There was nothing more disconcerting, Saguru discovered, than walking into the detective agency and having Kaito and Shin'ichi turn to greet him with identical disturbing grins.
The sight was not made any better by the light dusting of dove feathers in their vicinity and a bird each perched on their shoulders rather than safely tucked away in their cage behind Kaito's desk.
Shin'ichi waved, nearly displacing his tenant from its perch. "Hey, Saguru-kun! I'm teaching Kaito-kun the Bird-under-the-hat trick!"
"Of... course you are," Saguru began warily, and then the identity of the speaker sank in and he abruptly dropped into the nearest chair. And stared.
"...Kuroba?" The switch to surname was automatic, a year's worth of habit melting away. Only Kid had ever pulled off that trick, which meant…
Shin'ichi cocked his head, a more thoughtful expression replacing the cheerful grin. "Well... no. Not exactly."
Saguru buried the thrill of disappointment that accompanied Shin'ichi's denial, and kept his voice carefully neutral. "Perhaps you could explain, then."
"Right. Um." The brunet carefully moved his passenger to the white top hat that had been rummaged up from God knew where to rest on Shin'ichi's desk. Saguru waited as patiently as he could through the delaying tactic. He was not going to throttle his friends for being themselves. ... Such as those selves were. And might no longer be, entirely, if his suspicions were correct.
"I guess, to make a long story short..." Shin'ichi grimaced. "I triggered my old memories this morning by accidentally throwing a mugger off a roof. Kaito-kun caught him, and... we worked things out."
"Nothing's changed," Kaito continued. "Well, except that I'm reclaiming the Holmes First Editions from Shin'ichi-kun's library."
"And I want the journals of Harry Houdini back." Shin'ichi rubbed the back of his neck. "And we might be getting maimed by the girls, but they haven't gotten out of classes yet to be told."
Aoko and Ran both had classes at university for criminal justice and history, respectively, but barring unexpected breaks in routine they would arrive at the agency within the next half hour to kidnap their respective men for dinner.
Still processing the absurdity of it all when he'd been wishing for and dreading this moment ever since last New Year's, Saguru intelligently murmured, "Oh. No more lies?"
He'd almost gotten used to them, by now. Whole weeks could go by without him even thinking about it.
"Not with us," Shin'ichi confirmed, tone immutable. "There's been too many. Kaito-kun—and you too, I guess, if you figured it out—when did you figure it out, anyway?"
Saguru had to chuckle at the distractibility that stayed the same, no matter what name went with it. "High school. I... didn't wish to risk bringing harm."
"...Thank you," Kaito murmured. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I just... couldn't."
Saguru nodded, favoring them both with a wry smile. "I know. And it wasn't my or Heiji-kun's place to break the illusion, if that was all that was keeping you stable."
After a moment's further thought, he added, "You'd better be planning to apologize to Heiji-kun, too. And if either of you do anything this asinine again, your worst nightmares about Aoko-kun and Ran-san's reactions will pale in comparison."
The two men both snapped to attention in perfect mimicry of a military salute, echoing "Sir, yes, sir!" together, and then looked at each other and nearly collapsed in howling laughter.
Saguru resisted smacking their heads together, because a bad case of nerves wasn't surprising given their decision to come clean to the two most important women in their lives. It still didn't stop their habit of Twinning from being just as disconcerting when done on accident as on purpose. Especially when they snickered madly in unison at the accidental ones.
Instead of cracking skulls, he shoved his reactions down to consider later and merely sighed. "You'd best clean up the feathers, Kaito-kun. You'll want to face any incoming wrath with clean surfaces." He moved onto Shin'ichi. "Put Yuki and Irene away, please, and then explain what your plan for future interpersonal relations is. If you even have one, what with how effective your deliberate self-distractions are."
The two recovered from their fit of humor with a slightly guilty tinge to the last few chuckles, and obeyed. Once the room was clean again, Shin'ichi perched on the edge of his desk while Kaito leaned against the side of his, and they exchanged a wordless glance which apparently settled that Shin'ichi would be the one to explain.
"We're going to start with Heiji-kun and the girls, though it sounds like Heiji-kun already figured it out, too. Detectives," Shin'ichi added, rolling his eyes with a faint grin.
"Hey, you are one," Kaito prodded, smirking.
"Yeah, but now I remember not being one, and my previous professional disdain for wreckers of art."
Saguru's eyes drifted inexorably from Shin'ichi to the doves in their cage, and he swallowed past what was definitely not a worse disappointment at the thought of breaking the status quo. "Would you rather return to being a magician, then?"
Shin'ichi's eyes widened in surprise. "What? No!" He shook his head hard enough that his hairgel nearly lost the fight against mussed cowlicks. "I like what we do, especially since only the occasional kaitou manages anything worth admiring, and we don't deal with them. I even get now why you and Heiji-kun voted me Kaito-kun's partner for all the building security stuff we get. I'm just… still processing all of it."
Kaito exhaled in what could have been relief. "Well, at least you're not mad."
"Yeah, he's not being verbose enough for that." Shin'ichi cocked his head, faint concern creeping into his expression. "Are you okay?"
