Disclaimer: If Koorii-chan and Dragon-sama owned Detective Conan and Magic Kaito...Well, just be glad we don't!

Pairing: Kaito/Shinichi, eventually and sorta right off, too.
Male/Male relationship, Super Angst, AU, repeat-fic, round-robin writing, and no assurance that anything makes sense.
Author for Chapter:
White Mage Koorii

A/N: Dear lord it has been awhile hasn't it? I'd like to extend a thousand apologies for how long this update has taken. This chapter was, originally, meant to be longer and include more but we decided to cut it into two (again) due to the wait. Here's hoping we can be faster in the future.

I've also realized that I might have brought Shiratori around too early, and too much, but... Errr, well, fail!research I guess. It's hard to remember that these characters weren't always there after 700+ chapters. I've also already mentioned him in previous chapters... Bah.. /handwave. Hopefully things still make sense.

Thank you.

- WHM Koorii

Chapter 07
Shinichi: 3 Words

With slow deliberate motions Shinichi gathered his books up and carefully put them away into his schoolbag. He spent an inordinate amount of time perfectly lining things up, organizing everything, to his liking. All around him people were whispering in little clusters as they lingered around their own desks for some reason Shinichi couldn't fathom. Somewhere nearby he could sense Kaito hovering as he waited for him. He was like a bundle of bright, buzzing energy that reminded Shinichi of the kids on a particularly strong sugar high. He tried to concentrate on that, on the sound of Kaito's restless shifting, and the sound of his voice as he chattered with Aoko, but every time he felt someone's gaze center on him his shoulders would tense up minutely.

He didn't know why they were staring, or what they were talking about. Ever since lunch things had just gone downhill until they were completely strange. Shinichi was used to things being weird around Kaito, the magician had a propensity for taking any situation and turning it around before sending it somewhere Shinichi couldn't even contemplate; usually the detective hadn't even realized what was going on. This wasn't Kaito weird, this was like the entire world had been set on its ear in the space of the time Shinichi had been out of the room. The truly baffling thing was that Kaito had gone all strange on him too.

Shinichi was well aware of the fact that, socially, he wasn't even where he had been before he'd become Conan for the first time. Admittedly back then Shinichi had been something of a teenage star, surrounded by faceless people who wanted to know him as the famous high school detective. He couldn't even remember the names of his classmates who he'd considered friends anymore. The only person who'd ever really mattered had been Ran, and then the Shounen Tantei had become his friends whether he liked it or not. Despite the fact that they were only little kids, and really annoying in the beginning, they'd been some of the closest friends he'd ever had.

There was Hattori Heiji as well, but he was in Osaka, not readily available...and, finally, there had been Kid, Kaito. Kid had been a distraction, a puzzle, an amusement that he could use to keep himself entertained. Then in the last life Kid had become Kaito. Kid had stopped being a nebulous challenge, and had become a person. What was more, he had become a friend, and, beyond that, he had become Shinichi's partner in a way no one else had been.

Kaito had faced down things with him that only one other person had, had stuck, stubbornly, to his side beyond literally everything that happened. Shinichi was starting to realize that he was far more attached to Kaito than he could imagine. He hadn't been aware of the fact that he was craving companionship so much that he would let himself fall into this trap. The very notion made him want to crawl off and hide somewhere, because it was so unbelievably stupid of him.

"You know, it does kind of look like a sailboat, if you squint, and maybe if the light's not very good," Kaito said from just behind Shinichi. The sound of the very magician he was thinking about speaking up behind him startled him, but Shinichi didn't let it show. Instead he gave his bag a final shake to settle his books, then closed it.

Turning his head slowly, Shinichi gave Kaito a perfectly deadpan look and asked, "Can you repeat that in a language I understand? I'm afraid I don't speak imbecile."

Kaito grinned brightly, but didn't step forward like Shinichi was half expecting. It was just another thing that was weird. After all, he hadn't been able to pry the magician off of him earlier today, then lunch... What was it that had changed everything? He just couldn't understand.

"There's a neat little café a couple blocks from the station," Kaito said, completely disregarding Shinichi's comment. As was his want, he leapt right into the middle of his ideas as if everyone knew exactly what he was thinking. Shinichi couldn't help but wonder how many people were actually capable of keeping up with him. "Of course, Aoko's being absolutely tyrannical and making me pay, but Hakuba-kun thinks I'd drug his drink or something! I mean, me! Who does he think I am? Anyway, coming?"

Shinichi brushed by Kaito a little closer than absolutely necessary. His friend wavered slightly, as if he hadn't been paying attention, and with a slight frown Shinichi reached out and grabbed the dark sleeve of Kaito's gakuran with his free hand to keep him steady. "Yeah, I'm coming." Releasing him, he shoved passed Kaito in the narrow aisle and headed toward where Kaito's friend and the other detective were waiting.

The girl looked an odd mixture of excited and curious, her eyes immediately slid past him to Kaito though Hakuba was doing little more than nearly sulking and rolling his eyes. Shinichi wondered if he was still a bit sore over his outburst earlier. He wasn't any happier about it than Hakuba was to be honest. It wasn't exactly something he liked to do, after all, but he was tired of listening to Hakuba go after Kaito, and worse still, hurt him. Shinichi wasn't going to stand for that. Glancing back over his shoulder he called, "Are you coming?"

"…Huh?" Kaito said absently. His stare had an unfocused distant quality to it. Kaito shook himself abruptly, all over, like a dog. "What? Yes! You know, Shinichi, I bet you'd like their coffee. Black as paint-stripper, or so it's been claimed. Or was it more like tar? I don't understand your fascination with the stuff, really," he babbled happily, bounding over to the small group. Again, Shinichi noted that Kaito didn't touch him at all, the complete opposite to his behavior from the morning.

If he were to be honest with himself, Shinichi would admit that he found it disconcerting. Kaito's attitude had taken a complete one-eighty on him, and he didn't know how to react or respond to it. As they left the classroom to the nearly empty halls Shinichi let himself fall back, observing the trio ahead of him with an air of detached apathy. The people that were still there, and there were a surprising amount, kept staring at them, or, more correctly, at Kaito and him.

It was enough to cause him to tense up again. Throughout the day, ever since lunch, his paranoia had been spiraling out of control. Between the staring and whispering, whispers that slowed to a halt whenever he got too near, he was on the very edge of his nerves. Though he didn't show any effects of it physically, not really, in his mind he wanted to do nothing more than scream at them all to leave him alone. Hunching his shoulders minutely, Shinichi let his gaze focus on Kaito's back.

Quizzical thoughts chased themselves around his head, leaving him feeling lost and isolated far more than usual. It was almost like a physical slap in the face to realize how badly he didn't understand things anymore. Shinichi hadn't realized just how isolated he had been making himself, and now, throwing himself back into the intensely social society of high school had left him feeling as if he were in a completely different world.

