Author's Notes: Welp, faster than last time. The main problem was Kaito's confrontation with Toichi, I just couldn't write it for the life of me, so this next bit has been significantly restructured. I'm still not entirely sure if I will actually write out the confrontation in the main storyline – as it will be during a Shinichi POV chapter – but even if it doesn't make it in, it will be a side-story.

Now then, onto fic!

Chapter Nineteen

One-Sided Game

It was funny, Kaito mused, how life had a way of continuing with mundane things no matter what else happened.

Like now, for example. Here he was, idly drying a glass as he waited for someone to be seated at one of his tables, as if he hadn't sat down with an alternate-universe version of his father last night and told the man that he was from a different reality. It was almost as if last night hadn't happened, if it weren't for the weight of a cellphone in his pocket.

Last night, after that damned phone call had kind of killed the meeting and momentum, Yuusaku had indeed taken them home. However, they'd stopped at an electronics store on the way there, and the author had purchased two prepaid cellphones for Kaito and Shinichi, since their original ones were next to worthless here. All the unexpected help obviously had Shinichi on edge, but Kaito at that point had just decided to roll with it. It was better to accept the help, as even if this all turned out to be an elaborate setup, they would have that many more tools to escape and survive. And Kaito could never deny that he adored improvisation.

Yuusaku had then left them back at the apartment with a genial farewell and a reminder that they would be called when the date and time of the next meeting would be. Hence the cellphones, of course. The man then drove off, leaving Shinichi standing there looking like he wanted to throw his shoes after the car's retreating bumper and Kaito rather feeling like he'd just been picked up and swung around merrily, before suddenly set down right where he had been as if that whole episode had never happened.

It was sudden, and Kaito felt a little off-center and disgruntled about it. Surely life should reflect its happenings? Then why were they back in the cafe as if nothing had happened last night? Kaito was aware he was mildly sulking about this, but hey, his sense as an entertainer was feeling jilted. Something should be different! Where was the adventure?

"Kuroba-kun, a moment please." The manager's voice cut into Kaito's musings. Right, at work. The only bad thing about easy work was that his mind developed a tendency to wander off on these tangents. Flipping his towel over its bar, Kaito turned and gave a winning smile the man. "Yes sir?"

A single arched eyebrow was the only response given to his response. Really, his sense of artistry was being wasted on these plebeians. The man just huffed a bit and then held out an envelope towards him. "Paycheck for this week. I've already deducted some of it for your rent and passed it along to Kisaki-san. Thanks for the hard work."

"Ah, thank you..." Kaito murmured, reaching out to take the envelope with a sense of detachment. Had it really been a week already? His heist had been Monday night, they'd then spent Tuesday finding out where they were, Wednesday got them a job and a home, Thursday had been the rather traumatic meeting Toichi and the murder, had yesterday really been Friday? Yes, it had been, with the library and the abrupt meeting. So today was that he thought about it, yes, there were more teenagers in the cafe now than on the weekdays, no school. He hadn't really cared, lost in his thoughts as he had been, and he mentally chastised himself. He couldn't afford to be unobservant, especially not here in this world. Anyways, it was already Saturday, which was apparently payday at the cafe, rather than Friday. The days had passed so quickly, like a huge blur, although they hadn't at the time. Funny how perception worked.

He peeked into the envelope before he tucked it away out of sight – with the rent percentage deducted, it wasn't very much at all, especially since Shinichi and he had only worked for three days, although they were full-time hours of ten to six. He made a mental note to ask what days they would have off later as he flicked his hand and stored the envelope on his person. Resuming his glass-drying – as he still hadn't been called to his tables yet – Kaito let himself frown slightly as he thought. He'd gotten maybe ten thousand yen, so if Shinichi had made the same – were their pay rates the same? He'd have to account for that too, had to ask later – that left them with only twenty thousand. Which wasn't...a lot for all the things they needed. The little toiletries and other things provided by Hakuba and Mouri would last them until next paycheck probably, but that still left things like food, as they couldn't rely on the cafe to feed them all the time, and so many other things like more clothes, trick supplies – his roses were wilted, he had none for his tricks, the horror – and a coffee maker to make Shinichi presentable in the mornings. Right, definitely getting that if they could, this morning had been...embarrassing.

