Shinichi would have liked to have said he was surprised by his surprise party. Only he wasn’t. At all. He also wasn’t surprised by the fact that Ran had organized the whole thing, and his parents hadn’t bothered to show up. Because as far as deductions go, it was child’s play. It wasn’t even a surprise that it was planned for the day before his 16th birthday. Because Ran wouldn’t dream of planning a party during the school week and she wouldn’t wait until the weekend after on the off chance it would seem like she’d forgotten. And 16th birthdays… they were special.
Sixteenth birthdays were when Bridges formed. It was hard to explain exactly what they were since only 0.5% of the population got them. Or maybe it was that only 0.5% of the population recognized them for what they were. A connection so strong it could defy the laws of physics to bridge the distance between two people. At least that was the description Shinichi had finally settled on.
For his parent’s the Bridge was books. Anytime his mother opened a book, the words of his father’s novels would appear on the page; whatever Yusaku had written most recently covering the actual words on the page. And Yukiko’s words, her reviews, her thoughts, her comments, would appear at the tops of Yusaku’s journals. Or, on occasion, written atop of his works in angry red letters.
Other’s reported the Bridge to be hearing their bridgemate’s voice in their head. Other’s still, shared each other’s physical pain. Some had even reported tasting each other’s food in their mouths. And Shinichi didn’t believe a word of it.
“God, Ran, I hope you don’t have to listen to him even when he’s not around.”
Shinichi rolled his eyes at Sonoko. She was Ran’s best friend, but after knowing her for almost a decade, he still didn’t like her. “Bridges aren’t real.”
“See?” Sonoko questioned as she looked pleadingly at Ran. “I know you two are practically married already, but 24 hours a day of that is bound to be annoying.”
“Sonoko!” Ran complained, not really sounding like she meant it. “He’s not that bad.”
It was not the first time they’d had the conversation. Or the 10th. Or the 100th. But it was the 6th and hopefully last of the night. If only Shinichi could get the girls to actually leave. “Good night.” He waved as they finally started down the front walkway.
Ran paused for a moment before spinning on her heel to face Shinichi again. “You’re not going back to those cases we pulled you away from are you?” It sounded more like an accusation than a question.
“Just for an hour or so.” Shinichi defended. He had really hoped she’d forgotten about that. Most of the case files on his desk were cold cases that he’d picked up keep himself busy, but the file on top was for an active investigation that had the police inspectors stumped.
Ran gave him the look. The one that said ‘you are too old to be this irresponsible’. “Only an hour.”
“I promise.” Shinichi answered as Ran cocked an eyebrow. She clearly didn’t believe him. And beside her, Sonoko seemed to be having a hard time containing her laughter.
Shinichi smiled reassuringly as he shut the door before Ran could decide to come back and lecture him to sleep. He hadn’t needed the surprise party. And he didn’t need Ran trying to mother him in place of his absent parents. Besides if he really put his mind to it, the case might only take him another hour.
Well, that had been wishful thinking. The clock read 6:04am when Shinichi finally pushed the contents of the file back into their envelope. Explaining the crime to the police had taken almost as long as solving it. Next time Shinichi would just wait for Inspector Megure to come in for the day instead of talking to whichever inspector was working the night shift. Rather, whichever inspector was on the Superintendent General’s bad side that week. That had to be why Inspector Shikatsuno was working the night shift.
Shinichi shook his head in attempt to clear the thought from his mind. The time meant he had two options: get 38 minutes of sleep or take a shower. The shower won out as he glanced in a mirror. He could not go to school like that. Ran would know he’d stayed up all night. And she wouldn’t say anything about it. She’d just look at him with disappointment written across her face. Then Sonoko would accuse him of staying up all night and open the floor for Ran to make comments about how he needed to take better care of himself.
Was that really what married couples were like? Shinichi wasn’t sure. He couldn’t exactly use his parents as an example. He was relatively certain they didn’t qualify as normal. Either way, he was wasting time thinking when he should be stripping out of yesterday’s clothes and stepping into the shower.
Nearly an hour later, Shinichi blinked unhappily at his reflection as steam clung to the corners of the bathroom mirror. It seemed no matter what he tried his hair was just going to misbehave. He had accepted years ago that he had an unusually resilient cow lick, but this was ridiculous. Why did his hair look like it hadn’t been brushed in days when he’d spent the last 30 minutes trying to tame it?
