pairing: Takaki Yuya/Chinen Yuri
word count: 8,354
author's note: AU in which Takaki is a private detective and Chinen is a barista in his local Starbucks~ Written for dusk037 for the je_united challenge!
summary: "Why don't you order coffee and find a place to sit down," Chinen suggests gently, his hand resting lightly over Takaki's on the counter, and Takaki can feel his heart filling with hope again that just maybe, with Chinen's help, he can work this case out.
Takaki Yuya isn't quite sure how he ended up as a private investigator. Or rather, he's not sure how everything that he had been banking on before now had fallen through-- when he was young, he'd wanted to be a musician, but probably through some combination of youthful irresponsibility and the fact that he doesn't exactly have the highest IQ, his best attempt in high school to start a band had fallen through. Then he'd thought he'd like to be a cop, so he joined the police academy, but that had ended when he'd been thrown out for breaking one too many rules-- which sounded cooler than the truth; that he had been caught smoking in the bathroom one too many times. After that, no one wanted to hire him even as a security guard, and so he ended up working at 7-11, until a series of lucky accidents led to him uncovering one of the high school part-timers pocketing change from the register just as the owner of an investigation agency happened to be checking out, which led to him offering Takaki a job at his agency, which led to Takaki thinking that maybe his life was turning around… for a few months, at least.
The problem, of course, is that he's not actually that good at investigating, or finding clues, or remembering details. In fact, he's not really good at anything that requires having a brain-- when he'd wanted to join the police, he'd imagined it being like an action movie, tracking down dangerous criminals and then tackling them to the ground in the midst of intense gunfire, saving children and rescuing hostages all while looking cool and heroic, and being a private investigator, he figured, was only slightly off-- maybe with more trench coats, or something. But in actuality, it's a lot of paperwork, a lot of sitting around on surveillance, and a lot of thinking, and after a few months of forgetting paperwork, falling asleep during surveillance, and simply being unable to think as hard as he's supposed to, Takaki, on the verge of failing out of yet another job, is beginning to feel like maybe he ought to give up. He has the brains of an elementary schooler, his boss has told him yet again in his most recent chewing-out, by the time he's being dismissed from his boss' office, Takaki is certain that by the time he arrives at work the next morning, there's going to be a notice on his desk telling him to clear out by the end of the week.
And sure enough, he finds with a heavy heart and a knotting stomach, there's a memo waiting for him when he gets in the next morning, but to his surprise, it's not a dismissal, it's a case… and an ultimatum: resolve the client's issue within two weeks, or be fired. While at first glance, that sounds promising enough, a quick read-over of the case file that the office secretary hands him a moment later is enough to send his stomach plummeting back down to his toes. It's a robbery in which a diamond necklace has been lifted from a wealthy widow, and Takaki is to find the thief… which, no matter how much evidence there may or may not be, seems nigh on impossible. On top of his absolutely abysmal track record, it feels as if he may as well just quit and go back to the 7-11, but as always, some stupid, optimistic part of his mind convinces him to give it a try.
Two hours, six rereads of the four-page case file, and three painkiller tablets later, however, he sighs heavily and rubs his throbbing temples, thinking he's not so sure.
The one perk of this whole private investigator job is that the office where Takaki works is only a block from what seems to be the most unpopular Starbucks in Tokyo. While Takaki has never been a coffee enthusiast or anything like that, he likes it just as much as the next guy (especially when he has to stay awake during long surveillance shifts or hours of boring paperwork), and sitting in Starbucks has always seemed cool and fashionable. Until this job, however, he'd never been good at timing his coffee breaks, and seemingly every time he stopped by a coffee shop, there was never an empty seat to be found. It's not something that particularly kept him up at night, but when, about a week into starting at the private investigation office, he discovered a quiet and surprisingly empty little Starbucks down the block, he was admittedly pretty excited. At first, he'd worried that it was closed when he didn't see any customers inside, but the lights were on, and when he touched the automatic door sensors, the doors opened. Sure enough, the shop was open, and though it was hard for Takaki to wrap his mind around a totally empty Starbucks, he managed to place his order with the incredibly cute barista who greeted him from behind the counter.
"Chinen" (as his name tag informed Takaki) took Takaki's order with a smile before telling him to go ahead and find a seat and he'd bring his drink out to him when it was ready. That seemed totally unfathomable, and before he sat down, Takaki poked his head outside and checked that this really was a Starbucks and not just some really close knockoff. But the sign seemed genuine enough, as did the paper cup that Chinen brought him after a moment with a smile. "For some reason, we don't get a lot of customers in at this time of day," he explained as he leaned against the counter where Takaki sat. "But you're new around here, aren't you?"
