Warnings, disclaimers, if you know it then it doesn't belong to me.
To Steer the Stars
Kaitou Kid held a life in his hands.
"Give me your hand!" Drop the damn earrings, he added, watching blood-red smoke curl out from between the man's blackened fingers, the malevolent glitter of opals in cold moonlight. "Please-"
The jester's headdress tipped upwards, exposing a face that was all teeth and snake eyes behind a handlebar moustache-
Kid jerked, ripping free, and the bastard fell, laughing, into a sea of red hellfire and it was glorious to watch that bastard Snake finally -DIE-
Kaito jerked awake with the echoes of relief squeezing his heart, ice running through his veins and the coppery taste of bile in his mouth.
He wasn't going to be like that. Like them. He was Kuroba Kaito, dammit, and he did not like to see people die.
Rolling out of bed, he peeled the sheets off his crawling skin, and nearly threw them back onto the mattress. He'd deal with them later, strip the bed and put fresh linens on, maybe manage a couple more hours of sleep.
After he got a shower. Ugh. He loved being Kid, he really did, but he could do without the mental wake-up calls in the dead of night. Grabbing a towel, Kaito headed out to wash up.
The clock blinked over to 3:33 am.
Later that morning, Kaito's breath puffed out white on the January air as he chattered away in classroom English, making Hakuba wince. Aoko had her brow furrowed in concentration, sounding out the strangely crushed syllables-
Don't think crushed, Kaito instantly thought, tapping his foot a bit harder against the sidewalk on this bouncing, backwards step. After all, Kuroba Kaito's never had a man's life slip through his fingers, right? Right.
"Try again," Hakuba was telling Aoko, with just the faintest hint of sainted patience hiding deep in his voice. "And if you mimic my voice one more time, Kuroba-kun..."
Kaito grinned, whined theatrically. "Well I can't copy Aoko-chan's! She doesn't speak Engl-awp!"
His feet shot out from under him. The sky went one way; the ground went the other, and Kaito's hands caught on something warm-and-firm and something that crunched under his hand and yanked free.
A heartbeat. Two. Then, from somewhere very close to his ear, Aoko giggled. "Oh Kaito," she snickered, her arm flexing in his grip as she tugged him fully upright and back a couple steps. "You and ice..."
Kaito blinked down. A narrow patch of ice lay across the sidewalk, nearly invisible in the shadow of some mailboxes. He'd bounced right onto it, and, of course, with his complete inability to skate... well. Stupid ice. At least he'd caught himself before renewing his acquaintance with the sidewalk.
Speaking of which, he'd gotten Aoko's arm in one hand. What the heck had gone crunch-jerk in his other-?
He looked at his other side, meeting Hakuba's wild eyes and slightly reddened face, before his gaze dropped to... oh. OH. He'd torn the front of Hakuba's school uniform, buttons popping loose and black cloth bunched in Kaito's grip.
... Except that there was something lumpy about the wad of fabric, a leather string caught between his fingers, and Kaito opened his hand to find a small woolen bag cupped forlornly in his palm.
What the heck...? It wasn't an omamori, couldn't have been even if Hakuba did buy into that stuff. Omamori were made of silks or synthetics, printed with kanji and tailored to look like teabags. This was a rough, plain little drawstring sack, filled with hard lumps and smelling faintly of something musty and spicy.
Odd. He'd always thought that faint scent was some sort of cologne.
Deft fingers plucked the bag from Kaito's hand. "Do you mind?" Hakuba asked acidly.
Kaito didn't get the chance to answer. A little girl rocketed from around the corner behind them, tea-blonde pigtails streaming behind her from under a kindergarten cap, and skidded to a halt barely in time to keep from crashing into Hakuba's legs. She sucked in a couple hard breaths, panting, then drew herself up with a snarl twisting her pretty little face.
"Ye been hiding, Hakuba Saguru," she accused.
Hakuba blinked once. Twice. Then his face went absolutely blank. "This is not the best time-"
No kidding. Kaito had seen one too many grade schoolers with eyes too old for their years, and that combined with 'hiding'... well. The things I do for people, he thought, stepping between the girl and Hakuba with his best clueless grin plastered across his face. "Girl doesn't watch the news much, does she?" he chirped.
Wide eyes stared up at him, momentarily disarmed, but behind him Hakuba groaned, "Not now, Kuroba-kun-"
"He's on all the Kaitou Kid heists," Kaito added, drowning out whatever else Hakuba might've wanted to add. Good lord, couldn't the guy take a hint and beat it when Kaito gave him the opportunity?
"Kuroba-kun." And that was a tone that could've quelled anyone but the irrepressible Kid. Kaito snapped his mouth shut, turning a quizzical glance on Hakuba... who went and tugged Kaito out of the way, the idiot. "Please, stay out of-"
Below them, the girl sucked in a sharp breath. Then, in a move that had Kaito almost dropping smoke bombs, she leapt up and snatched Hakuba's hand right off Kaito's arm. "-this?" Hakuba blinked down at the girl, oblivious to the cold fury storming across her face. "What is it?"
"Ye-" the girl hissed, voice strangling in her throat. "This- is this why?"
"Is what why?" Hakuba asked. Then he promptly shook his head, dismissing any answer. "No. I was," and his eyes flicked towards Kaito in exasperation, "attempting not to disturb the locals."
The girl's mouth worked soundlessly, expressions - too many for a normal child, far too many - flickering across her face too quickly to identify, then settled on a wide-eyed, perfect 'oh' of dawning realization. "Good lord, ye're blind," she said weakly. That got Hakuba jerking with all the offended dignity of a cat, before the girl rallied, shoving his empty, unmarked hand up at his face. "Look at yerself!" she hissed.
Hakuba looked. Kaito looked. Behind him, Kaito could feel Aoko craning to see, and knew that if he turned she'd have nothing but blank bewilderment on her face, without even the understanding that there was more than something a little wrong about the child.
Then Kid felt the prickle at the back of his neck, the sense of attention on him, fade completely away... and Hakuba's face changed, eyes intent and, for once, focused entirely away from Kid.
"That's not possible," he said flatly.
"And that's putting the lie in yer mouth, now isn't it," the girl snapped.
Blue eyes flicked sharply towards her. "Lie?" Hakuba's voice was cool, making the girl blanch and look away with an apologetic mutter.
That, more than anything else, made the hair on Kaito's neck stand on end once more. Somehow, he'd missed a signal, and the power dynamics had flipped.
Another moment while Hakuba stared the little girl down, then the blond rocked back with an air of settling ruffled feathers. He calmly began rebuttoning his shirt, smoothing the fabric with the ease of habit. "If you will excuse me," he murmured, tossing Kaito and Aoko a perfunctory glance, an absent nod instead of a bow.
"Hakuba-san?" Aoko asked.
"I'm afraid something's come up." His fingers grasped for a nonexistent tie, then Hakuba let his hand fall and turned briskly away. "Please make my excuses to the teacher," he tossed over his shoulder. It wasn't a request.
The girl paused just long enough to shoot a dire glare up at Kaito, then rushed off in pursuit of the detective. Kaito followed her with his eyes, feeling them go narrow and cool.
When both detective and child were safely out of earshot, vanishing around the curve of the road, Aoko leaned in close. "... Kaito-kun?" she asked. "What was that all about, do you think?"
"I have no idea. But," and Kid came to the fore, "I'm going to find out."
No one messed with his detective.
Kid tracked Hakuba far too easily, leaping from rooftop to rooftop over tiny, winter-bare gardens and darting across empty suburban streets. The pair weren't heading for Hakuba's house, certainly not towards the local kindergarten either. Maybe the child's house...?
The girl veered off, darting into a narrow space between two garden walls, Hakuba following. Where were they going...?
Ah. Tucked into the small alley was a torii gate, the red paint faded and the top of the gate itself half-hidden by untrimmed pines. Kanji printed on a small banner next to the gate proclaimed there to be a Hachiman shrine inside.
That was useful. Kid shifted, one of his doves bobbing up onto his shoulder with a warbled coo, and he clipped a tiny radio band into its leg and let it go. Hachiman's messenger was the dove; one more pecking around the little shrine wouldn't be noticed.
That done, Kid lay between protruding roof beams of the shrine's tiny main hall, pulled out a pair of cheap binoculars, and fixed the audio reciever in his ear. From here, he could just see Hakuba with his sleeves rolled up, washing his hands at the fountain for visitors, the little girl perched on the lip of the basin next to him. Brr. That had to be cold.
A few more contented warbles, then the sound of feathers settled and went still.
I feel, Hakuba's voice was dry in his ear, as though I should be quoting the Scottish play. A few more vehement splashes illustrated his words, hands then held up for perusal.
Don't ye be joking about this. The girl leaned in. Canna ye get a grip?
If only. Hakuba rubbed his right hand over his left, curling over and squeezing at the fingers, flicking droplets off them all at once then repeating the motion. Then he held his left hand out to the girl. Would you care to try? You may have better luck than I have thus far.
Kid watched her shove Hakuba's hand back into the water, her small body jerking as if she was trying to use her full weight to scrub at his hand. It would've been cute, how the child took so seriously to the task, had Kid any idea what was going on.
Slippery - little - bastard - be ye getting back here! A few high-pitched words that Kid didn't know followed, though from the tone he could bet that they rivaled Nakamori-keibu's most explicit. An dinnae be laughing at me!
My deepest apologies, Ainsel. I was not laughing at you. Except that Kid could picture the light in Hakuba's eyes, the wry little twist to his mouth that too many people read as arrogance rather than amusement. It's merely that he does bring out that reaction. In everyone, it would seem.
The hair on Kid's neck rose up. There were very, very few people that Hakuba could be referring to; Kid knew of only one. Himself.
That does nae excuse it, Ainsel griped.
Hakuba slid his hands out of the water, drying them on his handkerchief. Well, this didn't work. Thank you for allowing the attempt, he added, tipping his head past the fountain. I believe you had some other ideas...?
A fair number... if ye have four-thieves?
Kid blinked. Four what?
Hakuba seemed to echo the sentiment. Four- no, why on earth would I?
A considering hum. What else do they... ah. Pepper powders, then?
A few varieties, why-? Wait. No. Absolutely not. The last thing he needs is help getting away!
That opened up an icy pit in Kid's stomach. The last time he'd had 'help' escaping... best not to think about it.
Well iffn ye canna wash yer hands of him-!
This is merely a first attempt. There are other possibilites to keep in mind.
Like the possibility that yer judgement is nae good?
Ainsel. The quelling frown shone through in his voice. A long pause, Hakuba staring into the child's sullen face, then he added, You shouldn't have done that. We'll need to fix it first, in fact. At least I should have the necessities, though how I'm going to get him to carry proper precautions... He helped Ainsel down from the fountain edge, automatically brushing dirt from her smock.
The girl paused, looking back up over her shoulder at him, and he let his hands fall away.
It seemed to be enough to make her look down and away. Saguru? I... may be a fair bit sorry.
It's hardly surprising, Hakuba replied, all things considered. Let's just dispell it before he has a tragic mop-related incident. Then we can get to fixing this situation.
What little Kid could see of Ainsel's face seemed to scream 'mop?', but the child let the matter go, turning to dart off towards the shrine entrance and the street beyond.
Hakuba shook his head, giving one last, frowning glance at his left hand. At least it's not red, he muttered, before following Ainsel back out onto the street.
Well. That had made absolutely zero sense, Kid thought, as he carefully stood back up. A couple chirps brought the dove back to him, warbling a contented little coo as it pecked a few seeds out of his hand. A gentle tap coaxed it back into the concealed pocket of Kid's school jacket.
Then Kid eyed the distance to the heavy pine branch hiding the gate, and he backed up a few steps before bursting into a sprint and leaping for the tree. Pine branches swayed under Kid's feet, springboarding him just hard enough that he managed to land lightly on the laundry balcony of a house across from the temple gates. Another jump, muscles burning, got him to the rooftop, where he spotted blond hair already down past the curve of the road and receding fast.
The rooftops were close enough that he could leap from one to the next, heading down the hill. His stomach twisted with nerves at every jump, each short moment in which he was silhouetted against the sky should Hakuba glance back... but the blond was focused on little Ainsel.
Except, as Kid caught himself near the top of a telephone pole, Hakuba wasn't focused solely on the kid. In the split second he'd lost sight of Hakuba, the blond had knelt at the edge of a bridge. An old man stood on the bank below, heavy arms folded at Hakuba's feet, head tilted skeptically as Hakuba spoke to him.
... Okay. Chalk it up to paranoia, but there'd been so much weirdness already, Kid just couldn't ignore this. Hakuba tended to hold himself apart. Or to be held away by others, Kid wasn't sure, but overall Hakuba just did not talk to passersby on the street.
What on earth was going on?
Hakuba handed something to the old man - Kid caught a glimpse of polished metal - and crossed, Ainsel trotting alongside.
Kid tugged the handle of his school satchel loose, rope hissing out of the hidden leather pocket, and caught a long loop in one hand. In the other, he swung the satchel gently, allowing it to gain momentum as it inscribed a circle in the air, spinning faster and faster. Then, in a well-practiced move, he let go, hurling the satchel across the canal. It wrapped around a maintenence ladder attached to the roof of a low-rise building on the other side, the thump more felt in his hands than heard. Still, he paused for a long moment, watching to see if anyone had heard. No movement, not even from the old guy who'd gone back under the bridge.
He didn't know why, but Kid did not like the vibe off that guy. So he swung across the canal, knowing he could catch up to Hakuba with only a little work: tea-blonde men of Hakuba's height weren'tcommon in Japan.
Sure enough, Kid caught up to Hakuba within the block, spotting a lone, dun-colored blot in the midst of a cluster of tiny women in colorful kimono in front of an empty playground. The ladies seemed to be smiling and giggling, slender hands tugging at Hakuba's hair and patting his broad shoulders.
Then Hakuba laughed, and Kid nearly fell off the building. Hakuba did not laugh like that. Not open and warm and... and very nearly charming, like a guy who wasn't too cool to want to impress family friends. Not the kind of laugh that didn't really belong in public, not in Japan.
Not the kind of laugh that caught the attention of collared punk kids hanging out in front of the stores, kids with bristly hair bleached in large blocky patches, strung in twos and threes along the block. Kid tensed as the punks - why had he never seen them before? Were they new to Ekoda? - began trickling over to the clustered women and Hakuba, sauntering and smug.
Then the foremost pair raised their arms, calling out in welcoming tones, and the kimono-clad women fell back, allowing Hakuba the space to give the tallest punk a bow straight out of a 17th-century European court. The guy answered the bow in kind, then the gang merged seamlessly in with the ladies like it was some sort of house party, right there on the sidewalk.
What. The. Hell.
"Niisan? Are you lost?"
Kid flailed and grabbed at the railing with both hands in lieu of his smoke bombs, barely stifling a yelp. A quick turn, Poker Face on, and he spotted the source of his surprise: a little boy, no more than four, in a rumpled set of pajamas despite the late morning hour.
"No," Kid replied. "Not lost." Not physically, anyway.
