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Keep Chasing Your Thieves- uh, Dreams

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"Oooh, I think I got it open!"

 

There was a soft metallic click as the pieces of the gold and brass medallion spun, and then the room filled with an eerie, flat green fishtank glow that lit their faces from below, throwing their eyes into shadow and making both of them look like dead men walking. Jigen felt the hairs rise along his arms and neck, every carefully honed sniper's instinct screaming that this was a trap, this was bad, something was very, very wrong.

 

"Shiny!"

 

"That thing creeps me out," Jigen forced out, in what he hoped was at least an approximation of his usual deadpan tone. The client who'd given them the job had been bad enough, some burly guy with funny clothes and a Greek-sounding name, who'd kept his face in shadow the entire time. That wasn't so unusual, but something about him set Jigen's teeth on edge, made him feel like the best place to be in relation to this guy was several states away. Then, when they'd finally made it to Nepal, the nice quiet monastery they were supposed to rob had turned out to be full of supernaturally fast monks in robes, wielding some kind of energy bolt weapons he'd never seen before. He'd been fighting for his life to hold them off while Lupin bolted for the library to get the Eye, and they'd only just managed to shake them off long enough to get to the safe house. There was nothing about this job that he liked, and now he could add that freakish glowing gem to the already long list of things that were wrong. "Why don't you put it away until the buyer shows up? Wouldn't be surprised if it's radioactive or somethin', glowing like that."

 

"Don't be a wuss," Lupin teased, peering at the stone closely. "We worked hard for this, and besides, it's supposed to magical, like it lets you see into the future or something. I want to play with it before we have to hand it over!"

 

Jigen drew back even further. The stories he'd heard claimed that the Eye of Agamotto could affect the timestream, and that, in conjunction with, 'let's fuck around with it' and Arséne Lupin the Third, sounded like the worst idea he'd heard in a good long while.

 

He was a world-class sniper, one of the best, and he hadn't gotten there and, much harder, stayed there, by ignoring his instincts. Many, many times, he had felt a vague prickle race along the nape of his neck and ducked, only to feel a bullet whistle over his head a fractured second later. And right now, all of those instincts were screaming red alert.

 

"I'm going out for a drink," he said finally, cramming his faithful fedora back onto his head. The heist was over, and not even his loyalty to Lupin could keep him in the same room as that thing. "You sure you don't wanna come?"

 

Lupin pulled a face and waved him off, still bent over the glowing green gem. He didn't look up until he heard the door click closed behind the gunman, and then stuck his tongue out at the empty room. Jigen could be such a wet blanket sometimes. This thing was cool! What was he supposed to do, steal a mystical glowing jewel surrounded by crazy legends, and then not screw around with it? Please.

 

Following on the heels of his pique at Jigen, he felt a soft flush of disappointment that Zenigata hadn't shown up. It wasn't like the inspector to miss one of his shows. He'd sent a card and everything, Lupin thought mournfully, fiddling with the Eye, and the policeman was usually so punctual, so faithful in his pursuit. Man, had there ever been another like his inspector? He didn't really think so. His personal policeman was one of a kind.

 

As Lupin was playing with forces he didn't fully understand, half a planet away, Zenigata was looking for a place to get a stiff drink or two before heading back to his rather dusty apartment. It had been a quiet few months since Lupin's last heist; he'd actually managed to get some work done, taking down a local smuggling ring, weeding out a few corrupt cops in the Paris division of Interpol, and arresting a couple of lowlifes who'd been trafficking exotic animals. There was the quiet glow of jobs well done. But hard on the heels of that satisfaction always followed the slowly rising paranoia: where was Lupin? What was he up to? Why hadn't he heard anything about it? How much warning would he get? Enough to stop it? How many people would get hurt? So, off he went in search of a bar, quieting his anxiety with beer and cigarettes until he could replace it with action and arrests.

 

(Neither Lupin nor Zenigata knew, and would probably never find out, that the beautifully detailed calling card Lupin had dropped so gleefully in the mail had been misdirected from Paris, France to Arish, Egypt, where it slipped out of a badly tied mailbag, blew under the porch of a large and ill-maintained house, and was promptly chewed into bedding by one of the wild hamsters that ran rampant over the area. The fine black oak gall ink Lupin had used was very effective at keeping away insects, and the hamster quite enjoyed its new nest.)

