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Shinichi approached the house slowly on full alert and took a few moments to examine the new gate before easing it open and creeping up the front walk. His gaze lingered on the also-new sprinkler nozzles poking out of loose earth and he stepped a little quicker, but he felt no relief upon reaching the front door. His body tense, ready to spring back at a moment’s notice, he poked the (thankfully not new) doorbell. The familiar tone sounded on the other side of the door and Shinichi only jumped a little when it opened.

“Shinichi!” Agasa said. He stepped aside to let him in. “I didn’t think we’d see you tonight.”

Shinichi edged into the house, casting a glance up at the doorjamb and the ceiling of the entryway. “Yeah, well,” he murmured, but he was far too distracted to finish the thought. “How far has he gotten?”

“It was seventy-three percent last time he mentioned it. But it’s all deactivated until the systems are finished. He’s working on the wiring right now.”

Shinichi finally relaxed. “Downstairs then, right?” he asked, smiling, and he headed straight for the door down to the lab.

“Oh, but, Shinichi–” Agasa tried, but Shinichi was already gone. Agasa sighed and went to the kitchen. It was late and he knew Shinichi well enough to know he hadn’t eaten. After all, he’d been working all day.

 

Shinichi saw Haibara first as he reached the bottom of the stairs. She was sitting on the edge of the exam table, her ankles crossed in front of her and her feet swinging just a little as she looked down at something on the floor, an oddly satisfied smile on her face. Then he saw what she was staring at. Kaito was lying on his side on the tiles with a smattering of tools scattered around him and his head and hands fully immersed in an open wall panel. But what was most interesting was that Kaito was wearing just a thin white tank top and a loose pair of jeans. He was even barefoot, and his shirt rode up as he twisted to get at a particular wire within the wall, exposing a sliver of gleaming muscle. Shinichi breathed out a soft laugh.

“Why is it so warm in here, Haibara?” he said in greeting. He came up behind her and braced his forearms on the table beside where she was sitting.

“Hm,” Haibara hummed lightly. “I guess I didn’t turn the heating off after the cold weather broke.”

“Is that Shinichi?”

Kaito’s voice from within the wall was a little muffled and more than a little distracted.

“Forgot my voice already?” Shinichi said, low and teasing.

For once, Haibara made no comment, even after Kaito shifted a little to pull his head out of the wall and give Shinichi a loaded look and matching smirk. Then he ducked back into the panel again and Shinichi glanced to Haibara instead.

“You’re looking pleased with yourself,” he said in a sly murmur. “Enjoying the view?”

“I am,” she agreed. “You could join him, you know. Why don’t you ever dress like that?” She looked over at him just to see the blush color his face and heard Kaito snickering wickedly from inside the wall.

“Oh shut up,” Shinichi said, turning away.

There was a click as the door opened at the top of the stairs. “Ai-kun, Kaito-kun,” Agasa called down. “Could you send Shinichi up to eat? And you should call it a night, too.” The door clicked gently closed again without waiting for an answer and Shinichi scoffed, opening his mouth to comment. Haibara beat him to it.

“He knows he’s too soft with you so he leaves you to us.” Her gaze was burning with challenge when she glanced at him again. “Be upstairs in two minutes or less,” she said, and Shinichi didn’t argue. Haibara hopped from the table. “I’ll make sure he’s preparing something decent.”

Shinichi straightened up and moved around the table to stand beside Kaito as Haibara disappeared up the stairs. He nudged him in the ribs with his toe. “Hey, they’re probably right. Let’s head home.”

“Give me… eight minutes,” Kaito replied from inside the wall. “I’ll be right up.”

Shinichi shrugged with a little sound of agreement and headed up to find Haibara scrutinizing a frying pan Agasa had set over low heat on the stove. He was about to join them to see what was in it when he noticed the single plate set out in front of the stool he most often occupied at the kitchen counter.

Haibara glanced back and spotted him, pointing sternly at that seat before nudging Agasa out of the way so she could take over the frying pan.

Shinichi sat down. “What–?”

“It’s nearly eleven,” Haibara said, and Shinichi’s eyes shot down to his watch. “We’ve all eaten. And the professor managed to throw something together that won’t do you more harm than good, so eat.” She turned from the stove and brought the frying pan over to the counter to push a vegetable omelet onto the waiting plate with a pair of chopsticks, folding it over neatly before skewering it mercilessly with both sticks. She looked up at Shinichi, scalding hot frying pan still in hand, and he quickly plucked the chopsticks up and started eating.

“So how’s it going?” he asked between bites. “I assume you’ve been doing more than staring at my boyfriend all day.” He paused, a piece of omelet halfway to his mouth. “Or at least I hope so. Creepy.”

“I have, yes,” Haibara said, unaffected. She gathered the eggshells that had been carelessly left on the counter and wiped the spot down. “I’ve been helping where I can. Consulting, mostly.” She paused, glaring at the dishes piled in the sink that she was finally tall enough to see without a stepstool. “You know Kuroba-kun feeds on attention,” she abruptly added. “But he hasn’t been getting much lately because of how much you’ve been working.”

Shinichi looked up to stare hard at the back of her head as she worked at the sink, trying to see if he could make her feel the look he was giving her as he raised an eyebrow as high as he was physically able. “So you thought you’d help out. Out of the goodness of your heart,” he said, voice dry as paper.

Haibara smirked but kept her back to him. “He doesn’t even have heists to distract him or to fill that need anymore, which is your fault too, by the way. That temporary truce with the police? KID is supposed to hold back as much as they are if he wants to be trusted enough to be able to help.”

“My fault, huh? You don’t have to put it that way. You know it’s the only way he’d be able to help, and he wants to.”

“Yes, of course it is, and of course he does, and you know all this so I wonder… why is it you never make it clear that you appreciate what he’s doing?”

Shinichi opened his mouth again, defensive and ready to refute, but Haibara cut him off.

“Oh, we all know that you do, but you haven’t really said it. Have you.”

“…Did Kaito say something to you?”

“Why would you think that?” Haibara asked innocently, not glancing away from the soapy dishes.

“Okay, I’d say we’re seventy-five percent finished!” Kaito declared as he reached the top of the stairs. “Good a place as any to stop for the night.” He ran a quick hand back and forth through his hair to shake some plaster dust loose and Haibara scowled at him. Shinichi forced himself to focus on the omelet, finishing the last of it quickly and bringing the plate and chopsticks to the sink. Haibara snatched them from him.

“Good then,” she said. “Bed. Both of you.”

Shinichi rolled his eyes and was about to reply when Kaito grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the front door. He vaguely started to wonder if there was a conspiracy against his snark tonight. “Thanks for dinner, professor,” Shinichi called back from the entryway. Kaito had paused long enough to find where Haibara had decided to hide his shoes and socks, but Shinichi had barely gotten his own shoes on before Kaito was dragging him outside.

“See you tomorrow,” he shouted before the door swung shut behind them.

“What’s the hurry?” Shinichi asked, trailing along behind Kaito and trying to keep pace without much zeal.

Kaito didn’t respond until they were inside the Kudou manor with the door shut and locked. “What’s the latest?” he asked. He dropped ungracefully to sit on the floor in the entranceway and pulled off his shoes. Again, Shinichi had barely made it out of his own before Kaito was dragging him up the stairs.

“Just more of the same really,” Shinichi said and he saw Kaito’s shoulders slump a little. “I would have told you right away if something big happened,” he reasoned at him.

“Yeah, but you were so late getting back I thought there must have been something.” Kaito pulled him into the bathroom and started undressing. “Joining me?” he asked.

Shinichi shook his head. “I stopped here to shower before I went to the professor’s.”

Kaito paused, scowling in just his underwear. “So that’s what it was. I thought you weren’t working murder cases for now. Division One agreed–”

“Who said I had a murder case–?” Shinichi tried but Kaito was giving him a look. He sighed. “Sometimes I can’t really help it, Kaito.”

Kaito made a quiet humming sound and shed his underwear. “So nothing big, you said, but update me anyway,” he prompted, turning on the water. “You’re supposed to be the liaison between the police and KID, aren’t you~?” He glanced over his shoulder and winked before ducking into the shower.

Shinichi sat down on one of Yukiko’s vanity stools (why she needed three was still a mystery to him) and leaned back against the counter. “It’s been going well,” he said above the running water. “Hattori has been sort of unofficially helping us pick out businesses that look suspicious, and the forensic accounting team we recruited is really good. At this rate, they’ve gotta be feeling it.”

“So, cutting off funds from money laundering, choking their resources, and weeding out secret Organization members in every field and business while you’re at it.” Kaito summarized. “…You know what comes next.”

“Retaliation,” Shinichi agreed. “It’ll be soon, if it’s coming. There’s been a noticeable decline in new discoveries over the past two weeks. They’re pulling back their vulnerabilities, but there’s no way they’d just give up.”

“Any turncoats yet?” Kaito asked, but the grim undertone said he already knew the answer.

“No,” Shinichi sighed. “Haibara was right. No one is willing to take that risk, no matter what deals or protection we offer them.”

“Okay then.” The water turned off and Kaito stepped out, perfectly comfortable with continuing the conversation while he stood there naked, toweling himself off. Shinichi still looked away half the time, some combination of modesty and temptation making it too bothersome for him not to. “I’ll finish the professor’s security system tomorrow. Then we can start work on one here.”

“You really think you can finish in a day? You said seventy-five percent.” By his math, that would be at least another week.

“Well…” Kaito said in the drawn out way that told Shinichi he might have been exaggerating. Shinichi still wasn’t sure which part the exaggeration applied to though. “I’m sure I can do it if I try,” he finished with a grin. He tucked the towel around his waist (mostly for Shinichi’s benefit) and headed for Shinichi’s room.

“Kaito,” Shinichi scolded, trailing after him. “Don’t rush it. We want this done right. It needs to be something we can rely on.”

Kaito scoffed. “What do you take me for? …Make it three days. How’s that?”

Shinichi eyed him suspiciously. Kaito promptly removed the towel and grinned when Shinichi looked away again just on reflex.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure,” Kaito said. The whole process had been, after all, much quicker and easier than he’d expected, what with Agasa right there coming up with odd things like his miniaturized, silent dynamite (that Kaito was thrilled to find exploded in rainbows as a leftover aspect of Agasa’s old project for the city). It had removed the need to jackhammer through any inconvenient walls or layers of earth, and had considerably expanded the working hours he could get away with and still keep the whole project relatively secret. He pulled on a pair of Shinichi’s pajama pants.

“Hey, do you know what’s up with Haibara lately?” Shinichi asked through the shirt he had partway over his head. He tugged it the rest of the way off, considered it for a moment, then dropped it on the floor. Kaito smiled a little. He definitely knew where this night was going.

“You mean the overly mothering tendencies and the prying into personal matters thing? Or do you mean the hats.”

Yes! She– Hats?”

Kaito nodded solemnly and dropped onto Shinichi’s bed without bothering to put a shirt on, folding his hands behind his head and staring up at the ceiling. “She wears hats a lot more now when she has to leave the house. At eleven or twelve years old, she’s looking more and more like Miyano Shiho every day. The fussing and prying points to it, too. She’s nervous. I thought she’d feel better by now – it’s been half a year already since the whole Pyrrha’s Stone thing – but it’s like it’s only getting worse. Guess I can’t blame her. I’m sure she knows what’s coming as much as we do.”

Shinichi sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. “So you want to finish the security system as soon as possible.” Sooner than possible, actually. Idiot.

“Of course! It’s not like I have anything better to do.”

Shinichi cast a quick glance down at him but Kaito’s eyes were closed. “Hey…” he started and he knew his voice had taken a weird turn because Kaito’s eyes opened immediately, staring up at him, wide and curious. He felt caught. …Do I really never say it? he thought with some consternation. “You know I… Uh…”

Kaito smirked. “Love me? Think I’m amazing? Make allowances in your steadfast morals to accommodate my devious ways?”

Forget this. Shinichi shifted over suddenly, straddling Kaito and pinning him down with a rough kiss. Kaito laughed breathlessly when Shinichi eventually released his lips to kiss along the side of his jaw instead, his hands roaming Kaito’s skin, tracing muscle.

“I get the feeling this is some kind of breakdown of communication?” Kaito ventured. He felt Shinichi shake his head where it was now tucked under Kaito’s chin as he brushed kisses down his neck.

“No, I think I’m making myself perfectly clear.”

“Don’t know why I always thought you’d be good with words–” Kaito started to say, but he had to stop, taking in a few stunted little breaths as Shinichi shifted again to push his knee between Kaito’s legs.

“There’s only one word I want to hear right now,” Shinichi murmured, his fingers flexing with purpose.

“Yes?” Kaito guessed. Shinichi looked up to smirk at him. “Yes,” Kaito revised, grinning, and Shinichi kissed him, shifting once more to move his hips against Kaito’s just to hear his voice cave with another wordless approval.

“I love you,” Shinichi breathed.

“Shh…” Kaito’s hand came up, fingers clenching into Shinichi’s hair to pull him down into another deep kiss, and one leg curled around Shinichi’s to keep his body close. He could feel Shinichi’s chest moving against his own as his breath ran short, but he didn’t let him go – not until they were both panting, their breath mingling hot on each other’s skin.

“You’ve definitely made yourself clear, Shinichi,” Kaito whispered. “Don’t ever worry about that. Now…” He inched down a little under him and latched onto his neck, drawing out a quiet, appreciative moan, and took advantage of Shinichi’s distraction to turn him, switching their positions. Shinichi barely acknowledged it until Kaito finally drew back, smirking at the wet pink mark near Shinichi’s collar bone.

Once he got his brain back in order, Shinichi glanced a question up at Kaito.

“You’ve been working so much, Shinichi,” Kaito murmured in answer. “Let me take care of you tonight, okay?”

“Heh. You trying to say you’ve just been sitting around while I’ve been with the Organization task force?”

“It’s different, though. What you have to do.” It’s dangerous. He drew his fingers through Shinichi’s hair and down the side of his face then leaned over him again, nuzzling against his cheek.

Shinichi’s arms circled around him and he turned his head to catch Kaito’s lips. Slowly, taking his time, he worked them open and let Kaito dip his tongue into his mouth.

Kaito felt a shiver run through him at the unrestrained moan Shinichi let out. “Nn… Is that a yes… Shinichi?” Kaito breathed.

“Yes.”

The response was quicker than Kaito had been expecting. He pulled back just enough to smirk down at him. “Good. Then I’ll get to work~”

 

Shinichi woke to the smell of chocolate. Confused, he sat up and immediately noted that he was alone.

That makes a little more sense, at least, he thought. Though it’s not exactly comforting.

He got out of bed and left the guestroom he and Kaito had moved to. When he stopped by his bedroom to collect the sheets off of his bed he discovered that Kaito was a step ahead of him. The bed was already bare and he could hear the dryer running as he made it to the bottom of the stairs.

He found Kaito in the kitchen, poking at one of the cupcakes in the metal pan on the stove. Shinichi glanced around and spotted another dozen sitting off to the side, as well as a large bowl soaking in the sink. More importantly, he could smell coffee now, and the pot was full and hot.

“Tell me you didn’t make these from scratch,” he said sleepily, drawn to the coffee pot like a magnet. He filled a mug and held it close, watching Kaito gently prod one of the cakes free of the pan.

“Box mix,” he answered. “It just sort of… happened.”

“Good.” Shinichi picked the cupcake out of Kaito’s hand and went to the table, peeling off the paper. The cake was still warm and he pulled a piece off, popping it into his mouth.

“Hey– But– Frosting!” Kaito whined. Shinichi ate another frostingless piece with a smug smile and glanced over at the clock on the microwave.

“Kaito… You can’t have gotten much sleep.”

Kaito made a soft sound and started moving the other cupcakes out of the pan. “I guess there’s just a lot on my mind lately.”

“…Have you decided about school?” He was hesitant to ask only because he already knew the answer. Shinichi and Kaito had both dropped all of their classes after Shinichi’s near miss with Snake that had led to their fake Pandora plan. But, while Shinichi had finally picked his schooling back up again, Kaito was still hesitating. He’d quit his job at the mechanic’s to have more time for designing and building the security system but not, it seemed, for school.

“Anyway, I was thinking,” Kaito said, his back to Shinichi and his focus on the cupcakes. “You haven’t had a day off in a while and I don’t want you to spend it helping me with the security system so–”

“Kaito, that’s stupid,” Shinichi sighed. Changing the subject was answer enough, and he didn’t intend to push him about it. “Neither of us will be able to relax until it’s finished, and I want to help. Let’s head over as soon as you’re done here. It’ll go twice as fast with both of us working on it. Or, if you want, I can work on it today and you can get some sleep instead.”

“Yeah right,” Kaito laughed. “Fine. The cupcakes should be cool by the time the sheets are done. We can take some over to the professor’s house once they’re frosted. Like cupcakes should be.”

“…Haibara’s gonna kill you.”

 

“Kaito, what are you doing?”

Shinichi was standing at the foot of his bed, attempting to tug a corner of the fitted sheet over the mattress. Kaito, who was supposed to be handling the opposite side, was just standing next to the bed, staring at something Shinichi couldn’t see.

“You don’t keep this with you anymore,” he said.

“Huh?”

Kaito turned and Shinichi saw the drawer of the bedside table standing open, and a phone in Kaito’s hand. A soccer ball charm swung from one corner.

“Oh. Yeah. I should probably get rid of that. It would be pretty suspicious if someone saw that I had it.”

“Do the kids still call?” Kaito asked, setting the phone back into the drawer with the bookmark he’d picked up from the floor and pushing it closed.

“Every once in a while. Usually when they’re stuck on something they’re trying to figure out.”

“But you don’t answer anymore.”

Shinichi shook his head and went back to tugging at the sheet. Kaito took hold of his side again and pulled it into place. “I don’t want them depending on me like that anymore. They’ve learned a lot; they can handle things on their own now. And besides, they’re kids. It’s natural for them to move past a childhood friend who moved away. They’re making more and more friends now and picking up other interests. They don’t need Conan anymore.”

They don’t, or you don’t? “Are you a little disappointed?” Kaito asked with a small smile.

Shinichi shook his head. “No, I’m glad. It means I can move on, too. And, well, they still call me when they get in over their heads.” He was smiling too, and Kaito felt something warm and unfamiliar settle inside him.

Heh. Despite his parents, Shinichi might actually make a good dad someday.

Kaito’s hands froze on the sheet, a blush heating his face as he realized what he’d just thought.

It didn’t go unnoticed.

“Hey, what are you thinking about over there?” Shinichi asked, smug.

“Nothing!”

“Uh huh.” Shinichi finished smoothing the sheet into place then walked around the bed to come up behind Kaito. His arms slipped around him, drawing him back against Shinichi’s chest, and a slow, warm kiss brushed his neck. Kaito relaxed into his hold.

It’s too soon to be thinking about that, he told himself. Too soon for that, but… He smiled and his hands moved to cover Shinichi’s. “I love you,” he murmured, and he felt Shinichi nuzzle a kiss into his hair.

“Love you, too.”

That’s more than enough, for now.

 

*

 

“You’re asking for trouble, picking the detective first.”

“Who else would we do first?”

“KID.”

Gin turned to look at Vermouth as he settled his trench coat onto his shoulders. “We don’t have any more leads on KID than we do on Sherry. The detective is the one who could lead us to both.”

“What makes you think Kudou knows anything about Sherry?”

He decided not to answer. With as much as he was sure Vermouth was keeping from him, she didn’t need to know what he’d worked out about the mysterious (and likely disguised) voice he’d heard on the roof of the Haido City Hotel the night he’d almost caught Sherry. The detective who’d somehow survived and had learned the name of their organization’s untraceable poison had to have a connection with her.

“KID will get in the way,” Vermouth pointed out when he remained silent.

For the third time since he’d gotten out of bed, Gin reached for a cigarette and lit it quickly. He took a moment, drawing deeply from it before answering. “Unless you have some mysterious way of finding Kaitou KID when he doesn’t want to be found, we’ll deal with him when and if he causes a problem.”

“He will.” Vermouth smirked up at him from the bed, her hair splayed across the pillows. Before Gin could lose his temper, she added, “But there’s someone we know who talked about KID like she knew something others didn’t. And we know right where to find her.”

Gin looked thoughtful for a second or two before turning to the closet again to lift his hat from the shelf and set it onto his head. “Then you can take care of that.” He went for the door.

“Where are you going?” Vermouth asked.

“Business doesn’t stop just because we have another assignment.”

“A priority assignment,” she reminded him.

Gin didn’t miss a beat. “Then get to work.”

He let the heavy door slam behind him.

Chapter Text

Megure was looking distinctly uneasy. He was seated at a table, straight-backed in his chair with his hands folded in front of him, but his eyes kept darting over to the figure standing in the corner.

“Relax, Inspector,” KID said with a grin. His head was tilted just slightly forward so that the overhead lights cast a steady shadow under his hat. “There’s no threat and no obligation here. Let’s talk contingency.”

“He’s right,” Shinichi put in. He was sitting sideways in his chair, resting an arm on the table not quite across from Megure, creating something of a triangle between the three of them. “There’s something important I… haven’t told you yet,” he said to Megure. “About the Organization. And KID has some ideas about how to manage one of our more likely worst case scenarios related to that.”

“Right,” Megure said stiffly. “We did agree on cooperation. And it’s pretty clear that your, er, input has been valuable already…” He glanced at Shinichi. “I feel like Nakamori-keibu would be better suited to this though.”

“Hear me out,” Shinichi said, his expression grim. “And see if you still feel that way.”

Megure hesitated but gave one firm nod under the two expectant gazes.

“You already know why I disappeared five years ago,” Shinichi began. “I had a run-in with the Black Organization. They tried to poison me to get me out of the way. I survived and ended up on the run.”

Megure nodded. His knuckles were white, hands still tightly clasped together. Shinichi had been sixteen at the time, and it still bothered him that he hadn’t picked up on what was happening even after all those helpful phone calls that consistently ended with “please don’t tell anyone I was involved.” He should have known something was wrong.

“There’s a little more to it than that,” Shinichi continued. “In those two and a half years I was gone, I became more and more acquainted with KID, just by chance. He’s had his own conflicts with the Organization.”

Megure glanced at KID again. KID remained preternaturally still, eyes hooded.

“I’m not going into any details about that,” Shinichi said. “But by working together and pooling our knowledge we were able to find some things out. It turns out that the poison they used on me was actually an experimental drug. We don’t know what it was supposed to do,” he lied. “But someone surviving it was apparently a big step in the right direction and now they want information on it pretty desperately.” He paused, looking down at his hands for a few seconds because he knew Megure would not like what came next. “They made it perfectly clear at the Pyrrha’s Stone heist that they’ll do anything to pull me in for their experiments.”

For a long tense moment Megure just stared at Shinichi, his expression gradually darkening as his eyes narrowed and his scowl deepened and his eyebrows drew down. Then he abruptly looked to KID. “Is this true?”

KID didn’t show his surprise at Megure deferring to him, but he still felt it. “It is, yes,” he answered.

“And you’ve known this since that heist. Since September.” Megure was openly seething though he couldn’t seem to decide who to direct the brunt of his anger toward. “If I had known I never would have let you–”

“Exactly, Inspector,” Shinichi sighed. “You know me. There was no way I’d let you lock me out of this. I can’t turn my back on this case. I’m only telling you now because it’s a necessity, and because you and I both know that we’ve made more progress with this task force in the last five months than the MPD, CIA, FBI, and Interpol have in the last five years. KID and I are valuable resources in the fight against the Organization – too valuable for you to give up.”

“And it may go without saying but if you shut Kudou-tantei out, you do lose me as well,” KID put in, his voice emotionless. “I’m risking too much already. I can’t help you without a liaison I trust.”

“You are putting me in a horrible position, Kudou-kun,” Megure said. His throat felt tight and the words bore that strain.

“I know,” Shinichi said. “But I think you’ll understand why once you hear this plan.”

KID crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall. “That is where I come in.”

 

A long discussion later, Megure was still extremely tense in his seat. “I agree it seems like you’ve thought of everything,” he said more than a little grudgingly through clenched teeth.

“Defensive and offensive,” Shinichi agreed. “It’s the only way to do this.”

“But… But–”

“Understand, Inspector,” KID cut in. “This is the way I do things. I plan for every possibility. No matter how unlikely.”

“Fine. I understand. I do not like it. And I haven’t made my mind up yet, Kudou-kun, so do not assume I’m just going to go along with this. But, if I’m going to even consider all of this, answer me one thing.” He turned his glare on KID. “How do you think we’re going to fund this plan of yours?”

Shinichi breathed out a laugh that was only slightly less worrying than the sharp grin KID was suddenly wearing. “Oh, I have a thought about that.”

 

*

 

“KID-killer’s cousin!” Jirokichi proclaimed on the doorstep when Shinichi and Megure rang the bell at the ridiculously extravagant manor. Shinichi cringed inwardly but glossed it over with a smile.

“Thanks for agreeing to meet with me, Suzuki-san.”

“You’re a friend of Sonoko’s and you can give KID a run for his money. You’re welcome anytime!” He ushered them inside and took them up to a stately office with heavy, dark wood furniture and plush carpeting. Shinichi noticed immediately that the door had been soundproofed. Once it was closed, Jirokichi’s expression became somewhat more serious.

“All right. So we’re here,” he said, and Shinichi and Megure exchanged a quick glance before Jirokichi held up what was obviously a KID card.

Shinichi read aloud from it. “Take the two of them to the second floor office, second to last on the left. Don’t tell anyone about this card until then.”

“And I’m very pleased you can follow instructions, Advisor. That will make this much simpler,” KID said, surely materializing out of thin air. Megure actually jumped a little.

“Kaitou KID!” Jirokichi shouted.

“Inspector, if you would?” KID cast a charming smile in Megure’s direction.

“Uh…” Megure stammered. “Right. Advisor Suzuki, KID is here as a favor to the police.” The words seemed extremely taxing to say. KID was beaming. “We were hoping you would be able to help us with a certain, er, project.”

Jirokichi was torn. Kaitou KID was standing in his office. He had panic buttons everywhere. But there was also a police inspector standing in his office telling him KID was there as a favor. Jirokichi reached slowly over and pinched Megure’s face. “Huh.”

“Suzuki-san,” Shinichi said, pulling Jirokichi’s gaze over to him. He got the impression the old man had forgotten Shinichi was there. “Would you be willing to listen?”

Jirokichi looked from Shinichi back to KID, then to Megure, and to KID again. “…Well it’s got to be something big.” He folded his arms. “Go ahead. Talk.”

KID gestured to the dignified, high-backed armchairs. “I insist,” he said when Jirokichi didn’t move. “If all goes well, this may be a long conversation.”

Shinichi took the initiative and sat down first and Megure followed fairly quickly. KID remained standing, leaning back against the large desk, but Jirokichi eventually caved and sat as well.

“Before anything else,” Shinichi started. “We need to know if you would be willing to get involved. We’re going up against an international crime syndicate. If your involvement comes to light, you could be targeted.”

“Targeted, huh?” Jirokichi said with a nasty sort of grin. “People have tried to kill me before. No one’s managed it yet!”

“It shouldn’t come to that,” Megure put in. “This is actually KID’s plan. I think he’s covered every angle. You shouldn’t be at risk.”

“And you’d get to have a hand in the takedown of a worldwide criminal organization,” KID added, his voice far too light. “Now wouldn’t that be something for the memoirs~?”

“Memoirs?” Megure choked. “No one is supposed to know–!”

“A takedown, you say?” Jirokichi’s eyes were glinting and the grin beneath his bushy mustache had gained a few more teeth. “Then there’ll be no problem once it’s all over. We’ll just have to demolish them completely and I can tell my story after!”

“Advisor Suzuki,” Megure said, his voice somewhat weak. “You don’t even know what we’re asking for yet.”

“It’s money right?” Jirokichi leaned forward, slapping his palms to his knees. “For a good cause, all around. How much are we talking? Billions?”

“We’re estimating five million at the low end, if this plan becomes necessary,” Shinichi said. He shrank back some at the withering stare Jirokichi slowly turned on him.

“Are you joking, boy? You got me this worked up over pocket change?”

Megure silently mouthed the words “pocket change.” He looked pale.

“Per month,” KID added, unfazed. “And we don’t know how long we’d need to keep this operation running. One month is the minimum if things get to that point. Also, there will be no advance notice.

“Beyond money, there is also a particular building in your ownership that I would like to commandeer, starting immediately and indefinitely. Still think we’re in the wrong place?”

Jirokichi was staring up at KID now like he couldn’t quite find words, but when he did, they came out in an explosive laugh. “You’re pretty bold, Kaitou KID!” he said. “I like that. Good to be straightforward when you’re asking for something.” The laughter very suddenly disappeared and the viciousness returned to his smile, a hard look in his eyes. “Don’t forget, though. I’ve sworn to catch you because you’ve shown me up. You’re already in my debt.”

Shinichi actively rolled his eyes to make up for KID’s poker face.

“Well then, if I may, I’d like to explain the details of this plan and why it’s so important. You may agree, having a bold new story to tell is not the only item of personal relevance to you.”

 

By the time KID finished explaining, Jirokichi looked grumpy but subdued, though for the last five minutes or so he’d fixed a glare on Shinichi that hadn’t let up.

“So,” Jirokichi said. “Kaitou KID is helping to protect my niece. From the danger you’re putting her in, Kudou-kun.”

“This plan was Kudou-tantei’s idea,” KID said. “He called me in as an expert consult, that’s all.”

“That’s another thing,” Jirokichi went on. “The two of you seem to be getting along quite well.”

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Shinichi said with a shrug.

“For now~” KID added. “But more to the point, Advisor Suzuki, you now understand that so much as mentioning your association with this task force before the, ah, takedown is complete could seriously endanger more than thirty lives, including your own and your niece’s.”

“Yeah, I understand,” he said. “What I don’t understand… You have all these plans for if this happens. What are you doing to prevent it?”

“Everything we can,” Shinichi said steadily. The way KID blinked slightly distant eyes told him that Kaito would have been turning away with a huff. He was far from seeing eye-to-eye with Shinichi on that particular topic, but, as always, Shinichi wouldn’t back down. “Do we have a deal then, Suzuki-san?”

Jirokichi let out a long sigh then pushed to his feet. Shinichi and Megure stood as well and KID stepped away from the desk, the four of them coming together in the center of the room. “I hope I don’t hear anything about this again,” Jirokichi said, offering his hand to Shinichi. “But any support that’s needed from me, you and your team have it.”

Shinichi shook his hand and Megure did the same. Jirokichi cast a suspicious side-eye glance at KID’s toothy grin.

“It’s appreciated, Advisor. Please have that building vacated for upgrades as soon as possible. Well then~” KID tipped his hat and vanished from the office in a plume of white smoke.

Chapter Text

“Kaito!”

“I’m telling you it’s fine, Aoko! He’ll be here in a minute!”

“Kaito, so help me, if you touch that cake before Shinichi sees it–” Ran raised her fist. She didn’t need to finish the sentence. Kaito set the knife carefully on the bar and took a step back for good measure.

“I must say, Ran-kun, I am impressed with your ability to rein Kuroba-kun in. Not even Kudou-kun has quite the impact on him that you do.”

“Thank you, Saguru-kun,” Ran said sweetly while Kaito pouted.

“I don’t get it. Why’re you so scared of her?” Kosuke asked, his face and tone genuinely curious as he looked between his girlfriend and Kaito.

“Are ya kiddin’?” Hattori cut in. “Neechan can break concrete with her fists. I’d be scared too.”

“If ya know what’s good for ya, Heiji, you’ll keep outta trouble.” Kazuha’s hands landed on her hips. “Ran-chan might be strong, but she’s too nice. It’s me ya gotta worry ‘bout.”

“Oh, trust me. I am.”

Sonoko let out a dramatic sigh. “I’m so glad I’ve got somebody who doesn’t need death threats to act like a gentleman.” She dropped her weight against Makoto’s side, wrapping an arm around him, and his face went a little flushed.

“Hey! Who here isn’t a gentleman?” Kaito demanded.

“Well that’s an interesting question to walk in on.”

Shinichi stepped into The Blue Parrot with a grin and Kaito bounded up to him, dragging him away from the door and over to the bar where everyone was gathered around an enormous cake.

“Happy birthday, Shinichi~!” he declared and the sentiment was echoed by everyone.

 

There were too many pool tables and competitive people in The Blue Parrot for there not to be a tournament, so there was, with cascading background conversations and cake all around.

“A poisoned toothbrush?” Sonoko drawled, lining up a shot and neatly sinking her third ball in a row, much to Kosuke’s dismay. “You’re kidding me.”

“Better or worse than the guy who bashed in his partner’s head with a heavy glass pan then tried ta destroy the evidence by stickin’ it in his self-cleanin’ oven?” Hattori laughed.

Ran gave him a speculative glance as he took another swig from his beer.

“Better leave that until after our round, Heiji,” she said, nodding at the can. “You’ll need to be at the top of your game to beat me.”

“Don’t let your guard down, Ran,” Shinichi warned even as he scrutinized the table where he and Hakuba were facing off. “Hattori can hold his alcohol like nobody’s business. A beer’s not gonna do anything to him. He may as well be drinking water.”

“Seriously,” Kazuha agreed. “It’s creepy.”

“What about you, Hakuba-kun? Have you had any strange cases lately?” Makoto asked.

“I am not sure ‘strange’ can begin to cover some of what we see on a daily basis,” Hakuba answered. He snapped two balls into opposite pockets at once. “But… the first that comes to mind is the Shop-Vac suffocation case…”

“Oh,” Shinichi’s hand went to his chin. “I was going to say the hat rack murder, but you’re right. The Shop-Vac was worse.”

“…Do you guys seriously make these deductions with a straight face?” Kosuke said, his voice just a little faint. “Like, at the time?”

“Sometimes it’s hard,” Hattori said with a smirk.

Hakuba looked mildly affronted. It didn’t stop him from expertly sinking another shot.

“Shinichi’s not even gonna have a chance,” Kaito sighed, watching them from behind the bar. There was an overly large piece of the mocha-flavored cake on a plate in front of him and the tip of his fork was pressed thoughtfully against his lip. “Hey, Aoko, what’s Hakuba’s weakness?”

Aoko brought her eyes from the game down to her own plate of cake. “…He doesn’t have any,” she said.

“Aw come on, that’s not fair! Tell me!”

To his surprise, she seemed to consider it. Eventually she muttered, “He’s too polite.”

Kaito snorted. “Hey Hakuba!” he called out. “You’re being rude! It’s Shinichi’s birthday so you should let him win!”

Shinichi and Hakuba turned toward him and he shivered at the mirrored looks of disdain.

Let me win, huh?” Shinichi said.

“I believe Kudou-kun would agree that it is ruder to hold back in a competition than it is to do one’s best.”

“Well said, Hakuba.”

They both turned back to the table and Kaito folded over the bar with a groan. “Detectives,” he hissed. “Thanks for trying, Aoko.”

 

It wasn’t long before Shinichi’s sound defeat at Hakuba’s hands, and Kazuha and Kaito took their table. Shinichi went to the bar to update the bracket they’d drawn, pulling out his phone as he wrote in Hakuba’s name.

“Eh?” Hattori leaned over, eyeing the screen as it unlocked with a press of Shinichi’s thumb. “That’s new.”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” Shinichi murmured, clearly distracted as he set down the pen and focused on the screen. At his (repeated and eventually insistent) requests, Kaito had made an alert program for him similar to what Kaito used to scan news sites for Pandora candidates. This one was considerably less legal, tapping into the MPD’s records and communications to alert Shinichi of new incidents as they happened and allowing him to sort by key words or location for easy trend analysis. It had exactly the effect that Kaito knew it would – Shinichi was constantly checking it.

“It was a birthday present~” Kaito said, appearing behind Shinichi, pool cue still in hand, and snatching the phone. “And, seeing as it is your birthday, Shinichi…” He clicked off the screen. “No work.”

“Heh, right, sorry–” Shinichi started, but he had to stop when Kaito vanished the phone and replaced it with a forkful of cake which he promptly (but carefully) shoved into Shinichi’s mouth, cutting off the apology. He followed it up by forcing the fork and his plate into Shinichi’s hands before hurrying back over to the table where Kazuha was impatiently tapping her foot and glaring daggers at him. Shinichi shrugged it off and took another bite.

 

Kaito eventually ended up walking away with exactly zero shots sunk.

“You are an embarrassment,” Shinichi laughed. He tugged Kaito to his side and snuck an arm around his hips to keep him close.

“Shut up,” Kaito pouted.

“Hey, Sonoko really is pretty good, isn’t she?” Kosuke said, leaning against the bar next to Ran as Makoto blushed and fumbled his shots, falling further and further behind Sonoko.

“She’s definitely not afraid to pull out all the stops in sports and competitions,” Ran agreed, grinning. “You should see her play tennis.”

“Let’s try baseball next time – then I’ll have a chance, at least.”

Shinichi cringed and Kaito caught it. “Come on, Shinichi,” he said cheerfully. “Between Kosuke-kun, Ran, Sonoko, Hattori, me, and the kids, you’re not gonna get away from baseball. You’re just gonna have to learn to like it.”

“Sounds to me like you all can keep each other company,” Shinichi said as his eyes flickered over the others, from Hakuba to Aoko to Makoto to Kazuha, deciding instantly who would be his best advocate. “You’re with me, right Kazuha?”

She betrayed him just as quickly. “Yeah, I’m with ya, Shinichi,” she said. “So next time these bozos all go to a ballgame, you can come with me ta the theatre, yeah?”

Shinichi’s forehead dropped into his palm.

“Time to pick the lesser of two evils, huh?” Kaito teased.

 

It was getting late by the time Hakuba finally won the tournament, leaving Sonoko pouting over an impressive second place. Kaito, of course, had timed a pizza delivery perfectly for the end of the game and the ten of them managed to devour half a dozen pizzas along with the rest of the cake by the time the party broke up late that night. Kaito made sure everything was cleaned up nicely, as promised to Jii, and he and Shinichi took a train back to Beika.

“So…” Kaito said as they were walking to the Kudou manor. “Breaking my own rule for a second – what held you up today? Anything big?”

Shinichi shook his head. “No, just–”

He cut himself off, startled, when Kaito flitted in front of him, snuck a blink-quick kiss onto his lips, then fell into step again on his opposite side like nothing had happened.

“‘No’ is good enough. No more work talk.”

Shinichi rolled his eyes. Then he spotted a familiar face headed their way down the street. Heh, so much for no more work. That’s Yamashita-san. He glanced over at Kaito, who had caught hold of his hand, and smiled a little. Well, I won’t say anything. Maybe she won’t see me.

And he thought that plan would work for about fifteen seconds. Then a small flash of red caught in Yamashita’s bleached hair and Shinichi shot toward her.

“Yamashita-san!”

Cutting between the sparse foot traffic on the city sidewalk, he locked a tight grip around a startled Yamashita’s arm and wrenched her forward. She stumbled with the force of it but Shinichi didn’t stop, dragging her a few steps farther into a dark space between two buildings.

“K-Kudou-kun?!” Yamashita gasped. “What–?”

“Sniper,” Shinichi said. He had a harsh grip on her shoulder, keeping her against one wall, but his attention was on the street and the people passing by. He hadn’t heard anything break behind them. No one was panicking. They didn’t take the shot, he thought, not sure if he should be relieved or not. He edged into the mouth of the passageway and looked around. Kaito had vanished.

“Kudou-kun!” Yamashita demanded. She grabbed his wrist and removed his grip from her shoulder then tugged him back into the shadows. “What do you think you’re doing? What do you mean ‘sniper’?”

Her breathing was too quick, her face too pale, and her hand was shaking where she was still clutching Shinichi’s sleeve. She knew exactly what was happening; there was no point in explaining it.

Shinichi pulled out his phone.

 

Shinichi and Yamashita didn’t leave the relative safety of the narrow alleyway until the two patrol cars Shinichi had called for pulled up along the curb, and even then Shinichi kept close to Yamashita as they both ducked into the back of one of them. Yamashita jumped with an audible gasp when her progress across the bench seat was stopped short by another person getting in on the other side.

“Kaito,” Shinichi said, looking past her at the newcomer. Between the underlying relief in his voice and the name she’d heard mentioned before, Yamashita relaxed a little, letting out a shuddering breath and collapsing back against the seat.

“Is everyone all right?” the officer behind the wheel asked.

Shinichi cast a not-subtle-enough second glance over Kaito before answering, “Yeah, we’re all okay.”

The officer nodded and wove the car back into the late night traffic, the car behind following closely.

“What do we do now?” Yamashita asked.

You don’t do anything,” Kaito replied before anyone else could even try. “You should quit the task force.”

“Kaito–”

“She’s terrified, Shinichi.” He looked again to Yamashita and added gently, “You don’t have to do this.”

“Nobody’s making me,” Yamashita shot back, but the words didn’t hold much edge and the hand she still had pressed to her chest was shaking. “I understand the risks,” she insisted anyway.

For a moment, Shinichi thought Kaito was going to respond but instead he settled back against his seat and turned away, looking out the window. Shinichi watched him for a few seconds, trying to read something – anything – from him but quickly gave up.

“Who knew you were working on this task force?” Shinichi asked Yamashita. “Or knew what you were looking for at Kumoi Industries?”

“Their finance team,” she answered immediately. “They could have figured it out based on what we asked to see, especially if–”

“If there was something to find,” Shinichi finished for her.

“I’m pretty sure there is.” Her voice had finally steadied, confidence returning in the familiar territory of her work. Shinichi didn’t miss the little smile on Kaito’s face as he glanced back at her while her focus was on Shinichi.

 

At Yamashita’s apartment, Shinichi and the officer from the car behind walked her inside.

“They’re out looking for the sniper,” the officer said in an undertone in the empty lobby. “I’m stationed here until they find them.”

Yamashita nodded. “Thank you.”

“Take care,” Shinichi said with a wave but Yamashita stopped him before he could make it to the door.

“Thank you,” she said again in earnest. “I mean it, Kudou-kun. I know it’s only natural to you to try to save everyone you can, but…” Her smile was a little shaky and her words followed suit with broken laughter. “It sure as hell is a big deal to me so just… thank you.”

Shinichi smiled. “I’m glad you’re all right, Yamashita-san. I’ll see you later.”

 

“I think it’s probably best if I take you guys home,” the officer driving the patrol car said as Shinichi ducked back in.

“Actually, would you mind taking us to my house?” Kaito asked before Shinichi could respond. “I think that would be safer, don’t you?” he added to Shinichi. “Less well known.”

“Yeah,” Shinichi answered. Kaito surely had a different reason in mind than the one he’d voiced, but Shinichi didn’t need to know what it was to know that Kaito thought it was important.  

“That’s a good idea,” the officer agreed. “Where do you live?”

 

“I’ll be keeping close to this area until we receive word on the sniper,” the officer said as he pulled up in front of Kaito’s house. “If you see or hear anything unusual, I’m a call away.”

Shinichi nodded. “Thanks, Ohori-san.”

The car didn’t pull away until Shinichi and Kaito were both inside with the door shut. Shinichi pulled off his shoes, hanging back as Kaito made his customary checks and adjustments of the traps he kept set in the entranceway. Finding everything normal, he nodded toward the stairs.

“Come on,” he said, leading the way up to his room. “I wasn’t able to narrow it down enough from just that quick flash of laser, but I sent some doves on surveillance in the direction the sniper was aiming from. I want to check the footage.”

Shinichi followed Kaito and settled onto the bed to wait as Kaito disappeared through the secret entrance to the KID room.

A good half hour later, Kaito dropped out of the ceiling of his closet and closed the door on the hiss of the hydraulic seal. He did not look happy.

“Porsche 356A. Black.”

Shinichi felt something in his chest seize.

“They didn’t spot the sniper, but the footage showed that car on the street in about the right area.”

“Great,” Shinichi muttered, his phone already in hand. “Sato-keiji?” he said as his call was answered. “You’re heading up the search for the sniper in Beika, right? I just got a call from KID. You’re looking for a black Porsche 356A and a guy with long, pale hair – the guy we did the wanted posters for. Definitely Organization and definitely dangerous. It’s possible he’s got another man or woman with him as well.” Korn or Chianti…

“Got it,” was all Sato replied before hanging up, and somehow that firm acknowledgement put Shinichi somewhat at ease. He sighed and fell back onto the bed. Kaito suddenly appeared above him on his hands and knees, but the soft expression on his face told Shinichi he already knew their night off was over. He leaned in and touched a gentle kiss to Shinichi’s forehead.

“Sorry, Kaito,” he murmured, pulling him down onto the bed with him and tucking him close to his side. “I’m gonna be pretty distracted for the rest of the night.”

“I know.” Kaito was quiet for a few seconds while Shinichi’s fingertips moved absently back and forth along his arm. “How about… since it’s still a special occasion, I enable the hell out of you and make some coffee. We can marathon Detective Samonji and I won’t even make you put your phone on silent.”

Shinichi’s eyes went wide. Then he rolled over to get on top of Kaito and kissed him until Kaito was seeing sparks behind his eyelids. A blink later, Shinichi had leapt off of the bed and over to the door.

“We’re starting from season one,” he said with a grin.

Kaito groaned and let his head fall back onto the pillows. “You secretly hate me, don’t you!” he shouted, knowing Shinichi was probably already downstairs.

“I definitely don’t!” Shinichi shouted back.

 

*

 

The night of May fourth, Gin crouched behind a rifle on a roof in Beika, taking careful aim into a distant street. The woman, Yamashita Renge, was walking down the sidewalk, her pace steady. Easy to follow. His finger tightened against the trigger but then a blur of movement disrupted his aim and he had to concentrate against the instinct to look up from his scope. At five hundred yards there was no way he’d get a better idea of what had happened with just his eyes. Instead, he held himself steady and eased the scope to the side to slowly pan the section of street he could see between buildings. Yamashita was gone.

“Tch. Lucky woman.” He sat back and dug into a pocket, extracting a small notebook and flipping to a scrawled address. “This calls for something more direct after all.”

 

Gin stopped his Porsche around the corner from Yamashita’s apartment and glared down the street at the two patrol cars parked in front of it. Then Kudou Shinichi walked out of the building and got into one of them. He felt more than heard an angry curse slip between his clenched teeth.

He spent about ten seconds balancing the visceral hate he was feeling against the fact that there were clearly cops hanging around and that he had no plan. Then he considered Vermouth’s warning from a month ago, and the fact that, despite her claims about how easy it would be, she still had not found the person she claimed could inform on KID.

He let the patrol car drive away and wrote Yamashita off as “not worth it.”

Chapter Text

Kaito’s breakfast was going cold. His attention was on his phone, but Shinichi hadn’t seen anything in the news that morning that would have captured Kaito’s focus to that extent.

Must be something else, he thought, taking his empty plate to the sink. When he turned back to the table, Kaito was tapping quickly at the screen. A text?

“Hey,” Kaito said, his voice a little distant and his eyes still locked on the phone. “There’s something I need to do tomorrow. Not sure how long I’ll be out, but I’m guessing all night.”

Shinichi went still. “You?” he asked. “Or KID.”

“Me,” Kaito answered, finally looking up. He held up the phone. “It’s Aoko.”

“Oh.” Shinichi visibly relaxed and Kaito smirked before refocusing on the texts. “Everything okay?”

“Not… sure yet.” He was squinting at the screen like he might be able to divine something more from it the way he would if the conversation had been happening in person. “But still,” he added. “Nothing to worry about. I’ll give you the full update when I know what’s up.”

“Okay. I’m heading out.” Shinichi came up behind Kaito’s chair and leaned over his shoulder. Kaito obligingly turned to give him a quick kiss.

“Be careful.”

“Yeah,” Shinichi said with a smile. “You too, okay? See you later.”

 

The next day, while Shinichi was at school or with the task force – Kaito could hardly keep track anymore – Kaito went out to stalk the Ekoda police station. When Hakuba stepped out, intending to grab lunch nearby, Kaito appeared beside him.

“Come get a drink with me,” he said. There was no room for debate.

Hakuba barely paused. “…Right.”

They made the short walk to the café in tense silence, got their drinks, and sat down.

“You know,” Hakuba finally stated.

“Of course I know. Why else would I be doing this?”

Hakuba was stiff and straight in his chair, gauging Kaito carefully as the magician lounged across the small table from him, sipping hot chocolate on what was an unusually warm first day of June. Did he hear from Aoko? he wondered as Kaito continued to give nothing away. Or did he… discover the information in his own way. As he was about to speak he abruptly decided that if Kaito was doing this he might not have the details.

“Aoko-kun made the decision,” Hakuba said carefully. “I… am ashamed to say I did not even see it coming.”

“Ashamed, huh?” Kaito said like he was tasting the word. “I like that,” he decided. “Ashamed is good.”

Hakuba felt the thread of his patience snap. “Do you mind?” he asked sharply, though he kept his voice down for the sake of their public venue. “She broke up with me yesterday. If you are going to gloat or rub it in, you could at least have the decency to wait until I have had some time to adjust to the idea.”

Kaito blinked at him, his eyes going just a little wide. He set his cup on the table and straightened up, really looking at Hakuba, and slowly decided that he seemed… drawn. Kaito breathed out a silent sigh. “You know, you’re doing this breakup thing wrong,” he said. “You need chocolate, not tea.”

“Tea is… soothing,” Hakuba murmured, both hands wrapped around his cup and feeling a little hypocritical for judging Kaito’s cocoa as warmth seeped through the sturdy paper.

Kaito narrowed his eyes at him and watched Hakuba avoid his gaze for a good ten seconds of silence. “You’re thinking of moving back to England,” he said. The way Hakuba’s head came up, eyes wide and startled like a threatened rabbit, would have been a lot more satisfying if it hadn’t been so pitiable. “Don’t,” Kaito said firmly. “She was your first girlfriend. It didn’t work out. These things happen.”

Hakuba’s jaw tightened and his eyes regained their sharp focus. “She was not my fir–” he tried, but Kaito interrupted.

“She was,” he said. “You’ve had crushes, not girlfriends. Or… boyfriends.”

In an instant, Hakuba was looking away again, his perfect posture giving way just slightly to the desire to shrink back from the entire conversation.

Oh crap… Sonoko was totally right. Hakuba had a crush on KID. Who he knows is me. And he probably thinks I know that now. Which, I guess I do. Ugh, Kaito thought, hiding a sympathetic cringe behind his poker face. “Look,” he said, trying for optimistic. “You’ve never been dumped before. It’s been a day. You’ll get over it. Now come on.” To his surprise, Hakuba willingly stood with him.

“Where are we going?”

“If there’s anyone who knows how you’re feeling right now it is, very unfortunately, me,” Kaito said, leading the way out of the café. “When I decided not to confess to Aoko, I moved to another district of Tokyo and ate four gallons of chocolate ice cream.”

“…I do not want–”

“I’m calling Shinichi,” Kaito continued, poking at his phone screen with a thumb. “You two can drink not-chocolate things and gush about Holmes until a nice morbid distraction falls into your laps because it will and you like mysteries.”

“Kuroba-kun, I have to go back to work–”

The phone was already at Kaito’s ear and he waved his hot chocolate at Hakuba to signal silence. Shinichi answered before the second ring.

“Kaito, is everything okay?”

Hakuba almost ran into Kaito when he abruptly stopped walking, his mind running a full analysis of the tense undertone in Shinichi’s voice and any background noise he could pick up.

“Everything’s fine here,” Kaito assured him. “Shinichi… What’s wrong?” He heard the voices in the background fade out before Shinichi answered.

