a heist, a feather, and an almost friendly discussion.
Daisuke's mother disliked headphones for the same reason Daisuke loved them. He could put on some music and ignore the rest of the household while he tried to do his homework. It didn't work very well; the volume that his mother, Towa-chan and With could sustain was somewhere between 'earsplitting' and 'agonizing'. At least he was making an effort.
Not that headphones protected him from With trying to climb up his chair or his mother standing behind him. Staring. With the look that meant she had given birth to him/. In blood and pain and sweat and tears. And here the child she had carried for /nine months was /ignoring her/. It was a physical sensation, like someone poking him very lightly with a very sharp needle. Repeatedly.
Daisuke sighed and hit the pause button. Porno Graffiti faded out, replaced by the distant sound of Towa-chan singing and thumping things around. "Yes, Mom?"
"Oh, nothing, dear," said his mother, radiating sweetness and light. "But if you have a second to spare from your homework..."
"I'm almost done," said Daisuke, mentally waving his test a sad farewell. 'A second to spare', in his mother's world, meant 'you aren't getting anything done for the rest of the night except what I want you to do'.
"That's good, because I need to brief you on the job."
"And I've already sent out the notice, so don't even think about it."
"It isn't that," said Daisuke. His mother had an genius for the absolutely worst times to schedule a job. Sometimes in the dark of night he woke up and wondered if she did it on purpose. Then again, even his mother couldn't have read his mind and found out why he would rather eat razors than face Hiwatari-kun right now. He totally had to stop thinking about it before his head burst into flames.
::Emiko is evil incarnate and I am very proud of her.::
:You WOULD be.:
Dark radiated innocence.
"Please tell me there isn't anything weird about this one," said Daisuke.
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Mom, the last time you pulled me away from my homework to brief me on a job, I ended up spending most of my school trip trapped in a mirror trying to find Dark."
"That was Hiwatari-kun's fault," said his mother, turning her nose up.
Daisuke gave her a look.
"And there's nothing weird about this one at all," said Emiko. "It's /beautiful/."
Daisuke managed not to groan. "So what is it?"
"Shiraha," said his mother, holding out a picture.
Daisuke looked at it. "How pretty!" he said, surprised.
::...so he did copy it.::
"And why are you so surprised, young man?"
Daisuke opened his mouth, closed it again, and said, cravenly, "It's really neat how it balances on the base, don't you think?"
His mother glared at him. Daisuke ducked his head. There was no point in being suicidal and admiting that he was surprised every time his mother liked something that was actually nice-looking. This was the woman whose favorite piece in the vault was a giant porcelain rabbit. (In his darker moments, Daisuke suspected Hiwatari-kun's family of actively making fun of his own family's ... catholic ... taste.) "Um, what's the history behind it?"
"Well, it was made about a hundred years ago by Hikari Reiji --"
::May the poor bugger's soul rest in peace, for they found him in pieces.::
:: 'sa long story.::
"-- and disappeared after his unfortunate and untimely death --"
::-- which I had absolutely nothing to do with.::
"-- and recently appeared at an estate sale, and was bought by the Kinomoto Foundation for their museum."
Daisuke looked at the photo. Even there, it had something about it, the vibrant quality that marked Hikari art. "Is it dangerous?"
Daisuke moaned. "I'm going to die, aren't I? It's going to chew me up and spit me out and everybody will say 'what happened to Niwa?' and you'll have to make up a tragic accident and bribe people to change the records and there probably won't be enough left of me to /cremate/."
::It probably won't hurt /you/.::
:Wow, that's the most comforting thing I've heard since 'don't worry, Dai-chan, it runs in the family!'.:
::It's only a copy, anyway.::
:We're going after a COPY?!:
::No, it's a real piece of Hikari work. It's just that compared to what he copied it from? As harmless as a Mona Lisa on velvet.::
:That's even less comforting.:
His mother gave him a bright smile. "So all you have to do is go fetch it! Piece of cake!"
Daisuke went to the door and poked his head out. "DAD?" he shouted. "Do you have the file for the Shiraha thingy?"
