A Mirror Darkly


Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
~
Burnt Norton (I.44-48)


Falling at the ground and missing was not, in fact, anything at all like flying.

Saguru concentrated on not opening his eyes. The combination of weightlessness and queasily unpredictable momentum was bad enough without adding visual input, even mitigated by the sunglasses currently being squashed against his face. Swearing, however, helped, until there was an abrupt jolt and their momentum shifted, gaining something like purpose. With an impact of air, abruptly there was gravity again, and wind, as their remaining speed carried them briefly perpendicular to that gravity. His eyes flew open to see dirty brick and concrete—

And then suddenly, wall.

Lots of wall, smacking hardest into his shoulder blade and hip while Kaito's torso did its best to crush and smother him. All that kept the concrete below from saying a sharp hello to their skulls as well was what felt like a convenient pile of trash bags. Saguru assumed Kaito had tried to aim for 'safe', again, and decided to simply be very grateful for the lack of concussion. The inability to breathe properly and myriad bruised muscles and bones were more than unpleasant enough.

"G'off," he wheezed, impact having already broken his grip around Kaito's waist.

Kaito obligingly rolled off with a grunt and looked around. "...Huh."

"What?"

Kaito hesitated, taking advantage of the pause required to wolf a protein bar. "I'm not sure where we are."

Saguru paused to check that his lungs were, in fact, back in working order, and then stood up. "Then how did we get here?"

"I was trying to find someone who could help." Kaito moved to examine their entry point, his back to Saguru, which at this point was essentially admitting that there was more to it.

Saguru reigned in a growl and instead dusted off his clothes with meticulous care. "This is precisely what sharing your plans prior to their execution does not look like, Kuroba-kun."

"This wasn't a plan!" Kaito scrubbed a hand through his hair. "All I wanted was a way to fix this, and... it got away from me." He peered further up into the portal still hanging at an angle in the air above them, or what Saguru at least assumed was something like a portal. It didn't look much like Kaito's usual Shadowrifts; those tended to be reminiscent of irregularly-shaped doorways to another place framed by thin haloes of obscuring distortion. This looked more like a cloud of wavering haze with swirling depths of an unsettling sort of nothing that Saguru found his eyes sliding away from in self-defense. He had no idea what it looked like to Kaito.

Kaito continued, "I... think I can get us back again. Probably. After we figure out what's here on this side." A guilty look flashed across Kaito's face. "Only as far as not-me, though. I—I think I lost hold of the first one, somewhere in there, the connection to Koizumi—it was too much all at once, or something, and it slipped, and now I can't feel it anymore."

Saguru pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off a headache. At least if it was closed, Koizumi couldn't come after them and turn them into chinchillas for losing track of their potential backup. "Why is determining where we are at this moment integral to our ability to return?"

"Because I was looking for someone to help," Kaito said. "I got distracted, but this might be our best chance to actually find someone remotely useful. I just need to know where we are."

Saguru gave a long-suffering sigh. It was hard to argue with the fact that without some sort of native help, this trip was threatening to become significantly longer and more complicated. "Then please be sure not to let this one close, and let's be quick before he wakes up and starts wondering what might happen if he walks into the blurry patch of air."

Kaito shivered slightly. "Right." He took a moment to gingerly sweep the portal smaller. It didn't seem to work quite the same way as it did for the regular ones, but the haze did seem to thin and narrow until only an odd, but far less obvious, wavering patch remained slanted in midair. Kaito studied it for a moment more and then, apparently satisfied, headed out of the alley. Saguru sighed and followed, only to nearly run into Kaito when Kaito stopped dead, staring up at the large TV display on the building across the street.

"What now?" Saguru reached into his jacket, then remembered far too late that he'd dropped his staff in the operative's room when he'd lunged after Kaito. His hand closed instead around the gun he'd taken earlier. He carefully left that where it was.

Kaito turned, face nearly white. "Today—it's tonight. I—he—tonight is you. The other you. Come on!"

Saguru barely managed to snag Kaito by the arm before he could take off running. There was only one nightmare involving his counterpart, and he certainly understood why Kaito might wish to change it. Wishing, however, could not make a crazy idea any less so. "And do what? If he's supposed to be dead, then what do you plan to do about it? You'll be changing the past of where we just left, to say nothing of our own!"

"That's what I came to do!" Kaito almost snarled back before freezing.

Saguru's eyes narrowed. "I seem to recall you said you were trying to find someone who could help," he said evenly.

