Fandom: Detective Conan/Magic Kaitou
Theme: #34—it’s hard not to love you
Pairing: Kuroba Kaito/Nakamori Aoko
Rating: PG-13 (for some language)
Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Gosho Aoyama. I do not own them. I merely borrow them, drop them in a blender, hit puree, and watch them dance. Yes, dance, my pretties…ahem.
Summary: Kaito is about to meet his match…
“Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes…”
Kaito screeched to a halt in the main doorway of the Nakamori home as a woman (who looked vaguely familiar) appeared in the entryway in front of them, arms folded casually across her chest, half-smile on her face. And he was left stunned when Aoko launched forward to wrap her arms around the mysterious woman in the entryway.
Well, it wasn’t so much a mystery as to her identity when Aoko let out a squeal of “MOM!”
That explained it quite clearly.
Kaito quickly wracked his brain, searching his excellent memory for a name. He knew there was one there…and just as the embrace came to an end, he found it And not a second too soon, either.
“Kaito, have you met my mother?” Aoko asked.
He dipped in a slight bow. “Hiroko-san?”
The woman—Hiroko—smiled. “Good boy! He remembers me!” She walked forward and walked around him, giving him a once-over; Kaito suddenly felt like he was being circled by a vulture, until she stopped in front of him and grinned. “Well, you certainly grew up. I knew you’d break hearts someday.”
He couldn’t quite keep himself from blushing a tiny bit, but said nothing in favor of following mother and daughter to the living room. They were chattering amiably about various topics—where Hiroko had been, how Aoko was doing in school, and so forth.
It was on the tip of Kaito’s tongue to ask if he should leave when Aoko suddenly jumped. “Oh, no!” she yelped. “I forgot—I need to go grocery shopping, or else we’re not eating tonight…” she turned pleading eyes on her mother. “Do you mind if I leave for a while?”
“No, not at all!” Hiroko shook her head. “Perhaps Kaito-kun and I can have a nice talk while we wait for you to get back?” The look she gave him obviously turned the question into an order.
“That’s a good idea,” Aoko nodded, grabbing her purse. “Okay, I’m out. Kaito, be polite to my mother. Mom…don’t kill him. Please?” She headed towards the door, calling back over her shoulder, “Both of you play nice!” The front door opened and closed, and she was gone.
For a moment, they just stared at each other, one measuring and the other apprehensive.
Then she smiled. “Have a seat,” Hiroko gestured to an empty chair across from her. He obediently sat down, feeling for all the world like he had just taken his place on the rack in the middle of some Inquisition. She had that look about her, the one that said she was going to ask some very hard questions and demand the right answers or else. “How have you been, Kaito-kun?”
“I’ve been all right. Can’t complain,” he replied airily.
“Wonderful,” she smiled, pausing to take a sip of her tea before leveling him with a Look. The kind of Look only mothers can give—the one that promises a very uncomfortable question looming on the horizon. “Now Kaito-kun, I might not have seen much, but I must say that I am under the impression that you have feelings for my daughter.”
Kaito was startled to feel his tongue freeze inside his mouth. “W-what do you mean?”
“The way you were looking at her said plenty,” she went on calmly, as though discussing the weather. “I might even venture so far as to say that you’re in love with my Aoko.”
“Ummm…” There was something about that Look of hers that blocked his ability to think.
After a moment, she raised an eyebrow. “Well? Are you or aren’t you?”
Kaito swallowed hard and found his voice. “Love is such a…relative term…” He said it so calmly yet was frantically looking around and trying to find an accessible exit.
“I see…relative to what, exactly?” she asked, leaning forward ever so slightly.
“Well…relative to whatever your definition of love is, Nakamori-san,” he said. Manners were his friend. Politeness would hopefully score him a couple of extra brownie points, and perhaps give him the chance to escape the interrogation.
“All right. By your definition of love, are you in love with my daughter?” she pressed.
The grin on her face was no less than evil.
Damn! Kaito cursed mentally, but vocally said, “My definition of love is…well, umm…it’s still developing. It’s really a rough draft, I think. Incomplete. Shouldn’t be used as a source or anything.”
She sat back in her chair and narrowed her eyes, that smirk never leaving her face. “Now, Kaito-kun, I think it only fair to inform you that giving birth naturally equips a woman with what is called a Maternal Bullshit Detector. And right now, mine is ringing like crazy.”
He chuckled nervously. “Really, huh? That really exists? My mom wasn’t bluffing all this time? Do you think you could tell me more about it?”
