chapter one: "feather, ruse, Father Brown"
by ysabet & nightengale
A story about crossing boundaries. Kaitou Kid and Kudo Shinichi and a shared journey neither of them expected.
Book One is complete at 71,000 words in eight parts, to be posted weekly at the dedicated LJ community that we've set up for the story. Readers are encouraged to watch threethieves for updates, though we will be crossposting notifications of new chapters as well.
Warnings: Extreme length. Please forgive us this first chapter...the quality is rather salmon compared to the rest of the novel. We were warming up. And yes, "salmon" is a curse word, Kaitou Kid says so. *firm nod*
"feather, ruse, Father Brown"
theme music: "Spectrum" by DBA
A notice has been sent anonymously to Kaitou Kid, daring him in terms of extreme rudeness to steal a certain gem before it can be stolen by the sender. The notice is pretty clear: a gem-- a perfect piece of red amber shaped like a quail's egg with a tiny feather in its heart, set in a silver pendant-- belongs to the Kikoman family (of the great Kikoman Soy Sauce zaibatsu; *those* Kikoman) and it normally lives in the jewelry box of Kikoman Meiyuko, the matriarch of the family (89 years old and supposedly a very good shot with a handgun). Kikoman-sama has a fondness for dogs, LARGE dogs, and her estate is full of them-- dobermans, mastiffs, rottweilers, you name it; they're everywhere.
It's the middle of summer, horribly hot and everybody's temper is on edge. Mouri and company have been invited to investigate the situation; they're staying at the estate, which is large and hypermodernistic to a ridiculous degree (if there's a gadget, Kikoman-sama or one of her numerous descendants has it. The house is alarmingly automated) and has hideous modern art everywhere. Hakuba's busted his ankle, Heiji AND Kazuha both have the flu (how romantic) and Nakamori's at a seminar in Hokkaido that he very much doesn't want to be at. So it's just Mouri, Ran and Conan... and a piece of amber. And an arrogant, insulting, rude, taunting dare of a robbery-notice.
So: What's Kaito going to do about it, hmmm?
It was several hours after they'd settled into the Kikoman estate; and Conan Edogawa was, for once, grateful for his transformed state. He'd been more than a little nervous that he'd end up stuck in a room with Ran (something that'd happened all too often before and was terribly hard on the nerves), but his small suitcase had been borne off by a servant and installed into a room of his own. A kid's room, granted, but you were supposed to count your blessings, right? At least it wasn't too cutesy.
And so he sat on the edge of the small European-style bed (one where, for once, his feet actually touched the ground) and went over the points of the estate in his usual mental catalog.
One: well-guarded. The place had a more-than-decent security system, top of the line-- the Kikoman family didn't stint on the electronics.
Two: way too many damn windows. Conan sighed. Even the best security couldn't get around a smash-and-grab.
Three: not enough people around. A handful of servants, a couple of the older relatives, Kikoman-sama's personal assistant Noyen Iri, himself and Ran and Mouri, and that was it.
...except for Kid, wherever the hell he was.
The Kikoman estate boasted an indulgent quantity of old hardwood trees scattered about its grounds, many of which were lit from below by footlights aimed up into their branches. The others stood in darkened silence, and it was through several of those that Kaitou Kid made his approach, making no more noise than the wind through the leaves. The scene was eerily quiet, and though the house itself was flooded with lights in all its rooms, there were no exterior floodlights or guards watching the entrances. Used to the bustle and friendly chaos of the Task Force, Kid clucked softly at the casual mood that he still hadn't been able to shake. He'd cased the building the previous night, and again during today's afternoon, but still didn't let the confidence he felt about the upcoming heist cloud his knowledge that there were certainly parts of the situation - and security net - that he couldn't predict.
Usually this wasn't even a conscious concern - with the Task Force running things, what unpredictability there was inherent in the gathering of a large group of people, officers or not, was overrun by the overwhelmingly predictable movements of all the Task Force's members and bullhorns, floodlights and helicopters. The unpredictable factors that mattered were considerably fewer, and much more of a challenge. They could direct the largely blind and dumb force of Nakamori's men in more effective ways, using the Task Force as an oversized extension of their own wills, and it was they who Kid had come to perform for. The thrill of wowing the crowd was still there, and always would be, but a more potent satisfaction lay in the chance to outmaneuver those he considered his equals.
Tonight, however, there was only one of them within that house, and he was without the backing of Nakamori's several dozen Task Force members, without the power of the prefectural police, and without the coordinated aid of his peers - small or large. Kid smiled thinly as he took the final leap that would land him on the roof of the mansion, careful to hold all that he carried up and out of the way to clear the laser motion sensor that trimmed the roof's edge. Light as cat's paws he touched down, then stripped quickly out of his oversuit of soft black cotton, revealing the white suit beneath. Pulling the black boot covers off his glossy white shoes, Kid rubbed away a small spot on one toe, settled his hat and monocle carefully in place, and clipped the cape to his shoulders, lacing the tips of the glider frame into their fitted pockets with the speed and ease of long practice. He folded his black outfit carefully out of the way, in the shadowed lee of the roof where it would be unlikely to be found, and stood.
The wind above the house caught his cape, lifting the military-grade tensile, lightweight fabric easily behind him. Kid's grin returned, broader and wild, and he bit back a laugh as he walked primly to one end of the roof and deliberately waved the toe of one shoe through the laser tripwire. Alarms instantly screamed from several places within the house, and Kid tipped his hat before hopping off the roof and snapping open his glider. It was showtime.
Several stories below, Conan's head jerked up at the frantic klaxon-wails that had shattered the silence. Sharp blue eyes with nothing of a child behind them gleamed; and with a calmness that belied the earshattering alarms going off overhead, he slipped out into the hall and was on his way, small house-slippers noiseless against polished wood.
He had no reason to hurry, after all. It wasn't like the Amber Wing was on display anywhere; if Kid wanted it, he had to come and get it, now didn't he? No; all the thief had done was present his calling-card. How very professional of him. Conan smirked a little to himself, pulse thrumming with the eagerness that always lit up like a roman candle during these episodes. They were *safe*-- the closest thing to play that he had in his detective's profession. Nobody got hurt, nothing got damaged (short of a little property and Nakamori's blood pressure) and the goods, supposing Kid got his way, were always returned. A win/win situation, when you looked at it right; pity it'd taken him so damn long to figure that out.
