Well, everyone, here we are—the end of the road. The other side of the bottom of the mountain. Whatever you want to call it. This is, simply put, the end of Sly Cooper: On Equal Ground.

I want to express my personal thanks to those who have read this fanfic—both those who followed it from the beginning, and those who have just recently discovered it. I know I've been a little long in posting new chapters sometimes, but circumstances have prevented me from doing so sooner. More importantly, I wanted to make sure that each chapter was worth reading, as opposed to mere filler between one good scene and the next. Thanks so much for your patience and feedback, everybody—I couldn't have done it without your help and encouragement.

In closing, I'd like to thank Sucker Punch Productions for making such an awesome video game series. If any member of the Sucker Punch team should happen to read this, I hope they can see how much I enjoyed the fruits of their labors—a trilogy of quality games that are worth the time of any fan of platform games, furry games, or both. Here's hoping more Sly Cooper games (of matching quality, of course) follow.

And now, without any further ado…the finale!


Chapter 8: Epilogue

Carmelita let out a soft sigh as she lowered the slender wine glass from her ruby-hued lips, black-gloved fingers setting it down lightly on the immaculate white tablecloth. The wine was quite good—a white Sauterne, the dessert wine that had helped make Bordeaux's reputation—and proved to be just the thing to accompany her dinner. All the same, there would never be anything that could quite top the unique flavor of Palo Cortado, that rare breed of wine from Spain. She had a bottle of it at home, but she was saving that for a truly special occasion—the day when she finally brought in the most elusive criminal she'd ever chased.

Not that Sly had shown himself anytime recently, that is. As if he'd taken her parting advice to heart, that sneaky raccoon had vanished along with the rest of his gang following the Kaine Island Incident—despite a detailed investigation, little to no information had been found on the whereabouts of Sly or his accomplices, and so far, all her attempts to turn up any trace of him had been unsuccessful.

The fact that she had been re-assigned to other cases wasn't much help—despite her protests, Chief Barkley had taken her off the Cooper case until a fresh lead turned up, insisting that they needed her talents in tracking some of the other criminals on Interpol's wanted list. Granted, it hadn't been the first time—after all, Carmelita had been temporarily re-assigned to track down a notorious Mexican mercenary shortly before the Kaine Island Incident—but it was still absolutely frustrating! Couldn't they see that just because the Cooper Gang hadn't shown themselves in a while, that didn't mean they wouldn't be back? Didn't they realize how elusive Sly Cooper was, or what sort of thievery he was capable of?

Wasn't it clear that only she could catch him?

Still, all things considered, Carmelita had to admit that it wasn't all bad. After all, she'd been able to help put away some high-caliber criminals (including the head of a snuff film ring and a rather sadistic serial killer), and the successful arrests had been a great help in defending her against skeptics on the force who'd doubted her abilities—and even worse, her integrity—based on her repeated failures to bring in a certain ring-tailed master thief. Those doubts had been silenced, however, and then some—not only was she being praised for her detective work, but there was even talk about making her part of a new branch of Interpol known as the Indigo Unit, which would supposedly bring the organization's best and brightest together into a single, highly-trained unit.

This, on top of the latest of her cases successfully closed, was more than enough reason to celebrate. At least, that's what Chief Barkley had said when he gave her the evening off. Though she had been reluctant at first, since it wasn't exactly like crime was going to go take five while she was out having dinner somewhere—and never mind the paperwork she was still working on—her old mentor had insisted.

"Even the best of us need to take some time to relax now and then, kid," Barkley had told her at last, gesturing to her with his cigar in a decisive manner. "Go ahead and take the night off—your case files aren't going anywhere." And that was the end of the discussion.

Which brought her to here and now—sitting at a table near the rooftop balcony of the Le Soirée Éternelle Café, a restaurant well-known for its ritzy décor, its talented orchestra and dance floor, and its availability to the night crowd. And, admittedly, Carmelita found herself enjoying the chance to treat herself, for once—in the life of one of Interpol's brightest detectives, such chances were woefully few. The food had been excellent, the wine was of fine quality…and the view of Paris' nightlife alone had been worth the trip; the balcony offered a scenic display of the city, and the night sky that kept its omnipresent vigil—the dusky deep indigo of the sky, bedecked with the soft glow of the numerous stars that blanketed the heavens and the ethereal radiance that the moon gave off from its half-hidden perch behind some clouds.

It was a beautiful evening…even if she was alone.