“I’ll make you a deal. I’ll tell you all about the Maternal Bullshit Detector,” she said, “…after you answer my question.” She sipped her tea and waited expectantly for his reply.
…damn again, Kaito thought. “What was the question again? Am I in love with Aoko? Well…” he hesitated, then said quickly, “…okay, well, I certainly do love Aoko.”
“I’m aware that you love her. I asked if you were in love with her. There is a difference.”
“…don’t suppose you’d care to explain the difference?”
“You know the difference.”
Kaito leaned back in his chair and considered his answer extremely carefully. “Umm…well, I guess if you’re in love with someone, there’s usually some element of ‘I’d die for her’ in it, right? Or wanting to spend the rest of your life with her, right?”
Hiroko’s smile faded oh so slightly, allowing a glimmer of impatience to make itself quiet evident on her pretty features. “I have a hammer, Kaito-kun,” she deadpanned. “And I highly suspect that you could survive a few months with your kneecaps in pieces.”
Suddenly, Kaito was on full alert. “Ooookay! I get it. And contrary to popular belief, I do need my knees. I like being flexible, but not THAT flexible. So…” he lowered his voice, “…yes. I think I’d die for her…and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t mind annoying her for the rest of my life…”
That evil grin returned. “So you’re in love with her?”
He glanced around furtively, checking to see if any pretty, blue-eyed girls with messy hair were lurking around any corners. Seeing none, he took a deep breath and murmured, “Ahem…yes.”
Why did he suddenly feel like a complete sucker? He’d withstood teasing from his classmates, from friends, denying that there was anything of that nature going on. And yet one look from Aoko’s mother had him ready to spill his entire life story.
…how the hell did she do that, anyway?
Her smirk grew wider, and more triumphant. “Now why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”
He scowled at her, not caring if it was rude. “Think about that. Think really hard…actually, you shouldn’t have to think very hard to get it.” He sat back in his chair in a full-blown sulk.
She took a sip of her tea (how deep was that cup, anyway?) and sighed; her expression softened a bit, like she was actually taking pity on him—not that she’d just forcibly dragged one of his two deepest, darkest secrets right out of him. “For what it’s worth, Kaito-kun, my Aoko seems to think quite highly of you as well—all appearances to the contrary aside.”
Kaito sat up a bit straighter. “Really? You mean it? I mean…” he cleared his throat and tried to look a little less interested. “Well? Spill! You made me tell!” It sounded whiny, even to his own ears.
Her eyebrow arched. “Did you really not have any idea, or are you just that good of an actor?”
He shrugged and grinned. “I was born without a ‘girl likes me’ radar. There are a lot of guys my age walking around with that disease. It’s very unfortunate.”
She chuckled. “Oh, I like you. You’re clever.”
“Oh, no. I’m nothing of the sort,” Kaito couldn’t quite keep himself from preening, though curiosity quickly reclaimed control from ego. “But anyway, can we get back to the question at hand, please? How do you know she might like me?”
Another sip of tea. “I don’t suppose you’d accept mother’s intuition as an answer?”
“…you know, some magicians also come equipped with a Bullshit Detector, Nakamori-san,” he replied with a smirk of his own. “Pardon my French—un, deux, trois.”
“Again, I’m liking you more and more, Kaito-kun.” Sip of tea.
Kaito sighed, obviously exasperated. “You are officially the most evasive woman I have ever met. And that includes Aoko—when she doesn’t want to tell me something, I don’t think God himself could pry it from behind her teeth.”
“Oh? Such as?”
“Most recently? There was this dumb party at the precinct, but everyone got really dressed up—we’re talking to the nines—and she made me go with her. And she wouldn’t tell me why she kept blushing all night,” he looked off into space, thinking.
There was a pause before the woman sighed and shook her head. “Apparently, I was right. All teenage boys do suffer from that tragic medical condition, known as ‘being dense as a rock.’ Tell me, Kaito-kun—you said everyone was dressed to the nines? What were you and Aoko wearing?”
“…I feel like I should be offended,” he muttered. Still, his brow furrowed in thought. “Mom made me wear a suit—and then got all teary because apparently I look just like my dad,” he smiled fondly at the memory, “and Aoko was wearing this short red…thing.” A faint pink tinge crept onto his face.
“No offense intended, I assure you,” she said. “I suppose you were blushing all evening as well?”
“Most of the time,” he admitted sheepishly—why was he telling her any of this, exactly? “Especially when some of the Kaitou Kid Taskforce guys thought it would be hilarious if they forced us to dance together.” His expression darkened a bit, and he muttered something highly uncomplimentary about evil police offers.