Banishing thoughts of the small fiasco that morning – even if it had made Kaito happy in an increasingly-large part of himself, that had been embarrassing in its own right and just added to his well-hidden mortification – Kaito shook his head slightly and picked up another glass.

At that moment, however, Azusa poked her head into the kitchen. "Kuroba-kun, table six, it's Ran-chan!"

Ah, good, a distraction! And Mouri! What luck, he needed to talk to her anyways. Hopefully they wouldn't be called out to the meeting right after work, Kaito was not looking forward to Interrogation Round Two. Smiling brightly at Azusa, Kaito left the kitchen, forcibly dragging his eyes away from Shinichi who was industriously brewing something for a customer, this being the first day he was working alone. Convincing himself that Shinichi was fine and he didn't need to stare at the other teen, Kaito headed towards Ran's table, where she was sitting and chatting softly with ugh Hakuba.

What she saw in the stuffy half-Brit he would never know. Mouri could do so much better!

"Hello Mouri-chan, Hakuba-kun!" Kaito chirped at the pair when he arrived, firmly reminding himself that he couldn't tease Hakuba in this universe. Shinichi would get pissy. "What can I get you today?"

Mouri looked up and smiled at him, holding out her menu. "Kuroba-kun! Just juice for me for now, please. Oh, and a bagel."

"Earl Grey tea for me please." Hakuba added in, and Kaito took the two menus offered to him as he scribbled down their order. Maybe he could spike Hakuba's, bad Kaito. He was about to turn and go get their orders when Mouri's voice stopped him. "Ah, called me yesterday, right? I'm really sorry I was busy, but I'm free today. Did you still want to talk to me about something?"

Right, that phone call. He'd almost forgotten, which was almost unforgivable. He never forgot anything! But now that he was reminded, all the better. He turned back and smiled brightly at the girl. "Right! I'll be free after work, or if it has to be before six we can talk over my lunch in an hour. What works for you?" Well, he wasn't quite sure he'd be free after work, but...

Mouri thought for a moment. "Well, I think Mom wanted to do something is the lunch break okay?"

Kaito nodded. Even if they weren't called out right after work, during lunch break meant that he wouldn't have to immediately explain to Shinichi where he was going and why. The detective would still notice him gone, but hopefully it would slip his mind after the rest of the work day. Kaito was really hoping for that, as small a chance as it was. "That works for me. In an hour, then?"

"All right. I'll be here until then, Saguru-kun and I have to go over some case details anyways."

Who went over case details on dates? Hakuba was weird. And also looking at Kaito suspiciously as if he thought Kaito might be trying to make a move on his girlfriend. But now he had a set time to talk with Mouri over his major problem that didn't involve hopping worlds, and that made Kaito feel far better. After last night and this morning, he really needed that talk. Even if it wasn't with Aoko or his mother, he did trust Mouri on this level.

And depending on the course of action he decided wouldn't be a bad idea to become friends with the girl, would it? It would give him a head start with the one back home, in case he...well. In the least, if he and Shinichi stayed friends. After this, if Shinichi was still friendly and not going to turn him in, there was no way Kaito wasn't inserting himself into the other's life. No matter where these weird feelings led, at the very least Shinichi knew who he was, both of him, and a friend he could trust like that was a treasure Kaito wasn't keen on returning just yet. As long as Shinichi stayed on board...

