Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine.
Warnings: Swearing and the flat-out weird. This is a sequel to Promenade, picking up exactly where it left off and making all manner of back-references. If you haven't read Promenade before, consider yourself warned for plenty of things out of relatively left field.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- Little Gidding (V.27-30)
Through The Looking Glass
They were falling, gaining speed with every second, headed for the unforgiving white ground below. Desperately, Kaito reached and -pulled-.
Not here-Somewhere real-Safe landing-HOME!
The rip opened beneath them, and they fell through.
Immediately after, the sickening sensation of freefall broke from impact with the surface of eye-stingingly chlorinated water. Pressure exploded against Kaito's eardrums as they plunged downwards, velocity slowing from breakneck speed to simply Too Damn Fast by the time they collided with the concrete bottom of the swimming pool's deep end. Hakuba landed on top of him, a shoulder driving into his sternum and painfully forcing air out of Kaito's lungs in a rush of bubbles.
Somewhere in there, Kaito's grip on the Shadows had been lost, closing the rip behind them, because Hakuba had the regained presence of mind to grab Kaito by the shirt and haul him upwards. Kaito concentrated on not choking or inhaling more water than he already had until they broke the surface together, Hakuba gasping and Kaito immediately gagging and coughing up water and what felt like half a lung. Hakuba quickly steered him to the pool's side, where he clung to the tiled edge until his chest stopped spasming and he could mostly breathe again.
The blond re-submerged a few times, coming back up with their bags, his staff, and Kaito's card gun before he hoisted himself out of the pool a few feet away and moved to offer Kaito a soaked, gloved hand.
"Hopefully, they'll be able to clean the pool before anyone else tries to swim in it."
"Nngh," Kaito replied eloquently. He took the hand, using Hakuba's leverage and his other arm to haul himself onto dry land, and then felt justified in collapsing bonelessly against the ground for a bit.
"I am sorry," Hakuba murmured, sitting back next to Kaito and glancing around, sounding much improved from when their involuntary freefall had begun. "I didn't expect… that. I'm impressed, though… you managed to drop us in the diving half of the school swimming pool."
"'S safe," Kaito rasped hoarsely. "What I was aiming for. Safe 'n' home."
Not feeling like a drowned rat would have been nice, though.
"Well, that explains Ekoda High. It worked, since we evidently hadn't fallen far enough for surface tension to be problematic. I can think of little else that would have."
Kaito rolled over onto his back, coughed, and breathed as deeply as he could. "Yeah."
Hakuba eyed him critically. "You look in need of several hours sleep, minimum, before even thinking of catching up with Riku-kun and the others. When you feel up to moving, we can get you back to your house."
"I hear that. A change of clothes, some sleep…"
"Mmm. Shall I find you in the morning?"
At the shade of reluctance in Hakuba's voice, Kaito took a moment to consider, and then offered, "You could stay the night, if you want."
Hakuba wouldn't have to deal with reappearing and then disappearing in quick succession back home, and there'd be less travel time all around. Not to mention that Kaito no longer had to worry about the detective figuring out the existence and location of Kid's secret room if given opportunity to walk his puzzle-box of a house and see where the walls didn't fit together snugly. A similar train of thought had to be apparent to Hakuba, but he still sounded a bit surprised when he replied:
"Oh. That would be convenient, yes. Thank you."
Kaito smiled wryly. "No problem. Okay, trying to stand on three." He took a deep breath. "One… two…"
This is probably gonna hurt…
"Two and a half… two and three quarters…"
Hakuba got a hand beneath Kaito's arm. "Three." They stood together, Hakuba making sure Kaito could stand steady. "All right?"
"Yeah… Yeah, it's okay." He didn't feel perfect, but he felt capable of mobility. "Thanks."
"I prefer you in one piece," Hakuba replied with a slight smile.
"What a coincidence, I do too." Kaito grinned.
"It's a preferable manner of existence. Let's go…" As they headed out through the school grounds, Hakuba sighed and added, "We'll need to dry out our cell phones and anything else electronic that isn't already ruined."