“Now pay attention,” she instructed. “She’s in something short and red. You’re in a suit. You’re both dressed up, you both look fantastic, and you both spend the entire night blushing at each other. Now what I want you to do is put two and two together.”
Kaito might have been dense regarding girls and feelings. But he wasn’t stupid. And he was appalled to actually hear himself squeak out, “No way! I mean—are you sure? She could’ve just had a fever or something, right?”
“First of all, two and two together is four. Just to clear that up,” Hiroko sipped her tea again. “Secondly, it’s quite possible that Aoko might have had a fever,” she smirked over her tea cup. “Just not quite in the way you probably mean.”
He felt himself blush. Again, he had to wonder how exactly she did that. But more importantly (and possibly more horrific of a possibility), had Aoko inherited this particular skill? “Really?”
“You know that strange feeling you’re experiencing right now, Kaito-kun?” she asked. “That feeling is what we professionals like to call ‘getting a clue.’ I know you’ve never experienced it before, but I’m sure you’ll get used to it. Now the question is what are you going to do about it?”
“Huh…well, I could—hey, wait a sec!” Kaito cut himself off. “If she likes me as much as you seem to think she does, then why is she always chasing me with a mop? Explain that, professional.”
“Not so difficult—rather commonplace, actually,” she waved the jibe off. “Elementary schoolers frequently view punching the object of their affections in the arm as a way of saying ‘I fancy you.’ And if you look at it from another angle, the fact that she gets so worked up and angry in the first place is fairly conclusive proof that she cares a great deal what you think.”
“…you have officially blown my mind,” Kaito admitted, feeling rather stupid about the whole thing. But she was dancing in utter circles around him, and it wasn’t a very pleasant feeling. “So…what do I do exactly? You’re the professional—what do you think I should do?”
She didn’t bat an eyelash. “That depends on how honest you want me to be about my secret desire for grandchildren. Quite frankly, Kaito-kun, I think you need to muddle through this on your own. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. You’re a smart boy—even if you are slow as a brick.”
“Not true,” Kaito pointed out. “Bricks fall very quickly from rooftops.” . He was really thinking that he didn’t like this woman—she was far too perceptive, and had this manner about her that seemed she could pry anything out of him. He hoped she would never get it into her head to try and discuss a certain phantom thief with him…that could be tragic.
Another slow sip of tea—and again, Kaito found himself wondering how deep that cup was. “Onto the heads of naughty little boys in love who are trying to change the subject. Quite tragic.”
He fought to keep from pouting again. “I am not trying to change the subject. I’m merely stating a scientific truth. Besides, I really can’t do anything now. Aoko’s not here.” That last comment held the slightest note of triumph.
Unfortunately for Kaito, Karma had decided to give him a big kick in the ass.
The front door opened. “I’m back!” A moment later, Aoko appeared in the living room doorway, looking incredibly happy. And it must have been windy out, because her hair was mussed all over the place and her cheeks were flushed prettily.
Kaito swallowed hard.
Hiroko smirked, obviously noticing his discomfort but not commenting on it. Instead, she simply snickered behind her teacup and focused on her daughter’s return. “Welcome home, sweetie!”
Aoko dropped two grocery bags on a convenient chair and ran a hand haphazardly through her hair to try and straighten it out. “Hi, Mom! Hey, Kaito! Guess what I bought?” She looked incredibly pleased with herself over something.
“What?” Kaito asked.
She grinned gleefully. “A new mop! My old one was getting kinda old, starting to fall apart—for which I blame you, of course.” She looked pointedly at Kaito. “Plus, this one has a longer handle!”
Hiroko’s reaction was appropriately disdainful. “Aoko, didn’t I tell you that swinging a mop at people wasn’t ladylike? Use a duster! Or if you’re really upset, a toilet brush should get the point across better than anything else.”
“But Moooom,” Aoko half-whined, “a toilet brush doesn’t have nearly the swinging radius!”
“Yes, but think of the hygienic properties.”
“I’m just going to swing it at him, Mom,” Aoko insisted. “I don’t actually use this mop for other things—there aren’t any germs. I don’t want to kill him, for goodness sakes!”
Kaito decided now was a good time to interject. “Wait—so the time you actually hit me and knocked me through three desks…you weren’t trying to kill me?” He raised a sardonic eyebrow.
“Is it my fault that you lack balance?” Aoko replied primly. “Besides, you’ve always been able to dodge them before—why should I ever expect anything different? My probabilities were much lower. So it is not my fault that you fell through the desks.”
