Notes: Well, finished at last! This is the longest fic I've ever written, so I'm pretty pleased I managed to see it through to the end! A huge thank you to the flood of encouragement; that too was a first! Since I know people are going to be asking about a sequel and the answer is: maybe. I'm feeling pretty burned out from writing this, and a sequel would have to be both longer and more intricate. Currently my motivation for writing one is not huge, and I don't want to start something I wouldn't finish, having been on the receiving end of that too many times. However, I am giving it thought and do have some plans, so it's certainly a possibility. Don't expect anything in the immediate future is all I can really say. There may, on the other hand, be some stand-alone fics, who knows? Thanks again to the wonderful reader base!


Epilogue I: The Nakamoris

Nakamori is expecting all hell to break lose when word of the operation got back to HQ, and in a way it does, but what becomes apparent early on is that they are not the first crisis of the day, and there are only so many times in 24 hours that full-scale hell can break loose.

With none of his senior men free, he sends Hoshino to tell the Superintendant General he'll be in to see him later, and warns the man not to say anything he doesn't have to. For the first time in his memory, the Inspector abandons a crime scene to stay with Aoko, rides with her in the ambulance to the hospital.

The wound is a deep gash, and although there's been some blood loss, he's told the muscle damage is minimal. She's given stitches in the ER and then released to him, along with some antibiotics and painkillers and an injunction to make sure she stays hydrated. Sawara Reina is kept for overnight supervision; Sawara is sitting by her side when he leaves.

Aoko sleeps all the way home in the cab – although they only gave her a local she must be exhausted – and he carries her up to her room, almost smiling at the weight in his arms. He's not sure why he thinks of Kid when he walks in until, after laying Aoko down, he spots the hole in the drywall by the window. He should have it removed and framed as the first true emotion the thief ever showed, but he can't fault the kid for something which quite possibly saved his daughter's life. So he'll plaster it over, and say nothing about it.

Nakamori is just going downstairs to lock up when the doorbell rings, and for an instant it is two days ago and he's waiting for the forensics team with a tight chest.

It seemed like a nightmare, then, that Aoko was gone. It seems like a dream, now that she's back.

He answers the door warily, not sure who he is expecting.

It's sure as hell not Arakawa, standing with an old man's uncoordinated posture, limbs held at awkward angles. He reminds Nakamori suddenly very much of a boxer outside of the ring, gangly and unbalanced.

On any other night, Nakamori would hover and blather and make noises of confused deprecation. This is not any other night, and so he silently steps to the side to let Arakawa in. The Superintendant General of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police steps over the threshold with a nod, and glances upstairs as he toes off his shoes, setting them beside the humble Inspector's.

"Aoko-chan is sleeping?"

"Yes," says Nakamori, not bothering to ask how the man knows she is here. Nakamori and the Squad are front page news in the copper's circular, and it's certain his movements at the hospital were monitored and reported.

"There will have to be a report," says Arakawa, waiting politely for Nakamori to direct him, and then walking into the front room as indicated and settling himself on a worn zabuton.

"Yes."

"You should have reported everything to Section One. You should have let them handle it." Arakawa is always stern when discussing trivialities; it's only when he seems to relax that things get truly serious.

"I'm afraid that was impossible, sir," says Nakamori blandly, safe with an unbreakable excuse.

"Victims' relatives are expressly prohibited from taking part in their investigation, never mind running it, as you well know," says Arakawa severely. Sitting cross legged with his gnarled hands held loose in his lap and his back straight, he looks like a mid-level manager taking his staff to task during an enkai. Until he loosens slightly and leans back, face relaxing into an expression of unconcern. Then he merely looks like a harmless old man in ill-fitting clothes who is not quite comfortable in his own skin. Until you meet his hawk-sharp eyes. "Of course," he says blandly, "as excuses go it's fireproof."

Now is not the time to boggle. Now is the time to sit still as a mouse under a swooping eagle, because the truth is impossible and a lie would be deadly. All he can do is wait, and try to weather the storm.

