DISCLAIMER: I do not own Magic Kaito. Wish I did, but you can't have everything you want in life. It belongs to Gosho Aoyama. The song for this is "Return to Innocence" by Enigma featuring Enya; its lyrics within the piece are italicized and bracketed. However, this fic belongs to me, Frances Marie, do not steal or post without my consent.

Kaito is the ordinary guy. Kaitou is the thief. Just a reminder. Angst, introspection, and confusion warning.

Some of you might be wondering about Veritas. . It's coming along soon, I promise! I've been desperately trying to get this written for months, so priorities temporarily shifted. But Veritas will be updated.

All comments are welcome.


Return to Innocence

Earlier in the day, Police Inspector Nakamori had been passing through the halls of headquarters, oblivious to the stifled laughter of the officers around him. It was not until he had taken off his dress code-required jacket for lunch break that he had discovered the "INSPECTOR NAKAMORON" paper sign that had been taped to the back, a trademark winking caricature scrawled on the bottom right. What had made him seethe even more than his personal humiliation was the neatly typed message on the other side of the sign.

At that time, innocent passersby outside the formidable building debated dialing emergency services. Surely, an explosion of some kind had taken place within police headquarters, to merit that horrid shouting.


It was five minutes to nine, and the silvery light of the full moon above was interrupted by shining spotlights over the museum, the red and blue of the Metro Police's squad car sirens, and the flashbulbs of photographers and reporters hoping for a front-page spread. The museum had been built in the style of an old English castle, with detailed awnings and strongly crafted walls that made the building itself an architectural marvel, though its current fame was not for its architecture nor its implied history.

The note had been succinct. Kid the Phantom Thief was going to take the Scarlet Morning ruby at nine o'clock at night from that building, the Museum of Rare Artifacts.

The building was surrounded on all sides. Video cameras had been equipped throughout the interior of the house of history, infrared sensors on the alert. Somewhere, her father was there among the jumble of obedient officers, eye-searing equipment, nagging reporters, nervous museum caretakers, and screaming fans of the one criminal he had never been able to catch.

[ love, emotion

feeling, devotion ]

"Do you really think he's going to take that ruby?" Keiko asked excitedly beside Aoko. Her glasses' lenses reflected the light of the spotlights circling the sky. "It's one of the biggest gems in the world. I've seen it, it's huge! The size of your fist!"

"I've never heard of it before," Aoko commented. Her brown hair was slightly more wild than usual, each strand righteously affronted.

"It used to be privately owned," Keiko explained. "Then the owner, this really wealthy man, donated it to the museum two years ago, without giving a reason. Just wanted to give it away." Keiko's cheeks flushed, and she held up a paperback copy of A Guide to Famous Jewels. "I read it in this book and in an article about the Kid."

"An article?"

Keiko nodded cautiously. "The article was discussing what escape routes he could take."

Aoko fumed at the mobile mass of reporters jockeying for position behind the police "do not cross" line. "Those newspapers! They shouldn't be helping him, giving him ways to steal it, they should be trying to catch him!"

"I find your anger more than a little misplaced," a calm, slightly condescending voice came from behind them, and Aoko jumped. "The Kid wouldn't need the help of childish journalistic banter to steal a silly jewel."

"Akako-chan," Aoko said, relieved. "You scared me, coming from behind us like that."

"Where's Kuroba-kun?" Akako asked pointedly.

Aoko frowned. "Probably readying his video camera. He's obsessed with Kid. He left right after school without a word. It's getting to be normal for him to do that whenever the Kid has a heist." The frown deepened. "He says he's been to every one of the Kid's heists, but I've never seen him. It's weird; knowing him he'd be bouncing around all over the place, acting like an idiot."

"Maybe he avoids you," Akako offered. "After all he did get a little overenthusiastic this morning, hm?"

There was something in the way Akako could pronounce an ordinary word like overenthusiastic that made Aoko feel inexplicably embarrassed, but she overlooked it for her indignation.

