“Excuse me! Excuse me, Kuroba-san! Could I get a few words?”
“Kuroba-san! Is it true that—”
“Exclusive footage with Kuroba Kaito! Kuroba-san, can you confirm that you and Inspector Kudou—”
Kaito—having recently fought his way through a throng of rabid reporters to reach Shinichi’s driveway, mercilessly attacked by the indifferent May rain to the point that he could feel hair gel washing out of his hair, dripping down his forehead, and stinging his eyes with unholy glee—was not in the mood to give a few words. He was in the mood to grab one of the many cameras pointed in his direction and bash someone in the face with it, preferably himself, until amnesia set in.
But years of media training (and the humiliation of turning into a trending Twitter tag populated by disapproving tweets) kept him from doing anything that could be feasibly printed in bold lettering on tabloid covers for years to come. With a great effort, Kaito turned to face the throng and attempted something that he hoped resembled a smile. (It probably resembled the expression a shark made before swallowing a school of fish, judging from the way the nearest reporter’s eyebrow twitched.)
“I actually don’t have any time to give a statement right now,” Kaito said around his gritted teeth in the sudden hush. His jaw creaked ominously. His dentist would probably have a few choice words to say to him. “I have an appointment that I can’t be late for.”
One of the braver reporters raised a hand. She wasn’t dressed for the weather; her skirt was dark with retained rainwater, and her dress shirt was translucent against her skin. It may have been intentional.
“Kuroba-san, is the appointment with Kudou Shinichi, with whom you’re rumored to be in a romantic relationship?” she asked, eyes wide and innocent beneath their twin curls of eyeliner. Kaito didn’t buy the act for a second.
“Actually, no,” he began, tucking his hand casually into his damp pants pocket amidst a flurry of camera flashes, “I’m meeting with Professor Agasa Hiroshi. That’s his house, over there.” He waved a hand vaguely in a direction he hoped was at least somewhat near where Shinichi’s occasionally mentioned professor friend lived, and when the reporters all turned reflexively to look, he dropped one of the spare smoke bombs he’d started keeping in his pockets and vaulted the front gate of Shinichi’s house as inconspicuously as he could before anyone noticed. The hem of his shirt got caught on one of the decorative spikes along the top of the gate, and it tore in two places when he yanked free with a too-strong pull, but it was worth it when he made it the rest of the way to Shinichi’s front door unmolested.
Shinichi must’ve been watching the whole thing from the comfort of his living room, because the door swung open before Kaito had a chance to knock. He leaned against the edge of the door, wearing a clingy cashmere sweater that made Kaito’s mouth water and dumb-looking cat-printed pajama pants that bypassed Kaito’s salivary glands completely and hit somewhere behind his ribcage. His hair was soft and tousled, as if he’d had his hands in it at some point, and he was easily the best thing Kaito seen all day, especially because he looked as if he were privately laughing at Kaito. Kaito scowled.
“Thanks for the assist, darling,” he said, stepping into the house when Shinichi moved aside. Shinichi made a sound that was half-snicker and half-laugh as he shut the door against the reviving sounds of the paparazzi.
“Hey, I have to fight my way through too, you know. They’ve been parked outside my house for days.” He hummed a little as he dug around for some slippers for Kaito.
Kaito felt guilt wash over him like an ice bath, chilling him even more than the rain had. It was his fault for describing Shinichi a little too accurately when an interviewer had asked him about his “ideal type.” Considering that they’d been spotted eating together suspiciously frequently and that Himari had little to no impulse control when it came to posting shots of them on her Instagram, it made sense that everyone had taken “intelligent—like murder-solving, Sherlock Holmes-levels of intelligent—also, like, snarky, with really nice cheekbones” to be an admission that they were dating. He hadn’t meant to throw Shinichi headfirst into the media frenzy, though.
Shinichi, with his near-telepathic knowledge of what Kaito was thinking, glanced up at him from where he was shuffling around slippers in his shoe cabinet. His hair was falling into his eyes, which made him huff and shove it out of his face before he looked back up at Kaito.
“None of this is your fault,” he pointed out with a scowl, jabbing a finger at Kaito for emphasis. “It would’ve come out sooner or later, considering how we don’t even try to hide it. And I’m not ashamed of myself or you. So stop making yourself a martyr.” He said it with such annoyed confidence that Kaito had to bite back a smile before he crouched down beside Shinichi. Shinichi eyed him like a distrustful cat.
“I love you, Shinichi,” Kaito murmured, feeling helpless yet somehow more than fine with it. Shinichi blinked, eyebrows lifting.
“What brought that on?” he asked, not unhappily. When Kaito just continued to beam at him, he let out a sigh of longsuffering, tossed a pair of slippers at Kaito, and stood up.
“I know, you idiot,” he replied with so much affection that Kaito almost felt dizzy hearing it. After a moment, Shinichi placed a hand on Kaito’s head, pushing back the wet clumps of hair that were clinging to Kaito’s temples. Kaito tilted his head back to meet Shinichi’s eyes; he found that Shinichi was smiling faintly, as if he couldn’t help himself, before he bent to kiss Kaito on the forehead, chaste and sweet. Against Kaito’s frigid skin, his lips felt like a brand. He stepped away after a moment to pad down the hallway, ignoring the way Kaito was staring moonily after him. “Now don’t move, or you’ll get the floor wet. I’ll get you a towel.”
“Anything for you, darling,” Kaito called after him, and was rewarded by a half-hearted glare as Shinichi disappeared into what Kaito thought was either a hall closet or one of the eight baths in Shinichi’s house. It was hard to tell with the Kudou mansion, whose designer appeared to have had a taste for the beautiful and antique but not necessarily the practical. Kaito eyed the stretch of wood-paneled hallway that ran beside the grand staircase, counting no less than six different doors before the corridor bent. And Shinichi had claimed the TV station was confusing, back when they’d first met.
Shinichi didn’t leave Kaito alone with the framed watercolor paintings and two-inch thick burgundy carpeting and slowly decaying houseplants for long. He reappeared at the end of the hall with a stack of blankets in his arms.
“Clothes off,” he announced, businesslike. Kaito wiggled his eyebrows.
“Well, how forward of you, Inspector,” he cooed. The look on Shinichi’s face was distinctly unimpressed.
“If you die of hypothermia, nobody’s going to remember me as the youngest police inspector in eighteen years. They’re going to remember me as the guy who killed Kuroba Kaito. And I didn’t work this hard to be remembered like that,” he pointed out, which didn’t kill the smirk on Kaito’s face as he pulled off his soaked jacket and shirt and set to work on his pants. When his clothes were lying in a wet, depressing heap beside Shinichi’s shoe cabinet, Shinichi began to unfurl the towels he was holding, which he draped over Kaito as Kaito scrambled to his feet. It took Kaito a moment to realize something.
“These are warm,” he remarked with some surprise. Not that it was a bad thing; the warm towels were more than pleasant against his cold skin. Shinichi suddenly wouldn’t meet his eyes, and when Kaito dipped his head to parse Shinichi’s expression, he found that Shinichi was blushing. It dawned on him, then, and he bit back a grin.
“You put these in the dryer to heat them up for me when you saw that I was caught in the rain,” he said. “Darling.”
“Maybe I did,” admitted Shinichi cagily, and wrapped a beach towel around Kaito’s shoulders. His mouth twisted at the corners, though, in a telltale manner that Kaito didn’t miss.
“Aw, Shinichi, you do care,” Kaito cooed and reached out to pet Shinichi on the cheek.
Shinichi made a face but submitted to Kaito’s pawing. He did push Kaito away when Kaito tried to kiss him, though, dropping a towel over Kaito’s head as he dodged. Kaito fumbled the towel out of his eyes to give Shinichi a betrayed look. Shinichi was unrepentant, shaking his head at Kaito.
“I’m not kissing you until your body temperature isn’t subarctic,” he sniffed and started for the door that Kaito thought led to the kitchen. Kaito trailed after him like a newly-imprinted duckling.
By the time he made it to the doorway (which did indeed lead into the kitchen—Kaito mentally patted himself on the back), Shinichi was in the process of making tea, which he would no doubt try to pass off as for himself, if Kaito teased him for caring so much, despite they both knew that it was for Kaito. Shinichi hadn’t even had tea around the house before they’d gotten together, save for a sad single packet of earl gray that had expired two years ago at the back of his cabinet. There was also a telling stack of clothes on the counter, one of Shinichi’s soft gray Touto University sweatshirts and a pair of his fleecy pajama pants sitting at the top.
Beneath the sounds of Shinichi dispensing water into a mug, Kaito hid a smile as he rubbed a towel over his head. He had been asking himself this ever since the first time Shinichi had smiled at him, but how in the world had he gotten so lucky?
“These for me, darling?” he asked, motioning at the clothes. Shinichi glanced over his shoulder, flushed becomingly, and nodded.
“Thought you might like something to wear that’s not sopping wet,” he mumbled. The tips of his ears were red, even as his back remained firmly turned away. Kaito wanted to kiss him, a lot. He settled for setting aside the towels and pulling on the sweatshirt. He held back a smirk when he swapped his soaking wet boxers for the dry pair that Shinichi had primly left sandwiched between the sweatshirt and pants.
“These are nice underwear, Shinichi, but lingerie would’ve still been better,” he commented, sly, and was rewarded by the sound of Shinichi swearing as he spilled the sugar all the over the counter.
“You’re the worst,” Shinichi announced, twisting to glare at Kaito, and Kaito shrugged, the picture of innocence.
“Whatever do you mean, sweetheart?”
Shinichi shook his head with the longsuffering of a man who was becoming used to Kaito’s antics and went to get a dishtowel.
Clothing change and daily embarrassment of Shinichi done, Kaito dropped into a seat at the kitchen table to watch Shinichi’s shoulders move underneath the cling of his sweater as he stirred in the proper amount of milk with a chemist’s concentration. It wasn’t long before Shinichi was setting a cup of tea down in front of him, hands on his hips.
“Here’s your tea, you ingrate,” he said, which wasn’t the most romantic sentiment, but Kaito still appreciated it, catching Shinichi’s hand to press a kiss to his knuckles.
“Thanks, darling.” Kaito took a sip. It was the perfect ratio of sugar to milk to tea, because Shinichi was intense about getting things like that right. “You’re the best.”
“Don’t I know it,” grumbled Shinichi before he tugged his hand gently out of Kaito’s hold and dropped into the chair beside Kaito’s. The neck of his sweater dripped off his shoulder, exposing the sweeping line of his décolleté. Kaito almost spilled his tea.
Shinichi didn’t notice, thankfully (he would’ve made fun of Kaito for it, as if it were somehow Kaito’s fault that Shinichi was hotter than the sun). Instead, he was wearing a pensive expression, mouth pressed into a line as he gazed at a point beside Kaito’s left ear. Surreptitiously, Kaito turned to check that there was nothing of note behind him and found nothing but a blank, eggshell-white wall looking back at him.
“I was thinking,” began Shinichi before he paused. “Well, okay, no, I wasn’t thinking. This was just something Ran suggested.” He knit his fingers together and met Kaito’s eyes. “Would you be interested in going on a cruise?”
That—was not something Kaito had been expecting. He felt his eyebrows lift.
“Is this your way of asking me to elope?” was what came out of his mouth after he got over his surprise. Shinichi rolled his eyes.
“No, Kaito. If I was asking you to marry me, you’d know,” he sighed before he scowled and added, “Also, we’ve been together for, what, six months? That’s not on the table until we’ve dated for six years.”
Kaito decided it was not the time to mention that the last time he’d fought with Shinichi (over something he couldn’t even remember now), he’d gotten drunk and spent the night on Aoko’s living room floor, sobbing about how badly he wanted to wife Shinichi. Aoko had taken video evidence as collateral. It had not been his proudest moment.
“So why a cruise, then?” he asked after a minute. Shinichi made a face.
“It’s at least sort of—secluded, right? The press can’t really follow us there, and there are a limited number of people that we can come into contact with.” Shinichi sighed before he added, “Also, Ran thinks I should—” He cut himself off, though, which was un-Shinichi-like and a little worrying. Kaito frowned at that.
“What does Mouri-san think you should do?” he demanded. Shinichi did a weird shrugging thing. His shoulders were clenched up around his ears.
“Nothing. I…” He stalled for long moment. “I guess Ran just thinks we should, like, talk about… things? Important… things? Relationship things?” When Kaito’s expression didn’t change, he sighs. “She specifically cited the time you left the table for twenty minutes when she asked you about when you were going to meet my parents,” he replied. Kaito blinked, opened his mouth, and then closed it. Okay, yes, she had a point there.
“In my defense,” he began, “that was after a month of dating you, I was getting over a sinus infection, and I wasn’t expecting her to go for the jugular like that. Also, I thought that your parents were going to be way scarier than they were.” Shinichi’s parents had been surprisingly not-scary, probably because Yukiko mostly wanted to reminisce about Academy Awards while Yusaku made fun of Shinichi off to the side.
“And you were off a red-eye from Los Angeles,” added Shinichi with only a hint of grudgingness, which meant he’d probably tried to defend Kaito to Ran, which was actually the sweetest thing. “But that’s not the point. Ran is still saying that she thinks we need to—talk about these things more, or something. And that we need privacy to do it?”
Kaito’s brow wrinkled. He felt as if he knew Mouri Ran fairly well by now: she was unfailingly nice except when she was giving the shovel talk (her version of which happened to include fewer shovels and more karate-induced bone breakage); she was quietly besotted with Sera Masumi, one of Shinichi’s assistant inspectors; and she had dated Shinichi for an unspecified amount of time several years back, which had made Kaito wildly jealous until he saw how familial their relationship had become since then. He liked her, though probably not as much as he liked Shinichi (but, well, it was probably impossible for Kaito to like anyone else as much as he liked Shinichi). He couldn’t say he fully understood her reasoning, though—he’d certainly felt as if he’d been somewhat obvious in his (pretty serious) intentions towards Shinichi.
But… well, maybe a cruise wouldn’t be too bad, even if it was for incomprehensible reasons. There would obviously be the benefit of getting to share a room with Shinichi and also maybe catch a flash of ankle. And Shinichi was right—it was unlikely that paparazzi would follow them all the way out into the Pacific, especially if they kept the plans secret until the departure. Nobody’s love life was worth that much trouble, not even Kaito’s.
“I guess a cruise might be fun,” he said, running a finger over the rim of his mug. He hadn’t noticed earlier, but it was the hand-painted one that Shinichi knew Kaito liked. Shinichi glanced up, mouth quirked.
“Really? You’d be interested?”
“I mean, why not?” Kaito leaned back in his seat, lifting his cup to his mouth. He wiggled his eyebrows at Shinichi, which, predictably, made Shinichi wrinkle his nose. “Although, well, I’ll have to call Hotaru-chan”—that was his new manager, who still blushed and went tongue-tied when she saw him, a stark counterpoint to Miho (although, well, at least Hotaru had probably killed fewer people)—“and see if I can pencil you in, darling.” Shinichi rolled his eyes, probably at the wording.
“Oh, thank you ever so much, Mr. Famous Actor,” he answered in falsetto, clutching his hands to his chest, and batted his eyelashes. Kaito found it more alluring than Shinichi had probably meant for it to be. “However shall I repay you?”
Many thoughts sprung to Kaito’s frontal lobe, most of which were not exactly safe for work. He set down his mug carefully, hands shaking only slightly, before he got up to edge around the table and managed to box Shinichi in against the edge of the table with his arms. The legs of Shinichi’s chair scraped against the floor, discordant, as Shinichi startled.
“I think you can find a way,” Kaito murmured. He’d done things like this—looking into someone’s eyes, faces inches apart—so many times, usually for scenes in dramas, but it was always so different with Shinichi. Nobody had a face like Shinichi’s, expressive and beautiful and challenging all at once. Nobody made Kaito feel like this, like someone was pressing a livewire to the back of his neck.
The breath went out of Shinichi in a rush that ghosted over Kaito’s lips. Shinichi’s eyes, huge and surprised, dropped traitorously to Kaito’s lips, which was Kaito’s cue to dip in and kiss him on the mouth. Shinichi had the best mouth, honestly, soft and warm and red, and every time Kaito kissed him, Shinichi hesitated for half a second before he pressed into Kaito, opening for him with the softest of sighs. He tasted sweet, somehow, or maybe it was the sound he made when Kaito dragged a hand through his hair. God, Kaito would kiss him for days, if Shinichi wouldn’t start hinting at casework piling up.
Shinichi melted into him, pushing blindly to his feet and wrapping his hands around the sides of Kaito’s jaw. His palms were hot and heavy against Kaito’s face. Kaito slid his own hands up the back of Shinichi’s sweater, running over the softness of Shinichi’s skin, before Shinichi made a strange noise and pulled back. His eyes were glazed over, his cheeks flushed pink, and his mouth was a shade of bitten red that Did Things to Kaito.
“Uh,” Shinichi said after he caught his breath, and gave Kaito a faint smile. “Uh, you want to think about where we want to go for the cruise?”
That was not the first thing on Kaito’s mind. He was a little more interested in peeling Shinichi’s sweater off and tracking the progress of his blush down his chest. The thought of sitting down and looking at cruise prices together and arguing about the Maldives or the Hawaiian islands was distinctly less appealing. But Shinichi was looking a little hopeful, and Kaito was weak for him in every conceivable way, so he just smiled.
“Yeah, Shinichi,” he murmured, “that sounds good.”
So the truth of the matter was this: he and Shinichi hadn’t done it. Had sex, Kaito meant.
If you had asked Kaito six months ago about whether he expected to be sleeping with Shinichi six months down the line, he would’ve said absolutely. Mostly because he’d been pretty sure Shinichi would’ve let him get it in Shinichi’s office that first time they’d kissed.
But, well, things hadn’t panned out like that. Which was fine with Kaito; he was more than content with just being around Shinichi in a mutually understood romantic capacity. He was legitimately thrilled that Shinichi even took a chance on him. He spent at least an hour a day thanking any and every god that could be responsible for the fact that Shinichi had decided to date him instead of doing something more logical, like filing a restraining order or selling his story to the tabloids for millions, when Kaito had all but thrown himself at him. He really was in love with Shinichi, and that wasn’t something that relied on the presence (or absence) of sex in their relationship. And there was absolutely no way that Kaito would ever want to pressure Shinichi into something Shinichi didn’t feel ready for.
It was just that, well, it would have also been nice not to spend every one of his waking moments in a state of confused sexual frustration, was all.
The weird part was that Shinichi seemed as if he might also want to take their relationship to the next level. He certainly never complained when Kaito kissed him, except for that one time that he had been late for a meeting with the superintendent general (and even then, he hadn’t been all that annoyed). And—to put it delicately—Kaito could kind of tell that Shinichi was into it. He always got enthusiastic and red in the face and breathless when Kaito kissed him, which Kaito wanted to find encouraging.
Except then Shinichi always pulled away. Every time. No matter how obviously turned on he was. And Kaito would let him, of course, because if Shinichi wasn’t ready, that was that, and Kaito wasn’t going to be an asshole about it, even if he had started spending a lot more time taking cold showers in Shinichi’s guest bathroom.
Shinichi was probably the only person Kaito would endure so many subzero showers for, honestly. If that wasn’t love, Kaito didn’t have anything else to give.
“So I hear you and Shin-chan are going on a romantic whirlwind cruise getaway,” Himari remarked a few days later as she set the makeup beneath his eyes. She sounded smug, as she always did when she mentioned Kaito and Shinichi’s relationship. Kaito, who had been zoned out at his own reflection, reentered his body to frown at her too-close face. She had on quite the amount of aquamarine eyeliner today.
“How’d you hear about that? The press don’t know, do they?” he asked, alarmed. How could it have been leaked so quickly? He and Shinichi had finally agreed on Hawaii literally this morning, at two o’clock, after Shinichi had nearly broken his jaw yawning, rubbed at his eyes, and declared that he just didn’t care anymore, they could go to goddamn Florida for all he cared, Kaito could pick, fine, whatever. (Kaito might have taken advantage of the fact that Shinichi was coming off a three-day investigation.)
Himari hummed, looking pleased with herself as she finally moved out of Kaito’s personal space. Her nails clacked against the bottle of setting spray she picked up.
“Your husband and I do talk, you know,” she reminded him, proud. Kaito’s face scrunched (much to Himari’s irritation; apparently his concealer creased when he did that). He did sort of recall a bemused Shinichi showing Kaito all the suggestive stickers Himari had sent him on LINE, a week or two ago. Who knew how Himari had gotten his LINE username.
“Oh. Right,” he said. Himari poked him in the cheek with her two-inch acrylics until he relaxed his face. When she motioned for him to close his eyes, he added, somewhat belatedly, “Stop flirting with my boyfriend, by the way. I see you sending him those, like, romantic heart-y stickers with the bear and the rabbit.”
Himari giggled, evilly. Kaito personally thought she’d been spraying his face with quite a bit more setting spray than he really needed, but he also knew that if he opened his eyes, she would aim for them.
“Don’t worry about extramarital affairs, Kai-chan! I would never betray Akio like that.” She ruffled his hair, obnoxiously. Kaito sighed heavily as she finally set down her bottle of setting spray.
When he opened his eyes, he found that Himari was watching him with a sort of fond affection to her expression. It made him smile a little, at least until she asked, “So, tell me about how everything is with Shin-chan,” in a knowing, suggestive tone, accompanied by a wink, that made him feel unclean.
“Himaricchi,” he squawked, and suspected, with some horror, that if he was wearing pearls, he would probably be clutching at them. “That is none of your business!”
“Ugh, don’t be boring, Kai-chan,” Himari sighed. “I’m not asking for, like, videos or anything—”
“Oh God,” muttered Kaito, looking around for something to smash his head against.
“—but, like, I just want to know general details!” Himari batted her rhinestone-studded eyelashes at him. Kaito gaped. He was uncomfortably aware of the fact that he was turning bright red, which was only going to fuel whatever depraved thoughts were spawning in Himari’s twisted little brain.
“First of all, I’m pretty sure the term ‘general details’ is an oxymoron, and second of all, I am not talking to you about my sex life!”
Himari pouted, which made Kaito recoil.
“Well, that’s a shame,” she remarked, leaning back against the counter and crossing her arms. She looked wistful. “Shin-chan is so cute, too, especially when he pretends to be all demure and sweet. But I bet he’d be really wild in—”
“Excuse me you have a boyfriend you homewrecker,” Kaito sputtered, perturbed and also a little nauseated by the turn of events. With a groan, he buried his face in his hands, ignoring Himari’s affronted, “Kai-chan, I just spent thirty minutes on your makeup, you’ll smear it!” It served her right. “Why do you feel the need to live vicariously through my love life? You have Suzuhara, don’t you?”
“I do.” Himari’s face went sharply amused and also a little blissful, which was something that Kaito never wanted to see again, especially in relation to Suzuhara Akio. “I know you don’t like Akio, Kai-chan, but he’s phenomenal in bed. It’s unreal.” Kaito gagged, not even slightly put-upon, and Himari grinned. Her eyes softened, though, and she wrapped her fingers around Kaito’s wrists, tugging his hands away from his face. Her hands were cool and soft against his pulse point. “In all seriousness, though, I hope everything’s going well with you and Shin-chan. Akio and I are behind you two, one hundred percent!” Her nose wrinkled. “Even if I had to fight my way through an army of reporters to get here because of you guys. I pepper sprayed someone.”
Kaito sighed, but couldn’t help the smile that crept across his face.
“You’re the best, Himaricchi,” he said, squeezing her wrist.
“Of course I am,” Himari agreed, grinning, and patted him on the head, condescending. Kaito let her get away with it, because he was really a pushover when it came to her.
The morning of his and Shinichi’s cruise dawned bright and far sooner than Kaito had been prepared for. He and Hotaru had somehow managed to get him the two-week break for the trip, which was nice in theory but also meant that Kaito was exhausted from nonstop filming by the time he spilled out of the cab, paid the driver in crumpled bills, and plodded towards the Arrivals gate, suitcase bumping along behind him on the uneven concrete.
The pier was at a stage of activity hovering in the nebulous zone between half-empty and busy, half-awake but only grudgingly. Kaito smiled absently at a family of four, who had paused underneath the awning provided by over the check-in counter to gawk over at him. The mother, who looked like the kind of person who subscribed to several streaming services, pointedly steered her husband and children away. Kaito supposed she probably hadn’t enjoyed the last episode of Heartline.
Shinichi and Ran were waiting for him off to the side of the check-in counters when Kaito tuned back in to reality. Ran looked as if she’d wandered off the set of a nearby fashion shoot, still clad in Instagram-worthy knitwear and floral prints. Shinichi was wearing jeans that might have fit a Shinichi several years younger and ganglier, in that they were stomach-churningly tight on the current model. His shirt, a pressed, collared button-down that Ran must’ve picked out for him, hung loosely off him, except for where it was folded up around his toned forearms and clinging to the curves of his biceps. Basically, he looked good enough to eat.
Kaito looked down at himself. He looked as if maybe he’d taken a detour to go dumpster diving on the way to the port. But, eh. Shinichi had definitely seen him in worse shape.
Ran was saying something to Shinichi as Kaito approached. Kaito wasn’t sure what it was, but Shinichi was going steadily pinker down his neck. Once Kaito was in hearing distance, though, Shinichi smacked Ran on the shoulder and coughed over whatever Ran was saying until she closed her mouth, disgruntled.
“Hi, Kaito. You’re right on time. We weren’t waiting long,” Shinichi said, blithe, smiling as he lifted a hand to block the sun from his eyes. It was unfair for a man to be that good-looking, especially when Kaito had been too busy to see him much for the past week. Kaito hesitated for a long moment, calculating just how long they had before someone recognized them, and then gave up, let go of his suitcase, and wrapped himself around Shinichi like a koala with separation anxiety.
“Hi, darling,” he mumbled into Shinichi’s hair, which smelled like the cheap shampoo Shinichi used and the apple-scented hair wax he always halfheartedly slapped on. Shinichi huffed out a laugh and patted him on the back. His hands were heavy and hot and comforting. Ugh, Kaito thought, kind of embarrassed by the rush of affection that came swelling up within him.
“Someone missed me,” Shinichi remarked after a long moment, and smoothed a hand through Kaito’s hair before disentangling himself. There was a flush on his face, concentrated around his cheekbones, and he ducked his head.
To the side, Ran cleared her throat. Kaito jumped a little. He’d half-forgotten that she was there, too, presumably because she’d driven Shinichi to the port. When he turned to offer her a weak smile, she glared for a good five seconds, enough to make him sweat, before she grinned and opened her arms in the universal gesture for a hug. He obliged. She smelled like sweet peas and compassion.
“Good to see you, Kuroba-kun,” she beamed when they broke apart, and ruffled his hair. Kaito twisted away, making a face.
“Hey, watch the hair! It takes time to look this good.” Ran managed to convey her dubiousness with a single blink. Shinichi, who had been watching the scene unfold with a faint smile on his face, let out a long-suffering sigh.
“As if we can’t all recognize your ‘I rolled out of bed fifteen minutes ago’ hair by now,” he pointed out, which was fair enough, before he grabbed the handle of his hard-shell suitcase and gestured towards the check-ins. He smiled at Ran. “Thanks for the ride, Ran.”
Ran did something elaborate with her eyebrows.
“You better remember to LINE me,” she said, which was cryptic enough that Kaito felt instantly lost. He glanced from Shinichi to Ran and was bewildered to find that Shinichi was blushing, for whatever reason. Ran’s expression was strangely blank when Kaito turned to her for an explanation.
“I will,” replied Shinichi, almost petulant, before he sighed. The tips of his ears were red. “See you later, Ran. Let’s go check in, Kaito.” He started towards the counter without another glance behind him. Startled by the suddenness of his departure, Kaito nodded at Ran and went to follow, but was stopped by a hand to the shoulder.
“Kuroba-kun, hang on a second,” Ran began. Kaito didn’t know how to parse her tone: it wasn’t quite the intimidatingly sweet one she had used during her shovel talk, but it wasn’t her normal voice, either. She sounded serious, which was why Kaito let go of his suitcase and turned to meet her gaze head-on.
Ran appeared to hesitate for a second before she said, “You love Shinichi, right? Like a lot?” which was a question that a) was incredibly out of left field and b) had such an obvious answer that Kaito just lifted his eyebrows at her. Ran blew out a breath. “That’s what I thought. You…” She paused. “You’d never try to make Shinichi feel… inadequate.” She didn’t phrase it as a question this time, which was more flattering.
“I… try not to?” Kaito blinked. If anything, there were times where Kaito felt distressingly inferior to Shinichi. The man was a genius, a Touto University graduate, the youngest police inspector on the force, all while being simultaneously hotter than the sun and cuter than any one person had the right to be... A flash of panic went through Kaito as he thought more about what Ran was implying. “Wait, are you saying that I’ve somehow been making Shinichi feel bad about himself?” God, if he’d somehow managed to screw this up—
“No, no,” Ran insisted, but her expression didn’t change. She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth for a moment, searching Kaito’s face, before she let out a sigh. A curl of unease unfolded in Kaito’s stomach. “Look, it’s really not you. It’s more… I don’t know, the circumstances?” Kaito’s face must’ve broadcasted his confusion, because Ran just shrugged, clearly giving up. “Just—I want to make sure that you’ll… take good care of Shinichi, when you do… when you’re together. Don’t be too rough with him. Well, unless he wants you to.” She snickered to herself, for some incomprehensible reason, which only deepened Kaito’s confusion, before her expression went serious again. “I mean it, Kuroba-kun.”
“I can’t say that I know what you’re trying to tell me,” answered Kaito, a little snidely. He glanced over at the check-in counter, where Shinichi was talking to one of the attendants and casting concerned glances back over at him and Ran. “But okay. I promise that I’ll do my best not to… hurt Shinichi?”
“Good enough.” Ran rubbed a hand over her face before she nudged him towards where Shinichi’s general demeanor was now starting to slip into annoyance. “Well. Have a good trip, Kuroba-kun.” And on that ominous note, she turned on one heel and started off towards the parking complex. Kaito stared after her, bewildered, before Shinichi actually called his name and he hurried towards the counter.
Shinichi was waiting with an eyebrow quirked, one hand extended for Kaito’s boarding pass and ID. Kaito fumbled both the pass and his passport out of the front pocket of his luggage with some difficulty, smiling wryly as he dropped them into Shinichi’s hand. Shinichi just shook his head at him before he slid them to the uniformed girl behind the counter, who was looking between them with wide eyes as she pulled the two documents towards herself.
“Everything appears to be in order, sir. Sirs,” she stammered, and dropped Kaito’s passport on the ground in her attempt to push it towards Kaito. She swore, went an impressive shade of red, and nearly hit her ponytailed head on the counter as she retrieved the passport. “Oh my God! I’m so sorry!” Upon closer inspection, she appeared to be roughly twenty years old and intensely starstruck. It was sort of endearing. She probably would’ve been cute if Kaito was maybe five years younger and not stupidly in love with Shinichi.
Kaito was in the process of offering some sort of placation, but Shinichi interrupted him with a laugh as he grabbed Kaito’s passport off the counter.
“Don’t worry about offending this guy,” he cut in, shaking his head as he slapped the passport against Kaito’s chest. Kaito scrabbled to catch it as Shinichi pulled away and leaned against the counter with a conspiratorial smirk. “He’s only won, like, two Academy Awards and a Golden Globe. No big deal.” The grin that he gave the girl was enough to make Kaito’s heart skip a beat, which meant that the kid looked ready to pass out.
“Right,” she said, a little dreamily. Kaito was torn between amusement, indignation, and the tiniest hint of jealousy. Not that Shinichi would ever make a move on a twenty-year-old, but. “I’ll—I’ll just—I’ll get you your keycards.” She flailed for a little before she started clacking at the keyboard laid out in front of her, cheeks still red.
