posting late for ShinRan Week 2023, Day 3 - Historical AU, where Shinichi and Ran live in Meiji-Era Japan.

Some definitions before you read:

Oni — demon

Tachi — sword, similar to a katana

Izakaya — informal bar, popularized in the Edo period (1603-1867)

Obi — sash worn with a kimono

Kanzashi — traditional flower-decorated hairpins

Nippon — Japan

Some songs to listen to while you read:

Sad March by Elaine

The Day by Park Hyo Shin

Or, the entirety of the Mr. Sunshine OST

"You never outgrow stories," his father said. "My favorite begins like this."

The time of the samurai was over. But in days long past, when the shogunate ruled with an iron fist, Minamoto no Raiko once prospered as an ordinary man, then as a legend. With his four Generals, the samurai defended Nippon under the Fujiwara Clan.

One season, the emperor bequeathed an order to Raiko and his men: before the harvest moon caressed the summer sun, the mountain oni, demons who devoured women and children, must be abolished. So, Raiko and his Generals journeyed to Fuji and deceived the devils with powerful, laced sake. Then they slaughtered all the sleeping oni with their tachi, black with magic and blood, marked with authority.

Kudo Shinichi, though he once enjoyed his father's bedtime stories, does not believe in such things. He prefers to read The Strand on Saturday mornings, sneak into active crime scenes, and solve them before the police can shoo him away. Then he basks in the hundreds of questions from the crowd of reporters and writers.

It is a fantasy, to say the least, to indulge in the infuriating human need for honor and glory by slaying demons with a magical sword.

The drugs, however, are very real.

Like many things, it begins at a bar. The Westerners have brought more liquor from overseas, so Shinichi knows the taste of whiskey and rye, which tickle his senses more than sake. In Edo—Tokyo, they call it now—the izakayas are not usually hubs of villainy and danger. But this one in the Nihonbashi district is frequented by evasive criminals hired by powerful men.

A six-year-old girl discovered a corpse in a back alley a few minutes away. Thick negative film rolls laid at his feet. Considering the corpse was a rising politician, Rikumichi Kusuda, it may be proof of guilty pleasures that would turn public favor away from him.

The scent of spilled alcohol on his clothes and the bloody gold token in his pocket pointed toward the nearby bar. The police are too slow, so Shinichi stands alone in front of a collection of hanging dim lanterns above the doorway.

A sign hangs from the lintel, a little silver crow carved into wood. Shinichi holds the gold token up to a lantern for comparison. Its crow is painted scarlet with blood, but they are one and the same.

Like him, all of the patrons don Western three-piece suits, fitted in expensive fabric with gold chains of timepieces peeking out of chest pockets. The shopkeeper's bell rings, and Shinichi's footsteps punctuate the silence and attention that follows. A second of unnerving staring, then the quiet murmuring resumes.

A server in traditional garb bows. Her voice lilts in a thin, straining manner. "Welcome to The Crow Club."

To her credit, she lets no fear show at the bloodstain on their club's token. "There was a man who drank his fill at your establishment last night. Who were his companions?"

Her smile is not as pleasant as she attempts to make it. "I cannot divulge information regarding our patrons, sir."

"Even if one of them may be his murderer?"

The server's gaze flits behind him, to a group of drunkards in a closed section. Their shadows dance on the dividers, black shapes on shoji screens. They're laughing. A man is dead, and they're celebrating.

Shinichi pulls the screens apart; the server trails behind him like an angry, yipping pup. A quick survey informs him of all the facts and data he requires. "You there," he points, "was it jealousy or greed that led you to murder?"

The murderer is a photographer, Hirota Akira, Rikumichi's former friend. When Shinichi meets him, Rikumichi's blood is still plastered under Hirota's fingernails, Rikumichi's wife massages Hirota's shoulders, and Hirota captivates a cohort of entertained companions.

They find that Hirota has hidden the murder weapon underneath another man's seat. Wooden compartments have been fashioned into the izakaya's flat seats, which only worsens this bar's reputation for Shinichi. The red herring sways Mouri-keiji a bit, but Shinichi points out that the thumbprint on the dagger's handle matches the one on the gold token.

It is a fairly elementary affair. The police agree with him, and Megure-keibu arrests Hirota promptly. The izakaya clears out any authorities within a few hours.

But a mystery remains: it makes no sense to blackmail the victim, then leave the evidence near the body. When he finally steps out into fresh night air, he receives his answer.

In the shadows near the bar, two men in black greet him, their heavy winter coats unprecedented for the summer. "A commendable show, detective," the one with silver hair compliments, and in English, the other, short one adds, "Very impressive."

"Good evening, gentlemen." Shinichi clenches his fist to stop himself from reaching into his jacket pocket, where the film rolls bulge out and dig into his ribs. "How may I be of service?"

They inch closer to him, and he strides a few paces back, but in doing so, they back him into darkness. "Cooperation is inevitable, willing or not," the silver one says. "Return what is ours and you will live."

"I cannot return what I do not have, as I have nothing of yours."

"Return the negatives, Kudo Shinichi." He gestures with a gloved hand. "We know the police don't have them."

His certainty alarms Shinichi. There are two options. Either they have observed his investigation from the shadows, or they have contacts within the police. Perhaps one of the former samurai mercenaries with loyalties only to themselves, and not to law and country.

In his silence, they corner him, and the short one smiles. A sudden blow to his head weakens him. The world spins and falls, and he is dragged away; the alley claims its second victim. From the silver one's hands, a baton drips blood.

"Retrieve it, Vodka."

The short one strips Shinichi of his jacket and rummages around. It takes him no time to claim the film rolls.

No policemen, former samurai who could easily defeat them, are present. All have cleared the scene for the night, and he doubts anyone from the izakaya will come help him. He cannot move any of his limbs. A slow trickle leaks from the base of his skull down his neck.

Assessment: leverage compromised; situation dire. Solution: unknown.

"What do we do now, Gin? He knows too much already."

A pistol loading. Shinichi tries to move his fingers and finds them useless, a death sentence. "Stop and think for once," scolds Gin. "All the world will hear us. We'll dispose of him discreetly."


"Opium," he says. "This whole city teems with drug businesses. They'll never pinpoint our organization as the perpetrator. If we're lucky, they'll think the boy has been an addict all along."

He's right. They won't and Shinichi will become a cold case, a document in a sea of papers. A young detective whose opium addiction turned fatal.

He screams through swollen, useless lips—anything would be better than this. This can't be it—barely twenty-five and he dies alone, anyone who ever truly knew him halfway across the world—and no one to care for him in this damn city. Please, don't—he tries to struggle against the grip on his hair, the freezing hands that scratch his scalp and grab his chin and force the pills, so many of them he can barely breathe, into his mouth. Liquid pours over his lips, then thick, calloused fingers hold them together. Rigid capsules collide with his cheek and tongue. He jerks and strains, trying not to swallow, but the men arch his head back, and his throat bobs, knocks it all down.

Throughout the deterioration of Shinichi's respiratory system, Gin stays, observing a rat in his cage. Fascination and anticipation enliven his stare, so bright under his wide hat.

When his heart slows to a stutter and his muscles seize and shiver, Gin finally leaves. Shinichi believes this is the worst it gets, that his death will come swiftly now that his tormenter is absent.

