The Wiggler

United States of America

Message from Writer

Hello!
I go by Marie on the internet, and...hm. I'm sixteen years old, but I've spent the last three years of my life roleplaying obsessively, and I think it shows because my characters' speech patterns leak into the narration half the time. I'm bad at leaving reviews, but I want to at least get some of my work out there in case something happens to me, so I'm hanging out around here.

Sapphire's Halo

October 9, 2019

FREE WRITING

0
    “Hey, hey!  Did you hear?  Did ya?” Yoichi called, slipping on socked feet into the living room to see--Yes, exactly who he was looking for:  His Mom and Dad, both huddled around the gadgeted, jacked-up recliner (thanks Dad), which was smoking suspiciously.

    “Hear what, kid?”  Momiji asked, leaning away from whatever was up with the chair. (She was also known as Mom, but Yoichi called her Momiji if he could get away with it.)

    Yoichi huffed, throwing himself against the side of the wall.  “The Thief of Time’s next heist, duh.  He’s totally gonna hit the Matsunashi Gem and Mineral Museum tonight, and I told you guys that already!”  He glared at them accusingly, but neither Momiji nor Magnus looked impressed by his slump against the wall or his excellent point (“Magnus” meant Yoichi’s Dad--and hey, wasn’t that alliter...alliteration?  Neat!).

    Momiji sighed, curling her knees up with what looked like an indulging smile.  “And? Lemme guess, you want to go watch the heist?”

    “You got it,”  Yoichi confirmed, shooting finger guns at her.  “This heist is, like, the first one in forever.  I’ve just gotta go watch, I’ve gotta.

    “A-are you sure?”  Magnus asked. “I-I mean--I know you like this Th-’Thief of Time’, b-but I don’t think it’d be responsible of us to let you, well…”

    “Go watch a criminal,”  Momiji supplied, “And we’re responsible parents.  Definitely.”

    “Right,” Magnus agreed, only to be immediately drowned out by Yoichi’s protests.

    “Guys, come on, he’s not just a criminal--He’s a celebrity!  And my hero--And hey, hey, hey, you should totally let me go see my hero, right?  Right?!”  Hah, this was, like, totally true, and Yoichi pushed himself onto the balls of his feet just to see his parents get wowed.  Which they didn’t.  Instead, they just looked at each other with those knowing parental looks, the ones Yoichi could never decipher.  Now, though? Now, he was certain that they were going to give a resounding no (and yes, he did know that was a stark contrast from just a few seconds ago; who cares?), so before they could, he immediately jumped up, waving his arms.  “Ooh, oooh, I know! Why don’t we go ask Hanae?  She’s, like, responsible and stuff, so she’ll totally know.”  And she’d totally back Yoichi up, not that he’d say that out loud.

    “Yoichi, she’s fourteen.”

    “But a smart fourteen year old, right?  Right?!”  Yoichi battered down Momiji’s complaints with hopefulness and excitement, always a surefire way to get her to cave.  It didn’t look like enough--she was still glancing over at Magnus in that way she did when they were silently communicating--, but he was getting there.  Yes!

    Magnus and Momiji kept silenting consulting each other, but it was starting to get painful, waiting for so long.  Yoichi bounced from foot to foot, staring between each of them with the sort of impatient pout that reminded them to just get going already.  It took forever (thirty seconds) for it to work, but it was worth it.  Probably. Or maybe not, because when they turned back to look at him, neither of his parents looked convinced.

    “Yoichi,” Magnus started, pushing up a pair of wire-framed glasses up his nose, “Why do you think she’ll take your side?  Takahashi is responsible, and...well, I don’t think an aspiring detective would want you to go gawk at a thief, do you?”

    That hurt!

    Yoichi let out an indignant squawk and slid to the smoking armchair, looking down at both his parents with affront.  “Okay, okay, I never said that.  I was just saying that Hanae’s, like, smart, ‘cause she’s got lists and always gets stuff done way before she’s gotta, so she’s, like, totally a good influence! And since she’s a total great influence, then maybe if she said something like ‘Yeah, Yoichi should totally go,’ then you should listen to her because she knows what she’s doing, and--And the Thief of Time is way more than just a thief!  He’s a Phantom Thief, which makes him, like, totally epic, and he gives back all the stuff he steals anyway, so it’s barely illegal, right?  Right?!”  Of course right, and Momiji sighed in that way she did when she was about to give in, which was awesome.