"That was an accident! That was maybe the first time I ever got hurt chasing him with a mop in class, and even then it was my fault! I tripped!" Aoko huffed, hand unconsciously drifting to her arm, where a small cut was bandaged under her school uniform's sleeve. "He was just moving so much faster than usual," she said, almost to herself. "I've never seen him do that before, and I just tried to keep up. And he was so sorry afterward, he didn't do anything else stupid all day. It was all strange, today." Then she realized that her two friends were listening, and she reddened.

"If he avoids me, then he's being stupid," Aoko said, trying to return to the topic at hand. "Just because I'm not a part of the school's Kaitou Kid fan club? He's the weird one; he's the only male member!"

"I still don't understand why you don't like the Kid," Akako said, then smiled charmingly. Inwardly Aoko relaxed in relief. This was something familiar. "He's so daring!"

"He's a criminal," Aoko said firmly. "You shouldn't honor criminals, Akako!"

"He always gives back what he steals. Maybe he's not all bad?" Keiko ventured timidly.

Directly in Aoko's line of vision, Inspector Nakamori was shouting orders to several officers, who saluted and ran off in multiple directions. His dark hair, the same shade as Aoko's, was just as messy, and his moustache needed trimming. He was unaware that his daughter was standing less than fifty feet from him.

Aoko's expression clouded. "Kaitou Kid is a bad person," she said with unexpected force. "He steals for the attention. He should just disappear and let us all live in peace."

That remark earned her several scowls and low mutters from the hordes of fans that surrounded her, many of them waving handmade I LOVE KID signs.

"Really! Disappear! My, my, he can't do that. Then where would I go for entertainment?" Akako laughed and the same fanatics laughed with her, still shooting Aoko dirty looks.

"The Scarlet Morning ruby is one of the last large gems in the world," Keiko interrupted, reading aloud from Famous Jewels. "It used to belong to the Queen of England until that rich guy bought it at an auction, and it's supposed to be so beautiful that when you hold it up to the moonlight and look through it, it dazzles you." She flipped pages absently. "There are all sorts of legends and myths about it, living forever and other weird stuff." She sighed. "How romantic. Imagine owning something that pretty!"

"Or of getting that on your engagement ring," Akako added. She gave Aoko a significant look.

Aoko wrinkled her brow at her. "That's all legend. It's still a jewel, and it belongs to the museum," she insisted. "Everyone knows the Kid likes gaudy jewels. The louder, the better. It's all publicity."

Before Akako (or the Kid fans) could answer, Keiko let out a squeal. "Look! Something's happening! I bet it's Kaitou Kid!"

Despite herself, Aoko leaned forward to get a better look at the museum, checking her watch. One minute past nine. She was at the head of the crowd, but it was still hard to see. The spotlights stopped tracking the skies, the reporters and tourists switched on their video cameras, and all focused their attention on the museum. The crowds hushed.

Regardless of the silence, Aoko's father was bellowing into his transmitter. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN, HE'S ALREADY TAKEN THE RUBY?"

A static murmur and several excited gasps from the crowd were emitted.

"LOST HIM?! IDIOTS!" Then, as if realizing the tense onlookers were hanging on to every word, Inspector Nakamori lowered his voice in embarrassment. "If you've lost him, then find him!" he ordered at a more normal volume. "He's still somewhere in the vicinity of the museum!"

[ don't be afraid to be weak

don't be too proud to be strong ]

Aoko saw it first, the small peak of a bright white top hat on an ornate turret of the roof, followed by the clean white suit and the fluttering, ridiculous cape. As if the blazing lights had no effect, the thief's face was shrouded in shadow.

The fangirls screamed in exhilaration. The officers cursed simultaneously, wishing the thief a painful death in varying degrees.

The Kid casually tossed his prize into the air and caught it again, the cut ruby flashing fire in the moonlight, then swept a bow without falling off the battlement, a tribute to his agility.

"The spotlights!" Aoko's father roared. "Don't let him disappear!"

The lights swung in wide arcs across the ink sky, resting on the Phantom Thief with enough power to blind. White light flashed back from the roof, reflected, Aoko guessed, from his monocle. And then the Kid's voice blared from the trees, the crowds, the museum, the sky:

"I'm glad you received my message, Inspector! Just a little joke of mine. No hard feelings."