It does not. He admires the constellations, surrounded by the aroma of garbage and waste, until sight blurs and the spasms shake him in violent waves. He is cold, so cold, and he remembers—

After Minamoto no Raiko slayed the oni with his tachi, the last demon—Tsuchigumo, the Earth Spider—shriveled and pruned his own skin, and he reknit himself into a witch-maid. He approached the samurai as a helpless woman, and Raiko believed him.

Tsuchigumo said, "I sense an illness, deep-rooted in your mind, and your heart, and your soul. In this realm, life is a sigh, as swift as the dew dries. Would you like to make it a song?"

"I do feel ill," muttered Raiko, uneasy. "When the sun rises, my heart empties, and my chest heaves as if I bear the burdens of the world. When dusk falls, I feel as though the earth has been dark since dawn. When I lay down, I detest the prospect of sleep; when I wake, standing is a feat that requires ten warriors' strength."

"You are near death, great warrior!" Tsuchigumo stirred false medicine into the samurai's tea. "Consume this, and you will survive."

Raiko drank it, and was excruciated by great pain, curling into himself as Tsuchigumo laughed and laughed.

His father has a passionate love for folklore. "Stories," Kudo Yusaku always says, "adorn the world with crowns and jewels; they transform men into lords."

Heaving and wheezing, Shinichi knows Raiko felt like no lord on the night he faced Tsuchigumo.

For some time, his lungs cease to function. To him, they cease to exist altogether, and he dissipates into an oblivion as dark as twilight.

Lethargically, light breaks through—first as a sliver, then as a beacon. White encompasses him with sterility.

Next to him, a woman fiddles with her tools and fills the room with metallic clangs. Her black, frilly dress is buttoned to the collar. The dark color is so jarringly different from their surroundings that he cannot look away.

Perhaps he should have paid more attention to his father's tales. He would know what the angels require of men to gain their audience.

She bears the Red Cross on the lining of her hat, where strands of stray hair curl around her ear. The rest of her hair is tucked away in a bun behind her neck. Ruffled sleeves rolled to her elbows, she cleans her hands with a handkerchief and stains the white with blots of red. Blowing a sigh, she brings her wrist to her forehead, wipes the sweat off her narrow brows, and pinches the bridge of her bite-sized nose. The tag on her breast spells, MOURI RAN.

"Welcome back, Kudo-kun," she greets, her voice as bright as summer skies. "Do you remember what happened?"

Not dead, then.

"I know too much." He knows too much already.

What were their names? Something from the bar—Vodka and Gin.

They believe Kudo Shinichi is deceased, that they destroyed him and his legacy. They believe he is silenced.

A game is afoot. Cat and mouse, with the mouse playing dead.

Mouri's eyebrows raise. "I suppose you do remember." She measures his pulse on his wrist; he can feel it racing in her strong grasp. "Near-fatal overdose from opium. You were seizing when you were brought to this hospital two nights ago. I stabilized you and monitored your detoxification process. I was forced to damage your ribs from reviving your heart. Please stay away from any more near-death experiences for the next few weeks."

That explains the ache in his tightly bandaged chest. "How did I survive?"

"My father wanted to recheck another detail from the crime scene. He stumbled upon your body and brought you to me."

"Your father? Ah, Mouri-keiji," drawls Shinichi. "Your father is that idiot."

Her thumb squeezes a pressure point on his hand, a hammer pounding on his bones. Her bedside manner is to die for. "My father saved your life. The only idiot here is you."

He snakes his hand out of hers, startled by the callousness of her palm. "If I know your father well, and I do, he doubted my deductions and still believed the murderer's companion was the true criminal. He falls for the blandest misdirections and bends the evidence to fit his hypotheses. Qualities that create the worst kind of detective."

Mouri barks out a derisive laugh. "Arrogant and ignorant. Qualities that create the worst kind of man." She sits him up, pushing his shoulders to a sitting position, and begins to unwrap thick bandages from his skull. "My father cheered with such glee when I diagnosed your condition as an opium overdose. His hypothesis is that you are an addict, and your hallucinations sway your deductions."

His head is lighter, dizzy with information. The wet bandages in her hands alert him that his wound from Gin's baton is still raw. He runs a finger along the stitches where a part of his hair has been shorn. Mouri removes his touch from the delicate area, fingers tangling into a mess. "Tch, stop that."

"What is your hypothesis, Mouri-san?"

Her gaze holds surprise and delight. He understands: not many patients ask her, a woman working under male doctors with egos twice the size of their authority, for her thoughts. With conviction, Mouri says, "Your injury doesn't fit my father's claims. You were attacked and poisoned. No outstanding detective of your age would be so brainless to destroy your body with opium."

"You've heard of me."

"Tokyo worships you, Kudo-kun." He is grateful she no longer holds his wrist. He would hate for her to know what her smile does to his pulse. "Everyone knows who you are."

An intelligent woman, an admirable nurse. Her steady hands finish redressing his head wound and lower him down, gentler than he deserves. She volleys back honest snarks and snipes for his curt, venomous words. In the span of one conversation, Shinichi decides Mouri Ran is someone he does not want to involve in the ensuing war. It is selfish, but he hopes that she stays safe in this hospital, away from threat. But one look at her stubborn compassion tells him his hopes will fail.

"The people who did this to me are dangerous. I'll relieve you of my presence by dawn, and you can forget that you ever treated me."

"You need help," she says. "Won't you report this assault to the authorities?"

"I have no intention of making myself a clear target." Certainly not if Gin and Vodka's organization has spies in the police. It could be anyone. Well, anyone except Mouri Kogoro.

Mouri's daughter considers this. "My father and I have not told anyone about your survival. It wasn't easy to obtain this private room, but I can help you leave discreetly. Afterwards, stay out of the limelight."

Discreetly, he hears, and feels sick. She does not notice. He must be a better actor than he thinks.

"It's impossible for me to remain hidden. Someone will recognize me eventually, then word will spread that I'm alive. The vultures will descend." He fidgets in the bed under her glare. "When that happens, it'll do you no good to be near me."

"What good will you be for this city if you die?"

"Better a reckless detective dead than a brave nurse," he says. "You and your father have my gratitude. But I'll leave tonight. We won't meet again."

They meet everywhere. Over the next month, whether by coincidence or fate or her concern, their paths cross three times.

He disguises himself with his mother's paints and one of his father's top hats. To avoid suspicion and to sway those keeping surveillance on his parents' pride and joy, the European-style mansion on the corner of Beika Street, Shinichi sneaks in and out at either dawn or dusk, shrouded by darkness.

At the market, Shinichi spies Mouri Ran across the apple cart, still dressed in her high-collared black dress. He stares too long at the length of her hair, curling near her waist, and the red in her cheeks from the summer heat. Mouri's eyes flick to his twice before recognition dawns, and she rolls her eyes, pays the vendor, and hustles away.

When he travels to Yokohama, sick of the mansion's cold emptiness, and feasts in the dark corner of a Chinese restaurant, she slurps her meal two tables left from him. Her friend, a woman in costly Western clothing, laughs boisterously at something she utters. The friend bears a familiar face; he mines his memory for a connection until he identifies her as the daughter of the Suzuki heir. Good: rich friends mean adequate protection. As they leave, he notices a dark-skinned man trail behind Suzuki with a lovesick look in his eyes, like a sailor seeking land. Mouri Ran will be safe.

By now, the newspapers have realized their star detective is missing. He no longer appears at crime scenes as he recovers, and although it is custom for him to run into a corpse weekly, he manages to follow Mouri's orders to avoid both danger and attention.

