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Fool's Gold

Chapter Text

It’s the done thing these days to check the news from one’s phone rather than the papers—it’s nearly instantaneous after all—but Shu finds he misses the physicality of newsprint. It’s much more satisfying to strangle in his fist when he’s enraged.

Phantom Thief Strikes Again! A Method to the Madness?

Shu settles for scowling at the screen instead, knuckles white around the phone case. To think there was a person out there who would stoop so low as to steal works of art and then jaunt around in front of the news cameras as if he were mysterious and dashing for doing it. Surely it would be more wise to avoid any sort of media attention, but instead this degenerate seems to relish in it, flinging winks and little smirks like he’s soaking up the spotlight.

Three heists in the last few months alone and fifteen total since the thief had begun. Given enough time the whole of Japan might get picked over. Are the police even doing their jobs? 

“Oshi-san?”

“Quiet, Kagehira.”

Shu scrolls down, tsking at the article as he skims it. Sensationalist drivel. Hardly a drop of concern for the museums themselves, just a useless parade of speculation: about the thief’s origins, his motives, his lifestyle, peppered through with the unreliable testimony of starstruck fools.

“Oshi-san, y’really gotta see this!”

Shu lets the phone drop to his desk with a sharp sigh, giving up on the article halfway through. “Well? What is it?”

Kagehira hands him a single piece of cream colored cardstock, garnished in purple and gold. It looks like an invitation of some sort, but when Shu’s eyes parse the words his blood runs hot, then cold, then hot again.

It’s a heist notice.

 


 

When Shu vents his frustrations to Rei over dinner that night he, for once, seems appropriately rattled. “A heist notice? Are you sure it’s real? There have been a few copycats recently.”

“Of course it’s genuine. I had the authorities inspect it right away,” Shu says with a scoff. His tone turns more contemplative as he neatly cuts the segment of melon on his plate into slices. “I suppose it was only a matter of time. I do preside over one of the most esteemed museums in the world. I’m sure that thief has been drooling at the thought of getting his dirty little hands all over it.”

Shu would expect Rei to start teasing him by now about his prideful air or how worked up he’s getting, but instead Rei sinks further back into his chair with a sigh that sounds like it comes from a man three times his age. “A real heist notice… perhaps you should sit this one out, Shu-kun.”

Pardon?”

“I’m sure you’re itching to give this thief a piece of your mind yourself, but—”

“Rei. You are not about to seriously suggest that I leave the fate of an entire trove of irreplaceable artwork at the mercy of the same police who have failed to stop him all this time.”

“No matter what you might think, they do know how to do their job better than you do.”

Shu huffs and spears a bite on his fork with more force than necessary. “They don’t know my museum. I’ll be there whether they like it or not.”

“And if it’s not them I’m worried about?”

Shu looks back up with a sharp retort on his tongue, but the helplessly amused curl to Rei’s mouth says that he’s already waving the white flag of surrender in this argument. Mollified enough just by that, Shu turns the conversation to more mundane topics for the next half hour: Rei’s latest composition, Shu’s knitting, their mutual acquaintances...

“Speaking of which, I’d nearly forgotten,” Shu says, setting his silverware aside as he blots at his mouth with the napkin. “Hadn’t you mentioned that friend of yours tagging along tonight?”

Rei coughs mid-sip, nearly spattering red all over his own shirtfront. “Aha. Well. He told me something came up.”

Unsurprising. On the very few occasions that they’ve crossed paths Shu got the impression that this friend of his was rather flighty. The sort of man with enough charm to let him get away with anything, and the sort of man who never failed to use that to his advantage. 

Rei sighs again, piteously. “Don’t make that face, Shu-kun. You know, I really do think you two would get along if you’d only talk to each other.”

“I’m not the one failing to show,” Shu says archly, frowning when Rei manages to snag the check from the waiter first. “Since he’s not making an effort I can only assume he’s not interested in conversation.”

“You say this as if you haven’t carefully crafted yourself to be the least approachable person in Japan.” Rei only snickers at Shu’s loud, indignant noise. “I’m teasing, you have grown much softer in the past couple years. But Kaoru-kun is quite shy. Be gentle with the poor boy.”

“Hmph.”