“What was that all about with Ran?” Shinichi asked after a moment of watching her stumble around. There was a strange quality to his voice that Kaito couldn’t quite place, something Kaito wasn’t quite sure how to interpret. He tried for a noncommittal shrug.
“I think it might have been a shovel talk of sorts? Maybe it was the second part of her shovel talk?” he settled on after a long moment. He studied Shinichi’s face, which was blanker than a sheet of paper. “She said something about making sure I don’t hurt you? Making sure I’m not too rough with you when we’re together? Something like that.”
Shinichi flushed, strangely enough, and made a face that was incongruously adorable with his styled hair and general air of untouchability.
“Sorry about that,” he mumbled after he grabbed their keys from the attendant. He paused to add a, “Thanks, by the way,” for the attendant before he stalked off towards the entrance to the loading zone. Kaito exchanged a look with the girl, who was staring after Shinichi with a longing look.
“He’s too old for you,” Kaito felt compelled to say, which made the girl’s gaze snap to him. She was red up to her hairline. Kaito smiled at the sight and couldn’t help but tack on, smug, “And anyway, he’s taken.” He winked before he grabbed his own suitcase and started after Shinichi, calling for him to stop.
The girl stared after them, face burning. God, it was unfair for a couple to be that hot. She fanned herself with a spare pamphlet advertising white-water rafting and wondered if her supervisor would let her take a five-minute break, considering the circumstances.
Meanwhile, Kaito was trying (and failing) to catch up with Shinichi, who had made it through security and was now walking towards the boarding ramp as if he were being charged for every second he wasn’t onboard. Hopping on one foot in a bid to get his shoe back on, Kaito managed to latch onto Shinichi’s shoulder and force him to stop.
“Darling, wait up,” he huffed—Shinichi really had made a break for it, God—and made a wounded face. Shinichi was still pink in the cheeks, and his mouth was twisting a little. Kaito really wanted to kiss it smooth. He managed not to; while Shinichi was lukewarm to PDA, Kaito didn’t want to risk pictures, even grainy cell phone camera pictures, getting leaked to the press. “Look, I don’t know what I said—”
“It’s not you,” blurted out Shinichi. His eyes were earnest when he finally managed to get them to meet Kaito’s. “I’m just…” His shoulders slumped, and he disengaged the eye contact. “I can’t believe Ran actually said that to you.”
“Hey, no, look.” Kaito waited until Shinichi was looking into his face again. He didn’t know what the issue was, he suspected neither Shinichi nor Ran was going to let him in on the secret, and he really didn’t want to be doing this in the middle of a crowded area, but he’d be damned if he let Shinichi look that uncertain over him. “Whatever the problem is… it’s going to be all right, okay? And Mouri-san doesn’t need to worry. I promised I won’t hurt you. That I’d take care of you. I’m good at that.” He cracked a smile. “Ask anyone.”
For some reason, that made Shinichi flinch—which makes a spark of panic sputter in Kaito’s stomach—but then he tried for a smile, which was good enough for Kaito.
“Sorry I was all—weird,” he sighed, and rubbed a hand over his face. “I don’t mean anything by it.” His smile turned a modicum more genuine, which Kaito took as his apology.
Kaito still didn’t know what he had to apologize for, but it was good enough. He pressed a hand to Shinichi’s cheek, just a brief, friendly touch, before he nodded at the boarding ramp, where people were beginning to file onto the ship. Even through the opened gateway, only part of the boat was visible, the smooth, white side of the hull glittery in the changing angles of sunlight from the ship’s gentle bobbing motions.
“Well, darling, if all the crises are over,” he began, which made Shinichi smack him on the arm halfheartedly, “I think it’s time we get ourselves onboard.”
The inside of the boat was not quite what Kaito had been expecting, in that it was decorated like a chapel crossed with a casino. The carpeting was sleek red velvet, at least in the main atrium that the ramp led to, and the furnishings seemed to have been designed by someone partial to burnished, brassy gold and intricate baroque detailing. If Kaito tipped his head back, he could see the inner rings of upper floors, lined with geometric handrails and framed with Corinthian pillars. At the very top, where the ceiling would’ve been, was a large, domed skylight, netted with lacy metal reinforcements. A glance at the directory by the nearest elevator revealed that they were currently on deck six, the main deck.
Shinichi made a sound beside him. When Kaito glanced over, he found that Shinichi’s mouth was twisting. He looked torn between laughter and incredulity.
“I think Ran took my request for ‘elegant’ to mean something a little different than what I’d been expecting,” he remarked and gave Kaito an apologetic look before he jerked his head towards the clusters of people waiting by the brushed-gold elevators. “Want to check out our room?”
“Sure,” Kaito agreed, distracted by the sight of an ostentatiously decorated bar curving along the far wall. There were a distressing number of people already sitting along it. Kaito surreptitiously checked his watch as he followed Shinichi towards the elevators. It was ten eighteen in the morning.
He nearly bumped into Shinichi when Shinichi came to a sudden stop. Shinichi didn’t seem to care, though; he just gave Kaito a little smile over one shoulder and leaned against his suitcase. A curl of hair fell over his forehead. Kaito was struck with the sudden and debilitating urge to kiss him.
The impulse was knocked from him, however—literally—when something bumped into his back hard enough that he stumbled into his luggage and nearly careened into Shinichi, whose eyes widened as he reached out and caught Kaito around the shoulders.
“Whoa,” Shinichi said, which was a reasonably good summation of the situation, in Kaito’s opinion.
“Oh, sorry,” called a voice from behind him. Kaito twisted in Shinichi’s grasp to find a young woman giving him a vaguely apologetic look. She looked faintly familiar, like someone he might’ve met once on the red carpet or somewhere similarly disinclined to in-depth conversation. Her face was heart-shaped and fine-featured, her hair dyed a calm, ashy blonde, her figure lanky and ropey enough that Kaito suspected her of being a runner. “I didn’t mean to hit you, there was…” Her eyebrows lifted when she recognized him, and her cheeks went instantly red as she did a double take. “Aren’t you—Kuroba-kun? Do you remember—” She cut herself off, abrupt, and Kaito blinked.
“Yes, I’m Kuroba Kaito,” he agreed after a moment of awkward silence, straightening. Shinichi dropped his hands from Kaito’s shoulders, but Kaito didn’t miss the way they slid over his biceps, the touch a close relation of a caress. He suppressed a shiver. “I can sign something later, but at the moment…” He tried to look apologetic.
“Right, right.” The girl didn’t move, though. Her wide-eyed gaze flicked from Kaito to Shinichi before she cleared her throat, visibly composing herself. “I’m… I’m guessing this all means that the tabloids are right?”
“The tabloids are certainly something,” Shinichi muttered before he smiled sweetly at the girl. Kaito couldn’t understand how someone so snarky could be so charming at the same time. “I think we’re due to hit the stairs, since it’s taking so long for the elevators.” He nodded at the line, then at the hint of staircase peeking out from behind the corner of the half-full bar. Kaito sighed at the imagined pain of lifting his suitcase all the way up the stairs, but at the same time, he had a feeling that they were going to attract a crowd before long. Shinichi flashed a smile that made the sun look like a lightbulb. “But hey, we’ll see you around?”
“Oh, yeah, totally, uh-huh,” the girl said instantly before she added, “Uh, I just wanted to say that I’m—I’m a… fan of yours, Kuroba-san.” She turned back to the two twentysomethings watching the proceedings from behind her—Kaito had somehow managed to miss them, but he assumed they were her friends (boyfriend and friend? Other members of a ménage-a-trois?). One was a clean-cut man in a polo shirt that looked as if he’d pressed it before he’d put it on that morning, and the other was a taller guy with an angular face that Kaito squinted at. It was even more naggingly familiar than the girl’s. “And, ah, so are these guys. So yeah, it’s really cool to meet you.”
The polo shirt guy shook himself and put on a wide smile.
“Right! Yeah! We’re all really huge fans.” He exchanged a look with the man next to him, one that Kaito lifted a mental eyebrow at. “Actually, uh—”
“We’ll definitely try to find you later,” the other guy interrupted. He was giving Kaito the kind of shark-eyed expression that made Kaito feel as if he were being graded and assigned a drastically failing score. Kaito narrowed his eyes at the guy. He really did seem familiar, for some reason. Also, that line had sounded alarmingly slasher-esque, especially in conjunction with his glare.
The girl elbowed the potential serial killer in the side, hard enough that he grunted.
“Ignore him, he’s just—in a mood,” she apologized, waving a hand. “But yeah, we’ll try to catch you later, Kuroba-san, Kudou-san.”
Kaito nodded. The polo shirt guy was nodding along, but the other looked mostly unimpressed, lifting a dark eyebrow at Kaito as his mouth drooped. He did wave, though, when Shinichi gently tugged Kaito away from the crowd, leading him towards the spiraling staircase leading to the upper decks.
“That guy looked really familiar,” mused Kaito as he hoisted his suitcase up around a curve of handrail. Shinichi, who was carrying his own bag (with much more grace, the bastard) a few steps ahead, glanced back at him, half-smiling to himself.
“Which guy? The one dressed like a caddy lad, or the one who looked like he wanted to smash your face in?”
“That’s a rather violent way of describing him,” Kaito pointed out, blinking in surprise. Shinichi was sarcastic, yes, but that was a bit harsh even for him. He exhaled with a groan as they came to a stop on the seventh floor, dropping his suitcase on the cushiony carpet of the landing, and angled a frown over towards Shinichi. “Also, what floor are we, darling?”
“Eighth,” Shinichi replied, laughing with a hint of sadism as he hefted his bag back into his arms and started on the next flight of stairs. “And anyway, it’s because he looks like a suspect for a case I was working a few days ago,” he added, casual as could be. Kaito almost dropped his case.
“Yeah, this guy got into a bar fight with some other guy? It was at a sports bar in Haidou, and everyone had been drinking, so the order of events are kind of unclear. The second guy—the one who got hit?—he’s in a coma right now. Apparently there was heavy damage to his reticular formation, there were contusions and hematomas, all of that. Complications, essentially. But the first guy got away, so we only have a sketch to go off of. And, well.” Shinichi somehow managed to shrug. “That guy looked like him.”
Kaito wrinkled his nose.
“Is that why I recognized him?” Just what they needed, an almost-murderer sharing the ship. Kaito hoped fervently that there weren’t any open bars, and then recalled the one on the fifth floor with a surge of discomfort.
“No, we haven’t released any details to the press yet. We’re planning to wait and see if the victim wakes up and can give us more accurate details before we start a manhunt,” said Shinichi, hoisting his suitcase onto the last step. He turned to watch Kaito finish the climb. “I doubt that guy was even him. Like I said, everyone at the bar was pretty far gone, so the sketch probably isn’t particularly accurate. It’s just a coincidence.”
“Huh.” Kaito finally reached the top of the stairs with a sigh, banging his suitcase against the edge of the last step. “In that case, I wonder why he looks so familiar.” Shinichi shrugged.
“Well, if we actually do see them later, we can try to figure it out then.” He dug his room key out of his pocket and squinted at the text printed across the center. “We’re in room 814, by the way.”
“Right.” Kaito glanced around until he found signage declaring rooms 800-820 as being towards the left, past where the elevator doors opened to and down a hall wallpapered with delicate floral prints. “That way, then?”
The room was mostly unsurprising. They somehow had managed to get a room with a balcony that faced outwards; gold-blue light reflected off the shivering water, passing through the floor-to-ceiling door to speckle the walls with quickly-moving pinpricks of brightness. The bathroom was larger than Kaito had expected, although half of it was taken up by the shower stall. The walls were painted an unremarkable light beige and scattered with a collection of variously sized, ornately framed photos. There was a closet opposite the bathroom door, a narrow dressing table along one wall, and a hulking chest of drawers pressed up in a corner. The only thing that Kaito found notable was the fact that there was only one bed, sitting innocently against one wall with an elephant made from coiled towels balanced on the pile of pillows.
For some reason, Kaito had been expecting two beds. Two twins, maybe. He knew that Ran had been the one to do the final booking—Shinichi was mostly clueless about cruise lines, and Kaito had been too busy—but he’d thought she would get a double for them. It seemed he had thought wrong.
Oh God. Did she think they were sleeping together? (Kaito wished.) They’d never slept together, not even in the most innocent sense of the phrase, mostly because Kaito wasn’t a fan of torturing himself with what he couldn’t have. How was Kaito going to make it through fourteen nights without trying something, especially if they were sharing a bed?
Shinichi didn’t seem to notice Kaito’s dilemma, though. He dropped his suitcase beside the right side of the bed and began to examine the furnishings with a careful eye. They must’ve passed whatever standard he’d come up with, because he made a satisfied sound and turned to look at Kaito.
“Which drawers do you want? Top or bottom?” he asked, as if there was nothing wrong with the scene or that entire utterance or this whole situation. Kaito swallowed.
“Anything’s fine with me,” he managed, in a voice that was a little too rough not to be suspicious. Shinichi blinked at him, clearly confused, but apparently didn’t warrant the atmosphere strange enough to clarify, because he crouched to reach the bottom few drawers, dragging his suitcase towards him one-handed.
“I’ll go bottom, then,” he said, which was definitely—an unfortunate turn of phrase.
Kaito stood there like an electrocuted fish for another ten seconds before he sighed and sat down on the left side of the bed. It creaked sympathetically under his weight. This probably wasn’t going to be as relaxing a trip as Ran had anticipated. He felt mildly close to a heart attack.
“That’s—very interesting. Informative. I mean, uh, very… sweet of you, darling,” was what came out of Kaito’s mouth, though. “I’m… thankful.” Shinichi paused in the middle of stacking a pair of t-shirts in the bottommost drawer to give Kaito a faint smile accompanied by a lot of blinking.
“That was kind of weird. Well, weirder than usual,” he remarked, grabbing a smaller bag out of his suitcase and standing, presumably to unload his toiletries in the bathroom. He kicked the drawer shut with a soft thump, shunted his mostly-empty luggage aside, and—sauntered over to Kaito. That was the only word Kaito could think of to describe how Shinichi walked over. Kaito reached up and caught him around the shoulders, dragging Shinichi in until he was standing in the space between Kaito’s legs. Shinichi put up little resistance, although he was giving Kaito the most disgruntled of looks. Kaito adored him.
“It’s what you bring out in me,” he murmured, wrapping his arms around the narrow taper of Shinichi’s waist. Bemused, Shinichi petted at his face with the hand that wasn’t holding his toiletry bag.
“Uh, sure. Right,” he replied, dragging out the last syllable and making a hilariously unimpressed face. Kaito kissed him at that, closemouthed and chaste, before he let Shinichi go pattering into the bathroom. As the sounds of clattering and unzipping started up, he dropped back against the bed and draped a hand across his eyes, letting out a conflicted sigh. This was the nicest kind of torture.
“Hey, after we finish unpacking, do you want to check out the dining deck and the pools and stuff?” Shinichi called over the clinking of bottles. Kaito thought about it for half a second before he decided it was a good idea, even if their faces were probably going to end up on Twitter within the hour.
“Sounds good,” he yelled back. Shinichi poked his head out of the bathroom a minute later, making a face when he saw that Kaito was still lying on the bed like a beached whale.
“You know, you can always start unpacking your own stuff,” he reminded Kaito. Kaito waved him off.
“I can do that later.” When he wasn’t having a small crisis over their sleeping situation, basically. That could take anywhere from five hours to a day.
“What about your suit for the formal dinners? You have to hang it up or it’s going to wrinkle.” Shinichi squinted at him. Kaito rolled onto his stomach and groaned.
“We have an iron, right? I don’t feel like unpacking right now.”
Shinichi made a palatal sound that Kaito, after months of knowing him, knew meant “I’m judging you a little bit but your call, I guess,” in the particular brand of sarcastic snarkiness that Shinichi spoke fluently.
“If you say so,” he said before he turned back to his suitcase, humming something with a lot of flat notes (or maybe that was just Shinichi’s interpretation).
Kaito stared up at the ceiling. There was a suspicious stain there that someone had tried to cover up with a shade of paint too light and too translucent to get the job done. He sighed and flipped onto one side, staring out the window to watch the waves rise and fall in a slow, metronome-steady rhythm. It felt like a metaphor for something.
Surprisingly, it took a whole three hours for them to make it to the Twitter trending page, which was better than Kaito could’ve expected, because that mean that meant they cast off two hours later at twelve, nobody with a degree in journalism had managed to get onboard before they were unmoored, at least according to the staff member who had bumblingly approached them to welcome them aboard (“with compliments of the, uh, the captain”). Kaito was silently smug about the victory. He bit into his made-to-order personal pizza with a feeling of accomplishment.
Across the table, Shinichi, who was halfway through his French onion soup, snorted and shook his head. So maybe Kaito wasn’t so silent about his smugness. It was a victory nonetheless.
The dining deck was one of the nicer levels on the ship, done up in thematic jewel tones and hints of gold. It had taken them about an hour to realize that the boat wasn’t in the greatest shape; it was well-maintained, yes, and fairly clean, but—as Shinichi had decided after getting locked in a bathroom stall—it was also old, and some parts of it, such as the locks on the bathroom stall doors, were questionably functional.
(“Don’t say a word,” Shinichi threatened after crawling out from underneath the door, looking dangerous and also as if he desperately wanted a new pair of pants. There were ominous white stains on the knees of his jeans. Kaito smiled sweetly.)
Kaito glanced out across the room, debating whether he should go for the salad bar or take the Shinichi route and get in the soup line. He didn’t realize he was staring at a guy at the soup station until the guy waved, smiling awkwardly. It was the polo shirt guy from earlier, although he was alone now. Kaito waved back.
Glancing up from his bowl, Shinichi followed his gaze to squint at the polo shirt guy, who was now ladling some kind of spring vegetable broth into a cup and trying not to look self-conscious as he disappeared into the throng. He hummed, tapping his spoon against his bottom lip.
“So have you figured out where you know that guy from?” he asked after he finished his soup and pushed the bowl aside. “You know, the possible bar brawler one?” He balanced his face in his hands, elbows propped on the embossed tabletop in a way that made the muscles of his forearms pull taut. Kaito had to tear his eyes away to answer.
“Not yet.” It had been bothering Kaito, although it had taken a backseat to the whole bed thing (which he was about sixty percent okay with now). He frowned, looking down at the vestigial crumbs of his pizza. “Seriously, though. Both he and that girl look sort of familiar.” Where could he have met them? He regretted not asking their names, or at least what they did for a living. Maybe they were film critics who hated him. Maybe they were red carpet photographers.
Shinichi regarded him for a moment before he shrugged.
“Well, they’re probably not anyone we have to worry about for the moment, right?” he decided before grinning. “Want to look around for a little bit longer and then hit the pools?”
Kaito was suddenly struck with the realization that Shinichi might have brought a sexy swimsuit.
“Definitely,” he agreed fervently, and shoved back his chair to follow Shinichi out of the hall.
As it turns out, Shinichi did and did not bring a sexy swimsuit, in that he brought a normal pair of swim trunks that were in no way scandalous, but Kaito still stared at his bare chest and arms and collarbones the entire elevator ride from their room to the outdoor pool on deck nine (the one for over-twenties, because as much as Kaito loved kids, he wasn’t exactly in the mood to swim with them). He felt not entirely dissimilar to a Victorian husband getting inappropriately worked up about a flash of bare ankle.
“What are you blushing at?” asked Shinichi suspiciously as the elevator doors swished open with a pneumatic hiss. Kaito whistled in an attempt at innocence, slinging his towel over his shoulder and flip-flopping off towards the attendant’s desk before he could give himself away.
The girl behind the counter, half-buried behind stacks of towels, waved them through without even looking up from her phone. Kaito peered over her shoulder as they passed and was stuck between amused and concerned to see that she was playing Neko Atsume with extreme concentration.
The pool was maybe a quarter of the way full; the pool chairs surrounding it in geometric formations were even less populated. Maybe most of the passengers had opted for the non-age-restricted pools. Shinichi chose the nearest pair of empty recliners, dropped his towel and other assorted pool-related and Shinichi-approved items onto one, and kicked off his sandals. The mid-afternoon sunlight filtering through the gauzy marine layer illuminated his smile in the most brilliant of ways. Kaito was certain that he had never seen a more stunning man.
“You coming or not?” Shinichi asked, grinning, before he was off, sliding into the pool with the grace of an otter. He was a beyond competent swimmer, to the surprise of no one. Kudou Shinichi was beyond competent at everything. Kaito watched him do one length of the pool, slippery and silver under the chlorinated water, before he set down his towel and joined him.
The water was nice against his skin, a degree of warm that fell in the pleasant category rather than feeling soupy and uncomfortable. He did several unhurried laps, bumping into a disgruntled-looking older woman when he attempted to do butterfly stroke (that put an end to that). After a while, though, he came to a stop and began to survey the pool for any sign of Shinichi. Oh—he was across the way, swimming a determined breaststroke in the direction opposite Kaito. Perfect.
Shinichi made the most satisfying squeaking noise when Kaito latched onto his torso with his legs, spluttering as he got his legs underneath himself and flailed to the surface. They were in six-foot water, which meant that Shinichi had to keep pushing off against the ground to keep his head up. Kaito grinned and held on to Shinichi’s shoulders.
“Wow, mature,” Shinichi said, splashing at Kaito. His cheeks were flushed with exertion, and he was trying not to smile as he panted and glared. Kaito dodged, smirking, and tightened his knees around Shinichi’s sides. He reveled in the way Shinichi flinched with ticklishness.
“That’s me, darling,” he replied cheerfully and kissed Shinichi on the damp forehead before he could say anything about PDA. The pool was mostly empty, anyway. Shinichi made a face at him and shoved back a section of hair that had gotten glued to his forehead with water, bobbing sullenly all the while. Kaito laughed and relocated his hands from Shinichi’s shoulders to the back of his neck. He squeezed lightly and was hit with a wave of heat when Shinichi shivered and looked up at him, eyes dark and mouth partway open.
“Uh,” Kaito stammered, eloquence fleeing him in droves as the realization that he was pressed skin-to-skin against Shinichi overthrew his higher brain functions. He uncurled himself from around Shinichi and dropped gracelessly away. When he resurfaced, Shinichi was frowning at him, almost hurt, which meant that the only thing to do was squeak, “I’m going to go sunbathe now! Have fun swimming!” and paddle to the edge of the pool. Kaito was a coward of the worst kind.
The material of the lounge chair was rough against his bare legs when Kaito, wrapped in a towel, threw himself down on it. He sighed, rubbing at his face, and squinted out over the pool. Shinichi was wavering where Kaito had left him, mouth downturned, before he seemed to gather himself. He pushed off from the ground and went back to cutting through the water, glinting beneath the surface. Kaito sighed.
He was still watching Shinichi, one hand toying with the corner of his towel, when a shadow fell over him. Kaito blinked with surprise and was about to twist and look around when the person moved into his sight. It was a waiter dressed in a crisply-pressed outfit, hair tight to his skull and smile stiff; he had the kind of face that was instantly forgettable, in that he looked like the dictionary definition of average, or perhaps middle-aged man. On his chest was a gold-plated badge reading ISHIHARA in bold, slightly scratched print. He was carrying a tray of martinis and a card reader.
“Dry martini, sir?” he asked blandly. Kaito considered it for a moment. In his periphery, Shinichi surfaced and flicked his head back like someone modeling for a swimsuit advert, and Kaito hurriedly turned back to the waiter and nodded.
“I’ll take one, thanks,” he sighed, and handed Ishihara his keycard. Ishihara swiped it through the reader, checked the screen, evidently found whatever it said satisfying, and handed Kaito both the card and a martini. He bowed, the most obtuse of angles.
“I hope you enjoy, Kuroba-sama,” he said, displaying remarkable creepiness, and skulked off. Kaito watched him go, strangely unsettled, before he took a sip of his martini. It was unsatisfying lukewarm and went down with the grace of wet sand. Kaito hoped it hadn’t been too expensive. With a sigh, he set it down beside his chair, grabbed Shinichi’s sunglasses off his chair, and lay back with a groan.
He was on the verge of falling asleep when another shadow spilled over his face. Kaito opened his eyes, squinting up at the face hovering over his, and pulled the sunglasses down his nose by a few inches.
This time it was a man—roughly Kaito’s age, precisely groomed. He had expressive, wide eyes and a crooked mouth. His hair fell over his forehead in careful waves, and his jawline was impeccably shaven. His shoulders filled out his unbuttoned shirt well enough that Kaito’s eyebrows lifted. Kaito suddenly realized why the girl and her friend from earlier had seemed so familiar.
“Takano Seiji,” Kaito said, accusatory, at the exact same time Takano Seiji said, “Kuroba Kaito.”
On a list of Kaito’s least favorite people, Takano Seiji would maybe place around fourth, after Hakuba, that one movie critic who declared Kaito to be a terrible actor no matter what role Kaito played, and possibly Suzuhara (his placement on the list was under reconsideration; Himari was a good influence on him). This was because Kaito hadn’t seen him in eight years, since they’d graduated from high school and Kaito had been able to leave him behind.
There was nothing wrong with Takano Seiji, if you didn’t consider narcissism to be a character flaw. From the memories of being in the drama club that Kaito hadn’t tried to repress out of trauma, Kaito couldn’t deny that Takano had been (and was) pretty hot and talented, but he had also been a dick, so. An example of that dickishness would be the time that he’d tried to convince their drama teacher that Kaito shouldn’t be allowed to be in the drama club because he was also in the magic club and the science club. Nobody had listened to him—Kaito was excellent at time management—but it was the intent that had been irritating, especially since Kaito had no idea why the guy hated him so much.
Well, okay, he had some idea. Takano’s older sister had had the biggest crush on him. There had been a whole—thing about it. Crying had been involved, and also threats of decapitation. It had not been Kaito’s finest month.
“It’s been a while,” Kaito got out once he’d recovered. He cleared his throat. “I ran into Fumika and Kinoshita earlier.” Because that was who the lanky blonde girl from before and the possible bar brawler had been: Takano Fumika, Takano’s older sister, and Kinoshita Haruto, Takano’s best friend. Well. This was just what Kaito needed in his life, three people who probably held boulder-sized grudges against him, all on the same cruise.
Takano pressed his lips together in a flat smile.
“Oh, I know. Fumika and Haru were sure to tell me that they saw you with your little boyfriend. Speaking of which, I heard he’s quite lovely. Just my type, actually, if Fumika is to be believed.” He made a show of looking around. “Where is he now, I wonder?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business, actually,” announced Kaito, smiling with all his teeth.
“Well, I’m making it my business.” Takano waved a hand lazily at him and turned away, as if that meant Kaito’s input was no longer of value. Kaito bristled. Some things didn’t change, he decided. Some people were always going to be dicks because their sisters had unreasonable expectations of how their unrequited crushes would respond to being presented with homemade bentos and a marriage registration form.
Shinichi chose that moment—of all the possible moments—to paddle to the edge of the pool closest to where he and Takano were engaged in a standoff. Casually, he swept a swath of wet hair off his forehead, braced his hands against the edge of the pool, and hoisted himself out, biceps bunching underneath a layer of pool water. His swim trunks clung to him indecently as he padded over, panting as he tried to catch his breath. Kaito silently suppressed a scream of frustration. He could practically hear Takano salivating behind him.
“Yes, definitely my business now,” Takano muttered. Kaito twisted to glare at him.
“Kaito?” Shinichi sounded uncertain as he came to a stop beside them, grabbing his towel off a chair. He glanced between the two of them, one hand working at drying his hair. “Uh, am I interrupting something…?” He trailed off when Takano laughed and put a hand on his bare shoulder. The look Shinichi shot Kaito was pure alarm.
“No, no, nothing like that,” Takano said. His flirting face was just as terrible now as it had been eight years ago, which both vindicated and infuriated Kaito. Kaito could feel his teeth creaking as he ground them. “I was just catching up with Kuroba-senpai.”
Shinichi, who had taken a polite step backwards, immediately looked intrigued.
“Oh, so you’re…?”
Kaito took the opportunity to intervene, sidestepping to wrap a semi-proprietary arm around Shinichi’s waist, and rubbed at his forehead, feeling a migraine beginning to sprout behind his eyes.
“Shinichi, this is Takano Seiji,” he mumbled. “He was my junior in high school. We were in the drama club together.” He cast an unimpressed look at the angelic expression Takano was making before he leaned in, lips brushing Shinichi’s ear, to whisper, “He’s also a massive dick, and not in the good way.”
“I hope you’re not telling him any horrible lies, Kuroba-senpai,” Takano remarked loudly, startling Shinichi into jumping. He was looking at Shinichi as if he’d like to see Shinichi spread out on a silver platter wearing nothing but whipped cream and Maraschino cherries. “I’m a perfect gentleman, I assure you, regardless of what slander Senpai may spew—”
“Not at all,” Shinichi cut in. He pulled out of Kaito’s grasp (Takano smirked; Kaito glowered) and draped his towel over his shoulders, blocking off most of his torso and part of his thighs from view before he returned to Kaito’s side (Kaito smirked; Takano glowered). “Kaito was just telling me how wonderful of a person you are.” Kaito liked to think that he was the only one who noticed the hint of sarcasm in Shinichi’s voice. “I’m Kudou Shinichi, Kaito’s boyfriend.” A part of Kaito melted inside. They were boyfriends.
“Ah, so the tabloids are telling the truth,” Takano commented, rubbing pensively at his chin. He looked stupid, which made Kaito feel a little bit better about the whole situation. “A lovely young man such as yourself is, in fact, saddled with this guy.” He clapped Kaito on the shoulder, digging his thumb into the end of his collarbone until Kaito shrugged him off.
“That’s exactly right,” Shinichi agreed with a photo-op smile. He pressed a hand to Kaito’s back. “Now, I think we’ll actually head back to the room, now. We’re pretty tired.” Takano’s eyebrows lifted.
“Ah, young love,” he remarked, even though the asshole was younger than both of them. His eyebrows waggled disgustingly. “Can’t wait to get back to breaking the bed, huh?” The leer on his face made Kaito feel unclean. Shinichi went stiff beside Kaito.
“Wow, you’re full of good guesses today,” Kaito said before Shinichi could say anything. As smoothly as he could, he bent and pressed his mouth against the side of Shinichi’s neck, sucking a light kiss against the damp skin. He felt rather than saw the shudder that went through Shinichi, and he pulled away to give Takano a smug smile. “Who are you rooming with, Fumika or Kinoshita?”
“That’s none of your business,” Takano muttered, glaring before he evidently decided on a tactical retreat. His eyes lingered on Shinichi, though. “You two have… fun. I’m sure I’ll see you around, hm?” Kaito got the sense that he would make sure they saw each other. He sighed.
Once Takano was out of sight, Shinichi poked him in the sternum, even as he slid on his sandals.
“Reign in the posturing, please,” he demanded. He was red all across his cheekbones. Kaito felt entirely too pleased with himself, grabbing his towel off the chair. His face must’ve been broadcasting it, because Shinichi sighed and shook his head at him. “I can feel your testosterone levels rocketing from here.”
“You love it, babe. You think it’s cute,” Kaito informed him, dropping one hand low on Shinichi’s back and a kiss on the corner of his mouth. Shinichi tried to hide his smile, ducking his head to avoid Kaito’s eyes, but it didn’t escape Kaito’s notice.
The moment they were back in the room with the door firmly shut, Shinichi turned and basically mauled Kaito, pinning him down on the bed. His skin was damp and cool against Kaito’s; his hands felt like ice around Kaito’s wrists when he pressed them to the bedspread. Kaito gasped in surprise, instantly on board (haha, “on board,” we’re on a cruise ship, thought the corner of his brain that wasn’t occupied by being immensely turned on), and, finding that his hands were still stuck in Shinichi’s hold, wrapped his legs around Shinichi’s thighs instead.
