"You shouldn't feed the birds," a rough sounding male voice said.
"Not to worry, I am perfectly capable of holding a conversation and scattering some seeds at the same time," a woman responded with an air of authority and a hint of warning in her tone.
"It's bad for them," the man argued, steamrolling over the social cues.
"I bought it at a pet store. It's a name brand birdseed," the woman stated, guarded and annoyed.
"There are different kinds of birdseed for different birds, Sangria," he droned on. "See, first you have to identify which birds are—"
The recording was briefly interrupted by a burst of static from birdseed hitting the ground, followed by the fluttering of the birds' wings. It made the voices difficult to hear, even after the amplification edits the Professor had made to the clip.
"I believe you came here to give me your report on the research into Kaitou KID," Sangria answered in a dangerously stiff tone.
There was a brief pause as the man presumably debated whether to continue sharing his apparently vast knowledge of birdseed, before he finally thought better of it and turned to business. "Right. As expected, all evidence points to KID being Kudou Shinichi. Kudou has the required intelligence and athletic ability; is the correct height, build, and age; is known to have strong morals and a habit of vigilante justice; and went missing at almost exactly the same time as KID's reappearance. His mother has all the necessary disguise and acting talents to pass on to him, his father has extensive knowledge of heist planning from the book series he's written about a phantom thief, and Kudou has close ties to an inventor who could easily produce all the gadgets needed for KID's work. In addition, his travel records show that his passport was used to leave the country and go to the only international heist locations since KID's reappearance, and multiple media incidents have—"
"We already know all this," Sangria cut him off with forced politeness. "In fact, Vodka, Gin, and Bourbon all confirmed his identity in person. What we want to know now is where to find him and how to silence him." Another round of birdseed punctuated her statement, but when the static subsided, the man was still hesitating, apparently not eager to answer that question.
"That part is much harder," the man eventually grumbled. "KID is a master of disguise and has all the personal connections necessary to forge an entirely new identity, practically on a whim. Hell, for all we know, he could be officially commissioned as a legitimate undercover agent! Plus, the Kudous are loaded, so he wouldn't even need to work. So it's likely that there aren't any money trails to follow. He's been staying out of media attention, and his appearances don't seem to be following any sort of pattern, especially now that he's stopped operating as KID."
"You've compiled a list of his friends and family, have you not?" she asked, an edge of irritation in her voice. "Our strategy here is no different than in any other case: threaten the loved ones to lure out the target, and then kill them all."
"Yeah, just one little problem with that," the man shot back, not bothering to mask his anger any longer. "We've compiled an exhaustive list of all his loved ones, every relative and every person he's ever been rumored to be friends with. Most of them are incredibly famous. We won't be able to keep to our strategy of hiding in the shadows if a famous author, famous actress, or famous detective suddenly disappears without a trace. Also, every single one of his friends and colleagues has been in mortal danger multiple times since he disappeared, and he's never once shown up for any of them. Many of his friends have even been kidnapped and threatened by other groups, but he's never responded to any of it. We can't guarantee that he's even aware it happened at all!"
There was a long pause with no noise but the faint cooing and rustling of the birds.
"Well then there's no problem, is there?" a new voice concluded in a carefree tone.
"Rum?" Sangria questioned.
"If he never shows up," Rum continued, "then he's not a threat. Simple as that."
"You're not concerned about any evidence he might be gathering on us?" she pressed. "Not even after what happened to Vodka and Gin?"
"No," Rum replied without hesitation. "If he had anything on us at all, he wouldn't be in hiding like that. Not to mention that we would've heard from our men in the force if he'd tried anything official. As for Vodka and Gin, they're the ones who caused this mess in the first place by failing to kill him. They're lucky to be in jail."
"But he is investigating us," she reminded him.