"Hell, yeah… and my card gun is gonna need maintenance. Hopefully my card cases are watertight, though." Kaito wiggled his toes inside his sneakers, making a face. "Also, we're squelching. I hate that."
Hakuba chuckled, hefting his staff upwards a little. "I'll take squelching over dead. Your house isn't very far from school, is it?"
"Nah, not really."
"Good." The blond peeled off one of his gloves and ran a hand through his wet, thoroughly disarrayed hair. "I'd hate to have to walk very far looking slightly crazy."
Kaito snickered. "You get used to it."
"…No, I don't think I ever really have, despite your many and varied attempts to acclimatize me to the prospect."
"Come on, you with red and green hair at December's end of term ceremony was fun…"
The banter continued sporadically as they squished home, clothes slowly drying out in the late afternoon sun. At the house, Kaito automatically tried the door while fishing in his bag for the key, and to his surprise, it opened.
"That's weird… Mom should be working right now, all this week." Brow furrowed, Kaito slipped inside, toeing off his shoes as Hakuba followed and closed the door behind them. "Mom?"
Déjà vu, even without picking the lock this time.
No one answered, but after a moment's silence, footsteps pounded from Kaito's room upstairs, along the hallway and down the stairway… at which point Kaito found himself pointing his (useless) cardgun at his mirror image—dark hair mussed and lightly gelled, and blue eyes huge as he stared at them like they were a nightmare come to life.
What. The. HELL?
"Kudou-kun?" Kaito demanded, eyes narrowing.
His double's mouth opened and closed a few times, breathing quickly picking up speed, but no sound came out in answer until half-hysterical laughter suddenly bubbling up amidst the hyperventilation, and Kudou's knees gave out. He collapsed onto the bottom stair, forehead dropping into his hands, shaking as if about to fly apart.
Something was very, very wrong here.
Kaito holstered the cardgun with a curse as he closed the distance between them, kneeling in front of Kudou and grasping him by the shoulders.
"Kudou-kun. Talk to me. Why are you here, and what's with the hair?"
I'll save how you know who I am, let alone my address, for later.
Kudou's fingers clenched in his hair, breathing gradually slowing but still unsteady as he trembled in Kaito's grip. "Already gave it all to you once, bastard… Here t' take it all again?"
"What? No!" Whatever Kudou was asking, No.
"How long've you remembered?" Kudou looked up, dark eyes the window to some undefined wound, before shifting his gaze to give Hakuba a horribly bittersweet smile. "How long've you known?"
"Kudou-kun…" Kaito's voice brought Kudou's gaze back to meet his. "I swear to you, we have no idea what's going on."
A ragged chuckle. "If you're here, you have to know… Have to remember."
"Kuroba-kun?" Hakuba's voice was thoughtful, with a dawning tinge of horror. "You said you were aiming for home. If the Shadows are everywhere, is it possible that there could be more than one place matching that criteria?"
"Like… alternate realities?"
Kaito's blood ran cold.
Like the otherwhere of my nightmares?
Méraud's voice broke into the back of his mind, murmuring, :It's… possible. It would not be inconceivable to become lost in space as opposed to lost in time.:
Oh, Kami, no…
Not thinking about that right now, or I'm going to be sick.
Kaito refocused on the here and now, where Kudou was looking between them in total bewilderment. "Confirming question time: I last saw you less than a week ago in your usual habitat, and you still had your little problem. How long have you been… staying here?"
Kudou's eyes unfocused briefly. "Six… No, seven months." He chuckled again, and the undertones of emotion were seriously starting to creep Kaito out. So many of them, none of them good… "Feels like so much longer. Maybe I just finally snapped..."
Argh—You can't argue someone out of thinking they're hallucinating.
Kaito pulled a hand back and smacked Kudou across the face, hard. "Hallucinations don't usually hurt, Kudou-kun. We're real."
Though I desperately wish this weren't.