Giving up he pulled his button down shirt over his shoulders and set to work actually getting ready for school; all the while cursing himself for not going to the grocery store the day before. Not because he needed groceries, though Ran might disagree, but because he didn’t have any coffee. Not even the instant kind. And he simply did not do mornings without coffee. Especially when he knew everyone would be asking him if he’d formed a Bridge.
The answer of course was no. The odds were terrible to begin with, if you believed they were real in the first place, and somehow everyone forgot that it was exceedingly rare for the Bridged to be born on the same day. One member of the pair was always stuck waiting for the other’s birthday. Again, if you believed in Bridges in the first place.
“Shinichi!” Ran called through the front door. “Let’s go! We’re going to be late.”
“Coming!” He called back as he felt heat rising to his cheeks. There was no way she was going to believe he actually slept last night.
Kaito was BORED. Spelled in all capital letters. In bold font. He did not need to sit through Physics 101. He’d been a good sport early on, but the closer they got to the end of the semester the less he cared. He was too bored to even prank the class. For the first couple of months he’d found it entertaining, but the teacher had eventually figured out that each prank showed a (semi)practical application of whatever formula they were learning. It took all the magic out of Kaito’s magic tricks.
He sighed, leaning his head on his palm as he stared out the window. At least his reflection looked just as bored as he did...
Kaito jolted backwards, nearly falling out of his chair.
His reflection didn’t move a millimeter. It just sat there, resting its chin on the wrong hand. Wearing a school uniform Kaito didn’t recognize. Its neatly combed hair a shade too dark and its eyes 3 shades too blue.
“Bakaito!” Aoko growled from just behind him.
Kaito just pointed at the boy in the glass. Whoever had decided to prank him had done an excellent job.
“Kuroba-san?” The teacher questioned as he walked down the aisle towards Kaito.
“So what physics principle is this supposed to be teaching?” Kaito asked, hoping his tone was actually nonchalant. It was bad enough he’d nearly fallen out of his chair. He didn’t need the mystery prankster thinking they’d actually shaken him.
The teacher looked towards the window. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about Kuroba-san. Are you feeling alright?”
“Him.” Kaito emphasized as he shook his hand and pointed.
“You’re reflection?” Aoko asked disbelievingly behind him. “Aoko thinks this is a dumb prank even by your standard Bakaito.”
Why was Kaito the only one who thought it was odd that his reflection wasn’t actually his reflection? He shifted his feet underneath him and stood in a single motion, leaning forward to inspect the image in the glass.
The boy in the glass didn’t move.
So it was just a hologram or something. Something static. Kaito could deal with that. He dropped back into his seat.
“May we get back on track now Kuroba-san?” The teacher asked as he shifted his gaze between Kaito and the window.
Kaito felt his poker face clicking into place. So what if there was a projection on the window? “Sorry, Sensei, please continue.” At least Kaito could keep himself entertained for the rest of the class by figuring out how the trick was done.
Or the boy in the glass could sit up straight and stare at him with piercing blue eyes.
Kaito suspected this was what it felt like to be a bug under a magnifying glass.
“Plectrodera scalator.” Shinichi answered confidently as he inspected the picture of a black and white beetle that was being projected at the front of the classroom. He knew enough to teach the unit on entomology, so he really wasn’t sure why the teacher had bothered to call on him.
“Wrong, Kudo-kun. It’s a Cottonwood Borer Beetle.” The teacher corrected him. “Try to pay attention.”
“Like I said. It’s a Plectrodera scalator.”
“No. It’s a Cottonwood Borer Beetle.”
There were moments Shinichi wished he’d talked his parents into letting him take the college entrance exams early. This was one of them. “The scientific name for the Cottonwood Borer Beetle is Plectrodera scalator, Sensei.”
The teacher’s jaw worked silently. And for a moment Shinichi was concerned he’d broken her. She wouldn’t be the first substitute teacher to resign after putting up with him for two days. She rallied though, clicking to the next image on the projector. “And what about this one?”
“By which you mean the Japanese Beetle, correct?” Shinichi inclined his head as if to ask if the teacher was serious. “Of course you did.”