    “Tell you what, kid,” Momiji said.  “Why don’t you go ask her now? I heard the kid’s going out with her parents later today, but you should have just enough time if you hurry.”

    “Yes!”  Yoichi cheered, throwing his arms around Mom, Dad, and a corner of the recliner with enough force to bowl his twig of a father over before scrambling back and sliding to the door again--

    “Yoichi, your shoes.”

    --only to get cut off by his mother, look down at socked feet, and sprint away to find said shoes this time.  After that, he came running back, stopped for a second time, and dashed away to find something (It was a surprise!) and tuck it in his pocket before finally, finally heading out the door.

    The journey to Hanae’s house was a simple one, and Yoichi knew it by the back of his hand already.  He just needed to pass a couple blocks, take the bus, and...Yes, he was there!  All in all, it only took twenty minutes before Yoichi was standing in front of his friend’s doorstep, shifting his weight from foot to foot as he waited for anyone to open the door.

    Up until a couple months ago, he would’ve just picked the lock and strolled on in, but her parents didn’t like that for some reason.  There was something about him being a bad influence, and--Oh, someone was opening the door now!

    “Hey, Zaimitsu--”

    But the lady answering the door was cut off when Yoichi darted through, shouting “Hey Mrs. Takahashi!” on the way.  It was kind of rude, sure, but he was so excited!  He’d just apologize later--for now he went to the kitchen, where Hanae was sure to be, waving.

    “Hey, hey, hey!  So I know you’ve totally gotta go somewhere, but I gotta talk to you first, okay?  ‘Cause--Uh. ‘Cause…” He shut up, finally, because...Because he had already forgotten what he had even shown up for.  And now Hanae was staring at him (even if she did look cool with him showing up out of nowhere, which was awesome), and...Geez.

    “U-uhm…”  Hanae started, still watching him.  “...Y-you don’t need a reason to come over, if...you can’t remember one.”

    Genius!  But Yoichi wasn’t satisfied, and kept scrunching his face into a frown as he tried to recall what had brought him here.  “I know there was somethin’, though...Maybe helpin’ you pack?  Like, I don’t think that’s it, but I’m totally down for--”  Suddenly, his gaze landed on his hoodie pockets, and a totally epic lightbulb went off in his head.  “That’s it! Okay, okay.  Close your eyes, and don’t open ‘em until I say so!”

    Hanae complied with a tired smile (Did she know what Yoichi was planning?  She was totally super smart, so Yoichi never knew with her), and Yoichi dug out something from his pocket to dangle in front of her eyes.

    “Okay, now!”

    When Hanae opened her eyes, she jumped a little when Yoichi pressed the same something into her hands, but didn’t resist.  Instead, she stared in confusion, at what she now held: A string necklace covered in Definitely-Not-Real-Diamonds as...pendants?  Uh. Yeah! Pendants! It had been messily handcrafted by Yoichi (Meaning it was epic, right?  Right?!), who excitedly waited for a reaction!  And Hanae, she...She…

    She looked heartbroken!  Or--Wait.  Maybe it wasn’t so bad?  Mom always said Yoichi could be dramatic, but--No, she was definitely horrified here!  But...but why?

    ...Had Yoichi messed up that badly?

    “I-I’m sorry, I...I can’t take this.”  She tried to hand the necklace back to Yoichi, but it slipped through his fingers, and the necklace, the beautiful diamond necklace that Yoichi had worked so hard to make for her, fell to the ground.  “...Yoichi?”

    “D-do you not like it?  I can get you something different--something totally cooler!  That one’s kinda lame anyways, so I guess you’re makin’ the right call--”

    “Yoichi.”

    Hanae stopped him, placing her hands on his shoulders and making tentative eye contact.  It--Okay. Yoichi would be lying if he said it helped, because his mind was already spinning at how he had somehow failed and there was nothing that was going to change that, but...but it didn’t make it worse!  He stopped speaking, and even if he was fidgeting to the point where he was practically vibrating, that had to count for something, right?  Right?

    “It’s...it’s n-nice.  I like it. I-I just, uhm…”  She paused, biting her lip. “...I think it’s, uhm, too nice for me to wear?  But...You didn’t--” Again, she flinched. “...S-sorry, I’m just, uhm, distracted.  But...I don’t d-dislike the necklace, and I’m grateful that you made it for me?” Why did that sound like a question?  “Uhm, but I don’t think I can accept any gifts right now, sorry…I really wish I could, though.”

