Chapter 1: THEIR SMILES CATCH ONTO MY SKIN
Don't walk with strangers-- don't talk with
The man was sitting with his back to the wide window on the topmost floor of a skyscraper—the city looked like a shimmering sea of starlight behind him. Yellow-gold and mesmerizing, perhaps, to non-city goers. Like he’d been, what seemed like decades ago. Cast aside on a tabletop near him was a crumpled looking paper, the headline read something to the effect of; “Kaitou Kid to Steal Deep Sea Ruby” in bold print. The man kept glancing at the paper, at the grainy picture of a white triangle in black and white. Ah yes, Kaitou Kid. The thief of moonlight.
He clutched a small stone tightly between his fingers, and looked over his shoulder as one hunted might. Seeing nothing he peered at the small stone—it was inconspicuous. Black and sporting only very simple facets—yes, it had been cut once. Maybe there was more of it, in the world somewhere, but then it was unlikely. Even if it could rest comfortably in the palm of his hand, this was the rarest gem in the entire world. A gem said to grant eternal life.
The man shifted his hand slightly, and the gem’s faceted face caught the moonlight. It didn’t just look red in color, for a moment it shone—lit up with enough light to illuminate the man’s haggard face. He cupped it to his ear then, eyes narrowing in serious thought for a moment, before he was breathing out a slow sigh, “Yes, I know. I know—it’s only a matter of time, but I can’t take you in.”
Tears choked the man’s words and he dropped his hands in despair—the gem clanked onto the ground, and the sound of it settling on hard wood had an eerie note of disapproval to it. But he was right, merely holding the stone for too long left him ill, he could not hope to take it into himself and become its host.
At this rate Kid would find it though. Kaitou Kid, who returned his stolen prizes, would not let go of this small gem. The man knew it as surely as he knew that there was more to that stone than rumor or conjecture. No, Kaitou Kid would appear—it was inevitability. He was a collector after all, one who had faded quickly off the radar at the appearance of Kid. Now this was serving to stab him in the back, the news started to whisper of him—what of the Doctor that used to collect gems? Where did the surgeon who would show off his prizes go? Was he afraid of the Phantom Thief?
Did he have something he desperately wanted to hide from him?
“Dr. Kitamura,” a voice stated from the hallway—Kitamura jumped and hastily scooped his precious gem back into his palm. It burned for a brief moment, but he ran his finger over its surface as though soothing an angered pet as he listened, “The list of schools you’ll be presenting at is in, would you like to see it?”
“Ah, yes,” his voice did not shake as he suspected it might, what a relief. The man hurried to the door, opening it and smiling at his secretary’s pretty face. Kitamura couldn’t recall her name—was she new? The woman flashed him a stunning smile, he thought that maybe she would serve a sufficient host for the gem—but no. He had to be smart about this, avoid using someone too close to him. Yes, this was going to require a good deal of thought, no small amount of patience, and the nerve to give up something as precious to him as life itself. Ah, but Kitamura knew, deep in his heart, that Pandora would find him again. This was like depositing a million dollars into the bank, a safety precaution and nothing more.
Kaitou Kid would not find Pandora’s Gem, if it was inside the body of another person. The thief that would wound no person on his heists wouldn’t think of tearing it from their body, yes—Kitamura gave a satisfied smile. There he would outwit Kid, there—even if he threatened to steal it—Pandora would never ever be found.
“Jeez,” Aoko muttered to herself, wild brown hair was tossed viciously by the wind as she walked. A small frown creased her brow, and she squinted at the screen of her phone—scrutinized a small text message left by her friend Kaito informing her that he wasn’t going to be in class that day. Which meant, of course, that their plans were off.
What a surprise.
“I guess Kaito-kun wouldn’t be interested in a medical seminar anyway,” Aoko’s friend, Keiko, flashed a sympathetic smile her way. Aoko only narrowed her eyes, feeling sparks of irritation practically roil off of her. Stupid-Kaito, always bailing on her. This was getting utterly ridiculous, she was dealing with it enough with Kaitou Kid distracting her father all the time. Now her best friend hardly seemed to have time for her—or school.
Which, she figured, really ought to have been more troubling.
“I know, but he should have at least realized the opportunity,” Aoko wrinkled her nose. “Well, I guess he’ll just be pulling magic tricks until the day he dies. What else would I expect?”
She was not mad, even if her voice was rising a little. Keiko laughed in that way that someone laughs when the alternative is to just look really pitying. That was nice of her, Aoko supposed, so she brushed past it with a grunt.
“Well, who needs him anyway, you and I can do something together instead Keiko!” Aoko grit her teeth in fierce determination.
“Ah—well, you see—I’m sorry Aoko,” Keiko did look sorry, even as she hastily explained. “But I promised to help my aunt clean house this evening, I really can’t cancel since she’s moving away soon. I think we’re going out to dinner with them later… um, if you want you can…”
The expression on her face said she actually wasn’t really sure if Aoko could do anything. So the girl held up her hand in front of her face and waved the invitation off with a fake smile. It wasn’t anything spectacular, Aoko always had trouble hiding what she was actually feeling, “Naw it’s okay Keiko, I was only kidding. I’ll just stay in tonight.”
Keiko still seemed nervous, and so Aoko shifted her attention to convincing her that, no she did not have to invite her over to her family’s. Yes, she’d be fine—actually it’d be awkward to visit anyway since she didn’t know this aunt. Please don’t worry about it, she was only trying to complain about Kaito because he was an idiot and she was secretly bummed about him not showing up today—what no she wasn’t disappointed. She hadn’t said any such thing…
And on and on, this was becoming routine too. In a different sort of way, and Aoko was honestly so caught up into it that she didn’t notice the strange man until she’d accidentally smacked shoulders with him. Something clattered from his pockets to the ground, and she jumped herself in surprise.
“Watch where your—Ah! You’re Doctor Kitamura,” Aoko felt her cheeks flood with heat, the immediate irritation she’d felt dying and giving way to embarrassment. The man looked stricken for a moment, but then he’d seemed strangely out of it the entire presentation as well. Some of the boys had nastily started whispering, “Quack Doctor”, behind his back. Quickly she stooped and scooped what he’d dropped into her hand.
“No!” the man keened oddly, lunging for her. It didn’t seem special, it was warm from his holding it tightly and mostly black—uninteresting. Except that it seemed to hum strangely in her palm, and when Kitamura snatched it from her she felt the oddest need to snatch it right back. “Sorry, this is—ah, this is very precious to me.”
“I didn’t intend to knock it from your hands, I’m sorry,” Aoko was feeling a tad bit perturbed by the man’s odd behavior, and he was only making it worse by cupping the gem to his cheek. Aoko glanced to Keiko, who simply shrugged her shoulders—but before she could continue their silent exchange two hands were suddenly clamped tightly on her shoulders. She jumped, trying to lean back in surprise, “H-hey!”
“Ah! Ah sorry, I’m just—you see, part of the seminar was supposed to include giving one of the students a tour of my building. There’s a skyscraper next to the hospital, you see, it has a surgical theater and many interesting artifacts,” Kitamura’s brow wrinkled, but thankfully he released Aoko’s shoulders. She took a step back in any case, watching him with narrowed eyes as he nervously continued, “Nobody was interested, so now it’s slated for a tour but there’s no one to go…”
“Are you inviting me?” Aoko couldn’t help her tone, surprised and a little perplexed. The girl pointed at herself, just to be certain, and damn if that strange-scruffy-looking man didn’t light up like a Christmas tree. Aoko was feeling extremely uncomfortable at this moment, but really it wasn’t fair she supposed. It was probably all the boys in her class that had gotten anyone off the idea of going in the first place, “If it’s all right…”
“Great! Ah, does your friend want to come as well?” Kitamura’s hawkish gaze was on Keiko, and the girl nervously shook her head and waved him off. The man beamed, as if this pleased him even more than Aoko’s agreeing to join him. “Then I’ll fetch my secretary! Don’t move!” He was off, in a billowing of his lab coat, and muttering gleefully to himself. Aoko watched him go, feeling the urge to bolt wash over her. She scolded herself nearly immediately, really, was she so shallow that she’d judge a man by his appearances?
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Keiko asked nervously.
“He’s getting his secretary, if it was alone I’d smack him with my bag and run for the hills!” Aoko flashed a smile at Keiko, convincing herself as much as her friend that this was a good plan. Keiko looked at her watch briefly, and back at Aoko with a concerned expression. The girl waved her off—well, that was inaccurate. She was shoving her away physically, smiling with all of her teeth, “Go-go! I’ll be all right, yeah? And probably learn something interesting too.”
“If you say so,” the dubious expression on the girl’s face didn’t falter in the slightest, but she turned on her heel and left never the less. Aoko watched her go for a few moments, fingers tightening around the strap of her bag.
There are moments, when your gut instinct interrupts everything—moments that are, really, better listened to. But Aoko, standing and watching Keiko’s back disappear, only steeled herself stubbornly. If she was going to have to spend the day without her dad or Kaito, then she was going to at least do something useful.
When the odd doctor called for her attention she didn’t hesitate, she spun on one heel and marched off.
“Well this is creepy,” the teenaged girl Kitamura had picked up was saying in a deadpan—he may not have blamed her, if he had met her when he was younger. The Operating Theater was an amphitheater, a circle of chairs that seemed to train in on a simple surgical platform. Kitamura crossed to it with glee rising in his chest, ignoring the foolish child’s words. The secretary at her elbow giggled, as if she thought it was a rather witty statement herself.
“This is modeled after old fashioned Operating Theaters,” the woman said cheerfully. “They weren’t terribly sterile, unfortunately, and usually involved medical students watching the procedure. I believe in the early days surgeons were revered for having bloodied clothing.”
“O-oh,” the girl seemed a tad bit paler than usual, and eyed the operating table with a dubious expression. Kitamura carefully made his way over to the stand—ah yes, there. A small scalpel, what a lovely tool. He took it into his fingers cautiously, feeling oddly trapped as he slipped it into his pocket and pulled another object out cautiously.
“Don’t worry, I think even if operations are watched nowadays they’re much cleaner,” the secretary laughed, possibly trying to cheer her up. “Medical science isn’t the only thing to have its dark ages!”
“Why have this though?” the teenager’s voice was very soft, and Kitamura approached her quickly. He toyed with the object in his hand, and she caught sight of it with a wince, and edged away as though he were planning on sticking her with it.
“Nostalgia’s sake perhaps, I find them fascinating,” Kitamura’s eyes roved the empty seats above, wondering if the past could whisper to him when he drank Pandora’s tears. The man stopped, turning to his secretary with a smile. He watched the girl relax out of the corner of his eye, a dropping of the shoulders that indicated her relief that he wasn’t paying attention to her any longer.
Doctor Kitamura was creepy as hell—okay maybe that wasn’t very nice but.
Aoko really didn’t like him standing next to her, she didn’t like his weird big building (why didn’t he just work in a hospital like normal people) or his weird Operation Theater. The man seemed to genuinely love it, he kept staring around at it the way people that were showing off their favorite cars looked. Except crazier.
She was so happy that this secretary was with her.
The secretary’s name was Momo—she hadn’t introduced herself by her family name but her given, and was super friendly. Aoko had instantly liked her, as well as admired the seemingly endless patience the woman had for her weird boss. Quack Doctor was beginning to sound incredibly accurate to Aoko, and she wanted nothing to do with the man. In fact, she was trying her best to spend as much of her time as possible behind Momo. The woman didn’t seem to mind in the slightest, in fact she kept placing herself between her and Doctor Kitamura.
