It's like the bad old days all over again, like the one year anniversary of Kid's disappearance and the first official disbanding of the kaitou 1412 Task Force. Except then he was drinking with his fellows, with Oogawa and Sawara and a dozen other cops who moved on to less hopeless positions and never came back. Now Nakamori's alone, sitting at grungy bars drinking whisky out of scratched glasses and slamming them down on bar tops with surfaces like a ten-year old chopping block to demand refills. He spends the better part of three days poisoning himself, until he can feel his liver shrivelling when he looks at the dark honey-coloured liquid.
Aoko's somewhere between furious and worried sick, he knows in the back of his mind, is sitting up at night to wait for him to stagger home. Even if she didn't, he would probably wake her with his arrival, footsteps clumsy and heavy as an elephant. The first night she woke him after a few hours of sobering sleep to ask him if Kid was dead. "No," he answered. "Not the one you mean." Which showed what was on his mind more clearly than he knew.
In fact, it's only on the fourth day, lying in an empty house while Aoko is off spending her winter break wherever she's spending it – and what does it say about him that he doesn't know – that he sobers up enough to stop thinking about himself again. And mostly wishes he hadn't. Because however shattering being forced to give up the job he placed all his heart in is, facing the reality behind the stories he told himself is worse. Kaitou Kid is no construction of silk and moonshine, there is flesh and blood under that suit, and flesh and blood fails and dies. However good the thief is at convincing people otherwise, he lives in the same cold scientific space as the rest of them, and he cannot dodge a bullet. There is an explanation behind all of his magic, and the explanation behind his disappearance and subsequent reappearance has been revealed. Like all those who have had the mechanisms behind a trick exposed to them, Nakamori feels embarrassed and cheated, and angry with himself for not working it out. But more, still, he feels cold grief. It waxes and wanes like the tide as he convinces himself that maybe there is another reason for Kid – the original Kid – to have retired. Maybe he was ill, or injured, or just got tired of it.
Maybe he'll grow wings and fly.
Nakamori, having foresworn alcohol for the immediate future, tears the cellophane off a new pack of cigarettes.
He hears the phone ringing in the other room through the smoky haze; the tatami will smell of cigarettes for weeks, and Aoko will pierce his ears with her scolding when she stops walking on eggshells around him. It doesn't stop when it hits four, or five, or six, and grumbling Nakamori pulls himself up from his boneless sprawl and shuffles through the house to pick it up.
"Nakamori," he says harshly, throat dry and agitated.
"Figured you'd be lying around feeling sorry for yourself," comes the voice from the other end, and Nakamori's back straightens instinctively. Arakawa. The current head of the Tokyo Police Force and his former boss, back in the good old days.
"Chief!" he barks, somewhere between a greeting and a protest.
"Well, you've only got yourself to blame, making such a damn mess of things. Higashiyama's shouting up and down the hallways for your head; has been since he got the seat. You know that; why on earth did you have to go make an ass of yourself like this?"
Nakamori says nothing. Arakawa's tone is scolding, but it's nowhere near scathing.
"The hospital reports on the Kid are promising," says Arakawa after a moment, beating a new path for the conversation to take.
"I hadn't heard," says Nakamori, plainly. There's no bite to his comment, it's just a space-filler. Arakawa ignores it as such.
"He's reached a regular level of consciousness, although since he hasn't left the bed we have no reports on his mobility. The damn doctor's pretty tight-lipped."
Nakamori makes an affirmative sound.
"I passed the word along for him to be sent a report in your name on the thug who took the shot; I suppose you heard about it?"
Nakamori's been avoiding the major watering holes of the police force, but it's damn hard to unplug completely, and he's heard the gossip. It was the yakuza connection after all, some minor boss's right hand man taking revenge for a stolen jewel. The stupidity of it still jars him.
"Higashiyama's drawing up plans to transfer the Kid to a medically-equipped holding cell at the end of the week," Arakawa moves on conversationally. As if chatting about the weather, or golf. "He's submitted a prelim report about it, a very interesting read. He's detailing a dozen of his own men to make the transfer. Incidentally, he's only including two from the Task Force, both rookies. Looks like he's trying to sheer himself of your ghost as best he can."
Nakamori grits his teeth, but still doesn't say anything. This is officially Not His Business.