Mouri's juice and bagel and Hakuba's tea were quickly fetched, and Kaito spent the next hour in jittery anticipation, although he didn't let it show. Mindlessly going through his duties, Kaito began mentally arranging his conversation in his head. The best conversation opener...? Probably about her relationship with Hakuba and how it began. Then he could probably play up the fact that he'd never really dated before – as none of his dates with Aoko had been "official" and his policies with Aoko would never fly with Shinichi – to garner some sympathy points about being unsure how to proceed. Which was true, of course. After that...hmmn, well he'd judge depending on how the conversation went from there.

Perception really was a funny thing. The hour seemed to drag on forever to Kaito at the time, but when the manager waved an arm at him and told him to take a break, he suddenly felt like it had gone by too fast and he wasn't ready. Kicking his weird nervousness back down the mental hole where it came from, Kaito flipping the apron he wore over its hook and ducked out of the kitchen, deliberately avoiding Shinichi as he grabbed his coat and headed for the door. He felt a little bad for leaving the detective and his poor social skills alone, but this was for Shinichi's sake, in a way.

Mouri was waiting for him at the door, giving him a smile when she saw him. Greeting her happily, Kaito held it open for her and they began walking towards a small cake shop just down the road. Perhaps he shouldn't be dining at his employer's competition, but he really couldn't do this sitting at Poirot.

Sitting at a small corner table with a slice of chocolate cake and a mug of hot cocoa before him, Kaito mentally reviewed his planned conversation, took a deep breath, and started.

"Mouri-chan, if I may did your relationship with Hakuba-kun start?"

Mouri paused for a moment, cup of tea halfway to her mouth as she blinked in surprise, before her face turned thoughtful. "Let's see...when I was fifteen, Mom took me to review a crime scene to help a case of hers. Saguru-kun had apparently just come back to Japan then, and, having an interest in the case himself, he showed up. He was...well, I suppose it's bad to say this about my boyfriend, but he kind of showed up like he owned the place and that he was so much better than everyone else. So...I kind of punched him."

Kaito's eyebrows raised, and he held back a snort of disbelief. It figured, though, Hakuba had been just like that, hadn't he? Although fifteen was earlier than back home... He grinned slightly as Mouri laughed softly in remembrance.

"To be honest, we didn't get along all that well for the first two or three meetings. I may not be a genius like him, but I'm not stupid, and the way he assumed he was always right...he made me really mad. Then, at a case, Saguru-kun went off after the murderer on his own. I suppose my temper got the better of me, as I ran right after him and ended up bursting into the room right when the man pulled a gun. I was still pretty mad, so I just kicked him right away. I managed to disarm and knock him out after a short fight, and then...well, I turned around and just started yelling at Saguru-kun. All sorts of things, like how he was going to get himself killed if he kept thinking he was so much better than everyone else and what was he going to do if he never told anyone his thoughts and ran off and disappeared because no one would know where to look for him because he didn't trust anyone...a lot of pretty horrible things, actually. I still remember his face, he looked so shocked! It was the first time I saw him looking like that, and not just the smug smile or calmness."

Kaito could certainly imagine it ended up that way. And in a way, it made a lot of sense. Hakuba was a detective, and much like Shinichi he thrived on mental puzzles. As much as he grumped about it, Kaito knew that keeping Hakuba surprised and on his toes was only a good thing. That's what helped people grow, after all, and Kaito was always willing to help the process along! And now, listening to Mouri's story, he could sort of begin to see the relationship. She'd surprised Hakuba, and that surprise would turn into curiosity...Hakuba may be a smug arrogant bastard who was too stuffy for his own good, but no one could fault the man's dedication to unraveling something he found interesting.

Even if Kaito sometimes wished he was a little less persistent. And easier to fool.

