Disclaimer: Detective Conan belongs to Aoyama Gosho. Kenshin and company belong to Watsuki Nobuhiro. The "Wanderers" series belongs to me, and this is the next installment in it, following "Homecoming." This fanfic is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence and language.


Some days, Wataru reflected ruefully, were quite simply a total waste of good coffee. He and Chiba had spent the day in fruitless interviews. Nobody had liked the deceased, and while everybody they'd talked to had been cooperative enough, none of them knew anything useful, and furthermore, no one cared.

I may be getting spoiled, Wataru mused, as the two of them pulled into the police garage. I've spent too much time on Mouri-san's cases, where there's only three suspects, the body's discovered promptly, and somebody winds up dropping half the evidence into our laps. I'd almost forgotten there were days like this.

"I don't know about you," Chiba commented, as the elevator took them back towards the offices, "but as soon as I get off shift, I'm going to have a beer. Maybe several beers."

"Sounds good to me. I'll drive you home afterwards." That was generally his job, after all; Wataru had a strict one-beer limit and the ability to make said beer last most of the night. Seeing Hiko Seijuuro with a hangover was sufficient impetus never to risk one of his own.

When the two of them stepped out of the elevator, though, Shiratori was waiting for them. The taller man looked... disquieted, and the alarms in the back of Wataru's head immediately started chiming. They got louder as Shiratori's gaze immediately fixed on him.

"Takagi-kun, there appears to be someone waiting inside for you. A special investigator of some sort-- he didn't give his name."

Wataru almost groaned. "Let me guess. He's tall, thin-faced, narrow-eyed, and he's smoking in the offices because nobody's quite had the guts to tell him to stop?"

The look on Shiratori's face was answer enough. "How did you-"

"Just a hunch." Wataru ran a hand through his hair, tossing Chiba a sideways glance. "I'm going to have to cancel on those beers, Chiba-kun... Sorry."

Then taking a deep breath, he walked into the office.

Just as he'd suspected, Saitou Haijime was leaning against the wall outside Megure-keibu's office, puffing lazily on a cigarette as the officers of Division One tried to pretend they weren't sending him nervous looks. The "no smoking" sign posted nearby was, of course, completely ignored.

Black dress slacks, forest green pressed shirt. Business casual. He's forgone the suit, so... special government inspector, outside normal channels. Oh, this does not bode well.

Crossing the room, Wataru stopped just out of arm's length of the older man, not crowding, but not retreating either.


That razor-blade smile flashed. "Takagi."

Dominance games. In front of my co-workers. Wonderful. Wataru forced himself not to react. There was a reason that Saitou Hajime's oldest enemy was also the closest thing he had to a friend, after all.

"You might wish to put that out, that you may," he replied instead, nodding to Saitou's cigarette. He knew the old-fashioned speech was drawing stares, but he ignored it. Out-snarling a wolf was beyond his abilities, so his weapon would be the utter politeness of the dragon.

One thin eyebrow arched. "Indeed? Why is that?"

"Because Satou-san has a standing policy-- anyone who smokes in a non-smoking area will be forced to eat it. And Satou-san does not make idle threats, that she doesn't."

The two of them locked gazes for a long moment, then Saitou chuckled, stubbing the cigarette out on the nearest desk.

"Finally found your match, eh, cub?"

Wataru decided he was going to ignore that.

"Forgive my intrusiveness, Oogami-san, but it would seem you sought me out for a reason..."

That smile again. "True. I'm chasing a serial killer with a very messy track record. Unfortunately, I don't know Tokyo that well anymore, so the MPD was pleased to loan you to me to assist in my investigation."

"I have a case."

"The way you take notes, any of your coworkers can easily pick up where you left off."

Gah. He wasn't going to win this one, and if it was bad enough that Saitou, of all people, wanted assistance, he probably didn't want to. Besides, he wasn't really interested in challenging the alpha wolf, just reminding the older man he had fangs of his own.

"All right. When and where do you wish to start?"