In the meantime, he investigates. He decorates his father's library desk and floor with old, yellowing newspapers and outlines various drug trade organizations that operate in Japan. He narrows his search to the ones with enough power and wealth to employ high-ranking members from the United States, recalling Vodka's American-accented English. The opium pills were red and white capsules, with an engraving on the side; his vision was too blurred to discern the series of letters and numbers.

It would be useful to have the police's files on these, and that is how Shinichi comes to regret refusing the hand that offered to help him.

He is on a brisk, morning walk when some passersby observe him too closely, and Shinichi ducks into the National Library. Mouri appears in the doors a few moments later, her eyes sharp and her breaths rapid as she clocks him.

"Are you worried about me?" he wonders aloud, mindlessly perusing the shelves. She closes in on the book he reaches for and pushes it back in its place.

"Worried about my work," she says, and inspects his condition with a poke to his ribs. He yelps dramatically and he thinks the resulting sound is her stifled laugh. "If you injured yourself again, my services would have amounted to nothing."

"As you can see, I am healthy."

"Just barely," she mutters. "Have you had any more encounters with the men who attacked you?"

"No." She nods, relieved. He is not sure why such a simple thing makes him so giddy. "However, we've had many encounters recently. Why are you here today?"

"I study here frequently." She gestures to the medical section, to the monstrous textbook of cardiology under his fingers. "I was leaving for my shift, but you looked frightened, so I came."

His giddiness turns exponential. "Thank you. I'm no longer afraid."

Mouri squints at him, searching for ingenuity, and she crosses her arms. "Be kind," she says, earnest.

"I have no intention to insult your good will." He must fix this. Playfulness is not his strength; a lonely childhood and absent parents did not train him to be kind and considerate. Shinichi softens his tone and, impulsively, he reaches out and pats her arm, fingers trailing on ebony, puffed sleeves. "I wanted to avoid recognition by a few onlookers, so I rushed in here. I truly am thankful for your concern."

She blushes, and she looks ten years younger. Perhaps he does, too.

"It's good that you have not sought out trouble," she teases.

"I don't seek out trouble," defends Shinichi. "Corpses rain wherever I walk, regardless of my wishes against them."

A scream erupts from the center of the library.

"Like so?" she sighs, with an expression accustomed to crime scenes and overworking detectives. To his credit, Mouri Kogoro does try his best.

"Like so," he agrees, and takes another risk. Shinichi tugs her wrist forward, and they walk toward the murder, like Holmes and Watson themselves.

A woman has been bludgeoned to death. The blood stains the white pillars of the National Library. The markings in her skull match those of a Remington 1890 model pistol's handle, easily handled and hidden. Unfortunately, there are three different people who are in position of such a weapon in the library. Two of them know the victim and have weapons that were recently fired, apparently by accident near their houses earlier. Only one of them has a handkerchief that smells like gunpowder in their handbag.

The only problem is, he cannot enter the spotlight. His deduction brews within him as he glances left and right and chews the skin off his lip until he bleeds. This is more frustrating than he thought it would be.

"Kudo-kun." Mouri's voice drifts like a cloud, hovering over the storm in his mind.

"Mouri-san, unless you have a method for me to steal your voice, I am currently in a troubled state of mind."

"That sounds unnecessary, considering my father is here to listen and communicate your deductions."

No, not him. Shinichi finally looks up from the table of evidence. Mouri Kogoro, former samurai and yet complete fool, glowers at him. "Ah, Mouri-keiji. Hmm. This is most surprising."

"Kudo-kun." His greeting is not as pleasant as his daughter's. It only provokes thunder and lightning to rain in his mind. "Your disguise is very convincing. If my daughter hadn't informed me that it was you under those paints, I wouldn't have recognized you." It does comfort Shinichi to confirm that he has succeeded in blending into the crowds, but this is the worst detective in the city, so the comfort remains small.

"I'm not sure if you can help me," he says as gently as possible. Judging from Mouri Ran's expression, his tone still holds too much irritation.

"You don't have a choice in the matter," she reprimands. "It's either this or expose your resurrection to your would-be killers."

He does not have much confidence in the man's common sense. But his daughter's intelligence surpasses many, and if he trusts her instincts, then he'll have to acquiesce to relinquishing the spotlight to Mouri-keiji.

"Very well, Mouri-san." He takes a deep, steadying breath and vows that if Mouri-keiji sabotages this case, Shinichi will implode, solve the case himself, and suffer the consequences. "Mouri-keiji, this is what happened."

When all is said and done, and Mouri-keiji arrests the murderer, Shinichi's favorite nurse pulls him aside. "Will you accept my assistance, or will you escape those reporters by yourself?" she asks.

Outside, the clamor grows, and Mouri-keiji laughs and proclaims, "Ah, yes, yes, it was so—the case was quite elementary, if I do say so myself—this man tried to get away with it, but I, Mouri Kogoro, delivered justice—yes, I'll answer more questions, I have all the time in the world!"

Warm sincerity colors her smile. He follows her through the back door, and they disappear into Tokyo's busy anonymity.

After that, they keep correspondence, and his investigation continues. He sends thankful and pleading messages to her hospital through his Beika Street Irregulars, three school children who have more bravery and discretion than expected of them.

Eventually, she warns him of the lack of discretion, and permits him to direct his communications to her house in Beika Ward. She agrees to his requests and convinces her father to send him copies of the police's notes on each drug trader's signature opium pills. They have gathered intelligence on fifteen distinct groups; of those fifteen, five bear similarities to the ones Gin forced into him.

Shinichi lounges around the docks from dawn to dusk. He eats fish and smells like it, too. He stays near the ships all day and ignores Mouri's voice urging him that he needs help and is out of his depth.

In the end, it is worth it: he confirms that the Port of Tokyo houses two rival gangs that trade the same opium pills because—and he informs them of this, too—their chemists are working together. The two bruisers who corner and roughhouse him don't take kindly to this, though it is really courteous of him to inform them of their employees' betrayals.

At least he eliminates both organizations from the list. Their members don't have vague, ominous codenames like Gin and Vodka.

He limps his way in the shadows with a stab wound in his middle. Shinichi runs through his supplies in his mind: there is the first-aid kit in the downstairs bathroom, and the one in the library, and the alcohol in his pantry. He can survive this. He only needs to arrive home.

By the time he crosses into Beika Ward, Shinichi trips over his own shoe laces and sags against brick walls. The black night seems spotted with light and dreams, and he swears he sees Mouri Ran outside her door, tapping her foot against the steps of her perron.

"N'thin' to worry ab't," he slurs, waving. "Nearly home."

"I thought I saw you from the window." Disapproval flies down the stairs and into his face. "You are fortunate that I was awake."

She is talking. "You're talkin'." Then she is, most likely, real.

He stumbles as he passes her threshold. Mouri—why does he call her that in his mind, still? Why can't he just think of her as Ran if he knows her calligraphy from right to left, if he hears her voice when his recklessness leads to self-destruction?—Ran catches him.

"You finally found trouble." She ushers him inside and lowers him to the ground. Her medical supplies already await, organized and sterilized as much as possible in the homely environment. "I prepared everything before I came to collect you," she explains.

"I guess you weren't takin' no for an answ'r." Ran scoffs lightly. There may be tears in her glassy eyes. But it may be just a trick of the moonlight.

Then the pain intensifies. Her hands hold his wound together, the broken flesh spilling blood onto white latex. Ran's pressure sharpens his thoughts, reminds him that every minute he wastes here places her and her father at risk. Shinichi starts to struggle, but Ran holds him down.

