Disclaimer: I don't own the DCMK characters.
Smile for Me
14: Smile for Me
It was a restaurant of sorts that had gained quite a reputation for its unique design. The building consisted of multiple large, cylindrical sections joined at different points so that, from the air, it resembled an open blossom. That, however, wasn't what had won it the front page of one of the local dining magazines. Rather, it was the interior design where large daises were suspended in the air at different heights, all linked together with a latticework of staircases so that, together, they resembled a series of giant vines and their equally giant leaves. The outside of the building was striped with large windows that flooded the inside with sunlight during the day and gave all the guests a splendid view of the stars at night. Due to its great size, however, the place operated more like a series of restaurants than a single one. Each stretch of vine had its own kitchen with its own unique menu. Some specialized in cultural cuisines from around the world while others functioned more like coffee bars or dessert shops.
Standing just inside the building's main entrance, Shinichi marveled at the sheer size and strangeness of the place. It felt more like a work of art than a restaurant, but the enticing aroma of food in the air was unmistakable.
Kaito's letter of roses had been simple. Like the doves, the numbers were the key. With twenty six roses to start with and the twenty six that were red, The first thing that had come to mind when he thought of the number twenty six was the letters of the alphabet. That being said, if the first two bouquets were the key and not part of the message, then only the white roses he'd received starting from day three were the message. If the number of roses in each delivery represented a letter, however, you ended up with a bunch of gibberish. Then he'd remembered that the lengths of the stems had been different. The difference had been so drastic that it must have been intentional. Since the white roses had been cut short, and adding, multiplying, and dividing wouldn't result in anything that worked with his alphabet premise, he'd decided to subtract. Eight became eighteen, giving him an R. Five became twenty one, giving him a U.
When he was done, Helusyhvul had become Rune Garden.
And here he was.
What he didn't know was where he was supposed to go now. Kaito hadn't been waiting for him by the door as it would have been smarter to do. And the magician hadn't contacted him at all since he'd sent the box of chocolates. No more notes, and no more gifts. Part of Shinichi missed them. There had been a tiny thrill in him every morning he had opened the door to find something sitting on his doorstep after so mysteriously being placed there through methods unknown. He'd thought from the beginning that there was more to them, and he'd enjoyed trying to figure out what that 'more' was. They had been a kind of daily entertainment—something that could surprise and delight him in his otherwise unremarkable world.
Shinichi walked up to the receptionist's desk where a young woman and an elderly gentleman were seated next to three empty chairs. "Excuse me."
Both receptionists turned in his direction.
"How may we help you?" the elderly gentleman asked with a rather grandfatherly smile.
"Hi, I was supposed to meet a friend here, but I haven't seen him. I was wondering if he might have left a message for me. My name is Kudo Shinichi."
"Let me see." Lifting the pair of reading glasses that had been dangling around his neck up onto his nose, the old man peered closely at the computer screen before him. "Kudo… Kudo…"
"Wait, you said Shinichi, right?"
Boh Shinichi and the elderly gentleman turned to the female receptionist. She grinned and pulled an envelope out from under the desk. "There's no last name on this, but it is addressed to a Shinichi. It was left here this morning by a Kurota Kaito."
Kurota? Shinichi's eyebrows rose. That had been the name that Kaito had used when he'd registered for the Performances.
"That should be him. Thank you." He accepted the letter. His fingers hovered over the seal as he glanced back up at the girl. "You said he came this morning?"
"Yes. He was the first one in the door when we opened at seven."
"Is he still here?"
The girl pondered the question then shrugged. "I don't know. The five of us who work the desk have to show the guests up to the different aeries when they don't know the way. This place looks cool, but it's not easy to navigate. So no one's here all the time. But if your friend's supposed to meet up with you then it seems reasonable that he'd still be here. Or are you really late?"
"Er, no. He said five in the afternoon."
"Then there's no problem." She pointed at the letter in his hands like a queen pointing at a slow servant. "What are you waiting for? Open it!"
Shinichi blinked but obliged. The letter inside was just as plain and white as the outside. There were no names. All that had been written on the note was a single line of elegantly penned text.
"It will wait at the end of the rainbow," Shinichi read out loud.
The girl leaned over the reception desk for a better look. Her ponytail fell forward as she did so. "Hey, that really is all it says. But there aren't any rainbows in Rune Garden. Nothing named after a rainbow either."
"How about a pot of gold?"
The elderly gentleman chuckled. "I wouldn't mind a pot of gold myself. Although, if it's going to vanish at the end of the day, then I think I'd just as well prefer to find nothing."