Takaki could hardly get past the stars in his eyes to hear Chinen's question, but he nodded dumbly, trying to think of what to say. It was difficult, but how could he help it? Somehow, not only had he had the good luck to stumble into the emptiest Starbucks in Tokyo, but it seemed also that it was the Starbucks with the cutest barista in Tokyo. He'd eventually managed to explain that he'd just started up at a nearby office, but ever since then he's never quite been able to shake the fluttery feeling that he gets in his chest whenever Chinen takes an unofficial break to hang around wherever Takaki is sitting and chat with him.
Because Chinen isn't just Takaki's type, he seems totally perfect in every way: small and looking as if he weighs approximately nothing, Takaki has learned that he did dance and gymnastics through his school years, which probably explains how graceful all of his movements are. He doesn't go to college, but Takaki can just tell that he's a genius-- of course, Takaki knows that he himself is not lighting any intellectual fires, but Chinen is above and beyond the average person, Chinen can remember any order without even writing it down, and whenever Takaki tells him about any problem he's having in his life, his job, Chinen has the perfect advice. All in all, just like his place of work, Chinen seems too good to be true, and Takaki thinks that, even if this job sucks, and he gets humiliatingly fired yet again, he's glad to have had it to meet Chinen.
And so, he's feeling pretty positive (or at least, as positive as possible considering the circumstances) when he comes into the Starbucks after work on the day he gets his last chance assignment, but when he gets to the counter to order, Chinen takes one look at him and cocks his head. "Did something happen?" he asks, and though his cute, high pitched voice soothes Takaki somewhat, he sighs.
"I'm probably gonna get fired," he tells Chinen staring indecisively at the menu. "I don't think I was cut out to be a private investigator."
"Maybe so~" Chinen replies, but somehow, it's so cute that Takaki isn't offended, "But if you wanna keep your job, maybe I can help you with your case~"
And somehow, Takaki thinks, a stupid smile breaking out on his face, maybe he has a chance, after all.
He goes back to the scene of the crime on Chinen's advice with a little notepad and a pen and thousands of doubts. He'd already been once, but he had never really been good at details, and while he'd taken a few pictures on his phone and written a few random notes on his palm, he hadn't really found anything that seemed relevant. Of course, it didn't help that he'd washed his hands before writing the notes down anywhere else, and that he'd accidentally deleted the photos from his phone without uploading them to his computer… But Chinen had only laughed upon hearing these facts, and told him that it was probably in his best interest to go back and try again.
And so Takaki dutifully goes back, though he's not sure what he's looking for. Even if he hadn't lost the notes and deleted the photos, Takaki hadn't really felt like he understood anything new from observing the crime scene, and so coming back again feels even more like an effort in futility. But Chinen is much smarter than him, and, Takaki knows, Chinen is pretty much his only chance to save his job, so if Chinen says he ought to come back then, he supposes he ought to come back and do his best not to make a fool of himself a second time.
His client raises her eyebrows when Takaki tells her he'd like to take a second look at the crime scene, but allows him into her home, showing him back to the same rooms he'd looked in once before. The thief seems to have snuck in and out without so much as triggering the alarm, which is totally baffling to Takaki, and without, so far as Takaki can tell, leaving much of a trace. The police have already checked the safe, clearly cracked by ear rather than forcefully opened by blunt force or explosives, and have determined that there are no fingerprints, and Takaki can find no other signs that anything else in the room is out of the ordinary. He takes a few photos of the safe and its surroundings anyway, and is about to leave with a sinking feeling and a heavy heart when the owner of the necklace asks him if he isn't going to check outside again, too.
"Outside?" Takaki asks, trying to seem competent in front of the client and yet knowing that a look of total confusion is sneaking onto his face. "Why?"
His client raises an eyebrow again before nodding to the large French doors in the next room. "As I told you last time, there are footprints in the garden. I assumed you checked last time after I left you."
Takaki pales as, slowly, he remembers the exchange. Sure enough, when he'd come in the day previous, the client had told him that there were traces of the thief in the garden, but by the time he'd finished inside, he'd been so frustrated and preoccupied with finding something, anything, that he'd totally spaced it and forgotten all about the yard. And so now, in the face of that realization, he does the totally mature and competent thing: he replies, "Oh right! Yes! The garden! I definitely looked before but I'll look again!" before making a mad dash to the back door.
Sure enough, in the garden he finds a short trail of three footprints in the soft earth of the flowerbed beside the building. They start at the start of the bed-- clearly, the grass, or else the hardness of the ground, helped the thief avoid leaving a trail behind in the yard, and they disappear at the side of the building. Takaki isn't sure what it means, but he writes "footprints!!" in his notepad below Chinen's advice, and takes a couple photos before thanking the client for her time and practically running to the train station.
Back at the Starbucks, Takaki practically vaults the counter in his excitement to tell Chinen what he's found. "Look!" he says, waving his phone in front of Chinen. "I found something new!"
