This chapter has been up for ages on AO3, but I completely forgot to upload it here. Whoopsie.

Chapter 8: Friends to War

"Why can't I come with you?" Shinichi's voice echoed out of the office and into the hall. Saguru froze in his tracks, and quickly stopped shuffling the papers in his hands. This didn't sound like something he should interrupt. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!"

"I said no, Shinichi." His mentor's voice was softer, exasperated in the face of Shinichi's wrath. Saguru felt for Yuusaku, whose patient nature sometimes had difficulty keeping up with his high-strung son.

"But Saguru gets to go with you." At the mention of his name, Saguru crept closer to the door, carefully keeping his footsteps soft and light. He could hear this conversation from the other side of the manor if he wanted to, but part of him wanted to see it too.

Was that nosy? That was probably nosy. He reined himself back in and firmly planted himself to the side of the door to wait for the argument to fizzle out.

"Don't be ridiculous. Saguru-kun is my apprentice. He needs this kind of experience for his future as a detective." Yuusaku made it sound like a fine argument, but Saguru was taken aback by the blatant disregard of the statement. Something like that would definitely not ease Shinichi's temper. "You don't." Saguru winced. Yuusaku said the words with great levity, and he just knew they were accompanied by a shrug. He acted like it was obvious.

Shinichi made a very frustrated sound, flummoxed. It wasn't often something could strike Shinichi speechless, by Yuusaku somehow always found a way. "How could you say that? You know I want to be a detective too!"

"I thought I said, 'don't be ridiculous'." Yuusaku said, sardonically. "Look, you don't have time for this right now. You have school and soccer, and you already spend so much time on that news blog of yours. Not to mention, you've already been neglecting the violin." Shinichi hadn't picked up the violin in over a year, as far as Saguru knew. It was a pity; he hadn't been half-bad. "If you have so much free time, you should focus on your grades a little more." Saguru nodded along with Yuusaku's words. Shinichi's grades were always teetering on the verge of average. He could be top of their middle-school class if he wanted to be, but instead of doing homework or projects, he went chasing after sirens. Saguru's grades, in comparison, were absolutely stellar.

"Grades and extracurriculars, Shinichi. Have I made myself clear?" Though, quiet and casual as anything, Yuusaku's voice carried a certain undeniable finality. Saguru couldn't imagine being faced with it, let alone going against it. He was glad it wasn't aimed at him right now. He could imagine Yuusaku raising an eyebrow and quirking his lips, looking at Shinichi like he was an obnoxious character from a children's book.

"Crystal." Shinichi said, icily. The power of his voice was a far cry from his father's, but still he managed to make the single word sharp as knife. Unable to help himself, Saguru peered around the corner to catch sight of the scene. Yuusaku was standing at his desk, towering over his son, who glared harshly over the wood from the other side. Everything about Shinichi's body language spoke of carefully restrained frustration, but Yuusaku was as unreadable as ever, firm and relaxed. No more words were said, Shinichi's razor-like reply hanging in the air like a guillotine, and they stood opposing each other at an unrelenting impasse. Then, Shinichi turned on his heel and swept out of the room.

Saguru quickly retreated to his spot back at the wall, away from the door. He couldn't pretend to have not heard, and was a little lost at what to do. The air was heavy with Shinichi's fury, but as his friend, Saguru had to say something.

"Shinichi—" Saguru called as the other boy stormed right past him, his shoulders tight and face turned away. "Hey, Shinichi—"

Shinichi rounded upon him with cheeks that were burning red and wet eyes. Saguru flinched in surprise; he had never seen, in all their years together, Shinichi ever close to tears. Not even once.

But more than that, there was a nasty turn to Shinichi's mouth, and hellfire raging in his furious gaze.

"Kudo." Shinichi snarled at him, voice hard.

Saguru, still taken aback, didn't understand. "What?"

"Call me Kudo."

"But—" Saguru tried to say something, but Shinichi swiftly cut him off.

"Don't call me by my given name. It's Kudo." His voice carried a level of authority as well, reflective of his father even when he was at odds of the man himself. Some part of Saguru couldn't help muse that it was so typical of Shinichi to emulate the man he claimed he never wanted to be like. The rest of him recoiled a little, hurt, before he forced down the emotion. Shinichi was emotional enough for the both of them right now, which always spelled doom for relations. By forcing himself to face the scene objectively, it was easy to recognize that Shinichi was simply lashing out.

That said, Shinichi turned away and stormed past.

"Alright." Saguru muttered after him, contemplative as he watched Shinichi disappear up the stairs. He would, for a bit; well, at least to Shinichi's face. Shinichi was just upset, and would surely cool his head later; Shinichi did not have the kind of disposition that lent itself to something as petty as grudge-keeping.

Or so Saguru told himself. It was probably for the best, anyway. A little distance would do them both good.

"Saguru-kun." Yuusaku called, and Saguru turned back to the office and entered with a polite smile.

"Yes, sir?"

Yuusaku was sitting now, leaning back in his chair with an apologetic smile. "Sorry about that. I've put you in an awkward position."

"Not at all." Saguru was quick to shake his head. "I understand, sir. I'm sure Shinichi will someday too."

Yuusaku's smile turned wane and tired. "I hope not. I'm trying to avoid that."

"Ah, yes. Of course." Saguru wished he could rewind and correct himself. He hadn't meant to say something so insensitive. "Maybe Yukiko-san could help? Can't she just…make Shinichi happy?"