The voice came from everywhere at once, with the tinny quality of speakers and microphones. The crowds hushed their wild yells, gazing around in wonder. There was no equipment to be seen.

Inspector Nakamori grabbed a bullhorn from a hapless officer, forgetting to remove the strap from around the officer's neck and nearly choking him. "Kid! You are surrounded on all sides! It's over! You are under arrest for attempted robbery!"

"Whatever happened to no hard feelings?" The voice's tenor was smooth and cool and unaffected, and the thief tipped his hat in the spotlights. "Better upgrade the charge, Inspector. I don't attempt anything. I do everything."

And there was something like amusement in his tone that was familiar and altogether irritating, what made every theft of the Kid seem more wrong than other crimes, so strangely off-kilter. It was as if Aoko was watching a badly-scripted movie. Cheesy dialogue, cheering crowds, a cocky thief in white, an irate inspector made to play the fool. It was so well-crafted and theatrical that it only added to her conviction that the thief stole for the drama.

There was a burst of wind, and Kid reached behind him.

"Get the helicopters!" Inspector Nakamori shouted, years of experience prompting recognition. "He'll use the glider!"

"You're getting better," the Kid remarked. "Too bad you're wrong. You might want to cover your eyes." And he hurled something off the battlement.

"It's a flash bomb!" the bullhorn officer shrieked, still struggling out of the strap.

At that precise moment, three things happened at once. The flash bomb landed on the largest of the giant spotlights and exploded, sending Aoko eye-searing bright light that made her instinctively duck and shield her eyes along with the crowd, colors dancing against her eyelids. The spotlight died with barely a flicker, the museum and the area around it becoming significantly dimmer. And the sound of gunshots rang out in the open air, over the cries of temporarily-blinded officers and civilians alike.

Aoko could hear her father shouting over the tumult and she blinked rapidly, stars still winking in her vision. Keiko was shrieking beside her; where was Akako? Akako had vanished.

"Akako-chan!" she called, vision returning. "Where are you?"

"Find who did this!" the inspector bellowed, yards away. "And arrest him for the attempted murder of the Kaitou Kid! The rest of you, find the Kid! He might have fallen off the roof!" The uniformed force scattered. Aoko's father was shouting himself hoarse.

So hoarse, he didn't notice the little red dot that was resting almost complacently on his shirt collar. But Aoko, with mounting horror, did.

"DAD!" she screamed, running toward him. "Dad, move!"

He looked at her for a moment in confusion; he didn't recognize her. Then with a blink of his eyes, he realized who she was and yelled, "Aoko, get out of here!" But she was already close to him -- an arm's length away -- in front of him --

There was the sound of a second shot, like a whip crack, and Aoko was shoved, herself and her father falling to the ground, eyes shut tightly.

But if this was getting shot, it didn't hurt quite as much as she had expected; in fact, the only pain Aoko felt was from the impact of hitting the cement floor. She dared to crack an eye open.

Blue eyes met her own, mere centimeters from her face, fringed with messy dark hair peeking from underneath the white rim of a top hat. One eye was partially covered by the monacle, but Aoko still knew the face that watched her now in worry and fear. Her father was sprawled some feet away, unconscious but unharmed. Part of Aoko knew she had to go to him soon, but she remained on the ground where she lay, staring at the figure crouched beside her, his white cape pooling around the two of them.

"Kaito?" she gasped.

And the famous Phantom Thief, hailed as the most wanted criminal and the Lupin of the Modern Age, hesitated, worry turning into calculated aloofness. Then the expression cracked, and he nodded.

And her world came down around her.

"Sorry," he croaked, voice dry. "I'm sorry, Aoko."

He stood, pulled the brim of his hat low over his eyes. There was a flash of smoke and confetti, and Kid the Phantom Thief... Kuroba Kaito -- no, yes, of course not -- disappeared.