Chinen laughs a little, and his smile is so cute that Takaki nearly gets caught up in the beating of his own heart and forgets why he's there. He's so lucky to know Chinen, to get to spend time with him like this, to get Chinen's thoughts and insights on his cases…
But then, "That's great, but aren't you going to order coffee first? Or else I'll have to kick you out~" Chinen replies in that sweet sing-song way that he has, and Takaki can feel his face flushing bright red at his embarrassing oversight.
One venti half-caf skim milk mocha with extra whip later sees Takaki at his usual spot at the counter with Chinen beside him, looking thoughtfully at the photos as Takaki clicks through them on his phone screen, thankfully having forgiven Takaki's overexcitement earlier. "Hmm~" he says as he looks at each picture, and every time, Takaki hesitates hopefully, eager for some sort of hint or insight. But Chinen remains enigmatically vague as always, and so Takaki flicks on to the next photo, the next "hmm~," the next pause of hopeful silence. Once he goes through all the photos, he waits extra long, but Chinen only grins at him, cocking his head and asking, "So what do you think~?"
"Um," Takaki stutters embarrassedly, "I… well, they're footprints…"
"That's definitely true," Chinen replies with an amused laugh, "But what do they say about the perpetrator?"
Takaki has no idea whatsoever, and he can feel his face heating up again under Chinen's gaze. He's long given up any hopes of looking cool to Chinen, who can do anything and everything, but at any rate, he doesn't want to look especially stupid. "That… he… wears shoes…?" he tries at length, feeling like more of an idiot than ever, but somehow, Chinen's laugh in response is warm and sweet and not mocking in the slightest.
"I agree," he responds, and leave it to Chinen to say something positive even to that! If anything, Takaki can feel his heart swelling with even more admiration for Chinen, but when Chinen opens his mouth to speak again, Takaki does his best to snap his focus back to where it should be. "But look at how small, and how shallow they are. Doesn't that say something?"
"Uh…" Takaki starts, biting his lip as he tries to parse what Chinen is telling him. "That… the thief is a woman…?"
"Hmm~ Well, maybe that's true, but we shouldn't jump to conclusions," Chinen replies, reaching up to pat him on the head despite the fact that Chinen is significantly smaller than him. "For now, maybe you should just write down that the criminal was probably slim and lightweight, don't you think?"
"Right, right!" Takaki replies eagerly scribbling down Chinen's words in the notepad, feeling as if, for once, he thought of something marginally insightful, if slightly off the mark. And sure, maybe it's just the happy bubbly feeling he gets every time Chinen touches him, or maybe it's mostly because of the warmth he experiences whenever Chinen is near him, but for the first time that day, he feels like he's actually making headway on this case.
And so, with slightly more optimism in his heart and Chinen's praise still playing on repeat in his ears, he heads back to the crime scene again the next day. Though he's already been twice now, Chinen had urged him to try again and pay more attention to detail, and Takaki had been quick to agree, riding on the high of actually having figured something out. "Pay specific attention to how the thief got in," Chinen had suggested, and so Takaki had dutifully written it on his little notepad before going back, slightly worried that he wouldn't find anything considering how he felt as if he had less than no ideas now, but ready to try his best.
Still, as he sits on the train thinking about what he's going to do when he gets there, he can feel himself starting to despair. After all, all he had to go on was a set of three footprints seemingly coming from nowhere and going nowhere. The thief couldn't very well have walked straight through the wall, could he have?! It didn't make any sense, and the more times Takaki looks at the photos on his phone and tries to prep himself for what's to come, the more depressed he feels, thinking maybe he's let Chinen down already with his stupidity, before he even arrives at the scene. But he doesn't have much choice besides to try, and so he bucks up his courage to face complete failure and rings the doorbell.
His client raises her eyebrows when Takaki tells her he'd like to take a third look at the crime scene, and Takaki has a feeling she's beginning to realize what a failure he is as she says nothing and leads him back towards the rear garden. But he can't fold under the pressure, he tells himself, he has to prove to her and Chinen and his boss and everyone else that he's not a complete and total idiot, and so he thanks his client in the coolest voice he can muster before rummaging around in his bag for the magnifying glass he'd picked up in a hundred-yen shop a while back and examining the spot where the footprints end and the wall begins. He's not sure it helps with anything, but if nothing else, it makes him feel like he looks like he's doing some sort of important detective work… which is worth something, right?
Still, looking through the magnifying glass at the ground reveals nothing new, and so he raises it, looking along the wall for any sign that the thief had been here. Maybe he'd leaned against the wall to hide before running away? But there's nothing to indicate that, only a few muddy spots on the brick facade between the ground and the second-story window above.
He takes a few pictures for good measure, but if the marks are meaningful, Takaki can't figure out how-- they just look like regular small splotches of mud against the otherwise immaculate brick siding, with no blood or anything to indicate that they have anything to do with the break in. Takaki isn't an expert, but he knows from watching crime shows that at if there'd been anything like that, maybe he'd be able to do some sort of cool DNA test or something… but really, the splotches go so far up the wall, well above Takaki's head, that, he thinks, they couldn't really have had anything to do with the break in, anyway. And so it's in low spirits that he thanks the client for her time and heads back to the station, hoping that Chinen won't give up on him for his failure.