Thankfully, Kudou seemed shocked into regaining his composure, a hand covering his cheek as he gave Hakuba's staff a slightly askance look. "I... I don't remember ever seeing Hakuba with a staff. If you're real, and not Hakuba and Kuroba playing some kind of sick joke... How are you here?"
Kaito smiled wryly. "Short version? I have sparkly magic powers, not just sleight of hand. It lets us travel between places, but it looks like my aim got messed up this time when I was trying to get us home."
Kudou switched to giving him the sideways look. "...I can't believe I'm actually taking you seriously."
"We're not the people you know, and you're sure as heck not the Kudou Shinichi we know. It's a logical conclusion, if you think that kind of thing is possible. Which we do. I'd demonstrate why, but I'm currently running on empty. Look, Kudou-kun... What happened? Why are you here?"
Kudou covered his eyes with a hand, briefly silent. "I need coffee for this."
Kaito levered himself to his feet and offered Kudou a hand up. "Hakuba-kun and I got soaked on the way here. If you don't mind us borrowing some of your clothes for the evening, you can make coffee while we get changed."
Kudou took the hand and stood, face still pale and drawn. "Okay... Sure."
He headed off to the kitchen, and Kaito turned to Hakuba. "Go ahead up and find a shirt you'll be willing to wear. I'll be up in a second with pants that should fit you."
Hakuba raised an eyebrow. "Willing to wear?"
Kaito grinned. "You've rarely seen me outside of school uniform."
"This is true..." Hakuba shook his head and went up the stairs, leaving Kaito to detour to the den, where Touichi's portrait stood.
"I'm home, Oyaji," he murmured in customary greeting. "...Sort of."
Pushing lightly against the frame with a hand, he met no resistance to indicate the presence of the security system he'd set up months ago, after his first encounter with Snake. The portrait moved without protest, and he stepped inside.
And sneezed, twice.
The setup of the room was nearly identical to Kaito's memories, but there was dust everywhere... far more than six months of neglect worth. Kaito hurried to grab a pair of pants that would fit Hakuba, and nearly ran back out to escape the feeling that he was walking through Kid's tomb.
The portrait flipped on its axis a few times behind him, finally settling closed on Touichi's magician portrait. Kaito tightened his grip on the pants and took the stairs two at a time, very deliberately not letting his mind contemplate what, exactly, had happened in this twisted version of Tokyo.
Hakuba looked up at Kaito's entrance to the bedroom, concern flickering across his face. "...Are you all right?"
"My lungs aren't happy with me. I'll be okay." Kaito held out the pair of pants, his heavy breathing from rushing upstairs quickly diminishing. "Here."
Taking them, Hakuba gave him a mildly skeptical look. "You look more as if you've seen a ghost than irritated your lungs further."
Kaito turned to his closet, pulling out a black T-shirt that cheerfully declared in white letters: The voices may not be real, but they sure have some great ideas!
"… No one's been inside the room for a year... maybe longer. You can change in here. I'll use the bathroom." He grabbed the rest of a set of clothes and retreated before Hakuba could comment further.
When he emerged, dry-clad, Hakuba was waiting with his damp clothes and bag in a bundle, wearing one of Kaito's few solid-color shirts. "Could I trouble you for a comb?" the blond asked mildly, seemingly willing to let Kaito's behavior slide in the circumstances.
"Yeah, there's one in the medicine cabinet. I'll throw our clothes in the dryer and meet you down there."
Hakuba nodded, and Kaito headed downstairs, finger-combing his hair as he took care of the clothes and spread out their other things on a towel to dry, including taking the three minutes necessary to break down his cardgun into its component parts. The habits of a magician were too hard to break: You always kept your equipment in working order, no matter what. Always.
When he got to the kitchen, Kudou took one look at the T-shirt and smiled crookedly. "Aoko has rolled her eyes every time I wear that shirt. I've never been able to justify asking why."
Kaito couldn't help but grin. "Let's just say the harmonica, two decks of playing cards, and chicken were blamed on The Voices."
Kudou erk'd faintly. "I am never wearing that shirt again."