Elementary school just didn't have the same ebb and flow.

Normally, in this sort of situation, the more social magician would have been at his side making sure Shinichi's awkwardness didn't get them in trouble, and keeping Shinichi aware of what was happening. Now though, he seemed to have abandoned Shinichi to flounder helplessly.

Shinichi wanted to ask what was going on, wanted to press, but wasn't sure if he had any right. This was Kaito's life, and he was the one who had come barging in on it just as much as the magician had his own. He wondered, with a little bit of secret misery, if Kaito would have preferred him to not have come at all. There were other arrangements that could be made, after all. What if Kaito really had just decided to get on with his life as Shinichi had suggested? How long would it be before Kaito told him he wanted Shinichi out of his life so that things could be normal again?

Wearily, Shinichi watched as yet another person waved to Nakamori and the girl went trotting over to them to have a hurried conversation where he could see the exchange of money. While it piqued his curiosity a bit, it was less a like a lion cub, and more like an old lazy house cat that lifted its head for a peek before going back to sleep in the sun. A large part of him wished he'd just continued to hide in his home.

Glancing back toward Kaito, he noticed the magician was looking at him over his shoulder. There was an odd look in Kaito's eyes, and he abruptly turned around to start walking backwards, facing Shinichi. Naturally, he still managed to keep from running into anyone or anything. "Hey, Shinichi?" he asked, voice so full of innocent query that it set Shinichi on guard. "Have you heard about the Kid heist next week?" Beside the magician, Hakuba twisted his head around to fix Shinichi with a calculating stare.

A heist already? Part of him wanted to snarl at the fact that it wasn't enough time to get ready, to get set up, that Kaito would be in danger already. It was a stupid, inane part of his mind that he immediately dismissed as illogical and unnecessary. Shoving down the twisting, crawling feelings that had flared up so sharply it felt like someone had punched him in the chest, Shinichi shrugged laconically, "Is there?"

Hakuba's intense stare was tolerated without any real thought. It just added to the other stares, and the fact that he was pretty sure that some people were even pointing at them. Nakamori fell back into step with them, looking as cheerful as ever, and asked in a slightly sour tone of voice, "Why are we talking about that stupid thief?"

"Because~" Kaito hummed happily, still walking backwards without a care. "You are Kid's biggest anti-supporter, I am Kid's biggest fan, Hakuba-kun is Kid's biggest pain in the ass," Here he paused to send a playful wink at Shinichi, ignoring Hakuba's grunt of annoyance, "And Shinichi here is the one rumored to have come closest to catching Kid! Not that he managed it~" he finished with a croon, playfulness and a hint of pride almost unnoticeable in his tone.

Shinichi snorted, tilting his head slightly and drawled, "Kid's just a thief. I can't understand why everyone makes such a fuss about him when it's exactly what he wants." Except, of course, this was grounds he understood, this was something that felt normal and he felt himself relaxing slightly under the routine. This was Kaito, and bantering with him was a sort of staple. He could deal with this as long as things started going back to normal.

"Are you suggesting that we allow a thief to steal at will, to do as he pleases, Kudou-kun?" Hakuba asked, voice just shy of an accusation. Kaito rolled his eyes theatrically at Shinichi, but looked encouragingly at him for his reply. Shinichi returned the look with a deadpan one of his own. It was obvious he was faintly amused by Hakuba's tunnel vision, and inability to see things outside his own view at this point.

"I'm merely saying that a silly thief who dresses up to prance around in the moonlight isn't nearly as important as murderers." Over Kaito's shoulder he could see a cluster of people standing around, and Kaito couldn't see them. The other two didn't seem to realize that collision was imminent, so Shinichi simply put a bit of warning in his voice, then flatly said, "Kaito."

Kaito crouched briefly in his backward stride, then sprang into the air in a controlled back flip. He had misjudged the size of the crowd, but merely shot his arms out on a surprised boy's shoulders to hand spring off him and make it the rest of the way over. As Shinichi sedately walked around the stunned students, Kaito fell into step with him again.

"I'll give you silly, but you have to admit the police take themselves far too seriously," Kaito said, before craning his neck behind them. "Hey, what's the hold up?" he asked, noticing that Aoko and Hakuba weren't following them anymore. "I'm craving chocolate cake, and I'm not waiting if you suddenly have the need to go to the bathroom or anything!"

"Was that really necessary?" Shinichi asked rhetorically, not expecting an answer, but he wouldn't be surprised if Kaito chose to give him one anyway. After all, it was Kaito, of course it was necessary.

"Well, probably not, but it's fun!" Kaito said, half turning to wave absently at a half heard greeting from across the yard. "That, and I was too lazy to turn around."

They had finally made it out of the building, Kaito cheerfully loitering at his side as they cut across the courtyard toward the gates. Hakuba and Nakamori were falling further behind as more people assaulted Kaito's friend with money. Unable to stop the curiosity from bubbling up he asked, "Kaito?" Once he was sure he had the magician's attention he finished the thought with a baffled, "Why is everyone mobbing your friend?" And, more importantly, why was Kaito letting them?

Whenever people got too pushy around him Kaito always diffused the situation, and he'd heard a lot about Nakamori Aoko from Kaito. She was kind of like Kaito's Ran, or, at least, that's how Shinichi had always understood it. He couldn't really understand, but then, Shinichi doubted he'd ever understand Kaito.

Still grinning, Kaito tucked his arms behind his head comfortably as they walked along. "Aoko's pretty popular, you know. I'm sure I've mentioned!" His smile took on a frozen quality as he continued, "And, before you accuse me of anything, it happened before I woke up."

"Ah," Shinichi hummed. "I wouldn't know. I didn't even remember you after our first meeting. The first time you registered as anything was when I met you again."

Which was true; Kid had never been of any importance to him. Shinichi wasn't interested in thieves, hadn't been, until the challenge Kid presented had become apparent. It was only then that he had taken an interest. His preference was to take down the murderers who were, in his opinion, the more important variety of criminals to put away. Thieves, while bad, weren't nearly as bad as murderers and kidnappers. Kid, in particular, was negligible since he was no threat whatsoever to anything but people's goods, and even then he did more good than harm in the end. Most of his target's even seemed content to encourage the audacious thief.

"My heart, those words strike me hard, right there," Kaito said dramatically, clutching his chest and staggering into Shinichi's side. He straightened up quickly, pouting at Shinichi. "So, still not going? It'll be fun! I guarantee!"

"I have absolutely no reason to go. What's the point?"

"Well, I have to go, and I didn't even get to set it up the way I would want to!" Kaito said indignantly. "Isn't it like....camaraderie or something? To stick with your friends through those tough times?" He sent Shinichi a wounded look.