"Don't be ridiculous." She wipes the cut with something that smells like alcohol—the stinging that crawls throughout his body registers a moment later. "A genius should know when to stop battling the world by yourself and agree to receiving help."

Shinichi clamps his mouth shut, but it doesn't prevent the whimper from leaving him, like the sound of a mouse squeaking before a trap. He is supposed to be playing dead, not actively dying. He clutches his dress pants as Ran starts to stitch his flesh closed. He can feel the skin peeling away and meeting again at her will, and he can't stop feeling the knife plunging in or seeing the rage in the bruisers' eyes when he knocked them out cold with a nearby round anchor buoy, his striking foot suffering the consequences.

"Would you like something for the pain?"

He considers refusing it. His last confrontation with an opiate filled him with a distaste for all drugs. But he fights the urge to vomit with every loop of her needle and thread. It would be terribly embarrassing if he did vomit, and it would trouble her further to clean it. "Y's, please."

Ran pauses her work to plunge a needle in his arm, cool liquid passing through the epidermal layer, and relief spreads through his body. He feels disgusted all the same.

When she resumes the stitches, she clicks her tongue. "I was wrong. Seems you do have an addiction."

"I don't crave opiates," he grits out.

"Not to opium," corrects Ran. "To thrill."

Shinichi can't deny it. The truth stuns him to silence, and she finishes her work without another word.

When he wakes the next morning, she is already eating breakfast on the low wooden table. He is still lying on the ground, but after he lost consciousness, it seems that Ran rewarded him for his speechlessness with a blanket.

"I'm sorry," he croaks. "I won't request your services again."

"It wasn't a request, remember?" She hands him a bowl of soup and he digs in without a second thought. His cooking is a skill honed from survival, but hers is an art. He hums with pleasure and thanks her, and any other words fly over his head.

Ran patiently waits for his hunger to subside. "It wasn't a request. I wanted to treat you, my friend, because if not, you would have died."

Friend, she said. Friend.

"Thank you," he says, and it is not enough, so he opts for a weak compliment. "You handle blood and crime very well."

"Not at first," she admits, sheepish. "I used to cry at everything—blood, burns, seizures, corpses. But eventually, with time, I stopped my tears before it distracted me from my work."

"No crying anymore?"

"Only sometimes, if the circumstances are particularly tragic. If it involves children, or families, or painful love."

"You have a lot of conditions, crybaby."

"Be grateful that the list is not longer." Ran pinches his cheek and smiles at his offended shock. She uses his distraction to drop her playful tone. "I think it's too dangerous for you to be out of my sight, Kudo-kun."

Then she should accompany him everywhere. But that's selfish. She has a job, a life of her own, and freedom to walk down busy streets without looking over her shoulder.

Not everywhere, then. She can be his Watson, his calm and his constant, always present for the next mystery. So, he starts his bargain. "Whenever corpses rain from the sky, I will send for you and your father. That way, I won't draw attention and I won't fight criminals on my own."

She counters, "You were stabbed this morning because of your drug investigation, not because you were pursuing a murderer. Let us help with that."

"I'd rather not get you poisoned." It is a close confession to what the growing feelings in his heart are.

Hesitation and fear linger in her eyes for a brief moment, perhaps remembering his body seizing on her operating table a few weeks ago. But bravery conquers it, as if all the heart-breaking tragedy in the world helps solidify her decision to support him in whatever capacity he allows.

"I don't have to follow you into the lion's den. Just inform me where you are going and what you are doing. If you do want my help, then let me know." She looks down at her hands, clutching her skirt until her knuckles whiten. "Knowing is better than discovering your corpse."

His heart thuds, surprised at her compassion and the absence of pity. Shinichi never thought of the ramifications of finding his body somewhere near that izakaya in the Nihonbashi district. He always assumed his parents would hear of his demise overseas, return home for the funeral and field reporters' questions, then resume their American adventures. But now, Mouri Ran wants to know where he will be tomorrow, whether he will buy groceries or risk his life. It's—nice.

"All right," he rasps. "I will."

Their communications increase in frequency and variety. Mitsuhiko, Genta, and Ayumi interrupt the mansion's unwelcoming silence by saying, "Your wife has a message for you," which does not make him blush, or stutter, or shoo them away with a smile growing on his cheeks.

She invites him to his father's crime scenes, and he invites her and Mouri-keiji to his own. Mouri Kogoro becomes one of the greatest detectives in Tokyo. Kudo Shinichi stews in the corner, disguised and irritated, as Ran stands next to him, somewhat proud of both her father and him.

He doesn't understand the blinding admiration in her eyes when he embraces the shadows instead of the fame.

"You've changed a lot, lately," she says, watching her father charm the hounding reporters.

Shinichi shrugs. "I'm trying to be better than the worst kind of man."

Ran taps a finger to her lips and hides a smile. "I think you've improved a step above that."

"So, I'm only the second worst man in the world?"

"Tentatively." She leans over and pecks his cheek. Shinichi envies the way her hair can cover her face from view; his cheeks glow brilliantly, and he barely stops himself from feeling the warm point of contact with his fingers. "Here's a challenge: perhaps I'll someday deem you as the third worst man in the world."

It is a challenge he takes with pride.

Murders are solved, men put behind bars, and somehow, his irritation shifts to reluctant fondness. The distance between him and Ran shrinks, and it does not take long for once stomach-swooping actions to gain normalcy. He offers his arm to her when they walk up staircases, dismount from carriages, and enter buildings, and he expects her hand in his when they run to stop a fleeing murderer.

Even when they are not chasing after a criminal, she quells his demons with her touch. A man dead from an opium overdose, her message said, and she gave the address where she and her father awaited. It may be connected to that organization.

When Shinichi sees the body, Ran holds his hand to steady his heartbeat and calm his breathing. He was right. She has become his calm, collected, constant Watson.

The scene is all too familiar: an alleyway near an abandoned warehouse, blunt force trauma on the victim's skull, and the tell-tale blue lips of suffocation. It could have been him. It almost was him.

"Can you solve this?" Mouri-keiji asks. He does not expect the concern, but he has learned to welcome it, so he nods his assent to the detective.

The man's name is Itakura Suguru, a scientist specializing in the development and refinement of electricity. There are strangulation marks along the victim's neck, but they are not the cause of death. Some blood under his fingernails, where he most likely clawed at his tormentor's arms as they squeezed his throat and beat him. His eyes are half-open, and his pupils are constricted.

Shinichi shivers, and Ran rubs his arm. He leans into her warmth, like sunshine after snow.

Megure-keibu rounds up the people who were in the immediate vicinity yesterday night. The list includes two women, a young man Shinichi's age, and an old man who could be his grandfather. Shinichi and Mouri-keiji question them closely, but it is not until he hears the old man mutter lowly, "This must be Gin's work," that his blood runs cold and he staggers.

"What's wrong?" Ran asks.

"The old man is with them," he explains, breathless. "He knows the ones I encountered."

Mouri Ran has done her fair share of surprising him. But Shinichi still does not expect the fierce look in her eyes, and he does not expect to enjoy it with a heated glow to his cheeks.

They corner the old man, but he is spryer than they realize, and he flees. When they catch up to him, Shinichi realizes they've stumbled onto a hornet's nest. The old man pulls out a pistol, surrounded by a group of men in battle stances. "Who are they, Pisco?" one of them asks.

"Expendable," he answers.

Ran turns her nose upward. "Is this supposed to frighten us?"