“Thank you,” Aoko whispered to the woman, when the creepy doc finally decided to wander off in the other direction. The tour was mostly being directed by Momo, Kitamura didn’t do much more than say weird things every now and then. Aoko glanced around the amphitheater around her and shuddered, “You keep doing that, I really appreciate it.”
“I think he needs a break,” Momo whispered, glancing at Kitamura who was still playing with the odd object in his hands—a syringe. Filled with something, actually, which made Aoko supremely uncomfortable. She did not like the mental image of him lunging at her and stabbing her with that. “He never goes home anymore, I think he has trouble with the family.”
“Ah,” Aoko peered uncomfortably at the man.
“But I do agree, he’s an odd person,” Momo leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, Aoko-san reminds me of my favorite karate star, so I keep trying to protect you—weird right? If you were actually that girl you could kick him in the face.”
“I remind you of a karate star?” Aoko echoed, fascinated. She didn’t think she was particularly memorable in any way, let alone relatable to another person. Momo absolutely beamed, and then looked a little sheepish.
“Well, maybe star isn't quite the right word. Truth is, my sister is a karate fighter,” the girl rubbed the back of her head, “But when we went to watch her, the Kanto Region champion—phhheew, what a fighter. That girl would make a wonderful queen of a country, and I’d move there.”
Aoko laughed, “Do you even know this person? Besides that she’s good at karate.”
“I don’t have to! I’m a good judge of people,” Momo winked, and Aoko thought suddenly that she was very pretty. Momo was the kind of person that made you like her because she seemed like she was made of sunshine, Aoko thought that Kaito would have liked her as well. “Just like I know you’re a nice person, mmm but maybe a little uppity.”
“WHAT? Rude,” Aoko’s shout was covered with laughter and despite the fast irritation she found herself laughing as well. She enjoyed making fast friends with this girl. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad trip after all. Momo grinned at her, clearly pleased that things were going so well.
“Ah?” Momo’s grin vanished and was replaced by a puzzled frown, “Where’d Doctor Kitamura go?”
“Oh, he’s left us,” Aoko tried her best not to sound relieved, and failed horribly. Momo pursed her lips, and cupped her chin in one hand. Aoko tried to look up in the stands, thinking that maybe he had wandered up there, “Do you know where we’re supposed to go next on the tour?”
“Not a clue,” Momo sighed dramatically, “He didn’t even tell me about this. It was so last minute, are you a medical student that caught his attention or something?”
“Heh? No, he wanted Aoko along because we bumped into each other,” Aoko furrowed her brow, incredibly confused. Why on earth invite her along to an impromptu tour that she would have no benefit from. Momo tipped her head to one side, before looking at her cellphone and flashing Aoko a smile.
It seemed, oddly, very forced.
“I think we should probably get you home,” Momo gently took Aoko by the wrist, and started to tug her toward the door they’d walked through. “It’s getting late, and I’m sure you’re hungry—there isn’t much left to see anyway. Ah! Maybe we can stop for coffee on the way, would that be all right?”
“Oh, sure,” Aoko was feeling oddly rushed as she was tugged along. “M-Momo-san, is there something the matter?”
“Well, no,” the woman answered, chewing her lip. She looked over her shoulder at Aoko, and smiled winningly, “No, not at all. I just—well it’s very strange, that Doctor Kitamura let you in here at all you see. I’m the only one besides him allowed in the whole building. He’s a gem collection, and he’s been very paranoid ever since that Kaitou Kid started his business.”
“Oh! Well, I couldn’t blame him for that, he probably wouldn’t want me to see it anyway,” Aoko thought that was just as well—she didn’t like Kaitou Kid much herself, but she really was all right with leaving. “You’ll thank him tomorrow for me right?”
“Oh yes! I’m sure he’ll understand, high school girls have a lot to do,” Momo’s smile seemed more strained. Aoko forced herself to hurry in following the girl, was she scared? “Really it’s very odd, very out of character for him to do this. Something’s not right—I told you, I’m a good judge of character right? I think we need to leave Aoko, I think he tricked you here.”
“A-are you sure you’re not just,” Aoko’s voice came out smaller than she liked, her heart had sprang into her throat. Whatever worry Momo was feeling, it was incredibly infectious. She couldn’t shake the feeling herself, it seemed to have curled itself in the small of her back. She tried again, “O-overreacting a little bit?”
“Maybe, but—let’s go out the back,” Momo stopped suddenly, just shy of the door way. “There’s an employee exit, I think that’d be better. We can take my car, if you like. Something’s not right here, I can feel it. Can’t you?”
“You’re scaring me,” Aoko answered, and the woman turned to look at her. Her eyes softened, and she stopped to take a deep breath.
“Sorry, sorry—I was, when I was little I was picked up off the street and almost kidnapped. Someone saved me but, I dunno that close call just—I don’t need to tell you this,” Momo seemed embarrassed. “I just feel nervous, when people lie to get others places. It makes me sick to my stomach, I think I need a break.”
The secretary let out a small laugh—tinny and strained—and then the lights went out. Aoko was so riled up by Momo’s panic that she screamed, and grabbed for the woman in the dark. Her hands found nothing at all, though there was a strange sound—the clink of metal on linoleum, a heavy thud. “M-Momo-san?”
Someone was behind her, she could feel his heat, and Aoko whirled in place. She wished to god she’d grabbed something to hit with, a mop—anything. Something pricked her shoulder, and she tried to wrench away as something—the image of Kitamura standing with that syringe flared up into her head—was injected into her. She felt it like ice in her blood, and her knees gave out underneath her. Someone caught her, breathing wildly in her ear, and she thought she would have liked to scream much louder now. And repeatedly, over and over until someone came bursting inside.
Then, before she could think to make her tongue form vowels, syllables, anything, she fell into a deep sleep.
Kitamura had always thought himself sensible—the kind of man to give his wife a gentle kiss in the morning and his son a pat on the head. He’d always thought himself the sort that would make an honorable living with good wage, the kind of person that would make his father (who had been so distant he was but fading starlight to him) feel pride. Or the kind of man that his son would want to grow up into.
If he had told himself—just exiting medical school with a young fresh face and filled to the brim with ideas of how the world should be—that he would grow into a man haunted by near-whispers of a gem that had fallen into his hands by mistake, he would have scoffed. No, he would have sworn against it. Been greatly offended at even the prospect.
And if he had suggested, in that same breath, that he would become a murderer, Kitamura would have gotten into a brawl. Yes, the man he used to be would have bloodied his hands in an effort to clear their name, ironic in its own way he supposed. He clicked his teeth together in the bright light, and let his hands do their practiced dance over flesh with their scalpel partner. Yes, his hands were bloody now, so bloody.
Kitamura had decided to murder the secretary the instant that wild-haired teenager grabbed the stone. It was fate—the design of the world falling into place. Yes, Kitamura needed the girl, but he couldn’t do with her what he pleased until the secretary had been dead. So he’d cut her throat with the scalpel, and left her lying in the corner of the surgical theater. A grotesque, olden day practice—and Kitamura felt, even as he worked on his unconscious victim—patient—that there were thousands of eyes watching him from the stands.
“I’m not killing the girl,” he told them, as though it would atone for what he was doing. Maybe he believed the words, for his face seemed brighter under the stark lighting—he gestured to the teenager sprawled on the surgical table. She seemed far too pale, far too still, with her wild hair swirled about her head in a dark halo. But Kitamura knew she would be fine, once Pandora’s Gem was where it belonged, the girl would be better than she’d ever been before.
Aoko was privy to mental images she couldn’t find a place for—they seemed to be memories, though not her own. She saw a girl with snarled hair ghosting down alleyways, and staring up at a fat moon. She saw people screaming and ushering children out of her path, as well as glimmering red eyes in the darkness. There was a heavy scent in the air.
Blood—blood. Coppery, metallic, thick. It seemed to be flowing over the memoryscape—the dreamscape. Like the air itself was a mist of it, and she felt as though it were clogging the pores of her lungs. And there was another smell, coiling and acrid—smoke.
Somewhere, she could hear children chanting a song about posies. A bird-faced mask loomed before her, as did wretched faces of people with boils. Aoko shied away from them, felt the landscape she was witnessing shift to the snarled-haired girl tied to a pole. Flames lapped at her feet, and Aoko found herself screaming.
“You don’t need to see this,” a soothing whisper sounded in her ear. A soft voice that covered the girl’s screaming—as well as Aoko’s. Gentle fingers took her hand, and lead her away. Away until Aoko was watching her own memories pool before her. “Here, see? This is much nicer for you.”
“Thank you,” Aoko uttered, and she felt herself drift into them. Into the smile of her father and rose petals procured by Kaito—into the frustration and loneliness, and smiles as she walked next to her best friend. It was peaceful, like this.
this was an extraordinarily long first chapter and I apologize for it omg
Chapter 2: IS ALL THAT WE SEE OR SEEM
and we all fall down --
“I didn’t want her to take it from me,” words drifted into Aoko’s mind—the world was dark and her chest felt heavy. It hurt terribly, and she felt strangely crowded. As though a person were in her personal space, wrapping their arms tightly around her from behind and pulling her closer and closer. The teenager struggled, tried to groggily summon what had happened to her. Her arms were behind her back, held there by something—rope? Tied together, but why? Why was she tied up?
Where was she?
“It’s mine, it’s not hers,” someone was talking—not to her but to himself. Kitamura. Aoko jerked awake with alarm bolting through her system, a raw choking feeling that had her head snapping up. Almost as soon as she did this Kitamura was squealing with delight, hands cupped her cheeks in a way that made her skin crawl. “Oh, ohhhh she’s awake. Good morning baby, good morning sweetheart.”
The urge to gag hit Aoko so strongly that she had to clench her teeth to swallow it. Kitamura’s hands stank, and she was aware that there was filth all over them. It felt, to her, like she would never quite be clean after he touched her. The girl was surprised with her own ferocity when she snapped, “Stop touching me!”
The man pulled his hands back, much to her surprise and mild relief. Inside, Aoko felt as though she were about to break down into sobs or panic. But she’d always been better at expressing herself with high energy, and the way Kitamura recoiled gave her a small amount of confidence. Maybe she could get out of this after all? If she just stayed calm, stayed firm and careful she might be able to get Kitamura to let her go.
“I’m sorry,” the man simpered, cowering in front of her.
‘Oh what a pathetic swine,’ the words were so clear that Aoko jumped. She swore mentally, having been so easily startled, and turned her head to try and see if she could spot anyone else. The room she was in was mostly dark, however (how long had she been out, her father was going to be worried if he came home and she wasn’t there…) and even Kitamura was hard to make out with how close she was.
“Hello?” the girl said tentatively. Kitamura slunk off, muttering to himself—Aoko considered calling him back, but was thinking rapidly about enlisting the help of the other person. “Are you… captured too?”
A pause, several beats—Aoko heard something like a laugh and then; ‘I suppose you could say so. I’m surprised though, I didn’t expect you to be alive.’
“I recognize your voice,” Aoko muttered, she’d heard it somewhere before—in a dream? That seemed right, she could imagine it so clearly—the memory of a gentle hand in hers flashed in her mind. Something like a promise uttered, or an apology. You don’t need to see this…
‘You’re surprisingly intuitive,’ the other girl laughed, and Aoko noticed with a chill that the sound didn’t echo on the surroundings around them. This wouldn’t have bothered her nearly as much as it did, save for the fact that her panicked breaths seemed to echo off the walls around her, and she could hear the tinkle of something Kitamura kicked reverberating around her. Louder echoless laughter, and a quiet, ‘It’d be strange, truly, if the outside could hear me as well. I didn’t expect I’d be sharing, I’m sorry about that.’