[ just look into your heart my friend

that will be the return to yourself

the return to innocence ]

She didn't remember much after that. Two gunmen were found bound together by a cord and a note that said, "My apologies. -- KID." The gunmen were dead; one had shot the other while bound, then himself. Both bullets had gone through their faces. The entire force was baffled.

Her father was taken to the hospital, fully conscious and raving about overreacting and full investigations. Aoko said nothing then about what had happened. The others uniformed assumed that she had saved her father's life, and she made no attempt to correct them. A part of her refused to repeat her discovery about the thief and her friend, as if not saying the words made the whole thing untrue. As if she had the right to keep the knowledge to herself, if just for a little while. Her father was safe, no one had been hurt, so what was the harm?

So she said nothing at all. She managed to convince the officers that she was unhurt, she promised Keiko she would call the next day, and walked away before any could protest or offer to drive her home. She wasn't sure where she was going, but it didn't matter.

Her feet took her mechanically down the streets, her mind struggling to remain blank. The red dot that had waited on her father's shirt collar flashed in her eyes, and Aoko felt a surge of anger. The image of her best friend hovering over her, dressed in the garb of the person she despised more than anyone else, then took the laser-sight's place and Aoko felt her anger double.

Good. Anger was good. It was a safer word for what she was feeling now, or trying not to feel.

A quiet chime rang in the night, signaling the half hour, and Aoko looked up. The clock tower loomed over her, ever watchful and solid. Some of its majesty had faded as Aoko had grown older, and fascination had been slowly replaced with the familiar reassurance of memories. Only a half an hour. That was hard to believe, as hard to believe as -- as everything else tonight.

She had met Kaito at this tower, years before, when he had given her a flower, a cheeky grin, and his name, and she had known even then that Kaito Kuroba was someone she would trust for life. It was their clock tower. The Kid had tried to take the tower, almost a year ago. It was one of the few heists he had ever failed.

Aoko left the irony of that observation alone. She didn't need any more headaches.

They were the same person, the thief and her friend. And that was it. The end of the masquerade, the cover-ups (because Aoko saw with sudden belated clarity now how hard Kaito had worked to look as though he couldn't possibly be a famous thief), the denial. And she couldn't help but think of all the times she had tried to prove that Kaito was not the Phantom Thief -- arguing with her father until he gave up, scheduling dates with Kaito on the same nights as the Kid's heists, threatening anyone who even joked about the idea -- were silly and stupid and blind. And he had let her believe that he was innocent.

He had never bothered to tell her the truth.

Aoko sank down onto the cement step that traveled around the base of the clock tower. She didn't move, even as she heard the clock chime the next half hour once, then again some time later. She didn't want to go home yet. She doubted her father was home yet; by the looks of the officers under his command, it was unlikely they would let him leave either the station or the hospital anytime soon. But if she went home, she would have to decide what to do.

This was the real question. Not if Kaito was really the Phantom Thief, nor the question of why. Those were pressing and immediate, but neither was the real issue. The real issue was, now that she had this knowledge (and she was sure that it was true the more she thought about it) what was she going to do with it?

Tell her father. Just like she always said she would, if she had had the knowledge of who the Kid really was.

But could she do that?

The soft sound of sneaker soles on pavement reached Aoko's ears, and she stood immediately. In front of her, several feet away, stood Kaito.

She examined him then, memorized everything. She didn't know why, but she felt she had to. To give a proper description to the police, maybe, or simply to remember that much more deeply.

She remembered him being shorter, more lanky and less built. But she couldn't be sure; years of memories tended to melt together, shifting unconsciously to accept slow change as days passed on. But he was there now in front of her, running a long-fingered hand through his unkempt hair in a hopeless attempt to placate it, and wearing one of his favorite (and slightly beat-up) T-shirts and wrinkled jeans with white sneakers. His usual grin, a well-known smile that made his blue eyes crinkle, was startlingly absent.

Why didn't she know from the beginning? Why hadn't she noticed the unmistakable change in him? Suddenly he was unfamiliar and alien, and she felt the distrust between two strangers meeting for the first time.

[ if you want then start to laugh

if you must then start to cry ]

"I thought I'd find you here," he said. Even his voice was different; the light tone had more weight than she was used to.

