“The coat was empty, wasn’t it?!”
Shadowsan looked up, sitting up and staring around the dark room, black eyebrow cocked questioningly. Normally, he would chalk it up to one of his unusual dreams that he sometimes received, except that it was said too…distantly to be from his own mind. It sounded like it come from somewhere else in the HQ, and he had a theory exactly where its source of origin was.
Sighing, he slipped on his tomesode kimono, wrapping the obi tightly around it. He instinctively slipped his sword into its place as well, closing the door to his room behind him and activating the lock. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the team to not go snooping; but it was that he didn’t trust Ivy and Zack not to go snooping. There was a difference. Not a very distinct one, but any difference was better than no difference.
He approached Black Shee- no. Carmen Sandiego’s chamber, knocking against the door. “Carmen Sandiego?”
Carmen didn’t respond, even though he could hear her restlessly pacing the room inside, urgently talking to Player. “ – don’t know, Player! I know it was empty, but that makes me feel even more like I still have something to prove! I need to prove it, but I don’t know to who?!” A beat. “Myself, maybe?”
Shadowsan knocked again, frowning to himself when she still didn’t answer. He tried the door and found it opened instantly, Carmen having forsaken locking it the night before. He would have to talk to her about that later. (Hopefully away form Zack and Ivy’s earshot; lest the siblings tease him about being ‘Dadowsan’ again.)
Carmen’s room opened into a small, two-meter long hallway. The hallway opened into her normal room at the end, and, on the right, turned into a walk-in closet. Shadowsan could see Carmen between the two windows in her room, staring out the one furthest from the door. Her eyes flickered over to his reflection, and she turned around in surprise.
“Shadowsan, hi.” She greeted, effectively keeping all shock from her tone. She crossed her arms, leaning against the window. “Ever heard of knocking?”
“I did.” Shadowsan returned, arching an eyebrow. “Twice.”
“Oh.” Her snarky demeanor collapsed, her shoulders sagging. “Sorry; off my game today. Am not a morning person.”
“And yet it is five-thirty in the morning.” He retorted, frowning. “It is early, Carmen Sandiego.”
“So, I’m an early riser. Doesn’t mean I like it.” She quipped.
“I heard shouting.” Shadowsan persisted.
“Oh, uh, I was-“ Carmen winced, shoving off of the window and making her way toward the bed, busily trying to straighten out the blankets. It was evident she was not fond of making it, but she was trying to look nonchalant.
“Nightmares.” Player said from the phone perched on top of its charger, the white-hat icon flashing with each syllable. “She has nightmares.”
Carmen sighed, straightening and glancing with frustration at the phone. “Wow, Player, blunt.”
“You were never going to get around to saying it!” Player probably shrugged; tone worried. “Someone had to say something, and it sure wasn’t going to be you!”
“Okay, yes, fine.” Carmen turned towards Shadowsan, sighing. “I have nightmares sometimes.”
“Understatement.” Player snorted, even though he didn’t sound amused at all.
“Okay, at least once a week.” She amended, bowing her head. “I never got the do-over on that final exam of Stealth 101. The first one was fake; the coat was empty. I never ended up passing the test; never got that do-over. It just still feels…unearned, I suppose.”
Shadowsan paused, eyebrows furrowing. She brought a valid point. Of course, he knew she was good enough, and he would immediately push Player off the team if the hacker doubted her, and Ivy and Zack had… a little too much faith in her. But she had yet to prove to herself her capabilities. Shadowsan supposed it was time for that test to be re-taken. For real, this time.
“Meet me in the gym in three minutes.” He ordered her, pivoting and striding from the room. He walked to his own bedchamber, frowning to himself.
Shadowsan opened up his bureau, searching through his Kimonos until he found the one he had bought at a store he discovered while on their expedition in Japan. It was similar to the one he had at the VILE academy, except it had almost twice as many pockets. He picked up a dollar bill from his wallet, placing it carefully in the hardest-to-reach pocket, located all the way at the top of the spine, beside his neck. It’d be tricky to reach, even if it was himself trying to snag it, but he had no doubt at all that Carmen would easily be able to locate it and steal it, within a minute if his predictions were right.
He squared his shoulders, taking a deep breath to steel himself. If he was correct, Carmen would want him to be on top of his game. If he tried his hardest, she’d feel like she truly earned it instead of being feeling like she still wasn’t proving herself. She would want nothing less then his best to compete against.
He made his way to the gym, having to wait no more then thirty seconds before Carmen showed up, dressed in her sports outfit, hair pulled into a tight ponytail. “Welcome, Carmen Sandiego.”
She arched an eyebrow at the full use of her alias, but didn’t make a fuss, frowning at him. “I have a theory on where this is heading, but I’m not going to be the one to make the guess-work.”
