AN: This hit me between the eyes during a choir rehearsal, and actually took shape while our director worked with the tenors. Kid you not. Ideas come in the strangest ways and places, don't they? Anyway, I hope you enjoy my little story. I don't own Conan or Kaitou.

Got two people to thank here, as well: LadyErisnos, who beta-ed and gave me opinion-age on this beast before posting it, and Fred the Mutant Pickle, who was my sounding board and listened to my incessant ramblings. May you both accept my humble thanks and the dedication of this fic.

PS. After writing this, I realized that it bears some similarities to Suppi-chan's Cardcaptor Sakura fic, "Stranger in a Strange Land." 'Twas was not my intention, so I hope no one takes offense at this.

Sorrowful Soul

He wandered. It was all he knew.

Scenes passed him by. Some even looked vaguely familiar. But he didn't know what they were. Perhaps he had simply passed them before. Or perhaps he had known them sometime before…

But he could not remember, and so he did not care.

So he wandered.

His stomach growled. He was hungry.

No, that wasn't the right word for it…

Empty.

Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually, if one dared believe in a spirit. But acknowledging a soul meant actually considering the belief of a higher being. And he believed nothing. He was empty.

So he wandered.

At some point, apparently someone noticed the young man who seemed to have nowhere to go, and called the authorities. The boy was taken in, and found to be surprisingly healthy for one who had nothing. But there was no information on him—no records, no files, nothing. He had nothing but the ripped jeans and black shirt he wore, and a strange colorless stone in his pocket that he adamantly refused to allow anyone to take; he had no reason for clinging to that small stone so desperately, but they let him be.

But most importantly, he had no name.

They asked him questions, and he offered no answers. He couldn't give them answers. Even he didn't know his name or where he came from—he couldn't even tell them his age. They examined him. Amnesia, the doctors said. And the nurses shook their heads sadly—the young man couldn't be more than twenty, and he was such a handsome boy.

When they put food in front of him, it required a direct command to eat before he would pick up his chopsticks. He responded to questions, and obeyed orders unquestioningly, never impolite or ill-mannered, but during moments when he was left to his own devices, he did nothing, simply staring out into space through vacant eyes—his eyes were something that they had noticed about him right away. They had such a distinctive color to them.

No one came forward to claim the young man. No one identified him. It was as if he had simply appeared out of thin air and dropped into their midst. And again, they shook their heads at the sadness of the situation. Where had this boy come from, and why would no family be searching desperately for such a polite, handsome young man?

But it was decided that he needed a name. And so they chose one.

Hitanki, they called him, for lack of a better nominative.

Named for the shadows that should never have marred the handsome face of one so young, and for the unveiled sadness that lay beyond the unusual blue color of his eyes. Hitanki. The name suited him well.

He made no objections, and so it was decided.

Hitanki.

Sorrowful soul.

-o-

Try as she might, Aoko Nakamori's eyes kept drifting towards the empty desk by the window.

It had been empty for nearly two months now.

Two months ago, she had woken up and found out that her best friend was gone. Kaito had vanished one night, and she had never seen him again. She had walked to and from school alone every day since then. The phone did not ring, and there was no hint as to his whereabouts.

But the strangest thing was that Kaito Kuroba had disappeared from the face of planet…and no one else had even seemed to notice that he was gone. That first day, she had asked if anyone knew where Kaito was…and had been shocked when everyone asked who Kaito was.

Her best friend had disappeared without a trace. She had gone home that first day and looked at the pictures on her desk. She remembered each one, a treasured moment she had spent with the boy who fancied himself a magician—except now she was alone in the photographs.

As time went on, she realized that this wasn't some elaborate prank. Everyone at school really didn't remember their mischievous classmate. Her father really didn't remember the boy that had been hanging around his daughter since they were children. He really had just…vanished.

No word came. She was left wondering.

And so she sadly tugged her eyes away from that empty desk and tried to focus on sensei's rather uninteresting history lectures to distract her from the emptiness inside. It didn't work.

-o-

As the days passed, Hitanki improved greatly. He would eat and go about daily routines without direct orders now. Rather than sitting and staring into space during his moments alone, he had now taken to wandering throughout the building. He bothered no one, and they were all rather taken with him—he was quiet, polite, never asked for anything—so they let him be.

Sometimes he would wander beyond the walls of the building and go walking as he had always done before they had collected him, but after the first couple of trips, they realized that he would come back safely and not make trouble. They trusted him; there was no doubt that there was a formidable intelligence behind his shadowed blue eyes, but something was holding him back, perhaps the same trauma that had taken his memory from him.

But it was during one of these forays from his room around the building that he found a deck of playing cards someone had left out on a table in one of the nurse's lounges. Technically, he wasn't supposed to be in there, but he had wandered in by accident, and had spotted the object on the table as he was turning to leave.

Curiously, he picked them up and examined them, his fingers sliding carefully over the small paper rectangles, tracing the outline of hearts, spades, diamonds, and clubs. He seemed unaware that one of the workers was sitting in the room, observing him quietly.

His eyes grew dark and vacant. And suddenly, Hitanki's hands began to move. The cards flew from hand to hand, forming patterns in the air. He didn't even seem to be looking at them really; his expression was blank and focused on some faraway point. It was as though he was doing this on instinct alone. A mere habit.

Others noticed and stopped to watch the unintentional show, for they were all very fond of their lost one. When he snapped the last card into his waiting palm, he jumped a mile at the round of applause he received, and looked around in confusion at the number of people watching. Immediately, he was apologetic and ushered himself back to his room in spite of their protests.

The next day, one of the nurses brought Hitanki a gift of a deck of playing cards, one for him to keep as his own. The boy had seemed so taken with them the previous afternoon in the lounge that she just couldn't help herself.

He received it first with surprise, then with an all-too-rare smile, and a heartfelt thank you; the simple gratitude was enough to bring tears to one's eyes at the forlorn situation of such a sweet boy. As the nurse left, she glanced back over her shoulder to see him already shuffling and bridging the cards with clever fingers, in a graceful way that spoke of much practice at the simple action.

They were pleased; it was the first thing they had found him doing that spoke of any sort of a past. Somewhere along the line, this boy had learned to handle cards—and other small objects, they found on the day they discovered him juggling coffee creamers.

Even Hitanki was staring in fascination at the tiny objects as they soared in small arcs through the air, as though he himself didn't know how or why he was doing it. But they saw much more of such tricks from him in the days following. He still wandered, but when he was in his room, his nimble hands were at work with his new toys.

