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Smoke Over Fire, Clouds Over Grass

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The Hamlet of Cheshire Falls was beautiful in the summer. It had hills that rolled into the sunrise like an atlas unfurling for eternity, pasturelands that smelled distinctly like the color green, and solid old rivers that coursed through rounded fells like it was the only job they'd held for eleven thousand years. Large fluffy white clouds dotted the sky, hovering over the rolling grasslands with the weight of a single breath, and the sun beamed from a worn-in spot past the line of the horizon.

This was the picture-perfect landscape that had greeted Akako this morning when she had first planted herself in front of the window, facing the glass, arms firmly crossed against her chest. The sun was now hitting high-noon, coating the grass in golden rays, bouncing back at her and almost blinding her. Perhaps if she squinted she could see the outline of the lighthouse on the western shore of the isle and block away the sound of the world…

"…anywhere from a few hours to a few days…"

No use. That annoying doctor was still blathering behind her. Why couldn't she just shut out the world?

"I'm sorry for what you're going through."

Again, he wouldn't stop talking. She fixed her mouth in a tight line and continued staring. Maybe he'd get the hint.

"The staff will be in to check on him through the day. Let us know if you need anything."

Footsteps and the tell-tale sound of a closing door. Akako let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding and finally turned around to face the room.

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"How about an evening at Glenmore Manor?" Saguru asked over tea one dreary Saturday afternoon. Rain was in the sky with a prediction of thunderstorms and a possible tornado in the evening. The thunderous clouds were as grey as her mood.

She turned a page in her spellbook with a sniff. "Sounds tedious."

"Oh, but quite the contrary!" His voice held an inflection like she'd just insulted his last few centuries' worth of ancestors. His porcelain teacup clattered as he placed it down on his plate in a show of gentlemanly outrage. "You'd quite like England, I know you would, and I'm bloody surprised myself I haven't thought to take us there before now!"

Wait… "England?! How are we supposed to spend a single evening in England? It's many miles away, darling, and you still refuse to travel by broomstick…"

"We can fly in and stay with my cousins, of course. They live in Edinburgh – well, right by the hamlet borderline in Cheshire Falls, actually, but that's more of a dialectical border than an official legal – oh!" He suddenly picked up the slip of paper he'd been ogling at for the past morning and reread it, mouthing the words as his eyes flicked across the paper. Considering the writing and the scrawled illustration at the bottom, it was presumably some new Kaitou KID notice Saguru was working on. He snapped his fingers as a lightbulb seemed to flick on over his head. "The fourth line of the riddle could be referencing the third border change of the -"

"Darling," Akako's finger was on his lips. "Spare me. We shall go to England if that's what you want, but spare me this singular torture or I swear you'll sleep with the frogs tonight."

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Tucked in under a crisp white sheet, light enough for the summer air, laid her husband on the hospital bed. With his brown eyes closed and fair hair slicked back out of his face, he almost looked like a sick child, sleeping off some illness. Except he wasn't sleeping – not really.

Sedated. The doctor had used the word sedated. The morphine drip was there to keep him in a sedated state. The injections were there to keep him from becoming agitated or restless. The patch behind his ear was there to inhibit secretions and to prevent him from aspirating. The goal was to keep him comfortable.

To hell with it all. It was all rather gruesome and undelightful. Their made-up words – suppositions and psychobabble, that's all it was – were just there to hide the truth; the doctors didn't have a clue of what to do. Not that she was surprised in the slightest. Akako never believed in mortal medicine anyway.

No, Akako had her own plans in mind.

Rather – had.

A week ago, when he was admitted and still making attempts at vocalization, she had tried every spell she knew by heart. Healing rituals, soul-binding contracts, blood charms – nothing worked. It was as if Saguru's body was actively rejecting her magical aid.

…Which only infuriated her more, because if that wasn't the most Saguru thing in the world for him to do.

So throughout the past week, he only woke up briefly here and there, never quite able to recognize her face or say a coherent syllable and always tired and lethargic. In those times she tried to make him swallow her potions, but they just pooled in the back of his mouth and dribbled out the sides. The doctor said it was from the injury – something about a clot and a stroke, but she couldn't wrap her head around how those two things were related to the gunshot wound – and that they'd have to just wait and see.

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"Wait and see what, exactly?" Akako demanded the half circle of doctors standing around her husband's hospital bed, each waiting their turn to assess him with their stethoscopes at the ready.

The head doctor of the group eyed her unconscious husband carefully, and then said, "If he'll regain function."

As if that was an answer! "How long until he can be on his feet chasing Kaitou KID again?"

"Well…" The team of doctors shared a pitying glance amongst themselves. "We'll just have to wait and see."

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It was now a week later from that conversation and he still hadn't even regained the ability to swallow. They had approached her with plans for a feeding tube, which she rejected. She knew he wouldn't have wanted that. It was dignity or nothing for Saguru. So here they were, now.