And, to Aoko’s surprise and alarm, she felt it, a feeling nearly like guilt but also dismay that rose up in her own chest. She knew, somehow, that it wasn’t her own feeling. That she wasn’t the one that summoned this, and something like panic choked her, and that stifling feeling that her space was being invaded washed over her again. It nearly incited panic—nearly snapped the calm that she’d managed to snatch from out of seeming thin-air, “What do you mean?”
“Now now, don’t worry,” Kitamura’s words startled her out, and she snapped her head up to look at him. The man was in front of her, fiddling with—oh god. Aoko’s blood ran cold, and she reared back in her seat, attempted to push off with her toes out of sheer instinct to get away from what the man held in his hands.
“Don’t you dare shoot me,” Aoko’s voice failed to come out firmly this time, she heard it crack with panic and her heart froze when Kitamura cocked his head to the side to listen to her. He furrowed his brow at her questioningly for a brief moment, before he pressed the muzzle of the gun against her forehead. Her stomach plunged and her heart crawled into her throat, “Don’t! Don’t please Doctor Kitamura!”
‘I wonder if this is goodbye?’ that eerily insubstantial voice cried out, and Aoko screamed in terror. She heard it. There was time for the sound to ring through the air, to assault her ears viciously, and then she was falling back into nothing. There was no sound, no fear, nothing but a strangely clingy sensation of shock that seemed to echo around her.
She saw—no They saw—a girl cowering under the shadow of a man with a hooked beak. He smelled of herbs, of incense. Aoko recognized it, an image she’d been hauled away from earlier. An older version of the girl stood next to her, twirling a blue rose between the tips of her fingers over and over again. She spun it slowly, carefully, and lifted her eyes to Aoko’s, “My name is Pandora.”
“I’m… Nakamori Aoko,” Aoko echoed the greeting, feeling surreal and confused. Where was this? Pandora’s younger self was screaming as the man in the mask leaned over her again, and Pandora turned away with a growl. Aoko followed her, feeling as though she’d be prying if she looked further. “Why are you here with me?”
“Because we’re the same now, or in the same body,” amusement, but distant and cold, flared in the girl’s eyes. Aoko glanced at her own hands and furrowed her brow. “Not that, that’s different. That’s you, yourself. Your essence, though I hope you’ll stay here. Or in your own place, I don’t think I can kick you out. I’m sharing my power with you, you’re sharing your body with me.”
“Your power?” Aoko asked, and she heard chanting start up behind her. Could feel the heat of fire. Pandora clenched her fist tightly, “What do you mean?”
“What, can’t you hear it?” the girl snorted.
Witch, WITCH, WITCH! WITCH! BURN THE WITCH!
Am I dead?
‘You’re not, calm down,’ an answer to her mental question, but not spoken without a twinge of disappointment. She felt that too, in that strange distant way she’d felt the guilt earlier. Aoko’s head hurt—burned with an agony that had her wanting to scream. Or just maybe curl in a ball and never face the world. ‘I’ll get us out, relax for a bit all right?’
Then, an unpleasant feeling washed through her. Like she was being yanked forcefully back to earth, and the pain in her head blossomed so strongly that she did scream—her eyes were snapping open and Kitamura was jumping backwards with a small scream of his own. Like he’d just seen a ghost, or something horrifying. Then, even worse than before, she felt as though something hauled her backward. She had a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach—like she’d been dropped off the top of a building—and then everything became vaguely dulled. It was as though she were shoved off to the sidelines, where she could watch and do nothing more.
Satisfaction crept through her—that was better. The girl could feel Nakamori Aoko in the back of her consciousness, stuffed safely off to the side for now—good. The human girl needed to remain there for now, Pandora did not feel like explaining the entire situation to her. Not yet. No, first they had to get rid of the man who had unceremoniously stuffed her into the body of a girl he hadn’t bothered to kill first.
“You survived!” Kitamura was near giddy, near skipping with joy. Pandora lifted Aoko’s head—no, her head for now. This body belonged to her, Aoko was in the back where she belonged. She would have to grow used to spectating as Pandora took the reins, and the man leaned close to her—his face was warped with curiosity and Pandora leaned back with a scowl. The moonlight caught her eyes, and she saw in her own reflection that they flashed red in color.
Pandora showing herself under the moonlight. A chuckle escaped the girl’s throat, amusing. To think that her soul—after being packed into a gem for so long—would find itself in a living breathing body again. Only swine like this could possibly come up with something like this. Kitamura inhaled at the sight of her, and a giddy sound escaped his throat.
“Pandora? You have—do you have a consciousness?” the man’s voice reached a higher octave, and Pandora could remember his thoughts. Those clouded, jaded things that had corrupted so quickly with her. How long did Aoko have, with Pandora mounted in her chest, before she was tainted by what the stone would promise her?
“Let me go,” the old soul met his eyes, and she pushed him. With all her mental might, and Kitamura froze before he was reaching forward and untying her quickly. Carefully. Somewhere, distantly, she heard Aoko chime in—Pandora felt a small burst of surprise because the girl’s voice wasn’t small and scared so much as utterly irritated.
‘Who exactly are you and what have you done to me?’ Aoko’s voice was fierce, and loud. Like her thoughts earlier—she’d give the Kitamura man that. He’d picked an interesting host for Pandora to share a body with. How many girls would watch their bodies get hijacked by a witch that had been sealed into a stone thousands of years prior and then demand answers?
Pandora laughed, I did tell you, didn't I? Call me Pandora sweetheart, and I haven’t done anything to you. Now as for this pig here—well, that’s another matter entirely.
“Oh my darling, my darling-darling stone,” Kitamura was babbling, which distracted Aoko—it seemed—from what she had been about to follow that with. Irritation flooded Pandora, and she stood up swiftly—the sharp pain in her head was swiftly, easily, effortlessly siphoned off to Aoko. It was that girl’s body, and Pandora—happy as she was to be in a living breathing host once more—would let her take the burden of pain. It seemed to cripple the girl, she fell quiet with a soft mental cry and Pandora lifted her hand to swipe at her blooded forehead. The blood was still there, and a small scar, but she knew in a few hours that too would be gone.
“Your stone,” Pandora breathed, and she liked the way she could slip into a different tone than the girl who owned this body. The way her voice sounded ever so slightly different when Pandora used it than Aoko had before. “No, I think you’re mistaken. I’ve never belonged to anyone.”
A memory niggled the back of her mind, and she noticed Aoko shifting her consciousness toward it. Interested, Pandora smashed it away quickly, and in the same instant jumped onto the chair she’d been tied to. The girl grinned, a very un-Aoko grin, and slammed her foot into Kitamura’s chest.
Kitamura went flying—Aoko’s panic had been stifled until this moment, until she watched in a detached way as her own foot sent a grown man soaring a good fifteen feet across the room. He smashed into the wall with a crunch that made her stomach heave sickeningly.
‘Stop! Stop this!’ Aoko pleaded. She felt a surge of irritation from Pandora—sharper than her own feelings, which seemed dulled and distant to her. Even her panic, her confusion about this situation, had been swallowed by the oddly numb sensation of being stuffed into a corner of her own brain. But she surged forward desperately, ‘You’ll kill him!’
“You’re kidding, right?” Pandora’s words in her voice—no, not her voice. She spoke in a way Aoko never would herself, and it sounded… wrong. Different. Anyone who knew her would know the difference. “He just kidnapped you, do you even know what he did to you?”
A sudden barrage of images smashed into her—herself lying on a gurney, bloodied scalpels cutting into her, a dark stone being slowly placed in the center of her chest. They weren’t from her—from the other girl. The person sharing her head.
And she’s not sure what did it, or how, but she surged up and switched places. Her stomach lurched sickeningly, and she stumbled off of the chair onto her hands and knees on the ground. She felt like her heart was going to beat right out of her chest, and cautiously Aoko lifted a hand to her chest. She was wearing a hospital gown, she realized with a start, and it was easy to pull the collar down and brush her fingers over her sternum.
It’s not real, this can’t be real, her mind hummed with bright panic, with terror. It had seemed distant, when she was taking a backseat and watching from some other place within herself, but now it felt stark. Stark, brittle, sharp—the kind of panic that drove a person insane. Her thumb brushed over a stone, a stone mounted in her chest, fused there, like it had always been a part of her. It can’t be.
‘You’re going to want to face the music, sweetheart,’ words filled with scorn echoed in her mind. Aoko felt the urge to scream wash over her. ‘I’m Pandora, a witch of a thousand years, sealed away in a stone and destined to bless the person who drinks my tears with eternal life. Well, that’s only under a comet, that’s the only way I could give my immortality away you see. The ultimate curse—but of course, now that I’m sharing your body it’s yours now too.’
“This is a dream, a nightmare,” Aoko choked, Kitamura was groaning where he lay slumped against the wall. Aoko hardly noticed him, her mind was going white with panic. She wanted to forget this, to forget this entire evening, everything.
‘Just give it back to me, let me have control,’ irritation, muffled and distant. Aoko felt that consciousness reaching to stuff her back again, and she jerked to her feet—a physical manifestation of her desire to stay her own person. To keep Pandora out.
“Don’t leave me,” Kitamura pleaded from the corner, and Aoko spun on her heel. That she could reason with—voices in her head, words that didn’t belong to her, witches and stones that could control a body no. But running from the bad man, running from the person who had knocked her unconscious, that was easy to do. Aoko launched herself toward the door, and she heard Kitamura howl behind her. “NO! NO COME BACK!”
‘He’s giving chase!’ Pandora yelled in her head, ‘I know spells! I can get rid of him for you, let me back in!’
“Magic doesn’t exist!” Aoko screeched back, and almost burst into laughter at the words. Hysterical, panicked laughter. Now she was fighting with it? But Pandora wasn’t real, she didn’t exist. She was just a mental break, a sign that she was probably traumatized by this whole ordeal. But the witch was right about Kitamura following. She dove into the stairwell just as he did, and ended up having to bolt up the stairs instead of down them.
‘You’re panicking, you’re worthless afraid!’ Pandora shrieked at her mentally. Aoko ignored her, and the screams of Kitamura which seemed to echo around her in the stairwell. Every footstep brought his bellows closer to her heels, and she nearly slipped—barefeet scrabbled for purchase for a heartbeat and only her grip on the rail kept her from falling entirely.
“This is just a nightmare,” Aoko sobbed, her own panic was choking her. Where had her courage fled to? The girl found her hands wrapped around the doorknob of the roof, and she threw it open with a bang that made her scream. Kitamura followed her onto the rooftop, and Aoko spun to face him with a grimace, “Leave me alone!”
“You can’t have it, I’ll rip it out of you,” Kitamura snarled, he had a scalpel in his hand. His fingers were curled around it like hooked claws, and Aoko’s eyes darted to it and back to his face. She took a step backward, was aware that she was lit up by the spotlights trained on the building next door. Why spotlights? What were they looking for?
‘We’re trapped, unless you want to jump,’ Pandora’s voice chimed again. ‘Do you want to die again? It’ll be worse this time. A wound to the head? I can deal with that quickly, easily, but how high up is this?’
Another step backwards, she could hear the city streets below. People screaming a name, but she was too panicked to focus on it.
‘There’s too many people down there to die in front of, you’ll come back and cause a panic,’ Pandora’s words were strangely soothing. Pleading. She could feel something beneath it though, manipulative intent. Like she was being lulled into a false-sense of security. ‘Aoko!’
Kitamura lunged for her, and Aoko stepped back—once more, and the world tipped. The whole of it, and she was aware that she couldn’t even think to scream because there was nothing but the plunge as she tipped and fell from the top of the building. The windows streamed past her, Kitamura screamed in a torn agonizing way. Funny, how he could scream, but she could only watch with wide-eyed horror as the sidewalk, the crowd below, the street and the Earth itself grew closer and closer to her.
