Disclaimer- Gosho, not me, we all know how this goes, right? Cade is mine, of course... This short is rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America. It is the fourth and last in the "Unprofessional Opinion Gaiden" series and is Cade's LAST foray into DC! Really! I mean it! ... Somehow, the grins coming from my plot bunnies fail to reassure me on that note...


Chapter Four-- Cards On the Table

Hakuba Saguru had been sleeping a fair amount lately. He usually did, when injured-- it was the best way of dealing with the pain. Especially since he knew better than to start on any painkillers more powerful than aspirin.

Well, I suppose ibuprofen's all right, too, he thought wryly, reaching for the pill bottle and glass of water that sat on his bedside table. No one's pegged that one as habit-forming yet...

Levering himself to his feet, he straightened his clothing as best he could, then shrugged gingerly into his sling. He was tempted to simply leave it off, but since at least one of his mother hens was always in residence these days, he knew better than to risk it.

Still, he DID feel better for the nap, and he was in an almost cheerful mood as he descended the staircase. And as had been par for the course recently, said mood dissolved immediately as he entered his study.

He was used to finding Cade in there, reading psychology texts and occasionally making notes. He was getting used to finding Kuroba there, either reading some book on magic or quietly working on yet another of his vast array of magic tricks. He was even becoming used to finding them both in there, talking quietly in a way that generally made the hair on his neck stand on end.

What he was NOT used to was seeing Cade and Kuroba seated at the round table, playing cards with Edogawa Conan, elementary school detective. A quick scan of the study proved that yes, Hattori Heiji was there as well, planted on one of the sofas and watching the game in earnest. Unsurprisingly, all four looked up as he stopped in the doorway.

"Hakuba-kun!" Kuroba waved, flashing that manic grin. "Just the guy we were waiting for! Come on in!"

Against his better judgment, Saguru did so, keeping a reasonable distance from the table. "What exactly is going on here?" he asked warily.

"It's called findin' common ground, Junior," Cade replied, shuffling. "You want dealt in?"

A blond brow arched. "Has Kuroba been strip-searched?"

"Ew, no!" Edogawa made a disgusted face.

"Then I'll pass." Gingerly, he settled himself in one of the study's armchairs.

Cade chuckled. "Hattori?"

"Do I look stupid to you?"

"Fair enough." Another shuffle. "Just to reiterate, the name of the game is Texas Hold 'Em, the small blind is two, big blind is four, and if I catch you cheating, the results will be dire."

Kuroba blinked. "Cheating?" he asked, all innocence.

"Us?" Edogawa added, his expression a perfect echo of the larger boy's.

Saguru looked from one to the other, feeling slightly ill. Funny how he'd never noticed the physical resemblance before... The two could be brothers.

"I've been watching 'em for three hands," Hattori said quietly, scooting closer to Saguru's chair. "Those two have raised cheating into a competitive art form."

... Oh LOVELY. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised... Edogawa was far from normal for a child his age. The ability to deal off the bottom of a deck was no stranger than some of the other skills he'd shown.

Saguru shifted, watching in some fascination as the game began. Cards had never been his game of choice; in Britan, it was usually easier to get a possible source to open up over a game of billiards. Really, he only knew enough about Texas Hold 'Em to know it was a game that favored strategic players... and that the three he was watching now were very, very good at it.

"Cade-san?" Edogawa asked, looking up from his cards. "What happens if we catch YOU cheating?"

The psychiatrist's grin was slightly feral. "You won't."

That got snickers from the other two, and another round of betting went by. The coin of choice, Saguru noted, was small Meiji candies... Somebody had apparently come prepared.

"You said you were from Vegas," the boy detective began again. "Did you learn to play there?"

"Nah, I learned in college. I got GOOD at it playing with the head of the night shift at the crime lab. You think Kuroba's a poker shark, you should have seen this guy."

Saguru sighed, shifting in his chair. "While this trip down Memory Lane is fascinating, might I ask why Poker Night is at my house?"

"You've got more room than Kuroba or Edogawa, and Hattori's place is in Osaka," Cade said reasonably. "Be patient, Junior, we'll discuss business later."

"Business? What kind of business?"

Cade threw him a smile. "You're the detective, Junior. What do you four have in common?"

... Well. That they'd all ADMIT to? Kuroba had the skills of a fine detective, though he put them to work as the Kid... and ONLY as the Kid, so he'd never own up to that. He and Kuroba had both pissed off some crime syndicate... and Cade thought Edogawa was afraid of something... that might be it. And it might explain Hattori's bull-dog protectiveness over a boy who really didn't seem to need it... But in the end, none of those things were what he said.

"We're not normal," he said finally. "Three detectives and a magician, none of whom fit easily into society. Which, I suppose, is why we are what we are... And why Kuroba is such a raging Kid otaku. Kid is the patron saint of not fitting in."

"Gold star," Cade said easily. "That why you chase him?"

Hattori snorted. "Hey, I've run across the guy all of once, and that was 'cause he came to Osaka."

A shrug from Saguru. "Kid is... a challenge. Besides, I'd rather not see the idiot catch a bullet before I can arrest him." Or before he finds what he's looking for, he thought, but carefully did not say.