"Downstairs!" called his father.
"Don't you trust me?" demanded his mother.
"Of course I do," said Daisuke, marching toward the stairs. "But not when you call something 'a piece of cake'."
Kosuke had taken on the task of organizing the Niwa archives after his marriage -- something Dark had once compared to Hercules and the stables, without a handy river. Considering the size of the archives and the Niwa tendency to be obscure in their cross-references, he'd made quite a bit of progress. Eventually he was going to have it all indexed and scanned onto a file system. For now, though, he had it more or less organized by Niwa thief.
He pulled down a heavy book, sneezed, and went for a dustcloth. "I'm warning you," he said, "Whoever did these notes has the strangest code I've seen yet."
"Crud," said Daisuke.
::He wrote great filthy poetry, though.::
"And I hate to ask, but could you see if Dark remembers any of it? It's nearly alchemic level code."
Daisuke pulled a face, and nodded. Kosuke patted him on the shoulder and left him staring gloomily at the book.
Daisuke read for a while, making notes for his father as Dark pulled up memories. :Hey,: he said, suddenly, :The character for his name is nearly the same as Hiwatari-kun's.:
::Yeah, Hiwatari takes after him. Wouldn't call him /nice/, but a lot less insane than usual.::
:Was he the one you --: began Daisuke uneasily.
::No, that was his son Reiichi. Hiwatari's like him, too.:: Dark chuckled. ::I thought Dainosuke was going to die when I pulled that one.::
:I thought Mom said Reiji-san died young?:
::Mmm... he was about twenty, I think.::
:But he had a son?:
::The short version is that he married at sixteen, and Reiichi was born when he was eighteen.::
:....And the long version?:
::She was a real taking little thing,:: said Dark, wistfully. ::Hair like ink. Usually she was quiet and all but when she got this look in her eye, Daiichi and Reiji jumped before she opened her mouth.::
:Er. 'DAIICHI and Reiji'?:
::Man, were we gone over her. She had the prettiest eyes. Hiwatari kind of favors her, too, come to think of it.::
:They liked the same girl.:
:But she married Reiji-san?:
:Did, she, er...: began Daisuke again.
::Pfft. Even money on her against Krad, any day.::
::Hey, I never said anything against their TASTE, did I?::
Some days it wasn't worth getting out of bed, even for the chance of seeing Niwa and possibly locking a door behind him.
Satoshi stared at the discreet black car waiting for him and sighed. He'd woken up with a headache -- and now this.
"Hello, sir," said his father's driver, bowing. "Your father thought it would be nice to have breakfast before you went to school."
Satoshi didn't even bother dignifying that with an answer. He simply got in the car and allowed the door to be shut behind him. Satoshi turned his head and watched the city through the expensively tinted windows. Everything seemed distant through the grey glass. The city, he thought, couldn't see him through the windows.
The car slid silently up to his father's mansion, and he got out of the car.
"You can keep your bag in the car, sir," said the driver. A command disguised as a suggestion, he thought.
"No," he said. "I'll keep it with me."
The door swung open as he climbed the steps, and an older man bowed as he held it open. "Hello, sir," he murmured. "Shall I take your bag?"
Satoshi tightened his grip on it. "No, thank you," he said tightly.
"As you wish, sir," said the butler -- what was his name? Satoshi could never remember. "Your father is in the breakfast room."
The mansion was about twenty years old and full of exciting sweeping angles that set Satoshi's teeth on edge. The architect had some sort of grudge against straight lines or even symmetry, and none of the angles quite matched. Apparently they were to give a thrilling feel of modernity to the house, but mostly they made Satoshi seasick.
He followed the butler's dignified back through the halls, trying to ignore the things on the walls. His adoptive father had a taste for modern work, which Satoshi did not share. He looked at a splot of red on a green canvas and tried not to wonder how much his father had spent on it.