"Oogawa came to see me this afternoon," continues the Superintendant General in a by the way tone. "If he ever chooses to leave the Squad there will be plenty of doors open for him."

"I'll let him know."

"I'm sure it was just the stress, but he seemed bolder than I recall."

"He was probably just pressed for time. You should see him when I'm late with my reports," says Nakamori, boldly himself. He's lying through his teeth, and they both know it.

"It's been a difficult time for all of you. Of course, I'm relieved the children have been recovered safely. And I understand that times like this can on occasion call for … irregular methods. Nevertheless, that has been the catchphrase of more than one criminal, and worse." Arakawa looks straight at him, amber eyes shining. "It cannot happen again."

Nakamori sits perfectly still.

"As it is, you're damn lucky everything worked out. Or was made to work out."

Friends in high places, thinks Nakamori vaguely.

"I'll be frank," says Arakawa, leaning forward. Nakamori doubts it. "I don't want to lose you, Nakamori. You're a good officer, and you're a good cop. And you've been rolling with the punches, not throwing them. But regardless, there can be no more of this. I cannot and will not turn a blind eye again."

"Yes, sir," says Nakamori, thickly. "Thank you, sir."

"Very well." Serious, below-boards business taken care of, Arakawa straightens and his features harden.

"I would like to give you the day off tomorrow, but that's out of the question. You and several members of the Squad will have to be investigated for discharging your weapons while off duty. And you will have to face a committee for the death of that man."

"Yes, sir," says Nakamori, who knows all that already.

"I will ask you now how you found the children," says Arakawa, having given him time to think up an answer.

Nakamori, who didn't need it, explains – broadly – about the phone tracking and realises he needs more details from Kid and doesn't know how to get them. Something for tomorrow, as if he didn't have enough on his plate.

"Clever," says Arakawa.

Yes, thinks Nakamori. Too bad we didn't think of it.

The Superintendant General nods, and glances up at the roof. "Lastly," he says, relaxing slightly. "Is there anything you can tell me about the men who were behind this?"

Nakamori's muscles tense under his skin, and it's all he can do to keep from snapping like a kite string taken in a sudden breeze. All I know, Inspector, is what I told you: that they are dangerous. Very dangerous. The words echo in his mind. "I can't, sir, but I'd damn well like to know who they were."

"Hm. Well, perhaps you had better leave that to Section One for the time being. You'll be kept abreast of the investigation, of course." Arakawa looks back to him, and the message is clear as Aoko's trinkets in his eyes: don't go butting in again.

"Yes, sir."

"Then I'll see you tomorrow," says the Superintendant General and stands, joints moving stiffly and without coordination, like a string puppet. Nakamori scrambles to his feet. "The other men have been notified that they'll have to come in to make statements, but it should only take a couple of hours."

"Thank you, sir."

Arakawa waves an unconcerned hand. "Say hello to Aoko-chan for me; she must be quite grown up by now. And," he adds on the doorstep, eyes shining in the light of the hall, "mind yourself."

Nakamori lets him out without answering. And only then notices a scrap of paper taped up high by the hinge corner of the door. He picks it off and opens it.

Back yard has been written in a precise hand, on what he recognises as a corner of the kitchen telephone message pad. Nakamori, with a cold calm brought on by the knowledge that whatever is waiting, Aoko is safe, reaches under his windbreaker and pulls out his revolver, reloads it with bullets from the lockbox on the top of the hall closet, and makes his way to the back door without bothering to turn on the kitchen light. He slides the door open silently, and steps out in his socks onto the engawa.

The garden is dark and quiet, air cool with the fallen rain. He can barely make out the back fence, as usual.

"I didn't realise you were so high up in the food chain, Inspector," says Kid's voice from the shadows. Nakamori sighs, flicks the safety on and holsters his weapon.

"Regret coming?" He asks, patting his pockets for his cigarettes.

"There's still the matter of payment," replies Kid with a non sequitur.

Nakamori had forgotten; the Forest's Tear is in a cheap velvet box in his sock drawer upstairs.