"So what?" Rum countered. "If we see him, we'll capture him. Personally, I'm curious about how he survived the Apotoxin and would love for him to spend some quality time with our scientists and their fancy labs. But until he gives us a lead, it's not worth the effort to try to track him down. We'll simply let him waste his whole life waiting in vain for us to show ourselves. Now that we understand the situation, there's no need for us to spend valuable time and resources trying to hunt down a single elusive nuisance that's not a threat to us."
Conan paused the recording and looked up at the rest of his team, all of whom were deep in thought.
"Well, that does explain why they haven't been more serious about attacking any of us," Yuusaku mused, breaking the silence.
"Who would've thought that it would turn out to be a good thing that you never show up when we're in danger?" Sera teased him lightheartedly.
"But this is a problem for us," Conan said, before anyone else could remind him of how painfully 'absent' he'd been since being shrunk. "They're right that we have basically nothing on them and that we're stuck waiting for them to make a move."
"So what we need is a way to goad them into making the first move. Perhaps if we could trick them into thinking we know more than we do?" Akai said.
"Well don't look at me!" Bourbon snapped, even though nobody had been looking at him. "I'm already on thin ice as it is! They still want to blame me for Vodka and Gin getting arrested. They would only be suspicious of any new information I bring in now, especially if it's about Kudou again."
"Do we not have anything that could function as leverage?" Hakuba wondered out loud. "Something they want, perhaps?"
"Of course we have something they want," Conan complained, raising a hand to gesture vaguely to himself. "But how do we safely change the variables to lure them out? We shouldn't underestimate Rum's intelligence. If I just started regularly showing up in public all of a sudden, he'd suspect that we've been spying on him."
"What about Vermouth?" Sera suggested. "I know she's not, like, 'on our side,' technically, but she still sometimes sort of helps, right?"
"Perhaps you've forgotten who did this to me?" Mary asked her daughter coldly.
"She's right – Vermouth is too dangerous," Jodie added. "And besides, we don't have a non-suspicious way to contact her. If we just called her, it would be obvious that we got her number through Bourbon."
"Which we are not doing," Bourbon huffed, crossing his arms.
"Right," Conan agreed, holding his chin thoughtfully. "So we should contact them publicly somehow, and offer something vague and non-suspicious that they might want."
"In that case," Kaito suddenly spoke up. All eyes turned to him as a devious grin steadily grew impossibly wider and wider across his face. "I might have a few ideas."
"I can't believe we actually agreed to this," Conan muttered under his breath, but was immediately shushed by Haibara, Jodie, Satou, Chikage, and Yukiko. He looked helplessly at Takagi and Hakuba. "You also think this is crazy, right?" But he was shushed again before they could answer. So Conan just huffed and leaned back against the coffee table where he had decided to sit after the girls had taken over the sofa. Agasa and the other guys had pulled up additional chairs to gather around the TV in the Professor's now vastly over-crowded living room.
The girls grabbed some bowls of popcorn and raised the volume on the TV as the program began.
"Good evening, this is Hikita Yumi with Nichiuri studios reporting live from an undisclosed location in Tokyo," the reporter began. She wore a stylish white skirt, a white blazer over a dark blue blouse, a red hair tie, and a necklace that looked suspiciously like a monocle. Conan rolled his eyes so hard that it hurt, and he wondered uncharitably how hard the woman must've fought to get this role.
"Tonight marks a historic occasion, as the first time ever that Kaitou KID has formally requested an interview," Hikita continued. "The Magician Under the Moonlight, often hailed by critics and fans alike as uncatchable and invincible, will—"
Conan groaned loudly, earning himself more shushing from the rest of the living room, which he steadfastly ignored. "Ug, come on!" he complained angrily, gesturing at the TV. "This is painful to watch! Could she be any more obvious about her crush?! I mean, she has to know how this looks to everyone, right? She can't actually expect Kaito to be interested in her, right?"
There was some indistinct muttering and giggling from behind him, but before he could investigate, Hakuba subtly redirected his attention to the interview by saying, "I believe I see KID in the background."