It does frighten Shinichi, just a little bit, so he is very unsure of how she wants this conversation to proceed. Thankfully, one of the bruisers replies, "We'll make sure you're scared, little girl."

She cracks her knuckles. The sound reminds him of a farmer breaking a chicken's neck for his family's next meal. Ran looks like she will devour them, a wolf in nurse's clothing. "Enough talking," she says, and kicks Pisco's gun out of his hands.

When they return, barely a bruise on either of them, but with an old, limping man in tow, Mouri-keiji beams at them. "Ah, that's my Ran. Did you go easy on them?"

"Yes, otou-san."

Mouri-keiji takes one look at Shinichi's incredulous expression—he must look so starstruck and smitten, and he tries to suppress the emotions plainly displayed on his face—and laughs so hard, he nearly falls back in his chair. "Do you truly know my daughter if you haven't seen her judo someone to unconsciousness?"

"I am not a helpless woman, Kudo-kun," chides Ran. "Did you not think the daughter of a samurai could fight?"

The thought had not crossed his mind, no. But now that he has seen her defeat a man twice her size and swing her roundhouse kick into gangsters' faces, it is all he thinks about. Her agility as she flew into the air before her kicks, and the grim grin she wore before striking the men's vitals and throwing them over her shoulder. Her hair tossing in her bun, her flushed cheeks.

A few nights later, Shinichi sneaks down Beika Street and checks on Genta to collect Ran's reply to his question. He hopes she answers in the affirmative, that she does want to talk over their thoughts on the case at dinner tonight. It sounds like what normal young people do: go to dinner, talk, and walk together. Even if he needs to be disguised, he wants it. The risks are worth it.

The paper Genta passes to him says, I am dining with Suzuki Sonoko tonight, but perhaps we could tomorrow. Good work.

Shinichi traces every character etched in black. Tomorrow. Tomorrow—he can't wait.

And the other sentence, that she's out with Suzuki—it's such a miniscule piece of information, so seemingly unimportant, but it lightens his heart, and he feels like a man floating through the air without another care in the world. He wonders if she knows the effects of her words on him, if she understands how wonderful it is to know what she likes to do in between shifts and after a hard day's work.

He arrives at his gate when he sees it: a leather shoe, stuck between black pickets. He recognizes it immediately, and knows what this is. A clear message to both him and Mouri Ran.

He must have been sloppy, lately. His disguises and his schedule were too paper-thin and predictable, and they've found him out. Kudo Shinichi, alive? There are consequences for that.

"No. I am so, so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm—"

His voice catches. Shinichi trips over nothing, and he slams his hand against the pavement, again and again, until the gravel scrapes his palm and he can't control his agonized scream.

Mouri Kogoro stares back at him, the back of his skull blown off. Its remnants sully the Kudo mansion's front yard.

He compiles all the data he needs for the investigation, and Megure-keibu kindly sends him away. "Tend to his daughter," he pleads. "That is all the help you can give right now. And Kudo-kun—it is nice to see you alive and well."

Atop his porch steps, staring as policemen crowd around her father's body, Ran says nothing.


If he had not been so clumsy, arrogant, and ignorant near the izakaya that night, or if he had not been so stubborn as to keep fighting in that alleyway, battling his own stifling lungs, or if he had some semblance of self-control and not involved Mouri Kogoro and his daughter…

Mouri Kogoro should still live. Why is Kudo Shinichi still alive?

"I'm sorry, Mouri-san." Shinichi takes a seat next to her. He feels raw, stripped naked; his disguise is gone and he stares at her with his bare, unpainted face for the first time in months.

The scarlet around Ran's eyes reminds him of Cabanel's Lucifer, and her nurse's uniform is fit for a funeral. But her mourning freezes in shock. Tears fill her eyes, but she stares so unflinchingly at the sight in front of her that they do not spill over. In limbo, a picture of preservation. "Is there anything I can do?" he asks, though he is sure he has done enough for them.

"No," she dismisses. "I need—I need time alone."

"Of course." They stand, but neither of them can meet the other's eyes. Selfishly, like every other goddamn thing he does in his life, Shinichi prays that this won't be their end. He will avenge her father, and he will stop these people from murdering anyone else. Then if he survives, he will return to her, like in the folklore of days long past, when samurai slayed oni and prevailed amongst men. That is, if she does not regret ever meeting him and healing so many of his hurts and heartaches.

"Stay safe, Kudo-kun. Don't do anything rash without me. If I lost you, too—"

Her voice's roughness, its brokenness, does not allow her to finish the sentence. She leaves him stranded at his hollow mansion, cracked open and longing for her, and he schemes.

The first stop he makes is the Nihonbashi district. The empty izakaya chills him like a haunting, and spirits seem to lurk in the dark. But he makes sure no one is there before he dives into the crime scene for more clues.

After, Shinichi works with Megure-keibu. He throws all lone wolf tendencies out the window, at least for now, and sits down and collaborates with another detective. Every so often, Megure-keibu will throw him a look of apprehension, but Shinichi plows through, distances himself from it all. This is just another case.

"The scuff marks on the victim's leather shoes indicate his body was dragged from the crime scene and dropped on 221 Beika Street's doorstep. There is no blood splatter on the front yard or on the gates, so he was most likely not shot near the house."

"Where should we search for the crime scene?" Megure-keibu asks.

"Where did Itakura Suguru live?"

They take a day trip to Yokohama. Scattered around Itakura's house, half-finished drawings muse about the possibility of weaponizing electricity. In a hidden drawer sits a mass stock of opium. Opposite the drawings, the white wall is tainted with blood splatter.

The neighbors say that Pisco visited Itakura several times, and one time, he brought a woman with him. Their description of a young, beautiful, blonde-haired woman strikes him with added guilt: she was present at Itakura's crime scene as one of the suspects Megure-keibu interrogated.

She had given them an American name, Chris Vineyard. Her alcoholic name is yet to be uncovered, but Shinichi has heard of the Vineyard family. They're made of old Southern money, wealthy from slavery and trade, so it must have been simple to shift from trading American crops to trading opium in foreign countries.

"Chris Vineyard? Is that the dancer from the film?" He gives Megure-keibu a blank look, because of all the policemen, he knows him well enough to understand Shinichi would know less than nothing about films and dancers. The police inspector heaves a sigh. "Moving pictures are on the rise, Kudo-kun. Some American filmed a woman dancing, no more than a minute, but her picture is now in every paper. There's a showing of the film and a reception at the Kabuki-za tomorrow night."

"Being rich and famous," Shinichi says bitterly, "means having a good opportunity to get away with murder."

"They won't get away with this," Megure-keibu snaps. The victim, Shinichi remembers, was not only his employee, but his friend. Anger is an appropriate response. Shinichi can use it to his advantage.

"Let's go to their party," he proposes. "For Mouri-keiji, let's infiltrate their little celebration."


"They think they scared me off. Let's surprise them."


"We'll draw them out like vultures to a corpse."

"Kudo-kun! I have a duty, not only to the citizens of this city and the men under my power, but also to your father. I can't let you risk your life so recklessly."

"Oh, he asked you to look after me, is that it? Doing all the hard work he can't bear to do, Megure-keibu?" Shinichi glares back until he can't meet the sorry look on the inspector's face any longer. "I'm going there whether you help me or not. If you really do want to honor whatever duty you feel you owe to my absent father, your men will be there to support my investigation."