 

Zenigata turned a corner and cursed quietly, realizing he'd taken a wrong turning somewhere, and the bar he'd been looking for was nowhere in sight. On the other hand, he thought, eyeing the rather disreputable looking building halfway down the alley, there was another bar available, and even if it wasn't what he'd been looking for, they would likely still have beer.

 

The ache in his feet and his temples decided it. He wanted a drink, and he wanted to be done traipsing around the city. Stepping out of the fine warm Paris night, he headed into the Mended Drum.

 

Weird mix of folks was his first impression. Everyone from haggard-looking businessmen to someone in a hot pink dress, with grey and stony-looking skin. Honestly, some of these people barely even looked human. What were kids doing to themselves these days?

 

The place was crowded. He had to edge his way through a cluster of very short people with thick beards and honest-to-god armor to get to the bar, and once he'd managed to flag down the bartender and get a pint, he stood there clutching it, unsure of where to go. Every stool at the bar was taken, and he'd been on his feet all day, he didn't really want to go prop up a wall somewhere. Which left the communal tables. Definitely not his first choice...and possibly not even a third or fourth choice, he realized, scanning the room for empty seats. There didn't seem to be any.

 

Finally, he spotted one, but as he approached, it became clear why the chair was still unclaimed. It was at a small table meant for two, and the man on the other side of it wore a face like a gathering storm, cold grey eyes peering irritably from inside a maze of bushy sideburns that would have done an angora rabbit proud. For a moment, Zenigata almost hesitated, but then he steeled up and plopped himself down. With how crowded the bar was, the man couldn't reasonably expect to have a table to himself, and Zenigata was sick of feeling like the new kid in the cafeteria, looking for someone to eat lunch with. He wasn't here to make friends, he just wanted to sit down and drink his beer.

 

"I really hope," the man on the other side of the table growled, "that you aren't planning on actually staying there."

 

"So what if I am?" Zenigata scowled, taking a swig of his beer. What was this guy's problem? "It's not like there are any other seats around."

 

"Not my problem."

 

"Oh?" Zenigata sneered. "And how bad could your day possibly have been, that you need a whole table to yourself, in a bar this crowded?" Probably he should have just dropped it, but after a long and frustrating day himself, the guy's attitude was grating on him.

 

"If you must know," the man growled, sideburns twitching, "the thief I've spent the last ten years chasing got away again today, and I was hoping to enjoy a quiet pint before going back into the station to deal with the chaos that inevitably follows in his wake!"

 

Zenigata felt his jaw drop.

 

"Wait...you too?!"

 

"Are you mocking me?" the man asked suspiciously. "I will not be mocked."

 

"I've spent the last eleven years chasing the same thief," Zenigata deadpanned. "Other cases and police work on the side, of course, you can't get by only working one case for a decade, but I just can't let this case drop. The rest of the work is my job, this is my career. And he's a slippery bastard, I've almost had him a couple of times, but I will get him."

 

The man sitting at the table had stopped dead, his eyes suddenly wide.

 

"Maybe you should stay after all," he finally offered. "It sounds like we might have a lot to talk about."

 

*********************

 

After they both finished their first beers, Zenigata got the next round. After they'd finished those, the man, whose name was Javert, stood the third.

 

"How have we never met before this?" Zenigata exclaimed. His voice was still perfectly steady, but his gestures were beginning to become more extravagant, two and a half pints running through his bloodstream. "We're both inspectors, living in Paris, working pretty much the same beat...this is absurd!"

 

"It's a meeting long overdue, as I see it," Javert grinned, his chin propped up in one hand. "What I could accomplish if I had a partner like you, instead of the usual laggards I get stuck with! Think of how effective the stakeouts would be, if I was paired with someone who was actually watching the target, instead of running off every five minutes for a cigarette or a sandwich or a coffee."

 

"Seriously," the Japanese inspector groaned, taking another pull of beer. "They finish up their shift, clock out, and it wouldn't matter if they saw someone steal a little old lady's purse, they're not on duty, so it's not their problem. How can any real policeman think like that?! And they say I'm nuts for spending so much time chasing after Lupin, but he's not going to stop stealing, the case is going to come across my desk the minute he walks off with something else, why wouldn't I try to nab him before that happens?"