“The officer who went missing… We found her. It’s… It’s pretty bad, Kaito. I can’t say any more for right now.”

Kaito had to sift through the depressingly large number of cases and incidents Shinichi had told him about or that he’d read in the news to recall the correct one: an officer with the MPD who had been reported missing a little more than a week ago. There had been no evidence at all of foul play, or of anything else – not a single clue as to what had happened to her or where she had gone. Kaito and Shinichi had quickly agreed that that actually pointed to foul play more than anything. But there was nothing to be done.

“…Where is it?” Hakuba asked.

Kaito gave him an analyzing glance. “You have to go back to work,” he reminded him.

“I work homicide, Kuroba-kun. And I am not too proud to take advantage of my father’s position to gain leeway in which cases I work.”

Kaito was a little taken aback. He allowed himself a moment to consider his surprise and the root of it, reconsidered Hakuba, then turned more fully to him and said, “Look, Hakuba, you don’t have to–”

“It is my job, Kuroba-kun,” Hakuba said, more gently than Kaito had been expecting. “And you and Kudou-kun are my friends. Please let me help.”

Kaito considered him for just a moment longer. “Shinichi,” he said into the phone. “Hakuba’s with me. He wants to know where you are.”

Shinichi answered immediately with the location and Kaito relayed it to Hakuba, resigned. Shinichi clearly wanted the help. That was a bad sign.

When Hakuba hurried off, back to the Ekoda station to secure a quick approval and a patrol car, Kaito was left at a loss. Hakuba wasn’t the only one who wanted to help, but a civilian on a highly sensitive crime scene was the last thing anyone needed.

Well, he thought, downing the rest of his hot chocolate in one go. I had planned on spending the afternoon with Hakuba. No reason to change that now.

 

Kaitou KID watched over the crime scene from the shadows on the outskirts of the train yard, making slow shifts around the periphery of the scene to get every angle. By the time he’d completed a full circuit, he’d determined that the officer’s body had been found inside a disused freight car and had already been taken for autopsy.

About an hour later, Shinichi was pacing back and forth between the freight car and a laptop set up on the hood of a patrol car with pictures of the scene as it had been found. Only Hakuba seemed to have the confidence to approach him when he was that far gone into the mystery, occasionally joining him beside the laptop and murmuring something that would make Shinichi’s eyebrows knot harder and his pace pick up on his return trip to the train car.

KID sighed and shifted out of the shadows slightly – just enough for the low afternoon sun to flash off his monocle. Hakuba noticed immediately and headed straight for him.

What are you doing here?” he demanded though he kept his voice down as he moved into the shade between two somewhat rusted cars near the fence of the train yard.

“I want to talk to Kudou,” KID said.

“You are a distraction he does not need right now,” Hakuba replied hotly.

“No, I’m an asset that will be all the more useful to your cause when provided with all the relevant data,” KID corrected. And I think a distraction is exactly what he needs right now. He’s getting nowhere like this.

“…If it is information you want, I can–”

“Excuse me,” KID interrupted. “Are you the official appointed liaison for this task force? Actually, are you even on this task force? I was under the impression that you were a rookie officer sticking his nose in ‘cause he can’t help himself.”

Kaito distantly wondered if he’d overstepped given the issues from earlier that day and the fact that Hakuba’s face looked a little… murderous.

“I am perfectly capable of telling you–” he started, his tone as cutting as his glare but KID didn’t let him continue.

“Look, liaison goes both ways, Tantei-san,” he said. “And I never agreed to have you as my advocate. Get Kudou.”

“Get him yourself,” Hakuba answered, folding his arms.

“Tantei-san,” KID sighed, exasperated. “I am trying to help. Please just do this for me. People are on edge enough here as it is.”

For a long few seconds, Hakuba just stood fuming in silence before he turned and stalked back into the yard where Shinichi was circling the freight car. Shinichi’s head came up in obvious surprise when Hakuba leaned in and murmured something to him. Then he was crossing the dry grass and gravel to the tucked away spot where KID was waiting.

“Everything’s fine,” KID said the moment Shinichi walked up. “Tell me.”

Shinichi let out a slow breath. “She’d been killed probably two days ago. Cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the head but there were clear signs of torture. She’d been missing nine days before they found her.”

Missing nine days, dead for two of them… “They were holding her somewhere for a week…” Torturing her somewhere for a week…

“She was part of Division One. Recently promoted. Small family. I knew her. Usually saw her around the station. …It feels deliberate, KID.”

“I know. But it could be a coincidence. You know a lot of cops, Tantei-kun. Maybe a cop was all they needed. It could have been anybody. Actually, do you even know for sure if this was them?”

“Who else would have the resources to make a cop disappear and have a reason to torture her?” Shinichi said dismissively. “What were they looking for?” he added, and it wasn’t to KID. His eyes were already distant again, directed toward the ground. “And whatever it was, did they find it…?”

It was obvious enough to KID that Shinichi had reached the point where he was driving himself in circles right into the ground. Abruptly, KID asked, “How’s Hakuba?”

Shinichi blinked and looked up. “What do you mean?”

“Is he doing okay?”

“Yeah, he seems fine. Well… as fine as any of us could be with… a case like this. Why? You said he was with you earlier but he hasn’t said a word about it. Did something happen?”

“Um… Well, yeah, I guess. Aoko broke up with him.”

“Oh.” KID could see him going over his interactions with Hakuba in his head. “Took it hard?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“He takes his work pretty seriously. I’m not surprised I didn’t notice.”

“Actually, speaking of that…” KID reached out and took Shinichi’s hand, raising it so he could see the watch on his wrist. “I’m meeting Aoko soon. Better not keep her waiting.” His hand closed more firmly around Shinichi’s and tugged him closer but he ignored the instinct to pull Shinichi into his arms. The heat of the day was stifling and Shinichi was clearly feeling it. His blazer had been tossed into the back of one of the patrol cars with a pile of others, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up past his elbows, so instead KID touched a gloved finger under Shinichi’s chin to keep him still and pressed a gentle kiss against his lips.

“That was unnecessarily risky,” he said as soon as KID settled back again, Shinichi’s hand still caught in his. “Hakuba’s probably watching us like a hawk.”

“He’d only be able to see the back of your head and me leaning in. Speculation about Kudou Shinichi kissing Kaitou KID would just get him ridiculed, so all in all I’d say it’s worth it.”

“Yeah, but you do stuff like this all the time and there’s no consequences for you, but I’m gonna get a reputation. It looks like I’m cheating on you,” Shinichi complained. “And consorting with a criminal.”

“You are consorting with a criminal,” KID laughed. “But I have no problem letting everyone know that I’d welcome KID into our bed if that would help~”

Shinichi let out a rather pointed sigh at the cheeky wink that accompanied KID’s words.

“What?” KID said. “Plenty of couples have KIDceptions.”

“They have what?”

“It’s where they decide on a closed relationship but they would make an exception for Kaitou KID.”

“…What?”

“Heh. You jealous?”

“A little!”

KID’s smile said mission accomplished. “Shinichi…” He caught his eyes and held his gaze with more heat than the summer sun and a smile that promised all the rest of the stars as well. “You don’t have anything to be jealous about. KID’s not some other person. He’s still me, and I’m yours. Okay?”

“As if relationships weren’t complicated enough to begin with,” Shinichi said, rolling his eyes.

“You’d be bored with anything less,” KID countered. Shinichi just smirked, and he let KID lean in one last time to touch another soft kiss against his cheek.

“Everyone’s working hard, Shinichi,” he whispered, staying close. “We’ll get them.” He dropped a smoke bomb and vanished.

The moment KID was gone, Hakuba walked up to join Shinichi in the shade between the train cars. “Well?” he asked.

Shinichi shook his head. “I don’t think we’re gonna get anything more from this scene. We’d be better off looking into her initial disappearance. Talk to her family…”

Hakuba glanced at the watch on his wrist – an alternative he put up with while in uniform since his preferred pocket watch was admittedly impractical on the job. “It might be best to leave that for tomorrow. They were just informed of Shimomura-san’s death today. And also… I may be out of place saying so but you have been here all day. Did you not have classes or–?”

“It’s fine,” Shinichi insisted.

“…Is it?” Hakuba asked. “I know you want to graduate and go through the processes properly to become a police detective. It will make things much simpler when you want to move up through the ranks. But even as early as high school, you have prioritized other things.”

Shinichi’s jaw clenched subtly. It was true – he’d barely managed to graduate high school on time, and after only a year of college he’d had to drop everything to recover from a near-fatal gunshot wound and to work on the fake Pandora plan. He’d only just gone back in the spring, and his course load was deliberately light. He knew he didn’t have the time or energy to devote to it. In the meantime, Hattori had completed his associate’s degree and officially joined the Osaka PD. Even Hakuba, who took time off here and there for independent case work or to return to England, had managed to do the same and was now an officer on the Ekoda force. It was where Shinichi could have been – should have been – if he hadn’t followed one shady guy in a theme park when he was sixteen.

“Is my education subject to public forum these days?” Shinichi sighed, trying not to sound as aggravated as he felt.

“Kudou-kun… Do you not think you deserve to take some time for what you need and want for your future?”

It can wait, Shinichi’s brain reflexively supplied. It can wait until this is finished. For good.

“Sorry, Hakuba,” Shinichi said. He put a hand on Hakuba’s shoulder and moved him aside so he could get out from between the cars. “I know you mean well but I’ll be fine.”

 

*

 

Aoko was behaving perfectly normally until she had Kaito settled in at the kitchen table across from her with heaping plates of curry and rice in front of each of them. Then, out of nowhere, she said, “Just what in the hell did you do to Saguru today?”

“Nothing!” Kaito replied immediately. “Who says I even talked to him today?”

“He texted me,” Aoko said.

Something dangerous flashed in Kaito’s eyes. “He’s still texting you?”

“He wanted to warn me,” Aoko shot back. “Since you have a tendency to say stupid things. And anyway, I’m fine with it. We’re still friends.”

Kaito’s eyebrows rose steadily up.

“What? What’s wrong with it?” she asked, but she’d looked away, concentrating on her plate.

“Aoko,” Kaito said firmly. “He’s obviously still got feelings for you, and you dumped him. If you really don’t mind then whatever but I don’t want this to turn into something creepy.”

“You are such a drama queen,” Aoko sighed. “I just don’t want it to get awkward since we have the same group of friends, that’s all.”

They were quiet for a while, Kaito wondering if Aoko had made the curry extra spicy as some kind of pre-retaliation. He eventually muttered anyway, “You gonna keep calling him ‘Saguru’ so familiarly?”

“Why not?” she demanded.

Kaito just made a noncommittal noise. “So? What made you finally see sense?”

“Shut up. And, not that it’s any of your business but we didn’t have that much in common. Saguru grew up bouncing between countries. His family’s rich and he’s kind of famous and he’s got his life all planned out and I have no idea what I want to do–”

Oh… Oh no… She didn’t actually want to break up with him. Shit…

Aoko was abruptly on the brink of tears and Kaito stood, hurrying around the table to pull her out of her seat and into his arms. He held her close and ran a gentle hand over her hair.

“Okay,” he murmured. “Okay.”

 

Kaito cleaned up the kitchen after Aoko had excused herself to the bathroom to pull herself back together. So naturally, when she came back, everything had to be redone.

“Honestly, what is it with boys?” she complained as she was portioning out the leftover curry into smaller containers than the mixing bowl Kaito had dumped it into. “Saguru’s the same way – he has no idea how to do anything around a house.”

“Hey, don’t pin this on boys. Shinichi does just fine.” Of course he had to do everything for himself for the three years between when his parents took off and when he became Conan… That probably has a lot to do with it. “Anyway, I thought you said Hakuba doesn’t have any weaknesses,” he grumbled in a pout.

“No. I think what I said is that he’s too polite. Just really… too polite.” Her eyes were a little distant as she dumped out the water Kaito had filled the dirty curry pot with so she could actually wash it. It looked like she was remembering something specific and her expression was gradually moving toward confused consternation, her eyebrows knit together and her lips doing something between a pout and scowl.

Okay… Kaito thought. Maybe he did do something that pushed her to break up with him. But it looks like now she’s not sure how to feel about it. I can work with that.

“Okay,” Kaito said. “So you keep saying he’s too polite. I’m not sure I get that. I thought you liked that about him.”

“I do,” she said, defensive again with a sharp glance over her shoulder at Kaito. “But…” She turned back to the sink, scrubbing at the pot for a while before she added, “We could never really… get anywhere, you know?”

Kaito went cold, taking a completely involuntary step back and bumping painfully into the corner of the counter behind him. “Whoa!” he said, raising his hands. “Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa. Stop. Hang on, no. I cannot hear this. You need Keiko. And Sonoko. And Ran. Not Kazuha, do not talk to Kazuha, god, I’ve heard the things she does with Hattori just… don’t talk to Kazuha. But don’t talk to me either.”

“You haven’t had a problem talking about stuff like this before,” she said, turning again to raise an eyebrow at him.

“That was before Hakuba was a factor in ‘stuff like this,’” he answered with a shudder. “Look, I really don’t like having to poker face you, Aoko, but if I don’t you’ll probably just end up very, very pissed with me and, just, trust me it’s all for the best. Call Keiko. Or get the whole tribunal. Do not invite Kazuha. I have to go be nauseous now.”

Kaito turned to flee but had to stop, Aoko’s voice like a physical force holding him there.

“Kaito.”

He let out a sigh. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll stay. Just… I mean it. Hold off on that stuff until you have somebody helpful for you, okay?” Because I know what I should be saying and what I should be asking you, for Hakuba’s sake as much as yours, but I really… just can’t.

“Don’t worry,” Aoko said softly. “I know you’re useless. I love you anyway.” She finished rinsing off the pot and set it on a drying rack, wiping off her hands as she turned back to Kaito.

“Oh sure. Insults. This is what I get for trying to be a good friend.” He looked at her long and hard and she crossed her arms, leveling him with an irate expression. “Okay,” he finally decided. “Movies and ice cream?”

“Movies and ice cream,” Aoko answered seriously.

 

They spent the rest of the night marathoning a procedural crime drama that Aoko had gotten obsessed enough with to own in its entirety. After the cartons of ice cream were empty and abandoned on the coffee table they leaned into each other on the couch and Kaito listened patiently as Aoko murmured about which scenes were Hakuba’s favorites, and the background information he’d told her about what crime scenes were really like – what the show had gotten wrong and what they’d done right.

In the end, Kaito hadn’t been able to determine any more about what had happened between the two to result in the mutually upsetting breakup, but Aoko had at least seemed more at ease when Kaito left the next morning. He made a mental note to keep an eye on them all the same and headed home.

Chapter Text

The heat that had ushered in the month had ebbed and two weeks later the night was actually a little chilly as Shinichi made his way back to the Kudou manor. Kaito met him at the door.

“Shinichi!” Kaito grabbed both of Shinichi’s hands and pulled him into the house, grinning. He shoved the door closed with a foot and spun Shinichi in a quick circle in practically the same motion. “Shinichi, I got an audition!”

“You what?” Shinichi laughed, hanging on to Kaito’s hands. “How did that happen?”

“I just happened to hear that a talent scout was at the Starlight Hotel, and just happened to run into her at the park near there this afternoon.”

“Heh, let me guess. One of your less than legal but reliable sources? Isn’t that cheating?” Shinichi said with a smirk.

“Hey, don’t you think I’ve held back long enough? I really want this, Shinichi. It’s sort of like I’ve been Conan all this time, hiding what I can do, but now I can be me again.”

“I wouldn’t say you’ve been hiding it exactly,” Shinichi pointed out.

“You know what I mean.”

Shinichi took one of his hands back as he pulled out of his shoes but he kept hold of Kaito’s with the other, trailing him behind as he headed for the kitchen. “So, they’re looking for up-and-coming magicians, huh?” he asked.

“Well, once the Suzuki Corporation does something it becomes pretty popular. The trend hasn’t died out yet and it never will if I have anything to say about it.”

Shinichi grabbed a last, lonely orange from where it had been left on the counter. It looked like it had seen better days but after a few moments of scrutinizing it he shrugged and dropped into a chair to tear into the peel.

“…I completely forgot about getting groceries,” Kaito murmured, a little bemused. It had been coincidence that his break from working on the Kudou manor’s security (now that Agasa’s was finished) had turned into a carefully planned chance meeting with an unsuspecting talent scout.

Shinichi just shrugged. “Takeout sounds pretty good.”

“I’ll grab my jacket.”

Kaito vanished and Shinichi stared down at the somewhat mushy orange between his hands, picking at it absently. He was still sitting there when Kaito wandered back in.

“Hey, we going or what?”

Shinichi pushed the chair back, his eyes still distant as he dropped the overripe fruit into the garbage. “Hey… Kaito,” he said, barely audible over the running water as he rinsed his hands. He turned back to him as he picked up a dish towel to dry them off. “Are you sure it’s safe? The audition, I mean. Just because Snake is gone–”

“I think it’s probably on par with you taking the antidote even though Gin is still out there,” Kaito answered with a shrug.

“Okay, guilt trips are not going to distract me from the fact that this could get you killed.” The distance had left his eyes and he stared across the kitchen at Kaito. Kaito’s hands went to his hips.

“And I’m not gonna put up with a double standard, Shinichi. You’re not going to talk me out of this.” In a deliberate cheap shot, he added, “Geez, I thought you’d be excited for me.”

Shinichi didn’t rise to it. “I already know you’re a world-class magician,” he said. “You placing yourself in the path of a talent scout is sort of like arranging for them trip over a gold mine. …I’m just worried.”

“Heh. Shinichi,” Kaito was across the room in a flash, touching his forehead to Shinichi’s with a soft smile. “Nobody can catch me, remember?” he whispered. “And nobody even knows who I am. You have nothing to worry about. I promise.”

Shinichi felt himself start to smile. “When is it?” he asked.

“In a week and a half.”

“Can I come?”

Kaito pulled back a little to shake his head. “It’s a closed audition. It’ll just be a few scouts and the applicants. Less than ten people probably.” Not easy for extra people to slip in unnoticed, and not too many for me to keep an eye on for suspicious activity. It couldn’t be better, really.

Shinichi was thinking along the same lines. “Okay,” he sighed. “Just–”

“Be careful?” Kaito laughed. “I always am, Tantei-kun.” He leaned in and stole a quick kiss then added, “Honestly, you act like you don’t go around being Kudou Shinichi, savior of the police force and sworn enemy of the Black Organization, coordinating attacks on them every day. …I worry too, you know.”

“One day you won’t have to. I promise.”

A ripple of surprise passed through Kaito at the quick and determined response but he kept it hidden. Instead he just pulled Shinichi in, one hand in his hair, pressing him close. One day this could all be over. Right…? It’s hard to imagine life without looking over our shoulders anymore. There’s always something. I’m not gonna wait any longer.

 

*

 

There were no guards there that smoked. She knew that well enough. She wasn’t allowed to smoke there either and she’d have noticed right away if there was a chance someone had cigarettes on their person even after nine months. She’d have stolen them just as quickly. After all, she really had no interest in shortening her sentence with “good behavior.”

This woman, the not-guard, was careful about hiding her habit – her body, clothes, and hair all smelled like the same starch bland clean that everything here smelled like – but her fingertips still showed traces when she offered her hand in greeting. Merlot took it and held firmly because this woman was something else, something that didn’t belong here, and she wanted to know more.

“What do you want?”

The not-guard blinked innocently at her. “Nothing. I was just introducing myself.”

“I’ve already met you,” Merlot lied. She did know the face, the short sandy hair and the somewhat lanky frame. She’d seen her from a distance and knew she was a guard there. But they’d never been introduced. “Or, I’ve met the face you’re wearing,” she pressed.

The woman smirked. “Glad to see you’re still pretty sharp after all this time.”

Her voice had shifted. Merlot’s face lost what little color it had and her hand went slack in the other woman’s grip. It dropped to Merlot’s side when the woman let go.

“Vermouth,” she said, just a whisper.

“Aw, come on now,” Vermouth said, reaching out to pat Merlot on the head. “I miss when you used to call me sensei.”

Merlot wasn’t listening. She was staring at the floor, her mind far away in a hospital lobby nine months ago.

“We can protect you, Merlot.”

She shouldn’t have believed him but she had wanted to.

But there was always a hidden agent or a blackmail victim – always an information leak somewhere.

Vermouth just went on. “You weren’t easy to find, you know. But, well, in the end there’s only so far they can go to hide a criminal while still keeping them locked up. It only took me two months to get the information I needed. Then another two weeks to work my way inside of course.”

“‘Only’?” Merlot scoffed. Her own voice sounded distant. Is this what people mean when they talk about out-of-body experiences? When they know they’re going to die?

Vermouth shrugged. “Okay, it’s a bit long for us, I’ll admit. You had some good people on your case.”

Merlot looked up. “Is he dead?”

Vermouth blinked – as close to curiosity or confusion as Merlot had ever seen her. “Who?”

“…Whoever was on my case,” Merlot revised while her brain insisted Kudou Shinichi.

Vermouth just shrugged. “I didn’t go looking. All I know is that, whoever it was, they did a good job covering your tracks.

“Anyway, I didn’t come here just to chat you know, and we don’t really have all day. I’m here to make a deal.”

Merlot stared up at her. “…What?” she said eventually – after her brain got past the I’m here to kill you that it had fully been expecting.

Vermouth went on, unaffected. “You’ll be leaving with me in…” She pulled a cell phone from a pocket. “Forty-five seconds. Gin’s got Kaitou KID’s fingerprints. If you find us a match, you’re back on the team. If you don’t, you’re dead. What do you think?”

Merlot counted the next half minute in harsh heartbeats. Vermouth was there to break her out. She wasn’t going to die and she wasn’t going to be stuck there anymore. She was going back to what she was good at. With people who could stab her in the back at any time. People who might stab her in the back the moment she revealed all she knew – all she’d guessed about the Kaitou KID. She could be wrong. She could be dead.

Merlot nodded. Vermouth smiled.

All through the building, alarms started to ring.

Chapter Text

“Dammit, Kudou, I thought you said he agreed!”

Shinichi winced, drawing the phone away from his ear. Nakamori had been in a fairly perpetual bad mood ever since the truce had been called with KID, and the inspector knew just who to blame for it.

“He agreed, Nakamori-keibu,” Shinichi insisted calmly. “It’s probably another fake.”

There was an odd sound against the speaker – something between a snort and a scoff. “Then get over here and have a look yourself.”

The abrupt dial tone made Shinichi glad phones couldn’t actually be slammed onto their receivers anymore. Though, they could be flung across rooms much more easily now… He sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets, turning his steps toward the train station instead of toward campus. Again.

 

Shinichi knew perfectly well that Nakamori was just as good as he was at identifying fake notices for KID heists, so the fact that this notice appeared completely genuine shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It did anyway.

“Well?” Nakamori demanded. He was looming over Shinichi’s shoulder as Shinichi stared down at the white card through the clear plastic evidence bag. He turned it over, but the opposite side was blank. A pair of gloves and a lot of disapproving and impatient grumbles later, Shinichi had examined every angle of the card, considered every stroke of black ink beneath the printed lines, and criticized every choice of word.

“…I need to talk to KID,” he finally said. He dropped the notice onto a desk and quickly ducked out of the station before Nakamori’s face could get any redder.

 

Kaito had decided to schedule time for himself in the afternoons to take a break from working on his security systems and instead work on preparing for his audition. He only had nine days after all, and it had been a while (far too long) since he’d been able to perform for an audience. He needed to make it spectacular.

The first step was to check out the space he had to work with. The auditions were being held in an event room at the Starlight Hotel and he’d already checked that it wasn’t in use that afternoon. He stopped by the front desk and charmed the key card from a young man working there, then headed up to the twenty-fifth floor.

The room was relatively small as far as event venues went. He could easily picture catered company presentations taking place with the round tables dotting the floor and the projection screen pulled down behind the movable stage area. He couldn’t be sure how the room would be set up for the audition but as long as he familiarized himself with the whole space it wouldn’t be an issue. He was nothing if not adaptable.

The wide windows that lined the top of the wall behind and to one side of the stage would mean natural light – that would give him an edge. Plenty of the more professional tricks that might be tempting to someone trying to make an impression worked better in darkened theatres with larger, more distant audiences, but Kaito was used to a much wider variety of venues.

After a quick check of the exact dimensions of the room and stage, an inventory of outlets, and a speculative glance at the ceiling (and security cameras), he decided he was ready to start planning.

Kaito headed back down to the front desk, looking for the man who had provided him the key card, but he wasn’t there. Before he could walk up to the counter a young woman dressed in the sharp grey blazer and pea-green bowtie that seemed to be the uniform of the hotel approached him.

“Can I help you with anything, sir?” she asked, following his eyes to the front desk.

“Actually…” The key card appeared between his fingers in a little puff of smoke. “I just need to return this.” He handed it to her and she glanced over the name of the room written neatly in marker across the card. “I made sure the door closed behind me, so it’s all locked up.”

“Of course,” she said, looking maybe just a little confused but glossing it over professionally. “Did you need anything else?”

“Nope. Thanks for your help– Ah, my phone’s ringing; I better get going.” He turned and hurried off, the woman’s bow and “Please come again!” already far behind him. As soon as he was out of the hotel he hurried across the street and ducked between two buildings, making his way up to one of the roofs.

Securely out of sight and earshot, Kaito pulled out a white flip phone. He’d missed the call but Shinichi was the only one who had the number and he knew that Kaito wouldn’t answer it in public. Kaito flipped the phone open and called him back.

 

“Tantei-kun.”

Standing just around the corner from the door of the Ekoda police station, Shinichi sighed. Only Kaito could make one name over a phone sound so smug. “Did you send a heist notice?” he asked without preamble.

There was an actual two-second pause. “You don’t know?”

“It looks real,” Shinichi said. “Nakamori got it. It’s in three days. Suntory Museum of Art.”

Another pause. Taking inventory, Shinichi thought. But there aren’t any jewels at that museum.

“What’s the target?”

“A wine bottle from the Edo period.”

“Well if that’s not enough to convince you–”

“You’ve stolen stranger things, KID. Even after… September, I’d say it’s still within your profile to target whatever you feel like.”

“Fair,” KID admitted with a laugh.

“So?”

“It wasn’t me, Tantei-kun. I guess the fakes are just getting better. Or you’re slipping~” he added with an audible teasing grin.

“…You just want an excuse to have a heist without breaking the truce with the police.”

“What can I say? I’ve missed my cute little task force~! And I can’t just ignore it. I do have a reputation to maintain, you know.”

Shinichi sighed, letting the breath brush through the speaker. “I figured.”

 

“He says it’s not him,” Shinichi reported as he walked back into the station.

“So it’s a fake?” Nakamori asked. “You’re sure? You weren’t before.”

“There’s no reason for him to lie. It would be outside his profile.” Outside KID’s profile to lie to his liaison if he’d sent the notice, but not outside Kaito’s to lie to me about the same, Shinichi privately admitted. Still, if he didn’t want me to know, he could have made the fake more… fake. “I’m sure.”

“And?”

“And he’s coming anyway. The truce allows for it and you know how he is. He’s not going to let this slide.”

 

*

 

“Could you hold the phone a little lower? She’s not all that tall,” Vermouth said with the hint of something like a giggle.

The large woman holding the phone lowered it some and Vermouth saw Merlot come more fully into the frame on the screen of her own phone. “Hi~!” she said when Merlot was able to glare more directly at her through the video chat.

“Found your match already?” she asked, her voice dry. She was tied rather thoroughly to a bare, black metal chair, but boredom seemed to be outweighing any feeling of trapped or threatened.

“Could be,” Vermouth agreed. One slender, gloved hand waved a key card in front of her phone’s camera. “I met the cutest boy today. A boy named Kaito who’s close with Kudou Shinichi, just like you said.”

Merlot’s nose wrinkled. “Yeah, well, I hope there isn’t more than one person who fits that description. My life is pretty much in your hand there. How’d Gin manage to get KID’s fingerprints anyway? Is he sure that’s what he’s got?”

“Apparently he brought a souvenir back from the late Queen Selizabeth. Some remote KID had on him.”

“KID wears gloves,” Merlot said flatly.

“Apparently he wasn’t,” Vermouth answered with a shrug. “But unfortunately, the dramatic reveal will have to wait for a few days. Gin is out on some business.”

“My life hanging on this and he goes off on business,” Merlot scoffed. “Typical.”

“Could be worse. At least the accommodations are nice.”

Merlot glanced over her shoulder at the queen-sized bed under deep red sheets sitting behind her chair. She turned back to the phone in her guard’s hand. “You know, it’s hard to enjoy a nice bed when you’re being periodically dosed with aerosolized anesthetic.”

“And you were so keen on the idea at the time,” Vermouth sighed with an apparently sympathetic smile.

“…You really did call just to get a laugh in, didn’t you.”

“I just thought you’d appreciate an update instead of sitting there wondering. But, if you’d rather not talk to me, I’ve got better things to do. Bye-bye now.”

The call cut off and Merlot’s guard pocketed the phone as she headed toward the door without a word to Merlot. It was opened for her and closed behind her, and a moment later Merlot heard the tell-tale hiss of gas pushing into the room. She didn’t bother trying to resist it. She breathed deep and was asleep in seconds.

Chapter Text

Shinichi, Hakuba, and Nakamori were all gathered tightly around the display, watching as a member of the Suntory Museum’s staff carefully secured a deep purple, bulbous bottle into a sturdy, padded wooden box. Then the box was set back in the display case and locked up behind the glass.

“Are you sure we don’t need something more… secure?” the staff member asked. She handed the key for the case over to Nakamori. “Couldn’t he just break the glass?”

“I believe he would consider that more trouble than it would be worth,” Hakuba said. “He can pick the lock easily enough.”

“Then–”

“We’re not locking it in the usual display case in order to stop KID,” Shinichi explained. “He’ll steal it regardless, and he’ll give it back. We’re mostly curious about what the person who sent the notice will do.”

It was the biggest mystery surrounding this heist. They knew the time, date, location, target… but they didn’t know who had actually sent the notice or why. The bottle itself wasn’t particularly valuable – besides its age and some gold detailing there was nothing exceptional about it. That put the usual motives of insurance fraud and black market sales a little lower on the list. And if the target wasn’t the point, as Shinichi suspected, it was likely that the heist was meant to distract from something else.

Nakamori had come to the same conclusion and security through the entire building was extremely tight, even if security for the bottle itself wasn’t.

That did not mean the entire exhibit space wasn’t lined with task force officers.

As the time drew closer, the museum staff were banished from the exhibit to wait with another pack of officers in the shop on the first floor, and Shinichi had his face pulled an extra time for good measure. (Hakuba failed to hide his snickering. Shinichi decided to forgive him.) Then Nakamori stomped off to the rooftop terrace.

Shinichi rubbed at his cheek. “Do you think Nakamori-keibu is still pissed that I’m KID’s liaison and not him?” he asked Hakuba after Nakamori was gone.

“You can hardly blame him,” Hakuba said with a smile. “After all, he has been chasing KID since before either of us was even born.”

“I guess. But why’s he checking faces anyway? They’re not allowed to actually go after KID as long as the truce holds, right?”

“I think he is just venting some frustration.”

Shinichi glanced over at him. Unlike Nakamori, Hakuba had been in a particularly good mood all evening, a soft, perpetual smile on his face whenever Shinichi looked. “…And what about you?” he asked. “You originally came over from England to chase KID, right? Now you’re working homicide instead of theft, but you still showed up here.”

“Off-duty,” Hakuba pointed out. “And I… lack the motivation to work theft anymore.” He shrugged. “I suppose I would rather catch killers. This is more of a hobby now.”

“Right,” Shinichi laughed. They settled into comfortable silence, watching the display case and listening as the task force – far less disciplined than usual under the effects of the truce – shifted and chatted with each other.

“I know Nakamori-keibu wants us here but… isn’t it a little strange if we’re just going to watch?”

“What can we do? The truce is backed by Interpol. It’s not really up to us anymore.”

“But isn’t KID breaking the truce? I mean, I’m pretty sure the deal was that KID would stop stealing in exchange for the police not jumping him while he consults on… you know what.”

“I heard he specifically requested that he be allowed to respond to fake notices and civilian challenges.”

“And they agreed to that?”

“Apparently it was a hard sell, but… well… they wanted KID’s help.”

“Just goes to show how big a deal this really is.”

Both Shinichi and Hakuba lost their smiles at that, but they didn’t have time to dwell on it. An officer standing at one end of the line the task force had formed down the length of the room suddenly shushed them all harshly and everyone fell silent, listening hard to the subtle sound that was building through the room.

It was the sound of wind, Shinichi realized a moment later – a breeze that was passing through the space. Then it picked up a little and carried with it a fragrant flurry of rose petals from seemingly nowhere. The artificial wind buoyed them up, swirling them gently so that they filled the room like a slowly tilted snow globe.

Then, as was to be expected, Kaitou KID was suddenly standing in front of the display case for the wine bottle, leaning back with his elbows resting on top of the glass and his cape blocking it from view.

“Good evening,” KID said, smiling at the officers. Several of them twitched like they could hardly keep themselves from leaping forward. The breeze whispered to a stop and the rose petals settled quietly between them. “Did you miss me~?”

There were a few beats of heavy silence, then someone called out, “Was that notice really fake?”

KID turned his smile more directly toward the officer. “Now, now,” he scolded gently. “I may be a thief, but I’m an honest one. I appear when and where I say I will, and when I enter into a truce…” He glanced over at Hakuba and Shinichi. “I don’t break it.”

“What about the bottle then?” another officer asked.

KID shrugged. “Someone challenged me. I have a reputation to uphold, don’t I?” He spread his hands. “Anyone else have questions? This truce isn’t forever, you know. We might not get another chance to talk like this.”

There was a pregnant pause before someone ventured, “How do you know so much about the Black–”

“Ah–!” KID brought a finger to his lips and the officer immediately fell silent. Shinichi and Hakuba exchanged glances, not at the mention of the Black Organization, but at the quick compliance of the task force to KID’s wishes. “That’s dangerous, Hashimoto-san,” KID explained, and the officer went a little pink-faced at the address.

“Do… Do you know all our names?” someone else asked.

KID looked simultaneously confused and concerned, and Shinichi and Hakuba both knew it was no mask. “Of course I do,” he answered, soft and earnest.

Almost as one, the officers shifted a little closer, a few of them saying KID’s name with questions ready on their lips, but KID just smiled warmly at them. And then he suddenly had the small wooden box that held the old wine bottle tucked under one arm. No one had seen when he’d opened the case to remove it, let alone when he’d picked the lock.

“It really has been nice talking with you,” KID said. “But actually, there’s someone missing and I believe I owe him an explanation. I’m sure you understand.” KID snapped his gloved fingers and the breeze returned, catching KID’s cape up along with the rose petals as he tipped his hat and gave a small bow.

“Good evening, my dear task force,” he said. “I hope I see you again soon.” He reached out his free hand and caught the corner of his cape. Then he was gone in one dramatic swirl, leaving the petals to settle in his wake… and a pink silk rose tucked into the front of each officer’s uniform.

The hush lasted several seconds before Hashimoto turned to the officer beside him and said, “I’m still awake, right?”

The officer laughed and pinched his cheek, tugging for good measure. “Yep!” she confirmed.

Shinichi smiled and took the red silk rose from his blazer pocket, shrugging at Hakuba’s smirk and the white silk rose he had in his own hand. “That’s KID for you,” Shinichi laughed.

 

“Good evening, Nakamori-keibu. Beautiful view, isn’t it?”

“KID!” Nakamori turned from where he’d been staring out over the city from the rooftop terrace, already rushing toward where KID was emerging from the shadows. KID just tutted at him, raising a hand.

“No jumping on the thief, remember?” he said with a grin.

Nakamori let out a growl but stayed put until KID nodded him over to one of the tables on the terrace. Wary, he followed the thief over and KID set the wine bottle’s box down gently. “Wait a second–!” Nakamori started as KID made to open it. KID ignored him.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I won’t touch it. I just think we deserve a close-up look~” And, of course, to make sure the real thing is safe and sound in here. As he lifted the lid away he caught sight of a tiny white scroll of paper poking out of the bottle’s mouth. His eyes flickered to Nakamori even as his hand passed casually over the box, whisking the odd little paper away. Nakamori didn’t notice.

“Well, KID?” he said, glancing over the gold leaves and flowers wrapped around the bottle’s curves. “You got what you came for. What now?”

“Now…” KID closed up the box again and pushed it gently into Nakamori’s hands, though he didn’t let go himself. “Now, I give it back. You know, it’s far too easy, lifting treasures from museums when your team isn’t trying.” He leaned in over the box held between them and said softly, “It makes a difference. It really does.” He settled back again and released the box into Nakamori’s care before adding, “So don’t go getting rusty in the meantime, all right~?”

Nakamori blinked down at the box in his hands. There was a rose resting on top of it, its silk petals a light, delicate silver. He looked up again quickly when KID stepped up onto a chair, then onto the railing around the edge of the roof. “Wait!” he said.

KID paused, smiling to himself before turning back with a poker face. “Yes?”

“I don’t… I don’t understand,” Nakamori said.

“Understand what?”

You.” The word was just short of an exasperated shout and it echoed a little off the rooftop lounge’s mirrored windows. KID just laughed.

“Well naturally not, Inspector,” he said. “I’m a phantom thief!”

“Not that,” Nakamori insisted but he came up short then, struggling for words. KID stepped down from the railing.

“I had a chat with your task force. They had a few questions for me. It’s only fair that I answer yours, too.”

For a moment, KID wondered if he would ask, but then Nakamori’s fingers tightened around the wooden box and he looked KID in the eye as directly as he could past the monocle and shadows. “Why did you choose Kudou-kun as your liaison?”

KID seemed to consider him carefully for a few moments. “Because he was already involved,” he eventually replied, face and voice both entirely serious. “Of the people I trust – you, Hakuba-tantei, Kudou-tantei… How could I put two of you needlessly at risk by dragging you into this? Kudou-tantei… He’s already in deep. And I want to help.”

Something eased in Nakamori’s posture, and just a little in his eyes. He looked down at the rose he had unconsciously pinned to the box with a thumb. “…Why are you like this, KID?” he muttered, almost a sigh. “You’ve always been. From day one.”

Kaito felt a familiar flutter in his stomach – the little nervous thrill he would always get just from being compared to his father. “Do I need a reason?” KID asked, smiling. For once Nakamori returned the gesture and KID tipped his hat before leaping backwards, feet landing firmly on the narrow railing once again.

“Have a good evening, Nakamori-keibu,” he said. “And say hi to your daughter for me~!” With a wink and the flash of a grin KID fell from the rail, his glider winging open as Nakamori’s face went red and he shouted into the night, “KID!

 

 

Gin knows who you are.

 

KID stared down at the slip of paper in his hands feeling like something was twisting in the pit of his stomach. The typed black kanji stared back, blunt as the words it formed. There was no room for interpretation.

Either someone well-informed has a sick sense of humor, KID thought without an ounce of hope that it was true. Or someone even more well-informed is… warning me.

He rolled the paper back up and slipped it away into a pocket then leaned his shoulder against a tree in the deserted park. He’d landed almost immediately after taking off from the roof – there was no one chasing him, after all, and the paper that had been impossibly slipped into the wine bottle at some point had been driving him mad with curiosity. Now, he almost wished he’d lost it somewhere before he’d had the chance to read it. His mind was less racing than it was spinning, fierce and staggering and rushed.

Is it true? I can’t know. Do I assume that it is? What can I do about it? Who wrote this? Why? How did they manage to slip past everyone? Is this a warning or a threat? A taunt? Do I tell Shinichi? Of course I tell Shinichi. Wait, was this…? He blinked, letting out a quiet breath. Was this the reason for this heist? Did this person send the fake notice, too?

KID suppressed a shiver and pushed away from the tree. All things considered, the dark, empty park across from the Suntory Museum of Art felt far too exposed. He changed instantaneously into black street clothes and tugged his baseball cap firmly over his eyes with a gloved hand. I can’t let this get to me. We’ll figure this out.

Chapter Text

Following a fairly cryptic text from Kaito, Shinichi left the Suntory Museum of Art and headed straight for Chikage’s house in Ekoda. He didn’t even have the chance to knock before Chikage opened the door and pulled him inside.

“Chikage-san!” Shinichi yelped, tripping over his own feet. “You’re okay! What’s going on?”

Chikage took a moment to pinch his cheek gently, feeling for a mask, then held up her phone. There was a text from Kaito open on the screen reading, “Something’s happened. Shinichi, Jii-chan, and I are heading your way.” “I was going to ask you the same thing,” she said.

Shinichi pulled off his shoes and shook his head. “I don’t know either. I got pretty much the same text saying to meet Kaito here.”

“Kaito-sama isn’t with you?” Jii asked as he came around the corner into the entryway.

Before Shinichi could answer, Kaito called down from the top of the stairs, “I’m right here.”

Jii, Chikage, and Shinichi exchanged anxious looks between them. Kaito was in all black, his face shadowed with a baseball cap, and he had apparently decided that entering through a second floor window around the back of the house was preferable to the front door.

“What happened?” Shinichi insisted even before Kaito had made it down to the entryway. “Everything seemed fine at the heist.”

The moment he was in reach, Shinichi touched Kaito’s face. At the same time, Jii stole the cap from his head. Kaito just nodded. “It did,” he said to Shinichi. “Which makes this–” With a flick of his wrist, a small scroll of paper appeared between his fingers. “All the more mysterious.” He handed it to Shinichi.

The moment he’d unrolled it his face went bone white.

“What? What is it?” Chikage eased the paper from Shinichi’s numb fingers and Jii came up to read over her shoulder. They both went still and quiet.

“Who… Who gave that to you?” Shinichi asked. His voice was a little weak and his heart was pounding so hard he felt sure it was actually expanding with each beat – crowding out his lungs and taking over his chest.

“…I’ve narrowed it down to four,” Kaito said. He looked to Chikage and Jii. “Though it’s more likely two if you two are really as shocked as you’re acting.”

“What do you mean?” Chikage asked.

“Someone with a very particular skill set slipped this note into the wine bottle I stole tonight, and they did it under the noses of half the task force and the two most brilliant detectives in Japan.” His eyes flickered to Shinichi who was looking somewhat ill. Kaito silently took his hand.

“It wasn’t me,” Chikage said.

“Or me, Kaito-sama,” Jii added.

“The other two…” Shinichi murmured.

“Chat Noir and that bastard Lupin the third. They’re the only two I know who could pull this off.”

“It could be someone you don’t know,” Chikage pointed out, but Shinichi was shaking his head.

“It’s much less likely that someone who’s not on KID’s radar would be… invested enough to even know that Gin is a concern to him, let alone to go out of their way to inform him of this.”

Kaito nodded his agreement.

“Then… is there a way to confirm with those two? Can we contact them?” Jii asked.

“I’m pretty sure I can track down a phone number for Chat Noir,” Kaito said. Shinichi’s eyes flickered to his for a moment but Kaito just gave a slight shake of his head. The exact details of KID’s meeting with Chat Noir hadn’t come up between them before, but now that it had Kaito knew it wasn’t something he was comfortable sharing. He trusted Shinichi without doubt or question, but that didn’t mean he had to tell him another thief’s secrets, especially not without her permission.

Shinichi, for his part, didn’t seem troubled by it. “There are a few leads I could follow to get a hold of Lupin,” he said, moving on. “I’ll need to talk to Haibara.”

“Do it,” Kaito said. “I’ll call Chat Noir.” He leaned over and touched a kiss to Shinichi’s cheek, fingers closing just a little tighter around Shinichi’s for a moment before he pulled away. “I’ll be in Oyaji’s room,” he said, glancing at Chikage, and then he hurried back up the stairs. Shinichi watched him go.

“We’ll work it out, Shinichi-kun,” Jii said. “One piece at a time, right?”

Shinichi tried for a smile but he could feel how forced it was and gave up. His eyes flickered toward the empty staircase again. “Chikage-san… can I ask you something?”

“You can ask,” Chikage said with a smirk.

“Are you… Did you stop traveling because of what happened last September?”

He was a little surprised when Chikage let out a sigh and tugged him rather forcefully into a hug. “I want to be home,” she said with a smile he could hear in her voice. “That’s all.” She drew back. “Now go on. You have some calls to make, don’t you?”

This time Shinichi’s smile was a little more real until he glanced at his watch. “Haibara’s gonna be so pissed.”

Chikage just grinned.

 

Kaito let his fingers trail over the armchair spotlighted in the middle of the room, lingering for just a moment before moving to the jukebox. Nothing was dusty – Chikage surely tended to everything whenever she was home – but the jukebox was no longer set to play automatically when the room was opened. He spent a long few seconds staring at the dim light behind the glass before turning away and sitting at the bar. He’d brought his tablet down into the room with him and he settled in to search.

It didn’t take too long to track down the right Ruby Jones in France and, once he had, it wasn’t too difficult for him to find a phone number. He typed it into KID’s white flip phone. “…Worth a shot,” he muttered, and hit the call button.

He stilled a sigh of relief when a familiar voice answered in French.

“Hello?”

“Ruby Jones. Or rather, Chat Noir.”

He’d replied in her language, but at the heavy silence he switched back to Japanese.

“Haven’t forgotten me already, have you?”

There was a quiet laugh on the other end of the line. “Phantom Thief KID,” she said. “Kaito Kuroba.” She switched to Japanese as well then, but it was more accented than the last time he’d heard it. “Of course,” Ruby said. “How are you?”

“Well…” Kaito started slowly. “You could say my interest is piqued. I got your warning.”

“Warning?”

Kaito’s hand closed into a loose fist on top of the bar. It wasn’t Kaa-san or Jii-chan. It’s unlikely Lupin would do something like that. It has to be her… “Yes,” he said. “At my heist tonight.”

“I am retired, Monsieur Kuroba,” Ruby laughed. “I do not intend to challenge you again. I was soundly defeated last time and I accept zat. Besides, zanks to you my mission is complete.”

“Then… you didn’t leave this note for me?” he muttered.

“I ‘ave not been back to Japan since zat night,” Ruby said. “If someone left something for you at a heist, it was not me. But if zere is anything I can do to ‘elp…?”

“No,” Kaito said quickly. “My mistake. To be honest, I’d been afraid about how you might have gotten wrapped up in this particular… issue. But if it wasn’t you, then it’s best that you stay away.”

“…You are in trouble, aren’t you.”

“It’s nothing I can’t handle. My apologies for disturbing you, Jones-san.”

“Not at all, Monsieur Kuroba. It was… nice to ‘ear from you. Please, take care of yourself.”

“Yeah,” Kaito said. “You too.” He closed the phone and sagged a little on his stool. “Never thought I’d be wishing for that bastard Lupin to be butting in again,” he muttered, kicking at the bar.

 

“Chat Noir?” Jii asked as Kaito came back downstairs.

Kaito shook his head. “Retired. And in France. It wasn’t her. Lupin?”

Jii nodded toward the sitting room where Kaito could hear Shinichi talking. “Sounds like he was able to get a hold of Mine Fujiko-san, but…”

Kaito cringed. That would explain why he sounds so tense. When he stepped into the sitting room, Shinichi was turned away, apparently pacing the length of the room. Kaito came up behind him and caught him around his shoulders. Shinichi jumped and let out a yelp.

“What was that?” Kaito heard through the phone that had come away from Shinichi’s ear. “Are you still there, Kudou-kun~? I didn’t scare you off again, did I?”

Shinichi let out an extremely heavy sigh. Kaito slipped the phone from his hand without letting him go.

“Pardon the intrusion, Mine-san, but I couldn’t help myself,” he said with a grin.

“Who are you?” Fujiko pouted back.

“Kaitou KID~”

Shinichi rolled his eyes but leaned back against Kaito’s chest.

“Look,” Kaito continued. “I just need to know if your friend Lupin the third has been up to anything in Japan lately. Maybe tonight?”

“Like I told Kudou-kun,” Fujiko replied. “What are you offering in return?”

Kaito was quiet for maybe a beat longer than a normal pause. “Is there something the famous Mine Fujiko-san needs handed to her that she can’t just take for herself?” he asked innocently.

Fujiko laughed. “Well I’d still love to meet you. And I’d love to see Kudou-kun again now that he’s all grown up~”

Kaito’s pause was longer this time. “…You may not get the chance if we don’t find the answers we need right now.”

Shinichi turned his head away a little, trying to keep his body from tensing again. Part of him knew that Kaito was being deliberately dramatic to play to Fujiko’s tastes, but the rest of him knew how true those words could become.

“We’re just asking for an honest yes or no, Mine-san.”

Fujiko sighed. “Lupin’s in Italy,” she said. “Good enough for you?”

“…Yes. Thank you.”

“You owe me, Kaitou KID-san~” she said. “I’ll look forward to collecting on that. Say ‘bye’ to Kudou-kun for me, okay?” There was a kissing sound and then a dial tone and Kaito slumped forward, putting more of his weight against Shinichi’s back.

“I don’t know why you tolerate them,” he sighed.

Shinichi smirked. “I think I’m building up a resistance to thieving lunatics.” He took his phone out of Kaito’s hand and turned to face him. “So?”

“Nothing but dead ends. I’m sorry, Tantei-kun. I don’t know who else could have pulled this off. We have to move on and decide how we want to proceed.”

 

“A wine bottle at the Suntory Museum of Art. Suntory’s, like, one of the largest distilleries in the world!”

“The message named Gin outright,” Shinichi said patiently. They were sitting at the kitchen table with Jii and Chikage, the scent of coffee rising up from each of their mugs to stave off the late hour. “We already know it’s related to them.”

Exactly,” Kaito insisted. “The message was clear enough without all this extra stuff. So why go to the trouble? I’m just saying it’s too much to be coincidental.”

“But we’re just going in circles, Kaito,” Chikage said. “Does it really matter who it’s from? You just need to decide what you’re going to do about it.”

“Well what am I supposed to do about it? Gin knows who Shinichi is, too, you know. If he’s theorizing that I’m Kaitou KID, how is that any different from the danger of the association Kuroba Kaito already has with Shinichi?”

“It’s different because he’d know you’re a threat, and a dangerous one,” Shinichi said. “Someone he can’t take down easily. He’ll be able to account for that.”

“And going after you as Shinichi-kun’s boyfriend might not have been worth it,” Chikage added. “But getting KID out of their way could be.”

“And you, Jii-chan?” Kaito asked. “You’ve been pretty quiet.”

“…Because all I can think about is Toichi-sama’s last show.”

Everyone around the table went still.

“They came after him once they’d learned his identity. They took advantage of that. They could do it again and I don’t want to see that happen. Not again.”

“…So, what then? Am I supposed to go into hiding for the rest of who knows how long? Where I can’t even help?”

“Not dying would be extremely helpful,” Shinichi sighed. He was leaning forward, his elbows on the table as he rubbed at his forehead with both hands.

“Then I won’t,” Kaito shot back. “I understand why we have the Organization task force set to pull the people around us into protection if things take a bad turn, but if you expect me to tag out just because there’s slightly more evidence that that bad turn is coming, you’re in for a hell of a fight.”

“Oh, like that’s anything new. You don’t do small-time fights, Kaito. Any time we’re pissed at each other you take it out on me as KID.”

“That’s enough–” Chikage started to say but she cut herself off when Jii stood.

“I’m leaving,” he said quietly.

“Jii-chan–” Kaito tried, but Jii was shaking his head.