Megure-keibu's men stick out like sore thumbs. Half of them don't have the common sense to wear Western clothing at the formal event, so they look like the samurai that they were thirty years ago.

Shinichi keeps away from them. At least they'll be there to provide manpower, and if worse comes to worst, to collect his body.

An autumn rain pounds on the roof of the Kabuki-za. At each level, stair handrails and balconies are painted sparkling gold. Its lobby has been transformed by theater and dinner staff. Atop the floor's scarlet background with painted blues and greens, vendors man carts of hors d'œuvres and waiters offer trays of champagne. His sixth sense peaks whenever men in black ask bartenders for vodka martinis or gin mules.

For the most part, people do not notice him. This is an event focused on moving pictures, technique, and dancing; most people here, especially not the Americans, have not heard of him. When he does see a reporter who occasionally interviewed him, Shinichi ducks his head out of the way. He finds himself stuck in a dry conversation about the varieties of ballet that could be captured in the future when the world hushes and color blasts into his vision.

"Mouri-san," he says, breathless. Gone are the mourning clothes, the black nurse's uniform that hid her skin to prevent contamination. Peonies in shades of lime embellish the lilac of her kimono, tied together with an emerald sash. Her hair is partly pinned with a kanzashi; behind soft strands, a cherry blossom glints at him. The rest of it hangs loosely, curling perfectly around her shoulders and down to her waist. Her lips are painted red, and her blue eyes are somehow even more striking.

If her father had not died, would Ran have worn this to their dinner? If she did, what would he have done? Proposed to her right then and there? That's idiotic, borderline psychotic, but it's what his father did to his mother, apparently, and that worked out well for them. He considers it now, then remembers he and Ran haven't said a word to each other since that night.

"Good evening, Kudo-kun," she greets.

Does she want to say his name as much as he wants to say hers? No one has called him by his first name since he was fourteen. When they were still in Japan, his mother called him Shin-chan and his father just said Shinichi, but there was always something impersonal about it.

He clears his throat. "What are you doing here?"

"I received an invitation in the mail. The letter came from the dancer herself. Chris Vineyard?"

No—he sees the opium forced into him and the leather shoe protruding out of his gate and the cold eyes under a hat's brim, and he thinks—no, not her.

"You need to leave."

Anger flashes in her eyes. "You really think that will work? I know why I was brought here—bait, or distraction, or leverage. I don't care. I am not meat dangling on a hook in front of the lions so you can bend over for them. Whatever it is you have planned, I want to participate."

The victim was her father. Shinichi knows he cannot possibly use her grief to his advantage. She is also too stubborn to listen to him and too brave for him to scare her off. But her fighting skills are superior to his own, even to some former samurai present at the reception.

Across the lobby, a wide, black hat floats into view above the heads of mingling photographers. Shinichi slips his hand under Ran's arm and pulls her closer. Turned away from Gin, they look like young elopers at a film showing. "Fine," he says, his whisper in her ear, her nose pressed to his cheek. "We'll enter the theater and take our seats. When the lights dim, we'll move to the projector room."

A member of the theater staff claps and ushers the crowd into the stage room. Ran spins her head around, taking note of the positions of theater seats, the exits, and the projector room on the third floor. "Simple," she says as they take their aisle seats. "And then?"

He gives her a wicked smile. "I have something to show them. They'll be quite excited to see that I developed it."

They move in the darkness, ducking down to keep their movements unnoticeable. The ushers are all enthralled by this American dancer, twirling on the silver screen in silence, so it provides them ample time and opportunity to climb two flights of stairs.

"What is that?" Ran gapes at the film rolls in his hands.

"My tachi," he says, and replaces Chris Vineyard's film premiere with the developed blackmail he hid in The Crow Club's wooden seat.

The film rolls Vodka found on him were Hirota Akira's, ones Shinichi found next to his murder weapon. A quick exchange, one not even Megure-keibu noticed, and Vodka and Gin were deceived as easily as drunk demons.

A click thunders through the theater; the screen fizzes black until the film begins anew with pictures of Rikumichi Kusuda in various compromising positions. The first few are with women, but the majority of them display his gleeful expression as he opens a package of opium. He stands next to trench-coated men, including two familiar faces.

Shinichi turns away. "It will take time." Ran's voice shakes. "But this is a good start to achieve justice."

It does not bring Mouri Kogoro back, but it does begin to avenge him. Below them, angry murmurs spark complete outrage, and the audience demands answers from the ushers. "We should get out of here," he says.

When they arrive on the second floor, his triumph washes away. Shinichi squares his shoulders, ignores the phantom ache in his chest and in his throat, and stares at the two people who nearly killed him. "Vodka and Gin, correct?"

"I should have let my partner shoot you in the head." Gin draws his pistol and gestures for them to return upstairs. Ran shifts her stance, but he holds his hand out. Fighting is not an option, not yet.

"You killed my father," says Ran.

"I have no time to play with meddling detectives," replies Gin. "Be grateful it was quick."

They make it halfway up the stairs when Ran sees an opening and takes it. She kicks Gin's wrist, and Shinichi charges toward Vodka and pushes his aim upwards. Vodka's pistol ignites, gunpowder gathers, and a hole in the ceiling is followed by a hundred screams.

He elbows Vodka in the face, catching his chin, but Vodka knees him in the stomach. He groans, but keeps his hand on Vodka's arm. He kicks him twice in the privates, and a high-pitched squeal leaves the assassin's lips. Obviously, Vodka is neither the brains nor the brawn of this operation. He's probably the baggage.

Shinichi is able to disarm him, and he flicks the barrel out of place and shakes the bullets out. Vodka takes the distraction to his advantage and throws a punch to his temple.

The theater whirls. Next to him, Ran blocks Gin's punches and he evades her kicks. Instead of a gun, there's a knife, slashing to and fro.

There's a boot on his chest, pinning him down. Shinichi takes Vodka's ankle and twists, as hard as he can. A strangled yelp, and his body thuds down the red carpeted stairs.

He should help Ran. The two of them move so fast, he can hardly track their movements, but it looks like Ran is losing. Gin backs her up the stairs, and bits of cloth from her kimono fall like snow.

The smell of smoke halts him. He glances behind him. From this vantage point, he can only see a pair of leather boots exit the projector room. They start to run, and the full figure comes into focus: Chris Vineyard, clad in black, form-fitting clothes, and a wide-brimmed fedora. A smoking cigar in her lips trails gray haze. She holds a Smith and Wesson model. She aims.

"Ran, get down!"

Without knowing anything, she trusts him, and does exactly that.

Three bullets are fired in quick succession. One to Vodka's middle, injuring a downed man, and two to Gin's heart.

Unfortunately for her, Gin is quick. He dodges a bullet and growls, "Vermouth!" The other enters his shoulder, just as he throws his knife up the stairs as Vineyard descends. It scrapes her gun-holding arm.

She doesn't stop her attack. Vineyard, or Vermouth, slides down the stairs. Her legs cut into Gin's knees. He drops like a stone, but manages two punches to Vermouth's face.

Never in his life has Shinichi felt more out of his depth than this moment. He meets Ran's eyes, and they match his, wide with confusion and fear. They're on the same train of thought. They meet in the middle and run away from the action.

Escape is not as simple as they hope. Vermouth and Gin move their fight down the stairs to the second floor's landing seconds after they arrive. The two criminals tangle with each other, arms twisting and knees jerking, until Vermouth performs a judo throw, and Gin goes over the railing.