His fellow receptionist giggled. "That's true," she agreed. "I know the perfect place," she added, turning back to Shinichi. "The Golden Coffeepot. It's our most popular coffee place."
"That's perfect. Can you tell me which way I should go to get there?"
"I'll show you." The girl hopped out of her chair and rounded the desk. "It's part of my job anyway. To the Golden Coffeepot we go!"
And they did. Up three flights of spiraling staircases and down two flights of ruler straight but frighteningly steep steps that had Shinichi's knuckles turning white on the handrails.
"Now we just have to grab this rope and swing across to the other side!" she told him. She handed him a knotted rope and pushed him towards the edge of the platform. The edge of the platform that was suspended dozens and dozens of feet in the air. She pointed to the dais across from them.
Shinichi stared at the rope then at his guide with mixed incredulity and horror. "You mean everyone who wants a cup of coffee has to swing into the coffee shop on a rope?"
The girl tied a safety rope around his middle. She pulled it tight with a brisk jerk that made Shinichi wince. Then she stood back to admire her handiwork. "There. And no, there's another path, but this one's a whole lot shorter. Don't worry, there's a safety net below in case you fall."
"…" Was he supposed to be reassured? Because he wasn't. But his guide was already hurrying him on. So he tightened his grip on the rope and hoped that whoever was in charge of maintaining this place was a very dilligent soul.
This Golden Coffeepot had better have the world's most amazing coffee.
Air whistled past his ears, and the world blurred. His heart leapt into his throat.
His feet hit the floor of the Golden Coffeepot. The impact sent a jolt up Shinichi's spine. He stood there for a moment to steady himself before he undid the safety rope. Then he marched up to the barista, feeling just a bit grumpy.
"Coffee please. Black."
"By any chance, is your name Shinichi?"
Shinichi blinked at the question. He was pretty sure he'd never met this man before. "I am. How did you know?"
"Someone who looked a but like you told me you'd be coming. He said to give you these." The man pulled a parcel out from under the counter and placed it before Shinichi. Then he turned to the assorted machines behind him. He returned a few minutes later with a large cup of coffee. "It's already been paid for," he said, handing it to Shinichi with a smile. "It's our specialty blend. I hope you like it."
"Thank you." Taking both the cup and the parcel, Shinichi found himself a small table and sat. He took a sip of the coffee and marveled at the rich, smooth, and ever so slightly buttery flavor. Feeling happier, he turned to examine his parcel. It was a heavy, rectangular package wrapped in a blue paper that was dotted with white stars. From the feel of it, he would guess that it was a book. He carefully picked apart the tape holding the wrapping together and folded the paper away. He was right. Sitting before him was a black book with a blue and silver starburst stenciled on the cover above curling, silver letters.
"The Origins of Magic," he read out loud. Intrigued, he flipped open the cover—or tried to. The cover remained firmly shut like it had been glued down. Frowning, Shinichi picked the book up in both hands and tried to pry it open.
No luck. Was it a fake book? Holding it up to the light, he turned it over in his hands, examining it closely from end to end and back again. He could see the fine ridges that marked the edges of the pages stacked neatly upon each other between the much thicker and heavier covers. They felt real enough, going so far as to part just a little when he brushed his fingers gently over them. But they wouldn't open any further than that. He'd seen boxes made to look like books before where parts of the pages were real to disguise the fact that, farther in, the pages ended in the form of the walls of the container. This book didn't appear to be a disguised container though. It felt solid. When he tapped on it, all he got was the dull thud, thud of a finger tapping on a book cover. It weighed like a real book too. Although maybe it wasn't a container but a piece of wood that had been carved into the shape of a book then wrapped in the right materials to give it the right textures. But what would be the point in giving him a book that wasn't a book? Or maybe it was a book, and he just hadn't figured out how to open it yet. If it was anything like the other gifts he'd received from Kaito these last few days then there had to be more to it.
He ran his fingers over the smooth, hard leather cover and traced the curls of the title. Kaito had mentioned that he and his father were going to compile a book on the history of magic. Was this their work? There were no names on the outside other than the title. And hadn't Kaito said that that project would take a long time to complete?
Well, in any case, he must have had a reason for giving this book to Shinichi. Blue eyes turned to stare at the starburst on the cover. The origins of magic… His thoughts drifted back to a warm, summer night on a balcony, looking up at the stars scattered across the black velvet sky. There had been that one particularly bright star. What had Kaito said about it? That it was the star of hope—or something like that. The hope of magic and mages and the future that they were working towards.
Draining the last of his coffee, Shinichi returned to the counter. "Excuse me, but is there any way I could get onto the roof?"