Akako collapsed into the chair beside the bed and hung her head in her hands. They never should have come to Cheshire Falls. She should have protested him or questioned further. But Saguru had been adamant, and she'd been too careless.

"Do you want us to take him off the heart monitor?"

Akako looked up to find the nurse standing beside the bed holding a small box in her hand. The box, the heart monitor, had wires spilling out from it connecting to five metal stickers on Saguru's chest. It looked useless – like a piece of plastic she could melt into her cauldron. Utterly useless. But that was to her. Maybe the mortals had other uses for it…. "What does it do?"

"It just lets us see his heartrate on the computer at our front desk. Nothing else."

"So, you'll know when he -?" She felt her throat clench despite herself.

"Yes."

"And if you take it off, how will you know?"

The nurse had on a pitying look, just like the doctors before her. Akako despised that look. "We'll continue checking on him regularly."

"So you would just discover…?"

The nurse nodded.

Akako nodded as well, taking in the information. "Will it cause him any pain? To leave it on or take it off?"

"No pain either way. Your choice."

Akako swallowed and looked back at her husband. His breathing was slower than it was in the wee hours of the morning. "Leave it on."

The nurse tucked the heart monitor box back beside him. A faint beeping could be heard from it, muffled by the sheets as the nurse tucked them back around Saguru's body. From the chair Akako was sitting on, it almost sounded like his familiar pocket watch. It was almost comforting.

Almost.

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Akako rounded on Saguru as soon as they got off the plane and were standing in line for the airport on the sky bridge.

"He's here?" Akako hissed.

He, of course, meaning Kaitou KID, who (according to the airplane stewardess's departing message) had announced his plans to steal a priceless pearl in Edinburgh this week. Saguru had the gall to look at her with innocent confusion. "Why did you think we were coming all the way here?"

"You said you wanted to see your cousins at Glenmore Manor!"

"No, dear," Saguru sighed. "I said I wanted to come to Edinburgh to visit Glenmore Manor, and that it would be convenient because we could stay with my cousins while we were here."

"What do you mean visit Glenmore Manor? I thought Glenmore Manor was the name of your country home?!"

"No, that would be Glenwood Manor. Glenmore Manor is where Kaitou KID is having his next heist." Saguru eyed her carefully. "Certainly we discussed this at home?"

Akako tried to recall their conversation from Saturday. Yes, she remembered him saying he'd like to go to England, but then he started breaking off in his rant about KID's notice and she'd gotten so bored of the conversation and tuned him out as he – oh.

She went bright red in the face. "I certainly wouldn't have agreed to this if I had known!"

"At any rate, we're here now, dear, so it would do you well to forget to be angry with me for the time being," Saguru said, linking arms with her and bringing her along on the bridge with him as the line ahead of them moved forward. "Life is short and this visit to England is even shorter. We might as well face the music and enjoy it, too."

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The afternoon light was coming in through the window, casting light glares across the opposite wall. The hospital TV was on and tuned to some meditation music station, the sound of sleepy rainfall filling the room as ambient noise.

The TV remote was on the bed, attached by a cord to the wall. Akako reached over her husband's body and picked up the remote and pressed the channel guide. A show about zombies, a movie about a sinking boat, a commercial about a mood-stabilizing medication, the news –

Akako let go of the remote and let the TV play. She had caught bits and pieces of the news over the past week, following the story and trying to make it make sense in her head. The Kaitou KID heist was the big news story still, video footage still being played over and over even a week later.

On screen was the burning building where Saguru's body was discovered by the ambulance corps, having been called there by an anonymous source (presumably KID himself). The picture they showed had the building almost entirely obscured by thick brown-grey smoke, with bright bits of hellish red flames poking out from underneath. Saguru's face and name was displayed on the next screen, and the newscaster was monologuing: "A Japanese police detective on vacation here in England was shot by an unknown third party at the Phantom Thief KID's heist last week. Detective Saguru Hakuba is currently in critical condition at Cheshire Falls Medical Center."

She couldn't take much more of this. There was a reason she only caught bits and pieces of the news over the past week - she could never watch the news for long before feeling intensely infuriated with the whole thing. Akako grabbed the remote and flicked the channel to another station. The weather. The meteorologist was giving the forecast for the week: thundershowers on Tuesday, followed by rain and more rain for the next three days. Ten percent chance of sunny skies on the weekend, ninety percent chance of showers.

It seemed to be raining all the time in England.

She never imagined that she could hate rain this much.

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"I'll meet you back at the hotel, dear!" Saguru called over his shoulder as he took off down the road and into the inky black night rainfall. "Don't wait up for me!"

Akako could only watch on, seemingly glued to the spot, as her husband ran away, splashing through puddles in the road she could only hear but not see. A sinking feeling in her chest – she'd call it foreboding if she was a mortal, but she wasn't and she knew this feeling was much more than just ominous paranoia. But Saguru was already gone, and the night air was thick and heavy and dark, and there was no way she'd be able to see where he went without pulling her crystal ball out of her suitcase.

