The Case of the Hidden Epidemic

Mirror and Image

Note: We know the Japanese version. Granted, most people write Detective Conan stories with the Japanese names, but we don't know any of the English aspects of Case Closed. Japan, as you may know, has several levels of speaking in terms of how polite (or impolite) you are. As such, trying to "translate" how people talk can be quite frustrating.

For example, Mitsuhiko-kun is purely polite (lots of -masu and desu and refers to himself as boku). As in, they don't really speak that politely over in Japan all the time, only when the situation calls for it. And our freckled detective-in-training uses that type of speech all the time. Genta-kun, by contrast, talks like a thug (harder to pick out other than a lilt and -dazo or -darou and usage of ore for himself). Our dear little Shinichi himself has a wide variety in his speech patterns. He can be as polite as Mitsuhiko when solving a case, cute like a little kid, and roughly impolite and borderline rude (*ahem* - sarcastic). As if this isn't enough of a challenge with standard Japanese, there's also the Osakajin pair of Heiji and Kazuha, who speak with a Kansaiben or drawl that really translates more as a dialect (a lot more -ya or -han sounds).

So trying to "write" like they "speak" can be incredibly frustrating. The two of us ask you to bear with us as we try and match English with all the subtleties of Japanese and still make the characters "sound" like themselves.

It was a feeling he'd often tried to talk about and explain to other people. Unfortunately, while police officers and other detectives clearly knew what he was referencing, actually describing the feeling was elusive to all he had discussed it with. He had tried to explain it once to Ran, before his life had been upended and he'd been... reduced.

The cops he'd worked with called it a "cop-sense". A sort of sixth sense, honed by pounding the pavement and dealing with some of the worst humanity had to offer, that would just let them know when something was watching them, something was going to go wrong, something was off. Inspector Megure had described it as the hairs on the back of his neck raising (not that he really had hair there...) or a tingle in his mustache. Officer Takagi said it felt like a burn between his shoulder blades when he was being watched. Officer Sato just called it "woman's intuition", a chill down her spine.

None of those descriptions, however, had worked for Edogawa Conan, shrunken version of Kudo Shinichi.

Other officer's he'd spoken to had called it a "sudden awareness" or a "sharpening of the senses". That didn't really describe things properly for Conan. He was someone who was always aware. It was just something he did. He was always observing, making deductions, and verifying. It was something that came to him almost like a second nature; from the moment he started reading and loving mysteries, back when he was a little kid the first time around. His parents had encouraged him in it, and now it was second nature, a part of who he was.

At the end of the school day (whether it was back at his real school, or in his current elementary school) he could tell you, with startling detail, everything that had happened over the course of the day. And not just what happened in the classroom. He could easily expound upon what was going on in a teacher's personal life, an angry passing of notes three doors down from his own class, or that the janitor had needed to clean up blood from a boy's bathroom because a student had opened the door just as a student was coming out and had caused a bloody nose and black-eye. He could explain all of this and even go into detail of how he had learned all of this, even though his other classmates were completely unaware of it.

Observation, deduction, verification.

So calling that "cop-sense" a "sudden awareness" never really cut it for him. When he had been explaining it to Ran, back when he was himself, the only analogy he could come up with sounded corny. It was like going through life with a television on. You could turn down the volume, but you couldn't put it on mute. So it was always a part of whatever you were doing and you could, if you wanted to, simply "tune in" and pay attention, or just let it be background to what you needed to do. When his "cop-sense" went off, it was like someone took control of the volume of that television and raised it up to full.

Even that wasn't quite right.

Ran had chuckled at the time, saying it was like when she was in a karate match. Once her focus was on her opponent, everything else faded away as she concentrated. Shinichi had smiled, disagreeing; because her example was the exclusion of things around her while his was an inclusion of everything around him. Plus, focus was something that you worked on or had to concentrate on. For him, either as Shinichi or Conan, it was just something that clicked on. He wasn't sure what flipped the switch, but it would just randomly occur and he would sit up and pay attention. After all, given that he wasn't even supposed to be alive, he tended to be aware of everything even more than before he had been... minimized. When he'd had his life, he had been aware, and a switch would flip to make him hyper-aware. Now he was in a constant state of hyper-aware, and a switch would flip for him to become paranoid-aware.

A satisfactory description still eluded him. But all this thought and conjecture was just a distraction for him as he sat in elementary school, painfully aware of two very empty seats.

Genta, the largest of Conan's three Shounan Tantei friends had been absent for two days, today being his third. Today was Ayumi's second day missing school. It struck Conan as odd. It wasn't cold season or flu season, neither Genta nor Ayumi had any allergies that he or Mitsuhiko knew of, and to be absent for more than a day indicated something rather serious. Everybody else in school was healthy, only missing a day or half a day for a doctor's appointment or visiting a relative for a three-day weekend, or some such thing.

The oddity of it was starting to raise the volume on his TV, in a manner of speaking. The overly-polite Mitsuhiko also found it odd that Genta and Ayumi had been out but hadn't called them. Ayumi might be understandable if she called that evening, but for Genta to be out for what was now three days without any sort of communication? Even if it was only to whine about any detective work he might be missing? Strange. Of course, Mitsuhiko's overactive imagination (his one failing that Conan was trying to work with, just like Genta's loud enthusiasm) had taken over on what could have happened to the two of them, ranging from alien abductions, to revenge for solving a case, to eloping (though he grumbled a bit on that).