Dinner concluded, they leave the restaurant arm in arm, strolling leisurely under the warm glow of the streetlights. Nighttime walks with Rei tend to be a calm and contemplative affair, blanketed by the kind of relaxed atmosphere that comes with a friendship so old it no longer needs words, but tonight Rei’s arm is unusually stiff under Shu’s hand. 

Shu pats him, guessing at what he might be thinking about. “There’s no need to worry for my sake. I’ll be perfectly fine. That thief might be a scoundrel, but according to the news he’s never been violent.”

For some reason this doesn’t seem to reassure him.

 


 

For the next while Shu leaves the day to day tasks to Kagehira and makes his rounds through the museum personally instead, sharp eyes picking out possible entry points. It’s a useless endeavor. The very architecture that makes the building itself a work of art also creates countless shadows for an aspiring crook to hide in. Normally this isn’t a problem with the security technology and the number of guards they employ, but this phantom thief has proven himself to be no ordinary intruder. They need to be prepared for acrobatic feats and impossible slights of hand. 

The easiest thing to do, Shu realizes, would be to narrow the playing field.

He heads for an exhibit on the first floor—the one in the west wing with the vaulted ceilings—and stops at a room towards the front. For reasons beyond him this particular thief has plainly detailed the date, time, and target in his heist notice. It’s all very fanciful, like some character out of a novel, but Shu’s been assured that this thief is very faithful to these notices. Never once has he sent one as a ruse only to steal something else.

Which begs the question, could they relocate or hide the target instead? Wouldn’t that be a neat solution: to make it inaccessible altogether. But somehow Shu doubts the thief is that obliging—

“I-Itsuki-kun?!”

Shu nearly jumps out of his skin. There’s only one person outside of his small circle of friends who calls him that these days, as if he’s some sort of schoolboy and not an esteemed director. “Hakaze.”

“Ahaha, uh wow, that's a surprise running into you.”

“...In my own museum?”

Hakaze scratches his head, sheepish. “Well, y’know. I thought you’d be in your office or something, not wandering around like a visitor.”

“I do prefer the quieter hours,” Shu admits, not at all concealing his grimace when someone from the crowd brushes his arm as she walks by, “but I take frequent walks through my museum. I have to experience it firsthand if I’m to create the perfect presentation for each exhibit.”

“Right, right.”

Shu looks at the easy smile on Hakaze’s face and scoffs inwardly. Honestly, he has no idea what Rei’s talking about. As if a man like this is shy. He does seem somehow antsy though, as if he’s on edge or perhaps late for something. Oh. Of course. “Go ahead,” Shu says, waving a magnanimous hand. “It’s rude to keep a date waiting.”

A bit of red blossoms on Hakaze’s cheeks, his eyes darting from Shu’s hand to his face. “W-what?”

“You came here with a date, did you not?”

Hakaze jolts to attention. “Huh? No, no! I’m here all by myself today~”

That’s hard to believe considering what little Shu knows about him—Hakaze always seems to be ducking out of Rei’s outings with the excuse of ‘conflicting plans’—but he finds himself relaxing nonetheless. Come to think of it, this might be one of the only times they’ve been in the same room without Rei hovering somewhere nearby. Shu’s eyes gravitate towards the closest display case. He has so much more work to do, but perhaps, for the sake of his old friend, he could spare just a moment to try and ‘get along.’

“Something special about that jewelry?” Hakaze prods when Shu’s silent gaze lingers there too long.

“Every piece in this museum is extraordinary,” Shu says with customary pride. “But no, I wouldn’t say the items in this case stand out from the rest of the exhibit. They’re not a focal point. That’s what’s so strange about it.”

“Oh?” Hakaze sidles closer. “Strange about what?”

Well. There’s no harm in telling him. “I’m sure you’re aware a certain thief has taken interest in us. That’s why the gawking masses have come out in droves lately.” Shu eyes him. “Is that why you’re here?”

“Mm, yeah, something like that.”

Shu nods, satisfied by that explanation, and turns his attention back to the display case. A pair of Hellenistic earrings worked in gold sit nestled toward the top, the wings of birds arched upwards as if in flight. They’re enchanting in their own way, but they strike him as an odd choice to steal. “In this room alone there are countless works that outstrip these two little earrings in terms of monetary value. It’s like breaking into a mansion only to steal the umbrella stand.”