Shinichi's need for justice screams over his desire for vengeance. That man shouldn't die so easily. He should pay in years for the people he's killed and almost killed. But he can't deny that sense of relief in his veins, as damning as the sensations of opium.

He inches toward the railing to see if Gin's blood is splattered all over the lobby floor. As if they act as a unit, both Ran and Vermouth do the same.

Then—slam! A hand smacks against gold bars. Silver hair and icy glare appear at the bottom of the railing. He starts to climb.

"Damn cockroach," mutters Vermouth. From the corner of his eye, Shinichi sees her pull a knife from her boot.

"No, Vineyard!"

The knife sinks into Gin's neck. Vermouth stretches her body over the railing: one arm holds onto the top rail, her legs twist around the balusters, and her body folds at the torso to allow her to reach Gin. Being a dancer truly lends itself to murder.

Gin gurgles, the whites of his eyes expanding. Then he pulls on Vermouth's arm.

Frantic, Vermouth gasps and scrambles. Her limbs askew, she starts to fall off the balcony with Gin.

Another twist and push of the knife. The resounding smack against the marble floor confirms it: Gin is dead. His blood spreads across blue and green swirls like a spider's web.

But gravity works against Vermouth. Her upper body hangs in mid-air, and she pants from exertion. Her leg slips.

For Ran, for Shinichi, for people like them, it is second nature. They grab Vermouth from two sides and heave her back to the landing. The three of them land in a heap of curses and groans.

Vermouth scrambles away from them like a scared puppy. "Why? Why would you save me?"

And Ran, his darling Watson, replies, "Is a reason necessary?"

He finishes her thoughts, so in tune with his own. "We don't understand the motives behind murder and crime, but as for saving a life—a logical mind isn't required, wouldn't you agree?"

Before the woman can answer, the doors to the balcony seats bang against the theater walls. Coughing, flailing people rush out. In the chaos, they lose sight of the dancer, quick to blend into the crowd and disappear.

Shinichi also loses his grip on Ran. It smells like old cigars and oil, and he tries to force it out of his lungs, remembering when they refused to obey him and his lips turned blue.

As quickly as a beast consumes its meal, the fire expands around the theater, propelled by the sheer mass of projected film. The crowd pushes him down the last flight of stairs, but he can't leave without her. He can't lose her.

Shinichi hears his name, his first name, followed by a fit of coughing. "Ran, where are you?"

"I'm here!" He circles around and catches her face in the crowd. "Shinichi!"

Cries of panic don't deter her. She forces her way back to his side and crashes into his arms, and something pure and holy relieves his heart. He clutches her arm; she holds his waist. They move as a unit, slow as a mule. When they taste raindrops and clear air, and let it wash away the griminess of the battle and the fire, they lurch sideways and topple to the ground.

"Are you hurt?" Shinichi searches Ran for injuries and finds a hint of blood on her skirt. "Did he hurt you?"

She stops his spiral before panic devours him. "I'll be okay. I'll need your help dealing with it, but it's not deep. Please, let's just go home."

Behind them, a wall of orange-red flames rages. The theater, the film, the evidence, and Gin and Vodka's bodies all burn to ash.

None of that. There are more important things to tend to.

He hails a carriage and helps Ran up, his hand curving around her hip. Home is her place, quiet without her father grumbling. Throughout the journey there, they speak in gentle, reassuring touches. When they reach Beika Ward, Shinichi smooths over her refusals and carries her to the threshold himself, so she does not have to walk up steep steps to her front door.

In the living room, he lets her down. She sways, and she grabs his shoulders for stability. Her skin is pale, and he begs every god he knows from folklore that the dagger wasn't poisoned.

"If you were alone, if I had not been there, you would have died, Shinichi." Her lips quiver. He realizes their proximity far too late.

Shinichi tries not to fixate on the melody of his name on those lips. "I had Megure-keibu's men."

"Well, where were they? What good were they, when we were fighting?"

Not good at all. He tries to comfort her with a promise. "I would have returned to you. Even if I died, I would have returned."

"Your body would have burned," she says, her fists balled, and she hits his shoulders to punctuate each word. "And I would have only—your—ashes—to—remember—you!"

"Ran, Ran—"

"You stupid detective idiot—"

He catches her wrists. She is hurt and her father is dead and she can only think about him. "I'm sorry, for everything."

"Sorry isn't enough!"

"Then I'll swear." He cups her wet cheeks. "I swear it won't happen again."

"Wherever you go, I'll go. Wherever you fight, I'll fight."

"Yes. You fight better than me anyways."

"That's right," she says, somewhat satiated. "If I find out you risked your life without me again, or you fought to avenge my father without me again, I will kill you."

"And if I'm dead, I'll let you kill me again." His wry smile sets her off.

"That's not funny!"

"I know, I'm sorry."

Her breaths begin to steady, not the stuttering mess it becomes when her frustration boils over, and she says, "You're all I have left."

He leans his forehead to meet hers. It was all hollow, haunted houses and sadistic crime scenes before her.

"You're all I've ever had," he says.

They stay for a moment, until Ran winces and shifts her leg. "Now, let me help you."

She instructs him to get the first-aid kit from the hallway and to prepare a bowl of phenol and cloth. When he returns, her obi and her kimono are pooled on the floor. Scarlet scratches mar the delicate textile of her under-kimono. Yellow chrysanthemums of its spring patterns appear like they weep blood, jarring against white cloth.

The red near the edges of his vision forces him forward. He takes her arm and helps her into a bergère; an ottoman's legs screech against the floor until it is able to serve her.

Shinichi looks to her for approval. Ran nods her consent.

He hikes up the bottom of the under-kimono until it curls around her thigh. His shaking hands meet smooth, golden skin, interrupted by the scarlet line from her ankle to the slash below her knee. Keeping hold of her leg, he reaches for a wet cloth and squeezes it dry. He starts from the ankle, the white cotton collecting red like sin. She shivers as his fingers glide over raised goosebumps. The phenol-soaked cloth reaches just before the slice from Gin's dagger.

It will hurt her. There is no avoiding it. Either this, or risk infection.

"Wipe it clean and wrap it. It doesn't need stitches." He follows her order, ignores her grimace, and focuses on her hands curling over the bergère's arms and her nails digging into its fabric.

Finished, he unrolls gauze and wraps the cleaned wound, ghosting around the bulge of her knee. She concentrates on hiding her pain. She chews on her lip, the air crisp with hesitation.

Is it guilt or desire that prods him to meet her gaze? Her glare demands attention, and her eyes are twin lights near the sea, guiding him home. "The blame is not yours to bear," she chides, and she means more than this injury. Her grief is still palpable, but she wields it as a weapon. "It's theirs, and we'll defeat them. Do you believe me?"

"I believe you," he says, and means it. "We'll dismantle that organization together. Together or not at all."

He presses his lips to the gauze. A childish thing, really, to kiss a wound better. Still, her mouth opens, sucks in air, replaces hesitation with resolution. A cold touch on his cheek jolts him; it lowers down his jaw and traces the arteries in his throat, raising the hairs on his arm. He clutches her leg for stability. She unknots his silk tie.

Before it sinks to the ground, he kisses her fully, his hand curved around her nape, her thigh pressed against his palm. The tension cracks under a thousand pounds of outlandish, impossible wishes, compounded by the force of her kissing back. Her fingers rake down his spine, and he extracts the kanzashi from her hair like a surgeon, precise and proper until his fingers tangle in her hair.