The breeze was strong, supporting Kid's glider effortlessly as he circled the Kikoman estate, heading for the front door. Just in before he reached it he angled down, cutting his speed and altitude, and pulled the glider's nose up sharply when he was just ten feet from the door. With the wind out of his wings, Kid dropped, landing softly in a half-kneel on Kikoman-sama's well-groomed lawn. Standing as he collapsed the glider, Kid calmly walked up to the front door and picked the lock. Another alarm woke up as he pushed the door open without giving the security code, but Kid barely noted it. "Itadakimasu?" he snickered to himself, slipping into the well-lit corridor silently, the door clicking neatly shut behind him as he slipped down the hallway to the right, headed through the sitting room toward the banquet hall.
Right on time, thought Conan from his place on the stair landing, belly flat to the floor. And if he angled just a little, just slightly, he might even be able to get off a shot from his tranq-watch that'd hit home. Not that it'd do much good; the cape and hat and the folds of the suit made a good enough deterrent that the tiny darts'd be about as much good at this range as spitballs.
Time to bring out the big guns, then. No use in making this too easy for Kid. With no attempt at subtlety he blew as hard as possible through the slim metal whistle that he'd been gripping in his teeth; the tone that emerged was very nearly inaudible to his ears (there was a thin, tiny sound like the scream of a moth) but apparently it was enough to do the trick, if the resulting cascade of barks and the incoming thunder of multiple dog-feet was any indication.
Kikoman-sama LIKED dogs. Large ones.
At the whistle, Kid bolted, running fast down the hallway and through the sitting room. In the banquet hall he vaulted onto the long, glossy table, coming to rest in a crouch at the center of it. Within seconds he was surrounded by a platoon of wildly barking, snapping, and growling dogs, pushing against each other, the chairs, and standing on each others' backs to get at him. Kid pulled his cape in close, standing to minimize the area of himself that the dogs could reach, and waited. Just one second more...one more...until the last of the pack was pressed as close as possible to the center of the room, crowded together like very large, very angry sardines. Then, right on time, the time-release gas capsule that Kid had rolled under the table as he entered the room cracked open, spilling plumes of pink sleeping gas that enveloped the whole dog pack at once. Some five feet above their head level, Kid delicately covered his nose and mouth with one hand, waiting with patience until the last of the dogs had wobbled to a crouch, then a sleepy slump. He trotted to the far end of the table, smiling at the 'cute appeal' of two or three dozen large dogs snuggling against each other in a heap, some already beginning to snore.
Kudo-kun ought to keep clear of the lingering gas, Kid mused, stepping lightly from table to chair to floor, and making his way through the servants' kitchen and out the other end into what appeared to be a smoking room of sorts, walls lined with bookshelves.
'Kudo-kun' was doing just that, actually; the familiar, bitter odor had warned him off fairly quickly; not like his short legs could've been much use in pursuit, but... He'd grabbed something from his still-unpacked bag back in the room for just this sort of thing, socks or whatever; he wasn't sure, he'd just shoved it into a pocket and now had the soft cloth up to his face in one hand, filtering the drifts of sleep-gas as he breathed shallowly.
No use listening for footsteps; Kid was no amateur. As the faux gradeschooler edged around the heaps of sleeping canines (and hoped they wouldn't wake up; the majority of them were as tall as he was and had sniffed him in a very unsettling way upon his arrival), Conan moved towards the room's only other exit and considered his options.
Ran and her father were guarding Kikoman-sama's bedroom door; he'd been supposed to be keeping to his room (although he didn't think Ran believed he'd do that for a second); and Kikoman-sama herself had utterly refused to leave the bedroom itself, informing Mouri in no uncertain words that he could, ah, perform a number of acts of dubious merit on himself if he thought she was going anywhere.
Quite a turn of phrase the old lady had, mused the detective, cloth still to his face as he slipped through the servants' kitchen. But then, she hadn't started out with a zaibatsu; she'd begun life as a housemaid, and one from the lower classes of society at that. Kikoman Aoi had seen her, fallen in love with her, eloped with her, married her and gotten her pregnant all in the course of a few months' time, all at the tender age of seventeen; he'd been the heir, and the Kikoman clan tended towards tradition-- you didn't just disinherit the jewel of the family (heh) because he'd knocked up a housemaid. Of course, the marriage had posed a problem...
(Conan glanced around the kitchen, smiling when he saw what he wanted; a few seconds later he gripped his prize tightly in one hand and, very carefully, made his way towards the open door that he could see just beyond the exit. Some sort of library?)
...but one could get around that, if necessary. Not that it proved to be; the housemaid turned out to have a brain as well as a body, studying up on the business in a way that a less-practical family would have been horrified by. However, tradition was tradition; and who kept shop while the men were out handling business abroad? In the Kikoman family, it was the women; and as it grew from fairly wealthy to staggeringly so, the little housemaid-turned-businesswoman had done very well by herself indeed.
His hands were sweating. Expecting more gas, sonic grenades, God knew what... Conan peered around the door.
What he found, however, was Kaitou Kid sitting in the open bay window, one knee crossed over the other, an old clothbound book open in one palm. As Conan entered, Kid looked up, lifting the book to block the parts of his face that the monocle didn't cover, and nodded to Conan in greeting. Then he placed the book, open and facedown, on the windowseat beside him, braced both hands on the window frame behind himself, and slithered backwards out the window, dropping out of sight. Even if Conan leaned out the window to look, he wouldn't see anything - the bushes below and the yard beyond were equally dark and undisturbed, silently absorbing the continuing klaxons of alarm.
The boy muttered something beyond the vocabulary of most gradeschoolers and, hopefully, most adults; picking up the book, he couldn't help but crane his head the window. Nothing; leaves and branches and not a flicker of white anywhere, not that he'd expected to see anything. Trust Kid to play Jack-in-the-Box, he thought irritably, and then bit back a laugh as much as himself as anything. If this was a game for him, then it had to be doubly so for the thief.
The book was Detection By Gaslight; the story it lay open to was 'The Eye Of Apollo', not one he was familiar with; and Conan sighed. Was he supposed to take time out to read it or what? Kid was increasingly moving into a position of control, which was... not surprising; it fit his usual pattern of behavior.