“It is time for that do-over.” Shadowsan told her, straightening. “That do-over Black Sheep never got.”
“You sure?” Carmen uncertainly inquired, shoulder rolling backward as she tried to work out a tight knot in her shoulder, brow pinching.
“Of course.” Shadowsan agreed, glancing at her circling shoulder questioningly. “You should be at the top of your game for this particular endeavor.”
“Right.” She smiled slightly, nervously touching it and massaging it. “’m good now.”
“Same rules as always?” He inquired pulling a stopwatch from one of the pockets, glancing at her. “Or would you rather an extended limit, for this coat has an extended number of pockets?”
“Same.” She decided, straightening her back. “More of a challenge.”
“You’ve never been one to lessen a challenge.” Shadowsan declared, a grin tugging at his lips. “Somewhere in my coat lies a single dollar bill.” He recited when she nodded that she was ready. “The coat has many pockets. Locate the target and acquire it, if,” he pronounced with a smile, “you can. You have two minutes.”
He settled the timer on a bench on the side, allowing the time to tick down from two minutes. He flexed his fingers, and beamed down at Carmen, the young woman already prepared to charge him.
She did so with little more than a second’s warning, diving for him. He reached his hand up to block, as he normally did, and her hand slipped inside his sleeve, feeling every pocket before he tried to grab her wrist, her arm whipping backward.
Carmen ducked underneath the next blow he tried to deliver, grasping his coat tail and rummaging through it urgently. He pulled away fast enough that she couldn’t give it a full search, but she did manage to glimpse a few empty pockets hidden in the folds. He could already see her mentally clearing them from her inspection as she moved on.
Shadowsan dodged around a punching bag, giving it a sharp jab to send it in her direction, but she avoided it by jumping on the beam supporting it, swinging over it delicately and landing at his feet. She jumped at him, faking a left before snagging him from his ring, jabbing her hand into his collar, sneaking her hand into it. He felt her hand touch the dollar, and her eyebrows crinkled. He could see her carefully calculating whether it was a dollar bill or the tag, before deciding to accept the risk and try harder.
Shadowsan did his best to keep her away from that particular opening, yet he still accidentally left an opening that Carmen managed to exploit, snaking her fingers into it and tugging at the dollar bill, causing it to come loose. He backed away from her, slamming his back into the wall to cause her to back off, hissing in frustration.
She massaged her hand, frowning as she glanced where she had touched the dollar, biting her lip. She knew for certain now where it was located.
Shadowsan backed away from the wall slowly, lifting his hands in a karate-chop position as they began to circle each other, hands raised. She surveyed the surroundings, eyes flickering over to the stop watch. One minute, fifteen seconds left. She dove for him again, flipping herself up high before he could react, onto another rafter, leaning down to wrangle her hand into his sleeve, successfully managing to pull it out completely, keeping her grip on it tight, cradling it tightly. She leaped back down to ground-level, holding it up, eagerly taunting him and flaunting her abilities.
“Well done.” He applauded her, reaching into the dollar’s former hiding place as if to make sure it was empty. “You completed the objective in under a minute; just as I guessed you would.”
Carmen glanced down at the dollar, then at the stop watch, a prideful smirk spreading across her face. She wiped at her sweat- drenched forehead, sighing as the back of her hand became oily. “Thanks. That was…quite a workout, even in a short amount of time.”
“It was tiring.” Shadowsan agreed, opening the fridge from the corner of the gym, pulling a few water bottles from within, tossing one over to her. She caught it easily, letting it open with a hiss, balancing it in her hand. “I enjoyed it.”
“Not to offend Ivy or Zack or anything, but they’re really not the best sparring partners. Neither is Player, for that matter.”
“Because he’s never here?”
“Exactly.” Carmen agreed. “It was fun to spar with a worthy adversary in good-humor. For once. And…get rid of those nightmares. Um…thank you, Shadowsan.”
“Of course, Carmen. I will always assist you in these things.” The man bowed, smiling to himself when she couldn’t see him. “If you ever wish to properly spar or try to pick the coat pocket again, let me know, and I will be here.”
“I…might just take you up on that offer.” She smiled, handing him back the dollar bill.
“Please, keep it.” He said, pushing it back. “As a trophy, of sorts.”
She looked from the dollar to him. “Are you sure?”
“Of course.” He pressed it into the palm of her hand, proudly beaming down at her. “Now, I suppose you should go get some rest. I will wake you up in three hours for breakfast.”
“Thanks.” Carmen waved, turning to leave the room, before pausing, cocking her head. Pivoting, the femme rouge whipped around and pinned his arms to his sides, burying her nose into his coat for a moment before withdrawing, leaving as if the hug never happened.
Perhaps… Shadowsan thought distantly, watching her leave. …being ‘Dadowsan’ isn’t so bad after all.