And it was when he was doing those things—juggling and playing with cards—that they saw him smile the most often. They had named him for the fact that seemingly nothing could bring the young man to smile, and for the shadows that clung to his eyes. Yet as he was messing about with those few things, it brought him enough of that joy that he would smile.

As if it was exactly what he had always been meant to do.

-o-

The contents of the skillet simmered and popped as it cooked.

The consistent crackles were lost on Meimi Kuroba. She had taken to staring off into space quite often as of late. It was a wonder that she hadn't burned down her home yet. But a splatter of something hot jumped from the pan and landed on the back of her hand. She started at the sudden touch of heat, and returned to Earth, focusing a bit more intently on her dinner while nursing the small burn on her hand.

She was turning into a hermit, and she knew it. But there had been so much heartbreak marking her adult life, she was thinking that perhaps it was best to withdraw and try to live with as much peace as possible. Living with her memories.

She had gotten pregnant once, many years early. But that had ended in sadness as well. The baby, a little boy who was to have been named Kaito (a flight of fancy on her husband's part), had been stillborn. It was one of those things that had just happened, but it had broken her heart and Toichi's.

And then Toichi had died.

His sudden death had left Meimi alone and empty. It had taken her ages to pull herself together after the tragic loss of her husband. She had eventually gotten back to some degree of normalcy, accepting that Toichi was gone…yet something still felt so wrong, so horribly empty. Something was missing.

And as she looked down at the table, she realized that she had set two places at the table instead of one. It had been a while since she had done that. She smiled sadly at her own absentmindedness, and went about putting the extra dishes back in the cupboard.

Such a silly woman. She missed her husband again.

…or was that really it?

-o-

Why was everything still so gray?

The sun hadn't been out in days. The clouds were charcoal-colored, yet it did not rain. Aoko wished it would. Then she could pretend that maybe the world did notice how she felt. But no, it was just gray and awful. This was the kind of weather that sapped her energy.

She had been sitting in her room, alone with her thoughts, for the better part of the afternoon before finally deciding that if she didn't do something she was going to go absolutely bonkers. So she'd opted instead to go for a walk…and be alone with her thoughts outside in the fresh air and the gray. Her thoughts were still on her missing friend, of course.

Two months. He'd been gone that long, and for the life of her she couldn't figure out the how or the why. People didn't just vanish like that. But it had been long enough that she actually found some part of her nursing that painful notion that everyone else was right, and Kaito Kuroba wasn't a real person.

But she couldn't bring herself to fully believe it.

She refused to believe that the last decade spent with that stupid boy who fancied himself a magician were nothing more than a dream. Not a chance. For starters, she didn't believe herself creative enough to imagine up anyone like Kaito—he was a law unto himself. One of a kind.

And it was his "one of a kind" nature that was the underlying cause of the other reason she couldn't write it off as a product of her imagination. Kaito was Kaito. Unique. Special, and special to her. Try as she might, Aoko just couldn't set aside the feelings that hovered deep in her chest and clenched so painfully when she tried to figure out the puzzle of her missing best friend.

Sighing and shaking her head, she berated herself for her stupidity and rounded the corner a little too quickly—only to collide with something solid and warm: another person. She heard a loud Oomph from the other person—a male voice.

She would have gone straight to the ground if the person she had run into hadn't grabbed her arm. Aoko gave herself a mental shake to pay better attention and stop daydreaming as she quickly steadied herself on her feet.

"Are you all right, miss?" the person asked.

She froze. That voice…

She knew that voice as well as she knew her own name.

Slowly, nervously, Aoko dragged her eyes from the pavement upwards—over the jeans, past the black shirt and the dark gray jacket, up the neck, to blue eyes peering at her with real concern from beneath brown bangs that seemed to pay no heed at all to the laws of gravity.

Her eyes widened. Her breath hitched in her throat. Her heart stopped.

"Miss?" he asked again, giving her arm a gentle shake to try and rouse a response from her.

Aoko stared blankly for a moment before she managed one word. "K-Kaito…?"

Now it was his turn to stare. "I…I'm sorry, who?" he looked bewildered.

"Kaito!" she repeated. It was him—it was really him!

But her elation died in record time, and her heart dropped down, down, down to shatter on the sidewalk when the young man in question shook his head and released her arm. "I'm sorry, miss. I think you have me confused with someone else." He bobbed up and down in a quick bow. "I apologize for running into you." And he brushed past her. He was walking away.

"Wait!" she turned, taking a few quick steps after him.

She was mildly startled when he paused and turned back to her, his expression quizzical.

"Umm…" she wavered, trying desperately to figure out what she could stay to make him stay. "I…I just…" A thought occurred to her then, and she raised her head. "I guess I must have…mistaken you for someone else. May I ask your name?"

Now it was his turn to look surprised, as though no one had ever before asked him such a question. But he answered; he replied, "They called me Hitanki."

Sorrowful soul, she realized; it didn't even occur to her at that point to ask who 'they' were or why 'they' had to call him anything. And the more she studied his face and his expressions, the more she realized how accurate that nominative really seemed for the young man who wore Kaito's face.

She swallowed hard. "I'm Aoko. Aoko Nakamori."

The young man—Hitanki—bowed again. "Nice to meet you."

A boy, probably her own age, speaking to her. She said that she was waiting for her father, but he probably wouldn't be able to make it because he was working. The boy looked thoughtful for a moment, and then he held up a hand…

A rose appeared in front of her face, materializing in the boy's fingers like magic.

"I'm Kaito Kuroba," he said cheerfully, throwing her a cheeky grin. "Nice to meet you."

Even at that young age, she knew instinctively that this rather unusual person was someone she was going to be friends with for a very, very long time. And she knew right from the get-go that he was someone who would be very, very important to her.

"I…umm…" she stammered. "What are you doing right now?"

Again, he seemed surprised, and again she tried to tell herself that maybe she was wrong, that this wasn't Kaito, Kaito almost never allowed his thoughts to display themselves on his face. "Wandering," he was saying now, and she refocused. "I do that a lot."

In hindsight, Aoko realized, she had been doing that a lot lately as well. Wandering, and wondering. Taking a deep breath, she blurted out, "Can I join you?" No, no, no! Stupid! she berated herself. This guy could be a lunatic, he just looks like Kaito. Stop chasing shadows…

But she was strangely pleased when he smiled a little and replied, "Sure."

In a bizarre coincidence, as he said that one word, there was a crack in the clouds, and for the first time all day, the tiniest beam of sunlight was able to peek through and shine its warmth down on the city.