The boy yawned, trotting over to the railing next to Kid and pressing his small face between the bars. "Didn't think so," he said, gaze fixed on Hakuba. "Did he wake you up, too?"
Wake him? What? "No..."
"Oh." The little boy nodded sagely. "You must get to see him a lot."
"Not so much, really." Not as Kid. As Kaito - a shiver slid up Kid's spine - about six days a week, sometimes more.
"Oh." Then the kid climbed onto the base of the railing, stretching up, and yelled, "NEEEEEEEECHAN! NIIIIIIIISAMA!"
Kid yelped, hurling smoke bombs at his feet, and bolted. Satchel rope up, jerk to activate the auto-retract, leap over the roof edge and run for the far side and jump - his smaller black hangglider hit a thermal coming off the parking lot behind the building, and Kid soared away.
Forget this following-people stuff. It was just getting him more and more lost. He could do something much better, anyway.
Hakuba had to come home at some point, after all.
Watson's sharp beak clacked hollowly next to Kid's ear, the hooked tip far too close to Baaya's latex face. "Maa, maa," Kid murmured, smoothing the soft feathers of her breast. "Not too friendly, hm?" For that's what it was: friendliness, even if expressed rather differently from his doves. 'Unfriendly' would've had his face savaged the instant he popped in with aerosols blasting.
Heh. Looked like Hakuba's bird had taken his fixation on Kid entirely the wrong way.
He brushed one gloved hand against Watson's perch, a pointed nudge and a few clicks of his tongue coaxing the falcon onto the scarred wood, then slipped the glove into his pocket and left the mews.
In the kitchen, the pantry door was open a crack. Kid tsked, checking that the housekeeper curled in the space was still drugged and carefully bound, then closed the door, this time jiggling the old latch to make sure it stuck properly. Then he gathered up a bottle of wood polish and an old rag off the floor, and got back to the dusting Baaya had been doing.
Small wonder Hakuba needed a housekeeper, Kid thought, scrubbing industriously at a bit of decorative scrollwork on the kitchen door. Victorian architecture was pretty, but ridiculously overwrought and prone to collecting dust. Yuck.
Some time later, when Kid was curled in an improbable position to get at a bit of paneling on the back stairs, he heard the front door open, and a faint call of "Tadaima!"
A quick, soft hum to check his vocal setting, and Kid called back, "Okaeri!" Setting the cloth aside, he hurried down the stairs to the kitchen, pasting a bewildered expression on Baaya's face as he opened the door to the hall. "Botchama?" he asked, spotting Hakuba just stepping up from the foyer behind Ainsel. "You're home early. Oh, dear, let me get that for you-" And Kid bustled up, taking Ainsel's coat and hat right out of her arms.
"Thank you," Hakuba replied, passing Kid his own coat as well. "This is a new client," he added, gesturing to the girl. "We'll be in my study, if you'd be so kind as to make tea."
Kid beamed. "Certainly." Just keep delivering opportunity on a silver platter, 'botchama'. "What kind do you like, ojousan?"
Ainsel stared up at Kid in gape-mouthed consternation. "... milk?"
"Milk and tea, then," Hakuba murmured. "Some fruit if we have any."
"I'll see what I can find," Kid promised, bright and earnest, before stepping out of the way to let the pair go upstairs. A smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth as he turned away. Opportunity, indeed.
Tea was easy enough to fix: a handful of tangerines left over from New Year's in the fridge, candy canes from Christmas, water and milk both set to heat while Kid found a pretty plum-blossom mug to coordinate with one of the tea sets, all arranged on a tray with a discreet little bowl of warm water covered with two cloth napkins. No need to find the bathroom to wipe juice from sticky little fingers.
That done, Kid headed up the back stairs. Master bedroom, upstairs toilet, smaller bedroom - Kid smiled at the deerstalker cap in a place of honor on the dresser - workroom piled with files and books, study. Hah. "Botchama?" Kid murmured, entering the room with a smile.
Hakuba didn't look up, focused on writing something at the low table. Kid set the tray near him and Ainsel, handing her the mug of milk. "Peppermint if you'd like to sweeten it," Kid said, placing the little dish of candy canes beside her, then pouring tea for Hakuba. "I thought, it's so cold out, warm milk is much better. Right?"
Ainsel nodded, silent, so Kid glanced away at Hakuba, ostensibly to set the teacup down where the blond wouldn't knock it over. Really, he wanted a look at what Hakuba was doing... and when he caught a glimpse, he went ice cold.
That Hakuba was writing wasn't the least bit unusual. That Hakuba had written Kuroba Kaito's name wasn't necessarily unusual, not that Kid had any idea why he'd do so now of all times. However, he'd written that name in the government-registered, legally binding jitsu-in seal that Kaito himself had only seen a handful of times, namely on his birth certificate. His mother kept the actual stamp along with her own in a security box at the bank. When the hell had Hakuba seen it? How did Hakuba even know the ancient writing style that jitsu-in seals were required to be in? Why was he using it...?
Hakuba then drew the kanji for eye next to the encircled seal, red ink glistening in the study's light, and promptly rubbed his thumb across the wet lines, ink smearing like blood across the paper. A pinch of white powder to set the ink, and he sat back, taking the cup from Kid's grip. "Thank you, Baaya."
"... aa." Kid ever-so-casually stood, bowing to Hakuba and the little girl, then left the room. He glanced over his shoulder as he closed the door, leaving it open just a crack, just enough to see.
Hakuba folded the paper in fours, wrote something else in quick strokes across the outside, then tossed it in the fire. One moment, two, then the flames blazed up white.
Epsom salt. Hakuba had dusted the wet ink with Epsom salt. He'd written Kaito's legally binding name and dusted it with Epsom salt and burned it.
Unnerved, Kid slipped into the workroom next door. There had to be answers here. Not that Hakuba had gotten a chance to write anything down yet... but Hakuba's behavior spoke of foreknowledge, obsession, and experience that had to come from somewhere.
It wouldn't be in the folders piled in neat stacks on the desk. Too accessible. Too in-progress. Too recent. The books wouldn't help either: a thick volume of the history of someplace Kid had never heard of; myths of the Celts, the Norse, the Hindu, the ancient Japanese - at least someone was starting to see the common thread between Kid's heists - an herbalist book falling open to the ever-popular poison hemlock... no, there'd be nothing in the books.
The two shelves filled with journals, on the other hand... but there were nearly thirty of them packed neatly into the space, the bottom shelf fewer and flanked by bookends, none labeled in any way.
Well. Two ways to arrange them: top right to bottom left, as Japanese did, or top left to bottom right, as Westerners did. That would put the earliest, latest, and two random middle journals in the four corners of the shelves. Since he couldn't be sure the oldest volumes would have what he was looking for, that was as good a place to start as any.
Kid grabbed the four volumes and set them on the desk's workspace, careful to remember which was which. Then he pulled out a tiny digital camera, opened one journal, and began snapping pictures as fast as possible.
The volume from the top left corner turned out to be the earliest. Blocky, large English lettering filled the pages, entries written in an unchanging format, with a numbered heading at the top and the unpracticed scrawl of Hakuba's signature at the bottom.
The two middle volumes held far finer, smaller writing. The entries now were interspersed with columns of numbers, strange mathematical formulas that Kaito didn't recognize, and geometric diagrams. At the bottom of each entry, Hakuba's name had been joined by kanji.
The final journal was written in Japanese. Still the same entry format, still the same mix of text and diagrams and math. The last several pages were blank; this book was incomplete.
If only he had the time to snap more journals... but no, the hair on the back of Kid's neck was starting to prickle, the window beckoning with its siren call of escape. Except that was not the safe way out. Logical, but not safe.
Kid tucked the digital camera away, replacing the journals where he'd found them, and walked calmly out the door into the hallway. The door to the study was firmly closed; the door to the toilet was as well, light peeking out from under it.
That was his cue to walk on slippered feet to the back stairs, tiptoeing down, grabbing the polishing rag off the third step on the way. Not a single squeak betrayed him as he emerged into the kitchen, but some instinct halted him before he reached the back door.
The pantry. He really didn't want Hakuba to realize he'd been here, and a gagged and bound housekeeper would trigger all the detective's alarms.
You are completely nuts, Kid told himself as he cautiously opened the pantry door. Baaya was starting to stir, but she wasn't awake quite yet... so Kid pulled the soft ties free, half-lifting her off the floor to stumble to the kitchen table. He propped her up in the chair, head tipped back and hands draped across her lap, and added a magazine and a cup of cold, stale coffee out of the pot.
There. Portrait of a Dozing Housekeeper. Hopefully one who wouldn't compare notes with Hakuba over his young guest and who exactly had prepared their tea.
Tipping a nonexistent hat at Baaya, Kid slipped out the back door, past Watson's mews and into the narrow alley he'd come from. There, between a telephone pole and someone's back gate, a particular manhole cover led into a disused and blocked-off section of storm drain. The upper half of the pipe proved the reason why: a blocky electrical junction filled most of the space, leaving just enough room around it for one skilled electrician to squeeze by. However, if you were a slim, gymnastic, and most importantly non-claustrophobic thief, you could get under the rubber-coated grid floor into a tiny concrete-sided hole barely four feet high.
Masks and clothing lined the space. Padding and a business suit hung under Superintendent Hakuba's latex face and bristly wig; next to them were suits in brighter pastels, slacks and polo shirts, the ever-favored brown overcoat, and Hakuba Saguru's tea-blond hair. On the other side was a blank wig head above several women's jackets, as well as a boy's school uniform and satchel, which Kid quickly changed into. Baaya's current outfit went back on that hanger, and her face and wig returned to the blank head.
A bucket of wet wipes, stored under the electric box above, weren't particularly warm but at least weren't frozen as Kid scrubbed spirit gum off his face and neck.
Fact: Hakuba knew Kuroba Kaito's legal name. Fact: Hakuba could copy Kuroba Kaito's legal name. Fact: Hakuba was involved with some very strange and mysterious people, namely Ainsel who could not possibly be the five years old she looked. Fact: There were at least two more people of the "could not possibly be the children they looked" variety in Tokyo. Fact: Both were connected to some very unsavory people, albeit as enemies. Fact: There was no guarantee that all "not really children" were enemies of those unsavory people.
Opinion: Hakuba was about the last person in the world who'd be involved with unsavory people.
Opinion: Willingly, that is.
Kid needed to read those journals.
Fortunately for Kid, Kuroba Chikage worked a 9-to-5 job. He didn't particularly want to print out any of these photos in public.
... Though considering he had upwards of 300 pictures, 'print out' wasn't really practical.
He plugged the little camera into his computer, pulling up the folder and zooming in on the first file- the last photo taken, but good to check the clarity of the print.
- do opin that our current system has failed young Kenta -
Kid shut his eyes. Kenta. Nightmare. Hakuba's most recent case. Oh, this was going to be bad... Taking a deep, cleansing breath, he looked back at the file, Hakuba's neat handwriting marching in perfect clarity across the screen.
- do opin that our current system has failed young Kenta. I cannot submit any opinion towards Kaitou Kid; had he dared to risk his freedom, as well as his life and that of others, as Nightmare's modus operandi would indicate, he would not be Kaitou Kid. It doesn't fit in his psychology, so we were not given the opportunity to fail him. In hindsight, this inability saved his life.
Nightmare, however... Despite his dire situation, there remained far better options, had he attempted. It matters not that he targeted the criminals of the world; no one is exempt from the law, particularly those laws meant to protect.
In conclusion, Kaitou Kid is guilty of committing yet another theft, no matter that few juries would convict this time. Nightmare - Inspector Connery - is guilty of theft as a co-principal, extortion, murder... betrayal of his oaths as an officer of the law.
Kaitou Kid, should he be caught, should recieve three years incarcerated for this offense, bringing his total up to 189 years (unofficially) or 562 years, the latter as per the official assumption that this is the first and only perpetrator.
Nightmare has recieved the final punishment possible.
Kid managed not to shudder, Nightmare's empty eyes ghosting through his memory. Yes. Hakuba was right about that- and there was something chilling about how he'd written the sentence, leaving it unqualified.
Given Kid's proclivities and the nature of this case, it seems unlikely that he will commit another heist near the New Year's full. Therefore, precluding the emergence of another, my final case shall be 7-7-7 after the deal.
One would almost think they'd known.
Case File #999
Waitaminute- final case? Deal? They? Hakuba lived to solve mysteries, he wouldn't just... just retire- and what deal? Who were 'they'?
If the photographs didn't tell him, Kid was going to go over there and shake some answers out of Hakuba Saguru, and to hell with his security system or his police force dad. Maybe Papa Hakuba would find it hilarious, who knew, but Kid was going to get answers.
That decided, Kid reversed the default ordering of the camera's files, and began to read.
Case File #1
Today I woke up and realized that whoever kidnapped Richie Winthrop by mistake had to know which umbrella was mine, since I loaned it to him and that had to be why they grabbed him instead of me. It couldn't be a classmate because they're all kids and they know what I look like, and it couldn't be one of their parents because they don't get to go into the coat room, so the kidnappers had to get their information from somebody at the judo school. So I told the police and they questioned sensei and found Richie okay.
Sensei is guilty of accessory to kidnapping, and the kidnappers are guilty of kidnapping. I'm going to have to look up the punishments.
I guess that means I didn't really fall asleep in the woods yesterday. Baaya was really mad that I ran off, but it was my fault that they took Richie and so it's good that I did. I'm going to be a great detective now, for years and years, and it'll take forever to solve a thousand.
It doesn't matter that I won't be able to have friends now. Richie was the last person who wanted to be my friend at all, and he doesn't want to anymore.
Case File #1
"God, Saguru..." Kaito breathed. He remembered damn well how you blamed yourself for everything at that age. If someone had come to him then, offered a deal over... well.
Someone had taken advantage of a nine-year-old's guilt, though exactly how, Kaito couldn't tell. Something that made Saguru think he couldn't ever have friends again, something that made him resolve to be a great detective, something like a favor that would be called in after a thousand cases.
Not that he'd managed to stick to that first clause entirely. Kaito was Saguru's friend. In a strange, rival-ish sort of way, with lots of snark and circling warily around each other... but still!
Kaito continued to read, plowing through a wide array of small crimes - litter and biohazards when teenagers found a quiet spot in the woods, cheating on tests, a rash of stolen lunch money... and then he reached December, and an entry where the lines were pressed deep enough to seem nearly embossed in the paper, even filtered through a photo.
Case File #39
Garrison Hayes is guilty of murdering his wife's sister. For money. They aren't poor. They don't need government money to buy food or electricity or- or clean water. To kill someone just so he can afford to sit in the house and watch the telly all day? He could've looked for a better job, or not gone off to Aruba every year, or moved to a smaller house.
He needs life in prison.
They gave me a history book. For first blood, they said. I don't want... I'd rather Kate Tilley be alive than to have seen that.
Case File #39
Kaito felt himself go pale. This was just the first volume - Saguru had been ten. Obviously old enough to understand death and crime in a way that Conan's little gang couldn't yet, but even they had each other. Saguru hadn't had anyone: father in Japan, mother never mentioned, Baaya only mentioned that once, no friends...