Rolling his eyes at Kaito's, in his opinion, dramatics, Shinichi went to reply only to be stopped by the sound of his phone ringing. Frowning, Shinichi dug it out of his schoolbag and flipped it open. Making sure it wasn't Ran, she'd left several messages on his phone during the morning, and he didn't want to see how many more had been added since then, he found that it was, instead, the police. Shooting Kaito a look to have him hold on, Shinichi moved out of the way of people and put the phone to his ear, thumbing the button to answer the call.

"Moshi Moshi." Out of the corner of his eye he could see Kaito pouting at him. Hakuba and Aoko had finally caught up, the blond looking rather hassled.

"Kudou-kun!" Megure-keibu's rather recognizable voice answered cheerfully. "I'm sorry to disturb you, but I was hoping you could stop by the police station so we can have a word."

A frown pulled his brows down, and Shinichi shot a glance at the waiting trio. "Why?"

There was silence for a moment as if the man were completely baffled at the fact that Shinichi would even need to ask, even care to, then he said, "We just need to clear up a few things involving the Komine case."

Sighing, Shinichi nodded to himself, though he couldn't help but wonder at the inspector's evasiveness. "Alright, I'll be there as soon as I can. I'm in Ekoda right now." Without giving the Inspector a chance to respond, he snapped his phone closed, and tucked it into a pocket. "Megure-keibu needs a word," he said tonelessly, staring at the buildings nearby, over Kaito's shoulder. Why did this feel awkwardly like those times he'd told Ran he had to go away again? "So I'm going to head back to Beika, but once I'm finished I'll come back. If you want to wait."

A brief flash of disappointment shone in Kaito's eyes, but he grinned for his audience. "No rest for the wicked I see. You know, sometimes I think you're too good at what you do. Its three then right, and then two and left, Two Steps, can't miss it. But if it takes too long, I will come get you!"

Shinichi tilted his head, committing the apparently random, meaningless, instructions to memory and dipped his chin in a grave nod. He and Kaito understood each other far better than many people could ever hope. "Understood. God forbid I unleash your insanity on an unsuspecting police force," he drawled blandly, then turned away.

Shaking back his sleeve as he walked, Shinichi gazed at his watch, calculating how long he had before the next train ran. Though, for a moment, his mind derailed and brought back the amusing image of Kaito just about having a panic attack when he'd seen the watch earlier today. The professor had been extremely tired and ready for a rest, but at the same time pleased that the invention worked as well as it did, not to mention that Shinichi had been so happy to see it. The design wasn't quite the same as his watch had been when he was Conan, but it was similar enough that it was obvious to Kaito.

Then a pair of arms suddenly surrounded Shinichi, and it was only because he knew Kaito's scent and touch so well that he didn't react to the abrupt movement. Kaito held him tight for just a moment, and Shinichi barely heard the breathed comment, "I'm glad you're safe." Then, in a swirl of movement, Kaito was retreating down the street, snagging the bemused Nakamori and disgruntled Hakuba as he passed them. "See you soon, Shinichi!"

For several befuddled seconds Shinichi stared after Kaito. Would the magician ever cease to leave him feeling lost? Giving himself a small, but physical, shake, as if to remove the lingering effects of a Kaito induced stupor, Shinichi turned away once more. He wasn't really sure what Kaito had meant with that comment, it wasn't like he'd been in any danger recently. And, even then, what danger was to be had right now? Well, unless Vermouth got bored and came looking for him for some unfathomable reason.

Shinichi frowned down at the sidewalk, brow furrowed in thought. Could this be construed as another odd action relating to earlier events, or was it just regular Kaito antics? Given, he couldn't remember Kaito ever hugging him like that. Yes, Kaito was a very tactile person in general, but he'd never been one given to such displays of affection (At least, not toward him that he could recall.), and certainly not like that: It had felt like Kaito didn't want to let him go.

He gave a soft, barely there sound of disgust. Obviously he was thinking far too much into this ridiculousness. Kaito was probably just shook up and being a moron. It was probably just the fact that Shinichi was the only really familiar thing around; for Kaito, everything had changed except Shinichi. Maybe that was an argument for staying away from Kaito, but at the same time Shinichi had to stay. He had to make sure Kaito stayed safe and understood before it was too late. It felt like he were constantly being torn in two; a stress that was wearing on his already tired mind and soul faster than ever.

Around him students dressed in Ekoda's uniform slowly thinned out as their paths home or to spend time with their friends diverted them. The one good thing about getting further from the school, Shinichi decided, was the fact that there were fewer and fewer people staring at him. The down side to this was that, with his receding paranoia, his mind was being freed up to think more. It wasn't long before Shinichi found himself walking alone for the most part, and it was only then that he felt himself relax completely. Somehow, Ekoda seemed a lot more relaxed than Beika to him. Maybe that was just because he associated the place with a certain magician thief.

Shinichi closed his eyes, a tiny sigh escaping his lips, and set his hand to his forehead in mild aggravation. Couldn't the damned thief do him a favor and stay out of his thoughts for just a little while? He honestly couldn't remember a time when his thoughts had been so consumed by a singular person since he'd given up on ever having a future with Ran.

He opened his eyes again to take in the facade of the train station as he approached, and couldn't help but think that he was lucky that Ekoda and Beika were relatively close together. Shinichi didn't think he'd relish too long of a commute, even if he well knew he would have gotten up at any hour to follow through with his plans. If need be he would have moved to Ekoda.

Uncaring of the people around him, Shinichi almost seemed to walk in a daze. He was obviously still conscious of his surroundings to a minute degree, easily sidestepping people who weren't paying attention as they wandered along, but the distant look and fathomless expression on his face made it obvious his thoughts were a million miles away. Or, maybe, Shinichi thought a bit drearily, a million years away. At this point, he wasn't even sure how long he'd been living like this. To be honest he'd never cared to put thought into it, and was pretty sure he didn't want to right now. Kaito joining him in his bizarre purgatory did make him wonder, though.

With another tired exhalation, Shinichi wound around a couple of women lingering just outside the station entrance. Stepping into the train station itself almost felt like stepping into an alien world. It had been bright outside, and Shinichi hadn't realized how much it had been aggravating the barely there throb behind his eyes until he had set foot in the more shadowy interior of the building.

The dimmer glow of fluorescent lights spaced in neat rows across the ceiling created pockets of tinted light where natural light didn't reach. It was almost surreal, and as disconnected as Shinichi was currently feeling, it made him feel even more so. It was almost as if he weren't even walking through his own life. Right then he felt as if he were sitting in a theater and watching it all from a distance. A part of him longed for Kaito, anyone, to jar him out of the malaise he'd sunken into, but that part was overrode by the satisfying feeling of that selfsame disconnection. It was moments like this when he could merely sit back, let his body work on autopilot, and feel as if he wasn't being slowly pulled down by exhaustion of both the mental, emotional, and, sometimes, physical varieties.