-o-

They sat on opposite ends of the bench, looking everywhere but at each other.

They had wandered for far longer than Aoko had really intended to be out, but she found the young man's company strangely comforting. He really hadn't said much, but when she'd asked questions, he had answered with a hesitant friendliness that spoke volumes of loneliness. The conversation had been quiet, not particularly lengthy or in-depth, but both had fulfilled a secret, desperate need: companionship.

She missed Kaito. He seemed to have no one.

Some would have called her crazy for spending an entire day walking around like that with someone she didn't even know. But he had been a perfect, if shy, gentleman all day. And somehow, his very proximity made her feel better, the best she'd felt in the last two months. Even Nature herself seemed to smile upon them, finally letting the clouds break up, and giving the sun full reign in the skies.

And now they were sitting in the park on a bench, beneath the shadow of a large tree. They'd watched the sunset. But now that they were simply sitting, not moving or really talking, she was thinking again, and it wasn't good. Not good at all.

Kaito—or rather, Hitanki, as he said he was called, she had to stop confusing them like that—leaned back against the bench, hands buried deep within jacket pockets, head lulled back so he could look up at the night sky. It was peaceful, starry, and quiet. That's why he'd stopped there.

Aoko sat ramrod straight on the other end, hands clenched tightly in her lap. She was confused, and unsure of how to proceed. This was Kaito—she knew it was Kaito. But apparently, he didn't know it was Kaito. Hitanki, he said…

And how had he simply disappeared like that? Every picture she'd had of him, of the two of them…gone. There were pictures of her, but the space beside her in the photos was now empty. No one at school seemed to remember the class clown who had once made everyone's math books start tap-dancing on cue; the empty desk went unnoticed. Not even her own father remembered the boy that had been his daughter's best friend since they were young children.

And now here he was…only it wasn't him. It was someone who looked like him.

More and more she was realizing why it hurt her so much to lose Kaito, especially so suddenly; there had been no warning. Her heart was in pieces, wherever it was. Her heart was with Kaito, wherever he had ended up, but she could still feel it cracking.

And now, seeing Hitanki…it hurt. It hurt so very terribly…

"I dream some nights," he said suddenly, breaking the silence of the night abruptly enough that Aoko jumped, her increasingly-morose jumble of thoughts interrupted.

She waited a second before asking, "What do you dream?" The semi-dead look in his eyes was sending chills down her spine; it frightened her, this sad, lost, withdrawn person who wore Kaito's face. But she felt strangely drawn to him, and so felt compelled to ask.

There was another few seconds of silence before he replied, "I dream of flying." His eyes closed, and the faintest shadow of a smile graced his features. "I fly over the city. On white wings. I can always hear someone behind me—I think I'm being chased—but in the dreams, I don't care. I know they won't catch me. I always get away." He sighed. "I can see everything. It's always so beautiful. And nothing can get me, nothing can pull me down. Free as a bird." His eyes opened, and for one brief moment, the darkness had lifted. "I would like to fly for real someday."

For that all-too-short second, it was Kaito, and Kaito's smile as he spoke of dreams for the future.

And then the shadows fell; Kaito was gone again, and Hitanki was back in his place. He sat up and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "But that's a silly dream, isn't it? People can't fly…and," he looked away, "sometimes, I fall, and it all goes so dark. Better just keep my feet on the ground."

"Some do fly, though," Aoko replied, the words tumbling free before she could stop them, as strange thoughts of a smiling man in glaring white soaring away into the night on snowy wings assailed her mind. "I believe people can fly, because I've seen them do it."

"Yes, but how do they land?" he asked, turning to look back at her again, and she realized that she wasn't sure if he was kidding or not.

"Well, there was one in particular who I hope landed in a cactus patch…" she confided. He made a small sound that might have been amusement before they lapsed back into that easy silence; it was more comfortable than words in some ways. And for a while, they just watched the stars, still sitting at opposite ends of a park bench.

Then…

"Nakamori-san—" he began, but she stopped him.

"Aoko," she interrupted. "You can just call me Aoko. It's all right."

He seemed surprised, but nodded. "Aoko-san, forgive me for being intrusive, and you don't have to answer if you don't want to, but…" He looked down. "You seem very sad. Might I ask why?"

She had managed not to cringe at the honorific—it was Kaito's voice, after all—but openly gaped at him at the question. Then her eyes dropped to study the slats of wood on the bench. "I—yes, I am." She traced the lines of wood with one finger. "A friend of mine…went away. A very dear friend. He left, and I miss him. I miss him a lot."

Aoko realized suddenly that this was the first time she had really spoken of Kaito to anyone since he had vanished, once it had become clear that no one else had even noticed his absence. Thus, it was the first time she had gotten to vent, to tell anyone how much his disappearance really hurt.

"What happened to him?" Hitanki asked, watching her quietly.

"I don't know. He just…vanished," Aoko said honestly. No point in making up some story. "One day he was there, the next day he was gone. But the weird thing is that no one remembers him. It's as if he never existed at all. I almost wondered if he was just someone I dreamed up or something," she was mortified when her voice cracked, "but I know I didn't…"

Aoko trailed off as she burst into tears, the first time she had cried in the months since Kaito's disappearance. There were a lot of firsts happening tonight, it seemed. But she had a willing listener, one who didn't think she was crazy (so far as she knew), and that was enough that her self-control evaporated.

She heard the bench creak slightly in protest as Hitanki stood up. He moved in front of her and knelt down so they were eye-to-eye; through the blur of tears, she saw a handkerchief in his hand. He was holding it out, offering it to her.

"Arigatou…" she murmured, taking the proffered handkerchief and using it to gingerly dab at her damp eyes. "Sorry…I didn't mean to get all emotional. You're just the first person I've actually talked to about this, everyone else thinks I'm nuts…"

"I don't," Hitanki interjected. She tried to keep from meeting his eyes—she already knew their color, after all—but she just couldn't help it; they simply drew her into their deep blue well of sadness and understanding and comfort as his hands closed around hers. "I can't explain how a person could just up and disappear like that and be forgotten by everyone. But I believe you, Aoko-san. You're not crazy." He patted her hands. "If anyone's crazy here, it's me. I don't even know who I am."

She wanted to hug him. For several reasons, at that point.

"What was your friend's name?" Hitanki asked.

Aoko swallowed the last sobs away before she replied, "Kaito. Kaito Kuroba."

He cocked his head to the side. "Kaito. That's what you called me when we…ah, met, isn't it?"