There's a slight static sound on the other end as Arakawa shifts. "Well, I suppose you're wondering why I called you up."
"No, sir," says Nakamori, for something to say.
There's a snort. "Fact of the matter is I'd like some advice, from a 20 year veteran. What do you think of the plan?"
"Hard to say, sir, so far out of the loop. It depends on Kid's condition."
"Suppose it's half of his prime. Probably, it's not even that. But let's err on the side of caution."
"If this were any other occasion… anything like a regular heist…"
"He'd run rings around them."
"But I'm asking your opinion on the current occasion, if you'll recall," prompts Arakawa, irritation beginning to grow at Nakamori's refusal to play ball.
"Yes, sir," says the Inspector, stalling for time. Playing to pull out his string as long as possible. Because he's just this very second realised he's in the middle of the biggest conflict of his life.
He wants Kid to get away.
He can hope it's because he wants Higashiyama to fail, which is uncharitable and disloyal but not completely unfathomable. He can hope it's because he feels a debt to Kid for his daughter's life, which is irregular and still disloyal but understandable. He can even hope it's out of some kind of protective instinct for a teenager, a child, facing a horrible future, which is a loss of principles to sentiment that is irreconcilable with his career but still a father's prerogative. Because worrisome and even disturbing as those possibilities are, they're nowhere as terrifying as the remaining one: he has no reason for wanting Kid to escape other than the fact that he's come to genuinely like the thief. Man bites dog, reverse Stockholm-Syndrome setting in bone-deep, the moon falling from its axis and the seas boiling. The thing which cannot happen to a police officer may have already struck like some deadly virus: unassailable sympathy for the criminal. Higashiyama may have been right.
"Well?" prompts Arakawa, with a distinct growl now.
"Then, sir, I think even blindfolded and handcuffed with one arm in a sling, Kaitou Kid would still run circles around Higashiyama and his men." He says it with bravado, sets the boat which is his career afire before giving it a hearty shove into the ocean.
There's a long pause, and then a low chuckle. "I can see why the Superintendant's so eager to get rid of you," comes the answer.
There is a pause while Nakamori watches his past burn, and then Arakawa begins again, this time in the formal tone more suited to Tokyo's Superintendant General.
"You may be interested to know that the entirety of the kaitou 1412 Task Force, as well as numerous members of the Second Division and even some from First and Third, have filed a request for your reinstatement with both Superintendant Higashiyama and myself," he says gravely.
Nakamori curses the idiocy of his men in the privacy of his head.
"In light of your past record of extreme dedication and, in those matters not pertaining to Kaitou Kid, high rate of success, I would under other circumstances be minded to refuse Higashiyama's request for your reassignment. Even in the current situation, to force the resignation of the man in charge of Kaitou Kid's capture at the very minute that goal is achieved seems impolitic. However, as to countermand Higashiyama's orders only three days before Kaitou Kid would be transferred to police custody and therefore three days before the unofficial disbanding of the Task Force seems even more of a waste, I've taken the only remaining choice. The kaitou 1412 Task Force will be disbanded tomorrow at midnight, and its commander will step down with it. Your men will be reassigned within Division Two, unless they wish to transfer to a different division; I will see to it that any such requests are carefully considered. As matters currently stand you will also be reassigned within Division Two, but the same offer stands for you; there are open positions in several other Divisions which could use your experience."
"…Thank you, sir." It does not take much looking to see this for what it is, the best Arakawa could make of a bad situation without blatantly undercutting and humiliating his direct subordinate. A chance for Nakamori to leave his position with honour, instead of with a black mark against him, and the promise of a place for him where he wants. "On behalf of my men and I, I humbly thank you for your consideration." He means it, too; without Arakawa's protection his name would be a millstone around the necks of his men under Higashiyama.
"Yes, well, you might repay it with a little more discretion in the future, Nakamori."
"I'm sorry, sir, I've never been much good at that."
"I've noticed," says the Superintendant General dryly, and hangs up.
Nakamori sits for a minute, and then dials a number he knows by heart. A voice he knows well picks up, and he lets out a sigh of relief.
"Second Division, Sergeant Yamamoto." Not one of the true old timers, but Yamamoto's one of the original members of the 2nd Task Force. And, Nakamori thinks darkly, they've got a stronger tie than that: Kid's blood on their hands.