The mysterious 'they' were certainly no help. 'They' just seemed to show up every couple of months to pile books on Saguru... even though 'they' had apparently been watching Saguru closely the whole time, closely enough to know what was going on in his life. Though not closely enough, comforting Saguru like that. 'First blood', like finding a murder was something to be proud of!
The mouse creaked under Kaito's hands as he continued through Saguru's life.
Case File #49
Somehow, I think that more poisoners would be caught this early if doctors just checked for that first. The symptoms matched all the ones in the book of herb lore they gave me today...
Answers. Definitely needed answers. Maybe Saguru would stop being such a cagey little bastard in the later journals, and finally start mentioning some names instead of just always 'they'.
The next journal Kid had photographed, somewhere around two-thirds of the way through the series, started with insurance fraud a week before Saguru's sixteenth birthday. Kaito read through art forgeries and embezzlement, but most of this journal handled several small-scale thefts ranging from jewelry to test answer keys, up through November. The third journal, however, began with another death and continued through uncovering a massive drug ring...
Case File #742
A great many arrests tonight, the bulk of which I shall be recording as case files later, as I have yet to be told what occured at the warehouses handled in tonight's sting.
I am still sorting the events that transpired at our own target, in order to determine the reason behind the "convenient" misplacement of my official minders, shortly before I discovered Baronet Yeamans en route through a door not marked upon the house's archived blueprint.
I must confess, I have never faced down the barrel of a gun before. I hope to never do so again.
Upon subduing the Baronet, I provoked him into revealing his motive for bankrolling the drug imports. He claimed to believe that he could gain a life peerage and entry into the House of Lords, should he 'uncover' the ring and subsequently destroy it.
One does wonder at humanity sometimes.
Despite this lack of judgement upon his part, the Baronet has highly esteemed friends, as well as clients able to afford worryingly large amounts of his imports. The police chief, among others, is of the opinion that I will be far safer finishing my schooling in Japan.
They may not particularly like it, but I have some ideas on how to minimize any disturbance to the locals there.
It will have to do. Besides, I have been considering such a move anyway. Father has mentioned the reappearance of a master thief in Tokyo. Perhaps I shall be up to the challenge.
Case File #742
Kaito felt sick. He'd had no idea... guns, drug cartels, and the damned 'they'...
Nearly thirty pages of short files, a litany of drug runners motivated mostly by money, followed that. Then the dates skipped a week, and the following entry was in Japanese: Saguru's first case in Tokyo, a man who needed money for a sick daughter. Then... well. What would that 16-year-old Saguru say in private about the infamous Kaitou Kid?
Case File #777
I find myself stymied for the first time. The cheek of the man- why? Most criminals want to air their grievances. For a man who loves the spotlight as he does, a man with the gall to treat a crime as mere opportunity for a stage show... surely he should've answered my question, even if only with a well-prepared riddle.
It doesn't matter that he commits crimes. I must know why, must be able to integrate mitigating circumstances - such as utter bloody insanity - into my judgement.
The author of the sole crime I am as yet unable to solve... why do you do this, Kaitou Kid?
Case File #777
Huh. Kaito sat back in his chair, gaze pinned to the middle paragraph. It hadn't really occured to him before - well, it had, but mostly in the 'detectives are nosy critics' way - but Saguru really did have this driving need to know motive. And it wasn't just out of prurient curiosity, or to help assign guilt, fit a criminal into the triad of 'method, motive, opportunity'. By the second volume Kaito had photographed, he'd been using motive to theorize proper sentencing according to law, comparing his judgements to the actual trial results, remarking upon his own biases and learning from his mistakes...
Motive was necessary for a detective. Sentencing, however... Saguru would be that much of an obsessive perfectionist, but somehow that explanation rang wrong.
Kaito flicked to the next page, and blinked. The handwriting, although still unmistakably Saguru's and still in Japanese, was somehow subtly different from the previous two entries. More polished. Older.
Case File #777, con't.
Analysis of Kaitou Kid's motives remains in progress.
It is, of course, self-evident that he is searching for something: a gemstone, no doubt, as those remain his primary target. Were he merely interested in the thrill of the chase, or the unconventional glories of bypassing state-of-the-art security and entire squadrons of trained police, he would simply target any item of sufficient value- which, indeed, he did in the first few weeks of his return.
However, the pattern is, if anything, too obvious.
A man of such convoluted nature as to deliver his heists in highly sophisticated riddles, and consistently have plans to allow every contingency and countertactic to seem as though his own idea, cannot simultaneously be simplistic enough to allow an overarching plan to shine through... not without it being a red herring in and of itself.
Kaitou Kid is searching for something.
His goal is not the target of that search.
Kid's skin prickled, all the way up and down his arms, making him fight the need to shudder. Finally, finally, someone had started to see past the trick-
He firmly squashed the little voice murmuring that the audience shouldn't be able to figure out the trick. The whole point was to get the murdering bastards caught, not tease and torment the police forever.
He scrolled to the other side of the picture, finding another page of inexplicable numbers and geometric shapes. Did Saguru sketch to help him think, perhaps? It might be why they seemed to show up between the pages of the hardest cases. But the columns of numbers along the margin still defied explanation...
Except that one was Kaito's birthday.
Kaito jumped at his mother's voice from downstairs, banging his knee hard against the bottom of the desk and hissing something rude. "What?" he called back.
"Were you planning to eat tonight?"
Kaito blinked, and abruptly realized the room had gone dark while he was reading. But it was winter, it couldn't be all that late yet... except the computer's tiny clock read 22:42. Even as he read it, his stomach growled.
Oops. Stupid handwritten English, it took forever to read.
"Coming!" He closed out the program, unplugging the little camera and slipping it into a pocket. He didn't want his mom to see Saguru's journals, plus the idea of just leaving evidence lying around like that... no. Just no.
Dinner, then. Ack, homework too. But after... he'd have to go to school tomorrow, and he'd do a lot better at mugging Saguru for answers if he got a nap before he went after the blond.
Practicality sucked. But one day wasn't going to make that much difference.
The next day, Kaito left for school early. The lack of sleep would make it easier to nap afterwards, plus... well, he really didn't want to walk to school with Saguru today. Not if he wasn't allowed to throttle him yet. Because although Kaito was perfectly capable of acting like he was completely clueless and thought everything was normal, he'd rather do as little of that as possible. Too much chance the mask would slip at some crucial moment when Saguru was paying attention.
Just let me get through the day as fast as possible, he thought, slumping half-asleep on his desk.
... Just let me get past Aoko-chan as fast as possible. "Morning, Aoko-chan." Kaito yawned, peering up at the bristling girl, not bothering to lift his head.
"Well?" Aoko asked. "Did you find out anything?"
Way too much for comfort. "Not really."
Aoko huffed out a low sound of exasperation. "Mou... Well then why didn't you come back to school?"
Kaito shrugged. "Busy."
"Busy?" Aoko's fingers twitched, grasping an imaginary pole. Since she didn't go promptly for the mop in the corner of the classroom, Kaito rested his head on one hand and let her lecture wash over him. An angry Nakamori was very nearly poetry, if you managed to ignore the words and just listened to inflection and tone. The flush to Aoko's face and the sparkle in her eye, the vehemence of her gestures, certainly helped with the appreciation, too.
Kaito needed that today. Something beautiful and simple and refreshingly straightforward. Something completely unlike the blond who'd just stepped into the classroom and made everything else fade.
Saguru looked awful, Kaito decided, with an almost clinical hollowness to the thought. No dark circles under the eyes, but there was a certain flatness to his gaze, the hundred-meter-stare of the newly sleep-deprived. Under it, his jaw stood out in stark relief, the muscles there as tense as his posture.
The blond walked to his desk, quietly enough to not catch Aoko's notice, though he passed near enough behind her that Kaito caught a whiff of an odd scent. Flowers, definitely. Spices, so mixed that Kaito couldn't possibly guess at them. An underlayer of thin smoke. Then Saguru hooked his satchel on the desk hooks, and Kaito noticed that his hands were looking a bit raw today. Had he continued that scrubbing he'd done in the shrine fountain?
SLAM! Two hands smacked down on the desk, jolting Kaito's head off its comfortable perch and making Saguru jerk like a plucked bowstring. "Are you even listening to me?" Aoko snapped.
"Sure," Kaito lied, but began reeling off the high points of her spiel. Hooray for photographic memory. "Responsibility, leaving you in the lurch, bored, lonely, Akako-san." Pause. Mental rewind. "Wait, Akako-san?"
"Ha! I knew you weren't!" Aoko crowed.
"What about her?" Kaito asked, glancing surrepitously towards the witch. She seemed fine, staring at him as if waiting for an exotic creature to do something interesting. Perfectly normal.
"Oh, now you want to know."
Kaito plastered a bored expression across his face, crossing his arms behind his head and leaning back in his chair. Oh look, ceiling tiles. "Nah," he drawled. "Unless," and he raised an eyebrow, peeking out from under his hair with mock-prurient curiosity, "She popped a stitch or something?"
He promptly shoved back in a flying leap, Aoko's mop handle cracking across his chair seat close enough that he felt it brush the top of his shoe, sending the chair rocketing back onto all fours and neatly into place like it had never been touched at all.
Had to love his Aoko-chan. So very - he ducked the sweep of the mop, somersaulting up and over on the backswing - predictable. Not like certain other tea-blond people who, until yesterday, had also been predictable.
Leapfrog over Keiko as she came into the room, the girl continuing to talk to Sana as if she hadn't just been forcibly bowed. Baseball-slide under the teacher's desk, flip up and rebound off the chalkboard. Ignore Saguru's half-heard mutter of "Good lord, they're starting early," bounce off Akako's desk, turn and- shit. Shove Akako's head down, the mop rapping hard across his knuckles.
"Pay attention, Akako-san," Kaito chided, getting a bewildered blink from the witch before he grabbed at the water pipes on the ceiling and jackknifed up out of Aoko's reach. He then twisted and let himself fall, avoiding the jabbed mop, and backflipped towards the front of the room.
The door opened, and their teacher entered the classroom. Promptly, Kaito twisted to face front, bowing in unison with the rest of the class. She bowed back, and set her briefcase next to the lecture podium.
"Ah, Kuroba-kun, you're already up," the teacher said, laying a stack of papers on the table next to the podium. "Would you please pass back the tests, then?"
Kaito curled past the swinging map and scooped them up. "Sure thing, sensei!"
And so began another perfectly normal day at Ekoda High.
After a full day at school, in which Kaito managed to not talk to Saguru the entire day - which seemed largely due to the fact that Saguru was conveniently not talking to anybody more than absolutely necessary - and wheedled Aoko into telling him that the oh-so-earth-shattering news about Akako was just that she'd been absent the day before too, Kaito popped some melatonin and crashed for a good six hours.
22:00 that night found him high on the roof of an apartment building, down the hill and across the canal from the expensive blocks of Ekoda. From here, it looked like a scattering of brighter, warmer stars across a tear of true-black sky; during the summer it would be a hill full of blocky pale houses, half-hidden by greenery, though now it was brown and bristly-looking during the day.
Kid finished knotting his light red tie, snugging it up just enough to look jauntily loose, then tipped his hat onto his head at the proper, rakish angle that shadowed his face best. One last check of his pockets (sleeping gas, padded hand- and ankle-cuffs, gag) and the glider attachment (locked and secure), and he stepped up onto the retaining wall around the roof. Winds out of the southeast, and the day had been sunny enough to give decent thermals off the canal... good.
He spread his arms and dived. The cape snapped open, glider catching on the icy breeze, and with a slight shift in position he went arrowing up towards the silent stars of the rich.
An updraft over the river buoyed him higher. He circled Akako's crumbling old mansion, carefully skirting the property low behind the treetops in case she was up and feeling curious. He really didn't want to pique her curiosity, not when he had a surprise appointment to keep.
Past Akako's property, the road wound between broad, walled-off homes with far fewer trees. Saguru's lay at a careful angle, with only a single sightline to any part of the house; Kid caught the top of a telephone pole and let his glider fall loosely back into a cape. Even from here, he couldn't see in any of the windows. The door and front gate were out of the question.
... However, the back gate, that was a different story. Kid could quite clearly see the small figure waiting in front of it, Ainsel's unseasonal white dress standing out like a flag in the moonlight. What was she doing out in this weather without a coat?
Correction, Kid thought, as the back gate opened to let out a familiar figure in shirtsleeves and dark slacks. What was Saguru doing out without a coat? And why was he carrying his violin case? Where was he sneaking off to at this hour?
(Kid got a sudden mental image of Saguru playing at some neo-Victorian goth dance club. Gah. No. He wasn't wearing enough tattered lace - as in any at all - for that anyway.)
Maybe he was off to see the mysterious 'they', and didn't have a violin in the case at all. Yeah. That was much more likely.
Kid redeployed the glider and set off after Saguru and Ainsel. He didn't have far to go: just at the end of the block, Saguru picked the lock on a set of park gates, and gestured Ainsel inside.
Okay. Legal gray zone there, but Saguru was a Holmes otaku. Holmes had pulled some stunts using the fine art of breaking and entering... ahaha no. Saguru wasn't that much of an otaku, otherwise he'd be addicted to drugs and shooting names into the wall with an antique pistol.
Landing in a tree with a good view of the whole park, Kid settled in to watch, warily, as Ainsel darted ahead, Saguru trailing along in her wake. Rich as the neighborhood was, they could afford a very nice park: tall trees, broad paths, a playground, even a decorative swatch of grass that wasn't paved over or painted for sports games. It was to this patch of grass that Ainsel went, standing in the center and turning to examine her surroundings.
"This'll do," she decided aloud, the words carrying beautifully to Kid's tree.
"Good," Saguru replied, setting the violin case down. He knelt next to it, and then his hands lifted to his shirt and he began unbuttoning it.
Kid barely managed to stifle a squawk. He was not seeing this. He was not seeing Saguru start to strip in the middle of a deserted park with a little girl- oh good. He wasn't seeing it, because Saguru wasn't stripping.
Saguru left his shirt open, pulling the two sides apart, then his hands returned to the violin case. Kid managed to note that, unexpectedly, the case held exactly what it was supposed to: Saguru pulled out a beautiful, gleamingly spotless violin and bow, setting it upon his shoulder and drawing the bow lightly across the strings.
Off-key, Kid thought, as Saguru adjusted the pegs and drew again. Better. Then he watched as Saguru stood and turned, stepping away from the open case to draw even with Ainsel. They stared solemnly at each other, Saguru's bow resting at his side, then Saguru quietly asked, "May I have this dance?"
"And what would ye be liking it for?" Ainsel responded, equally quiet, almost ritualistic.
"For those who tend the wellspring of word."
"Then ye may have this dance, for a song."
Saguru nodded, set bow to strings, and the first note shivered through Kaito's heart and made the world fade away.
Wood creaked under Kaito's hands, the impulse to run locked against the need to get closer to the music, possibly dance. Only knowing that Saguru didn't know he was there - that he was in Kid's clothes and Saguru would arrest him on the spot if he came too close - gave his well-honed escape instincts the power to hold him back.