“And money is all this guy’s after?”

Shu tsks. “What else would a thief want?”

“Uh… Maybe he just likes jewelry?” Hakaze shrugs. “Don’t you?”

“I suppose.” The word ‘like’ is entirely inadequate for the way he’s devoted himself to his profession, but he sees Hakaze’s point. “Although in that case I would have expected him to choose one of the more popular pieces. Gems always seem to catch the eye, and yet he’s selected something without them. Perhaps there’s a more personal motivation…”

But there’s no way to determine something like that. Besides, even if he could, what would be the point in it? Rather than wasting time trying to untangle a thief’s psyche he should be thinking of how to thwart him— 

“Some of these things have a soul, you know. Maybe that’s why.”

“Pardon?”

Hakaze laughs, more softly than Shu expects, and takes a closer look at the earrings. “That’s what my mom used to say. She’d take me to museums all the time as a kid and tell me stories about the paintings and pottery and jewelry. I think she made, like, a third of them up, but she still knew so much.”

There’s something very tender in Hakaze’s expression that Shu’s never seen before, something warm and a little bit sad. He seems like a different person entirely from the flippant, breezy man who would barely look in Shu’s direction, always looking for an excuse to take a phone call or slip out the door instead. “She sounds lovely.”

“She really was.” Hakaze traces the edges of the placard on the wall next to it. “There’s not much on here, huh.” 

The approximate era of creation, the general area in which they were found, and the materials that they’re made of. The standard write-up for pieces with no known history. The exact kind of blank space where a fairytale would fit.

Hakaze grins over at him with sudden, boyish charm. “I bet these were made by someone in love~♪”

Shu’s heart skips a beat against his will. “Don’t be foolish. I’d say birds in flight were more often a symbol of freedom than love.”

“Haha. Well. Maybe for some people those two go hand in hand.” The moment hangs longer than it should, fragile and heavy, before Hakaze breaks eye contact. “Anyway, you keep saying things like they’re not that valuable and they’re not ‘focal points’ or whatever, but... you did put them right by the door where everyone would have to pass by. You totally have a soft spot for them, right?”

Shu sputters, caught. “I—”

“Hey, does that mean you’ll be extra fired up when the thief tries to steal them? Oh man… poor guy.”

I’m the one who deserves sympathy. Do you know how much stress this whole ordeal is putting me through?!”

Hakaze laughs, and the conversation winds gently to a close. Shu is possessed by the urge to say something, anything else, to keep this rare moment from ending, but when he opens his mouth nothing comes out. For the first time in quite a while he wishes Mademoiselle were there with him instead of safely at home. She would have known what to do.

“Um,” Hakaze says instead after a while. He checks his phone, takes a step back, and Shu can visibly see the way his entire atmosphere changes. “Nice chatting with you, but I gotta run. See you around?”

And there’s nothing much else Shu can say except: “Until next time, Hakaze.”

 


 

That strangely pleasant time with Hakaze soon seems like a figment of Shu’s imagination. In the week following the man might as well have dropped off the face of the planet, Rei only giving a lazy shrug when Shu tries to inquire about him. It’s concerning how cavalier Rei is about not knowing Hakaze’s whereabouts.

“Ah, finding something new to fret about, old friend?” Rei teases. “Don’t worry, it’s just one of his little habits.” 

Little habits. As if it’s as ordinary as what food he likes to eat. 

“Oh? What’s this? Are you upset? Have you forgotten all about the school days you used to spend with me already?” Rei grins, catching the sour look on Shu’s face. “And how often you’d skip them to hole yourself up somewhere?”

“Rei.” 

“You can’t blame poor little Kaoru-kun when you’ve gone silent for weeks in the past.”

Rei.”

“And you know my memory isn’t what it used to be, but I could have sworn there was a time right after graduation where you studied abroad in France and forgot all about contacting me for months. Boo hoo hoo… There I was, alone, gathering dust in Japan while you were—”

“T-that was years ago!” Shu snaps, flustered. “Hmph. How many times do you intend to use my teenage self against me.”