    That made sense!  Kind of. So Yoichi bit his lip, thinking with all his might as Hanae looked over his shoulder.  “Okay, okay, so!  You were upset ‘cause...you really wanted it, but can’t take it?”

    “That’s right,” Hanae agreed.

    “But why?”

    “Hanae, go on and finish packing.  We’re leaving in twenty minutes. And Zaimitsu?  Sorry, but you’re going to have to go home.”

    Yoichi nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of Mrs. Takahashi’s voice over his shoulder, letting out a strangled--no, dignified and cool sounding yelp of surprise.  “H-hey there!”

    Meanwhile, Hanae gave a solemn nod, leaving the kitchen.  Yoichi was then left to be shunted out of the apartment and told to go home, which he did reluctantly.  (Geez, did she have to be so short with him?  He hadn’t even done anything!)  The walk (and ride!) back was dull--definitely less energized than the one before--, but soon, Yoichi was back staring in front of his own door.

    ...Well, better go inside!

    The front door’s telltale creak as it opened brought both a smile to Yoichi’s face and the attention of both his parents, who were still seated in the living room (which didn’t hold a smoking recliner anymore; nice!).  Both Momiji and Magnus looked at him questioningly from their spots on the futon, and…

    ...Why were they doing that?  Had Yoichi forgotten something again?

    His total bewilderment must have shown on his face, because Momiji waved him over to come sit beside them, which he did, clambering up onto the couch.  It was easier to see there, meaning he got a front seat view of his Mom laying back longways while his Dad hunched over some kind of gadget in his hands.  He looked totally focused on it, and like, of course he would be! The gadget was cool--some kind of pocket watch attached to a miniature circuit board with wires, and Yoichi could bet that if he stared hard enough, the circuit board would start sparking.  It was just so cool, and it was a good thing Magnus wore gloves because if he didn’--

    “...she say?”

    “H-huh?”  Yoichi blinked, snapped out of his admiration for the watch--gadget--thing long after Momiji had started talking.

    “Your friend, Takahashi.  What’d she say?”

    Ohh, so that’s why he had gone to Hanae’s house.

    Yoichi’s expression, which had previously been one of adoration for his Dad’s mysterious object, turned into a nervous, outright sheepish smile, and Momiji just laughed (so did Magnus, but he at least had the decency to look embarrassed about it).

    “Still the sensible one, eh?  I dunno why you thought she’d back you up, but…”

    “But…?”  Yoichi prompted.

    “Tell you what,” Momiji said, and rolled onto her front to face Yoichi properly.  “Magnus and me? We trust you, and we figured ‘Hey, the kid’s done fine before,’ yeah?  So we’re giving you some free reign like we did last time. Rules are the same as last time: Don’t get killed, bring a coat for the cold, call in, and be back by curfew.  Deal?”