"Of course," he says gruffly. "Just let me go and –"

A shadow steps closer, and becomes a silhouette. A dark hand reaches out, envelope held between gloved fingers. "Here," says Kid. "A transcript of the conversations between you and Lieutenant Toshibu, the one between Lieutenant Oogawa and the Superintendant General, the one between officer Yamamoto and Docomo, and an explanation of the cell phone tracking, as well as the required information. You'll have to tell Yamamoto; obviously you can say you got the number and password from him. I realise," adds Kid in a less formal tone as Nakamori stares at the envelope in his hand, "that this is not exactly an equal exchange for the damages done, never mind the potential ones, but it's all I can provide that I think you would accept." There is a slight pause during which Nakamori tries to compute the fact that Kid is trying to pay him for having rescued his daughter. "Unless, of course, you would prefer a diamond," says the thief, brightly.

That, at least, is enough to bring him back down to earth.

"No!" growls the Inspector. "But – you were the one helping us. You could have been shot – killed –"

"I thought you were denying any of this ever took place, Inspector. I certainly didn't help you; I was in fact never there, or here. I won't accept payment for nothing. And," he says, darkly, "I certainly won't accept it for endangering lives."

Nakamori would almost give the Forest's Tear to see the thief's face right now.

"Can I thank you?" asks Nakamori, gruffly. He has absolutely no doubt as to who he owes for the fact that Aoko is here now, sleeping in her own bed.

"No," says Kid. And then, softer, in a tone that hurts – he's never pulled that before and Nakamori doubts he means to now, "No thanks for this."

In the street, a car's exhaust coughs, and Nakamori is abruptly reminded of Arakawa's warning, given only a few minutes ago. "I guess you should go," he says.

There is no answer; Kid is already gone.


The old couple who live behind them go to bed every night at eight, and only come out into the garden on Sunday to water the extremely parched plants. Aoko, creeping around the side of their house slower than she usually would have due to her limp, is fairly certain it would take the entire Metropolitan Police Department's squad cars showing up with sirens blazing in front of their house to wake them. Consequently, she doesn't worry about knocking over a couple of their cat-discouraging water bottles.

Although she's never been in their back yard, she has seen it through the slats in their fence and from her window and knows there's a thick layer of shrubbery right up against the fence. She stands next to it, weight on her good leg and hands in the pouch of the hideous hoody her aunt gave her for her birthday two years ago "for her to grow into." It's still two sizes too big; she has no idea how her aunt expected a girl of fifteen to grow enough to fill it, except by growing sideways.

As near to the fence as she can get, Aoko can clearly hear her father's low rumble, and another less familiar voice. She woke up half an hour ago when the doorbell rang and crept out of bed to hear her father talking with the Superintendant General of Tokyo; she hopes fervently he cleaned the front room. Then the man left, and her father went out into the back yard. To talk to Kaitou Kid.

Aoko's no idiot. She knows perfectly well her father has been working with the thief to get her back, or at least cooperating with him. She knows Kid will never make a boring exit if he could make a melodramatic one. She knows the roof of their house is much too low for him to use his glider from. And, she knows the sides of their house are impassable due to narrowness and gardening tools. It doesn't take a genius to figure out Kid's escape route.

And Aoko has a few things to discuss with the moonlit thief.

There's a quiet creak from the fence as Kid pulls himself up on it, and then a louder wet rustle as he lands in the shrubs. And then as he stumbles out, Aoko hits him full in the side, knocking him right over before he can catch his balance and pins him to the ground with all her weight. She feels him coil tight to spring, and hisses, "It's me, Nakamori Aoko."

Under her, Kid goes very still, but doesn't untense. In fact, he radiates palpable tension, every muscle and ligament locked tight and unyielding. He says nothing.

"I want you to show me your face," she says, soft and dangerous as a snake.

"I'm afraid," begins Kid in a light tone. She slices through it like a scythe through grass.

"I heard you talking to Dad. I know what the stakes were. Why you were involved. They took us because of you – to get to you."

