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Path of Dappled Light

11: Precious Moments

"This is not a date."

The teen on the other side of the table didn't say anything to that, but the amused quirk of his lips told Shinichi that he could deny all he wanted but it wasn't changing anything.

"It isn't," he said again, feeling his face begin to burn.

The thief's grin grew wider. "You're blushing," he pointed out unnecessarily (and very unhelpfully to Shinichi, who only blushed harder).

Shinichi picked up his mug and took a hurried gulp of coffee. "Why are you doing this?"

"Doing what?"

"This!" He waved a hand at the quaint little restaurant they were currently seated in. It was warm and clean with a simple kind of elegance. It was also full of couples.

"Well, usually people eat when they go to restaurants."

"You know that's not what I meant. I was talking about this—this outing," he clarified. "Why are we here?"

The thief tilted his head slightly to one side as one eyebrow rose. "Isn't it obvious?"

Shinichi's brows furrowed. No, it wasn't obvious. If it was, he wouldn't have asked.

His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of their waiter. The man introduced himself then waited patiently as the two placed their orders.

As he left, Kaito launched into an animated story about how he'd first found this restaurant. Soon, Shinichi had forgotten all about his questions. Which, in retrospect, was probably what Kaito had intended.

Shinichi had fallen asleep, his head resting on Kaito's shoulder in the back seat. The inside of the car was quiet but for the muted hum of the engine. Ahead of them, the tail lights of the other car cut brilliant holes in the fabric of the evening.

The magician slid an arm around Shinichi's middle, adjusting him into a more comfortable position before turning his gaze to the back of Ran's head. "Ran-san, I was wondering, what were you and the others doing in the village this morning?"

The brunette glanced back at him in mild surprise before her expression grew thoughtful. "Well, after we left the Kitas' house, we thought we'd go take a look around the village. I mean, it was a pretty amazing place."

"That it was," Kaito agreed. "So you decided to go sightseeing."

"Yep. Everyone was really nice. Then you came and, well, you know the rest."

"Why're you asking about this?" Hattori asked curiously.

Kaito made a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat. "Just wondering. So did you all explore together?"

Ran shook her head. "No, we split up because everyone wanted to see different things. Makoto-san and I spent most of our time watching the village potters work. Their work was really amazing. Hattori-kun spent quite a lot of time talking to one of the woodworkers—"

"He was telling me about making hunting bows," the teen in question interjected.

"And I think Hakuba-san was arguing with someone about the village spirits."

The magician rolled his eyes. That didn't surprise him one bit. "So Makoto-san was with you the whole time?"

"Oh, no, he went with the boy who was delivering some of the finished pots to the painter while I was talking with this lady about river clay. He said he wanted to see the whole process through."

"Hold on a moment." Hattori turned his eyes to the rearview mirror where he could see his friends in the back seat. "You're not thinking that he's the shooter, are you?"

"Let's just say it crossed my mind."

Ran's brows furrowed. "But why? None of us have ever met him before. I don't even think Shinichi's been to this area before. It's not exactly near home."

"It doesn't see a lot of tourists either," the Osakan detective added. "And the population is pretty small. But that would be assuming he's telling the truth when he said he was a local."

"Wouldn't Hakuba-san have noticed then?" she argued. "He's been acting as Hakuba-san's guide. It would be obvious if he didn't know things he's supposed to for that."

The magician shook his head. "Take it from me, that kind of thing can be learned."

"It is true though that most people don't up and try to kill people they've never met," said Hattori. "You get the occasional crazy or terrorist who doesn't give a damn about murdering innocent people, but—thankfully—they're the minority. Whoever set up this whole thing was targeting Kudo from the beginning. There has to be a motive—some kind of connection."

"Could it be someone looking for revenge?" Ran suggested. "I mean, you guys are always dealing with criminals…" She paused when Hattori let out a loud snort. "So you don't think that's it?"

"What? Oh, no, it could be. I was just laughing 'cause—er, I mean, never mind. But anyway, since Kudo can't tell us himself if he's seen this guy before, we're going to have to find some other way to check if it's an old acquaintance."

As the three carried on their discussion, Shinichi shifted in his sleep, curling closer to Kaito's side.

It was a dance.

They were in the park, but no one who came to the place before would recognize it now. Kaito had really outdone himself—then again, even people who didn't know him very well knew to expect the impossible from the magician thief soon after meeting him no matter what name he was using at the time. It just wasn't his style. Nothing delighted Kaito more than proving to those nonbelievers that there was no such thing as impossible when it came to Kuroba Kaito. But that thought was but a fleeting one at the back of Shinichi's mind as he'd opened his eyes earlier that evening to the sight of the newly improved Beika Park.

It looked like a Christmas party that had decided to migrate outdoors or some kind of sorcerer's enchanted garden, he thought, half amused—trust Kaito to come up with something like this—and half in awe (and maybe just a little bit embarrassed in a warm and fluttery kind of way, because he knew Kaito had done it for them). There were lights everywhere, filling the night with a soft, dreamlike glow. He could hear music too, drifting through the park in sylvan threads. On one side of the clearing, a small table had been set up for two.

"Since you said you didn't want to go to the party, I thought we'd have our own private one," Kaito had explained, a proud smirk stretched across his face as he swept his arms out to indicate their surroundings.

Ah yes, the party. It was being held by the Suzukis to celebrate Sonoko's sister's birthday. It seemed to Shinichi that the whole city had been invited. The Suzukis never did anything by halves. He'd been invited too, but parties had never been his thing even before the Conan incident. Since then… Well, the thought of all those crowds and all the questions he still couldn't seem to be rid of was enough to make him feel mildly ill. Just about everyone else he knew was going though, and he'd thought Kaito would be too since he'd been telling Shinichi about several other magic enthusiasts who'd be there. He'd been planning on spending the evening at home with a book and a mug of hot coffee, but then Kaito had shown up unannounced at his door, and here they were.