“Well, I certainly wasn’t swinging a mop at me!”
“I don’t know…you’ve done some crazy things in the past…”
After listening to the brief argument, Hiroko decided to put her two cents in. “Aoko, you knocked him into some desks? That simply will not do—I insist that you apologize to Kaito-kun immediately!”
Aoko stood her ground. “Hey! He flipped my skirt! He should be the one apologizing! It’s not like I go chasing him around for no actual reason. He provokes me!”
“Aoko,” the response was firm, in the Mom Voice, “flipping your skirt did not cause you any potentially serious injuries. Now apologize.”
Kaito couldn’t quite keep himself from turning to Hiroko. “…I’m liking you more and more.”
Aoko ignored him expertly. “Except for the potential emotional trauma, considering he does it almost every single day. I’m probably going to have to see a psychiatrist, thanks to him.”
The Mom Voice shifted slightly into the more icy tone of the Warning Voice. “Aoko…”
“Hey, Mom…” Aoko’s eyes narrowed dangerously, meaning she had an idea, “do you know where Dad is? I’m sure he’d absolutely love to hear about all the skirt-flipping that goes on.”
Hiroko was unfazed. “And when your father takes Kaito-kun out with a shotgun, you’ll be heartbroken. So kiss and make up, kids.” She sipped her seemingly bottomless tea again and frowned distastefully. “My tea’s getting cold…”
“Oh, for goodness sake…” Aoko huffed before continuing in a song-song tone. “Kaito, I’m sorry for knocking you into the desks, even though you deserved every bit of it. I should really learn to rise above your immaturity and realize that certain people will never change.” After giving him one more glare for good measure, she turned to her mother. “Let me make you some more tea, Mom.”
Hiroko stood up quickly. “Oh, no, I’ll do it myself. Which means I’ll leave the room. I’ll be out of earshot. Out of the room. You two will be alone. All alone. In the room. Here. Because I’m leaving now. Leaving you two alone. Together.” Apparently satisfied with herself, she breezed out of the room towards the kitchen, leaving them alone together—just as she’d said.
Aoko frowned and raised a confused brow. “Ooooh-kay. What the hell was in her tea? I wonder what was she going on about…”
A sharp glare landed on Kaito at his involuntary emission. “Umm? Umm what? Kaito, do you know what she meant?” She turned to look at him full-on.
Kaito swallowed hard. “…don’t suppose you’d believe me if I said no, would you?”
“No. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t. So spill.”
“Well…” Kaito rubbed the back of his neck uneasily, “…we were talking about…stuff.”
“I am holding my mop now, Kaito. What stuff?”
“…okay, it’s official. I know where you get it from.”
“Get what from?” Aoko advanced on him. “Don’t try to distract me, Kaito! What stuff?”
Kaito held his hands up in a warding gesturing. “I was just discussing some stuff with your mom. That’s all! Good grief, Aoko! Put the mop down!”
“I’ll put the mop down when you tell me what the stuff was, Kaito!” she said sweetly.
“It wasn’t anything—just your typical motherly grilling of any boy who happens to associate with or be close to her daughter!” he said quickly, not really expecting it to put an end to this new interrogation.
He was right.
“Oh? What exactly was this grilling, pray tell? What did she ask you?”
“Just the usual stuff—what I do, what’s my family like, and some academic stuff.”
“What two plus two equals.”
“…how is that a typical motherly grilling?” Aoko asked after a momentary pause. “She already knows most of that…of course, maybe asking you what two plus two is, on the other hand…”
“She wanted to know a little bit more about who her daughter was associating with, that’s all. Typical parental concern,” he tried to reassure her, then paused. “And I do know what two plus two is.”
For a moment, he thought that would be the end of it. But then Aoko’s eyes narrowed. “If that was all there was to it, then why were you so hesitant to say so? What is there to hide? Despite the possibility that you don’t know what two plus two is, I mean.”
“It’s four, genius. Four.”
“Thank you, I know I’m smart,” Aoko grinned, then grew serious again. “But you, on the other hand, are not as clever as you think. Now answer the first part of my question. What are you hiding?”
He sighed. “Okay, okay…we were talking about you. And my friendship with you. You know…” he shrugged noncommittally, as though it were nothing important, “…our relationship.”
“Our…relationship?” Aoko’s eyes widened. “What did she ask about it?”
“Just…ya know, how close we are, is it strictly platonic—I don’t know, Mom stuff!” his hands waved in little circles as he grappled for the right words. “Why the twenty questions, anyway?”