She returned to the hotel room with a heavy weight in her chest, the sinking feeling only worsening as she walked further and further away from where they parted ways, and with a heart-stopping realization she remembered she had left the crystal ball at home in favor of bringing a deck of tarot cards instead. Much more compact and travel-friendly, she had reasoned to herself when she was packing. If time travel was within her realm of magical capabilities, she'd use it to hit her past self. Tarot cards would not be useful here.

For the first time in her life she felt absolutely powerless.

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Saguru was always calm, cool, and collected. As a detective, he never ran after criminals (except Kaitou KID, but KID was in a league of his own). There was no need to run. After all, Saguru's best strategy of deduction was analysis. If he could map out the crime in his head, he could map out the suspect in his head as well.

"Other people are so predictable," he said once. "Why would I chase a suspect on to an elevator if I already know what floor they're going to?"

It was what drew Akako to him in the first place. Somehow he was able to divine people's inner motives and auras without contacting Lucifer. It wasn't fake divination; there was no illusion going on. He wasn't like Kaitou KID, who tried to imitate real sorcery with his smoke and mirrors. Instead, Saguru was able to do with just reason what she was able to do only through red magic.

He could stare a ruthless murderer in the face and point him out to be the killer of a thousand souls without batting an eye. She was a master in aura sensing, and there was never a change in his. Steadfast and calm, he had no fear. There was no need for fear when he knew he was right and that he was safe. He was an analyst and a planner. His plans never failed.

Except now.

It'd been Saguru's wish to come to the hospital, his last waking words to call for the ambulance. She could've sneered at his mortal faith in the capabilities of humans. He was so trusting, so easily persuaded by his own breed…

And ultimately, she wasn't the one who made the call. She wouldn't have if she was there. And she wasn't - she wasn't there when he was shot. Kuroba, that insufferable court jester, had been there in her stead, having played a game of cat and mouse with her husband all night. Her Saguru had been shot on his watch, under the sicklied rays of the rising sun's yellow light.

Akako gripped his hand. It was so cold. His breaths were ragged now, occasional snores interrupting bouts of stillness. Any moment now his breaths would stop. Any moment now his heart would stop. Any moment now the nurse would walk in and say those terrible words to her. She could see them if she closed her eyes (HE'S) but only for a second (DEAD) but a second was still too long and she'd give anything for a little bit longer with him –

She moved the white sheet off of him and lifted the heart monitor off the mattress. This was the machine the nurse was using to tell if Saguru was…

Akako shut her eyes tight. Not now, dammit, not now. Stay dry, she commanded her eyes. Not now.

Right, the monitor. In her hands, the monitor. When Saguru's heart stopped beating, the monitor would let the nurse know. And then it would be all over. She could see it now: the doctor would arrive, the nurse would comfort her, they'd wrap Saguru up in a big white bag and cart him down to the morgue and she'd be told to go home and call her favorite funeral home. It'd take less than an hour. Everything would be over in less than an hour.

Everything would be over when that heart monitor… when his heart stopped…

Without another thought she pulled his gown down to expose his chest. Five metal stickers were pasted to his chest, all different colors. She plucked them off unceremoniously, hearing the monitor let out a quiet dragged-out beep as she did (what did the medical mortals call that sound again? Asystole?). Lifting up her own shirt, she pressed the stickers against her chest, one at a time, in as close to the same pattern as it was on Saguru's chest, muttering an incantation she'd heard long ago:

"Smoke over fire, clouds over grass."

He let out a quiet snore, and then that was it.

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EPILOGUE

The nurse poked her head in a few minutes later for the usual rounding. The patient – Saguru Hakuba, 27-year-old male, DNR/DNI, came in on the seventeenth of the month with a GSW to the upper right chest, consults with trauma and palliative care – was lying peacefully in his bed. At his side was his beautiful wife, a red-haired Japanese woman named Akako. Apparently they had been on vacation at the time of the injury. So sad, the nurse thought, shaking her head, so young.

"Can I get you anything right now?" The nurse said, entering the room fully. The patient caught her eye as she spoke - his skin had turned yellow and waxy. The nurse watched his chest for a long few seconds – was that a breath? It was hard to say, her vision was failing her. She really needed to make that appointment with the eye doctor.

"Nothing, thank you," the beautiful wife said in broken English.

The nurse's eyes lingered on the patient for a little while longer. Was that another breath? She came closer and reached out for his wrist.

"What, do you think he's dead?" the wife said suddenly, a bite to her tone. "Listen, you can hear his heart beating."

And indeed, in the quietness of the darkened room, the steady soft beeping could still be heard.

"I suppose you're right…" the nurse said, still eyeing the patient and his waxy skin.

"He's dead when I say he is," Akako murmured, barely audible. Her head was in her hands, hair twisting around her fingers as she rocked in her chair. "I just need some time to remember the spell. I know that I know it… I know that I do… I just need a little more time…"