Chikage stood in the kitchen washing vegetables for dinner and listening to the ambient noise of her son in the other room. He was lounging in the living room, doing nothing but texting that boy, which should've been a simple and quiet activity for if Kaito were anyone else.
But Kaito was not anyone else, so the silence was continually punctuated by devious cackling (meaning Kaito was teasing the boy), huffs of satisfied amusement (meaning he'd gotten a good reaction to his teasing), and occasional gasps and bursts of angry muttering (meaning he was somehow the one being teased for once). And when there was nothing else, he would fill the space with his humming. It was some jaunty tune that she didn't recognize, and it made the house feel alive and vibrant.
Chikage couldn't help but feel a small twinge of guilt about having left him alone for so long, but she firmly pushed her doubts away. It wasn't that she wanted to leave him, just that traveling was the only effective method she'd found for drowning her own sorrows in a literal world of new experiences. She wasn't a bad parent – she did call to check on him, and he always assured her that he was perfectly fine. And ok, maybe him finding out all the family secrets and taking up a life of crime to intentionally make himself a target for snipers shouldn't have counted as 'perfectly fine,' but, well, it was close enough. 'Fine' was such a vague term anyway. Besides, Kaito was good at what he did, so there really wasn't much to worry about. Until Jii had tattled to her about Kaito's unfortunate crush, that is.
Honestly, it was pretty funny at first. A detective and a thief? It was just so impossible, so ridiculous, and so cliché that she could only laugh and tease him. Finding out that his feelings were serious had dampened the humor, until Kaito had promised that he wouldn't interact with the boy beyond what was absolutely necessary for his night job. After that, she barely gave the matter any thought. It was surely just another whim of a fickle teenager that would be forgotten soon enough.
It wasn't funny anymore.
The entire situation had more red flags than a Chinese embassy. For instance, there was the obvious problem of detectives usually wanting to arrest criminals. True, it hadn't happened exactly as she'd expected, and Chikage did prefer the current situation over the more traditional handcuffs and jail cells, but she still wasn't happy about that indefinite, binding, and life-endangering contract that Kaito had been forced to sign. Of course, Kaito had assured her many times already that he was happy about his new role. He'd also explained that the disaster a few weeks ago was entirely his fault and that he'd been rescued, but none of that comforted her. Kaito's opinions on the matter were rather biased, and his warm fuzzy feelings didn't change the terms of the contract.
Before, they'd at least had some sense of ownership and control over the type of work that Kaito did. Now they were at someone else's mercy, and Chikage didn't even know what they were planning to do with her son. It made her feel helpless and cornered, and she hated it.
That alone would have been more than enough reason to be wary of the detective. But of course, things were far worse than that: she knew Kaito's feelings were probably far more dangerous than the contract. And, naturally, Kaito absolutely refused to listen to her on the subject. How on earth was one supposed to parent teenagers anyway?
Chikage moved to the counter and began to chop the vegetables, but paused when a loud spluttering shout came from the other room. There was angry ranting, an anticipatory silence, then a cry of indignation followed by thundering footsteps and the squeak of the hardwood floor as Kaito skidded around the corner to swing into the kitchen doorway.
She greeted him with a sarcastically sweet smile. "Hello, dear. Have I ever told you what a great cat burglar you'd make, with how quietly you move about a room?"
"Wh— that's not important right now, Mom! This is an emergency! I have to become a world-class chef, immediately!"
Chikage calmly turned back to the counter, not at all phased by her son's abundant strangeness.
"I don't suppose there's a reason for this sudden career change?" she asked mildly. Not that she couldn't guess the reason, but she wanted to make him admit it himself.
"It's a matter of life and death!" he cried, gesturing to the phone in his hand. "This… this…" he struggled for the right word, face twisting in frustration, "This guy! This absolute, incompetent, buffoon of a person who doesn't know how to keep himself alive—!" His volume increased to a near shout by the final words, and he let out another dramatic whining noise as if physically wounded. "Do you know what he eats for breakfast, Mom? When he's not living with other people who have heard of the existence of actual nutrition, I mean?!"
"Coffee! And then do you know what else he eats for breakfast?"
"Trick question, he doesn't!" Kaito exclaimed hysterically, throwing his hands up in the air in disbelief. "Because supposedly he's 'just not hungry' in the mornings and 'doesn't need much to eat'!" This bit was accompanied by over-acted air quotes and a mocking voice to emphasize the stupidity of said quotes.
"I usually don't eat much in the mornings either," she reminded him pleasantly.
"But that's just the thing! Do you know what he eats for lunch, if a more responsible person isn't there to peer-pressure him into eating something resembling food?!"