"Where?" Conan snapped his head back around to stare intently at the screen. Sure enough, the silhouette of the building behind Hikita now showed a majestic figure standing atop the roof access door.
The cameraman must've noticed too, since the camera shifted to focus on KID. That brought Hikita's attention around as well, which thankfully got her to finally shut up with her embarrassingly sappy description of KID for a minute as she watched him in awe.
KID then began walking, descending a flight of invisible stairs. His hands were in his pockets, his trademark smirk dominated the visible bottom half of his face, his posture was casual as could be, and his cape fluttered dramatically behind him in a breeze that must only affect capes.
"Kaitou KID!" Hikita exclaimed unnecessarily, but seemed too star-struck to continue the thought.
"The one and only~" he responded grandly, then swept into a deep bow as he reached the bottom of the imaginary stairs, coincidentally a mere step away from Hikita. Ever the gentleman, he took her hand and placed a light kiss on it.
"It's not real," Hakuba said suddenly, startling Conan and distracting him from the rest of the introductions on the screen.
"W-what?" Conan asked, disoriented.
"You seemed distressed," Hakuba explained.
"It doesn't mean anything," Haibara added from behind him.
"It probably wasn't real anyway. I bet he only kissed the air above her hand," Satou said.
"Oh no," Chikage corrected her cooly, casting a strange side glance at Conan. "Kaito is a professional; it would have to be a real kiss."
"Ah, but don't worry, it's just for show," Yukiko chimed. "He doesn't have feelings for her~"
"W— I wasn't— …let's just watch!" Conan stammered, flustered and confused and deeply uncomfortable.
Back on the TV, Hikita had just finished gushing about how excited she (and 'the entire rest of the world,' apparently) had been to receive KID's request for an interview.
"—and I'm sure all your fans were relieved to hear from you again, after your sudden disappearance several weeks ago," she said, then held the microphone to KID for his answer.
"The pleasure is all mine," he responded courteously. "It would be impolite for a performer to bow off the stage without a formal farewell, and I intend to leave my audience with a proper grand finale before I retire. This recent silence was only because circumstances required me to lay low for a while."
"What circumstances might those be?" Hikita asked without missing a beat. It was nice to know she could put aside her fangirling for a moment in order to be professional at her job, Conan thought critically.
"Unfortunately, it's not safe for me to answer that," KID explained with a regretful tilt of his head.
"But you will retire once those circumstances end?" she asked with more than a hint of disappointment.
"Naturally. Despite how it may appear, I do have great respect for the law and never wished to break it in the first place. I only resorted to this as a desperate measure to accomplish very important goals that could not be achieved otherwise. It was never intended to be a permanent solution."
"What are those goals?"
"What higher goals could anyone have?" KID replied easily, perfectly mimicking the self-assured conviction Shinichi would've had in answering that question. "Justice."
"Of course, I couldn't agree more! So then, is it true that you were involved in the sting operation that brought down that criminal syndicate recently?" Hikita asked eagerly, admiration clear in her expression.
KID's smirk grew wider, and he held up one finger to his lips in a playful 'shh' motion. "I've been expressly advised not to answer that," he told her with a wink.
Which was actually entirely true: he had been told not to answer that question, as Hakuba was keen to remind the room with a few indignant remarks. Conan's lips quirked into a half smile as he wondered fondly if Kaito had done that just to annoy Hakuba.
Hikita giggled, knowing that the 'non-answer' was as clear as a direct 'yes.' KID still stood within arm's reach of her so that she could offer him the mic after every question; as she laughed, Hikita placed a hand lightly on KID's arm. The motion seemed so natural that it could have almost been unintentional, but it caught Conan's attention as effectively as a blaring fire alarm. His eyes narrowed and the corners of his mouth subconsciously tensed into a scowl.