The figure-hugging, backless black evening gown, the past-elbow-length gloves, and the glossy high-heels were a given, of course—the Le Soirée Éternelle Café was well-known for its formal dress code. However, despite the fact that she had taken such steps towards her appearance—even going so far as to undo her silky azure hair from its usual braided ponytail so that it cascaded down her bare back—Carmelita hadn't really planned on having a date, despite the fact that more than one of the guys on the force would have jumped at the chance to take her out.

The social restraints of her job aside, most of the men she knew were only passing acquaintances, and they were pretty much after her looks and nothing else. Hardly the type of guy Carmelita was looking for, even for a casual night on the town. And those who weren't typical drooling males were often rather hopeless, like Detective Winthorpe—hopefully, that scrawny ferret would eventually figure out that she had no interest in him, and give up his woefully inadequate and cheesy attempts at romance.

Of all the guys she'd met, not one of them had ever come so close to the blend of charm and appearance that he possessed…that ring-tailed rascal who, on an island more than half a year ago, had stolen something from her—something more significant than anything of monetary value could ever be…

Abruptly, the sound of footsteps brought Carmelita back to reality, and she saw her waiter—a pelican with a rather pronounced accent and a bright scarlet bowtie beneath the white dress shirt and black suit jacket—approaching the table, wings folded neatly behind his back. As the bird came to a halt next to the table, Carmelita reached into her purse for her wallet…only for the waiter to stay the action with a dismissive wave.

"Zere eez no need, mademoiselle Fox," the pelican said in a slightly nasal tone as he began to gather the dishes and glass from the table, supporting them with surprising dexterity on one wing. "Ze dinner haz already been paid for. You zee?" And with that, he produced the check—already signed, in elegant cursive, with what looked like indigo ink.

Carmelita stared at the waiter in surprise. "What? But who…?"

"You may azk 'eem yourself, mademoiselle—'ee'z zeeting right over zere." And with that, the waiter bustled off with the tray, gesturing with his free wing to indicate the figure who was sitting alone at a nearby table, seemingly engrossed in the half-full goblet of wine that he swirled gently in one paw. He cut a dapper figure in his double-breasted crimson tuxedo jacket and black silk shirt, with small rectangular glasses, a canary-yellow necktie, and a white rose in his lapel serving as accessories. He also wore faux-fur pants, a fashion employed by some—and indeed, it was a look that went rather well with him, given his toned, athletic figure, sleek fur…

…and that striped raccoon tail?

Carmelita almost jumped out of her seat, her hand flying to the Shock Pistol in her purse. At the last minute, however, the vixen restrained herself—species aside, this raccoon wasn't Sly Cooper. Where the master thief's fur and hair were both a dusky smoke-gray, and his eyes rich brown, this newcomer had tan-brown fur and wavy dark hair, his eyes were a most bewitching shade of sapphire…and he certainly wasn't wearing a mask, let alone carrying anything remotely like a cane.

Easy, girl. Carmelita chastised herself. There are lots of raccoons out there…not just Sly Cooper. Nevertheless, she was curious—who was this handsome stranger, exactly? Just a party-goer with a roving eye? Or something more?

Intent on finding out, the vixen rose from the table with practiced grace, striding across the imported velvet carpet as she crossed over to the raccoon's table. Clearing her throat to get his attention, Carmelita held out the signed check with an arched brow, waving it under his nose. "I suppose I should thank you, mister…?"

Clearly, he'd been waiting for her—the way he looked up before the words had left her mouth and the knowing sparkle in his eyes were proof of that as he extended his paw to her, holding out a business card. "Enrico Lancroft III, professional freelance photographer, at your service." His voice was as smooth and pleasant as his appearance, and carried a faint trace of an English accent as he flashed a rather charming smile. "And you're quite welcome."

Carmelita rested one hand on her curvy hip and cocked her head to one side, keeping her voice cool as she sized him up. Definitely handsome and witty, this one…but the Inspector wasn't one to be easily wooed—especially after the events that had taken place on a certain beach in the Pacific. "Fair enough," she mused aloud, her tone questioning as she addressed Enrico. "So tell me, what would prompt you to buy dinner for a girl who you barely know?"

Enrico chuckled softly. "Because you remind me of someone I used to know," he replied. "Someone who was…rather special to me. She had grace that was matched only by her beauty, and a fiery, passionate spirit that made her all the more endearing." He paused, closing his eyes as if recalling the sweetest memory of his life. "Ours was a meeting of chance, but somehow, over the years, she and I kept running into each other in the course of our respective jobs…even in such exotic locales as India, China, and Russia. It was like the tango—complex, beguiling…and, in its own way, undeniably enjoyable."