Saguru knew that wasn't quite how it worked, but it seemed like the easiest solution. Besides Yuusaku just making Shinichi forget he was angry, but there were, of course, ethical issues with that. According to a recent article in the Meta Monthly, forced emotional repression wasn't healthy.

Yuusaku laughed, but it rang hollow. "If only it was still so simple." He reached into his desk and pulled out a pile of papers and dropped them on the desk. "Come check out these figures."

It was a collection of charts and tables, all measuring a variety of figures and factors over time. Parsing through them, Saguru found his eyebrows raising. "You're monitoring reports of people with erratic behavior and extreme mood swings?"

His mentor nodded and selected a chart from the pile, presenting it to Saguru. He pointed to a long fluctuating line, and then the corresponding numbers. "During these time frames, there's an unprecedented increase in the number of people reporting erratic mood changes to their therapists, or people being brought into psychiatrists for symptoms akin to borderline personality disorder or bipolar personality disorder. A couple weeks later, most of them are released, emotionally stable once more and with negative diagnoses. And with seemingly no universal factors besides living in Beika. The data just dips right back to the average, before the next fluctuation."

It was bizarre collection of data. Saguru hesitated to admit it, but he didn't understand what the important part was. "I'm not sure I understand, sir."

"This should make it a little clearer." Yuusaku pulled out a different piece of paper from the pile with a grin so tight it crinkled his eyes and brow. It was nothing like the others.

"This is…Yuukiko-san's schedule for the past couple of months?" It was a detailed itinerary noting when Yuusaku's wife was where over the course of the year. Saguru looked between the dates when Yuukiko was in Tokyo with her family with the time frames the unusual fluctuations emerged. "They match…"

"Now I know they say correlation isn't causation," Yuusaku clasped his hands together, resting his elbows on the desk, and leveled Saguru a hard look, "but, I think you get what I'm getting at here."

"Yes," Saguru said, feeling numb. "I do." This was a simple matter of compatibility. "You're saying Shinichi and Yuukiko-san shouldn't be in the same place at the same time."

"Miss Edogawa! Miss Edogawa!" The press all looked at her with bright, excited eyes. They vied for her attention all throughout the room, and she sought out a familiar face among them. She recognized a young man from the Washington Post, and pointed him out. He stood up with a grateful smile and a determined gleam in his eyes.

"Has the perpetrator of the attack been identified?"

She let her smile fade and instead adopted a serious expression. "At this time, the culprit's identity is not something we can release to the public." The key to managing press, and the populace as a whole, the audience, was to give them something to draw conclusions about, as often the conclusions they came to were harmless compared to the truth.

People liked fantasies, especially ones of their own creation.

The room chattered, and many shoulders eased as they assumed that meant that while it remained classified, the culprit had been identified. They were wrong, but they didn't need to know that.

Another reporter piped up, on cue, "Then it's true it was a minor?"

She smiled, and all around the room, people smiled back. Everyone was genuinely excited to be there. "Minors are afforded additional protections in regard to their rights as private citizens." She explained easily, glancing down at her notes through her glasses for effect. "As such, we will be restricting information regarding the identities of all involved in the incident, particularly juveniles."

"The culprit was an unregistered metahuman, weren't they? Does ISHA have any plans to rollback protections for such individuals in the interest of public order?"

That hit too close to home, but she did not balk or even blink. Her expression did not falter, even for a moment. Part of her wanted to show how the implications of that question itched at her, but she wasn't there to express personal beliefs on international issues. She was there to ease tensions, reassure the afraid, and smile on camera. The fact that her own son was an unregistered metahuman was neither here nor there.

Without missing a beat, she evaded the question. "We at ISHA would like to assure everyone that our investigation into the matter will be impartial and thorough. We will look over all available information, witness reports, and security footage and as always, do whatever we can to retain the peace and order in the community."

With that, the press conference began to wrap up, and she was grateful for it. It was getting too warm, but still she remained to ensure everyone left with a smile on their face. As the lobby began to empty, she finally allowed herself to relax a little, waving off her assistant and pointing to the door. Outside, the car waited for them in the harsh California sunlight, and she slid into its air-conditioned interior with a grateful sigh.

The trip back to the hotel was quick, thankfully, and before long she was sitting in front of the mirror of her dresser, finally alone.

She reached up and felt for the slight change of texture at the base of her neck. Digging her finger through and under, she closed her eyes and ripped, feeling artificial skin stretching under her fingers before finally coming free. The mask was more permanent than most she created, since she needed to wear it so often, so she liked to be careful with it. Still, it never stopped being so stifling.

Kudo Yuukiko winked at herself in the mirror. She was flushed and her own make-up had blurred with sweat, but she always liked seeing her own face after hours of being someone else. She removed the itchy voice changer and set it aside on her wardrobe, rubbing her throat.

All in all, things had gone well. When Yuukiko had arrived, the city had been in near panic over the disruption caused by the young rogue metahuman, protestors taking to the streets and the police force in disarray as they struggled to keep up with their populace. Now, days later, the atmosphere had shifted, and things were looking up. That was the part that made it all worth it: why she couldn't give up acting on the stage or on the camera. There was nothing quite like knowing her presence could relieve people of their troubles, could bring a smile in the most miserable of times.