 

"And no one ever gets it," Javert sighed, staring into the depths of his beer. " They tell you, 'oh, sometimes one gets away, just get over it, you're doing great work, just focus on the cases you can solve,' but how are you supposed to just let them go?! Knowing they're still walking around free, flouting the justice system..."

 

"Exactly!" Zenigata agreed, waving his mug, a few drops sloshing over the rim. "No one gets that you can't just clock out and turn it off. Being a policeman is a full-time job," he declared, while Javert nodded fervently. "No one ever appreciates the importance of a good trench coat either," he added wistfully, and Javert slammed his mug down.

 

"Precisely! The coat is important! The sideburns too, and the right hat!"

 

"The sideburns are very important," Zenigata agreed solemnly. As far as hats...well, he wouldn't dream of going out without his fedora, but Javert's hat, a massive and old-fashioned bicorn, gave him some pause. Well, as long as he didn't have to wear it, each to their own. He supposed the inspector felt comfortable in it. "And you just don't feel dressed without a good hat."

 

"Exactly," Javert exclaimed, dropping his chin onto his crossed arms. "Why on earth aren't you in my precinct?! You get it!"

 

"Bloody straight!"

 

"You have a bit of an accent," Javert commented idly, running his fingers down the grooves of the beer stein's glass. "If you don't mind my asking, where are you from? Occitanie? Say..." he mused suddenly, eyes trailing lightly over Zenigata's features, "I don't suppose you happen to be Romani?"

 

"Not even a little bit," Koichi told him, grinning. "Japanese. I was a cop in Tokyo, and then I signed on with the international police force, and I got transferred to France a few years ago. My full name is Koichi Zenigata," the inspector offered, remembering to give his personal name before his family name, European style. That had taken some getting used to. People wondering where he was from was nothing new, but Javert wasn't being rude about it, and it didn't bother him as much as when most people fished for information. The other inspector did genuinely just seem to be curious, not looking for something to find fault with.

 

Javert's expression cleared.

 

"Ah! If you'll forgive my prying, I was curious. Your French is excellent," he complimented, and Zenigata grinned.

 

"Thank you! No offense taken. Not the easiest language to learn, but easier than English, at least. Although I still don't quite have the accent down, as you said," he sighed.

 

"That'll come with time," Javert assured him. "Especially if you've only been speaking it for a few years. What's Japan like? I've never left France, but I've heard Japan is quite nice. Are all the police there as thorough as you?"

 

"I wish," Zenigata groaned. "You're the first officer I've ever met who actually understands why I keep chasing after Lupin, no matter how many times he gets away. I just can't let the weaselly little bastard go."

 

"I know. It's not like I want to see him dead, either," Javert sighed, staring into his beer again. "A few other officers have asked me why I don't just shoot him, it would be so much easier than trying to arrest him when he keeps escaping, but I don't want him dead, I just want him sentenced and safely behind bars, where he can't cause any more trouble."

 

"Exactly..."

 

There was a long moment as both officers thought morosely about the lone outstanding mark still on their account, then as one, they sighed and took a swig of beer.

 

"So what other cases have you had lately?" Zenigata asked finally. "I just busted a group smuggling tropical fish, you wouldn't believe some of the rigs they'd dreamed up to get them through customs."

 

"Oh do tell?" Javert grinned, and Zenigata spent an enjoyable ten minute describing the woman whose skirt making 'splooshing' noises as she waddled through security had tipped off the guards to the many, many bags of colorful fish cinched around her waist.

 

"Oh that's good," Javert had laughed when he'd wrapped up his description of trying to wrangle enough aquariums to take in the fish until they could be repatriated. "God, people can be such fools. I don't have anything that entertaining, I'm afraid," he chuckled. "Just been undercover keeping an eye on a bunch of local university students trying to start another revolution. You'd think they'd have learned after the first few that it just doesn't go well!"

 

"We're almost out of beer," Zenigata commented, still grinning widely. "Hold that thought, and I'll get us some more."

 

************************

 

"And if you fall, as Lucifer fell, you faaaaaaall in flames! And so it must be! For so it is written, on the doooorwaaaay to Paradise, that those who falter and those who fall, must paaaaaaaay *hic* the priiiiiiice!"

 

"Excuse me," cut in a rather annoyed-looking man, wearing a eyepatch and some extremely battered ceremonial armor, "but would you two keep it down? It's my night off, and I don't really want to have to arrest anyone for disturbing the peace."