“Twenty questions are only necessary when the person in question is avoiding the question!” Aoko replied, her voice rising. “Now what did you say?”
“I avoided the question!” Kaito said proudly, before adding in a more subdued tone. “…sort of.”
“Kaito, stop beating around the freakin’ bush!” Aoko stomped her foot. “What do you mean?”
Throughout this whole conversation, Kaito had been slowly, steadily inching his way towards the door, all the while keeping a wary eye on the lethal mop in her hands. “Well, Aoko…ask her!” He whipped around and made a mad dash for freedom.
She started after him. “KAITO! Kaito, wait! Kaito…” But rather than give her usual all-out chase, she stopped in the doorway. “Idiot,” she sighed. “What’s his deal, anyway…what the hell is going on?”
She turned. “Oh…Mom.”
Hiroko stepped into the room. “What was all the commotion about? Where’s Kaito-kun?”
Meanwhile, Kaito had quickly realized that he was not being chased. As this was a definite change from normal behavior, he immediately assumed that something was wrong. He crept back towards the door, but paused when he heard Aoko talking to her mother. Against all better judgment, he hunkered down for a little eavesdropping.
Aoko sighed and set her mop down, leaning it against the wall. “Nothing, Mom. Just the usual between me and Kaito. He says something, I get mad, he runs, I chase him with my mop.” She paused. “Except I didn’t chase him this time.”
Hiroko wandered back in and took her seat on the couch again, a fresh cup of tea steaming in her hand. “Why did he run away, do you suppose? And why didn’t you chase him?
Aoko flopped down in the opposite chair, unknowingly in the same spot Kaito had occupied for his interrogation. “He ran ‘cause he didn’t want to answer any more questions. Or rather, he didn’t want to tell me something about his conversation with you. And why didn’t I chase him? …I don’t know.”
“There must be a reason why you didn’t chase him this time,” Hiroko said, one dark eyebrow arching at her daughter. “As to my talk with him…I know why he was hesitant to tell you, but I think that’s best heard from him.”
“What did he say?” Aoko started, then shook her head. “Never mind, you won’t tell me. And I don’t know why I didn’t chase after him like I usually do. Maybe…well, if he really doesn’t want to tell him about it, I’m not going to force him.”
She failed to notice that her mother’s eyes slid slowly to look at the door for a moment before returning her attention to her daughter. “Aoko, is there something you want to talk about?” A sip of tea.
“Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Nothing to talk about.”
“Aoko, I just explained to Kaito-kun about the Maternal Bullshit Detector,” Hiroko said airily. “And it’s going off again. Now let’s have a little talk. Mother to daughter, daughter to mother.”
“Mom, there’s really nothing to talk about,” Aoko insisted before grinning. “Question, though. Am I going to inherit that detector someday? It could come in really, really handy.”
Hiroko’s grin was nothing short of wicked. “That depends on whether or not you ever have children, dear. And I would great prefer if you were married before such a thing happens—then I would know that you’re taken care of. And speaking of…you do seem quite concerned about your handsome young friend, Aoko.” She sipped her tea and leaned back, obviously waiting for the reaction.
Aoko didn’t disappoint. “Handsome?” she sputtered. “What? Kaito? N-no way!”
“Oh, come now, Aoko. I know you’re not blind,” Hiroko pressed, though not harshly. “And I’m not forcing you to marry him or anything, I’m simply stating a fact, and admitting it isn’t a confession of love or anything. The boy is quite easy on the eyes. I know you agree, whether or not you admit it.”
Outside the door, Kaito was blushing furious…and waiting eagerly to hear Aoko’s response.
There was a lengthy pause before it came. “Well…I suppose that by conventional standards of attractiveness, Kaito is quite handsome. I mean, in a messy-haired, blue-eyed, lean sort of way. I guess. If you like that sort of thing.”
Another sip of tea. Another pressing question. “Do you like that sort of thing, dear?”
This time, Aoko folded her arms and turned her head aside. “I’m not answering that.”
“Avoidance? Interesting. Very interesting,” her mother tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Why don’t you want to answer, Aoko? Do you have something to hide, or something you don’t want to admit?”
“No, I don’t,” Aoko said sullenly. “But there are lots of types of people that one can find attractive. So saying that someone is cute doesn’t necessarily mean anything—I could find lots of people cute, and not necessarily have feelings for them.”
“Touché, dear,” Hiroko had to give her that point. “But you do put a lot of energy into your friendship with that charming young man, even going so far as to chase him down with a mop—you obviously think very highly of him.”