Shinichi moaned—moaned—and let himself drop, his entire body pressing flush against Kaito’s. Their chests ground together, the friction on the verge of painful. Shinichi smelled incredible, like his dumb shampoo and pool chlorine and sun, and his mouth was startlingly hot when he pulled back to kiss the hinge of Kaito’s jaw, sucking hard enough that there was definitely going to be a mark later. Kaito, panting, tightened his legs around Shinichi, pulling him closer, and rolled his hips up against Shinichi’s. Even through wet swim trunks it felt amazing, oh, God—
With a monumental effort, Kaito let go of Shinichi, tugged his hands out of Shinichi’s grip, and slid backwards until his back was up against the headboard. Shinichi stared at him, flushed and red all the way down his neck.
“Uh,” he began, looking lost. Kaito swallowed and tried to steady his breathing. Shit. He’d gotten really close to—to getting carried away. Just because Shinichi had instigated, it didn’t mean that Shinichi was ready to go all the way.
“Let’s take a nap before dinner. I’m tired from the swimming,” Kaito blurted out, the human representation of a bull wandering into a china shop. Shinichi’s eyebrows leaped up his forehead, and he shoved back a rumpled section of hair.
“But I thought,” he started before he cut himself off, expression going defeated. Kaito didn’t completely understand what that meant, but at least he hadn’t pressured Shinichi into anything. There was that.
“I call first shower!” Kaito vaulted off the bed quickly, stopping briefly by his luggage to grab a pair of underwear and a change of clothes, and locked himself in the bathroom before Shinichi even got off the bed. Once the door was closed behind him, he let himself take a deep breath. Cold shower it was.
Their dining time was five thirty, at the Aphrodite restaurant on the seventh floor. After Kaito showered for a tellingly long time, Shinichi slid past him into the bathroom in awkward silence and emerged twenty minutes later, hair wet and wearing a lightweight white turtleneck and dark pants combination that made Kaito swallow. He had the honor of watching Shinichi blow dry his hair, the sound of the blow-dryer only adding to the uncomfortable atmosphere. Kaito toyed with the sleeves of his sweater.
Eventually Shinichi clicked the blow-dryer off. The resulting silence was stark and jarring, enough that Kaito almost started sweating. This wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted—he wanted Shinichi to make fun of his hair, critique his choice of clothing, poke at him, not… whatever this treatment was. Kaito bit down on his bottom lip and tried to catch Shinichi’s eyes.
Shinichi was styling his hair with wax, studiously ignoring Kaito’s stare in the mirror, when Kaito finally gave in. He meant to say something that would smooth over the situation, something suave and suitable, but what came out of his mouth was a small, uneasy, “I—are you mad at me, darling?”
“What?” Startled, Shinichi pulled his hand from his hair, turning to give him a surprised look. “Why would I be mad at you?” Something in Kaito’s expression must’ve been especially pathetic, because his face softened, and he crossed the room and put his hand on Kaito’s. “I would never get mad at you over something like that. You had to know that.” He laughed, strangely self-conscious. “I guess I was just… expecting something else.”
“Really?” Kaito couldn’t help but ask. He sounded plaintive and pitiful. One of Shinichi’s eyebrows ticked up.
“Have I ever lied to you?” he said, drier than sand. Kaito sighed, going lax. A surge of something affectionate and warm flooded his chest, and he lifted Shinichi’s hand to his mouth, pressing a kiss to his knuckles. Shinichi curled his fingers against Kaito’s.
“You’re ridiculous,” he murmured, catching his free hand in Kaito’s hair and cupping the back of his head. Kaito didn’t realize what he was doing until he pulled Kaito’s face up and kissed him, gentle and firm, but perfectly innocent. When he disentangled, he made sure to look Kaito straight in the eyes. “We’re good, right?”
“Yeah,” Kaito breathed before he cleared his throat and repeated, stronger, “Yeah.” Shinichi smiled, flicked him on the nose (um, ow), and went back to fixing his hair.
The walk down to the dining room was slightly problematic. They ran into a few roadblocks—namely, three of Kaito’s fans who each separately claimed to be his biggest fan and one junior police officer from Osaka who apparently idol-worshipped Shinichi—which made them late by ten minutes.
“Hey, we’re from room 814,” Shinichi told the woman behind the bedazzled front podium when they finally arrived at the restaurant, handing over his keycard. The maître d’ squinted at them for a moment before she looked out over the floor, frowned, and looked back down at the podium.
“Oh,” she mumbled to herself. It was not a good “oh.” Kaito and Shinichi exchanged looks as she gave them an apologetic smile. “I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience, sirs, but it looks as though your table was given to another pair of guests. Would it be acceptable if you shared a table with another party? Otherwise the wait will be around forty minutes.” Her expression was somehow both hopeful and contrite.
“Uh,” Shinichi began. He did something with his eyebrows that Kaito interpreted as Do we want to sit with other people or…? Kaito thought about it. It probably wouldn’t be too terrible, would it? Maybe he and Shinichi could just sort of… withdraw from the conversation.
“We can sit with another group,” he concluded, smiling when the maître d’ looked relieved. She picked up two menus from the side of the podium and motioned for them to follow her.
Aphrodite was a sprawling mass of round, white-clothed tables and patterned carpet. The lighting, provided by elaborately beaded chandeliers (hopefully none of them would fall this time, a part of Kaito thought with a shudder) hanging over each table, was dim and ambient. The windows lining the sides of the room offered a view of dark waves and reflections of the tables. The maître d’ navigated the floor with easy movements, quickly enough that Kaito almost tripped into Shinichi’s back. As they went, though, a sense of foreboding bloomed in his stomach. The feeling was validated when the maître d’ came to a stop beside a table containing Takano, Fumika, Kinoshita, and the polo shirt guy.
“Here we are,” she announced brightly, and set down the menus, one beside Takano. There was one last seat free for whatever unlucky soul happened to come to dinner late and alone.
“Oh God,” Kaito said under his breath. Shinichi pinched his thigh none too gently (Kaito’s knees nearly buckled) and smiled sweetly at the maître d’.
“Thank you,” he beamed before he slid into the seat next to Takano. Sulking, Kaito dropped into the chair beside him and resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands.
“Well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise,” drawled Takano, turning his entire body until he was angled towards Shinichi in blatant interest. Shinichi barely turned his head to acknowledge him, a snub that Kaito found inordinately satisfying to watch. He shot Takano a smug smile that earned him another pinch.
“Pleasant is one word for it, that’s for sure,” Shinichi agreed, blithe. He turned his attention to Fumika, Kinoshita, and Polo Shirt, inclining his head. “It’s nice to see you all again. I’ve already met Takano-san, but I’d love to learn all your names as well…?”
“Kinoshita Haruto,” Kinoshita answered after a beat, from the other side of Takano. He lifted two fingers in a mock salute. “Same year as Takano. Wasn’t in the drama club, though.” He laughed a little, mostly at himself. “It was always the mystery club for me. I’m sure you’d appreciate that, Kudou-san.”
“Well, I can’t say I don’t. I was in my high school mystery club, too. Though all we ever did was talk about Detective Samonji and argue about Sherlock Holmes.” Shinichi grinned.
“Ours wasn’t much different.” Kinoshita graced him with a single nonsarcastic smile and went back to examining his place settings for imperfections. In his hazy recollections, Kaito didn’t remember him being that gruff, but maybe time had changed him.
“I’m Takano Fumika,” Fumika called. She was sitting the farthest away, and she waved a little at Kaito when he glanced at her. “I’m that asshole’s older sister.” Her expression went a little odd. “I didn’t mention this earlier because I didn’t want to make things awkward, but Kaito-kun and I were actually classmates in high school. We had a thing for a while, too.”
Shinichi wasn’t facing Kaito, but Kaito could still somehow sense his eyebrows shooting up his forehead. He held back a sigh.
“Calling it a thing is going a little far, maybe,” he interjected as mildly as he could. After all, he still felt sort of bad about rejecting Fumika. “We were all kids. Nothing was really… serious.” Shinichi turned a vaguely accusatory look on him, and Kaito sighed and leaned in until his mouth was aligned with Shinichi’s ear. “What I mean is that she confessed her love to me and I had to start taking an alternate route to school so she couldn’t follow me,” he whispered. Shinichi’s eyebrows jumped again, incredulous this time, as he looked back towards where Fumika was glaring down at her plate, her face going red.
“If I recall, it was actually rather serious,” Takano commented. His mouth was pressed into a flat line. “But, well, Kuroba-senpai always had a tendency to… twist things, if I may. Perhaps that’s why he’s such a great actor. He’s got quite the talent for deception.” He laughed as if he’d said something funny—it was a sound like a fork scraped across ceramic, annoying and grating—and dragged a hand down the length of Shinichi’s forearm. Kaito was gratified to see that Shinichi pulled his arm away and gave him an unimpressed stare.
“Really? In my experience, Kaito’s never been anything but honest. He did mention you were a dick, for one,” he remarked, taking a sip of water with deceptive nonchalance. Kaito’s jaw dropped, as did Fumika’s and Kinoshita’s. Takano’s smile went brittle before he recovered.
“I do love the ones who play hard to get,” he murmured, pulling away and busying himself with draping the napkin across his lap. Shinichi made a hmm sound that somehow conveyed just how much he did not care. Fumika and Kinoshita still looked as if their eyes were moments from exiting their sockets. Kaito was feeling uncomfortably turned on by the whole situation. Never let it be said that Kudou Shinichi didn’t have style.
“I’m Kobayashi Hiro. You can just call me Hiro if that’s easier, since I’m the youngest here,” Polo Shirt, who Kaito had forgotten was also sitting there, chimed in when nobody seemed inclined to speak. He had a kind, boyish face that was oddly disarming, especially when used in conjunction with the earnest smile he was wearing. “It’s really nice to meet both of you! I never thought we’d run into real-life celebrities on this trip.”
“Oh, hi.” Kaito leaned forward to nod at him. Hiro beamed and waved. “You didn’t go to Ekoda High, did you?” He squinted, but Hiro’s face didn’t get any more familiar.
“Nope,” Hiro agreed, cheerful. He leaned forward, face in his hands, smile guileless. Kaito suspected that if he were a dog, he’d be a golden retriever. “I’m Takano-san’s junior at work.”
“Where do you two work?” Shinichi asked, probably more out of politeness than real interest.
“Takano-san and I are at a publishing company, actually,” answered Hiro. “Kudou-san, your father is a mystery author, isn’t he? Have you heard of Terasu House, by any chance? We focus primarily on crime and thriller novels, but maybe we’ve done some of your father’s work.”
Shinichi paused to think about it.
“I think it’s possible,” he said after a moment. “He has an exclusive deal with Onodera Publishing now, but before he was signed on, he might’ve. I can’t say for certain. I know Terasu has rights to everything written by…” His gaze slid away for a moment, widening as he stared at something over Takano’s shoulder. “Kawata Aiko?”
“Oh, uh…” For the first time, Hiro looked vaguely uncomfortable as he exchanged a look with Kinoshita, then Fumika. If Kaito hadn’t been looking directly at Takano, he would’ve missed the way he flinched at the mention of her name. Hiro coughed delicately. “Yes, actually, Takano-san is the editor in charge of her, but—”
“No, I mean…” Shinichi cleared his throat and gestured at something, eyes still wide. Kaito craned to look. Shinichi didn’t look like that very often. “Kawata Aiko. She’s right there. Here.”
Takano’s head jerked up. Kaito, blinking at the sudden turn of events, turned to see a made-up woman in a red sheath dress with a scandalously high thigh slit approaching their table, the maître d’ trailing after her with harried, polite protestations. The woman was drop-dead gorgeous, with large, almond-shaped eyes and supermodel-long legs that carried her to an abrupt stop at the empty chair beside Kaito. Her nails were like lacquered talons when she curled her fingers around the back of the chair.
“Kawata-sama, if you will,” the maître d’ tried, to no avail. The woman—Kawata Aiko, Kaito surmised—ignored her.
“Fancy seeing you in a place like this,” Aiko purred, her kohl-lined eyes focused intently on Takano. Kaito snuck a glance over at the rest of the table—Kinoshita was staring down at his plate as if the entirety of War and Peace were written across it, and after a pause, Fumika and Hiro engaged in a very intense conversation about the dinner menu and whether the oysters would be better than the Atlantic salmon. Shinichi looked as if he wanted to move out of the line of fire. Takano’s expression was that of someone who was trying not to cry after a really messy breakup.
Ah, Kaito thought with a flash of understanding following by a strange, surreal moment of pity.
“Of course you would follow me on my vacation.” Takano lifted an eyebrow at her. Kaito was almost impressed by how irritatingly indifferent he still managed to sound. “Can’t you learn to separate business from pleasure, Aiko?”
“I think you’re the one with that problem, Seiji,” Aiko replied, somehow both sweet and sharp at the same time. She batted her eyelashes at him. Shinichi sank a half-inch lower in his chair. Unfortunately, the movement just drew Aiko and Takano’s attention to him, moths to light. Takano dropped a hand on Shinichi’s leg—high on Shinichi’s leg, as in on his thigh. Kaito reached over and slapped his hand away, even as Shinichi scooted his chair away from him and cuddled into Kaito’s side with the subtlety of a freight train.
Neither Takano nor Aiko noticed, which was almost impressive.
“And who’s this, I wonder? My replacement?” Aiko’s gaze flitted over Shinichi, who had closed his eyes and appeared to be either attempting to turn invisible or trying to play dead. Kaito was almost smug when she clearly couldn’t find any flaws with him, turning a disgruntled frown back on Takano. “I see you couldn’t find a woman as good as me.”
“You’re quite right,” drawled Takano, draping his arm over the back of Shinichi’s chair. “I could only find better. Kudou-kun here is the youngest police inspector in police history. Oh, and have you heard of Fujimine Yukiko and Kudou Yusaku? They’re his parents. Kudou-kun’s a thoroughbred.” Shinichi opened one eye to squint at him with disbelief, even as Aiko’s face went red beneath her makeup and Takano smirked as if he’d won something.
“Did you Wikipedia me or something?” he demanded, incredulous. “Also, do I look like a horse to you?”
“Kudou-kun here is not Takano’s boytoy,” Kaito announced as loudly as he dared, knocking Takano’s arm off Shinichi’s chair and replacing it with his own. A large part of him was bothered by the fact that he was being the stereotypical possessive boyfriend, half a step removed from being the kind of control freak that after-school specials were written about, but this had to stop. “He’s my boyfriend, and I would like for both of us to be excluded from whatever embarrassing soap opera you all are living in.” He glared at Aiko, then Takano. Neither looked particularly repentant. Takano looked irate. Aiko looked intrigued, more than anything.
“You’re Kuroba Kaito,” she said, delighted, and dug her near-literal claws into his shoulder. Her smile was white-toothed and charming when she turned it on him. In Kaito’s periphery, Takano’s face promised a slow death by vivisection. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re even more gorgeous in person than you are on the big screen?”
Kaito regretted opening his mouth.
“Excuse me, miss,” Shinichi called out to the maître d’, who had been hovering and watching the scene with growing discomfort. “We’ll wait the extra forty minutes for a private table, thanks.” She blinked at them, uncomprehending, before she suddenly looked panicked.
“It’ll be over an hour by now,” she told them. “Are you sure—”
“Never mind then. That’s fine,” Shinichi assured her, dropping his napkin on his seat as he stood. Kaito hurried to follow him, glaring at Takano and the world in general all the while. He was so busy glowering that he startled when Shinichi, a hand light on his back, leaned in and whispered, “Forget eating here. We’re going back to the room and getting room service.” Kaito was very fine with that.
“Have a good night!” Hiro called after them. Kaito waved even as he tripped after Shinichi.
“I’m so sorry about that, by the way,” Kaito sighed, throwing his head back against the pillows he’d propped up against the headboard. Overhead, the lights flickered with a hint of threatening in them. With a groan, he reached for the plate of farfalle that he’d left on the bedside table. At least the room service wasn’t terrible.
Shinichi, who was biting into a piece of ravioli, blinked at him from where he was sitting at the dressing table.
“For what?” he asked after he finished chewing. Kaito stared at him. He couldn’t tell if Shinichi was being serious or not.
“For the fact that we ran into my annoying, creepy high school classmates and got caught in their melodramatic love dodecahedron? That, maybe?” he said, dubious. Shinichi made a face and poked at another square of ravioli.
“It’s not your fault that they happened to be on the same boat. And it’s not your fault that they’ve all got issues with you for whatever reason.” He smiled, albeit grimly and not with much actual enjoyment, before he seemed to remember something and his face brightened. “Although it’s pretty impressive—on his part—that Takano could ever be involved with Kawata Aiko.”
“Speaking of which, who is she?” It had been bothering Kaito, how surprised and, for a few moment, excited Shinichi had been to see her—not in the sense that he was jealous, but more out of curiosity. Shinichi wasn’t easily impressed by celebrities, as he knew from their own first meeting. “I get that she’s some kind of writer, since Takano manages her, but how do you know her?” Shinichi gave him a hard-eyed stare.
“I do read, you know.”
“That’s not what I meant, darling.” Kaito rolled his eyes. Shinichi hmphed—it was You’re Right But I Don’t Want to Admit It Sound #5—before he adopted a more serious expression.
“She’s really big right now in the detective fiction field. She hasn’t been around for that long—only a few books out, actually—but her stuff is so good that she’s already won the Honkaku Mystery Prize, the Edogawa Rampo, and a few other mystery novel awards. Whatever she writes next will probably get her an Akutagawa.” He cracked a smile. “My dad’s still waiting for that one, for reference. He’s a little bitter that someone who’s been published for less than four years is already a favorite for an award that prestigious.”
“Is she really that good?” Kaito wrinkled his nose. Kawata Aiko hadn’t given him the impression that she was a genius novelist who had one over Shinichi’s dad, who was basically the modern Arthur Conan Doyle (at least according to the press and his perennial place on the national bestsellers list). “Have you read anything that she’s written?”
“I read her debut novel, Acacia, a few months ago,” admitted Shinichi, rubbing at the back of his neck as he flushed for no apparent reason. “It was… pretty good.”
“‘Pretty good,’ meaning you loved it.” Kaito eyebrowed, pointing his fork accusingly at him. Shinichi sighed.
“I hate to admit it, but I almost liked it better than the last Night Baron book.” He winced. “Don’t tell my dad I said that. He’ll crucify me.”
“Hmm. I think I still have your dad’s phone number,” Kaito said, nonchalant, and Shinichi threw a pen at him half-heartedly. It landed by Kaito’s hip and rolled over the edge of the bed.
“I don’t know. I just—it was about a killer who targeted people around this one police officer who’s investigating the case. And you think that the killer hates that one officer, which is why they’re killing everyone who the guy cares about, but it turns out that each of the victims had actually hurt the officer in some big way—like, his wife had cheated on him with his brother, his best friend had stolen money from him, things like that. The killer turns out to be an old college friend of the officer—she’s the last victim to be found, and she makes her suicide look like a murder, but the officer realizes that she committed all the murders because she loved him, and she killed herself in the end because she knew she’d hurt him too when they had a falling out.” Shinichi shrugs. “It was… well, sad, obviously, but also kind of bittersweet too. I don’t know. It’s the kind of thing that you remember.”
“Huh.” Kaito blinked. “Yeah, I wouldn’t have expected something like that from her.” Shinichi gave him an indulgent smile.
“Judging from appearances, are we?”
“No, no, I just mean…” Kaito thought for a moment. “The book sounds almost… romantic, you know? She makes the feelings that the killer had for the guy sound sacred. Like… like they were important and almost pure, or something?” He made a face. There was a reason he’d majored in theater and not literature in college. “But, well, Kawata Aiko doesn’t seem like she values relationships or romance like that. I mean, just from the way she was treating Takano…” He sighed. “I dunno. Maybe I’m not making sense.”
“I get what you’re saying,” Shinichi agreed after a minute. When Kaito glanced over at him, he made a face and gave an odd, self-deprecating laugh. “I mean, she was on you the second she realized you were Kuroba Kaito, so. I can see what you’re saying.”
Kaito frowned at him, incredulous. Was it just him, or did Shinichi sound… jealous?
“Were you not there when Takano hit on you the literal moment he laid eyes on you?” he demanded, and was vindicated when Shinichi shuddered and set down his plate on the table with a clank.
“Yeah, no, I was definitely there for the perving,” he muttered, rubbing a hand over his thigh, the same one Takano had molested, and shuddered. “I feel so unclean. He kept looking at me like he was imagining me bent over the nearest stationary object.”
“Darling,” said Kaito, pained and not a little nauseated by the mental image of Takano and Shinichi bending over in any context. Shinichi wrinkled his nose.
“You know what I mean. He was giving me bedroom eyes in places that were distinctly not the bedroom. Like I’d go anywhere near a bedroom with him in it.” He shuddered. “I hate it when people look at me like that.”
“I’m sure you…” Kaito was about to agree vehemently when it came to him with a feeling like a bat to the back of the head. Wait. Kaito basically always gave him bedroom eyes in places that weren’t the bedroom. Kaito’s face had basically one setting when it came to Shinichi, and it was bedroom eyes. If Shinichi hated it when people looked at him “like that”… then didn’t that mean that he hated it when Kaito looked at him like that? Was this Shinichi’s subtle way of telling him that Kaito’s advances weren’t wholly reciprocated? Was this Shinichi’s subtle way of saying that Kaito was pushing it? Oh God. Oh God.
“Uh, Kaito?” Shinichi’s voice cut through his minor panic. Kaito jerked his head up to see that Shinichi was slowly beginning to look alarmed; Kaito had, after all, randomly stopped talking. One of Shinichi’s eyebrows was lodged by his hairline. Kaito attempted a reassuring smile.
“It’s nothing, darling. Just got lost in my head for a second there,” he tried. Shinichi’s expression didn’t change, but something behind his eyes relaxed as he pushed his plate aside, got up, and crossed the room until he reached where Kaito was sprawled. He dropped down onto the bed beside Kaito, mouth softening into a curve.
“Sometimes I wonder what it’s like in there,” he murmured, tapping Kaito on the forehead. “I never know what you’re thinking.”
“Never?” Kaito asked, breathless as Shinichi’s fingertip trailed over his cheek. His breath hitched when it reached his lips. “I’m sure you have some idea, darling. At least sometimes.”
“I don’t know about that,” Shinichi replied, and he almost sounded serious before he leaned in and kissed Kaito full on the mouth, soft and careful. He tasted like salt and olive oil at first touch, with a hint of sweetness, and Kaito lifted a hand to cradle Shinichi’s cheek, about to deepen the kiss, before his brain snapped back on and he remembered that he’d just realized two seconds ago that Shinichi wasn’t ready.
He pulled away, swallowing as he opened his eyes. In the darkness, Shinichi’s eyes were luminous and wide, flicking from side to side as he searched Kaito’s face. His eyebrows were lowering in confused annoyance. His mouth, partway open, was dark and shiny, gleaming in the—wait.
Kaito glanced up. The lights were off.
“Did you turn the lights off?” he wondered. Unless he’d lost a minute of his life sometime in there, he didn’t recall either of them touching the light switches. He peered at the alarm clock on the bedside table and watched it flip from seven-ten to seven-eleven; the power clearly hadn’t gone out.
“What?” Shinichi couldn’t keep the hint of bemused irritation out of his tone. Kaito winced at the sound of it. “Did I…” He blinked before he shook himself and looked up. A crease appeared between his eyebrows. “No, I didn’t.” Squinting up at the rectangular lights, he made a face. “They look like they’re incandescent rods. I think they might’ve burned out.”
“We should probably get that fixed,” Kaito decided after a second of sitting in semi-darkness. It was sort of nice, in a harlequin novel sort of way, but it would probably get annoying in about five minutes. Shinichi’s expression didn’t change, but he clearly agreed, because he fumbled for the phone on the nightstand, squinting at the buttons until he found the one that evidently led to housekeeping. After a moment of holding the phone to his ear, he set it down with a grimace.
“I don’t think our phone is working either,” he said. “There’s no dial tone.” Kaito made a face, rubbing at his eyes. He was beginning to suspect more and more that this ship was falling apart at the seams. He snuck a glance over at Shinichi, who was staring fixedly down at the bedspread with a blank look on his face. The ship might not be the only thing falling apart.
“Guess I’ll have to go find guest services,” Kaito sighed, and got off the bed. The tiniest part of him felt marginally relieved by the interruption: at least now there wouldn’t be a repeat of that afternoon. Although it might’ve already been too late.
“I’ll come with you,” Shinichi put in, surprising Kaito. He raised an eyebrow when Kaito caught his eye in the mirror. “What, were you expecting me to wait for you in the dark? And anyway, this trip was so we could spend time together.”
“Oh.” Kaito felt his cheeks getting hot. He ducked his head, one hand lifting to rub at the back of his neck. So Shinichi still wanted to be around him even though he didn’t want to get physical? Something smacked into his forehead, hard, and Kaito flinched back to see Shinichi glaring at him. He stared, disbelieving. “Did you just—did you just flick me?”
“Yes, because you seem to be under the impression that I’m not—that I don’t want to be here as much as you do, which is blatantly untrue,” Shinichi informed him, and poked him in the spot he’d just flicked. Kaito jerked backwards, pressing his fingers to part of his forehead that he felt reddening, and couldn’t help but grin.
“You can’t blame me, darling.” He smirked. “It’s hard to tell with you sometimes. You can be so tsundere, darling.”
Shinichi flicked him again.
A consultation of the ship’s map revealed that guest services were located on the fifth floor—the main deck—beside the bar and casino areas, which were just beginning to come to life when Kaito and Shinichi turned up. There was a loud whoop from the blackjack table that made both of them peer over.
“Someone’s going bankrupt before the night’s over,” remarked Shinichi, dry, before he returned his attention to the guest services counter. The uniformed man behind the desk looked vaguely familiar, and Kaito squinted at him and his nametag until the answer came to him.
“You’re the guy I got the martini from,” he realized. The man, Ishihara, gave him a thin smile that wouldn’t have been out of place on the face of a serial killer. Shinichi shifted beside Kaito; when Kaito turned to look at him, his brow was furrowed.
“Quite right, Kuroba-sama.” Ishihara’s gaze slid from Kaito to Shinichi, then back to Kaito. “What can I do for you this evening, gentlemen?”
“The lightbulbs in our room burned out,” Shinichi broke in. He returned Ishihara’s gaze with a bland smile, the one he pulled out for obnoxious interviewers and suspected murderers (it was the same smile, interestingly enough). “We’d like it if housekeeping or something came by and changed them out.”
“I see.” Ishihara nodded woodenly, doing it as if he’d seen someone on a TV show do it once and wanted to try it out for himself. “May I ask why you didn’t simply call housekeeping directly? Their number is listed on the phone itself.”
“Oh, as it turns out, our phone is broken too. There’s no dial tone or anything,” Shinichi told him, inflectionless. Kaito had to marvel at that—even he wasn’t that good at sounding perfectly neutral. “Maybe get housekeeping on that too?” Ishihara stared at him for a long time.
“Right,” he said eventually, mouth pressing into something approximating a smile. “I’ll leave them a message in the system. Room 814, isn’t it?” He moved to type something into the computer in front of him.
Kaito didn’t recall Ishihara being this creepy. He would’ve thought that he had the good sense not to drink anything offered by someone this creepy. Oh God, he thought, stealing a glance over at Shinichi, what if there’d been something in the martini? What if he was slowly dying now from a slow-acting poison? Shinichi was looking similarly concerned. He really did care.
Ishihara seemed to notice them exchanging looks.
“I remembered Kuroba-sama’s room number from when I charged him for the martini he purchased earlier,” he informed them, one corner of his mouth twitching. “I simply have an excellent memory. Housekeeping should be around in the next few hours. Will that be all for you two gentlemen?”
“Yes, that’ll be all,” Shinichi chirped before he pulled Kaito towards the casino. Kaito went without putting up a fight. He could feel Ishihara’s gaze following him all the way.
“You’re jumpy,” he commented, light, when they finally slowed down. They were deep in the casino, now, surrounded by the smell of cigarette smoke and brightly colored lights. Shinichi shrugged, but he was frowning, a little line across his forehead.
“I don’t know why,” he said slowly, “but I got a weird feeling from that guy.”
In Kaito’s experience, there were very few things that shook Kudou Shinichi. He’d faced off with Miho without changing expression, for example, and there was also the time he’d gone on a dinner date with Kaito an hour after talking down a bomber at the police station, which Kaito had only found out after he’d happened to check Twitter. The man was preternaturally unflappable. So the fact that a single creepy employee had him feeling like that was alarming. Kaito wrapped an arm around him, steering him towards an alcove filled with couches.
“Don’t worry, darling, I’ll protect you from the scary stalker man,” he assured Shinichi, ignoring that he felt like an idiot even saying it. Shinichi was the one who routinely carried a gun and hung around convicted killers, after all. But Shinichi seemed to appreciate the thought anyway, because the corners of his eyes crinkled when he laughed, neither at Kaito nor with him, somewhere between fond and mocking.
Maybe closer to fond, Kaito thought when Shinichi rubbed his cheek against Kaito’s shoulder.
“My knight in shining armor,” he drawled. He got his arm out from beneath Kaito’s and ruffled Kaito’s hair, running his hand over the side of Kaito’s face when Kaito went to scowl at him. “But really, it’s nothing. It’s probably just in my head. Maybe he looks like someone I’ve caught or something.”
“If you say so.” Kaito sat down on the nearest sofa, one arm still wrapped around Shinichi’s waist. He paused for a second, calculating whether the satisfaction would be worth Shinichi’s inevitable squawking, before he gave in and swept Shinichi into his lap.
Shinichi landed unceremoniously, without a surplus of grace. He hadn’t been expecting the pull, from the way his breath whooshed out of him and his arms flailed out, almost catching Kaito in the face. Still, he reconfigured himself quickly enough, sprawling delicately across Kaito’s legs and looping one arm around Kaito’s neck. He gave Kaito a look of pure incredulity, which was a much better response than Kaito had been expecting. There was color high along his cheekbones and across his nose.
“Don’t take this as encouragement, but that was pretty smooth, even for you,” he snarked around a soft smile, pressing his nose against Kaito’s cheek. Kaito grinned, helpless (and then adjusted Shinichi away from his groin, just to be on the safe side).
“Glad to see that I can still surprise you,” he beamed, and kissed Shinichi right under the ear. If it was possible, Shinichi’s blush darkened as he pushed Kaito away, not hard enough to indicate that he meant it.
“We’ve been together six months, Kaito. Most people would say we’re still in the honeymoon stage,” he pointed out. Maybe it was just Kaito, but he seemed to look a little wistful. “There’s still a lot that we don’t know about each other.” That sounded ominous and potentially relationship threatening. Something squeezed in Kaito’s chest, and he tightened his arms around Shinichi’s waist, drawing him in.
“Like what?” he murmured. Shinichi huffed.
“Like the fact that you apparently had a stalker in high school?” He gave Kaito a significant look. Kaito wrinkled his nose.
“I assume you’re talking about Fumika?” he asked. At Shinichi’s eyebrow raise, he let out a groan and buried his face in Shinichi’s neck. Shinichi still smelled like hair wax and shampoo and traces of his cologne, which seemed improbable but was also pretty hot. “Do we have to do this now? We were having such a good time.”
“We don’t actually have to if it’s—not something you want to discuss,” started Shinichi slowly, as if he was worried for Kaito but trying to hide it. Kaito sighed.
“I don’t mean to make it sound traumatic. It really wasn’t,” he said, pulling back to meet Shinichi’s eyes. “It was worse for her than it was for me, probably. We were in the same class, and we were sort of friends. I didn’t realize how big her crush on me was, though. So when she, uh, confessed her love, it was pretty awkward. She kind of followed me home once and waited outside my house until my mom got home? And one time she made me a bento, which was at least sort of normal until I realized that she wrapped it in marriage registration forms. I’m still not sure she wasn’t serious. It was… intense.” He made a face. Shinichi’s face was doing something complicated.
“Intense is one word for it,” he finally managed. Kaito nodded.