The next day would be her last on assignment, and then she could return to Tokyo for a little while, a little time to review her script for her next role. She was looking forward to spending some time with her own face, and not her alias's frumpy glasses.

Oh, and her family, of course.

Jii wasn't as young as he used to be. But he wasn't all old—most of his parts were actually quite new. He felt it was indispensable to keep himself up to date with the newest technological advancements, and to include them in his make-up. There was never any knowing just what would be useful to the young master next.

And it was very important that he didn't age out of his job, because of situations such as this.

"Who the fuck is this kid?" Fujioka snarled, glancing quickly between Jii and the young man he had apprehended in the southern corridor. The young man jerked in his hold, but Jii merely gripped his forearm tighter.

"I found him sneaking around with a camera, sir." At least, so their story went.

"And you didn't just shoot him why?"

"You said to find us a hostage, sir." Jii glanced at the ceiling and eyed it warily. Immediately, his cybernetic eye scanned the entire expanse of ceiling and rafters, searching for any signs of the structural integrity being compromised. Various areas were mere minutes from collapsing inward, no longer able to support the weight above them. Time left to escape into the next area: 4 minutes, 23 seconds.


"I meant somebody useful. An egghead or something." Above them echoed another groan, punctuated by the wail of the facility's sirens. Alarm system: fully activated. The authorities had already been contacted and were en route. Time until arrival of first responders: 8 minutes, 47 seconds. Most of the facility would still be standing.

Fujioka followed his gaze up and didn't look pleased by whatever his organic eyes saw. Even regular humans could recognize that the whole building would not last long. "But whatever, there's no time for this shit." Fujioka turned to the rest of the crew and barked out his orders. "We're getting out of here!"

Jii checked the position of the DOVEs on the display built into his eye. The young master's affectionately named Electronic Versatile Observatory Droids were placed strategically throughout the building, feeding him footage from both inside and out and monitoring for the arrival of their guests. Jii had been surprised when the young master selected bigger, more humanoid models for this mission than he usually did: the models they usually reserved for impersonations and the replacement of dangerous elements, or fire-fights with the occasional belligerent criminal organization.

But this was not a heist; the young master finally intended to fight. The past two weeks had taken a toll on him emotionally, even while their long-standing plans were finally bearing fruit. Instead of processing his frustration and sorrow properly, the young master was funneling it into his work as KID. Countless hours over the past few days had been spent bent over plans and blueprints, to the point when even the notoriously hard-working Jii was worried.

He wanted to avenge the master Toichi as much as Kaito did, enough to exchange his craftsman prosthetics with ones with significantly more firepower, but it would not do to rush. Patience, Jii felt, was the most important virtue for young men to learn, but the young master was the type to live quickly and brilliantly and shortly. Not unlike his father, or his mother, and not nearly enough like Jii himself.

Without meaning too, Jii squeezed the hostage's arm, and he shifted to catch Jii's gaze, briefly. There was a grim look in the young man's blue eyes.

Fukioka turned back to them with a look of plain disdain on his broad face. "Takahashi, keep an eye on him." Jii nodded obediently. That was his assigned duty, after all. "If we run into any trouble during extraction, you know what to do."

"Yes sir."

The first of the Irregulars would arrive soon.

The complex was huge and in complete chaos. Smoke was filling the air, despite the best efforts of the sprinkler system. Some sort of explosion had torn open a gaping hole in the buildings east-facing side, leaving behind piles of rubble and scattered concrete and red-hot flames.

Ran flew as fast as could while still maintaining a clear view of her surroundings and eyed the mess warily. Already, cracks were spreading throughout the rest of the building's roof in patterns like spider-web, and she knew it would not be long before the damage spread.

It was not easy to tell what the building was before the explosion: some sort of private research facility was her best guess. Whatever it was, this was nothing like the subtle and precise robberies she had seen over the course of the week. This was flashy, enough to attract the attention of the entire city, civilians and all.

And Shinichi was in there. Somewhere.

Why was Shinichi in there?

Ran flew through the smoke and entered through the destroyed side, slipping underneath the jagged concrete ceiling and peering inside. Whatever the room had once been was impossible to tell, but there was an empty space—what was probably a doorway—in the remaining intact wall, leading further in. She flew through ruined halls and corridors, her heart pounding in her chest as she struggled to breathe through the smoke and dust in the air. The place was ransacked, and flooding as water pelted down.

At least Aoko would have plenty to work with, once she arrived.

Most importantly, the facility seemed to be mostly empty. Whatever civilians usually populated the place must have gone home for the day hours ago. That probably left a few security guards and the janitorial staff.

It was a relief, but it also just confused her more. Why would Shinichi be in a practically empty building, after hours? Had he been trespassing again, or had he somehow known some kind of incident was going to occur here? Or had KID brought Shinichi here himself?

She searched the top two levels fruitlessly. The ground-floor was next, and the least affected by the destruction upstairs. More importantly, she could hear voices: clipped, firm, authoritative: someone giving orders, coming from around the corner.

Ran didn't even hesitate. She didn't even think.

Ran went through the wall that stood between her and them. She burst into the next corridor in a hail of concrete and dust and found it full of men in full body-armor. Marking their arms was the logo Hakuba had showed her the other day: the red cat.

Another attack so soon?

The terrorists wielded a variety of weapons in their hands, but Ran was not intimidated. Those kinds of tricks might work on other heroes, but Ran was nigh-invulnerable.