Some girl looked up, pointed and screamed for her. Then Aoko hit the ground in front of her with a bone-shattering crunch—a sound like something splattering on the concrete, and blood that painted the shoes of people standing too near. Echoed screams followed, but of course by then Nakamori Aoko was simply dead to the world.
For then, anyways.
took me a while to get this update but here it is holy cow
sorry about the macabre stuff in this holy cow
and how speedy pandora is explained, she'll better explain when they're not being chased by a creep rofl
Chapter 3: A DROWSY NUMBNESS PAINS
and the dead will walk -- and the dead will talk
“KID! KID! KID! KID!” the roar of the crowd below greeted Edogawa Conan the instant he threw open the door to the rooftop. It was a chant, a mantra for a foolish thief that simply couldn’t resist dancing just within his grasp. It was something that was bound to catch up with him eventually—after all there were few criminals that crossed paths with Conan that got away.
As in none so far, sans the thief cloaked all in white in front of him. He didn’t count the Moonlight Sonata case, death did not equal an escape. Merely a failure on his part as a detective.
The shrunken detective—an accident caused by a greed for knowledge—was only slightly winded upon exiting on the rooftop. His quarry faced him with an expression that wasn’t daring so much as irritating, and Conan noted the card-gun in the thief’s hand that was trained directly on him.
“Ohh, Tantei-kun I think you’re a few seconds slower than usual,” a taunt coupled with a smirk—confident and cat-like. Conan dropped to one knee casually, fingertips brushed over the dial on the side of his shoes. “Something throwing you off? Did you have a fight with your girlfriend?”
“Hardly,” Conan’s tone was flat and he straightened cautiously. The card-gun stayed trained on him, and he saw the thief flash him a grin. Kaitou Kid, the enigma that managed to dance out of the grasp of police time and time again despite his daring approach to heists. It was equally infuriating and entertaining—a game of intense strategy and wit that often ended in what would usually be considered a draw. Conan did not like Kaitou Kid, but he enjoyed chasing him.
It beat running into murderers in any case.
Conan was dropping a hand to his belt—ready to call a soccer ball up at the press of a button just to smash it into the thief’s face—when he saw it. A flash of movement from the building next door, and a familiar sort of dread surged through his veins. He dropped his hand and bolted straight for the thief—Kaitou Kid jumped sideways to get away from him, flashing the tiny detective an openly perplexed look as he bolted to the edge of the building.
Just in time to watch a girl on the other side fall to what was most definitely her death.
“Well this is a new tactic,” Kid muttered to himself, peering at Conan warily as the boy tapped the edge of his glasses. The lense lit up, and Kid noted the crowd screaming in horror below them. The cheers of his alias had disappeared into shrieks of panic and terror.
“A girl just fell from the building next door—no, I think she was pushed,” Conan’s tone was often serious when Kid faced him. The detective took his job seriously after all, and he wouldn’t be any fun if he didn’t in any case. Kid shot a look over at the building, carefully coaching his expression into one of neutrality. Even so, it gave him the creeps that such a young voice could continue with a sort of professional calm, “There’s a man on the other side.”
Conan spun around on his heel—despite himself Kid felt a flash of disappointment. It was childish, and a little self-centered, but he was annoyed that the fun had been ruined in such a way. Murder, even if it was his rival’s curse to have it dogging his every step Kid would prefer it if it didn’t follow him onto the heists.
Making a split second decision the thief grinned and scooped the boy up by the back of his shirt. Conan yelped, feet effectively lifted from the ground in a heartbeat, “Oi! What’re you—!”
“I’m guessing you’d like to get over there before your culprit escapes into the crowd right?” Kid beamed as he jumped off the building, enjoyed Conan’s sharp intake of breath as they plummeted toward the already frazzled crowd before his glider snapped smoothly into place. “Just add this to your tab, what this’ll make it two you owe me correct?”
“Just shut up and go,” came the moody growl, but Conan’s eyes weren’t focused on him but straight ahead. Kid snapped his own attention forward, saw a man staring at them with an expression of utter horror—holy crap was he covered in blood?
“I’d get ready to fight, if I were you,” Kid muttered seriously. The boy shifted in his grasp minutely, and he heard the click of that damn tranquilizer watch. If this was all some sort of elaborate trick to get him Kid supposed that would have been that, but the little detective seemed to relish in his open confrontations of Kid.
The man turned to bolt the instant he saw Kid—Conan was a step ahead of him. He fired the tranquilizer dart from his watch as soon as he’d stepped away from the ledge. The man staggered under the drug, turned to look at them in utter confusion, but by the time they’d both touched down he’d collapsed against the rooftop.
Kid let out a low whistle, “What, shoot first and ask questions later?”
“It only put him to sleep,” Conan responded dryly, he was coming the rooftop—there were blooded footprints that lead from the stairwell up to the edge. “I think he chased her up here—see the spacing between the prints?”
“She turned around to face him though,” Kid spoke quietly, and Conan noted the prints that turned around. He glanced at the snoring man and Kid waved him off, “I’ve got something that’ll make sure he stays put. You want to get down to the body now right?”
“Through the building, preferably,” Conan grunted, swinging open the door to the stairwell. There were bloody prints all through there as well. The shrunken detective frowned, “There’s too much blood to make these prints like this consistently for it to have been hers. There might be more.”
“Jeez, what are you dragging me into this time?” Kid muttered, Conan cast a flat look over his shoulder. The thief only returned it with a pointed grin.
“You don’t have to come, unless you’re waiting for me to round you up along with the murderer,” Conan pointed out irritably. If he wasn’t worried that there was potential back-up of the man in the building he would have used his kick shoes to knock Kid out while he was offguard. As it were, he was stuck with the thief.
“What and leave a defenseless little boy to fight bad guys all on his own? What kind of criminal do you think I am Tantei-kun?” there was a puff of pink smoke and suddenly a young officer was standing next to him. He pressed a finger to his lips and hissed, “There, does that make you feel better? I’ll escape into the crowd free for you to chase another day.”
“Oi, oi, oi do you think I want you to go free?” Conan snorted, before flicking his hand off in a waving gesture. “Don’t mess with the crime scene, and stay on guard. There might be other people in there.”
“Yes sir!” Kid mocked, saluting him smartly. Conan glared over his shoulder one last time, before disappearing into the dark stairwell. Kid followed after him nearly immediately, and though the small detective wouldn’t admit it aloud he was thankful for the extra pair of eyes. There was no telling what they’d find.
PAIN—it hurt, felt like she’d been pummeled to death. Dropped a thousand feet—oh, that’s right. She had been. Was this what it felt like to die? Aoko felt sorry for anyone who did, if that was the case. Felt sorry for herself because she wanted nothing more than for the agony to disappear.
‘Get moving already!’ Pandora’s scream reverberated in her head. Aoko couldn’t remember what had happened in the respite—the inbetween, the place they had gone together before. It was swallowed by agony, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, does it hurt? Told you so.’
She couldn’t possibly be alive. She’d fallen—oh god she’d fallen from so high up. Aoko felt her fingertips twitch, a fresh wave of agony swamped her at the movement. There were people bustling around her, a woman screaming across the street a few feet from her, “We need the police! THE POLICE! STOP CHASING KID FOR FIVE SECONDS!”
Pandora—perhaps impatient with her slowness—suddenly hauled Aoko back. This time she couldn’t stop it, like before she was snapped back into place. Into the background as spectator—except for the pain. The pain stayed sharp and raw and real. The pain was mind-shattering, and she found voice to scream mindlessly in the back of their head.
“Shut up Aoko,” Pandora spat with her mouth, and someone beside her jumped. Pandora placed both palms against the pavement and shoved herself to her feet—blood spattered against the concrete. Several horrified gasps surrounded them and Aoko whimpered in agony. Every move she made, every step seemed to tear her to pieces. She wanted to die, she wished she had died. “This is your fault, if you had listened to me sooner we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“D-don’t move!” a bystander choked, seeming to decide that she must have fallen from a window instead of the top. “You’re severely injured, let me call the hospital.”
“I don’t need the hospital,” Pandora spat a mouthful of blood onto the concrete. Aoko keened desperately from her spectator spot, feeling something else boiling from within her. A murderous intent, not her own.
‘Don’t hurt him! He only wants to help, please Pandora!’ Pandora stretched a hand out toward the man, and froze even as Aoko screeched in pain in the back of her head. ‘We have to leave, you said it yourself. We’ve already made a scene, please.’
“Worthless,” Pandora spat, and she bolted past him. The pain of it drove Aoko into a corner, had her curling in on herself. She wondered if she could simply snuff herself out, if she could sever her ties to this and just disappear entirely.
Maybe the girl would die on her yet, and leave this body and mantle to Pandora alone. As she ran she muttered healing conjurations—all she could muster without proper herbs and the like. A healing like this was complicated, even being immortal didn’t make one entirely invincible. Damn that girl! Why hadn’t she given over the reins?
Was she truly so stubborn? Perhaps Pandora would have to get hurt more often. The pain seemed to have silenced Aoko completely, she doubted she was aware of anything else anymore. Pandora tentatively pushed against the girl’s consciousness, thought of smothering it with her own—snuffing it out entirely.
It flared up, so quickly that Pandora froze mid-step. She’d left any pursuers far behind them—dodged into dark alleyways and hurled herself over fences with no qualms about damaging Aoko’s psyche. The girl now burned with something like anger, a fierce determination that made Pandora briefly wonder if she would have been gone even if the idiot doctor had killed her before placing Pandora in her body.
‘Was that you trying to kill me?’ The question was sharp and filled with accusation. Pandora shrugged her shoulders, pleased that—even with the healing—they ached enough to make Aoko’s consciousness flinch in her mind. ‘And do what, mass murder people with my body just because they get in your way? Not happening.’
“Ohhh?” Pandora felt a twinge of amusement, “Is that what you think, that I’m a mass-murderer? Kitamura crossed me, crossed you the instant he mounted me in the chest of a living patient. A twisted experiment, I suppose I should have expected something from him.”
‘And the man? He only wanted to help,’ Aoko’s tone was scolding now, and obnoxiously Pandora felt herself being stuffed back. ‘Let me back in, I can get us home from here.’
“Can you? Can you heal us as well?” Pandora quipped. Aoko’s consciousness faltered, she could feel her cracking under the strain of the day. Human beings were so horrifically fragile, how one earth did they ever stand it?
‘Fine, but please can we go somewhere safe? And not hurt anyone?’ Aoko’s words were quiet, exhausted. Pandora—for once—agreed with the girl. They needed to rest, to recuperate. Walking through the streets was no way to do that. Especially covered in blood.
“I’ll take care of it,” Pandora answered, and strode forward. Aoko fell back into silently bearing their pain—a thing that the girl seemed useful for at least. Especially with their body in such poor shape.
“One other victim,” Conan felt exhausted—a scene of multiple murders wasn’t entirely unheard of but even so. Finding the other body didn’t make the pieces exactly fit perfectly together either. If anything it provided more of a conundrum—the blood that lead to the stairwell was nowhere near the second victim. Someone else had been killed here.
“That we can find,” Kid remarked solemnly, the thief was respectively giving Conan his space but he was obviously not an idiot. Someone else had been killed here. Conan gave a soft murmur of agreement. “Best if we get the police now right?”
“I already called them,” Conan waved him off.
“Eh? Since when?” the thief frowned and Conan snorted.