“Yeah, so. That’s what she meant when she said we had a thing. It was a very awkward thing, for the most part.” He bit at his bottom lip. Shinichi’s gaze dipped to watch. “I guess I kind of feel bad about turning her down. She wasn’t, like, a bad person, and it wasn’t like I didn’t like her as a friend.”
“Don’t feel guilty.” Shinichi poked him in the jaw. “You didn’t—and don’t—owe her anything. And it was also her fault for not respecting your boundaries.”
Not owing anyone anything. Respecting boundaries. Kaito swallowed, suddenly too-aware of the way his hand was resting on Shinichi’s lower back. He made to move it higher, but Shinichi happened to wiggle closer to him at that exact moment, snugged up tight against the bend of Kaito’s body. Kaito was, for not the first time, lost.
“Oh, it’s you two again!”
Kaito felt Shinichi jump in his lap, and they both twisted to look at the interloper. It turned out to be Hiro, who was towing around a dead-eyed Kinoshita by the arm. Kinoshita grunted, nonverbal.
“Hello,” Kaito returned, much less enthusiastic, and glanced around. Takano and Fumika were nowhere in sight, which was a small blessing. “Takano isn’t with you?”
“Nope, Takano-san wanted to go back to our room early. Haruto-san and I dropped him off. He said he was tired.” Hiro made a face and leaned in, face scrunched up. “I think he’s heartsick ’cause he wasn’t expecting to see Kawata-san. He totally didn’t want to come out with me and Haruto-san.”
“Unfortunate, that,” Kaito remarked, not even slightly serious. He received a pinch to the back of the neck for his troubles.
“Yeah, it’s really too bad,” Hiro agreed, oblivious. “And then Fumika-san went off somewhere without saying where she was going.” He tugged on Kinoshita’s arm and gave a shrug. “They’re really missing out. We’re hitting the craps tables next. Haruto-san has really great luck.” Kinoshita cracked a smile and nudged Hiro with his elbow. He was a full head taller, and his elbow brushed Hiro’s upper arm.
“Only because I have you to blow on the dice for me. You’re the real lucky one,” he said, with hints of actual human warmth in his tone. Shinichi exchanged a look with Kaito at the sight, eyebrows raised as his mouth curved up on one side. Kaito shrugged in response.
Hiro, who was giggling, turned back to them after a moment. His face was pink.
“Well, we’ll head back in, then,” he beamed. In the short amount of time they’d been acquainted, Kaito had come to realize that he did a lot of beaming. “You two are free to join us if you’re interested…?” He actually seemed as if he meant it, too. Kaito wondered if he was actually just that nice, and, if that was the case, why he would want to go on vacation with people like Takano.
“That’s fine,” Shinichi interjected hurriedly. He flashed one of his media smiles. “We wouldn’t want to intrude on your night.”
“Oh, that’s…” Hiro, still pink, hazarded a glance up at Kinoshita before he giggled. “Well, if you’re sure. You can join us whenever if you change your mind; we’ll be around for a while. We’re not calling it quits until Haruto-san is bankrupt.”
“You’re such a brat,” Kinoshita groaned, but he was gentle when he tousled Hiro’s hair and pulled them off in the direction of the craps tables. Kaito and Shinichi watched them go.
“They’re cute together,” Shinichi remarked, smoothing a hand down the back of Kaito’s head as he turned to look at him. “Kinoshita seems like less of a statue when Hiro-kun is around.” Kaito rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, but we’re much cuter,” he reminded him, and when Shinichi looked unconvinced, kissed him on the nose, to a stare of much bemusement. Kinoshita and Hiro had nothing on them. They were the cutest.
Kaito was rudely awakened by the sound of something blaring inches away from his head. He groaned lowly, forcing his eyes open against the sticky sleepiness that glued them shut. He was lying on his side, fitted around the curve of Shinichi’s body, and it was dark inside their cabin. Shinichi stirred, the skin around his eyes pulling taut as he squinted and mumbled a few incoherent syllables.
They’d gotten back in around eight the night before after loitering around the fifth deck for another hour, finding the lights fully functioning and a new towel animal (a giraffe) on their pillow, possibly meant as an apology. Then they’d spent the rest of the night watching Food Network and cuddling, which had been all well and good (well, up until Kaito had to take a five-minute breather in the bathroom. Proximity to Shinichi, in this situation, could be deadly in too-large doses). Shinichi had fallen asleep halfway into their third episode of Iron Chef, and Kaito had tried his hardest not to be creepy as he tucked Shinichi in and lay down beside him. All in all, it could’ve been much worse.
The ringing was the fault of the phone on their bedside table, which answered the question of whether housekeeping had also fixed that. A look at the alarm clock informed Kaito that it was seven-twelve in the morning, which had to be some kind of cruel and unusual punishment. He fumbled for the receiver as Shinichi grumbled and got half-up on his elbows.
“Hello?” Kaito croaked. Shinichi blinked at him, looking offended by everything. His hair was entirely flat on one side, which was adorable and distracting enough that it took Kaito a second to realize that no one was saying anything on the line, just breathing loud enough that Kaito was mildly concerned for their respiratory health.
“If you don’t say anything in the next five seconds, I’m hanging up,” he announced. Beside him, Shinichi was beginning to look more alert, frowning as his gaze skittered from the phone to Kaito’s face.
Five seconds were almost up when the person finally spoke.
“709,” the voice said.
“Come again?” Kaito yawned.
“709,” the person repeated. It was a male voice—or at least Kaito’s first impression was that it was male; it might’ve been a lowered female voice. Three numbers weren’t giving him a lot in terms of identification. Kaito opened his mouth, about to ask what that was supposed to mean, when the line went dead.
He set the phone down and looked at Shinichi, whose eyebrows were dipping lower and lower.
“It was someone saying ‘709,’” Kaito told him, aware of how it sounded. “That’s all they said, just ‘709,’ two times. I don’t know what they meant by it.”
“It sounds like a room number,” Shinichi noted, mouth pulled tight at the corners. “You don’t know who it could’ve been? Nothing about the voice was familiar?”
This was Shinichi going into inspector mode, Kaito realized. It was kind of (really) hot, but he was going to keep that to himself.
“I don’t think so,” he answered. Shinichi gnawed at his bottom lip, briefly enough that Kaito was only distracted by it for about eight seconds, and pulled himself out of bed, scrambling for a pair of shoes. After a moment’s hesitation, Kaito hurried after him to do the same. He barely managed to grab his keycard and phone off the dressing table before Shinichi was out the door.
“It could be a prank,” Shinichi was muttering when Kaito caught up to him. His eyebrows were scrunched together, though, and he was half-running down the hall, which led Kaito to believe that he didn’t expect it was. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
“Right,” Kaito panted. His brain was still booting up. Shinichi took the stairs two at a time, barely pausing to check which way led to room 709 before he was full-on sprinting. Kaito had to break into a run to catch up with him. By the time he reached the room, Shinichi was already knocking insistently on the door.
“Hello? Hello? Is there anyone in there?” he was calling. Kaito came to a stop behind him, watching Shinichi’s frown get deeper and deeper. There was a groove between his eyebrows. Shinichi looked ready to start breaking the door down when someone opened it, mouth half-open in a yawn. It was, terrifyingly, Kinoshita, half-dressed and glaring like a bear whose hibernation had just been rudely interrupted.
“What the hell is your problem,” he grumbled. “I just fell asleep. Is there a fire or something?”
Shinichi shoved past him, Kaito at his heels. Kinoshita grunted in surprised displeasure as they went past.
“What is going on,” he growled after them. The inside of the cabin was dim, colder than the hallway. The layout differed from Shinichi and Kaito’s in that there were two single beds placed parallel, heads to the wall, and a third bunk that folded out perpendicularly from the opposite wall, the mattress at just about shoulder-height from the ground. The bottom bed closest to the door was covered in rumpled sheets, probably Kinoshita’s. Its neighbor contained a ruffled-looking Hiro, who was attempting to sit up, awoken by the commotion. There was no activity from the top bunk.
“Kuroba-san? Kudou-san? What’s happening?” Hiro yawned, eyelids drooping. His hair looked as if birds had been using it as a landing pad. “Why’re you here?”
“Someone told us to come here,” Shinichi said. He was scanning the room with intense determination. His gaze caught on the upper bunk. “Who’s up there?”
“Takano is,” Kinoshita answered when Hiro appeared to be firing on exactly one cylinder. “And what do you mean, someone told you to come here? Who told you to come here?” He directed the last question at Kaito, apparently giving up on Shinichi, who had kicked off his shoes and was climbing on Kinoshita’s bed to reach Takano’s bunk.
“We don’t know. Someone just called our room,” was all Kaito got out before Shinichi let out a long sigh.
“All right,” he announced, and that was definitely his Inspector Kudou voice, firm and serious and threaded with steel. He turned to face the three of them, expression drawn taut. “Takano’s dead.”
For a moment, nobody spoke. It was as if the room had drawn in a breath and held it.
“What the hell,” Kinoshita hissed, and that was the exhale that broke the silence. Kaito chanced a glance over at him and found that he’d gone white, clutching at the wall behind him. “What are you even saying?” Shinichi met his eyes with steady control.
“I’m saying Takano is dead; has been, for at least four hours, judging from the state of the body. He’s already entered rigor mortis. My best guess for the cause of death is poison, probably a cyanide derivative, if the scent is anything to go by,” he informed him, his tone neutral. “This is officially a crime scene. Kaito, I’ll need you to tell someone on the staff.”
“Oh my God,” Hiro whispered, and scrambled out of bed to lock himself in the bathroom (and presumably throw up), which summed up the situation pretty well. Kaito stared at the underside of the bunk, momentarily frozen. Takano—he’d just seen Takano, he’d just talked to Takano, less than twenty-four hours ago. He’d thought of Takano, he’d gotten jealous of Takano, he’d mentally punched Takano, he’d—he’d—
“Kaito,” repeated Shinichi, softer now, concern in his eyes, and Kaito swallowed and backed out of the room. The hallway was more populated now than it had been before they’d arrived, people peering out of their rooms in confusion in response to the commotion. It wasn’t long before Kaito caught ahold of a passing woman in a staff uniform who was trying to deliver breakfast to room 712, judging from the tray in her hands.
“Excuse me,” Kaito said, his voice rough with uncharacteristic discomfort. He cleared his throat when she turned to look at him, inquisitive, and nodded at the still-open door to 709. He could just see Shinichi bent over the upper bunk. “There’s a man dead in there. So.”
The woman dropped her tray, which Kaito felt was fairly understandable.
Twenty minutes later, the first officer appeared with the head of security and two stretcher-wielding people in white sickbay uniforms behind him. Kaito was suddenly aware that he was still in his pajamas, which consisted of plaid flannel pants and an old shirt advertising the second season of Heartline. Shinichi, similarly dressed, seemed not to care as he nodded at the crowd. It made sense; he still managed to radiate authority, somehow.
“Inspector Kudou Shinichi,” he said, one hand going for his badge before he realized he was wearing a beat-up Touto University shirt and not his usual power suit. He gave a charming little laugh. “Sorry, I seem to have forgotten my badge in the hurry.”
“It’s fine. I recognize you from Twitter,” the first officer assured him, which was… not that assuring, actually. Shinichi’s eyebrow twitched, but he ushered the first officer and the others into the room, giving Kaito a last, lingering look, as if checking that he was okay, before he followed them in.
Kaito, who was standing in the corridor with Kinoshita and a pale, nonverbal Hiro, let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. Kinoshita glanced over at the sound before he refocused on the carpet by his feet. He wasn’t as pallid as Hiro, but his hands were shaking slightly at his sides, and a muscle in his jaw kept jumping.
“Hey,” Kaito began after watching him for a second. He’d never been close to Kinoshita—all he really knew about the guy was that he’d been friends with Takano since high school and possibly even earlier—but he still felt sort of bad about it. “You doing okay?”
“I’m fine,” Kinoshita gritted out, somehow managing to form words with his teeth clenched shut. “My best friend is dead. We were in the room with his dead body for hours. I’m completely fine.”
“Um. Right.” Kaito peered down the hall. The doors were beginning to close, but only because more staff had appeared and were trying to bribe the onlookers to leave with free room service and placation. It didn’t seem to be working all that well. He dropped his head back against the wall. “So what happened last night, anyway?”
Kinoshita lasered him with a sharp, suspicious look. Kaito held up his hands.
“Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t me trying to start some kind of investigation. I was just trying to make conversation.”
The expression on Kinoshita’s face didn’t change, but his shoulders relaxed minutely.
“I guess it doesn’t matter. Your boyfriend will probably just tell you what happened anyway, after he interrogates us,” he sighed. Kaito refrained from mentioning that Shinichi was technically not supposed to tell him the details of an open investigation, because, well, if Kaito did ask about the case, Shinichi would tell him. “After Kawata left, we ate. Then Takano said he was tired, so Hiro and I walked him back to the room. We thought he might be depressed after seeing Kawata again. That was around seven. After that, Hiro and I left to visit the casino. We were out for a while, until maybe four thirty or five in the morning, when we came back and went to sleep. Takano didn’t wake up, but we thought he was asleep. Neither of us checked. He must’ve been”—Kinoshita swallowed roughly—“he must’ve been dead by then.”
“Huh.” Kaito rubbed at his chin. Kinoshita rolled his eyes.
“That good enough for you, Kuroba?” he grunted and turned away. The conversation was clearly over. Kaito decided that was good enough.
“Hey, Hiro,” he tried next. Hiro, who had dropped into an upright fetal position on Kinoshita’s other side, glanced over at him. His eyes were swelling already, his face wet all the way down to his jawline.
“What’s up?” he mumbled, sniffling and looking generally pathetic. Kaito edged around Kinoshita and patted him on the head.
“You okay?” he asked.
“No,” Hiro gurgled, succinct, and buried his face in his knees. Fair enough, Kaito thought. The kid looked even younger than he probably was, face splotching and damp.
There was an uproar somewhere down the hall, someone yelling shrilly above the attempts at appeasement from the staff members. Kaito looked up to see Fumika arguing with an unfortunate steward, red all the way down her neck, and quickly made to intervene.
“That’s my brother’s room,” she was half-shouting when Kaito got close enough to hear. “Somebody better tell me what the hell is going on right now, because—”
“Hey, uh, she really is his sister. We should let her through,” Kaito interrupted when the steward tried to propel her back. The guy looked relieved, stepping aside so Fumika could blaze past, bashing her shoulder against his as she went. She didn’t even look at Kaito, glaring viciously over her shoulder at the steward as she went.
“Like I’ve been saying this whole goddamn time,” she yelled back at the man. “You’ll listen to him but not me? I hope you die in a fire, you incompetent, sexist piece of shit.”
“Fumika,” Kaito started, not entirely sure if he was trying to placate her, but she was storming towards 709 as if he wasn’t there. Kaito had never been great at holding her back. She paused at the doorway, though, to give Kinoshita and Hiro matching looks of disgusted fury.
“Thanks for telling me that something happened, you dickheads,” she hissed, her hands on her hips. “What the hell’s going on?” Kinoshita just looked at her, dead-eyed. Hiro didn’t even move, face still buried in his knees.
“Fumika—” Kaito tried again, but then Fumika caught sight of the room’s interior and the crime scene tape strewn around the bunk and the stretcher now carrying a distinctly still Takano. The progression of color on her face was terrifying to watch, from bright red to gray to an uneven array of pinks. She whirled on Hiro and Kinoshita, her eyes frantic and horrified as the tears welled up.
“Why didn’t you didn’t tell me my brother was dead,” she shrieked, and there went all question of what was happening in 709.
Kaito pressed a hand to his face as doors all down the hall began reopening in a wave of excited chatter. All he’d wanted was a peaceful cruise with Shinichi.
There was a coffee shop on the ninth deck, a little ways from the over-twenty pool, hipster-y and small and quiet enough that no one in it recognized Kaito (or at least no one in it cared enough to approach him) when he came in after stopping by the room to change into something more publically consumable. Kaito bought a royal milk tea and sat down in a corner filled with hand-carved wood etchings and free-hanging lightbulbs. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, connected with the café’s wifi, and started in on Twitter.
Unsurprisingly, there were numerous stalker shots of him and Shinichi. Most of them weren’t even in focus, though. Someone had managed to get an only semi-blurry picture of Shinichi in his lap, though; both of them were smiling, and Shinichi’s hand was tangled in his hair. Kaito hesitated for half a second before he liked the tweet. The inevitable flood of tweets and screaming was worth it as long as he could find the picture again later.
Also predictably, #cruiseshipmurdercase was also trending. A glance into the tag revealed that the details of the case were getting pretty scrambled, including who died and how, but the general consensus seemed to be that Shinichi was going to solve it while Kaito stood around looking pretty. Which was a little hurtful, to be honest, even if it was probably accurate.
His phone chirped, then. The notification bar informed him that MOURI RAN had sent him a message on LINE. When Kaito frowned (he and Ran were friends, but not, like, texting buddies) and opened the app, he found five missed messages, ranging from yesterday evening to now.
Yesterday, 7:44 p.m.
- Shinichi says you’re acting weird
- What did I tell you about taking care of him???
Yesterday, 9:08 p.m.
- Answer your phone plz
Today, 8:31 a.m.
- I see you liking embarrassing pictures on Twitter
- You better respond now
Kaito stared at the texts for a minute, bemused, before he thumbed back a response.
Today, 8:32 a.m.
- you follow me on twitter
- what are u talking abt anyway
- also if u didnt kno someone died so it’s not rly the time
Ran replied in under a minute.
Today, 8:32 a.m.
- Someone is always dying around Shinichi so that’s not a valid excuse (Harsh but true, Kaito was forced to admit.)
- I thought I told you to take care of Shinichi and not hurt him?
- And yet apparently you’re acting kind of asshole-y which is the opposite of what I wanted
- AND what I told you to do
Today, 8:34 a.m.
- im not acting weird idk what he means by that
- also im not hurting shinichi?? im taking care of him
Today, 8:35 a.m.
- No you’re not
- Don’t even try to lie to me
- Shinichi tells me everything
- He’s really confused about why you’re being like this
Today, 8:36 a.m.
- being like what???
- what am i doing wrong???????
Today, 8:36 a.m.
- You know what you’re doing
- Or I guess not doing is the problem lol (What does that even mean, Kaito thought despairingly.)
- Anyway stop giving Shinichi mixed signals b/c you’re really confusing him
- It took him a lot of courage to do this okay
Kaito was in the process of typing back “doing what?????” and maybe choosing an appropriately bewildered sticker to tack on when someone dropped into the seat across from him. He startled and looked up to find Shinichi sitting there, his face creased in a tired smile.
“You’re a hard man to track down, Mr. Famous Actor. I’ve been through both the seventh and eighth floors looking for you,” he said and stole a sip of Kaito’s tea. He was still in pajamas, his hair still mussed around the crown of his head, but his eyes were alert and focused. It was unspeakably adorable and also kind of sexy, and Kaito turned away quickly so he didn’t do anything telling, like drool or make heart eyes.
“I wanted to give you some space with the investigation, darling,” he told him, mostly truthful. When Shinichi made a face, he added, “And also I didn’t want to deal with Fumika anymore.” He didn’t remember her being that—loud, although in her defense, he’d never seen her right after she found out that her brother was dead.
“I see.” Shinichi shooed him off when he made grabby hands for his tea, taking another sip before he relinquished the mug. He eyed Kaito. “Are you interested in hearing about the case, or…?” Kaito thought about it. He wasn’t extremely interested in the details of Takano’s death, but he was also curious and kind of invested in finding out what had happened.
“Yeah,” he agreed, setting his cup down. “What do you know at this point?”
“Preliminary investigation and interrogation says that the cause of death was a cyanide derivative.” Shinichi rubbed at his jaw one-handed. “There was a cup of tea on the side table that contains cyanide, judging from the scent, so it’s possible that was how he ingested it. Suicide is a tentative option. Fumika-san suggested it might be over heartbreak from his breakup.” Kaito squinted at him.
“I’m guessing you’re not counting that seriously,” he said. Shinichi gave him a wry smile.
“You’re not wrong. I think, judging from the fact that he was”—he heaved a sigh—“very insistent in pursuing me, combined with their interactions yesterday, that Kawata-san and Takano were quite over. Also, I think it’s unlikely that he was able to drink cyanide and then climb into his bed, which would’ve required a lot of athleticism for a dying man.” He made a face. “Most of the proposed suggestions for killers are equally as unlikely.”
“Really? Who are they saying did it?”
“Well, Fumika-san was considered an option, since she doesn’t have a confirmable alibi. Kawata-san also was suspected, what with her and Takano’s past. And.” Shinichi cleared his throat, looking shifty. “Your name also came up.”
Kaito laughed until he realized Shinichi was serious. His eyebrows jerked upwards.
“Well, yeah. Fumika-san pointed out that you might not appreciate Takano, you know, coming on to me. And also that you could’ve made up the call that got us to go to the room.”
“What?” Kaito blinked, incredulous and also offended. “Why would I have faked a call to myself? If I had actually killed him, I would’ve just waited for Kinoshita and Hiro to figure out he was dead instead of getting involved in it.”
“Which is what I told everyone,” Shinichi said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “And also that we’d been together the entire night. But then Fumika-san claimed that maybe you wanted the body to be found sooner rather than later so that the time of death would be more obvious and your alibi would eliminate you from the pool of suspects.”
“Uh, I don’t think forensics work that way.”
“Which is what I told her. We don’t have access to a forensics team at the moment, so any estimate we make of the time of death is going to be fairly rough until we reach a port where a team can meet us,” Shinichi assured him and rolled his eyes. “And anyway, you don’t have as sure of a way to access the room. It’s much less likely that Takano would’ve opened the door for you the way he would’ve for Fumika-san or Kawata-san.” He paused, biting at his bottom lip. “Although she did bring up a reasonable point regarding the time of death. It is actually possible that someone was trying to alter it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you notice that the room was colder than the hallway when we first went in?” Shinichi folded his hands on the table. “According to Hiro-kun and Kinoshita-san, when they came into the room, the lights were off, their balcony was open, and the fan on the air conditioner was on. They assumed it was just something that Takano had done before he fell asleep, so they turned down the AC and closed the window before they went to bed. It’s a possibility that someone tried to cool the room so the rigor mortis would have a faster onset and last longer, therefore obscuring the real time of death. The room wasn’t quite cold enough to make a significant impact, though.”
“Yeah?” Kaito frowned. “Maybe it was done by an amateur who didn’t know any better?”
“Could be.” Shinichi made a face and sat back in his chair. “As it happens, this has kind of caught us in a bad place. We’re in the middle of the ocean. There isn’t a port for another day at least, so I’ve been put in charge of the investigation.” He abruptly looked cagey. “Hey, I’m sorry about this. I know you wanted this to be more… I don’t know, ‘relaxing with margaritas’ and less ‘me working a case,’ but—”
“Whoa, no,” Kaito cut in. Shinichi was giving him a hangdog look. “None of this is your fault, unless you were the one who killed Takano.” One of Shinichi’s eyebrows twitched, and Kaito spread his hands. “See? We just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong group of people around. That’s all.”
Shinichi hummed. He sat there and looked at Kaito for a long moment before he reached across the table and took Kaito’s hand in his, interlacing their fingers. Kaito felt a flush working up his neck. It was ridiculous: they’d done much more romantic things in public, much more ostentatious things, but there was something about the tight curl of Shinichi’s fingers that was more intimate than any of it. He tightened his hold on Shinichi’s hand, almost afraid that he would let go and the moment would fracture.
“What were you up to while I was interrogating suspects and defending your honor?” Shinichi asked after a minute of stillness, nodding at Kaito’s phone. Kaito jumped a little.
“Uh…” He doubted Shinichi would want to hear about him lurking in the #kaishin Twitter tag, but he also didn’t think Shinichi would want to hear that Kaito was being chastised by his best friend for some imagined wrongdoing. He settled for offering a mysterious smile and trying for suave. “Nothing that concerns you, darling.”
It was interesting and perhaps telling how Kaito’s suave always worked for scouts and casting agents but never on Shinichi. Shinichi’s eyes narrowed.
“That’s ominous,” he began, slow and toeing the edge of threatening. “Do I want to know what you’ve been up to, or will it just make me want to throw you overboard?”
“Shinichi!” Kaito squawked, only partially feigning affront. “You’d never!”
“Well…” Shinichi hedged before he cracked a smile. “Yeah, no, I wouldn’t. I like you a little too much to do that.” His eyes twinkled, scrunched at the corners as he laughed at whatever unfortunate position Kaito’s face was stuck in. Kaito scowled.
It was then that it hit him that he’d never actually heard Shinichi say “I love you.”
No, no, that was unfair to Shinichi, implying that Shinichi didn’t love him. Kaito knew that Shinichi cared about him, deeply, and he was demonstrative in his own ways. Sometimes Kaito could hear the fondness in Shinichi’s voice, and sometimes Kaito caught Shinichi looking at him with affection in his eyes. So it wasn’t that Shinichi didn’t love him, it was…
Okay, it was that maybe Shinichi didn’t love him, which was the kind of thought that had no place on a romantic cruise getaway, Kaito reminded himself sternly, and forced himself to stop thinking about it.
“I like you too, Inspector,” he said instead of any of the worthless things that were occupying his frontal lobe. He beamed at Shinichi and squeezed his hand, watching as Shinichi smiled back at him, oblivious and sweeter than anything Kaito had tasted. “Is there anything else you want to say about the case? I hear I make a pretty good sounding board.”
“I think I’m pretty sounded out at the moment,” Shinichi sighed before he grimaced, halfway between a smile and a frown, as if he couldn’t decide if he should be amused or annoyed at whatever he was imagining. “Interested in doing something else for me, though? It’d be perfect for…” His mouth flattened into a line. “A man of your talents.”
That, taken in conjunction with the way Shinichi’s eye had begun to twitch, sounded a little concerning, but Kaito just leaned forward and raised his eyebrows.
Kawata Aiko was leaning against the railing on the highest deck when Kaito finally found her. She was staring off into the distance, a cigarette dangling from her trembling hand, her hair whipping in the wind. There were the faintest traces of tear tracks on her face. She looked as if she was reenacting the cover of a two-dollar paperback romance novel, the beleaguered widow crossing the ocean for a chance at a new life.
Kaito came to a stop beside her, straining to catch her attention. When she turned to narrow her eyes at him, he smiled as disarmingly as he could.
“Hey,” he said, in the quietest tone he could muster. Blinking, Aiko sniffled and jammed out her cigarette against the railing, dropping it onto the deck when it was extinguished. Kaito resisted the urge to stop her.
“Where’s your guard dog? Put him in the kennel for now?” Aiko rubbed at her nose, squinting at him with suspicion clear in her eyes. Kaito blinked for a second, confused, before he realized she was talking about Shinichi, incongruously enough.
“Oh, Shinichi? I don’t know what he’s up to right now,” he replied lightly, which was a lie— Shinichi’s plan was to go back to the room to change into something other than pajamas and then return to the crime scene for more investigating. He was probably also worrying about what Kaito was doing. Truth be told, when Shinichi had told him to seduce Aiko for information, Kaito hadn’t quite known what to think.
(“We don’t have an alibi for her, and she wouldn’t say much about her relationship with Takano when I questioned her. She’s not giving anything away, not to me, at least,” Shinichi had said, looking as if he’d bitten into a lemon expecting it to be an orange. “But I have a feeling that you’d be able to get her to talk.” Kaito would’ve been more horrified than confusedly flattered if Shinichi hadn’t been wearing the expression of someone who’d just gotten teeth pulled without anesthetic. He clearly wasn’t enjoying the idea of Kaito cozying up to her.)
“I see.” Aiko’s mouth twitched at the corners, and she stared down at the mashed-up cigarette by her foot. “So you’re a free man, then?”
“For the moment,” Kaito agreed even as his stomach turned. Sure, she was pretty—even with her makeup cried off and her hair knotted at the back of her head, she was stunning—but nobody except Shinichi really did it for him anymore. He still managed a smile, though. “I thought you might want some company right about now.”
“Why? Because my idiotic ex-boyfriend got himself murdered?” Aiko rolled her eyes and flicked irritably at a stray bit of hair beside her cheek. Her laugh was hollow.
“Why do you say murdered? Isn’t suicide a possibility?” Kaito asked. Aiko scoffed.
“As if Seiji would ever have the balls to commit suicide. No, it’s murder.” She made a rough sound in the back of her throat. “What does it matter? The end result’s the same. He’s a corpse either way.” Her expression turned considering. “And anyway, Kuroba-san, I don’t think company is what I need. Some… comforting would be nice.” The look she turned on him was unmistakable. Kaito swallowed back the surge of uneasiness.
“Well, maybe we should talk things over before we move onto the comforting,” he commented, turning to lean against the railing and face her. Aiko’s eyebrows tilted.
“What, you want me to give a eulogy about Seiji? As if he even matters at this point.” She sighed heavily, as if pained. Kaito didn’t miss the way her eyes tightened, lines deepening at the corners. She suddenly looked much older. “We were together for nearly four years, if you must know. We only broke up recently.”
“How did the two of you meet?” he wondered. Aiko shook her head as though she wanted to dislodge the memories.
“At a club,” she said shortly. “It wasn’t love at first sight, though I’m sure Seiji would said differently. Or, he would’ve.” She made a face. “He was always trying to be romantic like that. Embarrassing, really. He kept proposing, too, like he thought that could fix our relationship. Overall, he was just”—she waved a hand as if to indicate her lack of descriptors for him—“a man.”
“I see.” Kaito rubbed at his bottom lip. He didn’t miss the way Aiko’s gaze fixed on the motion; he did it again as a bid for distraction. “So lately your relationship hasn’t been… great?”
“Like I said, we’d broken up. We haven’t been together for at least two weeks.” Aiko rolled her eyes. “He was trying to show me he’d ‘won’ the breakup, or whatever it is he thought he needed to prove to everyone. That’s probably why he was acting all—whatever with your man.” She shrugged, a trace of vicious smugness in her voice. “Seiji was never great at taking hints.”
“You seemed like you wanted to win the breakup, too,” Kaito pointed out before he could stop himself. Aiko shot him a sharp, displeased look, which he repelled with his sleaziest smile and an eyebrow raise. He was pretty sure he wasn’t wrong. “Didn’t you, Kawata-san?” Aiko looked unwillingly amused for a second before she rolled her eyes.
“Don’t see yourself short, sweetheart. I just thought you were too pretty to pass up. It’s nothing to do with Seiji.” Her smile sharpened. “I’ve always wanted to see what a Hollywood man would be like.” In bed, her eyes said.
“Hm,” Kaito hummed, and inched away when he thought she might approach him. He made sure to do it under the guise of getting more comfortable rather than running from her press-on nails. They were pretty sharp, after all. “Why’d you even come on this cruise? Did you know Takano would be here?”
“Oh, that?” Aiko laughed a little. It was hard to categorize the sound as anything but vindictive and jagged. “Of course I knew they’d—he’d be here. Coming along was all part of the plan.” She twisted to smirk at him. “You weren’t wrong, Kuroba-san. I did want to win the breakup. And I most definitely did.” She looked alarmingly pleased with herself for a moment before her smile slipped, and a hint of the vulnerability from before bled through. “Not that Seiji is around to enjoy it, but all the same.”
“Huh.” Kaito didn’t know what to do with that, and he was also starting to worry about how he was going to get out of comforting Aiko in any way. He decided on looking out across the ocean, watching the horizon tilt and bob as the boat foraged on. “How’d you manage that?”
“That’s something I’m afraid will have to remain a secret.” Aiko smiled, enigmatic. “But I will tell you that I do have an alibi for last night. It’s provable and everything.” Her smirk grew. “Although I doubt it’ll come to light.”