"Which one?" the barista asked, wiping a bit of spilled coffee off the counter with a rag. "We've got about six roofs, seven if you include the little turret roof. But anyway, they've all got rooftop gardens on them, so we like to let people go up and enjoy them. But due to the way the building's structured, each roof must be accessed through a different door. You can't go from one roof to the next without coming inside first. So it would be easier for me to help you if you tell me which garden you want to go to."
"Which gardens are there?" Shinichi asked.
"There's the white garden, the red garden, the blue garden, the yellow garden, the purple garden, and the pink garden. Each garden grows only flowers that match the garden's color."
Shinichi hesitated a moment. His first thought had been of white roses. Then he'd thought of red roses. But he didn't think either of them were of any help here.
He looked down at the book in his hands. The star on the cover was most likely meant to be that star Kaito had told him about. The one that was tied to the Skyline Celebration and the purpose of magic. The best place to see the stars from would naturally be the roof. What was it that Kaito had told him about that star? That it glowed blue when all was right with the world?
"The blue garden," Shinichi said firmly.
On the other side of the Golden Coffeepot, a young man dressed in black with a baseball cap pulled low over his face rose and slipped away onto one of the adjoining staircases without a sound. Though the hat hid most of his features, it didn't hide the razor grin stretched across his face.
Pausing to catch his breath at the top of the sixteenth ahd final flight of stairs (hadn't these people heard of elevators?), Shinichi found himself looking out through an arched doorway at a small garden courtyard where, true to its name, every flower in bloom was some shade of blue. Several stone tables had been set up around the garden courtyard. The stone was bluish too, speckled here and there with white and gray and hints of pink. At the middle of the courtyard, seated at the only square table in the garden where every other table was round, was a familiar young man with a mop of dark, brown hair and a smugly self-satisfied grin.
"You made it," he said.
"Kaito." A knot he hadn't wanted to acknowledge—a knot that had been there ever since that night they had last said goodbye—loosened its hold in his chest.
The magician waved impatiently at him. "Come on, have a seat."
Shinichi only hesitated for a fraction of a second before doing as he was bidden. He sat down on the smooth, stone bench across from Kaito and set the sealed book before him.
Then he fixed Kaito with a piercing stare. "So what was all this about?"
"I wanted to see you."
"Actually, it's my birthday, so I'm giving myself a gift."
"I didn't know it was your birthday," Shinichi said in surprise. "If I'd known, I would have brought a gift…"
Kaito waved him away with a laugh. "No worries. If I'd wanted you to bring me a gift, I would have said so."
"But you've been sending me so many things." Shinichi looked down at the book then off to where an egg-shaped bush was blue with tiny blossoms. "It seems a little strange for you to be giving me things when it's your birthday."
"If that's what you're worried about, don't be. I do have ulterior motives for my actions."
"Suddenly, I'm not so reassured."
Their eyes met over the table. For a moment, they simply looked at each other. Then they both began to laugh.
"I really did want to see you again," Kaito said.
"I…" Shinichi started then stopped. "Me too." Embarrassed by his own admission, he held up the book. "So why can't I open this?"
Kaito gestured at the book. It instantly fell open in Shinichi's hands. The blue-eyed boy rolled his eyes, but his curiosity made him flip through the pages anyway. The book started with the myth Kaito had told him about how magic had been given to mankind. The following chapters outlined the role magic users had played in the history of the world. Turning back to the beginning of the book, Shinichi found the names of the authors.
"So this is the book you said you were working on with your father," he murmured. "I thought so. But I remember you said it would take years to write."
"It will. This is only volume one. It's an introduction. We only finished it so fast because it's only got the really basic stuff in it that pretty much all mages know. We plan for the next few volumes to go more in depth into the different historical time periods outlined in these chapters here. It's going to mean a lot of research, but I'm sure it'll be a worthwhile endeavor. After that, we can get around to specific notable mages and spells and magic in modern society."
"It sounds like a lot of work."
"Most definitely. And Dad's awfuly busy these days. Still, we'd like to get this project rolling as quickly as possible for everyone's sakes. With that said, I'm not really looking forward to having to do all that research by myself."
"Can't you get assistance from other magic users?"
"Well~, I could, but there's the whole sticky situation with the rules of secrecy stuff. My family has access to more information than most due to our position, but bringing in random magic users might mean certain clashes of interest, so on and so forth."
"Those secrecy rules seem really inconvenient, if you ask me."
"I agree," Kaito replied with a cheery grin. "And that's why I'm asking you if you want to be my assistant for this project."