Niwa had done a picture in art class once, of a swing under a tree. It was an old-fashioned sort of swing, the type that was just a board with two holes drilled in it for ropes, and the ropes lashed around a limb of the tree. Niwa usually worked in acrylics or oils but he'd used watercolors for that picture. Satoshi spent the entire time he was supposed to be working on his own painting just looking at it.
...whereas, he thought, vaguely chopped-looking nudes in acid green just gave him a headache.
"This way, sir," murmured the butler.
It wouldn't be any good to dawdle. The butler opened the door with a bow, and Satoshi braced himself and walked in.
The breakfast room was large, and white, and filled with natural light from the wall that faced the garden. That wall was fitted French windows. The light did nothing to soften the angles of the room, which reminded Satoshi of an operating theatre.
"Satoshi!" said his father, getting up and embracing him for the benefit of the butler. He smelled of expensive cologne, and it made Satoshi's headache worse. He stood stiffly until he was released.
In the back of his mind, Krad woke a little, like something old and vicious smelling an intruder. Krad loathed his father, not that Satoshi could blame him.
"So cold," complained his father, smiling lightly. "It's been so long since we've seen each other, too."
Whose fault was that? thought Satoshi. "Yes, Father," he said.
"Sit down, eat," said his father, waving at the table. "That will be all, Hudson."
Hudson bowed and left.
"He didn't take your bag?" said Satoshi's father, as Satoshi sat, reluctantly, and looked at the food spread over his table. Satoshi didn't like breakfast on his good days, and the sight of all the things on the table turned his stomach today. He chose a piece of toast and poured himself a cup of coffee. His father probably would have poured it with cream and sugar and he would have had to drink it without complaining.
"He offered," he said, "but I'd rather keep it, sir."
"That's rude, you know," said his father with deceptive mildness. "It makes it seem like you can't wait to get out of here."
Satoshi looked at him for a long minute. "My apologies, sir."
His father chose not to notice that Satoshi didn't say what he was apologizing for. "You should eat more than toast, Satoshi. It's not healthy to skip breakfast."
"I'm not hungry, sir," said Satoshi.
"Surely you could force down some bacon. You're still a growing boy, you know."
Satoshi deliberately picked up one piece of bacon and nibbled at it slowly. "May I ask why you wanted to see me, sir?"
"I just wanted to see your face," said his father, smiling. "It's been so long. And we've both been busy."
Satoshi finished the bacon and waited. The French doors were open, but he couldn't hear any birds in the garden.
"But," said his father, "now that I've had the pleasure of seeing you, I must admit to wondering how the Dark operation is going."
Great, sir, he thought. Absolutely on track, if by 'on track' you mean 'I know who Dark is and can't do a damn thing about it except fight him like an idiot bound by generations of fate. Also, I licked ice cream off his other personality's hand yesterday. That was great, except for the part where I had to run away before my other personality could take over and kill him.' "As well as can be expected, sir."
"Still no headway?"
"Some," said Satoshi carefully. "I have some reports in my bag, if you'd like to see them. There's a notice for tonight."
"No, I believe I have copies," said his father. "Although it's been nearly a year since he appeared, hasn't it? One would expect more ... progress."
Krad was definitely awake now, his presence sharp and cold in the back of Satoshi's mind. /Scum./
He's my legal guardian, Satoshi replied. His head hurt, a dull throbbing ache in his temples.
/He's still scum./
Satoshi couldn't pinch the bridge of his nose or rub his forehead or neck, as much as he wanted to. "It's a very delicate task, sir."
His father lifted his eyebrow. "Is that so?"
"Yes, sir," said Satoshi, looking back at him. They stared at each other for a long minute, until finally his father picked up his coffee cup and took a deliberate sip. Satoshi didn't relax.
"I must say, I thought that you would be quicker about it," said his father.
"I'm very sorry, sir," said Satoshi, steadily.
There was another long silence while Satoshi tried to ignore Krad's rising anger, cold and hard, in his mind. "Well," said his father, "I don't mind you amusing yourself with him."
Satoshi held his tongue.
"But perhaps you could get serious soon," said his father, lightly. "People are starting to wonder, you know."