“Right,” Kaito said, for lack of a better response. He mustered up the strength to nod at her. “In that case—”
“About that comforting,” Aiko began, before she looked away, a sigh leaking out of her. Her face was unreadable, at least to him, a book written in an unfamiliar language. “I don’t think I need it, after all. Seiji was a bastard of the highest order, so I suppose I’m not really grieving.” She paused. “Earlier, I might’ve told a little lie. You were, maybe, a way of winning the breakup. But, well, like I said, I already did that.”
“That’s disappointing,” Kaito said, trying not to let his relief show through. He tried for a smile, which didn’t impress Aiko or wasn’t convincing, judging from her reaction. “If you ever change your mind…”
“I doubt I will. And your guard dog won’t let you go again, I imagine,” murmured Aiko. “Go, go. I’m not offended.” As Kaito reached the top of the staircase, though, she called after him, loud enough to be heard over the wind. “Don’t forget what I said before. Seiji was definitely killed.” The smile she angled at him was razorlike. “What’s that saying, again? ‘Poison is a woman’s weapon.’”
“Statistically, that’s been proven untrue,” Shinichi remarked. “Poison tends to be used equally across the sexes. It’s a pretty gender-neutral weapon. So no, poison isn’t a woman’s weapon, even if Holmes himself said it was.”
Kaito blinked at him.
“That’s your takeaway from everything I just told you? The whole thing about Kawata and Takano’s relationship, her saying that she got revenge on him somehow, how she definitely has an alibi but won’t say what it is, and that’s what you want to focus on?”
They were at the dining deck for lunch, having regrouped after Kaito had left Aiko on the deck. Shinichi had changed into a t-shirt with a distracting neckline and distressingly tight jeans since the last time Kaito had seen him. Kaito had just finished unloading everything Aiko had told him onto Shinichi, all of which Shinichi had absorbed with frowns and thoughtful humming sounds as he ate his sesame chicken. He’d progressed to coffee and cheesecake, now, even though Kaito was only halfway through his Mongolian beef.
“Well,” Shinichi hedged, shrugging, and stirred at his cooling cup of coffee, a frown stuck between his brows. “I guess I don’t know what to say to all of that. I mean, I have some theories, but most of them require a bit of a leap to get them there.” He thought for a second. “Although I guess there are a few things that have to be true, judging from everything you’ve said.”
When Shinichi appeared to be disinclined to elaborate, poking concernedly at his cheesecake as if he were checking it for imperfections, Kaito rubbed at his temples.
“Darling, I would hope that you’d let me in on whatever information I sold my body for you to get,” he told Shinichi when Shinichi continued studying his cheesecake. Shinichi choked on nothing.
“You what?” he managed when he’d downed half his coffee and managed to stop coughing up his lungs. There was something betrayed in his eyes when he looked at Kaito. “I thought you said you just—suggestively told her you’d keep her company? You didn’t…” His face went weird for a moment, sort of hurt and confused, before it straightened out into something resembling composure. “I thought you just flirted with her?”
“I did, darling, but you don’t seem to understand that it felt like I was selling my body. It was a knife in my soul,” Kaito said, perhaps a bit overdramatically, if the look on Shinichi’s face was indicative of anything. He heaved a sigh. “Okay, maybe I didn’t really sell my soul, but I would appreciate some jealousy.” When Shinichi’s frown deepened, he sighed. “Failing that, I’d love to know what my suffering was all for.”
“What do you mean, ‘failing that’?” Shinichi muttered under his breath before he drew himself up, setting down his fork and abandoning his cheesecake for the moment. “Fine. So my main theory is this: Kawata-san must’ve been with someone, at least around the time of death but most likely the whole night.”
“Why do you say that?”
“The time of death hasn’t been proven for certain, since we don’t have access to a coroner at the moment. My best guess would be that the time of death is probably sometime from ten to one, but that’s still just an estimate. For Kawata-san to have that much confidence in her alibi, she must’ve been with someone for a long period of time, probably the entire night.” Shinichi stopped to make a face. “Combine that with how smug she was about ‘definitely winning the breakup,’ what we know about Takano, and I think you know where I’m going with this.”
Kaito’s jaw dropped.
“Okay, yeah, she definitely got her revenge if that’s true,” he admitted, reeling a little. “Takano would’ve flipped if he’d known. Uh, you know. If he wasn’t… dead.” He winced at his own brutal insensitivity. Shinichi made a face and went back to jabbing at his cheesecake.
“But that means we don’t have any solid leads at the moment,” he sighed, mouth twisting. “I don’t have any idea of who could’ve—”
Shinichi and Kaito both jumped at the sound of an unfamiliar female voice, turning in their seats to look. The voice belonged to a small, wide-eyed woman in a stained chef’s uniform, who was looking between them with a cagey, frightened quiver to her lips, her shoulders hunched down in a way that couldn’t be comfortable. Her scuffed nametag read MUTOU. Kaito’s mind filled with images of startled mice and other tiny woodland animals quaking in the presence of grizzlies.
“Yes?” Shinichi prompted after an awkward staredown. The woman startled, as if she hadn’t expected to be acknowledged.
“Oh! Um…” Her eyes locked on Shinichi’s face. “You’re—you’re the inspector who’s overseeing the—the case, right?” Even her voice was small. Kaito had to lean forward to hear her.
“That’s me. Inspector Kudou Shinichi of the homicide division from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force. And this is Kuroba Kaito.” Kaito nodded as encouragingly as he could. When Mutou still didn’t move, blinking rapidly as she looked between them, Shinichi added gently, “Would you like to see my identification?” Apparently he’d grabbed his badge at the same time he’d changed, because he pulled it out of his jeans pocket to show it to her. Mutou scurried forward to look closer at it.
“That looks about right,” she breathed before she took a tiny step backwards. “I—I think—I, uh, I think I might have seen something that could, ah, potentially influence the—the investigation?” She cringed away. Shinichi looked cautiously hopeful.
“Go ahead,” he said, gesturing her closer. When Mutou’s eyes caught on Kaito, Shinichi waved a hand, dismissing her unvoiced concerns. “There’s no need to worry about him overhearing. I’ll vouch for him. He’s unrelated to the case and completely trustworthy.” That made something inappropriate and warm bloom behind Kaito’s chest. He had to duck his chin to hide the smile that was overtaking his face.
Mutou shuffled in closer. Her face was nervous.
“I, um, during the afternoons I work here, on the dining deck, as a chef. But, uh, I also work the graveyard shift on the residence floors. You know, late night room service, assistance with passengers who are too drunk to find their rooms, things like that.” Mutou paused, gnawing at her bottom lip as her hand-wringing increased in speed. “Last night I was on the seventh floor for the night.”
“Oh?” Shinichi’s voice was carefully calm, projecting the kind of steadiness that somehow felt assuring, dependable. “Did you see something then, Mutou-san?” Mutou looked startled at the use of her name, but she nodded, brows drawn.
“I—I got a call around three o’clock from the people in room 718. Someone had gotten locked out, lost their keycard, something like that. So I went and sorted that out with the master key that we keep, and I was on my way back to the attendants’ station when I…” She took a deep breath. “I saw one of the other staff members going into room 709.” Shinichi’s eyebrows jerked up his forehead. Kaito could almost see his concentration sharpening as he leaned forward, mouth pressed into a firm line.
“What’s their name?” he asked, still in that serene, controlled tone. Mutou worried at her lip for a moment before she spoke, sounding as if she were handing down a death sentence.
Kaito’s breath hitched. Across the table, Shinichi had gone statute, as if he’d been petrified. Mutou was still talking, a veritable flood triggered by their reactions.
“I don’t know him that well, but I’ve seen him around. He floats, mainly. He works on the pool deck sometimes, and the restaurants, and sometimes the shops? The guest resources desk, too. But he doesn’t usually work the residence floors at night, which was why I was surprised to see him. I stopped, asked him what he was doing. He seemed a little, uh, flustered, I guess? He said that a guest had told him they needed help in their room, but I felt like he wasn’t telling me the—the whole truth, you know?” Mutou’s gaze kept flickering between Kaito and Shinichi, like a pinball ricocheting off barriers. “Anyway, I just—I thought it might be relevant to your interests. As an inspector.”
“You’re right,” Shinichi said, slow. He was entering his Intense Thinking Zone; Kaito could tell from the way the hinge of his jaw had gone tight and his eyes had gone half-lidded. “That is definitely information.” He spared Mutou a bright smile. “Thank you, Mutou-san. You’ve been very helpful.”
Mutou blushed and shuffled backwards.
“Oh, uh, you’re welcome, Inspector,” she giggled, and Shinichi smiled at her again. Kaito wasn’t going to get jealous of a middle-aged woman who acted like a squirrel. He wasn’t. He had half a teaspoon of dignity left. “As—as long as you can solve the case. I just, I feel so sorry for that poor man. To be killed on vacation. Terrible.”
“It really is,” Shinichi agreed. “Wouldn’t want the cruise line to be impacted by this, after all.”
“Does that mean you have a solid lead now, darling?” Kaito murmured as Mutou bowed herself out and scampered off back towards the kitchen. He balanced his face in his heads, leaning in. “Do you think Ishihara did it?”
“I think he’s involved, somehow.” Shinichi dragged his bottom lip into his mouth with his upper teeth, which was distracting and made Kaito look away. “I don’t know if he’s the one who actually killed Takano, but there’s a possibility. That call this morning is also bothering me. Out of everyone who’s involved in the case so far, he’s the only one who would know our room number and, by extension, our phone number.”
Kaito rubbed at his cheek. Shinichi wasn’t wrong. And it was possible that the voice he’d heard had been Ishihara’s. But it had never occurred to Kaito that Ishihara would kill Takano, because why would he? The closest he’d seen then together had been yesterday by the pool. Unless they had some kind of secret past together, Kaito had no idea why Ishihara would have done it.
Evidently, Shinichi was thinking something similar, because he frowned as he got to his feet.
“I’m going to go find him. Ishihara, I mean,” he tacked on. “I think there are a few things I’d like to ask him. And I’m going to try to look into his background, see if there’s any connection with him and Takano.” His face creased into an apologetic wince. “Sorry. I know this isn’t ideal. You can come with me if you’d like?”
“Of course I’d like to,” Kaito replied, feigning horror. “What can I even do on my own? Swim laps alone? Go wander around the shops without you around to shower extravagant gifts on? Get a massage on my own? What kind of boyfriend would I be?” He shook his head, standing up as well. “There’s no place I’d rather be than with you, darling.”
“Oh.” Shinichi flushed, mouth curling up in an almost unconscious movement. “Uh, that’s quite the compliment. Especially coming from you.” He seemed to steel himself for a moment before he swept in to kiss Kaito on the mouth, fond and chaste. Kaito felt himself smile.
“I’m just telling the truth,” he said, frankly, and reached down to snag Shinichi’s hand in his. Even if it turned out that Shinichi wasn’t in love with him, even if Shinichi didn’t want to go any further, he was going to enjoy every minute he spent with Shinichi. He was selfish like that.
As it turned out, nobody knew where Ishihara was, not even his manager.
“I don’t know what to say, Inspector,” the poor man sighed, setting the phone on his desk back into the cradle. He had just gotten off the line with the woman manning the over-twenties pool, who had given him the same negative answer that the people overseeing the guest services desk, the residence floors, and the restaurants had. “He’s been working on this ship for a couple years now. He’s a real independent one. Does what he likes, when he likes. I can’t say I know what he’s doing half the time.” His gaze skipped between Shinichi and Kaito, as if he couldn’t decide which of them was more of a threat. Kaito resisted the urge to point at Shinichi. “Ah, but he does get his work done? He’s—well, not all that friendly, but a good guy? He’s not a bad sort.”
“Can you tell me anything about his personal life?” Shinichi asked, leaning forward. He was holding his police notebook in one hand. “Anything at all?”
The manager rubbed at the stubble smattering his jawline.
“I don’t know much,” he admitted after a moment. “Just that he’s got a family back in Nara, or maybe it was Osaka? He sends money back every paycheck.” He lowered his voice. “I think money’s tight or something. He doesn’t talk much about them, but his kids are all in private school, elite-like, and, well, they’re all headed for college, y’know? He’s trying to scrape together something for their tuition.”
Shinichi scribbled something down. His handwriting was surprisingly illegible when Kaito glanced over at his notebook.
“Anything else?” he said, pen still moving jerkily across the page. “Does he have any friends on the staff?”
“Nah, Ishihara-kun’s not really into socializing.” The manager laughed. “He’s real quiet, most the time. He’s not, like, unfriendly or anything like that, but he keeps to himself. He likes movies though. Always oversees movie screenings when we have ’em on board. Real movie buff.” He grinned at Kaito, sudden and amused. “I bet he’s a fan of yours. He liked that one you were in, the famous one. You know, the one that won the award.” Kaito politely didn’t mention that that could be about five separate movies, for fear of sounding self-congratulatory. Evidently, he still exuded some kind of smugness, because Shinichi’s elbow pressed into his ribcage.
“He did seem to like you, Kaito,” Shinichi agreed, smiling angelically as Kaito’s face twisted. He lowered his voice. “To the point that he remembered your room number.”
“Sure,” grumbled Kaito sourly while the manager looked on, confused but too unsure of himself to ask for clarification. He turned a smile on him, trying to look reassuring. “I’ll ask him when we find him. Maybe he is a fan of mine.”
“Well, okay.” The manager glanced at Shinichi, then Kaito. “Look, if Ishihara-kun’s in any trouble—” Shinichi snapped his notebook shut.
“He’s in no trouble, Ikeda-san. We just think he might have some information about the case that could be helpful.” He smiled, one of his manufactured, absentminded ones. “If there’s nothing else, please excuse us. Oh, and if you hear anything about Ishihara-san…”
“Oh, yes, I’ll get in contact with you, of course,” the manager hurried to agree. He got to his feet to shake their hands. “Hey, catch the criminal, all right? People are going to start boycotting our cruise if they think killers go uncaught on our line.”
“I assure you that we’ll do our very best,” Shinichi told him. Kaito was still trying to figure out if he was using the royal “we” or if he really meant the two of them were going to hunt down the murderer as he followed Shinichi out of the manager’s office.
“So what are we thinking?” he wondered as they started for the stairs. The manager’s office had been on the fifth floor; Kaito wasn’t sure where they were going now, but evidently they needed to go up, because Shinichi headed for the staircase leading to the upper decks without hesitating. “And by ‘we’ I mean you, of course.” Shinichi rolled his eyes, twisting to look over his shoulder at Kaito.
“We are both part of this investigation, so we are thinking that Ishihara is a suspect,” he answered, snarky. “But not the prime suspect.”
“Oh, so you—we have one of those?” Kaito tried not to stare when Shinichi managed to get one too many steps ahead of him. Shinichi’s jeans were really too tight, honestly. That had to be bad for circulation. “Because I kind of feel like we have no real idea who did it.”
“I think we do,” Shinichi replied, grinning over his shoulder at Kaito. “But I’m going to keep my cards close to my chest on this one.”
“You suck,” Kaito grumbled. He batted his eyelashes at him. “I can’t believe you would play hard to get. You’re such a tease, Shinichi.” That appeared to be the wrong thing to say, because Shinichi made a genuinely upset sound and whirled on him, his whole face tight with something approaching hurt, or maybe stung disbelief. He’d just reached the top of the stairs, and Kaito was still two steps below him, blinking as he came to a stuttering stop and stared up at him.
“Oh, I’m a tease? I’m a tease? Between the two of us, I am not the tease,” Shinichi scoffed, incredulous. “If I’m a tease, you’re…” He seemed to run out of words, sagging in on himself like a rundown building scheduled for demolition. Kaito didn’t like the way defeat looked on him. Shinichi was unconquerable in so many ways that seeing him like that was a bucket of ice water over the head.
“I didn’t think we were talking about this,” he said, a bit blankly. Shinichi gave him a despairing look.
“We weren’t,” he muttered before he turned back around, sighing. “Look, I’m going to go try to find Ishihara, and you can go do whatever—”
“No, no, let’s talk about it,” Kaito interrupted, finding his voice as he made it up the last two steps and took hold of Shinichi’s hand, which was slightly clammier than usual. Shinichi made no effort to grip back, and he seemed to be having a hard time meeting Kaito’s eyes, focusing with intense concentration on something just beyond Kaito’s temple. Nothing was that interesting. Kaito swallowed down the anxiety that bubbled up in the back of his throat. “I think we need to. Clearly we’re having some trouble communicating.”
Shinichi looked pained, as if someone told him he was being demoted to assistant inspector transferred to the tax evasion department.
“We’re not doing this in public,” he sighed after a long moment. “I refuse to have this conversation anywhere it can end up as a Twitter hashtag.”
“Back to the room, then,” Kaito said firmly. He let go of Shinichi’s hand for the moment—something about it had felt a little too restrictive—and motioned at the next flight of stairs leading to the eighth floor. Shinichi worried at his bottom lip for a moment before he stepped up.
The walk back to the room was awkward in ways it hadn’t been between them for a long time. Shinichi was closemouthed and clearly uncomfortable, tapping out a jittery rhythm against his thigh as he walked, and Kaito’s mind was whirling too fast to be helpful. So there had been something going on between them? He thought back to all the false starts and having to pull back from anything verging too close on sex and the all-consuming thoughts that Shinichi didn’t want him and didn’t love him. He rubbed at his jaw, one hand over the bottom half of his face. Okay, those were not encouraging. He willed himself to stop thinking them.
The moment they were inside, Shinichi sat down on the newly-made bed, jostling the towel monkey on the pillows, and wrapped his arms around himself before he looked up at Kaito expectantly.
“This was your idea,” he pointed out when Kaito, having just shut the door, gave him a bemused look. He exhaled, pointed. “If it were up to me, I’d be finding Ishihara. But feel free to take your time with this.”
“Don’t think that being an asshole is going to get you out of this conversation,” Kaito snapped, feeling his nerves fraying before he took a deep breath. He was having a hard time not thinking about how worthless he was and how much Shinichi didn’t love him. He sat down at the dressing table, a reasonable, respectful distance from Shinichi, and forced himself to look directly into Shinichi’s face. “Darling, this is a conversation that we’ve been needing to have for a while. I think we can agree that there are a few things we should get out into the air.”
Shinichi huffed out a breath hard enough that his bangs twitched. He hadn’t fully styled his hair, probably just for efficiency’s sake, and so his fringe was sticking up even more than usual.
“Tell me if I’m reading this wrong,” he began, “but you don’t want to, uh.” He swallowed, the sound loud and jarring in the awkward silence. “You don’t want to sleep with me.”
Kaito’s eyes nearly exited his skull. For a second, he was so busy choking on his tongue that he couldn’t make any sound.
“What?” he demanded, wondering how such an obvious lie had gotten any traction in Shinichi’s head. Shinichi appeared not to hear him, staring down at his knees as he continued speaking in a low mumble. He was tugging at a loose thread on the comforter all the while, pulling it loose then trying to slip it back into place. It felt like a strangely relevant metaphor.
“I guess—before, uh, before we came on this trip, you were more, ah, interested? But maybe…” Shinichi slipped him a skittish glance, the look of a cornered animal, before quickly returning his gaze to the safety of his lap. “You started sort of… backing off after the whole thing with Takano?” Kaito felt his jaw drop. “Even though you knew I wanted you to—even though Ran told you—I mean, even though I didn’t want you to. So I don’t know, I was thinking that maybe I did I do something wrong, there? In the situation with Takano?” He cleared his throat. “I mean, you haven’t been, uh, constantly telling me you, um, love me since then, and, like, you haven’t been looking at me like you usually do, so. I don’t know.”
“Shinichi, it’s been a day,” Kaito stammered. Shinichi made a soft sound, and the look he turned on Kaito when he lifted his face was tired and sad and a little worn, as if he’d been wearing it when Kaito wasn’t looking.
“It took you less than a day to fall in love with me,” he said, quiet. “Why wouldn’t it take you just as long to fall out?”
“Shinichi,” Kaito spluttered, because he was having a very hard time trying to figure out what part of that to start with. Shinichi thought Kaito was rejecting him? Shinichi thought there was something he’d done—that he could do—that would make Kaito give up on him? Shinichi thought a lot of worthless things, he realized, then had to suppress a hysterical laugh, because in that respect, at least, they were well-suited.
Clearly, something on Kaito’s face was not encouraging, at least not to Shinichi. Shinichi’s mouth went tight at the corners, and when he looked away, his jaw was trembling, as if he were trying not to let his lip wobble. This was a Shinichi that Kaito hadn’t seen in a long, long time.
“Look, I’ll—I’ll talk to you later, okay? I don’t—there are more important things that I need to be doing right now, and I can’t have this taking up space in my head right now,” Shinichi said, and just like that, he was vaulting off the bed and headed for the door, moving so quickly that Kaito didn’t follow for a second. He blinked kind of stupidly for half a second before he started.
“What? Where are you going?” He got up, intent on following him, but Shinichi shook his head, teeth buried in his bottom lip. Even when Kaito made an effort to catch his gaze, Shinichi avoided him, addressing the carpet instead of anything in the vicinity of Kaito’s face.
“Don’t follow me, okay? I’ll meet you at the restaurant for dinner at five thirty,” he muttered, and Kaito knew that tone of voice was a grenade with its pin half-pulled, seconds from detonation if Kaito pushed too hard. He stepped forward anyway. Never let it be said that Kuroba Kaito wasn’t a risk-taker.
“I can’t say I understand what’s going on right now, but if you need time, you’ll get time,” he murmured back, one hand hovering in the air. It was instinctual to touch Shinichi, to try to comfort him, but Shinichi was throwing off a general aura of cactus-like don’t touch me don’t touch me don’t touch me that suggested it might be better not to do that right now. “But this conversation isn’t over, darling. You’re definitely misunderstanding something here, and so was I.”
“Right,” was all Shinichi said in response, though. His eyes darted across the carpet, then the wall before he yanked open the door and disappeared down the hall. Kaito stood in the doorway long enough to watch him go before he ran back into the room and scooped up his phone. In-room WiFi cost an exorbitant per-minute fee, but Kaito didn’t care, clicking through the prompts until he was connected.
There was no indication that Ran was on her phone, but when Kaito sent her a LINE message with a row of confused question marks and exclamation point, she responded within the minute.
Today, 1:34 p.m.
Today, 1:34 p.m.
- What’s happening?
Today, 1:35 p.m.
- u knew didn’t u
- u knew that shinichi wanted to
- u know
- “go all the way” or whatever
Today, 1:36 p.m.
- Yes I knew that Shinichi wanted to be your teenage dream (lol)
Today, 1:36 p.m.
- can you take this seriously pLEASE?????
Today, 1:37 p.m
- You’re no fun Kuroba-kun
- Anyway you’re right I knew, which is why I gave you a heads up?
- I told you to take care of him & not be too rough? I thought I was pretty clear
Kaito gaped at the screen. On a list of things Ran had been, “clear” would not make an appearance.
Today, 1:38 p.m.
- U DEFINITELy WERENT BC I HAD NO IDEA OK
- i had no idea that he was interested in going further!!
Today, 1:39 p.m.
- Wait what
Today, 1:40 p.m.
- uh YEAH
- shinichi was acting all
- not ready or whatever
- before whenever i tried anything
- so i took that as him not being ready????
Today, 1:41 p.m.
- Oh yeah he had his reasons for that
- He’s totally been ~lusting~ after you for maybe six months??
- He’s been like… seriously thirsty I mean (Oh God, Kaito thought, dropping his head in his hands. There were so many things wrong this situation.)
- But he finally worked up the courage to try to, like, seduce you on the cruise
- (At least that’s what he told me)
- Which is why I warned you not to do anything ungentlemanly
- You two really didn’t talk about this???
Today, 1:43 p.m.
- uhhh no???????
- if we had i wouldn’t be this confused????
- so let me get this straight
- shinichi’s been trying to seduce me this whole cruise
- and he had to work up the courage to do that
- bc he felt like he couldn’t (???) before for… whatever reason
- and you thought the best way of telling me that he was ready was by warning me to “take care of him” and “not be too rough”????
Today, 1:47 p.m.
- Yeah that’s about it!! J
Kaito stared down at the string of messages for a long moment before he disconnected from the Wi-Fi and closed his eyes, praying to any available gods for the strength not to make the idiotic move of trying to throw down with Ran the next time he saw her. He was smiling, though, even as he did, because, well, Shinichi wanted him. Shinichi didn’t mind him looking. Shinichi—Shinichi could even be in love with him.
Some of him felt stupid for sitting in an empty room and smiling like an idiot, while his boyfriend avoided him and it became more and more clear that someone he knew was probably a murderer. Most of him was too busy being ridiculously pleased with the situation to really care, though.
Kaito didn’t realize that tonight was supposed to be a black-tie dinner night until he was halfway to the restaurant and caught sight of a man in a fully tailcoated dinner jacket prancing down the stairs beside him. He swore, glanced down at his outfit of jeans and an ill-fitting button-down, checked the time on his phone (it was 5:18), and was just deciding that he had enough time to go back to the room and change into the suit he’d let Shinichi cajole him into hanging up when he turned around and almost walked straight into Fumika.
“Whoa,” he stammered, making the mistake of lifting his hands to protecting himself and accidentally grazing her chest, which, uh. He took a stumbling step backwards, half-tripping down the staircase. “I’m so, so sorry—”
“It’s fine,” Fumika said, a little short. It was then that Kaito realized he hadn’t really had a conversation with her since last night, when he’d sort of vehemently denied that they’d had a thing back in high school. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been crying frantically and threatening the first mate.
“Hey, uh, I just,” he began, after an awkward moment, rubbing at the back of his neck when Fumika side-eyed him. “You look beautiful, by the way.” She really did. She was wearing a dark burgundy dress with a low neckline and chandelier earrings that made her neck look swanlike and graceful, her hair swept off her shoulders into a stylishly messy bun beside her right ear. The only thing that detracted from the look was that her face was puffy and her eyes were red, cried out.
Fumika’s kohl-lined eyes narrowed for a second before she broke into what looked like a reluctant smile. She pressed her darkly lipsticked mouth into a soft, almost nostalgic line.
“You never change, Kuroba-kun,” she commented, quiet, and pushed a stray bit of her hair out of her face. “You’re still the same, too-charming, too-nice guy who flirts even though he’s got a one-track mind for someone.” She sighed, looking away. “Back then, it was Aoko-chan, but now it’s Kudou-san, huh?”
“Something like that,” Kaito agreed after a moment. He doubted that his hormone-ridden teenage self could have ever felt the same amount of sheer possessive adoration for Aoko that he currently felt for Shinichi, but the principle was the same. He gave an apologetic smile. “Sorry for the flirting?” Fumika rolled her eyes.
“I’m sure you are.” A pair of women, arms linked and heads bent together, passed by them, their skirts brushing against his leg, and Kaito took a deep breath, turning back to Fumika.
“You’re different from what I remember, though,” he told her, quiet.
“Really?” Fumika tilted her head at him, her finely-drawn brows gathering as her lips pursed. “I don’t feel that different. What do you mean?”
“Well, I don’t know.” Kaito pretended to think about it, sliding his gaze towards something over her bare collarbone. “I guess in high school, you gave me the impression that you were someone who was really into the sacredness of romance? Pure-hearted love? I don’t really know. I guess my point is that you used to give me the impression that you wouldn’t even consider sleeping with someone you weren’t in love with.” He hazarded a glance at her. Her face had gone still.
“What are you talking about?” she asked, voice preternaturally uninflected. It was as if she’d drawn shutters up over her entire face, tucked away any movement that would give him a hint at what she was thinking behind a curtain. Unfortunately, that in and of itself was a giveaway. Kaito pushed back the urge to smile.
“You know what I’m talking about, and I know what I’m talking about, so we probably don’t have to say it out loud,” he replied. Fumika’s face was starting to go red, noticeable even through her makeup. The blush she had applied was two and a half shades away from the color of her natural flush.
“I was wrong. You have changed,” she snapped, her temper flaring to life. “The Kuroba-kun that I used to be in love with was not this much of an asshole. You’re just like Kudou-san, trying to push for more information and interrogate the shit out of me because you think you know what’s going on. Newsflash, dickwad: you don’t, and neither does he.”
“To be honest, I think I’ve always been this much of a dick. I just hid it better back then. It was easier that way, for everyone,” remarked Kaito, a little bit philosophically. He couldn’t help the smile that overtook his face. It was as if he’d lost control of his muscles. “But what can I say? Shinichi brings the best out in me. All that insensitivity and emotional unintelligence? It’s rubbing off on me.”
Something moved behind the drapes drawn over Fumika’s expression. She looked unwillingly and reluctantly amused, a wry smile crooking her mouth into a curl of lipstick.
“You really like him that much, huh?” she asked, only a little bit joking. Kaito couldn’t help the way he beamed down at the toes of his sneakers, nodding before he was fully aware of it.
“Yeah,” he said, not embarrassed in the slightest by how he could hear the grin in his voice when he brought himself to lift his face and look Fumika in the face. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, I really do.”
Fumika regarded him, her gaze flicking back and forth between his eyes. The mask had dropped off her face sometime between when Kaito had looked down and back up; there was something longing, almost, longing and wistful about her expression. She dropped her gaze after a moment, straightening out the lines of her skirt.
“I’m glad you found someone who makes you that happy,” she murmured after a moment. “I’m—you know, a part of me still thinks about you sometimes, just because you were my first love. I really was into you, you know. But mostly I’m just… it’s just nice to know that you have someone who can be like that for you.” Her nose wrinkled. “Even if it’s Kudou-san.”
Kaito winced. Usually Shinichi was good with wrangling suspects, but he could only imagine a Shinichi powered by stress and the idea that Kaito hated him trying to interrogate a group of emotionally volatile suspects who were already inclined to dislike him. Fumika did have a short fuse, after all, and Kinoshita’s response to anything approaching probing probably would’ve been to impersonate an uncooperative bag of rocks. And Aiko had been a terror, Shinichi had said, though that was probably more on her than him.
“I know he can come across as a bit of a dick sometimes,” he started, but Fumika waved him off, giggling unabashedly for the first time since they’d met again. Her earrings swayed as she shook her head.
“He’s probably not a bad guy, but you should’ve seen the way he was grilling us at the crime scene,” she laughed. “I don’t think he fully expected any of us to be as broken up as we were. Well, I guess it’s down to how he was introduced to Seiji. Seiji didn’t make the greatest first impression.” Her smile took on a hint of sadness. “Kinoshita-kun was pretty upset. He and Seiji were such good friends for so long, even if they’ve fallen out a little.”
“Really?” Kaito felt his eyebrows lift. He certainly hadn’t gotten the feeling that there was any tension between Takano and Kinoshita—although he hadn’t seen them interact much, he realized now. “They weren’t still best friends?”
“No, no, they were,” Fumika assured him. “I just… I guess they haven’t been as close since Seiji and Aiko got together?” Kaito frowned.
“Wasn’t that a while ago? Like four years or so?”
“Something like that, yeah.” Fumika shrugged. “I don’t really know why. They were still friends, though, and still pretty close. Just, there was a little tension between them. It was always just small things, just arguments about stupid shit and leaving each other on read. Dumb shit like that.” She paused. “Actually, I think it started around when Hiro-kun transferred to Seiji’s department, too? Around that time, I’d say.”
“Interesting.” Kaito made a thoughtful face, which Fumika scoffed at.
“Yeah, yeah, have fun reporting all of this back to Inspector Asshole,” she groaned, even as she smiled a little, meeting his eyes. “I didn’t say this before, but it’s good to see you.”
“Thanks. You too.” Fumika rolled her eyes.
“As if you didn’t flinch in horror when you realized who I was,” she sighed. Kaito winced and tried not to look as guilty as he felt. “But, well, I can’t say I don’t understand. I know I was really overbearing back in high school. I’m not good with, like, feelings. I—I always just… explode, kind of, when I… feel too much, I guess.”
“I think you’re fine the way you are,” Kaito told her, mostly sincere. He clapped her on the shoulder and started back up the stairs, feeling much lighter than he had on the way down. He’d only gone a few steps before Fumika called after him.