He kisses her until he realizes he has forgotten—

Jubilant, Tsuchigumo slithered back into its original arachnid form and hovered over Raiko to enjoy his suffering. But when the samurai neared death's gates, one of his Generals discovered them. With his tachi, the General fought Tsuchigumo and rescued Raiko, and they fled the wounded oni who swore to destroy them.

"How were you captured, my lord?" asked the General.

"He concealed himself and promised me a cure to my ailments," said Raiko, and reported his list of symptoms and the Earth Spider's poison.

And the General said, "You cannot cure such sickness so easily, not with a prescription. I, too, feel ill on many days. When the sun rises, I forget the joys of the past and the mercies of the present. When dusk falls, I live in grief and regret, and I wrestle with sleep.

"But my remedy is this: a morning cup of brewed tea with my family, an afternoon walk with my lord, an evening bottle of sake with my friends."

The General unsheathed Raiko's tachi and positioned it in the warrior's hands. "Without these, I am nothing."

They returned to face their enemy, and the ill warrior and his General defeated Tsuchigumo. Minamoto no Raiko learned to live with such ailments, and he found his cures in Nippon—villagers' blistered grips as they greet and thank him. His children laughing in the rice paddies. The smell of grass after rain.

A message arrives in the mailbox that says, Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same. It is signed only by a silver crow.

Shinichi and Ran visit The Crow Club, and the dancer waits for them in front of the entrance, where puffs of cigar smoke billow into the air.

"It's closed now," says Vermouth. Seats and tables lay stacked near the alleyway. Inside, dismantled decorations scatter the floor next to folded shoji screens. "I have you to thank for that."

"Your people only operate in the shadows," he says. It agrees with Gin's hesitance to use a gun to murder Shinichi, with the difficulty he had in identifying the organization from the police's list. "One little fire, a spark of light, and it's enough to send you scurrying to your mouse holes."

"Once two of his high-ranking members perished in that one little fire, that man knew relocation was the next, wisest move." That is one name he has never heard before: Anokata. Before he can inquire about it, Vermouth turns to Ran.

"I truly am sorry about your father." Her voice is as sweet as molasses.

Ran is not immune to such kindness, but she locks her jaw before the woman can see her words' effects. "Are you sorry about him, or are you only sorry after we saved your life?"

Vermouth does not answer. "It's done. The organization is out of your lives. I've convinced him you two died in the fire, along with Gin and Vodka. You two are quite the fighters, so wonderfully trained that Gin and Vodka were no match for the two of you. I barely managed to escape unscathed." She winks. She's destined for the silver screen with such acting skills. A cinematic natural.

"This won't stop us," says Ran. "We won't be cowed by your lies."

The dancer's mouth contorts into a grimace. "Is that how you repay my gratitude?"

"You can show your gratitude via information," Shinichi challenges. "You don't seem happy under your Anokata. Why don't you help us, instead?"

"My dear, you've no idea the anger you've unleashed by how much you've already achieved. Humiliating his dancing exhibition. Killing two of his precious henchmen. Closing down his favorite bar. Aren't you bored of playing with us yet?"

There is a beat while he digests it all and mines the words for as much data as he can. Then he asks, "There is no chance of convincing you, is there?"

"And there is no chance of convincing you to stop, either." They give each other a moment to reflect, their deals offered and tossed aside as garbage. "Then, I only have one question for you."

"I'll answer, if you answer mine."

She waves, nonchalant, and asks, "How did you know to hide the film rolls?"

"This was not a very fine establishment, but the patrons were wealthy enough to afford Western clothing, from the tips of their shoes to their gold watches. I knew I was in the lion's den when I walked in. To be safe, I told no one and planned on retrieving them some days after the murder."

"Very well." Shinichi stifles a smirk; it's hard not to feel accomplished when a master criminal is impressed with him.

"Who is Anokata?" he asks in return.

Vermouth snorts. "Please, detective, ask me a serious question."

Ran elbows him, and Shinichi shrugs. It was worth a shot. "Fine. Why did you kill Gin and Vodka?"

"I am no exhibition. I am no pet to display. Many people forget this, and I do what I must to remind them of it." She purses her lips and uses one of the izakaya's seats as her ashtray. "We'll meet again, if fate would have it."

Once she's gained a safe distance away from them, Vermouth hails a carriage, and they watch as it fades out of view.

Shinichi takes one last look at the silver crow hanging from the lintel before Ran tugs him away.

As they walk home, a chill and a gray sky settle, followed by heavy rain. It soaks his suit and her dress. They keep walking.

They arrive, not at her home, but at his haunted mansion. Vines straggle around stone pillars and the gate pickets. The front yard is spotless.

He stokes a fire, then as they dry off, he leads her to his father's library, where his investigation runs rampant on the walls, shelves, desk, and floor. "This is everything I know. It's where we'll start."

She gapes at his madness, at his thoughts and drawings and frustrations. This is most of what he is, and he gives it to her openly. "You're keeping your promise."

"I had hoped you wouldn't sound so surprised."

"Your history with your oaths is not promising."

"I'll do better. I am doing better."

Ran senses the insecurity in his tone, the desperate need for her approval, and softens. "I know. Thank you."

"It's because of you," he says, and wishes he could script this out like a play. That way, he could memorize every prepared word and not agonize over her potential responses. "So, please, stay with me."

"Of course, I will," she says. "I told you, you're all I have."

"Stay with me, not merely as friends, or as a nurse and a detective, or as a partner in fighting crime. Stay with me, as a woman stays with a man."

Her breath hitches; he pushes forward before he loses the words on his tongue.

"I need you," he confesses. "I have never understood why people were necessary in each other's lives. We are illogical creatures. And so, illogically, I thought I could never fall in love with another person. But you battled my loneliness before I was aware of its existence. I found that I loved you before I was aware of my own capacity to love. If you're averse to such a companionship with me, then say so, and I will drop the matter immediately. If not, then my hand is open, and my heart is forever bound to yours, Mouri Ran."

He holds his breath. A small smile glides across her cheeks, and his heart stutters at how much love she can carry without it burdening her.

"Well then." She takes his empty hands and kisses them. "Shall we have that dinner?"

Folklore says nothing about falling in love with a general queen, the first of her kind, the noblest among men. All the better. Those tales almost never end well. A new story can be written, and it begins like this.

The folklore used here is real. There really was a Minamoto no Yorimitsu, and he did become a legend during the Heian period (794-1185), and I stole the details from several sources. It's a bit sparse, so I wrote the italicized folklore bits and made the tale my own.

It only comes up once, but latex gloves were first used in 1883/1884ish, so it would make sense for Ran to be using them when she's patching Shinichi up.

During the Meiji Restoration, the samurai were abolished and many of them joined the Tokyo police force. I thought about making both Kogoro and Yusaku former samurai, but it just wouldn't fit Yusaku.

I was thinking about how I could bring the Black Organization into this AU, and I realized the Opium Wars were happening in this time period. So, I went on a deep dive to see how Japan was affected by said opium wars and drug trading. It turns out, a lot of profit was made from it. There's even a paper about it (tbh I only read the abstract but very interesting stuff).

The first films were made in the 1890s by the Americans and the French. They were very short and simple, so writing Vermouth as a dancer instead of an actress fit better with the way these films were made. In 1897, there was a fire in France, at the Bazar de la Charité, due to a projectionist's equipment. I thought it would make a good setting for the climax.

The Crow Club, while very fitting for the Black Organization, was stolen from Six of Crows. Kanej for the win.