"Yes," she nodded. "You look a lot like him. Especially your eyes. And…he could always read me like a book. That's why I was so surprised when you asked why I was so sad. I hadn't told anyone."

Hitanki nodded, looking thoughtful before he asked, "Is that why you asked me to join you today, after we ran into each other? You wanted to know if I was your friend?"

Aoko was properly mortified that he had guessed. "I—I'm sorry, I—"

He cut her off with a wave of his hand. "Don't worry about it. I understand." He moved as though to stand up and leave, but she grabbed onto the sleeve of his jacket to keep him from going.

"That was the reason, I admit it," she said in a rush. "But I don't want you to go. You're the first person I've talked to about Kaito since he vanished, you're the only one who hasn't told me I'm crazy." Her head dropped. "You're the only one who even tried to understand since he left." She let go of his arm then, giving him the freedom to do as he wished. "Please. I would really like it if you would stay."

He remained tense for a moment, and Aoko really thought he was going to leave. But then he relaxed and sat back down, leaning back against the bench again in a silent but blatant signal that he wasn't going anywhere. She could have started singing with relief.

They were quiet again for what seemed like a long time. Then he turned his head and said, "Aoko-san, you said you haven't had anyone to talk to about it. So…would you tell me about Kaito?"

Aoko's heart leapt. "You'll listen? You're sure you don't think I'm crazy?"

Hitanki gave her a little ghost of a smile she knew all too well. "Tell me."

She talked for far longer than she intended, telling all sorts of stories about her dear friend. She only stopped when she realized that her throat was dry. A glance at her watch told her that she had been rambling for quite some time, and she smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to talk your ear off."

"It's all right," he shook his head and stood up. "I should get you home. It's late."

"Can I ask you one question first?" Aoko said, also rising. "You don't know anything at all about who you are? Do you have any sort of clue or hint? Any memories? Anything at all?" She asked because it broke her heart to think that this kind person had nothing to hold onto.

"I actually have one clue," he said. "I had this in my pocket when they found me. I don't know what it is, but I know it's important, so I wouldn't let anyone else have it. It's the one link I have to my past, whatever that past might be." As he explained, his hand slipped into the pockets of his jeans and withdrew a small colorless stone, holding it out for her to examine.

As his hand moved, offering it to her, something strange happened.

The stone began to glow.

Hitanki froze and stared at it. Aoko's jaw dropped. "What in the world…" she breathed.

"I…don't know," he said, a bit fearfully.

After another long moment of silent staring, Hitanki seemed to shake himself from that reverie and repocketed the stone. "Let's go," he said a little too quickly. "I'll see you home."

And they were off, not noticing the other person in the park. A person who had seen the stone's strange reaction, and knew what it meant. A person who followed them…

-o-

"This is my street," Aoko said, stopping on the corner. She turned back to Hitanki, who had been following her, claiming that he had a duty to see her safely home. It was late and after dark, and not safe for a young lady to be out by herself. "I can make it the rest of the way by myself. It's well lit."

He nodded. "All right. Then I'll leave you here." He paused, then again offered that faint, heartfelt smile. "I guess this is goodbye. Thank you for today, Aoko-san." He bobbed up and down in a quick bow before he started turning to leave.

Aoko reached out and caught his hand in mimicry of earlier when she had stopped him from leaving her at the bench. "Wait…where can I find you again? I really had a good time today, and…I'd like it if we could be friends."

"Friends?" Hitanki looked stunned but recovered and nodded. "Okay…friends. I'm always out wandering around the park. That's the best place to find me, I guess."

She smiled. "Okay. Thanks for listening to me today. I feel a lot better." Belatedly, she realized that she was still holding onto his hand, and dropped it like a hot potato. "So I'll see you around?"

Hitanki nodded. "See you around." And he was gone, strolling down the sidewalk and disappearing into the night, hands shoved casually into his pockets. She stood on the corner for a moment longer, staring at the place where he had last been visible; then finally she shook off her reverie and headed down the street towards her own home, where she was certain her father was waiting for her.

Sure enough…

"Where have you been?" Inspector Ginzo Nakamori roared. He had appeared in the entryway the moment he heard the front door open, imposing and angry. "No note, no phone call! I was worried sick!"

Aoko was appropriately remorseful. "Sorry, Dad. If I'd known I was going to be gone that long, I would have left a note." She really hadn't intended to be out so late. But then again, she hadn't expected to run into Kaito's doppelganger, either. But at the same time, she couldn't exactly tell her father that she had been out wandering with a strange boy.

After making the appropriate excuses to her father, Aoko escaped up the stairs to the safety of her own bedroom. She had a lot on her mind. But now instead of her thoughts always hovering on a seemingly non-existent boy named Kaito Kuroba, her mind wandered aimlessly between two young men of the same face but different names.

It wasn't too much later that her father called for her and asked her to run an errand. He'd left an important file back at the precinct, and couldn't get away from his other paperwork to go fetch it himself. Could she make the quick jaunt there and pick it up?

Ever the dutiful daughter, she agreed, and was out the door in minutes.

-o-

While standing on the corner waiting for the light to change, Hitanki let his mind drift back over the events of the day: his chance meeting with Aoko and the time they'd spent. Her offer of friendship.

It was quite a lot to take in, really. So far as he knew, he had always been alone. It was at times like these that he wished he actually knew something of himself. But all he really knew was of the past few months—wandering, the hospital and all the people there.

That was all he knew, and all he had.

He reached into his pocket. His fingers withdrew the small clear stone, the only real thing he'd had when they had found him. His only link to his past, whatever that past was. His solitary clue.

But this time he frowned in surprise. Instead of its normal clarity, it almost seemed to be…could rocks actually glow? Because it almost looked like this one was…it was supposed to be clear. Where was that strange red color coming from? It appeared to come from inside the stone itself.

How odd…how very odd indeed. It had done that earlier tonight, but it had never done that before tonight…or rather, now that he thought about it, it had done that once before…but he didn't want to think about that time. That was really the first thing he remembered of his life—waking up and…no. He wouldn't dwell on it.

Hitanki shook his head and returned the stone to his pocket. After the unusual events of the day, he wasn't thinking clearly. It had to be a trick of his eyes, or of the light. The moon was full tonight, and shining more brightly than usual, or so it seemed to him.

He shook his head. Today was proving to be a very strange day. Trying not to think too much about it, he continued on his way, not noticing that he was being followed…

When he reached the hospital, though, there was something unexpected waiting for him. For the first time since he had come there, he found himself in trouble. The moment he stepped through the front door, he was accosted for a mild tongue-lashing.