There is a moment of silence, and then, calm and serious but still easy, "Yes, that's true," says Kid.

"Everything that happened, that could have happened, is your fault," explodes Aoko in a heated whisper fuelled by 36 hours of absolute terror. "We could have been killed, we could have been –" she cuts off, unable to finish, the fear of being assaulted in her own house, of being raped in the back of a van, of being tortured and killed when dragged off alone in an abandoned school welling up and threatening to drown her, " – and it's your fault," she says, thickly.

"No," says Kid, so quietly she almost misses it under the beating of her pulse in her ears. "It was my responsibility, but not my fault. I'm sorry – more than you would believe – and if I –" a tiny note of emotion creeps into his voice, and he cuts off immediately, gates slamming closed. "I can't say or do any more than I have," he finishes lamely.

"Show me your face," she hisses, suddenly furious, and slides the hand pinning his shoulder towards his jaw. His hand catches her wrist and holds it tight in a cold hand.

"No," he says, and it's less a command than a regret. "Besides, you don't really want to see it. No," he cuts off her protest, "you don't. Even if you could find out who I am, what then? Would you tell your father? No, you've got too much pride for that. Every time he was stuck on a case, every time something went wrong, every time you got frustrated, you'd want to tell him, and wouldn't be able to. And eventually you'd hate me even more than you do now for letting you have what you want." His voice is hard and sharp as a slap in the face, and she reels.

More softly, he adds, "I can't pay reparations for something I wasn't the cause of."

"Can't, or won't?" she challenges, but her heart's not in it. Although she can't see it, she has the sense Kid is smiling, but not with humour.

"To a kaitou, they're the same thing."

"And that's why you helped Dad and the Squad? Some kind of thief's honour?" Her voice is locked somewhere between incredulity and contempt.

"Maybe I'm just a good person."

"A good person who, with an international warrant on his head, agrees to work with the police?"

"A very good person, then," says Kid, sounding a bit tense now. She wonders if he wishes she didn't know about the deal, whatever it was. Wonders why.

Under her, Kid shifts slightly and then freezes. She knows this is the only way she can hold him, can only trap him here like this where there's no way to dislodge her that wouldn't be either hugely impolite or possibly violent. She's reminded, memory flashing in traitorously, of his hand on her leg. Of the sound of blows in the dark. Of his presence crouched above her in the storm when her mind was conscious of nothing but pain and fear of the terrifying finality of death. Of a figure in a blue shirt and white pants dropping into a bed of snow, shirt wet with blood.

The rage is gone, and she is cold.

"What would you have done if you hadn't found us? If the ransom call came in?"

Kid is still under her, so quiet she can't hear him breathe.

"You would have gone," she answers. "You would have gone and turned yourself in, wouldn't you?"

There is still no reply, but she knows she's right. Knows she is exactly right. It's written in every line of Kid's still form, in the silence around them. For some reason, it hurts, hurts like a blow, like a cut, like a shot.

"Why do you do this?" She isn't crying. She's not, her eyes are just stinging. "How can you steal and break laws and – and steal, and then go out and risk your life for people you don't even know?" She draws in a rattling breath, faced with 17 years without a father and a man who risked his life for her, twice. "How can you be so nice?" She means to spit it out, means to pour fist-pounding venom into the tone. It comes out in a sob.

She wanted so much to hate him. It would have been so much easier that way.

Kid reaches up and rests gentle hands on her shoulders, the kind she uses to handle her mother's ornaments.

"Nakamori-san –"

"Don't pretend you know me," she says, brittle as old pottery, because even though she can't see him she knows he's staring right at her, and without knowing why she feels that he is looking right into her heart with ease. It's no power some man who's never even met her should have. But he does, as if he's known her forever.

The worst part is it only runs one way – he is nothing but a shadow to her.

"Don't pretend you can just walk into peoples' hearts like you do with their clothes."

"Even if I can?" says Kuroba Kaito's voice.

There's a pause full of stone and ice, and the only thing that keeps her from slapping him is the memory of fists striking him in the dark.