"I'll meet you at your apartment tomorrow morning. I can fill you in on the rest then. ...And wear something less conspicuous, right now you're practically waving a sign that says 'police.'" Brushing past him, Saitou headed for the door, already pulling a fresh cigarette out of the pack in his front pocket.

Wataru sighed and walked to his desk, trying not to pay too much attention to the speculative stares his co-workers had turned his way.

"You know him?" Shiratori asked, following a few steps behind.

"He's... sort of a family connection," Wataru replied, setting his notebook on the desk. "It's a very long story, that it is."

Chiba frowned. "Why are you talking like an old lady?"


"Tomorrow morning" turned out to be closer to 11 AM, Wataru discovered the next day. Which was another sign that something nasty was going on; Saitou Hajime wasn't exactly a morning person, but he wasn't really a night owl, either. If he was sleeping in, that meant that he'd been up hunting the night before. And there weren't many things that could escape when the last surviving Miburo was on the hunt.

"Not bad," the older man drawled, surveying Wataru's small apartment. "Lots of exits, good use of floor space. If you have to live in a concrete box, I suppose you could do worse."

Wataru just smiled, an expression that was more teeth than humor. "It's comfortable enough, Saitou-san. Would you like some tea? Or I do have some plain soba noodles..."

Saitou's smile, in contrast, had a touch of real humor behind it. "Touché, cub. No, sit down. I have some files you need to read through."

"I knew I wasn't going to like this," Wataru sighed, sinking down onto his couch as Saitou handed him a manila folder. "By the way, do I want to know why Megure-keibu was so firm in assuring me that I should focus all my energies on this matter?"

"Let's just say his superiors are very happy to be of assistance to the government in this."

"Did you threaten or bribe?"

A cigarette-stained chuckle. "I find it most effective to do both. Read the files."

... Ah. Ew. Yes, Wataru could see why he'd be willing to go to such lengths, too. The reports were bad enough, but even after some of the things he'd seen with the MPD, he couldn't look at the photos without turning white, though he was rather pleased that his expression didn't change. Finally setting the folder aside, he ran a hand through his hair.

"All right, Saitou-san. What in the HELL are we dealing with here, and why do you need me?"

The wolf-hanyou sitting in his easy chair blew out a smoke ring, tapping the ash into the ashtray Wataru'd set out last night. "I'm tracking a shinigami, cub. And as I said, you know Tokyo far better than I do these days. I haven't been back here since the forties."

A shinigami. Oh, wonderful. Apparently Mouri Kogoro-san's luck was catching. It couldn't be a human serial killer, or even a simple youkai who'd somehow snapped, oh no. It had to be one of the changed creatures that existed only to feed. Death energy sustained many youkai, it was true, but that didn't mean they bathed in it all the time. There were easier ways to get what you needed than wholesale slaughter. But sometimes something... happened, and an ordinary youkai became something worse. Darker. And now one of the damn things was in Tokyo.

"Did you find any trace of it last night? Do you know who or what it used to be?"

"It used to be a tengu-- I've caught sight of it enough to know, though I haven't been able to corner it. It's very, very fast. It might even give Battousai a good race. And no, I didn't find anything. It kills at night, and is long gone before anyone finds the corpse in the morning."

"Did you interview the people who found them?"

An eyebrow arched. "I was a police officer myself, remember. The job hasn't changed that much."

Wataru couldn't help but snort. "'Aku. Soku. Zan,' fails to take into account the invention of paperwork."

Another lethal smile. "Point."

Turning his attention back to the pages before him, Wataru frowned. "... There's a progression to the corpses. It's moving across the city. ... I think it's looking for something. If the distance stays relatively constant, the next one will be found in... Beika-cho." Wataru let out a curse he'd heard Sano use once, when he wasn't supposed to be listening.

He sighed. "Well, Saitou-san... the good news is, I think I've found a way to find our quarry..."

"Why are we staking out an elementary school?"