“I don’t know… what decision you’ll both come to,” he said, looking between Kaito and Shinichi. “I don’t know what’s best, and I don’t think I could bear it if I weighed in now and… something happened. I’ll do what I can to help, but I can’t help with this.”

He left the kitchen and Kaito was up and following after him just a few seconds later. He stopped him in the entranceway as Jii was putting away his guest slippers and pulling out his shoes.

“Jii-chan, just wait a second,” Kaito said. Jii straightened up and turned. His face was still set with grim determination, but his eyes looked just a little wet. “Jii-chan,” Kaito said again, firmly. “Everything’s gonna be all right. You don’t have to worry.”

Jii smiled but it was wavering. “Of course I do, Kaito-sama.”

“Heh.” Kaito waited as Jii busied himself with his shoes again then headed for the door. “Be careful going home,” he said.

“You too, Kaito-sama,” Jii replied. His last smile as he headed out seemed a little steadier. Kaito smiled back.

You’ve helped more than enough, Jii-chan. I won’t pull you into this anymore.

After Jii was gone, Kaito glanced back at the kitchen then wandered into the sitting room instead. He needed to take some time to sort things out alone.

Shinichi and Chikage knew better than to go looking for him or to try to bring him back to the discussion before he was ready.

 

“Jii-chan’s out.”

Shinichi looked up as Kaito stepped back into the kitchen. He took his seat and wrapped his hands around his lukewarm mug.

There was silence for a few moments, then an apologetic glance that Shinichi only caught because he’d already been looking at Kaito. Shinichi nodded, his face just determined again. Neither could seem to hold on to much anger toward each other lately. Not with so many bigger things going on.

“…I’m not hiding,” Kaito said.

“I know,” Shinichi answered. He glanced across the table at Chikage. She was leaning back against her chair, her legs and arms crossed and her face turned just slightly away from them both. “…We know.”

 

By the time Kaito and Shinichi left Chikage’s the sky was already fading from black to beige-blue as the sun crept upward. They stood together in the corner of a morning commuter train, Shinichi leaning a little against Kaito, his head heavy. They’d been up all night and he was fairly certain that if they sat down he’d fall asleep. Considering the events of that night, it wasn’t an appealing option.

Kaito cast a surreptitious glance around the train car then an analyzing glance at Shinichi. Shinichi’s whole body shivered awake a moment later when Kaito turned toward him, pinning him in the corner and touching a few quick, soft kisses to his neck and jaw.

“K-Kaito!” Shinichi whispered, fully prepared to shove him away, but then Kaito breathed out, “We’re being followed,” and Shinichi froze. He was about to look around the train when Kaito’s hand came up, resting against his cheek and holding him still. “Don’t look,” he murmured against his skin. “They’re watching us.” He could feel the muscles tighten in Shinichi’s jaw. “Shinichi,” he murmured, insistent.

Letting out a little breath, Shinichi caught Kaito’s hands, bringing them down between them. He leaned in forehead to forehead with Kaito and whispered, barely moving his lips, “Since when?”

Kaito shifted a little to answer against Shinichi’s cheek, “Since we left Kaa-san’s.”

“What do you suggest?”

Drawing him in closer, Kaito breathed against Shinichi’s ear, “Pretend we haven’t noticed for now. Wait until we’re in a better spot. It’s too confined here. Too public.”

Shinichi hesitated but gave a small nod and Kaito put on a grin, kissing again at his neck.

“Hey,” Shinichi said. He took Kaito by the shoulders and moved him back. “I think you need to work on not actually kissing me senseless when you’re only supposed to be pretending,” he murmured.

Kaito smirked and shrugged, settling in shoulder to shoulder with him again to glance innocently around the train car. Shinichi directed his eyes carefully to the window and tried to analyze every reflection he saw in it without being obvious.

 

At the station in Beika, Shinichi and Kaito started walking, slowly making a route that moved away from the businesses opening for the morning. Neither was entirely sure where they were going, but they both knew as soon as they saw it that the building slated for demolition on the edge of a warehouse yard would be the place to confront their tails. Without a word they ducked inside and Shinichi positioned himself just left of the door, watch held ready while Kaito paced farther into the building, checking windows and other possible points of entry or exit.

A few minutes later, nothing had happened. Kaito had come to stand at Shinichi’s back, both of them tense and ready, but when Shinichi cast a quick glance back, meeting Kaito’s eyes over his shoulder, Kaito just shrugged.

His attention snapped back to the door when they heard voices approaching.

“It’s clear. There’s no one here. Just–” A woman in a neat beige suit walked through the door, a gun held carefully in both hands and directed toward the floor. “Kudou-kun!” she said as her eyes fell on him.

“Ah, um, aren’t you… Tanaka-keiji?” Shinichi said, hastily closing the scope on his watch. He felt Kaito turn, though he kept close at Shinichi’s back. A man followed Tanaka through the door a moment later. “Kayano-keiji?”

“What are you doing in here, Kudou-kun?” the man, Kayano, hissed. He also had a gun in his hands and he was backing into the building, keeping his eyes on the door and his gun pointed at the floor.

“Um.” We realized someone was following us and assumed it was members of a dangerous criminal organization out to kill Kaito and kidnap me, so we secluded ourselves somewhere thinking we could take them alone… “Nothing,” Shinichi said.

“Shinichi noticed that you guys were following us and thought something might be up, so he picked a spot you guys could talk without being overheard,” Kaito filled in. Shinichi pushed out a silent sigh.

“Well that was foolish,” Kayano snapped at them. “There’s–”

“Kayano-kun,” Tanaka said. He stopped and she shook her head sharply. “Not here. Come on, you two. We’ll take you to the station. Something’s happened. We need to fill you in, Kudou-kun.”

Shinichi shared another quick glance with Kaito over his shoulder and Kaito quietly stole the watch from Shinichi’s wrist. Then Shinichi stepped up to Tanaka.

“Excuse me, Tanaka-keiji.” He lifted a hand slowly to her face so she wouldn’t be startled, more than half of his attention on the gun in her hands, and touched her cheek to feel for a mask. Behind him, Kaito watched both Tanaka and Kayano carefully, ready to trigger the watch at a moment’s notice.

“Good to know you take precautions, actually, Kudou-kun,” Tanaka said. Shinichi nodded and turned to Kayano who allowed him to check his face as well.

“All right. Let’s go.”

 

“Well that… backfired a little,” Kaito said softly as Shinichi finally closed the door to the Kudou manor behind them that afternoon. “Sorry, Tantei-kun.”

“Quit apologizing,” Shinichi sighed. “I didn’t even notice we were being followed and you couldn’t have known they were cops. They would have come to get me either way.”

“That’s… not what I meant.”

Shinichi glanced over at him. Kaito’s posture was just a little more slack than normal, his head just slightly bowed, and Shinichi had seen him exhausted often enough to know that this was something else.

“Merlot,” Kaito said, and Shinichi moved to stand a little closer to him, bumping his shoulder gently with his own.

“That’s not your fault either.”

“She disappeared from her cell five days ago. We only just hear about it now? That’s on me.”

“Even Interpol didn’t hear about it right away. Communications at the facility where she was being held were down afterwards. And we talked about the convoluted information relay where Merlot is concerned before we set it up that way. It made sense, to keep her safe.”

“Well it didn’t work, did it.” Kaito scrubbed his hands over his face then pushed out a sigh.

“We did everything we could, Kaito. I know it’s not… much of a comfort really. But all we can do at this point is accept it and move on.”

Kaito glanced over at him. “I think I’ve been a bad influence on you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Putting things aside for the sake of getting the job done? Dealing with the fallout later? That’s… I mean, I understand, Shinichi, but this is a long game. The more you shove off, the more it’ll pile up. You get that, right?”

“Yeah, I do,” Shinichi answered much too easily, and Kaito’s lips twitched toward a scowl. “Come on,” Shinichi said before he could respond. He nodded to the stairs. “We’ve been up all night. We can talk about this more after we get some rest.”

 

Shinichi collapsed onto his bed beside Kaito and fell asleep only to wake less than an hour later to the soft tapping of keys on Kaito’s laptop. Groaning, Shinichi dragged his wrist up in front of his eyes and squinted at the watch he almost never took off anymore.

“Did I wake you?” Kaito asked softly, eyes still on the screen and fingers pausing on the keys only to flick across the touchpad mouse.

“…You sleep at all?”

Kaito didn’t answer. Shinichi sighed and scooted himself upright so he could get a better look at the computer. “What are you doing?”

“Just… research.”

Shinichi quickly recognized the few windows he could see as belonging to Kaito’s “networks.” Whatever he was researching, it wasn’t legal.

Then he caught a few fairly distressing words highlighted throughout the abundance of text – like Kaito had been searching for those terms – and something inside him twisted.

“Kaito…”

“I’m trying to find Merlot.”

Shinichi’s mouth opened. Closed. His eyebrows drew down. “…What–? Why are you looking up slave traders?”

Kaito shook his head a little. “I was just following leads and wound up there,” he said. “I’m trying to find out who she actually was.”

“…But we read the police file from when she was arrested. Her real name is Tai Liling–”

“So we know her name. We know what she let the police know. That’s not the same thing.”

Shinichi watched Kaito glower at the screen in the dark for a few more seconds. Then he sighed and shifted over, nudging Kaito down the bed a little so he could slip behind him and wrap his arms around his waist, looking at the screen over Kaito’s shoulder. “Okay. So you want to start from scratch. Profile her. What do we know?” he prompted.

Kaito eased back a little against him. “She’s small, young, left-handed, Chinese, female, running with a bad crowd and good at it, ambitious, careful, used to defending herself.”

“Good with guns,” Shinichi supplied. “Impatient.”

Kaito paused then made a little humming noise and pulled up a small window from behind the others, typing something in. “Not good with heels,” he muttered. His head tipped a little to the side. “Her nails were manicured.”

“She smokes,” Shinichi continued. “And… There was that scent.”

“Peaches and mint,” Kaito said, nodding as he typed. “What kind of car was it that the cops found at the factory?”

“Ferrari. Black. Fake plates. …Does any of this actually tell us anything?” Shinichi asked.

“You’d be surprised.”

 

He was. Half an hour later, Kaito was pulling up a grainy, mug-shot style photo of what was very likely a younger Merlot.

“Tai Liling,” Kaito said. “Born in Xi’an. Involved with a smuggling ring from a pretty young age.”

“That was definitely not in the police record. What were they smuggling?”

“Weapons, drugs, people – you name it. It looks like she was with them for about ten years before she and a large shipment of weapons and another of drugs went missing, and that was the last anyone legal or otherwise had heard from her until she was booked by the MPD last September.” Kaito went quiet, considering the screen somewhat critically.

“What?” Shinichi asked.

“Hm? Oh, nothing. I was just thinking the time she disappeared would have been around the time I became KID.”

“So she managed to stay off the grid for something like six years?”

“Not surprising if her disappearing was actually her joining the Organization.”

“You don’t… think she was bought by the Organization, do you?”

Kaito shifted a little but stopped when Shinichi’s arms tightened around him. He let out a sigh. “Okay, yes, I found sale papers, but there’s nothing about her buyer.”

“So she might not have been part of the smuggling ring at all. She might have just been their cargo.”

“I don’t think so, Tantei-kun. She’s registered with a pedigree. She was orphaned when she was about six. Her parents died a year or so apart from each other and both were from illness. It’s not likely they were murders committed to collect the orphan for stock and they wouldn’t have waited ten years to sell her. She was probably working with the smugglers to support herself.”

“But she was definitely registered for sale?”

Kaito made an unhappy noise. “They could have cannibalized their workers to make a sale if the money was good or the worker was bad. For her listed price I’d say she wasn’t a bad worker.”

Shinichi’s arms were squeezing a little tight around his middle and Kaito rested a hand over them. “I suppose I should have mentioned sooner – this ring has already been broken up. Apparently someone informed on them. There’s no loyalty or honor among these types of criminals.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” Shinichi scoffed quietly behind Kaito’s ear, but his grip had relaxed considerably. Kaito’s thumb rubbed over his arm. “Recruiting kids and then selling them off the first chance they get…” Shinichi muttered. “It’s no wonder Merlot ended up with the Organization. It was probably the only life she knew.”

Kaito’s thumb stilled. “…Don’t forget, Tantei-kun. Regardless of how it happened, she’s the reason Sasagi-keiji is dead. She went after you, she shot Takagi-keiji–”

“I haven’t forgotten.” Shinichi’s voice was firm, his thoughts skipping quickly from the moment of Sasagi’s death to that cold, black refrigerator; the sight of Kaito’s blood pooling with the salt water on the moonlit docks, and the feeling of Takagi’s arm, heavy over his shoulders as he dragged him toward the ambulance. She’d even taken Phantom Lady out of commission that night. “I won’t underestimate her,” he said. “If she’s still alive, we need to find her.”

Kaito just nodded.

Letting out a sigh, Shinichi sagged back against the pillows, his arms slipping from around Kaito’s waist until just his hands rested on Kaito’s hips.

Kaito glanced back. “I think we’ve done enough for now.” He turned back to the screen again and closed everything out.

Shinichi let out a derisive snort. “You think? How many hours have you been awake now?”

“Enough to not want to do the math,” Kaito yawned.

Shinichi laughed and shoved himself upright again, reaching around Kaito to take the laptop. He got up to set it on the desk then practically fell back into bed with a groan. The moment they were settled in against the pillows, the blanket tugged firmly up over them both, Shinichi wrapped himself rather thoroughly around Kaito.

“Heh. You know nothing can actually hold me somewhere against my will, right?” Kaito whispered with a smirk in the darkness.

“Not against your will, no,” Shinichi murmured back, and Kaito could hear the hint of a smile in it.

“Fair enough,” he sighed, and he closed his eyes, relaxing into the warmth and the smell of Shinichi’s hair.

Chapter Text

Kaito had had exactly one request for his birthday, so on June twenty-first he and Shinichi let their friends and the police know then turned off their phones and closed up the house, intent on staying in and doing absolutely nothing at all.

Shinichi was lying on the couch, pillows stacked against his bare back, and Kaito was lying on top of him, his head tipped back against Shinichi’s shoulder as Shinichi’s fingers swirled lazily through Kaito’s hair. Shinichi’s other arm was draped across Kaito’s chest and the contact between their skin was comfortable and warm.

“Remember that night we spent together after you agreed to date me?”

“You mean after you got shot and were out doing stupid things until you practically collapsed?” Shinichi said. His fingers traced feather-light over the scar below Kaito’s ribs. Kaito just laughed.

“Yeah. And I convinced you to play hooky so we could just lie in your bed and talk all day.”

“I’m sensing a theme,” Shinichi said through a smirk.

“Well… It’s not really corrupting you, but it’s satisfying all the same.”

Kaito could feel Shinichi’s laugh against his back. “I should really be concerned, shouldn’t I.”

“Nah.” Kaito let his eyes fall closed, just smiling at the ceiling. “Let’s go skiing soon,” he eventually said.

Soon… Shinichi thought, and he knew it really meant “when this is all over.” His smile turned a little sad but he deliberately pushed the thought away. “Hey,” he said. “How come Hakuba thinks you can’t ice skate?”

Kaito’s eyes opened. “Uh…”

“You can, right?”

“Not… really. No.”

“What?” Shinichi laughed. “How has this not come up before now? We almost went ice skating last year!” His fingers slipped from Kaito’s hair so he could drape both arms across Kaito’s chest, holding him there.

“Yeah almost,” Kaito replied. “Thank goodness. That would have been the cherry on top of a really awful day.”

Shinichi ducked his head a little and murmured into Kaito’s hair with a smile, “You can be such a grouch over the weirdest things.”

“Fine.” Kaito wriggled around in Shinichi’s arms until he was chest to chest with him. “You take me ice skating; I’ll take you to karaoke.”

Shinichi snorted. “Yeah right.” His hands had started moving down Kaito’s back almost without thought. They slid into the back pockets of Kaito’s jeans and stayed there.

Kaito breathed out something between a hum and a laugh and stole a quick kiss. “Hey, Shinichi,” he murmured.

“Hm?”

“Would you play the violin for me today? Just once?”

“What? I mean sure, but–”

“I’ve hardly ever heard you play,” Kaito answered before Shinichi could even ask. “But you look so… happy when you do. Like, it’s not that you’re smiling, just… It’s like you’re really content. I like it.”

“It’s not like I avoid playing the violin,” Shinichi said with a quirked, uncertain smile. “I just usually don’t have time. I’ll play if you want.”

Kaito’s eyes were wide and bright. “Really?”

“Yeah. It’s not a big deal.”

Kaito apparently disagreed. He leapt off the couch, somehow managing not to dig a knee or elbow into Shinichi, which he was actively grateful for. Sitting up, Shinichi grabbed his shirt from the floor and dragged it back over his head, and then Kaito was there, grinning and holding his violin and bow out to him. Shinichi smiled and stood, taking the instrument and settling it under his chin. His eyes closed without thought and he pulled the bow slowly across the strings, testing the sound of each one and making a few adjustments before he started to play.

Kaito flopped onto the couch and tucked his hands behind his head, staring up at Shinichi. Before he knew it, he was grinning.

“Are you being creepy?” Shinichi laughed, but his voice had gone a little soft under the music.

“It’s my birthday; I’m allowed to be creepy,” Kaito replied.

A smile was tugging at Shinichi’s lips but he ignored it and kept playing. “Hey, remember that Valentine’s date you took me on?”

“Mm. The one where I finally got you to kiss me?”

“Are you ever gonna let that go?” Shinichi sighed against the violin, but he was definitely smiling now and the tempo hadn’t been disrupted in the least.

“Nope. Everyone should know how I’ve suffered. You are a natural born tease.”

“I’m what?” Shinichi laughed.

Kaito tsked at him. “Remember our first time~?” he said with a clear teasing tone.

Shinichi’s face flushed and the bow slipped a little against the strings though he recovered quickly. He still did not open his eyes. “I was being careful.” The notes had picked up a little speed and Kaito laughed out loud. The bow finally paused then and Shinichi’s head came up a little, eyes opening to give Kaito a mildly sour look.

“No, no, no, go back to playing, I’m sorry,” Kaito said, and he was still laughing but the upward tilt of his eyebrows was also somewhat pleading. Shinichi sighed and brought the bow back to the strings.

“Anyway,” he said, a slight smirk forming. “I was thinking we should go on a date. Not today,” he added quickly. “But… next weekend, maybe? It shouldn’t have to be one of our birthdays for us to spend time together.”

“Mm. No arguments here.” Kaito curled himself into the corner of the couch and wrapped his arms around one of the pillows. The notes were flowing long and slow now and Kaito let the side of his head rest against the back of the couch as he watched Shinichi play.

“Hey Kaito,” Shinichi said after a whole song had gone by. “When did you know… that we’d end up together? Before that heist with the puzzle locks, right? But how long before that?”

“I didn’t know,” Kaito murmured. “But… It was the heist before that. With Yasuda.”

The bow paused again for just a moment but then Shinichi nodded and continued. “I had no clue until you kissed me. Seems pretty stupid though, looking back. I should have at least known when you gave me that rose. Heh, or when you insisted I use your given name.”

“Everything’s clearer with hindsight,” Kaito said with a smirk.

Shinichi hummed his agreement. It was. It was inescapably clear now. From the first code, Kaito had captured his attention. From their first meeting, no one had gotten under his skin the way Kaito did. And from that point they’d clashed, spitfire wit and hot arrogance throwing sparks that caught unexpectedly in the kindling of their shared weaknesses, fanned to life by their shared enemies, and still burning strong and bright in them both.

They really were fire and it came with risk. Because they’d both grown dependent in a lot of ways, but neither had grown any less reckless.

The bow fell away and Shinichi lowered the violin. When he looked up, Kaito was on his feet beside the couch, watching him like he knew every thought in his head. By the time Shinichi had set the violin on the coffee table, Kaito was there, hands resting gently on his cheeks, and lips soft and sweet against his. Then he pulled Shinichi closer, nuzzling against his jaw.

“I miss you.”

It was just a whisper, but Kaito was clutching at the back of Shinichi’s shirt and his arms were locked around him, holding tight like he never wanted to let go. Shinichi swallowed hard and let his hands rub slowly across Kaito’s back.

“Yeah,” he said, and his voice broke just a little, but his hold tightened. He touched a kiss to Kaito’s neck and shoulder. “We’re here now though. And it’s your birthday.” When he moved back he did it slowly, and only enough that they could see each other’s faces again. “So I’ll stay right by your side for as long as you want today.”

Kaito made a quiet humming sound and his eyes took on a particular heat that made Shinichi’s whole body shiver under his skin. “I was thinking I might like a nice hot bath. Guess you’ll be joining me.” He tugged deliberately on Shinichi’s shirt as he stepped back and Shinichi rolled his eyes but removed it with a smile. Then Kaito took his hand, leading the way upstairs.

“Hey Shinichi,” he said as they went. “What do you think about multiverse theory?”

Shinichi’s grin was sharp and quick, his eyes flashing. “Where do I start?”

Chapter Text

The afternoon of June twenty-second, Shinichi very deliberately left the police station in Beika a little past noon and headed for home.

About halfway there his steps cut off on a residential sidewalk a moment before his brain registered the shadow lurking around the corner of a garden wall up ahead. Before he could decide what to do about it, a woman stepped out in front of him.

“You… I know you,” Shinichi said slowly. “You’re that woman – Aka… Akako?”

“Koizumi to you, if you don’t mind,” the woman said, flicking a lock of hair.

“Uh, sure. Koizumi-san.”

She regarded him with the same intense stare she’d leveled him with when he’d first run into her in Ekoda more than two and a half years ago. “You’re going to hurt him,” she said firmly.

Shinichi made the effort to keep his confusion from showing. Instead, he considered her steadily and carefully. “You have to be talking about Kaito,” he said. “But I wouldn’t–”

“You won’t have a choice.”

He could feel his eye twitch a little. “What the hell does that mean?”

Akako reached out and laid a hand on Shinichi’s chest. Shinichi immediately took a step back, his lips twitching toward a scowl. “Be careful,” she warned.

“Could you maybe be more specific?”

“I can’t. I don’t know any more.”

“Just that I’m going to hurt him,” Shinichi said, his voice and expression both flat.

Akako’s eyes narrowed. “Who else?”

“You know–” he started, and it sounded sharp even to him, but he had had more than his fill of cryptic messages– “Wait. Did you put that note in the wine bottle?”

For a moment – the one moment the realization dawned – he thought he’d finally found some answers. He almost reached out to grab her so that she couldn’t slip away, but the next moment his hopes fell apart. Akako looked truly confused, blinking at him with an expression that read something along the lines of Are you secretly crazy?

“What?” she asked.

“The warning about Gin,” Shinichi tried anyway.

“I thought you said it was a wine bottle.”

“Ugh. Just… forget it. If you don’t have anything helpful to say, I have better things to do.” He brushed past her but she quickly grabbed hold of his arm, pulling him to a stop.

“Hang on. What about–?”

“No,” Shinichi shot back. “I don’t have any reason to believe in whatever nonsense you’ve got to say. The last time I saw you, you told me I would regret it if I went looking for Kaito. Well I can tell you now that I don’t regret it. Not at all. So whatever truth you think you know, maybe you better reconsider.” He pulled out of her grasp and continued down the sidewalk without a second glance. See how she likes having someone just walk away from the conversation, he thought with admittedly childish satisfaction.

She didn’t try to follow him.

 

“I’m home,” Shinichi said as he closed the door behind him and pulled out of his shoes.

“For real?!” he heard from one room over, but Kaito didn’t come to see for himself so Shinichi followed his voice into the sitting room. Kaito was there, but a portion of the wall was not. Shinichi stopped short.

It’s… probably for the best that I’m not around for most of these modifications. This looks like a disaster. And he knew that Kaito was fully capable of fixing everything to the point that no one would be able to tell he’d tampered with it, but it was still unsettling to see. And if his parents dropped by unexpectedly… Well, it would be interesting to see the story Kaito would weave to get out of that one.

Kaito’s hands were inside the wall but he looked over his shoulder at Shinichi when he walked in, eying him carefully. Shinichi stayed by the doorway. A few adjustments later, with Kaito’s attention half on him even as he tightened some kind of valve, Kaito finally stepped away and scooped up a nearby towel, wiping plaster dust from his hands. Then he walked right up to Shinichi and touched his face, fingers tracing a firm, familiar pattern to check for a mask. “Sorry,” he murmured. “Mood-killer, I know, but you’ve gotta admit you coming home early is bizarre. Especially lately.”

Shinichi’s hand came up to hold Kaito’s palm against his cheek and he closed his eyes for just a moment. “I’m just taking a lunch break,” he told Kaito with a small smile. “And anyway, I’m glad you’re being careful. But you know… if you want to be really sure it’s me…” He pulled Kaito’s hand down and leaned in. Kaito smiled and met him in a warm kiss but he kept it chaste, stopping Shinichi from moving closer with a hand on his chest.

“Hang on,” he murmured against Shinichi’s lips. Then he stepped back and started pulling off his shirt. “You,” he said, proceeding to strip down to his boxers, discarding his clothes on the dusty floor. “Are clearly feeling grabby, and my clothes are covered in plaster.” He spread his arms. “Much better.”

Shinichi mirrored Kaito’s grin as he pulled him in again for another, deeper kiss and it wasn’t long before they’d tumbled together onto the couch.

“Heh, you… you should take lunch breaks at home more often,” Kaito breathed out under Shinichi.

“Oh right. Lunch,” Shinichi laughed. “That is what I came home for.”

“So it’s not to purposely distract me from prepping for my audition during my break,” Kaito laughed back, but all humor rushed from him when he felt Shinichi go unnaturally still.

“You’re still gonna–?” Shinichi could feel himself going pale, a wave of cold rolling through him. One hand closed painfully tight on Kaito’s upper arm, his full weight pushing him into the cushions. “Kaito, that’s crazy.”

“…We already talked about this, Shinichi,” Kaito said.

“That was before we found out that Gin knows who you are. And that Merlot disappeared from her cell!”

“And where have you been all morning?” Kaito demanded, somehow twisting out of Shinichi’s grip and sitting up, forcing Shinichi back. They were still somewhat tangled together, but he’d managed to put them on even ground at least. “You’ve never even considered taking yourself out of their path, and I’ve never asked you to because I know you wouldn’t.”

Shinichi had the good grace to at least consider Kaito’s point, but it didn’t take him long to come to the same conclusion again. “It’s different,” he insisted. “They don’t want me dead, but Kaitou KID is a real and present threat and has no value to them alive. They’ll kill you.”

“There’s a reason I’m a threat to them, Tantei-kun. Don’t underestimate me.” His gaze was sharp in equal parts determination and frustration.

“So you’re provoking them, is that it?”

“I didn’t say that,” Kaito snapped. “I just meant that if Gin really knows who I am he could come after me pretty much whenever and I told you I’m not gonna hide.”

Shinichi was about to respond but he stopped short. Something had changed in Kaito’s expression – a subtle shift, but Shinichi knew what to look for and it was always easier to see when they were alone.

“I can’t… even be KID anymore,” Kaito muttered, not meeting his eyes. “Not really. To lose this too, when it was finally right there in front of me… Shinichi… tell me you honestly think it’s not worth a little bit of risk, and I won’t do it.”

You’re going to hurt him.

Shinichi went cold all over again. He grabbed onto Kaito’s arm but it wasn’t restrictive this time, just apprehensive. After a long silence he finally muttered, “Don’t be stupid. It’s not worth your life. But… I get where you’re coming from. I guess it won’t make that much difference whether you’re watching out for them here or at the audition.” When their eyes met again, the look of hope on Kaito’s face sealed Shinichi’s surrender. He leaned in toward Kaito and felt his silent, relieved sigh against his lips just before they touched. Shinichi’s arms slipped around his waist and drew him in closer. “You should be on the stage again,” he whispered. “As you. You deserve it.”

“Shinichi…” Kaito’s fingers crept into Shinichi’s hair and pushed him forward into a far more intense kiss that left him breathless. “I’ve been saying that all this time,” Kaito pointed out once Shinichi was thoroughly dazed. “What in the hell finally changed your mind?”

“Heh, I don’t know,” Shinichi lied. “Maybe you’re just that persistent.”

 

*

 

Merlot was lying on her back staring at the well-lit ceiling with her hands folded behind her head when the door to her room opened. “Am I dreaming?” she asked. She sat up to watch Vermouth and Gin walk in. “Make that a nightmare.”

“If this were a nightmare, I’d have worse news.” Vermouth held up the Starlight Hotel key card. “Looks like you were right. It’s a solid match.”

“About time,” Merlot grumbled. She swung her legs off the bed and headed for the open door.

“Someone’s cranky,” Vermouth commented with a smirk. She and Gin followed Merlot out into the hallway but Merlot paused to turn back.

“You try being locked in one room for a week,” she said. “Actually, make that nine or ten months. Just one cell to the next–”

Merlot cut off with an involuntary gasp when Gin pulled out his gun and shoved the barrel into her diaphragm so hard she staggered back. He moved with her, towering over her and glaring down past the embers at the end of his cigarette.

“The only reason we got you out at all was to help get rid of Kaitou KID,” he warned.

“Speaking of,” Vermouth put in, examining the pearl finish of her nails against the hotel key card. “He was at the Starlight Hotel when I met him last week. I dug around a little. There’s a magician’s audition happening there – June twenty-fourth at four o’clock in an event room on the twenty-fifth floor. I bet he’ll turn up.”

“Hmph.” Gin eased off of Merlot and slipped the gun back under his coat. “Fine then. The twenty-fourth.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t get it,” Kazeno murmured to his partner, watching Shinichi from around a corner in the Ekoda police station. “The heist has been over with for like a week and he’s still investigating that fake notice. Shouldn’t we tell him to give it up already? I mean, nothing was stolen–”

“Besides the expected,” Amane put in.

“Nothing happened at all,” Kazeno continued. “So why bother–?”

“Let him be.”

Kazeno and Amane both straightened up and turned.

“Nakamori-keibu!”

“If that’s what he wants to investigate, just let him,” Nakamori said, keeping his voice down in a fairly rare display of restraint. “It’ll keep him out of anything more dangerous.” When Kazeno and Amane just exchanged raised-eyebrow glances, he added in a bark, “Now get back to work!”

“Yes sir!” Amane answered with a smile and an only partially teasing solute. She and Kazeno dispersed and Nakamori stalked off.

Shinichi pretended he hadn’t noticed the entire exchange, or the fact that Nakamori had definitely eased up on him since the heist. He didn’t know what KID had said to the inspector but it had apparently somehow put Shinichi in the clear.

He glanced down at the notice again. A very large part of him knew that any effort he was putting toward their mysterious note-writer now was more of a distraction than anything. He’d already resolved to let the matter drop if Kaito made it through his audition without incident.

Speaking of… Shinichi glanced at his watch. It should be starting soon. Just another hour and a half. With a sigh, he gave in and logged off of the computer he was borrowing then returned the heist notice to evidence. When the officer sitting nearest the door started to comment on Shinichi’s leaving while the sun was still up, Nakamori seemed to materialize specifically to shut her up with a glare. Shinichi tactfully said his goodbyes without addressing it.

 

He’d told himself a good couple of times that he wasn’t going to do this. He was most definitely not going to wander around in the park near the Starlight Hotel, or proceed to wander across a few streets and into the lobby, or to continue his wandering through the hotel’s many floors. Behavior like that was either stalkerish and creepy or obsessive and doting.

Or paranoid, Shinichi told himself as he resignedly poked a random button on the call panel for the Starlight Hotel’s elevators. He stepped into the empty car and leaned into the corner, closing his eyes as it carried him up.

 

In the security room of the Starlight Hotel, two uniformed women sat with slack postures and bored expressions as guests and staff wandered past on the screens.

Then one of them sat up and her hand went to the speaker in her ear.

“Gin,” Vermouth said.

“What.”

“We’ve got a snag.”

Merlot’s chair rolled immediately to Vermouth’s side. There was a wry twist to Vermouth’s lips as she pointed at a screen showing one of the elevators. “Kudou Shinichi is here.”

“…So what?” Gin’s voice replied.

“So we have an opportunity here,” Vermouth answered. “There’s no way to take out KID without causing a commotion, but we can make the detective disappear without raising the alarm.”

“If you fuck up, the detective will raise the alarm,” Gin shot back. “And then KID will be gone.”

Vermouth clicked her tongue in admonishment. “Kudou is priority, Gin. If we lose KID, we lose KID. Besides, don’t you have any faith in your partner?” she asked sweetly.

“You’re the one who insisted taking KID out first was the way to go,” Gin growled back.

“Because KID is dangerous and he turns up around the detective a lot. But now we know why, and now we know that won’t happen today. You just keep your eyes on KID and we’ll lure Kudou away.”

Merlot glanced at Vermouth in the answering silence, but then Gin replied, “Fine. Fucking finish this. The sooner this assignment is over, the sooner our partnership ends.”

Vermouth’s smile was unpleasant at best.

“What’s your plan?” Merlot asked. She was keeping one anxious eye on the monitor that showed the elevator but Vermouth just leaned back in her chair.

“Here’s what we know about Kudou Shinichi…”

 

The hallways were too quiet. They felt isolated from each other and the rest of the hotel no matter what floor he ended up on, and they did nothing to put him at ease. He wanted to have his fingers on the pulse of the place so he headed back to the lobby after all and settled for dropping onto a plush bench across from the front desk. With a sigh, he pulled out his phone and texted Ran, “There is something wrong with me.”

After a few minutes of obsessively poking at his custom crime app, several replies buzzed through:

“Is it the mystery obsession?”

“Or the showboating?”

“The thickheadedness?”

Smirking, Shinichi quickly typed back, “Stop guessing.”

Ran’s response was just as quick. “Is it your lack of a sense of humor? ;)”

“Pretty sure it’s my choice in friends actually,” Shinichi sent. He could feel himself smiling. Everything always felt manageable when he was talking to Ran.

“Definitely not,” she answered.

Shinichi leaned back and closed his eyes. If nothing else, he could be pretty sure that was true. He’d made a ridiculous number of equally ridiculous friends over the past few years, and they were possibly the only things in his life anymore that were still just right.

His phone buzzed again and he opened his eyes, but he didn’t see the message. In that moment his whole body went suddenly stiff, his eyes unseeing as his brain fought to catch up with the fear reaction that scent was triggering.

Merlot, he thought with a barely suppressed shiver.

Blinking, Shinichi looked around the lobby. Maybe I imagined it, he thought as his eyes picked over each person. Merlot is a wanted criminal. She’s on the run if she’s not already dead. She wouldn’t just walk into a random hotel…

Not without a disguise, a darker part of his brain told him. And it’s not a random hotel. It’s the hotel where Kaito is having his audition. And Gin knows who he is.

Shinichi found himself on his feet despite the twisting nausea he was trying to ignore. He started wandering, pretending to be distracted by his phone, and caught the scent of peaches and mint on the air again in the wake of a short woman in a security uniform. Her face was unfamiliar but her height was exactly right, and he’d never forget that scent.

The woman didn’t look at him but she did seem to suddenly be in a hurry to leave the hotel. He paused, stepping off to the side to type a quick text. If she was in a hurry, it was probably because she saw him, but she’d be uncertain as to whether or not Shinichi had realized who she was. If he let her get just a little distance she might eventually let her guard down and lead him to Gin. Or Vermouth, Shinichi thought bitterly as he sent the text to Megure and to Kaito’s white flip phone. If she’s got a mask like that…

The woman pushed through the revolving doors and Shinichi saw her pause for a moment on the sidewalk outside to glance around. Then she went to the nearest crosswalk. Shinichi followed.

Just a block or so down from the hotel, the woman very suddenly ducked into an alleyway and Shinichi hesitated.

Did she realize she’s being followed? …Should I wait? The police should show up any time but… He glanced down at his phone. He hadn’t actually gotten a reply from Megure or Kaito. That was the trouble with texts – they were easy to miss. He looked back to the alley. …I can’t wait. She’ll just disappear again.

Shinichi hurried forward and peered around the corner. There was no one there. “Shit,” he hissed, and he dashed into the alley.

His progress was abruptly blocked. Someone had dropped down from a fire escape that Shinichi had been sure was empty when he’d looked before. His brain had just enough time to call up the name Vermouth before a sharp crackle of electricity cut it off. He felt a shout claw its way from his throat and then he was on the ground.

“Sorry, cool guy,” Vermouth said from somewhere above him. “Had to get a little rough with you after all.”

“He’s still awake,” Merlot’s voice commented from somewhere Shinichi couldn’t see.

“Hm?” Vermouth leaned down. “Tch. Guess I took the voltage a little too low. Oh well. Looks like he can’t get up so it’s good enough.”

Shinichi’s hands closed into fists, scraping on the dirty pavement. Clenching his teeth, he tried to prove her wrong but couldn’t manage it.

“Hello again, Kudou Shinichi.” Merlot stepped closer, into his limited line of vision. She was still wearing the security uniform but the mask was gone. Shinichi let out something between a growl and a groan.

“Don’t be mad at me,” Merlot said, a hand on her hip. “You detectives should work on not being so predictable. You all think you’re so clever, catching something the criminal missed, but you know what? You’re not the first person I’ve lured into a trap with that perfume trick.”

Vermouth was crouching down again and she met Shinichi’s eyes with a smile. “You know, you actually look a little betrayed,” she laughed. “Did you think that all criminals were true to their word like Kaitou KID? That we’d all just confess and be sorry when you started to corner us?” She straightened up and the smile faded away. “You’ve been living in a fairytale, and your magician’s the next to go.”

All at once Shinichi pushed to his feet and surged forward. His legs were unsteady but the space was narrow so when he collided with Vermouth she slammed back into a cinderblock wall and Shinichi leaned hard against her to keep her pinned.

“Not on your life,” he bit out.

But the moment he tried to aim and trigger his watch, she got hold of his arm and twisted. His reaction time was definitely slowed but he still managed to stop himself from firing once the watch was pointed at him instead.

Except his focus had been on stopping himself, so he didn’t manage to stop Vermouth when she dropped her fingers lightly over his and squeezed. The feeling of déjà vu was almost as overwhelming as the drug when the needle pricked into his chest.

Vermouth breathed out a laugh. “You made that way too easy,” she told the sleeping detective slumped in her arms. “Pull the car around the back here, would you?” she told Merlot.

 

“This was a lot easier when he was pint-sized,” Vermouth complained as she dragged Shinichi into the back seat of a black Lexus.

Merlot glanced over her shoulder at them from the driver’s seat. “How long does that tranq dart last?”

“Long enough. I’ll just tase him again if he wakes up too soon.”

Merlot scoffed her opinion of that plan but she pulled away from the alley anyway, easing out into city traffic and heading for the highway. “Better update Gin before the coms are out of range.”

Vermouth’s hand went to the speaker still in her ear. “We’ve got the detective. You’re good to go, Gin,” she said.

“I don’t have a good angle. I’ll take him out once he’s on the stage. Head back; I’ll meet you there later.”

“Hmph.” Vermouth took the speaker from her ear and dropped it into a pocket. “He’s enjoying this too much.”

“I thought he was pissed he had to take over the sniper jobs. He said he was going to add Chianti and Korn to his list.”

Vermouth laughed out loud. “He’s just talking big. True, those two are too reckless and indiscreet to work this assignment, but as soon as the pressure eases up some I’m sure that person will want them back in action. Gin’s talents are better suited for a supervisory role, whether he likes it or not.” She glanced down at Shinichi, slumped sideways across the two seats beside her, and sighed.

It really was too easy, she thought as she reached over to pick through his pockets. Don’t disappoint me, Silver Bullet.

The only things Shinichi was carrying were a wallet, a sparse set of keys, a pair of glasses, and a phone. She confiscated these, along with his watch, belt, and suspenders, then settled back in her seat.

Let’s see… Picking up the phone again, she glanced over it and gave the button on the front an experimental push. …Fingerprint reader? she thought, truly disappointed now. Could I really have overestimated you that much?

Vermouth took Shinichi’s right hand and pressed his thumb to the reader, letting out a heavy sigh when the lock screen faded out and a text screen faded in. She had just enough time to catch a handful of names from the top of a group text before the phone made a sad chirping whine and the screen went dim.

There was a sharp crack and the phone exploded.

Vermouth let out a shout as pieces of glass, plastic, and metal flew. She jerked her hand back and the largest lump of charred electronics thudded to the floor of the back seat. She didn’t notice the slight swerve the car had taken in that moment.

“What. In the hell. Was that?!” Merlot shouted, though her eyes remained fixed on the quick stream of cars around them.

Vermouth was laughing too hard to answer. That’s more like it! Her hand was bleeding and burned and the chemical smell of the smoke wafting up from the floor was quickly filling the car. She pawed blindly at the door with her good hand and rolled down the window.

Vermouth,” Merlot demanded. “What the hell is wrong with you? Am I pulling over or not?”

“Not,” Vermouth managed. “Definitely not. We should hurry. This one’s got as many tricks up his sleeve as KID. I think we’ve got the perfect room ready for him.”

 

*

 

Kaito had never been to an audition before. He’d only been sixteen when he’d learned the uglier truths of his father’s death which had put the option somewhat out of reach. And while he’d been practicing and preparing and making big plans before then, he’d put school first – to keep his mother happy and keep Aoko off his back.

Now he was almost physically vibrating with the excitement of it, but that did not mean he wasn’t profiling each and every applicant as he chatted and made nice. He’d stood firm in his argument with Shinichi that this audition was worth the risk – not that it wasn’t one. He spoke to everyone there in the time before the auditions began and made certain none of them were undercover or in disguise.

The order of the applicants was supposedly random and not announced ahead of time, presumably to keep them on their toes. An older woman was called up first and Kaito and the other applicants took seats in the audience to watch. Kaito subtly flicked open the white flip phone as she was introducing herself, just to be sure he hadn’t missed anything dire.

He was gone from the room in the next moment, and that was the day Kuroba Kaito disappeared.

Chapter Text

There had been two texts from Shinichi’s number on the white flip phone:

“Merlot is at the Starlight Hotel.”

“Kudou Shinichi’s phone has been accessed by an unknown party without his permission. Its contents have not been compromised but if confirmed communication of an all clear is not received from either Kudou Shinichi or Kaitou KID within the next thirty minutes, execute strategy: Iron Tanuki.”

Kaitou KID burst through the door of the Starlight Hotel security room in all black and paused, staring down at the uniformed workers sprawled on the floor. They were still breathing. They were lucky. In general, it seemed the Organization was looking to not draw as much attention ever since the task force had formed, so they hadn’t messed around with killing a bunch of nobodies and invoking the eventual media circus. A security team that got knocked out on the job would more likely be hushed up for the sake of business.

Stepping over the workers, KID went to the screens and control panel. A minute later he was swearing viciously. The system had been shut off and the footage from that day had been wiped. He turned it back on and then his phone was at his ear, a call ringing through to Megure as KID sprinted for the lobby.

“Megure-keibu,” he said the moment the ringing cut off. “It’s KID–”

“We have cars heading over to put Starlight Hotel on lockdown and plain-clothes officers dispatched to mark our at-risks,” Megure answered. “Unless you’re calling to provide an all clear?”

“No.” The word was stunted and stiff and just a little breathless. “Have you heard anything more from Kudou?” Anything more after those two texts. Those two texts that added up to the worst case scenario.

“No,” Megure said. “He’s probably at that hotel–”

“I’m there now. I haven’t seen him or Merlot or anything yet. Security was knocked out though. The people and the systems. It’s a bad sign. And that last message means they got his phone and… his fingerprint. They’re probably already gone.”

And wasn’t that too true. Kaito felt cold straight to his core. Merlot had been there. Shinichi had been there. He’d seen her, and had clearly had the phone in his possession at that time. Then a few minutes later…

“Hang on a second,” KID said into the phone. He pulled out a counterfeit police badge and flashed the cherry blossom emblem at a security officer standing near the front entrance of the hotel. “Did you hear a loud noise around here at 3:57 PM?” he asked. “Was anything reported?”

“Uh, no,” the woman answered. “It’s been quiet.”

“Kudou probably wasn’t inside the hotel when this happened then,” KID said into the phone. Then, to the security officer, he added, “Do you know who Kudou Shinichi is? Have you seen him around here today?”

 

*

 

He must have blinked. He must have, because the punk kid named Kuroba Kaito, secretly Kaitou KID, was suddenly nowhere to be seen. And, Gin realized, he probably wasn’t coming back. Just two minutes later he had it confirmed. A swell of sirens was converging on the hotel.

Vermouth,” Gin growled to himself, shoving back from the window, rifle still in hand. “You fucked up after all.” He quickly packed the gun away then shrugged off his long black coat. He put it back on over the length of his hair before heading down to the street. It had never been a serious issue for a member of their organization to be recognizable. Not really. They rarely even left allies alive, let alone enemies. But one brat detective and one nosy thief get away and suddenly there’s wanted posters, not just for him but for his Porsche as well. After the mess with the failed sniping of the forensic accountant he’d conceded to rationality and started using other cars, but the anger for that burned. It felt like a surrender. A lost battle in a war that should never have been. No one stood against their organization, and certainly no one gained ground against them.

Gin slammed the door of the black Mercedes and tossed the case with his rifle into the backseat. The tires squealed against the pavement as he pulled away from the building across from the Starlight Hotel, but he hadn’t parked on the main road. As the patrol cars raced toward the hotel, the Mercedes slipped down a side street away from it. He’d be on the highway in a matter of minutes and then he’d confirm with his own eyes that at least one of the bastards who’d had the balls to pick this fight had been put in his place. Permanently.

Chapter Text

The most prominent thought in Shinichi’s mind as he gradually woke was I am never gonna hear the end of this from Kaito.

When Shinichi opened his eyes he was looking blearily down at the ropes that were wound tight around his chest and arms, binding him to an uncomfortable black metal chair. He had no idea how long he’d been out; the dart he’d had in his watch was stronger than what he used to use – a precaution against Gin’s apparent resistance to them.

With a few slow blinks he got his eyes and his brain into slightly sharper focus. He was a little concerned to find that he didn’t recognize the plain navy t-shirt he was wearing, nor the grey cloth pants. Shifting just a little, he could feel more rope around each of his ankles and the two front legs of the chair, though he couldn’t lean forward enough to see. His shoes and socks seemed to be gone as well.

As he lifted his gaze he saw just a short span of smooth grey cement before it was interrupted by the legs of another chair and a pair of spiked heels, one on the floor and the other hovering a little above it. He almost didn’t want to finish raising his head.

“Good morning,” Merlot said, leaning back against her chair with arms and legs loosely crossed and a cherry red smile – the only bright slash of color in the room.

Shinichi glanced around, keeping it quick. The room was pretty much empty, just dark brick walls and a solid floor. “What, Tokyo run out of shady bars and empty factories?” he asked, and he found his voice was a little rough. He could feel the burn from the taser throbbing on the side of his neck. “I hear the old Pluto Corp parking garage is nice.”

Something flickered in Merlot’s eyes but she laughed it off. “Yes, well, we needed something a little more secure. You should be grateful,” she added. “We have a variety of holding facilities, some nicer than others. After all, sometimes our guests are politicians or investors. Sometimes they’re investments.” Her eyes lingered on him for a moment. “When the stay is long-term, the accommodations are nicer. This room is the best of the best. It’s inescapable.”

Shinichi catalogued the slight twist to her lips as she spoke. “You know I have to take that as a challenge, right?” he asked.

“Of course,” Merlot answered. “But I designed this room, and I’ve been a guest in it as well. If I say it’s inescapable, it’s inescapable.”

“They locked you in here?”

“You should know enough by now to know that favors from our organization do not come free, even if nobody asked for them. They broke me out of jail but I had to stay here for a while until the value of my payment could be confirmed.”

“Payment… What–?”

“Kaitou KID’s identity,” Merlot said with a wicked smile.

Shinichi’s stomach clenched reflexively.

“Anyway, let me lay out your options for you now that you’re here. The first, obviously, is to resist. If that’s something you want to do you’ll have to find a way to do it with cameras and eyes on you from every angle at all times.”

Shinichi followed her eyes as they flitted over a few particular spots on the ceiling. He couldn’t turn to see the ones behind him but he could see the lenses set high in each corner behind Merlot. He brought his eyes back down when Merlot leaned forward, lowering her voice. “Personally,” she said. “I don’t believe that there’s a single way out of this room for you.” Shinichi regarded her with a hard glare and she leaned back again with a shrug.

“Right about now, you’re probably thinking that you’ve already come up with at least one way out. You’re wrong, but I’ll let you discover that on your own. Your second option, once you discover that, would be to gather information while waiting for rescue. Let me save you some thought. We took you because we know that the Apoptoxin drug we had in development caused a reverse-aging process in you but killed countless others.”

“I know that,” Shinichi bit out. Vermouth must have told them everything after all. About me… and Haibara as well.

“We want to find out why. We also want to find Sherry, of course.”

Shinichi’s breath stilled in his chest and he had to force himself to relax. Maybe… Maybe they don’t know if they’re still trying to find her. That, or Kaito already brought her in.

“She is, after all, the drug’s creator. Even with most of her notes–”

‘Most.’ That’s right. Some of them were offsite when she disappeared.

“–we can’t determine all we would like. Clear so far? We don’t want to hurt you. We just want information from you, and from that body of yours.”

“I’m not exactly feeling charitable here,” Shinichi pointed out. “And I don’t see any other reason I would give you what you want.”

“Not yet. And maybe not ever,” Merlot allowed. “In time, I think you’ll realize that rescue is not coming. Your thoughts may at that point turn to thwarting us instead, and you may come to the conclusion that the best way you can do that, given your hopeless situation–”

Shinichi scoffed.

“–is to remove yourself as a factor.”

This time his jaw clenched subtly. Suicide, he thought.

“It would not be easy,” Merlot went on. “Any slow method like starving would mean our intervention before it could matter. You would have to be quick, then, but you’ll find no weapons or poison in this room.”

He glanced over Merlot again, just a quick flicker of eyes but she caught it.

“No, not even on me,” she said. “I don’t need them since we’re being watched. There’s nothing somebody like you could do to me that they couldn’t step in and save me from. And they would save me, Kudou-kun. I’m still of use to them, after all.”

“So… how do you intend to get information out of me without any kind of weapon?” Shinichi asked carefully. “I’m not gonna tell you everything just because you ask nicely.”

“You might.” She said it innocently, but then she laughed like she didn’t believe it any more than he did. “But, if you’d prefer, just say the word and we can hunt down your friends and allies instead. They’re trouble, every last one, but it will ultimately be up to you if they live or die.” She paused, hesitated, and Shinichi scrutinized every detail of her expression. But it wasn’t a show of regret. She was considering. “Except Kaito,” she decided. “He won’t be allowed to live regardless.”

Shinichi felt his heartbeat pick up, the anger instinctual, and he knew he was holding himself too still but it was the most he could do to hide it. Merlot either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

“There’s nothing I can do for you in that regard,” she continued, businesslike. “But I can’t promise we’ll let you go once we have Sherry and her research is complete anyway. You’ll probably be killed at that point, so really you’ll never see any of them again.” She shrugged. “Which brings me to your last option. Cooperate. Your life will be much easier. Enjoyable even, to an extent.”

“…Are you even listening to yourself?” Shinichi asked. “Does that ever work? When you were in Xi’an, did you ever once let yourself be talked into complacency?”

Merlot had definitely gone rigid now, and her face had gone a little pink. After the first moment of startled surprise, she scowled and uncrossed her legs, her other shoe hitting the floor with a sharp click. “Is it really worth thinking about in your position?” she asked.