He was vaguely aware of the pale flicker of movement as Ainsel danced, marking a wide circle around the shadows behind Saguru, and that flicker tried to capture him too.
This... was not normal...
Saguru played and played, face serene, bow sliding tirelessly as Ainsel spun til all Kaito could see of her was the movement of her dress and hair. Til the wind picked up, catching at Saguru's open shirt and tugging at his hair, dry grass rustling in rhythmic counterpoint to the music. Til the clouds scudded across the quarter moon, low in the corner of Kaito's field of view, and dashed thin shadows across Saguru and Ainsel.
Til the flickering moonbeams resolved into three women at the center of the circle, and Saguru let the music die.
Kaito blinked. Now where had they come from...? He must've lost track of the cloud-shadowed moment in which they'd slid between Ainsel and Saguru. Must've lost track of who was filming a movie or holding a costume party nearby, too. They were all dressed like Amazon princesses, in gray European-styled gowns and elaborate braids.
Saguru turned his back on Kaito to kneel before the foremost of the trio, setting the violin in the grass and cupping her outstretched hand in both of his own, bowing his head over it. "Ladies Wyrd. Verthandi. Skilja."
The first woman raised her right hand, bringing around a dark staff that Kaito hadn't seen, and used the very tip to ease Saguru's left hand free. She studied it for a long moment, nudging it over a bit to examine the air just to its side, then set her gaze back upon Saguru.
Saguru lifted his face to meet her eyes. "His name is-"
"Kuroba Kaito-u Kid," she sang, and breathed fire. It curved into thin lines, settling in midair in a way that fire should not - could not - do, and formed into a very familiar, unmistakable caricature, with Kuroba Kaito's jitsu-in name seal burning in the monocle.
Kaito clutched at his tree for dear life. That is so not admissable in court! a tiny part of his mind shot out, but the greater portion was completely frozen, unable to do more than stare as Wyrd - she had to be Wyrd, whoever that was - raised the staff, bare arms flashing in the moonlight, and brought it tearing down through the fire with skill hundreds of years more polished than Aoko's.
Ice shot up Kaito's spine and jerked through his entire body. What was the phrase, 'someone just walked over his grave'?
Maybe someone had.
With a practiced spin, the fire cocooned around the tip of Wyrd's staff, and the second lady stepped up. She unclipped the strap crossing diagonally over her chest, pulling a wedge-shaped, heavy branch off her back. "Who is he, to fracture the seal upon your fate?" she murmured.
Saguru dipped his head. "Human, I thought, Lady Verthandi."
"Hm. We shall see."
Wyrd began pulling silvery strands from the fire on her staff, passing them to Verthandi, who strung them across the space between the two sides of the branch, in no order that Kaito could see. Some she pulled tightly; others she barely draped, their trailing ends vanishing into the branch as if sucked in. One thick strand near the widest part, she yanked until it snapped.
Kaito watched all of this, finally - finally - numb. This was crazy. This was magic. This was... a mojo bag, a book of herb lore, a little girl with eyes too old, a name sprinkled with salt and burned, geometric spell-circles and significant numbers between the pages of a file, beckoning calicos - not punks, but cats -outside the store...
A child making a deal in the woods.
A final case.
But how had Kaito screwed up whatever the hell Saguru had done?
Wyrd's fire ran out, silver strands strung so closely together they looked like the teeth of a fine comb, and Verthandi handed the... harp, it looked like... over to the last woman. Skilja took it gingerly in her hands, long bronze talons curving out from rings on her fingertips, and bit her lip.
"I cannae play this," she breathed. Saguru and Ainsel's heads both snapped up. "I cannae even see the key of his life, nae more the songs of his future. 'Tis as if..." Her mouth snapped shut, and she looked at Wyrd with huge eyes.
Wyrd took a long moment to get it. "... As if he's none of mine."
Saguru made a soft, choked sound, and the trio looked at him. "My ladies," he managed. "I was under the impression that that's not possible."
Wyrd cupped his face in her free hand, nudging him gently to his feet. (Kaito hadn't realized - the three were all nearly a head taller than Saguru.) "Not possible?" she echoed. "No... it's ever more rare, but even a mere new soul shouldn't be able to crack the seal of fate."
"Come," she told Saguru. "Show us a place to build a full loom."
Saguru swallowed hard, and nodded. "Yes, my ladies."
Kaito sat in the tree for a long time after they left.
The sky was starting to pale in the east when Kaito finally slid from the tree, landing with a thump on the grass. Mind blank, he padded over to where Saguru had stood, so many hours before. the grass looked untouched, except that where Ainsel had danced, a ring of mushrooms now dotted the ground.
Kaito knew enough Western folklore to recognize a fairy ring when he saw one.
Almost on automatic, his hands lifted to the shoulder clasps of his cape. They were cold under his hands, cold enough to tap at the fog in his mind, though not to pierce through it.
It felt... right, somehow. To make the change here, at the edge of the circle. So Kaito let the cape fall, Kid's jacket folded up neatly in the center, the tie and gloves falling on top, one-two-three. He reversed his white slacks to salaryman blue, undid the top button of his shirt. Then his hands went to his hat.
He stared at it for a long moment. The wide brim, the silk lining...
Kuroba Kaito-u Kid.
Who is he, to fracture the seal upon your fate?
Human, I thought.
Yes. Kaito had thought so, too. His magic was about deception, trickery and amusement, making people want to be decieved... not about messing with good people's lives. Not about doing magic for real. Not about doing magic by accident.
He flattened the hat and set it on top of the little pile, the monocle following, then folded the cape up all around it and tied the ends in a knot. The resulting bundle went into the glider's harness backpack.
Just another insomniac out for a walk, sir. Don't mind me, Kaito thought, trudging slowly out of the park. His feet pointed him away from Saguru's, heading uphill.
Some time later, Kaito found himself at the end of a wide gravel path, littered with dead leaves. He blinked and glanced up. The path cut between bare winter trees, curving to underline the snow-encrusted, tattered peaks of a very familiar roofline. He'd passed by here just a few hours ago, a dozen or so meters up.
A witch would understand what was going on. As reverently as Saguru had treated the three women, they had to be important enough that Akako would know who they were, what they were talking about, what was going on with Saguru... It couldn't be a coincidence that she'd missed school the day Ainsel appeared. She had to know who or what Saguru was.
She had to know what Kaito was.
Decision made, Kaito stuck his hands in his pockets and walked up the driveway to the witch's house.
He'd never actually been this close to the house, he realized, as he stepped up onto the wide, weathered porch. It had the same definite serpent motif he'd noticed in Akako's far-too-skimpy witchy gear. Nothing as modern and convenient as a doorbell either. Just a heavy, tarnished bronze ring in the mouth of an equally tarnished bronze snake head on the door. He raised the ring and rapped, hard.
It echoed with a dull, low thud he could hear reverberating into the house.
... Kaito then realized, really realized, that it was nearly five in the morning. It was ridiculous to think that she'd be up at all, much less recieving -
The door swung open.
A squashed, monstrous face sprang forward out of the darkness.
"YAAAAH!" Kaito couldn't help it. After a long, awful night like this, a monster at the witch's door-
It smiled, something that froze Kaito on the spot, and bowed. "The mistress has been expecting you," it said.
"A buh- a guh-"
It stepped back out of the way. "I am Lucifer, young master. The butler," it - he - clarified. Beady eyes flickered up, a sly gaze pinning itself to Kaito. "Best not to keep the mistress waiting."
Kaito whimpered. But his feet, obedient to the end, unstuck themselves from the porch and marched him into the darkened house. Lucifer led him though the tiled foyer, past the sweeping grand staircase with its threadbare carpet, to a paneled door with warm firelight flickering out from under it.
"Here, young master," he said. Then he vanished into the depths of the house.
Kaito raised his hand to knock, but the door swung open on its own, firelight spilling out.
"Come in, Kuroba-san."
-San? he thought, as he stepped into the room. It was a small parlor, all scrollback Victorian couches and dark wood, and Akako perched daintily in a thronelike wingback chair facing the door. Kaito gingerly took a seat on the couch, managing not to send up a puff of dust, and settled back as if he didn't half-expect the couch to collapse under his weight.
At least she wasn't wearing the skimpy witch gear. Instead, a black gown spilled from her shoulders, the usual necklace of chunky talisman beads missing
"What brings you to my house during-" Akako glanced at the clock on the mantle, "-after working hours?"
Yeek. "Hakuba Saguru," Kaito replied, as if it was all the answer in the world. "Er. If you know...? About his... thing... with spirits."
Akako hummed thoughtfully. "The one with the aggressive power of a devil," she murmured, lips quirking in an unpleasant little smile. "The boy whose soul is bound to Faerie." Kaito's stomach felt like a lump. Bound. He'd had the idea, but to have it said like that... Akako's gaze dropped. "Yes, I know. What about him?"
It all came spilling out then: Ainsel, following Saguru, the case files, the trio summoned just a few short hours ago-
At their names, Akako blanched white.
Bingo. "You know who they are, then?" Kaito asked.
One slim hand pressed to Akako's face. "I... yes. It makes sense." She peered out between her fingers. "The sisters who tend the well of fate and water the tree of creation. They weave the destinies of men and gods, sing the songs of their lives, and cut their threads at will." A shaky little sigh. "They're not beings you summon lightly."
Her hand fell, and she pinned Kaito with a sharp stare. "But they would've been the ones who cut Saguru's fate away from those of mortal men. It's their power that you've somehow crept past, knotting the thread of your life with his." She wriggled her right thumb meaningfully.
Kaito felt his face go hot. Except... "At least it's not red," he quoted, muttering.
Akako jerked. "You can see it?"
"Nope. 'S what Saguru said." And that would be just what he needed, a red thread of fate tying him to Saguru as a lover. Gah. He hadn't even been referring to the man by his given name forty-eight hours ago.
"Oh." Akako looked down for a long moment, shadows flickering across her face. "... Are you going to break the thread, then?"
Kaito sighed heavily. "I dunno," he said, getting an intent, hard look from Akako. "I mean, I don't know if I can figure out how, or could do it if I tried." He didn't know witchy magic. He might not be strong enough... and on the heels of that thought, a new realization slotted into place. "Besides, that thread's the only thing that lets Saguru have a friend at all." Gods...
"So..." Akako's voice was quiet, echoing through the rushing in Kaito's ears. "You aren't even going to try."
He was Saguru's only friend. "How can I do that to the guy?"
Down! Kid's instincts shouted, and he threw himself off the couch, just as a glassy black arrow buried itself in the cushions up to the hilt. "What-?"
Burning like black fire, Akako stood over him with a bone-white bow poised and drawn. "If you won't cut Saguru free," she hissed, "I will."
Fuck. Kid leapt out of the way of a second arrow. This wasn't how Akako fought, how she talked - hadn't been the entire time, she never called him Kuroba-san - and this was not Akako.
He rebounded off the crest carved above the mantle, skidded past three quick arrows in succession, kicked the low table up into not-Akako's face and bolted for the door.
An arrow buried itself into the doorjamb with a reverberating, final thud, very nearly clipping Kid's cheek in passing and effectively jamming the door shut. Then something made a strangled, high-pitched sound of pain behind Kid, and he spun to find not-Akako clutching at a thick steel chain caught tightly around her neck.
"That," a very familiar, ice-cold-furious voice said, "is quite enough."
The witch's eyes rolled back in her head, and she crumpled onto her knees on the floor. Saguru stood behind her, the ends of the chain held in one fist; the other, cupped under her shoulder, was all that was keeping her from falling completely and strangling herself.
"Sa-" Kid stopped the sound from coming out. "Hakuba... what...?"
That flat gaze lifted to Kid, ice thawing just a bit in their depths. "I was informed that a current issue was about to come to a quick and messy resolution," the blond explained, casting a dire glance back at Akako. "I see why. This is... not the first time I've discovered someone maliciously drugged to the point of causing a psychotic break," he added.
Kid felt his jaw drop. The gall of the man- to stand there and flat-out foist some believeable story onto him-!
Saguru knotted the chain as best he could, then settled the unconscious witch gently on the floor. "As the trigger, it's best you not stay," he said quietly. "In fact, perhaps you should stay home today. You look... exhausted," he finished politely.
More like he'd had his notions all flipped upside-down, been declared a problem by beings that reputedly scared gods, been attacked by some thing possessing his classmate, and found out that he was the sole friend to his best rival. Oh, and been up all night freezing his ass off. And now was being blatantly lied to by the guy who'd caused the whole mess in the first place!
Saguru stepped forward, lifting a hand (which made Kid flinch), but he only grabbed the obsidian arrow and yanked it out of the wood. He then opened the door, revealing a very nervous-looking Lucifer. Saguru's eyes barely flickered to the butler. "I'll speak with you later," he said, and had Kid not known about the entire fae thing he would've thought it was just a reasonable 'I'll speak with you about taking care of your drugged mistress'. Then Saguru turned back to Kid. "Lucifer will show you out."
Lucifer nodded almost eagerly. "This way, young master," he said, catching Kid by the elbow and all but dragging him away.
Kid glanced over his shoulder, spotting Saguru watching him leave, then the door shut and Lucifer led him past the stairs into the foyer.
One blast of sleeping gas later, Kid left the monster butler draped on the stairs and crept back towards that closed door. Saguru's voice was clearly audible through the thin wood, though not intelligible. Kid flattened himself on the floor, twisting to get his ear as close to the gap between door and floor as possible.
"- possessing the sole heiress to the scarlet arts!" Saguru snapped. "And barely a week from the height of her cycle! You have no skill in handling human blood - What were you thinking? Were you trying to start a riot?"
"That man..." The voice was deep and sonorus, with undertones that Kid knew he had no hope of matching. Not with a human throat. "He wishes to ruin us all."
"That man," Saguru echoed, "is off-limits. I will not allow my final case to be solved by murder. Is that clear?" A low, not particularly shamed mutter, and Saguru sharply added, "Not by kidnapping, either. Everyone is to leave me to find the solution to this case on my own." Silence, then Saguru muttered, "Good. Tell everyone you meet that the case is mine, and that Kuroba Kaito is off-limits." Steel rattled against itself. "Go."
Wind wailed behind the door, gusting icy-cold against Kid's cheek and vanishing. Like something very, very inhuman had just blown away.
Quickly, silently, Kid pulled himself up from the floor to curl up against the wall. He should go now. Run and hide, regroup, recover his composure in the shadows...
He stayed put.
After a long moment, the door opened, Saguru outlined by warm light and his shadow falling over Kaito. The blond blinked down at him, almost as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing, then something rueful settled in his eyes. "... You heard," Saguru said, resigned.
"Yeah." No qualifiers. No jokes. No misdirections.
"How much?" The same tone.
Kaito took a moment to figure out how to answer that. The same long description he'd spilled to not-Akako wouldn't do at all. So he settled on, "Ainsel. Wyrd. Deal. Thread. Off-limits."
Saguru didn't react. "So everything, then."
Well. "Almost," Kaito corrected. He had just one question left... the irony, that was what Saguru always said, he had just one question. But this wasn't quite the same as Saguru's. "What, exactly, did you bargain to do?"