Battousai's cub had been surprisingly unforthcoming on his plan to find the shinigami, saying only that it was "complicated to explain," and that Saitou would understand far better by seeing it. Having used that phrase himself a time or two, Saitou was willing to let it slide for a while, especially as the boy had that stubborn serious look that Saitou'd seen on Battousai far too many times over the past hundred-plus years. So they'd stopped in a cafe for lunch, and now they were waiting about a hundred yards from the front gate of Beika Elementary.

At least they looked relatively inconspicuous, the swordsman mused. Takagi was wearing a pair of khaki pants and a light blue pullover shirt, not an outfit that drew attention in any way. And their position made them look like two men simply having a discussion while one smoked his cigarette, rather than two men watching as a stream of young children headed home for the day. He had to admit; the boy'd learned his lessons rather well.

"Because our best chance for finding the shinigami's most recent victim's coming out soon," Takagi replied, slightly distracted. "Remember to keep back a bit more than normal-- they're paranoid enough to notice us, and if anyone can see through the notice-me-not on your sword, it would be Conan-kun."

Saitou took another drag on his cigarette. "Really? Is he human?"

"As near as I can tell, yes. If he has any youkai blood, it's so thin as to be undetectable. He's just very observant, and he's a gifted detective. He's trained himself to see what's there, not what he expects to see."

How interesting. Saitou's metaphorical ears perked up as five children came out of the gate, and Takagi stiffened beside him. The small group walked closely together, but not crowding each other or blocking free arm movement. The largest of the boys walked towards the back, in perfect position to cover either of the two girls in front of him should danger threaten. And all five of them showed an awareness of their surroundings that their peers did not.

It was easy enough to guess which one was the "Conan-kun" that Takagi had mentioned. Shorter and slimmer than either of his male peers, the glasses-wearing boy at the front stood with an unconscious confidence that immediately marked him as the leader. Even more obvious to Saitou, however, was the boy's ki, which burned like a flame. Unrefined though it was, it put him in mind of the energy he'd sensed around another boy at Kamiya Kaoru's side, ages ago.

"He's got the ki of a first-rate kendo student," Saitou commented, as the two of them fell into step some distance behind the children. "No focus, but the power's impressive."

"He's a soccer player. The focus shows up when he has a goal or a target."

Ahead of them, the five children had come to a stop, standing in front of a small newspaper kiosk as they discussed something. The largest of the boys folded his arms across his chest, leaning backwards against the glass-front door... which swung open behind him, dumping him on his rear in the entry of the shop.

Conan snapped to attention, body language shifting in a heartbeat to that of a predator on the hunt. Intrigued, Saitou moved a little closer, ears strained to catch the sounds of conversation.

"What the heck was that?" The larger boy complained, dusting himself off as he rose.

The third boy rolled his eyes. "The door lock must have been damaged. When you leaned on it, Genta-kun, the mechanism gave way."

"What should we do?" That was the dark-haired girl, looking anxious. "Should we leave a note?"

"No." Conan's voice was as flat as his gaze, as he stared into the shop. "Something's wrong... You four wait here, I'll be right back." And with that, he dashed into the shop's interior.

From somewhere beside him, Saitou heard Takagi give a soft curse. "There are times I hate being right," the younger man commented to the air.

For a second, the four children left behind exchanged glances. Then Genta took another hesitant step inside. "Conan! Oi, Conan! What's going on?"

"DON'T COME IN!" The boy's voice cracked like a whip, a twist of ki backing up the steel in his voice. "Ayumi-chan, call Megure-keibu... tell him... tell him we found a body. I need you guys to stay out there and make sure nobody comes in."

"Hai!" three of the children replied. The blond girl simply looked worried.

"And they'll do it, too, won't they?" Saitou asked softly. There was no way any of those children would have been able to defy the energy woven into that command.

Takagi nodded, his smile wry. "It works on police officers, too."


"... No. But he's generally right, so I still don't bother arguing."

The two of them waited in silence after that. A puff of breeze blew towards them, and Saitou wrinkled his nose as the scent from the shop became apparent. Too faint for any human nose, the wolf hanyou was still able to discern the odors of blood, decay, and feces-- a body, ripped apart, that had gone undiscovered for at least ten hours. On top of that was a sour smell, one that he quickly identified as vomit.