"What about the shirt?" Hakuba inquired quietly, stepping into the kitchen doorway with hair, if still damp, perfectly arranged once more.
"You don't want to know," Kudou replied, turning back to the coffee as it finished brewing and pouring a large mug of what look like steaming ink.
Hakuba glanced at Kaito, eyebrow raised, but only needed a glimpse of Kaito's grin to reply, "You're right. I don't. Is there enough coffee for a second serving?"
"Sure, if you don't mind it strong…" Kudou gestured to the cabinet that held the coffee mugs.
"That's fine. Despite exhaustion, I'd rather not sleep for a while."
Kaito winced internally as the blond poured himself a mug.
Overwhelming hunger swamping your mind definitely counts as Nightmare Fuel Unleaded. Sleep is going to be SO much fun tonight…
"If there's enough, can you make that three? I'm good with half-full." As Hakuba shrugged and did so, Kaito headed for the fridge, snagging a carton and then proceeding to cut the coffee with an equal amount of milk.
"How can you adulterate coffee like that?" Kudou asked, horror only slightly sarcastic.
"I've heard stories at the police station about your coffee, Kudou-kun. I like to keep my stomach lining intact."
"Not to mention, Kuroba-kun on a caffeine high is one of several images I'd like to keep firmly out of the real world," Hakuba added with a tiny smirk.
Kaito grinned, only a little evilly. "Just be glad you've never seen me on a chocolate rush."
"...I don't even want to imagine."
"You can wait until you see the real thing." Kaito drifted to the dining table, gravity of the situation creeping back in without the banter to shield against it. "Okay, Kudou-kun… sit down and tell us the story."
Kudou sat at the other end, knuckles white around his mug as he stared down into the coffee. "I don't know how things happened for you…" He glanced up. "…How much did you know about my situation?"
Kaito refrained from glancing at Hakuba. This was going to be... interesting.
"Not long after we faced off over the Clock Tower, you encountered something—spell, drug, I don't know—that reversed ten year's worth of growth, and you've been hiding at the Mouri Detective Agency ever since, trying to find a cure and a way to catch the ones who did it."
And chasing me because you can, and I'm a puzzle where no one dies.
"Wha—Edogawa Conan is you?" Hakuba blurted, staring at Kudou.
"…Was." Kudou smiled bitterly. "My personal nightmare."
"…Well." Hakuba sounded thoughtful, processing quickly as many oddities about Conan suddenly slotted into place. "That certainly explains the contradictory behavior, and why you tried to break down a bloody door when we crossed paths at the competition last month."
Wait, what? Competition? I didn't hear about this!
As Kaito turned to Hakuba, distracted, Kudou blinked. "Month? That was… The detective competition happened over a year ago."
Kaito abruptly swallowed, curiosity thoroughly quashed as he refrained from mental panic through sheer force of will. "Kudou-kun? How old are you?"
The bitter smile stayed in place around a swallow of steaming coffee. "Nineteen. My birthday was a few weeks ago."
Almost a year…
Kaito forced himself to breathe through the tightness in his chest.
We can get back. I just need to add a date parameter as well as a sufficiently detailed definition of 'Home' next time.
"Many happy returns," Hakuba murmured, returning Kaito's focus to the more pressing issue.
"Yeah," he agreed. "And it looks like you've lived a year we haven't."
"But I'm still little, there…" Kudou said absently, almost to himself. "I guess I got a lucky break in my investigations that the Conan you know missed. The Syndicate broke in January of our junior year, nine months after APTX4869 shrunk me. I still didn't have the cure, then..."
The smile turned melancholy. "Three weeks later, Kid impersonated me at the heist, got himself shot, and ended up in the hospital with a head graze as Shinichi."
"And you mentioned remembering, earlier," Kaito replied, an uneasy feeling blossoming in his stomach. "Amnesia?"
A nod, eyes shuttered. "Total retrograde. I don't know why for sure, and the docs couldn't figure it out either, though one speculated about something else having happened that night, and he buried it so deep everything went with it."