    “Deal!”  Yoichi cheered, jumping up to pump his fist--and then promptly toppling to the ground because he was on top of the futon, but who cares?  It was, like, totally justified because he’d be getting to go, and a little bodily harm wasn’t going to change that!

~~~

    After pestering his Dad a bit about what he had been messing with (and then understanding none of the explanation, but it wasn’t his fault that Magnus used big words), Yoichi had gone to his room to get a backpack and change for the night, plus stuffing a bookbag full of things like a flashlight, shoes, a bajillion snacks, and all the Thief of Time pins in the whole wide world.  It hadn’t taken long, and soon he was off, slipping into the subway and inwardly making faces at everyone who pushed him out of the way on the train.

    (Someone glared at him though, so maybe the faces wasn’t just in his head after all.)

    But hey, hey, hey, who cares about that stuff?  There was way more interesting things going on than some jerks on a train ride, like the amount of people Yoichi saw wearing Thief of Time pins just like him.  The more Yoichi listened in, the more obvious it became that he wasn’t the only one who was going to check out the Thief’s newest heist, and like, duh, right?  He hadn’t been kidding when he told his parents that the Thief was a celebrity, and once his latest calling card was sent out saying that he would be stealing the Matsunashi Museum’s Sapphire Halo, his audience had, like, totally gone up!  Who wouldn’t want to hear about such a famous ring?  It had a cool history, too--which Yoichi normally didn’t care about, but this was for a Thief of Time heist, so of course he was interested.  ...Even if, uh, he still didn’t remember that much, just that the museum had another ring called the Emerald Halo, and they had been sent as gifts for important people.  So, uh, kinda cool!

    As Yoichi was thinking about this, he subconsciously tugged at the inside of his hoodie sleeves, even waving them around to watch the ends, which extended a full inch beyond the end of his hands, flop around.  It was almost impressive, since it was difficult to move at all in the crowd, let alone without hitting somebody in the face or arm, which also turned out to be his next obstacle to actually getting to where the action was.  But hey, no biggie! Yoichi was more than agile enough for the job, so he darted between two older men and out onto the station. After that? Well, getting to where the spectators were was a piece of cake, so he was free to gawk at the cop cars surrounding the museum to his heart’s content.

    “Dude…”  Yoichi whispered, just low enough so that no one else would hear it.

    ...Or not, because a girl beside him nodded solemnly.

    “I know, right?”

    She didn’t say anything else, so Yoichi was free to appreciate the moment of quiet camaraderie with a fellow fan.  After that, he wormed his way out of the crowd. Time to find some place out of the way, like...Oh, there it was! An out of the way building, perfect for what he needed…

    Oh, right.  After cheerfully darting into the building, Yoichi let out a small gasp and pulled out his phone, quickly dialing a number before waiting.  They did say to call them, and like, what better place than here, right?  Outside, they wouldn’t even be able to hear him over the crowd. So he rocked back on his heels and waited, and waited...Okay, so they weren’t picking up.  No biggie. When he got back, he’d just tell them that he tried to call, but they didn’t answer.  As for why he didn’t try again? Well, that was easy: Yoichi was too focused on the main event.

    It’s not like he was lying, right?  After all, he was the main event.

    So Yoichi slipped out of his outer clothes, too-big hoodie and all, and stuffed them in his bookbag, trading the worn out sneakers he wore for the running shoes he’d brought in the backpack, and finished the look with a beautiful, beautiful mask that hid all but his mouth and eyes.

    Ahh!  He was so cool right now!

    Uh--But!  But he’d be even cooler when he pulled off that heist, so Yoichi tucked his backpack in an out of the way area (which was most of the building; how neat is that?) before climbing up, and...There!  Okay, he had found the museum window he needed to climb through, easy.  Getting in was usually the simplest part even if the window was on the roof, so Yoichi was free to space out and think as he made his way over, thinking about things like, uh...Like what it would be like when the cops finally pulled out the helicopters.  Which they totally had, right? And if Yoichi got big enough, then they’d have to pull out the big guns eventually! Some choppers would be cool, and then Yoichi would get to dodge the spotlights like in movies, or maybe climb into a helicopter and, uh…

    Okay, so that wouldn’t be happening (probably), but Yoichi could dream.  Uh, but maybe not right now (even if it was exciting to imagine), since he was climbing on the roof, and even he knew that if he didn’t pay attention, he could fall off and, y’know, die.  Or get arrested, or go to the hospital…

    So basically, all bad things.  So Yoichi focused as intently as he could on the window he was in the process of opening, flinching and glancing aside every time it squeaked (seriously, who even made these?), until finally, finally, the window was open enough for him to drop through.

    Ready...Ready…Go!