Shinichi looked mildly baffled and a little disgusted. “You’re telling me not to think?”

“I’m telling you there’s no point. No more riddles. No more cases. No more mysteries. You will sit in this room and think about all the ways Kaito could be killed and all the ways your friends and family could be hurt until you give us what we need.”

“If your angle is intimidation, they should have sent someone bigger,” Shinichi said with a smirk, and Merlot’s lips pressed a little tighter together.

“Fine. Why don’t you tell me what you think of your situation then? Surely you know just what to do since we so clearly have no leg to stand on.”

Shinichi smiled but his gaze was cutting. “Right now, all I’m thinking is that I have nothing to worry about. But I was also thinking that if there could ever be a person I’d regret trying to save, it might be you. Or Vermouth.”

Merlot scoffed. “Give it time. I’m sure you’ll reach that conclusion soon enough.”

She stood and Shinichi watched her walk over to a heavy security door near the corner of the room. It opened for her even as she approached and Shinichi caught just a glimpse of a tall, muscular man dressed in black on the other side. Then the door thudded shut.

Shinichi sighed and tried to look around a little more but a soft hiss just moments later drew his attention up to the ceiling. He couldn’t see anything but he recognized the fog that was creeping into his mind.

They’re gassing the room, he thought. Some kind of… sleep gas…

It was getting harder to keep his eyes open, nearly impossible to hold his head up, and somewhere during the battle, he lost.

Chapter Text

There hadn’t been any solid leads to chase at the Starlight Hotel, so KID had called for stage one of the Iron Tanuki plan to begin and Megure gave the order. There was a list of people – those closest to Shinichi – who were to be pulled into a safehouse which KID had prepared in advance. The building was a four-story, privately owned corporate housing unit that Jirokichi had unofficially given over to KID after their meeting back in April. It had since been fitted with KID-approved security. Stage one of the Iron Tanuki plan was the process of quietly pulling groups in one at a time with KID’s careful supervision to ensure that none of them could be tracked or followed.

The first were Megure, who would continue to run Japan’s branch of the Organization task force remotely from the safehouse, and his wife, Midori. KID was a black shadow in one corner of their home as they got their bags together. He stopped them just as they were heading for the door.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” KID said, coming up to Midori. “I’m not exactly sure of your intent but I’m afraid I have to insist that you leave those weapons behind.”

“Weapons?” Midori blinked at him.

“Now, wait a second–” Megure started, but KID just pointed at Midori, his finger hovering near different parts of her body as he said, “Knife, rope, syringe.”

“Heh.” Midori was smiling now and she pulled an empty syringe out of her sleeve, a hunting knife from under her skirt, and unwound a short coil of rope from under her shirt.

“M-Midori!” Megure stammered, his face going a little red.

“What?” she said, nudging him with her elbow. “I just wanted to make sure this Kaitou KID is as legitimate as you say.”

“Hm~?” KID glanced at Megure whose blush had darkened some.

“If he couldn’t pick up on something like this, why should we put our trust in him?” Midori went on. “But he’s better than I thought. Now, come on. We’re holding things up.” She picked up her suitcase and Megure hurried to take it from her, his own already in his other hand. She looked pleased, despite the circumstances.

 

Once Megure and Midori were secured, KID went to Agasa’s house where the Junior Detective League had gathered and would leave together under the guise of a camping trip. He saw them loaded into Agasa’s car and coordinated a switch to two less-obvious vehicles at an out-of-the-way rest stop. Task force officers drove them to the safehouse with KID shadowing them the whole way, and two more officers took the Beetle to abandon it in the woods.

KID brought in Mitsuhiko’s, Ayumi’s, and Genta’s families next.

There was no sign of the Organization.

 

The majority of the Suzuki family, who were neither marked as targets nor directly involved, had elected to remain at their main house where the security was already formidable. Jirokichi and Sonoko, however, were brought to the safehouse, and for once Sonoko was quiet and somber even with KID literally sitting beside her in the back seat of the car. She only seemed nearer to her usual self after Makoto, Ran, Kogoro, and Eri were also brought in.

 

Hattori and Kazuha had been driven in from Osaka by two task force officers and they waited, per KID’s instructions, in a twenty-four hour café, the officers seated separately and keeping close watch. All four received a text when a taxi pulled up outside the café and Hattori and Kazuha walked out alone. The driver’s window rolled down and a young man with messy black hair peeking out from under a billed cap glanced up at them.

“Tsukino-san?” he asked.

“That’s right,” Hattori said, confirming the code. He and Kazuha got into the back seat.

As soon as they were on the road, KID asked, “Any problems coming in?”

“Not as far as we know,” Hattori answered.

KID nodded. “When you get to the safehouse, work with the other detectives there to see if you can find anything useful in the city’s traffic camera footage. They had to have taken Kudou-tantei by road, at least initially. It’s the best place to start.”

One of Hattori’s hands closed into a tight fist against his knee. “Y’know, ya got no right to be orderin’ us detectives around.”

“You think so?” KID asked mildly. “Is it wrong for me to count on detectives to solve a missing persons case?”

“It is when the person who’s missin’ was workin’ a case with you. Kudou put his trust in ya an’ now he’s gone.”

Kaito could feel his body reacting – his throat trying to tighten and something cold seeping into his chest – but he kept it hidden. “And you could have stopped him? He declined protection. All I did was respect that.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Hattori said. “No consequences fer you, right? You’ll just put us all in a box fer a while an’ disappear ‘til things cool off.”

“Heiji!” Kazuha cried, shoving him. “What the hell are ya sayin’? Ya know KID-san wouldn’t–”

“We don’t know shit about this guy,” Hattori growled back.

“It’s fine,” KID said. “You’re angry. I understand, but don’t forget who the real enemies are. We need level heads. It’s the fastest way to find Kudou-tantei.”

“Tch.” Hattori threw his back against the seat and crossed his arms with a huff. “Ya really piss me off, y’know– Ow! Kazuha!”

“Yer bein’ an ass!” Kazuha shouted at him. “I know yer worried, but ya need ta stop takin’ it out on everybody else. Yer not the only one upset. Get yer damn act together already.” By the time she got to the end, her voice was wavering and KID saw the tears gathering when he glanced back at the two of them in the mirror. Hattori looked appropriately abashed.

It was quiet for a while, just the steady hum of the car and the road rushing by. Then Hattori said softly, “Fine then. Just one question, KID, so I know. Ya got any personal stake in this case? Ya got some honest motivation under all the lies?”

KID let himself take a deep breath. Gloved hands tightened subtly on the steering wheel. “Yes, I do.”

“Alright. Then I guess… we’re countin’ on ya, too,” Hattori muttered.

It didn’t make KID feel any better.

 

Kosuke was contrary at best by the time KID showed up at his dorm at quarter to three the morning of the twenty-fifth.

“I don’t understand why I’m a target,” he said for the sixth time as he threw clothes at the duffle bag he was supposed to have already packed. “I barely know the guy. I mean, yeah, he’s, like, Ran’s best friend or whatever, but that’s not– I mean–”

“Would you rather take your chances, Fukuda-san?” KID asked. He was leaning back against the door of the small room, his arms tightly crossed. His voice remained steady, but behind the poker face he was seriously considering knocking Kosuke out and carrying him to the car. It would probably be faster. “This isn’t purely for your benefit either,” he added. “Kudou-tantei wants you safe. You could be used against him otherwise.”

“This is insane,” Kosuke muttered under his breath. His hands were shaking a little as he jerked the zipper into place on his bag.

“Get used to it.”

Kosuke looked up, alarmed, and KID hid a sigh.

“Ready?” KID asked.

“S-Sure.”

“Calm down.” KID opened the door and ushered Kosuke out into the hallway. His voice lowered to a whisper. “They haven’t made a single move so far. Honestly, we don’t expect them to, yet. They’ve had Kudou-tantei less than twelve hours. By the time they decide they need leverage more than they need to lay low, you’ll all have disappeared.”

Kosuke gave KID a look that was equal parts distrust, fear, and resignation. “Could you maybe not say it like that?”

KID just shrugged. “Let’s hurry. I’ve still got seven more people to collect after you.”

At the car, KID waited for Kosuke to get in then pulled a gas mask over his own face as he took the driver’s seat.

“What the hell is that?!” Kosuke demanded.

KID didn’t answer. Instead, he set off a sleep gas capsule and let the car fill with pink smoke. Kosuke was asleep before he could even unbuckle his seatbelt. KID rolled down the windows to clear the air before taking off his mask and starting the car.

“That,” he muttered, poker face gone and voice sharp. “Was me saving my sanity. But hey. You got in the car of your own free will. I didn’t break any rules.” He pulled away from the dorm and started the next convoluted route to the safehouse.

 

Kosuke hadn’t woken by the time they made it to the safehouse so KID dragged him and his bag inside and dumped him on a bench in the first floor lobby. Everyone who’d been brought in so far was still gathered there, most of them nursing cups of coffee from the shared kitchen, and all of them too on edge to even consider retiring to their own rooms just yet.

“Hey… Is he all right?” Megure asked, coming up to KID and glancing uneasily down at Kosuke.

“Fine, Inspector,” KID assured him with a smile. “Just sleeping.”

Megure didn’t look assured at all but KID didn’t much care. He was about to leave again but a tug on the hem of his shirt made him pause. He turned and looked down. Haibara was standing there, a bottle of water tucked under her arm and a warm curry bun in one hand. She held both out to KID when he turned and it took him a second to realize that he’d been going nonstop from escort to escort for something like eleven hours already. He put on a cheery smile and accepted them.

“Thank you, ojou-san. You’re a very responsible young lady, aren’t you.”

Haibara looked like she was about two seconds away from kicking him in the shin but Megure was standing right there and she knew he was just playing up the act for the inspector’s benefit. Megure still had that odd look on his face, like he just couldn’t get used to working with Kaitou KID.

“Kaitou KID-san.”

KID turned again. He had already finished off the curry bun and was snapping open the seal on the water bottle. “Yes, Kisaki-sensei? Anything wrong?”

“I was just wondering who would be coming in next,” Eri said. She cast an obvious glance back at Ran who was huddled close with Sonoko, Makoto, Kazuha, and Hattori. She knew exactly who all was still missing from her daughter’s group of friends.

“I should be able to get the Nakamoris and the Kurobas all at once,” KID answered. “Then Hakuba-tantei. By the time they’re in, the Kudous should be landing. Don’t worry. Everything has gone smoothly so far.”

 

Chikage and Jii were both waiting at the Nakamoris’ house when KID arrived, and he was grateful for that. Having them there – having those two people on whom he could absolutely rely – made facing Aoko a little more bearable. Still, it would be a long drive.

“Two cars,” KID said, nodding toward the street where two nondescript cars were parked. “The Nakamoris will be with me. Kuroba-san, Jii-san, you’ll be with Ohori-san.”

“Wait!” Aoko said, coming right up to him – far too close. He reflexively reached up to tug at his cap. “Where’s Kaito? He was supposed to be here.”

“Kuroba Kaito-san, right?” KID said. “I’ll have to bring him in separately.” He could feel Nakamori’s eyes on him. The inspector’s instincts were sharp as ever – he already knew something was wrong and he knew KID was lying about it. KID caught his eye and gave a very slight shake of his head. Nakamori went stiff, but he glanced quickly from Aoko to Chikage and visibly braced himself.

“It’ll be fine, Aoko,” he said with firm, faked confidence. “Let’s get going.”

 

The sun was rising by the time KID made it to Hakuba’s home. “Good morning, Tantei-san,” he said, taking out a little frustration while checking Hakuba’s face for a mask.

“Good morning,” Hakuba replied with a good deal of reluctance once KID had released his cheek. “Just you and me?”

KID nodded. “Shall we?”

They got into a car and for a few minutes they drove in silence, but KID could tell there was something Hakuba was deliberating on and it didn’t take long for him to ask.

“Is conversation safe right now?”

“Yes.”

“What are you going to tell them about Kuroba Kaito?”

KID didn’t answer.

“You confiscated everyone’s cell phones,” Hakuba went on. “But Aoko-kun was texting me before you picked her up. She was concerned. For your safety.”

“Mine?”

“You said conversation was safe.”

“So I did.”

Hakuba clenched his teeth, glaring over at KID. “Do you not think the stakes are too high to still be playing these games, Kuroba-kun?”

“Kuroba Kaito is missing,” KID said.

“…You cannot be ser–”

“I’m sure you understand, Tantei-san,” KID interrupted, raising his voice to speak firmly over him. “That the deterioration of people’s trust in me at this point could lead to unnecessary bloodshed. I’m equally sure you don’t want that, so any accusations you’d like to make would be better kept to yourself until further notice.”

“This is cruel, even for you.”

KID hardly blinked, eyes fixed on the road.

“And I am not just talking about what you are prepared to put your– …Kuroba Kaito’s friends and family through.” Hakuba tore his sharp gaze from KID and turned to the window, watching the city wake as they passed through it. “…I did not realize it until now, but I believed you could trust me. That if it came to this you could put the game aside and be honest with me because you know I only want to help–”

“Then don’t ask me to do this now.”

Hakuba’s head turned back in a rush, eyes wide and locked on KID.

“I trust you,” KID said, and it was just a whisper, his grip too tight on the steering wheel. “But this… won’t help anything now.”

“…Right,” Hakuba agreed after a brief, stunned silence. “Of course.” His eyes dropped to his lap and he quietly studied his hands until the subtle tension in KID’s body had eased away. “What can I do to help?” he finally asked.

“I want you and Hattori to focus on the city traffic camera footage first.” KID answered. His voice was flawlessly calm and steady again and Hakuba swallowed the odd twist he felt in his chest. “I’ll relay any new information as I get it. Megure-keibu will be the only point of contact between the safehouse and the field teams since he’s still heading up the Organization task force, so let him know if you find anything or have any ideas. He’ll convey them to me.”

Hakuba just nodded.

“And…” KID said, somewhat tense again to Hakuba’s trained eye. “I’ll tell Megure-keibu about Kuroba Kaito once I bring in the Kudous. So… maybe keep an eye on Aoko for me.”

“…Of course.”

“Thank you.”

 

Driving Yukiko and Yusaku from the airport to the safehouse turned out to be the longest trip for KID. They were the last of the people he needed to escort so his brain was already jumping ahead to the next step. Which was tracking down Shinichi. Which meant that he kept thinking about Shinichi. He’d been avoiding that up til now, but now he effectively needed to run simulations of the kidnapping in his head just to figure out where to start. And he wasn’t sure that was something he could handle, exhausted and stressed as he was.

Yukiko and Yusaku were unusually quiet the whole way, the two of them sitting close together in the backseat. Whenever KID glanced back at them, Yusaku just looked to be deep in thought and Yukiko was shifting back and forth between anger and brimming tears. But their hands were linked together the entire time and Kaito tried harder not to miss Shinichi’s support.

Because he’d get him back. Without question.

 

The moment Yukiko and Yusaku were secure, KID pulled Megure aside preemptively and quietly informed him that he had not been able to locate Kuroba Kaito.

“He was last seen at the Starlight Hotel,” KID said. “I’ll keep looking – for him and Kudou-tantei both, of course, but…”

“I understand,” Megure said, but the words seemed forced and his face was pale. He cleared his throat a little and glanced back at the lobby where everyone was still gathered. “This is good work, KID-san. Thank you.”

“I’ll keep you informed,” KID said. “With any luck, this won’t drag on. Stay here. Remember my instructions.”

Megure nodded, firm and steady, and then KID was gone and Megure was left with a very unpleasant task. He turned to the group and cleared his throat loudly. “Everyone’s still here, right?” His eyes picked over the group of faces, all turned toward him with mixed expressions of worry, exhaustion, or stubborn defiance. He let out a heavy breath. “You all know why you’re here. A criminal organization has taken Kudou Shinichi-kun and they might come looking for any or all of you, too. Let me reiterate that you are safe here. They couldn’t track you down any more than the entire police force of Japan, or anywhere else in the world, could track down Kaitou KID.” He paused, weighing reactions then slowly continued, “That said… we were not able to find Kuroba Kaito-kun in order to bring him in to safety. We have to assume for the time being that this criminal organization has taken him as well.”

Megure watched closely as Kuroba Chikage went quiet and still. The same Kuroba Chikage who had not tried to ask about her son at any point in this process.

Her friend, Jii Konosuke, reacted much the same way, as did the Kudous, Mouri Ran, and, surprisingly, Suzuki Sonoko. The Hakuba boy did too – no surprise there.

The young man Megure just barely remembered as Fukuda Kosuke was standing on the periphery of the Mouri family looking like he didn’t know what to do. Another young man who Megure remembered well as Kyogoku Makoto was standing close at Sonoko’s side, holding her hand tight, but they both kept their heads up.

Shinichi’s neighbors – the eccentric inventor and his young niece – remained quiet. In some degree of shock, probably. He couldn’t blame them.

Hattori was watching everyone else’s reactions with as much scrutiny as Megure himself – when he wasn’t busy awkwardly comforting Kazuha who was trying to hold back tears by hiding her face against Hattori’s shoulder.

The only other people who seemed genuinely upset were the Nakamoris, though Kogoro and Eri were watching their daughter like she might implode at any moment. The members of the Junior Detective League were certainly worried and distraught, but from the lack of tears Megure guessed they didn’t truly understand the implications. That was probably for the best. As for their families, there wasn’t much there past the fear for their own loved ones. They knew they weren’t targets themselves. They were only there because the targets were so young.

Megure took it all in silently. He had hoped, once, that everything connecting Kuroba Kaito and the Kaitou KID was just coincidence – had even sought out other explanations with unacceptable personal motivation. But now…

Bracing himself, Megure faced the reality of it. If Kuroba-kun is not actually the Kaitou KID… he’s most likely dead.

 

It was with a heavy sort of quiet that everyone dispersed to their own rooms after that. Hakuba’s was on the third floor but he paused at the second, deliberating, then followed Aoko into the hallway.

“Aoko-kun,” he said, and she stopped at her door and turned back. She couldn’t seem to speak even enough to say his name and her eyes and cheeks were wet. Nakamori also stopped at the door next to hers, very obviously listening in.

“Aoko-kun,” Hakuba said again, gently, but he kept his distance. “Kuroba-kun is not gone. We will find him and Kudou-kun, and the people who did this will face justice.”

Aoko laughed a little, surprising herself. “You never change,” she said with a wavering smile, and Hakuba’s uncertainty must have shown on his face because she shook her head quickly. “It’s good,” she said, voice muddled with tears. “You’re helping KID, right? I know you’ll find them.” She ducked her head, rubbing at her face and nose with her sleeve before trying for a steadier smile. “Goodnight, Saguru.”

“…Goodnight, Aoko-kun.”

She disappeared through the door and shut it softly, leaving Hakuba with nothing between him and Nakamori’s critical gaze. Hakuba murmured another quick goodnight to him and hurried back into the stairwell.

“I hope Conan-kun is okay…” Ayumi was saying somewhere ahead of him on the stairs.

“Oh yeah,” Kazuha muttered to Hattori. “That kid was always talkin’ ‘bout Shinichi. Why ain’t he here?”

Before Hattori could flounder with more than a few syllables, Haibara cut smoothly in. “I heard from Kudou-ojiisan that the FBI pulled Edogawa-kun in to help with the case in America. Apparently, Edogawa-kun insisted on it.”

The FBI is consulting an eleven-year-old? Hakuba thought. Kudou really did have a strong influence on the boy, didn’t he.

He followed the little group out of the stairwell on the third floor and murmured a few goodnights to the others (ignoring the obnoxious “Good mornin’ ya mean. Geez, what the hell time is it anyway?” from Hattori) and stepped into his room. Part of him almost wanted to sit down and think through the facts now that it was quiet and he was safe, but he knew he’d be better off getting some rest first.

He’d been directed to his room after arriving and had already brought up his bag so he changed into pajamas without bothering to turn on the light. Lying in bed, Hakuba closed his eyes and tried to quiet his mind. Far from getting stuck on the case, it kept bouncing back to Kaito – back to that phone call a year and a half ago: “Hakuba, I need your help. Shinichi’s been kidnapped.” If Kaito had been stressed then

Hakuba turned, restless, and stared distantly at the light behind the curtains. They prepared for this, he told himself. He’ll be all right. He can do this. He took a deep, quiet breath and let it out slowly. And if I’m going to help I need to keep a level head. He closed his eyes again, willed himself to relax, and hoped that Kaito was doing the same.

 

One floor up, Jirokichi was ducking into his room but Makoto, Sonoko, Ran, and Kosuke all stalled in the hallway. Kogoro gave them a suspicious glance as he stopped at his own door farther down but Eri promptly smacked him on the back as she passed by.

“Quit worrying,” she murmured, pausing behind him. “Don’t forget where we are right now. You should trust your daughter.” With that, she continued to her own room and closed the door. Grumbling, Kogoro did the same, leaving the four alone in the hallway.

Kosuke was the first to speak. “Well, um… my room’s at the end there,” he said, pointing. “Goodnight.”

None of them tried to stop him as he continued down the hall and into his room, but Sonoko was staring after him, open mouthed, looking thoroughly affronted. Even Makoto looked like he couldn’t quite believe it.

“It’s okay,” Ran said with a smile that was somehow apologetic. “I’m… I think I’m just going to get some sleep. Goodnight.”

Sonoko might have tried to stop her, but Ran’s door closed before she had the chance. When Makoto rested a hand on her shoulder, she abruptly turned and threw herself against his chest, and for once his arms closed around her without hesitation. She wasn’t crying but both of her hands were clenched around Makoto’s shirt and her eyes were shut tight. They stayed there for longer than Sonoko meant to – every time she was about to step away, she wound up only pressing closer – but eventually she was able to make her body relax a little and she pushed herself up on her toes to give Makoto a soft kiss.

“Thank you for being here,” she said, and it was a simple thing but it was never once something she could have taken for granted. The situation now only emphasized it.

“I want to protect you,” Makoto answered and Sonoko actually managed a laugh.

“You so don’t get it,” she said, but she was smiling so Makoto didn’t question it. They said goodnight and each went into their own room.

 

Ran had folded herself into a small bundle just on the other side of her door, hugging her knees and staring blankly at the muted sunlight behind the curtains. She couldn’t stop picturing the text conversation that she had memorized as she’d waited for KID… for Kaito to come for her and her family. She could see it every time she closed her eyes.

 

Shinichi

There is something wrong with me.

Ran

Is it the mystery obsession?

Or the showboating?

The thickheadedness?

Shinichi

Stop guessing.

Ran

Is it your lack of a sense of humor? ;)

Shinichi

Pretty sure it’s my choice in friends actually

Ran

Definitely not

So what actually IS wrong with you?

 

She’d never received an answer. She knew now that it was because Shinichi had been attacked. And taken. And he was gone, again, and she knew why now and it was no better at all.

Ran’s forehead hit her knees, her whole body locked in a tight, tense knot, and she let her breaths shake through her. Because if she didn’t, she couldn’t move past it. And she had to move past it. Now that she knew what was happening, she had to do everything she could to help.

 

*

 

KID knew he was running on empty. He knew he needed rest, and to take time to pull himself together. He knew if he didn’t he’d be more and more prone to mistakes and would be putting everyone he and Shinichi worked so hard to protect in danger. So he made the Kudou manor and Agasa’s house his last stop after everyone was safe.

“I want you all to wait while I check things out,” KID said into his com to the small group of Organization task force officers standing by. “You can take over once I’ve cleared the houses.” He received firm agreement through his earpiece and headed into the Kudou manor alone.

The house was dim and quiet and he left it that way, even his footsteps silent as he moved through the rooms. He kept himself composed even as he glanced past the few dishes he and Shinichi had left in the sink, the leftover coffee that had gone cold in the pot on the counter. He was fine walking past the violin case in the sitting room, the piano in the back of the house, through warm sunlight in the library. He cleared the overabundance of guest rooms and offices upstairs, the large, western-styled bathroom and the simpler Japanese-styled one – the whole house without a problem. But he left his and Shinichi’s bedroom for last.

The bed was unmade still from the last time they’d woken up together, but strangely it was the book on the nightstand that finally did it. He stood in the middle of the room pretending to be a stranger to it, to everything, but his eyes were on the bookmark peeking out from the middle of the pages and the knot in his chest was tightening until his breath shook and his stomach turned.

We planned for this, KID tried to tell himself. We were prepared.

At the same time, Kaito’s mind was screaming, We planned for this? For Shinichi to be taken by a bunch of murderers? Since when do I just accept shit like that? Why didn’t I stop him?

…For the same reasons he didn’t stop me.

It was the same circle he’d been trapped in for the last six months, and dwelling on it would do even less good now than it ever did then.

It’s too late for regrets. KID’s gloves drew tight over his knuckles and he forced himself to raise his head. You have a job to finish. Get it done.

He turned from the room, numb and hardly seeing his surroundings anymore. Closing himself into one of the inner rooms he’d repurposed for his security system, he sat down at the monitors to check the footage. He had to hold his breath as he watched Shinichi leave the morning of the twenty-fourth. He watched himself leave as well that afternoon, and then the house was still and empty all the way through to the moment he’d walked in however many minutes ago. Letting out a sigh that was more exhaustion than relief, he stood and slipped out of the house.

The security system for Agasa’s house was complete, so a part of KID hoped someone might have come snooping and gotten a face full of sleep gas. But there was no one, and the video confirmed no activity since Agasa, Haibara, and the kids had left with him to the safehouse. He flicked on his com.

“Both houses are clear,” KID said. “Have a look around if you want but I don’t think you’ll find anything useful. They didn’t come here.”

“So then…?” Amane’s voice said in his ear, and part of KID still wished Division Two had stayed out of this case. At the same time, though, it was comforting knowing that the Organization task force had members well equipped to capture even the trickiest criminals. It would take Kaitou KID to best them.

“Let’s start the next stage right away,” KID said. “You have your assignments.”

“And you?”

“I’ll be working directly with the group assigned to tracking down Kudou-tantei. I’m counting on you to handle the other side of it.”

“Roger.”

KID switched off his com and took in a breath. Then he was gone.

 

The only immediate reaction Kaito had to finally closing himself into his prepared bolt hole was physical collapse. His legs gave out and he sank to the floor, staring blankly at the futon that was a few steps away and not seeing it. His breaths were coming perfectly steady and even, but he felt so hollow that he wasn’t sure of the point of them anymore.

What… the hell have I been doing to myself all this time? He hadn’t blinked for long enough that when the tears gathered they stung badly. He still didn’t move. How did I justify this? Sixteen years old… No. Earlier than that. Poker face. It’s…

Part of you, a kinder part of his mind offered.

Necessary, he heard in Shinichi’s voice, with the ghost of his arms around him as they lay together on the couch.

The sob caught him by surprise and he folded forward, one hand on the floor holding him up and the other covering his face as tears dripped free. It took him a few minutes but he managed to crawl to the futon and curl up, forcing himself to take long, deep breaths.

It was Jii’s voice now that was most prominent in his mind, though he’d heard the same from his father, just once, and even once from Yusaku.

This is not a time for poker faces. To be able to keep a strong poker face, you have to know when to let it drop. To be able to act any emotion, you have to let yourself feel them all. It’s impossible to tell a convincing lie when you don’t truly want to, so never lie to yourself about what you want.

Kaito’s muscles slowly relaxed, his body not curled quite as much, his eyes not shut quite as tight. The breath he let out didn’t shudder through him though tears were still running over his skin and soaking into the pillow.

I hate this, he thought, and that was okay. I want Shinichi back. And I’m gonna do something about it. …I can do this.

Chapter Text

The second time Shinichi woke in the hands of the Black Organization he was surprised to find himself free, insomuch as he was not tied to anything. He hadn’t gotten a good look before but he was fairly certain he was in the same room, only this time he was lying on a bed that must have been behind him when he’d woken earlier tied to a chair. A chair that was now absent.

Shifting over, he got his bare feet on the floor. It was the same smooth grey cement and the walls were the same blank charcoal-colored brick, but what really convinced him was the heavy security door in the far corner. Immediately in front of him, on that same wall but in the opposite corner of the metal door, was an empty doorway that led to what looked like a bathroom. He got up and wandered over to it.

There was no light switch and he was pretty sure he knew why. The ceiling in the bathroom was identical to the ceiling in the main room – rows of bright lights and a dotting of cameras all set flush with the ordinary white plaster and all out of reach, even if he were to try standing on the small metal sink. As Merlot had said, there would be eyes on him at all times, so the lights would never be off.

Besides the sink, the only features in the bathroom were a showerhead high on the wall over a drain hole in the floor in one slightly sloped corner, and a metal toilet, all vulnerable parts of which had been unhelpfully sealed off. He scoffed a little at the simple toiletries left on the edge of the sink. Like it was some kind of twisted hotel. There was no mirror though, and he knew the reason for that as well. A broker mirror was a weapon, and he didn’t want to think too hard about how they’d be more concerned he’d use it on himself than on them. After all…

Stepping back into the main room, Shinichi glared up at the ceiling again. Each corner featured a small nozzle below each camera, surely for whatever gas they’d used to knock him out. He seriously doubted he’d have any human contact that did not involve him being drugged and tied up first.

After a brief circuit of the room (which turned up nothing more than what first met his eyes) he returned to the bed, wondering vaguely if he could move it.

He couldn’t. The black metal frame was bolted down, centering the thin bars of the headboard on one of the shorter walls in the rectangular room. Even the mattress, under its deep red bedclothes, had sturdy straps along the bottom that allowed it to be zip-tied to the frame.

Shinichi stood and swallowed back a sigh. Between the lack of natural light and getting knocked out twice he’d lost his sense of time, but he was pretty hungry so he figured he’d been there a while. And probably would be there a while. It certainly didn’t look like the Organization had any intentions of moving him.

Shinichi wandered back toward the metal door, considered it for a few moments, then gave it an experimental knock. There was no answer but that wasn’t surprising. Still, after just a few seconds’ pause, he knocked again. The sound was… slightly off. Something wasn’t resonating the way he’d expect a solid metal door of this size to resonate. Head tipping to the side, Shinichi took a step back and considered the door again. Then he ran his hands over it. His eyebrows pulled down as he stared hard at the smooth, wide, horizontal cross-brace that ran through the middle. Then he started feeling his way across the rough walls of the room.

He didn’t know how long he’d been at it when he heard the hiss of the gas pushing in again, but he’d made it across the width of the short wall opposite the bed and had started down the long blank wall opposite the door and bathroom. For just a moment he paused at the sound but then he shrugged it off and kept going – it wasn’t like he could do anything about it anyway.

When enough of the gas had finally seeped in, Shinichi’s legs folded under him and he slumped down against the wall.

 

The next thing Shinichi knew, he was waking up in the bed again. The first thing he noticed, with a pointed grumble from his stomach, was the smell of the paper-wrapped sandwich that had been left on the bed along with two large bottles of water.

The second thing he noticed made him lose his appetite entirely.

He’d just pushed himself upright when his eyes were drawn down by a twinge in his arm. The sight of the fresh puncture mark on the inside of his elbow made his stomach clench and he grabbed at the sheets to brace himself against the temptation to panic.

Okay, he told himself. I’m okay. They wouldn’t risk dosing me with anything experimental or dangerous. They probably… He clenched his teeth against the dawning certainty as his mind raced. They took a blood sample, he thought. They can’t risk hurting me, but they don’t have to wait to start experimenting with just my blood.

For the most part, up until that moment, Shinichi had been taking his captivity in stride. It wasn’t like it was a mystery, and it wasn’t a surprise. But he hadn’t quite been prepared for this part of it, whether he should have been or not. His fingers moved over the puncture mark on his arm without conscious thought.

Calm down, his brain insisted. Haibara’s been playing with your blood for years and she still doesn’t know why the Apoptoxin worked on us but no one else.

Unless she was lying.

But still, at the very least she had two samples to compare to try to find what both had that could make the difference. These people don’t even have that, let alone her in-depth understanding of the drug. It’ll be fine. What advances could they possibly make in a month?

Shinichi’s throat worked in a dry swallow. A month. It was the estimate Kaito had calculated for him, at Shinichi’s insistence. He could clearly remember Kaito standing in the library, his whole body radiating displeasure as he explained to Shinichi what he expected to be up against. A month had been the minimum.

But Kaito was careful. Conservative estimation was part of his nature and he’d clearly been accounting for KID-levels of opposition. No one was as good as KID. He’d come for Shinichi in no time.

His stomach had settled some and Shinichi reached for a bottle of water, settling in to eat. I might as well, he thought. No sense making myself sick. Not if I’m gonna escape.

 

After a while (Shinichi couldn’t be sure how long), things became somewhat routine. He spent his time awake inspecting every inch of the room, from the floor to the highest point on the wall he could reach by standing on the bed, down to each brick he could get his hands on through the metal rails of the headboard. He reexamined the door repeatedly, though nothing changed.

In his inspection of the bathroom he found that the water from the faucet and showerhead could only make it to lukewarm at best.

Damn, he thought, shutting it off. No fogging up the cameras then.

He was about to go back into the main room but paused at the sound of a few trailing droplets hitting the floor. After a few moments of consideration, he turned the water back on.

I didn’t realize how damn quiet it is in here. And hell, if I can run up the water bill, maybe it’ll look suspicious to someone on the outside. Smirking, he wandered back into the main room to pace, just reveling in the sound of the water.

Every so often, without any discernible pattern, they would gas the room and Shinichi would wake in the bed to silence, food, water, and his arm newly sore. There was no further contact with anyone – not while he was awake.

At some point they’d left a clean towel and a change of clothes for him along with the food and, initially, he’d scoffed at that. But when it started to feel like days must have passed Shinichi gave in and decided to actually take a shower as long as he was running the water anyway.

There’s no point trying to be modest, he told himself, though he still cast dubious glances at the cameras in the bathroom as he undressed. I might as well be clean.

 

In another room in the out-of-the-way mansion owned by a wealthy, sympathetic third party, Merlot glanced blandly over at the set of screens that showed the high security basement room, then smiled.

Starting to accept you’ll be here a while, Kudou? Good. Maybe it’s finally time for another talk.

 

*

 

Shinichi had been missing for four days when two men in black showed up at the Mouri Detective Agency in the middle of the night. They broke into the apartment above the office and crept into Mouri Ran’s bedroom.

They were met with three armed officers who’d been lying in wait.

KID had been on his way back to his bolt hole after another long day of exactly no helpful leads when he got a call from the team he’d set to watch the Mouris’ place.

“You were right, KID-san,” Takagi said through the phone. “They came here first. We’ve apprehended them but there were shots fired–”

“Is everyone all right?” KID asked, just barely keeping it from coming out as sharp as the worry in him felt.

“Yes,” Takagi answered instantly. “Sato-san is calling ahead in case anyone reports it.”

“Good. Organization task force officers only. Stay where you are; I’ll be there in…” Glider would be fastest… He looked around, picked out a tall building for his launching point. “Six minutes.”

 

It was all Kaito could do to keep from bouncing in place once the two men had been brought in to the nearest station and shut into separate interrogation rooms. He disguised himself in a blink and went into the first room as a random, unimposing officer, hoping to put his prey off guard.

After both interviews, he still wound up leaving the station frustrated. The two men hadn’t been well informed. All they could tell him was that they’d been told to kidnap the girl living at that address and bring her to a drop-off point.

The task force immediately stationed officers there as well, but KID didn’t hold much hope that anything would come of it. The Organization was more careful than that.

It was confirmed when no one showed up at the drop-off at all.

“They could have been lying,” Sato pointed out at dawn when they called off the watch.

“I don’t think they were,” KID sighed, weary. “I’ll report to Megure-keibu. If this was a real drop-off point…” He passed a gloved hand over his face, his eyes falling closed for just a few moments. “The detectives might be able to do something with that.”

He caught Sato watching him critically. She wasn’t trying to be subtle about it. KID smiled at her.

“I don’t like being on this side of things, Sato-keiji. It’s just not my forte. I apologize if I’m worrying you in any way…?” He sounded as uncertain as he felt. He was having trouble reading the look on her face.

“No…” Sato said slowly. “Not worrying… I just don’t get you, KID-san. You seem like a good person so I’m not really sure where the theft and property damage and mockery of law enforcement comes from. That’s all.”

The KID grin reappeared in force and it was something of a relief for him. “Well now, that’s for me to know~” His fingers touched the brim of his baseball cap and he lowered his head in a slight bow. “Get some rest, Sato-keiji. We haven’t gotten our hands on the big prize yet, but things are still going according to plan. We’ll keep steady and patient. You never know what could be the tipping point.”

Chapter Text

Shinichi was not in denial.

He knew more than he’d like to about what solitary confinement could do to a person. He knew less than he’d like to about circadian rhythms and what twenty-four hour artificial light and no external sense of time could do to a person, but he made a mental note to read up on it later.

Because his situation was temporary.

He was lying in the bed staring at the ceiling and trying very hard to focus on that one fact, but he’d also had to acknowledge that it was all starting to get to him. Even the sound of the shower running was starting to drive him as crazy as the silence so he’d starting switching off – silence, shower running, sink running, repeat. Occasionally he’d think out loud or snark at the cameras as well, just for something to do and because hearing words was nice, even if they were just his own.

Shinichi had already examined as much of the room as he possibly could. After that, he tried to establish something of a schedule for himself. When they gave him food and took his blood, he’d eat then do some simple stretches and exercises. It made him feel better, even if only for a short while. Once he’d worn himself out, he’d take a shower then lie in the bed and think – sometimes forcing himself to focus on one thing, sometimes letting his mind jump from tangent to tangent just to see where it would take him. So far, it hadn’t taken him anywhere useful.

For the time being, since he’d noticed himself becoming slightly more on edge, he focused on the future. He knew – knew – that it was only a matter of time before the tables would be turned on these people. They had brought him down into what was obviously one of their more permanent establishments. As soon as Kaito and the others figured out where, Merlot and Vermouth would be apprehended. The whole place would be shut down and the Organization task force could follow any leads gained here back to Gin and the boss, and Shinichi could go home and see everyone again. See them safe.

Shinichi let out a quiet sigh and turned onto his side. It was times like this that he wished he could actually sleep. It was easier said than done. The room was so damn bright and, while the gas they were using definitely knocked him out, it wasn’t really the same as sleeping. But it still seemed to confuse his body enough that the real deal often danced just out of his reach. In a small fit of frustration, Shinichi grabbed onto the heavy flat sheet he was lying under and pulled it up over his head.

He didn’t know if he should be relieved or not when the hiss of the gas came just seconds later.

 

When Shinichi woke he was tied to a chair and Merlot was sitting across from him, just like the first time. For a second, he wondered if he was dreaming.

“They gassed the room because they couldn’t see what you were doing,” Merlot said in lieu of a greeting. “But I figured it was about time we tried talking again anyway.”

Shinichi smiled – an honest if cruel expression. “Sounds like you guys are scared of me.”

She didn’t acknowledge the comment. “We know Kaito – your Kuroba Kaito-san who came to your rescue last time – is the Kaitou KID. How long do you think he’ll last?”

“Longer than you,” Shinichi laughed.

“Hm.” Merlot leaned back. Her legs were crossed again and her foot bounced a little in the air. “I’m starting to see what Vermouth meant when she said you were living in a fairytale. That level of confidence in someone isn’t normal. He’s still human, you know, and since we know who he is he can’t ever let his guard down. But he has to sleep sometime.”

Shinichi’s head tipped to the side, eyes locked on Merlot. Wait… Something… Something she just said. Something’s off… He almost blurted it out when he realized what it was but he stopped himself. He needed to think it through a little more first.

“Mm hm,” he muttered instead. He let his head tip back as far as it would go and closed his eyes. “Sleep is great. I miss sleep. Coffee, too. It’s weird.”

Merlot’s eyebrows drew together. “So what I’m hearing is you don’t care that Kaito will be dead by the end of the week.”

Shinichi picked his head up again to raise an eyebrow at her. “How in the hell am I suppose to know how long a week is,” he said flatly. “Right now, that’s honestly more of a concern for me because you. Can’t. Catch. Him.”

Merlot rolled her eyes. “Okay, well, would you like to talk about Sherry?”

“Sure. Have you ever read The Cask of Amontillado? You’d probably like it. …I hated it.”

Merlot let out a sigh and stood. “You’re not ready to tell us yet. That’s fine. We have all the time in the world.” Her heels clicked as she walked to the door and the gas was hissing in before it had even closed behind her.

 

Vermouth was leaning over a guard’s shoulder, watching on a set of monitors as Shinichi passed out and the door to his room opened again. A large, muscular man walked in followed by a young, round man in a lab coat carrying a bag. They untied Shinichi from the chair and the large man carried him over to the bed and laid him down as the round man rifled through his things. It wasn’t long before Shinichi’s blood was siphoning out into a small collection vial.

“He looks like hell in person,” Merlot said as she walked into the monitor room. “I’d suggest upping his food and water, but it won’t help all that much if he doesn’t ever sleep.”

“Are you kidding me?” the guard in the chair asked. “I swear I spend most of my shift watching him sleep.”

“Knockout gas is not an acceptable substitute for sleep,” Merlot said with a smirk.

“What do you recommend?” Vermouth asked.

“I recommend you ask someone with medical training, and that’s not me.”

Vermouth just shrugged. “I guess you have more important things to worry about. Like how you’re going to get answers out of him.”

“Yeah, but we can’t find any of his friends or family. Gonna have to go a little more broad I think.”

 

*

 

“What exactly do you mean ‘bomb threat’?” KID said into the phone. “I want to know– No, never mind, just tell me where.”

“Beika police station,” Megure answered, and he wasn’t surprised when KID ended the call right then.

 

They were already calling the all-clear when KID arrived. He blended quietly into the officers filtering back into the building and waited less than patiently for them to shut the media out. Once they had, he revealed himself.

“I want details,” he said, firm and steady.

A bomb squad officer stepped forward. He quickly identified her as Nanba Kaoru – one of a few bomb squad officers who were in rotation to bring a sniffer dog in to the office each day, per KID’s instructions. “Byakuya-kun was acting strange,” she explained. “Not like he’d detected anything, just… like he was wasn’t feeling well. It was really sudden though so we had someone take him to an emergency vet and we did a full search of the building.”

KID was nodding. “Well done.”

No one there looked particularly pleased. All of them were on edge, faces pinched and shifting anxiously, visibly shaken.

“You were prepared and you handled it,” KID told them. “It’s almost been a week now. They’ve started trying different things because they keep hitting dead ends. Don’t give in now. Let’s use this.”

“Use it?” someone asked.

“Send the security footage and all details of the attack to Megure-keibu. He and the detectives in the safehouse can see if they can get anything from it. Of course, you all should look at it as well and share any theories.”

It wasn’t the first potential break they’d had. After scouring any security footage and traffic cameras they could get a hold of, Hattori had spotted a black Lexus taking a sharp swerve after a brief flash from its backseat at exactly 3:57 PM on June twenty-fourth. It was the car that had taken Shinichi away. But then the footage cut out and the car was gone – potentially anywhere on Tokyo’s highways. The Organization had covered their tracks.

But maybe this time… Kaito thought desperately as the officers chorused their agreement. Maybe this time it’ll be the lead we need…

Chapter Text

Shinichi had long since lost all concept of time. His days were too similar to distinguish between and he’d been in that room for so long…

Another metallic thud reverberated through the door as Shinichi knocked his knee against it. He was standing with his forehead pressed to the metal and he could feel the vibrations each time he knocked.

He’d already made a decision about the door. He decided he hated it. All the best parts of it were on the other side – the handle, the hinges, the lock. And it sounded wrong. Or possibly right. He still couldn’t be sure because he was on the wrong damn side.

He let his forehead thud against the door this time – not hard, just enough for a good solid thunk – and he stayed like that for a while, letting his thoughts wander.

Maybe they already got to everyone… No. No, it should be fine. They’d tell me. Try to break me. If Merlot still comes in then they still need me to talk, so they can’t have found Haibara at least. They must be fine.

But… But Kaito… Where are you?

Shinichi’s forehead thudded against the door again and he took a deep breath, not letting his shoulders move with it. He was being watched. He couldn’t show any sign of the cracks he knew were starting to form in his resolve and possibly in his sanity. He could hold it together one more day… however long that was.

 

That was what Shinichi had told himself. But two weeks into his abduction, the nightmares started.

They weren’t true nightmares, or, at least, they didn’t come to him in sleep. They came to him in the murky half-consciousness of the gas his body was developing a resistance to. He’d collapse, they’d bring in food and lay him on the bed, and then the pain in his arm would rouse him just enough that his brain would attempt to process what was happening. Invariably, it tripped over itself instead.

The first time it happened, the sting of the needle in his arm somehow became the large man he’d glimpsed in the hallway holding him roughly in place as the door opened. Merlot walked in followed by another large man – the one who’d restrained Phantom Lady on the docks that night in September – who now had another Kuroba in his grasp. But even before he threw Kaito down on the floor at Merlot’s feet, Shinichi could see that there was no life in him. Kaito, lying there, eyes closed and face too pale. Body too still…

Shinichi came back to himself slowly as the effects of the gas wore off. It didn’t take him long to realize it had all been some kind of hallucination. Lying in the bed, staring at the ceiling, he realized just as surely that this – this whole scenario – had been exactly what he’d been afraid of with Ran back when he’d first gotten involved with the Organization. Now it was Kaito. Kaito, who would have been fine just taking care of his side of things. If he hadn’t gotten involved with Shinichi, Kaito wouldn’t still be at risk now.

But Shinichi had allowed himself to believe that KID… KID of all people could surely survive involvement with him.

Shinichi’s eyes tracked over to the spot on the floor where the delusion of Kaito’s body had landed then rolled sharply onto his side, putting his back to that empty spot on the floor and ignoring the smell of the food that now made him nauseous. They’d started drugging it at some point. Right around the time the nightmares started, he’d noticed himself getting sleepy every time he ate, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He wanted the sleep too much.

Shinichi shut his eyes, determined to ignore everything, and curled in. He couldn’t help but wish again for the warmth and security of Kaito at his back, and a small, petulant thought rose up in his mind. Sleeping alone sucks.

 

“I don’t suppose there’s any way you’d let me have a violin.”

Merlot looked Shinichi over from her chair with a definite air of distaste. His bangs had gotten a little too long, his face bristly, thin, and wan. His eyes were bloodshot with circles below them that looked darker each time she came in, but his expression was still as alert, his stare still as keen as that first day.

“…You’d find some way to use it against us,” Merlot replied.

“How ‘bout a book?”

“How about a trade? You don’t have to be this miserable, you know. You have a choice.”

“You know…” Shinichi said slowly. Thoughtfully. “If I snap, you’re not gonna get any useful information out of me. And anyway, are you sure an insane subject can still be considered a healthy one?”

“We could bring you some company,” Merlot offered. “Just tell me where Sherry is hiding.”

“I don’t know.”

“Hm. I guess she probably wouldn’t make a good roommate. Everyone here seems to hate her. I never met her though. Not my department.”

“Does kidnapping have its own department? Guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”

The smirk that slid onto Merlot’s face was smug enough to make Shinichi’s hands clench into useless fists at his sides, even numb as they were from the ropes tight around his wrists. “Let’s call it ‘Acquisitions’.”

Shinichi huffed out a scoff and rolled his eyes.

“Look, I’m willing to deal here,” Merlot said. She leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. “You really should take advantage while you can.”

Shinichi stared.

Merlot sighed. “Don’t you think someone would have come for you by now if anyone was going to?” she pressed, sounding almost desperate. She straightened up and spread her arms, indicating the room. “If it were at all possible, wouldn’t Kaito be here? No one is coming. Just tell me.”

“Sure,” Shinichi said. “She’s in Xi’an. Why don’t you call up some old friends and see if you can track her down.”

There was an extremely subtle twitch in Merlot’s face. If Shinichi hadn’t had so much practice from reading Kaito, he was sure he would have missed it. She leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs. Regrouping, Shinichi thought, wary. She’s done playing nice for the day, so what’s next?

Merlot’s hand came up, loosely curled as she examined the glossy polish on her nails. “We have a sniper ready to shoot your best friend, Mouri Ran, unless I leave this room with Sherry’s location.” She paused carefully and glanced up. Shinichi was watching her, his stare so intense that she almost balked. His lips turned up in a smirk anyway.

“No you don’t.”

Merlot raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure where I lost you–”

“You have no idea where she is. You can’t find any of them. Everyone I care about has mysteriously disappeared.”

Merlot didn’t react and that was enough of a tell in itself.

“You have the resources to prove it to me,” Shinichi continued. “A live feed, or you could bring her here. Threaten her right in front of me. You’ve got nothing and I won’t help you.”

“Then what exactly do you think is going to change here?”

“Hey, I’ve been wondering,” Shinichi said, and he ignored the slight hint of Conan he heard creeping into his tone. “Your nails. Do you do them yourself or do you go out and get them done? ‘Cause I’m trying to picture that and it’s a little ridiculous. Maybe if the nail place was a front?” he mused. “Talk business in code while you’re getting a manicure?”

Merlot didn’t bother sighing her disappointment. Instead she took a cigarette from the pack in her blazer’s inner pocket. Her lighter was a metallic red that matched her nails and she considered it quietly in the palm of her hand after lighting the cigarette.

“Maybe I should have warned you sooner, but I got permission to escalate to superficial bodily harm if you still refused to cooperate. So?”

The look on Shinichi’s face wasn’t one of fear or anxiety. It wasn’t even the determined look of someone steeling himself for what was to come. He just looked angry and, on some level, disappointed. Merlot let out a smoky scoff.

“Let’s get started then.”

 

*

 

Kaito was sitting in his bolt hole staring down at Shinichi’s last two messages on his flip phone. His thumb slid restlessly up and down the edge of the screen.

Nineteen days… We’ve arrested five of their disposable grunts but still nothing. They’re not sending anyone out who knows anything useful. They’re being careful. They’ve almost got their hands on the ultimate prize and they’re not gonna let it slip away so easily.

…We need to lure them out; that’s all there is to it.

 

There wasn’t any way to enter the safehouse undetected – KID had made sure of that – but there were routes that were quieter than others. Routes that wouldn’t alert everyone to an intruder, just the first responders.

It was with mixed satisfaction and deep, instinctual, controlled fear that KID came face to face with a revolver upon slipping into the boiler room.

“Megure-keibu,” he said.

“Don’t move,” Megure replied. KID obeyed though his eyes flickered toward the second gun that was trained on him from the shadows – Nakamori, keeping quiet and hidden as backup. It was a tactic KID had encouraged: not showing all their cards.

“The moon is rising,” KID said, his grin sharp under the stark shadow of his black baseball cap. “And clouds are coming in.”

Megure hesitated only a moment more before lowering his gun. Nakamori came out into the open to join them.

“Are you here with good news, KID?” Nakamori asked.

“No, unfortunately not. I’d like to speak with Hakuba-tantei and Hattori-tantei.”

Megure’s eyebrows pushed down. “A new lead?”

KID shook his head. “A ‘plan B’. Maybe. I’d like to get their input.”

“Now wait a minute, KID–” Nakamori started, but KID held up his hand.

“Don’t worry, Inspector. I intend to speak with all of you about it before anything is decided. It would be a foolish waste of resources not to consult with you all. There are just a few specifics I need from those two before that.”

Megure glanced at Nakamori, clearly deferring to him as long as the matter was one involving KID. Nakamori gave a short nod.

“Excellent.” KID clapped his hands onto Megure’s and Nakamori’s shoulders. “Let’s head upstairs than, shall we? No time to lose.”