Shinichi wound his way around the scattering of people lingering in the station, or bustling to their own destinations. Ahead of him he could see the almost schizophrenic route maps, and for a moment everything seemed to leech from his mind, reality fell away and he was standing in the eternal darkness of limbo again, waiting for the falling to start. He wondered, carelessly, if he'd just died.

In the darkness he could see glowing lines of a multitude of colors, and from here they looked small, like threads. Something told Shinichi that they weren't as simplistic or thin as they seemed, and even as he watched a green one, the color of fresh spring grass, snapped and faded into the blackness.

Shinichi blinked several times, hard, and felt the shoulder of someone who couldn't be bothered to watch where they were going collide with his. His hands felt clammy, and he could feel his heart fluttering beneath his breast bone like a hummingbird. What had that been? Some sort of hallucination? Was he finally cracking, losing his quiet hold on his mind completely from the strain? Or, maybe his was trying to rationalize? He hadn't tried to do that since his second life.

A part of him wanted to turn around, forget the call, and hurry back to Kaito in the strange hopes that maybe his partner could keep him together. Kaito had done a surprisingly good job of it thus far. What remained of his tattered pride made him hurry forward, fumbling his wallet out, to purchase his ticket. That feeling of paranoia, of being watched, was back again. Shinichi would almost say it was stronger than before, and through his faint panic he was able to identify the source: It was a single person now.

He turned, ticket clenched in his fist, and grimly scanned the building around him. A mother hurried by with her small daughter, a salary man went by in the other direction. Then, he spotted the person watching him. The teenage girl wasn't even bothering to hide; she seemed to be as frozen as he had been a few minutes before. Even from this distance Shinichi could see that her complexion as far too pale, almost ghost white as if she'd gotten the scare of her life.

The two of them stared at each other for several seconds, frozen, and Shinichi couldn't help but think the girl was familiar, as if he'd seen her somewhere before. No matter how hard he wracked his brain in those few seconds he could not place her, and then she whirled away, long hair flipping behind her. He stared after her, bemused, as she fairly fled out of sight.

Perplexed again, and agitated, Shinichi forced back the reflex to follow her, to find out who she was, and turned stiffly to head for the ticket gates, and his platform. There was no telling who she was, or if he even had anything to do with it. Logical thinking gave him any number of possibilities: She very well could have realized she'd forgotten something crucial, and he'd merely been in her line of sight.

Somehow, despite how much it made sense, Shinichi couldn't shake the feeling that she'd been looking at him. That it was he who had made her startle so badly, though he couldn't fathom why.

The thought nagged at him all the way to his platform, and through his wait for the train. He barely noticed what was going on around him, his eyes on the floor and every sense turned inward. It wasn't something he allowed very often. The feeling of not knowing what was going around him often induced a sense of panic, but at the moment he would rather not know. It seemed to be doing nothing but confusing him. Shinichi wondered if it would do any good to just ask Kaito. In the past the magician had never seemed to have a problem helping Shinichi out when he got hopelessly confused about the social ebb and flow around him, but apparently whatever had occurred earlier today wasn't something Kaito could, or would, explain.

He was thinking in circles.

He had lived for years and was perfectly capable of getting by on his own. Not only had his parents left him to his own devices at a young age, but he had lived through multiple lives, each of which had been soul crushing in one way or another. Shinichi didn't need Kaito, he hadn't needed him throughout his other lives.

Shinichi was jolted out of the mire of his thoughts by the arrival of the train, and watched it slide seamlessly to a stop. He stood aside, waiting for the disembarking people before he stepped soundlessly aboard. An odd feeling of claustrophobia greeted him in the small space, something he ignored through pure stubbornness. It hadn't been there that morning when he'd traveled to Ekoda.

He arranged himself in one of the bench like seats with movements that were, at best, wooden. Shinichi found himself slumping slightly into his seat, eyes staring into the middle distance as a distracted muddle of thoughts tried to sort themselves out in his mind. There were so many things that needed to be done, and all of them could go wrong at any moment. He hated having his neat and orderly existence blown into such a chaotic whirl. His life might not have been optimal, or even easy, but at least he'd had it under some sort of control. Kid, like always, was a maelstrom of chaos that came in and upset everything.

Shinichi hated the fact that he couldn't hate him for it even more. In the end, he was the only one to blame for it.

He gave a long blink, and turned his attention to pulling the mobile phone he'd tucked into his schoolbag out. Shinichi took a moment to give a small amused smile at the sight of the charm dangling from it, before he flipped it open and began absently checking through the contact list in search of a specific name and number. Unsurprisingly, the name he was looking for was one of the earliest, and easiest to access. Shinichi brought up the information, and took a moment to memorize the number before he snapped the phone closed and settled back in his seat. Turning his head, Shinichi gazed absently out the window behind him. As the train rolled out of the station he was greeted with a view of closely clustered buildings, electrical wires, and traffic of both the foot and vehicular varieties.

With a soft exhalation he turned away again, and let his gaze drop to the phone in his hands again. His fingers slid over the sleek plastic, smudged with fingerprints that became visible when he tilted it so the light hit it just right. Shinichi gave a faint snort, and shoved the phone back into his school bag. He closed his eyes, and let the soothing familiarity the metropolises transportation goad him into relaxing for the moment.

Shinichi stepped out into the hazy city sunlight, his right hand absently adjusting the collar of his gakuran. He inhaled deeply, smelling the scents of the city, and adjusted his grip on his school bag before setting off down the sidewalk. Rather than taking a taxi, or calling the professor, Shinichi figured it would be easier to walk to the station. It wasn't too far, and he'd walked farther distances in the past. It was also just possible that he was dragging his heels. His stomach was an interesting mixture of dread and anxiousness: The first due to a collision of thoughts and possibilities that he couldn't calculate. What if he was about to learn of some consequence born of the different choices made so far in this time line? The anxiety was, in and of itself, mildly infuriating. It was born from the simple urge to turn around and go back to Ekoda. For whatever reason, he felt bereft without Kaito standing loyally at his side, ready to back him up.

He shoved the feeling down, only to have it replaced by a different kind of nerves. These were born from the thought of running into Ran while he was here. Shinichi had been doing everything he could to avoid his childhood friend over the last few days, even as he knew he was probably hurting her a great deal. There was no way he could face her right now, and, with the knowledge of what needed to be done soon, he thought that perhaps it was kinder to be cruel. Maybe it would make the impact of what he was going to do less damaging.

And maybe he was just a coward and putting off the inevitable for as long as he could.

Shinichi was so caught up in his own thoughts, that he nearly missed the sound of someone calling his name. When it did register, he quite nearly froze on the spot until he recognized the voice was, obviously, male, and most certainly did not belong to Ran or Sonoko. He pivoted around to face the other direction, and found Takagi trotting toward him, hand uplifted and a slightly sheepish expression on his face.