    He took a deep breath and dropped through the open window, landing on the ground, and--Agh.  Okay.  That...uh.  Didn’t hurt!  He just underestimated the drop, that’s all!  So he was fine, just...Ow.

    But Yoichi couldn’t stay there for long, because he could already hear the sounds of guards patrolling the floors below.  It wasn’t that they were especially loud, or even because of how sensitive Yoichi’s hearing actually was, but instead thanks to the museum’s structure itself.  Thanks to a striking pendulum that hung from the ceiling into the lobby, each floor had a sizable circle cut out where you could peer--or hear--into the floors below.  But hey! It was pretty neat, if you asked Yoichi, and useful, if he could hear them coming before they heard him.  Or maybe he could do what he was doing now and peek over the railing to see the guard patrolling the lobby, since people looked so small from down there!

    But if Yoichi could see them, they could see him too, a fact he was reminded of all too strongly when he saw the guard start to move and jumped backwards as fast as he could.  Good thing, too, since a flashlight’s beam shone all the way to the ceiling, illuminating the very edge of the railing before moving in a steady circle.

    “No, still nothing,” a voice sighed, presumably the guard who had shone the light.  “Then again, I’m not sure what I was hoping for. Some action, maybe. Anything’s better than listening to the cops pump themselves up.”

    The light made another steady circle, and Yoichi pressed himself against the very back of the wall--no, a door, probably an entrance to one of the exhibits.

    “So now what?  I have nothing to do but wait for a criminal to show up, and if I get him, I won’t even be the one to get the credit for it.”

    Okay, so the guard hadn’t noticed him.  Probably. Definitely.  So that meant that Yoichi could move around the circular hallway to where the Sapphire Halo exhibit was while he kept talking--or was it the Okichi Fumiyoshi exhibit?  Apparently, that was the girl who had been gifted the halo in the first place, and the exhibit was about her, or whatever...but yeesh, why not name the thing after the most interesting part of it?

    “Seriously, what am I doing with my life?  I was going to be an actor.  I was going to have my name up in lights, and now look at me.”

    Yoichi kept inching across the hallway, and--Okay.  Look. He may have started humming his own theme tune under his breath (Which was totally real now that he had made it up, and also better than the Mission: Impossible theme because everyone hummed that when they were being sneaky), but he stopped eventually!  It was just...how could you not hum your own theme tune when you were living your own heist movie?

    “...I should shut up.  It’d be a problem if that thief heard me while he was stealing the Emerald Halo.”

    Yoichi froze.

    The Emerald Halo?  He was stealing the Sapphire Halo, what’s up with that?  His calling card had very clearly stated that he was going for “Your most valuable angel’s crown,” and like, sure that was vague and all, but calling cards were supposed to be like that!  Yoichi had said he was going for the more valuable ring, and so he would obviously go for the more beautifu--

    ...Oh.

    Emeralds were worth more than sapphires.

    Okay, but that still wasn’t his fault, right?  They were just, like, totally focused on money and stuff!  And so they...They…

    Aw man, he had really messed up, didn’t he?

    Yoichi could feel traitorous tears already forming at the corners of his eyes, but blinked them back furiously because--because--He just couldn’t afford to cry now!  He was still on a heist, and that meant he had to be cool, since he was the Thief of Time.  So...Okay, uh! He had to think. Okay. So like, he couldn’t just give up and go home, ‘cause that would totally look awful, and he’d like, totally lose all his fans in an instant and--

    Okay.

    Okay.

    Try again!

    So Yoichi couldn’t just pack up and go home, but he still had to steal something.  Steal the Emerald Halo? Nope, not an option. The Emerald Halo was in a whole different building of the museum, and Yoichi had to make this quick.  Like, he had a curfew to follow and everything, and what if they got worried?  So nope, stealing the Emerald Halo wasn’t possible either, but...Gah, he had to steal something!  So...maybe just the Sapphire Halo?  And, uh, he could go after the Emerald Halo later!  Like, go “My bad,” and steal the ring later? Sounds like a plan.

    Yes!  Okay.  Okay. He can just...do that, then!  And hey, this one should be easy, so he’d definitely get back home on time.

    Speaking of time, Yoichi was wasting time by just standing in the middle of the hallway, so he started moving around the wall again, keeping well away from the railing in case the guard from before decided to shine their flashlight a little too close again.  This went much quicker than before, probably because Yoichi wasn’t literally flattened against the wall this time, and it wasn’t long before he had gotten to the door separating the main hall from the Okichi Fumiyoshi Exhibit.  He quietly turned the handle. Locked.

    Eh, he’d just pick it.

    So he did.  No biggie. It was when he slowly pushed open the door that the already-present excitement and tension came out in full force, knotting in his stomach so tightly that Yoichi could have gasped.  As for why, that--that was totally because he was finally here!  He was this close to the Sapphire Halo, even if there weren’t any guards, so it was totally boring--but that’s okay!  It had to be okay; overthinking it would mean messing up the heist, and he had to be back home in time.