Rei chuckles and drops the woebegone act. “It is heartwarming to see you finally taking an interest. I’d almost begun to give up hope that you two would ever see eye to eye.”

“I am not taking an interest. We simply had an… enlightening discussion the other day. That’s all.”

“Is that so?” Rei leans in, clearly curious.

Shu clicks his tongue. “It’s not nearly so interesting as you're imagining, I’m sure. He was in my museum and he struck up a conversation about one of the pieces there.”

Rei immediately fumbles the parasol in his hand and drops it right into the street. Luckily there isn’t much traffic at the moment. “Did he, now. That’s quite a surprise.”

“I thought so as well. I wouldn’t say he was particularly well-versed in art history, but he did have an intriguing perspective...” Shu waits while Rei fetches and rearranges the parasol, bemused. “Are you not sleeping well? You should have said something if you weren’t feeling up to a stroll in the daylight. I won’t have you running yourself ragged again on my watch.”

“Hm, shouldn’t that be my line to you?” Rei recovers, twirling the parasol above their heads with an impish smile. “A little crow told me you’ve been skipping your lunch breaks recently.”

“Tsk! Kagehira…!”

“So I’m very happy you’re taking one with me today.” Rei begins to walk again, jaunty as if he isn’t currently scolding Shu in his own way. “After all it would be a shame if you couldn’t catch that thief of yours because you fainted right there in the middle of a dramatic moment. I know that would be so embarrassing for you.”

Shu swats at Rei’s elbow, face red. “I haven’t been nearly so prone to that these days, as you’re well aware. I’ve been maintaining my diet perfectly.”

“Hmm, good good.” Rei pats Shu’s head, feigning grandfatherly affection. Shu huffs and knocks the hand away. “You’re still determined to confront the thief yourself?” Rei asks, slight unease in his voice.

“Of course I am.” Shu grumbles. “The police force is reluctant to let a civilian be involved, but I’m sure they’ll eventually listen to reason.”

 


 

They do not listen to reason. 

Shu nags and calls and barges onward until they finally relent to let him on the scene during the time of the heist, but he’s told in no uncertain terms that he’s there only to observe. They’ve relegated him to the role of a mere bystander. 

Shu lurks in the corner of the gallery room they’ve cordoned off, tsking with irritation as he watches officers run to and fro, absorbed in their tasks of setting up additional lighting and tightening security. A bystander in his own museum. Will he be expected to just stand here if the thief slips through and snatches priceless works of art?

At least they’ve done one thing right: the excited murmurs of the crowd can be heard through the windows, a whole host of curious onlookers and starry-eyed fans straining for a glimpse of the infamous phantom thief, but they’ve been kept very firmly outside and out of the way. In here the only clamour is the clack of equipment and the barked orders of the police chief. 

When only ten minutes remain until the time on the heist notice everything subsides into a tense hush. Officers stand at attention around the display case—moved earlier that day by Shu to the middle of the room—at the windows, and at both entrances at either side. Shu scoffs inwardly. As if a thief like this would just blithely stroll through the door.

Five minutes.

Shu rubs at his temples. The electric whine from the indoor floodlights is giving him the beginnings of a headache, but it seems that no one else is paying the noise any mind. Aggravating. How comfortable it must be to waltz around through life with a thick layer of cotton over all your senses. 

Three minutes.

Although Shu has to admit they do an admirable job of chasing the shadows out, leaving little leeway for someone to hide. It feels strange to view the gallery this way, stripped of mystique. Even the vaulted ceilings are lit plain as day.

One minute.

One of the officers at the left entrance shifts from foot to foot, likely affected by excitement. Just what Shu expects from third-rates, to treat this like a game.

Zero. 

“Ahahahaha~! Nice, nice, you’re really going all out for me now, aren’t you guys?”

There’s a commotion by the right-side entrance and a flash of gaudy purple that Shu can spy through the tangle of police that surge towards it. The officers around the display case hold the line, but the ones from the windows and left entrance abandon their stations to join the fray.

The electric whine spikes a mere second later, and the room is seared with a blaze of light. 

Shu staggers, hissing, then frantically tries to blink afterimages out of his teary eyes. 