"Is that so, sir?"
His father got up and walked around the table, and laid a heavy hand on his shoulder. "You're a very talented young man. A credit to the Hiwatari family. People expect great things from you."
Satoshi felt weighted down, trapped. "Yes, sir."
"I'm glad you understand me," said his father, smiling kindly at him.
Daisuke dropped into his seat at the last second, turned around to check Hiwatari-kun's place (and when had THAT become part of his routine?) and was slightly relieved to see that Hiwatari-kun was there and bent over his notebook. Hiwatari-kun actually looked a little pale, but then, as Dark would say, Hiwatari-kun always looked a little pale, like a zombie.
He tried to turn his attention back to his books, but Hiwatari-kun was like a magnet that kept dragging his eyes to him. Hiwatari-kun ... was not well, he thought, worriedly, studying him.
Hiwatari-kun turned around, as if he had felt Daisuke's stare. He stared back at Daisuke for a long, long minute, and then deliberately turned and ignored him.
Well, of course Hiwatari-kun had -- he stopped that line of thought firmly, because otherwise he was going to turn bright red again and Dark would never let him hear the last of it -- and maybe he was feeling a little awkward. But ...
Something was wrong, he thought.
It was a typical heist, as Dark heists went -- about five hundred screaming females fantasizing about Dark and producing a nearly visible cloud of estrogen, Saehara in a climbing harness up in a tree with a camera, his father cursing a blue streak and directing an insanely complicated plan of barriers and traps, Saga Keiji filming anything he could get within his lens (Dark had a theory that Saga was hoping against hope to prove Daisuke was Dark, get it on film and then use it as blackmail when Daisuke had left the puppy stage and entered the 'looks like his father, only BETTER' one to make him sign on with his agency. Daisuke's opinion of this theory ranged from horror to unprintable) and news cameras everywhere.
And, of course, Dark flying in, grabbing the target, and laughing like a lunatic at the police officers trying to ambush him, and Satoshi calmly bypassing the traps (even the ones he didn't know about) and waiting for him. Thence to the usual exchange of compliments and best wishes for an eternity spent in a warm climate, followed by Dark making his escape while blowing kisses to his fans.
And the aftermath. Long hours of reports and owners screaming and prodding the females searching hopefully for black feathers (Satoshi refused to think why they wanted the feathers. There were some things that it was just better not to ask about) home. The worst of it was the reports, though. Long, tedious forms to fill out three times and stamp everywhere, written reports about who was there and how Dark had taken the damn thing (Saehara the Elder had once threatened to write 'he came in on a fucking huge set of wings', but that was after five solid hours of paperwork) and what had gone wrong and why they thought it had gone wrong and how much the owners would have to pay for new windows, since Dark seemed to think that glass cuts were something that happened to other people.
Satoshi took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Every time he closed his eyes he saw paperwork dancing gleeful polkas in front of his eyelids. "I'm taking a break," he said to nobody in particular.
Saehara the Elder grunted around his cigarette. Satoshi left the room and walked outside.
Satoshi closed the station door behind him and took a breath of blessedly smoke-free air. He didn't mind fresh cigarette smoke -- outside, at a distance, from someone who understood the basic courtesy of standing downwind -- but after the first two hours of everybody doing paperwork in the office the air was tinged grey, and smelt of burned coffee, half-stubbed cigarette butts and takeout food begining to develop complex civilizations in their styrofoam containers. Probably inventing writing, by the smell of some of it. Or the wheel. The air outside was crisp, and if not exactly clean, at least not stale. Satoshi closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
"Paperwork's a bitch, huh," said a voice from the alley.
Satoshi opened his eyes. "Yes, it is. The first thing I'm going to do if I ever catch you is make you fill out all the forms for your last heist."
"Wouldn't that fall under Cruel and Unusual?"
"We're in Japan. Stop watching American crime shows."
"I like that CSI one," said Dark, thoughtfully. "Only hardly any of the criminals seem to be able to plan. Pretty damn stupid of them."