    Pushing away all of these thoughts took a bit of work, but once he did, Yoichi set to sneaking about the area, ducking behind walls and set pieces, because a lack of proper security didn’t mean he wasn’t going to act like he was in a stealth game.  Luckily, this section of the museum was small, so he didn’t have to worry about getting lost, and the only major distractions were a set of mannequins dressed up to look like Fumiyoshi and her kids (creepy) and a set of tv screens set to lecture poor visitors about the history of rocks.  Not that Yoichi was interested or anything, but he knew those things lit up when you pressed the right buttons, and that was--Uh.  Hold up, it’s not like he was a nerd or anything!  There was plenty of stuff he wanted to get his hands on, like that collection of rubies embedded in a stamp, or the diamond the size of his fist, or the Sapphire Halo--The Sapphire Halo, which he had come to steal and definitely hadn’t forgotten in the few seconds he was looking around.  Yeah, he definitely wanted his hands on that one.

    The ring in question was beautiful, with gold and silver threads woven together and royal blue sapphires encased between the threads.  Honestly, it really did look like a tiara more than a ring--Which, now that he thought about it, was probably why it was called a halo--, but its stateliness couldn’t be denied.  To his credit, Yoichi didn’t waste time gawking at it (which was totally because he was professional and not because he had already spent hours gushing over it when he was looking up items to steal), and instead got straight to unscrewing the glass case keeping the dazzling halo away from him.  All it took was a bit of a time and a ‘screwdriver’, one of three things he’d managed to carry with him on this particular heist, and hey, Yoichi was a professional by now.

    After he had lifted the case off the display--using gloves, obviously, because it’d just be embarrassing if he was caught with fingerprints--, Yoichi finally took a second to admire the piece before taking a deep breath, reaching in to lift the halo, and--

    BEEP!  BEEP! BEEP!

    --trigger the sensors!  Yeesh, Yoichi was wondering when they’d show up--But uh, no time to waste!  He quickly snatched the halo (which wasn’t locked down, thank theft), and ducked behind one of the exhibit’s mid-room walls.  Maybe he could get to the door before anyone arrived if he was quick enough--

    No, no.  He could already hear someone rattling the door, which had swung shut since Yoichi had picked the lock, and...Hey, weren’t they taking a long time?  It must have auto-locked, and aw man, it’d suck if Yoichi had accidentally damaged the lock--Uh, not that it matters!  More importantly, this meant that he had more time to think of what to do, or...or not, because only a few seconds later, the door swung open.  Two guards stormed through the door, including the monologue guy from the lobby, and thundering footsteps told Yoichi more weren’t far behind.

    Geez, these guys worked fast.

    The first guard practically stalked through the room, making a beeline for the Sapphire Halo before pulling out his walkie talkie.

    “We watched the wrong one, over.”  He was responded with crackling, then several words that Yoichi couldn’t make out, and then glared.  “Don’t you tell me tha--”

    Having had enough, Yoichi--didn’t squeak, but he made a sound that could be mistaken for squeaking, and it was because of excitement, not nerves.  Uh--Anyway!  Yoichi, who totally didn’t squeak, must have drawn attention in some way, because the guards (both the first and some new arrivals) began moving in his direction, and--Wait. Wait.

    This was, like, totally a golden opportunity for him!  There was something he had always wanted to try out, so he slipped one hand into his pocket, waiting.  They began to turn around both corners, and he pulled out a silver capsule and slammed it on the ground.

    Smoke bomb!

    (He didn’t say it, but man did he want to.)

    True to form, smoke began billowing from the silver capsule (so cool!), and, like, Yoichi was totally going to say he made the right call here because the people following him were a bit of a mess when they couldn’t see, so Yoichi ran to the exit, and--Oooh, walkie talkie!  Yoichi filched a walkie talkie from one of the officers, and then he ran to the exit.  Niiiice and simple. Or not, because there were people near the door, but, uh--Okay, here’s an idea!  He gripped onto the door--and thanked theft that people hadn’t shut the door behind them--, placed his foot on the handle, and pulled himself up, over, and well behind the guards.  Nice!  But he didn’t have much time, so Yoichi took off running, hid behind at least one potted plant, and picked the lock to another exhibit to duck inside, keeping the door locked behind him.

    The next exhibit wasn’t as interesting as the last one, just a bunch of sedimentary rocks, but Yoichi had come here for a reason!  The last time he had been here (for a school trip, since his parents had the money to send him for once), he hadn’t been able to stop staring at an unfinished fire escape extending to the roof.  No, not unfinished - busted.  The metal bars had been torn somehow, and nothing was left except for the highest set of stairs.