"Kudou-kun!" The man slowed to a halt in front of him, and exhaled sharply in relief. "I'm glad I managed to catch you."

"Takagi-keiji," Shinichi acknowledge. "Did something happen?"

"No, no, nothing like that..." Takagi murmured. His hand was touching the back of his neck in a gesture that made Shinichi crack a smile. There was something interesting about watching Takagi grow slowly more confident in himself over the years again and again. On the other hand, there was always a sense of the bittersweet when he was forced to watch Takagi fight for Satou's affections all over again. It was one of those small reminders of what he, himself, had lost. At least Takagi could regain what he lost, and never suffer the knowledge of that loss. "I was just sent to pick you up is all. It's faster that way, right?"

Shinichi narrowed his eyes slightly, suspicious, of the tone of voice and the way Takagi wasn't exactly looking at him straight. It was fairly obvious that, whatever the case may be, that wasn't the entire truth. Clearing the minute change of expression from his face, Shinichi summoned up a small razor smirk in its place, and decided to play oblivious. It worked out for the best anyway. At least this way he would have less of a chance to run into Ran...

"Thank you for going out of your way, Takagi-keiji," he murmured with a small bow of gratitude.

It only seemed to embarrass the man more, as he quickly stuttered out, "I-it's my job, no need for gratitude."

When Takagi turned and headed back in the direction he'd come from, Shinichi fell into step with him. There was a certain amount of familiarity with Takagi's presence that made him relax slightly, one that Shinichi couldn't quite place or name. It was one of those things that merely was there, and didn't need to be questioned or examined. He supposed if he had to put thought into it, Shinichi would call it a sort of camaraderie. The fact that he was the only one who knew it was there, that he alone could acknowledge it, made him feel a little more lonely and distant than usual. It was a sad, melancholy sort of loneliness, but nowhere near as sharp as the loneliness could be sometimes, or had been.

Shinichi doubted he would ever forget the soul crushing feeling of knowing no one thought of him the way he expected them to.

Takagi lead him by a row of idly waiting taxis, a line of bikes padlocked in place, and a few clustered groups of pedestrians to where he had obviously been waiting at his car. There was a clear view afforded of the station's exit from where they now stood, and Shinichi could see how easily he had been spotted. A part of him wanted to take himself to task for not noticing he was being so closely observed, but he also realized that even if he had noticed he would have classified Takagi as harmless. Shinichi hid a wince by allowing himself to be shuffled into the passenger's seat of the car while Takagi nattered nervously about something. That was no excuse at all: He could not allow himself to be so relaxed and unwary. It was always in those moments of distraction that horror struck.

"Is something the matter, Kudou-kun?"

"No," Shinichi replied dully. He didn't even think he could force up an arrogant smile, not for anything, not now. He couldn't bring himself to say something witty, sharp, and articulate. He couldn't be what they wanted, expected, him to be right now. Instead, he turned away from the police detective, and allowed his forehead to rest against the cool glass of the window beside him. The feeling in the pit of his stomach wasn't an unfamiliar one: A sort of sickly deja vu that made his skin feel hot and cold by turns, made him feel as if everything inside his skin didn't belong.

Shinichi hunched his shoulders, trying to tune out the sulky child-like voice in the back of his head that pointed out how weird it was to see Takagi alone. He was so often with Satou in the past, future, whatever. Shinichi silenced the thought with a burst of internal resentment and suppression.

Outside the city passed in a pall of gray that was brought on more by Shinichi's own lackluster and morose view of world than any fault of the city itself. Even the splashes of color provided by signs and people seemed dull and dreary. It was almost as if a cloudy day had settled in without any warning. All he could think about was how it hadn't been like this earlier. Was it him? Or was it because Kaito inevitably brought life and color where ever he went? The irrational urge to flee back to Kaito's side and stay there until the end came around again gripped him for several seconds, and Shinichi was so taken with the idea that, for a moment, he wanted to demand Takagi stop so he could get out of there. His chest felt constricted, his throat felt tight, and all he wanted was to see Kaito again.

It struck him as odd. In the past all he'd ever wanted was to go back to the manor house with its silence, solitude, and ghosts. It had always felt like his only sanctuary, but now it felt cold, hollow, and bitter. Shinichi hated to admit it, but there was a part of him that was actually scared of going home now. For once in all this time, all these repetitions, and his strange curse home... wasn't.

In some way, in some manner, Shinichi had always been fighting to get back home. He'd stopped fighting to return to Ran years ago, so long it was almost forgotten. She, he knew, could be fine without him. Ran was a strong girl who could mature into an even stronger young woman. Someone who could leave Kudou Shinichi behind as a sadness tinged memory.

What, then, did that make Kaito? A friend? A fellow prisoner? A comrade? Shinichi really had no idea how to classify him. He was simply Kaito, and, for whatever reason, he'd become something comforting and familiar in Shinichi's sparse existence. Abruptly, Shinichi drew back from his thoughts, shoved down the emotions clawing at his insides, and decided to ignore the entire line of inquiry.

It wasn't until now that he noticed the heavy and awkward silence that had fallen in the car's interior, and, absently, Shinichi wondered how long Takagi had tried to make conversation before he'd given up. He felt like a bastard a few seconds after the rather uncharitable thought passed through his mind. It was one of the rare times he found himself scrabbling for something to say, anything at all, only to fall short. Shinichi opened his mouth, and a sound that was meant to be words caught in his throat when he realized, belatedly, that he had no idea what he was planning on saying. Shinichi allowed his mouth to firm into a thin line.

It all just made him wish, once again, that Kaito were here. He would know what to do, or, at least, Kaito would be able to babble some nonsense, or create some sort of chaos with his magic tricks that would keep Shinichi from being stuck in this sort of situation. Instead, Shinichi could only stare ahead as the facade of Beika's police headquarters came into view, surrounded by its row of trees. It was a tall, long building that stuck out almost as if it were too proud to blend in. He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath in preparation for facing the many familiar faces within.

Not long after, Shinichi was being ushered along the familiar route to the Homicide division's offices. When they reached the doors to the Criminal Inquiries Department, Shinichi took a moment to linger just inside the spacious room. It was as neat and orderly as he always remembered it, and brought back the memory of the first time the Shounen Tantei had been introduced to the place. It was a hazy, far off thing, but he could still recall their shock and dismay when they learned it wasn't like the shows they watched. The rows of desks contained a smattering of officers doing paper work, and one or two had people there with them; suspects, or witnesses, Shinichi supposed. He recognized at least one of them as a man who would, eventually, be found to have killed his wife, sister-in-law, and daughter because they were too loud while he was trying to watch his favorite soccer team during a big game.

Part of Shinichi, a distant, cold, detached part of himself that even he didn't like to admit existed, wondered if they were already dead. He turned away, and the part of him that was still the idealistic, arrogant detective he'd been so long ago was disgusted with himself.