After that the substitute moved on to the next inattentive student in the room and Shinichi went back to mulling over the murder of one Hiruma-san and her dog Jasuparu.
Kaito wasn’t sure how to feel about the boy in the glass resuming his previous posture. But watching him get up from his desk at the end of class wasn’t exactly reassuring. Especially when Aoko decided to clamp her hand down on Kaito’s shoulder without warning. And he would swear he didn’t actually squawk, but it was certainly a close call. “What, Ahouko?”
“What has Kaito been staring at?” She asked earnestly. Almost as if she couldn’t see the boy in the glass walking briskly off to wherever it was he was going without ever leaving the window frame.
“Him. Obviously.” Kaito answered.
“But Aoko only sees her and Kaito’s reflection.”
That didn’t make sense... Surely Aoko wasn’t in on the prank… “You don’t see him?”
“The guy in the window, with the cowlick and blue uniform.”
Aoko looked confused for a moment before her eyes almost doubled in size. Then the sounds that tumbled from her lips were all but unidentifiable.
“Aoko was worried that Kaito would be alone forever.”
“Hey! Why would you…”
“But Bakaito is Bridged! Aoko is so happy for you!”
Wait. What? Kaito’s brain refused to process Aoko’s words. She thought he was Bridged? She thought the boy in the glass was Kaito’s destined partner? But Kaito had been 16 for nearly a year. The Bridged were almost always born within a few months of each other. And what were the odds that Kaito’s partner would look so much like him? Astronomically bad. More than that, Kaito had researched every type of bridge ever reported. Seeing your partner in the mirror was not one of them. There had been one about books that was exclusive to some famous author, but other than that there were really only a couple dozen types of bridges and they all had at least 50 reported cases.
“I’m not Bridged.” Kaito announced with a confidence he didn’t feel. Didn’t want to feel. Because being Bridged was something he’d always kind of hoped for. But if this was his Bridge... It was supposed to be with Aoko.
Shinichi walked through the bathroom door and straight to the sink to rinse off his face. He couldn’t quite place the feeling that had been plaguing him since just after class had started, but it felt almost as if he was being watched. That might even be accurate. He’d caught more than a few interested glances in his direction. Not that he could blame them. Teenagers were for the most part romantics, happy to believe in Bridges.
Keeping his eyes closed, Shinichi counted to 10 as rivulets of water ran down his face. Just because he didn’t sleep last night didn’t mean he could start taking his exhaustion out on his classmates. Or the substitute teacher. Even if it was tempting. It was a miracle Ran and Sonoko hadn’t already deduced his sleepless status with his bird’s nest of hair. Which was still…
Shinichi stopped breathing. That wasn’t him. The eyes that looked back at him from the mirror weren’t his. The curve of the jaw, the bridge of the nose, the length of the earlobes, none of them were right. That wasn’t his reflection. But the boy the next sink over was reflected perfectly in the same mirror.
Also, Shinichi was 99.99% certain that Ran wasn’t standing behind him with her hand on his shoulder.
The image of Ran vanished as she released his almost reflection’s shoulder. Then it reappeared a moment later as she hugged his almost reflection so hard that it looked like it was having trouble breathing. Only she wasn’t Ran either. It was close. The differences all existed in the most minor of details. But the boy wasn’t Shinichi and the girl wasn’t Ran.
Shinichi swallowed harshly. There were only so many conclusions he could draw with the available information. For instance, Bridges were real. And he had one.
So what do you think? You guys like the basic premise?
Kaito was going to be sick. Horribly, violently sick. He scrambled to reach the toilet and throw open the lid before he lost the contents of his stomach all over Aoko’s bathroom floor.
“Aoko doesn’t believe you.” The girl accused.
“Really, Aoko, I’m fine.” Kaito insisted, swallowing back bile as it tried to climb his throat. He rested his cheek against the cold porcelain of the toilet seat as he stared down at the swirling water in the bowl. The water shouldn’t have bothered him. It shouldn’t have meant more to him now than it did yesterday. The worst thing about it should have been the dead eyed finny monstrosities that sometimes lurked in its deeps. Only there were no finny things lurking in Aoko’s toilet. There was only a reflection.
As the water stilled, the image came back into focus. And there was Kaito’s bridgemate, kneeling over another man’s body, blood seeping through his fingers as he held a knife steady the other man’s chest.