Aoko shrugged. “Well, sure. Never said I didn’t. I mean…Kaito, he’s…he’s a good guy. He’s got a really good heart, and he’s always been there for me when I needed him. He makes me laugh. Heh, he makes everyone laugh, really…but whenever he pulls a prank in class and makes everyone laugh…I guess it’s different when he’s trying to make me laugh. He’s quieter. He’s a lot more relaxed.” As she spoke, her expression and tone changed, growing more affectionate as she spoke of the boy she’d known since childhood. “And…Mom, he’s brilliant. He can do so many things, and do them so well. I mean…Kaito’s pretty special.” A light chuckle. “But if he heard any of this, he’d probably preen forever.”
Unbeknownst to Aoko, Kaito had just heard it all. He was still standing outside the door, with his jaw swinging merrily down by his knees in utter shock at what she’d just said. And he was also realizing that Hiroko-san’s powers didn’t just affect him; Aoko had obviously fallen under the spell of her ‘tell me everything’ vibe as well, whether she realized it or not.
When Hiroko spoke again a moment later, it was a much softer tone, almost surprised. “Aoko…the look on your face. I know that look…”
Aoko blushed. “What look?”
Hiroko sat back and took another sip of her tea. “Perhaps you and Kaito-kun need to have a little talk about…certain things?”
She shook her head. “I think I know what you’re thinking, but…those things would never happen, Mom. Kaito…he doesn’t think of me in that way. Besides, he’s got Akako in love with him, and she’s gorgeous! So I don’t…there’s just no comparison.”
“Have you asked him? You don’t think there’s any chance? Any chance at all that he might…?”
Kaito was absolutely stunned. Don’t believe that Aoko…don’t believe that…
Aoko was speaking again. “Mom, I’ve seen guys in love, the way they act around the girl they like. They trip all over themselves around her. Kaito isn’t like that with me. He’s perfectly confident and comfortable. I’ve never seen him lose face. Ever. I’m pretty sure I’ve screwed up a couple of times, and I’m kind of surprised that he didn’t see it, but…I guess he doesn’t see it because, well…he just isn’t thinking that way. And that’s fine. It’s perfectly fine…”
“Aoko…” Hiroko leaned forward, her tone growing concerned. “…Aoko, are you crying?”
There was a thump as Aoko sprung to her feet and jumped back, startled. “No! No, of course not!” she wiped at her eyes quickly. “It’s just an eyelash, I think.” She looked around frantically before finding her escape. “You know what? That tea you’re drinking looks really good. I think I’m going to go brew a cup for myself. Back in a few!” And she hurried out the door.
“Aoko, wait—“ Hiroko called, but her daughter was already gone. She waited a moment before speaking again, not looking at the door. “Do you have anything to say for yourself, Kaito-kun?”
There was a pause before he peered around the doorframe. “I don’t even know what to say…”
The Mom Voice made an appearance when Hiroko addressed him again. “Young man, you come in here right now and sit down.”
He didn’t dare disobey. He walked over quickly and took a seat. “Here I am.”
Hiroko’s voice was the most firm he’d heard her in the course of their talk. “I admit that I pushed a little too hard this time. But the fact of the matter is that my daughter is currently somewhere in this house. I assume that she is crying, and over you, I might add. And now there is nothing I can say or do that will calm her down.”
Kaito clasped his hands together tightly in front of him and looked down at them as though they held the answer to life itself. “I didn’t…I didn’t think that she…I never imagined it was…” His usual silver tongue and glib charm failed him.
“I suspect that you never asked,” the words were oddly gently, understanding. “But you know now, Kaito-kun. The question is…what are you going to do about it? She doesn’t know that you know. So you could go on as you have been, pretending nothing has changed. But if you say that…then I do not believe you truly love Aoko. Platonic love, or otherwise.” That last was in a harsher tone.
Kaito lifted his stern gaze to meet hers, firm and unwavering. “I never said I wasn’t going to do anything about it, Hiroko-san.”
She smiled, to his surprise. “Good answer. Now what are you going to do about it?”
“With all due respect,” he said, standing up, “I don’t think that you’re the person I should be talking to anymore.”
Her smile grew wider, and he felt strangely relieved about it. “I knew I liked you, Kaito-kun. Now go—before I decide to mop-smack you myself.”
He grinned slightly and left the room, in search of Aoko. He assumed she would be in the kitchen because she’d mentioned fixing some tea for herself—a convenient excuse, but she couldn’t well return without it now. Sure enough, the light was on.