"Sorry," says Kid, in his usual suave voice, coloured with contrition. She notices, for the first time seriously, how little difference there is between his voice and Kaito's.

"How do you know him? Kaito – how did you know him?" she challenges, so fast she almost trips over the words, following an idea like a butterfly, with her eyes on it rather than the ground.

"I do my homework, Nakamori-san," comes the reply, after a beat. "On my adversaries, and their families."

"Kaito's not my family."

"He's visited plenty of heists with you."

"And how do you know that?" she pounces, triumphant.

"You've never been very inconspicuous."

"You've been watching me?" she asks, scandalised. Scandalised, and flushing. There is a lithe movement which might be a shrug. She tries to keep the fact that this could be Kaito in her mind, tries to hold on to it, but Kid's presence is like sunlight to a faint shadow. It's so hard to keep the thought from slipping through her fingers with Kid here large as life beneath her, all sleek suaveness and manners where Kaito would be sarcasm and wise-cracks.

"Only when I get bored."

Aoko's eyes narrow. "You're being very frank." The only time she's ever known Kid to give a straight answer was to confuse the situation further.

"I felt you were owed something."

The words are like a spear, heavy and copper-tinged, pinning the memories of what Kid has been willing to give for her to her heart.

"If you know anything about me, you know I'm very good at math." There is no answer, so she continues. "If there's any price for this, it can't be paid in truth." She pauses and, slowly, raises her hand to press it against Kid's cheek. He flinches. "It can't be paid in blood, either."

Suddenly, the silence around them is very loud.

"Name a price," says Kid thickly. Stupid, thinks Aoko. She considers what a kaitou could give her. Very nearly anything. She turns the question a different way, and considers what a kaitou has taken from her, and the pieces fall neatly into place.

"Then this is what I want you to do," she says sharply, so that he knows she means it. "There were 5 kids there, and Sawara-san. I want you to find out their birthdays. Then I want you to send a letter to Dad promising you won't run a heist on any of those days. Ever. He'll believe you."

In the road behind the house a car drives by. There's a quiet slush as its wheels slide through still-wet streets, and Aoko realises she's dropped Kid into soaked earth.

"You know, most people would have asked for money, jewels, gold… things like that."

"Is this the part where I say 'I'm not most people'?"

"This is the part where you go back inside, before you aggravate your injury." Kid starts, and sits up without warning, pulling her up with him. "Shit, your dad must be worried sick –" he says, dropping his usual nonchalance like a hat.

"I closed the door – he'll think I'm sleeping," she says, but guilt is nibbling at her, under the irritated shock brought on by Kid's effortless escape.

Then she realises she's effectively sitting in Kid's lap, and everything else goes right out the window.

There is a very awkward pause, full of blushing and pins and needles, and then 11 years of dealing with Kaito kick in – for all she knows she still may be. She just can't seem to fit the two of them into the same mental space, though. It's like staring at the sun: her mind's eye goes blurry quickly.

"I'll get going, then," she says, which seemed like a good idea right up until she says it, at which point it sounds like the stupidest thing she's ever said. Kid doesn't answer, but he helps her to stand, moving stiffly himself. If this is Kaito, she'll be able to tell tomorrow at school – and she'll go if for no other reason than to find out.

"I suppose you don't want me to walk you back," he says, wryly.

"No, thank you," she replies primly, and feels more than hears him step away from her. About to disappear, like he always does.

"Kid?" She says it almost on a whim, like stretching out her hand. He may be Kuroba Kaito, but right now he is entirely Kaitou Kid, and Kid is a stranger and a mystery.

"Yes?" comes the answer, faint as if from across a wide lake.

"I wanted – after last time – I wanted to say –" stop stammering, dammit, "Thank you," she spits out. It at least sounds shy, rather than grudging, which is a mercy but not a very big one.

"Don't thank me," says his voice, sharp as a knife, from right behind her. "Never thank me for what I've done. As long as you don't hate me even more – that's more than enough."