“When you were hauling me over I texted Haibara, she should have contacted them by now,” Conan flashed a wicked smile up at him, “I didn’t mention anything about you either. So you can come up with whatever you like to get away.”
“Paying me back already?” Kid leered and Conan continued into the hallway before casting an irritated look over his shoulder. The thief was still dressed as a cop, both arms crossed over his chest and an expression of amusement on his face.
“I don’t like the idea of being in debt with you,” Conan shot irritably. Walking into the hallway he froze, blinking with mild surprise at the familiar face that he saw there. Takagi was standing at the end of the hall—and he spotted him near immediately.
“Conan-kun! What are you doing here—h-hah? Who’s this?” Takagi peered at Kid over Conan’s shoulder. Crap!
“An escort for the little boy sir, he’s been known to be reckless on heists in the past so Nakamori-keibu wanted me looking after him,” Kid’s answer was quick and without hesitation. He smiled nervously at Takagi, adopting the persona of some poor rookie, “He was more of a handful than I expected and before I knew it…”
Throwing him under the bus, Conan flashed the thief a glare but Takagi seemed to accept that as a good enough excuse. Conan was tempted to blow his cover just for the jab earlier anyway, but brushed past it to focus on Takagi.
“You saw the lady outside right, the one who fell? Did she have anything interesting on her person or,” Conan wasn’t in the mood to beat around the bush. Not when a case was afoot.
“A-ah, actually…” Takagi cast a nervous look at Kid before crouching down and whispering at Conan conspiritually, “That’s the thing. The woman that fell, every bystander in the area insists that she got up and ran off. One man even said that she spoke, though she seemed to be talking to herself rather than any person there. She may have fallen from a lower window and only been hurt, we’re doing all we can to look for her.”
Conan blinked in surprise, a chill creeping up his spine despite himself. That wasn’t possible, Conan himself had seen her fall from the rooftop. He might have thought she had fallen from a window via some sort of trick, but he and Kid had done a sweep of the panes. None were broken and none could open in a way that would let a person fall through. Conan himself wouldn’t be able to shimmy through without a good deal of effort.
“So, basically you’re saying that someone who should probably be dead is nowhere to be found,” Kid’s tone was quiet, and veiled in a way that had Conan glancing up at him. Did he know something about this? Or did the case merely manage to catch his interest in some way?
In any case, he had to hope they could find that girl. If she truly was alive, she needed help as soon as possible.
“One bedroom,” Pandora had managed to somehow—Aoko wasn’t certain how exactly—“summon” several of her items for her. Since she had a strong bond with them—her purse, some clothing. She was still barefoot, but Pandora had commented that they didn’t need shoes anyway. Aoko begged to differ, her feet were killing her. The agony of the fall was still a throbbing pain in the back of her consciousness, but even that had dulled down. Her feet, however, were screaming to be taken care of.
“Do you have an ID?” the hotel clerk asked, clothed or not Pandora was aware that their hair was still caked with blood—as well as various parts of their body. She had the hood drawn up around her face, but she peered into the man’s eyes fiercely.
“I don’t think we’ll be needing one,” she said coolly. The man faltered, before backing off.
‘How did you do that?’ Aoko marveled, now that she wasn’t hurting so badly watching Pandora use her body was a mixture of fascinating and horrifying. Mostly horrifying. The witch didn’t respond, she merely paid the man in cash and snatched the keys before heading to the hallway, ‘And why aren’t we going home? To my home.’
“You said somewhere safe,” Pandora declared, throwing the door open onto the motel room they’d rented. Aoko felt a surge of dismay as witch slammed the door shut behind them with a flourish, “We don’t know if that’s safe yet, do we? Besides, what would your dad think if you showed up looking like this?”
Aoko surged forward, gently—but firmly—she stuffed Pandora’s consciousness back where it belonged. Almost immediately she was slammed with exhaustion. She swayed in place, and only barely managed to catch herself on the nightstand.
‘Well that was rude of you,’ Pandora remarked heatedly. Aoko ignored her, turning toward the restroom. She needed a shower, a long hot shower to wash away everything that had happened to her. Pandora too, she wished, could simply be washed away. But she was beginning to think that she was stuck with the consciousness. ‘Oh certainly, until one of us dies—and, well, we’re both immortal now.’
“Are you going to explain that? Or anything at all to me?” Aoko asked, there was only silence that met her words. “Pandora?”
‘Yes I suppose so, but for now clean yourself up and rest,’ Pandora’s words were quiet, a mere whisper in the back of her mind. She had the strange sense that her other half was drifting off to sleep. Disappearing from any realm where Aoko could reach her. The girl stayed silent for a moment, before carefully walking to the bathroom and turning on the shower.
It wasn’t until she was under the steady stream of hot water that she broke down and cried.
took a while to update again, but someone asked about my fanfics so I felt inspired to get another chapter up
Chapter 4: GATHERED HER BLOOD IN A CHALICE
she's fine, she has to be fine...
Kid had disappeared—one moment the thief was following behind him like an obnoxious shadow and the next Conan looked back and he was simply gone. It made sense, he supposed. There were bound to be some witnesses or police still looking up at the roof, and they would have seen that Kid had flown over to this one. If he wanted to get out he was going to have to get out soon. Even so, the shrunken detective felt a twinge of irritation at his disappearance. Next time, he supposed.
It was better to not have the thief hovering where he could distract him, in any case. Conan’s eyes swept the room thoroughly—he’d been pushed back from what was the “main” scene of the crime at the moment. The only body that they could find. Considering the amount of blood, and the girl that had fallen from the building’s rooftop (trick or not) there were two missing victims. Or, perhaps, the other girl was a partner of some sort who escaped by making it appear as though she had fallen.
Telling Takagi that the man who had been near the girl who had fallen was asleep on the rooftop had been difficult—explaining why he was also tied up was also hard. Conan was, at the moment, trying to lie a little low in terms of getting under the feet of the police. If he was too “intelligent” someone was bound to start getting suspicious of him after all. Even so, the shrunken boy itched to do something. Hence him crawling on his hands and knees through the building.
Sharp eyes spotted a pile of clothing in the corner—young, with a backpack. Conan fished through his pocket for a cloth before reaching into the jacket’s pocket. His eyes brightened as he pulled out a cellphone, “Ah-le-le?”
Conan chirped loudly, loud enough for any of the police in ear shot to look his way. Megure—who had shown up moments after Kid had disappeared—made his way to where Conan was standing with keen interest on his features. “Whatchya got there Conan-kun?”
“I found a cellphone,” Conan held it up to him with childish innocence on his face. “Maybe if you call the last number you can find out who else was here?”
“Good job Conan-kun!” Takagi praised from where he was standing a few feet away. Megure nodded in quiet agreement while Conan merely flashed what he hoped was a convincingly ‘pleased-child’ grin. Even so, his eyes narrowed with seriousness as Megure took the cell phone and tapped a few places. He furrowed his brow, before starting with surprise.
The phone was buzzing in his hands, Conan blinked and Takagi’s eyes narrowed. With a firm nod Megure clicked the answer button and lifted the phone to his ear.
Kaito needed a pick-me-up—sure he’d gotten away with the gem (which wasn’t Pandora) but he’d had his fun interrupted by a gruesome massacre. Conan wasn’t going to be chasing him around tonight, and he was already pretty bummed out. It hadn’t been hard to switch from the police uniform to civilian clothing, what had been mildly difficult was leaving Tantei-kun to do his business. Kid liked watching him work, it was fascinating.
He wasn’t Kid at the moment, however. Now he was Kuroba Kaito who—if questioned—was only nearby to check out the Kid heist just like everybody else. Most of the crowd had thinned considerably, and Nakamori was still standing across the street yelling his head off to find Kid.
Not that he would. Kid had “escaped”, or at least wasn’t anywhere he could be caught by the good old inspector. Better luck next time. Kaito fished his cellphone out of his pocket near idly—he’d already dropped the gem off somewhere the inspector would find it later (that somewhere being his pocket, slipped inside when he’d passed by under the guise of young officer number 26). That meant that he was free to do his “I’m just a normal high school kid nothin’ to see here” routine.
Which apparently involved having a ton of really rude texts from a certain childhood friend. Kaito huffed irritably, skimming through them quickly. The gist was, of course, ‘Why aren’t you in school today? What so the few times I get to see you are also getting ruined? If you skip school everyone’s gonna think you’re a criminal, stupid’. All very caring, she was just worried. In her incredibly overbearing and obnoxious, ‘What this doesn’t bother me’ kind of way.
“Ahoko,” Kaito muttered, fingers tapping her name quickly on his phone and bringing it up to his ear. He was expecting the third degree as soon as she answered—wait what time was it? Kaito hadn’t considered the hour, and was just about to bail out of the call when he heard an answering call. Deciding to pretend that it being past her bedtime wasn’t that big of a deal he said, “Ahoko, what’s your problem leaving me message after message like a clingy girlfriend?”
“This is Inspector Megure of Division One,” was not the reply that he expected to come from the speaker of his cellphone. Kaito blinked, and a strange feeling began to creep up his spine. Something like dread—horror—a foreboding of some sort. His mind rapidly placed Megure at the most likely place he’d be—with Tantei-kun. At the scene of a murder, which was missing the body of two victims.
So why, exactly, did he have Aoko’s cellphone.
“Well that’s not who I called,” Kaito’s voice sounded strangely distant to himself. His face felt like a frozen mask, and he was hyper-aware of where Nakamori was standing, just ten feet away. “Is Aoko there?”
“At present she isn’t available, can you get me in contact with her family? She may have been involved in an incident,” Megure’s voice was incredibly formal.
“What kind of incident?” Kaito wasn’t sure if he was calm or simply in shock—he started to walk toward Nakamori and distantly wondered if he should break poker face for this. Wouldn’t it be strange, if he—as Aoko’s best friend—received terrible news and was perfectly calm? He didn’t feel calm. He felt like he’d been plunged into cold water, “Her dad’s right here, I can probably put him on the phone.”
“That would be appreciated,” Megure rumbled, and Kaito briefly considered just faking it. He wanted to know what was going on, not to leave it in the hands of Nakamori. Aoko was his friend—his important friend. Calm down, Megure could be somewhere else entirely. Aoko could be suspected of murder somewhere, she’s not the victim. She’s not the missing victim, don’t leap to conclusions.
“Inspector Nakamori!” Kaito called, catching his attention. Blank-faced the teenager held out his cellphone, “An Inspector Megure wants to talk to you.”
“Hah? Kaito-kun—?” Nakamori blinked, before scowling and pinching Kaito’s cheek hard. The teenager winced and pulled back as Nakamori snatched the phone from his fingers. For a brief instant he fought the strangest urge to snatch it right back, instead he forced himself to stand still and carefully watched Nakamori’s face. “Megure? What do you want—I told you that murder doesn’t have anything to do with Kaitou Kid so—!”
The man’s words choked off, and he pulled Kaito’s phone away from his face—to read the screen. The contact, and Kaito felt like his stomach had plunged down somewhere near his shoes. Nakamori was a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, and the facial expression he’d adopted was one that made Kaito’s nerves stretch thin. “That’s my daughter’s—I’ll be right over.”
“What is it?” Kaito asked, but Nakamori was bolting past him—dropping Kaito’s phone so that the teenager had to dive to catch it. He straightened, watching the Inspector as he ordered someone to take over for him—it was an emergency. “Inspector Nakamori! What happened?”
“Go home Kaito-kun,” Nakamori ordered, he didn’t bellow the words but choked them out. Kaito’s dread seemed to heighten, to choke him, and he ignored the man who was his best friend’s father. He darted after him, “Kaito-kun, I mean it.”