Around the coffee mug, Kudou's hands were white again. "I found out later that Inspector Nakamori thought the sniper was the assassin-for-hire, Snake, who'd managed to escape capture during the Syndicate bust." He turned his head away. "…Snake's body turned up a day or two later in an alleyway near the heist site, injuries consistent with having fallen from the roof."
….No. You did not just say that. Not with those implications.
He fought down a wave of nausea and took a drink of his coffee, oddly grateful when Hakuba's hand found his shoulder and tightened in silent support.
"Snake's the bastard who killed Dad," he whispered hoarsely. "He always thought I was still him, and was looking to finish the job."
But I don't want him dead because of me…
Kudou still wasn't looking at him. "I checked the roof, after I heard, but there wasn't much evidence. I know it was an accident, Kid would never take what he can't give back… but on top of the head wound… he wasn't Kuroba when he woke back up."
"…So you didn't say anything?" Being Conan had changed Kudou—he'd always been obsessed with justice, but not so much altruism, especially not when it came to his own life.
"I couldn't say anything. If I'd outed him as Kid… Even with only a year's worth of outstanding warrants after his age was revealed, he'd have been on the fast track for the trial of the century, with no memories of what he'd done. And he wasn't even one of the bad guys. Without his memories, he couldn't even have tried to run. And I was still stuck as Conan for kami knows how long, while Ran was so happy after an age of hiding behind a brave face and waiting…" Kudou trailed off, closing his eyes.
Kaito sat, silent, trying to process it all.
After several long moments, Hakuba ventured, "You felt the pain associated with bringing the truth to light outweighed what could be gained from it."
Kudou made a noise that could have been agreement. "I spent a year putting her through crap she didn't deserve, trying to keep her safe without having to let go. … I didn't want to hurt her again."
"…You made the sacrifice for Kuroba-kun, as well," Hakuba responded. "Since he can't say it to you himself… Thank you."
Kudou looked up, clearly startled. Kaito felt it high time to actually become coherent again. "…You gave up a hell of a lot, for everyone associated with both of us. It couldn't have been easy."
"Once I made it here, it was easier… I wasn't stuck in a void. I tried to forget, to let myself become him…" Kudou shook his head, eyes haunted. "I was so close, until you came. I just… it's still not mine."
And that still hurts. He stole your life, unknowingly, and you're essentially stealing his, but he's the thief. You're not.
…Something has to change.
"Kudou-kun…" Kaito leaned forward, catching the other teen's gaze. "Speaking as a Kaito? You don't have to play a role like an understudy waiting for the lead to recover. I gratefully accept what you've given me, and I give you my name, and this life here, as a token of my gratitude. Take it, and make it yours. He'd want you to, I promise."
"I… You're sure?"
Dammit, Kudou-kun, you are Not Allowed to ever sound that fragile.
Kaito forced himself to smile gently, encouraging. "I'm positive. Take care of Mom, and make Aoko happy, whether as a friend or something more." He let the smile widen to a lightly teasing grin. "Better you than Hakuba-kun, if you're interested."
"Need I remind you that I'm sitting right here?" Hakuba questioned.
"Nope," Kaito smirked. "It's more fun this way."
To Kaito's satisfaction, the banter finally elicited a laugh from Kudou—not the horrible chuckles from before, but an honest laugh of real amusement, body language relaxing visibly as an old, constant tension finally drained away.
"And when you turn twenty," Kaito continued with a wicked grin, "Lemme tell you about my plans to paint Tokyo Tower pink…"
To Kaito's delight and Hakuba's mild horror, judging by the muttered, "Oh, Lord…", Kudou's response was a disturbingly matching grin. "If you want to stay for tonight, I'll gladly pick your brain."
"That'd be great. I really need dinner and a decent night's sleep." Kaito smiled. "And maybe I can pick your brain in return for at least a copy of the antidote, to take home with me. It'd make a nice souvenir."
Kudou winced. "I… didn't keep a copy of any of that, after I left."