"Incoming!" Somebody yelled, but Ran paid him no mind. More importantly, Shinichi stood among them, wide-eyed and pale. His hands were bound behind his back, and one of the men had a hold of his arm. He looked scared.

The moment Ran registered that, she was punching a man in the jaw. With the self-discipline of years of karate, keeping the force to a non-lethal level was entirely habitual, but she allowed a little more strength to go in than entirely necessary. He was knocked off his feet before he even registered she moved, and hit the wall behind him with a satisfactory thud. He did not get back up.

She was already charging at the next: the man holding Shinichi hostage. Ran had no intentions of letting them use Shinichi as leverage.

But she wasn't expecting the man's arm to change into a gun either. His flesh twisted and disappeared, revealing metallic dark gray lined with ominous blue, forming the shape of a ridged barrel in an instant. He leveled it at her as she shot straight for him, and fired. From the barrel erupted an immense blast of energy that hit her with shocking strength, force, and pain, knocking her right back.

Ran recovered quickly, hovering in the air and blinking to clear her vision. The Cats seemed as confused as she by the blast, but none of them seemed to realize the source was one of their own. Things were happening too fast for the average human to process.

Ran hovered warily, glancing between rest of the terrorists and the strange Cat. Before she could decide which to target, something strange emerged in the side of her vision.

Metallic figures were approaching rapidly from the next corridor, looking like men dipped in silver paint. The artificial lights gleamed off their bizarre figures, which were too warped and disproportionate to be quite human.

"What the fuck?" A Cat muttered, swinging around to turn his weapon on the incoming irregularities, but in flash they were past him. One with sharp arms like blades came at Ran with the speed of a car, barely slicing past her head as she ducked down and shot to the side. It rushed past her and took another chunk out of the wall, before turning on its heel and leering right back at her.

Another came at her from the side: it skittered around on four tube-like limbs matched by the flexible arms on its back, all of which were armed with what looked like tasers. Reacting out of sheer instinct, Ran kicked it into the wall, and into a Cat that didn't move out of the way fast enough, and both went sliding back to the ground as the room filled with the sound of ringing metal.

"We're getting the hell out of here!" A Cat yelled—the leader most likely—and all the remaining terrorists were quick to comply. Spotting the weird one dragging Shinichi away, Ran swiped the next robot aside only to be jerked sharply back by a steely grip around her ankle.

"Shinichi!" She yelled as the Cats made their escape down the hall, only briefly catching Shinichi's blue eyes before the whole world suddenly blurred. The robot gripping her spun her in circles so fast she lost all sense of direction, and then abruptly dragged her down.

Ran hit the floor and went right through it, tile and concrete shattering underneath her. The world spun in dizzy circles as she hit the floor of the basement, hard enough to break the tile down there too.

Ran groaned as she forced herself back up. It hadn't hurt so much as it had been disorientating, and the world still swam as she glared upwards.

The freaky robots were following her down, some skittering along the walls while others extended their limbs and lowered themselves down.

Ran pushed herself to her feet and fixed her stance. She couldn't just rush around, clearly, and hope to barrel her way through; she had to fight properly. Whatever kind of robotic monstrosities her opponents were, they were highly versatile and operated as a well-organized group. If she wanted to go after Shinichi, she would have to find a way to disable them first, or just turn them all into scrap metal.

Option two sounded viable.

A tall one with what looked like chainsaws for hands fell from above, aiming right for her temple. Ran didn't so much as shift, bracing herself as the spinning metal crashed into her head. She was sent stumbling, but the robot's hand bent around her forehead, the steel plating warping and crumpling like paper. Ran seized the arm with her left hand and brought her right palm into its elbow, feeling a satisfactory snap under her hands as the arm was torn right from the main body. A kick sent the rest of the robot into the next assailant.

Up above her, someone whistled. Ran dared a glance up and found a white figure perched on the edge of the hole she created.

"KID!" She snarled as she ducked a long, sweeping strike by the freaky spider one, only to find herself dropping right into the path of a blazing blow-torch.

The heat rippled across her skin, all blue and red, as Ran threw herself backwards. Her face tingled unpleasantly, and there was a strange sensation against her back. Hazarding a glance, Ran's eyes went wide when she saw yellow flames dancing across her back—no, her hair.

Her hair was on fire.

In a blink of an eye, she had it out, but the damage was done. A foot of hair gone in an instant, leaving behind a slightly scorched bob. Her dad was going to have a heart attack. Sonoko too.

"Okay," Ran puffed out a breath. It was just hair. It didn't matter; more was at stake right now. "That was mean." But still she felt a fathomless, burning frustration. Shinichi was still in danger, and she was stuck in the basement with rejected Terminators. She clenched her fists and took another breath, trying to will the anger away.

She wasn't an angry fighter. That just wasn't who Ran was.

But still, something horrible and dark bubbled within her. She wanted to tear the metal freaks to shreds and dump their husks at KID's feet, she wanted to fly right up there and seize him by the neck and see how he liked a blow-torch to the face.

Taking another breath, Ran tried to focus on the rise and fall of her chest and her pounding heart. Those were very, very bad thoughts, and she clenched her eyes shut in the face of them, trying to will them away.