The two had gone up to their teacher during lunch, asking why their two friends hadn't been to school.

"Oh, they just came down with something."

Conan wasn't convinced. That was a vague answer, but the teachers were informed by school administration of when their students would be out and for how long in order to send work home. It was one of Beika's requirements in all schools for parents to call in, otherwise the student was considered to be skipping and dealt with accordingly. It wasn't a problem in the elementary or even in the middle school all that much, but a few of Shinichi's classmates had been caught skipping in order to go out with a girlfriend or boyfriend, or just to avoid the pressure of school. Shinichi himself always called the school if he was going to be gone because of a murder investigation, since his parents were never around to call in for him. It was how he learned about it. He'd almost ended up in trouble because he didn't know about it beforehand.

"Ne, Conan-kun," Mitsuhiko leaned over once they sat back down. "Do you really think they are just sick?"

"Why don't we find out?" he replied.

The skinny boy brightened. "You mean investigate?"

"No, I mean why don't we visit them on our way home and see how they're doing?"

Mitsuhiko nodded enthusiastically. "And we can see if there are any clues on how they got sick!"

"Sure thing." Conan smiled and the volume turned down a bit. It may not be cold or flu season, but it wasn't unheard of to get sick. Perhaps it really was coincidence, or maybe Genta gave the cold to Ayumi. There was no need to put a mystery were there wasn't one. After all, Conan got enough mysteries and dead bodies; it was okay to have a break, right?

After school, Mitsuhiko and Conan were both racing towards the gate were Ran and Sonoko were waiting.

"Ran-nee-chan!" Conan called, waving. Inside, there was a brief flare of longing, but he ran right up to her, his freckled friend waiting somewhat impatiently a few feet away. "Ran-nee-chan, Genta-kun and Ayumi-chan are sick. Can Mitsuhiko-kun and I go visit them? They haven't been in school for a few days and are missing work and--"

"Slow down, Conan-kun," Ran admonished, bending down. "Your friends are sick?"

Conan nodded.

"And you want to go visit them?"

Conan nodded again.

"That's fine," Ran smiled, running a hand over his hair, straightening what had been disheveled with a day of play and school. "Give me a call when you're ready to come home and I'll come pick you up." She straightened his clothes a little and smiled as she stood back up. "Sonoko-chan and I will probably be shopping for the afternoon, but I'll be home in time to start cooking dinner. If you need me before that, I'll keep my cell phone on, so you can reach me any time."

"Sure thing, Ran-nee-chan!" Conan happily chirped. "We'll see Genta-kun first and then Ayumi-chan!"

"Alright. Be safe." Bending down once more, Ran placed the briefest of kisses on his forehead.

In that one moment of contact, Shinichi wanted to be able to do something as himself. Something to show how much he cared. Something that wasn't limited by being stuck in the form of a seven-year-old child. But Conan couldn't afford to. He couldn't let Them know he was still alive. So he shoved all those feelings down, squished them into a small box, and buried them. He'd find a way to cope later, but not now.

And just like that, the moment was over.

"Come on, Conan-kun!" Mitsuhiko came up as Ran stood up once more and turned to Sonoko. "Let us go see how our friends are doing!"

Conan gave a childish laugh and turned to the skinny child. "You bet! Race you down the street!" And like a shot, the childish form of Shinichi tore off down the street, the startled squawk of Mitsuhiko behind him, while the not-quite little boy worked to push down something very strong.

The volume of his TV was neither quiet nor loud at the moment, but he was steadfastly ignoring it entirely as he and Mitsuhiko went off to visit the first of their missing friends.

Ran chuckled to herself as Conan raced off with Mitsuhiko to see their friends.

"He's like a mini-Shinichi isn't he?" Sonoko commented, offering her own small laugh.

Oh what a can of worms that comment is, Ran thought to herself. But she wasn't going to think about it. "How do you mean?"

The heiress grabbed Ran's arm and started lightly dragging her towards the bus stop. "Oh, nothing specific. Just that he likes to run around all the time like Shinichi did when he was a kid."

Ran laughed lightly, memories filtering up from the age-shadowed corners of her mind. "I think Shinichi ran a lot as a kid because I was usually chasing him to give him a good karate chop."

"Oh yeah!" Sonoko bubbled. "Shinichi was into karate as a kid as well, wasn't he?"

Ran nodded, remembering all the classes the two of them had been in before soccer lured her friend away. "Yes. The sensei and I were sorry to see him leave for soccer. He had a lot of potential. He probably could have won matches like I did once I knew enough."

"Really?" The heiress raised an eyebrow as they sat down to wait for the bus.

"Oh yes," she replied. "Shinichi, even as a kid, always had very powerful kicks. I remember our sensei working a lot with him on making sure his kicks were perfect." Old images, not recalled in years filtered through Ran's mind with a great deal of fondness. Flashes of a seven-year-old Shinichi in a karate gi, practicing kick after kick. Flying kicks, split kicks, roundhouse kicks…

"If he had such strong legs," Sonoko turned to look at Ran, "why didn't your sensei work on his arms? If his legs where fine, doesn't that mean he needed work on his arms?"

Ran frowned, searching back through her recollections. "Shinichi's arms were just fine, Sonoko. He had the same power as anyone else in our class with his fists. But his legs were just more powerful."

"Probably from running from you so much."


"Sorry. Continue."