Any further thought was broken off as several police cars pulled up alongside the kiosk, disgorging several uniformed officers, Megure, and the tall man Saitou remembered being identified as Shiratori. As the uniforms made their way into the shop, Conan came out to join his friends, naturally pale face now dead white.

"Ah, Conan-kun," the inspector greeted him. "There's a body in the shop?"

The boy nodded weakly. "Back room. Probably been there since last night. And... um... I kind of contaminated the scene. Sorry."

So that was where the vomit smell had come from. Saitou couldn't blame the boy; that kind of mess might even have unsettled younger members of the Shinsengumi. What interested him, however, was the phrasing-- and the fact that both Megure and Shiratori paled slightly as the words sunk in.

"Er... that's all right, Conan-kun, forensics is used to dealing with things like that. Why don't you five let us take you back to the station? You can give your statements there, and then the officers can drive you home," Megure assured him.

The children all agreed readily, and were quickly loaded into one of the squad cars. As the car headed back towards the station, Saitou saw a shadow, quick as thought, moving along the rooftops after it. He turned towards Takagi, surprised.

"The boy. It's after the boy... and you knew."

"When a shinigami is created, it's pared down to the basic instincts all things have. The urge to feed, the drive to survive... and the desire to reproduce."

Saitou nodded, fishing out a cigarette. "But as mutations, shinigami are sterile."

"Right. So if it can't reproduce by blood, there's only adoption. Which is far more complicated for them, given the changes. Someone with a powerful ki, but not trained enough to fight back. Someone young enough to be easily molded. Someone soaked in death, to the point where he finds it just walking down the street... It had to be Conan-kun. On top of everything else, his luck would have seen to that."

Lighting his cigarette, Saitou took a long drag. "Then we'd better be ready to intercept him after he's finished his statement, hadn't we? Otherwise, that thing will be more than happy to slice through his family to get at him."

Takagi sighed. "You're right. But... let me do the talking? Conan-kun's very good at sensing predators. You're liable to send him running for the next prefecture."

A smile. "A boy with sense. I like him already."


At least the building designers had been smart enough to put ashtrays out front, Saitou mused, leaning against a wall. Takagi'd requested that he wait outside while the younger man went to collect Conan-kun.

"My department's already scared to death of you, and I'm sure Megure-keibu would like some paperwork to get done today," he'd said wryly. Saitou snorted. The idiots might be afraid of him, but they obviously felt Takagi was someone they could push around with impunity. He almost wished he could stick around and watch what happened when the cub finally decided to show his teeth.

Two familiar ki signatures fluttered at the edges of his awareness, and Saitou looked in through the glass doors in time to see Takagi and the Edogawa boy stepping out of the elevator. The boy still looked a bit pale, but his eyes were bright behind his glasses, even if his movements seemed awfully controlled for someone his age. As the two exited the building, Edogawa's eyes fell upon Saitou, and his pace slowed considerably. His facial expression didn't change, locked into pleasant interest, but the spike of fear and panic in his scent was unmistakable. Just as quickly, however, it smoothed into something far more controlled.

Saitou forced himself NOT to smile. The boy had definitely marked him as a predator, and was more than smart enough to know that when a wolf smiled, you found ways to be elsewhere. He was tense enough as it was-- if Saitou spooked him, he'd be two blocks over before his feet touched the ground.

Oh, this was going to be INTERESTING.

"Ne, who's your friend, Takagi-keiji?" the boy asked. The tone was childish, in direct contrast to that piercing blue gaze.

"Oogami Hideo-san, special investigator," came the dry reply. "You don't have to play games, he's no more likely to find you odd than Hattori-kun does."

Like flipping a switch, the body language changed. "Special investigator? Does this have something to do with the body I found earlier?"

"Good guess," Saitou answered, taking a drag on his cigarette. "Takagi-kun here's told me you're a detective..."