“But y’know, I think I prefer prettier welcome committees ♪”

As his blurry vision clears he can see him: the thief in the flesh, posing right in the center of the room like he’s pulled off a great magic trick, sketching out a little bow. Both doors have been closed, and from the frantic pounding on the other side of the right one it’s clear the thief has somehow rounded most of the officers up and locked them out.

The ones around the case are starting to recover, their groaning tapering out as they straighten back up and reach for whatever weapons they have hanging from their belts. Tasers, Shu was assured earlier, because if a single officer puts a bullet in anything valuable Shu will make sure they never obtain a day’s peace in their life.

“One, two, three, four dance partners for tonight, hm?” The thief says, making a show of counting the officers on his fingers as he approaches them. “Let’s make it a short one, it looks like they’re pretty determined to break that door down.”

Before he’s even finished speaking an officer charges him, but the thief just grabs his wrist and uses the momentum to swing him around, the taser misfiring into the second officer who drops to the floor like a bag of bricks. 

“Ow. Sorry, sorry,” The thief singsongs with not an ounce of guilt, pulling a cloth from some inner pocket of his coat and mashing it up against the first officer’s face. The man soon follows suit and drops to the floor, a second still body splayed out and useless. Shu watches in shock as the other two are taken care of with similar ease. 

In as little as one, maybe two minutes, the police had been handily defanged.

The thief doesn’t turn his way, and Shu presses his lips together, silent, as the thief swiftly removes the glass from the display case and snatches two earrings from their perch. Shu’s heart pounds in time with the ruckus at the door, an angry thud against his ribcage. He was told in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t allowed to confront this scoundrel. He was to stay out of the way and out of danger, and so Shu had prepared things accordingly.

But.

The phantom thief inspects his prize, the moment strangely long despite his earlier urgency, and Shu begins to sweat. Then slowly, slowly, that masked face turns to Shu. “Ahaha, looks like someone pulled a little switcharoo on me.”

Shu freezes, alarmed.

“These are pretty impressive replicas though, I’ll give you that,” the thief tosses them up and down in his hand playfully. “Guess I should have expected that kind of attention to detail from Mr. Shu Itsuki himself. You didn’t even tell any of these guys, did you? Now where, oh where are you hiding the real ones...”

“Tch! Quit while you’re still able. There’s nothing you can do.” Shu lifts his chin in challenge and crosses his arms, hyper aware of the gentle weight of ancient gold stowed carefully in the inside pocket of his own jacket. “I can hear those brutes splintering the door already. You’re out of time.”

“I am cutting it a bit close,” the thief admits with good humor. His eyes zero in on Shu’s crossed arms. 

Shu bolts. He knows he can’t outrun him, this is just a desperate maneuver to buy a few precious seconds, but he still dashes for the door like his life depends on it. If he can just hold out long enough, just keep the target out of those greedy hands for long enough… but the footsteps of the thief in quick pursuit taunt him. 

Then everything happens at once. 

The electric whine spikes and Shu slams his eyes shut, ducking his head just as the door bursts open, officers shouting while their eyes are seared a second time by their own lights. The sound of bulbs popping one by one adds to the horrible din, the former brightness quickly fading into dark.

Shu tries to stumble his way through the chaos, but an arm anchors itself firmly around his waist, grabbing tight while a foreign hand slips under the lapel of his jacket. It’s sheer panic more than anything else that has Shu jabbing an elbow behind him.

“Oof,” the thief wheezes. “You’re really into making things complicated, huh—”

“There he is! He’s got the director!”

The thief makes a pouty noise as the officers finally notice them. “C’mon, guys. You’re ruining the moment.” A sigh, then the thief readjusts his hold on Shu. “Let’s take this somewhere a little quieter. Sorry, might be a bumpy ride!”

That’s all the warning Shu gets. Before he can blink they’re hurtling upwards, the crash of shattering glass making the crowds outside gasp in amazement as they plunge right out an upper window and into the cool night air. Some device fires, there’s the sound of a cord rapidly reeling them up, and then suddenly they’re far above it all: the yelling, the clicking cameras, the frantic police. They’re on the roof. They’re on the roof of the museum. 

The thief laughs, breathless. “See, see? Isn’t this so much better? The view’s pretty nice up here ♥”

Shu’s knees give out.