Back at the Starbucks, Takaki hangs his head as he approaches the counter, too embarrassed to meet Chinen's eye in his failure. "I took some pictures, but I didn't really find anything…" he admits glumly, worried that Chinen will scold him, or worse, give up on him.
But Chinen smiles a little, and the look in his eyes is so sweet that Takaki nearly gets caught up in the melting of his own heart and forgets his fears. He's so lucky to have Chinen on his side, to get to have his help, to know that Chinen is there for him when he's ready to give up…
And then, "Why don't you order coffee and find a place to sit down," Chinen suggests gently, his hand resting lightly over Takaki's on the counter, and Takaki can feel his heart filling with hope again that just maybe, with Chinen's help, he can work this case out.
One grande caramel machiatto with no whip, extra syrup later sees Takaki at his usual spot at the counter with Chinen beside him, holding Takaki's phone in his hand as he looks through the photos Takaki had taken earlier, his shoulder pressed ever-so-lightly against Takaki's. "Hmm~" he says as he looks at each picture, and every time, Takaki hesitates breathlessly, hopeful for some sort of help in his complete uselessness. But Chinen remains enigmatically vague as always, and so Takaki watches as he flicks on to the next photo, the next "hmm~," the next pause of hopeful silence. Once he goes through all the photos, he waits extra long, but Chinen only smiles at him, handing back his phone and asking, "So what do you think~?"
"Um…" Takaki starts, trailing off when he realizes he really doesn't have anything to say. "That… uh… the building… is… dirty…?"
"That's definitely true," Chinen replies with an gentle laugh, "But do you think that's related to the crime?"
Takaki has no idea whatsoever, and he can feel his face heating up again under Chinen's gaze. He's long given up any hopes of looking cool to Chinen, who's the brightest person he's ever met, but at any rate, he doesn't want to look more idiotic than he is. But, "I-- I don't know," he gives up at length, feeling like more of a failure than ever, but somehow, Chinen's smile in response is warm and sweet and not judgmental in the slightest.
"That's okay," he responds, and leave it to Chinen to say something encouraging even when Takaki can't do anything at all! If anything, Takaki can feel his heart bursting with even more appreciation for Chinen, but when Chinen opens his mouth to speak again, Takaki does his best to pull himself together before he does something embarrassing like get emotional and cry. "But look how the rest of the wall is totally clean. The only place that has the marks on the wall is…?"
"Uh…" Takaki starts, furrowing his brow as he tries to follow where Chinen is leading him. "That… the thief made the marks…?"
"That's right," Chinen praises, and Takaki's heart leaps, but he tries not to get too ahead of himself as Chinen continues. "And did you notice what's above the marks?"
Takaki blinks before looking back at his phone, expecting some sort of chipped brickwork, or bullet holes, or… something out of the ordinary. It wouldn't surprise him at all if something had been there and he'd just failed to notice it before, because he's really not the most observant person on the planet… but instead, all he sees is more brick, a large window, and the roof of the house. No matter how hard squints at the photo, he doesn't see anything out of the ordinary, and after a minute he looks up at Chinen is despair. "…All I see is the roof, and a window," he admits embarrassedly, biting his lip.
"Hmm~ Well, don't you think the window might be relevant?" Chinen replies, leaning in a little closer despite the fact that they're already bumping shoulders. "Seems like if the criminal was acrobatic enough…"
"…Yeah!!" Takaki suddenly practically shouts, and it's as if the clouds are finally parting for him. Of course the criminal could have gotten in the window if he brought a rope or something to climb up with… isn't that what burglars always do in spy shows and heist movies and things? It would explain the footprint to nowhere, as well, and Takaki can't help but grin as he whips out his notepad again, eagerly scribbling down Chinen's words and feeling more positive than he had all day. Beneath slim, lightweight he adds acrobatic, climbed in window, and it's like he's actually a real detective solving a real case. Sure, maybe it's just the optimistic feeling he gets when Chinen helps him, or maybe it's mostly because of the happiness he experiences whenever Chinen talks with him, but for the first time that day, he feels like he's actually not a complete idiot.
And so, feeling like maybe the answer is finally within reach, he returns once more to the crime scene the following day, both optimistic and extremely embarrassed to be back for the fourth time in as many days. Now that he'd figured out how the thief got in, Chinen had encouraged him to go back yet again to try to figure out how the thief had gotten to the safe, which sounded good to Takaki, since he didn't have any other ideas, anyway. But he's getting so close now, closer than he's ever come before on a complicated sort of case like this, and so even though he's relying almost entirely on Chinen's suggestion, he feels confident, like maybe this time he'll find the key clue that will allow him to pull it all together… or at least, allow Chinen to help him pull it all together.