"Hitanki, where have you been?" the nurse scolded gently. "You've been gone all day, and we didn't know where you were!" She wasn't really upset—it was damn near impossible to be angry with the shy boy—but they had all been extremely concerned when he hadn't returned at his usual time. "Don't you ever worry us like that again, do you understand me?" She wagged a finger at him to emphasize her words.

The words were lecturing, but he knew enough of her to see the smile behind her eyes. "I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "I didn't mean to worry anyone. I didn't plan on being out so long, but…" He trailed off, thinking back. The afternoon really had been wonderful, hadn't it? Spending time with someone his own age who wanted to know him.

The nurse frowned in concern. "Hitanki? Did something happen?"

He shook his head with a slight smile. "No. Nothing happened." He could tell she didn't believe him, though, and quickly made his escape before she could question him further. "I'm sorry to worry you." And he was off down the hallway, leaving her to watch his retreating back.

Alone in the safety of his own room, he didn't stay up much longer. He was tired.

And for the first time in quite a while, Hitanki dreamt of flying…and more…

They were chasing him, as usual. But he really didn't care, they would never catch him.

He could feel the wind sweeping beneath him and the pull of his wings above him—they weren't really wings, but he liked to think of them as such sometimes. Just a silly flight of fancy, really, and nothing more. This was when he felt the most free, soaring above the world, beyond the reach of all.

But that elation shattered as a gunshot exploded from a nearby rooftop. It barely missed him, and he instinctively moved to avoid it. And for one second, he lost control of his wings. Making a quick decision, he landed on a nearby rooftop; the glider above him collapsed back into the pliable folds of his cape, and he rolled, avoiding injury on that front.

He raised his head. Another gunshot rocketed at him, smashing into the ledge, and he dropped back to the concrete. From the angle, he took a guess that his assailant was on the neighboring roof. He had to get off the rooftop he was on if he was to have any prayer of getting away intact.

Thinking fast, he raised his favorite weapon, if one could call it that—a gun that did not fire bullets, but playing cards. Readying himself, he fired a card at a pipe on the other end of the rooftop, silently praying to whatever deity was up there that it worked…

The gunman must have been watching for any movement, and there was another shot. Seizing his chance, he dove over the knee-high ledge that ran around the full length of the roof and off the side away from the sniper's post. Gloved hands grappled at the edge, and he lowered himself down onto another ledge that ran around the perimeter of the building. It only stuck out a couple of inches, but that was enough to give him a foothold, and he began a slow climb down.

It was an older building. Still, he was not prepared to put his foot down and feel the stone there crumble beneath his weight. It was enough to throw him off-balance; luckily, he was close enough to the ground that he knew the fall wouldn't kill him or even cause a great amount of damage.

He tumbled from the ledge, landing hard on his back. A spasm of pain shot down into his leg, but he paid it no mind, in favor of the more pressing matter of the bullets firing from the rooftop next door. Trying desperately to ignore the throbbing ache in his leg, he sprinted for the relative cover of shadows.

Once there, he quickly shed his uniform, making a record-breaking change into jeans and a dark shirt; once his white suit and cape and all the accompanying accessories of his trademark look had been stowed away, he slipped out into the crowd, one face among many.

The only thing setting him apart was a slight limp, but no one paid any heed to it at all. He was just another average guy. To appearances, anyway…but appearances were ever so deceiving…

Hitanki sat up, a strange feeling pulling at his chest.

Somehow, he had to get out of here. He didn't know why, but there was somewhere he had to be, and if he wasn't there, something was going to go terribly, terribly wrong.

He was still in his clothes from earlier; he hadn't even bothered to change before falling into bed and going to sleep. In record time, he had jammed his feet into well-worn sneakers and had snuck out the door and was gone into the night.

Panic was clenching at him with tight, unyielding fingers.

And somehow, it all centered around the girl from that afternoon.

Aoko…

-o-

Ginzo Nakamori stared at a desk covered in paperwork. He had been staring at the exact same form for probably fifteen minutes now—ever since Aoko had left—and for the life of him, he couldn't have said what was written on it.

He shoved away from his desk suddenly and stood up. Something wasn't right.

Something drove him then, and before he knew it he was yanking his shoes on and on his way out into the lateness of evening. What instinct was driving him, though…and then he realized: paternal.

Aoko was in danger.

He had to find his daughter.

Now.

He let that same instinct guide him, hoping against hopes that whatever was pulling him was right, and praying to every god he had ever heard of that he would get there in time…

-o-

The hand grabbed her from behind and shoved her into the darkness of an alleyway. Aoko whirled around, hands clenched into fists and ready to fight, but she froze when she felt the cold metal of a gun's barrel pressed against her forehead.

She saw the flare of white teeth. "Where's Pandora?" he sneered.

"What?"

"Pandora!" he repeated angrily. "Where is it?"

"What the hell is Pandora?" she asked, trying desperately to keep terror from shaking her voice. But it was hard to maintain composure—she was in a dark alley with some gun-toting madman who was demanding something of her that she had never heard of.

"Give me the stone!" he repeated, then almost muttered to himself, "Or does the boy have it…" Once more, the gun pressed itself to her head. "He had it. The boy, where did the boy go?"

Hitanki… Aoko realized; he was the only boy she had been around for any length of time recently. And this Pandora—a stone. Was that the one he had shown her? The stone that had glowed in the dark?

"I don't know…" she said through clenched teeth.

The hammer cocked. "Wrong answer, little girl."

Aoko gasped and closed her eyes. Oh god, she was going to die…

Suddenly the pressure of the gun-barrel on her forehead vanished, and the gunman's grip on her arm eased enough for her to whirl around. She opened her eyes, saw her opening, and took a swing, her fist connecting solidly with his nose.

"Aoko-san!"

She turned, and her features lit up with relief. "Hitanki!"

"Move!" he had what looked to be a rock in his hand, and he was reared back to throw it. There was another sizable stone on the ground by her assailant's feet, and she assumed that he had thrown it.

The gun went off. Aoko froze while Hitanki automatically ducked.

"Pandora!" the assassin was already back on his feet, nursing a bloody nose and a deep cut on his forehead. The handgun was leveled at Hitanki. "Give me the goddamn jewel, I know you have it!"

"I don't know what you're talking about!" the boy said nervously, confusion and fear etched into every line of his features; he took a shaky step backwards. "I don't know what Pandora is!"