Kaito tiptoed up to the kitchen door and peered in, trying to assess the situation. He saw her leaning against the counter in the near-darkness. Her face was in her hands, and her shoulders were shaking—she was crying. He took a deep breath, swallowed hard to gather his nerve, and moved silently into the kitchen, coming up behind her. “Aoko? Are you all right?”
She obviously hadn’t noticed that he’d come in; she jumped a mile and whipped around to face him. “K-Kaito, I—oh…” she belatedly began wiping at her eyes in a vain attempt to erase the traces of tears there. “Of course I’m all right! What’re you doing here? I thought you left…”
“Nah, I came back,” he said softly. “You were crying.”
Aoko turned away from him quickly and scrubbed furiously at her eyes. “No, I wasn’t. Don’t be silly. It was just…an eyelash. That’s all—nothing to be worried about!” she turned back around to face him. “What’re you doing here?” The telltale signs of weeping were still there, marked on her reddened face. And it was because of him and his stupidity…and her mother and her mother’s prodding, really. But it was only the former that he could do anything about, and he intended to.
“Aoko…” he began, then swallowed hard and tried again. “Aoko…listen, I know you’re going to kill me for this—and it wasn’t intentional, I promise, but once I got there, I just couldn’t leave…” He took a tentative step towards her. “…Aoko, I heard you talking to your mother.”
“But…then you heard…” her brow furrowed in confusion as she processed what he’d said. When it clicked, her eyes widened in horror and she gasped. She leaned back against the counter, gripping at it with shaky hands. “You—Kaito, you…how could you…” Her voice cracked; she closed her eyes.
Kaito tried valiantly to dislodge the lump sticking painfully in his throat. Instead, he took another step towards her and tried desperately to get her to look at him. “Earlier, you wanted to know what I told your mom, right? Earlier…I was avoiding the question, but…Aoko, now I need to tell you something.”
“How could you…” Aoko’s face dropped into her hands as she started to cry again, harder than before. “Kaito, I…you weren’t supposed to know…you weren’t…”
His hands closed around her wrists to ease her hands away from her face. “Come on, Aoko…hey, look at me. Aoko, please look at me. Aoko, listen to me. Please…Aoko…” He sounded desperate.
She shook her head, keeping her eyes closed even as she cried.
She wasn’t listening. In one desperate move, Kaito decided to take the matter entirely into his own hands. He didn’t really think before he moved; it just happened. He dropped her hands and reached out to cup her face, his fingers brushing her cheeks. “Aoko—I love you.”
And he kissed her.
He didn’t dare open his eyes to see her reaction. He was too afraid to.
But he felt Aoko tense at the contact for a moment, and he could imagine her eyes going wide with shock…and then she relaxed into it, meeting and matching the rhythm of his kiss. Her hands clutched at the front of his shirt in with desperate fists, pulling him closer.
It lasted longer than he’d intended or imagined or dared to imagine. But finally, reluctantly, he ran his fingers back through the full length of her hair, back down to her shoulders…and let go, finally opening his eyes to look at her. He didn’t pull back far, just enough to break the kiss.
There were several heartbeats where they simply stared at each other, both panting slightly.
Kaito had expected numerous reactions—surprise, anger, blinding rage, or perhaps even happiness. But he definitely hadn’t expected Aoko’s face to just crumple into tears.
“No, you don’t…”
It took him a second to realize what she meant. He frowned, confused. “Aoko, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. And I think I know whether or not I love you.”
Aoko shook her head and tried to push him away; he responded by carefully trapping between himself and the kitchen counter. She looked up at him tearfully. “No, you don’t…you can’t possibly…” she took a shaky breath, “I’ve seen guys in love, they don’t act like you. And there are so many other girls who like you…they’re ready to kill each other for a chance at you.” Her chin dropped to avoid his gaze. “You could have any girl you wanted…why would you want me?”
Kaito thought for a moment before giving her shoulders a squeeze. “Aoko…why wouldn’t I?” He felt her tense, but she didn’t look up, so he pressed on. “Hey…remember that first magic act I did in front of the school? I screwed up royally. You were there, remember? The one where I had loads of flowers falling from the ceiling?”
She nodded and hiccupped.
Kaito’s smile grew a bit more sheepish, though no less genuine. “Well…that wasn’t supposed to happen. Doves were supposed to fly around the room. But you didn’t know that, did you?”
“N-no…” Aoko shook her head; a few more tears ran free to leave their marks on her face.
