beyond the balcony where the magical cherry blossoms glimmered in the waters of the lake like light spun into floral shape.
He watched their ethereal glow for a while before his gaze was drawn to the sky. That was when he realized that there were two moons in the sky, not one. The moon he had seen first had waned. It was now an ivory blade: sharp and clean against the satin sky. The other moon, however, was black. Where the white moon shone like a beacon, welcoming, daring, the black moon whispered of secrets and wishes and things lost before they were given the chance to be born.
The sight of those two moons in the sky disturbed him, so he turned around. The room behind him was in monochrome. He hadn't noticed it before because he had assumed it was simply dark. But now that he was looking, he realized that there was just no color anywhere.
He felt cold.
Where was he supposed to go?
Where was he supposed to be?
He couldn't remember.
He moved to sit on the bed, but no, that wasn't right. Something was missing.
He stood again and walked to the door. He tried the handle, but it wouldn't open.
Confused, he began walking slowly around the room. He tried each window and then the balcony door, but all were locked tight. Eventually, he ended up before the wall of pictures again.
They still had no color. When he looked at them, he felt more keenly than ever that something was missing. But what?
His gaze was drawn to the largest painting where two families picnicked beneath cherry blossom trees. For the briefest of moments, he thought he saw a flash of pink in the petals, but then they were pale gray again. Still he continued to stare at that picture.
Looking at those frozen smiles, he remembered. He remembered the soft touch of the breeze against his skin and the gentle scent of the cherry blossoms tickling at his nose. He remembered the laughter as two magicians plied their arts to conjure a feast while everyone who passed by paused to applaud the show. He could hear their laughter and the clapping and the sound of the wind in the leaves.
"Shin-chan! What are you doing just sitting over there?!"
Looking up, Shinichi realized that he had been sitting all along on a pile of soft, pink petals. Had he been asleep?
The room was gone. The moons were gone. He was sitting beneath the cherry blossom trees. All around him, pink petals drifted lazily through the air. The distance was a featureless pink haze.
There was that voice again.
Looking around, Shinichi saw no one. Maybe he was imagining it.
This place was so comfortable. It was warm and bright. The fog that obscured the rest of the world was a little bit unsettling, making the world feel a little small and closed off, but there was also something secure about that closeness. It was as though he was in his own world.
"Seriously Shin-chan, are you really going to sit there all day?"
Okay, that was definitely not his imagination. The voice was familiar in a way that made him feel happy.
"Fine, I'm coming," Shinichi sighed and got up—or tried to. He felt lethargic. It was as though all his limbs now weighed a ton.
"What's the matter?"
"I can't move," Shinichi replied, leaning heavily against the tree trunk behind him and closing his eyes.
"That's because you've been sitting too long. Come on, there's still so much to do!"
Shinichi tried and failed again to rise. Suddenly, the pink-tinged whiteness all around him felt confining rather than peaceful. A small spark of panic flared in his chest. "I…I can't."
The voice sighed. "Fine. If you're going to be lazy about it, I'll go ahead." As it spoke, the voice grew fainter.
A wave of dread crashed over Shinichi. "No, wait!"
With a surge of desperation, he lurched to his feet, but his legs felt like they belonged to someone else. They wouldn't do what he asked of them. Instead, they wobbled, and he pitched forward. The ground beneath him wavered. The whiteness darkened, collapsing inward. Abruptly, he was falling.
Strong arms caught him, halting his fall. Startled, he looked up. His vision filled with indigo.
It was a soft, almost inaudible groan that woke Kaito. His senses went straight to high alert as he opened his eyes, arms tightening protectively around Shinichi. He hadn't bothered drawing the curtains when he'd gone to bed. Through the balcony doors, he could see that the sky was still dark, but the night was silver with moonlight. Outside, Toki was sleeping with his head tucked under his wing, resembling nothing so much as a massive, white ball of snow.
Everything was as it should be. It was only once he was certain there was no danger that he turned his attention to the slumbering detective in his arms.
Shinichi stirred. As though sensing Kaito's gaze, he turned slightly, eyes blinking blearily open.