Saguru gave the question due consideration. "...I don't know."
He was saved from further elaboration by the door abruptly opening to herald Heiji's arrival. "Case closed! No affair, she's plannin' a surprise birthday party for him and ain't as subtle as she thinks. How'd you guys do?"
Kaito and Shin'ichi exchanged guilty glances, and Shin'ichi answered, "We... kind of got distracted from the security analysis."
Heiji paused on his way to his desk. "Murder?"
"Not exactly..." Kaito hedged.
Saguru sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Shin'ichi-kun remembers."
Heiji froze. "Remembers..."
Shin'ichi offered him a bittersweet smile. "I wasn't born Shin'ichi. We just... aren't that, any more."
Heiji's gaze flew to Kaito, who echoed the same smile. "Sorry, Heiji-kun."
The Osakan's expressive face darkened slightly, and he strode over to Kaito without breaking eye contact. Kaito looked back steadily, unflinching. At least until Heiji raised a hand and smacked it hard against the back of Kaito's head, which garnered a wince.
"That is for just up and running, you bastard." Before Kaito could reply, Heiji grabbed him in a short, rough hug and stepped back again. "An' that was because you were doin' it for Neechan. Even if it was dumb."
Kaito smiled wryly. "It seemed like a good idea at the time." The smile softened. "And it wasn't just for her, either... Not once I realized Kid's quest was unfinished, too."
"Wait, what?" Shin'ichi came to attention, and Saguru sat up straight in his chair before he'd even realized he'd moved.
Kaito rubbed at the back of his neck, lips quirked. "It didn't seem the right time to say anything before, but… Yeah. Pandora's gone."
Shin'ichi laughed, long and joyous, amid grabbing Kaito for an exuberant noogie. "Only you, Kaito-kun."
"And good riddance," Heiji pronounced, disgusted. "Even the name sounds like bad news. What was it?"
"Supposedly, it shed tears of immortality beneath the Volley Comet."
"Ahh…" Saguru hissed, pieces falling into place. "Why the moon, then? I held God knows how many private collections to the moon before you came… home, but I was never certain exactly what I was looking for."
Both men looked at him in surprise.
"You were looking?" Kaito asked.
"Even after I was gone?" Shin'ichi added.
Saguru gave them both a look. "Yes, you bloody idiot, especially after you were gone. Until Kaito-kun came back."
"Not after, though?" Kaito looked half-hopeful that Saguru hadn't been stuck on a wild goose chase that Kaito could have ended, and half-guilty at the idea that he had.
In truth, his focus had merely switched to prioritize Kaito's well being, and keep a surreptitious eye on Shin'ichi once he'd realized the truth of what had happened. He'd hoped that Kaito's reappearance without Kid meant that Kid's quest was over, but he was a detective. Detectives didn't assume.
"Only as a matter of convenience."
"Oh. Good." There was a wealth of information in that single word—"Thank you" and "I'm sorry" at the very least. Saguru inclined his head in acknowledgment.
"We're here!" The sudden call of Ran's voice jolted them all out of the current conversation, and both Kaito and Shin'ichi went slightly pale as their significant others swept through the door.
The women paused, and frowned, and Aoko's hands settled onto her hips. "What happened?"
Kaito and Shin'ichi exchanged glances again. "...You'd better sit down."
"I hate it when you say that," Ran commented, lightly kissing Shin'ichi on the cheek before she and Aoko made themselves comfortable in the chairs of their respective man's desk. "It usually means someone tried to kill you. Again."
Kaito coughed lightly. "We did have a slight run-in with a mugger, but he's been arrested. That's not what we need to talk to you about."
Aoko crossed her arms, frown deepening. "All right, then. Spill."
The agony of silence hung in the air for several long seconds, and then Shin'ichi admitted in a rush, "Igotmymemorybacktoday."
Lips moved for a few seconds as parsing took place, and then Ran merely blinked. "All of it?"
Shin'ichi nodded. "It's... not what you might expect. I'm sorry."
Ran folded her hands, a picture of placidity. "Go on."
He swallowed, gaze darting between her and Aoko. "Until I woke up in the hospital, I was Kuroba Kaito. And I wound up there because I was Kaitou Kid."
They seemed to have no immediate reply, which worked out well enough because Shin'ichi plunged onward, "I'd gambled that if anything happened to me, Kudou would be curious enough to keep me from being properly arrested before I'd regained consciousness enough to talk—when I'd also be able to get away. But when I woke up the way I did, Kaito-kun… let me be Shin'ichi, because…"
Shin'ichi trailed off and looked at Kaito. "Why? You said it could be worth it, but not why you let it go in the first place."
Kaito's lips twitched at the corners, more bittersweet than amused. "Because at the time, I was still poisoned into—" he glanced at Ran and winced, "—Conan. And my resident mad scientist said that if I took one more temporary cure before the permanent antidote could be developed, I'd die from heart failure before I could stay grown for good."
Saguru noticed that Ran's eyes seemed to gain a faint gleam, but she didn't interrupt Kaito.