    Good thing Yoichi was on the top floor!

    Okay, so maybe there was a chance of the escape collapsing under him, but that was like, a maybe at best, right?  And like, what’s even the point if there’s not some chance of dying anyway?  That’s totally boring!  Or something.  So anyway, this was a great idea, and Yoichi was a genius for thinking it up.

    Yoichi’s thoughts were cut off by the crackle of a walkie talkie, causing a start and almost dropping the offending device.

    “Do you see him?  Over.

    “I want a guard patrolling every major staircase!  Over.

    “Are you kidding?  We don’t have enough men for tha--

    It was here that Yoichi had to stop listening because of the static, but it’s not his fault that the noise hurt his ears--Even if he did steal it.  Uh.

    Moving on!  Yoichi ended up stuffing the walkie talkie into one of his pockets to shut it up (it was too bad that he’d left his backpack behind when breaking in, but he couldn’t really bring a bookbag with him and be stealthy at the same time), and pressed his face against the window’s glass.  Y’know, to double check that he’d remembered which exhibit was next to the busted fire escape, since he’d been screwing everything up today--

    Uh, yep, it was there.  So, great! Now he just had to get the windows open, which was an annoying task, but doable.  On the bright side, prying the windows open was a great opportunity to hum his own theme tune again, since it’s not like anyone was going to actually hear him.  Silver linings, right? Even if the walkie talkie at his hip kept up its cacophony, at least it wasn’t boring.  Good thing, too, because if the heist got boring and the adrenaline faded, who knows what could happen?

    Cool night air blew in from the opening window, drawing Yoichi from his thoughts.  He didn’t push the window up all the way, but he could still fit through with little trouble--he had always been on the thin side, after all.  The issue was what came after that, but Yoichi wasted no time in slipping his torso through the window and half-crawling onto a bent metal stair.  A creak sounded, and Yoichi winced before reaching back to try and close the window behind him, but his gloved hands slipped off the windowpane, and the agonized groan of the staircase was a pesky reminder that he was still on something that might fall to the ground at any moment.  Plus, Yoichi wasn’t stupid!  Probably!  He totally knew a dangerous situation when he saw one, so he pulled back from the window and quickly made his way up the stairs.  Well, mostly quickly.  He’d slipped on a particularly tricky step near the top, and the dull pain that came from shin on metal wasn’t likely to go away any time soon, but--but it was okay!  He was, like, tough, so he could totally take it.

    Once on the roof, Yoichi limped--uh, dashed over to the other side of the roof, making sure to keep a wide berth around the circular skylight he had entered from.  Trying to peer inside the window and watch whatever was going on down below would normally be, like, one of the biggest temptations ever for him right now, but the walkie talkie telegraphing their movements was already killing his interest in any of that--Wait, it was on right now!  People could hear him, so Yoichi choked and shut the device off before stuffing it in his pocket again.  There, problem solved! Now? Now, he could get ready for the real reason he had come to this part of the roof: A way to escape.  

    Yoichi was sad to say that he didn’t have any cool gadgets like a hang-glider yet, (because he would get one eventually, mark his words), but, heh, he was a bit of a daredevil, and there was a building only a few feet away from this one--the one where he had left his things in the first place, even!  By a “few feet,” that meant “about a foot away and two feet lower,” which...okay. It was still beyond risky, and sure, Yoichi could die if he didn’t make the jump, but who cared?  He was plenty capable, and it was worth it!  He...he had fans, and it’s not like he could just let them down, right?  They liked him when he pulled off his heists.  It was amazing!
 
   So Yoichi backed up, still with the slightest amount of a limp, and after a running start, made the record-breaking, awe-inspiring one-foot jump with ease!  Or...almost. When he landed, he landed on his feet, but still threw his hands out in front of him to avoid toppling forward, and the dull throbbing in his shin spiked at the moment of impact.

    “Augh!  Geez…”  Yoichi muttered to himself, rocking to the side and rubbing his leg dolefully.  “C’mon, what gives?”
He was talking to the empty air by this point, but after letting himself pout for a little while, he got to his feet and picked the lock to the indoor entrance, because he was the Thief of Time, and epic, awesome phantom thieves didn’t whine because they hit their shoulder.  They put on a show, even if this heist was a failure all around because it wasn’t flashy and he didn’t even steal the right ring--

    A-anyway! He picked the lock again, let himself in and locked it from the inside, then headed down the stairs.  After that? Well, after that he just had to get his backpack to change again, and he’d totally be back before curfew.  Yoichi totally remembered where he’d hidden it, so he’d be done in no time!

    He searched three floors before he found it again.