After a sip of her tea and an encouraging nod from Kaito, Mouri continued. "Then...well, he apologized. It was so weird, up until then I thought he would never do something so...beneath him. I was too surprised to be angry anymore. It also made me notice that most of my anger was because I was worried about him. Even if he had made me mad, I wouldn't want him dead, right? He was a good detective. So, I accepted his apology and we tried to get along better after that. It was rather surprising, but we actually got along pretty well once we were past the first impressions. We both practice martial arts, you know, and like tea, and solve cases...we turned up having a lot to talk about, and after a year or so he asked me out on a real date. He was so red...and well, even during those first few cases, he was nothing less than a gentleman, even if a very infuriating one, and once we were past that he was very nice to spend time with, even if he did need to lighten up a bit. So I said yes, and well, as you can see, it's gone well."

Mouri smiled in fond remembrance, and Kaito took the time to sip at his hot cocoa and mentally review the story. It was pretty interesting, and a bit surprising, but he could understand it. Maybe this universe's Hakuba really wasn't that bad, as it seemed Mouri really had had a positive affect on him. Maybe he could even get along with him...nah. Although if he arranged for Hakuba and Mouri to spend time together back home, what would happen...? He'd have to ask Shinichi his opinion. It would probably be pretty funny.

Following his own train of thought, he was unprepared for Mouri's question. "So, are you asking me this because you want to ask Kudou-kun out?"

Only long years of practice at holding back involuntary reactions saved Kaito from redecorating the table with his mouthful of hot chocolate. As it was, he choked on it slightly, swallowing hastily and coughing a bit to clear his throat. "Ah...M-Mouri-chan, what brought that...?"

The girl detective blushed slightly, looking down slightly. "Well...I just two are very close, and why else would you ask me about my relationship if you didn't want advice about your own...? I'm sorry if it was too forward, or if I was wrong..."

Kaito took another swallow of his drink to recover his composure. Well, okay, they ended up at the topic a lot faster than he thought, he really shouldn't underestimate Mouri's observation skills, which always were uncannily sharp. But it was what he wanted to talk about, so he just had to improvise a bit faster than normal, that was fine. "Ah, no, actually you are right, it's what I wanted to ask you about, but I didn't really know how...and we only just met, so..."

"Well, you two seem to be out of contact with your friends back home, since you called me from the cafe phone. So, being near the same age and me being in a relationship, I'm the best choice, right?" Mouri smiled gently at him. "I don't know how much help I'll be, but you can tell me anything, I promise. I'll try to help in any way I can."

Kaito smiled back, feeling a wave of relief wash over him. Aoko would have teased him mercilessly about such things, which would have made him defensive and not willing to talk about them. Mouri really was a very kind girl. He could see why Shinichi revolved so much of his life around her. Compared to her, it would be hard to find a better girl.

Taking a breath and a bite of cake to steady his nerves, Kaito considered his lines of conversation. "Well...the thing is...I don't know if I even should, you know? We're two guys...and even if I did, I don't know if he'd go for it, and...I don't know if it's worth risking."

Mouri made a thoughtful noise, and Kaito took another bite of cake to stem any more nervous babble. Because that was the crux of it right there. He and Shinichi were very new friends. Sure, their rivalry had been going for two years now, and certainly many elements of their friendship had been established then, but hell, Shinichi had only known his name for two days now. It was all new and Kaito didn't want to risk it. He knew the detective was socially awkward, he didn't want Shinichi to always be second-guessing himself on how he should act around Kaito. Wouldn't that be worse than just not doing anything...?

"Well..." The girl murmured. "Saguru-kun once said that he was far more afraid when he asked me out than he ever had been facing down murderers. Because he didn't want to lose our friendship, because it is true that it changed everything when he did. But in the end, he just couldn't stand holding back without knowing if there was a chance. I think everyone is afraid of being rejected, but the chance of not being rejected makes it worth it, don't you think? The change my be horrible, but it just as well might be the best thing to ever happen to anyone. Being with Saguru-kun makes me happy. So I can't say you should or shouldn't, but...well, I can only tell you that I'm glad he did."