Ran let out a long sigh. "Sonoko, you know that even in karate people have different, personal styles. Personal fighting preferences are just like fingerprints, unique to each person. If Shinichi had continued in karate and not left for soccer, his style probably would have been very kick-oriented. In karate, you always use your own strengths to find and then use your enemy's weakness." Ran leaned back and glanced out for the bus. "If Shinichi were to take up karate again, his kicks would probably be even more powerful now because of all the training he's done in soccer."

Sonoko looked at her with an odd look. "Why Ran-chan, are you jealous of Shinichi's legs?"

Ran turned scarlet.


"Or is it that you just admire his legs? I never noticed before, but you do tend to look at a guy's legs instead of his face or even his butt."


The heiress shrugged. "I'm just saying that you like to look at legs. That's no reason to get upset." Sonoko wiggled her eyebrows. "Unless of course, the only legs you like to look at are Shinichi-kun's?"


She only laughed as Ran got redder and redder.

Conversation slipped back into less-embarrassing territory on the bus ride to the mall; talk of how the school day had gone, how various friends were, and Sonoko filling Ran in with the latest gossip. They laughed, bought ice cream cones and chatted as they went from store to store.

"Come on, Ran, I can't be the only one buying things!"

Ran gave a small laugh. "Sorry, Sonoko, but my Dad didn't solve as many cases this month. Money is a little tight."

"But you were just saying how he solved this big case!"

"With that nail-polish killer?" Ran asked. Sonoko gave a brief nod and Ran continued, "Yes, but it was something he stumbled upon again. Nobody offered to pay him and the people involved weren't really making enough money to pay for the case." Ran let out a small sigh. "Normally, after my dad solves a case, one of the people involved is grateful enough to pay him for it, but that didn't happen this time."

Sonoko shrugged. "Then I'll loan you some money."

"No, Sonoko-chan," Ran said firmly. "I appreciate the offer, really I do, but neither my dad nor I will accept handouts."

"Oh come on," Sonoko jibed, "it's just money! Really, I can afford it and I want to."

"No, Sonoko." Ran smiled. "That really is very kind of you. But you know my dad. He has a lot of pride in what he does. He will never take money from you just to make ends meet."

"Fine, fine."

Ran let out a sigh of relief.

"I'll just have to hire him for something."

"Oh, Sonoko!"

"Oooooooh, Ran, look at that!" And just like that, Sonoko was dragging Ran into a store before Ran could register what was going on and the complete turn around in conversation.


"Oh, they have it in red! You should so wear this when you next see that Shinichi jerk!"

Something was placed in Ran's hands and she looked down.


"Isn't it just perfect?"


Sonoko bubbled on. "You'd probably need a red dress over it; I know we saw one that would look good on you a few stores back. Some heels - I'd go back for the heels, maybe with some red accents. You wouldn't even need much jewelry..."


"This is, of course, assuming Shinichi gives you some warning before he pops back into your life, but I know you don't like me talking about that. So we just have to prepare you for when he does show up, don't we?"


"Ran? Are you okay?"


"If you don't like it, we can try this one."


Of course, by now, Ran was as red as the silky garment in her hand. It was silky, red, and just this side of sheer. A slip, definitely a slip to wear under a dress. A sexy, lingerie/negligee slip. And in Sonoko's hand as an... alternate option... was a set of red panties and bra that would, no doubt, leave very little to the imagination with all that (or should she say how little) lace.



Genta's apartment was a few blocks down from Mitsuhiko, so on their way, Mitsuhiko, naturally, insisted on dropping a few things off at his home and leaving a note for his family on his plans for the afternoon so that they wouldn't worry. It was a thoughtfulness that Conan usually associated with Ayumi, but he was rather proud to see Mitsuhiko display the trait. Granted, it was probably inherited from spending so much time with the sensible girl and a subtle attempt from him to try and court her before Haibara arrived, but it was a good habit to get into and, from a detective's point of view, a good way to keep track of whereabouts.

As they walked to Genta's building, Mitsuhiko's energy from earlier was starting to evaporate as honest worry started to take over again.

"Do you really think they'll be okay?"

"There's only one way to find out," Conan replied. He would have rather assured his friend that both Ayumi and Genta were fine and that nothing was wrong, but he didn't really have the strength for that at the moment. The other members of his little detective band weren't stupid. They understood that things could go wrong in a heartbeat, even if Shinichi did his best to protect them from many of the grimmer aspects of detective work, like checking bodies and the like. Both of them had discussed earlier that for Genta and Ayumi to be absent was unusual and warranted looking into. Offering words to contradict that now would just be cold.

"I know," Mitsuhiko said quietly, watching his own steps. "But if they are not, then this is going to be serious, is it not?"

Conan looked over with Shinichi's eyes. With solemn honesty, he replied, "If something is wrong, that doesn't mean we don't investigate it with anything less than our best. It means we do better than our best to make sure that Genta-kun and Ayumi-chan are both fine and stop the culprit, if there is one, from hurting anyone else." He reached over and gave Mitsuhiko's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "We do what we always do."

The skinny boy looked up, just as solemn, and gave a firm nod.

"But," Conan offered with a slight grin, "we may not have to go that far."

Mitsuhiko's mouth twitched into a broad smile. Without warning, he took off running. "Race you!" he called back in a good imitation of Conan from earlier. Shinichi gave a wry chuckle before taking off after his friend.