Takagi had paused for a moment, lingering. He shot a glance back at Shinichi, almost as if there was something he wanted to say, then Megure's low gruff voice sounded from further inside the spacious room, and Takagi merely shook his head. Shinichi narrowed his eyes thoughtfully as the police detective started to walk toward the Megure, and the familiar pair with him. Shinichi's low voice seemed to make Takagi jump as if he'd spoken far louder, "Is something the matter?" Takagi sent him a slightly baffled look, so Shinichi added, "You seem as if you have something to say to me considering how often you attempt to open discussion."

"It's just that I couldn't help but notice you're acting very different from what I remember."

For a moment, Shinichi was silent, considering with the same slow thoroughness he had taken to giving much of everything in his life. He had all the time in the world, after all, and had learned to give far more depth of thought to things than most people did until their later years in life, if at all. Then Shinichi stepped up beside Takagi with a faint smile on his face that had, perhaps, an underlying fondness that he knew Takagi would never really understand. He simply said, "I suppose so."

As if his voice had triggered the notice, Megure turned just then and waved at the two of them. "Kudou-kun, you're here. Good, good." The man sent a glance at the duo standing near him as Shinichi and Takagi stepped up to join them. Shinichi recognized both Satou and Shiratori waiting for them. Satou was looking amused, while Shiratori looked pleased with himself. He could only guess that, whatever they had been discussing before he arrived, it wasn't about the case.

"Sorry about the wait, Keibu," Shinichi said quietly.

"It's fine Kudou-kun, you had mentioned you were in Ekoda?"

Shinichi made an affirmative noise, eyes distant, as he watched the byplay between Shiratori, Satou, and Takagi. It wasn't surprising to see the more charismatic Shiratori easily taking control of the conversation.

"Before I transferred to this division," Shinichi heard him saying, eyes focused on Satou and unaware of the quietly watching Takagi. Shinichi could easily fathom what was going through Takagi's mind given past, future, dramatics. "I would frequent this wonderful little restaurant. They served the best Italian cuisine I've had in a long time, but I haven't had a chance to return lately. Perhaps we could go together sometime?"

"You know," Satou said thoughtfully, "I think Yumi was talking about trying to find a good Italian place recently. We should all definitely go then, right Takagi-kun?"

"Uh, right Satou-san!"

Shinichi looked away, before his amusement could show through. The crestfallen, but baffled and amused look on Shiratori's face, Takagi's rather confused and almost panicked look as if he was wondering what he'd just agreed to, and Satou's pleased smile sent a warm thrill of familiarity through him. The longing and melancholy that followed on its heels a few moments later made his stomach clench. It was almost enough to make Shinichi sick. He was familiar with all of those feelings; the feelings that reminded him of what had been lost. He was also familiar with the spark of jealousy that was woven throughout. He wondered what it must be like to be so blissfully unaware that everything you cared about was being ripped from you again and again.

Shinichi heard Shiratori say, "So this is the infamous Kudou Shinichi I've heard so much about?" from behind him. He hadn't even realized the tone of the conversation had changed, or that they were all looking at him expectantly.

"Ah, so this is the high school detective?" Satou asked, quietly. Shinichi could imagine her cupping her hand alongside her mouth as she attempted to keep her question from being overheard. "The one that's solved all those cases?"

"That's right," Takagi said, there was a hint of pride, or maybe awe in his tone. Shinichi wasn't sure exactly what it was.

"Megure-keibu?" Shinichi prompted. He could feel himself beginning to grow impatient in spite of his long, hard won patience. It was a silly feeling, and his logical mind knew it. There wasn't anything that they could do today; they couldn't even really discuss their options with Hakuba and Nakamori lingering about, but... that didn't stop a part of Shinichi from feeling like he needed to get back. "About the Komine case?"

"Of course," the inspector said, his usual cheer was muted by a certain sense of seriousness that put Shinichi on alert. For a moment he felt a spark of panic igniting beneath his sternum. Had he forgotten something important? A case, some event, anything that could explain the slightly grave atmosphere the man was projecting? Shinichi racked his brain for any little memory that might tip him off. Had he been mistaken? Had he, in one of his lives, run across something involving this case that he should have remembered?

Or, was this something totally new?

It was more than a little disconcerting to realize that he couldn't remember. He had been very careful about cataloging important cases and memories to avoid making anymore horrible mistakes. For a single, clear second Shinichi wondered if 'befriending Kid' would have become one of the things he avoided if Kaito hadn't followed him.

"You recall Motoyoshi Toshio?"

Shinichi gave a slow, owlish, blink in thought before the name came back to him. "The doctor?"

Satou gave a derisive snort, and Shinichi turned to look at her. She had crossed her arms over her chest, and, for the first time, Shinichi realized that her hand was wrapped lightly in bandages that disappeared under her sleeve. "He might be a doctor, but he's a corrupt one. We're still going through all of his files! Who knows what else he's done during the time he's been practicing."

"Motoyoshi Toshio," Shiratori cut in, his voice was faintly amused though there was a serious look on his face, "doesn't even have the proper credentials to hold his job, let alone practice it. He flunked his university classes, but apparently made it through enough to seem legitimate."

Shinichi was very close to asking what any of this had to do with him, the words were on the tip of his tongue, when Megure spoke again, voice gruff and low to keep from being overheard by anyone beyond their small gathering, "The problem is, Kudou-kun, that Motoyoshi has disappeared."

"Disappeared?" Shinichi asked, bemused. Criminals didn't just disappear, in his experience. Well, unless they were part of the Black Organization. The criminals Shinichi caught were caught, and they were put behind bars, or not, depending on the outcome of the crime. But, none of them disappeared.

The rustling sound of cloth drew his attention back to Satou once again. There was an odd look on her face: a mixture he recognized as guilt, irritation, and discomfort. It only took a moment for him to remember that it was Satou who had been dispatched to collect Motoyoshi. She looked away from him, a slight flush staining her cheeks, and announced, "I had a hold of him, even had the creep in cuffs, but he managed to sneak a scalpel past me." She didn't have to say anymore, Shinichi could guess the rest: Motoyoshi had probably slashed her arm open and run for it.

Feeling completely nonplussed, Shinichi asked, "How does any of this involve me?"

"How does this...?" Satou's voice trailed off into a sort of horrified 'Are you an idiot?!' way that Shinichi wasn't used to having directed at him by people who weren't Ran, or Kaito when he was being particularly obtuse. Feeling slightly defensive, Shinichi leaned his weight back onto one foot, and hooded his eyes. It took him several seconds to remember why he didn't feel the familiar heat of Kaito lingering at his shoulder.