That shuttered gaze searched Kaito's. He didn't know what Saguru was looking for, but soon enough the blond's eyes flicked over his shoulder. "Not here," he said, finally.
Saguru considered that. Then, "Come with me."
Kaito pushed himself up off the floor, falling into step beside Saguru as the blond left the witch's house. Down the gravel driveway, out of the woods, onto the street that was bright with weak morning sunlight, and they headed downhill back towards Saguru's house.
"I was nine," Saguru murmured, face tipped up to the sky. "And we'd just gotten a ransom demand for me while searching for Richie Winthrop..."
"Er. I know that much." Kaito grinned ruefully at Saguru's sidelong look. "I kinda found your case files."
"... I somehow fail to be surprised," Saguru said wryly. "Then allow me to skip to the chase. I did indeed make a deal with Faerie, requesting that they give me the ability to be a great detective. I was, fortunately, already a genius, however it is readily apparent that brainpower is not the sole qualification for deductive capability, nor does it preclude one from having a squeamish or inobservant nature."
Kaito nodded. Okay, he could get that. "And they got...?"
Saguru closed his eyes. "I'm to be the next King."
Kaito stopped in his tracks. Saguru paused a couple steps after that and glanced over his shoulder. "It's not so much a position of political authority so much as it is an ecological and diplomatic role," he explained.
"King," Kaito echoed.
"That's the closest translation."
"Yes, Kuroba-kun. Do try to keep up."
"There's a bad joke in here somewhere, I just know it," Kaito managed to mutter, before frowning back at Saguru. "So what's the problem? The one about me?" he clarified.
Saguru rolled his eyes. "Imagine, if you will, that you're a fae. You've invested a great deal of power, time, and education into a human, preparing them for the shift to faerie and the duties inherent to handling that much power. Now imagine that you come to pick up that human at the specified time, when the previous ruler is effectively dying... and that human has a host of filial responsibilites that he or she doesn't want to leave."
Okay. Yeah. Kaito could see how that was Bad. "So I...?"
"The Wyrd Sisters slowly choke off the chosen heir's ability to have or maintain human relationships," Saguru said simply, calmly, as if the phrase didn't sound more than vaguely sociopathic. "The relationships show up to most fae as varicolored threads trailing from a person's aura, hence the rather trite notions about red ones. You..." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "The Sisters are still attempting to deduce exactly how you managed to create one attached to me."
"So far we've ruled out the possibility that you're not fully human," Saguru offered.
Gack. He'd almost forgotten that niggling worry, under the shock of not-Akako's attack and all the royalty stuff. But... so he was human after all. Okay. Good.
At that point, Kaito realized that he'd gone and followed Saguru all the way through the front gate of his house, and up onto the porch. "Er..."
Saguru raised an eyebrow at him. "I was going to have Ainsel follow you home, when I was under the impression that you were unaware of the situation. As it is, however, you may as well come in."
Way to sound welcoming. "Don't invite people over much, do you," Kaito muttered.
"No," Saguru agreed simply. He opened the door and gestured Kaito inside. They toed off their shoes in the foyer, then Kaito followed Saguru upstairs. Outside the first door - not Saguru's bedroom, but a smaller room near the study - the blond hesitated. "I'll leave Baaya a note telling her you're here. The door does lock, should you wish, and there are books."
It sounded an awful lot like Saguru hadn't had a guest since he was nine.
... He probably hadn't.
"I'll be fine," Kaito assured him.
Saguru nodded curtly, uncomfortably. "Then if you'll excuse me, I was rather rudely awakened with the news of your impeding death, and am going back to bed. I would recommend that you get some rest as well." And with that, he bowed slightly and left.
Rest. Right. Saguru had a seriously over-optimistic opinion of Kaito's ability to relax. Sleep was not going to happen, not in this house with the police superintendent around and Kaito's backpack still full of Kid-gear.
Kaito could, however, manage to sprawl on the offered guest room bed like he planned to sleep eventually. After he locked the door. And unlocked the window. And stuck a wedge under the jamb to make the door stick. Not that he thought it would keep Saguru out, considering that he had no idea how Saguru got into Akako's parlor in the first place.
Aside from magic, of course.
Maybe he intimidated the butler with his title. Maybe he scryed out a secret passage. Maybe he'd done something like with Ainsel and the Sisters and had her dance a spell to banish instead of summon him. Maybe he'd just thrown himself into oblivion chasing that damn not-red thread and it had worked.
That would not be good for the next heist.
With affected laziness, Kid lifted his hands above his face. A not-red thread, hm? Something he couldn't - no, hadn't yet seen, pointing him out in a crowd or the maze of a building's ductwork and floorplan. Very bad thing to not notice. Very bad. But if he could pick out the difference between diamond and cubic zirconia, while hanging upside-down from the rafters fifty meters away in the dark, surely...
A hair-thin gleam flickered near his fingers and vanished.
... That had looked like the monofilament he used on some of his hair-trigger traps. So if he could see that in the dark, then-
The gleam flickered again, then bloomed, glowing like blacklight in a trail tangled between his fingers.
"Ohh..." Kaito breathed. Pretty. And very, very much going to get him caught since Ainsel had made Saguru see it...
If Saguru was still here to chase it at all.
Kaito shoved himself from the bed on the heels of that thought. Arrgh! He should be happy about this- Saguru leaving meant one less person to hunt him down! Except that it was also one less person to get Snake and the rest. Except it was one less person in the line of fire. Except- except-
He couldn't stay in here. He had to do something.
A glance at the window... but no, there hadn't been enough time for the thing that possessed Akako to have gone around and told everyone not to attack. And Kaito really didn't want to run into Baaya, which would happen if he went downstairs or out into the garden.
Besides, all he'd find downstairs would probably be the TV, and at this time of day there wouldn't be anything on but children's shows, bad housewife dramas, and anime. He wouldn't be responsible for what he'd do if he saw some fantasy anime right now.
But maybe there'd be an exercise room for Saguru's judo and fencing. That could help.
Kaito nodded sharply to himself, then opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. Something gleamed in the corner of his vision, down at the other end, and he stopped short.
Down in Saguru's little section of rooms, one of the doors was glowing a dim, vibrant electric blue.
... Damn my curiosity sometimes, Kaito thought, padding in that direction. As he got closer, the diffuse glow refocused into lines, thin traceries outlining one door: the workroom he'd snooped through the other day. From the sheer intricacy, they had to have been there before his previous break-in.
So that hadn't changed. Neither had Saguru's habit of not using the locks on the door, despite knowingly having Kaito in the house this time. Maybe he just figured it was pointless to bother.
The workroom was in somewhat more disarray today than Kid had left it. Two of the books Kid had taken pictures of - the first and last on the bottom shelf - were lying open on the desk, amid a jumble of scratch paper and some astronomical sky chart printouts. An empty mug, stained with either strong tea or coffee, sat on one side of a splash on the scratch paper; Saguru's chair was angled away from the desk, as if he'd shoved out of it and not bothered to push it back into place.
Behind both desk and chair, another door stood open, even more blue traceries glowing around it. Kaito peeked in, finding a shallow closet filled to overflowing with generic-brand spices, hand-labeled bottles and cans, open boxes of stones, candles, blocks of dry ink in several colors, stacks of paper, spooled thread, antique coins...
Oooookay. Backing out of the witches closet now. Closing the door, too, that was a good idea. Office chair under him, that was nice, Saguru had the expensive executive kind with the ergonomic engineering and more padding than a working chair had any right to expect.
Kaito's eyes fell to the open books on the desk. More columns of numbers, more math, but this time, although most of the numbers looked ordinary, a few of them had the same blue gleam in the ink. Saguru's birthday. His own birthday. June 28th, a week after Kaito had turned nine, the day Saguru had made that deal. February 23rd, case #777, Saguru's first Kid heist, when Kid stole the painting Adam's Smile. The only future date, coming February 2nd.
The blue traced to the next column of numbers and shorthand. 7 dys ., linked to June 28th. . linked to Kaito's birthday; both that date and Saguru's birthday linked to an 11 next to a crescent, a tiny note of 'exact 3-6 hrs'. Six more sevens were marked in two groups of three: one group pointed at the case file, obviously, but the other pointed to the deal's date and the coming February one.
"Of course it would be you." Saguru's voice made Kaito jerk, nearly banging his knee against the desk, and he looked up to see the blond leaning against the doorframe in striped pajamas and a thick blue robe.
Kaito had to stare. Saguru was glowing, the same icy-electric blue as the marks on the doors and in the file's ink... and, showing when he yawned behind his left hand, a thin thread of it was drifting off in a lazy loop to Kaito, quickly darkening to the blacklight violet color.
Saguru finished his yawn, straightened, and came into the room. Plucking the journal from Kaito's hand, he closed it and set it on a shelf as he opened the witchy closet. With quick, nearly habitual movements, he picked up a small black drawstring bag, tossed several stripey-brown pebbles into it, added a few flat leaves from one of the spice bottles, and dropped the little bag into Kaito's hands. "Here."
Kaito blinked down at it. "... What is it?" It looked exactly like the little bag that he'd accidentally yanked off Saguru's neck a couple days ago. Smelled like it, too.
"Notice me not," Saguru answered. "So you don't bother the fae and vice versa."
Another detail slotted into place. "That's why Ainsel popped up like that."
"It was rather like setting off a massive siren and skywriting my location over the district, yes." Saguru suppressed a yawn. "Go home, Kuroba-kun." Kaito opened his mouth, stung, before Saguru added, "Before you poison yourself."
More like 'before you figure everything out before I do', or 'before you wake me up again', Kaito thought. But since leaving was better than sticking around a cop's house with a bagful of Kid gear, Kaito simply nodded and left.
He almost immediately regretted it. Once he stepped outside, the oddest things seemed to be... somehow deeper. The sky, a pale shade of winter-blue, looked as though it should ripple into life any moment. A few wispy clouds in it flickered with the sheen of scales and claws. He could even, if he didn't think too hard about it, get the impression of a child in the skitter of dead leaves on a gust of wind.
Maybe he shouldn't have tried to see that damn thread. If this was how Saguru saw the world... it must've been damn easy to cut him off from the rest of humanity. The only things human that had the same depth were the gates to houses, the intersection where Kaito turned onto a new road leading out of the neighborhood. And, down the hill and over the canal, there was a hint of that depth to the cluster of shops, like the shaded-in side of a half-finished painting.
Kaito had the sinking suspicion that - if he had his mysticism right, and damn him for finding that book on trickster across cultures, explaining the importance of thresholds and crossroads and markets - one of the other few real-looking things he'd see would be bloody corpses.
To see only dead people as real... He shivered. Note to self: stay the hell out of Beika until he got this under control.
That decided, Kaito stuck his hands in his pockets and whistled with well-practiced nonchalance as he headed between the shops. The punked-out maneki-nekos were out in force already, one patchwork-haired, collared teen to a shop, leaning against the windows or doorjambs and beckoning for customers. Their wide black gazes passed over Kaito like he wasn't even there.
Good. For all that his stock in trade was attention-catching antics and bright colors in the moonlight, that was controlled. When he wasn't actively drawing spectators... well. He really didn't like the idea of having hostile eyes on him, and definitely didn't like the idea that he was somehow worth possessing someone to get at...
Kaito plopped onto a bench under the bare, spindly branches of a plum tree, tipping his head politely at the slim Chinese-gowned girl dozing in the trunk. Possessing. Okay, so this connection thing apparently threw a monkey wrench into the whole 'king of faerie' mess. Enough so that...
He wishes to ruin us all.
It was one damn human connection. For all that Saguru had pointed out that it wouldn't do to lose a king to "filial responsibilities"- pfft, Kaito wasn't a kid or, or a wife. He was barely a friend. Saguru could go off and leave him just fine, so what was the problem?
A shadow passed between him and the sun, and Kaito glanced up to see one of the cats flop down next to him. "Ugh," he groaned, rubbing at one shoulder.
"Long morning?" Kaito asked neutrally.
"Too good at my job," he muttered. "Gonna cause a fire hazard..." Then he blinked, and turned to stare at Kaito, who met his eyes steadily. "Oh..." That black gaze flicked down and back. "You're that guy."
"Yup," Kaito agreed. He smiled, baring just a little bit of teeth. "And I'm not supposed to be killed or kidnapped."
"Not yet," the cat agreed in the same tone, cheerful enough that Kaito almost missed the content. He settled a head in one paw. "So what brings you by? Looking for something?" His grin twisted faintly sly. "Sunglasses, perhaps?"
Kaito didn't frown. "What makes you ask?" he inquired.
The cat tapped one temple. "That's the magic," he said. "Gotta know what the customer needs. You've got the look around your eyes, like the world looks a little raw."
True enough. "I don't think sunglasses would help," Kaito admitted. "I went looking for this thread thing everybody's mad about, and..." The cat's face went sympathetic enough that he didn't need to say more. "Yeah."
"... We've got a sale on beer," the cat offered, as if it couldn't think of anything better to help.
Kaito burst out laughing. "No," he said. "No, I don't think getting blind stinking drunk would help either, even if I was old enough. However..." The impulse slid through Kaito like the ace in a shuffling deck, perfectly controlled and perfectly right. "Maybe finding out what this King of Faerie thing is would."
The cat blinked, paw dropping from under its chin.
And that was telling enough all on its own; the cat had absolutely no poker face. "So," Kaito asked, perfectly congenial, "Why the heck would one easily-abandoned human friend make you guys all gloom-and-doom 'ruin us all'?"
Black eyes stared at Kaito for a long moment. "What's it matter to you?" he finally asked.
No one gets hurt. "Because I want to help," Kaito answered. "I want to know what I've screwed up, and if I can do anything to fix it. And," how badly had this hurt the detective already? "I need to know why Saguru had to tell somebody not to kill me."
Understanding flared in that dark gaze. "I... see." The cat stretched, glancing oh-so-casually over at his still-packed store, then deflated. "I suppose I can spare the time. So. The King of Faerie. Or the Queen," he clarified, a wry flicker in Kaito's direction, "because it alternates. Anyway.
"The way I've been told," the cat said, "Every couple thousand years, the Norns pick a human kid that suits their purposes, don't ask because I don't know what the requirements are. They meet him at some mystical convergence, again I don't have any idea, I'm not a scholar. They offer him a deal, usually the kid's young and dumb enough to say yes, and a few years later they pick him up and crown him.
"So then he becomes a conduit for the magic of Faerie." Thick-fingered paws made a sort of wavy, flat gesture in the air. "Goes flying about in set patterns, makes sure the magic all flows the way it's supposed to, negotiates when the land-bound clans get annoyed with each other. He doesn't really rule," the cat pointed out, "not like he goes making laws and stuff, but we pretty much go with what he decides.
"Because if we don't... well." The cat glanced upwards and away, next words coming slow. "It's no skin off my nose to ignore him, really. I live off ample customers and trade. Most fae, though... Without a king, it wouldn't be long before the dryads are drowning in water magic," he said, still in that same softly pensive voice. "Kappa choking on sirocco winds, mountain dragons swallowed in rivers of lava, mermaids left high and dry..."