“If it’s about Aoko I’m coming,” Kaito’s tone was stubborn—not desperate, not quite. He felt like someone was yanking the rug out from under his feet, felt like he was seeing his mother’s face again—towering above him in his youth—as she gently explained that his father wouldn’t be coming home. No, not yet. It wasn’t like that, not yet. Not until it was certain. Nakamori hesitated briefly before seeming to relent. Something on the man’s face suggested that he didn’t want to do whatever it was he was being called to do on his own. Kaito felt sick to his stomach as he followed Nakamori, straight into the building that Kaitou Kid had left behind a few minutes earlier.
Be okay, Kaito thought desperately. Panic was beginning to make his heart pound, and that sick feeling wouldn’t leave. It felt smothering, a rotten sort of fear that sunk deep into the bones. Be a witness, be anything, but please, please be okay.
Outwardly, he was just as calm as you please.
Aoko was lying asleep—no, it was something like sleep. It was as though her whole body was resting, but her mind felt alive and active. She was deep in her own brain, and Pandora was standing before her in the dreamscape. It was far too vivid to be an actual dream, however. Pandora kept conjuring small things in her hands—a few golden coins, a stone that was red as blood, and finally a jar.
“What is it that you would call a woman who weaves magic these days?
Ah, yes, a witch. That’s it. It’s what I was, before the Stone. No, that’s what I was before the jar. I suppose I’m still a witch, in a strange way. No, I’m not just any witch, that’s the important part. I was the first—some of your stories now, they call me the first woman. I may as well have been, I suppose. But everyone has their origin story.
The gods—or the earth itself—the great powers that once resided in the land, were all in a jar. A great jar, with a lid on the top. Have you heard this story before, Aoko?”
“I’m not sure,” her voice felt small compared to Pandora’s. Like she was being dwarfed by her presence. “Something like it, I think—but most of the stories call it a box.”
“It was a jar—a great jar—and it held all the misfortune in the world. But it also held great power,” Pandora’s fingers dropped to the lid of the jar she held. It had paintings all over the surface, warped faces that cried out in pain, “And one day, long ago, I just—”
Pandora jerked the lid off the jar, and Aoko had to clap her hands over her ears as screams howled through the dreamscape. Darkness swirled around them for a brief moment, before seeping into everything. Pandora stood in the center of it all with her hands tilted up toward the sky. A smile was on her face, something that chilled Aoko to the bone.
“What was the power?” Aoko asked, and the words felt even smaller to her than before. Pandora dropped her hands to her side, and lifted her head. Her eyes were glowing red in the darkness, burning into her and Aoko found it hard to meet them. Yet she did, she locked her gaze with Pandora’s and they stood like that for a great while. Then, with a laugh the other soul tilted her head back—broke the eye contact first.
“Immortality, but it came at a price,” a pause, as Pandora regarded her closely. Then, she snorted and waved her off, “Nevermind, you needn’t know that. The price is mine to bear, and I don’t like you. So I don’t want to tell you what it is, not quite yet.”
“You’ve stolen my body,” Aoko protested, but Pandora ignored her. The witch tapped the top of the jar, and it melted into a thousand garnets—they tumbled in a sea of color at Aoko’s bare feet. She stooped to pick them up, held them in her hands and stared at them sadly. They felt so cold and lifeless, dead things. Abruptly they shifted into poppies in her hands, and then the others at her feet too. An entire field of blood red flowers that swayed lazily in a cool breeze.
“And you’ve stolen my magic,” Pandora replied coolly. Aoko dropped the flowers quickly, and the older soul laughed at her. It was almost cruel, “You have a knack for it, the natural side anyway. Me, I do better with destroying things. Funny I’d think it would be the same, maybe you had magic sleeping in you before this and just didn’t realize it?”
“So magic is real,” Aoko whispered, kneeling to pick a poppy from the ground. In the same movement Pandora also knelt—a mirror of Aoko but with the opposite intention. The instant the other witch touched the stem of one of the poppies it whithered and died—taking with it the entire field. Aoko watched them curl under the weight of death sadly, her heart hurt for them in a way she couldn’t explain.
“If that’s all you’re getting from this then I’m worried at how slow your brain works. We’re together now, after all. My soul was in that gem, and that gem was placed in you—so you became a part of the gem. Are you following Aoko? We are one now,” Pandora said dryly. The field of dried flowers was suddenly ablaze. Aoko leapt backward, her heart jumping into her throat as flames climbed higher and higher. They stroked the sky with blazing fingertips, and Pandora stood in the center of the blaze—crisping, burning herself but smiling the whole while. “Yes, it’s real. And feared. Feared and coveted by so so many, as is immortality. And here it’s fallen right into your hands Aoko, how lucky are you?”
“I don’t think I’m lucky at all,” Aoko answered honestly. Pandora laughed, as though she thought this was very funny. “I don’t, I really don’t. I wish I didn’t have this, I wish I had never met that man in the first place.”
“Oh, I don’t think that you aren’t serious,” Pandora answered. “I’m just surprised, you figured it out so much quicker than I did. Well, not completely, but you can feel it and you’re admitting it before I did. Back then, long ago, when I let lose the misfortune of humanity to gain power. I ignored it, I just pretended it didn’t exist, this feeling that something… is wrong.”
Distantly, through the crackle of the fire, Aoko could hear screaming. She thought she could see a small child—a four-year-old girl—standing on tiptoes with her tiny hands clasped around the lid of a jar like the one Pandora had shown her earlier. Then another flare, a kind woman’s face and the plague doctor mask again.
“Pandora, your soul is in this gem right?” Aoko asked, dropping her hand to her chest. Pandora watched her carefully from within the flames, “Why… how did it get put in there in the first place?”
The screams built, louder and louder. From out of the flames she clearly heard something else. Someone wailing, screaming, “Why can’t I make myself cry?! I would give anything to cry now for you! Don’t leave me!”
Pandora lifted her hands, and a great wave of water—no, blood, smashed down on them. The flames were quenched in an instant, and Aoko was swept away. Shoved fiercely away, far far away from the witch that was in her body now.
Aoko jerked awake, jolted up and clutched her chest. Her fingers met stone—it was burning hot to the touch and ached fiercely—but she rested a hand over her heart. It thrummed fiercely under her palm, and she slowed her breathing carefully. Slowly, slowly. Pandora wasn’t present—well she was still in her mind, Aoko could feel her. But there was something between her and the witch, the first witch, and she couldn’t seem to pry her away from it.
“Fine, be that way,” Aoko muttered, wishing she could pretend that she wasn’t shaken. The girl stood shakily, and found that her feet—and body in general—didn’t ache nearly as fiercely as before her sleep. It felt as though she’d been exercising the day before, but nothing more. Aoko saw a flash of herself falling from the rooftop, of her crashing to the ground on the concrete, and the urge to vomit swept her.
This is really happening to you, this is for real, Aoko brushed her fingers over the stone in her chest. Pandora, somewhere in the back of her mind, remained eerily distant. Aoko moved carefully to the window and opened the shades. The sky was lightening with the dawn, and Aoko tried desperately to find hope in the new day.
But she couldn’t help but think that the sky looked more red than pink, as if the day had already been tainted with blood. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself and started to shudder. She needed to get home, god she needed to get home and away from this hotel. Pandora or not, she couldn’t make her dad worry about her all night.
Hopefully he was still busy tying things up with Kid, or maybe he hadn’t noticed she was gone at all. Aoko turned on her heel and snatched her purse up from the night stand. She didn’t bother brushing her hair, it wasn’t caked with blood any longer which suited her just fine. No, she wasn’t staying away from home any longer. What she needed now was familiarity. Her family home, her dad’s arms around her, and Kaito. God, she would give anything for a magic trick or two.
She smothered the mental image of an entire field of poppies blooming around her, and didn’t notice that—as she walked through the lobby—the wilting plants seemed to gain new life. Nor did she notice, as she walked out onto the street, that several flowers bloomed in the grass near her bare feet.
sorry for the wait! goodness I couldn't find the time to do this, at least I didn't write it at 3am this time haha
Chapter 5: THEIR SHADOWS WITH THE MAGIC HAND OF CHANCE
Kaito would have—normally—avoided Edogawa Conan like he was the plague itself when in his civilian clothing. The detective had always been sharp, and it was awfully risky to be anywhere near him. Of course, Conan didn’t have a reason to suspect Kuroba Kaito of anything at all. Except of being a friend who was, at the moment, trying hard to swallow the terror and despair that threatened to smother him since he’d re-entered that crime scene. Megure had met them at the door, they weren’t in the room with all the blood at all, but Kaito couldn’t quite forget it.
There had been so much of it.
Megure had spoken softly to Nakamori, his tone adopting a sort of sympathy that Kaito shunned entirely. Nakamori himself seemed to have shunned it as well, he’d belligerently shouted to be let into the crime scene to see for himself, and then—refusing to give up—had turned and ordered every officer in his squad to look for Aoko. Nakamori himself seemed torn between tearing the entirety of Tokyo apart to look for her and staying with Megure as they tried to piece the crime scene together.
Conan had drifted out of the building hours later. Kaito hadn’t left the doorway, he was busy watching Nakamori as the man paced up and down the street. He’d sent his mother a text, but it felt strangely hollow and distant. A dread had settled coldly on his shoulders that he wasn’t ready to face, and he would rather keep his attention on Nakamori than think of his best friend.
“Your name is Kuroba-kun?” Conan’s chipper, I’m-just-a-little-kid voice broke through Kaito’s reverie. He turned his eyes toward the small boy, who was regarding him with an expression of sympathy that seemed too adult for his young features. Kaito smiled at him, stuffing his horror and growing suspicions of Aoko’s fate down deep.
“S’right, nice to meet you kiddo,” Kaito reached out a hand, and Conan regarded his palm so shrewdly that Kaito almost let out a laugh despite himself. “Am I that transparent? No joy buzzer or anything, I’m not really in the mood for …”
Kaito trailed off, his smile dropping and his eyes flicking back to Nakamori once more. The sky was starting to turn light with the edges of dawn, and Kaito marveled distantly at how quickly the time had slipped by them. Nakamori was running out of energy himself, his manic desperation to find Aoko quickly fading into a shell-shocked expression of defeat that made Kaito’s stomach churn uncomfortably. His heart twisted violently in his chest, and his throat suddenly felt tight.
“Aoko-chan is a close friend of yours?” Conan ventured softly. Kaito didn’t miss the cautious use of the word “is” in the young detective’s voice, nor did he miss the shrewd way he looked his face over. What did he see there? Guilt? Or was Kaito managing to shove even the feeling that, if he hadn’t been off playing Phantom Thief, he probably would have spent the evening with Aoko.
Which would probably mean she would be alright.
“Kaito-kun,” Nakamori’s voice sounded tired and haggard. Kaito turned his eyes from Conan and to the face of the detective. “I need to get you home—Megure and his men are keeping a local look out. Missing Persons has been informed… there’s…”
Nakamori said nothing more, but Kaito could almost hear what he couldn’t finish. There’s nothing more we can do. Indeed, Kaito and Nakamori hadn’t seen the crime scene itself, and if Conan couldn’t figure it out Kaito doubted he’d be able to piece it together any easier at all. Even so, it felt strangely like they were giving up on his friend. As if they had just decided it better to throw their hands up and walk the other way.
“I told my mom I’d be with you,” Kaito said quickly. He got up and flashed the detective a forced grin, meant to reassure. The haunted look in Nakamori’s eyes made his stomach feel cold, but he couldn’t leave Aoko’s father to bear the weight of this entirely alone. The idea that Aoko was never coming home was looming over both their heads with the threat of crushing them. He couldn’t leave him to that.