"…coffee?" she guessed.
"Coff— yes exactly, just more coffee! Unbelievable! Apparently he 'just gets caught up in things' and 'forgets to eat'?! Can you believe that? I've never heard anything more outrageous in my life!"
"And for dinner?" Chikage prompted, enjoying her son's violent tirade more than she probably should.
"Take a wild guess! Oh, that's right, it's more coffee! Vile drink! Even though it's way too late in the day for caffeine anyway! I bet it doesn't even affect him anymore because of how much he drinks! Oh, and then, if he gets hungry by dinner time, he'll order takeout or make himself a piece of toast! Toast! UGH! I just can't even with this guy!" he ranted, then continued on in furious sentence fragments for a few more minutes while pacing up and down the length of the kitchen and throwing his arms around in wildly expressive gestures, trying in vain to properly convey the gravity of the situation.
"So anyway," he concluded eventually, still quite worked up, "Now you can see why I have become an expert chef right away, because somebody has to keep this guy alive, and it sure isn't gonna be him!"
"It doesn't have to be you, either," she replied through the same mild smile.
"Wh—" he started, before his dramatic anger morphed into a more subdued and guarded stiffness, and he folded his arms across his chest. "Seriously? This again?"
"You're the one who brought it up," she replied, deliberately not facing him in an effort to conceal her building anger, though her tone became too formal to be natural as she added, "You hardly talk about anything else these days."
"Yeah," Kaito huffed, and she could practically hear the eye roll in his tone. "That would be because I like him."
Chikage frowned down at the cutting board, contemplating whether to voice her thoughts, but eventually decided that Kaito needed to hear the truth, no matter how painful. "Hedoesn't like you," she stated plainly and coldly.
A heavy atmosphere followed her words, and she focused intensely on the food prep while she waited for him to acknowledge the harsh reality.
In hindsight, it really shouldn't have been too surprising that he simply brushed aside the silence with a burst of light-hearted laughter.
"Oh, is that all?" he asked with amusement. "Well, if that's what you're worried about, rest assured, I know exactly what I'm doing here!"
She couldn't help the bitter scoff that escaped her. "You have no idea what you're doing," she scolded him. "You always jump into things and make big, life-altering decisions without considering the consequences first, and this is no different! You're setting yourself up for a broken heart, Kaito."
"Nah," he responded with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Chikage's grip on her knife tightened, along with the muscles in her face. It wasn't exactly her son's naivety that was so frustrating, or the fact that he wouldn't listen to her warnings, or even his flippant attitude over such a serious issue. She was used to all of that. No, this was about the detective. "He's just playing you, Kaito," she said in a near growl.
"Eh?" He sounded genuinely confused at that.
"He's using your feelings to manipulate you," she snapped, all her pent-up frustrations spilling out into her words now, and she tossed the chopped vegetables into the frying pan with a little more force than necessary. "That's why he hasn't rejected you or even acknowledged your very obvious advances. He lets you get away with just a little bit at a time, to keep your hopes up and string you along. He's leading you on, twisting your emotions until you're totally devoted to him, so that you'll do whatever he wants!"
For a moment, the sound of the vegetables sizzling in the pan was painfully loud as it hung in the air as the only sign of life in the room.
Then Kaito made a strangled sound that had Chikage briefly concerned until it erupted into uproarious laughter.
"Shinichi? A manipulative mastermind?" Kaito choked out between snorts of laughter. "That's hysterical! What an idea! Him, of all people! Mom, he is such a lousy actor, seriously, you have no idea!"
"Really?" she shot back, turning her back to him as she pulled out a bowl and began assembling the ingredients for a sauce. "How do you know it's not all an act? His mother is a famous actress! Do you really think he has no acting skills at all?!"
That only caused him to double over with renewed laughter, so she snapped at him. "Do you really think this is funny, Kaito? What about that contract he got you to sign? Haven't you noticed that all of your goals are already accomplished? That contract can only benefit him now! I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up ordering you on a suicide mission for him. And, at this point, I wouldn't be surprised if you agreed to it!"
Kaito finally released the last of his amusement into a sigh, but it sounded more resigned than anything. "Ok, so you're worried about me. I appreciate the concern," he said calmly, then his words took on a steel edge as he continued. "But you don't know Shinichi. He would never do that. He's just not like that."
"You have too much faith in people, Kaito," she replied harshly. "How do you explain his behavior then? Your flirting is so embarrassingly obvious, there's simply no way anyone could miss it!"
"I think he's just really dense," he answered simply.
"Nobody's that dense!"
"He is, though!" Kaito insisted with another laugh.