Then she shot off the ground and put her foot through the head of the next robot, feeling the give of metal and circuitry under her heel. She hit the wall behind them in a crouch and leapt off it towards the next, sweeping at it with hook kick. This time, though, its head simply fell backwards before snapping right back into place. Its mouth opened, and Ran found her vision filled with mist.

Coughing around the sudden moisture in the air, and fully aware of the possibility of sleeping gas, Ran struggled to hold her breath as she caught the robot's arm and spun it around. When she released it, it went flying into the ceiling, just meters away from where KID stood, watching. He flinched.

Good, Ran thought, vindictively, even as the other robots seemed to adopt the spraying tactic. They started billowing smoke out of their mouths or spewing liquids that had Ran backing up warily.

Bad choice, she realized, as her back met cold steel. There was an alarming noise, akin to a spring shrieking as it was pulled, and metal arms were suddenly encircling her, trying to trap her arms to her sides. It caught her left, but Ran managed to bring her right arm up in time.

"What the hell are these things?" She snarled, swiping at the offending robot with her free hand. It ducked and sprayed her in the face with some kind of colorful foam. It made her head woozy, and briefly, she saw triplicate. It was getting difficult to keep track of all of the enemies—she couldn't even tell if there were five or six of the robots in total. And that wasn't even counting the bizarre android Cat that had shot pure energy at her and was still making an escape with her boyfriend.

"The stage crew." KID blithely replied, from where he sat on the floor above, watching the fight progress.

"They're yours?" She sputtered, kicking off the ground and dragging her hitchhiker with her as she careened into the wall. They hit it hard: hard enough to jar the robot's grip. Ran forced her way free and put a fist through its torso. Her hand enclosed around a bunch of wires and gears, and she jerked them free with a grunt. The robot spasmed without its insides, and then went still.


But she seriously had to finish this up. Shinichi was waiting for her, and these tin cans were getting on her nerves. Enough was enough.

Moving faster than a bullet, Ran seized a big one, and with as much strength as she dared, threw it into the far wall.

"Bad choice! Bad, bad choice!" KID yelled, his voice surprisingly tight with panic. The robot went right through the upper portion of what Ran only then identified as a pillar and left nothing but a gap behind.

There was a long, horrifying groan from above her as the ceiling buckled. A lattice-work of cracks spread in an instant, all away from the site of impact, as Ran's eyes went wide with terror. The column—it had been the last of the facility's center foundation.

The whole building was going to collapse inwards.

Ran was on the broken column in an instant, thrusting her hands upwards to catch the buckling ceiling and force it back into place. It shook on her palms, pieces grinding together, but as she pushed things settled into a precarious balance. The portions of the ceiling, and the rest of the building, were barely holding together.

The weight on her hands was immense, but Ran did not buckle. "Don't move." KID shouted down at her, on his feet and eying the floor under him warily. It wasn't a threat, it was advice, but it was unnecessary. She scarcely dared to breathe, let alone move. "Just stay there!"

The robots were regrouping, some twisting their limbs back into place, as their hands turned into tools. With shocked fascination, Ran watched as they turned towards each other and set to work, fixing wiring, dents, and torn plating with simple, mindless efficiency. In less than a minute they were all in working order.

The ceiling above her whined, and Ran felt something somewhere shift. Her heart pounded in her chest.

The whole fight had been pointless, just wasted time—no, worse than that, because Ran had done more damage to the facility than she did to any of them. The robots had just been stalling as the Cats got away, while Ran pointlessly tore up more of the building and endangered the lives of everyone still within.

Including Shinichi.

Especially Shinichi. And maybe if he wasn't involved, she would have been able to keep it together. But he was, and she couldn't save him.

Ran felt her eyes burn, hands shaking against the broken ceiling.

"Why," Ran hissed, swallowing down frustrated tears.

KID was quiet, looking down at her from under the brim of his hat. The shadows it created completely obscured his face, but Ran knew him well enough to know he was probably smiling. Laughing.

"Why did you have to bring him into this?" She yelled, screaming the words out as if she could hit him with them—as if she could make her voice into a weapon like Kazuha could. Unable to move, to struggle, to fight, all she could do was scream at the unmoving figure above. "Why couldn't you just leave Shinichi out of this?"

Shinichi, who was a little abrasive around the edges but fundamentally good. Shinichi who liked to help and protect people, even though all he had to work with was a too-fragile body and a too-cluttered mind. Shinichi who used to smile like a kid while talking about his favorite books and bounced a soccer ball when he was over-thinking.

Why would anyone want to put him in a situation like this?

In the wake of her outburst, everything was quiet. The robots crawling up the walls back to the first floor, and the roof was holding. KID was very, very still, but eventually, his mouth cracked open.

"Why could you?" He asked, and Ran stared at him, confused. The question wasn't processing in her head—she didn't understand what he was asking. He cleared his throat. She had never seen him do that before. "Why could you leave him out?"

That was a loaded question. But the answer was so obvious, Ran furrowed her brow and scowled at him. Why couldn't he understand something so simple?

"Because I have to." She knew it hurt him, and she knew it was driving a wedge between them. But it was necessary. If Shinichi found out the truth, there was no way he would simply stay out of it. He would throw himself in headfirst like he always did, and he would get hurt.

The world was filled with dangerous people; villains strong enough that they could break even her bones or destroy minds or reduce people to dust with a glance. And Shinichi was normal, delicate, weak, and Ran was even weaker, because she couldn't bear the thought of losing him. He didn't need to be always happy, so long as he was okay.