He's right there behind her, so close she's sure he can hear her breathe, and he feels like he's a million miles away. Alone, untouchable. A shadow.

"I don't hate you," she whispers. Behind her, there's a rustle, and she swivels so fast her leg almost gives out under her. She waves an arm through the air as she turns, a wide sweep at chest height.

There's no one there.


Aoko goes in to school the next day, despite her father's protests, and finds Kaito napping at his desk as usual, back bend in the same lazy arc as always with his hair sticking up in the back like an irate hedgehog. He groans when she not-very-accidentally knocks into his desk, and looks up blearily. His face is completely unmarked, eyes heavy and bored.

"Oi, Aoko, where were you? Playing hookie so early in the year? Don't think I'll lend you my notes."

Last night in the garden seems like a dream, like a fantasy. It has the same silvery tint as all things involving Kid take on, the same insubstantiality. What's happening here and now is real, Kaito nagging her like always is real. Her suspicions seem equally like a dream – so immediate and powerful at the time, and just nonsense later. She scowls, and tells him she wasn't going to ask him, anyway.

It's only much later that it occurs to her to ask a classmate whether Kaito was here for those two days. But by then, they've long forgotten.


Epilogue II: The Detectives

For all that he's usually up on events, it's not until Hattori calls him on his cell phone early the next morning – a Saturday, thank gods – that Conan finds there's been an entire second half to this case which he knew nothing about. And quickly finds that, harmless as he may seem (except to bank accounts), Kid is not someone to cross. He's managed not only to close the investigation of the Squad, but to get rid of the man who ordered it. While in the middle of a crisis. And Conan's sitting in a tiny hospital room, looking at the price of it.

Hattori tells Conan he could have been checked out last night, but stalled to give him a chance to talk to Kudou, as the Osakan will doubtless always call him. His mother, he adds, is out shopping in Shibuya.

Sitting up in bed in a white hospital gown which contrasts badly with his skin, Hattori does otherwise look fine. But Conan notices he is careful not to move more than necessary, and is sitting straight-backed and stiff against the pock-marked wall.

"Your little dart-watch was much more considerate," is all he'll say on the subject.

Conan, sitting in a cheap plastic chair with his legs dangling as always, lets it drop. Watching what little of the cloudy sky he can see over the hospital's other wing, he tells Hattori everything. The Osakan detective listens with incredulity which tightens to cold concentration as the story goes on. When he finishes they sit in the false silence of the hospital, ignoring the thousands of constant tiny background noises.

"Do you think they'll just cut their losses?" asks Hattori, finally.

It's something he's been wondering himself.

"I don't think there will be retribution drive-by shootings, or anything like that," says Conan slowly. "This isn't the mafia we're talking about. The kids and their families don't know anything damaging, so apart from frustration there's no reason to harm them, and the Organization isn't ruled by emotion. I think they'll leave well enough alone as far as the families are concerned."

"And where Kid's concerned?" says Hattori, who can spot a qualification as well as anyone.

"The fact that they went to all this trouble to have someone else take care of him – quite probably himself – suggests it would be even more trouble, if not impossible, for them to do it themselves. But if I were him…" Conan trails off, lets Hattori fill in the blank.

"I'd be watching my back."

"What I want to know is why they're after him."

"Maybe he stole something from them," suggests Hattori, in a tone which says this is the obvious answer.

"Maybe they're afraid he's going to steal something from them," says Conan.

"Maybe," says Hattori darkly, "they're afraid he's going to go after something they want to steal."

A beat of quiet – something heavy is wheeled by on a squeaky trolley outside the door.

"Assuming at least one of those is true, what would they need with a gem?" Conan runs a hand through his bangs. "If they wanted to keep it safe from him all they'd have to do is turn it into cash, so it must be the stone itself that they need." In the sky, the clouds are grey and wispy, still rained out after yesterday's unseasonal storm. Conan watches them drift by in the weak breeze. Hattori sits silently, but Conan can practically feel him thinking.