Kaito flushed the toilet again, obscuring the image from view. He’d always assumed he’d had Lady Luck’s favor. He’d been wrong.
“You are going to bleed to death if you dislodge the knife.” Shinichi repeated. It didn’t matter though, the man beneath him wasn’t listening. And if he continued to struggle like that he was only going to make the wound worse. Taking the knife out of his abdomen before reaching a hospital would almost certainly mean the man’s death. So of course, the man was hell bent on doing exactly that.
The perpetrator on the other hand, was kneeling passively at Ran’s feet with his fingers laced together over his head. It was one of the strangest things Shinichi had ever seen. People who stabbed other people in broad daylight, didn’t just surrender and wait patiently for the police to arrive. They fought back. Or at least ranted and continued to brandish their knives.
Sirens sounded in the background, but they were still too far away for Shinichi’s liking, and who knew if they belonged to the ambulance headed their way. Shinichi shifted his body weight slightly, putting as much pressure as possible on the chest wound to reduce the blood loss. The jacket he was using as a makeshift wound dressing had already absorbed more blood than the man could really afford to lose.
“Shinichi?” Ran questioned without taking her eyes off the criminal kneeling before her.
“He’s gone.” Shinichi answered as he rose to his feet.
“Good.” Ran flinched back from the murderer as the word tumbled from his mouth. Shinichi just stared. The man’s Japanese was heavily accented, he obviously wasn’t a native speaker, but he had chosen to speak in Japanese anyways. It was almost as if he’d made an effort to insure that any onlookers understood him.
“Why?” Shinichi questioned as he took a step closer to the murderer.
The man rolled his eyes up to look at Shinichi and Ran. “He deserved it.”
That was the last thing he said before the police cars arrived, trailed by the ambulance Shinichi had been hoping for minutes earlier. The murderer’s rights were read, the crime scene photographed, witness statements taken, and Shinichi and Ran got a ride to the police station while the body was delivered to the morgue.
The murderer himself was roughly shoved into the back of a separate police cruiser, his hands bound behind his back in a pair of standard issue handcuffs.
It was an odd case. Shinichi knew who the murderer was. And the crime itself hadn’t been that complicated. But when the murderer didn’t have a motive, it left the police scratching their heads, questioning if they were missing something vital. Even a crime as straightforward as a stabbing in broad daylight required motive. Or for the perpetrator to be out of his mind. And Noah Schmidt, identified by his passport, wasn’t out of his mind.
Shinichi flipped on the light beside his desk and collapsed into his chair. There had to be a reason that Schmidt would murder Moritaka Kenji. People simply didn’t go to the trouble of premeditating the murder of someone they had never met; had no reason to ever meet.
Dumping the crime scene photos on his desk, Shinichi tried to sort through the timeline once again. There had to be something he was missing. That everyone was missing.
Schmidt arrived by commercial airline from Munich, Germany at 11:53 am. Then he proceeded to hail a taxi and go directly to the victim’s home. His next move was to slash the tires of the victim’s bike, ignoring all of the other bicycles in the apartment complex’s communal bike rack. He then waited for Moritaka to leave his apartment at 4:10pm as per his usual schedule. Finding his bike damaged, Moritaka then made a call to his boss, informing him of the situation and that he would be late to arrive at the convenience store where he worked as the night shift manager. Schmidt struck right afterwards according to witness reports.
Being one of the witnesses, Shinichi could corroborate most of the reports, though there was one woman, Tanaka Riza, who claimed that the words Schmidt had muttered before the stabbing translated to ‘You never deserved her.’
The police had all but written off her comment after learning that she had flunked out of her German language program in college. But Shinichi still found it worth investigating. So, on his way out the door he had asked for any police reports relating to Moritaka’s wife, Sakura. They didn’t paint a pretty picture.
The neighbors had reported numerous domestic disturbances over the 4 years the Moritaka’s had been married, but Sakura had always explained the incidents away, claiming clumsiness as the cause of the injuries she sustained. And the reason she hadn’t shown up to identify her husband’s body was even more troubling. Sakura had spent the last 3 days in intensive care, because, according to her, she had fallen down the stairs. And the reason she was admitted as a Jane Doe instead of under her real name was because her medical insurance wouldn’t pay for any more emergency room trips in the current calendar year.