"Yamamoto. I need a favour."
"Inspector?" No pause, no concern. Just immediate readiness to take an order, as if Nakamori were standing in front of him two weeks ago. Back when everything was normal.
"I need the rota for Kid's room for today and tomorrow."
"Just a second, Inspector."
The sound of files shuffling. Then quiet as Yamamoto finds the one he's looking for and reads off the names. It's not a long list; they're working eight hour shifts. When he finishes, Nakamori smiles, all mirrors and shards.
One of the benefits of 20 years' police experience in Tokyo is that he knows all the entrances and exits of the major hospitals. With his removal as well as the simple passage of time, the police cordon of Tokyo Gen. has been dramatically reduced, and it takes no effort to slip in through an unguarded side entrance. In all probability the officers would have let him enter in any case, but there' s no point in forcing them to choose between loyalties, or in getting them in more trouble than they'll be in anyway.
The guard is still on outside Kid's room, as expected. Houki and Takarai, relatively new, relatively untested. He could have done better, but it needed to be this shift. Houki, the brighter of the pair, spots him first, and shifts awkwardly.
"Inspector," he says, not quite working in the question that he would have asked of any one else.
Nakamori thought about this, thought about speeches or facts or even trying to drive a stake between them and Higashiyama. But there's no point. They know him well enough by now that there's nothing he can say that will convince them to choose him over their duty. "Either you'll let me in or you won't. Which'll it be?"
Houki sighs, and then steps aside. Takarai hesitates longer, but either due to peer pressure or his own decision he steps aside as well. "Thanks," says Nakamori. "I'll put in a word for you, if I can."
The room is warmer than the cool hallway and the frosty evening before that, and his cheekbones tingle at the change. He can feel his officers' eyes on him, tracking him across the floor, and he gives them a glance. Oogawa and Sawara, the last of the old brigade, watching their leader with concern but no surprise. He makes no acknowledgement, instead turns his focus to the Kid.
There's a chair now, leading Nakamori to wonder who if anyone's been making visits to the thief, but it's empty and he slumps gratefully into it, inordinately tired these days. He'd like to think it's the boozing and the smoking, but it's got the unfading bone-bending feeling of an exhaustion of the soul, not the body. It's some comfort to know that at least it'll be over soon.
He clears his throat, coughs away the dryness and the unevenness and searches for an opener. Failing to find one, he resorts to an old standby. "Can I get anything for you? Contact anyone?"
Kid's watching him, cautious as an animal caught in a trap. He looks infinitely better than he did the last time Nakamori saw him; his eyes are bright and he's sitting up partway, bed raised halfway to become a kind of chair.
"No, I'm good," says the Kid, and the youthfulness behind those words strikes home like a spear. The thief has always used formality like a prop, carried it along with the rest of his theatricality as though it were weightless, and that aged him.
Behind him, Oogawa coughs pointedly, and Nakamori turns. The two men are looking at him, waiting for their cue. Waiting to know why he's here. Waiting to know what they're going to be party to. If it were anyone else, even Yamamoto, he doubts they would follow his orders. But that's why it had to be now, had to be this last shift. Because they will. "You two, get out of here. Go get a coffee, or something." He waves a hand, as if everything's normal, as if this is any other order on any other day. Because dammit, Kid's not the only one who can act.
A glance passes between them, considering. He doesn't know what they see, but it's enough to convince them. They leave, Oogawa nodding to him. He'll miss his lieutenant, one of the real bright spots of the Task Force. It's unfair and cruel to reward the most faithful of them like this, but it'll all come down on him in the end. He can only hope Arakawa holds true to his word and looks out for them.
Turning back to the Kid, he sighs and puts those thoughts behind him. Pushes all the worry and anger and shame relating to his work out of his mind. Underneath it all is a thick blanket of emotion, cold and dark as the bottom of the ocean, and he lets it wash over him. Sighs as ten years' worth of memories flash by in the blink of an eye, contained in that frigid tide. They are more emotion than picture, and in the centre of all the irritation and the embarrassment and the thrill of the chase and the naked amazement is respect. Is an odd, crooked kind of friendship.
He never realised until that ambulance ride how much he wanted to believe, needed to believe the lies he told himself.
Nakamori takes a slow breath and begins to tear down his beautiful castle in the air with stone steady, stone cold hands. "You're not him, are you?"