"Then," Hikita continued, mercifully removing her hand as she spoke, "Is it safe to assume that you're working with law enforcement on these 'circumstances' you mentioned?"
"You may assume whatever you like," he answered smoothly with a charming smile.
"Will this affect your next heist in any way?"
"I'm afraid the work I'm currently engaged in is not nearly as fun as a heist."
"What sort of work is that?"
"As you might imagine, there are many potential uses for my… skillset, and it would not be especially wise of me to detail them," he replied with a vague gesture and wicked grin.
"You mentioned earlier that breaking the law as KID was a desperate measure. Does this mean that there was some reason you couldn't go to the police for help?"
KID lowered his head slightly so that the only visible part of his face was his delighted smirk. "You ask very good questions, Ojou-san," he said quietly, and she blushed and smiled coyly at the compliment. "I won't name any names yet, as it would be imprudent of me to point to any corruption in the ranks of our esteemed police force and justice system without the hard evidence to back it up."
"Is that what you've been doing with your skillset? Collecting evidence of corruption?"
"Among other things~" he answered mysteriously. "In fact, you can expect another notice from me very soon for another interview, during which I will expose many a rat. But for tonight, I have a much simpler task I would request your assistance with."
"I'd be happy to! What is it?" she immediately replied, clearly way too eager to help. So obnoxious.
"You might remember that I made a surprise cameo on one of your studio's evening news programs a little while ago?"
"Then perhaps you'll recall the jewel that I displayed back then?" With a flick of his wrist, KID revealed the very same dull, unassuming rock as he had back then. He effortlessly set it spinning on the tip of his finger.
"This is the same jewel?" she asked excitedly.
"It is, and it's quite a remarkable one, despite the first impression it makes. Here, allow me to show you." KID gracefully took Hikita's free hand in one of his gloved ones and placed the jewel in it. "Hold it up to the moon," he instructed her quietly.
Hikita's eyes were locked onto KID's as she stared fixedly at him with breathless admiration, but she allowed him to gently guide her hand higher until it was lined up perfectly between the moon and the camera. They held it there for a second, then the jewel began to glow red, dimly at first but quickly becoming blindingly bright.
Hikita drew back with a loud gasp, but her hand was still held with KID's around the jewel. Then KID released her, and their hands separated to reveal that the glowing gem had disappeared.
"What was that?" Hikita asked in wonder and shock.
"A trick of the light," KID explained with a dismissive gesture, as if he didn't care for his own excuse. "But the myths are much more fun. The gem's name is Pandora, and there are legends claiming that it's magical. Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Very," she agreed reverently. "It's truly a special jewel."
"Yes. That's why I would like to find the previous owner of this gem. I think she would be very happy to see it again."
"The previous owner?"
"I believe Pandora was once owned by an old friend of mine from New York; or perhaps it belonged to her mother. It seems to be an heirloom of sorts in their family. But unfortunately, her contact information has changed since the last time we met, and I'm unable to find her," he explained, spreading his arms wide in a gesture of helplessness.
"Which is why you organized this interview as a way to publicly reach out to her," Hikita filled in quickly.
"You're very sharp, Ojou-san," KID answered with another charming smile and slight nod. She smiled and ducked her head.
"I'm only doing my job," she said bashfully, then seemed to gather herself and reverted back to her interviewing voice. "What's this woman's name?"
"She's a very private person; I don't think she would appreciate her identity being shared on camera. I'm sure she'll know that I'm talking to her as soon as she sees Pandora, but if she wants more confirmation, I would tell her that I'd like to make up for what happened the last time we met on that train."
"And how can this woman contact you to arrange a meeting?"
"She'll know how."
"She knows your identity?" Hikita asked with great interest.
"That is one possibility, isn't it?"
Hikita hesitated for a brief moment, biting her bottom lip, then asked in a more cautious tone, "…may I ask a personal question, KID-san?"
"I may not answer, but you are of course welcome to ask," he said with a less manic and more personable smile.