...And re-establishing contact with whoever did set you up with the antidote is a profoundly bad idea at this point.
"Forget I asked. At least we know there's one to be found."
"Mmm." Suddenly, Kudou brightened, giving Kaito a smirk. "Did you find Pandora?"
Kaito's jaw dropped. "You didn't."
Kudou's smirk morphed into a full-blown grin, just a hint of smugness creeping in. "I did. Not as Kid, but once I knew what you were looking for… after I got the cure I looked as Shinichi until I found it, before coming here."
"Kudou-kun," Kaito growled. "If you don't tell me where you found it in the next five seconds, I swear I will sic a dragon on your ass."
:I object to that. I am not a big stick.:
I have other dragons besides you.
Kudou was giving him another utterly bewildered look. "…What?"
"Part of the sparkly magic powers. Where was Pandora?"
"But… Dragons? I want to see this."
Kaito reached into his jeans, where he'd relocated his card cases after confirming that the contents had remained dry.
I'm not using you as a big stick. Only a little one, at least if this works…
Pulling out Méraud's card, he concentrated on thinking small and intoned, "Luster Dragon."
The Shadows swirled briefly on the table between them, blue and grey twilight draining the energy he'd picked up from the coffee, and faded to reveal Méraud crouching in foot-high miniature. She immediately twisted around, examining her glinting emerald scales. ":Why do you insist on continually shrinking me, Kaito-kun?:"
Kudou, predictably, gaped.
"Kudou-kun, meet Méraud. She's from a sort of pocket reality, and decided she liked me enough to help me figure out what I could do. Méraud, Kudou Shinichi-kun. He's a smart-aleck detective with a gift for puzzles. Now tell me where Pandora was or I'll ask her to scorch your coffee."
Kudou clutched his coffee protectively. "You wouldn't."
Kudou gave Méraud a beseeching look. "I've never done anything to you…"
Méraud chuckled. ":Despite my newly gained humility, you're teasing my young Shadowmaster.:" She blew a small flame into the air, more showing off than making any real threat.
"Okay, okay…" Kudou relented with a little smile, looking back at Kaito. "Avoid any actual heist, if you can. Even you would be hard pressed going up against the Smithsonian's security with the Hope Diamond as the prize."
"The Hope…" Kaito slumped back, chuckling helplessly. "Oh, Kami, the irony…"
Hakuba answered, "According to myth, hope was the only thing left in Pandora's box after the evils of the world escaped from it. Despite the name being only a few hundred years old, it makes a certain amount of sense. You said Pandora should glow red in the light of the moon, and blue diamonds glow red when exposed to a certain spectrum of UV light..."
"Glowed, and melted out almost onto my hand," Kudou confirmed. "Even though I was wearing gloves, I'm glad I didn't have to take my chances over whether a magically—" Kudou sounded so disgruntled, having to use the word without sarcasm— "liquefied rock could get through waterproof material."
Kaito shuddered. "I can imagine. If the rock itself were the tears…"
More nightmare fodder I'd rather not think about.
"Yeah. Long story short, out of direct moonlight it solidified into a blood-red rock. I returned the Hope Diamond, destroyed Pandora, and went… home."
"Sounds like a good day's work, to me." Kaito leaned back, more than a little overwhelmed. "Hell. If it's really there…"
"Then you can stop flirting with bullets at night like a damn idiot," Hakuba interjected smoothly.
"Only if I pretend to get hit by one, first," Kaito pointed out. "If They think Kid disappeared again because he found it and is still alive, Mom and I would theoretically make good leverage."
Good thing I've been planning for worst-case scenarios that would require faking a death to stay alive since day one…
Hakuba's lips thinned, but he couldn't discount the argument. "Let the record show that if you actually do get hit by a bullet in the process, I will be profoundly irritated with you."
A lopsided smile crept onto Kaito's face. "Understood."
":Is there something on my scales?": Méraud inquired suddenly. ":You're staring.:"
Kaito glanced over to see Kudou leaning forward towards Méraud, looking about two seconds from poking her with curiosity.