Kaito didn't like the images the cat was painting. Not at all. "Why a human, though?" Why Saguru?
The cat looked at him like a particularly slow student. "A fae-born king's almost worse: if they picked me, for example, it'd be two thousand years of humans tromping in and out of the realm buying faerie dust. That's just what I am... and there aren't any faerie who aren't strong enough in a particular magic to not skew the whole balance towards that one magic and lose the rest.
"So the ruler has to be human-born. But for him - the one person keeping all this from happening - to have a connection outside Faerie?" The cat's gaze pierced deep into Kaito. "That's a distraction. We don't know what that'll do to the balance, if it'll cause floods or storms or droughts, or if it'll just weaken the boundary enough that humans start falling through. But, more importantly..." A faint hiss entered his voice. "The king needs to live for over two thousand years. What happens when you die?"
The power of death, pumped straight into the one person holding what sounded like the life of Faerie... Kaito's face went suddenly cold. "No wonder you guys want to kill me." Before Saguru went through or finished whatever change would put him in power, before Kaito's death could affect him on a magical level.
"Or make sure you live," the cat added. "For a very, very long time."
Nap. Dinner. Cleanse at a shrine. Break into Saguru's library again. Remember to gas the blond idiot this time so as not to get caught. Right. Man with a plan, that was Kaito. A good plan, too, because for all that Saguru and the fae were years of study ahead of him, they didn't have Kid's flair for brilliance or the twisty mind that planned great heists and better escapes.
Kaito flopped on his bed, one arm over his eyes and his free hand curled around the comforting weight of a smoke bomb. Ugh. Way too long a night. And he was looking at another one, thank goodness tomorrow wasn't a school day. Sleep was in the plan. Study was in the plan. School... very much not. School didn't hold a candle to escaping the not-so-veiled threat of ending up a fae captive.
Kaito had read Sleeping Beauty. Hundred-year stasis spells were not his idea of a good time.
Yes. Better to think of staying free rather than threatening an entire race. For all he knew, if Kaito's death could affect Saguru, and Kaito's life could affect Saguru, Kid's imprisonment might too. He could all too easily picture a Saguru all jittery from Kid-in-prison vibes. That would suck for earthquakes, most likely...
Yawning, Kaito curled around the smoke bomb, and dozed off.
The woods were misty, dark and deep, and so very, very green. A fallen tree hung over jumbled mossy boulders, where a brook fell like rain overflowing a gutter, and at the bottom of the trickling waterfall...
Kaito Kid knew that hair color anywhere. Even on a weedy kid in green-belted judo gear, all muddy feet and scraped knuckles, playing with a black helmet.
... Saguru's not nine...
Something giggled, high and clear, then Saguru beamed over his shoulder at Kaito Kid. "You've been having some really tasty nightmares," he said.
And because it was a dream, that was perfectly sensible. Kaito Kid smiled. "At least someone's getting some good out of them."
Teeth gleamed in the child's smile. "So I figure I owe you a little something." A strange awareness faded from Saguru's eyes, not noticeable until it was absent, and Saguru tossed the helmet into the air, Darth Vader's mask gleaming brightly out of it. "I must confess, I've never faced down the barrel of a gun before." He posed behind the helmet, making a couple wheezing breaths in illustration. "I find myself stymied for the first time."
"Yeah." Kaito Kid got that. Metaphorical gun of a situation, but still. Biggest bad-ass anime-ready blaster rifle kind of metaphorical gun. "I'm sorry about this whole mess."
A shrug, with that playful, young gaze peeping up from behind black plastic. "Despite the dire situation, there remain far better options, should I attempt them." Saguru's eyes crinkled in some private amusement. "Perhaps I shall be up to the challenge?"
That was Saguru all over, wasn't it. "I sincerely hope so," Kaito Kid told him.
Saguru's eyes twinkled. "They may not particularly like it, but I have some ideas-"
Kaito jolted out of a sound sleep, something buzzing against his hip and smoke hissing up out of the bomb he'd instinctively whacked to the floor. The mysterious something buzzed again, and Kaito realized he'd forgotten to take his cell phone out of his pocket. He coughed, stumbling out of bed and into the hallway, one hand fumbling for the phone and clicking it open. Ugh. Never fall asleep with smoke bombs again.
"Moshimoshi." There was no mistaking the voice.
"Sagu-" Kaito swallowed the rest of the word. "Hakuba-kun."
"Kuroba-kun. My apologies, did I wake you?"
"Naaah." He needed to wake up anyway, so he could sleep tonight. Preferably without the weird dreams. Darth Saguru eating nightmares like a baku beast, suuuuure. "What's up?"
"I need to meet with your alter ego." The words jolted Kaito fully awake, as Saguru continued, "As soon as is convenient."
"As soon as..." The phone creaked in Kaito's fist. "You found something?"
"Two hours, Kuroba-kun. Pick someplace private." The phone clicked, then Kaito heard nothing but the dial tone.
"Bye to you too." Jerk. But Saguru might have found something... not some way to break the connection, not without Kaito's permission, otherwise they'd already have done with it, but maybe... maybe... with Kaito's help...?
It doesn't matter that I won't be able to have friends now.
Kaito shook the memory away. He'd find out what Saguru wanted first. After that...
Well. Cross that bridge when they came to it.
It didn't take very long for Kid to realize that Saguru hadn't said where to meet, just to 'pick someplace private'. No doubt Saguru meant to find him with that damn thread. And would, too, the stubborn, arrogant, persistant...
Of course, that didn't mean Kid had to make it easy. He was a gentleman thief, and therefore entirely too curious- ahem, polite, really, honest- to spend half the night winging around Tokyo on his hangglider while Saguru haplessly tried to follow.
So it was that two hours later, Kid crouched high upon the very top of a water tower, watching the all-too-familiar tea-blond hair bob as Saguru climbed the semi-enclosed maintenance ladder attached to the side of the tank. Icy gusts of wind tugged at his cape and Saguru's Inverness coat, making the thick fabric flap and try to tangle against knees and rungs alike.
The blue eyes staring up at Kid would've been murderous, had it been anyone but Saguru. As it was, though, they held an almost piercing resignation. As if Kid would be so rude as to leap off the tower after dragging Saguru all the way up.
... Well, if the promise of information wasn't holding him there, then yeah. It would be funny.
Saguru's hand clamped onto the rung just three bars below the tower's edge, and Kaito backflipped to the center and out of reach.
An aggrieved sigh, nearly torn away by the breeze, then Saguru peeked up over the ladder's top. He blinked to see Kid still standing there, but gamely clambered onto the tower roof. Then Saguru stuck his hands in his pockets and took a couple steps safely away from the edge, staying carefully, precisely, out of Kid's personal space.
Very polite. It wouldn't be easy to hold a conversation at this distance, but definitely more comfortable than if either of them were within reach of the other, even if that 'reach' required leaping to get in range.
Kid gestured widely around the barren expanse of metal. "Private enough for you, Tantei-san?" he asked. At Saguru's nod, he added, "Not the most polite invitation I've recieved in my life, but considering the lack of dead bodies trying to be attributed to me, I suppose I can forgive you. So. What can I do for you tonight, Tantei-san?"
Saguru met his gaze evenly. "The same thing you could - but won't - do every time," he answered wryly.
"Hm." Kid pretended to think about it. "Dropkicking you off the tower has had its appeals," he mused. Saguru's expression went slightly sour. "With safety precautions, of course. Then there's allowing myself to be arrested-" At Saguru's snort, Kid smirked. "Yes, exactly. Then there's... let's see, what is there?"
"'I want to ask one thing.'"
"Ah yes. That." Kid waved a chiding finger. "I've told you before, Tantei-san. It's your job to provide answers-"
"Then the answer is a criminal syndicate."
Kid froze. "... Pardon?"
Saguru pulled a folded-up printout from his pocket and opened it, picture flapping in the wind too hard to get a good look at. "You're at war with a criminal syndicate." He held it out, standing perfectly still.
Kid could dodge if Saguru made a move. He had to see... what had Saguru done? Slowly, he edged forward, until he could snatch the page from Saguru's gentle grip and jerk back safely out of reach.
The image was a photograph, probably taken with a digital camera and printed out on ordinary paper, and it very clearly showed Kaitou Kid leaping in mid-air over the heads of a faceless mob. Half their attention was on the full moon in the upper corner, a gem glowing blood-red in it, while the rest of them had weapons bristling at Kid. It wasn't clear whether Kid was leaping towards them or away: he'd yanked his cape to swirl forward, could just as easily be readying smoke bombs to escape or sleeping gas to capture. His Poker-Face grin, razor-sharp and gleaming with teeth, didn't help.
"The Wyrd Sisters finished weaving your life tapestry today," Saguru explained. "It's... very telling, how all your attention is on those criminals rather than the gem."
He knew. Hakuba Saguru knew. Even if it still wasn't admissable in court. "Congratulations, Tantei-san," Kid whispered, feeling oddly hollow. "That's... what, your last case solved?"
Saguru's eyes softened. "Number #777. And now... there might be a solution to this last one."
Kid made the paper disappear up his sleeve with a flourish. "Oh?" Some way to fix what he'd done. Some way to... take Saguru away forever.
It doesn't matter that I won't be able to have friends now.
Something went flat in Saguru's eyes. "We can take them all," he said simply. Kid's breath caught in his throat. "Every knowing member and accomplice of the Syndicate can be captured and judged in the faerie courts."
The way Saguru ended the sentence, there was a catch. There was always a catch. "But..?" Kid prompted, warily.
Saguru scrubbed one hand through his bangs. "There's no delicate way to say this," he muttered. "Kid... there are no accomodations in fae rule for a relationship outside Faerie. Within Faerie, though-"
Move to Faerie, Kid realized.
"- a consort can be human-born."
Kid's mouth dropped open. "Consort?" he echoed.
"Consort," Saguru affirmed. "You'd have to change," he emphasized, "to become faerie enough to live two thousand years, and there aren't that many ways to do that."
It felt like the ground was opening up at Kid's feet. In fact, he glanced down just to make sure it wasn't. Leave his humanity. Leave the world.
Leave his mom.
Catch all the bastards who'd killed his dad, poisoned teenagers, burned families in their homes...
Be a consort. Which implied... "Er... sex?" Kid managed to squeak.
Saguru went bright red. "Not required," he answered, in very nearly the same tone. "But... ah... considering your vaunted curiosity... I'm sure there will be decades in which we absolutely hate each other, too," he added hastily.
Point taken. "Fair enough," Kid said. This was not the first time he'd made a life-changing, insane decision. "Do it."
Saguru sputtered. "Shouldn't you take some time to think about-"
Saguru searched his gaze for a long moment - Kid tipped his head back, just enough that the nearly full moon could shine past the hat and show his expression - then the blond made a rueful face. "Only you," he murmured. Then he raised his face to the sky and whistled.
High above, a hawk screamed.
Hawks aren't awake at night, Kid thought, even as the wind picked up and Watson landed with a good, hard flap onto Saguru's upraised arm. She screamed again, hooked beak clacking affectionately near Saguru's nose, then turned one golden eye on Kid as Saguru murmured softly at her, his eyes closed and free hand fisted up near her speckled breast.
No. Not fisted... posed, in a magical gesture Kaito had seen mikos use.
The moonlight dimmed. Kid caught needlessly at his hat, the scent of snow suddenly on the wind, and heard thunder rumble.
He's calling up a storm...?
Then Kid looked up, to see lightning flash on horse hooves and spears, leather armor and wild-eyed men. Lean, hungry black hounds ran between the horses' legs like a river, pale tongues lolling between fangs sharp as daggers. Then the lead hound raised its muzzle and bayed, the rest of the pack taking up the hollow and horrible call, huntsmen's horns ringing in Kid's ears.
Saguru's eyes flashed open. "Who did they kill?" he shouted over the rising call of the hunt.
The question pierced deep into Kid's heart and lodged there, ice-cold, heat fleeing to prick behind his eyes.
"Answer me! The Hunt needs to know!"
The Hunt... "Oyaji-"
"The previous Kaitou Kid?"
He could barely choke out the word. "Yes-"
Watson screamed, launching herself into the air, and Saguru flung out an arm to point at Kid. "Take those with his blood upon their hands!" he ordered. Hounds swarmed Kid like smoke, some passing through him and leaving patches of icy-cold in their wake. "Take their allies with blood upon their hands!"
The lead Huntsman grinned, yellow teeth under eyes like ice, and raised the horn once more. We ride! hissed on the wind, along with predatory cries of Usurpers! and Oathbreakers! and Poisoners! The wind raised to a howling shriek, yanking Kid's cape to billow in his face...
... And then they were gone.
Saguru stayed in place for a long moment, eyes lost and gazing past Kid in the direction they'd gone. Then he seemed to give a mental shake, blinking back into reality, and turned away.
"Wait!" Kid took a step forward before he quite realized, arm outstretched. "Where are you going?"
Saguru paused, one foot on the top rung, and looked back at Kid. "To settle my affairs," he said simply. A quick glance up at the sky, and he added, "Tomorrow's the full. The Wild Hunt should be done by then." Something soft came over his face. "Seven years, seven months, and seven days. It's a good beginning."
That explained the damn 7-7-7 in the notes... and yeah, Western numbers, it would be an auspicious day to make the change-
The enormity of what he'd just done crashed over Kid then.
He was going to be faerie.
He was going to beat the Syndicate.
He was going to abandon his mom.
As Saguru's blond head vanished below the edge of the roof, Kid snapped his glider into place and ran to dive into the wind.
One by one, the hungry stars are beaten out
Til only that pale ghost remains.
Then it, too, bows to its audience
And fades into the bright new day.
Kaito, back in jeans and Kid's blue shirt, signed his caricature onto the note with little flourish, then punched a hole in the card - an anime art piece of Tokyo Tower before the full moon - and clipped one end of a miniature pair of toy handcuffs through it. The other end clicked around the padded nameband on Hope's legs, and the dove warbled gently before taking off in a rustling flap of gray-tipped wings.
"Bye, Hope," he murmured. Then he shut the door to the dove cote, casting a handful of seed inside in the same move, and headed back into the house.
He found Chikage in the kitchen, chopping up vegetables for a packed lunch. He slid up behind her, arms wrapping around her, and buried his face in her hair. "I love you, Mom."
He could very nearly feel the blink, as his mother put the knife down and patted his crossed arms. "I love you too, sweetie. What brought this on?"
Kaito shrugged, shoulders moving against her back. "If I wanted to... I dunno, move away for college, would it be okay?"
Chikage turned in his arms. "I have no idea how we'd afford it," she answered, patting his cheek, "But yes, silly."
"What if I did something stupid?"
An eyeroll. "Hardly the first time," she answered wryly, but there was something a little more suspicious in her gaze.
"If it was between making one person happy... and a lot of people safe...?"
"Safe, of course," she answered without needing to think about it. Then she slowly continued, "Kaito? Do I want to ask what on earth this is about?"
"Probably not." He hugged her tightly, getting an equally strong hug in return. "I really do love you, Mom. But there's one last question." Chikage made a questioning sound. "Can you... let go?"