"You have it. Give it to me," the man with the gun sneered. "The jewel."

Comprehension dawned, and Hitanki thought of the small stone in his pocket, the one that he had been found with and that he dared not let anyone else take from him. Was that what he was talking about?

"Why do you want this…Pandora thing?" he asked, trying to figure out what to do.

"That's none of your concern," the gunman replied. "Give it to me. I know you have it. I saw it earlier. Give it to me now!" He suddenly swung his gun in a wide arc so it no longer pointed at him—

—but at Aoko.

Hitanki saw the smirk, and he knew what was about to happen.

Without thinking or meaning to, he moved, faster than he had known he was capable of moving…

"Aoko!"

"Dad!" the girl called out at the sound of her father's voice. And there was a loud crack as the gunman fired. The bullet sliced through the air where Aoko had been only a second before. She now found herself peering over a shoulder clad in a dark gray coat.

"Don't you touch her!" Hitanki growled, standing steadfastly between Aoko and the gunman. Had anyone from the home where he lived seen him in that moment, they would not have recognized him as the polite, gentle young man they all knew. His voice was low and rough, and there was a blaze in his cerulean eyes, the likes of which he had never shown before.

Hitanki was furious.

Nakamori-keibu sprinted to his daughter's side, belatedly realizing that he himself was unarmed; he hadn't even thought to grab his gun. But his sole thought was Aoko, and his sole concern was Aoko's safety. He pulled her away from Hitanki and positioned himself in between her and the other two men there, not quite sure what was going on or who was who.

"Give me Pandora," the gunman repeated, once again leveling his gun at Hitanki.

"One-track mind much?" Hitanki muttered, inching backwards. "I'm not doing anything until you tell me why I should!" His hands clenched and unclenched in nervous fists at his sides.

The gun swung again at Aoko and the man, who Aoko had called Dad. Her father. "Give it to me," the man hissed angrily. "Or they die." To accent his point, he cocked the hammer noisily.

He didn't know why he did it. He really didn't. But his hand flew to his pocket, and in a second the rock was in his hand. "Leave them out of it!" he shouted, brandishing the stone. "If this is what you want, then your battle is with me! They have nothing to do with it!" His voice dropped dangerously, and his eyes narrowed. "If you touch Aoko-san, I swear to God…"

Nakamori watched in horror as this unknown young man—who called his daughter by her first name—danced this dangerous waltz with an armed killer. For some reason, a number of images sprang unbidden into his mind as he watched the boy. It was like a strange movie, playing in his mind…

"Good evening, Nakamori-keibu!" the smooth tenor cheered over the radio, clear even over the roar of helicopters and shouting. "Pleasant evening, isn't it? And how is your lovely daughter…"

"I can be anyone," his daughter's face looked back at him, serene and calm, almost scolding. Yet beneath what appeared to be Aoko's face was the single most wanted man alive…

The white-clad bandit soared over the heads of the Taskforce, laughing like a madman, his white wings spread against the darkness of the sky above him…

A teenage boy sprawled out on the couch in their living room, some textbook open in his hands and a pencil clenched between his teeth as he flipped pages. He turned to the doorway, dropped the pencil from his mouth, and grinned. "Yo, Keibu!"

Nakamori snapped back as another shot was fired, this one embedding itself into the wall by Hitanki's shoulder. "Who are you?" he called out once again, but received no answer.

Aoko couldn't hold it in any longer. She meant to call him by the name he had given her. That was her true intention. But her heart overruled her mind in one desperate moment.

"KAITO!"

A bright red light erupted from the rock in Hitanki's hand, washing over the entire alleyway. He jumped in surprise and dropped it, backing away. The jewel—the one that the assassin had called Pandora—floated then, rising about a meter off of the ground, and cast it's eerie glow all around. Everyone, the gunman included, recoiled in alarm.

A Voice, cold and neuter, echoed from deep within the jewel itself. "This should not be."

Hitanki recoiled as though struck. That Voice…why did he know that Voice?

"You should remember nothing," the Voice intoned. "Why do you remember this boy?"

It took a moment for Aoko to realize she was the one being addressed. "…he is Kaito," Aoko realized. "You erased him. That's why no one else remembers him. It is Kaito!"

"Why do you remember this boy?" the Voice repeated. "It is time for you to let him go."

The light flared, and too late she had the feeling that it was coming for her, coming to take something precious away from her and never let her have it back. Oh please no…

A form stepped in front of her, blocking whatever that light was. "Hitanki!"

The boy was shaking against the force of the magic. "Don't you touch her!" he snarled, a repetition of his early barking at the gunman. Then his voice dropped dangerously low, and he growled one further word. "Pandora…"

For that moment, his full attention was focused on the glowing gem.

And that was all that was needed.

The sound of the gunshot tore through the air, and Hitanki jerked backwards, stumbling into Aoko and unintentionally pushing her out of the way, closer to her father. The inspector automatically reached out to grab his daughter and pull her as far away from the danger as he could. Hitanki even managed to give her one extra push towards her father's protection before he hit the ground.

The gunman still had the gun raised; a thin tendril of smoke rose from the barrel. He grinned sadistically. "That was far too easy. I expected more of a challenge. Don't know why."

Hitanki was huddled on the ground, his arms wrapped around his slender torso; he trembled violently, his head bowed so his face was shielded by his hair. The dark bloodstain on the side of his jacket was painfully visible, even in the now-dim light of the jewel's recessed glow, and growing beneath the shield of his now-stained fingers.

"Now, for the witnesses," the gunman turned his attention on the Inspector and his daughter. Instinctively, father placed himself between the threat and his daughter, continuing to back away. He had to protect Aoko, at whatever the cost.

"Goodbye." The hammer cocked.

"You…killed him…" the words were slow. "You…murdered him…"

The man in black stopped dead in his tracks, and turned to refocus his attention on the boy.

Hitanki had struggled to his feet, hand still clutching at his side, where the dark splotch continued to grow. His fingers were tinged with a dark red color. But it was his eyes that held the attention now. His eyes were wide and cerulean in a face contorted with pain and rage; before, they had seemed so lifeless and empty, but now…they were fiery and passionate and furious and alive. "Killer…" he growled, finally standing fully upright. "Murderer."

The glow from the jewel flared again, and the Voice spoke. "Death…" It was a strange thing for it to say at that point, and the tone was just as strange. Had it a visible face, one could imagine that the expression would have been thoughtful. But what was it thinking about? And could a rock actually think?