Kaito looked away. "I was. It... went strange, while I was reaching. So I tried to find a way to just... fix it all. Only I couldn't get all the way there, just this far. But we're here, and... we have to fix this much, at least. We have to." His expression was set.

Pinching the bridge of his nose again would require letting go of Kaito. "And you're not worried in the slightest about, say, paradoxes and causing the timeline or the universe to collapse?" Saguru was going to limit himself to only minor exasperation. He was.

Kaito gazed back at Saguru, eyes gleaming with fervent purpose. "All we have to do is find a way to fake it convincingly, right? He walks away certain that it's a dead body, and he'll just assume the cleanup crew dealt with keeping the consequences to only a 'missing person' status. And we save you, and... maybe that'll get us a way to convince the other guy that he just might still have a chance to be something more than a lost cause. This you would have the skills to keep up—and he already made the offer to help once."

Saguru considered the idea, deliberately ignoring the way Kaito had just referred to a cleanup crew as if it were an everyday occurrence. Kaito did have a point about their options with the operative, which were distressingly limited. And it was hard to ignore the appeal of not being dead, even if it was merely his counterpart.

"Well... it's possible, in theory, but... what about the practicalities? He'd notice a vest or at very least the lack of blood, even assuming we could convince my counterpart to wear the cursed thing, or take him out and put me in one. Which isn't what you had in mind, is it?"

As Saguru had been talking, the gleam in Kaito's eyes had shifted from desperate to more calculating. By the time Saguru finished Kaito had already pulled out his Duel Deck and was leafing through the cards, pausing only to shudder briefly at the mention of Saguru himself facing down the Organization operative.

While Saguru had never doubted that Kaito (or Kid) did his best thinking in a crisis or when backed into a corner, he was reminded of it now as Kaito snatched two cards out and shoved them at Saguru's face. "These. Here. I can make this work. It was meant to be a fallback for a fallback, in case I had to stage my retirement this way, but it should be exactly what we need..."

Saguru plucked the cards out of Kaito's hand and moved them to a saner reading distance. The first was Half Shield—halve all battle and effect damage for a turn—and the second was Copycat, which did exactly what it sounded like and created an exact double of a chosen target. Technically it was supposed to be a target belonging to the opponent, but given that this was Kaito, if he thought he could make it work regardless... well, it wouldn't be nearly the most bizarre thing Saguru had seen him pull off.

With a little logic, it was easy to see what Kaito was going for, even if it wasn't precisely a cheerful thought. "So… you think the Half Shield could absorb enough damage that a doppelganger wouldn't disappear immediately after a fatal injury?"

"That was the idea, yeah. We just have to get there fast enough to catch him, first, but I can do it. I swear, I can do this." Kaito paused. "…If I have one of the elixirs."

"I would hope you'd use one, considering what you've already done today." Saguru eyed Kaito critically. Color had at least crept back into Kaito's face even if he still seemed worn, and his determination was no less strong for having lost the edge of desperation. Saguru decided that arguing further now would only waste precious time without, in all likelihood, altering the outcome in the slightest. "Fine. Let's get to the site and see what our timetable is, but if you push yourself too hard doing this, I will be very put out."

"Deal. Now come on!"


Tonight, Saguru discovered, meant "in approximately thirty-seven minutes and twenty-one seconds." The one and only positive aspect to Kaito's dreams was that he knew exactly where they needed to be, several blocks away, and how long they had before the operative arrived via the roof. Given the nature of the trap, it seemed that the police wouldn't close in on the building until he was inside. Kaito knew the building's own security well enough that once they arrived, they were able to sneak inside and make for the upper floors in the remaining small window of opportunity.

Saguru found himself unaccountably amused that he was, technically, participating in a Kid heist, and the target was himself. The surrounding circumstances were hardly humorous, but he had to appreciate the irony. If he didn't focus on that, he'd start thinking about all the deadly ways this insane plan could go wrong.

Kaito eased open a stairwell entrance and looked inside. "Here," he murmured, tension belying the muted volume. "He comes in from the roof from here, and on the way out..."

Saguru stepped up behind him. "I see. There's still time, so if you don't mind, I'd like to get a better look at what we're dealing with."

Kaito hesitated, eyeing the landing above, before nodding reluctantly. "There's not much to see."

"And yet." Saguru slipped by and carefully climbed to the top landing, taking in every detail of the concrete and steel, the roof access door and the mechanism automatically locking it from the inside, the fire extinguisher on the wall by the roof access sign, the door labeled Maintenance Only just beside it... "There."