 

KID had snuck into the building in black but he switched to the white suit before calling Hakuba and Hattori into the shared kitchen area to talk. Somehow the hat and monocle put him more at ease, though not enough for him to sit at the table with the detectives. Instead he leaned against the wall and crossed his arms.

“I’m considering holding a heist.”

“To lure them out,” Hakuba filled in immediately before Hattori could do more than open his mouth.

KID nodded. “But it would be dangerous. I wanted to talk it through with the two of you first. Figured I could count on your conflicting personalities to provide a wide perspective.”

“It is a fairly transparent plan,” Hakuba put in, again beating Hattori to it. “Do you have a target in mind that you know they would show up for if you announced your intention to steal it?”

“…Me.”

“Yer gonna steal yerself?” Hattori scoffed.

“Well… Less a heist and more an… invitation,” KID admitted.

“They prefer to kill long distance,” Hakuba pointed out. “That will not be much help if your intention, as I suspect, is to draw out someone higher on their chain of command instead of the people we have seen so far who do not know anything useful.” But are still just as capable of firing a gun, he finished silently. His hands were resting on the table, one laid carefully over the other, hiding the tension as his fingers went from a loose curl to a tight fist.

“Now wait a sec; I don’t think it’s such a bad idea,” Hattori said. “Kudou kept me up ta speed an’ it sounded like that bastard Gin had been handlin’ the snipin’ jobs lately. If we could get him ta show his face–”

“But we do not have any guarantee–”

“Look, ya need good bait if ya wanna catch the big fish,” Hattori said, gesturing emphatically at KID. “This here’s some pretty good bait.”

KID was scowling for more reasons than one but he didn’t say anything. He wanted to see what they would come up with without influencing their thoughts with his own.

“But the risk outweighs the return,” Hakuba argued. “There is no guarantee that anyone the Black Organization sends to kill KID would be any more useful to us than the ones we have already caught.”

“Yer missin’ the whole point, idiot,” Hattori shot back. “KID is the lynchpin in our whole strategy right now – offense, defense, everythin’. From what I’ve heard, they gotta know that’s the case. Ya really think they wouldn’t call out the big guns if KID said ‘I’ll be here at this time an’ place; come get me’?”

“You are correct; KID is the lynchpin,” Hakuba stated. “So do you honestly think we would survive him being shot by a sniper when this plan goes wrong?”

“So you can depend on me to keep you all safe, but you think I can’t manage to not get myself shot?” KID muttered in complaint.

“Yes.”

The response echoed – both Hakuba and Hattori had firmly answered in near unison and KID hid his surprise. Hakuba clarified anyway.

“Things have undeniably gone according to plan thus far,” he said, but his tone carried warning in it. “The longer we go without incident, the more you start to think we can hold our own without you. It becomes less important that you keep yourself safe for our sakes and more important that you acquire information that will allow us to find Kudou-kun and end this.”

An eyebrow went up, lost under the shadow of KID’s hat, but the skeptical look on KID’s face still didn’t need to be put to words.

“I have been studying your patterns for six years,” Hakuba explained. “You have many ways to blind the general public, and even the police, but the truth will always come to light for a detective.”

KID considered him for a few moments then raised one shoulder in a casual shrug. “So you’ve been studying me,” he said. He looked to Hattori. “What’s your excuse?”

“Hmph. Look, I know I don’t know ya that well. Or at all, really,” Hattori said. “But I know Kudou, an’ I know the kinda person ya gotta be fer him to have as much respect fer ya as he does. I don’t wanna think you’d turn out ta be the one thing he’s wrong about.”

“You had said one month, I believe,” Hakuba continued before KID could comment. “Almost two-thirds of that time has passed. We had already concluded you would do something more drastic soon.”

“Well look at you two, working together,” KID said with a smirk. “It’s touching, really.”

“Do ya think we’ve just been sittin’ in here twiddlin’ our thumbs?” Hattori snapped.

“We have been working through this case,” Hakuba added, and his voice remained a level contrast to Hattori’s but his stare was heated and locked on KID. “Each new piece, every old piece, the big picture – everything we could possibly consider.”

“Includin’ yers an’ Kudou’s strategies an’ tactics so far.”

“…And what I’m hearing,” KID said. “Is that all of the pieces you currently have just aren’t enough.”

“Perhaps, but–”

“But you both seem to think I’m going to do something stupid and self-sacrificing on the off chance it could result in a new lead.” KID stepped away from the wall and over to the table. “Then let me provide some information of my own – every piece that this new game would come with. Then, if you still think I’m being reckless, we can find a compromise. Deal?”

Hattori glanced at Hakuba but Hakuba’s eyes never left KID’s shadowed face, searching fruitlessly for some hint of what the thief was thinking. Hattori let out a scoff. “Well we can hear ya out anyway,” he said. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

That finally got Hakuba to look away so that he could drop his forehead into his palm with a heavy sigh. KID was smiling as he took a seat between them.

“First, and most importantly,” he started. “If I propose this… game to the Organization, I won’t just be creating an opportunity for us. It will also create an opportunity for them.”

“Ta kill ya. Yeah, we know–”

“No,” KID interrupted firmly. “To go after the task force.”

Hakuba raised his head but didn’t speak, watching KID again. KID went on.

“For the most part, the Organization has stopped bothering to look for you targets, and has stopped bothering with attacks on the police. At the same time business has been pretty much at a standstill for them and they’re most likely feeling it.”

“…And the shepherd will be away,” Hakuba murmured.

“Eh?” Hattori drawled.

“You said it yourself,” Hakuba replied. “KID is the lynchpin in our defense. Without the shepherd, the flock is vulnerable.”

“Since when are we KID’s flock?”

“It does not matter if we think we are. What matters is how the Organization sees it.”

“Hakuba-tantei is right,” KID cut in. “And right now the Organization thinks I can’t be everywhere at once. They’ll assume they know exactly when and where I’m going to be, they’ll come to confirm it, and once they do they’ll have others set to make a move.”

Hattori opened his mouth but KID continued before he could comment.

“They also know that I’ve been working with the police, so they won’t underestimate our task force’s preparation. But there’s a difference between a group of people getting a crash course in extreme caution and one phantom who is always in control.” He gestured humbly to himself. “So they’ll be confident that they can cause some real damage that night and start turning the tables.”

Wait,” Hattori demanded, his hand a tight fist on the table. “Go back ta the part where they think ya can’t be everywhere at once.”

KID grinned.

 

Nakamori was waiting impatiently in the lobby when KID, Hakuba, and Hattori left the kitchen. “Well?” he demanded.

“It was an enlightening talk,” KID answered, and Hattori and Hakuba exchanged questioning glances. After laying out his plan, KID had said very little, just taking in the detectives’ resulting debate. Apparently, though, he’d come to some sort of conclusion about it.

“There’s one more thing before I speak with everyone,” KID continued. “I need to talk to Kudou-tantei’s neighbors.”

“His neighbors?” Nakamori said.

“The prof an’ the scary little girl?” Hattori asked.

“I’ll call everyone to the lobby after we’re done,” KID said unhelpfully, and then he was gone.

 

KID had stripped one of the spare rooms of all monitoring devices before ushering Agasa and Haibara into it. Megure was there before KID had a chance to follow them inside.

“KID,” he said sharply. “The security–”

“I took it out. Just here. Just for now.”

“But–”

KID smiled his most disarming smile and Megure edged back from him subconsciously. “Trust is important, Inspector,” he explained. “But I’m still a criminal and there are still secrets I need kept. For my own safety, yes, but also for the safety of everyone here. Understand?”

“No, I don’t,” Megure insisted. “What are you talking to those two about that no one else can hear?” He glared around KID at Agasa and Haibara who were standing silently a few steps past the doorway.

“Megure-keibu,” KID said softly. “If you honestly had doubts that I am the real Kaitou KID, or doubts about my character, I would certainly have expected you to act much sooner than now. I understand the obligation you feel to object, but we don’t have time for dancing around issues that are irrelevant to the problems at hand. You know I would never do anything to hurt them.” He turned back to Agasa and Haibara. “But if either of you feels uncomfortable with the situation, you are under no obligation and are in no danger if you decide not to do as I ask in this case.”

Neither moved, and Agasa eventually said, “We can hear him out, Megure-keibu. There’s no harm in it, is there?”

“…There better not be,” Megure grumbled. He looked again from KID to Agasa and Haibara then heaved out a sigh. “Fine. Leave the door unlocked. I’ll give you five minutes.”

“Much obliged, Inspector,” KID said with a bow. Then he swept into the room and closed the door.

The moment he turned to face Agasa and Haibara again, Haibara reached up and grabbed onto his tie, yanking him down to her level. Her other hand brushed the hat from his head and then she grabbed both of his cheeks, pulling hard.

KID barely held back the yelp that surely would have had Megure throwing the door open in alarm. Instead, he held himself still, only sticking one hand out to catch the monocle when it dropped off of his abused face. Haibara gave a satisfied nod and let go.

“I appreciate the precaution,” KID mumbled. The monocle had vanished and he pressed his hands to his face, his eyes squeezed shut.

“Cut to the chase, KID,” Haibara hissed. She tossed a quick glance back at the door then tugged KID by the cape and Agasa by the hand until the three were clustered into the farthest corner of the room. “What is this about? Did you hear something about Kudou-kun?”

KID suddenly went stiff. “No,” he said. “No, I don’t have anything at all. Just… a plan I’ll probably regret. You haven’t changed the passcode on your phone recently have you?”

Haibara’s stare seemed to be doing its level best to become a physical force with the express purpose of burrowing into KID’s skull. A few seconds passed with no success though, so she just answered, “How recently?”

KID considered the question. “Early June?” he asked.

“No.”

“Good.”

“Is that all you wanted to ask me?” she said with crossed arms and a particularly skeptical raised eyebrow.

Kaito shifted a little, his posture willingly telling because dropping his masks when he was alone wasn’t enough. He craved the comfort of being himself among friends. “I… actually…” He took in a steadying breath. “I want you to tell me honestly… what they might be doing with Shinichi.”

“Kaito-kun…” Agasa moved to his side and settled a hand onto Kaito’s shoulder. Kaito didn’t bother to lie that he was all right.

“They won’t kill him,” Haibara said in the brusque tone she often adopted whenever they asked her about the Organization. “Kudou-kun was right about that, at least. They’re desperate enough for information on the Apoptoxin that they would never waste a specimen with that much potential.”

A shiver of anger passed through Kaito. “‘Specimen’?”

His response sharpened Haibara’s in turn. “That’s what he is now,” she shot back in an aggressive whisper. “Now that they have him, they will run every experiment they’re willing to risk in order to find out more. If we’re lucky, that will just mean blood tests.”

“And if we’re not?”

“…It’s possible they could dose him with it again.”

Kaito blanched.

“But only if… only if they have someone who thoroughly understands the drug and the subject. Which they don’t. They have the drug, and yes, they have scientists who could have taken my place, but they also have large gaps in their knowledge and exactly one chance. As far as they know, your ‘Pandora’ is gone and no one else reacted the way Kudou-kun did to my drug. If they mess this up – if it kills him this time – they’re screwed. So they’re not going to use just his body. They’ll use him… to find me.”

“…They won’t.” Kaito’s voice was faint, his eyes distant and his face still too white.

“Kuroba–”

“No, I know that they’ll do it,” he said quickly, dismissive. “They’ll do it. But they won’t find you. He’d never tell them and they’ll never find you without him.” He couldn’t deny that some tiny part of him was hoping for words of comfort now but Haibara stayed silent, not meeting his eyes, and that was so much worse. His knees threatened to fold but instead his whole body froze, locked up against the temptation.

“…What is it?” Agasa eventually asked into the tense silence. He was looking back and forth between Haibara’s tightlipped scowl and the agony in Kaito’s eyes. Haibara took in a quiet breath.

“Kudou-kun will be tortured for the information,” she told him with cold certainty. “And he’ll never give in.” Not for my sake but for all of us, to keep us safe from a danger he feels responsible for. He’d rather die.

“But they won’t hurt him,” Agasa tried, and it was the voice of that tiny part of Kaito that was slowly drowning in reality. “They can’t hurt him, right? They need him.”

Neither answered, just looking at Agasa with jaws locked and eyes that showed only badly battered hope.

“Shinichi…” Agasa whispered.

“My mind’s made up,” KID announced. “We need to get moving. I’m calling a meeting with everyone right now.” He was across the room and at the door with silk hat and monocle back in place in the span of a blink. He threw the door open but what he saw on the other side stopped him in his tracks.

Chikage was blocking the doorway, her face a mask of fury, and Kaito could only stare.

“Out,” she snapped at Agasa and Haibara as they came up behind KID.

Haibara gave a short nod and took Agasa by the hand, tugging him into the hallway. Then Chikage shoved KID backwards into the room and the door slammed shut. For a moment, Agasa, Haibara, and Megure just stood in the hall, staring at the door. Then Haibara started pulling Agasa toward the stairs.

“Ai-kun…”

“She wasn’t angry,” Haibara murmured, her voice low and her lips hardly moving. “Just an act for the hallway cameras.”

“Oh.” Agasa cast a glance back at the unmonitored room. “I see.”

 

Kaito had allowed himself to be ushered away from the door and to the opposite side of the room again. Chikage’s expression had softened considerably.

“I haven’t forgotten,” Kaito said without being asked. “I let the masks drop at least for a little while every day. …We shouldn’t waste any time–”

“It’s not a waste of time,” Chikage said, and then her arms were around him, her head resting against his chest. Kaito returned the hug mostly on reflex but a few moments later he realized he was holding tighter than he really meant to. It was a simple thing, that physical act of comfort, but he’d missed it more than he’d realized.

“I know,” Chikage whispered, holding just as tight. I know how much this hurts. “You’ll be all right.”

“Yeah,” Kaito agreed. Soon… I will be.

Chapter Text

More than a week had passed since Merlot had given up on “asking nicely” for information on Sherry, and Shinichi wasn’t sure anymore which was worse each time he woke – to find himself tied to that chair, facing torture again; or to be left alone with his thoughts. He would have preferred resisting the notion of waking entirely but he couldn’t, and just lying there felt like surrender. So he got up. As long as there were eyes on him he’d continue to get up no matter how much it hurt.

Shinichi had realized almost immediately that Merlot had few options when it came to actually injuring him. Obviously she had to keep any damage superficial, but she also had to be careful of his ropes. She was avoiding his face as well, likely because he was still fully capable of biting her if she got her hand too close. That meant the easiest targets were his legs – specifically his right thigh.

He learned very quickly that Merlot favored the theory that spreading out the pain would lessen it. Every time he woke in the chair she would burn almost the same spot over and over. And every time he woke in the bed he would find that the burns had been carefully treated and that the pain had dulled. Still, it made it difficult for him to move around. The simple exercises he’d tried to do with some regularity now had him flinching but he kept doing them. Anything to sustain some kind of control.

 

Shinichi woke to pain. Merlot hadn’t bothered to wait for him to come around before starting in on him this time, but his brain, even fogged as it was by the gas, was too familiar with that particular pain to even call up a groan. He felt hollowed out. Not in the bloody, eviscerated way he was more used to seeing – it was more like the dry scraping on the walls of a barren gourd. Like everything messy and human had been yanked out of him and he was empty.

Merlot was talking but he was only half listening. The words were as familiar as the pain – quiet questions that seemed more and more harmless. “How did you and Sherry meet? Did you get along? I’m not asking for much, Kudou, just talk to me a little and I’ll leave for today.”

And then the lighter lowered and he couldn’t look at it – at that small, clear flame that hardly flickered as it silently seared his flesh through the large hole that had been cut through any pair of sweatpants they provided him with now.

And he considered talking. He considered just telling Merlot what he knew, because maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

And then he imagined everything that would come after, and it was sickening.

They’re counting on me, Shinichi thought, teeth clenched hard enough to hurt. He took deep, slow breaths through his nose, already well practiced at ignoring the smell of his own skin burning. Kaito… He never once questioned that this plan was safe with me. A quiet feeling like pride unfolded in his chest at the thought, and he let it. One slip and I could bring the whole thing crashing down, but I won’t. If I ever became the kind of person who could sell out the people depending on him just for a little relief I’d deserve everything they could do to me and more.

It was around that moment that the pain was rewritten in Shinichi’s mind. It was encouragement. It meant he was doing something right. If Merlot was still hurting him then he was still himself, and his friends and family were still safe. A quiet little laugh slipped free and Merlot stepped back.

“What are you thinking about, Kudou?”

Shinichi closed his eyes and didn’t answer. Then something cool touched his leg, whisking enough of the pain away at once that he jolted, his eyes startling open. Merlot had laid a soft, thawed icepack over his thigh.

“Better?” she asked from where she was kneeling beside his chair. Shinichi just glared down at her. He knew with full certainty that this was another strategy of hers – soothe the pain then sharpen it so that the contrast would make it that much worse. “Tell me something,” she said. “Anything. One little thing about Sherry, and we’ll be done.”

Shinichi let his eyes close again and took another deep breath when he felt Merlot remove the icepack and bring back the flame in almost the same moment.

“All right, tell me this, then,” Merlot murmured, lighter held steady. “Do you regret it yet?”

He swallowed hard and breathed out, “Regret what?”

“Saving me.”

As usual Shinichi didn’t answer, but he wasn’t just ignoring her this time. He was feeling removed enough to consider the question objectively.

There’s no need to jump to any conclusions, he told himself, focusing his mind on the question rather than the heat and pain cutting through his leg. Could I really regret saving her? What would it be like to look at everything she’s done and wish I’d done that night on the docks differently? I might still have ended up right where I am now but… maybe Kaito… Merlot had guessed who he was. She knew enough to tell Gin and buy her freedom. And if they… actually got to him… His stomach turned and he clenched his fists a little tighter at his sides, his head bowed and his eyes squeezing, reflexively trying to shut it all out. If they’ve gotten to Kaito and it’s because of her… could I regret it then?

…Regret’s too abstract, he thought, his teeth grinding together. There’s no point to regret if you don’t use it to guide future choices. So… could I let Merlot be killed now? Could I stand by and watch her die?

It was extremely calming to have every fiber of his being in complete agreement. There was no point to regret. He could never do it, even now, because he’d seen from so early on what murder does to people, in every possible way, and he couldn’t want that for anyone let alone himself.

He opened his eyes and raised his head. “No.”

Merlot looked up at him and the lighter came away a little but it was hardly relief, his scorched flesh still unbearably hot. “Why not?”

Again he didn’t answer, so again Merlot lowered the lighter and Shinichi kind of wished, not for the first time, that he had been restrained against a wall just so he could knock his head back against it. They’d probably considered that.

He tried to focus against the frustration and through the pain, and he pushed his thoughts on to something else. Merlot aside, there must be something we could have done to prevent all this.

Prevent it? another part of him thought in a voice that reminded him a lot of Kaito. We planned for this.

Shinichi let his head fall backward with a quiet groan, biting down on the inside of his cheek with his eyes shut tight again. Merlot didn’t let up.

We were warned that Gin knew who KID was, he thought, determined and insistent – harping on the subject to fend off the feeling that he was slowly self-destructing. I should have done more to figure out who had done that and why. Maybe we could have gotten ahead of… all of this somehow.

That’s the only way. The only way to stop these people is by striking first. That’s true, even now. Whatever is coming, whatever they have planned, striking first is our only option.

…Easier said than done.

He thought of the warning – such a small thing, but surely quite the risk and effort to accomplish. Someone tried to give us the means to strike first. They had information. Inside information. Probably didn’t see eye-to-eye with Gin.

Doesn’t narrow it down by much. No one seems to get along with Gin other than Vodka, and he, at least, is still in jail.

Whoever it was faked a perfect KID notice then slipped past the task force. But also… past the Organization, right? To give information to an enemy. Vermouth is looking more likely. Although…

“I have a question,” Shinichi said to the ceiling. He didn’t hear anything but he felt Merlot and the flame shift a little away from him again. Slowly, he opened his eyes and raised his head. “I just need a yes or no answer from you.”

There was a lit cigarette between Merlot’s lips now. Shinichi wasn’t sure when it had gotten there.

“Okay,” she said with a puff of smoke.

He met her eyes. “The Suntory heist.”

Merlot waited but when nothing more was forthcoming she said, “That’s not a question.”

“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t need an answer.”

What started as a scoff quickly turned to a laugh, bright and loud. “You never answer me so why should I answer you?”

Shinichi’s eyes narrowed and he continued to stare at her until she looked away – looked down so she could guide the lighter back against Shinichi’s thigh. He didn’t manage to stop the quiet groan in the back of his throat, finally looking away from her.

Then there was a brief, familiar hiss and Merlot stepped well and truly back from him. Shinichi barely held back a sigh of relief.

“Guess we’re done for today,” Merlot said, and then she was gone through the door and the gas was pushing in.

Shinichi breathed deep.

 

“The Suntory heist?” Vermouth asked as Merlot came into the monitor room where Vermouth had been watching.

Merlot shrugged and took the cigarette from her mouth. “Don’t ask me. Maybe he’s finally snapped. He hardly flinches at the pain anymore and I swear for a while there he looked… not eager, but…” Her eyes moved to the screens showing Shinichi, who had gone limp in the chair. Already, the guard in the hallway was escorting an older woman with a medical bag into the room. “It’s like he was encouraged or something.” She brought her cigarette up to her lips for a long draw.

Vermouth let out a disgusted, “Tch,” and turned her back on the screens. “Of course he was. All right, call it off.”

“What?”

“No more torture. It won’t do any good. Come with me.” She pulled out her cell phone as she left the monitor room to its watchers and Merlot followed. “I’m calling Gin. We need to talk about the research I’ve been doing on my own.”

 

“How long have you known about this?”

Gin’s voice held little inflection. Anyone who didn’t know him would have thought it a calm, reasonable question. But Vermouth did know him and she knew what was burning – writhing – just below the surface.

“Started considering it a little more seriously a few days ago,” Vermouth lied with a casual shrug. “I’m pretty convinced of it now, though. So what do you think?”

“I think we’ve already tried finding this brat and didn’t have any more luck than we did finding Sherry or anyone else.” Merlot slapped her hand down on the old photo of Haibara Ai that Vermouth had tossed out on the hotel room’s table. “Even if it were true – even if this… kid really is Sherry somehow – we still don’t know where she is.”

“True,” Vermouth agreed, “But we know more than we did. We know KID is the one hiding her and that he’s working with that task force the police threw together to do it.” She glanced at Merlot. “So the police is where we should start.”

“I’ve already tried–”

She cut herself off, frozen under the pressure of the gun barrel pressed to her forehead.

“Then what good are you?” Gin demanded. Vermouth was examining her nails again.

Merlot took a breath. “I get it. I’ll try again.”

Chapter Text

KID met up with Ruby Jones in the largest shopping mall in the area. With KID already disguised as a woman, all it took was a quick trip to a changing room to have Ruby disguised as someone else entirely so that they could head to the hotel where KID had booked a few suites in preparation for his plan. Once safely inside, Ruby swapped the disguise for full Chat Noir gear and dropped heavily onto a couch.

“So?” she said, accent thick through the deep voice changer. “Who are zese other thieves we are supposed to be meeting? I cannot say I ever took you for a team player, really.”

“Desperate times,” KID murmured. “I’m sure you’ve heard of Lupin the third.”

Chat Noir laughed. “I certainly ‘ave. Be serious, who ‘ave you got coming?”

“Lupin the third,” KID answered. “Mine Fujiko-san, Jigen Daisuke-san, and Ishikawa Goemon the thirteenth.”

“…You are serious.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Desperate times indeed.”

There was a knock and Chat Noir was gone like a shadow. KID, still disguised, opened the door to the four strangers in the hallway. The one in front let out a whistle.

“Pretty ritzy digs for a little punk,” he said with a grin. “I’d have let myself in but I wasn’t sure just how far ahead you planned.” His eyes moved up to the cameras on the hallway ceiling.

“Far enough,” KID answered, and he stepped aside to let them in. In the same moment the door clicked shut, Kaitou KID was in full regalia and Chat Noir had reappeared. Lupin pulled off his latex mask to reveal a scowl.

“I don’t like to feel surrounded,” he said, eyeing Chat Noir.

“With two against four? My apologies. I didn’t think it would be an issue.” KID carefully held back a smirk. Things were tense enough; there was no use inciting any kind of rivalry.  

Fujiko tugged off her wig and sunglasses. “KID-sama in person,” she crooned. “You’re as handsome as they all say~”

KID vanished and reappeared farther inside. “Why don’t we stick to business?”

Fujiko looked put out but Lupin looked a little happier. Jigen and Goemon, having shed their disguises, maintained a well-practiced neutrality.

They all migrated into the sitting area and Fujiko plopped onto a couch, arms crossed and lips pouty. Everyone else remained standing.

“You all know why you’re here,” KID began.

“Not exactly,” Jigen cut in with a sharp, subtle smile. His eyes were hidden under the brim of his hat but his body was canted toward Chat Noir with a clear air of distrust. The way his right hand rested under his folded arms suggested a readiness related to the gun KID knew was holstered under his jacket.

“Agreed,” Chat Noir purred through her voice changer. She hadn’t missed that detail either.

KID sighed. “Chat Noir owes me one,” he said simply to Lupin and his crew. He turned to Chat Noir. “And, as I understand it, Lupin-san and his team are somewhat invested in Kudou-tantei’s wellbeing. Unfortunately I can’t vouch for them first-hand, but I trust Kudou-tantei with my life and he has vouched for them. They have my trust.”

Chat Noir shrugged. “Good enough for me.”

Lupin’s eyebrows jumped up. “Really? What exactly do you owe him for anyway?”

“My mission,” Chat Noir answered, like it was a loaned cup of sugar. “And my escape, really. He could ‘ave stopped me if he had wanted to.”

“But enough about me,” KID cut in. “You all wouldn’t be here if you weren’t already on board. So here’s the plan…”

 

*

 

The notice hit the news overnight between July twenty-third and twenty-fourth.

 

To the crows who crave immortality: Enough hide and seek. I invite you instead to a game of tag. I will be waiting in Tohto Stadium, midnight between the 24th and 25th. You’ll have one chance.

 

~Kaitou KID

 

Vermouth was leaning over Gin’s shoulder to read from his computer screen but her eyes moved fearlessly down to his phone when he pulled it from his pocket. He scrolled through his contacts and stopped on one.

“Just bomb the stadium,” she said as he deliberated. “You’re being stupid.”

“He could survive that,” Gin answered. He was still looking down at the phone but his mind was already in Tohto Stadium less than twenty-four hours from now. “I won’t be satisfied with anything less than a bullet through his brain. Maybe two. You and Merlot just worry about the police.” Vermouth scoffed and Gin added, “Intel’s catching talk of FBI. Should be messy.”

“I’m not going.”

Gin glanced over at her. “What?”

“I’ll let you and Merlot play the thief’s game. We already have what he wants right here and I’m not leaving it unguarded.”

“Tch. Do what you want.”

Vermouth’s smile was pink and smug.

 

The evening of the twenty-fourth Shinichi woke in the chair once again, but this time he was alone. Then he realized his leg was still bandaged and his stomach curled uncomfortably at the thought that he couldn’t even begin to guess what new thing would be coming next. He’d gotten used to always knowing – to having all the clues there to put together. But here, in this room, he had next to nothing and it left him feeling lost.

He flinched when the door opened. Vermouth stepped in. The rubber of her boot heels was soft against the smooth floor but her pace was quick as she strode right up to Shinichi, pulling her phone from the pocket of her leather jacket as she went. He blinked dumbly at the screen when she held it up in his face.

His heart seemed to stutter when he realized he was looking at a heist notice.

“Still think we can’t catch him?” Vermouth asked. “He’s desperate. He’s slipping.”

He’s alive, Shinichi thought, and the sudden certainty of that was enough to make his next breath hitch a little in his chest.

Vermouth took the phone away to cross her arms, standing close enough that Shinichi had to tip his head back to look up at her face. His left leg strained against the ropes but they were too tight to allow any movement.

It would be so satisfying to be able to kick her.

“Last chance, Silver Bullet,” Vermouth said. “If you tell me where KID is hiding Sherry we’ll suddenly have bigger fish to fry than your thief.”

Silver Bullet…? Shinichi thought. His eyes narrowed at her, hoping for more, but she gave nothing so he nodded toward the hand that still held the phone, tucked under Vermouth’s elbow. “It said midnight between the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth,” he said, and it was a little grounding to finally have some indication of time. “When is that?”

“Tonight,” Vermouth answered.

Shinichi took a measured breath but the smile still came. A month. I’ve only been here thirty days.

“Gin’s already left. You’re out of time, Kudou-kun. Just tell me. Before it’s too late.”

“Don’t act like you’re on my side,” Shinichi snapped, abruptly irate. It felt like ages since he’d had enough energy to muster that much emotion. “I wouldn’t be here if not for you.”

Vermouth rolled her eyes. “Of course I’m not on your side. I told you before, it’s naïve to think all your close personal criminals will turn out to be like Kuroba Kaito.” Shinichi felt a muscle twitch in his face at Kaito’s name from Vermouth’s lips but she just went on. “Or like his father, or like Sherry – Miyano Shiho. Haibara Ai.”

Shinichi’s stomach took a sudden, swooping drop, all the anger flushed away as his eyes darted to the cameras in the ceiling. He knew his face had lost some color and his heart was beating too fast, his breathing picking up just a little. He was completely transparent and he couldn’t focus enough to do anything about it, not with the way the rush of fear and adrenaline made his head spin.

“Oh, I already told them,” Vermouth said, shifting her hips. “They all know that little Haibara Ai is the rogue scientist we’ve been searching for. There’s no ‘when this is all over’ anymore. Sherry’s marked and we will get her sooner or later.”

The horror inside Shinichi was gradually twisting into something else the longer he stared up at the woman in front of him. “…Do you know what this feels like, Vermouth?” he asked slowly, and his brain took in the subtlest shift of Vermouth’s body away from his clear aggression. He might be transparent, but so was Vermouth, like this. He was so hungry for clues, for information, that nothing was escaping him now and he reveled in it. “It feels like a last ditch effort. Why is that?”

“Because it is the last chance, Kudou-kun,” Vermouth insisted and he could see it now – the way she watched him, her eyes a little wider than usual and focused only on him. “This is the last thing that might keep my teacher’s son from being killed–”

“Nice try,” Shinichi bit out, cutting her off. “It’s your last chance to get your hands on Sherry – to kill her while everyone else is distracted with us – before your only two resources who know where she is are gone.”

Hesitation, he thought, watching her. Weakness. Shinichi swallowed but his mouth was dry.

“Gone?” Vermouth repeated, and Shinichi almost answered – almost bragged about the end-game Kaito surely had planned, almost confessed the buzzing anxiety of knowing that it meant escape or death, and soon. He caught himself in a hard stop, nearly choking on the words before a dry cough fully chased them away. His whole body shuddered in revulsion as the pieces abruptly fell into place.

“What did you do to me?” Shinichi gasped.

Vermouth’s tongue clicked off the back of her teeth and she stepped back. “You’re as stubborn as your mother. I have to hate that about you.” She brought her phone up, tapping rapidly with one thumb across the vertical screen.

A text? Shinichi thought. He bit down hard on the side of his tongue to keep any words from escaping while he reviewed the facts. Gin already left. This was the ‘last chance’ to divert his attention from the heist that’s happening tonight. I’ve been drugged, and now that I know that, Vermouth knows she won’t get anything from me.

She’s telling Gin it didn’t work.

“I told them this would be a waste of time,” Vermouth sighed, tucking her phone away. “We have to be so careful about what we give you or it could affect the studies, and all you’ve really told me is that you and Kaitou KID do actually know where Sherry is. And, of course, that this heist notice is part of KID’s plan to come for you.”

Shinichi’s jaw tightened, teeth cutting into his tongue until he tasted blood. He’d given up that much so easily. He lowered his head and squeezed his eyes closed, trying to shut Vermouth out and focus only on keeping quiet.

“Don’t feel too bad about it,” Vermouth said. “We’d already guessed both of those things. All you’ve done is confirm them. Well…” She grabbed his chin and his eyes opened without his permission but his jaw only locked more firmly. Vermouth reached under her jacket and pulled out a small gun

Compact Smith and Wesson, Shinichi thought, eyes following its every movement. Twenty-two caliber – easy to acquire overseas, light, very little recoil. Ten rounds. Easy to conceal.

She leaned over him, putting her face closer to his, and his eyes darted down to where her jacket hung forward.

Another gun. Thirty-eight. A little more power…

“It was nice talking, cool guy, but it sounds like I’ll need to be ready for a certain visitor so I’ll take my leave.” Her fingers slid almost gently against his cheek as she let him go. Then she winked at him, throwing a mock salute with a touch of the gun barrel to her temple before she turned and headed for the door. “Although…” She paused and Shinichi’s eyes were fixed to her hand on the door. His right leg throbbed with pain as he twisted and tugged at the ropes around his ankles. “Gin took some help with him, so I might not even get to play.” An uneven shrug highlighted the concealed shoulder holster even from behind and Shinichi’s heart was beating wildly.

She chose weapons for speed, he thought, feeling his control on desperation slipping. She’s serious. She’s going after KID. Kaito. He pulled in a sharp breath through his nose, ropes biting into his skin. He didn’t release his tongue even as the door shut solidly behind Vermouth.

No gas came through the nozzles in the ceiling after she was gone and it wouldn’t, he knew. Not until whatever they’d dosed him with had worn off, regardless of whether it was for his health or in case he still blurted something out to the cameras. Shinichi’s nails dug into his palms, his whole body tense and shaking. He was worse than useless like this but he knew now that KID was coming. He just had to hold out a little longer.

Shinichi let his head drop forward and closed his eyes again. He took carefully even breaths through his nose and the shaking quieted as he settled his mind into a calming, silent recitation.

“‘Holmes,’ said I as I stood one morning in our bow-window looking down the street, ‘here is a madman coming along. It seems rather sad that his relatives should allow him to come out alone.’…”

Chapter Text

Tohto Stadium had been nearly demolished in a bombing three and a half years prior. Since then it had been investigated by the police, caught up in insurance disputes, torn down completely, redesigned from scratch, and finally rebuilt just barely in time for the start of soccer season earlier that year.

With any luck it would still be standing when KID was done with it, but there were bets among the Beika officers about the degree of damage the stadium would see the night of July twenty-fourth.

KID, for his part, had his new team in position twelve hours in advance. It paid off when Gin, Chianti, and Korn snuck past the police cordon and into the stadium just after dark.

“They’re here,” KID whispered into the new com unit Agasa had designed. It was a powerful system despite being once again crammed into a cufflink – this time a checkered square in alternating silver and brushed nickel. Each corner was a button to open a different channel: one for his team of thieves, one for the Organization task force, one for the safehouse, and one that would allow him to communicate with all three at once. It was this final channel that he had spoken into. “Three of them, but it looks like Merlot didn’t show. Hopefully it won’t matter.”

He switched his com to the thieves’ channel then and added, “Lupin-san, I’m heading in.”

“Roger,” was the clipped and quiet response, and KID recognized the laser focus on a dangerous and personal mission. It had been that focus that had finally eased his own concerns about recruiting Lupin and his crew when he’d seen it during their planning stages back at the hotel.

KID took a slow, deep breath and slipped inside.

 

The stadium was washed in harsh white light under the open roof but Gin and Korn were tucked into shadows, each at a different level and on different sides of the stands. Chianti was lying on the retracted dome roof, twitchy with anticipation, her rifle pointed down at the bright, empty field.

KID was also in the shadows, ghosting through the empty walkways and observing his predator-prey with carefully balanced confidence and watchfulness. It was still early when he ducked back out of the stadium to find what must be waiting nearby.

 

The clock on the electric scoreboard showed quarter to midnight when KID returned to the stadium and spoke again into the thieves’ channel.

“We’re going with plan A,” he whispered. “Heh. Not every day I get to say that.”

“You should start calling your backup plan ‘plan A’,” Jigen’s voice replied in his ear. “Sounds much better.”

“Ah, the wisdom of experience,” KID replied.

“We’ve got a lot more years under our belt than you, punk,” Lupin added, but it lacked any of the venom their first meeting had held. “What are we looking at for getaway?”

“By air. Armed heli.”

“Oi oi… Your pet cops gonna be all right?” Jigen’s voice had lowered, tiny shards of mistrust peppering the words, but KID had learned quickly that Jigen was always critical – because he was good at his job.

“I’ve planned for it,” KID answered. “I’m not worried. Lupin-san, are you ready?”

“Yeah.”

At exactly midnight the lights all through the stadium shut off without warning. Then KID’s voice through the massive speakers echoed out into the all-encompassing blackness.

“Welcome, crows!” he said. “I’m glad you could make it. However, as you might have guessed, I don’t find this game any fun without a good detective.” The cheerful tone dropped away and the echoing voice became immediately more imposing. “One chance. Give up Kudou Shinichi or spend the rest of your lives in a jail cell.”

“Ha!” Chianti shouted back, but it was mostly lost to the cavernous space below her, only picked up by the com system she, Gin, and Korn were using.

“Chianti,” Gin said. “Shut up.”

“No?” KID’s voice boomed. “Oh well. Then you’ll just have to enjoy a game of tag in your dreams.”

Even as he spoke, a great hiss filled the empty darkness, coming from every direction at once, and Gin, Korn, and Chianti all felt the rush of pressurized gas being pushed out all around them, hard enough to ruffle their clothes. Gin snarled out, “Sleep gas,” into the com and took a reluctant hand from his rifle to reach into a coat pocket. He held his breath as long as he could, an uncapped syringe ready between his fingers. When the harsh sound started to fade he jabbed the needle into his arm.

After silence had fallen through the space, Gin stayed low, folded forward over his rifle with one arm tucked under his body. His hand closed on the gun under his coat but he stayed otherwise still, taking slow, deep breaths.

When he heard the jangle of handcuffs too close behind him, he jerked around and fired into the dark.

“Oops!” KID twisted out of the way and the bullet flew off somewhere behind him. Gin followed his movement and another shot split the air but then the gun was gone, stolen from Gin’s hand, and his rifle was kicked out of reach down the tiers of stands. Then KID bolted as silent shots from the roof and across the field followed with no regard for Gin’s proximity, guided, no doubt, by night vision scopes. Bullets pierced the concrete steps behind and ahead of KID as he adjusted his speed to keep Chianti and Korn guessing until he disappeared into the enclosed ring of food stands and bathrooms that circled that level of the stadium.

Gin left the rifle behind and took a second handgun from under his coat. His eyes were adjusting to the moonlight now and he thought he could see KID’s white suit just on the other side of a support pillar. As he crept up the stairs, he could see that the thief’s attention was on his hands, messing with something Gin couldn’t see. He raised the gun and took a shot.

KID wasn’t nearly as distracted as he’d appeared, which didn’t come as a surprise. He darted the rest of the way behind the pillar to keep clear of the bullet and then a short series of thin metals cards came flying at Gin. They struck the gun and his hands and cut through his gloves but he kept a solid grip and managed to return fire. Then he realized he was firing at nothing.

Racing the rest of the way up the stairs, Gin looked around the pillar. KID had already fled.

“He’s on the move again,” Gin said into his com.

The stadium fell silent, and they waited.

“No police?” Korn eventually commented. There had been multiple shots fired already and Gin’s handgun had no silencer. Each one was painfully loud in the empty space, and with the police surrounding the building there was little chance that no one had heard them.

“The thief probably told them to stay out of it. They might only be there to keep bystanders out after that notice he sent.” Gin scanned slowly over the field and stands, then the roof. “Chianti, anything?”

“Coward’s disappeared. He’s no fun.”

“If you want fun, start picking off the officers outside. That should smoke him out.”

Chianti let out a high, drawn out burst of laughter that cut sharply through the coms. She ducked back from the field side of the roof to make her way to the side overlooking the parking lot. Settling in, she looked through her scope and scowled.

“Something’s off over here,” she muttered, and she squeezed her rifle’s trigger. Far below, there was a faint pop and a little splurge of rainbow confetti as a rubber officer crumpled to the pavement. “They’re fake,” Chianti spat.

“All of them?” Gin asked in her ear, somehow still calm.

Chianti panned her scope across the gathering below and shot down a few more, only partially for the purpose of looking for human reactions among the dummies. “Looks like,” she answered. “They were sure as hell real when we were sneaking in.”

“KID has been busy sneaking them out.”

“Spreading himself thin,” Korn added.

In the stands, Gin retrieved his rifle and returned to his spot across the field from Korn. “That’s true,” he said. “He’s human. Eventually he’ll overestimate what he’s able to do. And this time, we don’t have to do anything but let him to come to us. He called us here because he wants something. He won’t leave until he gets it.”

“Depends what he wants,” Chianti scoffed.

“The detective,” Gin said firmly. “One way or another, he plans to get the detective’s location from us tonight.”

“Ha–!” Chianti said, followed by a short, sharp zap of static.

“I warned you, Chianti, one more outburst in my ear–” Gin lifted his rifle and pointed it up toward the roof. Through his night vision scope, he saw Kaitou KID hoisting an unresisting Chianti over his shoulder like a sack of rice. KID tipped his hat in Gin’s direction with a grin then ducked down and out of sight beyond the edge of the roof. Two shots fired too late from opposite sides of the stands below.

For a few dragging seconds, everything was quiet.

“What now?” Korn’s voice was as calm as ever but the question lingered briefly without answer. Then the stadium speakers shook as KID responded.

“Now? Now you tell me what I want to know. If you do, the two of you can crawl back into whatever hole you came from.”

“He’s got us bugged somehow,” Gin murmured. His teeth ground together at the loud and cheery “Bingo~!” that rang out all around him.

“Do you think we’ll make a trade?” Gin asked. He kept his voice at a conversational level, resisting the temptation to shout back at the sky when the answers seemed to echo down from there. “I’d have shot Chianti for a chance at you. You can do what you want with her.”

“I know that,” KID replied, and his tone had sobered considerably. “I’m not interested in a trade. I’m interested in sending a message. And the message is this…”

There was another buzz of static in Gin’s ear and he was firing before he’d even focused on Korn’s position across the field. It still wasn’t quick enough. There was no one there at all, just Korn’s abandoned rifle, the barrel resting against the back of a seat and pointing up toward the foggy half moon.

“Two down,” KID’s voice thundered. “One to go.”

“You think we’ll talk?” Gin growled, but he could feel his body tensing. Every shadow in the corner of his eye was KID coming for him. He abandoned the rifle and wrapped his hand tight around the grip of the one handgun he had left then slowly moved up the cement steps. Inside the enclosed ring of food stands he put his back to a wall just beside a corner so that above, behind, and to his right would be mostly safe. Any other direction of approach would mean a quick bullet to the head. “You’ll never find the detective,” he said into the darkness.

“I have my ways.”

Something shifted by the doorway of a bathroom and Gin opened fire, the single shot echoing, and he realized right then that KID’s games would mean either wasting ammo with wild shots or being too slow to get a shot off at all. Either way, it was a matter of time before he’d be caught. KID hadn’t needed to wear down Chianti or Korn – their backs had been unprotected and their rifles not nearly maneuverable enough to keep up with KID at close range. Gin had an advantage, at least for now, but it wouldn’t last long.

…Do I run? Gin’s jaw clenched but he managed to stay calm. Regroup… There’ll be other chances. KID throws himself at us all the time. Or… We do have something he wants. Maybe next time we set the trap for him. Either way… it’s time for me to go.

He slipped a hand into his pocket and sent a signal to the pilot of the helicopter he had waiting on standby. It would only take a few minutes for it to arrive. He could hold out until then.

A loud clatter to his right had him shooting again and this time he hit the source of the noise – a grenade that exploded with an angry hiss. White smoke poured out, rolling across the floor and curling up to the ceiling. It filled the enclosed ring leaving Gin as good as blind in the already dark space.

He wants me out of this area, he thought. Not going to happen. He can’t knock me out long distance; not if everything Merlot and Vermouth said is true about his nonviolence rule. I’m immune to his sleep gas for now so he has to come in close range and my best bet is if his course is narrowed. Nine bullets left.

Gin waited, ears straining in the silence. A slow minute ticked by.

Nothing had changed when he decided to fire two shots into the heavy, lingering smoke. Either I’ll get a lucky shot off or I’ll hold him at bay. Make him hesitate until–

The beat of propellers pulsed down into the stadium through the open roof and Gin grinned. Light flooded in from the helicopter’s search lights as they immediately locked onto the churning cloud of smoke slowly spreading from the enclosed space at the top of the tiered seats. A ladder was already hanging from the cockpit.

Gin fired another wild shot into the smoke then bolted for the stairs. The helicopter moved to meet him and he had the ladder in hand in a matter of seconds. The helicopter started to ascend.

And then several sharp metal cards cut out through the smoke, striking at the ladder just above Gin’s head. Gin started to climb.

His aim is off – he can’t see well enough through the smoke and if he comes out he’ll be a target. He glanced back at the shrinking cement stairs. And at this height I wouldn’t survive a fall. Time to give up, Kaitou KID. On a whim, he fired another three shots into the edge of the smoke below then set his focus on the ladder, making his way up and into the cockpit.

“Just you?” the pilot shouted, handing a headset back to him without looking. Gin took it and shot her in the head. The bullet lodged in her skull with minimal splatter on the helicopter’s control panel.

“Just me,” Gin confirmed, and he quickly tucked his gun away. He tossed his hat aside and pocketed the ear piece of his com to put on the headset. Then he dragged the body out of the pilot’s seat. A brief check for a mask proved the murder was likely unnecessary but he just shoved the body from the cockpit and took the controls, continuing the ascent without bothering to pull up the ladder or close the door. The helicopter rose up and faded away into the night sky.

 

KID didn’t leave the shelter of the ring of food stands until the sound of propellers was long gone. The first things he saw when he carefully crept out of the lingering smoke were the legs of the murdered pilot sticking out from between the seats a few steps down from him. He edged closer, already mostly sure of what he’d find, and only resisted the urge to be sick by backing firmly behind his poker face at the sight of the woman’s broken and bloody head. He slowly stepped away then fled to the opposite side of the stadium where Lupin was standing guard over Chianti and Korn, both unconscious and bound on the floor at his feet.

“You’ve looked better,” Lupin remarked.

“I’ve felt better,” KID replied. He flicked on his com and opened only the thieves’ channel. “Chat Noir–”

“Status,” she immediately demanded.

“Well, I’m not dead and neither is Lupin-san. Chianti and Korn are both in custody and Gin’s on the move. About as well as can be expected, though we did have a casualty. One of theirs. Cops’ll have to come for the body after daybreak – I don’t want them here before then.”

“Oh, and KID got shot,” Lupin tossed out.

KID’s hand immediately moved to cover the small hole in his suit and he angled a quick glare Lupin’s way. Lupin shrugged, his lips curling wickedly.

“You are hurt?” Chat Noir asked.

“Nothing serious,” KID answered. “Probably just a bruised rib. Low caliber, long range, vest only.”

“But you did get shot. You said you would not do zat.”

“I just didn’t expect him to fire blind, okay?”

“He’ll be fine,” Jigen’s voice cut in. “Just get ‘KID’ over here with those snipers you caught and we can get on with the plan.”

“Fujiko-chan and Goemon?” Lupin asked.

“Probably making out in ze back of ze Ekoda police station,” Chat Noir promptly replied.

Lupin choked a little. “That’s cruel – I can’t unpicture that.”

“Have I mentioned how much I appreciate you coming all the way to Japan to help me?” KID added to Chat Noir, grinning. “Because I do. I earnestly do.”

“Just get going,” Jigen and Chat Noir both said.

“See you on the other side~”

KID removed the speaker from his ear, switching it off and pocketing it.

“You better be sure,” Lupin said, watching him.

“You too,” KID replied casually. “Pretending to be me for a heist is one thing. Pretending to be me and standing in front of a bunch of people who want to kill me is something else entirely.”

“Well, I’ve got backup. Wouldn’t kill ya to have some of your own.”

KID’s grin was sharp. “Didn’t know you cared. But anyway…” He turned his back on Lupin and the white cape and suit were suddenly gone, replaced with black. “I do have backup. I’m going to get him now.”

 

*

 

It wasn’t exactly in the plan to land the helicopter on the roof of a building in the middle of the city, but Gin was fairly confident that it wouldn’t be a problem. The likelihood of anyone questioning a helicopter landing on a helipad was low, and if anyone did come nosing around he still had plenty of bullets.

As the wind from the propellers died, Gin climbed out of the cockpit and tugged the tiny tracker disc from where KID had left it clinging to the inside of his coat. KID surely knew where he was now, and that was fine. Outside of the home field advantage KID had orchestrated for himself, Gin was willing to give shooting him another try.

Gin tossed the tracker into the helicopter and took up his gun, along with the silencer he hadn’t bothered with at the stadium. The door to the roof access stairwell was locked but one well placed bullet corrected that and he slipped inside. More light would have been ideal but there was a small, dirty window to the right of the door that let in enough of the helipad lights outside. It was worth it for the defensible position – low, solid roof over his head, one window that didn’t open, the stairwell leading down into the building, and the door leading out to the roof. With his back in a corner, he’d see KID coming, unless KID tried to smoke him out again. But it was clear that hadn’t gone as KID had wanted last time, even in the larger space with all of KID’s planning ahead. Gin could take his chances.

With quick hands, he reloaded his gun and settled in to wait.

 

The night dragged on with no sign of KID. The door, latch ruined, listed just out of its frame, letting in the strong, cool breeze at the top of the building and carrying with it the scent of rain. Heavy clouds cast slowly over the stars and moon, throwing faint shadows across the window and the crack of the door. They caught in the corners of Gin’s eyes, but he remained ready without being tense.

Still, as the light of dawn seeped into those clouds, he caught himself slumping, shoulders sagged and back pressed firmly into the corner. The drug he’d taken in the stadium couldn’t last forever, and he was tired – susceptible not just to KID’s sleep gas now but to his own sluggish mind and body. Poor conditions for a confrontation.

Gun still tight in hand, Gin pulled out a phone and dialed. It rang several times before a normally smooth voice answered with a snap, “What the hell, Gin.”

“Port,” Gin answered. “What’s the situation? You should have been done by now.”

“We haven’t had a damn bit of luck so far.”

Gin paused, eyes narrowing. “What do you mean? How hard is it to kill a few cops?”

“Well Kaitou fucking KID showed up because apparently you didn’t do your fucking job–”

“Kaitou KID was there?” Gin snapped. His grip strained on the reassuring metal of his gun. “You’re sure?”

“Unless there’s another freak in a white cape and top hat running around with a gun that shoots cards and using a hang glider and sleep gas and fucking teleporting, yeah. Kaitou KID. And it’s not ‘was’; he’s still here. I’d have cut out by now if I could but it seems like every time somebody makes a move they get snatched up.”

“What about Merlot?”

“What about her? They sniffed her out somehow – she’s fucking gone. Slipped right out of the police’s grasp and vanished.”

Gin’s frustration came out in a short, low growl. “What the hell did we break her out for if she can’t even manage a standard infiltration. She’s out of chances.”

“That’s great,” Port drawled. “But what do you suggest we do?”

Kill KID,” Gin answered, and those two words were bitter on his tongue. It should have been done several times over by now, by any number of people, but Kaitou KID was still alive.

“It’s not that fucking easy,” Port complained through the phone. “What do you think we’ve been trying to do?”

Gin pulled in a long breath through his nose. His hand twitched on the phone, itching to reach for a cigarette. “You have a team of thirty. I went in with just me and two others. If you’re going to hold yourself so high and mighty, take care of the job yourself. Should be easy.” He snapped the phone shut before Port could reply.