"You'd mostly be helping me with the research: organizing notes, finding materials, and reading everything through and comparing it all to test for authenticity and all that. Then you'll help me boil down the important bits and write them into chapters. You write well, so that shouldn't be too hard for you. The pay won't be very high to begin with, but it does come with benefits and the possibility of growing into something more if you decide to stay long term. It's an official position on the staff. And it's yours if you want it." The magician turned earnest, indigo eyes on Shinichi's stunned face. "So? How about it?"
"So you're…asking me to come help you work on these books."
"But I'm not a magic user."
"I'll teach you anything you need to know along the way. You don't have to be able to use magic to read about and understand its historical significance. It'll give you a great grounding in the ways of magic and mages too. That'll be helpful for you when you become a detective."
Shinichi nodded slowly. That was true. And this was what he'd been wanting to do for ages already, wasn't it? To learn about this other world that lived right alongside his own? This world that he had only walked into because Kaito had opened the door and dragged him across the threshold.
He gave the book another look over before he set it down, clasped his hands atop its leather cover, and met Kaito's gaze. "Yes, I would like to accept a position as one of your assistants for working on this project."
Kaito beamed. "Great! I'm very glad to hear that." And he sounded it too. Shinichi knew that enthusiastic gleam and that electric air that seemed to say that Kaito would be leaping up at any moment to make some grand declaration or wreak havoc on all who had the misfortune of being too close. Fortunately, he did neither. Instead, the magician glanced down at his watch.
"Looks like it's almost time," he muttered.
Shinichi looked around the garden. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he turned back to Kaito. "What's almost time?"
He got a sly grin for his troubles.
"Come here." Kaito rose from his seat and headed for the outer edge of the garden. Shinichi trailed after him, only now realizing just how chilly the air was up here. He pulled his jacket closer about himself and came to a stop beside Kaito. They were looking out over the grounds surrounding Rune Garden, and, beyond its verdant lands, the city streets and the gleam of other, lesser buildings. It was late afternoon, and normally the world would have been awash with the pale, orange flames of sunset. But today, the sky was overcast. Strange, considering it had been clear just that morning.
Kaito shifted so that he was standing beside Shinichi. "Are you ready?"
Shinichi glanced up at him then out across the overcast world. "For what?"
Kaito didn't answer. Instead, he began to count under his breath. "Three, two, one."
Shinichi held his breath. His fingers tingled, and his heart sped up. He stared and stared, afraid to blink. He stared until spots began to dance before his eyes.
No, wait. There really were sparks dancing in front of his eyes. Spots, actually. White spots.
One landed on the tip of his nose, sending a sharp shock of cold across his skin.
"No way…" he breathed, blue eyes going wide as he held out his hands. What had started as a few white specks grew rapidly into a flurry of white flakes spiraling down around them from the pale, gray sky. "It's snow. But—it's summer!"
"I've always wanted to see the city covered in snow in the middle of summer," Kaito remarked, looking pleased.
"You mean you did this?"
"With a little help. Weather magic is unpredictable. But your inventor friend really does know his stuff. He made clouds for me. They've been building up over the city all afternoon. So I don't actually have to change the weather. I just use a little spell to convert all the water in those clouds to snowflakes. And voila! Summer snow. Amazing, right?"
Looking out across the rapidly whitening city, Shinichi had to laugh. "It's incredible. But I'm not sure people are going to thank you when they're all stuck in traffic due to unexpected snows." So that man Agasa had been talking to must have been Kaito. He should have known. The voice had been different, but the confident tone and speech patterns had been the same.
"It'll melt soon enough in this weather," Kaito replied. "So I say we enjoy it while it lasts."
Shinichi nodded, shivering slightly despite the fact that he'd already zipped his jacket all the way up to his neck and stuffed both his hands in his pockets. Then an arm wrapped itself around his waist, pulling him against a warm, solid side. He didn't have to look to know who it was. A blush crept into his face, but he found himself leaning closer to the magician. He felt…comfortable here. Warm. Content.
Kaitos' jacket was thicker than one you'd normally wear during the summer. Shinichi had wondered about it earlier. Now he knew why.
"There was one more reason I called you up here," Kaito said, his voice quiet but sincere.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking."
"And I wanted to ask you…"
"Would you go out with me?"
"…?!" Straightening, Shinichi turned around quickly to find Kaito watching him from less than a finger's width away. His breath caught in his throat for a moment before he let it out slowly.