"Could this woman possibly be… an ex-lover of yours?"
KID's smile vanished like another of his magic tricks, and he stood frozen for two seconds. Then he abruptly hunched his shoulders and clamped a hand over his mouth to stifle a sudden burst of uncharacteristically joyous, youthful, and real laughter.
"I- I apologize if that was an impertinent question," Hikita stammered, blushing a deep pink.
"No, no need to apologize," KID hastily gathered himself and straightened again, Poker Face already safely reinstated. "It just surprised me. I can see why you might think that based on the information that I've provided, but, uh… no. You would laugh too, if you'd met her."
Hikita gave a brief, relieved chuckle. "I take it she's not your type then?"
"That is a mild way of phrasing it, yes," KID answered lightly, amusement thick in his tone and visible features.
"May I ask what is?" Hikita asked shyly, ducking her head and looking up at him through her lashes. When he didn't answer except to tilt his head in confusion, she clarified, "What sort of woman would The Kaitou KID be interested in?"
He considered her for a minute, unmoving, with a small crooked smile on his lips. Finally, in a perfectly carefree tone as if stating his favorite color, he replied, "Who says I'm interested in women?"
SCREEEEEE— The microphone dropped from Hikita's frozen hands and bounced off the concrete roof, filling the broadcast with terrible electronic feedback until the studio cut the sound.
A similar uproar erupted in the living room around Conan: Hakuba choked on his tea, the women all squealed and giggled, and even Haibara was cackling uncontrollably while Conan just gaped in shock, too stunned to even move. Yes, to be fair, Kaito was supposed to make it look like he was at least halfway trying to hide his identity. But he was also supposed to be pretending to be Shinichi! What if anyone other than the BO made the connection between KID and Kudou? Was this some kind of prank against him? Conan didn't want to live the rest of his life surrounded by blatantly false rumors that he might be gay!
Conan's brain was still rebooting by the time Hikita had retrieved the lost microphone and started to regain her composure. She had finally managed to close her mouth but was still blushing a deep red, while KID simply stood there with an utterly insane grin, gleefully surveying the chaos he'd caused.
"I- I— uh… um, well, I…" Hikita flailed awkwardly, her gaze darting everywhere but at KID.
He took pity on her and cut off her stammering. "To answer your question, Ojou-san, there is only one person who has ever truly captured my heart, so I don't think I would be able to describe my 'type' without accidentally revealing that person's identity."
"Oh, I see," Hikita answered with a sigh, though not an overly disappointed one. She actually seemed somewhat happy for him. "That person must be very lucky, whoever they are."
KID laughed lightly. "Thank you, though I insist that I'm the lucky one. I'm grateful for that person every day." Then he smiled, and even from that dimly lit faraway rooftop at night, his smile was unmistakably real and full of love. All the air suddenly left Conan's lungs and seemed reluctant to return.
Conan knew the plan. They needed the BO to believe that Shinichi cared about his loved ones and could therefore be targeted just like anyone else. This interview was meant to show that Shinichi was dangerous, that he had something they wanted, that they had a natural way to contact him and a reason to arrange a meeting, and that they could safely keep to their usual method of attack. Especially after Shinichi's extended absence and apparent lack of connections, they needed to reaffirm all this to the BO.
It made sense. Everyone had decided that Kaito should try to allude to some people important to him during this interview, and this was an absolutely masterful transition to it. But Conan couldn't help the way his chest seemed to constrict when he saw that too-real smile on Kaito's face. It would have to be a real person he was thinking of in order to make that face, and Conan couldn't—
He clenched his hands into fists and forced himself to continue breathing and to focus on the screen.
"Does this person know about your double life?" Hikita was asking conversationally. Her former professional quality had disappeared, making them sound more like a pair of old friends having an ordinary conversation.
"Of course," KID replied with a soft smile. "We're equal partners — we trust each other completely and share everything with each other. Our relationship could never be healthy otherwise."
