Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
Shane still wasn’t sure about the meaning of the Fortune, but at least he’d been in the Arcade for several minutes now and he hadn’t been bullied yet. From where he was leaning against a pillar, he scanned the section that Cyrin had directed them to, trying to take in as much detail as he could without looking like a spy. Under the neon sign of a gold feather, people moved in, out and around, talking to others at tables or exchanging spells with each other. A spiral staircase led up to a higher level, while a few bouncers stood at the edges on the ground floor, glancing over those entering.
“It’s called the Nest, huh?” Kasumi asked quietly beside him, her gaze flicking over someone who had just left and was passing them by.
“I can see it, if it’s a place for Sparrow’s followers,” Shane said, adjusting the bag on his back. “I got the feeling it’s more colloquial than official, from how Cyrin said it.”
“Nothing here is really official,” Kasumi pointed out. “It’s not like they could have gotten it as a registered business name.”
Shane hummed. “True.”
One of the bouncers at the nest suddenly lunged at a mage trying to enter, grabbing him by the collar and throwing him back. The mage threw up his hands, delivering some rambled excuse, but the bouncer shook her head and pointed away, her face blank except for the glare she gave him. The mage mumbled something under his breath, tucking his hands in his pockets as he slunk away. Shane watched the scene out of the corner of his eye.
Kasumi stomped lightly on his foot with her high heel, and he winced as he turned his attention back to her. “Couldn’t you have just nudged me or something?” he muttered.
“That’s what we need to be watching for,” she hissed quietly. “How much attention they’re giving each person.”
“I was watching. Please don’t stomp on me.”
“You were?” She sounded skeptical.
Shane grimaced. “I can only either be hyper-vigilant and paranoid or inattentive and uninvested, Kasumi. Pick one to think of me as and stick to it.”
Kasumi slowly turned her head to him. “You know, I don’t really think that of you. Either or any of those things, I mean.”
Shane frowned. “How would I be able to tell that? You have never shown me otherwise.”
She gave him a confused shrug. “I mean, you know I’m sarcastic.”
“Sarcasm applies to words,” Shane said, glancing back at the Nest. “This is your treatment of me. That’s different.”
Kasumi paused. “Shane… Wait, are you mad at me? I didn’t know.”
“I don’t really get mad at people,” he replied, but then he sighed. “I don’t like it. I don’t like how Kaja does it, either. It’s annoying at best, and sometimes it’s hurtful. I’d feel more comfortable on this team without it.”
“Well… I’m sorry.” Kasumi glanced at the ground. “I guess we are a team of sorts, even though it’s no secret that you don’t want to be on it. Have we improved at all on this little mission of ours?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a little.” Shane rubbed his jaw. “It might mostly be because we were trying to keep up appearances around Mireya and Cyrin, but there could have been some team-bonding. I guess we’ll see what happens when they leave.”
Kasumi paused. “That’s not much longer. Our normal might feel strange after this.”
“Maybe.” Shane watched the Nest for a while longer, before he glanced back at her. “Does this place feel any more familiar to you now?”
“The Arcade? We’re still new to this— oh, I see what you mean. Right.” Kasumi cleared her throat. “I think it is. I still can’t remember anything specific about it, but it feels like I’m seeing things here for the second time. Sometimes, there’s even something that looks entirely out of place, and I think that it must be new. It’s really strange.”
“You were saying something about your dad and here,” Shane said slowly. “The last time we were in Crystal City.”
Kasumi bit her lip for a moment, twisting the Force rings on her fingers anxiously. “I mean, yeah. It’s got to be him. He took me everywhere when I was really young and he was traveling. Maybe even to the very places he committed fraud, embezzlement and bribery at, before he got caught. Maybe even to that movie theater across the street afterwards as a fun treat.”
“That’s…” Shane watched her face. It was blank, but he knew that was personal to her. It might have even been the most personal thing she’d ever shared with him. “Yeah,” he finished. “I can see it, it would make a lot of sense. I’m sorry.”