In the flash of light, Nakamori-keibu saw the boy change, flickering like a strobe light. Jeans and a dark jacket, stained with blood. A black school uniform, belonging to Aoko's school. A white suit and cape, face obscured by hat brim and monocle…

Kaitou Kid.

Kaito… the name leapt unbidden into his mind. Kaito. Kaito Kuroba. Wait, wasn't Kaito the name of that friend Aoko had mentioned before, the one that didn't really seem to exist?

No, no, Kaito was real…but why didn't he remember anything?

Ginzo Nakamori was, to say the least, extremely confused.

"Murderer…" he repeated.

"You should remember nothing," the Voice said, but the tone remained thoughtful.

"You murdered him…" the boy went on, still struggling to his feet. "You murdered…my dad…"

The gunman's eyes widened, and his jaw dropped. For the first time, the hand wielding his weapon shook. "What are you…you aren't…" He steadied again and flourished his gun. "Die!"

"ENOUGH!" the Voice interrupted, and the light appeared again, this time taking everything, including Aoko and her father, who were still huddled off to the side, unsure of what to do. Aoko screamed as she, too, was pulled into it.

"Fear not, little one," the Voice whispered into her mind; it frightened her, yet at the same time it was so strangely comforting. "I see things that I did not see before. Do not be afraid."

"MURDERER!" Hitanki—or was he?—screamed into the light.

The crimson light from the gem flared once more, and a figure appeared, shadowed and dark against the scarlet light. "I see…" the Voice said, a whisper. "I see into your heart, and I see the truth. I see what I did not before." The figure pointed at the boy. "That is why you sought me, and sought to destroy me. And you…" The finger turned to the gunman, "sought me for your own selfish gain, taking innocent lives in the process."

Then it seemed to turn to Aoko and her father. "And you, little one," It spoke—for the figure was an It, bearing the defining characteristics of neither male nor female. "You should not remember this boy, yet you cling to your memories. You refuse to surrender that which should have been taken away by my magic. And you believed, even when no one else did. Why, little one?" The Voice was honestly curious.

Aoko rose, leaving her father still sitting on the ground with his back pressed against the wall of one of the buildings enclosing this fight. She took a step forward, and another, her very posture a silent challenge to whoever this unknown shadow was. "Because it's Kaito," she whispered. A single unnoticed tear slipped from her eye. "I love Kaito. I won't give him up, to you or to anyone."

The figure did not reply to her words, but instead seemed to turn away from her. "Let the wrongs be righted," the Voice spoke. And as father and daughter watched in horrified confusion, the gunman was knocked backwards into a wall by an unseen blow, and he did not move.

Aoko screamed and sprinted forwards without a thought for her own safety as Hitanki dropped to an unmoving heap on the unfeeling ground, the figure bending over him and reaching towards him…

-o-

The result of the evening's work was all but burning a hole in his pocket. But he had to wait until he was alone and away from prying eyes. He ducked into the park, knowing a perfect place. There was never anyone there at this time of the night, and it allowed him clear access to the moon's light.

Sure enough, the place was deserted, and the full moon was glowing, as though encouraging him. 'Go on,' it seemed to say. 'Let's see what you've got tonight.' They were old friends, he and the moon. They had a long-standing relationship.

He was alone with his prize. He really didn't expect anything from this one. There had been so many others with the same results; he was far too accustomed to disappointment. Still, he couldn't quite keep that tiny flame of hope from flickering deep inside him that this would be the one, that his search would finally be over and he would be freed from his promise, free to choose his path for himself…

Cupping the clear gem gingerly in both hands, he raised it to the moon's gaze…

Crimson light spilled from the gem, casting an eerie red glow over the skin of his palm. The light spilled from the very heart of the formerly colorless stone. And for a moment, he just stared at it.

He could do nothing but stare at it, disbelieving.

This was it. He had found it.

"Pandora…" he breathed, bringing it back down to look at it more closely. The light did not vanish when he blinked; he wasn't imagining it, or letting that glimmer of hope cause his eyes to play tricks on him. It was real. Real.

He laughed out loud. He felt incredibly stupid for doing so, but the elation rising in him needed to come out somehow, and it chose to burst from him in gut-wrenching laughter. He laughed for probably two or three minutes straight before it trailed off into giggles.

But finally he got himself back under control and sobered a bit, remembering his mission. There was one more thing he had to do before he could really call that part of his task complete.

The gem had to be destroyed.

He fished out his card gun, one of his trademark weapons, and weighed it carefully in his hand, observing the shape of it. In his other hand, he held the stone, trying to gauge. After a minute, he nodded to himself. It should be enough.

He knelt; clever fingers dug out a tiny hollow in the dirt of the ground and placed the stone in it. There, that should do it. Deep enough to keep it from moving around, but shallow enough that it wouldn't impede what he was about to do.

Taking a deep breath, he raised the card gun over his head, the butt of the gun downwards. If he swung with enough force, it should be enough to break the gem. If this didn't work, he would figure something else out later, but at the moment he just couldn't wait.

As his makeshift weapon began in its downward arc, the red light reappeared not as the gentle glow of before, but an eruption of scarlet radiance that washed over him, blinding him. He recoiled on instinct alone, but it enveloped him, and he froze.

He saw a form before him, a shadow standing out dark against the crimson.

"Pandora…" he whispered again, this time in horror.

The figure reached for him. He couldn't even tell if it was male or female. The form was neuter. And its fingers brushed against his forehead. "You would destroy me," it said; as with the shadow, the voice had no gender. "Give me your earliest memory."

It was simple power of suggestion, really. Against his will, he found his mind wandering back as far as it could go. He struggled to not think of it, but in spite of himself an image flashed into his mind.

He was a small child, perhaps two years old. He was being held in the air by strong hands, and felt no fear that he would be dropped. He felt nothing but unconditional trust and love for the man who was supporting him and smiling up at him. Dad, he knew. Otousan. He had no worries of being dropped; Dad would never, ever let him fall.

He treasured that memory, as he treasured all memories of his father. But as soon the image had completed itself in his mind, solid and real and just as it had happened all those long years ago…

It was gone. Snatched away by an unseen hand. It was like a movie projector had been bumped, and the picture had been knocked away from the screen onto the wall where it couldn't be seen. But he couldn't get the projector back on focus again.

And the more he tried to think about it, the more panicked he became. He could remember nothing, nothing at all. Things were flying from his mind at a speed that mental fingers could not match.