Kid, it seems, has gotten back his appetite for games, and his voice is light in the face of Nakamori's austereness. "Who?" he asks, with the overdramatic air of a school-yard comedian.
"Kaitou Kid?" It might have been type-written, white on black, for all the emotion Nakamori puts into it.
Kid smiles widely, brilliantly, a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar trying desperately to deflect attention.
"Kaitou Kid? Of course not! How could I be-"
Nakamori has never really been one for Kid's jokes, but now he doesn't even pay them any attention. The mortar is beginning to crumble, foundations shaking.
"I know you're Kaitou Kid. I meant the original one. The Kaitou Kid I chased when I was twenty, twenty years ago." Twenty years ago seems like yesterday, but somehow being twenty seems an eternity ago. A strange, silvery time when he and Kaitou Kid were truly two sides of a coin, black and white, ocean and sky. The tide's strengthening.
"The doctor said you were a teenager. Seventeen, eighteen. Maybe even sixteen. Maybe younger. That kid said so too, the stuck up one living in England. Said your hair proved you were a teenager. I didn't believe it. I'd been chasing you for 20 years, no way you were some snot-nosed brat. Except, that's how you act." Of course, it was how the other one acted too. But he had been a snot-nosed kid back then. They had both been, together.
"Hey…" Kid's grin splits wide like a slice of watermelon, easy and utterly meaningless.
"And… that's how you look. Doctors say you're wearing some makeup, but no mask." Akede checked for him, against the possibility of tracking down an accomplice by his equipment. But the mask was a dead-end, and the rest of the suit yielded no more clues except to support what they already knew: that Kaitou Kid's equipment was built by a genius, possibly himself. "There's no makeup good enough to make a forty year-old look that young. Even if there were… you sleep like a kid." Mouth open, tube running down a pale, pale throat. His heart ceases painfully as he wonders how the other one looked, whether he lay in scarlet-stained silk with his throat pale as moonlight and his eyes dark as dusk.
He looks at Kid with a blank face. Under his smile, the Kid is watching him, sharp as a whetted knife.
"So. You're not him, are you?"
"No." Kid slices through the sheer cloth of his own deceptions, they drift away like gossamer. Somehow, it never occurred to Nakamori that he might not tell the truth. That his trust in the thief, paradoxical as it is, could be mistaken.
"Then, the real Kaitou Kid? The first one?" The tide roars in his ears; the turrets shake. In his mind's eye a white figure stands on a rooftop, cape blowing in the wind, hand raised to his hat. The place, the time, the occasion don't matter, could be one of dozens.
"Is dead. Died a long time ago."
The castle crumbles into the sea. The white figure tips backwards off the roof, and falls into darkness. Disappears.
Nakamori looks down, unable – not wanting – to meet the Kid's eyes. This kid, who isn't the Kid – but is, because he's accepted him as such for more than a year. That burns like alcohol in a wound, feels oddly like betrayal. "Eight years ago. He didn't disappear. I never wanted to believe that. I refused to believe that."
"I know," says Kid quietly, and there's real sympathy there. Sympathy from the devil.
"Who killed him?" He asks it quietly, words slipping off his tongue like rounded pebbles, but they feel right as soon as they're voiced, and it's horrible that that should be true.
Kid bridles, tone unexpectedly harsh. "Why do you assume he was murdered? Maybe he was sick. Maybe it was an accident."
Nakamori looks up. There's no apology in his tone, or his thoughts. Only an icy firmness. "Was it?"
"No. No, it wasn't." Kid speaks from first-hand knowledge, with a bitter anger which has been blunted by wear but is still as fierce as ever underneath the smooth edges. The kind of emotion only love can cause, a rage which is quite probably stronger than Nakamori's slow frozen anger.
"Why are you here?" He means it to come across as irritated, as annoyance with the kid's choice to risk his life playing these games. Instead there's just weariness. Weariness, and a kind of cool fear settling in his gut like mist, that this will turn into a loop with the same end every time. "It made sense, as much sense as he ever made, for him to pick up the mantle again. But why you? A dead man's ghost, looking for what?" This is no copycat, this is the real deal. This is reverence and inheritance and continuance twisted together. This is about Kaitou Kid, the one who soared the skies of the world 20 years ago.