Still, as he scuffs his way up the elaborate path to the historical old mansion in which his client lives, it's hard not to be intimidated by the scope of the task. The criminal is clearly something of a brilliant mastermind, to have broken into a house like this and stolen a highly-protected piece of jewelry, and Takaki knows he doesn't measure up. It would be a stretch to call him of average intelligence, he thinks self-deprecatingly as he kicks a pebble out of the way in frustration, not to mention any sort of genius. If the thief was somehow able to break in through a second story window, sneak through the house, crack the safe, and get out again without being caught, how the hell was Takaki going to figure out his identity? It felt like a lost cause, but, he reminds himself, it had felt that way from the beginning, and with Chinen's help, he'd made it this far, so the only choice was to keep going.
His client raises her eyebrows when Takaki tells her he'd like to take a fourth look at the crime scene, but Takaki tries to redeem himself slightly by saying that there'd been new evidence, and he'd like to see where the upstairs window led to on the inside. But, "very well," she agrees, and Takaki breathes a sigh of relief as she leads him to an odd little room at the top of the stairs, with a tiled floor and a sink and some cabinets but not much else. It seems like the room doesn't get much use, from how little it's furnished, and he glances at his client inquisitively, trying to find the right way to phrase his question about the function of the room tactfully.
"It was the upstairs servant kitchen back in the Taisho period, when the house was built," his client explains before Takaki can even ask, and he laughs embarrassedly, rubbing the back of his neck and hoping she wasn't insulted by his confused reaction. "Look around wherever you like. I mostly use the room for storage."
Takaki thanks her before getting to work, putting on a pair of rubber gloves (not that he really knows much about forensic science, but it seems like the safe thing to do) before opening and closing each of the cabinets in order. True to what his client had said, most of what he finds is cardboard boxes, which, judging from the few he peaked into, contain old linens and tableware. He's not really sure what he's looking for, but when he makes it over to the window, sure enough, something catches his eye-- a brown, muddy smudge just barely visible on the windowsill.
Excited, Takaki takes photos from as many angles as he can on his phone before looking around frantically, hopeful for any other indication of the thief's presence, or even better, a trail of where he went from there. However, most of the rest of the room seems spotless, and he's about to give up when he notices one more tiny brown smudge on the tiled floor, just beside what seems to be a weird cabinet set into the wall. After taking photos of that smudge as well, he peeks inside and finds a thick rope suspended from the top to the bottom of the cabinet, but nothing else.
"It's a dumbwaiter," he hears from behind him, again, before he can ask. "It's like an old fashioned elevator for food."
"Wow, you learn something new every day!" Takaki replies optimistically, but the excitement of the discovery is dampened when he realizes he has no idea how this connects to the crime. "Uh… where does it go to?" he asks after a moment, fumbling with his notepad. "Maybe the thief put the necklace in here…?"
"That somehow seems doubtful," he client replies dryly, but before Takaki can feel too stupid, she adds, "It goes down to the main kitchen. It's next to the room with the safe. You looked there the first time you were here."
Takaki goes back and looks again for good measure, but he finds no traces of mud, or anything else that seems relevant to the thief. Of course, the criminal, being much smarter than Takaki, would have wiped off his shoes, or at least his tracks, and so it's with a heavy heart that he thanks his client once more and heads for the train, hoping that Chinen will be able to make more sense of his findings than he has.
Back at the Starbucks, Takaki sighs as he leans on the counter, feeling as if the exhaustion in his brain is somehow transferring to his body. "I found some… stuff," he explains vaguely when Chinen approaches, wiping his hands on his green apron, "But… I don't really know what it means."
Chinen grins a little, and his expression is so warm that Takaki nearly gets caught up in the swelling of his own heart and forgets his tiredness. He's so lucky to be friends with Chinen, to get to simply bask in his presence, to have Chinen care enough about him to want to help him…
"Well then, that's what I'm here for," Chinen replies simply, sliding a coffee to Takaki over the counter that he seems to somehow have had waiting, as if he knew Takaki was coming, and Takaki thinks, if there's anyone in this world ingenious enough to defeat the thief, it's Chinen.
One venti double-shot vanilla latte and three mini scones later see Takaki at his usual spot at the counter with Chinen beside him, poking at Takaki's phone on the counter as he looks through the photos Takaki had taken earlier, his perfect little lips curled up in the playful grin that seems permanently on his features. "Hmm~" he says as he looks at each picture, and every time, Takaki hesitates wistfully, wishing for some sort of clue, but knowing by now that this is simply the way Chinen works. And sure enough, Chinen remains enigmatically vague as always, and so Takaki lets him take his time before flicking on to the next photo, the next "hmm~," the next pause of hopeful silence. Once he goes through all the photos, he waits extra long, but Chinen only smiles at him, resting his elbows on the counter and his chin in his palms and asking, "So what do you think~?"