Well, eventually he'd end up where the Amber Wing was, no matter what route he took. Trying to walk and read at the same time, Conan headed towards their mutual goal.
Father Brown, Father Brown, Kid singsonged to himself as he scaled the exterior wall of the mansion, heading up and over the roof to the far side of the building. It was by some scales, particularly the ones Kid employed, the shortest distance between the first-floor library and Kikoman-sama's third-floor bedroom, and the path had the added advantage of neatly keeping Kid outside the range of surveillance for the evening. With no exterior guards, Kid was free to move about the outside of the house as he pleased. If he hadn't already pegged Kikoman-sama's method of guarding the Amber Wing from her profile, this would have given it away. None of those inside the house were worried about Kid proceeding in an unsupervised manner to a holding point that they could not see. The jewel was certainly in their active possession at this very moment, which meant that everyone in the house that he had to worry about - now that the dogs were taken care of - was likely to be in one location.
Rappelling the short distance from rooftop to window ledge of Kikoman-sama's large bedroom, Kid peered in the window coyly, grinning through the glass at the woman's proud shoulders as she sat guarding her treasure.
Father Brown, Father Brown, do you stare at the sun? Kid hummed, pulling himself out of view of the window again. As he tucked himself back up to the roof, Kid set a small listening bug against the glass of the window, affixed with light adhesive. Since the alarms were finally off - either they'd timed out or someone had mercifully taken note of the fact that nobody in the vicinity needed additional warning of the events taking place - Kid felt confident as he settled in to listen, waiting for the approach of his favorite detective.
The story was, in an anachronistic way, very clever. Father Brown had quite an eye for the tiny warping of wrong in the bland flow of the obvious; the man didn't miss a thing, and as he hurried down one hallway and turned down another, Conan wondered a little sardonically if he was supposed to consider himself flattered by the fact that Kid apparently liked to read detective stories. He supposed it was a lot like a bored housewife indulging in risque romance novels, or maybe more like 9-to-5 officeworkers reading fantasy-based manga on the train home. It wasn't as if Kid could identify with the pursuit of justice, could he?
Of course not. And Conan was just your average gradeschooler with a head full of manga and a crush on Ayumi. Riiiight.
Mouri was just around the corner, talking to one of the few servants that Kikoman-sama had allowed to remain in the house; his voice was, for once, businesslike and terse-- he seemed to be worried about the one other door to the bedroom, the one that opened through the matriarch's maidservant's quarters. It was locked; still, a weak point was a weak point. Lingering at the corner, Conan placed the book carefully on the hardwood floor and paused to think for a few minutes before choosing which way to go.
On the roof, Kid shifted position carefully, tapping the earbud of his listening device more snugly into his ear. Over the quiet hum of static on the line, Kid could just barely make out the rumble of discussion outside the bedroom suite. That would be the Sleeping Detective, Kid smiled to himself, noting and then dismissing that frequency as white noise. Next, he picked up the hum of air-conditioning ducts, running quietly but steadily. Beyond that, nothing: all was still and quiet in the bedroom suite.
Come on in and play, little detective, Kid wished. The eager thrum of heist energy circled his bloodstream like kinetic energy waiting to be released. Kid held himself still, blocking the urge for motion and theatrics, with barely a conscious thought. It wasn't time yet to play his hand.
...aaand easy, and twist, and-- last tumbler, there. Hah. Conan turned the knob to the maidservant's room with commendable silence, smirking ever so slightly; Kid wasn't the only person who could pick locks. Sometimes he-- Shinichi-he, not Conan-he-- wondered just how much of an edge he'd gained from his father's rather unconventional lessons in odd things of that sort during his early adolescence; someday he'd have to thank him. Or maybe not; knowing Kudo Senior, he'd probably stick his son somewhere in one of his Night Baron mysteries. Thanks, no, thought his unfortunate offspring, and opened the door.
The room was small but nicely laid out, with cabinets and a walk-through closet and dressing-room of unspeakable proportions extending towards a second door; presumably that one led into Kikoman-sama's bedroom, which was situated at one corner of the large mansion. Conan eased the door shut behind him, listening hard even as he took in the more unusual details of the maidservant's quarters, of which there were several.
There was an amazing amount of... well... he blinked. What the hell--? Rather cautiously he approached the collection of devices stored away on open shelves beside a sturdy ironing board. That one, he supposed, was some sort of garment-steamer; and that was a rather oddly-shaped iron, and that was-- he had absolutely no idea what that was, but it looked lethal and probably imported. And there were other things: implements for hair, curling irons and flatteners and crimpers and-- Conan glanced at the long row of wigs that lined one shelf, eyebrows climbing towards his own hairline.
Kikoman-sama was how old? Eighty-nine? Apparently she wasn't giving in to age without a fight.
Beyond the door there was a commotion of sound: three voices, two male and one female. The faux gradeschooler held his breath, listening: he knew them-- Kikoman-sama, her assistant Noyen Iri and her nephew, Kikoman Sou. All three sounded agitated. Now what?
"You can't sit here all night, obasan!"
"Well, no, I'll have to go to the bathroom at some point."
A groan. "Not what I meant. He's going to figure out where you are if you --"
"Oh, I intend him to know exactly where I am," returned the second voice, self-assured and more than a little smug. "I'm much safer if I wait for him to come to me."
"Your safety isn't really under consideration, obasan, the--"
"That is enough, young master."
"Oh, come on, Kid's not going to--"
"Accidents happen, and I will not allow your arrogance - and madame, with respect, nor yours - to let an accident happen to Kikoman-sama. We are perfectly safe within this room, and Kikoman-sama is correct, it is much more risky to go wandering around the house looking for a dalliant lunatic in a white suit."
"Darling, as...bluntly...as Noyen has put it, he's still quite right. If this thief is any sort of a gentleman, he'd at least show up when he said he would! I'm not about to go running around looking for him to save him from being late."
"And indeed you shouldn't have to, madame," purred a fourth voice, just preceding the hiss and snap of an exploding smoke bomb, clearly audible through the maidservant's door.