Chikage settled back, eyes blinking up in bewilderment, but let her arms loosen and fall. Kaito felt the change deep in his stomach, something twisting free. "I really do love you," he repeated quietly.
Then he bolted for his room.
He couldn't pack too obviously. An extra Kid cape, a set of pajamas, a formal kimono and casual yukata from Kid's disguise racks, all rolled and folded tightly into the glider backpack and the top hat. A little cash, just in case. A handful of snacks, again, just in case. Travelling to Faerie, he might run into some of the less sapient fae, who knew?
Check very carefully for trace evidence. Makeup, latex paint, white fibers - namely the treated polymers from his cape - had no business being in a teenage boy's room. And they'd check. He couldn't do much about his hair or DNA - even if he removed every bit, all the police would need to do was run a sample from his mother, and the computers would find a match with the profile Saguru had generated from Kid. All he could do was make sure nothing definitively Kid-related, and everything Kaito-related, including fingerprints and DNA and hair in his own house, was left as it should be, so as not to trigger enough police suspicion to have them run an active comparison to their files, rather than simply store a new one.
He had to stop thinking about it. His mom would figure something out. And if she didn't... if she didn't know she had to, Jii would.
Kid changed back into his full suit, knotting the tie loosely and perching the hat - abnormally heavy now, but hairclips hidden in the band helped keep it feeling secure - then looked around his bedroom one last time.
The sun was about to set.
Time to take his place, and await the end of Kid's final heist.
The last red dregs of the sun had blown away in a gust of snow-scented wind and threatening clouds once more. Kid watched the billowing shapes scud across the sky, tinted an eerie dull orange by the streetlights of Tokyo.
He had a tiny reciever taped lightly to the metal struts under him, a clever little earbud buzzing with police dispatch on one channel, local news on another, national on yet a third. Weather stations reported in Japanese and several dialects of English on channels five through twelve.
The international announcer on channel four had cut off mid-word, just as a storm front passed over the city Kid knew that program was recorded in. He'd stopped listening to the international station after that.
At least the weather was really too nasty for helicopters to take off in, Kid thought, absently snapping his fingers. Another ladder toppled in on itself and crashed to the rooftop below - missing the wide spotlights - before anyone could try to use it, much to the cursing of the officers there.
A bullhorn squealed faintly from the midst of the swarming crowd. "Attention, you-" A blistering string of curses followed, mixed with words like 'Kid' and 'heist' and 'get down here, you rat'. Typical for Nakamori-keibu, really. Kid gave him an eight for style and a nine for vehemence; it really wasn't his best performance, given the giggling, impish snow-maidens blowing white kisses into his face and pushing officers off the lowest struts of the police building's radio tower onto Nakamori's head.
Certain other people got a ten by association. Kid could only see the Edogawa boy in this mob by the dark blot of feather-cloaked shinigami - mostly girls, though there were at least three gleeful boys in the cluster - cooing over him, safely ignoring both falling ladders and officers, and not getting into any mischief for once.
(He wasn't entirely clear on how that little gang of spirits affected the deaths that happened around Edogawa: whether they caused them, or guided the boy to the violent ones for solving, or just had long since figured out that it was easier to find the dead if they followed the boy around - sort of the way it was easier to find kids if you followed an ice-cream truck. But it was a pretty safe bet that if the spirits were paying that much attention to Conan, they weren't getting involved in the occurance of deaths. Which was good. It wouldn't bode well to have someone die tonight.)
Something warm sparkled in the low-lying clouds. Something warm and familiar and coming in fast.
Kid plucked his transciever from his ear, ducked the net sailing over his head, and stood.
Down below, the Task Force went silent, the hungry stillness just before a strike.
Kid raised his arm, anticipation going through the crowd, and caught Watson neatly in the backwing of her dive. She raised golden eyes to him, wings flapping for balance, and screamed into his face, Done! echoing in the cry.
It was over.
And Kid spread his arms wide, cape billowing in the wind. "Ladies and Gentlemen!" This wasn't something that should be crowed to the sky, but it had to be. No audience of Kid's would settle for anything less. "My predecessor's killers have been brought to justice!"
He gave that a moment to penetrate, rippling through the crowd and bringing them to a far more dead silence. Then he let his stance fall, bringing Watson close to his chest. "And so," he said more quietly, subtly raising a hand to the clips of his cape, "the curtain falls upon a legend. The great thief, and his pale ghost, and the grand adventure of it all." He let his head tip, gaze falling on the inspector. "Nakamori-keibu, cherish your lovely daughter. Your time with her is the only theft I regret."
Watson clacked her beak impatiently, and Kid let his smiling Poker Face go gentler than he'd ever let the police see before. He bowed deeply. "I bid you all-" the cape billowed up over his face, and his vision began to fade. "-Adieu."
Somewhere, a bell began to toll midnight. Setsubun. Spirits out; good fortune in, Kaito Kid thought. Let's hope that rings true.
Kid's cape fell free, and the world went black.
Thank you, Watson. The fae bird had Saguru's sense of dramatics, enough so that Kid hadn't ended up looking very silly in dropping his cape and failing to disappear. Now, where was he...?
As Kid's eyes adjusted to the lack of spotlights, a convenient wind gusted up, and the firm rod under his feet swayed with a creak peculiar to live wood. So he was in a tree. He blinked a couple of times, checking- yes, that was the shape of branches in full leaf, stark black against a few inky-blue spots of night sky.
He glanced down. This wasn't too bad at all; he was just a few meters off the ground, about as far up as he'd been on the radio tower. A light hop, and he landed in a crouch, leaf mould crunching wetly underfoot and Watson flapping in protest, talons pricking at his forearm.
"My apologies, Watson-hime," Kid murmured. He stood, swirled his extra cape out of its pocket and into place, and raised her to his shoulder. "Shall we go?"
She twisted to jut her head out at an angle, eyes intent, and cried again. That way.
Kid followed her gaze downslope, and nodded. "As you wish."
When the trees opened out, Kid found himself on the bank of a wide river, the far side much steeper than this side had been, and absolutely no houses or castles or towns in sight. "I would think," Kid said mildly, very respectful of the hooked beak and talons, "that you'd want me to reach the court as quickly as possible."
Watson's wing clocked him upside the head, knocking his hat askew. Fool boy. Too human.
"It was an observation, Watson-hime." Did that mean they lived in the open? It would make sense. But Kaito would invent faerie castles if he had to, to prevent two thousand years of sleeping on the ground or in a tree.
Transport is here.
"Ah." Much better. Kid squinted through the gloom, looking for anything on the river... and sure enough, spotted movement. A tall, thin figure stroked methodically on the calm waters, poling a longboat towards them like a shadow under the sinking moon.
Kid eyed the ferryman, then the river, shuffled quickly through the Greek myths in his head, and came up with- "The Sanzu or the Styx?" he asked wryly. Watson's feathers rustled a does it matter?
Well, maybe it didn't. Though Kid would rather take his chances with the Styx instead of the hungry dragons of the Sanzu.
The boat bumped up gently against the muddy riverbank, the ferryman - in a shimmering gray cloak, hood covering everything but a couple hanks of long white hair - shoving his pole deep into the waters downstream of the stern and anchoring the boat neatly into place. Then he held out one taloned hand.
Kid got the idea immediately. Okay, foresight to bring money: good. He stepped into the boat, little weight sending the boat bouncing a bit in the current, and began pulling 100-yen coins from his hatband. It took six before the boatman pulled back his hand, dropping the coins into a box filled with coins, shells, bits of rock, quills- that was all Kid recognized before the boatman shut the box's lid and shoved them away from the riverbank.
The narrow boat skimmed rhythmically downriver. Forward, a hint of pressure against the back of Kid's knees and through his feet; raise slightly, the weight of the pole lifting out of the water at the stern; drifting movement in the corner of Kid's eye, two or three tiny splashed drops from the pole's base; then plish back into the water and pull-shove forward. And so hours passed, and eventually the sky began to pale.
Watson untucked her head from under her wing as they came around a bend. Stay close.
"Danger?" Kid asked quietly.
Hardly. Lights flickered on under the water, rising fast, and something splashed loudly out-of-rhythm with the boat's pole. Pale hands broke through the water, carrying globes of gentle blue fae light, followed by a soft, penetrating soprano as one woman, then another and another, rose out of the water. But we recall- A scaly tail flashed, and Kid froze in place. -that you're afraid of fish.
Mermaids. He had an honor guard of mermaids.
Titania-sama insisted, Watson added apologetically. We didn't think it appropriate to tell her why not.
An island loomed out of the fading dark, and the boat angled into the wider branch of the river. Now fae lights began to peep out from between the trees on the island shore, clustering more and more thickly, some flickering as things - people, Kid corrected himself - darted in front of them. The frontmost of his escort separated and fell back, letting the boat cut across the current towards shore.
Finally, with a grinding thump and some helpful shoves from the - shudder - mermaids, the boat landed on the island, a grassy bit of clearing between it and the drooping fronds of a willow tree. Actual people were clustered here, though Kid could only see the ones outside the concealing curtain of willow leaves, and not very well as of yet.
Kid stood, swallowed back a bit of nausea, and bowed to the boatman and mermaids alike. Even if the ladies were f-f-fish, he could be polite.
Saguru owed him for this, he thought, as he turned and stepped onto the riverbank. A hush fell over the gathered fae, ladies' fans flashing bright colors before white-painted faces. Then- human, someone whispered. Human? others echoed. Kid watched nervousness ripple through the crowd: ears flattening, whiskers bristling, tails lashing, tiny winged pixies darting to hide in leafy hair.
"Human!" And that was a burly, bearded man mounted above the rest, his horse snorting amusement. He raised a wineskin to toast Kid, grinning widely. "Slangevar to ye! Best hunt we've had in years!" And with that inarguable welcome, a path immediately opened up between Kid and the tree.
Okay, he could take a hint. He walked forward, fae bowing as he passed, and ducked under the curtain of willow leaves.
The first thing he saw was a very familiar face. Saguru sat on a thick, moss-covered root at the base of the tree, wearing something just silly enough that it had to be ceremonial: a sleeveless, halter-style white tunic with Mandarin collar, frog buttons holding a green half-cloak in place, and green hose.
"Saguru," Kid said, not disguising the relief in his voice. It was about time he found the guy.
Saguru's eyes widened ever-so-slightly, and he sent a pointed glance to his left. Kid followed it to where the three Wyrd Sisters were standing impassively. "Ladies," he added, bowing deeply. Man oh man, he had to have broken some kind of protocol greeting Saguru first. Kid peeked around the surprisingly large space as he straightened. Wyrd Sisters, Saguru, guy in Heian court robes with a writing desk, little gnome-thing, crowned lady in the tree trunk...
Crowned lady who was the tree trunk. Mostly. Moss like a dress, roots swirling out like skirts, a knot marking cupped hands and her bodice, hair raised in thick braided branches, just enough of her left that she had a human face and gold circlet peeking out from the bark. "Titania-sama," Kid guessed, bowing almost as deeply as he had for the Sisters.
Unexpectedly, her face crinkled in a smile. "We'd been wondering when our Saguru would finally overthrow our expectations," she said.
"It's part of the sign," she murmured. "Call it a hidden test. Which he passed in the proverbial eleventh hour, which also suits the sign," she added, blithely ignoring Saguru's red face. Her gaze flicked to the thick root to her right, "Come, sit."
Gingerly, well aware that he was effectively sitting on Queen Titania's foot - or possibly her lap, it wasn't easy to tell with the way she'd petrified - Kid obeyed, and Watson hopped from her perch on Kid's shoulder to one near Titania's arm.
Titania's heavy gaze lifted from him, pinning itself to the wizened little gnome near the entrance. "Begin the trials."
The gnome bowed, then tugged back the curtain. In strode the man who'd toasted Kid, the wineskin now gone and several large, rough sacks over his shoulder. He swung one sack around, inverted it, and dumped a disheveled, long-haired blond at his feet.
"Melor Gin Kior," Wyrd sang, a hollow note that lit the enclosure with the fires of the man's name, enough so that Kid could see that the dirt had manacled itself around the man's wrists and legs.
Gin yanked ineffectually at the dirt, then looked up, a grin as wide as Kid's and ten times as homicidal stretching his face. He didn't so much as flinch when Wyrd's staff slammed through the burning letters, the same movement as she'd done so many nights ago with Kid's, nor when she pulled a long thread from the fire and passed it to Skilja.
Then Skilja began to chant, voice lilting in a minor key around the same hollow base note.
"Patricide, matricide, theft absolute... murder, extortion, blackmail, murder... kidnapping, murder, arson..."
As she continued with the litany of crimes, Kid's gaze stayed fixed on Gin. There wasn't a single flicker of recognition in the man's pale eyes. Plenty of pride, no horror or shock, but it was as if Skilja was chanting the weather report for the man's hometown.
Kid... hadn't asked what would happen if any of the Syndicate weren't mentally competent enough to understand their actions. Even if it was clear that Gin was too dangerous to set free.
It seemed like hours before Skilja came to the end of the thread, hundreds of crimes ringing in Kid's ears, and Saguru raised an eyebrow at the man.
It was too obvious a cue to speak, and Gin apparently couldn't resist, smirking. "Don't remember a single one," he declared, smug. "All I remember is Kudou Shin'ichi."
Saguru glanced at Skilja, and she checked the thread. "Poisoning," she answered.
Gin's breath hissed through his teeth, a sound with undertones of knew I missed the bastard!, and Saguru leaned forward, eyes on a level with Gin's.
"There is no insanity plea in this court," Saguru said softly. Gin went very, very still.
"Going to kill me, then?" he asked, eyes glinting. The words struck out, vicious as fangs, cold as ice. Kid forced his muscles to perfect stillness, not letting his poker face crack, definitely not reaching out to Saguru as Gin's words cut deep.
But though the question did cut deep, it also slid right through Saguru's demeanor like a knife through water.
"No," Saguru answered, in the same quiet tone. "Death is too quick." Before Gin could ask another biting question, the next logical step, Saguru went on, "You're never going to understand. Not by anything anyone can do to you.
"But you can suffer." Saguru looked up at Titania. "I would sentence him to grieve. To lose the world, and all the victims he could have had in it."
Titania inclined her head, then looked at the Sisters. "Agreed."
Skilja's talons snicked neatly through the thread, getting a shocked, choking grunt out of Gin. Then Verthandi stepped forward, and the three sisters took up the thread and converged on the pale-haired man. Neatly as spiders, they wove the thread around him, pulling tight and winding, pulling tight and winding, until Gin was completely cocooned and shrinking every second- now the size of a beach ball, now a baseball, and finally a pearl, which the little gnome scooped up and dropped in a box.
Kid had barely a moment to clasp Saguru's shoulder, drop his poker-faced smirk for something far more sober and comforting, before Titania's voice ordered, "Next!"
The trials continued the same way for hours. One by one, the Huntsman dumped people onto the ground: men and women of all races, from feeble age-spotted misers to cheaply-dressed men scarcely older than Kid himself. The youngest tended to be pirates and drug runners; the oldest, rich backers whose crimes filled the recorder's bamboo-strip scrolls like epic sagas of villainy. A few people had come as a surprise, like the innocuous American actress Saguru sentenced to become an ivy vine, 'to slowly pulverize those whose crimes have sentenced them to become stone, and subsequently expire'.