Nakamori blinked at Kaito for a moment, and then slowly nodded. For a moment, Kaito wondered if he was going to have to drive the detective home himself, but he noticed that he was headed for a cab. Megure handed Kaito a piece of paper before he left, with several numbers on it and a room number.
“Come down to the station for statements,” Megure’s voice, though gruff, wasn’t too forceful. “As soon as you can, if possible. We’ll need to know when you last saw your friend…”
Kaito blinked, and nodded at the man. He felt like his throat was closing tightly again, like he was being strangled, and he hurried to catch the cab before Nakamori left him behind. As the door slammed shut, Kaito felt as though the dread that had been building in him ever since he heard Megure’s voice on the phone had mounted to a palpable feeling in the car. He took a deep breath, struggling not to drown under the sensation, and turned to look over at Nakamori.
His heart broke the instant he saw Aoko’s father. The man was hunched over, hands buried in his face, and shoulders shaking with sobs. Kaito had never seen Nakamori cry. He’d screamed, he’d thrown a fit, he was a colorful man—but tears, genuine heart-wrenching tears, were not something that Kaito had ever been privy to. Kaito felt his own eyes grow wet, and his chest burned.
Quietly, barely audible under the motor of the car, Nakamori desperately murmured, “Please, please, please.”
Aoko had avoided as many people as possible on the walk home. A ride would have been better, but she didn’t trust Pandora enough to take the subway or a taxi there—what if the witch decided to kill somebody? No thank you, Aoko had had enough of anything remotely horror-esque the previous night. What she wanted to do now was get home, be safe, and just sleep for a thousand years.
Of course that was ignoring the fact that Kitamura was still alive somewhere. That he was probably going to be awfully desperate to get his hands back on the gem that he had lost. Aoko lifted her hand and brushed her thumb absent-mindedly over the bump in her chest. It was hidden now, underneath the shirt she wore, but it felt warm to the touch even through the fabric.
‘I’m not entirely certain why you’re bothering with this going home business,’ Pandora drawled in Aoko’s mind. Her aloof irritation only spurred Aoko into walking faster. The dawn light had quickly pushed into early morning since she had left. If she was lucky her father had simply gone straight to bed after the Kid heist, not need to talk to Aoko if it’s the middle of the night right? ‘I mean, you don’t trust me with random commoners. I haven’t the foggiest idea why you think I wouldn’t just as soon kill those close to you.’
“Because I’d make things very hard for you if you did,” Aoko responded quickly, anger flaring in her chest at the thought of Pandora even daring to look sideways at those she cared about. There was a chime of laughter in her head, and Aoko felt a rush of embarrassment as a worker who was taking out the trash glanced her way at her words. She winced, continuing mentally, I mean it, you think I’m a pain in the ass now just wait.
‘Fine fine, don’t get so worked up. I’m not going to break your things,’ Pandora said, though there was a cryptic note to her voice that made Aoko very uncomfortable. As if she was thinking of something that hadn’t occurred to Aoko yet. No matter, she wouldn’t pry. She didn’t care to, she just wanted to get home and never think about any of this ever again.
It took much longer walking than she cared for, and her feet were hurting by the end of the trip, but soon Aoko turned onto a familiar street. Her heart soared—soon she’d be surrounded by familiarity. The soft snores of her father, the warmth of her bed, this would all seem like a bad dream. Sans the crazy talking witch that was in her head now. Possibly for all eternity. Aoko didn’t really want to dwell on that very much though.
‘Home sweet home,’ Pandora drolled in a dead-pan, but Aoko picked up into a run. By the time she reached her yard she’d gone into a sprint, and she reached the door breathless and feeling strangely relieved. It was odd, she half felt as if walking over the threshold of home would erase everything that had happened to her in the past twenty-four hours.
Quietly, just in case her father was still asleep from his night out, Aoko turned the knob and slipped inside. The door clicked shut louder than she’d intended, and she heard a shuffle of movement from the kitchen. Guilt swamped over her, so much for getting away with not worrying her father. He was probably going to be furious when he saw her. She opened her mouth to call out to him, but broke off when a familiar messy-haired head poked out of the doorway instead.
“Kaito?” Aoko asked, puzzled despite herself at his presence there. For a moment Kaito just stared at her, an expression of shock so clear on his face that it was almost funny—except that it wasn’t really funny at all, because he looked a bit like he had seen a ghost or something. “What are you doing—?”
Aoko broke off when Kaito rushed at her, unexpectedly, and hugged her so tightly that she couldn’t breathe. Normally the show of affection would have filled her with annoyance—he often did things like this and said obnoxious things to accompany it just to rile her up, but there was something strangely genuine about the gesture that kept her from saying anything.
“I—wha?” Kaito’s pushed Aoko back, looking her over quickly, his expression sharp and serious. So often Aoko got the sensation that Kaito was putting himself behind a mask that the frank look of worry on his features was enough to cause alarm. Something told her that her father was far more worried about her than she initially even dreaded he might be.
“Sorry if I caused worry!” Aoko blurted.
“Caused. Caused worry? You idiot, we thought you’d been killed!” Kaito’s expression was somewhat angry now, and he looked her over again once more. As if checking to make sure she was alright. “Your phone was found at that crazy-guy’s place and there was blood all over it! Worried?!”
“You found Doctor Kitamura’s place?” Aoko asked before she could stop herself, Kaito’s expression darkened and she wished like hell that she hadn’t so quickly spoken. She might have been able to pretend the phone was stolen if not for—no, why would she lie? Besides, you know, having a gem stuffed in her chest. “I-I can explain, it was all very hectic.”
Kaito’s brow furrowed at her, and he seemed about to pry more when the sound of thudding footsteps met her ears. A door in the back of the house was thrown open, and her father launched himself down the hallway and toward them. A very loud, very relieved shout escaped her father’s chest then. A booming noise that made Aoko’s heart feel strangely warm.
“AOKO!” Her dad bellowed, not angrily, but joyfully. Tears had filled the old man’s eyes, and he launched himself for her and attempted to sweep her up into his arms. Kaito, it seemed, was feeling far too stubborn to let her go just yet so it ended up being far too much for the man to pull, and he ended up having to hug the both of them. “Where have—young lady, I’ve been worried sick. Are you hurt? Do we need to take you to the hospital?”
Aoko’s head was swimming, she felt overwhelmed by all of the chatter and Pandora snorted in disgust somewhere in her head, ‘You’re the one who wanted this. Don’t make me deal with it.’
“Of course not—ah, I mean, I don’t need to go to the hospital I don’t think. I’m very tired mostly,” Aoko felt a sudden surge of guilt rise in her. She couldn’t tell her father and Kaito the whole truth, they’d never believe her. Something told her that Pandora wouldn’t be up for it at all either.
“What happened?” Kaito insisted, eyes fierce and something very dark and serious in them.
‘Heh, looks like he’s mad that someone hurt his girlfriend.’ Pandora said gleefully. ‘I like him. He has secrets in his eyes. He wears them like thieves wear shadows. Do you want to dig them up?’
Don’t be rude, Aoko thought at her guest fiercely, almost accidentally saying the words out loud despite herself. It was strange to think that Kaito and her father couldn’t hear Pandora as well, considering that she sounded so damn loud to Aoko literally all the time.
“I can explain, but can I sit down first?” Aoko let out a nervous laugh, and both Kaito and her father released her from their grip at the same time. She almost stumbled thanks to it, but flopped down on the couch nevertheless. Kaito sat next to her quickly, and her father hurried off to make an important phone call.
“We thought you were dead,” Kaito’s voice was more careful than it had been before. Not emotionless entirely, but carefully placed. As if he had sealed off the honest part of him that had cracked out when he genuinely thought his best friend dead. Aoko thought of Pandora’s words, and shoved them aside uncomfortably.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry Kaito,” Aoko said quietly. “I would have come straight home but I got lost—and I didn’t have my phone.”
“You didn’t think to stop and ask for help?” Kaito said, there was something strangely flat about his tone. As if he had coached it to be that way and didn’t want her to think he was too angry. He took a deep breath, his features warming with relief and the smile that she had grown to care deeply for over the years. “You’re okay though, you’re okay.”
As if to prove it to himself, he reached out and touched her hair. The gesture was oddly intimate, and Aoko didn’t quite know how to react to it. Her father entered the room though, and Kaito had pulled his hand back and was sitting with his arms above his head and a wide grin on his features. Aoko blinked at him, and her father sat down.
“You’ll have to tell the police later, but you have something to tell me first,” her father spoke sternly but softly. Kaito’s words rang in Aoko’s ears again, and she felt her stomach lurch. They thought she’d died, no wonder they’d been so worried. She’d been out all night—she should have gone straight home after all.
‘And what? Tell them about the witch in your head? Good luck coming up with a decent lie about all this by the way,’ Pandora said snidely. ‘This should be fun to watch.’
Ignoring her new headmate, Aoko took a deep breath.
Chapter 6: BUT LIARS WE CAN NEVER TRUST
but what is the truth of all things?
Kaito couldn’t bring himself to take his eyes off of Aoko. The moment she had walked in that door he’d been filled with a strange mixture of wariness and joy that she was okay. The happiness, of course, was obvious—but his trepidation was less easy to place. It was sort of like that feeling one got when things just seemed far too easy for their own good.
“Momo-chan helped me get out,” Aoko was explaining. There was something strange about her voice—Kaito wanted to say that it was the realization that she had slipped out of a building where people had been murdered only moments after her leaving. She had, essentially, barely escaped death. It wasn’t quite like that though, she met Kaito’s eyes briefly and looked askance a heartbeat later and hunched her shoulders. “I was told to run as far as possible, and I guess I panicked because I got lost. I ended up um—I just sort of blanked out I guess and got a hotel room. I wasn’t thinking very clearly.”
She’s lying, Kaito thought with a jolt that sort of startled him. No—that couldn’t be right. Aoko had no reason at all to lie about this situation right? She was clearly almost a victim if anything. Kaito glanced down at her feet—which were filthy, as if she’d walked the whole way here.
“Why didn’t you get a cab?” Kaito asked tonelessly. Aoko’s hands gripped her knees, and she looked to him with some alarm. “And where are your shoes?”
“Oh—I...” Aoko said, trailing off and twisting the hem of her shirt in her hands. “I.. it was to run better. They were sandals, I was worried I’d roll my ankle and hurt myself.”
“So you went barefoot?” Kaito asked, arching an eyebrow and watching Aoko’s reaction carefully. She dropped his gaze again, twisting her fingers together and swallowing hard. What are you hiding from us? You’re a terrible liar.
“You’ll need to give a statement Aoko,” Nakamori was saying gently. “I’ll call Megure and get an appointment. I’m sorry sweetheart but you’re going to probably have to do that before you get any rest. Go get some socks on okay?”
Aoko nodded, her expression growing distraught. For a moment Kaito thought she was going to start crying, but she squared her shoulders and got up from the couch. Kaito stood up in the same moment, barely aware that Nakamori had slipped into the other room. He barred her way, and she stopped briefly, her eyes widening in dismay.
“Kaito I need—” she began, and he cut her off by gripping both of her shoulders
“Are you really okay?” Kaito asked firmly, searching her eyes. She looked away again, he felt his stomach twist nervously. He knew it was hypocritical, the number of times he had lied to Aoko were so numerous that he couldn’t begin to count them. Even so, he wanted to beg her to tell him the truth. To trust him. Please.
“I’m fine Kaito, it was just really scary. It rattled me a little s’all and—ah.” Aoko stopped suddenly as she spoke, blinking strangely a few times before her face settled into a strangely foreign expression. It threw Kaito, he hadn’t expected it nor the slight change in the way she spoke when she said, “Don’t worry about me, okay? I’m not dead, that’s all that matters right?”