He'd gotten used to the magician's sudden visits by now—secretly looked forward to them, to be honest. It had all started with that first lunch. One outing had turned into two, then three… He continued to refuse to call them dates, but as time rolled on his protests grew weaker and more habitual than meaningful. Lately, he'd relented and admitted, to himself at least, that they probably were.

"I would recommend we eat first before it gets cold . Mom made it, so it's bound to be great."

"Your mom did?"

"Yep. I told her I was setting up a picnic for my favorite detective and she insisted."

He'd been right about the food. It was delicious. The magician had often bragged that his mother was the best cook in the world, and, while Shinichi was by no means a culinary expert, it seemed to him that Kaito had been well justified in saying so.

Then the thief had stood up and bowed and offered Shinichi his hand in that melodramatic way he loved and asked him to dance. And that was how they'd ended up here.

Fluid motions borne along by threads of melody. Warm bodies and soft eyes wrapped in the haze of a dream in the middle of stark reality. A smile. A laugh. Whispered words mingled with unspoken promises.

And a kiss.

It was their first, but Shinichi knew then that it wouldn't be their last.


"Shin-chan, we're here."

Shinichi wrinkled his nose and tried to burrow into the back seat of the car. Firm hands aborted his attempt at retreat, however, and tugged him towards the chill air he could faintly feel against the side of his face. Annoyed, he cracked open an eye to stare balefully at the smudge of the person who was trying to remove him from the comforts of the warm car interior.

All he got for his troubles was a soft laugh. "Now, now, it'll be much more comfortable inside the hotel. Besides, you haven't eaten anything since breakfast. You must be hungry. I know I am."

Shinichi considered this for a while. He supposed he was a little hungry, but it was comfortable where he was right now. He could always just make sure he ate breakfast tomorrow…

"Eating a big breakfast the day after doesn't make up for skipping dinner," Kaito admonished.

Blue eyes stared at him. Had the magician just read his mind? He felt like that kind of ability, at least, he would remember.

An amused smirk had made its way onto the thief's face as he leaned further into the car and looped an arm around Shinichi in order to scoop him out of the vehicle. "No, I can't read minds. I just know you. Now come on, or do you really want me to carry you inside?"

The mental image of himself being carried into the hotel in front of who knew how many people had Shinichi reluctantly giving in and climbing out of the car into the chilly night air. Besides, he didn't want Kaito putting unnecessary pressure on his arm, even if the magician insisted it was only a scratch. He shivered as a gust of night wind swept around him like an icy cloak. It wasn't as cold as the night in the mountains, but it was still far from warm, especially after he'd just come out of the toasty, heated car.

Kaito directed him to the hotel's front doors where Ran and Heiji were talking to Hakuba and Makoto. The group looked around when Kaito and Shinichi approached.

"Makoto-san was just telling us about a festival that's starting tomorrow," Ran said by way of greeting. "It's a special celebration they hold here every year in honor of the man who first founded this town. Since we're already here, he wants to know if we'd like to stay for it." Her questioning gaze met Kaito's. He could read the anxiety in them.

"I say we might as well stay," Hattori remarked, giving both magician and karate champion a meaningful look. "We did come all this way. It'd be a shame to just go. If we leave now, we might never get the chance again eh?"

Kaito didn't much like the idea of Shinichi spending any more time in the area in his current condition, but he could see the wisdom of it. If they just left now, they would simply be delaying. The culprit was clearly a persistent person. Here, they knew the man was close—had a suspect even—and that meant they had a chance to find and capture them. To leave would be to open themselves up to a future assault when they might be less wary.

So he shrugged. "It's fine with me. I don't have anything urgent waiting back home or anything."

Plans were made for everyone to meet in the hotel lobby the following morning. That done, Makoto left and the four teenagers entered the hotel to ask after empty rooms.


There was something the others weren't telling him. Pulling a fresh shirt he'd borrowed from Kaito over his head, Shinichi stared into the steam-fogged mirror of the hotel bathroom with a slight frown. He had seen those looks his companions had been exchanging, but none of them had said anything about what they meant to him. He supposed he could ask, but…well, maybe they had a good reason? Granted, he didn't know what that could be. He hated the feeling of being left out. At the same time, he supposed that he might do the same in their position. If it was something vexing, as he suspected it was, then he wouldn't wish to burden it upon a recovering friend either. Still, it wasn't as though he was an invalid or anything.

His slightly irritated and confused thoughts chased themselves around in his head as he stepped back out into the room. He was distracted, however, by the sight of the room's one table. It had been bare when he'd gone in for his shower. Now it had a spread of food-laden plates on it with utensils set for two. A set of lit candles stood dispersed amidst the plates, their flames casting bright sparks across the cutlery.

Kaito looked up from where he'd just finished lighting the last candle and grinned. "Oh good. I was starting to wonder if I needed to go in there and make sure you hadn't passed out or something."

"Don't treat me like an invalid," Shinichi grumbled, crossing his arms. "Where did you get all that anyway?"

"A combination of room service and some creative persuasion." He paused and his grin faded a little as he looked Shinichi over. "You really need to eat more." He'd expected his shirt to be a bit loose on his smaller companion, but he hadn't expected it to hang as much as it was doing. Having been in recovery was only so much of an excuse. What had his detective been eating? Or not eating, as the case may be. Well, they could start remedying that right now. "Have a seat and I'll get the drinks."

"But what about the others? I thought we were supposed to be eating with them."

Kaito dismissed the question with a careless wave. "They'll live."