They raced all the way up the stairs to Genta's apartment, laughing and teasing back and forth as Conan, unsurprisingly, took the lead until he tripped on the top step and Mitsuhiko overtook him. The impromptu competition stopped with both wheezing and knocking on Genta's door at the same time.

Their laughter ceased when the door opened. Towering over them was a man easily four times Conan's diminutive height and twice as wide as Genta himself. With no neck and a rather distinctly pointed head, there was no doubt as to who this was, though Conan had never met him directly.

"Good afternoon Kojima-san," Mitsuhiko bowed politely, obviously familiar with Genta's family as the large boy's best friend. Conan blinked briefly before also bowing and stuttering out his own greeting. "We have some school work for Genta-kun and we have missed him for the past few days. Would you mind terribly if we were to see him?"

Conan turned his head to hide a grin. Mitsuhiko was unfailingly polite, and its ability to disarm even some of their toughest foes with the sheer unexpectedness of it, was just a splendid weapon in the freckled boy's arsenal that he wasn't even aware of.

Above them, Genta's father blinked. Without a word, the large man stepped aside and let the two of them in. Conan's sharp eyes took in the living space, observing and deducing in the few steps over to the low table. By the time they sat, Shinichi wasn't liking the conclusions he was coming to.

"Kojima-san," he said quietly. "Genta-kun's at the hospital, isn't he? And he has been for at least a day."

Genta's father's face twisted painfully before staring down at Conan stoically. Beside him, Mitsuhiko's eyes widened, once again looking around the room.

"Boy, you're that Conan that Genta's always speaking about, aren't you?"

Conan nodded solemnly. "Genta-kun told us that you usually work afternoons and evenings so that you can spend the mornings with his mother. Yet you were the one who opened the door. Also, the room is a mess and--"

"Kojima-baa-san always keeps the house spotless," Mitsuhiko spoke, eyes still darting around the room.

The shrunken detective nodded to his freckled friend. "Very good, Mitsuhiko-kun," Conan offered. "What else have you noticed; you know this place better than me."

Craning his neck, Mitsuhiko looked around some more. "There's a suitcase on Genta-kun's futon, you can see it from here. And some of Genta-kun's clothes are in it, looks like pajamas, and some pillows, and that Yaiba doll he likes so much." He turned around to the low table again. "But that just means that Genta-kun's going on a trip, right?" There was no denying the hopeful edge in his voice.

Conan shook his head sadly. "There aren't any clothes in it, just pajamas. It looks like Kojima-san here just shaved, in the middle of the afternoon instead of the morning or evening. The pots in the kitchen sink are only half cleaned and look like they've been there for a day or more. And..." Conan shifted his gaze to Genta's room. "Genta-kun's room looks like a train went through it. Books have been thrown to the floor, some of his prize Yaiba videos look like they've been flung across the room. Genta-kun would never do that."

Mitsuhiko turned to Genta's father. "Was he attacked or something?"

Kojima, who had silently watched Conan run through his observations and deductions, frowned as anguish flitted across his face.

"No," the large man whispered, great fat tears welling in his eyes. "But he is very sick."


Shinichi asked, "What happened?"

"The day before yesterday, our little Genta came down with a common cold. It really wasn't anything, but we kept him home to get some rest." Shinichi and Mitsuhiko nodded. "Yesterday, though, he started acting really strange. Thrashing about, nightmares almost, but he was moving around like he was sleepwalking to them. So we took him to the hospital." The giant tears started to spill down Kojima's face. "It's bad. Some sort of bizarre virus. He's in the Intensive Care Unit as we speak. The doctor's kicked me out to get some rest, but I told my wife I'd just pick up a few things and head back."

Kojima used a giant hand to hide his teary eyes from the two boys. "I know that you and Genta are detectives. Look around all you like, I'm heading back to Beika General." He stood up and went into Genta's room, closed the suitcase, and headed for the door. "Mitsuhiko-kun, lock up when you leave."

"Kojima-ojii-san!" Mitsuhiko shouted, standing up. "We will figure out what happened! I promise!"

Genta's father gave a wan, placating smile and left.

The freckled boy scowled. "He knows we are good detectives! But he does not believe in us!"

Conan stood and put a reassuring hand on Mitsuhiko's shoulder. "Don't worry about it," he said. "Let's look around."

The skinny boy nodded. "Where should we start, Conan-kun?"

"Genta-kun's room."

The room did indeed look like a train and been through it, as Shinichi had detailed before. Both Conan and Mitsuhiko looked around, uncertain where to start. Normally both would be enthused to look around for clues, if any existed, but this was Genta-kun's room. His private haven. It suddenly felt almost like peeking where you weren't supposed to.

Conan broke the silence first. "Let's put his room back to normal. It will be good for him when he comes home, and it will give us a good chance to catalogue everything he has and doesn't have."

Mitsuhiko gulped, unexpectedly nervous at the prospect of categorizing his best friend's items and personal effects, but to his credit, he took a deep breath and started by pulling off his slippers and padding to the futon in the middle of the room. "He always sleeps on his back, when he isn't tossing and turning," he offered as he tugged at the giant comforter. As the boy shook it out to fold it, several bits and things fell out from under it, originally lost in the depths of its mismatched folds. Conan pulled off his own slippers to study the items that fell. He picked up a magazine and two comic books, as well as a chipped cup that, from the scent of it, held tea. There were no stains on the futon, so Genta-kun had likely drunk it all before falling asleep.