"It was true. I nearly had a heart attack anyway, when we finally got a true antidote. But that was later, and at the time… I didn't even have a ballpark estimate for how long before I could go home and get my head kicked in the way I deserved." Kaito shook his head with a sigh. "And then there was the fact that if I got, say, Heiji-kun or my father to disclaim your identity, you'd be bound for handcuffs and either a little white room or a jail cell. I didn't… I didn't want that blood on my hands."
Kaito paused, eyes unfocused in recall, and smiled sadly. "What really made the decision, though, was Ran." His voice softened, and even though he was nominally talking to Shin'ichi, the words were for her. "She wanted you to be Shin'ichi. All her old suspicions about Conan, all the memories of who I was… When she looked at you, she saw Shin'ichi, and she was happy."
Kaito's voice dropped to a whisper. "How could I destroy her smile for another damn 'Wait for me, I'll come home someday'?"
In the silence that followed, Ran and Aoko's faces gave little away, but their eyes looked suspiciously wet. Kaito himself seemed to be blinking more than usual.
"Maybe it wasn't logical, but I was always stupid when it came to her. So when all my options came down to hurting someone one way or another, I picked me. And left." He took a deep breath, sighed. "I found out about Kaito, told Mom that Kaito wasn't dead, finished Kid's business because he couldn't, and… tried to see if Kaito was a shape I could lose my old self in."
He finally looked over enough to meet Aoko's eyes, and then Ran's. "…I'm sorry. You'd had enough lies from us in the first place, I'm sorry for caging you in more. I just… didn't know what else to do."
Saguru choked back a laugh at Aoko's immediate response: to stand up and grab her boyfriend in a tight hug. "Thank you," she whispered. "Ran-chan and I got most of the basics right, but it means a lot to hear it from you."
The two men stared. Ran rose and wrapped her arms around Shin'ichi, as well. "Policeman's daughters, who grew up surrounded by detectives. It… took time, but especially after we met each other again, there were clues for us to figure out… enough of what happened."
"Enough?" Shin'ichi inquired weakly.
Aoko smiled sweetly at him. "Enough to not drag you both into a dark alleyway and threaten the truth out of you."
"Especially since you didn't know," Ran added, hugging Shin'ichi a little tighter.
"And I remember… how awful you looked when you finally came home," Aoko told Kaito, whose face seemed frozen in stunned surprise. "It doesn't mean it didn't hurt, when we were first realizing, and you both owe us a lot of nice dinners to make up for it…"
"But we weren't the only ones hurting," Ran finished. "I do hope you apologized to Saguru-kun and Heiji-kun. What we have together now isn't what we would have expected or hoped for when we were younger, but… it's still good."
Aoko nodded. "We can't go back. ...I don't know if I would even want to." She smiled. "We've found happiness here and now. How could we dream of losing that to an abyss of what-ifs?"
"This is why I love you," Kaito murmured, even as Shin'ichi pulled Ran close for a kiss.
"Hey, Saguru-kun," Heiji reminded when their friends seemed to demonstrate no need for any actual air, "You owe me 2000 yen."
"Oh. Bugger." Saguru dug out his wallet and found the necessary cash, acutely aware of the looks he was getting as the happy couples broke apart to blink at the exchange.
"You bet on whether the girls had figured it all out?" Kaito demanded, sounding aggrieved.
"Nah," Heiji answered, accepting the bills. "We bet on whether you two'd survive telling them the truth in one piece."
The two turned wounded looks (exaggerated, as it was them) on Saguru, and he felt his cheeks start to burn. "I was feeling pessimistic that day."
"You didn't think we could talk our way into staying intact?" Shin'ichi smiled winsomely at Ran before either woman could take offense. "Not that we would have escaped without the benefit of your good will."
Saguru shook his head. "I… didn't think it would ever become a relevant concern." He tried to smile. "Like I said, it was a pessimistic day."
Shin'ichi disentangled from Ran and approached Saguru's chair, blue eyes soft in apology as he laid a hand on Saguru's shoulder. "I'm sorry I left. And I'm sorry I didn't feel safe trusting you."
Saguru swallowed. "It wasn't on purpose. ...Nor had I done anything to prove myself worthy of your trust."
The hand squeezed his shoulder, gently. "Well, you have it now. And I'm different, but… the old me is in here, too." A sudden grin, bursting with joie de vivre in a way Saguru hadn't seen in three years. "I even remember tie-dyed boxer shorts that originally had little magnifying glasses on them."
"Kur—Shin'ichi-kun!" Saguru grabbed his friend in a headlock with a fierce noogie, trying to ignore the way his whole face burned in embarrassment, which was made slightly easier by the fact that part of the burn was from his cheek muscles protesting at the sudden intensity of his smile.
That grin had held Shin'ichi, Kuroba, and Kid all at once, and all three had been saying friend-we-trust. And tease, but God help him, he'd missed even the teasing.
He had his friends. And his friends had the truth, the whole truth, out in the light and it hadn't blown up in their faces.
Things would be different, Saguru supposed, as the dynamics reshaped and resettled, and there might be the occasional hiccup from unexpected behaviors or memories, but in the end it would be better.
He couldn't wait to see it.
And that's all she wrote, folks. Thanks for your patience through this decidedly odd AU jaunt. Please review!