When Shinichi had asked if she knew Schmidt, Sakura had apologized profusely for not recognizing the name, but seemed genuinely unfamiliar with the man who had stabbed her husband to death.
Honestly, Shinichi would never understand how someone could kill another human being, but he would never understand what had happened to Sakura either. How a woman who had once had such a bright future could be convinced that she deserved the kind of abuse she’d been subjected to. Moritaka didn’t deserve to die, but he didn’t deserve to walk the streets as a free man either.
“Ano…” Sakura had begun hesitantly as Shinichi had opened the door to leave. She looked surprised when he turned to face her again. “Yes, Moritaka-san?”
“I don’t like how quiet he’s been. I’m worried about him.”
Shinichi had to swallow the lump in his throat before he could speak again. Had she not understood? “Moritaka-san, your husband…”
“Not my husband. Noha.”
Shinichi had left after that, promising to look into the wellbeing of Noha, all the while thinking the man should have been looking out for Sakura’s wellbeing instead. Stairs didn’t leave hand print shaped bruises on people necks, other people did.
Shinichi froze mid-pen stroke, the question mark he had been writing still only half formed. A single sentence of his notes was written in blocky roman characters. ‘Who is Noah?’
Kaito grumbled into his pillow. He did not want to get out of bed. At all. Ever again. For any reason. But instead of drifting off into a dreamless slumber like he wanted, his traitorous mind kept replaying the bloody scene his bridgemate had stared in. Over and over again. In perfect detail. And for the first time, Kaito realized his eidetic memory might be more of a curse than a blessing. Just like bridgemates…
A gust of wind ruffled the curtains, parting them just enough to let a sliver of moonlight into the near complete darkness of Kaito’s room. He’d closed them when he’d gotten back from Aoko’s house to ward off stray reflections, but in a house with no air conditioning, he’d finally given in and opened the window sometime around midnight. It wasn’t like he could hide from his reflection forever. And the moonlight wasn’t so bad, the wavering light seeming to bring the portrait on the opposite wall to life. The portrait of Kuroba Toichi, Kaito’s father and the greatest magician the world had ever known.
The curtains fluttered again, the glass front of the picture frame reflecting back an image of Kaito’s bridgemate. The blue eyed boy was on the move again, walking briskly off to another unknown location, but judging by the white dress shirt and slacks that he was wearing, the police hadn’t caught up to him yet. Kaito had hoped that they had, even if it meant looking at an orange jumpsuit in the mirror for the rest of his life.
Another sliver of moonlight and another flash of his bridgemate had Kaito on his feet. He was taking the glass panel out of the picture frame. Immediately. He was never going to see his bridgemate’s image overlaid over his father’s ever again. Kaito’s fingertips wrapped around the frame, ready to lift it from its mounting hardware. If it had mounting hardware… the task was going to be a whole lot harder if his mother had actually cemented the frame to the wall.
Which… wouldn’t be entirely out of character…
Deft fingers traced the frame, feeling for anything that might allow the magician to remove the glass panel from the front. Because there had to be a way. Otherwise he’d be breaking the glass and removing it from the frame one shard at a time.
Suddenly Kaito was pitching forward, only his fast reflexes keeping his face from meeting the floor as he fell through the wall. Because leave it to his mother to decide it was perfectly acceptable to use a picture frame instead of drywall when patching a hole…
Or not. Using a portrait actually made a lot more sense once you realized it was the entrance to a secret lair. Though, there was the small question of, why there was a secret lair.
Kaito turned to his right as a jukebox spun to life, his father’s voice pouring from the speakers, telling the tale of a woman in black and a man in white. The real story of Phantom Lady and Kaitou KID, two of the greatest phantom thieves of all time, and the only parents Kaito had ever known. The ending though… was something Kaito wished he could un-hear.
“Now I must apologize Kaito. For what I’ve done. Because, if you are listening to this message, the crows have won. And I’ve left you all alone. All of the sake of Pandora.”
“Pandora?” Kaito questioned aloud as the jukebox returned the record to its proper place.
No one answered. But they didn’t need to. It was all laid out clearly in his father’s notes. A gem that grants immortal life. A doublet that only reveals itself in the light of the full moon. A prize his father gave his life for willingly and his mother still searched for to this day.