Under the blanket was a cheap, handheld videogame and a more expensive Nintendo DS. Conan flipped open the battery case, but there were batteries in it. Turning it on, Conan listened to the long familiar theme of the Yaiba series as the characters danced on the screen while the videogame loaded.

"He loves that game," Mitsuhiko offered, finally managing to fold the blanket up sufficiently.

"He must have played for hours," Conan offered, powering it down. "To say nothing of reading, and then drinking tea to sleep." He blinked, something catching his eye at Mitsuhiko's feet. Crouching down, he picked up a plastic case, the heavy plastic ripped and ready to scratch unprotected skin. Conan eyed the odd shape of the case, having seen similar plastic wraps to hold things like headphones or iPods or other (often electronic) amenities. "Do you know what was in this?" the boy asked, holding it up to Mitsuhiko.

"Looks like it held a toy," the beady-eyed boy offered, looking around.

Conan poked at the pallet. There were no strong scents other than sweat, and underneath when he lifted the pallet he saw more comics and magazine. The perfect distractions for an elementary student sick in bed.

"His case broke," Mitsuhiko spoke up.

Conan looked up. "His what?"

"His treasure case," the boy repeated, standing before a small assemble-yourself bookcase that had been toppled over. "He kept his treasures here," he explained, digging his fingers under the shelving and trying to lift it up. "You know: his Yaiba DVD collection, his favorite CDs, his comics, the Yabai action figures..." Grunting, Mitsuhiko was unable to lift the shelf, and so Conan quickly got up to assist. It took both boys a lot of work; neither of them were the looming powerhouses that Genta was, but when the pair finally got it upright, they both stared at the mess underneath.

Everything had been smashed. Many CDs were snapped in half, whole volumes of graphic novels had been torn up and shredded, and the action figures lay in pieces. A mirror lay in shards under the wreckage, and an oddly shaped wood case lay cracked and off to one side, its contents missing. Conan blinked as he recognized the shape of the wood case.

Mitsuhiko noticed it, too. "Hey, that is what was in the plastic," he said, reaching over to pick it up.

"Wait," Shinichi said, stepping in front of the boy and crouching down. "You'll hurt yourself," he offered as explanation as he pulled out a handkerchief and picked up the case. It was cracked, one corner crunched into another, making it impossible to open. Conan pulled at it once or twice, but he had neither the leverage nor the strength to pry it open. Frowning, he put it back down, this time on the shelf, and turned back to the boy. "Let's get the rest of his room straightened out, and then go back to this," he said. "It's too messy for us to do without gloves and dustbins."

Mitsuhiko nodded, staring at the shattered collection. "He is going to be very mad when he sees this," he sighed in his proper tones.

They continued sorting through the room. Mitsuhiko focused on putting Genta's treasures back on the shelf, knowing where they went. The freckled boy did his best to put things back properly, but some of the shattered items just couldn't be put back correctly. Conan, meanwhile, dug through the other bits of the room, mainly old laundry that hadn't been done yet.

Of course, what Conan was digging through wasn't doing much. If he really wanted something from clothes, he'd need to see the clothes that Genta was wearing when he went to the hospital. But he still looked through everything, noting every little detail.

Conan was surprised, however, when he lifted an old T-shirt and found a book. Kneeling down, he gently picked it up, memories swirling around him. Back when he'd been a kid the first time round, his father had given him a series of books that were based off of Sherlock Holmes. They were simpler to read and the mysteries where still challenging. Shinichi had spent many an afternoon with his father entranced in the books, picking up clues, and trying to put together the mystery before Holmes did.

Genta had one of the first volumes, and there was a bookmark halfway through. Sticking out from the pages were sticky notes with Genta's messy handwriting listing what might be important or where a clue pointed.

Conan just stared at it for a while, feeling something in him tighten and loosen at the same time. These three kids: Mitsuhiko, Genta, and Ayumi, as annoying and irritating and stubborn as they were, these three kids were his. Shinichi gulped down something in his throat. He was a seventeen-year-old, stuck in a seven-year-old body and he had three children. No, they weren't Shinichi's in any sort of biological sense, or even through adoption. Hell, he was too young to even think about marriage (though he always knew who he'd be with). He was at the age where he should be pondering what college he'd go to and how to best pursue his dream of being a detective. But these three detectives-in-training were like his kids. Shinichi watched over them, trained them, taught them, and took great pride in their successes. They'd all worked admirably well when he'd been shot, and though they could be distracted as kids could be, they all looked to him for advice and guidance like he was a knowledgeable figure. Like a father, in a bizarre sort of way.

And, like a kid who was trying to please his dad, Genta had gone out to get a book to learn more about detecting.

And now, Genta was in the hospital.

Shinichi swallowed the lump in his throat again. This was too much of a realization for him to deal with right now. He needed to be alone to sort through all the emotions that were rising up and filtering through his heart and mind. The same way he needed to be alone whenever his feelings for Ran got too strong for him to deal with.

So, like he did with Ran earlier that day, Shinichi stomped all his feelings down, shoved it into a box, and buried it. Conan took a deep breath and turned to the freckled boy. "Hey, Mitsuhiko-kun? Where does this go?"