"I couldn't just be in it for kicks? It's fun, you know, being a kaitou. I walk on the sky, fly with the birds, juggle with gems worth more than most people will make in their whole lives. Outsmarting you and the rest of the cops, that's plenty of fun too." Kid shoots his mouth off effortlessly, grinning fit to burst.
"With the threat of life in jail hanging over your head?"
"Sure. Some people like playing with fire."
"And that's what you want me to believe? You give up most of your free time, your sleep, probably your grades, to be a thief? Every time running the risk of prison, or even death? This isn't the first time someone's taken a shot at you. And plenty of those tricks of yours are one mistake away from the grave." One mistake away from this. Or, worse, one mistake away from him.
Kid shrugs, and Nakamori senses the shift; Kid setting aside his playful distractions again. "Inspector, you can believe what you want. Why ever I'm doing this, I can tell you I'm not doing it for anyone's approval. Frankly, I don't care what anyone thinks about me."
"But you send out letters to the media, making sure your fans come to watch."
"Want and need aren't the same thing, even if they overlap sometimes."
"What do you want?" Nakamori picks up the word and throws it back at him. He looks at the kid lying in the hospital bed, face smeared with paint, guards outside the door, a hole in his shoulder and a jail sentence hanging over his head, and wants to know why.
It only occurs to him later that, if anyone asked him the same question, his answer would have been less ready than the Kid's.
"I can't tell you," answers the Kid frankly, with such unusual sincerity that it pricks at Nakamori's heart. The Kid is a master of lies and false emotion, but it seems to Nakamori that he almost regrets it. "Inspector, I've already said far more than I should have. But… in exchange for your kind treatment, I will tell you: Kaitou Kid has a goal. And when he's achieved it, he'll disappear. For good. So if you want to catch him, you'd better hurry up."
"Seems to me I have caught him," says Nakamori bitterly, well aware of what this capture has cost all of them. It hasn't come cheap, and it'll be a damn sight more expensive before it's all over.
"You of all people know seems doesn't mean anything around a kaitou." There's none of the Kid's usual bluff and bravado about that statement, which suggests he knows just how bad this situation is. With no equipment and thus no ability to produce a distraction or change his appearance, he has no chance of escape without time alone. Which he has no chance of getting without that same equipment. Equipment he stripped off to save Aoko.
"I know that a week ago a kaitou saved a girl in a crowd. Saved my daughter's life, at the risk of his own. And that even she, who hates him more than anyone else, wanted to come to thank him." She came home fuming at the police blockade who knew her by sight and refused to let her in due to her association with him. It must be some kind of karma, that the one time his daughter wanted to spend time with the thief he would come between them.
"She doesn't have to thank me," says Kid stiffly. "She doesn't owe me anything. I probably owe her more than I can give."
"A life is a pretty big gift." Bigger than he can contemplate. Bigger than he wants to. Bigger than he ever wanted to, he thinks with chases ten years past in his mind.
Kid is silent, but Nakamori thinks he can just catch a glimpse of the sullen teenager.
"And, you know, it's not only her that receives it," he says gently, glancing up to look at the window rather than the thief. "Because of you, I still have my daughter. Because of you, her friends still have her. And I'm willing to bet, somewhere out there there's someone, maybe lots of someones, who'd miss you if you were gone. Maybe even my daughter. Maybe … maybe even me. So you'd better take care of yourself, kid." He's under no illusion as to which he means: there's no point in worrying about a name, it can be passed on. The face under the mask can't. He'll never know the other one, the first one. But he can keep from making the same mistake twice.
"You owe me that."
Nakamori reaches into his pocket, fumbling with the change there and pulls out one cool coin, which he holds up for Kid to see.
"Consider this a present. To an old ghost." To the man he never knew. An apology for that ignorance. And, maybe, a reparation: a hand to the boy who is almost certainly his son. He knows even as he thinks it that this is what he needs to do, this is what will wipe the slate clean. This is what will stem the tide.
Nakamori stands and lays the coin down on the plastic chair, the scratching sound inordinately loud in the sudden silence. He can feel Kid's eyes on his back as he walks out, this time with no fire behind him.
In the hall Houki and Takarai turn to stare at him as he comes out, surprise flickering past the usual officer's careful neutrality. There's no sign of Oogawa and Sawara, which is odd. But it makes his job easier, at least.