Now how the hell did he get i-- Never mind. Conan cursed silently to himself; not that things were going badly exactly, no... but he--
He could open the door if he wanted. Except that if he did, he'd screw up the whole setup, Kid'd take off like some sort of formally-dressed bat out of Hell, and the whole damn plan'd go down the toilet. So he'd just sit tight and hope he didn't--
"Don't you dare come another step closer, I'm warning you!" said Mouri Ran in outrage.
--didn't hear a fifth voice in the room, the one that should've been outside with Mouri. Conan screwed his eyes shut, sighed, and mentally waved goodbye to the aforementioned plan. Well, so much for that.
Within Kikoman-sama's bedroom, Kaitou Kid let his smile touch the corners of his eyes as he executed a shallow bow for his newest challenger. Standing on the bed only a foot away from Kikoman-sama's head and shoulders, a scant yard from the jewel box that lay in her lap, still clutched tight in her hands even as she lay drugged, Kid straightened from his bow and carefully took a step backwards, edging away from both the unconscious magnate and the very conscious, very angry young girl at the foot of the bed, currently threatening him with her glare and her posture.
Careful of his unsteady footing, Kid backed to the edge of the mattress, then hopped down onto solid ground, hands up in the air to show no harm as he moved. Once grounded, he tipped his head so the light reflected off his monocle, and flashed Ran a smile.
"Good evening, Mouri-san," he said, slowly beginning to move to his left, toward the foot end of the bed, a path that would eventually put him and Ran next to each other without the bed in the way. But his movement also put the bed between him and the window, a fact that he didn't seem bothered by as he approached open-handed and with loose, confident stride.
"I'm very sorry to have had to send off our hosts here," Kid told Ran conversationally as he approached. Wary, she backed from him as he approached, keeping him outside her personal space - and at the right range for a good kick to the head (or groin). Unconcerned, Kid continued speaking, but came to a stop at the center of the foot end of the bed. "But it's so distressing to have angry people around me while I work. I hope you can understand?"
"Oh, sure." Eyes blazing, the young woman let her body drop just a little, joints loosening and flexing, hands up and ready to strike if possible. "I understand you're a big enough bully that the first person you pick on is an old woman!" The assistant Noyen had gotten a breath or two of the sedative-smoke; he was supporting himself against the wall several feet away and in no shape to be of any help. The nephew, on the other hand, had slumped beside Kikoman-sama's bed and sprawled half on it, apparently unconscious.
Mouri Ran edged a little sideways, wary and undoubtedly nervous; she'd covered her face instinctively as soon as she'd realized what was happening. And now, very aware that she was the only truly conscious adversary that Kid had, she swallowed hard and moved slowly away from the main door and towards the smaller one, the one to the maidservant's room. If she could just get the thief to grab his prize and exit into the main part of the house--
On the other side of the smaller door, Conan bit back a groan and listened intently. He was just the right height to peer through the keyhole...
Bully? Kid's grin shifted downgear into something more irritated and less playful, and he moved swiftly toward Ran, darting toward her personal space with a snarl on his face. A scant handful of inches from her punching range, he planted his leading foot, shifted his weight to his other hip, and threw his trajectory sharply to the right, toward the wall with the window. With the moonlight at his back, he felt better, and could settle the unreasonable anger in his gut at Ran's comments.
"Bullying? Is that what you think of my games, Mouri-san?" Kid's voice was a quiet purr just a few shades off of a growl, and one hand rested under his suit jacket on the handle of his card gun, weighing the value of bringing it out. He didn't know Mouri Ran-san personally, but to make an enemy of her - well, a personal enemy, rather than enemies of just-business - would sour the rivalry between himself and Edogawa. The prospect was distasteful at best. He needed Edogawa - as a rival, as an equal, as a resource, and as a challenge - far too much to risk their relationship by insulting Edogawa's girlfriend.
Now there was an interesting image, Kid thought to himself, distracted from his emnity with the comical image of Edogawa holding a door open or pulling out a chair for Mouri-san. And he would, too, Kid thought to himself. Snickering, then giggling, he felt the moment of true bad blood passing, and his features smoothed out as he let himself indulge in a giggle at Edogawa's expense, keeping only half an eye on the Mouri girl as he did.
The expression that had crossed the master thief's half-visible face had, even as fleeting as it had been, rattled Ran considerably, and she bit back a choke of breath; her hands came up defensively, clenching-- and then relaxed slightly as she blinked, perplexed as the man went from visibly angry into laughter. "...you-- um-- you drugged her, she's just an old woman. If that's not bullying, what is it?" A couple of steps and she'd be at the door.
And on the other side of that door, the sound of Ran's footsteps and their evident goal finally clicked. CrapCrapCrap! Conan looked around wildly, reaching for the nearest thing that looked to be of at least some use in the situation.
"'Just' an old woman?" Kid laughed, lifting his hat with one hand - but keeping the brim angled down to shield his face - while he ran one gloved hand through his hair with the other, ruffling his bangs. "Mouri-san, that 'old woman' - though I prefer 'esteemed gentlelady' - is the most potent person in this room," Kid admitted with an insouciant look, "and I include myself and our venerated detective companions in that estimation."
Settled, Kid moved to stand at the bedside again, looking fondly down at the unconscious pair slumped over its foot end. Withdrawing another gas capsule from his pocket, he pierced one end and set it down on the bed between Kikoman-sama and her nephew; he was just about to withdraw his hand when another clamped around his wrist, fingers cold and thin, all bone where they pressed against his bare wrist.
Kikoman-sama slitted one eye open, struggling with an effort to speak. "You shouldn't count...me out...so soon, honey," she said, a confidently saucy note in her words even as hard as she had to strain to form them.
Impressed, Kid stared at the tough old magnate, then with a smile picked up the sluggishly hissing gas capsule and chucked it away from Kikoman-sama, to land in her assistant Noyen's lap. "My apologies, lady," he said, sounding truly contrite. "If you'd transfer your grip to my other wrist, now, I might help you sit up again?"
"Certainly. I'd never--" and Kikoman-sama paused for a second to take a gasp of clearer air, "--turn down a handsome man's arm," she finished, eyes twinkling in a wrinkled face that still showed traces of the strong beauty that had graced her younger self. Her thin hand, nails painted delicately, left Kid's wrist... but instead of gripping the opposite arm, her hand came down to grip his own.