The shadow-figure before him seemed to smile. "You would destroy me. But it is I who will destroy you." That same Voice, calm and neuter and almost omnipotent. "Kaito Kuroba. Nevermore…"

And with a jolt, he sat upright and looked around frantically. He was somewhere outside—there were trees around him, and he was sitting on dirt and he could see the moon and stars above him. It was a beautiful sight, but it meant that it was late, he should be getting home.

Wait…where was home? What had just happened? Where was he?

who was he?

Standing up, he stumbled a bit, but managed to remain upright. He glanced around, all over, looking for any clue, any hint…and spotted something shining on the ground. As he picked it up and moved it from the shadows, it spilled red light over his hands.

It was beautiful…

He felt this was important. He had no idea why, but somehow he couldn't shake the idea that this small rock was crucial to…something. But he didn't know what, or what it was. But he slowly rose back to his unsteady feet, and unthinkingly slid the stone into his pocket. The red glow vanished.

With staggering steps, he left the park and headed out, not knowing where he was going, not even knowing where he was. He just…walked. He walked for a long, long time, thoughtless save for one pressing question that wouldn't leave him alone.

Who am I?

-o-

Nakamori-keibu stared at the curled form on the ground. Aoko was shaking the boy frantically, trying to get him to wake up. The gunman lay on the sidewalk. Somewhat numbly, the inspector moved over and handcuffed the unconscious man before walking to stand over his daughter.

The boy lay unmoving in the circle of Aoko's arms. The bloodstains on his jacket and fingers had mysteriously vanished—was he still injured? He could easily have been mistaken for dead, but Nakamori could see the boy's chest rising and falling steadily with breath. He was alive, but he wasn't coming to.

"Come on, wake up!" Aoko was crying. She called him by no name, though—she didn't know which name to use. When he woke up, would there still be Hitanki? Or… "Please, wake up!"

And as Nakamori stared at the young man, a name sprang to his lips. "Kaito…?"

As if the whispered word had cast a spell, the boy's eyes cracked open. They were blue, that brilliant blue, and so confused. It took them a second to focus on the girl kneeling beside him, cradling his head in her arms. "A...o…ko?" he murmured, blinking owlishly at her.

She nodded tearfully. "That's right. Can you sit up?" Without waiting for an answer, she pulled him upright, letting him lean heavily against her. He was trembling. She was obviously the only thing keeping him in a sitting position; on his own, he probably would have toppled over again.

His eyes dragged from her then, to the person standing behind her, and his brow furrowed as he struggled to place the name. And finally, comprehension dawned and he whispered, "Keibu?"

Aoko drew back and looked at him; her eyes were wide, shining brightly with tears and hope.

He put one shaky hand to his forehead. "What…what happened to me?"

Fingers touched his cheek, and he turned to look at their owner: Aoko, who withdrew her hand as soon as his gaze lighted on her . She swallowed hard, and risked having her hope and heart crushed one more time. "Kaito?" Please let it be real…

And after far too long of a moment…

He smiled.

Not the lazy smirk of one who has just done something worthy of praise. Not the confident sneer of one who has just pulled off a masterful prank or an elaborate heist, as the case might have been. A small, tentative smile. Genuine. Shaky. Almost fearful.

"It's you…" Aoko sobbed, her hands unconsciously reaching towards his face again. "It's you…" She wanted to touch him, to feel him moving beneath her hands as her trembling fingers found their way to his cheeks and held on gently. It let her know that he was real, that he was moving and alive. Real.

He sat up a little straighter and turned to slide his arms around her. "Aoko…"

He was real. And he knew who she was.

With a sob, she leaned into him. "It's you…oh my god, it's really you…" She clung to him, as though afraid he would disappear. Given all that had happened, it wasn't an entirely unfounded fear.

And Kaito was holding her, breathing against her hair.

Nakamori-keibu still stood beside them, watching the emotional reunion with a certain degree of unease. After all, that was his daughter, thank you very much. But more importantly… "So…can someone explain to me what's going on, exactly?"

Kaito released Aoko (albeit somewhat reluctantly) and rose unsteadily, and half-stumbled to the spot where Pandora had fallen; Aoko was right on his heels. He carefully picked it up and turned around to hold it out to the confused inspector. "This is it."

"What is it?" Keibu prodded.

"Pandora," Kaito said solemnly. "Let me tell you a story…"

-o-

It took Kaito a few minutes to work up his nerve, but finally, he did it. He climbed the porch steps slowly, pausing at the front door. He took a deep breath before turning the knob and entering. "I'm back!" he called, nervously. What if…

And his mother's face appeared in the doorway. She was smiling as she said, "Welcome home."

The moonlight was particularly bright tonight, he noticed as they stood on the bridge. Aoko and Keibu were watching carefully as he weighed the stone in his hand. Pandora, he had called it.

The explanation had been a bit on the lengthy side, starting from the beginning and going through the why's of the evening's events, but now the three were ready to see this horrid chapter of their lives come to an end. And Nakamori-keibu hadn't even once thought of arrest, he was too stunned.

Taking a deep breath, Kaito reared back—and threw the gem as far as he could. It glowed in the moonlight, shining with a light all its own. They all watched as Pandora—and the spirit locked within it—entered the water with nothing more than a small splash. But that tiny splash meant the end of a nightmare none of them had ever dreamt could happen to them.

"It's done," he said, pulling away from the edge of the bridge. "No one should be able to find it now. It's over." He turned back to them. "Can we go now?" This was met with nods, and they started walking slowly, in silence.

Aoko's fingers sought his, and their hands entwined. Behind them, Keibu glared a little at the display of affection, but made no verbal comment or showed other signs of disproval.

When she looked up at him now—when their eyes met just for that second—she no longer saw the lost, frightened Hitanki in there. The shadows still hung in his eyes, but they were fast losing their ground to the encroaching happiness that was growing exponentially.

That was Kaito, she knew now, giving his hand a squeeze as they walked back into the city.

Back towards home.


PS. I really don't know anything at all about the Japanese language. I found the word "hitan" listed as meaning "sorrow," and "ki" meaning "soul," often added as an ending to boy's names. Hence, the title and main character were named. If it's wrong, I apologize. And while we're on names, 'Meimi' is the name of the main character in Saint Tail, which is about a (gasp) female kaitou…named Saint Tail. So it seemed fitting to use for Kaito's mother.

That just seemed like a very good place to end it, I thought. This story took four months to write, and stands for the moment as the single longest one-shot I have ever penned. So I sincerely hope you enjoyed it, strange as it was. Much love!