"Inspector-" begins Houki, but Nakamori doesn't give him the chance to start a potentially dangerous sentence.
"Where'd the other two go? I thought they were just getting a coffee."
"Machine down the hall's broken," submits Takarai, with irritation born of experience.
"Huh," says Nakamori, running a silent count in his head. He needs to buy at least a minute, preferably longer… "Have you two given thought to your next assignment? I doubt putting a word in personally with Higashiyama'd do you much good, but I've got some sway with some of the other heads."
"Hadn't given it any thought, Inspector," says Houki, and Nakamori's not sure if that's supposed to be flattery or not.
"You do realise the Task Force is being disbanded in a few hours?"
"That's what we were told, sir."
"Well then, you'd better start thinking about it. It's only your damn future," growls Nakamori.
Nakamori rolls his eyes. "And you, Takarai?"
"I'm happy where I am, sir," he answers, glancing at Houki.
"I'm glad to see you two are so concerned at the imminent loss of your jobs!"
Nakamori gives the pair of them a sharp glare. "Start thinking, the pair of you," he orders, shaking a finger at them, before turning away. He hears them chorus "Yes, sir," at his back and sighs as he shuffles down the hallway.
He's out of the building before the commotion begins, a fire-alarm in the building sounding, duty officers rushing into the hospital. For the first time in his life, Nakamori doesn't take off running knowing that the Kid is on the loose. But it will be the first of many.
He sits up until midnight waiting for the call to come through, for Higashiyama or even Arakawa to call him up in a furor and let him know that he's thrown away not only the chance of retiring from the kaitou 1412 Task Force with dignity but the chance of retiring at all. But it doesn't come, and at midnight he pulls on his coat and goes to sit outside on the deck.
The night is clear at last, and colder than it's been for the past couple of days with the lack of clouds to blanket in the heat. As usual, he sees no stars, and the moon is hidden somewhere behind the thicket of roofs crowding in around the tiny back yard. Behind him the house is dark, and all he can see of the winter garden is faint outlines of shallow furrows in the dim gloom.
Nakamori sits on the edge of the porch for a good amount of time, long enough for his knees to begin to lock up with the cold and his cheeks to be absolutely numb, before he hears the quiet shuffling behind him. The door slides open and shut again, and then he feels the thumps of Aoko's feet on the smooth wood.
"Dad?" There's no difficulty in hearing the unasked question.
"Kid escaped," he says gruffly. And then, "I'll be fired in the morning."
There's a quiet gasp, and he's not sure which fact prompted it. But then, "Why? Because he got away?"
He gives a quiet bark of laughter. "No. Because I let him go."
A longer silence. It's broken by the rustle of cloth. Aoko sits down next to him, staring straight ahead into the darkness, head resting gently on his shoulder. Far off in the darkness a train clanks on rusty rails, mostly just a clicking whoosh muted by the distance and the buildings between it and them. The wind shifts, and carries with it a few notes of the train-crossing bell.
"Can I tell you something?" she asks eventually, in a soft voice.
"Sure." It's times like this he regrets switching from the pipe, as much of a hassle as it was, misses having something to clench in his teeth.
"I don't hate him. He might be a selfish, arrogant, thoughtless, idiotic, infuriating clod, but I don't hate him. And… I don't want him to die. I really don't. I was so scared that night you came home and I thought…" She shifts, sniffle lost in the rustle of fabric. "It's silly," she says in a stronger tone. "There's no reason I should care about him. All I ever wanted was for him to go away. But not like that." A pause, the rumble of a car driving past the front of the house. "Maybe it's because you like him. No one you like can be so bad." There is a pause as he tries to think of a reply. "I'm such an idiot," she mutters.
"Then you inherited it from your old man."
"Most dads argue with their kids when they say they're idiots, Dad," she says, voice tinged with exasperated amusement.
"Oh, right. Sorry." He becomes aware Aoko's waiting for something, and then adds belatedly, "You're not."
Aoko sighs. "We're never going to be a normal family, are we? Even without Kid in our lives."
"I doubt it. We never learned how."
"It's not something you should have to learn. It's just something you are."
The wind shifts again, slicing cold and clean down the gap at the neck of his coat to sweep over his skin until he pulls the collar closed. "I've never understood," he says at last, Aoko still and quiet, "why you always blamed him," a heartbeat. "Why you never blamed me."