There was something in her palm-- something small and shining, something smooth and glinting all the colors of honey. When she slid her hand away and back up against the thief's elbow for stability, the something was no longer there.
"Take it," she murmured beneath her breath as she steadied her slight weight against his arm.
Kid's gloved hand closed smoothly over the Amber Wing, simple slight of hand disappearing it into his sleeve with hardly a conscious thought. A slight frown of concern crossed his face, turned toward Kikoman-sama, as he helped her rise. But she blithely ignored it, and that glance was all he could spare before she was stably seated upright on the edge of the bed, ankles crossed in a misleadingly prim manner, and Kid turned to face the Mouri girl again.
"I hope I have assuaged your concerns of my...bullyhood," Kid addressed her, smiling slightly through the shadows and reflected light that played across his face as he walked toward the window once again. "I believe this evening's jaunt has been a successful one, and I truly do not want to test your mettle against mine. I don't like entering contests I might not win. So, for now--"
He lifted the window sash, smiling as the evening's cool breeze came in the window. Kikoman-sama's assistant and nephew would perk up quickly with this influx of fresh air, he was sure, so it was time for the Kaitou Kid to be on his way.
It was at this point that several things occurred simultaneously:
One-- Mouri Ran's hand, which had been reaching slowly for the knob to the maidservant's room, clutched at said knob unconsciously and turned it.
Two-- Conan, who had just reached towards the selfsame door with every intent of shoving it open, came through at what could only be called a stagger. In one hand he brandished an oversized blowdrier, the cord trailing behind him.
Three-- From the bed, Kikoman Sou (who had apparently not been sleeping at all, oddly enough) suddenly leaped to his feet, snatched the jewelry box from his great-aunt's lap, bellowed "I'LL SAVE IT!" and darted towards the door behind Conan. Or tried to...
During his stint as a somewhat shrunken detective, Edogawa Conan had been labeled a nuisance, a pain in the nether regions, a know-it-all and a few other less polite terms; now he proved his worth as an obstacle, stumbling just as Kikoman-san hit him in full run. The man went down with a yelp; the blowdrier followed after, smacking him squarely on the head as it swung from the boy's hand on its cord, and the two ended up in a pile on the floor.
Kid looked from the pile of detective and well-meaning nephew, to Mouri Ran, who was staring in somewhat stunned horror, and did his best to hide his disgust. Well, bemused disgust. Still - this was Edogawa's best plan? A blowdrier? Oi.
Kid saluted Ran and threw himself head and shoulders out the window. If anyone looked after him, they wouldn't even see his glider floating away - nothing but an empty, quiet night sky above the darkened Kikoman estate grounds.
A little later, after Conan had been scolded ('But Ran-neechan, I got lost! Really!') and the groaning Kikoman Sou had had his bruises cared for ('.....aaagh.....') and a surprisingly light-hearted Kikoman-sama had been ensconced in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea ('Be a love and pour a little brandy in that, would you, Noyen? --a little more; there. Now, what did you say your name was, dear? Takagi, was it?'), a lone figure slipped into one of the quieter hallways and into a disused room.
A cellphone flipped open; by the dim blue light of its screen, nimble fingers flicked a control into a familiar configuration, and a number was tapped out. Somewhere in the house another phone beeped.
"Moushi moushi... One sec, Takagi-tantei, I have to take care of this... Is that you, Kudo-san?"
Conan-- Shinichi-- smiled to himself and spoke into his voice modulator. "Of course. Did the plan work, Kikoman-sama?"
The old woman's voice was merry. "Like a charm, darling. The copy of the Wing went into the jewelry box, my disgustingly corrupt nephew tried to run off with it just as you said he would, and--" She paused, tone darkening; "--I'll have a few words to say to that little bastard when he stops whining to the police about how he did his best to save it. I always said his mother threw one over on my son; the brat looks just like the gardener I fired when he was a baby." She snorted. Kikoman-sama might have had common roots, but at least they'd been honest ones. "He would've hidden it and claimed that handsome thief'd taken it from him, wouldn't he?"
"I'm afraid so," said Shinichi calmly, fighting back a snort of his own at the 'handsome thief' comment. "It's a pity he didn't try for it a few seconds earlier; if he had, you wouldn't've had to pass it over to Kid."
There was a soft laugh on the other end of the line; quite a girlish one, with a strong hint of mischief. "Well now, darling; if I hadn't done that, I wouldn't get to see him bring it back to me, now would I?" She was smiling; you could practically hear it. "And he always returns what he steals, after all, doesn't he?"
"Yes," said Kudo Shinichi; that was certain at least. "He does."
The Kaitou Kid might be a thief; but he was, in this one and certain thing, absolutely honest. No one, not even the Detective of the East, had a clue why he stole jewels and returned them; but he did-- safe and sound, unmarred and exactly as they had been the day they were stolen.
It was, considered Kudo Shinichi, a very strange world when your most dependable way of keeping a valuable thing safe was to make certain that it got stolen by the best thief in the business.
It wasn't easy to pick a disguise in a climate like Kikoman's mansion tonight; every head counted, every badge carefully checked, what precious few of them there were. Kid eventually resorted to duplicating one of Takagi's supporting detectives, stuffing the man himself in a closet on the second floor. It was more risky than being a face in the crowd, as in this identity he could be found out relatively easily through forced conversation, but the whole evening wasn't sitting right to him, and he had determined not to leave the mansion until he'd figured out why.
He was now wishing he had. Though he could only hear Kikoman-sama's half of the conversation, that was still plenty; he could easily fill in the missing pieces. And the rage that he felt bubbling up to his surface quickly had him finding an excuse to leave the room and drop his disguise. Poker Face or no, Kid was pretty sure that at this rate, his anger would soon be palpable enough that even the half-rate Mouri would notice something 'off' with Detective-- Detective--
Kid looked at his badge as he laid the uniform next to its original owner. Ishida. Detective Ishida. He had to get clear of the scene. He was off his game and his guard was flagging, a dangerous situation in any cirucmstance. Even more so when his judgement was so clouded by anger.
As Kid made his way away from the mansion in civilian garb and on foot, the Amber Wing clutched tightly in one palm, his mind kept circling back to the same concept, over and over, and the further he walked, the deeper into icy, immovable fury he descended.
Cat's-paw. Cat's-paw. Edogawa - Kudo - used me as a cat's-paw.