“Exactly,” he nodded. “Aoko, I’m a magician. And one of the things I’ve learned is that when you screw up or when things don’t go the way you planned, you can’t let the whole world know. Especially if it’s someone you desperately want to impress.” He sighed. “You probably don’t know this, but it’s insanely easy for you to knock me off-step. You do it all the time, but I manage to keep it together because I don’t want to look like an idiot in front of you.” One hand moved, taking a lock her hair between two fingers. “I want to be the best I can with you.”
“B-but…Kaito,” Aoko stammered, openly gaping, “you always tease me and pick on me and make fun of me and…and…” She seemed to deflate, like the air rushing out of a balloon. “…Kaito, why didn’t you say anything?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of a sandbox romance? You know, you tease and annoy the one you like?” he chuckled, and she blushed at the sound. “Didn’t you ever wonder why I teased you so much and paid so much attention to you? And I never said anything because…” He sighed. “Aoko, I’m pretty sure you could have anyone you wanted. Why in the world would you stick with your annoying childhood friend when you could have someone like, say…” he winced, “…Hakuba Saguru, for one. I know you have admirers, and…I had no reason to think you’d pick me, even though I wanted you to.”
Aoko looked stunned. “Admirers? What admirers? Kaito…” she shook her head, “compared to Akako-chan, I look like a squirrel! And…” her voice dropped in volume to a bare whisper, “…if you wanted me to pick you, then…I couldn’t pick you if I didn’t know…”
His tone was just as soft, so unlike his usual brash demeanor, and yet still so much of Kaito; clever fingers reached out to touch her cheek. “I was afraid, Aoko. Just like you…” Something else she’d said seemed to click, and he frowned. “Koizumi? Are you serious?” He shook his head. “How can you think something like that? Aoko…you’re beautiful. To use your mom’s phrase, definitely easy on the eyes.”
She stared at him for a moment, then shook her head as the momentarily-absent tears returned to spite her once again. “Kaito…you don’t…are you sure? You can’t be sure…” She looked down again.
One of his hands moved to her chin, tilting her head back so she had nowhere to look but directly at him. “Aoko, you know me. I’m not much for logic and reasoning. It’s just not my thing. I could list all the numerous reasons why I love you, and if you want to hear them, then I’ll be perfectly happy to tell you sometime, even if it takes a while. I could write up a pros and cons list, but that’d be a waste of both our time.” His hand trailed from her chin to her cheek, brushing carefully against the slightly-moist skin. “I don’t know why you don’t believe me—I never want you to doubt me about this. You have no competition with me, Aoko. You never have, and you never will.”
“What I need you to know…to believe,” he interrupted her gently, and not unkindly, “is that I’m telling you the truth. Never doubt that. I love you, Aoko. And I don’t want anyone else but you. Ever.”
Aoko stared at him with wide, damp eyes. And for a moment, he thought she would start to cry again. But he could have started floating for sheer happiness when she swallowed hard and whispered in a small voice, “Kaito…I love you, too.”
He wanted to dance. Instead, he just sighed in relief. “Geez, Aoko, you had me going there for a second—don’t scare me like that!” Both arms reached out to wrap her up in a tight embrace. “Aoko…you have no idea how happy you make me.”
Her arms tightened around his waist to hug him back. “Idiot…you idiot…” She pressed her face into his shoulder and took a shaky breath. “Kaito…my idiot…”
“Aww, I love you too,” he grinned. “Even when you swing a mop at my head.”
She leaned and gave him a halfhearted swat on the arm…and let him kiss her again.
Neither noticed a tall, slender form sidling away from the kitchen doorway, having witnessed the vast majority of the scene. Thus, neither saw the wide, self-satisfied smirk on the person’s face as she returned to the living room and her obligatory cup of tea.
Teenagers, Hiroko reflected, were incredibly easy to handle.
If one just knew the proper motivation.
PS. This goes out to magic_truth with lurv, because this was another one of our interesting little chats. Since Aoko’s mom is fanon, we decided to have some fun. Common belief is that she’s passed away…but if she’s dead, then we can’t have snark! And there must be snark! Besides, it’s fun to see someone dance in verbal rings around Kaito, ne? Melodramatic? Yes…but I loves me some fluffin’!
And this makes thirty, ladies and gentlemen. I have technically completed my challenge…but if I stopped now, the other ten themes would feel neglected and develop low self-esteem. So there are ten more to go. Thank you to everyone who’s read thus far, and I hope you all will stick around for the remaining ten. My goal is to be done by Christmas. Much love, everyone!