"Um," Takaki hesitates, trying desperately to think of some sort of observation that doesn't sound idiotic. "Well, the thief clearly walked towards the dumbwaiter…"
"That's definitely true," Chinen replies with a pleasant laugh, "But what do you think he did there?"
Takaki has no idea whatsoever, and he can feel his face heating up again under Chinen's gaze. He's long given up any hopes of looking cool to Chinen, who's probably the smartest, most talented Starbucks barista in Japan, or maybe even in the world, but at any rate, he doesn't want to make a fool of himself, either. "He… probably used it…?" he offers after an extended pause, feeling like more of a loser than ever, but somehow, Chinen's grin in response is warm and sweet and not patronizing in the slightest.
"That does seem likely," he responds, and leave it to Chinen to say something so normal even when Takaki's comment was stupid! If anything, Takaki can feel his heart warming with even more respect for Chinen, but when Chinen opens his mouth to speak again, Takaki does his best to clear his mind and stay on task. "But what do you think he used it for?"
"Uh…" Takaki starts, running a hand through his hair as he tries to analyze the evidence like Chinen would. "Maybe… he put the necklace in there…?"
He expects Chinen to respond like the client, but of course, Chinen only smiles, because not only is Chinen the smartest and most talented person Takaki has ever met, but he's the kindest, too. "It seems unlikely that the thief exited through the window when, once inside, he could simply unlock the back door and leave with much less effort," he points out, and Takaki lets out a groan, feeling stupid for overcomplicating things in his own boggled little mind.
"Hey, don't get discouraged," Chinen chimes, putting a hand on Takaki's shoulder, and despite the fact that he's beginning to feel all over again like this case is totally unsolvable, just the feeling of the touch, the sound of Chinen's voice, the sheer positivity that radiates from his expression is enough to rejuvenate Takaki.
"You're… you're right," he agrees, rubbing his temples as he looks through the photos again. "But if not the necklace, what else could he have used that thing for…?"
Chinen looks at him thoughtfully for a moment before countering with his own question: "If you had to explain to me what a dumbwaiter was, what would you say?"
Takaki blinks, confused as to what this has to do with anything, but he supposes that Chinen knows best, so he closes his eyes and tries to remember exactly what he thought about the dumbwaiter when he first saw it. "Uh… like… a moving cabinet…?"
"A moving cabinet?" Chinen chirps back, "So it goes right and left?"
"No… only up and down," Takaki replies, feeling uncertain as to why Chinen is asking-- clearly, not only does Chinen know what a dumbwaiter is, but he'd looked at the photos Takaki had taken of the crime scene!
"So… from the floor to the ceiling," Chinen clarifies, and Takaki sighs, crossing his arms and fidgeting on his stool, feeling more and more like an idiot. He's never been good with words, especially words that required any sort of detail or accuracy, and he wants to just throw his hands up in the air and give up… only, he knows that Chinen must be doing this to help him, somehow, to allow him to save both his dignity and his job, and so he tries to swallow back his aggravation and focus.
"No… like, from the first floor to the second floor. Like an elevator," he finally replies, and then a moment later, suddenly, it all hits him like a brick wall.
"An elevator!" he exclaims, opening his eyes to grin widely at Chinen. "The thief rode in the dumbwaiter like an elevator!!"
"That's it!" Chinen cheers back, seeming genuinely equally excited that Takaki had finally come upon the answer, and Takaki feels his heart flipflop again, knowing that Chinen had wanted to give him this feeling of accomplishment for thinking of it on his own, rather than just telling him. Chinen is really and truly an amazing person, and Takaki hangs on his every word, intent on proving that he really can use Chinen's help to solve the case himself.
"So… what do you think that says about the criminal?" Chinen is asking, and Takaki scrunches up his face, trying to think over the clues before giving up and answering with a self-deprecating laugh, "That… he… is a lot smarter than me?"
"Hmm~ Well, I don't think you should put yourself down, considering how much you've figured out this far," Chinen replies, reaching out to touch Takaki's face gently, briefly, in a way that makes Takaki feel as if he's free falling. "I was thinking more along the lines of, he was small enough in stature to fit into the dumbwaiter…"
"Oh, of course!" Takaki exclaims, coming out of both his self-pity and that strange sensation that comes over him whenever Chinen touches him in order to copy down what Chinen is explaining in his notepad. It's really amazing, he thinks, that Chinen hasn't given up on him by this point, but at any rate, he writes small, used dumbwaiter as elevator in beneath slim, lightweight and acrobatic, climbed in window, before straightening a little to look down at his handiwork. He has a full page's worth of notes now, for the first time ever in the entire stint as a detective, and despite the fact that he knows Chinen really helped him find most of the answers, he's a little proud of himself, anyway. And sure, maybe it's just the warm feeling he gets every time Chinen smiles at him, or maybe it's mostly because of the confidence boost he experiences whenever Chinen seems proud of him, but for the first time that day, he feels like maybe he can solve this thing.