"Sorry," Kudou apologized. "I've never seen anything like you that wasn't a hologram."
":I assure you, I'm quite real.:" She turned to look at Kaito, draconic smile oddly fond. ":However, small as I am at the moment, I'm still only present through Kaito-kun's energy, of which he has very little to spare at the moment, and someone has to be the sensible one.:"
"Which is not Kuroba-kun in any way, shape, or form," Hakuba added.
"Hey!" Kaito protested, but was ignored.
":It was nice to meet you, Kudou-kun. Be well.:"
"…Thanks. You too."
She nodded, and Kaito let go of the summon, re-pocketing the card, then yawned. "Okay. How about we manage dinner, pick each other's brains over poker for a while, and then crash?"
Kudou grinned. "You're on."
The time passed enjoyably—even after the fun of cat-and-mouse with Kudou, Kaito had never really let himself entertain the idea of being able to spend an evening in Kudou's company with the masks off. Even if trying this at home was a profoundly bad idea, here and now… it was fun.
Why are the closest thing that I have to friends, all detectives?
:At a guess… Because they're the only ones you've let close enough to see you, masks and all.:
After a few hours, Kaito had wrung the tale of the detective competition out of the other two, to Hakuba's chagrin—the blond apologized to Kudou for being a prat towards Hattori even after the competition had turned into a real murder case, citing an admittedly poor coping mechanism for worry and, on his part at least, Kaito having been missing at that point for four weeks without a word to prove that he was still alive.
In return, among other ideas and stories, Kaito explained in full detail his plans for Tokyo Tower on the day he turned twenty (water-soluble pink paint on every surface), Aoko turned twenty (blue lights strung from top to bottom), and Hakuba turned twenty (flying a Union Jack from the top). Hakuba had been less than amused, but Kudou promised to pull it off to the letter, grinning conspiratorially.
By ten, all three teens were fighting yawns, and the potato-chip poker game came to a close.
"If you want to get the extra futons out, you can set up on the floor in my room. Mom will be back early tomorrow, and she doesn't need to walk in on you in the den."
Kaito smiled wryly at Kudou's offer. "I hear that. Come on, Hakuba-kun."
And much as I'd like to use Solomon-san's tea, the last thing I need is to be dependent on a drink to be willing to sleep. Bad habit to start. And we don't know if it's possible to build up a tolerance to it…
Logic notwithstanding, Kaito still crawled into bed reluctantly, pulling his blanket nearly over his head as he tried to force himself to relax enough to drop off.
Please… Not tonight… Not again…
"Good afternoon, detective," Kaito purred.
Kudou instantly came to a dead stop, gripping the top of his cane so tightly his knuckles turned white.
Kaito's smile widened at the reaction. "Ah, so you do remember me."
"What do you want?" The detective's voice was low and rough, smothered anger bubbling just under the surface.
"Have you ever played chess? The queen is the more effective fighter, but without the king," Kaito gestured slightly with a hand, even knowing Kudou wouldn't see it, "the game ends."
"...I've played on occasion. It's not my favorite game, but I know how."
Kaito chuckled in satisfaction. "Welcome to my chess game, Kudou-kun. The rules are simple. You don't tell anyone about me. If you can catch up to me and catch me, you win. If you don't, I get away to have more fun in the future. In return... as long as you don't break any rules, you get to live, and so do all your little friends."
Kudou growled. "Don't you have better things to do than pick on a blind man?"
"Mmm, my... colleagues... are psychopathic bores," Kaito replied with a twisted little smirk. "You're amusing. Given that you had the bad manners to survive, the least you could do is provide some challen—"
"Kuroba!" Hakuba's muted hiss broke into the dream, and Kaito woke with a startled gasp to being shaken by the shoulder.
"…Hakuba-kun?" He swallowed down the rising nausea, but couldn't seem to clamp down entirely on the faint tremors rippling through his frame like the aftershocks of an earthquake.
Just a dream. JUST A DREAM.