She didn't answer. She would explode if she answered him. Her silence must have unnerved him; Kaito put one hand behind his head in a characteristic gesture of nervousness and asked, "How's your dad?"

"Fine," she answered after a brief moment, voice clipped. Normally when he annoyed her, she would yell at him or threaten to whack him with a mop. Now her joints felt too stiff to move.

"That's good." Kaito paused. "Tell him --" (he swallowed) "tell him... that I said sorry. That it shouldn't have happened, and I'm sorry."

The impermeable wall of air vanished. To her relief, Aoko felt her anger return at full force.

The most immediate, the most pressing question first.

"Who are you?" she asked. "Who are you really?"

He looked pained. "I'm still the same person, Aoko. It's still me, Kaito Kuroba, the kid who pulls your hair and flips your skirt. The one you chase with your mop almost every day, including weekends."

"You're not," she said suddenly. "The Kaito I know didn't break the law." Except for that one time, when they were eight and he had accidentally walked out of a store with a piece of candy in his fist... he had been horrified with himself and had given it back as soon as he realized what he had done.

He always gave back what he took.

He took a step forward, and Aoko took a step back. "You're not going to let me near you anymore?" he asked quietly. "Even the Kid never hurt anyone."

"That didn't make anything he did better," she shot back.

"No, it doesn't," Kaito acknowledged. "But maybe the reason Kaito Kuroba never stole was because he never had a reason to. Having a reason makes a difference, even to law-abiding citizens like yourself."

"And Kaitou Kid has a reason to steal?" Aoko said skeptically.

Kaito's expression darkened even more, if it was possible. "He has a very good reason," he said softly, looking away. "And it might not mean anything in the law books, but it means something to him."

"To you," she corrected bitterly.

"I couldn't tell you," he said helplessly. "You know I couldn't tell you. I wanted to, I really did, so many times, but I couldn't. For almost a year I couldn't tell you anything."

Aoko leaned back against the stone wall of the tower. "The Phantom Thief, best friends with the daughter of the police inspector determined to catch him."

It was even more theatrical than she had imagined.

Kaito laughed hollowly. "Crazy, right?"

She looked up at him, tears blurring her vision. She heard his sharp intake of breath. "Why?" She repeated, more forcefully, "Why? Why would you do something like this? What were you thinking -- you're a criminal now -- my dad's been trying to send the Kid to jail for months, years! And fooling me, fooling everyone! And your mother --"

"She doesn't know," he said dully. "At least, I don't think she knows. She might have guessed."

"Why might she have guessed?"

He barely stiffened; he was definitely uncomfortable. And she'd make him more uncomfortable, if she had her way. She had known him long enough to uncover the things that made him uneasy.

At least, she had thought she had known him long enough. And that was really it, Aoko thought distantly, that was why everything hurt so much. Because right when you were so sure you knew the best and worst of someone so important, knew someone better and deeper than anyone else could ever hope to understand anyone, you woke up one morning and learned there was a whole other aspect you hadn't known existed, ugly and tarnishing in its mystery, that so truly defined that same someone. And you'd passed it by completely.

She had accepted that there were parts of his life he kept hidden from her, but even with that knowledge she had felt she understood him. Maybe better than anyone else. And suddenly that understanding was gone, and it hurt achingly in a way she was afraid to look at closely.

Kaito gestured to the cement step of tower's base, the same spot Aoko had been sitting on before he had arrived. "You might want to sit down for this. It's a long story."

She glared at him. "I am not sitting down. Don't try to distract me; start talking."

[ be yourself, don't hide

just believe in destiny ]

And, to her surprise, he looked up at the stars and told her a story.

He told her the story of the best magician in the world, who loved to dazzle audiences: magic shows for spectators, joking pranks for his only son, colorful heists for inspectors. He told the story of a jewel that promised eternity by the light of the moon and the man's one goal: the theft of the jewel before the hands of thieves could reach it, and the price that was paid for his dream.

And then he stopped telling, and stopped looking at the stars, and he watched her with eyes clouded by pain.