The two boys continued searching through the room. Other notable items included a pair of bedroom slippers that had some odd flaking on them, several juice boxes and another cup that smelled of tea, and a few extra pillows that Mitsuhiko said were usually saved for guests. A bottle of aspirin appeared to have been kicked under a table, and there were various wrappers from whatever cold medicine Genta's parents had been giving him.

Several observations. But deductions weren't helpful.

"What have we learned from all of this?" Conan asked Mitsuhiko.

The skinny boy frowned. "All the juice boxes indicate that Genta-kun was very thirsty."

Conan nodded, looking around the straightened room with a critical eye. "What about the pillows and aspirin?"

"Probably that he was aching, like when you have the flu." Mitsuhiko frowned. "But we already knew he was sick. His dad thought so; our teacher believed so. Genta-kun's even in the hospital."

"True," Conan agreed, "but a little verification is nice." He held the slippers in his hands and turned them over. "There are a few things that are fishy, though."

The young detective-in-training looked over to Genta's treasure shelf. "Like him destroying his treasures?"

"Yeah. And I don't know of any cold or common bug that makes the skin dry enough as to flake." Conan pulled out a pocketknife to scrape some of the flakes from the slippers into a plastic bag. He'd have Professor Agasa run a few tests on it. "Dehydration to that level is severe, and given how much Genta-kun's clearly been drinking, dehydration isn't the cause of flaking skin." It was a piece of evidence that didn't add up and it raised the volume on Conan's invisible, constant companion of a television. Something was decidedly off about this. Very definitive clues, but no connections. Plenty of observations, but not enough deductions. "I wish we could see the clothes Genta-kun was wearing when they brought him to the hospital. But they probably cut those off of him when he was admitted, depending on how bad he was. And from what Kojima-san said, it was bad."

Mitsuhiko nodded solemnly. "Should we visit Ayumi-chan next, or go to the hospital to see Genta-kun for more clues?"

"Ayumi-chan," Conan replied without hesitation. "I doubt they'd let visitors see Genta-kun right now, just family." He put Genta's slipper down and looked over at his friend. Mitsuhiko was looking a little pale. And torn. Two friends were sick, one of which was seriously so. No doubt the freckled boy was wondering which one should be a higher priority. Conan sympathized with the dilemma. But something about what his detective TV was saying was telling him that they needed to go see Ayumi first. If nothing else, the two of them could inform her and her family of what sort of symptoms to look out for.

Mitsuhiko glanced at his watch. "We had better get going. It is getting late as it is."

The shrunken detective nodded.

Ayumi's apartment was almost four blocks away and the sun was sinking lower and lower into the horizon as Conan and Mitsuhiko made their way up the stairs. The air was starting to get chilly and Conan wished for a brief moment that he had brought a warmer jacket. On the way over, both he and Mitsuhiko had been quiet. The news that Genta was in the hospital and evidently in a serious condition was difficult to take. Mitsuhiko was clearly worried and Conan kept going over the evidence he'd seen in Genta's room over and over in his head, looking at it from every angle he could think of.

Unfortunately, it all boiled down to the simple fact that he just didn't have enough clues to work with yet. He would need more to discern if this was just a simple illness or something more sinister. But to get more clues would mean that someone else would have to get sick, that someone possibly being Ayumi, and Shinichi really didn't want any more of his kids to get sick like this.

Ayumi's mother answered the door, surprised to see the two boys there.

"Oh. Mitsuhiko-kun, Conan-kun." Yoshida-san gave a small smile. "Came to visit Ayumi-chan, did you?"

Conan pasted on a halfway-smile and nodded. "We brought some worksheets from the teacher. We miss both her and Genta-kun."

"Genta-kun?" Yoshida asked, stepping away from the door and gesturing for them to come in. "He's still out? I remember Ayumi-chan mentioning he was sick the day before we kept her home."

Conan nodded again, noting out of the corner of his eye how Mitsuhiko stayed in the background, perfectly willing to let Conan take the lead. Well, Shinichi wasn't going to allow that. He, by necessity, was often the one dealing with adults, since he really was an adult in a kid's body. But it was time for some of his detectives-in-training to learn how to present. This may not be the best of cases to force one of them to the foreground, but something about this situation was warning Shinichi that he was going to have to be even further below the radar than he usually was (which wasn't much).

"Mitsuhiko-kun and I just came from Genta-kun's."

"Oh?" Yoshida asked politely, offering tea. "How is he?"

Conan looked to Mitsuhiko. The freckled boy caught Conan's eye and briefly shook his head. Conan, with his back to Ayumi's mother, looked at his skinny friend with Shinichi's eyes.

Mitsuhiko gave a small sigh.

"He was not home, Yoshida-obaa-san," he started, glancing back at Conan. The mini-detective gave an encouraging nod. "We found Kojima-ojii-san packing a bag with Genta-kun's pajamas. He said he was heading back to the hospital to give the pajamas to Genta-kun."

"Oh, my!" Ayumi's mother placed the teapot back on the stove and looked with pity at the two boys. "Do they know what he's caught? A bad case of the flu perhaps?"

Mitsuhiko shook his head. "Kojima-ojii-san did not tell us. We looked around Genta-kun's room, but it was strange. It looked like he had been on some sort of rampage and had wrecked part of his room. Based on what we found, we can," Mitsuhiko glanced at Conan again, struggling briefly for words, "...we can safely assume that Genta-kun was extremely thirsty during his sickness. There were a lot of pillows in the room, and it indicates hat he was probably aching, but his feet were apparently flaking, which is very unusual for a cold or flu. Kojima-ojii-san also said something about Genta-kun just suddenly destroying his room like he did not know where he was."