“And, uh, Kuroba-kun?”
Fumika was biting at her bottom lip, abruptly shy and not a little uncomfortable.
“I know you said that I must’ve changed, but… I really haven’t,” she said, eyes going sad, and Kaito almost didn’t remember what she was referring to before it dawned on him. He made himself smile, maybe a little more uneasily than he should’ve.
“I know, I know, it’s terrible. It’s such a bullshit thing to do. But when have I not made terrible decisions?” Fumika gave a creakingly artificial laugh—it sounded as if she’d purchased it at a dollar store—and clomped down the stairs without looking back at him, the wings of her shoulders taut and pulled together. Kaito watched her go with something sitting heavy in the pit of his stomach before he remembered he was supposed to be changing and hurried up the stairs.
He was expecting the room to be just as he’d left it, silent and empty, the bedsheets still tousled from where he’d been lying while he watched Spirited Away on the mounted TV in the corner. Instead, he found Shinichi perched on the foot of the bed, frowning down at his phone. He looked up with a start when Kaito closed the door.
The awkwardness hung in the air like a tangible object. Kaito cleared his throat. Shinichi looked strangely caught out.
“I thought you’d be at the restaurant by now,” he mumbled after a second, hands still clenched tight around his phone. With a visible effort, he relaxed his grip and tried for a smile. “Sorry. That sounded, ah, bitter.”
“No, no.” Kaito watched him carefully as he rubbed at the back of his head, ruffling up his hair. “I, uh. What are you up to?” he asked when Shinichi didn’t appear to have anything else to say. Shinichi blinked at him, parsing the sentence, before he jumped and looked down at the phone still in his hand.
“Oh, I was just going some research on Kawata Aiko.” He coughed. “She’s a pretty interesting topic on a lot of gossip blogs and forums. Reddit has a long to say about her, for one. There are a few interesting theories about where she came from. And if the one I think is right is right, then I have a good idea of what’s been going on.” Kaito’s eyebrows jumped.
“You do? Why don’t you share with the class?”
“I think I’ll wait until I know everything for sure,” Shinichi replied with a hint of his usual assholery. He glanced down at his phone for a second, turning it over in his hands, before he stood up and shot Kaito a slight smile. “Well, I’m going to get ready.”
“Did you ever find Ishihara?” Kaito wondered, watching as Shinichi went to retrieve his suit from the closet. Once Shinichi had edged out of the way, he went and got his own. His arm brushed Shinichi’s as he went, and Shinichi visibly startled even as he pretended nothing was wrong, which was like watching a cat pretend not to be afraid of water.
“No, not yet. Nobody knew where he was, and I couldn’t really search the entire ship,” Shinichi got out once he was a safe distance away, suit thrown over one shoulder. He paused in the doorway to the bathroom, one hand on the handle. “I, uh…”
“It’s later,” Kaito blurted out, then cleared his throat roughly when he realized he’d kind of shouted that. “It’s later,” he repeated, softer. “Can we finish talking?”
Shinichi hesitated, one hand fiddling with the lapel of his suit jacket. There was indecision clear in his face, in the tired lines around his mouth and eyes. Kaito suddenly wished that he’d managed to persuade Shinichi to stay, earlier, instead of letting it go this far.
“After dinner,” Shinichi said eventually. He gave a half-shrug that looked more like a nervous twitch. “We’re already late for dinner as it is.” His bottom lip disappeared behind his teeth. “For now, can we just—can we just be okay?” It was almost a plea.
“Of course we can. For now at least. But we’re going to talk,” Kaito pressed. He waited until Shinichi’s roaming eyes caught his and made sure that his voice was serious, no hint of joking in it, before he crossed the room and took Shinichi’s face in his hands, as carefully as he knew how. Shinichi’s eyes were wide and startled. Kaito made sure to enunciate carefully. “We’re going to talk, we’re going to straighten out whatever misunderstandings there were on both of our sides, and then I’m going to explain to you how ridiculously in love with you I am and how nothing can change that.”
The flush that rose in Shinichi’s face was sudden and violent; he looked as if someone had painted his cheeks red.
“Can I kiss you?” Kaito asked when Shinichi didn’t seem to have anything to say. Shinichi glared.
“You’ve never asked before,” he remarked, which didn’t answer the question. Kaito just waited. It was a few seconds before Shinichi huffed out a breath, feigning annoyance, and pushed forward to drop a kiss on Kaito’s mouth, sweet and closemouthed. It felt like forgiveness.
“Thank you,” Kaito whispered when it was done. Shinichi grimaced, but Kaito detected a hint of a smile in his eyes, though, as he tugged out of Kaito’s grip and ducked into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
Kaito had just tugged off his top and chosen a dress shirt to change into when Shinichi emerged from the bathroom. Kaito glanced over reflexively at the sound of the door opening and nearly dropped his shirt. He’d seen his fair share of tuxedoed and suited men, usually on red carpets and on sets and at functions, and been entirely unmoved by the sight, but none of them had been Shinichi. Shinichi looked—Shinichi looked incredible, his suit cut tight to his body (especially around his waist and thighs), his shirt buttoned all the way up, which was hot in a weird, teasing way. Kaito wasn’t sure how long he’d been standing there, staring openmouthed, before Shinichi cleared his throat and Kaito’s eyes jerked guiltily up to his. At least Shinichi looked amused—amused and a little flustered.
“How long are you going to stand there with your top off?” he asked, half teasing and half serious, and Kaito looked down at his bare chest, the image of Shinichi in his suit too burned into his retinas for him to really register it, before he jumped and started pulling on the shirt he was still holding.
“Sorry, darling, just,” he stammered, aware that he was turning pink. “You—you look amazing.” Which was an understatement. “Incredible, I mean.” Also an understatement. Kaito sighed. “Edible. You look edible.”
“Oh.” Shinichi looked surprised, at first glance, but when Kaito studied his expression closer, he saw that underneath that, Shinichi also looked pleased, and amused, and flattered, his mouth tipped up at the corners and his ears reddened at the tips. That was what he’d been missing, Kaito realized with a dawning sense of clarity. He’d been too busy trying to guess at what Shinichi was feeling to actually look at him and see.
“I’m going to do my hair now,” Shinichi was saying when Kaito had floated back down to earth. He eyed Kaito for a second, gaze sliding down to Kaito’s semi-naked chest and—oh. Maybe that was another thing Kaito had missed, the way Shinichi looked at him the same way that he looked at Shinichi. Kaito didn’t even try to stop the smile that spread across his face, his whole body feeling warm. He hadn’t smiled this much since the day Shinichi had told him he wanted to be together. (Although that had also been the same day Miho had been arrested, which took the shine off of it a little. But.)
The room was quiet as Kaito finished doing up his buttons and Shinichi got to work on his hair. He appeared to be going for a slicked-back look; his tongue stuck out from between his teeth as he tried to get his cowlicks to lie flat. It seemed to be a losing battle, but by the time Kaito was done pulling his suit into place, Shinichi had gotten the job done, albeit only from the front.
Kaito took one look at his own hair in the mirror—it looked as though someone had tried to style it with a pitchfork—and decided to give it up as a lost cause. The bedhead look was in, wasn’t it? He sighed and turned to Shinichi.
“Ready, darling?” he asked. Shinichi jumped, a hint of guilt flashing over his face before he nodded. It took Kaito a second to realize that Shinichi had been eyeing him up, and he went hot under the collar even as they headed for the door. How had he missed all the signs, he wondered? Shinichi wasn’t exactly being subtle. Kaito must’ve been too convinced that Shinichi didn’t want it to pay attention.
The maître d’ at Aphrodite was the same as yesterday, albeit in a backless black dress and princess curls today. She paled when she saw them, fumbling with her words and the menus she was clutching at.
“We apologize for yesterday,” she stammered, gaze flicking from Shinichi’s face to Kaito’s. “I—we would have seated you with a different party, sirs, but—”
“It’s fine,” Shinichi interrupted. Kaito could tell that he was feeling bad about storming out last night. “Um, for tonight, if things are too busy, it’s really all right if you—”
“We’d like to be seated by ourselves, this time,” Kaito cut in, because even if Shinichi was trying to be accommodating, he’d really prefer some privacy. That’s what they’d come on the cruise for, anyway. While Shinichi raised an eyebrow at him, the maître d’ nodded like an overenthusiastic bobblehead, her earrings bouncing.
“Of course! We specially reserved a table for the two of you, to avoid events like last night from happening again,” she assured them, stepping down from behind the podium to lead them through the restaurant. Kaito had the strange and disconcerting feeling that they were the problem customers that the staff complained about behind closed doors. From the look on Shinichi’s face, he felt the same.
They were about halfway across the floor, squeezing between two tables filled with glittering, jewelry-laden passengers when Shinichi, who was in front of Kaito, froze. Kaito bumped into the back of him, hands grabbing at Shinichi in a bid to keep his balance. Once he had, though, he was faced with the realization that he was holding onto Shinichi’s hips in a somewhat scandalous position. He froze, suddenly too aware of how he was pressed up against Shinichi, his nose buried in Shinichi’s hair.
Shinichi, on the other hand, hadn’t noticed in the least.
“Ishihara-san,” he called across the table to their right, and Kaito pulled himself from his Shinichi-induced stupor just enough to follow Shinichi’s gaze. Ishihara, dressed in a suit with an actual waistcoat, was serving rolls to the Cartier-adorned man on the far side of the table. Ishihara glanced up, bread tongs hovering above the man’s plate.
“Kudou-san,” he acknowledged. Shinichi’s brow furrowed. The maître d’, a few feet ahead of them, realized that they weren’t following.
“Um…” she called, before she gave up and hurried back over with an alarmed expression on her face. Nobody was paying attention to her.
“I need to talk to you.” Shinichi raised his eyebrows at Ishihara. “It’s to do with the case.”
“I’m currently quite busy,” Ishihara replied blandly. People were beginning to stare, whispering and twisting in their chairs to watch the great Inspector Kudou Shinichi face off with a random waiter in the middle of a formal dinner. Kaito remembered that his hands were still on Shinichi’s hips and shuffled backwards quickly, before anyone could get a picture of it. He might’ve been too late, though, judging from the knowing look that a cell-phone wielding girl two tables away angled at him.
“I think that the investigation should take precedence,” Shinichi returned, polite smile in place. His eyes were unmoved. Kaito had had time to get used to the idea that everything Shinichi did was hot, but God did Shinichi’s inspector voice do things for him.
“Oh, I’m sure you think that,” agreed Ishihara, resettling the breadbasket in his arms in a show of noncompliance. His eyes glinted. “But I really must serve my duties here before I can assist you in your investigation, Inspector.” He paused, looking all too pleased with himself. “Although, well. I do believe I already have.” With that last enigmatic statement, he turned and disappeared between tables, somehow managing to melt into the swarm of people.
“Uh, what about my bread?” one of the remaining women at the table asked, to a round of bemused shrugs from her companions. The man next to her had started filming the whole thing on his phone. He made eye contact with Kaito over the top of his Samsung.
“Kudou-san, please,” hissed the maître d’ when Shinichi continued glaring after Ishihara. Kaito nudged him gently after a second, and Shinichi shook himself and blinked at the maître d’.
“Oh, I’m so sorry about that.” He winced and smiled, clearly trying to look as apologetic and innocuous as possible. It seemed to work; the maître d’ stopped looking quite so frazzled, although her smile was still strained when she ushered them along. Kaito suspected she was going to spend several hours later ranting about them with a glass of Chardonnay in hand.
The table that she eventually led them to was semi-secluded, planted between a low, decorative wall and a window, with only a few other occupied tables in the area. The maître d’ laid down the menus at their respective places and bowed out, looking all too relieved to be done with her duties. Kaito shook his head as he sat down at the seat with its back facing the floor. He figured Shinichi would want to be able to see the tables.
“Think maybe she chose this table so we don’t make any more scenes?” he asked dryly as he sat down. Shinichi’s face was trapped in a state between irritation and embarrassment.
“I didn’t mean to start anything,” he mumbled, abashed as he unfolded his menu. One hand started to rub at the back of his neck as his eyes trailed over the lines of text. “I just didn’t think I’d get another opportunity to talk to Ishihara. I mean, I searched basically the entire ship earlier, and I couldn’t find him.”
“Maybe you just had bad timing?” Kaito offered with a shrug before he looked down at the menu. Grilled chicken caprese, slow-roasted pork belly, Atlantic salmon, shrimp spring rolls, mozzarella and pesto pizza… “What are you thinking, darling? For dinner, I mean.”
“Uh, I haven’t really thought about it.” Shinichi’s gaze kept fluttering from the menu to the floor, flitting across the room in periodic sweeps. Kaito suspected he was looking for any sign of Ishihara, a theory confirmed when Shinichi asked, eyes fixed on something over Kaito’s shoulder, “Hey, where do you think Ishihara went? Do you think he’s in the kitchen?”
Kaito sighed and resigned himself to ordering for Shinichi, not that it would be hard. Shinichi had predictable, easy tastes. At least that part of him was easy to understand.
It was another few minutes before any of the staff approached them. Kaito was stuck between the spring rolls and the pork belly (he’d already decided on the salmon for Shinichi) when someone sidled up.
“May I take your order, sirs?” said a familiar voice, and both Kaito and Shinichi jerked and whirled on the waiter to find Ishihara standing behind Shinichi’s chair, expression bland even as his eyes gleamed with a strange kind of hungry interest. He was holding an order pad in one hand and a heavy-looking pen in the other.
“You can take our order after I talk to you about the case,” Shinichi informed him. “Your name’s come up. Someone saw you going into the victim’s room last night.” He paused, raising his eyebrows. “That makes you a person of interest in this investigation.”
“Oh, is that so? Someone really said that?” Ishihara gave a minute shrug, looking entirely unimpressed and unruffled. “I couldn’t really say anything about that.”
“I could detain you,” Shinichi began slowly. Ishihara continued to look unmoved.
“I suppose you could,” he agreed. “I don’t see how that would help you, though. I’m not feeling particularly inclined to speak with you at the moment, Inspector.”
“Why were you in Takano’s room, Ishihara-san?” Kaito asked when Shinichi looked too annoyed for words. Ishihara’s gaze cut sharply over to him, unblinking, and Kaito tried to look as unassuming and disarming as he could, trying for charming. “We’d really like to solve this case as quickly as possible.”
“Of course.” Ishihara’s smile was slimy, self-satisfied and sticky with smugness. Something about it sat uneasily in Kaito’s stomach. “Unfortunately, at least for now, there’s nothing I can tell you, Inspector. I have nothing to say.” He cleared his throat. “May I take your order now?”
“So you’re denying that you went to Takano-san’s room last night?” Shinichi narrowed his eyes at him. Ishihara made a noncommittal sound.
“Not quite, no,” he replied vaguely. “Orders, sirs?” There was something challenging in his eyes, as if he wanted to impress upon them that he wasn’t going to say anything else. Kaito exchanged a look with Shinichi, who gritted his teeth and rubbed at his temples, clearly holding back. He could understand the feeling.
“I’ll have the shrimp spring rolls, and he’ll have the Atlantic salmon fillet,” Kaito told Ishihara, feeling as if he were admitting defeat. Ishihara’s smile widened by a few molars.
“Excellent choices,” he enthused, scribbling down something on the orderpad, before he slipped away. From where he’d craned his neck to watch Ishihara’s path, Kaito decided that his uncanny ability to disappear into a crowd could most likely be attributed to how totally ordinary he looked.
“Well, that was pretty useless,” he remarked, straightening to look at Shinichi. Shinichi, for his part, shook his head.
“No, that was telling, actually,” he disagreed. “Ishihara definitely has something to do with this case. He’s not just doing that to be an asshole. He implied that he’s not going to talk now, but that that could change in the future. And he also said that he ‘helped me’ before.”
“Yeah?” Kaito said when it seemed Shinichi wasn’t going to say anything else. Shinichi waved a hand at him, frowning down at his place setting with intense concentration. It was as clear a signal as any; Kaito understood that he wasn’t going to get through to Shinichi until after the case had settled. He fiddled with the stem of the wineglass in front of him. It probably should’ve bothered him, that single-minded devotion to something that Kaito couldn’t fully understood, but Kaito liked it anyway, seeing Shinichi so engrossed in something, seeing the range of expressions he made when he was thinking—
“Oh, hello, Kuroba-san.”
Kaito startled, heart racing. One hand pressed to his heart, he glanced around for a second before he located the source of the voice, which turned out to be Hiro. He was in an immaculate black suit accented in white, starkly contrasted and complimented by the white tuxedo and blank expression that Kinoshita was wearing where he stood beside Hiro.
“Hiro-kun,” Kaito began, not exactly sure what to say. The last Kaito had seen of him, Hiro had been nearly horizontal on the hallway floor, crying a puddle into the carpet. He opened his mouth, then closed it again. Should he offer a platitude?
Hiro smiled wanly. His face was still puffy around the temples and cheeks, and his eyes looked tired and pinched, but at least he wasn’t as visibly distressed.
“I know. Sorry about earlier. I was just—not expecting what happened,” he sighed, running a hand over his perfectly coiffed hair. He glanced over at Shinichi. “Hi again, Kudou-san.” Shinichi emerged from his thoughts enough to offer him a vague smile before he disappeared back into his head.
“Sorry about him,” Kaito tried when Hiro’s face fell. “I heard from Fumika that he was, ah, unduly harsh earlier.”
“Oh, no, he really wasn’t,” Hiro hurried to assure him. “He was really nice, actually. He gave me his handkerchief to wipe my face and let me cry on him.” Kaito felt a surge of warmth bloom in his chest, spreading to the tips of his fingers. “And he was really patient with Haruto-san, wasn’t he?” Kinoshita gave an affirmatory grunt, and Hiro turned back to Kaito. “I think Fumika-san just didn’t want to be interrogated, so she purposefully took a few things he said the wrong way and gave him a hard time. Same thing with Aiko-san.”
“I’m glad to hear that he treated you well.” Kaito let himself reach across the table and pick up Shinichi’s hand from where it had gone slack against the tablecloth. Shinichi spared him an eyebrow raise before he went back to examining his plate like a poet searching for inspiration in the ceramic.
“I’m sure he treats you well,” Hiro grinned before the expression faded. He stared at Kaito for a second, then turned his gaze down towards his feet. “I, um… don’t know how to say this, but I hope Kudou-san solves the case soon. I know… maybe others feel differently, but I do want this case to be resolved.” Kinoshita was looking at him with sad eyes.
“Yeah?” Kaito felt an eyebrow lifting without his consent. Wasn’t it pretty obvious that everyone wanted the killer to be caught? “I think we’re all hoping for that. Even if Takano and I didn’t always agree, at the very least, he deserves justice.”
“I’m sure Inspector Kudou will solve the case soon,” Kinoshita contributed, for the first time since they’d drifted over. He put a hand on Hiro’s shoulder. “Don’t worry.” Hiro spared him a weak smile before he went back to looking at his dress shoes.
Shinichi chose that moment to resurface, breaking out his most charming smile when he noticed the tension.
“I’m so sorry—I was just doing some thinking. Hello, both of you. Are you two interested in joining us for dinner?” he asked, guileless as he looked between Hiro and Kinoshita. Kaito knew everyone considered him, Kaito, to be an excellent actor, but Shinichi wasn’t bad himself. “I’m sure we could move to a table that would fit all of us if you two are willing.” He laughed, somehow hitting the perfect balance between bashful and sincere. It was masterful. “This isn’t an attempt to drag you into another interrogation, I promise. I just thought it might be nice to get to know you two.”
“Oh, we…” Hiro cleared his throat. “We were actually eating with Fumika-san. I had to go to the bathroom, so Haruto-san came along to show me where it was since I didn’t know…” Kinoshita cupped his elbow with a hand, quieting him.
“We’d love to,” he said with a smile so microscopic Kaito almost missed it. Upon second hearing, his voice was deeper and more gravelly than Kaito recalled, probably from the crying he’d done earlier. To Hiro, he added, “I’ll go back and tell Fumika about the change of plans. She can find other company for the night.”
“If you’re sure…?” Hiro was already drifting towards Shinichi’s side of the table, a hopeful look in his eyes, and when Kinoshita nodded, he broke into a cheerful grin. “Okay! I’ll let the waitress know.”
“Why would you do that?” Kaito felt compelled to ask. Hiro shrugged.
“So she knows where to deliver our food when it comes out?” he offered before bounding off and leaving Kinoshita hovering awkwardly beside their table for a second before he, too, stalked off into the crowd, presumably to go relay the message to Fumika. Shinichi watched the whole thing with a vaguely regretful expression. Maybe he was feeling bad about ruining their date-night environment. Kaito kind of was.
“Not that I mind spectacularly, darling,” he started as they stood and migrated to the nearest four-seater, “and don’t take this the wrong way, but was there a reason why you invited them?” His tone definitely made Shinichi take it the wrong way, though, because Shinichi made a petulant face as he sat down on one of the outer seats.
“I just want to confirm a few things,” he grumbled, the tiniest bit sulky, as if he felt bad for breaking up their date but also justified in that he was trying to solve a murder. Kaito almost laughed as he flagged down a passing waiter and informed him of the change in their seating. The man looked put out, his smile barely holding as he scurried back towards the maître d’ stand. Kaito was extremely sure now that they were the problem customers who led the waitstaff to drink and sew voodoo dolls.
“So you lied to them, then? When you said you weren’t trying to coax them into an interrogation,” he pointed out once the poor man had gone. Shinichi squinted at him.
“Don’t question my methods,” he sniffed, evasive. “I get results. I’m a great inspector.”
“But not a great role model for children,” Kaito hummed, and couldn’t help but smirk at Shinichi’s scowl.
“You’re a horrible boyfriend,” he muttered. Kaito’s face felt like it was about to split from how hard he was grinning. He hooked his ankle around Shinichi’s, picking up his hand as casually as he dared. Shinichi let him, the only sign he gave of noticing it was the way his neck went red above his starched collar.
Hiro appeared over Shinichi’s shoulder a few minutes later, taking in the scene before he dropped into the seat beside Shinichi. His eyes dropped down to their hands on the table.
“You two are such a cute couple,” he sighed, sounding almost wistful. He stared down at his hands in his lap. Shinichi frowned; for a weird second, Kaito was sure he was about to deny that they were cute, which was both ridiculous and untrue.
He was relieved when Shinichi, hesitant, remarked, “You say that as if you’re not half of an also cute couple.” Hiro jerked upright in his seat, blinking rapidly.
“Me? Part of a couple?” He laughed, visibly incredulous. “No, I’m not. I’m blessed with eternal singledom, I guess.”
“What? But you and Kinoshita,” started Kaito, bemused, and Hiro shook his head. He didn’t seem surprised at the question, though, Kaito noted, more… resigned, almost, or defeated.
“No. We’re not together.” Forcing a smile, Hiro swallowed hard enough that Kaito heard it from across the table. “Haruto-san and I aren’t a couple. We’re just really good friends.”
“Really,” Shinichi said, and this time he was the one who sounded disbelieving. He met Kaito’s gaze across the table, eyebrows vaulted up his forehead. Kaito was pretty sure he was making a similar expression. Hiro must’ve picked up on the silent conversation going on, because he shook his head, still staring fixedly down at the table.
“I’m serious,” he muttered at the tablecloth, picking at a stray thread. “If you ask Haruto-san, he’d tell you the same thing. We’re not dating, and we never have been.” Something about his tone strongly indicated that this was not due to lack of interest on his part. Maybe it was the traces of bitter sadness rounding out his consonants.
“Huh,” Shinichi said in the ensuing silence. The atmosphere had gotten uncomfortably heavy sometime within the last few exchanges. Kaito tugged at his tie, loosening it around his neck. Shinichi glanced at him for a second before he said, quietly, “Well, if it counts for anything, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Kinoshita-san smile, except when he’s around you.”
“Yeah,” Kaito chimed in, trying to sound sincere. “He’s different around you. Really,” he added when Hiro squinted at him. “I’ve known him since high school, so I can say that with confidence. Are you sure he doesn’t—he isn’t interested the way you are?”
“Pretty sure,” Hiro agreed. Kaito had never used the word glum to describe someone before, but it seemed to be a perfectly tailored fit for the expression on Hiro’s face. Glum, or maybe anguished. The man was a romance novel heroine. “I’m fine with it. Really. I promise.” His voice cracked, and he sniffled, rubbing at his nose with the back of his hand. “I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to get emotional. I’ve just had a really long day. Um, maybe we could talk about something less… less.”
Shinichi looked as if he wanted to say something distinctly more, but it was at that moment that Kinoshita himself came trotting up to the table, took in the seating configuration, and sat down at the free spot beside Kaito. Kaito had to adjust his chair to make room for him to pass by.
“Hope I didn’t miss anything,” he muttered after a series of increasing awkward moments, when no one seemed incline to say anything. Hiro’s head was still bowed over his plate. The look Kinoshita shot Kaito was quizzical as he smoothed down his jacket and picked up his napkin to deposit it in his lap. “Fumika’s okay with it.”
“Good.” Hiro straightened to direct his glowing smile at the table, and it was as if he hadn’t been moments from crying into his bread plate. He beamed across the table at Kinoshita. “I can’t wait for the food to come! What did you guys get?”
“Oh, uh…” Shinichi seemed to realize that he had no idea at the same time Kaito said, “I got the shrimp spring rolls for me and the Atlantic salmon for Shinichi, since he was busy being brilliant and spacing out.” Shinichi looked offended.
“You two really are a cute couple,” he commented, and even managed to sound mostly normal when he did. Kaito was impressed. Beside him, Kinoshita made a huffy sound and turned an inquisitive glance on Kaito.
“What happened to Nakamori?” he asked, eyebrows raising. Kaito winced.
“We’re not together anymore, obviously,” he answered, feeling more embarrassed than he really needed to. He and Aoko had dated in high school, after all; a lot of things had changed since then. “Uh, she and Hakuba actually got married a few years back. They just had a kid.” Kinoshita looked alarmed.
“Nakamori and Hakuba?” His mouth twitched at the corners, as if he was trying to hold back a laugh, which was kind of terrifying. “Did you try to crash the wedding?”
“No,” Kaito sighed. “Aoko said she would unfriend me if I did that.” Across the table, Shinichi stifled a laugh, something he hadn’t had the decency to do a few months back when he’d first realized that Kaito’s high school sweetheart Aoko was the same person as Hakuba’s very pregnant wife Aoko. Kaito glared, to which Shinichi gave him an angelic smile.
“I think it’s sweet that Kaito’s managed to grow as a person,” he cooed. Kaito glared harder.
“Watch yourself, Kudou, I know where you sleep.”
Shinichi looked unmoved, shaking his head at Kaito before he turned to Hiro and Kinoshita, who’d been watching with polite amusement (at least on Hiro’s part; Kinoshita sort of looked as if his amusement a bit farther from polite than Hiro’s).
“So how did the two of you meet?” He cleared his throat. “Uh, you probably know how Kaito and I met, so.” Hiro exchanged a look with Kinoshita, smiling a little to himself.
“We met through Takano-san,” he told them. There was a pinkish hue to the sides of his neck, spreading up his jawline and cheeks. “As you know, I was Takano-san’s subordinate at work, and one time Takano-san had a holiday party at his place, so I went. That’s where I met Haruto-san.” He turned his puppy-dog smile on Kinoshita. “Right, Haruto-san?”
“Yeah,” Kinoshita responded. His face was arranged in something stoic, but he still managed to project fondness as he looked at Hiro. “I remember that. You were so excited to meet me.” He made a noise approximating a laugh. “Apparently Takano mentioned me a lot.”
“He did,” Hiro agreed, nodding so hard that his hair managed to escape the grip of his hair gel in the back, jumping limply as his head moved. “Takano-san really liked you, Haruto-san. Really. I promise.” Kinoshita shook his head.
“He probably only mentioned me because we knew each other for a long time.”
“Uh, I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure it was more than that,” Kaito felt the need to interrupted. Three pairs of eyes swiveled towards him, Hiro’s enthusiastic, Kinoshita’s stony, and Shinichi’s hungry with interest. Kaito wasn’t entirely sure why he seemed so interested, to be honest, but he brushed off his confusion. “You and Takano were best friends in high school, right? We always used to call you the Conjoined Twins, since we never saw one of you without the other. Everyone thought you two had something going on.”
“What,” Kinoshita said flatly. His mouth was all twisted, as if he’d eaten something undercooked. Kaito winced. Maybe he shouldn’t have mentioned that part. He and Kinoshita weren’t on that good of terms, after all.
Shinichi seemed to pick up on the awkwardness, though, and swooped in to the rescue.
“I wonder where our food is? Or our bread basket, for that matter.” He glanced around the restaurant, a slash of a frown appearing between his eyebrows. A curl of hair made a bid for freedom and dropped over the center of his forehead, and he swiped it out of the way with a squint. “I don’t see Ishihara-san anywhere.”
“He’s probably off putting rat poison in our food,” muttered Kaito under his breath, subsiding when Shinichi shot him a quelling look. He made a face, one that he hoped conveyed his unease, which Shinichi replied to with a shrug and something complicated at the corners of his eyes.
While Shinichi and Kaito were attempting to carry on a conversation with solely their faces, Hiro flagged down a passing waitress who was hoisting a heavy-looking tray full of empty plates on her shoulder. She looked annoyed at having to stop, which Hiro seemed to recognize.
“Hey! Uh, sorry, if I’m interrupting, but do you happen to know when our food is coming out?” he asked, painfully earnest as he blinked up at her with the world’s most apologetic smile on his face. The waitress melted a little, adjusting her tray and offering him back a less irritated half-nod. Kaito was fairly certain that sunflowers turned away from the sun to look at him when he walked by.
“I can see what’s happened to your waiter, if that would help,” the waitress told him. Her eyes skipped over the rest of them, cursory, before settling back on Hiro.
“That would be great!” Hiro chirped and even waved, sort of dorkily, as she moved off towards the kitchens. Kinoshita shook his head, seemingly to himself, and sat back in his chair, hard enough that the front two legs popped up for a second.
“There it is, Hiro’s patented charm,” he commented. Hiro flushed and swatted at him.
“You’re so mean, Haruto-san,” he pouted. Kinoshita looked amused, or as amused as he ever looked, at least. Like an amused rock.
“It wasn’t an insult,” was all he said aloud, though. Shinichi’s face spoke volumes. He gave Kaito a disbelieving look, to which Kaito offered a minute shrug. He couldn’t say he knew why they weren’t dating, either.
It was another few minutes before the waitress, now unburdened by a tray and smoothing the wrinkles out of her pants, came back to their table. She looked vaguely apologetic as she slowed beside Shinichi.
“I’m very sorry, but I can’t seem to find your waiter,” she informed them, smiling blandly. Shinichi looked alarmed. The waitress must’ve noticed, because she added, reassuring, “It may be the case that his shift ended at an inconvenient time. Regardless, your orders are almost ready. They’ll be brought to your table in a few moments.” She bowed out, but not before she angled a last nod at Hiro.
“Huh,” Hiro said after he finished waving at her. “That’s weird.”
“That’s not a good sign,” Shinichi muttered to himself. He was clenching his jaw, looking pensively out over the floor. Kaito felt unease swirl in his stomach, a riotous twist of discomfort.
“Shinichi, do you think something’s happened to Ishihara?” he asked in an undertone, leaning closer. Hiro and Kinoshita were watching them with some confusion.
“I can’t say for sure,” Shinichi replied, rubbing at his bottom lip (which, even with the imminent possibility of murder hanging over their heads, was a little distracting, truth be told). “It’s possible that he decided to avoid us again, the way he has been since earlier. But that seems incongruous with his attitude before. He didn’t act like he was going to run anymore; he was smug. I don’t have a good feeling about this.” He stood abruptly, the tablecloth pulling at the fabric of his pants as he went. “Sorry about this, Hiro-kun, Kinoshita-san. Enjoy your meal. And ours too, if you want.” He glanced at Kaito, who scrambled to his feet, recognizing that as his cue.