He didn't expect the lonely pang that reminder sent through him. Shinichi ruthlessly squashed it, something he should be used to doing. He cursed himself, once more, for allowing himself to get attached. It was more than obvious that he needed to put some distance between himself and the thief, but it was equally obvious that, for now, he couldn't. Shinichi couldn't bring himself to leave Kaito adrift in this mess. The very thought brought back reminders of his own trials and errors, and if there was anything Shinichi could do to keep someone else from suffering as he had, he'd do it. ...Even if it meant destroying himself a little bit more every day.

"Ah, well, you see," Takagi spoke up at last, when no one else seemed inclined to answer. "The papers announced that it was you who solved the case, it's been all over the place really..."

Shinichi wouldn't have known. He'd spent the last few days in something of a media blackout merely because he didn't care. It was like that fairly often when a new life began, as he couldn't seem to stomach the incessant reminders of his sudden fall backward through time so soon after it happened. Even now the reminder was making his stomach churn. "I hadn't noticed," he said, and if his voice was the slightest bit strained Shinichi didn't think anyone noticed. Kaito might have been able to read him, but he wasn't here.

"What Takagi-kun means," Megure said, voice still quiet, "is that we're afraid he could go after you, since it was you who revealed him."

For a moment Shinichi wanted to laugh at the absurdity. Less than a week in a new life, and he was already attracting trouble. Instead he asked, blandly, "Wouldn't it make more sense for the guy to get out of the country?"

"He didn't exactly seem like the most stable person," Satou snapped. Shinichi sent her a slightly wide eyed look that he knew would make him look guileless, and perhaps even surprised at her vehemence. Beneath it, however, he was struggling to care at all. He must have done it right, though, because Satou's face softened. "We just want to make sure you're being careful, Kudou-kun. That's all."

Shinichi supposed she must have been feeling guilty that this whack job had escaped her. He was mildly impressed that the guy had managed it considering how often he'd seen Satou hand men several times her size their own asses without her breathing seeming to pick up an iota. She was rather like Ran in that way, though Ran displayed far more girlish traits still. He was never sure if Ran would have taken that comparison as a compliment, or try to send him through a wall for it. Shinichi wasn't stupid enough to test it on her either.

"Thank you for the warning then, but it wasn't really necessary," he replied. There was no way to explain to them that he couldn't care less if one more criminal was out to get him, and after the lives of dodging the Crows... Well, this just didn't measure up on his scale of things to worry about. And, just maybe, there was a part of Shinichi that had stopped caring about situations that were dangerous to him at all.

"Why you, little...! Don't be so ungrateful that we're worried about your safety," Satou hissed.

He could only remember a few times when she'd been so offended, and Shinichi held his hands up in a placating way before giving her a crooked grin he knew made him look a little more boyish, and less like the arrogant jerk he was probably coming off as. "I merely meant that I don't think it likely he'll come after me. I mean, logically speaking it would be better for him to get out of the country, right? If he was willing to go so far as to injure you to escape then he probably doesn't want to be caught. Instead you should focus more on trying to catch him before he's gone for good, right?"

Satou subsided, though she still looked rather ruffled, and Shiratori laughed lightly. "You have a point Kudou-kun, but it isn't like we haven't been looking for this guy. We sent an alert out to all officers to keep an eye out for him, but so far we've had no luck," then noticing the slightly affronted look he was getting from the object of his affections, Shiratori quickly added, "But I have to agree with Satou-san. You should be careful."

"I am aware of that," Shinichi responded, choosing his words carefully. "However, I hardly see how this is different from usual; I am fairly well versed in dealing with criminals."

"You're not always going to get lucky–," Satou started, only to be cut off as one of the uniformed officers ran up.

"Megure-keibu! We just got a call from one of the traffic officers. They think they've had a sighting of the suspect, of Motoyoshi!"

Before any of the other officers, or even Megure, could get a word in edgewise, Satou was already turning and heading out, "I'm on it! Come on, you can tell me the details as we go."

"Ah, Satou-san!" Takagi called after her, but, Shinichi noticed, didn't try to follow.

"I'll go with you," Shiratori cut in, before Takagi could say anything more. Shinichi watched Takagi wilt as the more confident Shiratori hurried after Satou.

Megure, who was still standing silently beside Shinichi had a rather disgruntled look on his face. Shinichi couldn't really blame him, and probably would have looked the same if the whole thing hadn't been faintly amusing. He blinked after the departed duo, and tried not to smile as Takagi's shoulders slumped even further. Silence seemed to encompass them for a few seconds, then a voice piped up, "Uh, Keibu? I've just had a call reporting a dead body in Haido Park."

The inspector seemed to rouse himself from his slight stupor and clapped his hands together in determination. "Right. Takagi-kun, let's get over there. Kudou-kun, would you like to join us?"

Shinichi didn't even have to think about the answer: There was no contest for him. "No, I'm afraid I have plans with some friends. Another time, Megure-keibu." He had spent too much time seeing broken hearts, and hurt looks when he chose the dead over the living. Shinichi ignored the surprised stares drilling into him, and merely turned and headed for the door. It was about time he started back anyway.

"Do you want us to drop you off anywhere? Surely it's the least we can do for you having to come all the way here," Takagi offered.

In response, Shinichi lifted a hand to toss a wave over his shoulder. "No thanks, I'll be fine."

Before anyone could try to change his mind, Shinichi made his exit. He was sure that if they tried to breathe down his neck about Motoyoshi being on the loose, and the chance he was after him, he would go insane. That was precisely why he wasn't going to tell Kaito, either. It wasn't an issue, and Shinichi was sure the news would only agitate the thief if he knew. As far as Kaito would learn, this entire meeting had been something simple, a follow up, a detail on the report. As far as Shinichi was concerned, that's all it was anyway.

As he left the building, Shinichi pulled his phone out of his pocket, and flipped it open. It only took a few buttons to speed dial Agasa's number while he positioned himself to lean discreetly against the side of the building. No one seemed to pay him any mind, and his eyes listlessly watched the slight fluttering of the leaves on the trees that formed a uniform line not far away. Finally, his call was picked up, and Agasa's voice greeted him just as cheerfully as usual.

"Are you busy at the moment, Professor?" Shinichi asked.

"Not at all. Is there something you need Shinichi-kun?"

"Could you meet me at the police station? I'm already here, but I need to head back to Ekoda and there's something I need to give you first."

"I needed to go out today anyway; I can just do it now then."

Shinichi grinned, relieved. "Thanks, Professor! See you in a bit then."

"Ah! Shinichi-kun, wait!"

He paused mid motion, and set his phone back to his ear. "What is it?"

"Ran-kun has been looking for you again."

So that was it? Shinichi felt a few stirrings of guilt, though they didn't trip him up when he replied, "Ah, well, I've been busy with something important."

"She seems very worried," Agasa said, though Shinichi could hear a question in there. Pushing away from the wall he wandered over to the trees. The shadows under them weren't particularly deep given the time of day. The sound of cars motoring by seemed like an innocuous background to his melancholy thoughts.