"What?"

"We can use the maintenance closet to wait. Unless it's checked?"

"...No. Just straight for the target."

"Then we won't risk running into anyone else until the proper time."

"Yeah... okay." Kaito sidled up to the closet door and peered at the lock for a moment, then produced a lock pick from nowhere and made short work of it. He straightened, glancing over his shoulder, and Saguru took the cue to pull the door open.

He immediately found himself looking down a gun barrel wielded by Inspector Hakuba Saguru, who was standing at the ready with such a flatly unimpressed look that he must have heard their conversation outside. The look only lasted for the moment it took Saguru's appearance to register and then instantly shifted to shock, though Saguru was oddly pleased to notice that even shock wasn't enough to make the Inspector lower his weapon.

"Who are you, and what are you doing here?" he demanded.

Kaito slipped around Saguru with the fluid grace Saguru always associated with Kid's poker face, his hands raised disarmingly. "Look, there's a really good explanation for this; I just need to give you my ID, okay? I'm just going to get it out of my bag..."

Saguru did have to admit that he had a weakness for giving people the benefit of the doubt unless proven otherwise. Or at least he tried to, when he could. His counterpart seemed to still have the habit, because Kaito's slow movements were permitted as he retrieved a small wallet using a finger and thumb. Inspector Hakuba didn't even lower the gun when he used the other hand to carefully take the wallet, but before he could open it, Kaito's other curled fingers shifted too fast for Saguru to properly follow. A brief spray of pink mist engulfed the Inspector's face, cutting off as soon as the man started to go limp. Somehow, Kaito managed—without dropping the aerosolizer—to catch both Hakuba and the wallet before they could hit the ground.

Saguru moved to help, making a mental note to remember that trick with the palmed aerosolizer even as he removed the gun from the Inspector's now precariously-loose grasp and stowed it safely away. It clacked softly against the other gun in his pocket. Saguru had to take a second to wonder just how he'd managed to start an illegal collection of dubiously acquired firearms. Probably since Koizumi had appointed him the sensible one, however counter-intuitively that worked.

The most immediate threat disarmed, he began to examine the rest of the closet more thoroughly as they arranged Hakuba's limp form against the nearest shelf. There were three walls of shelves filled with equipment, a cart with more tools and electronics shoved against the back shelf, and, in the tiny floor space that remained unoccupied, a small folding stool with a laptop standing sideways beside it.

"Why such a limited dose?" Saguru asked as he shifted to reach the laptop. "We have thirteen minutes and forty seconds before the operative is due, and that looked like perhaps five minutes' worth."

Kaito looked up from adding something into the lock of the handcuffs he'd already secured Hakuba with—a move Saguru appreciated, since otherwise the handcuffs would most likely be picked within moments of the man waking up—and sighed. "This is all I've got left, and it's maybe half-full by now. I'd rather save it in case we need it with... him, again."

"Fair enough. We may require a gag, then, as judging by how he was waiting for us, this door appears to not be fully soundproof..." He trailed off at the sight of the laptop screen. It was split three ways, showing the room where the gem was displayed, a second room Saguru assumed was just outside the display room, and the top stairwell landing with the camera focused on the access to the roof. That would have shown them from behind while climbing the stairs to approach the roof access, explaining why Saguru's face had still come as a surprise to the Inspector, but...

"Kuroba-kun, I thought you said there were no cameras in the stairwells of this building."

Kaito blinked at him. "There aren't. Only at the entrances on the lower floors, which we dodged. The top five floors are penthouses that don't do security cameras anywhere inside, just guards, for the privacy of the clients. It's why he came from the roof; the roof camera was on the outside and easy to take out."

Saguru turned the laptop around so Kaito could see the screen. "I think now we know why the alarm went off when it wasn't expected."

Kaito actually cackled. "Wireless cameras! Of course he added his own cameras, the bastard—that is so you."

Saguru couldn't exactly argue. He'd used the same tactic for several heists when he'd had enough forewarning, though Kaito had managed to render them effectively useless via disguise or other interference.

"Thank you, I think. However, we should check for soundproofing regardless." He confirmed that the laptop was muted and stepped outside, shutting the door behind him. "Can you hear me? We have approximately eleven minutes and thirty-seconds until arrival time, and—"

The door cracked open and Kaito stuck his head out. "Yeah, you're just quieter, but here's the silent alarm for the rest of the force. It was in his coat. So, we'll get about five minutes to convince the good Inspector to stay quiet, or I'm gonna be down to even less gas than before."