And if their relationship paid the price for his life, then she would accept it. "I just want him to be safe."

The robots were gathering around KID on the next floor, but he was still staring down at her. His face looked twisted, somehow.

He turned to one of them—the creepy, four-legged one with the elongated limbs—and carefully reached out to it. It allowed him to step up on to its back, and when he pointed down towards her, it complied. Before long he was standing before her, suspended on its back, as its arms stretched to each side to support them.

Ran watched him warily, but she dared not move and risk shifting her weight, and consequently, disturb the delicate balance above her head. But it was difficult to not jerk away as he reached up to her face, gloved hands stilling just centimeters away. "Hold still."

He peeled the mask from her face slowly, delicately. It shouldn't have come off at all, because of the special adhesive Professor Sun had synthesized it with. Only a special spray could remove it. But, Ran supposed, the robots had caught her in the face with plenty of strange concoctions. It wasn't impossible that one of them had been the correct formula, or that KID had planned everything from the moment she entered the building.

Ran felt the cold air on her flushed cheeks. KID peered at her, a soft noise leaving his lips and dying in the air between them. The moment felt strangely intimate, vulnerable.

"Please." Ran said, not sure what she was pleading for. For Shinichi's safety, probably. So many words were bubbling up her throat, some angry, some miserable. But what came out was: "I love him."

His hands shook, dropping the mask like it burned his fingers. It fell all the way to the dusty floor as the robot's distended arms began to retract, taking KID with them.

Saguru mostly used the jet, nowadays. He liked piloting, and he liked the spacious cockpit, but most of all he liked flying among the clouds, watching the horizon spread out before him.

The jet was, regretfully, all the way back at Headquarters. The only transportation Saguru had on him was the notoriously difficult hoverboard Professor Sun made, neatly condensed into a belt buckle. And he had no intentions of using it, since it could only get around a foot off a surface without spiraling out of control.

Instead, Saguru made his way to the nearest Overseer storage locker, only pausing long enough for the computer to scan his override ID before he was heaving the cover out of the designated manhole. Normally, these kinds of resources were reserved for official Overseers, and he was technically under-qualified. Thankfully, Yuusaku had issued him a key for emergency situations.

This probably counted.

He didn't bother with the ladder, dropping down into the hidden room under the alley. There awaited a variety of emergency supplies and tech: Saguru made a beeline for an advanced motorcycle, disregarding everything else.

"There you are!" A familiar voice called from the ceiling, and Saguru froze, already half on the vehicle. He felt like he'd been caught with a hand in the cookie jar, and at the same time, frustrated. There wasn't time to waste, even on explaining everything to his mentor. Especially since he was used to Yuusaku just plucking information from his head during emergencies, but that wasn't possible over a communication line. "Why is your communicator off?"

"It's been compromised." He said quickly, fumbling through the cycle's start-up protocol. "KID."

"I've been trying to contact you all night." Yuusaku was rambling. "Four attacks have occurred, all across the city—"

Saguru cut him off. "He has your—Kudo Shinichi." No mention of familial relationships. Rule number two.

Silence. That was probably the last thing Yuusaku wanted to hear.

"That is…unfortunate." Saguru revved the engine, checking everything was in order, and pulled on a helmet. Hearing that there was trouble elsewhere in the city wasn't a surprise; even if that huge explosion hadn't been a decoy in the first place, which it likely was, someone was going to use it as cover. But his priorities were with Shinichi and KID; if he had to, Yuusaku could call in reinforcements from local cities or the Overseers' emergency response unit.

The communication line switched over to the cycle's main interface as Saguru gunned the engine, peeling out of the room and onto the ramp on the far-side in an instant. The ramp brought him up into a long corridor that opened on time as he sped through, sliding shut behind him like it never existed as he skidded onto the street.

"Where is the rest of the team?"

"Had to split up. KID's rules."

"Can you save Shinichi?"

"I do not know yet, sir. I'm not even on site." Obviously. Frustration was making Saguru too sharp-tongued. "Your orders?"


"Sir, I'm sure you realize how dangerous the current situation is. I need to know what you think is the best course of action."

The best course of action was Yuusaku putting an end to this himself, as much as Saguru hated to admit he couldn't handle this on his own. But that was also asking a lot of his mentor.

Saguru slid between traffic as he waited for a response, measuring the distance between cars and ignoring how loud the traffic was, down on the ground and without a barrier to dampen the roar of engines.

The silence on the line was jarring in comparison.

Saguru swallowed, and gathered his courage. It was hard to get out the words, and each weighed on his tongue like he was sucking rocks. "I believe you have a decision to make, sir."

"I'm aware. But." "Last time I…" Yusaku trailed off, leaving the rest of the sentence unsaid. They couldn't afford revealing any details over a communication line, even one as secure as this. Not even their allies could know the truth of what happened that night. "I killed a man." Saguru wondered what kind of face Yuusaku was making, just then. Probably not one he could bear to see in person. "A friend."

"I know, sir." Saguru heard himself say. He tried to imagine it, sometimes: what it must have been like back then, with the original Kaitou KID. The magician Yuusaku and Yuukiko spoke of was a kind, chivalrous man with a noble heart, not at all like the rest of the villains they faced: he was someone they could trust to never go too far and to never betray a friend.