And she understood.

The magician had been Kaito's father. Kaito's father was dead. Kaitou Kid had disappeared for eight years before reappearing almost one year ago.

Suddenly the current Phantom Thief's penchant for jewels was frighteningly clear.

Without realizing it, Aoko sank down onto the tower's step.

Kaito's voice was raw from talking. "You're going to hate me," he said. "But I have to do this. I'm going to find this jewel, this Pandora Gem, and I'm going to smash it into a thousand pieces before the bastards that killed my father locate it. And I'm going to find that jewel the way my father would have found it, so that they know who ruined their plans, and they'll come for me, and that'll be the end of them. People will finally know who they are." A ghost of a smile flickered across his face, ominous rather than amiable. "And they'll know it's my father, back from the dead."

She couldn't look at him. "You could have gone to the police. To my father. You could have told them, we could have found these people, they would be in jail, and we wouldn't been here now."

"You know that couldn't happen. Well-intentioned or not, my father was still a thief." His voice was carefully controlled. "He'd still have had to face the law, and my mother would have had to face it for him. I can't tell if she knows what my father did for a side job. I never asked. But if she knew, then things are fairly obvious. And these aren't ordinary crooks either. I'd never even heard of them until awhile ago; they've been avoiding the cops for years." Kaito looked at her now, guiltily. "They were the ones who were at the museum tonight."

He was very still. Then he was talking again, rapidly the way he could. "I didn't think it would get this far or this deep. I don't even know what I was thinking, I just found this room in the house and a white cape and a card-gun and suddenly it all made sense, as if there couldn't have been any other explanation. And it felt right, somehow, putting it on and using the old tools, like a familiar persona I could slip into, and so right I didn't even think about what it meant until afterward. When it was already too late."

Aoko could feel her hands shake. She clenched them tightly. "You didn't think. You didn't think -- my father's been chasing you for nights and nights and you were waiting for these horrible people to come out at any time -- and you didn't think!"

He flinched with every word. "A-Aoko, I know, and I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I wish I could make it so that you and your dad would have nothing to do with this, and I'll try to keep your dad as safe as I can, but --"

"But you won't stop."

He looked as hurt as she felt. "No. I can't -- I won't -- stop. Not yet."

"I could turn you in," she said. "Then you would stop."

He was quiet. "You can if you want to. You can hate me if it makes you feel better."

Her tone was acid. "If you had really been thinking about how I felt, you wouldn't be stealing private property in a white cape while my father loses sleep over your latest message. You wouldn't risk your life for something as petty as revenge." Aoko turned away from him, toward the tower, and hit the wall of the tower with the palm of her hand, just enough to hurt. The wind-worn cement was cool against her hand. "I wouldn't have to choose."

"Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it," he said. "But I'll know that when this is over." He looked almost hopeful. "You don't have to choose yet."

She shook her head so fiercely her hair fell into her eyes. She brushed the strands away impatiently. "I have to. I can't wait and watch Kid steal night after night, pretending that I haven't chosen. It wouldn't be real."

He reached behind his head, and Aoko shook her head again. "No magic tricks," she warned him. "That isn't real either."

He took his hand away and held it up to her, empty. "Everyone knows magic isn't real. But they're willing to believe in it, for themselves." He closed his hand, opened it again. A pink rose was held between his fingertips. "Guess it all depends on what you want to believe in."

Aoko fought the admiration that held her whenever Kaito showed off his ability. "I told you, no magic tricks."

Kaito examined the rose's tightly closed petals. "It wasn't a trick. It was just me."

And she knew that they were letting time slip away, letting her time to choose disappear.

[ don't care what people say

just follow your own way ]

There was no fanfare or fireworks. No flashy heralds announced the coming of the unknown and mysterious that sailed on air and the stars, to mystify and shock with fear and wonder. Just a girl and a boy stood beneath a clock tower, wiser and older than the same girl and boy who stood beneath the same tower so many years before, not knowing the paths that were ahead for each of them.

No magic. No illusions. No lies.