"Listen," Kaito continued before Shinichi could speak. "I know we haven't known each other for very long, but I feel like we've both gotten to understand each other quite well. Oh, and this has nothing to do with the research job. So don't feel like you have to agree to or decline both. Though naturally I'd prefer if you did agree to both, since then we'd get to spend a whole lot more time together. I like you, Shinichi. And I—are you laughing at me?"
"No! No," Shinichi gasped through a fit of stifled giggles that he hoped didn't sound as hysterical as he felt. He fought in vain to hold them in. He felt as though he was a cauldron bubbling over with a confused concoction of relief, surprise, realization, happiness, and a whole lot of other emotions that couldn't seem to make up their minds. "It's just that—I mean, a friend of mine suggested that maybe you… With all the roses you kept sending me, she thought that… And I told her it couldn't be, but I think I really wanted—was hoping—"
"Do you love me?"
Shinichi instantly turned bright red. "what? I…I'm not really sure. I—I mean—"
"But you do like me."
Shinichi wondered if it was possible to combust from having too much blood rush to your face. Not trusting himself to speak lest he start babbling again, he nodded.
Kaito grinned. "So you'll go out with me then."
Shinichi nodded again.
"Good. That's settled then." Kaito tightened the arm he had around Shinichi's waist. The last vestiges of the unrest that had been plaguing him ever since the festival evaporated. He gave himself a mental pat on the back.
They stood together at the edge of the rooftop garden and watched as the snow continued to fall. Neither spoke. For now, they were content to simply be here. Together. And as the sky grew dark, the city lights blinked to life one after the next. By the time the last flake drifted silent and soft from a sky that had cleared completely of clouds, the entire city was aglow.
"They're going to be throwing a surprise party for me back at the estate," Kaito said, though he made no move to leave.
Shinichi tilted his head slightly, gaze still fixed on the glittering sea of city lights. "Not much of a surprise, it seems."
He felt more than heard Kaito laugh. "No, it isn't. But they do get points for effort. Maybe I'll pretend to be surprised so they don't feel cheated."
"You're in a generous mood."
"What ever do you mean? I'm always generous."
Shinichi arched an eyebrow. "Right… And that's why you collect embarrassing photographs and kidnap people off the streets to help you further your own ambitions."
This time, Kaito's laughter was much louder. "Yeah, you're right. I'm selfish. Most people are to some degree, I think. It doesn't mean we can't be generous too."
It was Shinichi's turn to laugh. "I guess if anyone could be both at once, it would be you."
"Why thank you. I am amazing, aren't I?"
"…Shouldn't you be getting to your party?"
"Do you want me to leave?"
"…No," Shinichi admitted. "But I don't think you should keep your friends and family waiting either."
Kaito heaved an exaggerated sigh. "I suppose not. Would you like to come with me?"
Shinichi hesitated. "I'm not really good with parties… And I won't know anyone."
"What are you talking about? I introduced most of them to you already when we were profiling people for the banquet. We went over all their information in case they came up in conversation."
"That's different. Hearing about someone isn't the same thing as knowing them."
"I suppose not. But you have to start somewhere."
"Do you want me to go?"
"I do. Though not if it'll make you uncomfortable. There'll be plenty of time for you to meet them in the future. No need to rush, eh?"
Shinichi smiled. The future… Those two little words were so simple, but the promise they held was more valuable than gold. The sound of those words made him feel warm and a little tingly. "Yeah."
"Speaking of relatives, Dad sort of found out about the banquet."
Shinichi winced. "Is he angry?"
"I don't think so," Kaito said after a moment's thought. "I don't believe he was all that surprised, to be honest. He's interested in meeting you though. I'll introduce you when you come over for the project briefing next week. Make sure to clear your Monday schedule."
"I will. Do I need to bring anything?"
"Nope. How's your schedule looking for tomorrow?"
"I'll be helping Professor Agasa with a presentation in the evening. Other than that, I don't have any plans."
"Great. I'll pick you up at ten then. We'll have lunch. Then we can go to the art museum. They're having a special exhibit on autostereograms. Should be cool."
"I've been wanting to see that," Shinichi agreed. "So…does this mean you'll be going now?"
"Nah. They can wait a little longer."
It was that smile, Kaito thought as he watched Shinichi watching the summer stars glitter above the snow-coated city. That was what had been missing. Of course, once they started being seen together, he wouldn't be able to ask Shinichi to be his stand-in anymore. But that was a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. It was funny really. In the end of one dream, he'd somehow managed to find another one. Then again, that was life for you. Beginnings and endings were always all mixed up.
A.N: Er, well, I'm not sure if the end is too abrupt, but there we go. ^_^ I hope you enjoyed the story. Thanks for reading!