There was a groan from behind Kaito, and Saguru quickly pocketed the palm-size alarm and darted back inside on Kaito's heels. "Significantly less, with a resistance like that..."

"You've always had high resistance; part of what made you a challenge." Kaito casually sat on Hakuba's legs, in exactly the place Saguru knew would interfere the most in getting leverage, and waited until the Inspector's eyes blinked open. "Hi. I'm really sorry about the handcuffs—"

"Are not," Saguru muttered before he could stop himself.

"—Okay, mostly sorry about the handcuffs," Kaito corrected smoothly, "but it's really, really important you not go out on that landing tonight, or you're going to die."

Hakuba, unsurprisingly, stared at him. "You're mad."

Kaito's answering humorless grin was probably not very reassuring. "Only a little. And I'm still right about this. That impossible ghost-thief you're tracking? You got it right. He's coming here, tonight, but if you meet him it's going to end very badly for you."

"How can you know that? Who are you?" Hakuba's brow furrowed. "...Your face is familiar..."

Saguru had never seen someone manage to stagger while seated until Kaito abruptly did so, face draining of color. "Kuroba-kun?" Saguru murmured carefully, watching them both. How could the Inspector recognize him, when they'd never had the chance to be classmates here?

Inspector Hakuba's eyes widened, furrowed brow smoothing out in sheer surprise. "Kuroba Kaito?"

There was a moment's pause.

"Yes," Kaito answered, voice oddly flat. "Though not the Kuroba Kaito who was kidnapped from his father's death scene when he was eight, because he's the one coming down those stairs and he's not ready to listen to your offer of help. Yet."

...Oh. Yes, that was right; Kaito had said the Inspector had, in that nightmare, actually managed to identify the operative after getting a look at his face. Apparently that hadn't been just a fluke.

The man's gaze darted from Kaito to Saguru and back again. "...You can't possibly exist."

"You obviously never became closely acquainted with Koizumi Akako." Kaito quickly waved off Hakuba's confused expression. "Not important. What is important is that I'm really Kuroba Kaito, and that's really also Hakuba Saguru, and there are no words to express how very not okay I am with you ending up dead."

Inspector Hakuba gave Kaito a considering, if rather dubious, look.

"We can prove it," Saguru stepped in. "In," he checked his pocketwatch, which garnered a dark glare until the Inspector realized that his own watch was still safely tucked away and his expression changed to surprise, "approximately nine minutes and twenty-two seconds, he'll arrive. Five minutes and three seconds after that, he'll be back in this stairwell, proving us right. Give us those fifteen minutes and a chance to explain, and if you still don't believe us, we'll release you."

Kaito gave him a betrayed look. "We'll what?"

"We'll release him if he doesn't believe us," Saguru repeated, "because the odds of that occurring are so miniscule I won't even bother to quote them." He met his counterpart's eyes and was relieved to see a spark of curiosity mingling with the distrust there. He smirked, carefully. "On my honor as a detective."

"Your... detective?"

"Yes. Now, if you would swear on your honor to cooperate without interference for the next quarter-hour and change, I promise you will receive your explanations. By then, you will have witnessed more of the evidence for yourself."

Saguru felt he did quite well at weathering the moment of intense scrutiny before the Inspector sighed and leaned back against the shelf. Kaito, in contrast, had pulled out his Duel Deck and was ignoring them both with the air of an offended cat. "Fine," Inspector Hakuba said. "I will expect a complete explanation, particularly into how you can be so certain of things that have yet to occur. On my honor as a police officer, if you remove these handcuffs I won't step out of the closet for the next fifteen minutes."

"Or attempt to interfere or interact with your colleagues until after we can explain," Saguru prompted, earning another look.

"Are you going to do anything else illegal, beyond assaulting an officer?"

Saguru paused a moment to be certain he could answer truthfully. "No more than impersonating a police officer, the necessity of which you'll observe shortly."

"Imper—you cannot possibly intend to walk out there yourself."

"What part of 'Dead Not Okay' did you miss?" Kaito snapped without looking up from sorting his Deck.

The Inspector managed to fix them both with an impressively level stare. "So what, precisely, do you have in mind?"

Kaito did finally look up in response to that, smile more bleak than Saguru was at all comfortable with seeing on him. "We'll make sure you both see exactly how it would have gone if you had followed your plan for tonight."

The Inspector did not look as though that answer was at all sufficient. "And how do you expect to be able to accomplish that?"

