This is me back with the opening to the next installment of what is now going to be titled the 'Dreams' 'verse. I'm now going to go hunker down and sleep for a day or two, as I spent the better part of the last three not. Asthma was acting up really bad, and my preventive inhaler's shipment ran late, and didn't get in until this morning. Yay for never-close pharmacy. I can breathe while lying down, now, so. Yes. Sleep.


Ekoda High's class 2-B had been extremely subdued for nearly a week. One of their number was conspicuously missing and their resident prankster-magician, when he came at all, sat quietly and alternated between doing his work and staring out the window.

Nakamori Aoko had gained his attention a handful of times, occasionally drawing a wan smile, and Hakuba Saguru had managed to get a few sentences out of him, but overall Kuroba Kaito was paying little attention to his classmates.

He was well aware that his behavior was worrying people just as much as his husband-of-convenience's absence (they had gotten their mothers to arrange it, because they were so much older than everyone else in their age group, and even those they might once have been interested in weren't the people they remembered—might never become those people, with how much they'd already changed), and he'd seen how Hakuba's manner grew more and more grim with each passing day.

Shinichi was alive, and Kaito knew where and how he was. But he couldn't say that, not without inviting danger, because the police would want confirmation and that was the one thing they didn't dare give.

Not now. Not like this. It would be months before they could synthesize the antidote, and during those months Shinichi would be officially missing and Kaito was going to have to act like it. And… it wasn't so hard, to look tired and worried.

He was, after all. Last time—the time-that-wasn't—Shinichi had grown ever so slightly weaker month by month, his system horribly compromised by a poison that hadn't killed when it should have, and all the times experimenting with antidote formulas had only furthered the damage.

It hadn't been noticeable at first, but by the end of it, when Shinichi had been able to be himself again, every should-have-been-minor cold had been a threat to his life. That it was happening again was horrifying, and only the knowledge that there was no need for all the experimenting had Kaito worried instead of terrified.

He knew why Hakuba looked so grim, why the British detective's eyes flashed with pain and worry when they landed on him. He'd not been party to as many cases (even just in any given month) as Shinichi, but he knew the odds of finding someone who'd gone missing in any circumstances shrank each day. With the kind of circumstances that Shinichi had disappeared under, even an hour was usually too long for someone to survive.

Hakuba thought Shinichi was dead. Most of the police probably did, too, as well as the teachers and those of the class that stopped to think about it. Aoko included.

But… Shinichi wasn't, and Kaito wasn't going to pretend he thought he was. Oh, he could worry. He did worry. But as long as Shinichi lived, he wasn't going to be able to act like he'd died with any reliability, and he wasn't going to try.

(Let the police think it denial. In five months, after the antidote was ready, he'd prove himself right.)


"Kuroba…" Hakuba hesitated, not quite sure how to broach the subject. Kudo had gone missing while being chased by a gang of thugs who were dead-set on killing him, and after a week without word… well, Kudo was too smart and too resourceful for the extended silence to be anything but inability to break it. After this long, the only thing Hakuba could think was that Kudo was dead.

It wouldn't be official for at least a year, unless they found his body, but… watching Kaito keep hoping was starting to hurt almost as much as the sinking knowledge that his friend was almost certainly dead.

When Kuroba had retreated to the roof as soon as the lunch bell rang, Hakuba had followed him, and now blue eyes (the same shade as Kudo's, and as easily as they had swapped places over and over, how horrible would it be for Kuroba to look in the mirror?) fixed on him with clear annoyance.

"He's not dead, Hakuba," Kuroba told him, flat and calm.

There was something about the way he said it… there was no doubt, no hesitation. "There's a reason you're saying that." There had to be. And considering that Kudo and Kuroba had definitively proved real magic to him, he'd be willing to accept 'I would know' as an answer.

Kuroba shifted, glanced around, then loosened his gakuran and tugged his shirt-collar down a little, a bright edge of white showing against skin. Not enough for Hakuba to tell what the shape was, but it was a brighter white than tattoo-ink could account for, and he frowned a bit. "What is…?"

"It can't tell me where he is, or even how, but… he's not dead. It would be black if he were dead."

The relief was staggering. Kudo—one of his very, very few friends—was alive, and Kuroba had proof of it. It also explained why Kuroba continued to vanish frequently; he had to be looking. Or arranging for someone else to look. Either way, though, it begged the question of why he hadn't been in contact.

Hakuba nodded, "If there's anything I can do…?"

Kuroba shook his head, "Not right now. There's… not much to be done, honestly. I'm already doing what can be, and this isn't something that needs a detective, unfortunately."

Odd comment, but—well, Kuroba wasn't a bad detective himself, when he wanted to be. Probably at least on par with Hakuba himself, and Kuroba otherwise had a unique skillset that meant Hakuba would be redundant at best.

Even so… Kuroba knew something else, or at least suspected. Possibly he had a feasible reason for Kudo's lack of contact—that Organization they'd spoken of? If so…

Hakuba grimaced and backed down. Interfering could get one or both of them killed, and possibly himself as an afterthought. Best to leave it alone until he had more information. Kuroba would tell him when he could help. Probably.

In the meantime, it was unfortunately safest to wait.

(That grated against his detective sensibilities, but he was practical enough to be patient. Or at least wait impatiently.)


Shinichi sighed, hiding in a villa-turned-safe-house in Izu that Kaito hadn't actually stayed in since his father died—at least, not this time around. It wasn't the first time the place stood in as a safe house, in that sense.

No one could see him in Tokyo (or Japan, but a remote villa in Izu was easier to hide in than any high-population area) until 'his' plane came in.

They had a cover story, and it was one that would probably work. It accounted for his appearance (both in the sense of 'arrival' and 'looks'), his propensity to stumble over dead bodies, and why he wasn't going to stay longer than four or five months.

Kudo Shinichi, of course, would have to stay missing for at least a few weeks after 'Conan' went home, just to make sure, and they had yet to work out a plan for that part, but…

Two more days being almost entirely alone, save for Jii dropping off supplies. Kaito had called him every day after getting Agasa to make the long-distance two-ways that the Black never had figured out existed the last time around, and the talks tending to last for hours did quite a bit to keep Shinichi sane.

He didn't want to be 'Conan' again, but at least he was familiar with it, this time. It was something. He could handle it. And he even had Kaito from the start, this time.

It would be… bearable.

(Also, there was no way he was joining kiddie school in Ekoda. Or anywhere else. Just—no. The first time, when he'd actually been seven, had been boring. The second time had been torture, even with the kids. A third? He'd do something incredibly rash and stupid; based entirely on his unstable teenage brain which he still had, shrunken body or no, and probably end up getting hailed as some kind of Japanese-American genius child and would then end up with far too much attention on him and probably have his carefully-constructed cover fall apart and find himself needing another on the fly.

Yeah. No.)