Why? The word hissed through Gin’s mind as he shoved the phone into his pocket and edged back out onto the roof where harsh sunlight flared through a gap in the clouds against the horizon line. Why didn’t KID follow me? He put a tracker on me. Did he think he could go play cavalry to the police and still have time to come find me?

“…Eventually he’ll overestimate what he’s able to do,” Gin muttered again to himself. “That or he made the choice to deal with the immediate threat and protect that fucking task force assuming he’d still be able to do something about me at some point in the future.”

He paced the perimeter of the roof just to be sure he was alone then pulled out the phone again as he headed down into the building. The gun, minus the silencer, remained ready in his hand, but concealed by his coat pocket.

Vermouth answered on the third ring when he put the call through. “Good morning~”

“Vermouth,” Gin said. “It’s about time you start pulling your damn weight.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, unconcerned.

“You’re supposed to be my partner. We have KID’s current location confirmed and Port can’t handle it.”

“So you came to me?” Her voice had gone teasingly sweet.

Gin’s jaw clenched. “Just get over there,” he ground out.

“…Are you tagging out?”

“I’m fucking tired. I’ve done my part.”

“You mean you’re not going to do the impetuous thing and keep ramming at a brick wall headfirst?”

“I might be the only one among us that has never served jail time. I don’t intend for that to change. I know my limits.”

“That’s what I like about you, Gin. I guess I’ll see what I can do.”

Chapter Text

“…unable to get any closer. Even the airspace around the stadium has been restricted.

“Speculation around this strange new notice from the Kaitou KID has been the hot topic on social media ever since it went public last night, and the number one question: who are ‘the crows’?”

Hakuba, Hattori, Aoko, and Yusaku were all gathered in the shared kitchen area where the smell of coffee and the reporter’s commentary on the large wall TV permeated the stiff silence. Yusaku was standing in the corner with his eyes fixed on the screen, a full coffee cup cooling between his hands. Every once in a while the tapping of laptop keys mixed with the reporter’s voice as Hattori scrolled again through compiled information. Across from him, Hakuba’s eyes were distant as he stared down at his hands where they rested on the table.

Aoko’s chair was turned to put her back to the table so she could see the TV. “It’s almost midnight,” she murmured, and Hakuba and Hattori both looked up. “It’s about to start.”

The reporter was echoing the same sentiment, a bold white countdown running in the corner of the screen. Hakuba almost looked away again.

“…and it’s just about to start! Five seconds to midnight! Three, two–”

Far in the background of the shot, the lights of Tohto Stadium shut off and the entire site was lost to darkness, leaving it nothing more than a hulking shadow against the city lights all around it.

“KID’s move or theirs?” Hattori muttered.

“KID’s,” Hakuba, Aoko, and Yusaku replied.

“It is the timing,” Hakuba elaborated.

“Yer assumin’ those guys in black ain’t clever. It would throw KID more if they made their move the moment KID was set ta make his.”

“That wouldn’t throw KID,” Yusaku answered. “They should know that by now.”

The reporter was rambling on, gesturing back toward the stadium, but everything seemed still and quiet from so far off.

Eventually a helicopter cut into the shot. It headed straight for the patch of black in the background and disappeared as the searchlights dipped below the stadium roof.

“…unknown helicopter! Kaitou KID is surely making his escape!”

Hakuba pushed his chair back and walked out of the kitchen. He only went as far as the bench in the lobby but it was enough to not be able to hear the reporter anymore. Sinking down, he folded forward and pressed a hand over his eyes, holding his head up with his elbows on his knees.

“…Saguru?”

Aoko’s voice was hesitant but he felt her come to stand close by him. When he didn’t answer she sat down at his side. Briefly, his polite sensibilities nagged at him to straighten up, but he didn’t.

“…I cannot do anything. Not like this,” he finally murmured, and Aoko’s hand when it came to rest on his shoulder felt small. “I am worried for Kudou-kun and Kuroba-kun. I… do not want to consider what might be happening to them while we sit here, safe because of their forethought.”

There was a pause as Aoko took that in. “I overheard Heiji-kun saying the same thing,” she eventually said. “Well… he was a lot louder and angrier about it and I think he might have thrown something, but it was the same idea.”

“I am afraid that it has affected our ability to help on this case. We should have found something by now–”

“It’s not your fault,” Aoko cut in. Hakuba finally raised his head though he didn’t look at her. “If you were out there maybe you’d have more clues – you’d see something no one else would notice – but you can’t be out there, Saguru. They would have taken you, too. You know that.”

He did know it, and he didn’t. After the attempt on the Mouri household, there had been another on the Agasa household. Both ended in full arrests, and, while the Organization was surely out looking for targets even after that point, they didn’t make any more direct moves, likely because they didn’t find anyone to go after. If he hadn’t been brought into KID’s safehouse…

“Do you know how many times I’ve wanted to just shout at you to quit being so damn perfect all the time and try being human?”

Hakuba’s head turned toward Aoko, his eyes a little wider. Both of her hands were in her lap now, her head bowed and her voice quiet.

Hakuba had never thought of Aoko as a particularly quiet girl. She was aggressive and violent toward Kaito even in the middle of class back in high school. When she’d met Hakuba’s father officially, she’d nervously babbled about her respect for the Japanese police force, asked awkward questions about life in England, then had a small, frenzied venting fit over it all to Hakuba later in private. She’d always seemed very forward about what was on her mind.

“…Then why did you not?” Hakuba asked, eyebrows knitted.

“Well, you’re– I didn’t want to insult you, I guess. I mean, how do you say something like that to a perfectionist? It’s like, ‘Stop being you!’ You know?”

Hakuba blinked at her. “I… had not thought about it that way,” he said slowly. Uncertainly. “Is there anything else you had wanted to say but did not?”

She immediately turned away.

Yes, Hakuba interpreted.

“I don’t think now’s really–”

“I think it would help,” he said quickly. “I… did not want to place any burden on you by saying so, but the sudden end of our relationship has been a mystery to me all this time. I think it would be a relief to know why you chose to end it.”

Aoko turned back to him and he wasn’t sure what he’d expected to see but this look in her eyes wasn’t it. Like he was some fragile thing that she might break with the wrong word.

“Saguru, are you… attracted to me at all?”

Hakuba’s eyes moved over her in a quick flicker. “What do you mean?” he asked. “You are a beautiful girl, Aoko-kun–”

“Thank you,” she jumped in, stopping him. “And I can tell you mean it, but… are you attracted to me. Know what I mean?”

Hakuba could feel his face getting warm. His mouth had opened, ready to answer, but he stopped himself and looked her over again, slower this time. She didn’t seem to take offense, even when he murmured, “I… do not know.”

To his surprise, she breathed out a sigh of relief, her posture relaxing. It served to throw abrupt light on the apprehensive tension that had held her until then. “I think maybe you aren’t,” she said gently. “Because… I’ve seen the look you get in your eyes when something… when someone is appealing to you. And I’m not just trying to save my ego when I ask this, Saguru, but are you sure you like girls?”

His eyes darted to hers again, slightly alarmed. “I–” He looked down then, staring hard at his hands. “Well… I do know that I am attracted to men but… I thought I was attracted to both.” His face went a little pinker and he murmured, “Koizumi-san…”

Again, Aoko surprised him. “Me too!” she said, all relief and understanding that made Hakuba’s jaw go a little slack. “I mean, I’m not all that into girls, but I was pretty into her, you know? She’s so pretty and so cool…” She smiled at him, a warm, beaming expression that made his heart ache with confusion because he loved her smile… but there was still nothing else there. “I think Akako-chan might just be one of those people that appeals to everyone, you know?” Her hand went out to cover one of his, squeezing gently. “I don’t think there are hard and fast rules about who you like. Or who you like like,” she said. “It just has to feel right, you know? Less logic and more…”

“Instinct?” Hakuba muttered, and his face twisted into a scowl of distaste as he pictured Hattori. “I am not much given to acting on instinct.”

“Heh, well, maybe for you it’s more like being honest with yourself.”

Hakuba considered that then nodded slowly. “So…” he started and he wished he could stop blushing but his body wouldn’t comply. “Is this why you–?”

“Um, well…” Aoko was blushing now too and it made Hakuba feel a little better. “I like you a lot, Saguru. I don’t ever want us to stop being friends and I’m still a little sad it didn’t work out for there to be more between us. But yeah, I could tell you weren’t really attracted to me and… and between that and all our… other differences it just made me feel… inadequate? I guess?”

“Aoko-kun…”

“It’s okay!” Her smile was a little shakier now but she was determined to keep it. “I’ve just got some things I need to figure out, for me. And I will.”

Without thinking, Hakuba pulled her close and murmured into her hair, “You were never inadequate. You are brilliant.” He pulled back to find her eyes. They were just a little wet, but her smile was stronger now. “Thank you, Aoko-kun.”

“Heh.” She rubbed at her face with the side of her hand. “You’re welcome? At least I hope I helped.”

“You did,” he assured her. “I feel that I have a lot to think about in the future, but for now… I do feel better.”

The last of the tears vanished from Aoko’s eyes as she grinned at him. Then she held up her hand with her pinky extended. “Let’s promise,” she said. “No matter where we all end up, no matter what happens, let’s stay friends, okay?”

Hakuba’s chest felt tight. Outside of the walls of the safehouse, even at this very moment at a soccer stadium in Tokyo, their friends were fighting for their lives and the lives of everyone they cared about. But when he linked his pinky with Aoko’s it felt like an iron anchor.

“It is a promise.”

 

When Hakuba came bursting into the safehouse’s surveillance room not much later that night, neither Nakamori nor Megure was surprised. They’d seen him coming, after all.

“It is KID,” Hakuba breathed out in the doorway.

“What–?” Nakamori managed, then Hattori collided with Hakuba’s back and they both staggered farther into the room.

“What’s goin’ on? What happened?” Hattori demanded. Hakuba had knocked on his door just moments ago, had given a short “Come with me,” and then had taken off at a sprint down to the first floor.

“What’s KID?” Megure asked Hakuba.

“The reason we have not been able to uncover any breaks in this case,” Hakuba insisted, ignoring Hattori who was still standing too close at his back. “To cover their tracks to this extent – does it not seem reminiscent of our dealings with KID? There was another,” he went on, rushing. “Years ago. What happened to him?”

“What do you mean ‘another’?” Nakamori insisted.

Hakuba waved him off. “The first KID as opposed to the second. Could this case be the work of the first? Is it possible?”

“No.”

Two detectives and two inspectors jumped slightly, turning to the shadow that had appeared in the corner of the room. Chikage’s arms were folded tightly in front of her and her face was set. “The first KID, as you call him, wasn’t involved in this sort of thing any more than the current one is. That’s just common sense. Nakamori-keibu, you can vouch for that, can’t you?”

“Y-Yeah,” he said.

“What about Phantom Lady?” Hakuba tried. “She had an association–”

“Still does, dumbass,” Hattori shot back. “Remember? She helped Kudou back in September. Even saved Kuroba’s life, an’ the Org attacked her fer gettin’ involved.”

It didn’t faze Hakuba. He was speaking ideas as they came, bringing them to forum for the fastest results. “Then is there yet another? An apprentice or assistant or trainee? A backup, a sibling, anything–?” His eyes flicked in Chikage’s direction, too brief and subtle to be noticed by anyone but her.

“A replacement…?” Chikage murmured, eyes a little distant.

“What about Kaitou Corbeau?” Nakamori said.

“Kaitou Corbeau isn’t with the Organization,” Chikage insisted.

“She is right,” Hakuba jumped in. “The Organization opposed both Corbeau and KID in the case of the Midnight Crow.”

“Why don’tcha just ask the thieves?” Hattori drawled, digging in his ear with a finger and looking bored.

Chikage smirked. “You assume all thieves know each other?”

“All these thieves do,” Hakuba pointed out. “Inspector?”

“On it,” Nakamori answered and his fingers moved over the corner of his checkered cufflink.

“Wait!” One of Megure’s hands jerked over to Nakamori’s wrist. The other was pressing against the headset he was wearing. “It’s the Beika station,” he said. “Shots fired. Officers down.”

Chapter Text

The weak point of any perfect system was people. That had held true throughout Merlot’s life, and it would hold true now. No matter how well trained, there were just too many people involved.

Planting listening devices in or around the police stations had always failed no matter what Merlot had tried. She’d stopped bothering when she’d realized that each listening device that was found was also analyzed to determine the strength of the transmitter and the radius within which the listener must be. The same held true for any other type of attempt she made. The team would examine it and compile the data, waiting for the piece that would finally make the equation solvable. Going in to poke around in person was the last resort and she knew what to expect.

Even so, she hadn’t expected it would go exactly like this.

“Byakuya-kun?”

Merlot’s face went pale under her mask as Nanba Kaoru walked into the Beika police station. The German shepherd at the end of the leash she was holding looked like it was doing some sort of uncertain dance.

“What is it?”

“What’s wrong?”

The officers nearest the door all edged toward Kaoru and Byakuya, all of them wary.

“What does that mean?” one of them asked, watching Byakuya as the fur along his back rose. He snorted a few times to clear his nose.

“Not a bomb,” Kaoru said. “I don’t know.”

Merlot slipped from the room as subtly as she could and headed for the office of the inspector whose face she was wearing.

It’s too soon. The clock on the wall read quarter to one as she softly shut the office door behind her. The real inspector was carelessly stuffed under her desk, asleep in her tank top and underwear. If there was anything Merlot had learned in the last month it was to keep things where they ought to be. Janitor closets and bathrooms were checked more frequently than anything, on KID’s orders.

That’s the same dog I poisoned when I planted that bomb before, Merlot thought as she stripped out of the mask and stolen suit. She dressed herself in all black instead and darted from the office. I’ll need to be quick, then. They’re already on guard – there’s no chance anyone would slip up now. But just because Kudou doesn’t give in to threats doesn’t mean these people won’t.

She picked up hints here and there of officers making murmured contact through tiny and almost certainly KID-related radios, but she ignored them. Her focus now was on staying undetected just long enough to hit each window and door to block them off. A rush job, but good enough to keep people outside from interfering for a while, and to keep people inside from running off.

The growling that had been a subtle shadow to her movements caught up abruptly, but she’d been ready for it all the while. Just as Byakuya finally made up his mind and tore away from Kaoru’s hold, Merlot stepped out into the open and jabbed an elbow into the kidney of the nearest officer – a wiry woman with sharp, dark features that twisted in pain as she folded over, putting her head easily within Merlot’s reach. Merlot stole the gun from the officer’s holster, grabbed a rough hold of her ponytail, and jerked her down onto her hands and knees. The gun barrel settled firmly against the back of her neck.

“Hands up. Everyone. Now,” Merlot called, her voice calm but carrying.

Kaoru was kneeling just out of arm’s reach of the hostage officer, a firm hand in the fur at the back of Byakuya’s neck. She kept still and everyone else did the same, all on their feet and staring at Merlot. She sighed.

“Well, close enough. You’re all paying attention at least. Now listen up. I’m here for some information. I get the information, I leave without bloodshed. So who feels like talking?” Her eyes moved across the room, taking them in. “How about puppy patrol?” she asked without looking down at Kaoru.

“I don’t have the information you want,” she answered stiffly.

Merlot smiled. “How do you know what I want?” She suddenly released the officer’s ponytail and a shot went off.

“Hayashi–!”

“Hayashi-san–!”

“Tsubaki–!”

All eyes were on the hostage but, though she was trembling, head pressed down with the weight of the gun against her neck, she was still alive. It was a half-second later that another officer collapsed, clutching his stomach as a soft wisp of smoke curled off the second gun now in Merlot’s other hand.

“I’ve got eleven more bullets,” Merlot said. “And I promise none of my shots will be fatal, but they will require urgent medical care. So. Who wants to save some lives? I just need one confirmed location.”

“No one here knows,” Sato called from amidst the officers. “KID’s more careful than that.”

“I don’t know… He doesn’t seem untrusting,” Merlot said with a suggestive lilt. “Surely there’s something you can tell me.”

“There’s not–”

Another shot, and another officer went down. Before Merlot could speak again, Kazeno shouted, “Do what you want – twelve of us is better than the damage you could cause if you started unraveling KID’s plans!” His voice was quaking but he kept his head up. For a few long seconds there was silence, then he and several others jumped when a third shot fired and the officer beside Kazeno went down.

“Every time you refuse, you’re shooting one of your comrades; do you get that yet–”

“Kazeno-kun is right!” Tsubaki shouted from the floor. Her voice broke a little but she went on. “But it doesn’t have to be twelve. Take her out now; don’t worry about me!”

“I promised non-fatal,” Merlot said quickly. “No one here has died yet. You draw a gun, the next one goes through her head.”

“Do it!” Tsubaki shouted but she couldn’t help the startled scream that jumped from her throat when another two shots went off, so quick they almost seemed to make a single sound. Two revolvers thudded to the floor near Tsubaki and she grabbed them before scrambling away from Merlot. She collapsed beside Byakuya, trembling.

“God dammit!” Merlot shouted. She was hunched slightly, her hands tucked against her stomach. Almost every uninjured officer had a gun trained on her now. “Who the hell are you?” she snapped at the figure leaning in the corner.

Jigen pushed his hat down over his eyes. “Who me? I’m just here to help out an old friend.” The hand not resting on his hat was holding a steady revolver, his elbow tucked to his hip and the gun impeccably aimed between the scattered officers.

A shadow moved off to Merlot’s right and she glanced away from him to see a large figure in black, head fully covered with a helmet and a pair of round, luminous red cats-eye goggles. “That bastard actually called in backup thieves?”

Chat Noir stepped forward and grabbed Merlot roughly by a fistful of hair, shoving her down on her knees. “He is not stupid,” she said simply through the voice changer. “Ze doors ‘ave been opened,” Chat Noir added to the surrounding officers. “Call for ambulances.”

Almost all of the officers immediately shifted, their attention on their three wounded rather than on Merlot. As if she’d been completely neutralized. As if they utterly trusted this professional gunman and cat-burglar.

Jigen walked up to Merlot. “Which one are you?”

“Her code name is Merlot.”

He glanced back. Sato had joined them.

“Her real name is Tai Liling. We arrested her once, back in September, but the Organization broke her out.”

“Then she must be pretty important to whatever they’re doing,” Jigen said, looking down at Merlot again.

“She might know where ze detective is,” Chat Noir agreed.

“Wait,” Sato said, and Chat Noir looked up. Sato’s hand was at her head and she seemed unsteady on her feet. “What… Something is…” She sank to the floor and others were beginning to follow suit.

“Sleep gas?” Jigen murmured before he staggered sideways into a desk and onto the floor.

Chat Noir’s grip on Merlot’s hair tightened and she stared down at her in alarm for the two seconds before Merlot lashed out. Still holding her breath, she caught Chat Noir’s ankle between her legs and swept her foot out from under her. Chat Noir went down hard, losing her grip, and Merlot took off. She scooped up a fallen gun and dashed out the door.

Chat Noir swore and scrambled to her feet. Her helmet was filtering out the majority of the gas but even at her best her combat skills were practically nonexistent. Confrontation was something she’d always avoided, but she was the only one left so she gave chase anyway. On her way, she grabbed the emergency lever that had been installed next to the fire alarm and wrenched it down. The hollow roar of KID’s ventilator system rumbled through the ceiling as she cleared the station door.

On the street, Merlot slipped easily between people and buildings at top speed, weaving a mess of a path with each turn taken on impulse. A few blocks away she paused in an alley to catch her breath and check herself over.

No tracers. They’re amateurs after all. She pulled out her phone and made a call.

“Is it time?” Port answered.

“Should be easy pickings,” Merlot agreed, stepping out onto a mostly empty sidewalk to walk along the curb. “I gassed the place.”

“So you’re done here then?”

Merlot paused, teeth clenching. She’d been sent to find a lead on Haibara Ai, their supposed missing scientist, and had come up empty. Again. “No, I’ll head back there,” she sighed. “For now just kill some but make sure to leave a few–” Something hit her in the back at that moment with enough force to knock the breath out of her and take her to her knees. Her phone clattered to the pavement and then sticky strands were spreading out from the spot on her back, catching her limbs and solidifying around her. The few pedestrians nearby screamed or gasped but all Merlot was focused on was the deep, false voice of the figure in black calling down from a balcony on the building behind her.

“Be glad I am retired, Merlot,” Chat Noir said. “I am using KID’s tools. Zey are a bit kinder zan mine.”

Something else hit Merlot’s back then and a cloud of pink billowed out. Heavy boots struck the sidewalk, keeping back against the building as frightened bystanders looked on.

“You should all run now,” Chat Noir hissed, turning her glowing red glare on each of them. She considered herself lucky that they all obeyed, though with everything that had been going on in Tokyo over the last several months it would have taken a particularly stubborn, self-sacrificing hero type to stick around at that point. And most of those were currently hidden away by one party or another.

As the pink cloud faded, Chat Noir could see Merlot slumped awkwardly near the curb. Her knees and shins were stuck to the sidewalk by KID’s bizarre hardening string trap, her arms pinned at her sides and her spine held straighter than it ought to have been in her current position. But her muscles were clearly slack under the rigid bindings so Chat Noir approached, a knife in one hand and a pair of handcuffs in the other. She locked a cuff around one of Merlot’s wrists then carefully started cutting through the string-web just enough to bring Merlot’s hands together behind her back. The second cuff ratcheted into place and Chat Noir let out a sigh of relief.

Her focus was on chipping Merlot’s legs off the sidewalk when the gun barrel jabbed against the side of her torso and two point-blank shots to the same spot made short work of her bulletproof vest. The knife slipped from her hand and she collapsed, unable to open her eyes, only aware of the feeling of hot blood gathering in the mouthpiece of her helmet and seeping through her clothes, pooling underneath her. Pain. More pain than she’d ever experienced. She couldn’t even scream.

“You should have stayed retired,” Merlot muttered. She dropped the open handcuffs with a clatter then broke loose of the remaining strands. Port’s voice was calling faintly from the phone on the sidewalk and Merlot snatched it up again, ignoring Chat Noir at her feet. “What is it?” she snapped.

“I thought you said you gassed this place!” Port’s voice was strained and urgent. “The security’s not even down!”

“I took it down but they had some backup. They fixed it while I was distracted. The backup’s been taken care of though and they should all be asleep. Brute force is fine.”

“I’m telling you they’re not asleep.”

“What?”

“Not a damn one,” Port said. “I sent a guy in to make sure the gas was clear and he’s currently having his face pushed into the concrete and his hands cuffed behind his back. They’re on full goddamn alert thanks to your half-assed–”

Merlot hung up. “Kaitou KID…” she muttered. “God dammit.” I can go back and have a look, but he’s covered every angle. I’m not gonna stick my neck out for this joke of an assignment anymore. …You don’t mess with Kaitou KID.

 

Jigen staggered out of the Beika police station and took a deep breath of city air. It helped, but not as much as the cold water soaking through his hat and trickling down his beard. KID had set the sprinkler system to activate with the ventilator to wake people up in the event of a sleep gas attack, and it had certainly worked.

The officers were preoccupied now with their wounded comrades and with the tripping of a proximity alert, but Jigen was focused on Merlot. If they could catch her they might get answers. The image of a too-young face with a creepy, Lupin-esque smirk flitted briefly through his mind and his teeth ground together. Then the sound of a double gunshot echoed from a few blocks down and he suddenly knew which way to go. With a quiet groan he forced himself to run and the increase to his heart rate pushed the last effects of the sleep gas away.

There was a smattering of pedestrians gathered in little frantic clusters and he caught words like “Spider-Man” and “red eyes” as he pushed past them. Then the sidewalk abruptly cleared and he saw the bulky figure of Chat Noir curled up near the curb. There was a pair of handcuffs and a knife on the sidewalk beside her, the prickly remains of one of KID’s traps, and blood. She was alone.

Jigen let out a sigh and crouched down, pushing his fingers under Chat Noir’s glove and shirt sleeve to find a pulse. Then, with a sharp flick, he pulled out a cell phone and flipped it open, punching in a number with his thumb. “Mirla Romain-san?” he said when his call was answered. “Looks like we’ll be needing you after all.”

 

“I wonder if it’s all over yet,” Fujiko sighed, tapping her fingers aimlessly against the gun strapped to her thigh over her skintight riding suit.

“Yeah,” Goemon said shortly. It was the only syllable he’d offered all night as he sat with his eyes closed, one end of his sword tucked in the cross of his legs and the other propped back against his shoulder.

“Sheesh, you’re no fun at all.”

A little pop of static in their ears announced the opening of the thieves’ channel on their coms.

“Lupin, we got problems,” Jigen said.

“What kind of problems?” Lupin replied. “I’m almost at the Beika station.”

“Chat Noir and a couple officers are down. Beika station’s surrounded but it’s a stalemate for now. Merlot was here, but she ran off.”

“You’re not kidding, problems,” Lupin groaned.

“Need some backup~?” Fujiko offered. “It’s boring over here. Nothing happening at all.”

“You’re so thoughtful, Fujiko-chan~!”

“No, stay in Ekoda,” Jigen answered and Lupin’s pout carried through the coms as a slightly subdued, “Foo.”

“What’s their next move?” Goemon said. He still hadn’t opened his eyes, like he was concentrating on something. Fujiko crouched behind him and pushed her chest against the back of his neck.

“If it were me,” she said. “And I knew KID-san would be occupied and his police force was all alone, I’d choose a stealth attack first.”

“There was a dog there – sniffed her out pretty quick,” Jigen said.

“And then when I was done gathering information,” Fujiko pressed. “I’d go with an all out attack.”

“You think the surrounding group is Merlot’s crew that was waiting in the wings for orders?” Lupin asked.

“It’s what Kaitou KID thought,” Goemon put in.

“That guy over-plans–”

There was another pop of static and Nakamori’s voice suddenly cut across the feed, “Hey, is anyone still on this thing? KID?”

“KID’s already gone,” Lupin responded. “You got more problems for us?”

“We heard about Beika station. We wanted to warn you that there might be another phantom thief involved on the Organization’s side.”

“Hm?” Fujiko hummed. “Why do you say that?”

There was a strange shuffling sound and a slightly distant “Hey!” then Hakuba’s voice.

“An analysis of the Organization’s moves during the last five weeks shows distinct parallels to KID’s own strategies. We do not know who it might be specifically, but be on your guard.”

“He didn’t over-plan,” Goemon murmured, finally opening his eyes.

“He just planned for the toughest opponent he could think of,” Lupin agreed, though begrudgingly.

“Okay, fine, we’ll stick to KID’s plan and stay where we are in case this place is targeted too.”

“Man, what a pain in the ass!” Lupin whined. “All right. Jigen, I’m coming up on Beika now. Let’s put these guys in their place.”

Chapter Text

Gin stalked past the mansion’s security team, through the x-ray scanners, and down to the Organization’s rooms in the basement. His aim was Merlot but he found Vermouth first, lounging in the monitor room watching Shinichi on the screens.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Gin growled from the doorway. “I thought I told you to go help Port.”

“Port’s not coming back,” Vermouth answered with a scoff. She kicked off from the console, letting her chair roll toward the middle of the room with a loose spin, turning her toward Gin. “I never planned to go down with him.”

“You said–”

“I didn’t say I was going over there. You want me to pull my weight and take out KID. I still say the best way to do that is to wait for him to come here rather than play on his turf.”

“Kaitou KID’s not coming here. Why do you think we keep Merlot around? Our tracks are covered.”

Vermouth gave him a deeply pitying look. “That’s cute.”

“Well if she’s that useless where is she?” He pulled his gun and cocked it sharply. “I need to shoot something.”

Finally Vermouth stood, tutting at him, wagging finger and all. “She was approved for a priority assignment. You know you need that person’s permission if you want to kill her.” She brushed past him and started down the hallway, Gin following. “Where are Chianti and Korn, by the way?”

“Why don’t you ask KID when he gets here if you’re so sure he’ll come.”

“Oh,” Vermouth laughed. “He got them both? You are in a bad mood, aren’t you.” She stopped by a door and knocked. A few moments later, Merlot opened it.

“What?” she asked flatly. Then all three of them were suddenly tangled together, Vermouth with one hand on Gin’s wrist and the other on Merlot’s forcing two guns off of their targets. Merlot’s other hand was clawing uselessly at Gin’s where it was clutching her throat.

“Gin,” Vermouth said, not sharp but very firm. “You need permission. We can lock her up until then.” Slowly, she let go of his wrist and he let the gun fall to his side. A moment later Vermouth had knocked Gin’s other hand away, kicked Merlot’s feet out from under her, sat on her back, and twisted her arm up behind her to retrieve her gun. She pushed the barrel hard between Merlot’s shoulder blades.

“Why are you ganging up on me?” Merlot tried to shout but she couldn’t quite get enough air and it came out as more of a wheeze. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Then you know where KID is hiding Sherry?”

“No.”

“Did you kill KID?”

“No.”

“Did you kill anyone?”

“No, and you know why!” Merlot growled. “It was unreasonable from the start to assume a fake could beat the real thing!”

“That doesn’t matter. You took the assignment.”

“The other option was you killing me!”

“So we’ve come full circle!” Vermouth said. “You’ll cooperate, won’t you? If you wait for that person’s verdict you still have a chance, but if you try to get away from me right now I’ll shoot you in the spine.”

“…You need permission too,” Merlot mumbled into the floor.

“No I don’t. I’m the favorite~”

Gin made an irritated noise in his throat and Vermouth glanced up at him, her smile like a razor slash. “Watch yourself, Gin. You’re accumulating quite a few failures yourself. It won’t be overlooked forever.” Vermouth hauled Merlot up, keeping her close with an arm tucked under her chin, pressing tight against her throat and the gun still digging into Merlot’s back. “Now let’s get you to your room.”

 

The tilting half-consciousness that the sleep gas instilled in Shinichi had been lasting longer and longer. That, or he was just remembering more of it. Still, he didn’t remember the door opening so when his unfocused eyes found the figure lying on the floor in that corner he shut them quickly.

It’s not really him, he told himself. He took a deep, slow breath, then another. It’s not. You’re dreaming. He’s fine. There’s no way they’d catch him.

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed since Vermouth’s visit, but he’d spent what felt like ages tied to that chair–

Shinichi eyes almost opened again but he stopped himself, his stomach twisting. The chair’s gone, isn’t it? I’m… in the bed. They must have opened the door. So… Bracing himself, he eased open his eyes. The figure on the floor was still there.

His staggering dash for the bathroom was punctuated with sharp, head-clearing pain from the burns on his leg but he made it to the toilet in time to empty the sparse contents of his stomach into it. For a while he stayed there, pressing his thigh against the cool metal of the toilet’s base and catching his breath.

You could still be delusional, he told himself sternly. Especially if Vermouth’s drug mixed badly with the sleep gas. You can’t trust the evidence of your eyes so you need to get up and go back in there and prove to yourself that he is not there.

Straightening some, he dragged the back of his hand across his mouth and pushed himself to his feet. It was just a few steps to the doorway but the moment he reached it his eyes flinched closed without his permission. Clinging to the doorjamb he took in another slow breath and forced them open.

Still there. Still there but… not Kaito.

A bizarre curiosity washed over him and he limped closer then sank to the floor beside what he now realized was Merlot. She was dressed in the same grey sweatpants and navy t-shirt that were always left for him to wear, and she was out cold, her hair loose and strewn wildly over her face. Slowly, he reached out and prodded her shoulder.

“This is real, isn’t it,” he muttered with a grim sort of dawning certainty.

Shinichi let out a weary sigh and ran a brisk check of Merlot’s person but there was nothing to find – no weapons, no lighter, nothing of use, but nothing to harm him with either. Carefully, he rolled her onto her back and turned his focus to her physical condition.

Bruises on her neck… but no discernible head injuries. They probably drugged her. It only took him a few seconds of deliberation before he gathered her up and stood, gritting his teeth against the pain in his leg as he carried Merlot to the bed and laid her in it. Then he sat down against the wall and waited.

 

“Well, they betrayed you again.”

Merlot blinked slowly, her eyes coming into focus on a white plaster ceiling she knew too well.

“What do you think? Can we work together instead?”

Sitting up, Merlot glanced down at Shinichi. He was sitting on the floor against the wall, watching her with the same piercing look he’d always worn when he’d faced her tied to a chair and defenseless.

Merlot didn’t acknowledge the shiver of fear her body indulged in at the thought of being trapped in a room with the man she’d been torturing for the last month. She didn’t acknowledge it because it didn’t matter. Even if Kudou Shinichi were capable of any violent ill-intent, he’d have to catch her first and he was still injured. There was nothing to fear.

“Work together, huh?” Merlot muttered. One hand moved absently to her neck, rubbing at the bruises. “No. I’ll stick to using you. I’ll be fine if I get some answers out of you.”

“…Why would you still want to help them?”

It was more likely thinking out loud than a question directed at Merlot, but she answered anyway. “I’m just helping myself. You’re my ticket out of here.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it.” He caught her eyes and held for a moment. “The Suntory heist, remember? You said you wouldn’t answer me, not that you didn’t know what I was asking about. If you want me to go along with it, you better give me a damn good reason.”

Merlot paused and thought it over. …Still a detective, after all. “We’re both after the same thing in the end,” she eventually admitted, though grudgingly. “And you know as well as I do that anything else we could say would be dancing around the issues, so just drop it.”

Because they’re watching, Shinichi thought, carefully keeping his eyes on Merlot rather than moving to the cameras above them. He brought his knees up to his chest and steepled his fingers, his eyes far off. Whether or not our goals are the same doesn’t really matter. Whether she’ll escape this room without me – that’s a little more relevant.

“Vermouth had said no more torture,” Merlot commented, drawing him out of his thoughts. “She said it wouldn’t do any good. So… what motivates a do-gooder like you?”

“You’re seriously still trying to get information out of me?”

“You’re still my ticket out,” she repeated. “They want Sherry very badly. What you know is valuable, and I need to bargain.”

“You’re being used. You get me to talk and they’ll hear it. No reason to let you out, even then.”

“So maybe I garner a little good will and they just keep me here until they need my skills again.” She smirked. “Better than jail.”

“Is it, with your skills? …Why did you stay in the jail we put you in?”

Her eyes and voice turned instantly cold. “Because you told me you could protect me and I believed you.” Each word was suffused with accusation. “You had Kaitou KID on your side. I assumed my best bet for survival was staying wherever you put me because you didn’t want me dead and Kaitou KID should have had the means to keep me alive. I was naïve–”

“I’m sorry.” Shinichi’s head tipped down. “It… wouldn’t have been the first time I failed to save a life. KID either. We’re not perfect; we’re just doing what we can.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Merlot said with a bite of sarcasm and an emphasizing shrug. “Like I said, I should have known.”

“I guess so,” he responded lightly. “After all, you’ve told me before that I can’t protect everyone. That I would die trying. But you know… I didn’t start out solving mysteries or chasing criminals to help people. I did it because it was fun. Back then I didn’t think about the lengths I would go to to save a stranger. Or a murderer. That was something I found out along the way.”

“Tch. So you really just can’t help yourself, is that it? You’re pathetic.”

“Maybe by your standards.” He raised his head, eyes still sharp and heated. “And I can’t blame you for that. I know the kind of life you’ve been living for probably as long as you can remember, and I can tell KID thinks I’m too soft but I don’t blame you. It doesn’t mean I’ll turn a blind eye though.”

“You talk pretty big for a wounded prisoner,” Merlot scoffed. “You’ll spend the rest of your life in this room sitting around doing nothing. This is exactly where your life so far has gotten you.”

Shinichi breathed out a laugh. “Funny. Your life’s been pretty different from mine but here we both are. You’re in the same boat as me.” Slowly, clinging to the wall, Shinichi stood and limped over to the door then sank down again. “Please, feel free to prove me wrong.” He smirked at Merlot’s glare then closed his eyes, letting his head tip back against the metal with a faint thud. “I’ll be right here.”

 

A man named Odachi stepped into the monitor room in the basement of the mansion and took a seat. “He hasn’t moved?”

“Only for a bathroom break. It’s been hours. This is so boring.” Nishi, the woman already sitting there, let out a sigh and folded her hands behind her head. Her chair creaked as she leaned back as far as it would allow. “I thought Merlot getting tossed in would make it more interesting but I guess not. One civil conversation about nothing and then they both just shut up and sit there.”

“Did you hear about Port?”

She sat up. “No, whatcha got?”

“Nobody from his team came back.”

“Ditched ‘em, huh?”

“No, I mean nobody,” Odachi said. “Port didn’t come back either.”

A voice from the doorway cut in. “Is this gossip hour?”

Odachi and Nishi both turned and Vermouth walked in, dropping herself sideways into an open chair and draping her legs over one of the armrests, crossed neatly at the ankles. “I want in.”

“You hear anything about Port?” Nishi asked, scooting to the literal edge of her seat.

“Just that he was in over his head with Kaitou KID,” Vermouth answered, folding her hands over her knees.

Nishi’s face took on a distinctly cat-like quality and she glanced around, mostly for show, before whispering, “What about Merlot? I heard she was on the chopping block, you know? Or is this–” She waved at the monitors. “Just temporary?”

“Well, it’s temporary either way, isn’t it?” Vermouth glanced over her shoulder at the monitors where Merlot was lying on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. “But,” she added, turning back. “Gin is off sulking somewhere if that tells you anything. Have you heard any good rumors about him? Or me?” she added with a sharp smile.

“Bourbon’s been talking shit about you, but that’s nothing new,” Nishi reported. “And nobody seems to like talking about Gin.”

Vermouth sighed. “He really is no fun.”

“What about Sherry?” Odachi asked.

“Hm? What about her?”

“Well, what’s going on with that?”

“Right now?” Vermouth shrugged. “You’ve heard most of it – you’ve been watching the interrogations, right?”

“Sure,” Odachi said. “For as much as that’s worth.”

“Merlot hasn’t been able to get anything out of that guy,” Nishi complained, jerking a thumb toward the screens.

Vermouth swung her legs down to spin her chair toward the monitors. “Well you’re right about that. Maybe I should help her out.” She stood and laced her fingers together, stretching her arms out in front of her.

“How?” Nishi asked. “That truth drug didn’t do much either.”

“True, but what do you think our noble detective would do if there was a gun to his cellmate’s head?”

“Uh…”

Vermouth reached over and pushed a red button on the console under the monitors. On the screens, Merlot levered herself up, glancing at the ceiling before flopping back onto the bed with a bored sigh. Shinichi tensed a little where he was sitting against the door, but other than that he didn’t move. Slowly they both relaxed and Shinichi slumped to the floor.

“Have two chairs brought in and tie them both up.” Vermouth took a gun from under her jacket. “I’ll be right in.”

Chapter Text

Shinichi didn’t wake. To wake, he would have had to fall asleep, but the gas didn’t always do its job in full these days. He was aware, foggily, of a large man grabbing onto him and dragging him away from the open door. If he had been more aware he would have fought for that opening, to at least see outside that grey room. But it was all he could do just to know what was happening.

The pain of the usual too-tight ropes was what made him realize he was seated in one of the black metal chairs again. Once he realized that, he did try to fight but by the time he did the man had already finished with his knots. Shinichi watched him leave and heard himself swear, low and miserable.

The fog was slow to clear. For a while he forgot to wonder about what had happened to Merlot. When he remembered, the answer was right in front of him. Merlot was asleep, sitting across from Shinichi and held upright in her chair only by her own set of ropes.

Shit… Now what?

He was just starting to feel back to normal when the door opened again. Vermouth walked in but her attention was on the gun in her hand as she attached a silencer to the barrel. Shinichi swallowed hard, eyes locked on the weapon.

This can’t be good news. His brain raced through the possibilities. She’s either going to threaten to kill Merlot to get me to talk or just shoot me to keep Haibara from ever being found. Maybe that’s good enough for her. She obviously has some secret to prolonged life and youth already and she seems to have something against the Organization so…

Without a word, Vermouth raised the gun. Then she fired several quick shots at the ceiling, taking out every camera in the room.

What does she want? Shinichi’s mind demanded as he stared up at her. Maybe she’ll just shoot us both while surveillance is blind and blame it on some kind of incident, like Merlot getting free. His eyes darted over to Merlot. She was just starting to wake. Whatever she’s gonna do it’ll have to be fast. What do I do?

Something rushed past in the corner of his eye and he immediately felt his ropes fall slack. He looked back to Vermouth.

KID was standing there instead.

Shinichi’s eyes darted over the card gun in KID’s hand and the smile on his face – the kind that he only tended to have when they were alone.

“Hey Tantei–”

“They’re gonna gas the room,” Shinichi said, tripping over the words in his rush to get them out. His eyes moved to the ceiling and the sparking remains of the cameras.

“They can’t anymore,” KID answered and he took a step closer, his free hand reaching out toward Shinichi.

Shinichi bolted to his feet, the chair clattering back and his leg throbbing angrily, and KID stopped cold. Shinichi barely noticed. He grabbed onto KID’s cheek and pulled.

“Ow! Ow!” KID yelped, stumbling closer to try to ease the force. When Shinichi let go, KID’s cheek was red. His eyes were watering and his lips were in a pout. A gloved hand came up to rub at the spot. Shinichi just grabbed onto his jacket and KID blinked in surprise as he tugged the button free and pushed his hands under the lapels, fingers quick as he checked the few rigs he knew KID always had set up on his person. Everything was there.

Is this real? One of his hands moved to press over KID’s heart without conscious thought but there was no beat. Not enough warmth. A small hole through fabric. A bullet hole.

A shiver cut through Shinichi and it didn’t stop, fine tremors seizing him as his hands frantically moved to find KID’s wrist instead. His fingers dug to get past KID’s sleeve and glove and press hard against warm skin to find a quick pulse. The shaking started to calm and he looked up to find KID’s eyes.

“…You’re wearing a bulletproof vest.”

It was a simple deduction and one he shouldn’t have missed in the first place but that didn’t matter. With it, he allowed himself to hope a little, and he felt something settle inside him that had seemed displaced for too long.

“Tch, you’re more broken than you’ve let on. I’m a little impressed.”

Shinichi and KID both looked over at Merlot, and KID’s hand turned to close gently over Shinichi’s wrist as well.

“Been teaching him poker face, KID?”

KID looked like he was about to respond but he was distracted by Shinichi digging around under his jacket again. He came away with Vermouth’s gun, though without the silencer which had been lost somewhere in the depths of KID’s many pockets.

“You have extra rounds for this?” Shinichi asked.

“You can’t shoot your way out of this room, Meitantei,” KID said, stable and sure, but his eyes were sharp on Shinichi, taking in every movement, every expression, every subtle flinch of ignored pain and compensating posture. “That door is–”

“I know,” Shinichi said shortly. His hand slipped away from KID’s and he moved past him to kneel beside Merlot’s chair. “This room was literally designed to hold you.” He tugged a little at one of the knots and quickly gave up. “Hey, could you cut these?”

KID only hesitated a moment. The card gun was still in his hand and the ropes heaped on the floor around Merlot’s chair as they came free. Shinichi grabbed her arm and wrenched her up.

“The bed or the door. Which one is it?”

“Meitantei…?” KID started, but Merlot didn’t just look startled. There was something in what Shinichi had said that made sense to her.

“The scanner behind the bed just tampers with the cameras–” she said, and then Shinichi was tugging her over to the door.

“Get ready, KID,” he said. Then he took Merlot’s left hand and flattened it on the cross-brace. There was a solid click and KID was there in an instant, standing between Shinichi and the door.

“Stay close, do you understand me?”

Shinichi nodded, dropping Merlot’s hand without so much as a glance back.

KID opened the door.

Chapter Text

Shinichi’s first real look outside the room was of two large men in black standing just out of the way of the heavy door as it swung open, their guns aimed steadily at KID. He hardly had time to panic, though. KID’s card gun made short work of their weapons and then something appeared in his other hand that Shinichi had never seen before – a new gun, just slightly different from both KID’s original versatile model and the specialized grappling hook version he’d made for the Pyrrha’s Stone heist.

KID fired the new gun and a small ball shot out, exploding on impact with one of the men’s arms and catching them both in a large, sticky web. They immediately tried to pull apart and were snapped back together quickly enough that they toppled over. The net adhered to the tile floor then started to harden

Shinichi let out a slightly hysteric laugh. “You’ve been busy, huh?”

“We’ve got a lot of bad guys to catch, Tantei-kun~” KID said. “I came prepared.”

“Naturally.”

KID glanced back then, ignoring the red strobe lights that were pulsing silently all down the otherwise blank hall. “She’s gone…” he murmured.

Shinichi didn’t bother looking back. “Yeah, I expected that. It doesn’t matter.”

KID didn’t question it. “Let’s go this way,” he said, nodding to the right. “There’s a bit of a gas leak down the other way.”

There was a flash of a grin as KID took off and Shinichi ran after him without hesitation. His leg was burning but it was tolerable, eclipsed somewhat by adrenaline and the distracting thought that he was already slowing KID down.

“You’re injured,” KID said without so much as a pause or a glance back – like he could read Shinichi just by being near him. “We’re not going to push it. I need you with me on this, okay?”

They came to a corner and KID slowed, holding up one of the guns to signal Shinichi to wait. There were definite sounds of movement from around the bend and KID loaded a pink golf ball-sized capsule into the new gun. He fired around the corner and Shinichi heard a soft pop then a loud hiss, followed quickly by shouting that was becoming increasingly slurred. KID reached back and pushed Shinichi against the wall, watching the corner carefully. A few moments later a woman in black staggered into view, tendrils of pink smoke clinging and trailing after her, but she collapsed, asleep, before she even noticed Shinichi and KID standing there. KID finally glanced back. “Just watch my back and I’ll be watching yours,” he said. “Don’t worry about anything else.”

“…Yeah.” Shinichi nodded and then KID was running again, around the corner and into a hallway where a large number of men and women were strewn across the floor. The red strobe lights flashed off the last of the pink mist in the air.

“Hold your breath,” KID said shortly, and Shinichi pressed a hand over his mouth and nose. KID picked out the easiest path through their sleeping enemies with quick and careful steps and Shinichi followed. “One quick stop before we head upstairs,” he added once they’d cleared another corner. “It’s right up here.”

He veered abruptly to the side and threw open a door, startling a man and a woman who looked to be in process of arguing in the middle of a room full of staticky monitors. They both stopped and stared.

“Fuck–!”

“Kaitou KID–!”

“Goodnight~!” KID said, and another pink gas bomb exploded on the floor at their feet. Then the echoing crack of an actual gunshot issued from right behind him and KID whirled.

Shinichi had his back to KID, Vermouth’s gun raised and steadily aimed at a man who was now hunched against the wall, swearing and clutching his bleeding hand with another gun at his feet. KID took aim as well.

“A net,” Shinichi instructed and KID reloaded without question, faster than Shinichi could follow. The sticky web pinned the man to the wall before he could recover.

“We passed him on the floor earlier. You’d definitely hit him with the sleep gas,” Shinichi explained as KID turned back to the monitor room. He vanished both guns and grabbed the two sleeping Organization members by their shirt collars, dragging them out into the hall. Another reload, this time with a green golf ball cartridge, and a new kind of gas started filling the monitor room. Shinichi just headed over to the man stuck to the wall and started picking through his pockets, ignoring his unproductive swearing and wriggling. He came away with two capped syringes. “We need to be careful,” he said, showing them to KID.

KID just nodded. Behind him, the monitors and consoles were starting to spark and smoke then explode one by one with fizzling cracks and pops. “Okay, we’re all set,” he said with a grin. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Sounds good.” Shinichi dropped the syringes and scooped up the fallen gun from the floor at the trapped man’s feet then took off after KID.

They didn’t encounter anyone else between the monitor room and the stairwell, and they both stopped at the bottom, staring up.

“Is this the only way out?” Shinichi asked.

“Two other stairwells.”

“But we have to go up.”

KID nodded.

“What are their numbers like?”

“Even assuming a split to cover all three points, still more than I’d like,” KID said. “Considering there weren’t all that many down here.”

“And they have the high ground. Do we have a plan? They still want me alive…”

“We can’t count on that, Tantei-kun. The owner of this place would much rather you die than escape. She’s not Organization – just working with them. She’s got no stakes in that drug.”

“…Smoke screen?” Shinichi ventured. “Would they fire blind?”

“Gin did,” KID muttered. “But it still might be our best bet.” He closed his eyes, considering. “If they’re good at their jobs, and I don’t doubt they are, they’ll have a double line of gunmen – one high and one low – set to shower the stairs in bullets the moment the door opens.”

“What are our resources?”

“Sleep gas, smoke bombs, flash bombs, grappling hook, nets, glider, razor cards – um, with gunpowder.” KID shrugged, his smile sheepish, and Shinichi smirked.

“Sounds good to me. Anything else?”

“Some scarves, two guns, a silencer. Hm. The cameras are out – what if we disguised as a couple of cronies and waited down here? I mean, not to brag or anything but if we vanished they’d probably assume the amazing Kaitou KID found a way out that they’d missed and escaped before they knew it.”

“I don’t doubt you could pull that off, but…” Shinichi had a gun in each hand, but one still moved to press against his leg. “I don’t think I’ll be able to.”

“Okay,” KID said, unfazed. “Let me think…”

“Are we sure the stairs are the only way? What if we, like, blew a hole in the ceiling somewhere?”

“Heh, I’d prefer something quieter, but if there’s no other exit–”

“Wait.” Shinichi’s eyes had gone wide and a little distant. “Something quieter… Merlot. How did she get out?”

“We don’t know that she did, Tantei-kun. She could still be–”

“Yes, we do,” Shinichi insisted, his words picking up speed. “The fingerprint scanners. She could manipulate the cameras and unlock the door, but then what? How did she get out to leave you that note?”

“She what?”

“She has to have a hidden escape route down here. Somewhere she could keep an eye on it.”

“Well, she’s got her own rooms down here,” KID mentioned, feeling a little like he was being swept along, but Shinichi seemed to light up when he looked at him. “I take it that’s where we need to go?”

“Do you know where they are?”

“Of course. I do my research, Tantei-kun.” He tossed a glance up the stairs then another at Shinichi. “But we need to be quick here so you’ll have to forgive me.” KID vanished his two guns and grabbed Shinichi’s wrist, tugging him forward as he turned. Shinichi ended up with an arm over KID’s shoulder and his chest to KID’s back. Then KID reached back to grab at Shinichi’s legs, hoisted him up, and took off running, leaving Shinichi little choice but to hang on.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Shinichi complained, loud in KID’s ear.

“I am sorry, if that helps.”

“Yeah sure. Hey, answer me this, KID. How did you find this place anyway? I mean, how did you get here?”

“I followed Gin.”

“That seems a little too straightforward for you,” Shinichi said with a smirk.

“Well, I lured him out, planted a tracker on him for an added bit of misdirection, and recruited a decoy KID to convince him I was somewhere else. Then I followed him,” KID corrected, a little breathless now.

“That seems more likely,” Shinichi murmured with some satisfaction against the side of KID’s head.

Shinichi lost track of how many turns they took, some corner of his mind marveling at the sprawling size of the place until KID slowed to a stop in front of a closed door. He tried the handle and it opened into a dark suite of rooms. Once they were inside he let Shinichi down and closed the door before flipping on the lights.

“This is it?” Shinichi asked. He kept the gun in his right hand ready as he edged farther inside. The room they’d entered into was a mostly open sitting area that featured a set of monitors on one wall. Past that was something of a short hallway with a bathroom door on the right and a sliding door on the left before it opened again into a large bedroom. Shinichi stalked around the bed and checked under it then scanned the high ceilings as well, just in case. “This room’s clear,” he said, moving back to the hallway.