She laughed suddenly, a little too brightly for her normal laugh. “Well, and I thought I was done thinking of him. It’s been a long time.” She smiled, but he could see how forced it was. “It hardly matters at this point.”
Shane refused to let his skepticism show on his face or his voice. “Right, of course.”
Kasumi cleared her throat another time, giving something thought before she spoke again. “You know, you could be linked to this spot, too,” she said slowly. “It could have been where someone was hired for your parents—”
“I’m going to ask that you stop right there.” His tone came out sharper than he meant for it to, and he almost regretted it. “Not right before we do this.”
“Right. Sorry.” Kasumi looked away.
Shane took a deep breath in the silence that followed. “I’m going to call Cyrin now.”
“Yeah, good idea. I’ll keep watching.” Kasumi turned back to the Nest.
Shane placed in his earbuds, and raised his communicator, looking through it for Cyrin’s contact information. They had given it to him for this moment, and he wondered if he’d get to keep it afterwards. He might be allowed to, but he wondered if they’d actually stay in touch with it. He started a call with them, and they answered a few seconds later.
“Everything going alright in there?” Cyrin asked. There was some wind in their background audio.
“We’re alright,” Shane said. “No drama so far, thankfully.”
“No drama? Are you sure you’re in the right place?” More wind muffled their amused words.
Shane chuckled. “Is there a second crime boss with a feather symbol marking off their area?”
“You haven’t heard of the horrible Quail?” Cyrin asked. “If that’s the area you went to, you better be ready to run. They’re even worse than Sparrow.”
“Oh. Saints, really? We better leave, I’m not taking any chances—” Shane paused as he heard Cyrin laughing. “Oh, you’re messing with me. How dare you.”
Cyrin laughed again. “Sorry, that was mean. If you need to call me something insulting after that, you can.”
“You… rude bastard?” Shane said tentatively, biting back laughter. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to insult people.”
“Not bad, not bad,” Cyrin said. “Try to come up with something worse for Sparrow, though. You’re doing this for the entire purpose of making him mad.”
“What are you two even talking about?” Kasumi whispered to Shane.
“Sorry, Kasumi, getting back on topic.” Shane cleared his throat. “Are you where you need to be?”
“Very close. I want to be a little higher up.”
“Oh, okay.” Shane spared a quick glance at the bouncers. “How’s the climb?”
He’d found it funny when Cyrin said they’d take the time to climb the skyscraper. Of course, it wouldn’t actually take them much time, but there were other ways of doing it. An elevator ride and a little stealth would have done it, and so would their jetpack. He supposed they had to actually like the thought of climbing, and although it made sense for someone from an acrobatic background, he couldn’t fathom the idea of someone doing what he’d done in the Fall for fun.
“Not bad, not bad. It beats the Permafrost’s Fall any night.” Cyrin paused. “I suppose that doesn’t say much though, does it?”
Shane smiled slightly. “Well, I would hope it’s better, so it is good to hear.”
“I should be in position in just a few seconds. Then you and Kasumi can—” A burst of static cut off Cyrin’s words, buzzing in his earphones for several seconds.
“Ouch, that’s loud,” Shane muttered once it stopped, covering his ear with a wince. “I think the signal could be bad in here. Sorry about that.”
He didn’t hear Cyrin speak, just the rattle of what sounded like their labored breathing.
“Cyrin? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Their tone was neutral, but he thought their voice sounded strained, like they were speaking through gritted teeth. “You and Kasumi can do your thing now.”
“Are you sure?” Shane asked doubtfully. “Has anything happened out there? You sound like you’re having some trouble.”
“No, it really is fine. It’s just that I don’t—” He heard Cyrin take a deep breath. “It’s just me, don’t worry about it. You can start now.”
“Okay.” Shane glanced at Kasumi out of the corner of his eye. He wasn’t fully convinced, but wasn’t sure how to share his concern, so he made a mental note to check on them once they met up. “See you soon, hopefully.”
“See you soon. Safe wandering.” Cyrin ended the call.
He hadn’t been expecting to hear the parting blessing from them, and it brought a small smile to his face as he took out his earbuds. Maybe that was the reassurance he needed to start this.