Kaito's smile widened slightly, growing just a little less frozen. "Ah, but that would be telling."

The Inspector's raised eyebrow in response spoke volumes. Unimpressed volumes. Saguru found himself rolling his eyes, though he managed to refrain from calling Kaito a twit out loud. Or reaching over to smack him upside the head.

Instead, he smoothly interjected, "His taste for theatrics aside, he really can do what he says. Honor the agreement, and you will see. And afterward you will get your explanations." He tilted his head slightly, employing a detective's even smile. "Do let me know, at that time, if anything in the scene you will observe deviates from what you would indeed have done."

"I can't help but notice you have yet to actually explain what the bloody hell you plan to do."

Saguru's smile didn't waver. "Call it... an illusion. An exceedingly convincing one. I wonder if you will be able to work out how it's done?" He turned away from the Inspector, deliberately casual, moving to adjust the laptop so that the screen would be visible to all of them. The Inspector was almost certainly trying to determine whether he could bore a hole in Saguru's head with the force of his stare alone. Saguru let him, hoping that the bait to the Inspector's curiosity would be enough.

One breath, two breaths, three breaths, easy and even; he kept his expression composed and stance relaxed with the practice of long hours in a classroom with a talented amateur magician doing his level best to direct attention exactly where he wanted it.

At forty-six seconds exactly, Saguru heard the resigned sigh from the Inspector, and carefully did not let his smile widen in triumph.

"Fine," Hakuba bit out. "We'll play it your way, for as long as it goes the way you say it will. Take these off, and I won't walk out, or interfere, as long as I don't see something that you haven't told me about that requires me to intervene."

"And you will stay silent, no matter what happens to the illusion?"

"...Fine."

"Agreed, then, on your honor and mine." Saguru gave a deliberately formal nod.

"Yes, yes. Get on with it."

Saguru treated him to the smile he used on Kid and particularly obnoxious reporters and held out a hand in Kaito's direction without looking. When a little bottle landed in his palm precisely on cue, he applied the contents to the keyhole without missing a beat. A moment to bend the stiff wire from around the bottle's neck into shape, a few more to maneuver it properly through the just-softened goo filling the keyhole, and he was rewarded with the expected click as the cuffs released.

The Inspector stared at him appraisingly as he reclaimed his wrists, pulled his legs in and apparently settled down to observe. After a moment, he added, "I expect my gun back as well."

"In due time," Saguru murmured placatingly. A thought occurred to him, and he added with his most trustworthy professional smile, "If you are able to remain completely silent when there is any chance of our scheduled visitor overhearing, I may trust that your self-control is such that neither of us will regret my returning it to you."

"Hnn." The Inspector looked less than pleased, but he refrained from pursuing it further for the moment. He seemed to want an explanation more than he wanted to try overpowering both of them, which was good enough for now.

The next five minutes and seventeen seconds passed in silence. Kaito remained hunched in the corner with his Deck, while Saguru and Inspector Hakuba alternated between staring at the laptop screen and staring at each other. The Inspector's eyebrow rose fractionally as he eyed the sunglasses Saguru had almost forgotten were pushed up onto his head. God only knew what the man was thinking; Saguru supposed the story behind that would just have to be added to the promised explanations. For now, he merely shrugged and raised an eyebrow of his own in answer. The Inspector frowned and returned his attention to the views from the cameras.

Then, finally, the door to the roof creaked quietly open. The man in Organization black slipped inside, bare-faced, and ghosted down the steps to the floor holding the gem.

This was not the broken figure they had just left behind in the bedroom of that barren apartment; this man moved with intimidatingly sure, deadly confidence. The contrast was almost a physical shock, and Saguru nearly shivered at being reminded who truly haunted Kaito's nightmares. Only when another soft click denoted that the operative had left the stairwell did Saguru realize he'd been holding his breath, and he let it out in a rush. A quick glance at Inspector Hakuba showed that the man had questions burning in his eyes, and he was scrutinizing Kaito's face again with a great deal more care. However, he'd obviously taken Saguru's condition about the gun seriously and was taking care to hold his tongue. Good.

Saguru rummaged through his bag for the second-to-last of their elixirs and handed it off to Kaito, ignoring the Inspector's expression at the brightly colored liquid inside. (He really had become the de facto Keeper of Important Things, it seemed.)

"Are you ready?"

Still seated, Kaito looked at the vial in his hand for a long moment. "No. But let's play a Game anyway." He downed the entire contents of the elixir and turned away, blocking their view of his actions, but Saguru was certain that Kaito was dealing out a hand from his appropriately-stacked Deck.