In her peripheral vision, she could see him throw his hands up helplessly and grin brightly at her. So much for getting him to listen to reason. She grit her teeth in angry, bitter, indignant defeat.
"How about if I just promise not to do any suicide missions?" Kaito asked cheerily, breaking the silence before she could decide on a new line of argument.
She shot him a glare. "Coming from you, that means absolutely nothing," she huffed.
"That's not fair — I keep my promises."
"You promised not to tell the detective any of our secrets," she reminded him darkly. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed him revert to a Poker Face while he took a moment to form an answer. That itself was telling.
"Other than that," he answered eventually, with a simple smile impossible to read.
"Other than that," she replied, unimpressed, "It still means nothing. Your definition of 'not a suicide mission' leaves a lot to be desired."
Kaito laughed again. "Ah, well, can't argue that," he said amicably with a good-natured shrug. "How about you decide for yourself, then? The planning meetings for the takedown are supposed to start soon. Just come with me and raise your objections there."
She startled in surprise, almost dropping the whisk in her hand. "Wha— you'd let me come and hear the plans? That wasn't in the contract."
"It wasn't not in the contract either," he pointed out. "I'm no lawyer, but so far, I've found at least twenty-three loopholes in the contract, including that one. Besides, like I've been trying to tell you, Shinichi is very reasonable. I'll just ask him if you can come. I'm sure he won't mind."
She considered that for a long moment. It didn't solve everything, but it would make a huge difference. Eventually she nodded. "I'll hold you to that. But you still have to promise me that you won't be reckless in the moment if things don't go according to plan."
"Of course~" He offered her a wide, relaxed, and uplifting smile. Well, she couldn't exactly expect that 'promise' to really count for much, but the thought of being able to participate in the planning meetings did a lot to ease the worry that had been eating away at her heart. It seemed she wasn't as helpless as she'd feared.
"And, by the way," she added, gesturing at him with the whisk in her hand, "if he really isthat dense, that's a red flag too."
"Nonsense, nonsense! It's nothing but an extra bonus for me," he told her. "I love trespassing people's personal boundaries, and he has trouble making friends with people who don't push past his denseness."
Chikage hummed in disagreement, not wanting to provoke further argument but unwilling to let the remark go completely unchallenged. She was still going to do everything she could to not encourage him in his fool's errand, even if he seemed fully determined to learn this lesson the hard way. At least 'the hard way' was less likely to involve actual death now. Fine. Let him get his heart broken, then.
She finished preparing the sauce and turned to add it to the pan of vegetables, only to see it engulfed in angry, yellow flames. She yelped, rushed forward, shoved Kaito away from the stove, pulled the pan off the heat, and slammed a cover down on it to choke out the fire.
"What's wrong?" Kaito asked in a calm and mildly puzzled tone.
"How did this even happen?" Chikage muttered to herself as she turned off the stove and fanned at the smoke.
"Oh, it's because I poured oil over the vegetables and lit it on fire."
She blinked. Frowned. Slowly turned around. Stared at him. He raised his eyebrows in confusion. She raised her hands palms-up in an incredulous, questioning gesture. He did the same.
It took her a few moments until she could manage to stammer out a very articulate "…why?"
"I told you — I want to learn how to cook," he answered, as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world.
Another long pause. "…you wanted to learn how to cook… so you immediately lit the first food you saw on fire?" she repeated in a confused haze. Were these words seriously coming out of her mouth right now?
He rolled his eyes. "I was caramelizing them. It's a cooking thing. Don't even try to deny it: I know I've heard people talk about caramelizing stuff before. And I like caramel, so…" he trailed off with a quick shrug to indicate how plainly obvious he thought the explanation was.
She stared at him for a long moment. He stared back. "This is brocolli," she exclaimed, waving emphatically at the pan. He shrugged, as if this information meant nothing to him. Then she furrowed her brows in confusion and added, "And cooking oil is specifically meant to not catch fire!"
He gestured to the counter behind her. "Well, that stuff catches fire just fine."
She turned to follow his gaze and had to do a double take. "That's alcohol!"
"It was with the cooking stuff!" he answered defensively.
"It's for fondue!"
"Well, how would I know that? That's why I'm saying that I need to learn." He looked at her with an expression so open and earnest that it was almost enough to drag her attention away from the pungent smell of burnt broccoli lingering in whisps of smoke behind her.
She closed her eyes, sighed deeply, then turned around with a definitive, "No."
"Ehh? Why not?!"
"You mean besides this?"
"I was helping," he insisted.
"And what about that flamethrower incident?" she asked pointedly.
"You're never going to let that go, are you? It was one time. My hand-eye coordination has gotten way better since then. See, I just caramelized some vegetables, and the ceiling is still perfectly fine!"