KID emerged from the bathroom and opened the sliding door across from it which revealed only a closet. “These too.”

“All right. Then let’s see what we can find.” Shinichi moved back to the door in the sitting area and turned, taking in the whole space. His hand moved toward his chin but he was still holding two guns so he cut the motion short. After a little more thought, he closed his eyes and murmured, “Where would you hide it?”

“Me?”

“No one ever checks the bathroom,” he continued, talking to himself as he wandered over to the short hallway again, the pain in his leg pushed into a solidly ignored corner of his mind. “But it would be too easy to see the difference in the thickness of the walls, and if the plumbing ever went it could be brought into question. What else…?” There were curtains covering a blank expanse of wall in the bedroom that would normally have featured a window, surely there for decoration and to soften echoes. “Too obvious,” he muttered. “What else?”

KID followed him, walking backwards with his eyes scanning the upper walls and ceilings as he went. “The monitors would pose a similar problem – if they needed repair something could be given away. So… closet? Too obvious?”

“Let’s see.” Shinichi was about to reach for the closet door then realized again that he’d forgotten his hands were full. KID was there in the same moment, offering to take the second gun, and Shinichi handed it over. Then he pushed the closet door open as far as it would go and pulled out the only items inside – a few black suits on hangers. He tossed them aside. “Do you have a flashlight or something?”

“Here.”

Shinichi took the offered light and passed it slowly over every corner. There wasn’t much to see – the closet was only two meters across and not very deep, but… “Something is definitely off,” he muttered. “Can’t put my finger on what.”

“It’s pretty empty,” KID said. “I think that’s unusual, given what I’ve seen of Merlot. She should have more in here than just these few suits.”

“It’s this rod,” Shinichi said. “It’s a little too thick, isn’t it? Why didn’t I see it before?” Shinichi turned from the closet and knelt instead by the fallen suits. The rush of deduction was almost enough to completely block the pain as burned skin pulled with the motion. “Look at these hangers. They’re wooden. Nice. Wouldn’t think twice to see a good suit hanging on one. But the hook is metal – it’s been shaped to hang on this rod because it’s larger than standard size.” He darted up again and didn’t seem to even process the reflexive flinch that came with the too-quick motion. “Why would that be…? KID–” KID took the offered gun and light, freeing up Shinichi’s hands so he could grab on to the rod. He gave it one good twist and a soft clunk sounded inside the walls.

KID passed the light carefully across the closet then finally pointed it up where the ceiling was now very slightly higher, showing a thin gap on every side where it would normally meet the walls.

Shinichi met KID’s eyes when he glanced back down. “Can you get up there to check it out?”

KID handed back the light and gun and gave the space above them a critical glance. There was a good five feet between the rod and the high ceilings that the entire basement featured. “Sure thing,” he said. Then he grabbed onto the rod and, with what looked like no effort at all, jumped up, his feet landing atop the narrow length of metal between where his hands still gripped it. He straightened up as much as he could and laid his hands flat on the ceiling.

“It definitely moves,” KID said. “Looks like…” He pushed at the panel a little more, shifting it back and forth, left and right, and finally found a slot it could slide into, creating a narrow opening. Light poured in from below. “Yep,” he said. “We’ve got a ladder.”

It wasn’t so much a ladder as it was a series of short horizontal beams nailed to the studs inside the walls, but they were evenly spaced, climbable, and hidden behind a trap door in a criminal’s bedroom closet, and that was good enough for KID. He brought his focus down again. There was a shelf on the back wall of the closet that sat just a little higher than the rod. He put a foot on it, testing its strength, then nodded firmly and leapt down to the floor.

“Will you have any trouble getting onto that shelf if I boost you up? It’s reinforced. It should hold us both no problem.”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“Hm.” KID was looking Shinichi up and down and he glared back in the dim light.

“What?”

“Here.” KID produced a pair of black gloves, then a pair of socks and shoes.

“…How in the hell–?”

“Magicians’ secrets, Tantei-kun,” KID said patiently. “Just put them on. The woodwork in there is pretty rough. This will make it a little easier on you at least.”

“You worry too much,” Shinichi muttered, but he traded KID for the gun and light again and put them on anyway.

“I worry just enough,” KID responded, but his eyes kept shifting to the bandages on Shinichi’s thigh, clearly visible through his torn sweatpants.

“I told you I’ll be fine,” Shinichi repeated.

“It’ll be a long climb. If it were me, this would let out at the roof and there are three floors above us. I know you’re physically able,” KID said quickly before Shinichi could protest further. “Just… I also know it’s going to hurt. I need to go first since we’re not sure where it leads, so I need you to tell me if you have any trouble. I mean it.”

“I get it,” Shinichi sighed. “…I promise.”

“Good. Just one second – I’ll reset the room. We were never here~” KID said with a wink. Then the flashlight and the gun were both gone, hidden away somewhere on KID’s person. They set the suits neatly back on the closet rod then took a look around for any details out of place before shutting off the lights. They stepped into the closet and KID slid the door shut behind them.  

“Hey,” Shinichi said, his voice going hushed but not enough to keep the smirk out of his tone. “The amazing Kaitou KID found a way out that they’d all missed and escaped before they knew it.”

“Pretty sure you’re the amazing one, Meitantei,” KID whispered back, and the emotion strung through it made Shinichi’s chest ache with want. They were so close to escape. To safety. But he couldn’t let himself think like that just yet.

“Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

The climb up Merlot’s ladder was in extremely tight quarters, mostly straight up with the occasional jag to the left or right to go around various support beams. Shinichi tried to keep his focus solely on the light above him, held in KID’s mouth as they climbed steadily upward.

KID’s theory about their exit point was confirmed when they began to hear the drone of rain striking the roof. The skinny passage ended in a small hollow crisscrossed with rafter beams and KID slid out of the way to let Shinichi up. Shinichi hauled himself onto the nearest beam, sitting hunched in the cramped space, and sagged against KID. He was breathing hard, clutching at his leg, and KID could see the bandages starting to stain in small subtle patches when he cast the light over them.

“A little further,” KID whispered under the thunderous sound of the rain.

Shinichi nodded repeatedly. “I know,” he breathed out.

KID took in a slow, silent breath and turned his light to the slant of the roof above them. This time the seams were obvious, a square, hinged door clearly cut above wet spots on the wood that marked Merlot’s own escape not long ago.

“It’s really coming down out there. The glider’s not going to work.”

“They’d shoot us down anyway.”

“Heh. You’re right.” KID shifted a little, bumping Shinichi’s arm with his elbow as he dug around under his jacket. “Grappling hook it is,” he said, pulling out the appropriate gun. He turned to face Shinichi as best he could and said seriously, “When we go out, you hold on to me and you do not let go. Follow me, and when I say so you get on my back and we’ll go down. If at all possible I’d rather we slip out unnoticed, but if they see us we go with plan B.” KID held up a sparse set of car keys. “Stole these from Gin earlier.”

“You stole Gin’s car keys?” Shinichi repeated with a giddy laugh. “The Porsche?”

“Na. That eyesore’s too loud. We’re taking the Mercedes, if it even comes to that. But no matter what–”

“Stay close. Yeah, I got it,” Shinichi said. He shifted like he was preparing to move and KID stopped him with a gentle hand on his arm.

“…You’re not angry with me, right?”

“What? No. Why would–?”

“I was late. Thirty-two days.”

“You told me thirty was the minimum. I’m just glad you’re alive.”

“Heh. All right.” KID glanced up at the door again and his eyes went a little distant. He was clearly visualizing something and when he finally blinked, bringing them back into focus, he looked determined.

“I think the best way to handle this is for me to scout the roof alone, pick the spot we want to descend from, then come back and get you. There’s no easy way for anyone not used to it to move around on that roof in this rain. This is the safest way.”

Shinichi’s only demand was, “How long?”

“Five minutes.”

“Don’t get caught.”

KID smiled at him, patronizing and smug. “No one can catch KID.” He reached up and pushed open the door. It swung out into the rain with the sound of a weather seal breaking and KID leapt lightly into the downpour on the slanted roof. Then he eased the door shut again and Shinichi clutched at the flashlight KID had left with him. He started counting.

He hadn’t made it to three hundred yet when the door opened above him again.

“Ready?” KID said, grinning as water trickled in thin streams from his hat brim. When he reached down Shinichi gave him the flashlight instead and KID vanished it without a thought. Then he grasped Shinichi’s hand, strong and steady, and water seeped from his white glove into Shinichi’s black one. Shinichi braced himself and climbed up through the door. The moment KID’s face was in reach, Shinichi pinched it.

“Expecting anyone else to be up here?” KID laughed, pitched to be just audible in the rain.

“Merlot,” Shinichi admitted. “Rather be sure.”

KID smiled and reached up to push Shinichi’s already soaked hair back then pressed a firm kiss to his forehead, concentrating on the feel of real skin against his lips. “Fair point,” he murmured. Then he eased the trapdoor shut and it vanished into the rows of shingles like there was nothing there at all. “It really is very nice,” KID said, all appreciation, and Shinichi rolled his eyes.

They stayed crouched and KID bundled the end of his soaked cape to tuck it under one arm. He kept Shinichi’s hand tight in his as they slowly worked their way down the slanted roof. They weren’t close enough to see over the edge but already Shinichi could tell the entire place was lit up, probably with an army of floodlights.

“Take this.” They paused by a small chimney and KID handed back one of the stolen guns with the silencer already attached. Shinichi took it without question.

“What are we looking at?”

“Areas with more windows also have more guards below. That corner,” he said, pointing. “Has the fewest of both. The rain will be a big help – should cover most sound and makes looking up difficult, but that won’t help us once we’re on the ground. We can see their movements from up here, but they’re irregular. Predictability is a weakness. We just have to time it as we go and hope for the best.”

“So we make it to the ground, then…?”

“I’ll grab our two loiterers. A lot of my tricks won’t work in this rain, but gagged and hogtied and dropped in the bushes should buy us the time we need to make it to the wall around the property.”

Shinichi nodded. “I assume this–” He gestured with the silenced gun. “Is for if any of that goes wrong?”

“Yeah. The Mercedes is parked around front. If we have to switch to that plan we’ll be facing every guard stationed outside at once. With any luck, we’ll clear the gate before the inside guards come out.”

Shinichi took in a breath and let it out. “This is insane.”

KID had to swallow back a laugh. “This is standard and you know it.” The grappling hook gun appeared in his hand again and he set the hook firmly on the lip of the chimney.

“Do I really have to ride on your back again?” Shinichi asked but his lips were twisting like he wanted to laugh too.

“I could carry you princess-style if you’d rather,” KID offered with a grin.

“Don’t you dare.”

“Then get on~”

Shaking his head, Shinichi shifted up closer to KID and draped his arms over his shoulders.

“Holding on tight? Here we go~!”

KID shifted and suddenly they were sliding down the wet shingles, the cable extending behind them. Shinichi’s grip tightened with a fresh shot of adrenaline as they reached the edge and KID leapt off. He twisted in midair to face the wall and when they swung back to hit it KID’s feet and free hand touched first and he absorbed the impact, coming to rest like a spider without making a sound. Slowly, they started to descend.

They were still a good three meters from the ground when KID paused again, pushed the grappling hook gun against Shinichi’s free hand, and whispered, “All yours.”

Shinichi let the panic flicker through him, his eyes going wide, but only for a moment. He nodded and gripped it tight, thankful for the gloves, and KID shifted again. Then, all at once, he dropped out from beneath Shinichi and Shinichi did his best not to make too much noise as he bumped against the mansion’s outer wall. He got his feet against the siding and looked down, already aiming the silenced gun just in case.

KID was crouched directly below him and, as he watched, the thief darted for one of the two guards trudging their rounds in the soggy grass while the other’s back was still turned. Shinichi blinked rainwater out of his eyes, peering through too-long bangs, and couldn’t quite believe the speed with which the guard suddenly found herself bound and gagged. KID left her there and dashed for the other who never even saw him coming, and when they were both bundled up in long multicolored scarves, he shoved them into the bushes along the wall and waved Shinichi down.

Shinichi thumbed the switch on the grappling hook gun and let his arm take his full weight to spare his throbbing leg. Even so, he was wincing when he reached the ground and KID wasn’t taking no for an answer anymore. He snatched the grappling hook gun and turned, reaching back to tug Shinichi toward him. “Hurry,” he hissed.

Shinichi was past arguing. They were seriously exposed now, guards stationed everywhere and nothing at all stopping them from walking around the corner and raising the alarm. He clung to KID’s back and let him lift him up, and then they were running for the tall stone wall.

“Uh, is that barbed wire?” Shinichi muttered in KID’s ear, his eyes fixed on the top of the wall through the rain and glare of floodlights.

“Yes it is.”

“What’s your plan for that?”

“Um, wire cutters and a high pain tolerance,” KID replied.

“Right.”

“Look! They’re out here! They already got out!”

“Shit, okay, change of plan. We need the car.” KID turned sharply and headed straight for the guard who had just spotted them.

“Just keep running,” Shinichi said, and he straightened up a little and took aim with one hand. The bullet whispered out from the silenced gun and pierced the guard’s hand, sending his weapon to the grass and evoking a strangled shout.

“Sorry, there’s no way for me to do this and keep the ‘no one gets hurt’ rule.” He took aim again as they cleared the corner of the house and more guards rushed to meet them.

“People have already been hurt,” KID growled. Shinichi was hanging on with one arm and both legs despite the pain so KID let go to switch the grappling hook gun for the card gun. Two more guards had lost their weapons to Shinichi’s sharp aim by the time he was raising it. Four cards shot out in immediate succession to cut across yet more guards’ hands and the Mercedes was already in sight.

“Doors are open!” KID said, and Shinichi saw the taillights blink on and heard the purr of the engine even as they came up beside the car. He let go of KID and hopped down to run for the passenger side but they both had to stop, their backs against the car as they shot the weapons from the next wave of guards. Then they both ducked inside, slamming their doors in unison, and KID jerked the car into gear. They shot forward, glancing the curb of the looped driveway as KID pulled a one-handed turn, his other rolling down his window.

Shinichi was busy doing the same. The second his window was down he boosted himself up onto the edge of the door, halfway out of the car as he steadied his aim on its roof in the pouring rain.

“Tantei-kun!” KID shouted in blatant alarm.

“Shut up,” Shinichi shouted back between shots. “Not my first time, okay? You drive like my mom.”

“Oh, we’re gonna talk about that later.” KID reached out his own window and fired a quick series of cards at the guard booth just inside the wrought iron gate they were racing toward. The attendant there screamed and ducked with her hands over her head as electricity arced and snapped. The gate started rolling open.

“I’m out of bullets,” Shinichi warned and KID switched hands on the wheel to push the second stolen gun against Shinichi’s leg. Shinichi reached down and grabbed it without looking, and now his shots echoed sharply in their wake as they cleared the just-wide-enough gap of the gate.

“Hey, take the wheel for a second!” KID shouted and Shinichi didn’t question it. He ducked back in as quickly as he could manage and dropped the gun into his lap so he could reach over and grab the wheel. He only spared a moment to glance at the speedometer which KID had set to cruise control just before triple digits. Heart racing, he locked his focus on the dark and narrow road ahead while KID leaned out of the driver side window.

“Okay, I’ve got it,” KID said just seconds later as he slid back in.

“What did you do?” Shinichi asked, but he was already hanging out his own window again, ready to shoot. It didn’t appear to be necessary. With a few distant pops, a bit of screeching, and the crunch of metal and glass, the few pairs of headlights that had appeared behind suddenly stopped and then they were lost around a curve. Shinichi ducked back inside.

“Shot the road full of cards,” KID answered with a grin.

“Nice,” Shinichi breathed out, but he couldn’t make his body relax and his finger stayed against the trigger. Neither of them rolled up their windows.

Shinichi pushed his dripping bangs back as his eyes moved to the clock in the dashboard. If it was right, it was just past two A.M. He considered asking where they were but decided against it. “Will they be following?”

“Doubt it. That place is defensible – one way in and out, and that blocked it off pretty well.” KID rode the wet curve of the pavement farther down then abruptly turned when the slope started to level out. They shot down a side road, trees whipping by, but Shinichi’s attention stayed on his side mirror.

“I assume we’ll be ditching this car at some point?”

“Naturally.”

“And then?”

“Unfortunately, public transportation.” KID’s eyes flickered toward Shinichi and back. “Will you be all right for a little longer?”

“Yeah.” His fingers tightened around the grip of the gun where it rested beside his injured thigh on the wet leather of the seat. “I think so.”

KID just nodded. “I’ve already notified the task force of the location. They’ll be taking it by storm soon enough.”

“…They can handle it,” Shinichi said, and he knew he was only saying it to reassure himself.

“Yes they can,” KID said plainly.

They were starting to slow down and, by the time Shinichi realized that, they were already leaving the trees and curved roads behind for city gridlines and traffic lights. From the darting of KID’s eyes, Shinichi suspected he was scouting the best place to abandon the car.

“A hospital,” Shinichi muttered.

“What?” KID said, and it was just subtly sharper than it normally would have been.

“Good place to do it,” Shinichi explained. “Not unusual for people to come and go even at this hour. We’d be forgettable if we caught a cab there, even if I’m limping.”

“Yeah. Good thinking, Tantei-kun.”

Something about KID was tenser now but Shinichi ignored it. He rolled up his window and then a cell phone pressed into his hand.

“What’s the nearest?” KID asked.

 

Shinichi hadn’t been willing to leave the gun behind, even with so few bullets left. KID allowed it with the silencer and snuck them into a bathroom, gassed the only unfortunate person who happened to be there, and locked Shinichi in for the minute it took him to steal some supplies from around the hospital.

When he was alone, Shinichi sank to the floor and squeezed his eyes shut, counting out the sixty seconds KID had promised.

“I’m back; don’t shoot me,” KID said much too lightly when he returned. He knelt by Shinichi’s side and held out his hand. Shinichi took it and KID brought his fingers to the side of his face. “No mask. Just me.” He smiled and Shinichi slumped a little against the wall. “I’ll take care of everything.”

There was a faint, persistent piece of Shinichi that wanted to smack KID’s hands away when he draped a white towel over Shinichi’s head and started rubbing his hair dry, but most of him just wanted all of this to be over. He knew KID would get everything done in the quickest, most efficient manner, and Shinichi’s pride would only get in the way.

He almost protested anyway when he had the alarming experience of Kaitou KID carefully shaving his face for him with a razor card (“There’s no gunpowder on this one; I promise!”). He was allowed to change his own clothes though, at least, to a pair of baggy jeans and a hoodie, but then KID was on him again with a handful of bobby pins to keep the shaggy ends of his hair tucked up under a baseball cap.

KID’s own transformation took maybe a second. He didn’t use a mask, just slicked his hair back and donned a pair of glasses that made an impressive amount of difference when paired with a plain brown suit and tie, and a flat, critical expression suitable for a disapproving guardian and his injured hoodlum.

By the time they were finished it was half past three in the morning and Shinichi, sitting again on the tiled floor, was having a hard time keeping his body from shaking. Nausea had set in at some point and his head was feeling light. KID finished packing up his things and crouched at Shinichi’s side.

“Not yet,” he murmured, offering his hand. “We’re not safe yet.”

“I know,” Shinichi answered but it was strained.

KID let out a quiet breath. “We’re not taking the taxi to a train station,” he said. “I’m changing the plan.”

 

It took a lot for Shinichi to stand even a foot apart from KID as they waited for their taxi outside the hospital under two stolen umbrellas. The gun was a reassuring weight under his hoodie but he honestly wasn’t sure how well he’d be able to handle it if he had to now. Still, KID was with him, within arm’s reach, and even if his plan had changed over and over, it was still KID’s plan. He’d make it work and they’d be fine.

That thought was about the only thing keeping him on his feet anymore.

The taxi dropped them off at an apartment building and KID walked right in like he had a key, picking the lock so quickly that no one could have known the difference. Shinichi followed him through the building and down to its garage and didn’t even have it in him to care as KID jimmied open someone’s old sedan and hotwired it to life. He just dropped into the passenger seat.

“It’s not too far now,” KID murmured several minutes and a handful of miles later. “We’re going to one of my old man’s bolt holes.”

Shinichi didn’t respond. He couldn’t seem to take his eyes from the window, straining to see through the rain under each streetlight. KID didn’t push but he was almost overwhelmingly relieved when Shinichi’s hand reached for his. He hadn’t glanced back, his forehead resting against the window now, but the intent was clear and KID took his hand without looking away from the road.

They drove in silence for a while, both holding tight, and Shinichi’s distracted murmur seemed loud when he finally spoke.

“‘It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy. It cost one man his reason,’” His hand tightened around KID’s. “‘It cost me a blood-letting, and it cost yet another man the penalties of the law.’”

KID squeezed back and murmured, “‘Yet there was certainly an element of comedy. Well,’” His lips twisted, sardonic. “‘You shall judge for yourselves.’”

They were both quiet again but then Shinichi said against the window, “You’ve only read Doyle’s works once.”

“Yeah, but you only reread them when something’s bothering you. When your mind is on something else. Yet you can still recite each one, word for word.”

“I’ve been doing a lot of that… lately.” He swallowed and closed his eyes, his grip painful now around KID’s hand. “Are we almost there?” he whispered.

“Yeah,” KID said, and the steady, reassuring confidence in his voice sounded foreign and distant to his own ears. “We’ll be there soon.”

Chapter Text

Shinichi had lost track of where they were after the hospital. Somewhere near the outer edge of the Tokyo city limits was his best guess. KID’s bolt hole was a basement room under a basement room, accessed through a trap door, and that was the most Shinichi could process of that location as well. As soon as they were inside, Shinichi sank to the floor again and tipped his head back against the wall.

KID flicked on the light and let out a breath. “We made it.”

Shinichi’s eyes eased open. The room was cramped – a three meter square lit by a cheap floor lamp standing in one corner beside a rolled futon. The wall Shinichi was leaning against did have an opening just to his left though. A bathroom, if he had to guess. To his right were a wardrobe and a chest. Supplies, surely. Nothing unexpected. He looked up at KID.

“I’ve got a good first aid kit down here,” he was saying as he tossed the glasses and shook his hair free from his disguise’s style. Remembering his own, Shinichi took off the hat and dragged his fingers through his hair, pulling the pins loose and letting them drop wherever. “Lose the pants, okay?”

It was more for Shinichi’s compliance than to get him to act. As soon as he’d undone the button and zipper KID was carefully tugging them off and Shinichi was silently grateful he’d managed to find something loose-fitting as his leg throbbed at even the slight movement.

KID’s hands paused at the damp bandages clinging to Shinichi’s thigh, from just above his knee to nearly his hip. When he eased them back he let out a sigh of relief that they didn’t try to cling to the wound, but still, underneath was a wet, raw mess of blistered red and white skin and Shinichi’s hand was curled into a tight fist where it rested beside his hip.

“I can’t believe you were able to run around that much with third-degree burns on your leg.”

“Second-degree,” Shinichi corrected reflexively. “Third-degree risks nerve damage. That would have numbed the pain. She was careful.”

“Oh, she was careful,” KID muttered, swallowing down a bout of nausea. He had watched the recordings of what had happened in that room in preparation for taking Vermouth’s place. He knew exactly what they’d done to Shinichi for the month he was locked down there. It just made him feel guilty. “Here, come here. Lean on me.” KID tucked an arm under Shinichi’s and pulled him up. They limped around the corner into the bathroom and Shinichi blinked in the much brighter light. It made sense in the corner of Shinichi’s mind that was still running deductions. KID would need a place to work on masks and makeup.

The bathroom was tiny and with both of them in it – KID trying to maneuver the large first aid kit on the floor and Shinichi seated on the toilet lid, leaning back against the tank with his injured leg stretched out in front of him, his knee still bent and his toes touching the wall – it was crowded. It was a good feeling after a month of that large, empty room.

“Do all your bolt holes have giant first aid kits?” Shinichi asked somewhat blearily while KID was washing his hands. There was a strong smell of disinfectant rising from the sink and the brown suit jacket had found its way to the floor, the sleeves of the white button-down rolled to KID’s elbows. The tie was just gone.

“Yeah.”

“…I don’t know how I feel about that.”

KID just breathed out a soft laugh and knelt again at Shinichi’s side.

As KID worked, Shinichi let his eyes close, trying to manage the pain of the careful treatment. But then, for just a moment, it was like he was in that chair again with Merlot crouched beside him. His eyes snapped open, a shiver passing through his whole body, and he sat up a little straighter. KID glanced up briefly to search Shinichi’s face but he didn’t comment.

The quiet stretched. Shinichi’s fingers were white against the edge of the sink now, gripping hard, but he didn’t make a sound – didn’t let his mind focus on anything his body was feeling. When he finally glanced down again, KID was dabbing disinfectant onto the pink rope burns on Shinichi’s ankles. He wasn’t sure at all when his socks and shoes had disappeared. Possibly at the same time as his pants. He had no idea.

As long as he was watching it was harder to ignore the fresh, stinging pain, so his gaze moved across the floor instead. There were a few tubes, a package of cotton balls, and a package of gauze on the tile around KID, a variety of bandages spilling out of the first aid box like KID had picked through to examine each one.

A bottle of painkillers had been set on the edge of the sink within easy reach for Shinichi though KID had not said anything when he’d placed them there. Shinichi considered the bottle, even reached for it, but when it was in his hand he found he didn’t want it.

“It feels like you have a fever,” KID said quietly as he positioned a fresh nonstick dressing on Shinichi’s thigh. “And the swelling is pretty bad. Take some for that, if nothing else.”

“I’ve been drugged up enough lately, thanks.” Shinichi set the bottle back down just a little harder than he’d meant to. The pills clattered against the plastic.

KID kept his eyes on his work. There was no point trying to tell Shinichi he didn’t have to be strong or act tough anymore. Shinichi’s strength had never been something he could just turn off; it had to be broken and Kaito had only seen that once before, after Shinichi had put one of his former classmates in jail for the murder of another classmate.

“The sleep gas they used in that room is the same formula as mine,” KID tried instead, and firmly pushed off thinking about exactly how that was possible for now. “It won’t react badly with the painkillers–”

“That’s not the only thing they used on me,” Shinichi said shortly.

KID’s hands paused for just a moment. “You were building up an immunity.”

“They started drugging the food,” Shinichi agreed. “Probably some kind of sleeping pills. But Vermouth… she gave me something else that fucked with my head to try to get me to talk.”

KID smoothed the last bandage in place over the abrasions on Shinichi’s wrist and looked up, eyes pained though everything else about him still seemed calm and controlled. He let his fingers trail down, taking Shinichi’s hand between both of his, and his head slowly bowed over them. Shinichi’s fingers curled reflexively to hold on.

KID’s calm, steady voice issued up from the bent figure kneeling on the floor. “I need to know you’re okay.”

“I didn’t tell them anything.”

Frustration exploded through KID but it was an emotional response and he was quick – so quick – to shove it off. He quietly acknowledged the habit he would need to break now, but at least for the moment it was helpful. Looking at it objectively he knew Shinichi was offering proof that he was okay. Because if he felt like he’d let KID and the others down, he wouldn’t be. It was important to him, so it was what came out.

KID nodded, his bangs brushing Shinichi’s thumb. “The burns might be second-degree but it’s a large surface area and I’m worried about this fever. As soon as the task force reports in we should really get you to a hospital–”

“It’s not safe,” Shinichi said immediately. “They know that’s where I’ll wind up.”

“Tantei-kun–”

“I don’t want to go. Just… not yet. I don’t think I’d handle that environment very well right now.”

KID considered that. A sterile, solitary room with strangers coming in and out to poke at you and surely a police guard outside the door. A little too reminiscent of the hell he’d only just escaped.

“Okay,” KID said, swallowing his worry. He looked up. “How ‘bout we just stay here for now. It’s secure,” he promised and Shinichi nodded.

In the other room, KID picked out a clean, loose pair of shorts and a t-shirt and gave them to Shinichi. Then the white flip phone appeared in his hand.

“Can I let everyone know we’re okay?” he asked. “Not where we are, just that we’re safe.”

“Yeah, of course,” Shinichi answered. Then, as an afterthought, he added, “Who all is ‘everyone’?”

“The safehouse,” KID replied. “But also the task force and, heh, Lupin the third? His whole group, and Chat Noir.”

“…Wow. I didn’t know you were planning to pull them in.”

“Well, it wasn’t a last resort, but it wasn’t way up there, you know?” He flipped open the phone and started texting, his thumb punching at the keys with impressive speed. Then, abruptly, the phone vanished again.

KID took his time changing his clothes, breathing out a silent sigh when he finally removed the bulletproof vest. All of his muscles were sore and his ribs ached. He was careful to keep his back to Shinichi until he’d put on a fresh shirt so that he wouldn’t see the deep bruising that had set in after the game of tag with Gin the previous night. Then he unrolled the futon and shoved it into a corner. As soon as Shinichi had collapsed onto it, KID put out the light and crawled up beside him, putting his own back to the wall and pulling Shinichi’s back tight against his chest. Shinichi’s arms immediately moved to cover KID’s where they were wrapped around him and his fingers came to rest against KID’s inner wrists. Slowly, Shinichi relaxed.

It was in increments, KID realized. Gradually, Shinichi’s body was accepting that the stress was finally breaking. He was still in pain but it seemed his mind was starting to take to the shelter as well.

“Hey, KID,” Shinichi murmured. “There’s no cameras in here, right?”

KID’s arms tightened a little. “That’s right.”

He felt more than heard Shinichi’s next breath jump through him. Shinichi’s grip tightened, his body folding in around KID’s arms, and he said in a shaky, broken whisper, “You were right.”

It wasn’t surprising to KID. After all Shinichi had been through – after constant surveillance by people who were just waiting to prey on any weakness – KID had expected some kind of breakdown once they were safe. It was still terrifying to witness.

KID closed his eyes and took in a silent breath against the back of Shinichi’s head. “Right about what?” he asked gently with a calm he didn’t feel.

“It piles up.” He was shaking again, his voice going thick. “You shove it off and it–” Shinichi stopped and swallowed hard then seemed to realize how much his body was reacting. His next breath was long and deep and he uncurled just a little. “It piles up.”

“…It does,” KID agreed. “But it also gets better. With time.”

Shinichi didn’t answer and KID had to stop himself from clinging harder. But then, abruptly, Shinichi was shoving KID’s arms away and sitting up. KID bolted upright as well.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Shinichi said too quickly. It was pitch black in the room, no light at all, but KID was sitting close enough and was so aware of Shinichi beside him that he could almost see Shinichi drag a restless hand through his hair. “Nothing,” he said again, calmer this time. “Just…” His other hand moved clumsily across the futon until it found KID’s, catching at his fingers. “You know… how I was called KID-killer?” he whispered. “I was so scared it would end up being true.” His body pulled in again, accompanied by another flinch of pain, and KID shifted closer to catch the words he mumbled against his knees. “I had dreams – nightmares – of you dying so many times. I don’t want to see that again. But I was thinking maybe if I could hear your heartbeat…”

KID felt himself smile. “Here. Switch places with me,” he whispered.

Shinichi could only lie on his left side, but now with the wall at his back and KID in front of him, facing him with his arms wrapped around, he could rest his head against KID’s chest.

“Better?” KID said with an audible smirk.

“Shut up,” Shinichi replied but there was just a hint of tired laughter under it and he was holding on tight with fistfuls of KID’s shirt.

The room fell quiet again and Shinichi focused on the sound of KID’s heart, still just a little too fast. His own body was slow to relax again and his eyes didn’t seem to want to close.

“Hey KID,” he whispered a while later.

“Mm.”

“Do you ever think about how they… pushed us together?”

KID froze for a moment, a twinge of uncertainty pressing at his mind, but a breath later he was calm. “The Organization? Not really, but… I guess they did.”

“I don’t think I could stand losing you now.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Tantei-kun.”

“…Promise?” Shinichi asked, almost too quiet to hear.

KID laughed. “What do you want, a proposal?”

He was relieved at the familiar stubborn reaction – Shinichi attempting to turn away from him, embarrassed even when it was too dark to see if he was blushing. KID just held tighter, keeping him there against his chest. “I don’t ever want to lose you either,” he murmured into Shinichi’s hair. “Marry me.”

And it wasn’t the overdramatic, devastatingly romantic spectacle that Shinichi sometimes feared it would be. They weren’t anywhere special and they were both more than a little broken, but it was the assurance he needed in that moment, filling him and clearing his head like breathing freely for the first time in too long. He tugged at KID’s arm that was caught beneath him and KID obligingly shifted to move it between them. Shinichi locked their fingers together, holding tight. He was shaking again, just a little.

“Do we have to tell my mother?” he murmured against KID’s shirt.

“Yeah,” he laughed. “I think we probably do.”

“Then no,” Shinichi said and KID was laughing again, pulling him closer in a tight hug and burying his face in Shinichi’s hair.

“I really missed you.”

“Stay with me forever,” Shinichi whispered.

“I can do that. ‘Cause you know what? Sleeping alone sucks.”

Shinichi was startled into a laugh. “Yeah,” he said, voice cracking through a smile. “It really does.”

Chapter Text

It took some time to get everyone gathered together in the lobby of the safehouse, particularly since it was pushing six in the morning.

“We have good news,” Megure said once everyone was there, Nakamori at his side. “Very good news. KID contacted us. He has Kudou-kun and Kuroba-kun – they’re both safe and well out of danger in another of KID’s safehouses. And,” he added firmly over delighted gasps and breathless sobs of relief. “We know where they were holding them. The task force was mobilized a few hours ago – as soon as KID was certain of the location. Nakamori-keibu and I will be joining them.”

“We can go home?” Kosuke asked immediately, and he just as quickly regretted it as a few disdainful glances turned his way.

But then Mitsuhiko’s mother echoed with insistence, “Can we?”

“Soon,” Megure promised. “KID has strongly recommended you stay here for now. Just until we’ve secured the group responsible.”

“So KID is with the task force now?” Hattori demanded. “Bringin’ those bastards down?”

“Uh, well, other than the initial report to the task force on the location, and then the report I got just now about Kudou-kun’s and Kuroba-kun’s safety, KID has actually been out of contact–”

“But you’re certain those reports are from him?” Chikage cut in. “It’s not a trap?”

“Yes,” Nakamori answered. “Each report came with a long number sequence that KID provided to us as a passcode.”

“The task force has been reporting in regularly,” Megure added. “As I understand it, the place where these people have been holed up is well defended and right now they’re in something of a stalemate. They’ve got it surrounded but whenever either side makes a move it comes to a shootout so they’re trying to play it very carefully.”

“I’m coming with you,” Ran said, and a few heads turned toward her in surprise at the hardness in her voice. She pulled free from Sonoko to join Megure and Nakamori apart from the group.

“Ran!” Eri said sharply. Ran ignored her.

“Ran-kun, I can’t let you–”

“I’m not asking, Inspector,” Ran said and before he could say another word she continued, “I am not a minor anymore. I have more experience with crime scenes and confronting and taking down criminals than almost any rookie actually on the force. I could defeat everyone here with the possible exception of Makoto-kun. And also, Inspector?” She leveled him with a hard glare, her mouth set in a grim line. “You let Shinichi do whatever he wants. You even made him part of the task force when he’s not even employed by the MPD. So give me one good reason I can’t do the same.”

Megure was left speechless for a moment, and in that moment Makoto quietly stepped up beside Ran, his firm posture and certain stare clearly stating his intention to join as well. Then Hakuba and Hattori stepped up. At the exasperated look Megure gave them, Hattori just shrugged.

“We are employed by Japan’s police force,” Hakuba said. “And I, for one, agree with Ran-kun’s argument. She is both willing and fully capable of helping.”

Megure still seemed uncertain but Nakamori apparently failed to pick up on his hesitation. “All right, get ready then. We’ll head out in ten minutes; there’s no time to waste.”

Ran and Makoto nodded firmly. As they headed for the stairs, Sonoko broke apart from the group and caught up, grabbing onto their arms and pulling them to a stop. “Hey,” she said, looking from Ran to Makoto and back again. “You’ll be careful, right? I mean… kick some serious ass but… be careful.”

Ran smiled and pulled them both into a tight three-person hug. Makoto stiffened a little but his arm still came to rest at Ran’s back.

“We’ll be fine,” Ran promised when she pulled back. “They won’t know what hit ‘em.”

Still in the middle of the large gathering, Eri’s lips were set in a scowl, her hands in fists at her sides. “I’m stopping her–” she said but then Kogoro grabbed her wrist.

“Stop it, Eri. She’s right. We don’t have any right to stop her, but I’m going too. I’ll talk to Megure-keibu.”

“Dear…” When he let go, Eri let her hand fall slack at her side again. “Be careful.”

Chikage was the next to slip from the group, stopping Hakuba as he was about to follow Ran, Makoto, and Hattori (trailing a fussy Kazuha) upstairs. She pulled him to the side and said without preamble, “I’m counting on you.” When he blinked back in surprise, she clarified. “If there really is someone in that organization using KID’s strategies, I’m counting on you and Nakamori-keibu to get the job done. Don’t underestimate them. Go at them with all you’ve got, and once you catch them, make sure it sticks.”

Something about Hakuba eased and he bowed slightly. “Thank you, Kuroba-san. That means a lot. And believe me, I will do everything in my power to live up to your expectations. Excuse me.” He hurried to the stairs and Chikage let out a quiet sigh.

 

*

 

By the time Megure, Nakamori, and their small crowd of helpers arrived at the secluded mansion in the mountains, Lupin and his crew had already arrived as well. Jigen barely had time to explain to them that Lupin and Fujiko had quietly infiltrated when the stillness of the standoff was broken. Armed men and women were fleeing the mansion through any door or window they could and the police didn’t get a chance to see what they were running from because with nowhere to run to, they all did the only thing they could – opened fire.

Everyone was swept into quick action then. Jigen, after identifying Kogoro as the best shot on (or off) the force, had pointed him to a patrol car parked along the outside edge of the stone wall. Another was parked on the opposite side of the gate and they each climbed on top of one, using the height and the wall as protection as they picked off potential threats between their allies in the yard.

At the same time, Ran, Makoto, Goemon, and Hattori (who Goemon had provided with a sword from Fujiko’s stash of weapons) were blowing through the first wave of guards like a four-part force of nature. They broke through the soggy expanse of the yard in hardly any time, and one ruthless roundhouse kick from Ran broke the wall to which the reinforced front door had been attached. It fell in on top of two people who’d been attempting to slam it in her face, suddenly more terrified of what was outside than whatever had prompted them to flee the house in the first place.

Standing a little deeper inside a grand entryway, Lupin and Fujiko waved. They were both wearing gas masks but they were already pulling them off.

“Hi there!” Lupin called out. “You should be fine to come in now. The gas cleared pretty quick with all these windows open. Should probably be careful if you go in the basement though. No ventilation down there.”

Ran, Hattori, and Makoto all took a few more cautious steps in but Goemon took one look around and headed back out into the yard instead.

Makoto shoved the broken door aside. The two guards who had been toppled underneath it tried to scramble to their feet but he just grabbed them by their collars and hauled them up then promptly dragged them out into the yard.

Ran and Hattori looked around. There were a few people lying in the entryway, a few in the doorways to other rooms, and some slumped on the staircase leading up.

“So… everyone’s asleep?” Ran asked Lupin and Fujiko.

“Yep!”

“I think they’re gonna need more handcuffs,” Fujiko said with a hand on her hip.

Ran and Hattori both glanced back through the open doorway. Hakuba and the other officers were all kneeling in the muddy yard, cuffing the multitude of crumpled, groaning guards. Makoto, after handing his two over, moved to hover near Hakuba. His eyes were sharp as he scanned the prone bodies under the harsh white floodlights that lit the yard better than the grey light of the sky, looking out for any trouble that might reemerge before they could all be restrained.

Ran turned back to Lupin and Fujiko. “What’s in the basement?” she asked with firm determination.

Lupin hesitated but Fujiko walked over to Ran and handed her the gas mask. “See for yourself.”

“Fujiko-chan…”

“What? You think she came all this way just to kick some ass. Her best friend has been locked down there for a month. She should see it so she can understand what he’s been through.”

Ran had gone a little pale but she took the gas mask and strapped it on over her mouth and nose. “Which way?”

“Hang on,” Hattori said. He strode right up to Lupin and held out his free hand expectantly. “No way she goes down there alone. Kudou said these people have resisted tranq darts an’ shit before.”

Lupin shrugged but he was smiling a little as he handed over the mask. “There’s some stairs through that doorway and down the hall,” he said with a jerk of his thumb.

 

Hattori had managed to pick up a police radio when they’d arrived at the mansion and, more impressively, had managed not to lose it in the fight to the front door. When he and Ran made it down to the basement they found it littered with sleeping Organization members and he radioed Megure to let him know they had a lot more that would need to be restrained and hauled off. Then he and Ran continued through the hallways, poking their heads into doorways, always ready.

They found a room filled with what looked to be massive helium tanks first. They were hooked up to pipes that fed into the ceiling but the tanks all seemed to be punctured.

Several varieties of storage and empty rooms later they came across a door standing open. Two large men were stuck to the floor in front of it, sleeping side by side under a strange crisscross of stiff brown cords. Hattori and Ran exchanged glances over their gas masks then stepped around them to peer inside the room.

It was mostly empty – just two metal chairs (one overturned), cut ropes on the floor, and a bed.

“Do you think this is where they were keeping him?” Ran asked. Her voice was quiet and through the mask Hattori almost couldn’t make out the question.

“Maybe,” he said, eyeing the two trapped guards again then glancing over the metal cards left wedged in the floor inside the room. The two chairs facing each other with ropes easily called to mind an image of Shinichi and Kaito bound there. Hattori could think of only one reason they’d put the two of them together – threat and injury to get Shinichi to talk. His jaw and fists clenched painfully.

A distant clatter from down the quiet hall had both of them jumping back out of the room to face the sound, Ran’s hands raised, ready to defend, and Hattori taking up a two-handed grip on the sword hilt. There was nothing in sight but they caught each other’s eyes and nodded. Together, they started toward the sound.

Around a corner they found another room with a door standing open. The faint sounds of glass clinking carried from it and they nodded to each other again before stepping inside.

This room was obviously a lab of some kind. Two long tables stretched down the middle of it and a counter spanned three of the walls like a horseshoe with multiple cabinets and a small refrigerator underneath. A man with long silvery hair was kneeling in front of the latter, stuffing something into a black shoulder bag. He turned immediately when Ran and Hattori appeared in the doorway.

“Shit–” Gin muttered, sharp with frustration, and then he was pointing a gun at them. He didn’t hesitate to fire.

Ran moved faster than she could think, shoving Hattori out of the way. The bullet grazed the side of her bulletproof vest and she fell with her momentum, landing on top of Hattori.

Gin stood, already heading for the door even as he adjusted his aim for Ran’s head, but Ran had wasted no time either. She’d already gotten her hands on the floor on either side of Hattori and she swung her body around. Her legs caught in Gin’s and she twisted, taking him down hard. Another shot went off, wild, and glass slides and test tubes cracked on the tile floor as Gin hit one of the tables. Then Ran was on her feet and, before Gin could so much as sit up, she stomped down on his left arm. There was a dull snap and short, sharp cry of pain and Hattori flinched, staring up at Ran from the floor.

“Bitch–” Gin growled, strangled, but he couldn’t aim his gun and Hattori was already scrambling over to take it from his hand. When Ran stepped off of his arm, intending to grab Gin by the shirt and haul him up, Gin grabbed for her leg in an attempt to hit the back of her knee. Quick as a flash, Ran’s heel thrashed across his face and Gin dropped, sprawled on the floor with a smear of mud across his cheek from Ran’s boot.

Ran straightened from the kick and tugged a little at her bulletproof vest to straighten it.

“You all right?” Hattori asked.

“Yeah. He mostly missed me on that first one. I’m fine.”

“Ya think he’s down fer the count?”

“I think so?” She glanced around the lab then down at Gin. “No promises.”

“Good enough.” Hattori knelt by Gin and set his sword down, tugging the bag from Gin’s shoulder. Then he cuffed Gin’s hands behind his back. “Now, let’s see what this guy was tryin’ ta sneak outta here.” He reached into the bag and pulled out what looked like a small sealed test tube.

“Is that–?”

“Blood,” Hattori answered. Then, slowly, he turned the tube to show Ran the label down one side that bore only Shinichi’s name and a date.

“Shinichi’s… blood?” Ran said, weak through her gas mask.

Hattori stared down into the bag. “I take it back.”

“What?”

“It’s not good enough.” He dropped the bag and Ran heard the muted clatter of glass against glass from inside it. Then Hattori’s hand was on his sword.

“Stop it; what do you think you’re going to do?” Ran’s hand landed on top of Hattori’s but he’d already stilled, just gritting his teeth as he stared down at Gin. “Just let the police handle it.”

“I am the police, remember?” he said, but there was a healthy dose of resignation in it, enough that Ran withdrew her hand.

“Then leave it to some of the more impartial officers,” she said and it sounded like she might have been smiling.

“If ya think any of the officers involved in the Organization case wouldn’t be just as outraged at what they’ve done ta Kudou, ya got another thing comin’.” He huffed a sigh through his mask and stood, taking the bag and sword with him. “Come on. We need ta check fer any more freaks down here before somebody gets the drop on us.”

 

It was afternoon but still dull and cloudy by the time everyone at the mansion had been detained and taken away and the basement had finally cleared of the lingering gas. The first thing Hattori and Ran did was bring Megure, Nakamori, and Hakuba down to show them a suspicious opening they’d found when they’d finished their first pass through.

“What do ya think?” Hattori asked. He was standing in a closet, the doors of which had been left wide open and whose ceiling seemed to be displaced. Nakamori shined a flashlight into the opening.

“…Feels like a KID route, doesn’t it?” Nakamori asked Hakuba.

“Yes, it does. But it was clearly prepared well in advance.”

“Our KID-like Organization member then?” Megure said.

“I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that they got away,” Nakamori sighed.

“Maybe…” Hakuba was looking around now but there wasn’t much to see. The door to the room had been standing open. So had the closet, and the ceiling, but nothing else suggested a hasty retreat. The lights had been on and the room was clean and orderly, if a little sparse. “Does it not seem strange?” he said. “Why would this person not at the very least close the door to the room behind them? They could not have been in that much of a hurry. Not with the lengthy standoff after the police arrived.”

“So… what? Ya think it was intentional?”

“A trap?” Megure suggested.

“I do not know.”

“I think we should follow this,” Nakamori said firmly with a wave at the ceiling. “See where it goes.”

“That… may not be wise,” Hakuba grudgingly admitted. “If it is a trap, we would have almost no way to defend ourselves inside a narrow, vertical passage.”

Nakamori’s face was doing the type of frustrated contortions most commonly seen at KID heists. “We can’t just ignore it.”

“No, but if this conforms to KID’s patterns the way the rest of their actions have, this would most likely let out on the roof.”

“All right,” Nakamori barked, heist-mode fully set in now. “Let’s get a fire truck up here. That should be the quickest way up.”

 

When Hakuba, edging across the wet slope of the roof with a safety line attached to his belt, found the trap door just slightly open, dripping water into the rafters, he was convinced.

“Someone is leaving a deliberate trail,” he told Nakamori once he was safely back on the ground. “Come with me.”

He led Nakamori over to the wall around the yard and pointed up at the one section of deformed barbed wire. “The only answer is a trap, but even so, it seems a bit too obvious.”

“Well, they’ve been pretty much running circles around us all this time,” Nakamori said grudgingly. “Maybe they think we needed something that obvious to follow.”

“So you agree it is a trap, then?”

“Don’t know.” Nakamori stared hard at the warped wire at the top of the wall. “Still seems off.”

“I agree, though I cannot support it. It is… a hunch I suppose.”

Nakamori nodded. “So… do we follow?”

Hakuba stole a quick glance at the inspector but Nakamori’s eyes were still at the top of the wall, distant and pensive. It crossed Hakuba’s mind to contact KID and get his thoughts on the matter, but then he considered Kaito and Shinichi, both undoubtedly run ragged by the trials of the past month and finally together and safe again. He shook his head.

“If you decide that we should, I will go with you,” Hakuba said firmly. “There is no reason the real KID would leave a trail like this on his way out, so someone else escaped this mansion and it is most likely an Organization member. Trap or not, I cannot comfortably ignore this, knowing that.”

“I know what you mean,” Nakamori sighed. “…What about that Lupin guy?”

“Lupin the third?”

“Do you think we can trust him?”

“…Yes. KID does.”

“Then let’s talk to him.”

 

Lupin’s recommendation, backed by Jigen though not by Fujiko (Goemon remained neutral), was to follow the trail, but send only two people.

“I want you guys to try and picture a Kaitou KID turned murderous,” he said. “It’s scary, right? You gotta play this carefully. A big group would be easily infiltrated and, if I’m being honest, I’m thinking sending a smaller group will cut your losses if it is a trap and things go bad. If you were smart, you wouldn’t go at all.” His lips curled, catlike, and he added, “But if you were able to let this go, you wouldn’t be talking to me. So go.”

Hakuba gave Lupin an appraising glance. “I do not suppose we could ask for your assistance.”

“You suppose right, prince.”

Hakuba blinked at him, taken aback, but Lupin just continued.

“I don’t chase down bad guys. I’m the bad guy you all chase. You want justice, go get it yourself.”

Hakuba’s eyes hardened somewhat but he nodded once, firmly, and turned to Nakamori. “Hattori-kun and Megure-keibu are already checking for anything in the mansion that could lead us back to any other Organization hubs, and you and I have the most experience tracking down KID. If we do this, it should be us.”

Nakamori’s hand landed on Hakuba’s shoulder. “No more ‘if’s Hakuba-kun. Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

Shinichi woke confused after far too short and restless a sleep. He was pressed to something warm and solid and he thought he’d opened his eyes but he couldn’t see so he wasn’t sure.

It occurred first and most strongly to him that he might be having another delusional episode – that the clips of the past night that were coming back to him now were just parts of a dream. But then his brain started linking the pieces.

It’s dark. It’s dark because I’m in KID’s bolt hole. KID… He became more acutely aware of the heartbeat against his ear then, and the deep, even breaths ruffling his hair that told him KID was still asleep. Then, slowly, his whole body began to seize with creeping irrational fear. He had one arm draped over Kaito’s side and that hand gripped the back of Kaito’s shirt while his other hand clutched at Kaito’s where they were still linked and resting between them.

“Kaito–” he gasped.

“…Shinichi?” Kaito murmured, still sleep-fogged. Then the rest of his consciousness rushed forward. “Shinichi,” he said again, clearer and more insistent, and he clutched Shinichi’s hand right back. “Are you okay?”

Shinichi didn’t answer. His breaths were heavy in the quiet and Kaito grabbed for the nearest light source – the white flip phone. He flicked it open then dropped it to get both hands on Shinichi again. In the faint light he memorized what he could see of him – curled again, so deeply that the crown of his head was against Kaito’s chest now. He couldn’t see Shinichi’s face at all.

“Tantei-kun,” he whispered, and Shinichi’s next breath was more controlled but it wasn’t enough to keep his body from shaking. The phone screen went to sleep and the room fell dark again.

“I’m… okay,” Shinichi breathed out, but he wasn’t relaxing and his breathing kept getting away from him, edging toward hyperventilation. Kaito tried desperately to keep his own heart rate steady.