There was a pause. Then a sudden charge in the air like too much static electricity gathered in one place, making the hair of Saguru's nape stand on end. It vanished after another moment, leaving in its wake the Copycat of Inspector Hakuba standing in the last corner of unused closet space. The Inspector hissed in surprise, hand darting to the empty holster under his coat. Saguru found he couldn't much blame him. The likeness was disturbingly exact, save for the eerie lack of expression in the double's face.

Kaito looked back and forth between the two a few times, then tilted his head to the side. It was like flipping a switch, the way the Copycat came alive in a flurry of movement, reaching into his coat and pulling out an equally disturbing replica of the gun safeguarded in Saguru's pockets before sighting down the barrel into the floor.

"It's fake," Kaito assured absently without taking his eyes off the Copycat. "Nothing to fire."

"I should certainly hope not!" Saguru retorted, still fighting against uneasiness even after the Copycat stowed its supposedly illusory weapon away again.

Kaito summarily ignored him, turning further toward the Copycat and closing his eyes with a frown. Saguru realized after a moment that Kaito's lips were moving slightly, silently, far too fast for normal speech. With a sinking feeling, he glanced back at the Copycat. Its lips moved in perfect, silent synchrony with Kaito's for a moment, paused, then synchronized again as it apparently rehearsed its lines for the upcoming confrontation. Three times they spoke in soundless unison, three times the Copycat stood motionless while Kaito continued on. Then Kaito stopped too, sagging back slightly as he sighed, and Saguru recognized for the first time how very brief the exchange was going to be.

Brief, though nothing like easy.

Saguru eyed the slump in Kaito's posture, not liking how it reminded him of the nightmare Kaito was about to have to reenact and its broken shadow still waiting for them beyond the portal in the alleyway. Nor did he appreciate the fainter reminder of Nightmare, and how deeply Kaito was still affected by his failure to save even a blackmailing thief who'd been actively trying to murder him.

Saguru took a deep, steadying breath, and ventured, as lightly as he could manage, "Well, then. Even for me, this is going to be an unusual view of a heist."

Kaito's head jerked around toward him, startled. Saguru offered a hint of a smirk. "After all those times you went on at me in class about being the most skilled of magicians, to say nothing about thieves... well. It seems to me that one would need a thief and a magician, to be able to steal a future."

He paused, reran that sentence through his mind, and let his smirk widen. "Steal back a future."

Kaito stared at him for a long, wordless moment before letting out a huff of breath too disbelieving for a laugh and looking away. Still, Saguru didn't think he was just imagining the renewed determination in the set of Kaito's shoulders as he drew himself up and returned his attention to what he held.

So softly that Saguru would have missed it if he hadn't been watching for it and straining to hear, Kaito murmured, "I play Copycat in defense mode and a card face down."

The floor on the other side of Kaito wasn't visible, and so neither was precisely what the magician had done there, but Saguru had the distinct feeling he knew exactly what he would see if he got up to look. He had no need to do so, and so he merely watched as the Copycat reanimated, stepping past to slip outside and closing the door behind it.

He switched his attention to the laptop, where the camera feed showed the perfect double of Inspector Hakuba taking up a waiting position on the landing at the top of the stairs. It was easier than making eye contact with the real Inspector, who looked like he was seriously weighing the promise of explanations later against the overpowering urge to demand them now, gun or no gun. He'd even risen to his feet, serving only to heighten the perfect resemblance between the two figures. Saguru watched him closely, but the Inspector ultimately opted to hold his tongue and continue observing, if with slightly ill grace.

Saguru was glad of that. Though the Copycat was played in defense mode and on the other side of the closed door, he wasn't sure that it would stay that way if the Inspector tried provoking Kaito. Especially not with Kaito's current appearance of one stretched precariously close to a breaking point.

Without the confines of a proper Game, Saguru wasn't sure what a summoned Duel Monster could potentially do in defense of its summoner—though it didn't seem like what Kaito did with the cards was orthodox, even by the Motou's standards. Of course, this was Kaito. He appeared to object to conforming to any sort of rules on sheer principle.

Saguru dismissed his mostly-irrelevant musings when the laptop screen abruptly showed the thief slipping confidently into the room just outside the display area, not even bothering to sneak as he passed beyond the camera's view toward his target. Then there was a gap as he traversed the blind zone between the cameras, which had clearly been chosen more for discreet installation than for their angles (limited) and controls (nonexistent). The interval stretched for longer than Saguru had expected, and he was starting to wonder if something had gone wrong when the man finally reappeared, strolling straight up to the gem case. Perhaps he'd taken a moment to evaluate the security, because he went straight to work.