“What are you talking about? Kuroba-san! Kudou-san!” Hiro called after them as they exited the restaurant. Kaito twisted around to wave at them, even as Shinichi quickened his pace. They weaved around a table.
“Are we going to look for him?” Kaito asked as they strode past the line of waiting people and swerved the front entrance. (The maître d’ rubbed at her forehead as they went past.) Shinichi nodded, looking grim.
“I’m thinking that maybe we should split up,” he decided when they came to the staircase. Kaito winced. There was a small part of him that was slightly concerned with coming face-to-face with the killer, especially if the possibility of Ishihara being dead was as high as Shinichi seemed to be suggesting.
“Uh, okay,” he agreed, a beat too late. Shinichi glanced at him, the sharp focus on his face blurring out into something more understanding.
“We don’t have to,” he said. His hand brushed against Kaito’s, comforting.
“No, no.” Kaito swallowed and steeled himself. “It’s fine. Let’s do it. The ship’s too big to search as one unit.”
“Okay.” Shinichi spared a moment to smirk at him. “I was also going to add that if Ishihara was in any actual danger, he’s probably already dead by now, so you probably don’t have to be worried about running into an armed murderer.” Kaito squinted at him.
“How do you know he’s already dead?”
“Trade secret,” Shinichi said, with an annoyingly smug smile. Kaito rubbed a hand over the back of his head and turned to survey the landing. It was mainly empty, save for a few well-dressed stragglers running into the restaurant in their five-inch heels.
“Whatever you say, darling,” he sighed. “Are you taking the upper levels?”
“Actually, I think we should get this floor, the floor above, and the floor below.” Kaito tilted his head at him, waiting for an explanation; when none was forthcoming, he gave up. Shinichi laughed, rubbing at Kaito’s shoulder as he glanced around. “You can take this floor, if you’d like. My advice is to start with the secluded areas and ask the staff if you come across any. I’m going to head down to the sixth floor.” He jabbed a finger in Kaito’s direction as he reached the stairs, eyebrows raised. “And make sure you call me if you find anything interesting.”
“Aye-aye, captain,” Kaito called after him, saluting as obnoxiously as he could. Shinichi made a face as he disappeared down the staircase, feet pounding against the carpeting.
Kaito was on his second lap of the floor—he had to give it to Ishihara; the man was good at disappearing when he wanted to—when someone tapped him on the shoulder from behind. Startling, Kaito turned to find Kawata Aiko standing there, resplendent in a skintight charcoal gray dress that left precisely no things to the imagination, especially with how low the neckline dipped (Kaito hurriedly looked away). Her lipstick was smudged at the corners, deep and red.
“Fancy meeting you in a place like this,” she purred, sidling closer. Kaito could smell her perfume, a strangely familiar scent that had him trying not to twitch away. “What are you doing out here, instead of eating with your paramour?”
“I just wanted to go for a little walk,” Kaito answered easily. There was something unsettling about the way she was looking at him. “What about you, Kawata-san? Shouldn’t a lovely lady like yourself be enjoying the captain’s dinner?”
“And who would I do that with?” Aiko laughed, although Kaito just lifted his eyebrows and remained unimpressed, a knot twisting in his stomach. She eyed him for a moment, suspicious recognition glinting in her eyes, before she sighed and took a half-step backwards. Her stilettos were a truly impressive height; she was nearly as tall as him.
“You’re no fun, Kuroba-san,” she huffed. “But I’m sure that’s your little inspector’s influence.” Kaito bit down on the inside of his cheek as she shook her head. “There are so many more interesting people out there, you know. Don’t stay with him just because you feel indebted to him.” Kaito wrinkled his nose.
“Why would I feel indebted to him?”
“Because he solved your case, didn’t he? Got the spotlight off of the fact that you were painting a target on the backs of your fans,” Aiko pointed out, her smile like an unsheathed sword. She rested a hand on his forearm, leaning in. “Trust me. You’ll end up regretting it if you stay with him for that.”
“Thanks for the advice.” Kaito tugged his arm out of her grip, smiling blandly when her eyes narrowed at the affront. “But I can’t say that I understand how it would apply to me. Shinichi didn’t solve the case for my sake; he did it because it’s his job. I simply happened to be involved.”
“Hm,” Aiko hummed. Kaito wasn’t fluent enough in her expressions to understand what her lazy half-frown meant in conjunction with the curl of her mouth. “So… you wouldn’t say he solved the case to get in your pants?” One of her hands drifted towards his waistband. Kaito slid away so quickly he almost fell over.
“Yeah, no,” he said, abandoning all pretense at going along with her. “Shinichi solves cases because it’s the right thing to do. Not for whatever—benefits you think he’s after.”
Aiko’s smile was twisted, somehow.
“I suppose I should’ve expected that we were different people,” she sighed after a moment, which made limited sense, at least to Kaito, before she straightened. “Well, as it turns out, you’ve turned out to be quite boring in the end, Kuroba-san, so I’ll be on my way.” She tipped her head, somehow mocking. “Say hello to your altruist for me, won’t you?”
She was halfway down the hall when Kaito realized he’d never found out why she wasn’t in the restaurant. He sighed, shoved a hand through his hair, and turned to finish the lap.
He was on his third go-around when he decided that Ishihara probably wasn’t on the floor. None of the unlucky staff members he’d run on this loop into seemed to have any idea where he could’ve gone.
“He made a point to switch jobs with me. Caught me off guard since I never talk to the dude,” a guy sweeping the floor in one of the halls grumbled when Kaito asked after Ishihara, looking all too pleased to be pulled from his work. He swung the mop from side to side, tonguing at the corner of his mouth as he thought. “I don’t know why he’d just peace out like that, ’specially since he promised to take my shift the next time I had to scrub the toilets. He gave up a lot to get that shift in Aphro, y’know what I’m saying? So leaving, that’s pretty weird, even for him.”
“Thank you,” Kaito told him, even if he wasn’t feeling particularly thankful. The guy nodded, then squinted at him, considering.
“Hey, aren’t you the dude from that show about tarot cards or whatever?”
“That’s exactly who I am,” agreed Kaito, and set off down the hall. He passed a few more people who turned and gaped at him, but for the most part, the hallways and sitting areas were vacant and free of creepy staff members.
He was close to giving up by his third round, rubbing at his forehead. He’d checked nearly every public area at least twice, and nobody had seen anyone fitting Ishihara’s description in the time it had taken him to do that. Sighing, he decided to check the bathrooms for the last time.
It was the same as the last two times, silent and sterile. The fluorescents cast a sickly glow down on his reflection. Kaito cast a last cursory glance over at the stalls before he—wait. Were those shoes he saw underneath the door at the far end of the bathroom, in the handicapped stall?
Bending at the waist, Kaito look again. Yes, those were shoes, plain black lace-ups half-covered by trouser hems, that Kaito had definitely missed the last two times, if they’d been there. Kaito knocked on the stall door, licking at his suddenly dry lips.
“Hello? Ishihara-san, is that you?” he called, feeling kind of idiotic. There was no response and no movement. The silence ticked on. Swallowing, Kaito glanced up at the top of the stall, gauging the distance and trying to decide if he could hoist himself up to look into the stall. Maybe he could make it if he jumped? Kaito pushed off and grabbed for it, but it was too high by about the width of a hand, and he ended up sliding off the door inelegantly. Ugh.
With a groan, Kaito got down on his knees, trying not to think about the fact that he was in a men’s bathroom, and crawled underneath the door, which was… pleasant. He was definitely going to need to get these pants dry-cleaned, that was for sure. Brushing at the fabric, Kaito straightened—and froze, because Ishihara was sitting on the toilet, fully clothed (thankfully), unmoving, and slumped over. Even without moving any closer, Kaito knew in the depths of his stomach that he was dead.
Kaito was breathing too fast, all of a sudden. He could feel air rushing in and out of him with harsh, unsteady noises that were too loud in the silence. He took a staggering step back before he fumbled for his phone and hit the dial button.
Shinichi picked up in half a ring.
“Kaito?” He sounded breathless. “Kaito, what’s up?”
“I found Ishihara,” Kaito managed. His voice sounded strange to his own ears, stilted and crackly, as if it were coming from a poorly tuned radio. “Um. I’m in the bathroom by the stairs on the seventh floor. I. I think he’s dead.”
“So this is more or less what I was expecting,” Shinichi announced, kneeling beside the body. “He was poisoned, less than two hours ago.” He frowned as he lifted Ishihara’s chin and tugged his eyelids up to check his pupils. Kaito pressed himself even flatter against the wall he was leaning against, wincing even from ten feet away.
“You were expecting me to find Ishihara dead in a men’s restroom?” he said weakly. Shinichi glanced over his shoulder at Kaito, a hint of concern in his eyes as he snapped his gloves off and stepped aside to let the first mate and the head of security have their turn with the body.
“I was hoping you wouldn’t,” he corrected, making his way over to Kaito as he tucked his gloves into a Ziploc, then back into his jacket. His voice went low when he got closer. “Are you okay, Kaito?” Kaito gave him a weak thumbs up.
“Just peachy,” he sighed, rubbing at his forehead. “I really… I don’t know what to say. I just wasn’t expecting any of this to happen. I’ll be fine in a second.” Shinichi continued to look at him, though, mouth stuck in a shape that meant he didn’t like that answer, and, after a second’s deliberation, lifted a hand to wrap it around the back of Kaito’s neck. Kaito melted at the touch, the tension melting out of his jaw when Shinichi dug his thumb into the pressure point behind his ear. An inappropriate moan threatened to leak out of the confines of his throat.
“Well, it’ll all be over soon, in any case,” he heard over the flood of blood rushing through his ears. Kaito shook himself just enough to meet Shinichi’s eyes, which were serious and unflinching as he stared over at the stall where Ishihara’s body was slumped. “I know who the killer is.”
“What,” said Kaito flatly. Shinichi grinned at him, looking all too pleased with himself, before it faded and he looked away, mouth pressing into a short line.
“We’re going to need to gather a few people here,” he murmured. “You think you know who we need?”
“I have a pretty good idea,” Kaito sighed, running a hand through the hair standing up on the back of his head. He glanced over at where the first officer was looking lost as he paced around the body. “You want to tell the first mate or should I?”
It didn’t take long to gather everyone, especially when the first officer got the captain to make an announcement over the loudspeaker. Aiko was making a face as she entered the bathroom, conspicuously careful not to touch anything. Fumika was a minute after her, pushing the door open and peering inside as if she wasn’t sure if the call had been legitimate. The two of them were distinctly out of place beside the urinals.
“Why did you call us to this disgusting place,” Aiko sniffed, then seemed to regret it. She directly her glare at Shinichi, who was leaning against the sink counter. Shinichi jerked a thumb over his shoulder, back towards the handicapped stall.
“Because there’s a dead body in there that’s been poisoned, in a similar way to Takano-san,” he answered, conversational, and tucked his hands into his pockets. Kaito suppressed a mildly hysterical giggle. Aiko looked revolted, while Fumika went pale.
“Are you saying—” she began, but the sound of the door opening behind them interrupted her. Kaito turned to see Hiro and Kinoshita standing in the doorway, both looking vaguely confused. Behind them, Kaito could just make out the signs of people gathering around to whisper and stare, drawn by the two guards posted on either side of the door, most likely.
“Good, we’re all here now,” Shinichi said, smiling at Hiro and Kinoshita. He pushed off from the counter, coming to stand in the center of the room, and gestured for the two of them to move closer. “Come in and close the door. I don’t think we want anyone to hear this, since we’ll be discussing who here is responsible for the two murders that have occurred on this ship in the last forty-eight hours.”
There was something entrancingly magnetic about Shinichi when he was like this, Kaito decided as Shinichi began a slow path around the room. It wasn’t that Shinichi was unconfident at any other point in his life—he was always assured and always controlled—but when he was laying out his deductions, there was an unshakeable feeling of sureness that poured out of him, a feeling that made you want to listen to him. It was probably a good quality for a homicide detective to have.
“This case started quite a bit before anyone boarded this ship,” Shinichi said. “It’s a very… situational case. If you’ll allow the metaphor, the background is necessary to understand the foreground.” He cast an assessing eye across the room. Fumika shifted from one foot to the other. Hiro coughed into his elbow. “Does anyone want to volunteer anything before we start?”
“No,” snapped Aiko, crossing her arms. Her chest threatened to spill out of her dress. “I don’t want to listen to another word—”
“Then I suppose I’ll have to start from the chronological beginning,” cut in Shinichi. He didn’t even look at her. It was impressive, considering how much of her was visible. “Which means we’ll actually be starting with you, Kawata-san.” Aiko’s mouth dropped open.
“I doubt I’m the chronological beginning. I knew him the least, out of everyone here except for Kobayashi-kun,” she began, but one look from Shinichi made her clamp her mouth shut, almost against her will, judging from the murderous look on her face.
“I can’t say that I know all of the details of how you and Takano-san met, Kawata-san.” Shinichi rubbed a hand over his mouth. “But I’ve pieced together something that I think might be valid. Did you know that there are a lot of forums dedicated to you and where you came from? We all know that you showed up in the literary world out of nowhere, a complete newcomer, and won awards that veteran writers don’t win in decades. People start wondering where you’ve been, why someone with your kind of dazzling talent wasn’t found earlier by high school teachers or scouting agents. Peoples start to wonder where you came from. And they find answers.” His expression was somewhere between a smile and a stare. “You said you and Takano-san met in a club, am I right?”
Aiko didn’t look at him, eyes fixed on the ground beneath her feet. If Kaito tilted his head to look, he could see that she was bright red—from fury or embarrassment, he couldn’t tell.
“You weren’t lying when you said that, I’m guessing. There’s a large body of evidence that suggests you worked as an exotic dancer at a club that Takano-san frequented,” Shinichi said, his voice quiet. Aiko’s shoulders twitched. Nobody else moved. “And Takano-san took a liking to you. I assume he wanted to date you, but you weren’t interested. At least, you weren’t interested until he came up with a plan that would make you rich and famous, a plan that involved putting your name on someone else’s work. That’s when you agreed.”
“That’s a lie,” hissed Aiko, but she didn’t look up. Shinichi’s face softened.
“It could be,” he agreed. “But Takano-san was a fairly successful editor. He knew what would sell well, what would blow up into bestsellers. And he knew of the existence of a manuscript that could do just that. It was the one that eventually became your debut work, Acacia. When Acacia did as well as Takano-san promised, you couldn’t leave him, not when he’d gotten you so far, and when he could get you even farther. But you never really wanted to be with him on a personal level, did you?”
“That’s none of your business,” Aiko retorted, but when she finally looked up, there was uncertainty in her face. Shinichi clearly saw it, because he pressed on.
“Eventually, you got tired of him. You had enough fame and money to last you for a while. So you broke up with Takano-san. I don’t know what he did in response—maybe he said he’d reveal you as a fake, maybe he said he’d tell everyone about your past—but whatever it was, it was bad enough that you felt you needed to get revenge. You felt that you needed to ‘win the breakup.’”
Aiko turned a venomous gaze on Kaito, who shrugged, only feeling a little bad.
“So what would the best way to get revenge on Takano-san be?” Shinichi continued, contemplative. “Well, I can’t say that I know for certain. But I have to admit that from what I’ve heard and seen, there’s at least one thing that you, Kawata-san, could do that would be sure to hurt Takano-san.”
He turned to face that audience—because that was what Kaito and the others were, his audience. In a way, it was like one of Kaito’s shows, a display of skill meant to wow and impress. Kaito was feeling pretty damn impressed, if he was being honest.
“One of the first things I learned about Takano-san was that he and Kaito were both in the drama club in high school. One of the second things I learned was that he clashed with Kaito for many reasons, but one of the main ones was that he was vastly protective of his older sister—you, Fumika-san.” Shinichi spread his hands. Fumika swallowed visibly. “So, then, I think we all know where this is going. Kawata-san, to get revenge on Takano-san, you slept with Fumika-san.”
Silence dropped over them like a sheet of stone. Aiko said nothing, the line of her jaw tightening, while Fumika looked away, staring down at her hands as the tips of her ears went molten red. Kinoshita’s expression was perfectly blank; Hiro was blinking rapidly, his gaze shifting from Fumika to Aiko then back to Fumika in a cycle of bewilderment.
“That is what your alibi was, wasn’t it,” Shinichi said in the stillness. “The night that Takano-san was killed, you were with Fumika-san.” He cleared his throat. “That, in and of itself, doesn’t make much of an alibi, if we consider the method of murder.”
“What is the method of murder, Inspector Kudou?” Kaito asked when nobody seemed willing to cue him in. Shinichi gave him a wry smile.
“Thank you for asking, Kaito.”
Kaito sketched a half-bow, feeling like Shinichi’s assistant. It was an odd reversal from the time Shinichi had been his.
“If you recall, the cabins are lit by incandescent light rods, which are known to throw off more heat than LEDs or fluorescents. The surface of an incandescent light bulb can reach up to 260° C. The boiling point of hydrogen cyanide is approximately 25.6° C. Hydrogen cyanide has a tendency to rise, because it is less dense than air when in a gaseous state. A concentration of 200 parts per million will kill a person in an hour or less.” He paused. “So put all of that together. Paint the light rods with hydrogen cyanide in a liquid form, leave the lights on for an extended period of time, and turn the room into a slow-acting gas chamber. The gas would rise to near the ceiling, where Takano-san’s bunk was.”
Kaito released his mouth was open at the same moment Aiko spluttered, “But Seiji wouldn’t have just lain there if he started feeling ill, would he? You say it would’ve taken an hour to kill him, so why wouldn’t he have moved? And anyway, shouldn’t Kinoshita-san and Kobayashi-kun been gassed, too, once they got back?”
“We haven’t been able to complete a full, technical coronary on Takano-san’s body yet, but I’m sure when we do, we’ll find that he had a sedative in his system, likely slipped to him during dinner. That’s why he said he was tired and asked to go back to the room. When the killer dropped Takano-san off, they made sure to leave the lights on. And the killer circumvented the problem of the remaining gas by using Ishihara-san.” Shinichi nodded over at the body. “If you recall, when Hiro-kun and Kinoshita-san returned to the room, the lights were off, the air conditioning had been turned on, and the windows were open. Someone must have come in between the time when they left Takano-san and the time when they returned. That was Ishihara-san.”
“So… Ishihara-san was the killer?” offered Hiro, frowning. Shinichi shook his head.
“The murderer asked him to do it,” he explained. “They probably promised to pay him off, or maybe they simply made a strange but not unreasonable request as a guest. I’m sure they could’ve passed it off as simply wanting the room aired out, rather than as disposing of the poison gas. Entering the room for a short amount of time, without climbing to the upper bunk, would be safe enough. Ishihara-san would’ve likely been fine. However, while he was in the room doing as he’d been told, he realized that Takano-san was dead. I can’t say whether he realized the cause of death, but he knew that the person who’d asked him to air the room out had something to do with it. Which is why he decided to blackmail that person. He needed money, and this seemed like a good opportunity to make some.
“Kaito, you remember when we got that call telling us to go to Takano-san’s room? That was Ishihara-san on the phone. The killer didn’t plan for that to happen. Ishihara-san wanted to show them that he was willing to expose them, if he wasn’t paid off. It was a threat, a warning.” Shinichi rubbed at the back of his head. “But, as we can see, that backfired on him. The killer decided it made more sense to simply clean up loose ends. They most likely arranged a meeting at this bathroom, knocked him out, and fed him the same poison—in liquid form, this time—that they’d used on Takano-san.”
The conversation lulled when Shinichi stopped and surveyed his audience. Kaito glanced around the circle of faces. Nobody looked particularly inclined to say anything.
“So who’s the killer?” Kinoshita prompted after a moment. Shinichi nodded.
“The answer to that actually goes back to Kawata-san’s debut novel,” he said. His eyes were dark and unreadable as they flicked across the faces. “Someone here is the original writer of that manuscript and all the other books that are published under Kawata-san’s name. There’s only one person that can be.” He cleared his throat. “Kaito, do you happen to remember the plot of Acacia as I described it to you?”
“Uh…” Kaito thought back, frowning. “It was about a police officer, right? And people around him kept dying, but it was because they’d hurt or betrayed him in some way, and the killer turned out to be an old friend of his, right? And in the end she killed herself.”
“Exactly,” agreed Shinichi. “The point that we need to focus on here, though, isn’t necessarily the plot. It’s the characters. Whoever wrote Acacia believed strongly in the purity and sanctity of love—that much is clear from the killer’s motive. Taking that into account, what we need to focus on is the main character… and his best friend, who was in love with him.”
There was a collective silence, so sharply still that Kaito tugged at his collar. It was broken when Kinoshita let out a strange, uncharacteristic laugh.
“Is there something you’re trying to… say, Inspector?” he asked. Kaito didn’t miss the way his hand shook when he pushed it into his pocket. “Because I think we all know that I was Takano’s best friend.”
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to say,” Shinichi said. His face was perfectly frank when he met Kinoshita’s gaze. The lean of his body against the counter was a smooth curve, so symmetrical that Kaito could’ve graphed it. If Kaito had been an artist, he would’ve wanted to paint this moment, get it down on paper or canvas or some lasting medium. “You, out of everyone here, would know how to compose a crime novel, how to write a manuscript with the potential to sell, assuming from the fact that because you were in the mystery club in high school, you’re the most knowledgeable about the mystery genre. You were sitting beside him at dinner, close enough to slip him a sedative. You were one of the people who dropped him off at the room and had an opportunity to set up the trick, since you share the room. And you’ve been in love with Takano-san for so long that when he begged to use your story to make a stripper famous, you agreed, because you loved him. Because you would do anything for him.”
Kinoshita’s face was a mask. Not a blank, unemotional mask, though; a mask with harsh grooves around the jaw and deeply slanted eyebrows. He didn’t speak, just stared straight ahead. At his side, Hiro was looking down at his feet.
“I’m not going to act like I fully understand what you were feeling,” Shinichi remarked. He lifted an eyebrow. “But I have some ideas. I think you went along with the scheme because you knew that Takano-san was deeply in love with Kawata-san, and you wanted him to be happy. But you didn’t like seeing it, because Kawata-san didn’t care about Takano-san, at least not as much as he cared about her, and you didn’t like feeling used by your best friend. But you allowed it, at least until they broke up. I don’t know what happened after that. My guess is that Takano-san begged you to help get Kawata-san back by writing her another bestseller. Something along those lines? Whatever it was, it convinced you to kill him.”
“I don’t know what you’re trying to say.” Kinoshita finally spoke, lifting his eyes to look into Shinichi’s face. His voice was soft, tired. “Let's say you're right. Maybe I was in love with Takano. Maybe I got tired of feeling used. But you can’t say that I killed him just because I ghostwrote a few novels.”
“That's correct,” Shinichi said, strangely gentle. “I can say that you killed him because you killed Ishihara-san.” Kinoshita didn’t say anything.
“Haruto-san,” Hiro whispered. One of his hands lifted, as if about to touch Kinoshita, but then he dropped it.
“The bathroom stall was locked when Kaito first found the body. In order to exit the stall, the killer must have left by either climbing over the top of the stall or crawling underneath the door. Kaito couldn’t climb over, which means that most likely, anyone of his height or shorter wouldn’t be able to, either. The only other option is crawling underneath the door.” Shinichi smiled, a little. “And as I know from personal experience, the varnish on the floor stains white when it comes in contact with clothing, as we can see from Kaito's pants." Startled, Kaito looked down to see white smears across his knees. He hadn't even noticed. "Setting aside the fact that Fumika-san and Kawata-san are unlikely to have set up a meeting with Ishihara-san in a men’s bathroom, their clothes would show the stains. So would Hiro-kun’s.” Kaito snuck a glance over at the two women—right, Fumika’s dress was red, and Aiko’s was black—and then at Hiro’s black suit before his gaze fell on Kinoshita’s tellingly white pants. “Yours, on the other hand…”
Kinoshita looked down at his pants. His expression was neutral when he straightened.
“When could I have killed him?” He didn’t sound as if he was denying anything, though. He sounded as if he wanted to see how much Shinichi knew.
“You did it when you told Hiro-kun that you were going to go tell Fumika-san about eating dinner with Kaito and me. You were gone for about five to seven minutes, which doesn’t seem long, but it doesn’t take long to go from here to the bathroom. If you’d arranged the time beforehand with Ishihara-san and didn’t actually stop to talk to Fumika-san, I’m sure you could’ve done it. We can check with the maître d’, since she probably had to readmit you on the way back in.”
For a long moment, nobody said anything. Hiro had started crying, silent tears sliding down his face as he wrapped his arms around himself and turned his face into his shoulder. Fumika was frowning as if she didn’t understand what was happening, her mouth slightly open as she stared at Kinoshita. Aiko just looked confused and sort of—sad, regretful.
Kaito didn’t know what he looked like. Shocked, probably. He hazarded a glance over at Shinichi and found him looking earnestly at Kinoshita.
The silence held for another long, suffocating minute before Kinoshita broke it with a low, grating laugh.
“You’re right, Inspector,” he said, wetting his lips, and it was as if something had broken in him. Or maybe something had been broken, and they were only now seeing it. “Everything you said—you’re right.” He took a deep breath that shivered on its way out of his mouth. “I was in love with Takano. Ever since we were in high school. He was the first person I ever showed Acacia to. He—he told me it was amazing. He said I was going to make it big. He said he’d publish it whenever I wanted. I promised myself I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t publish it until I’d managed to tell him how I felt. That was what I planned.” He sighed.
“But then Takano met Kawata.” There was a surprisingly lack of animosity in Kinoshita’s voice—only resignation and a defeated kind of exhaustion. Aiko had gone paler than paper since the last time Kaito had looked over at her. “And he asked me for Acacia, so he could give it to her. And I said yes, because I’d never say no to Takano. I would’ve done anything for him. It was hard, though. Of course it was. Especially when he asked me to write more for her. I knew Kawata was never going to love him the way he loved her, but he couldn’t see that. He didn’t want to see that. And I…” Kinoshita swallowed. “I got tired of that, I guess, watching how blind he was. When they broke up and Kawata started making moves on Fumika and Takano still begged me to write something for her so they could get back together, I gave up. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t watch him try so hard for her when she would never care about him. I…” Kaito noticed, for the first time, the pain in his eyes. Had it always been there? “I couldn’t watch him do what I’ve been doing for so long.
“There’s only one thing I regret,” Kinoshita added. He turned to Hiro, whose face was wet all over. The smile that he gave Hiro was small, sad, an apology in a shape. “And that was that I had to use you for my alibi, Hiro. Especially when I know how you feel about me.” His mouth softened. “I hope you can forgive me. I never lied about being fond of you. I... I don't know if you'll believe me, but I always cared about you. You've been a great friend to me. And I'm so sorry.”
“You idiot,” Hiro got out, his palm pressed flat over his mouth, shaking his head furiously. His eyes were shiny and red and hurt when he looked up into Kinoshita’s face; Kaito watched Kinoshita’s expression twist—in discomfort, in pain, in sympathy, Kaito couldn’t say. “You don’t know anything about how I feel.” Hiro’s voice shook when he repeated, quieter, “You idiot,” with the stark bitterness of finality clinging to the syllables.
Kaito was coming to find that the worst part of Shinichi’s job was when it was over.
He sidled up beside Shinichi as the head of security lead Kinoshita away, careful not to startle him when he wrapped an arm around Shinichi’s waist. Shinichi didn’t look unhappy, necessarily, but there was definitely the soft-focused look of musing around his eyes. He did look at Kaito when Kaito’s arm secured around him, though, and tried for a smile.
“Hi,” he murmured, quiet, and something in Kaito’s chest loosened. He tugged Shinichi in against his side, pressing a kiss to the side of his head.
“What are you thinking about, darling?” he asked, muffled by Shinichi’s hair. Shinichi made a sound, and Kaito felt his head turn towards where Fumika was hugging Hiro, letting his bury his wet face in her neck. A little ways’ away, Aiko was propped up against a wall, smoking even as the first mate hovered, looking fearfully at the smoke detector.
“I’m just thinking about how everyone in this equation was dealing with a one-sided love of some kind,” Shinichi told him after a moment. “Hiro was in love with Kinoshita, Kinoshita was in love with Takano, Takano was in love with Kawata-san, Fumika-san was in love with Kawata-san…” He cracked a wry smile. “I guess Kawata-san is the only one who made it out relatively unscathed. But the rest of them…” He made a face and leaned into Kaito.
Kaito looked over at them. Hiro was now pulling away, sniffling, his face red and damp as he wiped at his eyes ineffectively. A lump rose in Kaito’s throat, heavier than a lump of lead. He tightened his grip on Shinichi, who flinched in surprise, and pressed his cheek against the back of Shinichi’s neck. He felt Shinichi shifting in his hold.
“I’m just glad that we’re not like that,” he mumbled into Shinichi’s collar. Shinichi went still. “I don’t know what I’d do if you were in love with someone else. I’d be worse than Kinoshita, I bet.”
“Oh,” Shinichi said in a small voice. Kaito, frowning, pulled back just in time to see Shinichi flushing as he looked down. It took him a second to remember that they still hadn’t had their conversation, and now it was definitely later. He watched Shinichi toe at the ground, considered his options, and cleared his throat to get Shinichi’s attention.
“Do you think they’ll need you again tonight? The first officer or the head of security or anyone relating to the case, I mean. Will they need you again?” he asked in an undertone. Shinichi, blinking, looked up from his laces.
“Probably not tonight. Not until we dock, at least. That’s when we’ll have to sort all of this out with law enforcement,” he replied before he seemed to realize what Kaito was thinking and went red. “Uh, are you saying…?” Kaito pressed their foreheads together. Shinichi shut his mouth with an audible click.
“I’m saying that maybe we should have that talk now. If you’re feeling up for it, at least,” Kaito informed him, feeling the start of a smile pulling on his mouth, and Shinichi squinted at him before he sighed and nodded.
“I think maybe you’re right,” he agreed, and made for the door, waving once at the first officer as he went. Kaito cast one last look at Aiko, Fumika, and Hiro—at least Hiro seemed to be calming down, although he was still red in the face—and turned to follow Shinichi out of the bathroom, through the crowd of onlookers and to the staircase. He left the heavy weight of sadness behind him.
Neither of them spoke all the way back to their room. When the door finally shut behind them, Shinichi moved to perch on the edge of the bed, looking up at Kaito when Kaito came to stand in front of him.
“So I talked to Mouri-san earlier, which was… revealing,” Kaito began after a long moment. Shinichi cringed. “Why didn’t you tell me that you wanted us to, uh, go farther?”
“I didn’t—I didn’t know how to tell you,” Shinichi stammered. It was disconcerting how flustered he was already. Well, disconcerting and also pretty hot. “And when you said that Ran had told you to—to, uh, be gentle, or whatever you said… I thought that meant you knew. I thought she’d told you. I thought I had an out.”
“Okay,” Kaito agreed after a second, mostly because he didn’t know what else there was to say. “But, like, before we came on this cruise, you definitely didn’t seem interested in wanting to go any further. Or you acted like you weren’t, at least.”
“That was…” Shinichi flushed even harder, which Kaito would’ve thought an impossibility until he watched it happen. His voice went small. “You can’t laugh at me, okay.”
“I wouldn’t,” Kaito assured him, standing his ground when Shinichi looked unconvinced. “I wouldn’t. Not about this.” Shinichi gave him a grateful look, ducking his head. It still took him a minute to gather himself, though; he spent a worrying amount of time plucking at the outer seam of his pants before he seemed able to look into Kaito’s face.
“Okay, well. I… I may have been worried that I wouldn’t… compare. To, uh, past… to other people you’ve slept with?”
Of all the things Kaito had expected to be the problem, that—hadn’t really factored in. He was aware that he was gaping unattractively at Shinichi. Shinichi seemed to misinterpret his expression, though, as offense or horror or something, and he started looking panicked, biting at his bottom lip.