"Hey, I just want an autograph," Kuroba replied, flashing that manic grin. "What about you, Conan-kun?"

The boy looked up from his cards, pinning Kuroba with that eerie blue gaze. "I chase Kid because he wants to be chased," he said quietly.

Kuroba blinked. "What do you mean?" he asked warily.

"The notes, the show, the police presence... he wants people there. He wants the attention. If he didn't... he could just disguise himself as somebody with access to a gem and walk in and out, nobody the wiser. Given the fakes he makes... nobody'd ever know that a theft had occurred, especially if he stuck to returning them once he was done with whatever he needed.

"I don't know why he wants the chase," Edogawa continued, eyes unfocused. "I think he loves the attention... he's a performer, first and foremost, he loves the spotlight. But I think there's also something he NEEDS the police for. Maybe whatever it is those snipers are after. And... he told me once that he set up the circumstances of one heist just so that we could duel. So I'm guessing he needs the challenge as much as any of us do."

Folding his cards, the small detective set them face-down on the table with a humorless chuckle. "... We're not that different, you know. Kid and I. When I started... my current situation... I realized that there were going to be times I'd have to break the law to get justice. That I'd have to lie... I'd have to do things I'm not proud of. But it's worth it. Because I still have one thing that separates me from the people I hunt... I still value human life. And that means that the only difference between me and Kid is the way we go about doing what we have to do."

Kuroba, Saguru noticed, looked as though someone had hit him over the head with a rather large trout. Carefully, the magician folded his own cards, still staring at Edogawa as though he'd seen a ghost.

"So... what would you do if you caught him?" he asked, tone deceptively neutral.

"I'd arrest him," the boy replied flatly. "And then I'd probably be stupid and leave the handcuff key somewhere he could get it. Sending Kid to jail would be writing his death sentence. They'd kill him in a heartbeat, if he couldn't disappear."

They. Ice sleeted through Saguru's blood at the sheer despair and menace contained in that word. If the conspiracy he'd tripped over ran as high as he'd begun to suspect... yes, they'd have that power. But that the boy knew that, and could recognize the overwhelming, numbing terror of that concept...

"Yeah, I'm not used to his tricks, so he'd probably get away from me, too," Hattori replied casually. "Not that I spend that much time tryin' to catch thieves anyway."

Saguru sighed. "I doubt I'll ever catch him," he admitted, feeling the weight of four gazes on him. "We know each other too well by now to do anything more than play out the same dance. But if something happened, and his luck ran out enough that I caught him... yes, he'd probably escape me. He knows where I keep my handcuff keys, after all."

... Good lord, he wasn't entirely sure if Kuroba was still breathing.

"Good, that's settled," Cade said briskly, gathering up the cards. "Now... I mentioned business. I'm going back to the States tomorrow, Junior, which means I can't stand guard on your nosy butt any further. And leaving you here to catch a bullet is not in my game plan. So, I'm taking steps."

Saguru snorted. "I'm unsurprised."

"Quiet. Good news is, while you may have pissed off the Mob, most of the traditional methods of ending your lifespan are kind of out of the question. You don't drive, so cutting your brake line isn't gonna work. And anything flashy..."

"And as the son of a high-ranking police officer, my death will touch off an investigation even a phantom crime syndicate can't avoid," Saguru agreed.

Edogawa leaned forward, blue eyes narrowed. "So it has to look like an accident... or be something like a Kid heist, where everyone would just assume you got in the way of a bullet meant for him."

A nod from Cade. "Exactly. All of which is damn tough to do if somebody's watching your back."

"Oh no." Dread went through Saguru like lightning.

Hattori grinned. "I could probably start takin' an interest in Kid heists... not all of 'em, but a good half..."

"No."

"Don't look at me," Kuroba shook his head. "I'm a civilian. Nakamori wouldn't let me hang around, especially if there's been shooting."

Saguru snorted. "You'd be otherwise occupied anyway."

"I could do it. If somebody can talk Nakamori-keibu into letting me help, given my record with Kid..."

"No." Saguru infused that word with as much doom as he could muster. "You are seven years old, Edogawa-kun, I will not have you risking bullets for me."

Hattori and the boy traded glances, and Kuroba smirked. Suddenly, Saguru had the powerful conviction that he was missing something...

"And on that note," Cade commented, rising to his feet, "I'm gonna head back to my hotel. I got an early flight. Junior, you and Edogawa-kun both have my cel number... call any time, day or night. If you can't get me, or if it's a matter of life and death, call this number."

He placed a card on the table. "Ask for Danny- you'll get help inside twenty minutes. Careful, they only speak English over there."

Edogawa picked it up. "Danny?"

"Long story, and if you have to call that number, there'll be enough questions to answer then. Just trust me on that one. In the meantime... you boys have a good night. Oh yeah... and I turned on the white noise generator, just in case. Anybody bugged this place, they're gonna regret it."

The door shut behind him, and for a moment, the four boys regarded each other in silence. Finally, Edogawa took off his glasses, and sighed.

"Well, everybody else here knows this already, Hakuba-san, so... guess it's time we told you." He took a deep breath, then looked up, eyes boring into Saguru's own.

"Hello, I'm Kudo Shinichi. Nice to meet you."

Owari