...It was almost an art form, the way he bypassed the last lines of defense on the case as though they practically weren't even there. Saguru couldn't help but admire the deft expertise, even as he internally counted down the seconds until he could alert the police.

Movement in the background distracted him. He scanned for the source, and frowned sharply as he caught sight of part of a figure that hadn't been slumped on the ground at the edge of the monitor the minute before. He couldn't see much, mostly a shoulder and a partial glimpse of a head, but that uniform—

"One of the guards is down!" he snapped, hand reflexively slamming into the silent alarm in his pocket, mind racing. If the officers summoned by the alarm got there fast enough, if they distracted the Organization agent, maybe the guard would still have a chance; Kudou from the previous reality had said he'd survived partly because the Organization members he'd run into hadn't stuck around to properly confirm his death.

A faint, wounded noise distracted him, and he had only enough time to glance up and see Kaito's eyes gone wide in a pale face before the magician shoved himself closer, yanking the laptop partway toward himself as he switched from the split-screen to a full-size feed of the display room. Saguru's breath caught as he saw the edge of a smear on the wall barely within the camera's field of view, and a dark wetness on the floor just beneath the guard's shoulder that could have been taken as merely a shadow in the smaller view.

The puddle wasn't growing.

A minor injury wouldn't have produced that much. An injury that had yet to be fatal would still be bleeding. Saguru spat a harsh curse without thinking, echoed perfectly by Inspector Hakuba, who looked positively livid from having clearly reached an identical conclusion.

"You come and assault me, swear impossible knowledge of tonight and that you're trying to save my life, and you couldn't prevent that?"

"I—I didn't know," Saguru answered, feeling numb. Kaito'd never mentioned it, why hadn't Kaito mentioned it? Saguru tore his eyes away from the body to look at Kaito, who had slumped down against the wall, knees drawn up against his chest, face chalk-white.

"Forgot," Kaito rasped. "Head's full of the stairwell, the only bit that mattered at all to him, can't get it out for anything else, just on repeat again and again and again..."

"All right," Saguru interrupted briskly, because there was too much else important going on for Kaito to be distracted by raging guilt. They could deal with guilt later when Saguru could remind Kaito that regardless of magic or sheer force of will, things called limits did in fact still actually apply to Kaito. "Focus. We weren't expecting that, and whatever we might have wanted to, we can't do anything about it now. Remember what we are here for. Are you still up to it?"

Kaito gave a harsh little chuckle, letting his head fall. "But it only went that way in the first place because—it makes sense now, don't you see? He only made that offer then because he didn't know. Otherwise... if he had..."

Saguru reached over to briefly give Kaito's shoulder a rough squeeze, because if Kaito wasn't grounded enough to do this, they were in for worse things than an enraged police officer. "Fine. Maybe that will make a difference, and maybe he won't agree to help us now. So. Tell me, how will that affect what we came here to do tonight?"

There was a full beat of shocked silence. Then Kaito actually uncurled a little, head popping up as he first stared, then let out a shaky, startled, more genuine laugh. "It doesn't. Not at all."

Saguru smirked back at him. "Do remember who we're actually trying to fool here." While gaining the Inspector as an ally would be ideal... as long as they kept him alive, and the Organization operative still saw exactly what he would have if they had not interfered, it would still count as success for them.

Kaito scrubbed a hand over his face, grinning just the faintest bit. "Right. Of course. Heh. Can't believe I'm hearing this from you."

"Someone has to be the sensible one."

Kaito rolled his eyes and let his head fall back against the wall, clearly rebuilding his concentration for the approaching confrontation.

Saguru let seriousness fall back over him and turned back to face the Inspector, who looked like he was keeping his expression short of outright hostility through sheer force of will.

"I suppose I must add a caveat, now. What you will see is what would have come to pass if you had had no more knowledge of that than we had." He frowned. "And... it really should have occurred to me before. We can't stay here, afterwards; it won't be safe, and we'd be overheard. Will you agree to at least accompany us to a safe place for your explanations, and the return of your sidearm? You will of course be free to go afterward, though I sincerely hope that by then you will better understand the dangers that made all of this necessary in the first place."

Inspector Hakuba gave them both another superbly unimpressed look bordering on suspicion, arms crossed, but ultimately acquiesced with a sharp, tight nod.