After Saguru had sentenced the first child abuser (a man whose syndicate-related crimes tended towards money laundering) to become an ingot of brass, 'to be beaten and forged into those forms we see fit', Kid leaned over and tapped Saguru's hand, catching the blond's attention. "No chances of The One Ring here, Tantei-san?" he asked, pitched so that only Saguru could hear.
"None," Saguru answered firmly.
"Just checking." Poetic justice was good. Poetic justice that risked all the fairy-tale clichés of evil unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace somewhere down the line, not good. Especially since Kid had the niggling feeling that one of the reasons Saguru was getting so creative - rather than just chopping their heads off and having done with it - was Kid's own unspoken rule.
No one gets hurt.
Saguru was definitely pushing the limits of that, but... well. He wouldn't be Saguru if he was willing to approve death when he could find another option. So at least it wasn't all Kid's fault.
The next man to tumble out of a bag had a very familiar gray trenchcoat and handlebar moustache, and Kid nearly jumped out of his skin.
One look, crouched and trapped on the ground, and Snake groaned. "You can't even stay dead in my dreams," he complained.
Saguru immediately held up a hand, stopping Wyrd before she could sing out the assassin's name. "This is the primary offender," he deduced aloud. "Kaitou Kid... you have the right to speak against him first."
Kid blinked, but found himself rising to his feet, cape swirling. Speak against...? Did he even have anything to say that the Sisters wouldn't announce for him...?
He stopped just out of range of the man's teeth. "You-" What to say? Snake's eyes flashed, something sadistic and cold stretching at the corners of his mouth, just waiting to tear into whatever recriminations Kid could make. "- are the absolute biggest idiot I've come across in my life."
Shock blanked out everything else on Snake's face.
It went against every instinct Kid had, but he couldn't say it... couldn't give voice to what he'd truly done. So he lifted a hand to his head, tugged the hat and monocle free, and let them drop to his side.
"... You're not Toichi."
Kaito managed to smirk, hoping it didn't come across as sickly as it felt. Unmasked meant vulnerable, and this was his father's killer- but there was something he could say to drive the knife home. "You realize that I would never have known anything if you hadn't told me, Snake-san."
The man's face went blotchy, embarrassment shot through with a rising fury.
Behind Kaito, Saguru spoke up. "By killing Kuroba-san," he said, "You opened the door for Kaitou Kid to become a power in his own right. All he needed was for a new soul of his blood to take up that mantle."
Kaito hadn't heard that bit of their findings yet. He turned a flat look over his shoulder at Saguru.
Saguru only smiled past him, grin like a shark's. "Lucky you, Kuroba-san's heir was both. Which left us to clean up your mess."
Titania stirred. "Begin the trial." Stop wasting your composure on him, she might as well have said.
Kaito stepped back, replacing his hat and monocle in the same deft move in which he bowed to Titania and seated himself once more.
Skilja's litany this time was a repetitive chorus of murder and illegal gun trade, thankfully not naming any names. Kid didn't think he'd keep it together, watching Snake finally face what he'd done, if he heard his father's name cut through the rushing in his ears.
When it was over with, Kid completely expected Saguru to wave Snake off to be turned to stone, like the other garden-variety killers had. But Saguru leaned forward instead, fingers lacing together in the same intense, inward-looking pose he'd had when discussing Kid before.
"There is a place," he murmured, "in the farthest reaches of Faerie, where the land bubbles up and glows red-hot with no volcano to fuel it." Verthandi sucked in a shocked, hissing breath of recognition. "There no rain falls, and even the hardiest ifrits and smith gods cannot survive. The creative gods - midwives and muses, mothers and magicians - are born here, out of blood and fire and the birth of new lands." Saguru paused, just long enough that no one could mistake that he, not Titania, was about to pass sentence rather than suggest it. "You, Snake, will be the first rain to fall upon this land, an acid rain to boil up and fall constantly, until you fall upon the first green leaf to grow from your waters."
Kid missed most of the rest of the trials after that. Snake's face rose again and again in his memory, vanishing into smoggy black clouds that coiled into their own life-thread and vanished, banished to the hellish edges of Faerie.
It was an image that was going to haunt his dreams for a very long time, Kid knew. He just wasn't quite sure if they'd be dreams or nightmares.
Convicts slowly piled up in Saguru's coffers. Pearls, brass ingots, wooden logs, small stone statues, columns of glass, voluminous Jizo robes... the only ones who didn't end up in the boxes were lumps of ice, thieves tossed into the river to steal heat and melt.
Then the Huntsman upended his last sack, and out tumbled a tiny form in ruffled lavender pajamas.
Saguru sat bolt upright. "What is this?" he hissed.
The Huntsman shrugged. "Stinks of blood."
Kid caught at Saguru's forearm. "She's friends with Kudou Shin'ichi, the missing Great Teen Detective of the East." At Saguru's pause, Kid pointedly added, "You might know him better as Edogawa Conan."
Saguru's eyes widened faintly. A quick, assessing glance at the girl, and it clicked. "Old enough to be...?"
"Haven't figured that out," Kid admitted. "Since she's here, definitely a culprit. But since she's friends with Tantei-kun... saa, who knows?"
Settling back, Saguru nodded stiffly to Wyrd, who sang a soft, "Miyano Shiho Sherry Haibara Ai," and lit the tent with extensive fires. But when her staff smashed through the delicate lines of the name, Haibara choked on a scream. Steam began to rise from her small body, thickening and shaping until the ghostly figure of a woman in a lab coat cloaked the little girl from sight.
Wide eyes stared up from under a tea-blonde fringe at Saguru. "What-?" Haibara's voice was tiny, thin, still that of a little girl.
"Quiet," Saguru ordered gently. Then he nodded to Wyrd, who pulled the thread from Haibara's fires, and passed it to Skilja to read.
"Mori Yukichi-" Kid felt his bruising grip on Saguru relax. It was a list of victims. Not crimes. Haibara... Sherry, Miyano... had, like many of the scientists, never committed a crime directly. Just created nasty treats for the Syndicate to use.
It was a long list. And as each name passed Skilja's lips, Haibara's face grew more and more shadowed. She hadn't let her head fall yet, but her body language was trapped, waiting, defeated... except not quite that last one. It was the sort of defeat that, if Kid tried putting himself in the situation... yes. Definitely the kind of defeat that was still calculating escape.
"Kudou Shin'ichi-" Haibara twitched with recognition, with understanding, even as Kid realized she'd made the poison that shrunk Tantei-kun. Which, given the circumstances, meant that the last name on the list would probably be...
"-Miyano Shiho." And Skilja's voice died in perfect silence.
Saguru stared at the woman for a long moment. Then, "Do you have anything to say for yourself?" he asked.
"... No," Haibara rasped. Her fists started to clench, but, with an effort, she made them go open and loose again. "I'm sure I have at least that many victims. Even if the names are just an invention of my subconscious." Her mouth shifted, a tiny, cynical twist that could barely be called a smile. "This is a kinder nightmare than most."
"And you yourself are your last victim?"
"No," she admitted in a bare whisper. "Except for the apotoxin, they still have my formulas." She left unspoken that the syndicate would therefore still be using them. It was too obvious to need to be said.
"Does Kudou Shin'ichi know?"
"And he's forgiven you?"
The silence stretched even longer this time. Then... "You're being sufficiently punished already," Saguru decided. "Let her go."
The fog vanished, leaving only a very startled little girl, arms and legs freed though she remained kneeling on the ground.
"Haibara Ai," Saguru said softly. "When you wake in the morning, check the news. After tomorrow, forty-eight hours, check police reports. Eventually, you'll find a name or a face you recognize... and you'll remember that we've captured and sentenced the entire syndicate that was using your drugs." Haibara jerked, face wounded, but Saguru pressed on. "You don't have to believe me. I expect you'll search for evidence, and never be sure they're all gone or that you're safe. But if you can bring yourself to hold a little hope, that you're not responsible for any more victims..."
"... I want the list," she whispered.
Saguru blinked. "Pardon?"
She looked up at him, then let her eyes fall on the court recorder. "If I could. Please. If that's really a list of the people I..." Her gaze fell, shadowed again. "I want it."
"As evidence?" Saguru asked shrewdly.
She sighed, and looked away. "Nevermind," she muttered. "It doesn't matter. You're just a dream."
Saguru nodded and stood. "Takamura-san," he said, holding his hand out. The man in Heian robes immediately tossed a bit of dust on the last characters of the bamboo-strip scroll, rolled it up, and handed the bundle to Saguru with a deep, seated bow. "Here," he continued, offering the scroll to Haibara.
Gobsmacked, she took it, cradling it on her lap with both hands like it was her mother's ashes. "Thank you," she murmured.
Saguru turned away. "Send her home."
Watson leapt from her perch in a burst of wings, flapping straight at Haibara. The girl instinctively yelped and flung up an arm, which Watson latched onto, and they vanished in a burst of blue fire.
Saguru watched with shuttered eyes as the fire died into embers, then ashes, then even those blew away to leave nothing but untouched grass. "Are we done here?" he asked the Huntsman, whose seemingly inexhaustible supply of carrying sacks had run dry, just a pile of burlap on the ground next to his feet.
"Then go," he said, gaze circling the enclosure to include everyone there. "Discuss the outcome amongst yourselves. I'll entertain critiques from the delegates tomorrow."
The faeries bowed to him, then more deeply to Titania, and left.
Kid didn't. He watched, silent, as Saguru bent to dig behind the root he'd been sitting on, as he pulled out items: a sharp-edged obsidian hand-axe, a wooden bowl, a tiny glass vial of quicksilver.
"Did you really-" Kid almost didn't recognize the voice falling out of his mouth, as small and quiet as it was. Kaito hadn't been small and quiet for years, not since that day his father had... "Did you really sentence Snake more harshly for me?"
Saguru set the hand-axe down on a narrow fold of Titania's skirt, under her cupped hands. "The fae are ruled by emotion as much as law," he answered, eyes on the axe, on his light grip on it, rather than on Kid. "Some more so than others. Casting judgement among them... living among them requires as much sentiment as it does impartiality." He set the vial of quicksilver next to the axe. "It's a delicate balance."
Kid made a rude sound in his throat. "A simple 'yes' would have sufficed."
"Then... yes." Saguru's eyes flickered towards Kid's. "I did."
There was really nothing to say to that - 'thank you' just seemed trite - so Kid subsided. A few minutes later, Watson swooped back between the willow leaves, backwinging neatly onto the same perch on Titania's wooden sleeve, then turned and fluffed herself up importantly.
Saguru stroked her speckled breast. "Then we begin," he murmured, fond and wistful, taking a step back and cupping the wooden bowl before him. The concealing curtain of willow leaves parted, rustling softly, revealing a clearing full of fae in the bright sunlight. Dryads, kitsunes, naiads, people with feathers and people with horns, with hooves and with tails, pale and dark, human-brown and leaf-green, all of them standing in silent respect.
"Queen Mina Titania," Saguru declared, chin high and voice ringing out over the gathering. "Daughter of giants, pillar of faith, ruler of the age of Mina. I am Saguru, who seeks to be the spirit of the next age." Puns, Kid thought with a mental groan. Saguru meant 'to search out, through'. "I have fulfilled the thousand pacts. I have passed the hidden test. I have evoked the essence of Kumbha from within. I have proven myself before the people. I ask now, will you bestow upon me the blood of all gifts?"
Kid barely - barely! - managed not to jerk. All gifts. Pan-dora.
Titania stirred, leaves parting as her face laboriously lifted to the sky. "The moon is full," she intoned. "The pacts have been filled; the tests have been passed. The soul of Prithivi Kanya, the spirit of seven ages ago, enchained to this life thirteen millenia, strains for release. But," her gaze fell to Saguru, "you do not bear the symbol of the age."
"Then you do not understand the new age."
"Then I must give way to the new," Titania agreed. "I freely offer the blood of all gifts, Saguru, should you dare to take it."
Saguru took up the obsidian hand-axe, and slashed the sharp edge once, twice, gouging deep into each wooden wrist. Sap red as blood gushed into Titania's cupped hands, and Saguru set the axe aside. Then he turned and walked out of the enclosure, the crowd parting before him. At the edge of the river, he bent, dipping the wooden bowl into its clear waters, and returned.
With one hand, he coaxed Watson into the pool of thickening blood. "Water of the eternal river, freshly borne." Tipping the bowl, he poured it over Watson. "Commingled with the blood of all gifts, and the faerie Wa-tsuu, construct of a thousand pacts, my magic sent without for seven years, seven months, and seven days." The bowl landed in the grass, and Saguru uncapped the glass vial. "Take form, to return to me." And he upended the vial, silver splattering over the hawk and bursting into blue flame.
Kid bit the inside of his lip until he tasted blood. Watson. Saguru had loved that bird... even if it was a construct to hold his growing magic.
The fire died, leaving a massive diamond shaped like a peach, tinted faintly with blue around the edges, and glowing garnet-red at its center, bright and pulsing and somehow more alive than anything Kid had seen in his life. The Pandora Gem.
From somewhere, Kid barely heard Titania's voice. "You have created true. Take up your magic, Saguru, and be reborn faerie: Kumbha Saguru, ruler of the age of Kumbha."
Saguru undid the frog buttons, letting his half-cloak fall from bare shoulders. Then he lifted the gem, Titania's face turning to wood as it left her hands, and bit into it.
Blue lightning erupted from his back, thunder shaking the tree and rattling into Kid's bones. But Saguru continued to eat, pink juice running down his chin, more lightning blasting free with every bite.
Then, the last bright glimmer of living diamond winked out, Saguru swallowed, and the lightning settled into wings of light that glowed like the winter sky.
Kid couldn't help it. His jaw dropped.
"Kaito Kid," Saguru murmured, beckoning. Kid felt himself stand, take the three steps needed to be pulled into Saguru's arms. A hand tipped his chin up, lips barely brushing the sticky-sweet juices still on Saguru's chin. "Drink."
Kid's tongue flickered out. Peaches and salt. A hint of the burning cold of a clear winter night, another of blood, though that second might be Kid's own again... Saguru's mouth opened under his own, Kid's tongue questing in for the last traces of the gem-
Good gods what was he doing?
He fell back with a gasp, gloved fingers clenched on Saguru's forearms, and stared into the blond's open, gentle, relieved face.
"Thank you," Saguru whispered.
The Sisters raised their voices. "Long live the age of Kumbha, the water-bearer!"
The crowd echoed them joyfully. "Long live the age of Kumbha! Long live King Kumbha Saguru! Long live Faerie!"
Wait. Water-bearer? Kid knew that term... He leaned in close to Saguru. "You're ruling the age of Aquarius?" he hissed, incredulous.
Saguru just smiled, accepting the crowd's joy. "If you start up that American song, I will wreak swift vengeance," he promised through his teeth.
Then he turned away, pulling Kid up beside him, and the crowd burst into cheers.