Kaito stared at her, puzzled by the sudden shift in demeanor. There was something... odd about her. It reminded him vaguely of what he would do when impersonating someone on the job. It was as if Aoko was suddenly a completely different person. She smiled at him, and it felt weirdly like it wasn’t her smile at all. Disturbed, Kaito stepped back and let her slip past him and down the hallway.
As soon as Pandora had shoved Aoko into the back of her head the girl had begun to scream in fury. She was not pleased, it seemed, with being forced back. Pandora snorted with disgust, shoving her toes into the socks she’d been told to get and scowling. She hated shoes, but Aoko’s the one that had a parent that would think things were odd if she didn’t wear them.
Maybe she could just kill him and the boy. It would make life a lot easier in any case.
“You will not!” Aoko thought furiously at her. Pandora shook her head, standing up and spinning around the room tightly and with her arms spread out wide. “Pandora!”
“If you hadn’t made things so difficult you silly little girl,” Pandora huffed, turning and smiling when she saw Kaito standing in the doorway. His face was carefully blank, a surprisingly good poker face. But those eyes were shrewd. A clever boy indeed. “What?”
“He’ll notice that I’m acting weird,” Aoko said desperately. “Pandora you have to let me talk around him, he’ll know something’s wrong. He’s already asking too many questions.”
You say that like it’s not easy to break him, Pandora thought, grinning as Kaito shrugged but kept his eyes on her. This was fun, far more fun than her time with Kitamura had been in any case. Kaito leaned forward, his expression deadpan and his eyes on hers.
“You’re acting like a weirdo.” Kaito said flatly.
Pandora opened her mouth to reply and found her reign ripped forcefully from her as she was stuffed back into Aoko’s mind. Annoyance flared through her. How was this girl so good at this? After her rest Pandora should have been far too strong for Aoko to continually do that. Did the girl’s latent magic ability actually... match her own? Just in raw power? Ugh.
“Sorry—I’m...” Aoko shook her head, and Pandora pouted angrily in the back of her head. “I’m not feeling like myself. I think I’m still shook up.”
“Did he drug you with something or something?” Kaito asked, his cautiousness seemed to have worn off, curiously enough, but he was still watching them oh-so-closely. Pandora wished she could still grin at him. She liked this mouse. He’d be fun to play with.
Aoko could tell that Pandora was still furious with her—all the more reason to keep her locked up in her head though. The witch was fuming in the back of her consciousness, and Aoko couldn’t help but feel that Kaito knew something was terribly wrong. It was hard not to think so, in any case, considering how she’d been acting when Pandora had control. Like a cat who had cornered a mouse or something of that respect.
She hadn’t spoken much on the car drive to the station, but now that she was sitting waiting for her time to make her statement she couldn’t help but feel more and more nervous. Kaito had effectively poked a few holes into her story that already didn’t make much sense, and Aoko was blatantly aware that she had been surrounded by several people when she had fallen. What if someone recognized her?
Kaito had been taken aside for his own statement about the crime, having apparently been in the crowd there to watch kid—something Aoko would scold him about later surely—as had her father. Both had left her alone, well alone with Pandora, and Aoko’s anxiety about the statement was growing more and more. What if they took her lying as something suspicious? What if they thought she had something to do with Kitamura’s break?
“He’s in this building you know,” Pandora said slowly, and Aoko’s anxiety mounted. She found that her chest felt tight and that it was difficult to breathe. “I can sense him, the little worm.”
“Please, it’s already scary to have to do this,” Aoko blurted—to her embarrassment there was a young girl with a little boy that were walking into the room right when she spoke. They both looked toward her, and she felt her cheeks warm instantly. She ducked her head, staring hard at her hands, “S-sorry.”
“Are you here to make a statement?” The small boy asked. His tone was dripping with curiosity and sincerity, and Aoko looked up and blinked in startled surprise. The girl he was with was older, probably around Aoko’s age, and she looked concerned.
“Um... yes,” Aoko confessed. “I’m just worried that I’ll say the wrong thing and mess everything up.”
“The first time can be really scary!” The boy chirped, he had blue eyes that were shining brightly behind his large-framed glasses, and his smile was wide.
“He’s a liar too,” Pandora said, keenly interested. Aoko was startled by the words, and she blinked down at the small child. “Interesting.”
“I’m Mouri Ran,” the teenaged girl introduced. Aoko blinked, and offered her hand to shake with a small smile. “The little one asking all the questions is Conan-kun. We’ve given statements before ourselves, the police here are really friendly I promise.”
“I’m Nakamori Aoko,” Aoko introduced with a smile. The friendly expression Conan had adopted suddenly shifted to something like surprise and then keen interest—so keen that it threw her off for a moment. Pandora’s interest seemed to pique even more, and Aoko wished sorely that it hadn’t. She preferred her sulking.
“My father mentioned something about you!” Ran blurted, eyes wide with surprise. “They thought you’d been killed, I’m glad that you got out okay.”
Discomfort slammed into Aoko, and she squirmed, looking down at her hands and frowning. Ran put a gentle hand on her shoulder, perhaps worrying that she had caused her distress by making her think of the night before. The look of sympathy on her face was so genuine that Aoko found herself half-wishing she could just tell Ran everything that happened. She doubted she’d believe her.
“I bet she’d be scared of you.”
Shut up Pandora.
“Maybe we can go in there with Aoko-neechan and give her some support?” Conan said cheerily. Aoko blinked, looking down at him with surprise.
“Can you do that?” Aoko asked.
“I think so!” Conan said, Ran gave a shrug as if she wasn’t certain of the answer herself. Still, she smiled warmly at Aoko and Aoko couldn’t help but think she would like very much for the two of them to join her. She smiled at Conan and Ran gratefully.
“Say no.” Pandora’s tone was serious, somewhat frightened. It caught Aoko off guard, and she blinked glancing away from the two of them almost reflexively as her attention was shifted from them. She was half aware of Conan watching her very closely. “Aoko I’m serious. That boy isn’t what he seems. You mustn’t lie around him.”
He’s just a little boy, Aoko thought, half wanting to laugh at the ludicrous worry that Pandora seemed to be exuding.
“No! There’s something strange about him. He’s watching too closely,” Pandora sounded desperate, but Aoko shut her down with more than a little annoyance. This, she decided, was a fitting punishment for Pandora taking control of her in the middle of a conversation with Kaito. It was the first time she could recall Pandora even remotely being uncomfortable and Aoko was going to live it up.
Conan was watching Aoko closely as she sat down next to where he and Ran were seated. Ran was there for the encouraging smiles, but Conan had come for an entirely different reason of course. There was something odd about Nakamori Aoko. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but Conan knew well enough by now that his instinct for rooting out the truth was usually strong enough to keep him focused. Aoko sat down, clutching her bag close and looking nervously at the tape recorder sitting in front of her.
“My father—um, he doesn’t need to hear this does he?” Aoko asked, her fingers tightly gripping the bag. Takagi, who had been tasked with taking down the statements that evening, looked up at her in surprise. Aoko looked sideways at Conan and Ran, a small nervous smile on her face. “I might not have told him the whole truth. I didn’t want to worry him.”
“Ah—yes it’s confidential, though it may be used in court as a case against him.” Takagi said, gesturing to the recorder. Aoko stared at it for a moment, before nodding her head slowly and looking him in the eye.
Her statement was thorough, Conan had to give her that. She explained how she had seen Kitamura at her school and he had dropped something which she had picked up. He had asked if she had been interested in a tour, and when her friend—a girl by the name of Keiko—had asked to join them he’d turned her down rapidly. There had been a kind secretary, one of the bodies that had been found unfortunately, that had helped Aoko when she was there.
“I think she just felt that something was off about him—I did too at first. I should have listened,” Aoko’s voice choked and she took a deep breath. “I lost her when he shut out the lights, he knocked me unconscious with a drug... I-I’m not exactly sure what he did while I was out.”
The genuine fear in her voice almost distracted Conan from a strange tell he’d picked up on her. He was fairly certain that when she lied she couldn’t look people in the eye—and that her fingers would twitch. Most of what she said seemed to be true, but for the last statement. Conan felt his stomach twist, and he looked at her gravely.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Ran said softly, Aoko had buried her face in her hands and was shaking badly. Conan was certain that her reaction was genuine, despite her strange dodging of certain subjects of truth. He watched her closely.
“I couldn’t see well in the building, I ran... to the rooftop.” Aoko choked, and Conan’s eyes widened with realization. Had the young woman that had fallen been her? She looked entirely unharmed. Aoko gave a weak laugh, “I tried climbing down the side of it. I must have slipped and fallen at some point.”
She’s lying again, Conan thought, puzzled. He was sure now, after listening to most of her testimony, that Aoko was actually a victim of Kitamura. She’d also neglected to mention how she had been covered in enough blood to leave footprints all the way up the stairwell. Though she had likely stepped in a puddle of it.
“You didn’t go to the hospital?” Takagi asked, looking up from where he was writing notes in careful script. Aoko shook her head, hugging herself tighter and looking about ready to burst into tears any second.
“No, I didn’t feel hurt. I was more just... panicked. I had to get away, everything was very overwhelming. I ended up walking home and then we came straight here,” Aoko swallowed, and looked over at Conan with a strained smile. “That... that wasn’t so hard.”
Except you’re still hiding something. Is it because she feels shame? Conan thought, but that didn’t quite fit. She seemed as though she were avoiding a topic, entirely. There was something else curious, he noted, as he watched Aoko tip her head to one side. She kept acting as if she were listening to someone else speak. Only a few times now, but he had caught her doing it a few times.
Was she wearing a wire? Was she protecting someone else? Being threatened and told to lie?
“You’re sure that Kitamura-sensei was the only person you met there, right Aoko-neechan?” Conan asked, eyes sharply on her. Aoko looked down at him, blinking a few times as though surprised by his question and he continued. “Nobody else? None of the other victims or a helper?”
“No, just—just him.” Aoko looked away, gripping her fingers tightly into a fist.
Conan narrowed his eyes and Takagi leaned forward and nodded as he made the finishing statements. After a few moments he stood up, gathering the papers that she had signed. He’d stated he wanted a blood test on her done immediately and they’d gotten a nurse in no time flat to come in and draw from her. After that, Takagi left with her and Aoko watched them go, looking a little shell shocked and deflated.
“I’m sure you’re exhausted after everything you went through Aoko-chan,” Ran said quietly, giving the girl a one armed hug around the shoulders and smiling at her warmly. “But if you’d like Conan-kun and I can help you get your mind off of everything.”
“Yeah!” Conan wasn’t quite willing to let this go yet. More time with Aoko meant he might be able to puzzle things together.
“Oh—that’s very kind of you but I just want to rest today,” Aoko smiled thinly at the two of them. Still, she reached over, handing Ran her cell and flashing a more genuine smile. “I’d love for us to hang out sometime though. Ah—maybe next weekend? I could ask Kaito if he was interested as well.”
“Sounds great!” Ran said, “Right Conan-kun?”
“I look forward to seeing you again Aoko-neechan!” Conan beamed, latching onto her arm and hanging off of it. She laughed, gently lowering him to the ground, and he watched her carefully. She didn’t wince or anything. He was certain he’d seen her fall at least from a decent height. Shouldn’t she be sore?
“It’s a deal then! Thank you, Ran-chan and Conan-kun. I appreciate you giving me the courage and making this easier on me,” Aoko flashed them one more smile, before she headed out of the room. Conan watched her go, his eyes narrowed in thought. There was something going on here. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he’d find out. If only for Aoko’s sake.