He was already composing his next note.
It was, thought Kudo Shinichi behind Edogawa Conan's eyes during the trip home as he (supposedly) dozed in the back of Mouri's rental, a bit of a pity that the Phantom Thief hadn't stuck around a little longer. If he had...
...if he had, he might have heard a certain Detective of the East admitting to his client (whose number he had gotten hold of after she had called Mouri) that the most hazardous moment of the night had been when she had slipped the Amber Wing to Kid. If the thief had rejected it as a possible trap, then the fragile gem might have been damaged. There were only three certified pieces of amber with actual prehistoric feathers in them; the Wing was not only a choice piece of art, it was a priceless scientific treasure.
...if he had, he might also have overheard the slight qualm in said Detective's voice as he asked Kikoman-sama: What would she do if this gem, this particular gem, was the one that 1412 was so obviously searching for? What if the thief didn't return it?
...and if he had, he might have caught Kudo's client's response as well. "Sweetheart, if I had a choice between seeing that lump of fossilized pinesap vanish forever or seeing it sold for a pittance to cover Sou's gambling debts and bordello tabs, I'd tuck the damn thing into that thief's knickers myself. You don't worry about that."
But-- well. If wishes were horses and so forth, thought Shinichi a little morosely; he closed his eyes, head pillowed against the car's armrest. If wishes were horses...
His thoughts blurred; and as sleep began to steal away his consciousness like the thief it was, he wondered just how much he'd pissed off Kid this time.
He supposed he'd find out, sooner or later.
Conan didn't hear from Kid for a week after the Amber Wing heist. Nobody did, actually, and there was no laughing newspaper ad printed to declare one side or another the victor in the mysterious, anonymous challenge. The media didn't know what to make of it; Nakamori claimed Kid was sulking, though his only proof seemed to be that he wanted Kid to be sulking.
When the note finally came, it came privately, to Conan at the Kudo mansion, addressed to Shinichi. There was no postmark or stamp on it to reveal the date it was delivered. It was very terse.
"These detectives always fail by their strength. There came a crash and a scream...and the priest of Apollo did not start or look around. I did not know what it was. But I knew that he was expecting it."
I am disappointed in you, Tantei-kun.
The caricature face that always accompanied Kid's signature was there, but instead of a toothy grin it wore a deep frown.
Standing just inside the Kudo mansion's foyer, Conan-- Shinichi-- gritted his teeth. Yeah, fine, FINE already, I get the picture. It wasn't like he hadn't expected censure from the Phantom Thief, but...
The thing was this: Conan, like all children, was a manipulator. It was how kids survived, mostly-- they changed their environments by being cute or intelligent or quick or stubborn or by wearing down the adults that cared for them. Add one transformed almost-adult to this mix, and you had an additional tool: logic. And Shinichi/Conan had gotten rather good at manipulation. He'd had to.
So when the plan to keep the gem safe from an inept, clumsy, stupid thief (one who'd made several unsuccessful attempts already and nearly smashed the priceless thing in doing so) required that Edogawa Conan fail and the Kaitou Kid succeed, Kudo Shinichi was willing to let this happen. Kikoman-sama hadn't been willing to turn over her nephew to the police; and rather than see him go to the extremes of injuring her or worse, she'd agreed to go along with the famous Kudo Shinichi's plan.
...which had, in its success, included his alter-ego's failure.
The note crumpled in his small fingers, and Conan rubbed the crease between his eyes; he was getting a headache. How did Kid DO these things to him? He'd pay for this one.
But Kid failed by his strength, too; he did what I wanted him to do, exactly what I wanted him to do, because he was what he was: damn good at his job.
Carefully folding the note and slipping it back into its envelope, the detective rubbed his forehead again and stepped outside into the late afternoon sunlight, locking the door behind him.
Kaitou Kid pulled five heists in the span of six nights in the middle of the month following the Kikoman heist. The last of these was announced first, a full calendar week before the Saturday when it was to occur. With sufficient warning, Nakamori set enough paperwork in motion to cover a thorough and excessive mobilization of resources in opposition to the Phantom Thief.
The following Monday, payment for a full page of black and white ad space arrived at the headquarters of all the papers which printed weekday evening editions. Each of them ran the requested ad, a heist announcement for that night, with no mention of the anticipated Saturday heist. The Task Force, which had been making its preparations on a rather longer timeline than three hours, was caught with its pants down, and only a third of its resources were levied against the Kid that evening. His target was a bank which displayed one diamond as the punctuation in each instance of its logo, displayed on many of the bank's interior and exterior walls. Though not jewelry-quality, the gems were still of significant carat, and Kid's glider rode low in the sky as he coasted home with six of them weighting his pockets.
Tuesday night, the next heist announcement was made by radio during the afternoon lunch hour. Some of the city's bolder employees and students, Suzuki Sonoko among them, simply didn't return to class and work for the afternoon. A queue of excited fans gathered outside the targeted department store hours before the intended heist, hobbling the law enforcement and Task Force members who attempted to set up barricades and police lines. In the end, they needn't've bothered; Kid revealed himself in disguise as the store's manager at the height of the heist, then dove head-first off the top floor of the building with the opal face of the store's decorative grandfather clock in his hands, cackling madly. The glider opened at the fifteenth floor and he zoomed away over the heads of the gathered crowd, eyes fixed forward, ignoring the screaming, swooning fans below him.
Wednesday night, the heist note came to Nakamori's desk as an inter-office memo, but Kid had done such a good job of making it look like any other memo that Nakamori didn't realize what it actually was until hours after it had been delivered, sandwiched inbetween junk mail and drafts of late press releases about the prior night's heist. It took the decoding team two tries to be sure that they'd gotten the message right, and by that time it was too late to do anything but send a troop of cruisers over to the electrical power plant on the edge of the city to disperse the press that had gathered there. Of all things, Kid had - largely without witnesses - made off with a small plate of palladium that functioned in the operation of one of the big generators, and in taking it had shorted out one-sixth of the city's residential power. The city tried to pin the cost of replacement on Nakamori's team; he spent the entirety of Thursday informing them that the full moon was in one night and that they could damn well ration the power to make up the difference for that time until the plate was returned.