A wry smile. "I like to think so. So, if you're a special investigator, and you're here, and Takagi-keiji wasn't working this case, but he's with you... this is a serial killer, isn't it?"

Oh, this one was sharp. "Exactly. And we've got evidence to suggest he's developed an interest in you, at the scene today."

As the boy paled, Takagi shot Saitou a hard look. "I'm afraid it's true, Conan-kun. It would probably be best if you didn't go home tonight..."

"Aa." Conan swallowed hard. "You're right. I'll call Ran-neechan, tell her I'm staying over with the Professor." He took a deep breath, then looked up to meet Saitou's eyes.

"So... am I going into hiding? Or am I going to play bait?"

... Saitou had a feeling he was going to like this one.

Sometimes Conan wondered if he'd finally lost what little sanity he'd managed to retain over a year of murders, mayhem, and elementary school. Right now was a prime example. He was sitting in the back seat of a car driven by a man who, coloring aside, was far too much like Gin for comfort.

Well, except that Conan had seen a spark of real humor in those narrow eyes earlier, when Conan had let the child's mask drop. Gin's humor, such as it was, was cold and sadistic. Oogami might not be a very nice man-- actually, Conan was pretty damn sure he wasn't-- but the fact that he could find something amusing besides someone else's suffering was a pretty good sign. Plus Takagi obviously trusted him, and Conan, for whatever reason, trusted Takagi.

One thing was for sure, though-- if Oogami Hideo were a government inspector, Conan would eat his skateboard. Without salt.

They never said he was government, Conan realized. They said special inspector. That could mean anything, from a special police unit to Japanese government to the US. Or maybe not law enforcement at all.

He probably had been, once, though. He drove a car like a man watching for tails, and he seemed to have the professional paranoia of the profession down pat.

"Where are we going?" Conan finally asked.

"Safe house," Oogami replied, cigarette bobbing between his lips. Conan didn't think he'd ever seen anyone smoke that much, not even Kogoro.

In the passenger seat, Takagi cocked his head. "One of your bolt holes?"

A gravelly chuckle came in reply. "A smart wolf is never caught without a hidden den, cub. The security should be good enough for us to make a stand there."

"Does it have a back room?"

"No. We'll have to keep the boy with us... but I think he can handle it, don't you?"

Takagi's tone was unusually dry as he replied. "I don't think my opinion really matters here. Are you sure you want to?"

"He's a strong kid. He'll adjust."

Okay, that sounded bad... "Adjust to what?"

Oogami met his eyes in the rear-view mirror and slowly, deliberately, smiled. "You'll find out soon enough."

...Sure. When I've recovered from my heart attack, apparently.

The operative word for the safe house, Conan noted, was small. Small house, small living room, small couch in the living room. Crossing over to said couch, he plopped himself down, arms folded across his chest.

"Okay, I think I'd like some answers now," he announced to the room at large. Despite addressing his comment to both of the men with him, Conan kept his eyes locked on Oogami's. Looking towards Takagi could be seen as a weakness, an appeal to the familiar, and Conan wasn't going to give an inch in front of this stranger.

That razor-smile flashed again, as the man lit yet another cigarette. "I imagine you would, detective. Very well, then… to start with, the world is much bigger than you think. What is it the gaijin say? 'There are more things in heaven and earth…'"

"'Than are dreamt of in your philosophy,'" Conan finished. "Hamlet. You're not going to tell me our serial killer's a ghost."

A puff of smoke. "Nothing so benign. It's a youkai-- a Shinigami, to be precise."

Conan raised an eyebrow. "Leaving aside whether or not youkai actually exist, even going by the legends, shinigami are kami, not youkai."

"Shinigami aren't true youkai," Takagi answered instead. "They're… mutants, is the best word to describe it. Shinigami isn't something you're born; it's something you become. And no one's sure why."

"And the fact that youkai are legends?"