“Woah, hey, are you okay?” The thief, still holding him, lowers Shu to sit.

“Am I okay.” Shu repeats faintly. His mouth opens and closes once, too shocked for words. “You are asking me if I’m okay?! You!” He kicks ineffectually at the thief’s legs. “Criminal! Scoundrel! Mannerless brute! You raise a fuss in my museum, cause untold damage—have you any idea how delicate the electrical wiring is in an old building like this?—then kidnap me, and you have the nerve to inquire about my wellbeing?”

“Man… you’re making me sound like such a bad guy.”

“That is exactly what you are!”

“I’m not!” The thief whines pitifully. “And is it really kidnapping if I didn’t even take you off the property?”

Unbelievable. Shu kicks him again and this time it lands solidly, right in the shin. The yelp he gets in return doesn’t make up for this whole wretched experience, but it does bring him a small amount of satisfaction.

“Look, look.” The thief coaxes, finally crouching down to get on Shu’s eye level. “I didn’t plan to carry you away with me, honest. That was just a little improv. You really had my back against the wall, you know? But if you just hand over those earrings I’ll take you back down all nice and easy—”

When the thief reaches out Shu flinches, his hands flying to shield the spot in his jacket where the earrings rest, wrapped and cushioned carefully. “No. Never. Absolutely not.”

“Mr. Director, the police aren’t getting up here anytime soon.”

“I don’t care. You’ll only pry these earrings out of my cold, dead hands.”

The thief grimaces. “Ew? That’s gross. How about we don’t do that. But hmm, maybe I should knock you out instead…?”

“If you don’t wish to kill me your only choice is to give up and leave,” Shu informs him primly, head held high as if he isn’t curled up exactly like a child on the losing end of a playground fight. “I already know you’ve run out of those little chemical cloths.”

“H-How did you—?” The thief squawks. He cuts himself off and laughs, ruffling his own hair sheepishly. A couple tiny fragments of glass, leftover from the window, fall from it and plink onto the surface of the roof. “Nevermind, nevermind. Haha… I really don’t know if I should call you the most or least observant person in the world...”

Pardon?”

“Don’t worry about it~” The thief scoots forward, still in a crouch, and grins mischievously as Shu leans away. “I hope you’re ready. I’ve got oneeee last trick up my sleeve.”

Shu braces himself, staring warily. He’s determined. No matter what strange torment this thief has planned he won’t let go. 

The thief pokes him in the side. 

“Gwogh?!” Shu jolts, then stares with slowly dawning horror as the thief’s grin ticks wider a couple notches. “N-no, you wouldn’t dare. That’s utterly foolish—” 

Shu’s interrupted by his own undignified shriek as hands sneak up under the bottom hem of his jacket and attack both of his vulnerable sides. Unable to use his arms to defend himself he tries to scramble backwards with the power of his legs alone, but only succeeds in backing himself up against a spire. 

“Nowhere to run ♪” the thief says gleefully, taking far too much enjoyment out of this absurd turn of events. “Wow, this is working even better than I thought?”

Shu sputters with rage in between his unwilling fits of laughter, and he does his damndest to kick him away. It doesn’t work. Already he can feel those hands slipping closer to that inner pocket. They effortlessly break Shu’s weakening grip and pluck the earrings right out.

In last ditch desperation Shu lunges forward, grabbing at any part of the thief he can reach to at least prevent his escape, and manages to hook his fingers into the kerchief scarf around his neck. “You,” he wheezes, “will not be getting away with this!”

The thief does stagger, momentarily choked by the fabric tight around his neck, but in mere seconds he’s undone the knot and freed himself. He holds one far end of it while Shu grasps at a section in the middle, and in that one small suspended instant… he winks.

And then he’s gone.

Shu shouts, wobbles up to his feet, and tries to follow, but the combination of exhaustion, shredded nerves, and bitter disappointment have him passing out right then and there instead.

 


 

Shu comes to laid out on a bench on ground level with the moon still hanging in the sky. He’s covered with a shock blanket, the checkered scarf still in a stranglehold in his hand. Undeniable proof of the events which just occured. He shoves it in his jacket pocket. A poor replacement for what he lost. 

When, not too long later, the police come to question him about what happened he turns red and refuses to answer.