Not at all like the Kaitou KID he knew either.

But, for all the differences, what if the ending was to be the same?

"I can't allow something like that to happen again."

Saguru wouldn't allow it either. He didn't want to be a murderer. "Then I think you know what you need to do, sir."

"Yes." Yuusaku agreed quietly. "I suppose I do. Head to the facility. I'll catch up to you."

Saguru tightened his grip on the handlebars and swept around an eighteen-wheeler, leaving nothing but a streak of light behind him.

True to his word, a sleek black car slipped into the space beside him as he approached the location of the explosion. Here the traffic had slowed to a near stand-still as officers struggled to redirect it away from the police line they were setting up around the targeted facility. Fire trucks had already arrived, circling the building with flashing sirens as they took measure of the intensity of the flames and the damage to the building's integrity. A good deal of the fire had already been put out, likely a combination of sprinklers and Aoko's efforts. But wherever she was, Saguru couldn't see or hear her. He could, however, hear a shrill sound echoing out of the building. Banshee.

The officials immediately stepped aside and let them on the premises at the first glimpse of the Night Baron's famous mask, watching with hopeful eyes as they approached the building.

"Stick together." The Baron warned, and Saguru nodded. It was less a question of safety as it was one of stability and trust built over the span of years. "I can't get a read on Tsuyu's mind, but Heliopause and Banshee seem to be engaging with some kind of cybernetic army." Saguru tensed with worry. If Yuusaku couldn't find Aoko's mind, she was either out of range or unconscious or—

No. He couldn't think like that.

"The Red Siamese Cats are responsible for the explosion." Saguru had suspected as much. KID's explosives tended to be less straight-forward. "And Angel is…" The Baron glanced down at the feet with a grave note to his voice. With the mask, Saguru couldn't see, but he was sure Yuusaku was frowning. "She seems to be trapped underground, holding the building together." Saguru gave the floor a wary glance. They would have to move quickly and efficiently, lest the building crumble down on their heads. "KID has another group of…robots with him, according to Angel." "I imagine they are going after the Cats." "Banshee is struggling. It seems their opponents do not have eardrums."

"We should go help—"

"No. Heliopause and Banshee are being held back in the eastern corridor. The Cats are already making their escape out the southern loading bay, and it seems they have the hostage." Hattori and Kazuha would have to get through on their own, somehow, and would hopefully stumble across Aoko along the way. At the very least, robots (robots! Honestly!) would be a poor match-up against Hattori. He was probably already melting them all down.

But Yuusaku was not finished, and his voice was grim. "I can't find KID's mind." That was not unusual: they hadn't been able to figure out the method, but they knew KID somehow had ways to block long-distance psychic attacks. The only way for Yuusaku to gain access to KID's mind would be to reduce the range of his psychic scan and concentrate on a close-range area. The original KID had had a similar innate ability; according to Yuusaku, the thief had been completely immune to all abilities and powers that tried to affect him. Whether that power had been inherited had yet to be seen. "And I can't see into Shinichi's either." It was possible KID had afforded the same protection to Shinichi, to keep his game from being too easy.

Saguru checked over his equipment as they rushed towards the loading bay. If Shinichi was being held hostage, they couldn't afford to waste any time and they certainly couldn't make any mistakes. Biting the inside of his lip, he found himself looking to Yuusaku for reassurance. "Is he okay?"

"He is uninjured." The Baron's mask grinned at him, and while Yuusaku's voice was still grave, something lighter slipped in. "Let's keep it that way."

Saguru couldn't help but smile tightly back. It was nostalgic to be rushing into danger together like this; though the two of them still patrolled together often enough, this was a rare occasion. It made him feel like a kid again.

When they reached the loading bay's doors, they split up. Saguru dashed up a wall and took to the rafters, far off the ground in a wide garage like this. From his vantage point, he could see three military-style vehicles loading up with terrorists, all heavily-armed. Some were still loading in what looked like stolen equipment, while others lingered and set up charges around the edges of the bay. They intended to blow the rest of the facility to dust behind them.

More importantly, a familiar young man was being held to the side, watching the scene with wary eyes. No one besides the single guard holding him still seemed to be paying him any mind.

That would make extraction easier. If they could get Shinichi away first, taking care of the rest would be significantly more simple. Saguru glanced towards where Yuusaku was hidden in the shadows to the bay, catching the eyes of the Baron mask.

"H-Alpha." The Baron whispered, too softly for anyone else's hearing. Saguru nodded and took off down the rafters, running silently along the concrete beams until he was directly above the hostage and his guard. Unclipping his grappling hook, Saguru set his stance and waited for the signal as the Baron skulked closer to the Cats.

Something down below clicked and whirred: metallic sounds strangely out of place. Saguru glanced down once more, only to jolt as he found the guard staring right back, one arm extended into the air. Except his arm wasn't an arm at all—it was some kind of gun.

Saguru threw himself from the rafters and extended the grappling hook to catch a beam above, swinging down and right into a different Cat. Just in time, as the rafter he'd perched on disappeared in a magnesium-bright blast tore through exactly where he'd stood.

"What the fuck?" The Cat groaned, and Saguru quickly kicked him in the temple and rushed at the next, swiping his bō staff free of his belt. To the side, the Baron was also descending upon the Cats, and they dropped like flies around him, drooling and foaming from the mouths. Saguru turned back to the guard and took out his frozen nitrogen pellets.