Oogami GRINNED at him, sharp and hard. "Legends have to start somewhere, cub…"

Ever since Conan had walked into this tiny room, the pressure had been growing, the kind of feeling he got just before finding a dead body. He'd managed to make himself ignore it, but now it SURGED, rolling over him like storm waves crashing on a beach. Forcing his head up, he met Oogami's gaze head on… and almost fell off the chair. The man's eyes, previously a brown verging on black, had lightened to a feral, wolfish gold.

Holy SHIT.

Somehow, Conan managed to make his voice work. Without breaking eye contact, he croaked, "Who… ARE you?"

"My name is Saitou Hajime. You may have heard of me."

Taking a deep breath, Conan stiffened his spine. "No wonder I thought you were an ex-cop."

Surprisingly, Oogami- no, Saitou- laughed, and the pressure in the room seemed to ease. "A very long time ago, but yes."

"Okay, so… if Shinigami is a condition, rather than a species… what are they? What do they do? And why is one after me?"

Takagi sighed, sinking into one of the room's chairs. "They kill. It's pretty much all they live for. They hunt and kill and soak up the death energy like… well, like Genta-kun with eel-over-rice."

"And you think it'll want to kill me?" But the sick feeling in Conan's stomach told him that probably wasn't the case.

Saitou snorted. "You know better than that, cub. Comforting lies will only get you killed."

The hard look Takagi shot the older man was a marked contrast to the tone of his reply. "Perhaps it would be good if someone walked the boundaries of this house, that it might. The sun is setting soon, and it would be a pity if we should be caught unprepared."

"So mild. Battousai would be proud." Saitou stubbed out his cigarette on the nearest table and headed out the door, one hand resting on the katana belted at his waist. Frowning, Conan tried to remember if he'd seen that before, as they were walking towards the house… He thought so, but somehow it hadn't seemed remarkable at the time.

Distracting yourself will only get you killed too, mocked the voice he still thought of as "Shinichi's." All the sarcasm and cynicism he couldn't express as Conan liked to hang out in the back of his brain and force him to face the things he'd rather not see.

It wants you. Not to kill you, it wants you. As an apprentice, a fellow traveler, another walking beacon of death.

Beika Shinigami-- who'd have thought the nickname would come true?

"Conan-kun?" Takagi's voice broke into his dark thoughts. The officer had dropped the old-fashioned speech, but now he was on one knee in front of Conan, hand resting on his shoulder as he looked the boy in the face.

"Conan-kun… you know the English word 'psychopomp,' right?"

Conan nodded. "Escorts for the souls of the dead. Crows or ravens, in Japanese legend…"

"Or shinigami. Conan-kun, some people are drawn all their lives to trouble, strife, and sorrow, not because they seek it, but because it's in them to change things, to make these things better. My uncle's one such… I believe you're another. You're drawn to death to untie the knots a murder leaves, to give answers and closure to the people left behind, and justice to the dead. It's a hard thing, but… you're very good at it. A lot of people have peace thanks to you. That thing out there… it's the exact opposite of that. It hurts, it kills, it destroys, and we have to stop it. But I won't let it lay a hand on you. And I swear to you, you are not the same."

Despite himself, Conan had to smile. "Thanks, Takagi-keiji. That… actually does help."

"Good. Then while we're waiting, why don't you help me make dinner? … How do you feel about cold soba?"

The smirk on Takagi's face would have done any kitsune proud.

The sun had set by the time Saitou'd finished his patrol, and by the time dinner was done, it was full dark outside. The wolf-hanyou leaned against one of the walls, smoking and watching the windows, as Conan and Takagi tried to decide on a game.

"Poker?" Conan suggested, waving the deck of cards he'd found.

Takagi shook his head. "I have it on good authority that you count cards, Conan-kun. I don't make enough money to let you skin me out of it."

… Who would have told Takagi that? Heiji knew, of course; it was one of the reasons he refused to play against Conan anymore. Agasa knew; he'd been there during most of Yuusaku's early lessons on the subject. But Conan didn't think any of them would have… Oh. He'd skinned Chiba at poker the last time the officers had been set to watch him. Takagi must have been watching.