Saguru lapsed back into careful silence himself, returning his attention to the laptop to switch the feed for the view of the stairs, and not a moment too soon. The door to the stairwell slammed open only seconds later, and Kaito went utterly still beside Saguru as the Copycat on the camera feed simultaneously snapped up its gun to confront the approaching operative.

"So, even invisible thieves can follow a pattern."

Even though Saguru knew the Copycat was speaking, could see its lips move in perfect synchrony with the voice, he found himself darting an automatic glance at the Inspector. Who was clearly too stunned to be anything but silent, promise or no promise, from the way he was staring at the monitor with wide eyes.

"Hakuba Saguru." Saguru twitched at the voice, so close to Kaito's and yet so unutterably wrong. The man they had met before had been dangerously unstable; this version was clearly in complete command of himself. Saguru honestly wasn't sure which version he found more unsettling. "Son of Police Superintendent General Hakuba. Youngest officer of the force to reach the rank of Inspector when at age 22 he succeeded Nakamori Ginzo. Engaged to his daughter, Aoko. You had a life waiting for you, Inspector. You shouldn't have thrown it away."

Saguru found himself oddly grateful that he couldn't see the operative's face through the recitation of the mini-biography. Another quick glance revealed the same couldn't be said for Kaito, who had curled in on himself with his head bowed in a way that couldn't possibly let him see the laptop screen. Saguru's stomach twisted just a little as he realized Kaito must be seeing through the Copycat's eyes, forcing himself to face down the nightmare as if he were truly the Inspector. ...Saguru devoutly hoped it was being done as something like an extension of Kid's impersonation tactics, or a way to better monitor whether the operative reacted as expected, not some strange sort of undeserved penance.

"Your face is familiar..." Saguru heard the Inspector's sharply indrawn breath even as he did his best to suppress his own wince. Well. That certainly explained why the comment had affected Kaito so dramatically earlier.

"Kuroba? Kuroba Kaito?" the double continued with evident surprise, Kaito's lips also moving in silent tandem. The tone shifted, disbelieving wonder taking on an undercurrent of urgency. "Aoko, she still keeps pictures of you on the walls at the house, talks about how you disappeared when your father died. She thinks of Mizuki-san like her own mother, prays at your memorial every year. You… What happened to you?"

Saguru swallowed back a wince and couldn't help but look away from the feed again to check on Kaito. The sight was hardly an encouraging one, as Kaito seemed to have gone from a huddle of concentration to simply a huddle, head fallen to rest against his knees, hands clasped tightly against his neck as if the pressure was all that kept him from simply coming apart. Saguru found himself moving without thinking, one hand checking that his glasses were still safely in place as he shifted position to just beside Kaito. He carefully draped the other arm around Kaito's shoulders and pulled it as tight as he dared, trying to offer whatever additional grounding he could. He belatedly remembered the Inspector's watchful company, but just as quickly decided he didn't give a damn what the man might think—if he even noticed, what with the tableau outside—because Kaito needed the reminder that he wasn't alone, and that he wasn't this.

"When idealism killed a man, his son gave up that path and sought to never die."

There was a pause. Saguru realized he was holding his breath again and forced himself to breathe, slow and steady, as close to silently as possible.

Outside, the operative continued with a faint note of regret that seemed more genuine than feigned, "I'm sorry to hurt Aoko, but we are invisible."

"We? Kuroba, whoever took you, whatever happened, it shouldn't have. Come back with me. We can help you."

Saguru craned his neck to see the screen, where the operative stood frozen while the Copycat Hakuba took a tentative step forward to the edge of the stairs, hand outstretched and gun lowered just the slightest of fractions. In the silence, it was almost possible to hope, foolishly, that the offer of a way out would be enough, that the operative would actually accept—

Police footsteps echoed on the stairs below, pounding upwards.

In an eyeblink the operative fired and surged up the last few steps to catch the Copycat before the gun could drop and clatter on the ground.

"I'm sorry." The murmur was almost too soft to hear through the door. "You should have stayed home. Tell my father I haven't forgotten him?"

Saguru swallowed, hard, and forced himself to continue watching as the man lowered the (thankfully still intact) Copycat to the ground and continued on to the door to the roof. The man paused partway through the doorway, a black figure silhouetted against the night outside, and looked over his shoulder with an unreadable expression for a long moment. Then he was gone.


Thanks for reading! Please review.

Thanks also to Snickerer and RandomImagination for invaluable beta-work.

Ocianne

7/13