Aoko moves now, stiffening, back straightening. But all she says is, "You're my dad." It slices clean and silent right through his heartstrings. He bows his head, heart aching.
"I don't deserve to be," he mutters thickly. "I know more about Kid than you. And it turned out I didn't know anything about him. At all." Pride came and went, and he fell.
"Knowing someone isn't the same as being able to fill out a police report on them, Dad. Just because you can't write out my birthday or my height or favourite colour doesn't mean you don't know me. And… it doesn't mean you don't know him."
Nakamori tightens his arm around her and sighs, smiling wryly. Because she's right. He doesn't have to know anything about either of them to know them, to know that Kid may be the moon that draws him in, shining bright and mysterious, but Aoko is the sun that lights his life. And that it's unfair he pays so much attention to the lesser of the two, but he can't seem to find a way to help himself. Except he already has, and it's something he'll never have to worry about again.
"I don't know what's going to happen after tomorrow," he admits gruffly, trying to keep the desolation out of his voice.
"It'll be alright. Things will work out, somehow." She says it with absolute conviction, and that triggers something in him. Triggers the need to be the father he's hardly ever been.
"Yes. They will be." He won't allow otherwise. Nakamori may be incompetent and doddering, but he will do anything to protect the people he sets his mind to protecting. This incident has proved that, if nothing else.
From behind the roof of the apartment building to their west, the full moon drifts out into the clear sky, white as a dove. Nakamori glances up at it, and smiles.
"And I do know when your birthday is," he says.
The call comes in at 6:30am, waking him from a fretful sleep. It's Arakawa, tone somewhere between apologetic and furious. "The Kid's escaped, as you've no doubt heard. It's front page on all the goddamn newspapers. 'Police Bungle Kid's Arrest!' Higashiyama's apoplectic; if it weren't for Tsutomi driving down there to preach moderation heads would be rolling even now."
"I've been waiting for the call," Nakamori admits.
"Have you?" asks Arakawa, somewhat cryptically. "I'm surprised you didn't go down to the station yourself."
"I'm not quite that suicidal, sir."
"What are you babbling about, Nakamori? You're back in the saddle; the Task Force's back in operation."
"What?" Nakamori's too stunned to remember formalities. "But, how – ?"
"Don't be an idiot. With Kid on the loose we need the Task Force, and the Task force needs a leader. Which brings us to you."
"But, Kid's escape, I mean…"
"Yes, that'll need to be looked into. Higashiyama's already prying into it with a crowbar, of course. Understandable that Oogawa and Sawara ran out to check the possibility of a fire nearby, but all the same explicitly contrary to orders. There'll be a reprimand, of course."
"Didn't you hear? Someone pulled the fire alarm a floor down, probably one of his damn fans. He got away while the guards were making sure there was no chance of any actual danger of a fire." Arakawa's tone is curiously neutral, completely flat and apparently credulous.
"I see, sir," says Nakamori, with a dry mouth, cursing his men ten times over for their idiocy in his head.
"So you'd better get down there. I imagine the entire place is a mess; it's up to you to sort it out."
"Yes, sir." Nakamori straightens, mind finally truly adjusting to the role he had already thrown away, convinced himself was lost. He straightens slightly with the words, barking them out from the gut.
"You'll have to watch your own back after this. A man can only pull so many strings." By the sound of it, Arakawa has been managing an entire puppet show.
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
He hangs up and turns to find Aoko standing behind him in her pajamas, sleepy-eyed.
"Looks like things worked out, somehow," he says, and watches her waken slightly at that, eyes clearing. He stands and heads over to his closet, already fully awake himself. "I'll be going in a minute." He sweeps the doors open and pulls out a shirt and a pair of pants – not the tweed. Aoko's watching him when he swivels around, with half a smile.
"Got to start early to catch the Kid," he adds, and pauses. But there's no change in her eyes. She just sighs, and hitches her smile into one of longsuffering patience.
"Good luck, dad."
Nakamori snorts. "I don't need any of that. Give it to the Kid."
"I don't think he needs any either." Nakamori brushes past her heading to the bathroom. He isn't entirely sure he doesn't imagine the quiet words he hears as he shuts the door.
"He's got you looking after him."