It took a great act of will, but Chikage managed to not pull out all her hair in frustration. Instead, she let her eyes deliberately wander around the room in silent judgment, innocently touching on the various scars on the walls, floor, ceiling, and cabinets.
"Hmph. Maybe I'll ask Ran to teach me instead, since she's actually nice to me!"
Chikage sighed. Trying to dissuade Kaito with logic and reasoning had never worked before; why even bother? And besides, some mother-son bonding time could be a good thing. Shared trauma brought people together, right? "Well, we can't have you destroying someone else's kitchen, can we?" she answered in a long-suffering tone.
He beamed at her and excitedly reached for the alcohol and lighter behind her. She slapped his hand away. "Later," she told him firmly. "We'll start tomorrow, with a nice, simple, no-bake recipe. Maybe lemon bars."
It was apparently the right thing to say, as he looked absolutely ecstatic and readily agreed to spare the rest of the dinner from his 'help.' Then he returned to the living room to let her finish the meal prep in peace. That, at least, was a relief.
Kaito did feel the tiniest bit guilty about torching the broccoli, but he knew there were more than enough ingredients still available in the fridge to make up for it, and besides, it was for a good cause. After he'd made the mistake of letting his mother guess why he'd wanted to learn to cook, he knew there was no way she'd agree unless he did something drastic. And it worked! He mentally patted himself on the back for his mad improv skills and brilliant use of props.
Plus, it had the added benefit of getting him kicked out of the kitchen for the rest of the evening. As glad as he was for the victory in securing cooking lessons, he was also relieved to have a few minutes to compose himself before dinner. It was only his years of intense training at maintaining his Poker Face that kept him from showing how much the conversation had rattled him.
It wasn't the accusations that bothered him. No, he didn't doubt Shinichi's intentions for one second, couldn't even imagine it. Shinichi was too kind, too honest, and too stupidly self-sacrificial to ever send anyone — not even a convicted criminal — on a suicide mission. Also, Shinichi's acting skills were really bad; he would never in a million years be able to pull off the kind of con his mother suspected. Kaito found the idea about as likely as encountering a tornado full of sharks. In other words, laughable.
But Kaito had lied about one thing: Shinchi was not as dense as the situation made him appear. Shinichi was ignorant of Kaito's true feelings, not because he was too dense, but because he was too straightforward and trusting. After all, his only fault in the matter was that he had believed Kaito when he'd claimed that it was all a joke. So, really, it was pointless of his mother to worry about if Kaito's heart would be broken. And Kaito did not appreciate the reminder.
He'd almost managed to forget. For just a little while, he'd been able to pretend that they were sort of together. Or at least that he had a chance. Sometimes he even let himself believe the encouragement from those around them, such as Ran and Haibara, who clearly supported the imaginary potential relationship. But deep down, he knew the truth.
Kaito remembered that look on the detective's face when he accidentally confessed in the hospital. Playing it off as a joke was the right move. Otherwise he never would've had this opportunity, temporary as it may be, to enjoy Tantei-kun's company for a little while longer. Kaito was not looking forward to the day when his real feelings would finally be uncovered and properly rejected. But until then, he was determined to make the most of his time with his beloved detective, which meant not dwelling on the unhappy facts that his mother seemed intent on shoving in his face as often as possible.
As they were clearing the table after dinner, Chikage remembered something else that had been bothering her.
"Kaito, honey, do you know if Aoko is alright? I went to see her and Ginzo the other day, and she wouldn't speak with me. She turned around as soon as she saw me and went straight to her room, even slamming the door after her. Is there something going on that I don't know about, or is she mad at me for some reason?"
"Oh, that!" Kaito answered immediately, entirely unconcerned. "Yeah, don't worry about that, it's no big deal, really~! It's only because I told her that you basically want to disown me for liking a guy."
Somewhere in the distance, she heard the sound of the plate she was washing slip out of her hands and clatter into the sink, but it felt unreal. Everything felt unreal. She blinked several times, then slowly angled her face to stare at her son.
"Oh, but you can't correct her though!" he continued unprompted, still perfectly carefree and chipper. "Or else she'll learn that I'm a criminal and also think that I'm into little kids."
Now her mind went completely blank, and she stood as if paralyzed for a long moment.
"Kaito." She turned to face him fully, lifted her hands in front of her face, paused, then cycled through half a dozen vastly different sets of expressions and gestures before finally settling on something to say. "Kaito, what the actual fu—"
"Anyway, thanks for dinner, Mom! Later~" And he bounded out of the room as if nothing were wrong.
How had she ever thought that this person was responsible enough to be left without adult supervision for more than three minutes at a time?