“Shh,” he murmured. He edged just a little closer and rubbed his hand slowly up and down Shinichi’s back. “Here, breathe with me, okay? Just focus on that.”

It took a few long minutes but with Kaito carefully guiding Shinichi back down he eventually uncurled, though there were still thin tremors crawling through him in little waves.

“Are you okay?” Kaito asked again, murmuring into Shinichi’s hair.

“Yeah,” Shinichi said, but his mouth felt dry and sweat was rolling down his skin under his clothes. He wasn’t certain he could stand if he tried. “Sorry,” he breathed out, squeezing his eyes shut. “It was… It was the deduction without the detail and it… hit me kind of hard I guess.”

“…What deduction?”

“That I… hurt you.”

It was mumbled against Kaito’s chest and at first Kaito wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly. “Shinichi, what–?”

“It’s just, I thought it was weird that you didn’t wake up even though I was moving around. You usually do.” He’d tilted his head down again, hiding his face even though Kaito couldn’t see him in the dark. “But you must be exhausted.” His voice had dropped down to a whisper. “And then I realized all at once everything you must have been through. What the last month must have been like for you and that I hurt you and–”

“Stop. Stop, Shinichi, breathe. Just breathe with me again, okay? Just for a second?”

It didn’t take him long to level out again. When he did, Kaito said softly, “I’m fine, Shinichi. I missed you. And I had some long nights. But it’s fine now, okay? You didn’t hurt me. We’re gonna be fine.”

Shinichi was quiet and still for a long time, the shivery little tremors finally dying out. Eventually he nodded, his head moving against Kaito’s chest. It was a few minutes later that he said, “I kind of want a shower.”

A laugh bubbled up in Kaito’s chest and he let it out. “Yeah, okay.” He sat up and Shinichi, still clinging to him, did the same. Kaito reached back and found the phone again, poking a button to bring the screen to life. He got up and switched on the lamp. “Do you want any help? There’s no tub, but that’s better for your leg anyway, unless you don’t want to stand.” Or can’t stand, Kaito thought with a hidden frown as he looked down at Shinichi. He was still sitting on the futon, his right leg stretched out in front of him and his left folded up to put his knee to his chest. His hands were flat at his sides, steadying him, and his face looked pale under stringy, too-long bangs.

“No, it’s fine,” he said anyway. He nodded to the phone still open in Kaito’s hand. “Catch up on what’s going on.”

 

By the time Shinichi got out of the shower and very carefully pulled on the underwear that had appeared with the little pile of clothes on the toilet seat, Kaito had rolled up the futon, had shoved all of their discarded clothes and supplies into a corner, and was pacing circles around the small room while texting intently. But he hadn’t changed his loose and rumpled clothes and his hair was sticking straight up on one side.

“Shower’s free,” Shinichi said unnecessarily when he poked his head through the open bathroom doorway.

“Mm,” Kaito replied without looking up. “I’ll be in in a minute.”

It was an achingly normal exchange for them and Shinichi felt almost dizzy with it. He sank to the floor in the bathroom and started the careful process of redressing his leg, though he didn’t bother with the rope burns the way Kaito had. Precisely a minute later, Kaito came in and started undressing, though not before he’d edged around Shinichi to stand behind him. Shinichi set down the wad of gauze he’d been using to pat the wound dry and reached back to grab Kaito’s wrist.

“You’re hiding something. I’ll assume it’s worse if you don’t just let me see.”

Kaito paused then sighed and tiptoed between Shinichi and the first aid kit and the sink to get in front of him again. “Just a bruised rib,” he promised, though he knew it looked bad. Shinichi scrutinized him – his posture, the purpled skin, his face – then nodded. Kaito shucked off the rest of his clothes and got into the shower. “How are you feeling?” he asked over the running water at the same time Shinichi said, “How are things going out there?”

“I’m fine,” Shinichi answered, not allowing any hesitation over who would speak first.

“…Hospital?” Kaito ventured and Shinichi scoffed.

“Depends on how things are going out there.”

“The siege on the mansion was a success. A lot of arrests, injuries on our side were few and minor for the most part. Hattori and Megure-keibu are working with a team to consolidate information for future use in the fight against the Organization.

“I also heard from Hattori that Ran and Kyogoku-kun – and Mouri-jii too – insisted on joining the fight. Apparently Ran kicked Gin in the face and knocked him out cold.”

Shinichi let out a sharp, quick laugh. His hands were shaking a little as he dabbed ointment onto his leg. “Well of course she did.” He paused, just staring down, and gathered himself before saying with an attempt at casualness, “So that’s the good news. What else? What happened to Nakamori-keibu and Hakuba-kun?”

“…It sounds like they went after Vermouth. Lupin filled me in: Someone opened the hidden ladder to the roof after we were gone and left an obvious trail to follow.”

“A trap?” Shinichi said immediately. His heart was starting to pound too hard again.

“Maybe. But they couldn’t just ignore it. You wouldn’t have either.” The water turned off and Kaito grabbed for a towel as he stepped out behind Shinichi again.

“Right,” Shinichi said quietly. “I know.” He fixed a clean dressing over the whole of the burn and then Kaito was there to offer a hand up, somehow already dressed in clean street clothes. Shinichi let out a sigh and took his hand, letting him help him into a loose pair of shorts and then back into the other room. He sat down heavily on the chest beside the wardrobe.

“So…?” Kaito started.

“Merlot’s still out there.”

“There’s always going to be someone out there, Shinichi,” Kaito said quietly. “…I’m really worried about you.” There was a flash drive in his pocket and his hand closed around it then let it go again.

Shinichi didn’t answer. He just let his head hang forward, bangs dripping water onto his shorts and the bandage. Kaito knelt in front of him and reached up, pulling his fingers slowly through Shinichi’s wet hair.

“Do you want me to cut this for you?”

“What?” Shinichi’s head came up, moving it just a little out of Kaito’s reach.

“I’ve done it a million times. You’ll be fine,” Kaito said with a smirk.

“Oh really.”

“Hey, do you think I just buy wigs that look exactly like what I need for the people I’m imitating? Let me answer that for you: of course not. I style them myself.” He was already tugging a towel around Shinichi’s bare shoulders.

“You need a longer list of things you suck at,” Shinichi said in resigned consent.

Kaito stood, moving to Shinichi’s side and pulling his fingers through Shinichi’s hair again with a speculative look. “No one ever said the world was fair, Tantei-kun,” he said, producing a pair of scissors from somewhere. “Though,” he muttered, making a quick snip. “I’d say on balance my… oceanic issue more than makes up for whatever else. And that’s without the ice skating–”

“And cooking,” Shinichi put in. “And piano. And billiards. Actually, you know what? You’re fine just the way you are.”

“Shut up,” Kaito said, but there was a hint of laughter in it. “At least I can still kick your ass at videogames and karaoke.

“Karaoke isn’t a competition.”

“And yet.”

The smile that had crept onto Shinichi’s face felt unfamiliar. It distracted him enough that he didn’t notice Kaito pause in his clipping to duck down, and then he was kissing him – just a warm press of lips to the corner of his.

“I love your smile,” Kaito said softly when he straightened up. “It always kind of makes you look like you’re up to something.”

Shinichi laughed, a little surprised, but cut it short as Kaito started snipping again.

“You don’t have to freeze up,” Kaito chuckled. “Look, I’m already done.” The scissors and towel vanished and Kaito handed Shinichi the t-shirt he’d left in the bathroom. By the time Shinichi had dragged it over his head, Kaito had turned away and Shinichi could immediately tell his attitude had shifted. He was looking down at something small in his hand.

“What’s wrong?”

He saw Kaito’s shoulders move as he took in a breath. “Sorry, just– I’d wanted to show you this right away but, heh, once I had you all I wanted to do was hold on to you.” He turned and showed Shinichi a small flash drive.

“What is it?”

“Video I copied from the mansion’s monitoring system before I wiped and destroyed it. They recorded everything that happened in that room you were in.”

Shinichi swallowed and tried to ignore how his chest felt tight and his stomach was flipping over. “You watched it,” he deduced.

“Some,” Kaito said. “Mostly just when people came in to talk to you. I needed to get up to speed in order to imitate Vermouth.” He paused then, looking down at the drive with a scowl that usually meant very bad things for whoever it was directed toward. But then the expression cleared from his face and he looked up at Shinichi again. “I… Well, my first instinct is to destroy this, since it gives away Haibara’s and my identities. But I wanted to check with you first. This is proof of what they did to you. Evidence.”

“Destroy it,” Shinichi said, sharp and cold. “That’s not even a question – just get rid of it.”

“Are you s–?”

“Yes.” He was glaring at a spot of floor off to the side, his hands in white-knuckled fists on the lid of the storage chest.

“Okay,” Kaito said softly. The drive vanished. “Consider it done.”

 

*

 

The trees surrounding the mansion were full of as many obvious markers as the mansion itself had been. Hakuba scrutinized each one and let his mind churn over the mystery even as he and Nakamori trudged through mud and leaves, following the trail with guns out and ready in their hands.

They were wholly unprepared for that trail to end abruptly an hour’s hike later at the triangular mouth of a tiny cave.

“That’s Merlot,” Nakamori said, baffled, as they approached. She was lying on her side, curled up in the mud, and she didn’t seem to be conscious. She was also bound so thoroughly with rope that she looked half cocooned. Hakuba knelt to check for a pulse and a mask. Nakamori kept his gun trained on Merlot.

“She is alive,” Hakuba said. He tugged and pressed at what he could reach of her clothes. “Unarmed. Not even a mobile phone.” He did find a slightly damp, folded half-sheet of paper tucked just under a coil of the ropes though.

“So… when does the ambush happen?” Nakamori asked, glancing around. The flashlight he’d had clipped to his belt revealed nothing inside the shallow cave, and the sun now peeking through the clouds and trees fell on nothing out of the ordinary.

“I do not think there will be one,” Hakuba said. His eyes were on the unfolded paper. “The person who caught her left the trail so that we would find and arrest her. Look.” He handed the paper up to Nakamori.

“‘With apologies to Kuroba-sensei,’” he read. “What?”

“I was not aware Kuroba-kun had… students.”

“I don’t think he does,” Nakamori said, still staring at the paper. “Maybe Chikage-san?”

“Well, regardless, I think we should call for a car. I suppose we will need to figure out a reliable way to hold her as well.”

Nakamori nodded. “She’s broken out before.” He handed Hakuba the paper again and grabbed his radio.

Hakuba stared down at Merlot and murmured to himself, “How do you hold Kaitou KID…?” Then, suddenly, he looked up at Nakamori with a smile. “We need Aoko-kun!”

Chapter Text

It took a lack of sufficient provisions and the casual mention of the gradual dissolution of the safehouse to get Shinichi to finally agree to leave the bolt hole. Kaito contacted Mirla Romain the moment he’d agreed.

Prior to Kaito even considering bringing other thieves into danger, he’d seen to it that half of one floor of a secured police hospital had been given over to Mirla for the purpose of discreet treatment as necessary. He knew now that it had already been put to use saving Ruby’s life.

Kaito and Shinichi took up almost identical disguises as the ones they had donned at the hospital the previous night. Then, one surprisingly long train ride to Haido later, and one text citing the successful capture of Merlot without any injuries, they arrived at the hospital. Shinichi let Kaito quietly explain their way past the officers outside, the officers inside, the officers at the elevator bank, and the officers on Mirla’s floor.

By that time, Mirla, a short, slight woman with olive skin and a curly, greying brown bun, was waiting for them in the hall. “Come, come, come,” she said with a heavy French accent, and she waved them over toward a room she was already pushing into. Shinichi followed Kaito in. “It is good to see you, Kaito,” she said when the door was closed. “Terrible circumstances. Come, come, come.” She was waving him over again and he went up to her and touched her face, checking for a mask. She likewise reached up and pinched his cheek, though it seemed far more grandmotherly than task force-like.

“Good, good, good,” she said, nodding. “Now let me see.”

“Shinichi first,” Kaito said.

“Ah. Ze troublemaker. Fine, fine, fine, come.” She was waving at Shinichi now and directing him to one of the three empty beds. He caught Kaito’s eye as he obeyed and sat down.

“Sorry, she’s really blunt,” Kaito said with an apologetic look.

“Blunt is poking you in ze ribs which you are so clearly trying to hide from me, you are lucky I am not blunt.”

“She’s also really good at what she does,” Kaito added with a quiet laugh.

Mirla nodded firmly. “Pants,” she said to Shinichi.

“Huh?” he said.

“Off.”

“Oh, right, sorry.”

 

The experience of being treated by Mirla Romain, who was thorough in the extreme, utterly shameless, and also kind of like Kaito’s aunt or something, had the potential to be incredibly awkward. However, Kaito’s presence – his little not-hidden laughs and the similar treatment he received – made it bearable.

“You. Antsy,” she said to Kaito after she had finished with them. “Hat and monocle. Go see Chat Noir.”

Kaito blinked at her in surprise but then his expression relaxed again into a tired smile. “Thank you, but–”

“KID?” Shinichi said, looking up at him from where he was still seated on the edge of a bed. “Chat Noir?”

Kaito had the decency to look sheepish. “Chat Noir was hurt pursuing Merlot two days ago.”

“He’s here? Wait, what about Lupin and all of them? You never said–”

“I know, I know, I’m sorry Tantei-kun. Lupin and the rest are fine. I just didn’t mention Chat Noir because… you have enough to worry about.”

“I do have enough to worry about,” Shinichi said, and it was a little short. He sagged a bit when he realized that and added more softly, “I don’t want to worry about you leaving things out. Please just be honest with me. Like nothing’s changed.”

Kaito swallowed back a reflexive response of “Nothing has changed” then similarly kept his mouth shut when he realized that actually things had and they really shouldn’t ignore it. Instead, he only said, “Okay. Honest I can do.” He was suddenly wearing the white suit – the entire ensemble, though the hat was in his hand. With his other, he took Shinichi’s. “It’s just a few rooms over. I want to see that Chat Noir is okay and then I’ll be right back.”

Part of Shinichi wanted to rebel against the careful reassurance – wanted to claim it wasn’t necessary. But at the same time he was clinging to KID’s hand, wrinkling the glove, and he found it was difficult to let go. He did it anyway. “Yeah, of course. I’ll be here.”

KID vanished and Shinichi felt his chest tighten. He started a little at Mirla’s voice.

“He needs to sleep more but ‘e won’t without you.”

“Huh?” Shinichi said, trying to focus himself around a growing lightheadedness.

“Not ‘huh.’ There is… gravity? Between you. You pull toward him; ‘e pulls toward you. You…” She moved her hand in something like a stirring motion. “Circle each other. No rest for one without ze other.”

Something about the assessment and the sharp look in Mirla’s eyes said deduction and that was something Shinichi knew. Something he could work with. He took a deep breath and let it out.

“You’re very observant,” he said.

“But of course. I am a doctor.”

KID returned a moment later, and a moment after that he was in street clothes. “Sleeping,” he said. “But he looks well. Thank you, Romain-sensei.”

“Next question,” Mirla said, ignoring the niceties. “’Ow long do you stay ‘ere? You ‘ave some concerns, or you would not ‘ave waited to come.”

Kaito glanced at Shinichi. It was painfully obvious that he didn’t want to stay. “Would you let us leave now?” Kaito asked, already sensing the answer on Mirla’s pursed lips.

“You think I can stop you?” She scoffed, but then her eyes took on that sharp heat again and she stared up at Kaito like he was the only one to convince. “You are both exhausted and malnourished. And zis one,” Her arm swung out like a whip to point at Shinichi. “Anemic. And ‘e ought to be on crutches.” Kaito was already caving. “So you see, I can stop you. You will stay one night. You,” she added to Shinichi, “Will get an IV and I will get no complaints. You will both sleep, and in ze morning you will contact your families and go to see zem. You will use crutches.”

It barely occurred to Shinichi to object to any of it because then she was leaving the room and he and Kaito were alone again and that made things look a little better.

“Are you okay?”

“You’re gonna keep asking me that, aren’t you.”

“Probably until you are,” Kaito agreed easily. He walked around to the other side of the bed and sat on the edge of it, toeing his shoes off. “We’re sharing the bed, right?” he asked, and Shinichi wasn’t sure if he was imagining the little tinge of pleading, or if Kaito had let it through on purpose, or if it was just an honest, unguarded expression because they were alone and they needed each other.

“Somehow I think Romain-sensei would be fine with it.”

Kaito smiled and tipped to the side, letting his head hit the pillow with a paff. It deflated under him. “Hm,” he muttered. Then he was up, and suddenly there were three pillows on the middle bed and none on the other two. He lay down again and reached his hand lazily out toward Shinichi. “Come here.”

By the time Mirla came back with a bag for the IV stand just a few minutes later, Kaito and Shinichi were both asleep, curled around each other. In the morning Shinichi would wonder with a strange mix of concern and resignation how a practical stranger had managed to hook him up to an IV without waking him, particularly after what he’d been through, but you weren’t doctor to phantom thieves without knowing a thing or two. For that night, Shinichi’s mind pushed it all away and he let himself stay under the warmth and scent of Kaito close beside him.

Chapter Text

Everyone who could be was waiting for Kaito and Shinichi at the safehouse. Even with the more extreme lockdowns disabled it was still a defensible building and they all welcomed that sense of security.

Ayumi, Mitsuhiko, and Genta had not been allowed to stay. As soon as KID had given the green light, their families had dragged them off, but Shinichi’s and Kaito’s closest friends and family were all gathered there when they stepped through the doors of the lobby. Chikage immediately rushed them, throwing herself at Kaito.

“Kaito! You’re alive!” she gasped, and even for an act it was a little melodramatic which was the real sign of how concerned she’d been and how relieved she was now. Still, when her fingers gripped into the hair at the back of Kaito’s neck, he knew it was to check for a wig and mask more than just the motherly clinging she knew it would look like. He smiled and hugged her back.

A moment later, everyone else (minus Haibara who stood resolutely aloof, possibly for pride and possibly to avoid being trampled) rushed forward as well, though no one threw themselves on Shinichi, hesitating at the crutch he was gripping. He was suddenly much more grateful for Mirla’s order.

Yukiko was in tears. She’d managed to push through the group to stand in front of Shinichi and reached out to touch his face.

“Hey Kaa-san,” he said, and he managed a smile even if it still felt a little hollow.

Yusaku was right behind her, sharp, critical eyes flickering over Shinichi. It seemed he’d decided not to say anything though and that was something of a relief.

“Oi, let ‘im through, don’t make ‘im stand around in the doorway,” Hattori said cheerfully over the chatter. He managed to get close enough to clap a hand onto Shinichi’s shoulder. “You all right, Kudou?”

“Yeah,” Shinichi breathed out.

“Come on, come inside,” Aoko said, and she caught hold of Kaito’s hand, pulling him toward the bench in the lobby. Shinichi followed like a magnet and the little crowd shifted with them. The moment Shinichi and Kaito were on the bench, Kaito snatched up Shinichi’s hand, subtle in the way only a thief could be, and squeezed tight. When Shinichi glanced over at him Kaito’s attention was still on the people around them.

“Welcome back, Kaito-sama,” Jii was saying, smiling with unrestrained relief.

“Thanks, Jii-chan. It’s good to be back.”

Ran had slid onto the bench on Shinichi’s other side without him noticing and he started a little at her soft voice close beside him. “You really are okay, right?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Shinichi answered on reflex. “Of course.”

Kaito’s hand squeezed tighter.

“I still don’t understand though,” Kazuha said. “Kaito, what did they want with you?”

A frission of panic passed through Shinichi but Kaito was already answering.

“I, uh… I don’t know, really. There was, um, testing.” He looked extremely uncomfortable, his head tilted down and his eyes on the floor. He pulled in closer to Shinichi’s side to really sell it, or to ease Shinichi’s tension, or both. “The hospital said I’m okay though,” he added, the words a little rushed. “No… lasting effects, I guess. I just can’t remember…”

The last words were mumbled and timid and so unlike Kaito that everyone who didn’t know the lie simultaneously softened and murmured various reassurances. They also did not ask any more questions about what had happened to Kaito or Shinichi after that, and Shinichi marveled because Kaito was still protecting him. He was still planning every motion and word, still calculating, still in control. Shinichi swallowed.

“KID’s been taking good care of us,” he managed to say, hoping he’d kept out the weakness that wanted to creep into his voice. “We’re okay. Really.”

“Where is KID-san, anyway?” Makoto asked. “I thought he’d be with you.”

“He kept an eye on us until we made it here,” Kaito said. “But he was planning to go back to the hospital. I guess… he called in someone to help and they got hurt?”

“Chat Noir,” Shinichi filled in, like he was the one in the know and Kaito was the victim on the periphery. Some part of his brain was still working on autopilot as KID’s partner, but it was a little like someone else was speaking.

“Shinichi,” Agasa’s hand landed on his shoulder. “I know you’re all right, but I think you two could probably use some rest.”

“Let’s go home, Shin-chan,” Yukiko said, but Shinichi shook his head.

“We were going to stay here tonight. Megure-keibu still needs to talk to us.”

“Shinichi–” she started again, scolding, but then Sonoko cut in.

“Geez don’t you ever take a break? I think the police can wait–”

“No,” Shinichi said, and the word was a little too quick but the strength behind it felt good. Felt right. “This is important. The timing now… We need to pull everything together. Everything we know. This fight’s not over yet.”

“Kudou-kun…” Hakuba started but Yusaku cut in.

“Well, if you’re waiting here anyway, how about we all get something to eat?” He suggested. The tail end of it was aimed more in Yukiko’s direction but Kaito did not miss how Yusaku was watching Shinichi out of the corner of his eye. “Then we’ll let you two get some rest.”

Kaito smiled, still carefully tentative. Still planned. Shinichi interpreted that as I think that’s a good idea and we should accept, so he nodded.

 

The implications of Shinichi’s and Kaito’s friends and family all moving like clockwork to cook in the still-stocked kitchen had left Shinichi with little appetite. After everything had been cleaned up, Yusaku and Yukiko left, but no one else seemed willing to do the same. They had poured cups of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate, but Kaito could tell that Shinichi was struggling.

“I think I need to call it a night, you guys,” Kaito said, faintly weary in a way he didn’t need to fake. He gave Shinichi a significant look that said to everyone else Please come with me and said to Shinichi I’ve got you; we’re okay. Shinichi reached for the crutch that was propped against the back of his chair.

“I think that’s a good idea,” he said, pushing to his feet. “Could someone maybe show us where one of the unused rooms is?”

Hakuba stood immediately. “Yes, of course.”

Megure and Midori had been the only ones to use a first floor room, so all the rest were still furnished but untouched. Hakuba led them down a hallway, all the way to the end, but stopped Kaito before he could follow Shinichi inside.

“Kuroba-kun, could I speak with you? It will not take long.”

Shinichi immediately paused and turned back. “What about?”

“Well…”

“It’s about the case isn’t it. The Organization?” He glanced over Hakuba carefully, glanced to Kaito’s face which showed no hint of knowing what Hakuba wanted to say, then stepped aside a little. “Just come in. He’d tell me everything anyway.”

Hakuba hesitated but stepped into the room. Kaito closed the door behind them.

“I am sorry to bring this up now but…” He pulled out his phone and swiped to a picture, then handed it to Kaito. Kaito immediately moved to Shinichi’s side so they could both see. The creased paper in the picture read “With apologies to Kuroba-sensei.” The picture after it showed Merlot tied up on the ground.

“Kuroba-kun… If… Is there any way you might know one of these Organization members?”

Shinichi and Kaito could both sense the accusation Hakuba wasn’t making, but from the desperate undertone to the question he wasn’t making it because he didn’t want to believe it could be true.

“Oyaji had students,” Kaito said, meeting Hakuba’s eyes. Shinichi took the phone from his hand and started swiping through the pictures without permission. They were all of the scene as they’d found it when they’d tracked down Merlot.

“Chris Vineyard,” Shinichi said without looking up. He was still skipping back and forth through the pictures with his thumb, intent on every detail.

“Who is–?”

“An actress. Friend of my mom’s. They both studied under Kaito’s dad.” He looked up at Hakuba then and said calmly, “She’s also known as Vermouth, and she was at the mansion. But KID hasn’t said anything about her specifically and none of the police reports made to him have either.”

Kaito shifted subtly at Shinichi’s side and he stiffened a little. There was something Kaito had yet to say about that, apparently.

“A… friend of your mother–?”

“Or rival, maybe?”

“Rival.” Hakuba’s eyes shifted from Shinichi to Kaito and back.

“Or something else. Kaa-san is weird.”

He didn’t seem particularly concerned to have been kidnapped by his mother’s “friend” since he was still just staring down at the phone, so Hakuba tentatively asked, “Do you think Vermouth is our KID-like Organization member?”

“Hm?” Shinichi looked up. “So you got that far, huh? No, it’s not her. It was Merlot.”

“What? What KID-like Organization member?” Kaito demanded and it wasn’t an act. He’d recognized that Shinichi had been deducing an awful lot when they were down in the basement of the mansion, but he hadn’t taken the time to put any of those pieces together himself.

“Merlot had some training and skills that were basically carbon copies of KID’s. I didn’t realize it right away either, but I think the Organization was trying to make another KID that they could use for their own purposes.”

Kaito had gone a little pale. Shinichi gave the phone back to Hakuba and when his hand fell back to his side it latched on to Kaito’s. Hakuba carefully refrained from noticing.

“Vermouth probably trained Merlot in the art of disguise which she’d learned from Kuroba Toichi-san. I think she left this note, and the trail for you and Nakamori-keibu to follow.”

“I see,” Hakuba said. He turned that over in his mind for a few seconds but then abruptly remembered where he was standing. “Well,” he added hastily. “That was all I wanted to show you. I am glad you are both all right–”

A very solid knock thudded repeatedly at the door.

“Hakuba, ya bastard, ya better not be buggin’ ‘em about work,” Hattori shouted through the door.

Hakuba cringed.

“It’s okay,” Shinichi said. “I mean it. I don’t want to be left out of this stuff.”

“But,” Kaito cut in as Hattori pounded and shouted again. “We better call it a night before Hattori breaks the door.”

“Yes,” Hakuba sighed. “You are right.”

But it wasn’t just Hattori waiting on the other side of the door when Hakuba opened it. Ran, Sonoko, Makoto, Kazuha, and Aoko were all with him.

“Ai-chan was right, wasn’t she,” Ran said, giving Hakuba a slightly pitying look.

“Out!” Sonoko declared and Kazuha and Aoko each grabbed one of Hakuba’s hands and yanked him into the hallway. “Goodnight!” she said to Shinichi and Kaito, and she gave them a cheerful little wave as she closed their door again.

Shinichi immediately rounded on Kaito. “Something I should know about Vermouth?”

Kaito looked Shinichi over then led him into the room by the hand, slow, letting him lean on his crutch with every other step. They made it to the bed and Kaito let go to flop forward onto it. “It was when I knocked her out to take her place,” he muttered against the bedspread. “I could swear… she’d said ‘About time’ right before she passed out.”

“…Hm.” Shinichi propped the crutch against the wall and sat on the bed, bending forward to take off his shoes and socks. When nothing more was forthcoming Kaito levered himself up on his elbows.

“‘Hm’? That’s all you’ve got to say?”

“Well, I knew she was expecting you. She’d guessed that your notice meant you’d be showing up soon. Either you really got the drop on her and she was too far gone to fight back by the time she realized it, or she saw you coming and didn’t do anything to stop you. Neither is that surprising.”

“…I don’t like it, Shinichi.”

“You don’t have to. Vermouth is… out of our range right now, I think.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means she’s old, Kaito,” Shinichi sighed. He dropped onto his back, his feet still dangling off the end of the bed. “She knows so much about everything and I’ve only ever been able to guess at her motives. All I know is that she’s had opportunities to do real damage to us and she hasn’t taken them. I’m not saying I trust her,” he added quickly when Kaito’s mouth immediately opened to protest. “I’m just saying that when it comes to Vermouth, sometimes we’re gonna get free passes and it’s okay to take them. We’re… not really in any position to turn them down, you know?”

“…Okay. If you say so.” He got his knees under him and rose up, angling himself over Shinichi to press a kiss to his forehead. “You seem like you’re feeling better,” he murmured against his skin. “I… KID should probably put in an appearance with the police–”

Shinichi’s hand shot up, his grip locking around Kaito’s wrist. When Kaito pulled back enough to see his face, his eyes were squeezed shut.

“…Stay,” he whispered, both pleading and pained like he didn’t want to say it but honestly couldn’t stop.

“Shinichi,” Kaito whispered back. “…Are you scared?”

Shinichi turned toward his voice but Kaito was at his right side and pain flared at the pressure of his thigh against the mattress. Kaito pushed him onto his back again and held him there. “Shinichi.”

“I… don’t know.” He let go of Kaito and covered his face with both hands instead. Then he felt Kaito guiding him to sit up.

“I’ll stay,” he said softly. “Come on. Let’s get ready for bed.”

 

It wasn’t until after they were settled in with the lights out, Shinichi curled against Kaito with their shared blanket tugged away from his leg, that Kaito pulled out the white flip phone and texted Chikage.

KID hasn’t been seen since Tohto Stadium but... I can’t.

The response was immediate and simple.

Don’t worry about a thing.

Chapter Text

Kaito had resolved to have a serious talk with Shinichi at the first opportunity, but Shinichi beat him to it.

“I’m sorry,” was the first thing he said when Kaito woke to find Shinichi sitting up against the pillows. Kaito had, at some point, shifted to settle his head in Shinichi’s lap, cuddled up close against his left thigh. He turned his head slowly, peering up at Shinichi, and muttered, “What?”

“I’m sorry,” Shinichi repeated, and his hand gripped Kaito’s shoulder, keeping him down when he tried to sit up. “I’m the one who keeps saying it’s not over. That there’s still work to be done. But then I keep you here.” He held up the white flip phone so Kaito could see it.

Kaito twisted and pushed himself up. This time Shinichi let him. “I didn’t go because I didn’t want to,” he said, and Shinichi’s eyes tracked the movement of Kaito’s hand as it absently covered his bruised ribs. “I still don’t want to.”

“But you’ll do it anyway.”

“…Yeah. I will.”

“Let’s go home.”

 

It felt like progress to decide that – to plan to leave another defensible KID-built stronghold for the place they hadn’t even managed to finish securing when all of this had happened – but the reality of it was that they still needed to talk to the police about… everything. When Megure arrived it was just long hours of Kaito saying almost nothing at all while Shinichi grilled Megure more than Megure could grill back. By the time they’d finished, it was the middle of the night and logic dictated that they stay until morning.

They left anyway.

 

It was surreal, to say the least, walking up to the Kudou manor. They stopped in front of the door and Shinichi had to keep himself from reaching for Kaito’s hand again when he realized–

“Shinichi?”

“I, uh…” He shifted, knuckles white on the grip of his crutch. “I don’t actually have a key anymore. They took everything from me when–”

The door clicked and eased out of its frame into the entryway. It didn’t even look like Kaito had moved, let alone picked the lock. “It’s fine, Shinichi,” he said gently. “I’ve picked this lock so many times I don’t even notice I’m doing it anymore.” There was a levity in his voice that felt out of place when it carried through to his next words. “And you know a door lock was never what kept them away from this place anyway. We’re fine. Come on.” His hand fell to Shinichi’s like that was where it belonged – where it would always return whenever it was at rest – and Shinichi let himself take comfort in that.

The house was dark when the door closed behind them and Shinichi wondered with a slightly sick feeling he was determined to ignore if they’d left the curtains open or closed when they’d last left, not knowing how long it would be before they returned. Still though, his hand moved for the light switches by the door like always. The lamps blinked on, warm sconces that he’d never appreciated, and his eyes immediately locked on the only thing out of place – a handwritten note taped to the banister immediately ahead of them.

“What is–?” Kaito was over to it in a flicker and Shinichi saw the moment he relaxed.

“It’s from my mom, right?” he said. He stumbled a little removing his shoes but caught himself on the crutch. Kaito didn’t move to help but he was watching carefully and Shinichi knew he’d be at his side in a heartbeat if he thought Shinichi would allow it. Or if he needed it. Shinichi stepped up from the genkan with deliberation and went to Kaito’s side instead. Kaito was already holding the note and Shinichi reached out to rub his thumb over the knob of the banister where old tape outlines marked the wood. “What’s it say?”

“Yukiko-san and Yusaku-san are staying at a hotel nearby.”

“Heh. I half expected it to say they’d gone back to the States.”

“You really think they would–?”

“I’ve almost died more times than any of us can count anymore,” Shinichi said on a sigh, and he was already moving away from Kaito, hobbling through rooms and flicking on lights as he went. Kaito followed at a loss. “There wasn’t any danger of me being killed this time around. It only seems worse.”

“Shinichi…”

They paused in the doorway of the kitchen. “Huh. You know, I kind of expected the place to be more of a mess somehow.”

“Well, we did just drop everything and disappear for five weeks.”

“Five weeks… When you say it like that, it sounds kind of insignificant.”

“Maybe, but when you think about it, five weeks ago we didn’t have Gin, Merlot, Port, Chianti, and Korn all locked up. I’ll be working with the police to set up some specialized high security cells that we can use for Organization members long-term. For now though, Aoko is apparently consulting on effective ways to hold Merlot since she’s the only one who’s put a lot of thought into actually locking KID in jail.”

Shinichi instinctively shifted closer to Kaito. His discomfort at the idea didn’t show in his voice but Shinichi didn’t need it to. “Port?” he asked instead to change the subject.

“You don’t know him? He tried to lead an attack on the Organization task force while they thought I was distracted. To be fair, I kind of was, but I’d accounted for that.” He shrugged. “And we’ve got that whole mansion full of potential leads. Plenty of work still to do.” The words were light but he was watching Shinichi carefully again and Kaito didn’t know how to feel about the way that comment seemed to make Shinichi relax.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll get back into it tomorrow. I want to talk to Merlot.”

Kaito let out a sigh. “Tomorrow? Or today.” He glanced at his watch. “Pretty sure the sun will be coming up by the time we make it to bed.”

Shinichi winced. “I… guess I could be convinced to wait another day.”

 

*

 

Aoko had consulted, Nakamori had discussed with Megure, and KID had weighed in: The only solution for holding Merlot until more permanent facilities could be arranged was to lock her in one of the undamaged high security rooms in the basement of the mansion. It certainly wasn’t ideal and no one was particularly happy about it. Still, KID had provided very careful instructions on ripping the wiring from any fingerprint scanners first, and Hattori had complied with unerring glee.

The morning of the thirtieth, KID and Shinichi made their way back into the mountains where the mansion was tucked away. Shinichi stood in the looped driveway staring up at the sloped, shingled roof in the sunlight and hardly believing that this was the place he’d spent those five weeks.

KID was staring up at the mansion too, standing close enough to Shinichi for their sleeves to touch. “You could wait,” he said. “Until we move her to a new facility.” He knew there was no use pointing that out, though. They’d already come all the way out here and Shinichi wouldn’t back down now.

As expected, Shinichi headed for the door instead of answering.

KID had destroyed the monitors, servers, and hard drives for the security cameras in the basement, but the cameras themselves (other than the ones KID had shot) still worked. For the time being, a police tech had set up a live feed to a new set of monitors and had added a speaker so they could talk to Merlot without entering the room.

Megure and KID joined Shinichi in the monitor room but they both hung back, letting Shinichi take the one chair that was pulled up to the monitors and microphone.

“Tai-san,” Shinichi said, and on the monitors Merlot sat up in the bed and glared at the ceiling cameras. “Are you going to talk to us this time?”

Her expression didn’t change.

“We’re setting up a new facility,” Shinichi went on. “The security will be rebuilt from scratch specifically to keep you in and the Organization out. Gin can’t get to you this time either. He’s locked up too.”

“It wasn’t Gin who came for me last time,” Merlot said and Megure shifted next to KID in a way that suggested surprise that she’d spoken at all. “It was Vermouth.”

“Vermouth is also the one who handed you over this time,” Shinichi pointed out.

“That could be by design.”

“Do you think it was?”

Merlot just shrugged so Shinichi changed the subject. “What was the Organization doing in Xi’an six years ago?”

The monitors weren’t that large but they were clear and he saw Merlot’s slow smile.

“You want to know? I did too, so I tried to look into it. They didn’t tell me much, but after all the talk of that drug they used on you it makes more sense.” She paused, considering how much she wanted to give, then said, “China’s first emperor.”

Shinichi’s eyes went wide. “Oh.”

“What are they talking about,” Megure asked in a commanding undertone, leaning in toward KID though his eyes remained on the monitors over Shinichi’s shoulder.

KID took a moment to decide on the extent of his own answer then quietly explained, “The first emperor of China was obsessed with immortality. He created an army of terracotta warriors that could guard him forever, and strove his whole life to find an elixir of immortality. It seemed like he’d failed, but the fact that he tended to destroy records and kill scholars suggests that there was information he’d gained that he didn’t want others to have.”

Megure was staring at KID now but then he choked out, “Immortality?!” and his eyes darted to Shinichi’s back instead. “That’s what their experimental drug – that poison – was supposed to do?”

“To be honest,” Merlot was saying on the monitors. “Acquiring me might have had more to do with brushing the traders out of their way than it did with actually needing me.”

“What do you mean?” Shinichi asked, still calm, and Megure was turning colors not unlike Nakamori at a heist.

“You told me you didn’t know what the drug was meant to do!”

KID ignored him.

“I was sold off,” Merlot explained. “But the night before the meeting to make the exchange someone snuck in and found me. She gave me my first assignment – to steal the latest shipments of drugs and weapons and meet her at a drop-off point. Naturally I was more than happy to screw over the assholes who sold me, so I did it. After that, we went to Japan. I ran a few ordinary jobs working under that woman, Miyano something.”

Shinichi physically flinched at the name. He gripped at the armrests of the chair. “Miyano?” he repeated and his voice came out a little choked.

“Not Miyano Shiho,” Merlot replied, waving him off. “Wrong division. I’m acquisitions, remember?”

Akemi… Shinichi swallowed hard. “Right,” he said. “Never mind.”

Merlot’s eyes were narrowed at the cameras now but she was only quiet a handful of seconds more before continuing. “Eventually an order came in. A couple of wealthy small-timers were willing to drop a lot of money for a new Kaitou KID. At the time, Snake’s group believed Kaitou KID was a girl named Nakamori Aoko.”

Megure had moved past colors and just gone pale. KID had gone stock-still.

“They picked me out for my existing compatible skills, Vermouth trained me, I studied KID, past and present, and then I was consigned to our new investors. But when they went after Nakamori they got caught by the real KID and I went back to our organization. I worked my way up to a code name and then… I ran into you.” She spread her arms, still sitting cross-legged on the bed. “Everything went to hell from there.”

Something in Shinichi felt like it was vibrating, his brain tallying up the conclusion that Merlot had been hovering on the outskirts of his and Kaito’s lives for years. At the same time, another part of his brain was speculating that KID had subconsciously picked up on that fact and guarded against it in his planning. “You’re not on KID’s level,” he said out loud, though he wasn’t really sure why.

“No,” Merlot scoffed. “Of course not. Not anymore, and not even then, when he was raw and reckless. The training was ridiculous. Maybe if I’d started younger, but it’s not worth it if you ask me.”

Now Megure was staring at KID but KID had shifted into a carefully constructed image of relaxed calm, with his posture just slightly slack and his hands in his pockets. No grin, no scowl, just perfect neutrality.

“But I learned a little about how he thinks at least,” Merlot was saying. “It was useful.”

“…You’ve never seemed too invested in all this, Merlot,” Shinichi finally managed after a few more moments to process. “I almost want to say you weren’t even on their side. These rooms, and your escape route–”

“I was stabbed in the back once; I didn’t intend to let it happen again. They gave me the tools to ensure I had backup plans. KID was always a problem for them and since they had me anyway they put me to use designing a way to hold him if they ever managed to pin him down. But I’m not stupid. I knew I was designing something that could hold me, too. I took advantage.”

“But why the note?” Shinichi pressed. “Why warn KID about Gin?”

Merlot leaned forward a little on the bed. “How did you know that was me? I still don’t understand that.”

For a moment Shinichi considered refusing to give his answer until Merlot gave hers, but she’d been cooperative so far so he recited the words back to her. “‘And since we know who he is, he can’t ever let his guard down.’ You said that to me the second time we spoke after you brought me here. But the thing is, from your perspective, KID wouldn’t have known his identity had been compromised. How would he know that he couldn’t let his guard down? Unless someone told him. Unless you told him.”

“You–” Megure seemed to choke on his whisper. “They know who you are?” he hissed at KID. KID just shrugged.

“…That’s just a hunch,” Merlot said.

“My hunches are usually right.”

Merlot let out a heavy sigh and leaned back, propping herself up with her hands flat on the mattress behind her. “You asked why I warned KID,” she said. “I was offered death or freedom for my cooperation, then I was locked up again. I recognized that my time was limited – I’d be dead or in jail again before long and there was nowhere to run that they couldn’t find me. I decided I wanted to screw over the organization that was using me before I went down. Basically…” She smiled, sharp, though it was a little strange to see without her bright red lipstick. “I like KID more than them. He was touted as my ideal during training after all. All those stories about how he could beat impossible odds and do anything he wanted. Anything he could imagine. I couldn’t help but admire that.

“You, on the other hand,” she went on. “I could care less about you, except that you were good motivation for KID to unleash his skills on our little group here.”

Shinichi had pretty much tuned out as soon as she’d started talking about him. Vermouth again, he thought, his hand moving to his chin. Is it possible…? “Merlot, did Vermouth ever tell you anything about a silver bullet?”

A shiver passed through Merlot, subtle but not lost to Shinichi’s keen watch. “Not often,” she said. “Just once, like a secret. There are whispers traded between those of us high enough for code names. The Silver Bullet: the one thing that can take down the great beast that is our organization.”

Shinichi swallowed, tense. Even when I was drugged, bound, and completely at their mercy they were scared of me. And she was doing the same with KID. Vermouth turned us into something untouchable. What the hell is she really thinking?

He was apparently quiet for too long, wrapped up in his thoughts. When KID’s gloved hand slid onto his shoulder, gripping firmly, he jumped a little but relaxed again with the barest glance back.

“I think… that’s all I need, Megure-keibu,” he said. He pushed the chair back from the monitors and grabbed for the crutch. “Thanks for setting this up.”

KID watched Merlot huff on the monitors then turn where she was sitting to flop face-down on the bed. He turned his back on the images. “Let’s get you home, Meitantei.”

“Now wait a second,” Megure said. He tossed a wary glance at the microphone and KID reached back and muted it without looking. Megure let out a heavy sigh. “Kudou-kun… You’ve been keeping things from me.”

Shinichi couldn’t help it. He breathed out a short, very faintly hysteric laugh. “So what else is new, Inspector?”

“Xi’an?” Megure said. “Immortality? Who is Miyano, and what does ‘silver bullet’ mean? If it’s something that can take down the Organization–”

KID cut him off. “It’s not something.” His eyes flickered toward Shinichi. “It’s someone.”

KID could read something unspoken in Shinichi’s shift in posture and the delay he had in responding, as well as in the falsely casual tone he used when he said, “Yeah, I guess I’m basically their boogeyman. It doesn’t mean anything. Just keeps them scared. Cautious. I was curious about it, that’s all.”

“You’re the silver bullet that can take down the Organization?” Megure said. His face had never really regained its color and his expression now was pained. “Kudou-kun, I think you’ve done enough already–”

“I quite agree,” KID put in. “So, like I said, let’s get you home.” There was an explosion of dark blue smoke and Megure actually let out a startled shout as KID scooped Shinichi up and disappeared.

“I’m sorry,” KID said immediately after he’d slowed enough for Shinichi to stop clinging. They were already outside in the driveway again and KID eased him back onto his feet along with his crutch. “I know you don’t like to be manhandled, but you started looking shaky as soon as you were done talking to Merlot and–”

Shinichi faltered then, his knees going a little weak and a small spasm making him lose his grip on the crutch. It clattered to the pavement but KID caught him instead, holding him up with his shoulder under Shinichi’s arm and a hand on Shinichi’s chest.

“And I didn’t think you’d want to have another attack in front of Megure-keibu,” KID finished at a whisper. He could feel Shinichi shaking so he pulled him closer.

It took Shinichi a few moments of sharp, uncertain breaths to get his words right. “A-Another?” he said. “Attack?”

“Yeah, Meitantei. You scared the hell out of me back at the bolt hole so I looked it up. You had a panic attack. You might be having another one now.”

Shinichi huffed out a harsh breath, incredulous, then a laugh. “A panic attack,” he repeated. His breathing started to level out then and it wasn’t long before KID felt the shift in his weight as he adjusted his footing. “Is that all? That’s… okay. I can deal with that. That’s a mental thing; I can handle that.”

“…I don’t think you can just decide to stop having panic attacks, Shinichi.”

Shinichi waved him off, stooping to pick up the crutch, but his other hand kept a hold on KID. He was still shaking, but once the crutch was under his arm again he pulled away from KID to get into the car. KID let out a sigh and changed from the suit to black clothes before getting in as well and pulling away.

Shinichi was quiet for a solid half hour as they drove. His eyes stayed closed in that time but he wasn’t sleeping – his breathing was far too controlled for that. Eventually he said, “I lied to him again.”

“Megure-keibu?” KID thought back through their conversations. “About what?”

“The silver bullet. It’s not me. I’d thought so too at first, but it’s not. Or it’s not just me. It’s you, too, and… I think it’s the FBI. Jodie Starling and Akai Shuichi. Any number of them, and others. I think ‘silver bullet’ encompasses all of the seeds Vermouth has been planting.”

“Seeds?”

Shinichi shook his head and sagged a little against the back of the seat. “It’s just a theory. I don’t know what she’s thinking.”

“She’s famous,” KID said after a few moments of silence. “She wouldn’t be all that hard to find.”

“We don’t have any evidence against her. There’s always something. Videos can be edited and, like you said, she’s famous. Between the public loving her and all her resources no charge has ever stuck. With that and changing identities to suit her age, I don’t know that it ever will.”

KID hesitated. He knew what he wanted to say but… No. I shouldn’t treat him any differently. …Right? “It’s not like you to let a murderer go, Tantei-kun.”

Shinichi breathed out a laugh and his eyes eased open. “I think… I think she’s my Moriarty, KID. I meant it when I said she’s out of my range. She’s on another level from the murderers I catch and even from the Organization. But only for now.”

KID felt a smile tugging at his lips. “I hope you’re not planning on jumping over any waterfalls, Meitantei.”

This time Shinichi laughed out loud and it sent a fluttery sense of relief through KID’s chest. “You know,” Shinichi said and his hand crept over to find KID’s, locking their fingers together. “I’ve got this feeling there’d be someone there to catch me.”

A tight knot of emotion was squeezing in KID’s throat but if Shinichi noticed any waver in his voice he didn’t comment.

“Always, Tantei-kun.”

Chapter Text

“I never wanted my reckless way of doing things to become the standard. I don’t want anyone else to have to–”

 

“They kicked me off the task force. I didn’t pass the psych evaluation.”

 

“You’ve had this paranoia about the Organization from the beginning. You’re not yourself when they’re involved.”

 

“We’re never doing this again. There was a cost, and it’s not worth it.”

 

“I know what you went through. And if you were on the other side of this case looking at the person who had been held captive and threatened and abused and scared, what would you call them? You are a victim.”

 

“Prove it to me. I’m sorry, just… please.”

 

“It’s not okay. None of this is okay and I don’t wanna… act like it is anymore.”

 

“I didn’t want to… I don’t know. It didn’t seem right to say anything after what you’d been through.”

 

The last four weeks echoed in Shinichi’s head and he sighed as he pushed through the door to his bedroom. He stopped short of turning on the light. KID was sitting in the open window.

“What’s going on?” Shinichi asked. He cast a wary glance around the room for some clue as to why Kaito might be in the suit, but nothing seemed amiss.

“Well,” KID said softly, eyes uncharacteristically on the floor instead of on him. “I’m asking you to run away with me. Thought this…” He gestured to himself. “Seemed appropriate.”

“What?” Shinichi took a step forward and KID looked up, his breath leaving him in a small, relieved laugh. No matter what, if Shinichi was moving toward him, that was good.

“There’s this magician,” KID started, sliding out of the window to stand in front of it. “Jody Hopper. She offered me a position with her troupe but it’s a lot of traveling. They’re from England and they do shows all over the world. They’re never in one place for long.”

Shinichi was quiet for what felt like a long time but KID didn’t push.

“You said… run away with you,” Shinichi eventually said. “Did you already accept?”

“No.”

“But you want to.”

“Not without you.”

Shinichi laughed – a painfully uncertain sound. “I’d make a crap assistant.”

“Not really what I had in mind,” KID answered, his smirk somehow reassuring.

“Are you sure? You have no reputation as a magician. If I had to guess, Hopper-san’s doing this as a favor… Something to do with Sonoko?”

“Partly Sonoko,” KID admitted. “Partly my old man, I think. Hopper-san had family connections with him.”

Shinichi just nodded. “She’s still taking a chance on you. The troupe isn’t going to pay for an extra person’s travel and I… You’d have to support us both on your own. I’m not gonna ask my parents for so much when I’m not even in school or taking care of the house for them anymore.”

None of it was a rejection and KID felt his heart start to race as the possibility of it all became more real. “Actually, I’ve been thinking about that.” KID went to the desk and opened the laptop there, waving Shinichi over. He pulled something up with quick, gloved fingers then sat Shinichi down in front of it. On the screen, glowing in the dark room, was a website.

“‘Kudou Shinichi: Traveling Great Detective,’” Shinichi read from the top. There were links for English and French versions of the site just below the kanji, and below that were sections blocked off with sample text for schedules and maps.

“It’s not live, obviously,” KID said. “You’d get full control over the design and what’s included. We can set most things to private and only note which country you’ll be in at any given time. Anything more specific would be done over closed communication with your clients, for their sake as well as yours. …What do you think?”

“How long have you–?”

“Hopper-san turned up at the beginning of this week. I came up with this yesterday.”

Shinichi breathed out a faint, disbelieving laugh. “And how exactly would this work?” he asked. “Like, advertising, or–?”

“Mostly social media. You’ve already got a huge following–”

“Sure, but you’ve got this set up as a business. If I’m gonna be charging for the cases I take… I don’t know how that would work. I mean, earning income through self-employment while bouncing all over the world?”

“Oh, that.” KID shrugged. “Yeah, me neither.”

“Kaito–”

“But,” he interrupted firmly. “My old man wasn’t part of a troupe. He was basically self-employed – it was just him and Jii-chan and my mom helping out sometimes – but he held shows around the world. Jii-chan gave me the name of the accountant who helped him out. She also helped my mom with her investments after Oyaji died. It’ll be fine.”

“Wow.” Shinichi’s fingertips slid along the edge of the laptop, a little smile tugging at his lips. “You really have thought of everything.”

“Of course.” KID leaned over to take Shinichi’s hands and pulled him to his feet, facing him in the moonlight. “I couldn’t have even considered this if it meant either leaving you or taking away what you love doing.”

“Even if it was your best shot at getting your name out there?” Shinichi said. “I couldn’t do that to you either.” His hands squeezed KID’s and he shifted a little, looking down in a way that told KID he was probably starting to blush. “Ask me,” he said.

KID grinned. “Kudou Shinichi… will you run away with me?”

Shinichi’s heart was doing something stupid that made it difficult to get the word out but once he’d pushed back the nervous excitement and the details and the worry about everything else he answered, “Anywhere.”