    After that, it was easy.  All he had to do was take off his shoes and cape to store them under the snacks in his backpack (yes, the cape was necessary.  He was a Phantom Thief.), then take his normal clothes and wear them over his Phantom Thief outfit, just like on the trip back.  Pretty soon, he was ready to blend back into the crowd. Sure, he was still flushed and sweaty, and the adrenaline high was finally starting to wear off, but people weren’t going to pay attention to a tired kid, so no one would care.  Hey, he’d be practically invisible.

    So yeah, he hopped out of the building and blended into the crowd, eventually taking the subway back the way he’d came.  The train was emptier this time, so Yoichi actually had a chance to sit down. It was a miracle, and he took the opportunity to just lean back and doze off a little.  It was the announcement that they had reached his stop that awoke him--really awoke him, because he hadn’t been sleeping all that time, but he couldn’t really be called away, either, and Yoichi exited the train with a sleepy, but satisfied smile on his face.

    (Even if the heist had been horribl--not great, he still stole something valuable, right?  So like, he could totally recover from this!  And he’d steal the Emerald Halo later, and hey, maybe he could make something up about it being his plan all alon--

    Hey, was that a cop car?

    It was probably nothing, but Yoichi still moved just out of sight on instinct alone, since--Look, like, right then was the last time he wanted to see a cop.  Yeesh, he just wanted to go home already, not run into a police officer and worry about getting called out or something.  So he stayed out of sight, but he still had to get home eventually, so he inched a bit closer, still staying well away from their line of sight, and…

    “...ho would’ve guessed?”

    “Guessed what?  That the famed Thief of Time would be some kid, or that his little detective friend would rat him out?”

    “Hah.  Either, and you can add how embarrassing this is going to look for our whole department on that list.”

    “You can say that again.”

    “Hey, keep your voice down!  The public isn’t supposed to know about all this!”

    “And who brought it up?  Look, I’ll be happy when the kid goes home, ‘n we can all swoop in, catch the criminal, and save
the day.  So let’s just…”

    But Yoichi had stopped listening.  All words faded somehow, as if were from far away, and the only words that really mattered were the ones echoing inside his own skull.

    They’re talking about me.

    They--They had to be, right?  With the whole thing about how the Thief of Time was just a kid--that was why no one had figured it out yet, because no one had suspected the thief to be some boring junior high student--and the ‘ratty detective’...Hanae wasn’t ratty!  She--She was Yoichi’s best friend, and if he was being honest with himself, the only real friend he’d ever had, so don’t call her ratty.

    Yeah..Yeah, that’s right.  She was Yoichi’s best friend in the whole wide world, so she’d never sell him out, not ever.  And he repeated that to himself, frozen in place as he reminded himself of that:  She’s my best friend.  She’d never turn me in.

    But then, back when Yoichi had handed her the little handmade necklace, she had looked heartbroken.

    Did she--did she know that the diamonds were stolen?   It’s not like Yoichi’s family had much money, and Hanae?  Hanae was smart, way smarter than Yoichi could ever hope to be.  So yeah, she probably did, but it was for a gift, right?  So he’d thought it’d be no big deal, but she...But she…

    Uh, but wait!  That didn’t prove they were talking about Yoichi, right?  There were, like, totally tons of kids in Japan, and plenty of girls wanted to be detectives!  So, uhm, they didn’t have to be, y’know…

    Except that they were parked only a few blocks from his house, and it couldn’t be that huge a coincidence, right?  Right?!

    The more his mind raced, the more Yoichi’s breath quickened, and the short-lived paralysis that had seized him faded.  In contrast, he began quickly backing away, still dizzy from the attempts to process the conversation he had overheard.

    They had said Yoichi was the Thief of Time.

    They had said Hanae betrayed him.

    They had said that if he went back home, they’d swoop in and he’d be caught.

    So what now?

    He couldn’t go home, because then they’d capture him.  They’d take him away, and--And he’d have to see his parents, who had never liked the Thief of Time and must be so, so disappointed in him right now.  Yoichi couldn’t go home, so what else was there?

    ...To run away.  To run away, take care of himself, and then...And then anything.  H-he could do it!  He could make it by himself, he had to!  R-right?  Right!

    “I can make it...I can m-make it…”  Yoichi whispered to himself, pinching his palms with the edge of his fingernails like he was in a dream, like he needed to wake up, and oh, did he wish this was a dream.  But it wasn’t. It was anything but.

    It wasn’t a dream that Yoichi had become the Thief of Time;

    It wasn’t a dream that it had all come crashing down before his eyes;

    And it wasn’t a dream that he ran, tripping and limping across the pavement, with nothing but a backpack, a walkie talkie, and the Sapphire’s Halo.
I...I don't know what kind of things you say here...

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