Carmelita's initial response was to roll her eyes mentally and sigh. This had to be a pick-up line—admittedly, the raccoon was eloquent, and he had a roguish charm that worked rather nicely with him. But still, it was going to take more than just pretty words and a handsome face to win her over…

…Then the vixen stopped as some of that line leaped out to hit her. India? China? Russia? The tango? Wait a minute…

Seemingly oblivious to her reaction, the raccoon who had introduced himself as Enrico opened his eyes and let out a wistful sigh. "I never acted on my feelings, though…not the way I might have. She and I never became more than passing acquaintances who walked separate paths in life." Then he looked at her, his expression and voice surprisingly intense with heartfelt sincerity. "That's something that's always haunted me…If only I could go back and do things differently, I would in a heartbeat." Another pause, his cobalt eyes piercing his glasses as they sought out her amber-brown pools. "Just ten seconds…that's all I'd ask for, if it would make a difference."

Ten seconds.

For a moment, Carmelita didn't answer the photographer, taking the time to take a closer look at him. He seemed like a stranger, but…there were familiar traits. His handsome features. The lithe build. That roguish charm. Come to think of it, if you chalked up the color of his eyes and fur to dye and contact lenses, took away his glasses and accent, and gave him a mask…

Of course.

Then Carmelita closed her eyes and chuckled softly, amused wonder in her voice. "Come to think of it, you remind me of someone that I used to know," she replied with a slow smirk as she met his gaze, watching him closely for any hidden reactions. "He was handsome, charming…to say nothing of talented. I haven't seen him in a while, though."

'Enrico' tapped his elbow gently, obviously intrigued. "You don't say?"

Carmelita let her reply snap out like a whip. "He's also a thief—a sneaky, clever, ring-tailed rascal who's slipped between my fingers more than any criminal has a right to!" The vixen placed a paw on her hip and let a note of pride enter her voice. "I happen to be a cop, you know—Inspector Carmelita Fox, one of Interpol's best and brightest. And he's the only crook that I haven't been able to bust since I began working as a detective…even though I've chased him all over the globe. Every time that I think I've caught him, he slips away at the last second!"

The so-called photographer tilted his head to one side and whistled softly, obviously impressed…but what was that faint flicker of emotion in his eyes? A trick of the light? Or something else? "It sounds like he's a challenge, even for you," he mused quietly.

"He's got the devil's luck, that's all," she shot back. Then she cocked her head to the dashing raccoon and let that smirk return, playing it spicy as she continued. "But I'll find him, you know. Sooner of later, I'll catch him…and then I'm going to reform him. I'll make a cop out of him—one way or another."

'Enrico' flashed a charming smile, his azure eyes dancing with wit as he arched a brow. "I'm not so sure that I'd mind being caught, were I him," he quipped.

Carmelita held his gaze for a long moment…then began to laugh softly, touching black-gloved fingertips to her temple in mock resignation. "Awfully forward, aren't you, senior?"

The raccoon shrugged at this and chuckled softly. "I suppose I can't deny that," he conceded. Then he paused, his sapphire eyes seeking out hers as he rose from the table. "Be that as it may, I was wondering if I might have a moment of divinity in an otherwise mundane life." And with that, he offered a paw to her, indicating the dance floor where carpet gave way to marble. The band had just started to play, inviting a few couples to leave their tables and begin dancing.

"May I have this dance?"

For a moment, Carmelita considered the so-called "stranger," his outstretched paw, and the familiar beguiling smile he offered to her. She thought about her views on life—her views of right and wrong—and the experiences that had helped to shape them. She considered all the criminals she'd busted up to this point, and the one whom she had yet to catch.

And then she recalled a special night on an island, half a year ago, when that very same thief had shown his true colors, and they had shared a moment on equal ground…a moment where their roles of thief and cop meant nothing at all.

The vixen smiled as she reached out to take his paw in her own, her fingers intertwining with his.

"You just might, Ringtail," Carmelita Fox murmured softly as the two of them walked towards the dance floor.

Fin


FINALLY! A labor of love is complete! It took me longer than expected, but here it is, at long last—On Equal Ground, an alternate Sly 3 ending, in its entirety. Comments and feedback are always welcome, and I look forward to your input. Thanks for reading, and I hope to produce another work for your reading pleasure in the future!

Oh, and for those of you familiar with anime, you may recognize the subtle references I made to the star of Lupin III in Sly's disguise—those who saw it on Adult Swim may catch on more quickly; his appearance is slightly based on the "red-jacket season."

Let's see, am I forgetting anything? Oh, right—there's a translation I ought to make!

Le Soirée Éternelle Café…The Eternal Evening Café.

Toodles!