A broad grin spread across Kaito's face. "Shinichi! It's about time."
"Kaito?" the detective murmured, confusion evident in his face. Kaito let him think. Shinichi was never at his best right after waking up, and he'd been running a high fever just earlier that day. He would no doubt need some time to process everything and remember what had happened. For now, Kaito was content just to hold him and appreciate the fact that it looked as though the worst of the magic poisoning was wearing off.
He was not expecting Shinichi to suddenly blush bright red and launch himself backwards, arms flailing. The natural result of the ill planned escape was that the detective fell off the side of the bed.
Kaito scrambled after him. The last thing they needed after Shinichi had finally come through the worst of the sickness was for the detective to give himself a concussion by falling out of bed.
Finding Shinichi sitting on the floor with his head in his hands, Kaito knelt beside him, brushed Shinichi's hands aside, and began running his fingers over the smaller boy's skull.
"Honestly, you really need to be more careful," he said. "If you keep getting yourself hurt, I'm going to have to lock you up somewhere safe."
"That would be illegal," Shinichi grumbled, but he leaned back into Kaito's chest and let the demon continue to look him over, apparently checking his vital signs. Though why Kaito felt the need to check his vitals when he'd only fallen out of bed, Shinichi had no idea.
Speaking of beds. "Why are you sleeping in my bed?"
"It's my bed," Kaito corrected him, chuckling. "You're sleeping in it because you've been extremely sick."
Shinichi's eyebrows furrowed, though his eyes remained closed. "Sick?" That would explain how weak he felt. And the strange buzzing, fuzzy feeling in his head. But he had been perfectly fine when they had gone down into the root city. Surely he couldn't have come down with the flu just like that out of nowhere.
"You were inside the Source too long," Kaito explained, voice grim. "You inhaled a lot of it while you were there. That was pure, raw magic. Strong stuff. Even for us. When a living creature consumes more magic than its body is made to handle, it gets magic poisoning."
"Oh." So that was why he felt like a cooked noodle. "Like what happened to Spider."
Kaito hesitated. "Sort of. But also a little different. Why?"
"Am I…going to turn into something like…like that?"
Kaito almost laughed, but he refrained. It wasn't an invalid concern. Large amounts of magic could easily cause life forms to mutate, but exposing a life form that had no magic at all to such an intense blast of it so suddenly was a great deal more likely to kill.
"I think you're safe," he said finally. "Changes resulting from exposure to magic depends on long term, gradual exposure. And even then it depends on you already having a genetic predisposition to do so."
"Well that's good at least. Where is everyone else?" he asked suddenly, blue eyes snapping open. "Where's Kazuha?"
"She's fine. Aoko showed her to a guest room. Most of the other humans have already been returned to their homes. Takagi is smoothing things over on the human end. You two are the only ones still here."
"That…must have taken a lot of work. How long was I asleep?"
"You've been asleep for five days."
Shinichi spluttered. "Five days?!"
Kaito pulled the distressed detective onto his lap, tucking Shinichi's head under his chin. "Calm down. It's not a big deal. And five days is actually very fast for recovering from such severe magic poisoning. You should stay in bed a few more days to be safe."
"But Heiji. He's still stuck in our room. The whole Osakan police force will probably be pounding down our doors when we get back."
"I thought of that already," Kaito assured him. "Takagi's going to tell them that Hattori's been helping us on this investigation. Since he had to go under cover, he couldn't tell anyone where he was. In any case, he found Kazuha, then he and Takagi helped her escape from their crazy cult captors."
"It's the cover story. I'll tell you more about it later. Anyway, how're you feeling? Does anything hurt?"
Shinichi frowned. He felt…strange, but considering he'd been bedridden for five days, that was no surprise. If anything, he would have expected to feel worse than he did. Maybe that was the strange part.
A loud growl made them both jump. It was a split second before Shinichi realized it was his stomach. His face turned bright red, and Kaito began to laugh.
"Well, we'll think better once we've gotten some food into you. I'm sure the kitchen wouldn't mind us coming in for a so-late-it's-early snack."