 

"'Course, officer," Zenigata smiled weakly, trying to stop giggling. "We'll *hic* stop singing."

 

"We're cops too," Javert grinned. "Sorry to bother you, we, ah, we both just got off a big case and wanted a night out." Zenigata couldn't help snickering at the white lie, and Javert kicked him under the table.

 

"I 'spose that's understandable," the third officer grumbled. "Just don't make me stick you in the drunk tank or call your commanding officers."

 

"We'll behave," Zenigata promised, still grinning widely. "We wanted to unwind a little, but we don't want to ruin anyone else's night off." The third man raised his one visible eyebrow, then sighed, accepting the explanation.

 

"Not bad singing," he commented as he left, and both inspectors collapsed into a pile, giggling like schoolboys.

 

"We should do this again," Javert commented, finishing the last few chugs from his pint glass. "We...we should really, really do this again."

 

"Absolutely!" Zenigata agreed, finishing off his own beer and slamming the mug down on the table. "It'd be a crying shame not to, now that I know there's someone else who...who gets it."

 

"It's 4 a.m. now, I have to be at work in only a few hours, but one month, same time, same place?" Javert asked eagerly, and Zenigata nodded, enthusiastic.

 

He thought he'd done a pretty good job of drinking his brain cells into submission, so it must have been something else at play - intuition, sixth sense, foreboding, what have you - that gave him a flicker of unease as he glanced around the crowded bar. Men in armor, stony-skinned giants, he swore that one woman looked green...

 

It felt like a dream, or an illusion in a soap bubble, as though it would pop out of existence if he examined it too closely.

 

"If I don't make it next month," he said abruptly, "it's not because I don't like you, or because I stood you up."

 

"Huh?" Javert asked, pausing in the act of collecting their empty glasses.

 

"I had a phenomenal time tonight," Zenigata said earnestly, "and I've never met another officer I get along with so well, and I very much want to do this again, I just...have a weird feeling, that once we both leave here, we won't be able to find it again. So if I don't show up next month, it's not because I ditched you. It's because I couldn't find the bar, or because I got called away to chase my thief, or something like that. It's not because I didn't like you."

 

"I...think I know the feeling you're talking about," Javert sighed, setting the glasses back down again and sinking back into his seat. "It's like time stopped for a few hours tonight, and once we get up, it'll start again." Zenigata nodded mutely.

 

Javert looked unbearably sad for a moment, but then he rallied himself.

 

"Whatever it was and whatever happens next," he declared, pulling himself a little unsteadily to his feet, "it has been a pleasure and an honor meeting you, Inspector Koichi Zenigata."

 

"The pleasure has been mine, Inspector Philippe Javert," Zenigata avowed, shaking his proffered hand firmly. Shoulder to shoulder, they threaded their way through the emptying bar and back out into the misty Parisian night, and parted at the end of the alley with only a last lingering smile, each back to his quiet and empty apartment.

 

*********************

 

Jigen was on his way back from the bar several hours later when he saw a handful of blue-robed figures disappearing over the rooftops. Suddenly very afraid, he broke into a run, and burst into the safe house with his gun drawn, terrified of what he would find.

 

To his everlasting relief, Lupin was alive, albeit unconscious, in the wreckage of the room. He could tell immediately that the Eye was gone, reclaimed by those scary fuckers in the blue and white robes, and he wasn't sure whether to feel more angry, or relieved.

 

Even as he stepped in the door, Lupin groaned, stirred awake.

 

"Jigen? What the hell happened?"

 

"I should be asking you that," the gunman replied, eyes wide under the brim of his hat. "I went to get a drink, and I come back to find you knocked out and the gem gone! Talk about a job gone south," he muttered under his breath. He wasn't surprised that those creepy monks had been able to overpower Lupin, but why hadn't his partner signaled, used the panic button or a flare gun or a frickin' cell phone or any of their other 'help me!' redundancies to let the other know that something had gone wrong?

 

He came back to himself to realize his partner was staring at him, brow furrowed.

 

"But it's...Wednesday, isn't it?" Lupin asked, faintly confused. "The heist hasn't happened yet. We're robbing the monastery in two days?"

 

Jigen stared at him, his expression utterly flat.