Kaito let a wistful smile slip across his face. "You really are a wise, wonderful woman, Mouri-chan. Hakuba-kun is lucky to have you." As she blushed and laughed slightly at the compliment, Kaito took a sip of his hot chocolate that was now getting lukewarm, and thought.

Of course, the thought that it could work out was very tempting. Thinking about it seriously, he did want to try. That was the point of attraction, wasn't it? To want to try with someone. But at the same time, he didn't think that rushing off and asking Shinichi on a date was the smartest thing to do. Their friendship was still new, and Shinichi too gun-shy about personal relationships. But Mouri's stories had Kaito thinking. They'd been friends first, which was such a normal thing that most people assumed it was true for most people, but Kaito was now considering it more closely. No, the best step was not to immediately ask Shinichi out, but rather to ease into it. Friends first, but friends in such a way that adding romance wouldn't be a huge change. No, ease himself into Shinichi's life, become the most important person to him first. Once he had achieved that closeness, then the change would be smooth and Shinichi wouldn't be awkward if the transition involved little more than a sudden addition of kissing. Besides, hadn't the detective said that himself that first night in the apartment? That he wanted to be good friends first? Kaito could do that. All he had to do was make himself irreplaceable to Shinichi...and he had a lot of confidence on being irreplaceable. And if he added gestures that could be construed as romantic to anyone but romantically-dense Shinichi...well, all for the better when they did transition, right?

In fact, Kaito thought in amusement, laughing mentally to himself, isn't that what he'd already been doing? Rather subconsciously, even. The prime example had been last night with the coat. He hadn't even been thinking, really, he'd just seen the detective shiver slightly and rub his arms in the cold, and before Kaito had really thought about it his jacket had been off his own shoulders and around Shinichi's. Undoubtedly a unconscious move on his part to take care of someone he cared for, and Shinichi had been completely blind to the romantic overtones of it. He seemed more miffed that Kaito thought he needed taking care of, although that was probably residue left over from being a helpless seven-year-old for two years. Of course, being who he was, Shinichi probably needed more supervision now than when he was Conan, but as long as he was subtle about it hopefully Kaito wouldn't piss him off. No, that was a good plan. Make himself indispensable first, a good friend and someone Shinichi relied on. And if he hugged Shinichi a lot, well, he was just a touchy-feely person.

Maybe it was too calculating of him. It seemed awfully impersonal, to plan to become someone extremely important first just to soothe the transition into lovers. But it was who Kaito was. He didn't stay free as Kaitou Kid for three years now by being thoughtless and unplanned. And it wasn't an impersonal heist or a simple calculation on the best angle to hide the dye pellet that was aimed for Hakuba's hair. He wanted to be the most important person to Shinichi, he wanted to earn the other's trust, respect, and even perhaps love, he just wasn't going to leave it all up to chance.

And the first step was a coffee maker. He was always up before Shinichi anyways, so having a fresh cup of coffee and perhaps some breakfast that didn't require culinary skills beyond pushing a few buttons ready for the other teen wouldn't be any trouble. Shinichi would grump about it at first, but he would also be grateful, and that was just what Kaito wanted. A small thoughtful gesture that wouldn't seem to be anything to be friendly but would also be something very appreciated, that would be the first step in courting one very prickly, reticent Kudou Shinichi.

Smiling to himself, Kaito drained the last of his drink. It was almost time to go back to work, after all. "Thank you for the talk, Mouri-chan. I think I know what I'm going to do now. I can't say it will be immediately, but I think I will, eventually." After he was quite sure that there was no one else quite like him to Shinichi.

She smiled at him in return. "I'm glad I could help. I'll be rooting for you. Let me know if I can do anything else to help, okay?"

"Of course, and thank you. It really means a lot to have such a wonderful friend as you on my side. I'll take you up on that offer when I need it." Also finishing off his cake, Kaito was about to stand and go pay for their meal – because a gentleman didn't make the lady pay and he now had the money to do it – when Mouri reached out slightly. "Um...may I ask you something about Kudou-kun, Kuroba-kun?"