Hakuba relaxed a fraction in the dim ambient light. "Thank heavens. I wasn't certain, but you had that same look as the last time you were dreaming…"
"You were right." Kaito swallowed again and sat up, bringing Kudou's sleeping form into view. It wasn't his Kudou, but this one wasn't blinded by his own hand, wasn't chasing him for murder, wasn't… broken. Even if he wasn't Kudou any more, technically. Kaito reached out, hand stopping just shy of making contact, before pulling back and running it through his own hair instead with a quiet curse.
"Was it the same one as last time?" Hakuba inquired softly.
Kaito nodded, massaging the back of his neck as he tried to shut the images out again. "Like a bad memory that keeps coming back." He glanced back at Hakuba as a thought struck him. "You were already awake? It can't be past three yet."
Hakuba shifted slightly. "Yes, well… I had a dream. Not a nightmare, per se, simply… odd."
Kaito cocked his head. "Want to talk about it?" Hakuba'd heard all about his own dreams, it was only fair to offer the same… and he'd gladly take a distraction right now.
Hakuba shrugged. "It was… there was a walled garden. Not large, perhaps the size of my lab at home, and seemed… familiar, but I'd swear I've never seen it before. Even the choice of plants and design was unusual—traditional Japanese except for along the walls, where there were tea roses and ivy. I was there, but… still a child, and playing with another boy. Identical. I called him Eishu…"
Hakuba looked down, voice sounding oddly tight. "It was so peaceful… nothing but a dream. I shouldn't have woken up feeling…"
Kaito eyed Hakuba's body language. "…Like you'd lost something?"
"…I don't know. Perhaps."
"Weird. Well… I guess if it's important, it'll come up again."
Suspicions of age bracket aside, one dream isn't enough to be considered anything more than processing fragments.
And Kaito really hoped the dream was just a response to seeing him and Kudou in the same place for a few hours.
"Mmm." Hakuba sighed. "Are you going to sleep again?"
Kaito chuffed faintly. "No." He glanced back at Kudou's bed. "If it weren't for disappearing, I'd say we could go now…"
"But we shouldn't leave without saying goodbye, and thank you."
Not if we want Kudou to be sure that we weren't just a hallucination…
"Don't worry about that." As Kaito twitched, Kudou opened his eyes and propped up on one elbow, switching on the bedside lamp. "Sorry. I didn't want to interrupt, but I don't sleep very deeply any more."
Kaito half-smiled. "I know the feeling. There's days I wish I were an elf."
"Kuroba-kun, when have you had time to read Tolkien?"
"Between Harry Houdini's journals and Sun Tzu's Art of War," Kaito answered promptly.
"…Why do I even ask?" Hakuba sighed.
"Because you still haven't learned better?" Kudou asked with a little smile.
"But anyway," Kaito added, "we ought to be moving on. Thanks for letting us stay."
"I should be the one thanking you, for everything," Kudou responded. "Thanks, and be careful. I hope you get home."
"Me, too," Kaito replied dryly.
Because if we don't…
He shook his head, forcing the thought out of his mind, and looked down at himself. "We're still wearing your clothes." The soaked clothes had already been retrieved and folded before they slept, and belonging replaced into the dried bags, but changing back had felt like too much effort.
Kudou laughed quietly. "Keep them. I meant it when I said I was never wearing that shirt again."
"Thanks." Covering a yawn, Kaito collected his bag while Hakuba grabbed his own, and smiled at Kudou. "Take care of yourself."
Kudou nodded. "You, too."
"We'll head out, then… I want to walk a little before trying to do this again."
They managed to leave the house without difficulty, and walked down the pre-dawn street for a minute. Hakuba seemed content to walk in silence, still looking pensively thoughtful.
Two blocks away, Kaito finally halted. "Okay. You ready?"
Hakuba nodded, hand subtly tightening on his staff. "Do it."
Kaito nodded back, took a deep breath, and once more, -pulled- for home.
To anyone interested in the before and after of this encounter, read Identity Theft in my Author's Profile. Enjoy.