For a moment, Shinichi wasn't sure what to say, and his tongue felt like it was tied in knots. How could he respond to that? He knew she was worried, and probably hurting with his apparent snubbing of her lately, but wasn't it better in the long run? At last, at a completely loss, Shinichi merely said, "I'll be sure to apologize to her later." His reluctance to continue talking about the subject must have been obvious, because Agasa changed it, and instead inquired about the exact details of his location.

Once the call ended, Shinichi stared pensively upward as he tucked his phone back into his pocket. He probably shouldn't be so glad that he could avoid making his way toward home right now, but he was. There was little doubt in his mind that Ran was probably doing her best to figure out where the hell he was, if she hadn't already heard about his transfer. Shinichi didn't want to face her just yet, though he knew the confrontation couldn't be put off for very long. Ran was just too determined to avoid forever. Particularly when she knew him better than almost anyone. Or, at the very least, she used to. Shinichi doubted she could fathom him anymore than most people these days.

He leaned his shoulder against the tree he was standing beside. The bark felt sharp and brittle through the material of his sleeve. Above him the leaves of the tree, surprisingly lush and full, rustled slightly as an unseen bird took off into the city. Shinichi was just starting to relax and absently calculate how long it would take for Agasa to arrive, when he heard a familiar voice.

"Why are we even coming here? There have got to be better places to go after school that the police station." That was definitely Sonoko, and odds were that if she was here then...

"Not if you're Shinichi." Ran probably was too.

Shinichi made a little choking sound in the back of his throat, and whipped his head around to look toward the approaching pair. Both of them were still in their school uniforms, and though he couldn't make out any expressions from this distance the slump of Sonoko's shoulders, and the way Ran was stomping along were clear enough. Ran was pissed, Sonoko was bored and annoyed, and Shinichi was dead if either of them noticed him.

It was more instinct than anything, along with a healthy dosage of wanting to avoid Ran for as long as possible that sent him looking for a place to hide. The irony of the situation didn't escape him in the least, but he didn't bother to stop and contemplate it this time. Shinichi whirled around and looked up at the tree he'd been standing near. He was in luck, because he was pretty sure that branch was low enough that he could grab it if he jumped. Shinichi didn't bother to give it another thought, just went for it. He managed to catch hold of the branch, and kicked against the trunk to scramble the rest of the way up. From his precarious perch he watched the two girls walk into view, and hoped that they hadn't seen him.

And that they wouldn't think to look up. That always worked for Kaito, right?

"Shinichi!?" Ran's shout just about made him drop his school bag, and Shinichi spent a few moments fumbling with it and trying not to panic unduly. "Oooh, where is that idiot? I'm going to break his face the next time I see him!"

"Can I help?" Sonoko snarked. "He deserves it after making us look all over for him."

Ran huffed, crossed her arms over her chest, and stuck her nose in the air. Shinichi froze. He was pretty sure he stopped breathing at that point. If she opened her eyes she'd be looking right at him. He clutched his school bag to his chest, and tried to remind his heart that, no, this wasn't a terrifying murderer. Then again, like Pavlov's dog Shinichi was well trained to know that an angry Ran generally wasn't good news. "He's just being stupid and needs some sense knocked into that giant head of his again."

"Well, he's your husband. You'd know better than me," Sonoko teased, nudging Ran's shoulder with her own. Ran's head whipped around, but Shinichi had caught sight of the blush on her face. It made his heart clench with regret, even as relief that she hadn't noticed him nearly made him fall from his perch.

"Sonoko! Don't say things like that! We're just friends," Ran hissed.

"That's not what your face is telling me~!"

Red faced, Ran grabbed Sonoko's sleeve and began to tug her along, "Come on, let's go see if he's inside. At least if he's been here we'll have something to go off of."

Shinichi had no idea how long he stayed there, keeping an eye out for the two girls as well as Agasa's arrival. He refused to give up the safety of his hiding spot until he was sure he wasn't going to get mauled by Ran. Apparently, it was long enough though because he could see the familiar yellow beetle edging through the traffic now. Uncurling his legs, Shinichi dropped out of the tree, and staggered as they protested. They had begun to fall asleep. He ignored the tingling feeling in favor of running down the street, then ducking out among the cars much to the surprise of their drivers.

They probably weren't as shocked as the professor was when Shinichi slithered into the passenger's seat. Grinning wryly, Shinichi asked, "Can you drop me off at the train station?"

Agasa gaped at him for a moment, then shook his head slowly, "What are you up to, Shinichi-kun?"

Shinichi let his grin widen, feeling oddly giddy, and shook his finger at Agasa. "That's for me to know!"

The ride back to the train station seemed much shorter than the one to the police station had been, and Shinichi could only put it down to his much improved mood. It was probably just the adrenaline talking, but he was fine with that. He felt good, and shortly he would be back in Ekoda with even less chance of running into Ran and having to feed her more lies. There was the possibility that she'd find out where he was somehow, but he had to hope she wouldn't pursue him that far. He loved her, he really did, but he just couldn't face her yet. Shinichi's smile took on a slightly melancholic edge. There would be time for that later.

When he finally climbed out of the car, Shinichi left his school bag in the passenger's seat, and turned around. With one hand resting on the curve of the roof he grinned cheekily at the professor. "That favor I asked you? I've got it in my bag, so please fix it for me."

"Of course, Shinichi-kun. I'm surprised you were able to get it so fast."

Giving a slightly nervous laugh, Shinichi scratched his cheek. "Well, I'm sure he doesn't mind." He ignored the questioning stare, and closed the door. He was still grinning even as he walked away. He couldn't help but imagine what Kaito would think of the whole thing.

The thought of Kaito had him pulling his phone out again, and Shinichi flipped it open. It took a few seconds to dial the number he'd memorized earlier, and a few more for the person on the other end of the line to pick up. When she did, Nakamori Aoko gave a confused hello.

"It's Kudou Shinichi, Nakamori-san."


"Is Kaito there?"

"Yes. ...How did you get my number?"

"From Kaito," Shinichi answered. It wasn't exactly a lie. He fell silent as some background noise obscured whatever was being said on the other end of the line. Once he was sure he had her attention again he said, "Tell Kaito," and was forced to fall silent again as another squabble broke out.

"Kaito, you idiot! Be quiet, he's trying to tell me something!" Aoko snarled. He could hear the rustle and rattle of clothing and the phone. "Sorry, what was that Kudou-kun?"

"Tell him," Shinichi repeated, and then paused. For some reason his answer felt like it was really important, like something was crystallizing, congealing. It was such a silly sensation that he felt honestly stupid for once in his life, but he didn't bother denying it, or the hesitation it caused as he searched for whatever was the right answer. He was pretty sure whatever it was, he didn't know it anyway. In the end, he just said, "I'm coming now."