Twenty-four hours later, he's not so sure. Thanks to Chinen, he's been able to figure out most of the key details about the criminal-- heck, if he were an artistic type, he could probably even draw a sketch of the thief, but like detective work, drawing is definitely not his strong suit. Still, even though he knows that the thief is small, lightweight, and acrobatic, without any sort of lineup of suspects, he has no idea how to find this person. As he sits at his desk feeling self consciously idle as everyone around him taps at keyboards or scribbles notes, he contemplates calling the client back to ask if she'd seen any sketchy behavior in the area recently, or had any enemies, but after she'd seemed so annoyed with his incompetence at his last visit, he's too intimidated in the long run. And so he tries desperately to think of any way to figure out just who might have the means and motive to steal a necklace from a wealthy old uptown widow, but by lunch time, he still has no ideas, and he's coming pretty close to no hope for his job, either.
And so, it's with a heavy heart that he heads off to the Starbucks for his lunch break, knowing that Chinen will be disappointed when he finds out that, despite all his help, Takaki still has no leads, no plans, and no prayer of solving the case. He orders a venti frappuccino with whole milk and extra whip to go along with his sandwich even though he really shouldn't, sighing heavily as Chinen hands him his change. Chinen raises an eyebrow but says nothing other than, "Coming right up!" and Takaki wonders if Chinen hasn't given up on him already.
After he's gotten his drink from the counter and been told to go ahead and sit down and that his food will be up in just a moment, he chooses a table in the corner rather than his usual counter and spreads out his work papers with another heavy sigh. He almost never works through his lunch break, not least of all because he wants to devote his time at Starbucks to talking to Chinen, even if it is about work, but today, he can barely bring himself to face the prospect. Sure, Chinen has never given up on him before, but by now, after all the hints he's given, he must be getting sick of Takaki's ineptitude. It's better to at least seem like he's going somewhere with what Chinen has helped him, and so he looks over his notes and photos again, feeling more and more hopeless with each dead end, and yet not knowing what else to do besides keep trying until he inevitably runs out of time and is fired.
"What'cha up to?" a cute voice asks from far closer than Takaki is expecting, and he jumps, looking up at Chinen in surprise. "Oh-- sorry… just work," Takaki replies, trying not to seem like his heart is racing quite as much as it is from Chinen's unexpected close proximity. As Chinen sets his dishes on the table, however, he blinks, then adds, "Sorry… I didn't order a cookie?"
"I know," Chinen replies with a smile, "But you looked down, so it's on me."
Takaki tries not to let his shock play out on his face, but he's never been very good at masking his emotions, and before he knows what he's doing, he's blurting out, "But… I'm failing even though you gave me so many clues. Aren't you fed up with me?" And the moment it's out of his mouth, he knows he shouldn't have said it, is afraid now that Chinen will listen to what Takaki's saying and realize that he's right, that he's not worth Chinen's time and energy…
But by some miracle Chinen only shakes his head, his smile never wavering, and replies, "Nope~"
Takaki's throat feels tight as Chinen pulls out a chair and sits down beside him, looking over his papers with that same enigmatic grin, but he knows he can't cry, at least not right now. No matter how perfect and kind and sweet Chinen is, he probably won't be very happy with Takaki if he loses his job, and so, despite the fact that he doesn't have much hope even still, he tries to focus his thought as Chinen asks, "So what headway have you made?"
"Not much," Takaki admits miserably, running his hands through his hair. "I know what the thief is like, but… I have no idea where to start looking for him. He could be anyone in Tokyo… or in Japan… or… in the whole world!" The thought is overwhelming, and he rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands before looking at Chinen again ruefully. "I'm sorry all the help you gave me is going to waste. I'm such an idiot."
"Hush," says Chinen, looking over all of Takaki's notes and photos for another moment before meeting Takaki's gaze again. "Don't you think you shouldn't limit yourself too much? Surely you must know someone who fits that description who might be the thief?"
Takaki isn't sure what Chinen is talking about-- he's not friends with any thieves!-- but, he supposes, Chinen is right that he shouldn't rule out anyone. He thinks about everyone he knows who could possibly be related, from his boss to the clients' cook and maid to the client herself, but he can't think of a single person who fits the description. After all, someone would have to be practically perfect both in mind and body to come up with a such a plan to steal the necklace and then execute it, from climbing up the wall to using the dumbwaiter to cracking the safe. And sure, Takaki is pretty much dumber and lamer than everyone he knows, but even so, he doesn't think any of them are Olympic medalists or geniuses, either, and so, with a pathetic look to Chinen, he shrugs. "I don't know anyone like that…" he admit sheepishly, certain Chinen is going to abandon him and his idiocy any second.
But Chinen only raises an eyebrow. "Really? No one at all?" he asks in a tone that makes Takaki think that he must be forgetting or missing something, but after another two runs through the checklist of potential suspects in his head, he's still coming up with nothing, and shakes his head.