Sometimes the unknown seemed darker and bleaker when it mirrored your own reality. But familiarity could also be a comfort.

"Things will be different, more difficult." Kaito's eyes reflected the dimming starlight. "I don't know how to say it, but I know things won't end here."

Aoko was used to his baffling explanations of his own feelings and insight. And although her mind still spun, she could find the truth in his words. The way they had been had faded like smoke. The future held more uncertainty.

"So what happens now?" she asked.

To you, to me, to us. To everything.

"We'll keep going. The Kid'll keep stealing jewels, your father will keep trying to catch him, you'll keep yelling at both of them."

The idea opposed every one of Aoko's sensibilities, and she opened her mouth to protest. If things were so different, how could she be expected to act even remotely like before?

But she didn't know any other way to act. It was a lifeline, she realized. The only way to keep sane in a world turned upside down. The only consistency in a dual life. It was dangerous and had all the makings for a disaster. But they were living in dangerous times.

Maybe that explained why recently the innumerable provocations Kaito had for Aoko to swing the mop at his head occurred more and more frequently, more vigorously than before, and why he had forgotten to hide the depths of his dexterity just that same morning. He didn't know any other way to be, and what he knew was reassuring.

Her mouth closed.

"And one day, it'll be over, all of it. The Kid'll hang up his cape, and I'll make him disappear. It's a trick I've been saving." He was still talking, and Aoko was surprised that those thoughts had taken only milliseconds to pass through her mind and hide in her heart.

He stretched his arms up, then let them drop. "No more," he said, almost to himself. "I have to stop it eventually. I thought about it. Nobody's ever caught the Kid. Everyone's cheering him on instead, like he's some form of entertainment. Why not keep Kaitou Kid alive longer, even after I find that rock?" He stared at the clock tower, avoiding her eyes. "It's a big temptation, you know. There's a sort of rush you get, this burst of adrenaline, from doing something wrong in front of the world and not getting caught. From escaping a death that comes in the form of a jail cell." He met her astonished gaze. "But when things end, it'll have to be just that. The end. No part two. Your Dad'll have to get a new hobby."

She shot him the withering look his remark deserved, but Aoko felt suddenly a pang of unhappiness. But wasn't this what she wanted? For Kaitou Kid to disappear forever. For her to have her father and her best friend back.

But now, she realized, with some dismay, that in her mind the Phantom Thief was no longer the ghost of years past returned to torment the police - mischief personified, timeless and endless as concepts are. There was a face behind the mask, no matter how often she wished it was a face she didn't know or care about, a face with fears and hopes and history. History with her. Even if the Kid disappeared, nothing could give back the time they'd both lost.

Kaito covered the rose in his fingers with his other palm. He lifted his palm, and the rose was replaced by the Scarlet Morning ruby. Aoko stared at the shimmering red jewel. Stolen property, she had always known it to be, but possible redemption was something new.

Kaito held it up to the moonlight, stepping out of the clock tower's shadow to see better. He cursed, looking defeated. "Another miss, I'm afraid," he said cheekily, dejection quickly replaced by a wink. He offered her the jewel, a testing look in his eyes.

She didn't take it.

Looking relieved, he pocketed the ruby. "I'm giving it back tomorrow. In your dad's morning paper. Not the most creative of methods, but very effective."

Aoko wasn't the daughter of a police officer for nothing. Wrong was still wrong, no matter the motive. She wanted to see the Kid behind bars. She didn't want the Kid to be Kaito. But they were one and the same, no matter how much Kaito liked to pretend the two were really separate ways of thinking and being, separate people.

The image of the Kid in jail, while still holding its air of satisfied righteousness, suddenly held very little appeal. And all of it was a hypocritical and paradoxical and an almost-irrational way of thinking, but she didn't care. Thinking didn't always have to make sense.

"I still hate the Kid," Aoko said. "I still want him to stop stealing, even if he does give it back."

He nodded. "I know. And that's good. Somebody's got to keep him in line."

And in a strange and sad way, he laughed.