The freckled boy found his tea very interesting.

Good job, Mitsuhiko-kun, Conan praised. He covertly looked over to Ayumi's mother to gauge her reaction. She seemed the concerned adult, pitying them for having a sick friend. Until Mitsuhiko mentioned about the symptoms that Genta had apparently been displaying. Yoshida's eyes swept over to Ayumi's room. Shinichi mentally nodded to himself. Ayumi's mother had noticed something similar.

"Can we please see Ayumi-chan?" Conan asked, trying to put on his best childish-puppy-eye face.

Yoshida looked vaguely over at her daughter's room and nodded. "Yes," she murmured. "Her sister should be home soon... The two of us need to talk about a few things."

Conan understood that look and tone. Ayumi's mother and sister were going to have to discuss options and whether or not to take a pair of seven-year-old boys seriously, or if they could afford to just keep doing things as they had been. After all, Mitsuhiko had just dumped a lot of information and it needed to be discussed before it could be acted upon.

Taking their cue, the small boys went down the small, narrow hall of the apartment and politely knocked on the door that Ayumi's name hung from. Conan noticed that Mitsuhiko gulped, looking almost anxious. "What's wrong?" the boy asked.

"It is... It is a girl's room. Will I not get in trouble?"

Conan couldn't hold back a giggle, the noise coming out as a rude snort as he clapped his hand over his mouth. "I go in Ran-nee-chan's room all the time," he offered. The irony of it was not lost on the seventeen year old; that he was forbidden from her room as a young man, but perfectly acceptable as a boy. In some ways, he had much more freedom in this form, and in others... he shoved the sudden bitterness aside and knocked again before carefully sliding the door open.

"Sorry for intruding," he offered.

Slowly, the two boys entered. Mitsuhiko fervently tried to keep his eyes to the floor; fearful of some kind of retribution for the transgression he was performing.

The room was nothing like Ran's. Hers, even as a child, did not have the girly frill that one expected of the female gender. Ran's room was geared towards education, martial arts, and books of her own liking - there was even, Conan had discovered, a small collection of the Sherlock Holmes series in a bottom shelf. The only hints of "girly-ness" were the occasional flower vase or romance novel. Ayumi was the exact opposite.

The room, while not blaringly so, had a lot of pink frills to it that Mitsuhiko seemed to involuntarily shudder at. There was a sliding glass door that lead to a small balcony and all the shelves in the room had various dolls, stuffed animals, childish make-up and wigs to practice hairdressing on. Even Conan had to wince a little as the room shouted "LITTLE GIRL" loud and clear.

Turning to Mitsuhiko, Conan whispered, "Look around like we did in Genta-kun's room. See if you find anything odd. We don't want to wake up Ayumi-chan yet. Let her rest."

The skinny boy nodded, carefully going over to the shelves. He glanced back at Conan rather reluctantly and then to Ayumi rather embarrassedly before carefully pulling things off the shelves one by one, looking them over, and returning them.

Conan gave a small smile of pride and turned to Ayumi's dresser and nightstand. Better him than Mitsuhiko to go through this. It was necessary, but if Ran caught him going through Ayumi's clothes, either as himself or his abbreviated version, there would be hell to pay. In the back of his mind, Conan could hear cries of "Pervert!" and the oncoming approach of a fist as he went through the underwear draw as quickly as possible. Conan rather doubted Mitsuhiko and his polite nature could survive the scandal.

Grateful that that little task was over, he turned to the nightstand and the garbage can beside it. Conan paused. Before he even opened the drawer in the nightstand, he immediately bent over the trashcan and pulled out a handkerchief to pull something out.

It was plastic, ripped open with sharp edges. He'd seen something similar in Genta's room. Where the shape of Genta's matched a wooden case in the room, Ayumi's shape was different. It was probably nothing. But Conan's mind had latched onto the fact. This was Japan, after all. It was a wealthy country and its citizens could find all sorts of technological bits to satisfy their needs. It was rare to find a person who didn't have a cell phone nowadays. Genta had two electronic games to keep himself busy while sick, so Ayumi getting something wasn't impossible. But the timing, the same way that both Genta and Ayumi had gotten sick so closely together, was raising the volume of the TV for Shinichi.

Genta's ripped plastic didn't contain plastic. Its shape matched a wooden box. What had been in the wooden box was unknown. The question was, what did Ayumi's ripped plastic match up with? The shape indicated a doll and Shinichi whirled around, his sharp eyes quickly scanning the room. It wasn't anything near Mitsuhiko. It lay with Ayumi.

The girl lay sleeping in the middle of her bed, encased in a menagerie of stuffed toys. Dolls, tigers, bears, Pokemon, and even a stuffed Yaiba doll that she clutched tightly. Shinichi took note of the dolls, comparing them with the ripped plastic that he carefully put back in the garbage can. There was a clear hierarchy on Ayumi's bed, the most treasured surrounding her head where she could easily see them, while the mid ranked or larger stuffed toys were around her body as pseudo pillows. The disliked dolls collected by her feet. The king of the collection, the stuffed Yaiba, was the only one whose size and shape matched the ripped plastic.

"I did not know Yaiba had stuffed dolls," Mitsuhiko observed in disgust, having glanced over. He paled slightly after saying it, still glancing around for some kind of retribution.