Chinen sighs, but despite Takaki's worst fears, he still doesn't look the least bit angry. Instead, he scoots his chair a little closer to Takaki's and looks into his eyes and says, "I really wanted to help you get it on your own, but I guess it can't be helped. I'm going to tell you the answer now, okay?"
Takaki's eyes widen in shock-- how could Chinen know the answer?? But Chinen really is a genius, he supposes, and so he nods quickly, leaning in, as well. His heart beats fast in his chest as he waits for Chinen to say a name, or tell him a phone number, or point out the thief in some other way, but instead, Chinen only smiles.
"Take my hand," he says simply, holding out an upturned palm to Takaki.
"Eh?" Takaki asks, blinking, unsure what Chinen is playing at, but he knows that Chinen has his methods, and so, after a moment, he hesitantly accepts, wrapping his own broad fingers around Chinen's slender ones. He can't help but feel his heart rate speed up even more at the touch; he's never really assertively touched Chinen like this before, and while he knows this isn't the place or time, everything about it is as perfect as he'd always dreamed it would be; Chinen's skin is soft, his hand warm, and Takaki never wants to let go.
But for now, he knows Chinen is going to somehow use this to show him who the thief is, and so he tries not to focus on how wonderfully perfect Chinen is and instead pay attention to his words. However, nothing could prepare him for what comes out of Chinen's mouth next.
"Congratulations! You've caught the criminal," Chinen says with a smile, and Takaki's brow furrows as he tries to make sense of the words. But no matter how many times he repeats them over to himself inside his brain, he can't make heads or tails of them, and so, "…What?" he asks, knowing he looks dumber than ever but unable to do anything about it.
But Chinen only smiles warmly before lacing his fingers in between Takaki's and leaning in even closer to whisper in Takaki's ear, "I'm the thief."
"Wh-what?!" Takaki bursts after a moment of perplexed silence, the adrenaline pumping through his system not dampened in the least by Chinen's close proximity. "What?? No-- but… what??"
Chinen's laugh is melodic, like a bell, and somehow, it soothes Takaki somewhat, but he's still not over his shock, and he can't manage to keep himself from gaping as Chinen replies, "Actually, your client is my grandmother. I lifted her necklace a few nights back. I have it with me right now, so assuming you're not going to take me to the cops, you can bring it back to work after your lunch break and keep your job."
Chinen says it all as if it's obvious and clear as day, but Takaki is still utterly baffled by what's going on, and all he can manage in response is, "… uh??" which brings another cute laugh out of Chinen before he takes Takaki's other hand and guides him to his feet before stepping even closer still. It makes Takaki's heart flip a little in his chest, but he can't even focus on it right now when he's so confused as to what Chinen is telling him. "What do you mean, you're the thief?? This whole time, you…??" he finally manages, still unable to stop gaping.
But Chinen's smile softens as he lets go of one of Takaki's hands to reach out and touch Takaki's face, brushing back a lock of hair gently. "I didn't want you to lose your job," he says quietly, and there's something about the look in his eyes that makes Takaki feel as if the rug has been tugged out from under his feet all over again. "Because I like you."
"Y-you…??" Takaki stutters like a buffoon, but who could blame him? He has to be dreaming, right? None of this can possibly be happening… but yet, it feels real enough when a second later, Chinen is standing on his toes to lean in and press a fleeting but firm kiss on Takaki's lips. Takaki can feel his face turning bright red, but Chinen's hand still feels firm and real in his own, and, Takaki decides as a stupid grin begins to grow on his face, if he's dreaming, maybe he doesn't want to wake up.
"It's almost the end of your lunch break," Chinen points out, and Takaki doesn't even bother to wonder how Chinen could possibly know that. "So you'd better hurry up and eat, and then take the necklace back to your boss. We can talk about everything after you get off work today, okay?"
"Okay," Takaki agrees, reluctant to draw apart from Chinen but knowing that he's right. Still, a single important fact suddenly cuts through his haze of giddiness, and he blinks at Chinen. "Except… you still haven't told me where the necklace is."
"Oh," Chinen replies, and maybe it's Takaki's imagination, but the way his smile quirks up at the corner looks just a bit more mischievous than expected. "It's in my back pocket. But I wouldn't want to deprive you of the gratification of finding it yourself…" He winks at Takaki, and it's so cute that it takes Takaki extra long to figure out what Chinen is implying. But once he does, his face turns bright red all over again, and, "A-are you sure?!" he's choking out, trying his hardest not to let his eyes stray away from Chinen's face.
"I'm sure," Chinen replies with a laugh, leaning a little closer still, as if to give Takaki better access to his backside, and Takaki thinks, as he places a trembling hand on Chinen's back before letting it slide a little lower to the back of his jeans where, sure enough, there's something in his pocket, that maybe he's still the worst detective on the planet, but then again, maybe, somehow, he's found something more important than clues.