"It's called the triumph of justice," said Satoshi. "You know, the thieves and murderers go to jail, the police close the case, the citizens breathe a sigh of relief?"
"Huh," said Dark. "It's not justice if the bad guys are just stupid."
Satoshi decided not to pursue Dark's idea of justice and right, or his taste in TV. He linked his fingers and stretched out his arms, trying to work out the kinks in his back. "What are you doing here, Dark?"
Dark melted out of the alley, a shadow from the shadows. "Here." He tossed something.
Satoshi caught it. "Fire Heart Coffee?"
"It's red. And sweet. And warm. I thought you'd like it."
Satoshi stared at him. "I'm surprised it's not espresso."
"What, you like dark things?"
"I didn't think so."
Satoshi studied the can's seal. "Is it drugged?"
"Nope, just got it out of the machine. I even PAID for it."
Satoshi snorted, but opened the can and took a drink. "And?"
"And what?" Dark somehow managed to look nearly innocent.
"You'll understand if I don't believe you got me a drink and came here to give it to me just because you like me so much," said Satoshi, dryly.
Dark shrugged. "You are the closest thing to a human being the Hikari family's ever spawned."
"Try again," suggested Satoshi.
"Maybe I wanted to talk to you."
Satoshi's eyebrow shot up. "About what?"
"About things you like. And things you want but can't have."
Satoshi stilled. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, you do," said Dark. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."
"Even if I did -- and I don't -- I don't see how what I like is any business of yours."
"No?" said Dark, his voice soft and almost lazy. Satoshi didn't quite stiffen, but he shifted, his eyes narrowing alertly. "Let's try it this way. You've got good taste, Mr Commander, Sir. You only want the best. You only notice the best."
"Thank you," said Satoshi, in a tone that meant exactly the opposite.
"I don't like it when people want what's mine, Hiwatari."
"Ah," said Satoshi, irony dripping from his words, "I can't have what you've rightfully stolen?"
"No, you can't," said Dark. "What's mine is mine. And what's mine stays mine." A deliberate pause. "Especially works of ... art."
"I am not a thief."
"You aren't?" Dark's eyebrow arched up.
"Unlike you," said Satoshi, an edge of anger creeping into his voice, "I don't feel the need to take any glittery object I see."
"I wouldn't call it glittery," said Dark, thoughtfully. "Beautiful. Brilliant. Valuable. But not glittery."
Satoshi put the can on the ground and straightened with elaborate unconcern. "If all you want to do is talk nonsense, I'm afraid I've got better things to do with my time."
"I'm not talking nonsense," said Dark, his voice suddenly dangerous. "I'm talking about how I'm a real selfish bastard, Hiwatari, and the way I protect what's mine. I'm talking about something you want. Something precious."
"I don't know why you feel the need to try to threaten me," said Satoshi. "I don't want anything that belongs to you."
Dark just looked at him, like something feral waiting patiently for the chance to strike.
Satoshi sighed. "Some things are too precious to own. Some things are too beautiful to take. You know that as well as I do."
"But they can be given," said Dark. "You can still want them." His wings flared, darker splashes of night against the star-filled sky, and he rose into the air. "I'm going to warn you once, Hiwatari, and only because you deserve it. If something you want comes into your hands, it had better be because it chose to be there. And if you tarnish it, or break it..."
"I do not harm beautiful things," said Satoshi, tightly. "If I'm afraid I'll hurt it, I don't touch it."
"Keep it that way." Dark's wings gave a beat and he rose higher in the air. "You might as well drink the rest of that," he called as he flew away, an edge of mockery in his voice. "It's a shame to deny yourself everything you like."
There was a long, thoughtful silence inside the place where Daisuke stayed while Dark was in control. :Dark?: said Daisuke, finally.
:...what was that about?:
Dark chuckled, catching an updraft and sailing on it, just for the feeling of the wind carrying him. ::Art.::
A suspicious pause. :What SORT of art?:
Dark laughed out loud and swooped down toward the city. ::Amber, Daisuke. The prettiest damn piece of amber you ever saw.::