Thursday night, the heist (politely advertised in chalk on every blackboard in the third years' first-period classrooms) took place at Teitan High itself, where Kid relieved the principal's office of its brass plaque studded with tiny ruby chips, one to commemorate each year that the teaching staff had received "Excellence in Education" awards from the district. Nobody, not even Nakamori, could make sense of this theft, the value of which was dismissable even in comparison to the other strange thefts of the week. Teitan students decided among themselves that Kid was showing favoritism to his beloved fans, and a rivalry festered quickly between students of other schools and a faction of elitist Teitan members who publicized the heist's significance with great emphasis on their own loyalty to Kid's "cause."
Friday night, the full moon, there was no heist.
And on the night of the full moon, Edogawa Conan sat at the top of the stairs that led to the Mouri Detective Agency, elbows on knees, thinking hard about patterns.
Diamonds, opal, palladium, rubies. Words, time, power, rewards. A bank, a store, a power-plant, a school. Conan's eyebrows drew down, a line forming between them as he considered. Kid could be sending a message, he could be trying to taunt me-- that last thing with Teitan, dammit-- or he could just be working overtime. What the hell? His best bet was on the second set of symbols, if the thief was actually trying to spell something out...
...and not just trying to drive me insane, thought Conan with a wince.
Overhead, the full moon rode high in the clouds; behind him he could hear the television playing some late-night drama full of muted explosions. It was well after Edogawa Conan's bedtime, which was why Kudo Shinichi'd snuck out with little trouble; Ran had gone to bed and Mouri was snoring in front of the tv screen, his last beer sitting half-full on the table in front of him.
Words. Time. Power. Rewards. The faux gradeschooler ran one hand through his hair irritably, making it stand on end; what was he supposed to read out of that?
"You're thinking too hard," came a whisper from some distance behind him - far enough to be at the doorway of the agency, or perhaps a bit further into the hallway. "Or else you'd have gotten it already. I tried to make it crystal clear enough for even you."
Conan stiffened; as much as he hated reacting so visibly, this was his territory, and-- He forced his shoulders to relax. "Fine," he said as civilly as possible, refusing to turn around. "So you're a master of the obvious. Just what did I miss?"
The silence that followed Conan's question was just long enough for a scathingly unimpressed glare. Crouching in the open doorway with Mouri, moonlight, and ambient light and noise from the television turned low behind him, Kid pulled out his card gun and cocked it, using its sound to dissuade any bright ideas from lingering in Conan's mind.
"How would I know what you've missed, my dear detective, if you haven't told me what you haven't missed yet?" he asked, tone emphasizing the simplicity of that particular oversight.
The sound of the card-gun being cocked wasn't a welcome one, to say the least. "There's the jewels; no pattern," said Conan calmly, keeping still. "Ditto for the locations. And there's the symbolism-- words, time, power and rewards. Well?"
"Wrong on two counts. Though I suppose the fourth one is a bit obscure if you don't have the mental syntax in place. Here's a freebie: The rubies were for learning."
Back still turned, Conan-- Shinichi-- hiked one shoulder up into a shrug. "Words... emphasis? Time and power and learning..." he trailed off, thinking hard. "Sending me off to college, Kid?" The boy laughed a little. "I don't think I'll fit in."
There was the sound of fabric, the tap and slide of Kid's heels on the floor as he sat down behind Conan, one leg extended out in front of him, the other gathered beneath him. Conan could probably see the toe of one shoe from the corner of his eye. Kid sighed, and uncocked the gun. "Either I'm slipping, or you are, or neither of us were great to start with." He sounded not like himself. Very tired, but bitterness laced his words like a steady flashlight beam through latticework. "Where did you get words from, anyway? Diamonds at a bank, Kudo. Money."
Shinichi muttered something beneath his breath that was probably better left unheard. "Punctuation, words. I am off my game." Oddly enough, Kid's proximity was far less threatening than the distance of a moment before, card-gun or not. Perhaps it was the fact that they were both (more or less) on the same level now. The boy gave a mental shrug, thinking about what the other had just said.
"Money, time, power, learning." Conan leaned against the staircase wall, still resolutely not trying to look behind him. "I was being too literal." He rubbed at his eyes and winced. "...I'm tired." Wait, he hadn't meant to say that last, but since he had-- "And so are you. Or you sound that way, anyway. Why? Why four heists in a week?"
"Five," Kid reminded him, "Tomorrow. If Nakamori-keibu isn't ready for it, after I gave him a whole uninterrupted week to prepare..." A little of the mischief was back in his voice as he teased, moving on too quickly for Conan - Shinichi - to take verbal issue with it.
"It's your fault, you know," he said then, numbly shocked at himself for confiding so much even as he said it. It struck him again how much attention he'd given, the past week, toward not interacting with Kudo as much as possible. It had been exhausting, in its own way. "The riddle is for you, the heists are because of you, and tomorrow's heist is--" He paused, then put on a girlish tone as he gathered his feet beneath him, preparing to depart. "All for you~, Tantei-kun."
The movement as much as anything made Shinichi finally turn around. "Wait--" he said, and swallowed his pride before it had a chance to choke the words in his throat. "Kid? I-- want to apologize." He kept his voice level, hating the boyish tenor that squeaked slightly when it shouldn't have. "For what I did in the other heist. I had a limited range of choices, and-- I won't apologize for the results, but I will for the means."
There, he'd done it. He'd hated it, but he'd said it.
Conan stood taller than Kid himself did now, with the thief perching crouched on his toes, gloved fingertips holding himself in gentle balance against the hard floor. The cape hung in curls around him, making him look bigger than he was, an effect not dissimilar to the mantled posture of birds' half-open wings just before an attack. The backlight from the window cast him in hard shadow and brightly lit Conan's face, twisted like he'd swallowed a lemon, but willingly. Kid relied on shadows alone while the reflection of light off glass played off of Conan's lenses instead.
A long still moment passed between them, Kid using every advantage of position and lighting to scrutinize the detective's face and let him squirm in wait for the thief's answer. Finally he shifted, moving one arm to tuck his card gun away in its shoulder holster. The line of his mouth shifted, a hair less firm, but no more encouraging. He spoke very carefully.
"In case you have missed your mistake yet again, Tantei-san, I will elucidate it for you. It is not that you successfully manipulated me that galls so harshly. It is that the notion to do so ever occurred to you. There is no partnership between us, no comraderie."