 

"It's Friday," he said finally, his voice carefully toneless. "Or very early Saturday, I guess. We hit the monastery yesterday, and it went...very, very wrong."

 

The gunman suddenly exploded into action, crossing to the thief in two strides and locking and barring the door behind him, gun still drawn.

 

"Things have been going wrong on this heist since we got here," Jigen growled, pulling Lupin to his feet, "and this is the last straw. This place is creepy as fuck, and we are getting out of here, now, before one of us gets killed!" Confused and still slightly dazed, Lupin didn't argue when Jigen threw everything haphazardly into their couple of duffel bags and steered them both towards the airport, texting Goemon to pick them up in Japan. It was rare, he thought as his partner got him into a cab and settled protectively in next to him, to see Jigen this worked up, something must have gone horribly wrong, but there was nothing but a foggy blank space in his memory when he tried to think about the last few days. With no idea what could be causing this kind of reaction, he let Jigen drag him along, confusion still waving a small '???' flag in his brain.

 

As for Jigen, well, he'd wanted to leave as soon as they arrived, and Lupin's strange and much too convenient memory loss, presumably at the hands of the Kamar-Taj monks, just underlined that decision in Sharpie, circled it, and lit it up with flashing Christmas lights. He'd check Lupin over once they were well away, he thought grimly, hitching one arm a little tighter around the thief's waist, the other clutching the duffel bags, he'd make sure that his friend was unhurt and it was only those two days of memory he was missing, but for now, the thief wasn't protesting their hasty departure, and Jigen wasn't about to shoot a gift horse in the mouth.

 

*********************

 

A few days at a hotsprings resort located conveniently near a particularly good back-alley doctor served both to confirm that Lupin was fine, albeit still missing 48 hours, and to relax Jigen enough that he was no longer twitching towards his gun whenever Lupin was out of his sight or he saw someone wearing blue. Goemon quietly agreed that the job had probably been a bad idea, and offered to let them stay at the temple with him for as long as they needed. Both men turned him down after it became clear that staying at the temple involved getting up at dawn and meditating under freezing mountain waterfalls. After a week of soaking and relaxing, they parted ways, Goemon back to training, Lupin and Jigen back to France.

 

Zenigata, much to his unsurprised disappointment, couldn't find the Mended Drum again after that night. None of his colleagues had heard of it either, and considering the way some of them plowed through booze, he was inclined to think that if they hadn't heard of it, it probably wasn't there. Which didn't help his mood much, but at least he'd been able to enjoy one evening out with someone who actually understood what police work was about.

 

Remembering Javert's comment about university students trying to start another revolution, he spent several hours over the next few weeks undercover at various colleges and universities, trying to determine whether any of the students were plotting a governmental overthrow, but other than the usual grumblings about corruption, capitalism, and sheeple falling for government propaganda, most of them seemed too sleep-deprived and focused on passing their exams to bother hoarding weapons and taking down the National Guard. Maybe he was at the wrong university? One last try, he figured, and then he'd shelve that tip and go back to tracking Lupin.

 

Two weeks after they landed in Paris, Lupin and Jigen found themselves at the College of Architecture, following a tipoff from one of Lupin's sources about a possible job. The words risky and big payoff had featured heavily.

 

"You said you had a contact here?" Jigen muttered, aware of how out of place he looked, surrounded by bleary-eyed early twenty-somethings clutching bucket-sized styrofoam cups of coffee.

 

"Yeah, Professor Stephen Miles," Lupin whispered back, eyes scanning the swarming hallways. "He said he had a job for us, helping plant something on someone instead of stealing..."

 

His voice trailed off as he recognized someone. Cobb? A blond man, scruffy goatee and at least twenty years older than the students milling around him, heading for a lecture hall. Heading, if he wasn't mistaken, for the same lecture hall as them...

 

"On second thought," he muttered over his shoulder, "let's sit this one out. Hit a museum or something instead, there was a good exhibit on Manet at the Musee d'Orsay." Jigen nodded, quietly relieved, and the two of them headed for the exit and the quad.

 

They had almost reached the street when Lupin bumped into someone carrying a heavy bookbag and not actually blending into the crowd of students around them.

 

"Oh, sorr..."

 

Both froze.

 

The next instant, he took off running, Jigen hot on his heels, followed by the outraged cry of "LUPAAAAAAAHN!"

 

And all was right with the world.