A prize that Kaito would help her find. If only to keep it from the crows.
It was close to 2am by the time Shinichi had pled his case to the inspector on duty and actually been permitted to speak to Noah Schmidt.
“She’s worried about you.”
Schmidt lifted his head to look at Shinichi for the first time since he’d entered the room.
“She says that she doesn’t like how quiet you’ve been.” Shinichi paused, giving Schmidt a chance to talk if he wanted to. “You even heard her say it through your Bridge. But I’m guessing the reason you haven’t said anything back, is because you don’t feel worthy of her anymore.”
The look Shinichi received in response was half angry and half defeated. He pushed a note pad and pencil across the table. “She only hears your voice, right?”
Schmidt nodded, accepting the pencil with only minor hesitation. His handwriting was terrible, sloppy hiragana with no kanji in sight. She deserves better than a criminal for a bridgemate.
“I don’t approve of what you did. But I do understand why you did it.”
Schmidt flashed a sad smile.
“It’s cowardly though.”
Schmidt’s eyes flew open. What?!
“You’d rather pretend you’re dead than have to admit to your bridgemate that you killed the man that nearly killed her three day ago.”
“I didn’t mean to kill him.” Schmit’s voice was quiet. “But when I saw him… you should have heard her screaming, begging him to forgive her for things that shouldn’t need forgiveness. And then, when I saw him, I just snapped. I came here to rescue her…” Sobs racked Schmidt’s body as words tumbled from his mouth, barely comprehensible and filled with so much regret it was practically palpable. “But he just laughed at me when I demanded he tell me where she was. I wanted to save her. But couldn’t even do that right.”
It wasn’t the first time Shinichi had felt pity for a murderer. But it was the first time he’d wondered if maybe he would have done the same thing in their shoes. But no. He would have never stood by and let his bridgemate be abused for so long. Still… “It’s not too late.”
“Be the bridgemate she always deserved. Build her up so she can stand on her own.”
Schmidt looked up with wet eyes. “How do I do that?”
“Tell her all the things she needs to hear.”
Shinichi didn’t hear Schmidt’s response, a feeling of guilt twisting painfully in his gut as he moved for the door. He’d been ignoring his own advice. His own bridgemate. Trying to come to terms with his own thoughts and feelings first. But that was the wrong approach. They were in this together.
Shinichi grabbed a sticky note and wrote the first thing that came to mind, slapping it across his left breast pocket.
I can’t wait to meet you.
As Kaito turned to wish his father’s image good night, his bridgemate came back into view. The blue eyed boy was asleep, folded over on a large desk with his hand still resting on a pile of papers, the pen seeming to have fallen from his grasp when he lost consciousness.
Beyond the surge of anger at seeing his bridgemate again, something about the pile of papers bothered Kaito. They seemed oddly familiar. He leaned in a little closer, willing his eyes to focus on the wavering image.
Kaito bolted for the bathroom, flipping on the lights as he skidded to a stop in front of the mirror. Aoko’s father was a police officer, and she had bribed (and sometimes coerced) Kaito to help deliver lunches and late diners on more than one occasion. That was why Kaito knew the form his bridgemate had been filling out. It was a police reporting document; one intended to capture the firsthand account of any officer directly involved in an incident.
‘While walking home from school, Mouri-san and I heard screaming. We followed the sound to the Mizuumi Apartment complex where Moritaka Kenji had been stabbed. The perpetrator, Noah Schmidt, put up no resistance as he was instructed to step away from the victim and assume a prone position. Mouri-san then stood guard over Schmidt while I attempted to preform first aid. Moritaka died before the arrival of the ambulance at approximately 4:25 pm. Cause of death was blood loss as a result of a single stab wound to the abdomen.’
On the up side, Kaito’s bridgemate wasn’t a murderer. On the downside, Kaito’s bridgemate was clearly headed for a career in law enforcement.
Though, to be fair, that wouldn’t be a downside if Kaito hadn’t just vowed to take up his father’s mantle and revive the Kaitou KID.
Lady Luck really was a cruel mistress.
I know, you all thought I forgot about this story. I didn’t. It’s just taking forever to write. Because I have the attention span of a guppy and too many Japanese flashcards to study.