Curious, Kaito tilted his head. What was she going to ask? "Sure. What is it?"

She bit her lip, as if she was nervous about what she was going to ask...personal, maybe? "'s just...Kudou-kun seems a little...awkward around me. He seems to have a lot of trouble looking at me in the face, and so on. there something wrong...? I hope I didn't do anything wrong..."

Ah, so she had picked up on that. It made sense she would, but she would also be too polite to ask Shinichi directly. She had given Shinichi a few strange looks, after all. What to say...? Well, perhaps an indirect truth was the best. "Ah...well, you just resemble a dear childhood friend of his, that's all. She moved away a while ago, and now that he's moved too, he doesn't know if he'll see her again. So I'm sure he's just getting used to someone who looks so much like his friend."

"Oh, I see...I'm sorry for that." She bit her lip again. "...This may be insensitive to ask, but did her?"

Kaito blinked, then smiled a bit sardonically. How close to the truth this all was. "I believe he used to. But by the time she left, they were very much like brother and sister. So I hope you don't worry about that."

"That's good then, I didn't want to make things weird between you two." Smiling softly at him, Mouri stood, and Kaito followed her example, picking up the check before she could object to it. "I'm glad we talked today, Kuroba-kun. If you need anything, you can always call me."

The smile he gave her in return was genuine. If they hopefully managed to ever go home, he could see himself being good friends with the girl. Sure, he'd probably always be a little nervous of her karate skills, but she was just a genuinely good person, with good sense and a steady, firm presence. He could see why Shinichi had always stayed friends with her. "Me too. Please call me Kaito, Mouri-chan. Kuroba makes me feel like my father."

"Only if you call me Ran in return." Her eyes sparkled with good mirth, and Kaito made a mental note to get to know all of Shinichi's friends if he could. Hopefully they would all be as rewarding. "Of course, Ran-chan."

They left the small cake shop then, Kaito blithely paying over Ran's mild protests, and he left for Poirot with considerably lighter steps. He knew what he was going to do now, and with that tangled mess worked out, he felt considerably freer. They were still a universe away from home, with no way back in sight, and they still had that ominous meeting hanging over them that Kaito still wasn't sure he wouldn't break down for, but he felt a little like there was a light at the end of the tunnel, now. AT the very least he was free to concentrate on the jewel and universe long as he didn't get too distracted by Shinichi. And speaking of Shinichi, he was going to have to come up with a quick excuse as to why he'd been with Ran over his lunch and why he'd left the detective alone. Hmmn, maybe about the last part of their conversation? After all, Shinichi himself had to know that was acting awkwardly around Ran, so knowing the excuse Kaito had come up with would be good for him...

Since it was nowhere near the ringtone he used for his normal phone, the ringing of the cellphone in his pocket went on for a bit before Kaito realized it was his own phone, or rather the cheap thing Yuusaku had bought for him last night. He took it out in curiosity, which had Shinichi's name as the caller across the screen. Right, they'd taken the chance to program their own numbers...well, he was thinking on how to handle Shinichi anyways, might as well tell him he was on his way back. He flipped open the phone and pressed it to his ear. "Shinichi! Sorry, I'm on my way back. What's up?"

"Kaito." Shinichi's flat voice caused Kaito to pause. That wasn't mildly annoyed at being ditched, or even depressed. That was his detective's serious tone. "I received the information about the meeting."

Oh. That. Well that was just a great damper for his good mood wasn't it? "I see...when?"

There was a pause and an inhale of breath. "...Tomorrow, we'll all meet at the Italian restaurant on 4th street and Haido. However..."

That sounded reasonable, but... "...However?"

A sigh, then Shinichi's voice resumed, and Kaito's knuckles tightened to white on the cellphone as he listened. "...Kuroba Toichi wants to meet you an hour beforehand. Alone."

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