"You're going to try to find the link, aren't you?" It's not really a question. Conan shrugs slackly.

"It's one of the only clues I've got."

"You think you can handle these guys and Kid?"

"What's the worst he can do, get me expelled from elementary school for impersonating a 7 year-old?" asks Conan, sourly. "I can take care of myself."

There's no answer to that, and Hattori makes none.

"There must be a reason they've suddenly decided to get Kid out of the way," says the Osakan, after a long pause, nudging the conversation back into safer waters. It's hardly a good time to argue with Hattori about risks when the Osakan's in the hospital with a bullet wound – albeit from a tranq round.

"Kid hasn't released a heist notice, and they can't know what he's planning without one. Something must be about to become available."

"For sale?"

"Not necessarily. I don't have any proof of the Organization committing theft, but I'm sure they wouldn't baulk at it."

"And if you find out what it is, you can set a trap? Geez, Kudou, talk about sticking your hand in a lion's mouth." Hattori's tone is concerned, but not reprimanding.

"It's going to come down to it sooner or later anyway. And the sooner we catch these bastards, the sooner they won't be able to hurt anyone else."

That's an irrefutable fact.

"Well, then," says Hattori, shifting for the first time since Conan arrived. His tone's got a slight edge to it when he speaks again. "I guess I'd better start reading up on gems. And you? Going home to read up on Kid?"

"No," says Conan, slipping down from his chair. "I'm gong home to see if the Professor can put together a more compact gas mask. Kid seems to be a walking knock-out hazard."

"Planning on seeing more of him, then?"

"Almost certainly." Conan's eyes narrow. "And next time, he'll find out I'm a walking knock-out hazard, too."


Epilogue III: The Kaitou Kid

Kaito would have liked to sleep for two days, but the closest he can get is going to bed at 10 rather than 1:30 as usual, shocking his mother almost speechless – something he had long thought impossible.

Aoko's suspicions of him seem to have vanished – smart as she is, she's always been easy to trick. It's probably an inherited fault. Still, he doubts it will take much more to tip the scales.

It was beyond stupid to play into her suspicions, lying there with the woody smell of wet earth thick in his head, back cold and soaked and her weight pinning him into the ground. A completely insane thing to do, just because Kuroba Kaito wanted a tiny drop of recognition.

Kid is world famous, has clubs and newsletters and internet groups devoted to him, but Kid is not real, doesn't exist in the normal sense of the word, and although Kaito can draw pride from the success of his heists, the admiration of others might as well be addressed to someone else for all the impact it has. Kid is an insubstantial shadow, and to Kaito so is all the praise given to him, empty and meaningless.

But for one heartbeat, he wanted Aoko to know what he would do for her, what he could do for her.

No kaitou should ever allow himself to be swayed by want. It would serve him right if she did find out.

Maybe that's why he's always held such an interest in Conan, in Kudou Shin'ichi; in some ways the boy is in exactly the same situation as him. And all this has added one more similarity: it seems that their goals are quite probably the same, which should be interesting. Chinese curse kind of interesting.

For some reason, things have suddenly become deadly serious, and he needs to find out why. Find out, and see that it doesn't happen again, ever.

Things are starting, and Kaitou Kid will stop them.

After all, he still hasn't added "failure" to the Kuroba dictionary.


Epilogue IV

Rain is misting down, wrapping the old school in a cloudy blanket. In the distance, sirens are approaching. In the courtyard, two groups of men are cluttered around, some lying on the ground, lit by the pale light flowing out from a room on the first floor of one of the buildings.

By the gate, a dark figure pauses for several minutes, then hops the gate and disappears into the shrubbery surrounding the fence. A few moments later, a smaller figure slips out of the shadows by the gate and begins to walk away down the sidewalk. The streetlights reveal a child of elementary school age with a soft-sided backpack and a skateboard on his back, his large glasses dripping in the mist.

Two figures in black watch all this from the roof of one of the nearby apartment buildings.

"Well, well. This is a mystery."

"Aniki?"

"Let's go. We've got some things to look into."

END.