The guard stared back, his weapon firmly pointed at Shinichi's chest. Fair enough.

More strange, metallic sounds were descending upon them, and Saguru hazarded a guess about the whereabouts of the missing robot army as many silver forms came raining down from the same rafters as he. They only creaked when they moved, and were otherwise completely silent; no wonder he'd completely missed their presence.

More were rushing in through the bay, accompanied by a figure with a rippling white mantle. KID strode into the room like the chaos within had nothing to do with him, a curious gleam in his eyes and an impassive look on his face.

The Cats hadn't stood a chance against the Baron's mind-wiping abilities, but robots were another matter entirely. They weren't exactly susceptible to physic attacks.

But it would take more than a couple of high-tech toys to take down the Night Baron, so Saguru left them to it and focused on the enemy before him.

Saguru flicked the pellets at the ground between them, and the exploded into white and ice the moment they impacted, turning the ground slick beneath their feet. Both hostage and captor stumbled on the suddenly frictionless floor, and Saguru skidded forward, spinning his bō staff in his hands. The guard had barely gotten back his footing when Saguru caught him in the side with the staff, the momentum sending him spinning across the ice. But his opponent recovered quickly, his legs twisting and rotating into four-pronged claws that sunk into the ice and brought him to an abrupt stop, weapon already ready and charged. Saguru threw himself across the ice to escape the shot, feeling a rush of heat and electricity passing him by, and used the chance to throw a second volley of freezing pellets directly into the barrel of the gun.

Swearing, the guard fell back, struggling with his frozen arm, and a bizarre robot skittered into his place. It seized Shinichi with its extended arms and shot wires up towards the rafters. In an instant, it was raising itself in the air with its passenger.

"I don't think so!" Saguru snapped two exploding kunai from his belt and threw them at the wires, smiling with grim satisfaction as both hit true. The wires snapped and sent the robot plummeting back to the ground, and Shinichi was thrown wide with an indignant shout. "I got you!" Saguru slid in and caught Shinichi fireman style, Shinichi's weight hitting him fully in the chest and making him wheeze. Behind them, the robot crashed to the ground with an unhappy robotic whine, and what sounded suspiciously like a shut-down jingle.

The guard was back with the other Cats, loading his unconscious comrades into the trucks. The Baron was taking down robots with surgical accuracy, but he didn't have enough leeway to move to stop them. The trucks started with an immense roar and burst out of the bay, charging into the night.

"They're getting away!" Saguru called, readjusting his grip on Shinichi.

And then Shinichi reached up and tore the mask right from his face.

"Eh?" Saguru said, dumbly, as the familiar interface built into the lenses of his mask disappeared from his vision. He was left blinking at the other teen, who held the mask up, pinched between his fingers. "Shinichi-kun?"

Something…was wrong. Shinichi smelled wrong. His heart was beating wrong. That, and he'd just swiped the mask from Saguru's nose.

Shinichi—Shinichi?—pushed against his chest and got back on his feet, leaving Saguru on the ground trying to make sense of the world again. Everything else had gone still: the robots paused and retreated backwards as a group towards the thief in white, leaving the Night Baron standing alone in the center of the room staring at the person that was supposed to be Shinichi.

It was quiet. The three people in the center of the room were staring each other down with charged intensity, and he watched on in fascination. Even knowing he was supposed to keep out of the way and stay in the relatively safe encirclement of DOVEs, he couldn't help but move closer.

Hakuba was there; and it was Hakuba. Hawk was Hakuba. It was not, in all honesty, a surprise. And yet, it still didn't feel quite real.

The Night Baron turned towards the former-hostage, pulling up to his full and impressive height as he prowled closer. He didn't like the way the Night Baron was walking: like he was moments away from unleashing hell upon them, and anxiously, he moved closer, close enough to interfere if something happened.

When the Night Baron spoke to the hostage, his voice was full of something completely incomprehensible. "You're not my son."

The words felt like a rush of icy water, like someone had emptied a bucket over his head.

The Baron is not my father. The Baron is not my father. For years, those words had been echoing inside his head, with certainty he didn't understand. Every time he doubted it, they came back full-force like a well-known fact engrained in his mind, even if their source was a hazy memory of a dark building with grey floors stained red.

But the Baron was his father. His father murdered—

The Baron turned towards him, descended upon him, and he stumbled back, struggling to remember how this part was supposed to go. He was breathing too fast, and every time he tried to remember the carefully laid-out steps of the plan, all the rehearsals they performed, his vision was overlaid with a different dim building, just as grey and just as torn up. As the Baron towered over him, the Baron towered over a hole in the ceiling, looking down on a shattered man in white, bleeding into the concrete. The Baron loomed over KID like death itself, and he was KID now, he was the dead man on the floor —

The Baron's hand seized his arm, and for a single moment, passing like a lightning strike, the world disappeared as an immense presence crashed into his mind, consuming everything. The memories devouring him vanished, burned away like mist in the noon sun.

And then it was gone, leaving him shaking but clear-headed, and the Baron's grip slackened.

In a weak, questioning voice, so familiar, the Baron said, "Shinichi?"

"Hello, Father." Shinichi replied. Nothing felt real, like Shinichi was standing alone and untouched in another world, watching the scene unfold before him. Without a thought, he plucked the monocle from his face. "Funny seeing you here."