He stood, pulling one half of the cape across his chest to cover his suit and his form, and looked down at Shinichi's diminutive new body with no strong emotion of any sort. Half a dozen thoughts passed through his mind, and he discarded each one, seeking the proper wording for the thorny conflict he still held unexposed. To Conan's credit, he maintained silence for the couple breaths that it took for Kid to gather his words.
"But perhaps I fooled myself into believing that there could yet be an understanding in that space between us, instead. I expect your best, every night that my heists summon you. You expect the same of me, I suppose. And yet - there is nothing of that understanding in manipulating your supposed equal into a contrived victory, a tin puppet on strings, while you swan about with small appliances and play the fool -- even to me."
A sharp, shallow intake of breath followed the last phrase - an admission far beyond what Kid had intended. Yet again, his guard was in tatters. He was leaving, now.
"You're... right in that. It wasn't a victory for me either." What else could he say? He'd saved the Amber Wing from being sold or destroyed by Kikoman-sama's idiot nephew, but the accomplishment had been ashes in his mouth.
"Goddammit, I'm sorry," he growled, looking away.
With his back to Conan, framed in the doorway, Kid halted yet again and, despite every alarm in his head telling him not to, turned to face his -- his conversational partner, he decided. With things as they were, nothing else fit. "But the Amber Wing's safe," Kid offered, an olive branch to recognize the vulnerability Shinichi was showing in his apology. "And you didn't set up a trap to catch me, either." He took a step forward, toward Shinichi, and paused.
"Take off your watch," Kid murmured.
Shinichi blinked. 'Take off his--' What? He turned back, and his breath caught the way words had not a few minutes before.
The thief still held his card-gun; but now it dangled loosely from his hand, one finger curved to allow it to hang beside his knee as it was slowly lowered to the concrete. As slowly, understanding the gesture but not really allowing himself to think about it too hard, Shinichi slid a finger beneath his watchband and undid the catch. It slid, a slither of silver, to drop gently onto the steps below.
And then he waited. What else could he do?
Kid breathed out, something in his shoulders unwinding subtly, and smiled broadly at the other. "There, that's better," he said, much more cheerily than before. "Do you think that's unreasonable of me, Kudo?" Kid asked, picking up an earlier thread of conversation as though there had been no interruption. "Thinking of us as equals, I mean."
Shinichi breathed out as well, unconsciously following suit. "Only if you don't make any height jokes," he answered wryly. "God knows you give me more trouble than most of the murderers I've met. And at least," he added with what was almost an attempt at humor, "there're no corpses around afterwards."
Kid smiled at that, dropping back into a crouch, but following that to sitting position, one leg folded under, one folded out as before. With a negligent wave of his hand, he affected a different voice, mimicking Hakuba Saguru. "Bloody hard to clean up after, that lot," he deadpanned, a little more strongly than before. "Can't even teach them to leave the dishes in the sink."
Even as Kid chuckled at his own joke, massive red klaxons were going off in the back of his head, flashing warning and paranoia and alertness. But like a rat in a trap, Kid stood his ground squarely, bearing the electrical zap because the cheese, he'd discovered, was just so damn good. This will not end well.
The boy raised an eyebrow at the sudden Anglicization of 1412, slightly startled and more than a little amused. The conversation was getting distinctly weirder and weirder with every passing second. "No, but they're pretty good at hiding the evidence," he answered. "Just not good enough."
Kid opened his mouth to answer, froze, and grabbed his card gun. Without even a glance over his shoulder, he threw himself silently and swiftly down the short hallway, moving as far from the open office door as possible, then pressed himself against the near wall and completely froze.
Even as Kid's cape fell still, swinging to a stop around his shins, Mouri Kogoro appeared in the doorway of his office, blearily rubbing sleep from his eyes, alcohol and stale-smelling chips on his breath. "C'nan? What're you doin' up this hour?"
Conan-- did a kind of full-body stutter. "Uh..." It would occur to him later that he could have done any of a dozen things just then: pointed and yelled, grabbed his watch, even taken off in a dead run down the stairs in a manner sure to make Mouri raise the alarm. Instead, for reasons that seemed perfectly good and logical at the time, he simply goggled at the groggy detective for a second or two before replying "...I heard a noise?"
...and docily headed up the stairs and in through the door, pulling it closed behind him.
Leaving his watch where it lay.
Kogoro watched Conan go, blinking after the boy; then he turned back to his office door, rubbing at his hair as he shuffled back inside.
Two steps inside the office, he paused, belatedly putting significance to the sleepy signals from his peripheral vision. He ducked head and shoulders back into the hallway, looking down the length of it to its darkened end.
Empty walls and bare floor stood dark and still.
Confused - hadn't there been a light on at that end of the hall? Something bright? - Kogoro dismissed his mistake as an oversight and laid down on his office couch, lulling himself to sleep with the sound from a VHS of Yoko-chan's Kansai performance from two summers ago, the good one where she chatted with the audience in between songs.
Nakamori wasn't sure if he was relieved or frustrated that the day had finally come. He hadn't slept well the night prior at all, jerking awake every half hour from nightmare visions of heist notes fluttering down around his shoulders like snow while Kid, in his pure white suit and, strangely, equally white tie and white shirt, did loops above the heads of all the Task Force members. At Nakamori's side, Conan held a remote-controlled handset, like those used to drive small R/C cars, turning the dials with focus.
The inspector looked again at the heist note. It had been scanned and enlarged to one hundred times its normal size, but not even such close scrutiny as that could reveal any hidden characters or codes in the lines of ink that formed its simple message. No embossed, heat-sensitive, invisible ink, or woven message was integrated into the paper. There was, to the best of the Task Force's resources to deduce, absolutely nothing fishy about the note, except for every aspect of the note itself. It was too short, too direct, and for crying out loud--
Let's have a Saturday picnic: Beika Park, noon.
--it set a date for the daytime! Nakamori let his head drop to his hands again, tipping forward in his office chair to rest his aching head. It was eleven-thirty: whatever Kid had planned, it would happen soon.
Surprisingly, the thought was comforting.
Thank you for reading. Please let us know what you think, and get ready for the next chapter, one week from today.
--Ysabet and Nightengale