"I don't think there's a mah jong set here…" Conan mused, looking through a cabinet. "Dice?"

Saitou snorted. "Not unless you want to lose YOUR shirt, cub. That one over there grew up with one of the most inveterate gamblers of the Meiji era."

That got a blush from Takagi. "Beyond that, Kenshin-ojisan did teach me enough to be able to guess dice rolls from the forearm motions of the players."

"I have GOT to meet this uncle of yours," Conan muttered. "Can you cold-roll, too?"

"I haven't had much reason to… I'm probably out of practice."

Conan opened his mouth-- he wasn't even sure what he'd say in reply-- but was cut off by Saitou's growl.

"Quiet," the man ordered, one thumb pushing his sword into the draw position.

Then the lights went out, the window blew in, and the flow of time seemed to break into tiny little pieces.

Conan found himself knocked to the floor by a flood of energy, similar to the one Saitou had loosed on him earlier in the night. But where that had been steel and fang, a wolf's protective nature layered over a hunter's bloodlust, this was a black horror, like breaking through the ice on a polluted pond. Thirst and hate and love-of-slaughter swirled around him like turbulent, tainted water and…

... It was SINGING. Not out loud, all Conan could hear with his ears was three sets of harsh breathing as the monster and the two swordsmen (when had Takagi grabbed a sword?) faced off. But in his head, in his mind... he could hear it. It was sweet, and twisted, and dark...

It's a woman, Conan thought numbly, trying to force himself to his feet. Mutation had ravaged it to the point where you couldn't tell by looking, but...

And she wanted a child. The song in his head was a lullaby, one he could faintly remember hearing from his own mother, back when he'd been young enough to still cry out in the grip of nightmares. Maybe she'd had children of her own, before... maybe she hadn't, and just wanted one now. But woven through the hunger and the hatred and the insanity was that tiny little spark, carried on the strains of a half-remembered song.

And despite all his dreams, all his rules, there wasn't anything he could do but help her die.

She was standing over him, now, a little in front. Takagi and Saitou were standing ready, facing her with swords drawn… what were they waiting for? Him? Was he a hostage? That wouldn't do… He had to end this… to finish it. She deserved better.

Slowly, painfully, Conan managed to push himself to hands and knees, then a kneeling position. No one paid him any attention, still caught in their standoff. Forcing himself to think through the muck in his head and the pressure holding him down, he dug into a pocket and pulled out the camping knife the professor had given him for his birthday… for Conan's birthday. The blade was short, but it was enough. Flipping it open, he took a deep breath… and stabbed it into her leg, putting all of his love, hope, fear, pity, and will-to-live behind the thrust.

Her scream was like a bird of prey on the hunt. The world flashed white, as Saitou's sword flickered out, brilliant silver—

And then Conan dropped into a darkness far more warm and reassuring than the one he escaped.

It was, Kenshin thought, going to be a beautiful day.

One of the things he loved best about this place that he and his family called home was the view. From the engawa, he could sit and watch the sun rise over pine-covered mountains, listen to the cries of the birds around him, the soft sighing of the wind in the trees… the crunch of tires on gravel as an old sedan made its way up the road towards the house. Oh dear.

He knew the sound of that engine far too well, so he was unsurprised to see Saitou Hajime climbing out of the driver's seat, ever-present cigarette sending plumes of smoke into the dawn air. The small wrapped bundle in his arms, however, was rather a new development.

The wolf-hanyou strode up to the engawa, laying the bundle down with slightly more care than was usual for the man. At a closer look, Kenshin could see that Saitou's burden was a small boy, around Ryuu's age, with black-framed glasses that seemed far too big for his face. Kenshin looked up at his rival and not-quite-friend, cocking an eyebrow in silent question.

"Train that," Saitou growled, slightly more gravel in his voice than usual. "Before it gets itself and half of Tokyo killed." Then he stalked back to his car, smoke trailing in his wake like the tail of an offended wolf.

Kenshin looked down at the boy sleeping beside him and could think of only one response.