Again, Conan reminded himself that this was part of the plan. The BO had to think that there were weak links in Shinichi's life who would be valuable targets, or they might not strike. But wow did it hurt. Even knowing that it was all half-scripted, he couldn't help but reflect on his own very real situation. And none of those statements were true. Ran wasn't his partner in anything, they didn't trust each other that much or share anything, and their relationship was not healthy.
That last realization in particular hit Conan like a load of bricks in his gut, and he swallowed hard around his suddenly dry throat.
"I'm so glad," Hikita said sweetly. "Your job sounds hard enough already, so it's wonderful that you're not doing it alone."
The words stung Conan, and he flinched. But he wasn't alone, his rational brain screamed at his reeling heart. He wasn't alone! He had his parents, his team, his friends, his Kaito—
"I agree," KID answered sincerely. "This person truly does mean the world to me. I don't know what I would do without them." He glanced briefly at the camera, and Conan's breath hitched. It was impossible, with shadow still mostly obscuring his face, but it felt like Kaito had caught his eye. And his expression was just so… so…
"That's wonderful. Make sure you two stick together," Hikita told KID.
"Thank you. We will," KID assured her, then his features smoothly transitioned back to his traditional smirk, and he tugged the brim of his hat down. "And thank you for this wonderful interview, Ojou-san, but I must be on my way now. I have a lot of work to do before next Thursday."
"Next Thursday?" she replied, adopting her professional reporter voice once again.
"That's right. I did promise another meeting to deliver the hard evidence I mentioned, after all."
Once again, KID seemed so completely self-assured that it was impossible to identify the bluff. In truth, there was nothing significant at all about next Thursday, except for an anime convention in town that would likely slow down traffic in the latter half of the day. They were just hoping that an arbitrary deadline might prod the BO into action sooner. But KID pulled it off perfectly, and several others in the living room nodded in appreciation. Conan should've appreciated it too, but that one glimpse of Kaito's adoring smile was still seared into his mind and blocking all other thoughts.
"Oh! That soon?" Hikita exclaimed happily.
"I don't have a reputation as a miracle worker for nothing~" KID boasted with a showy gesture that seamlessly became a deep bow. "Now then," he said, and magically produced a crisp white rose for Hikita, which she happily accepted. "Until next time~" KID said, then took a few graceful steps back until he was on the ledge of the roof. After a small salute, he let himself tip backwards off the building.
The view shook as the cameraman hurried to the edge to get a better shot of KID soaring away into the night.
The program then cut back to the studio, where several talking heads were already prepared to launch into conjectures and wildly incorrect analyses of the interview. But Conan was long past the point of paying attention, even if he had cared to in the first place. All he knew was that he needed to not be here right now, and that he needed to be alone.
So he quietly excused himself while the others continued watching, ignored the handful of strange looks they gave him, slipped on his shoes, ducked outside, and wandered aimlessly wherever his feet would take him. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he soon found himself at his favorite spot in the park, where he sat under a tree on a secluded hill and watched the silent empty expanse of greenery before him. It wouldn't be long until curfew demanded he return to the agency. To Ran.
He hugged his knees to his chest and buried his head in his arms as he let out a deep, shaky breath. He had a lot to think about and really didn't want to think about any of it.
You guys, I literally had to spend about three whole minutes scrolling through a webpage titled "100 cute alcohol inspired names for your dog" to come up with codenames for the rest of the BO agents I needed, even though in my heart I really just wanted to call them "extra bad guy #8" and stuff. I work so hard for you all, you have no idea. 😭
In case it's not clear, KID is indirectly talking about Vermouth in the interview. Since Vermouth canonically has some… "issues" with aging, I decided it would make sense for the team to try to lure her out with Pandora. Whether or not she actually has any connection to Pandora doesn't really matter — it's basically just an excuse for them to contact each other.