[ don't give up and use the chance

to return to innocence ]

She was staring at him, at the determined way he held his head high, the set of his jaw, ready to fight against the world. To catch criminals by becoming one himself, and ending a part of his life that could never be retrieved. To see things to a triumphant finale he firmly believed in, even if he couldn't see it.

In all her memory Kaito had never looked so alone.

No, Aoko thought suddenly, he had looked that way only once before. The day when a life was ended and a family was shattered. It was on the day Toichi Kuroba had died, unwittingly leaving behind a legacy, a task, and a weight that would eventually be carried by his son.

Her father might be an absent one, but at least he was alive.

And the blame was still there, that somehow the Kaitou Kid was the only reason Inspector Nakamori lived and breathed his work, to such a great extent. The anger at being lied to and used had not vanished. But both were set aside to be examined later, after the wave and flood of emotion ran its course.

He had changed, and she could already feel herself changing.

"You're right," Aoko said finally, projecting the words like a threat to the velvet sky. "We'll keep going." No more loneliness. No more hiding in the night. Not if she could help it. She didn't know what way they would end -- full of regret or happiness or both -- but the chance to choose had passed. She'd take whatever ending she could.

She could wait until then, a thief's accomplice. Because that's what she was now, even if she never aided him in any outright way. She knew, and in knowing the truth she had betrayed her father by implication.

"How did I know you were going to say that?" he said regretfully, and tugged at a flyaway lock of her hair. "Aoko, this isn't like the cops-and-robbers games we used to play when we were little." At her furious gaze he explained hastily. "I mean, this isn't going to be easy. Those psychos before, they'll be back, and I want them to come back. What happened tonight -- none of that was supposed to happen that way. Nobody was supposed to get hurt, but they did anyway. It's dangerous. And lying to your father --"

"I'm not going to help you," Aoko said staunchly. "I don't want to know anything about the Kid's plans. If you get caught, you'd deserve it. And I won't lie, either. I'm not going to cover up for you. But it was already dangerous before I ever knew. And I can't -- I can't just -- I don't want --" She fell silent, trying to express inexpressible frustration and an unstopping swirl of thoughts. And as she stood motionlessly, watching Kaito's expression change from worry and fear to puzzlement and embarrassment and what looked like gentleness, a small insight struck her.

And then she stomped on Kaito's foot.

He howled in pain.

"You should know better than to think I'd just abandon you!" she yelled. "Even to my father!"

"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled, massaging his foot. He ducked his head, and Aoko thought for a brief moment that he looked pleased. Then the moment passed. "With treatment like that, I'd be better off trying to take on all your father's cops in a sealed room." He paused. "Not that it wouldn't be easy. It just sounds difficult."

She rolled her eyes. He was still an idiot. "And if you ever try to hide things like this from me again," Aoko added, "I'll kill you and personally hand you to my father. And the killing part comes first."

A ghost of his old smile formed on his face, and she could almost see the mask slide into place once again. "But I was supposed to keep this a personal secret," he said mildly.

"Ha," she scoffed. "As if you could."

"I was keeping it very well," he pointed out smugly. "You didn't have a clue."

"I knew it all along!" And truthfully, in a part of her mind she had.

"Sure you did," he mocked.

A faint gleam of moonlight shone behind the clock tower now, its brightness pushing against the shadows, coating the city with an alabaster glow and lengthening the clock's gray image on the ground. The moonlight managed to find most of the night's hidden places, but in some corners and recesses were spaces the light could still not touch, and the shadows hid there in waiting.

They would keep going. Kaito for once was right; things would never be quite the same, but change was inevitable. It was better to meet the future when it came, armed with the past. Maybe her decision would only last this one night, as daylight brought new problems and new insight, but she had made it and she would hold to it as long as she could.

And a wind came, cooling and shaking the trees and blades of grass in the park, and carrying the bickering of a not-quite-ordinary boy and girl into the sky. If Aoko listened hard, she could almost hear the voice of a world-famous magician in the air, filled with hope and pride that only a father could know:

[ it's the beginning of the beginning

it's a return to innocence ]

~ End ~

Began: August 9, 2002

Completed: March 20, 2003