Considering Yaiba was a Shonen, a boy's anime, Conan was surprised, too. He leaned over the bed next to Ayumi and studied the doll, looking for a tag to mark the manufacturer. Frowning, he even went so far as to gently pry the doll from the sleeping girl's grasp. He heard the disapproving, "Conan-kun..." from Mitsuhiko as the boy walked over quietly, but only barely, as his focus tightened around the doll, his mind trying to reach for a deduction he didn't yet understand.

"Conan... -kun?"

The boy blinked and realized that Ayumi was awake.

"It was his idea!" Mitsuhiko exclaimed nervously.

"Hey, hey," the boy replied flatly. He turned back to the girl. "How are you feeling?" he asked in a more gentle voice.

"... Sick," she murmured.

Conan half grinned in response, before Shinichi's face fell across his young features. "Ayumi-chan, where did you get this doll?" he asked.

Her eyes were slightly glazed, most likely from fever, as she looked at the doll. "Gift..." she answered.

"From whom?" Mitsuhiko demanded, incensed at the idea.

"Give it back... 's mine..." Ayumi pushed herself to her elbows and reached for the treasured stuffed doll. Conan only heard it dimly as he continued to examine the doll, still looking for a manufacturer's tag and growing more suspicious when he couldn't find one. He started looking under the stuffed Yaiba's clothes.

"Ayumi-chan, this was custom made; hand made. Who gave this to you?"

"Give it back..." she insisted, her voice a little stronger. "Give it back... Give it... Give him back! Give Conan-kun back!"

Both boys blinked, Conan's attention finally pulled from the doll. His eyes took in everything, the details automatically being catalogued and itemized; from the glazed eyes to the flushed, fevered face to the empty tea cup hidden under a stuffed tiger, to the empty water bottle under the blanket, and to the cracked, dry hand that Ayumi used to demand the Yaiba doll.

"Give Conan-kun back, you bad man!!" Her voice was hoarse, but the volume was loud enough for her mother's voice to distantly sound from another room in the apartment. The girl lunged - a verb Conan would never have attached to the girl - and her dry hands moved to grab the Yaiba doll back. "Give him back!"

"Ayumi-chan, that is Conan-ku--" Mitsuhiko was not given the chance to speak. As he stepped forward to touch her shoulder she gave a shrill, ear-piercing screech. Shinichi, completely startled, stumbled back, an inbred fear of Ran being angry asserting and transplanting itself to the image of the fevered Ayumi. The girl stood to her full height - much taller on the bed - still screaming, before taking a shaky step forward and staggering.

"Give Conan-kun back!!" She jumped off the bed and tackled the shocked Shinichi. On instinct, he caught her and took the brunt of the fall back onto the floor, the Yaiba doll flung away as he caught the girl.

"Ayumi!" The mother was there, kneeling down and wrapping her daughter in a warm embrace and pulling her off the dumbfounded, diminutive detective. "Ayumi, calm down, sweetie, calm down. Ssh, it's okay, it's okay."

"It's not okay!" the girl screamed, struggling weakly against her mother's grip. "That bad man's taken Conan-kun! Don't let him get away! Don't let--!"

"Ayumi-chan!" Mitsuhiko said, stepping in front of her, "That is Conan-kun!" He reached forward to place a hand on her shoulder again. "He is right--" But the little girl harshly clawed at the boy's face - just out of reach - not recognizing him either. Grabbing his offered hand, she bit into it and scratched at his arm. Mitsuhiko retracted immediately, backpedaling and tripping over Conan, who was still on the floor, clutching at his hand as his already pale face became nearly translucent.

All this in a matter of seconds. Finally, Shinichi's mind jump-started. Quickly, he rolled over and grabbed the Yaiba doll he had dropped. Standing, he stepped forward in confidence and knelt down, looking up at the girl held tightly in her mother's arms. "I'm not a bad man," he said in soft tones. "I was... I was just having a talk with Conan-kun." He offered the Yaiba doll to the girl. "He was telling me how helpful you are when you're solving mysteries, but now he wants to come back to you."

Ayumi, sniffling and with tears streaming down her face, shakily took the Yaiba doll, immediately clutching it to herself. Her glazed eyes still glared balefully at him, though, and she bit out a vicious, "I hate you."

It cut into Conan in a way he hadn't expected, and for a moment he just stared at her, hurt blooming in his heart. He lowered his gaze, his shoulders unconsciously rising in shame, before he said in a low voice. "I don't blame you. It must have been very scary for you. But you should let Mitsuhiko-kun talk to you; he was just as scared as you were."

Her fevered eyes turned slightly, widening as she saw her scratched and petrified friend. "Mits'kun?"

"A... Ayumi-chan..." the boy whispered, before carefully and hesitantly reaching out and hugging her. The little girl held the doll closely with one hand while the other rubbed at her tears, dry skin flaking off her fingers as she did so. With one last, hateful glare towards Conan, Ayumi relaxed into her mother's embrace and Mitsuhiko carefully pulled away, worry etched on his face.

Shinichi took a deep breath and slowly backed away. He registered at last that Ayumi's sister was in the hall, staring in shock at the scene. The detective trapped in a boy's body stuffed his hands in his pockets, to hide the shaking.

"You'd better call an ambulance," he said in a dull, tired tone, sounding more like his teen self than his boy self.

Notes: So? What do you think?