“Not—I’m not trying to say that I care about how many people you’ve slept with!” he got out hastily, hands raised. “I just—I just didn’t want to… disappoint you? Because I’m not…” He groaned out a sigh, rubbing at his face. “I don’t know. It made sense at the time. I was really worried about it, and I just—I wasn’t sure—”
Kaito managed to regain control of his jaw.
“Shinichi, how many people do you think I’ve slept with?” he demanded. Blinking, Shinichi closed his mouth, frowning as he thought about it.
“I don’t know?” he hazarded. “More than I have, probably?”
“I’ve slept with maybe three people,” Kaito informed him. At Shinichi’s suspicious squint, he added, “There was one time at the Golden Globes with, like, an astounding amount of free champagne, and I don’t really know if I actually did anything with anyone because I woke up in someone’s pool in an inner tube, so now that I'm saying that out loud, I'm realizing that it’s probably only two people, but. That’s not the point.” He narrowed his eyes at Shinichi, who looked similar to a sunburned lobster. “Why did you think that I’d slept with a lot of people?” Shinichi didn’t follow tabloids enough to know much about Kaito’s supposed past relationships, and anyway, he knew that not everything that was printed was true.
“Oh, uh… You’re…” Shinichi made a face, exhaling wearily. “You, uh. You kiss really well. I assumed that meant you were... experienced.” He caught sight of the grin threatening to envelop Kaito’s face and scowled. “Don’t let that get to your head.”
“Darling, I would never,” purred Kaito, and Shinichi looked ready to throw a pillow at his head. One of his hands was sliding backwards on the duvet towards the stack by the headboard, at least. Kaito cleared his throat, though. They still had things to discuss before this devolved into sexy pillow fights. “So you decided to—what, steel your nerves and sleep with me on this trip?” Something about that seemed wrong. Shinichi eyed him.
“‘Steeling my nerves’ makes it sound like I wasn’t interested in doing it,” he pointed out. “Which, well, obviously isn’t true, because in case you haven’t noticed, I really, really want to have sex with you. I feel like that’s been pretty obvious when we’re making out.” Kaito felt his face doing something really unattractive.
“How did you say that with a straight face but you couldn’t tell me directly that you wanted to go all the way?” he whined, scrubbing a hand down his face. Shinichi looked pained.
“I really thought that Ran had told you,” he sighed. “If I’d known she hadn’t, I would’ve come out and said something. Probably. I mean, I would’ve been embarrassed, but I still would’ve done it.”
“Oh,” Kaito said, at a loss. He wasn’t sure if it was the appropriate thing to be smiling right now, but he was. “Well, in my defense, I didn’t know you were interested, so it mostly just felt like a lot of mixed signals. Especially since you haven’t—” He cut himself off. This wasn’t the time to be whipping out his own relationship hang-ups.
Or maybe it was, he decided, when Shinichi didn’t look ready to let that go. Instead, a hint of the concentration he usually devoted to promising leads spilled into his expression.
“Since I haven’t what?” he asked, not demanding, just inquiring, although Kaito could see the intensity in his eyes. Kaito took a breath.
“Since you haven’t told me you love me,” he answered, quietly enough that he almost didn’t hear himself. He looked down at his feet. “I know I said it way too fast—well, I mean, I said it, like, creepily fast—and I understand that it’s only been six months since we met, so it’s normal that you wouldn’t—”
“Kaito.” There was something both incredulous and firm in Shinichi’s voice, enough that Kaito found himself meeting Shinichi’s gaze before he could stop himself. Shinichi’s whole face was dubious, and Kaito braced himself when he started, “I know I came into this relationship not—I don’t know, soulfully in love with you, but I still really, really liked you, even at the beginning. And after that, I thought I was making it pretty obvious that I love you.”
It felt as if a cauldron of something hot had been upended over Kaito’s head—not something lukewarm, not something pleasantly warm, but something scalding that burnt at his fingertips and boiled over his shoulders and left him feeling floaty and shocked. He felt himself smiling helplessly, so stupidly that Shinichi looked as if he were trying not to laugh at Kaito.
“Really?” he breathed, and he sounded so dumb that he almost wanted to stop feeling like this just to get back in control of himself. The way Shinichi was laughing at him, grinning so wide his eyes were crinkling at the corners, was enough to mitigate that impulse, though.
“Really, Kaito,” he answered, soft, and pulled Kaito closer by the hips until he could stare up at Kaito with eyes that Kaito now realized, with certainty that stung, were adoring. “I love you.”
“Oh—oh, okay,” Kaito said, eloquent and also happier than he’d ever been, and swooped down to kiss him. Everything else faded away at the press of their mouths, the whole grueling day, the fight they’d had, the lingering thoughts of Kinoshita and Fumika and Hiro and Aiko.
At first it started off somewhat chaste, just the barest hint of tongue, but then Shinichi bit down on his lower lip and swallowed the sound Kaito made in return. Kaito wasn’t exactly expecting anything to happen—he and Shinichi clearly had things they needed to discuss, if they wanted to approach this like rational and matured adults—but then Shinichi’s hands dropped from his waist to his ass, which was kind of distracting. He pulled back with a gasp that trailed into a breathless laugh when Shinichi squeezed.
“You know, the thing in your office happened after you closed the investigation on Miho. Does—does solving cases get you hot?” he stammered, not entirely sure how his vocal chords were forming comprehensible words, especially considering he was watching Shinichi slide his hands around the rim of Kaito’s waistband to thumb at the button on Kaito’s pants. Shinichi tilted his head back to give him an unimpressed look. God, his mouth was so red.
“You get me hot,” he corrected, the you idiot going unspoken (or at least Kaito assumed it would’ve, even if he hadn’t pushed Shinichi flat on the bed and bent to bite at his lips). The soft, turned-on sound Shinichi made when Kaito migrated from his mouth to the join of his neck and shoulder—Kaito wanted to remember it forever.
It took Kaito a good few minutes of sloppy making out to realize that he’d started rolling his hips against Shinichi’s at some point, hard in his suit pants. Shinichi was, too, pushing mindlessly up against Kaito as his breathing went labored. Kaito squirmed around just to feel the firm line of Shinichi’s dick press against the crease between Kaito’s thigh and hip; they both moaned at the feeling. Kaito did it again, nipping at Shinichi’s throat and then his open, gasping mouth as he did.
“Oh, God,” Shinichi mumbled, dragging his head back to try to catch his breath. His face was bright red, beads of sweat gleaming along his hairline. The product in his hair was breaking up. “That feels really good, oh my God.” He licked his lips, lifting his face to find Kaito’s face with his glazed eyes. “Can we—clothes?” Kaito stared at him for a good two seconds, the gears in his head creaking along at a much slower pace than usual, before Shinichi’s meaning registered.
“Yeah, we can—we can,” he answered before he scrambled off of Shinichi and started fumbling at the line of buttons on his shirt with hands that felt notably less dexterous than usual. When he finally got his pants and underwear off and looked back over at Shinichi, he found that Shinichi, naked and stepping out of his socks, was staring at his cock with a look of extreme concentration. For Kaito’s part, he was having a lot of trouble figuring out what newly-bared part of Shinichi to look at. His arms, and his chest, and his stomach, and his legs, or—or his dick, or, God, his ass, the curve of it was ridiculous—
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Shinichi began, his eyes still fixed on Kaito’s cock, “but I’ve literally wanted to suck you off for about six months, so, uh, can I do that?”
“What the hell,” Kaito said blankly. Where had that confidence been yesterday, when he’d been convinced that Shinichi wasn’t ready for them to have sex? When Shinichi looked confused and a little uneasy, he shook his head (chasing the remaining blood in his brain down to his dick, probably). “Of course you can, darling. What wrong way is there to take that?” Shinichi looked relieved and also really anticipatory, which was massively flattering.
“I don’t know what I meant, okay, being coherent isn’t my highest priority at the moment,” he answered before he shoved Kaito back until Kaito was sitting on the edge of the bed. His mouth was starting to look dark and a little bruised—maybe Kaito had kissed him a little too hard, earlier. He was hard, the head of his cock swollen and turning deeper and deeper red the longer Kaito stared. Kaito realized his mouth was hanging open sometime around the moment Shinichi got down on his knees and shouldered into the V of Kaito’s legs.
“I just want you to know that this is fulfilling about twenty-five percent of my fantasies,” he heard himself say faintly, as if from a distance, staring as Shinichi wrapped a hand around the base of Kaito’s dick. Shinichi raised an eyebrow up at him, wetting his lips with a swipe of his tongue. Kaito was utterly unembarrassed when his dick twitched in Shinichi’s hand, making Shinichi smirk.
“Only twenty-five percent?” he asked, and, without waiting for a response, dove in. He started off sucking hard at the crown and working his hand up the shaft in a twisting motion that got shorter and shorter the more of Kaito’s dick he managed to fit in his mouth. There was very little teasing involved, aside from when Shinichi pulled back to kiss at the slit and take a deep breath before he sank back down, moaning in contentment. Kudou Shinichi, to the surprise of no one, didn’t mess around.
“Why are you so good at that,” Kaito stuttered when he managed to stop groaning for more than a second. Shinichi looked up at him, his mouth stretched around Kaito’s cock, red and shiny as his tongue pressed against the vein along the underside, and Kaito forgot what he’d said as he fought to keep his breathing steady. His toes curled when Shinichi hummed thoughtfully and pressed another half-inch down, his throat opening around the head and his hand dropping away. It was insane to think that Shinichi had been intimidated by Kaito having experience; either he was some kind of sex savant or he was the one with a lot of practice. Although judging from the situation and the fact that Kudou Shinichi was basically good at everything, it was probably the former.
It took Kaito a second to realize that Shinichi had started touching himself with his now-free hands, pulling semi-frantically on his cock as he adjusted around Kaito and breathed noisily through his nose. The thought made Kaito gasp, struggling not to push up into Shinichi’s mouth. With some effort, he shifted so he could catch a glimpse of Shinichi’s hands working between his own legs.
“Are you—are you jerking off?” he managed after a moment. Shinichi nodded as best he could, brow furrowed as he swallowed around the tip, the movements of his shoulders and arms giving away that he was speeding up on his cock, as if—as if sucking Kaito off turned him on that much, made him that desperate. Kaito sincerely did not know what to do with that.
When he managed to fit Kaito partway down his throat, Shinichi sucked hard enough that his cheeks hollowed, retreating briefly to cough before he forced himself back down. Kaito gasped at the feeling, his entire body trembling, and curled over Shinichi’s head. More to give himself something to do than anything else, he lifted a shaky hand to run along the bunching muscle along Shinichi’s shoulderblades and the blood-suffused back of his neck, which was hot to the touch and damp with sweat. If Kaito strained, he could see the round, smooth shape of Shinichi’s ass, flattened slightly from being pressed against Shinichi’s heels, bouncing every time Shinichi pulled at himself. It was maybe the hottest thing Kaito had ever seen. He felt as if he were going crazy, shot through with so much pleasure that he wasn’t sure if he was going to survive. Of course Shinichi did that to him.
“Oh God,” he groaned, hands coming down to rest on Shinichi’s head. “Shinichi, I’m going to—I’m going to come if you keep—”
The noise Shinichi made was smug, and he made no move to pull off. Kaito groaned, his hips flexing, and buried his hands in Shinichi’s hair, tugging lightly in an attempt to dislodge him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was certain that it was only polite not to come in someone’s mouth.
“Shinichi,” he begged, squirming, and Shinichi ignored him, shoving down until his nose was close to being buried in Kaito’s pubic hair. He looked up at Kaito, eyebrows lifted, and Kaito couldn’t restrain the panicky groan that could he feel building as his cock twitched helplessly in the warm confines of Shinichi’s mouth. His toes were curling so hard that his feet were on the verge of cramping. “Shinichi, I, I’m gonna—” He pulled harder. What he wasn’t expecting was for Shinichi to whimper, incredibly loudly considering he had Kaito’s dick jammed halfway down his throat, and look up at Kaito with his eyes watering at the corners, his mouth obscene around the base of Kaito’s cock—which. Okay.
Kaito came with a sound like he’d been shot, embarrassing, half-formed noises leaking out of his mouth the whole while. God, Shinichi’s throat was so tight, clutching at the head of his dick as he spilled, God. He ended up leaned to one side, bent over Shinichi’s head, panting as if he’d run a marathon, half-certain he’d legitimately come his brains out.
“Oh my God,” he said weakly when he’d managed to refocus his eyes. Shinichi pulled off, looking supremely proud of himself, and got to his feet carefully. There was come collected at one corner of his mouth, which he licked off without a hint of embarrassment. Kaito’s hindbrain really liked that.
Kaito realized that Shinichi hadn’t come about two seconds after he got up. Shinichi was flushed all the way down to his stomach, and his dick was so hard it was pointing straight up. Pre-come was beading at the slit. Without thinking, he reached out to touch, rubbing his index finger through it, and Shinichi honest-to-God whined. His mouth was the same swollen red color as the head of his cock, Kaito noticed with a bolt of arousal.
“Please,” Shinichi whispered, and his voice was completely hoarse. “Please, I want—”
“What do you want, darling?” Kaito whispered. He tugged at Shinichi’s wrist until Shinichi climbed into his lap. They were both at the stage of sweatiness where their skin was just tacky enough to stick when they touched. It was gross and also pretty hot. With a monumental effort, Kaito lurched upwards, still uncoordinated, to kiss him openmouthed. Shinichi tasted like his come, which probably should’ve disgusted him, but Kaito was having a hard time finding it anything but a turn on.
“I, uh,” Shinichi began after they’d made out for a minute. He wetted his lips—unnecessarily; they were still slick to the point of distraction—and cleared his throat. “Do you think you could go again?”
Kaito blinked at him.
“Definitely, considering you’re the hottest thing I’ve ever laid eyes on,” he replied, completely honest. Shinichi rolled his eyes but settled farther in his lap, as if reassured.
“Well, in that case,” he said, drier than a desert, before he paused. “Could you—could you finger me, maybe? Open me up? There’s, uh, there’s lube in my bag. And condoms.”
“You came prepared,” Kaito said faintly, for lack of a better thing to say. He buried his face in Shinichi’s neck, breathing in. God did he smell good, like clean sweat and sex and Shinichi. “Of course I’ll finger you, darling. I don’t think I could ever say no to you.” He sucked at Shinichi’s pulse point, which fluttered under his tongue as Shinichi shivered.
“Okay,” he sighed, letting Kaito work at him for a little before he clambered off of Kaito’s lap and went towards where his bag had been abandoned against the wall after it had been emptied. Kaito stared at his ass as he went, unrepentant when Shinichi turned, lube and condom in hand, and found him watching. Kaito winked. Shinichi looked horrified.
“I can’t believe I still want you inside me,” he muttered, which was a lot for both Kaito’s brain and his dick to process. It was still a bit soon for him to get hard again, but his dick was acting as if it had never heard of refractory periods.
“Come here, you ridiculous man,” Kaito demanded, and Shinichi complied, a smirk caught on his mouth. He tossed the supplies down on the bed and got on all fours without being told, looking over his shoulder at Kaito with a wrinkle between his eyebrows when Kaito didn’t instantly move behind him. Kaito picked his jaw up off the duvet and went to do just that.
God, but the view. Kaito stared, running his hands over the smoothness of Shinichi’s ass, the generous expanse of his thighs, the bulge of his balls, the stiff line of his cock. One of his thumbs caught on the edge of Shinichi’s hole, and Shinichi’s whole body juddered.
“Can you,” began Shinichi breathlessly, and Kaito rubbed over his hole with the pads of his fingers, just to feel him shake and huff out a breath. There was something intimate and special about this, being able to see Shinichi in this state, being able to put Shinichi in this state. Kaito felt warmth spread within his ribcage (and his dick, but that was less romantic).
He fumbled around for the lube, making sure to warm it between his fingers for a moment before he stroked it over Shinichi’s entrance. Shinichi made a contented sound, hips working back. Kaito inhaled slowly before he pushed in a finger.
“Good?” he asked, aware that his voice was uneven. Shinichi was so hot inside, hot and clinging and tight, and the visual of his middle finger sinking in so easily was enough to make something sharp twist in his stomach.
“Good,” Shinichi agreed after Kaito spent a moment rubbing around. “Add—add another.” He sounded breathless and not in pain, which was good enough for Kaito. He spread more lube around inside Shinichi before he pushed in his index finger. Watching Shinichi’s rim spread to accommodate him guaranteed that he wasn’t going to have any problems with a second round.
Shinichi was panting now, not quite moaning, but definitely getting there. He made a noise when Kaito crooked his fingers, and Kaito watched with fascination as his cock twitched between his legs. A bead of pre-come leaked from the tip, dripping down onto the bedspread and leaving a gleaming thread in its wake. Kaito gaped.
“Almost there,” Shinichi mumbled, a little strained, and Kaito moved his fingers around a little more, pressing down here and there, until Shinichi let out a frantic moan and lurched back. His cock spit another string of pre-come as he rolled his hips against Kaito’s hand. “Yeah, y-yeah, there.”
“Here?” Kaito pressed down on the same spot, harder, and Shinichi choked, his elbows nearly giving out from underneath him. He was so sensitive. Kaito licked at his suddenly dry lips and watched as he worked at Shinichi’s prostate, watching as Shinichi shuddered and moaned, the nape of his neck bright red, his thighs shaking. The harder Kaito pressed, the louder his sounds got.
A thought occurred to Kaito, his frontal lobe lagging and drunk on arousal, and he freed up a hand to rub at Shinichi’s nipple, tentative. Maybe, if his prostate was that sensitive—
Shinichi twisted in on himself with a whimper, collapsing onto the bed as his arms went out. His head dropped until his cheek was pressed against the bed. He was so flushed that he looked feverish.
“Feels good, Kaito,” he slurred, and shoved back with a bend of his knees. Kaito gawked as his hole swallowed down Kaito’s fingers to the third knuckle. “Another finger, and then you?” Kaito was nodding before he finished, feeling kind of stupid with how turned on he was.
“Sounds good,” he managed, and fit another finger in. Shinichi groaned in contentment, relaxed enough that his hole opened up without much resistance. Kaito stared, transfixed, as his fingers disappeared in and out of Shinichi’s body. Pressing on Shinichi’s prostate with three fingers, massaging in hard, unrelenting circles while he pinched at Shinichi’s nipple, made Shinichi whimper.
“No, don’t,” he moaned breathlessly, whole body stuttering away from Kaito’s touch. His cock swayed between his legs; it was leaking like a tap, now, the duvet dark where he’d stained it with precome. “I don’t want to come before you get in me.”
“Oh,” Kaito said, for lack of anything more intelligent. He was suddenly aware that he’d gotten fully hard somewhere in between fingers two and three. “I, uh—are you ready, do you think?”
Shinichi twisted to give him an unimpressed look, even as sweaty and worked up as he was. It was good to know some things didn’t change, Kaito thought fondly.
“I can take anything you can give me, Mr. Famous Actor,” Shinichi informed him, tart, and wasn’t that the most Shinichi thing, Kaito thought as he tore open the condom with shaky fingers, snarky, ironic porn dialogue that still managed to turn Kaito on beyond belief. It took some maneuvering before he had the head of his dick pressed in between Shinichi’s cheeks, right up against his hole. It already felt incredible, the tightness grasping at him, and Kaito licked his lips.
“Are you sure?” he asked, and Shinichi groaned, not a sexy groan but a frustrated groan, and shoved back until Kaito was sunk an inch in. Both of them moaned at the feeling. It was even better than Shinichi’s throat, tight clutching heat and a view of Shinichi’s back as it arched.
“Hurry up,” Shinichi insisted, and Kaito closed his mouth and did as he asked, because he was very bad at denying Shinichi anything. Shinichi made the sexiest sound when Kaito was all the way in him, something torn between a whimper and a gasp as he squirmed, probably getting used to the feeling. Kaito forced himself to still, about to ask if it really was okay for him to move.
Shinichi must’ve anticipated him, though, because he snapped, “I’m fine, you better move,” so that was—that was permission, Kaito guessed. With an uncoordinated movement, he folded himself over Shinichi, hands on his hips, before he pulled out and thrust back in, hard enough that Shinichi moved up the bed just a little, then did it again, and again, and again. He wished he could get a hold of himself enough to do it more gently, but he was having a hard time with that, too pent-up from six months of foreplay to take it slow.
Shinichi seemed to be enjoying the roughness, at least, his constant moans taking on a desperate quality. When Kaito reached around for his dick, he found it swollen and dripping wet at the slit, and Shinichi protested with a panicked moan when Kaito gave him a single stroke, even as his lower body lurched towards the touch.
“No, don’t, I’ll come too soon,” he stammered, batting Kaito’s hand away, and Kaito subsided agreeably. He alternated between hard thrusts and circular, pressing movements that he knew scraped against Shinichi’s prostate, because Shinichi seemed incapable of closing his mouth when Kaito did it. He was breathtaking like this, even more so than usual, the part of his face that Kaito could see open and soft and frantic with pleasure. Gasping, Kaito leaned back for a moment to watch himself pull out, Shinichi’s hole tugging greedily at his shaft, before he decided that he was going to come in the next minute if he kept that up and plastered himself against Shinichi again, grinding in.
Shinichi mewled, mouth closing around his wrist in a mostly useless attempt to stifle his voice until Kaito reached around and drew it out of his mouth, worried that he’d hurt himself. He rubbed at the teeth marks until they faded to a satisfying shade of pink, shoving into Shinichi all the way as he did. When Shinichi’s voice broke on a whimper, Kaito couldn’t stop himself from fitting his mouth to the curve of Shinichi’s neck and biting down, not enough to draw blood but definitely enough to result in a very visible bruise and a lot of awkward questions. Shinichi’s whole body flexed against Kaito’s, and he went even tighter around Kaito, clamping down enough that Kaito almost couldn’t pull back out. Kaito gasped out a weak laugh even as his knees threatened to give out at the feeling.
“Feeling good, darling?” he panted, pressed against Shinichi’s back, hands gripping Shinichi’s hips just a little too hard as he ground in hard against Shinichi’s prostate.
“Y-Yeah,” Shinichi managed. His voice trailed off into a wail when Kaito got his fingers around his nipples, tugging and rubbing until Shinichi was verging on volume levels that might result in a noise complaint. His whole body was shaking against Kaito’s, the kind of tell that made Kaito suspect he was trying desperately not to come, and the angle had him tight and slippery around Kaito’s cock. “Feels—feels good, Kaito, I can’t—”
“Worth waiting for, you’d say?” Kaito laughed, sort of hysterically, before he pulled Shinichi up until he was upright against Kaito’s chest. His hips were beginning to ache from thrusting, and there was a particular tightness behind his balls that told him he wasn’t going to last. He hooked his chin over Shinichi’s shoulder and looked down to see Shinichi’s dick bobbing against his lower stomach, so hard it was nearly purple at the tip. It jerked every time Kaito pushed in, heavy and full. Kaito nosed around until his mouth was beside Shinichi’s ear.
“I want to see you come, darling. Don’t you want to come for me?”
“Yeah, I—I want to,” Shinichi gasped. Kaito sucked at the mark he’d left on Shinichi’s neck before he made his way to Shinichi’s pulse point, which fluttered harshly beneath his tongue when he nipped at it.
“Need help? Or are you going to come on my cock, without a hand on you?” he panted into Shinichi’s skin, pushing in roughly enough that Shinichi made a sound like he’d been punched. Or maybe it was the way that he kissed the side of Shinichi’s neck that had elicited that sound. Kaito couldn’t bring himself to stop and figure it out. He ran his hands up and down Shinichi’s flanks, smoothing over the skin, before he stopped at Shinichi’s nipples, thumbing at each one with an intentional lack of delicacy. “Hm, darling? What do you think?”
“I—ah,” Shinichi stammered, and then came with a ridiculously sexy series of whimpers, squirming when Kaito angled for his prostate and worked at his nipples even more harshly. His dick kicked violently and spat thick lines of come all up his torso to his collarbones—some even hit the underside of his chin, Kaito thought in turned-on awe.
The clamping around Kaito’s dick was more than enough to pull him over the edge. He groaned and barely made it five more thrusts before he was coming, so hard that he couldn’t breathe, so hard that he almost couldn’t feel his legs. Shinichi’s hole gripped at him the whole way as Shinichi caught his breath; Kaito found himself staring, transfixed, as aftershocks made Shinichi’s cock twitch and drool tiny spurts of come.
Kaito crumpled backwards when it was over, fairly certain that he had died sometime in the past hour and was now experiencing heaven. Heaven, he thought with the sagacity of someone who had just come so hard their ears were still ringing, was Kudou Shinichi crumpled on top of you, naked and thoroughly debauched.
“That was good,” Kaito managed, once he’d stopped gasping and managed to regulate his breathing into something more normal. Shinichi was a heavy, sticky weight over him, one that winced as Kaito extricated his cock and fumblingly tied off the condom. He did make a content, blissed-out sound when Kaito bent to kiss him on the mouth, slow and sweet. “I don’t think I’ve ever come that hard.”
“Glad to hear it,” Shinichi said, sounding pleased but also two minutes from passing out. Kaito summoned up his remaining strength to push Shinichi off of him, laying him out gently on the messed-up duvet. Shinichi was still sex-flushed, his eyes half-lidded and his hair the messiest Kaito had ever seen. He was absolutely covered in come, which was hot but also likely to make him grumpy when he woke up.
“Come on, darling,” he coaxed, running a hand down Shinichi’s slick side. Shinichi pushed into the touch like a giant cat. “Let’s get in the shower, okay?” Shinichi cracked open one eye—it had fallen shut when Kaito started talking—and leveled an unimpressed look in Kaito’s direction.
“Shower sex is not in the cards tonight,” he informed Kaito. “I’m pretty sure I fried most of my cerebral cortex, and I need the rest of it intact if I want to keep my job. Also, I don’t know if I can move.” Kaito snickered, more flattered than he really should’ve been.
“It’s flattering that you think I could go three times in the span of an hour and a half, but no, I just want to shower. You’re pretty dirty, darling.”
Shinichi made a considering noise before he slid ungracefully onto his feet, stumbling when he tried to stand. Kaito caught him around the waist, and, eyeing Shinichi up, slung him over one shoulder in a fireman’s carry. He was heavy, but not so much that Kaito wouldn’t make it to the bathroom. Shinichi squawked, kicking reflexively, when he started moving.
“I’m just taking responsibility,” answered Kaito blithely, grinning when he bumped open the door and set Shinichi down on the tiny ledge in the shower stall. Shinichi looked disgruntled as he removed the shower nozzle from its holder and turned on the water, waiting for it to heat up. “Since I’m the reason why you can’t walk.” Shinichi scowled, crossing his arms.
“You’re very smug for a man who’s trailing me in points,” he said, eyebrows lifted meaningfully, and it took Kaito a second to realize what he meant. He grinned, because that was a challenge if he’d ever heard one, and Kuroba Kaito was a man who rose to challenges. Once the water was hot enough, he returned the showerhead to its holder and stepped under the spray, pulling Shinichi in to kiss him as the water fell on them.
Carefully, subtly, Kaito ran his hands all over Shinichi’s wet skin, making sure to pay careful attention to Shinichi’s chest and the swell of his ass, avoiding his sore hole but lingering at his perineum. It didn’t take long before Shinichi was moaning softly, pushing his half-hard dick against Kaito’s stomach. Kaito pulled back; his smile must’ve been too smug, because Shinichi’s glare was visible even though the gathering steam.
“No shower sex, huh?” Kaito commented, innocent, even as he wrapped a hand around Shinichi’s dick. He had to steady Shinichi with his free arm when Shinichi’s whole body rippled at the contact. Shinichi just scowled at him and bit a rough kiss into Kaito’s mouth, one that went sweet after a moment, as if he couldn’t help himself.
“Finish what you started, Kuroba,” Shinichi demanded when they broke apart, and Kaito grinned and did just that.
Today, 9:46 a.m.
So I heard you did the dirty ;)
Shinichi told me everything
Today, 9:50 a.m.
please never say “did the dirty” to me again
i really hope he didn’t tell u… everything
Today, 9:51 a.m.
;) ;) ;)
Today, 9:52 a.m.
Today, 9:54 a.m.
Welcome to the family, Mr. Famous Actor!!
Hope you’re here to stay J
Today, 9:57 a.m.
hope so too
thanks for everything, ran
Today, 9:59 a.m.
You’re welcome, Kaito.
Kaito spent another minute smiling stupidly down at his phone before Shinichi materialized behind the chair across from him, grumbling something characteristically grumpy about the incompetent inspector he’d been forced to cooperate with during the official closing of the case at the port they’d stopped at early that morning. Slyly, Kaito kicked out and managed to tangle their feet together under the table before Shinichi was even sitting down fully, smiling serenely when Shinichi stumbled into his chair, almost dropped the stack of paperwork he was clutching, and shot Kaito a squinty, suspicious look.
“And I thought you were supposed to be smooth,” Kaito remarked, blithe, and Shinichi rolled his eyes.
“Between the two of us, I’m pretty sure the smooth one is supposed to be you,” he pointed out. Kaito batted his eyelashes and clutched at his chest. He didn’t miss how the movement made Shinichi’s eyes drop to his neck like a conditioned response, zeroing in on the bruised-looking mark beside his jaw that Shinichi had left in the shower.
“Aw, darling, you think I’m smooth?” Kaito grinned, and Shinichi closed his eyes, looking deep in prayer for a moment.
“I think you’re something all right,” he muttered to himself before Kaito ever-so-casually inched a hand across the table to intertwine their fingers. Then he just looked annoyed at himself for being unable to remain annoyed, even as he smiled and started sifting through the file of papers. Kaito craned his neck to catch of a glimpse of what the top sheet said.
“What’ve you got there, darling?” he asked, curious. Shinichi sighed the sigh of a man who was well-acquainted with bureaucracy.
“Just some forms I have to fill out, saying that I was in charge of the investigation. I have to write a case report about it.” He made a face, deflating as he stared down at the stack of paper.
“That sounds exhilarating.” Kaito leaned forward, lowering his voice. When Shinichi met his eyes, he wiggled his eyebrows as stupidly as he knew how, which was fairly stupidly. “Just remember that the faster you finish it, the faster we can fi—”
“I suggest you don’t finish that sentence if you ever want to finish again,” Shinichi informed him tartly, pointing his pen at him half-threateningly, although Kaito didn’t miss how he did start writing faster. Kaito was mostly sure that he was joking, but just to be on the safe side, he closed his mouth.
With Shinichi buried in paperwork, there wasn’t much else for Kaito to do. The dining deck was mostly uncrowded at the moment, stuck in the limbo space between breakfast and lunch. A quick glance around revealed most of the tables to be empty, the stations manned by a few sleepy-eyed attendants. There was one staff member who had been mopping over the same rectangle of floor for the past five minutes.
It took Kaito a moment for his gaze to catch on a pair of women seated across the deck, angled away from him and Shinichi. For a moment, he wasn’t sure why they’d caught his attention, but after a second’s contemplation, he realized that they were Fumika and Aiko, heads bent together as they talked. One of Fumika’s hands was stirring absently at her tea; the other was progressing closer and closer towards where Aiko was clutching her mug. He thought back to the conversation he’d had last night on the staircase with Fumika. Huh.
“Huh,” he said aloud, startling Shinichi into glancing up at him. He shook his head when Shinichi frowned in concern, trying to parse the tangle of emotions that had knotted instead in his chest. “No, it’s nothing. Just…” The words didn’t come to him immediately. “Just, maybe sometimes unrequited love isn’t unrequited. Maybe sometimes there’s a chance.”
He knew he sounded dumb, and he wasn’t making much sense, but instead of pointing that out, Shinichi peered down at the table, where Kaito’s hand had tightened around his. He smiled, almost shyly, and squeezed back.
“Yeah,” he agreed in a low voice. “I think you’re right.”