Actions

Work Header

maybe I was going too fast

Chapter Text

Less than a year after Conan disappears, Kaito finally finds and destroys Pandora.

(He nearly lost his toes thanks to frostbite, while freehandedly scaling up the side of a mountain in the alps in the dead of winter on New Year’s, his paragliding cape having malfunctioned and his boots not nearly thick enough for the horrific weather.

He also nearly lost Jii-chan, but that was a whole other matter altogether.)

It was almost upsetting when all it took to destroy the gem that had haunted him for so many years was a mere hammer from Jii-chan’s toolkit. Kaito had stared at the shattered remains, as Jii-chan carried them over to the furnace in their safe house, somewhere in the boonies of France, and wondered what he was supposed to do next, now that the thing that had consumed him for the last three years is now up in flames.

“You could always live a normal life. Study, get a degree, perhaps stop mooching off your parents’ fortunes,” Jii-chan had suggested casually. Kaito refrained from rolling his eyes, if only because the older gentleman had been nursing a sprained wrist and a broken leg, and was more than slightly delirious from the pain meds.

But when he’d returned home to Japan, and taken one step into the basement that had propelled him into the role of Kaitou Kid, he’d wondered if there wasn’t an ounce of truth in Jii-chan’s words (mean as they were, seriously, it’s just because he was so old that Kaito didn’t even bother whining, and it certainly wasn’t because he’d made one slight miscalculation which had cost the entire villain lair to blow up a few seconds before Jii-chan made it out, and he’d coughed so much and Kaito didn’t need to know how the other man’s blood had looked like coming out from his mouth, blackened with soot.)

The mission that had consumed him from the first time he’d put on the white suit has been completed, but there’s an itch in his chest for something that would drive him in the same way. Education might be a good start to search for anything that’ll calm his restless hands and sleepless nights, now that he can look at a jewelry store and not have to entertain the way his heart would beat too fast at the sight of any precious stones.

And that’s how he finds himself in front of the dorms of Tokio University about four months later, after having enrolled for his first semester.

The cherry blossoms have bloomed, and the path towards the main building is covered in pink petals, but Kaito doesn’t take much notice of it, nor the people around him, because there’s a familiar figure right on the doorsteps of the main dorm building, one he’s impersonated a number of times with too much ease and a glee that had constantly been tinged with guilt.

So he’s back? Kaito thinks amusedly, and abruptly stops in his tracks when the last conversation they’d had flashes through his mind.

(He remembers meeting the pint-sized detective for the last time; it’d been on the roof of the Suzuki company building, like fate somehow wanted in on the joke that this damn corporation had done in bringing them together, again and again.

But this time, Conan had been waiting on the roof for him, as opposed to actively chasing him. It’d taken him aback for a second, but Kaito had merely plastered on a smirk and tipped his hat in greeting.

Meitantei. You’re rather early. And to think I’d shaken you and the police force off already.”

Conan had watched him quietly, perched on the edge of the roof as Kaito came closer carefully, his glasses nowhere in sight. Kaito had frowned internally at that; it really wasn’t like the detective to appear that defenceless in front of him.

“Kid,” he’d said, hugging his knees to his chest. An irrational flash of fear courses through Kaito; it was an awfully tall building, and he’s not near enough to help if anything were to happen to Conan.

If Conan had shifted just a little further back—

“Is it the one you were looking for?” he added, glancing at Kaito’s breast pocket, where he’d kept the gem of the night.

It was a good thing that Kaito’s hat was pulled low over his face; his eyebrows lifted at Conan’s deduction, but he chuckled instead in reply.

“And if it was?”

Conan hummed.

Kaito started a mental countdown; he just needed about twelve seconds to deploy his paraglide cape and jump off the building, but Conan’s naked face had intrigued him enough that he considered pushing that risk.

“I would say congratulations,” the detective said at last, and then, “And if we were so inclined, I would have asked for your good luck, too.”

“Oh? I don’t really have the best of luck, myself. But I’m not sure you quite need it, Meitantei. Your kicks are lethal enough,” Kaito joked, glancing at him, ready to laugh, but the look on Conan’s face had stopped him.

It was enough to make him walk a little closer, until Conan has to crane his neck up to look at him.

“Meitantei?”

Conan blinked up at him, and in that moment Kaito saw the boy that he’d impersonated on a number of occasions, and the man Conan had been once upon a time. It was even more evident without his glasses, and Kaito had the strangest urge to look for it in Conan’s jacket, just so he wouldn’t have to meet the child’s gaze, because right then, he’d felt pinned down by the intensity in the detective’s eyes.

“If we ever see each other again,” Conan had suddenly said, looking away, into the cloudy night sky, an odd smile on his lips, “If… I am successful in my next venture, I hope to properly meet you as the person I actually am, instead of this tiny body, Kuroba.”

Kaito had had enough practice to keep his poker face intact when Hakuba or Akako would accuse him of the truth, but Conan, knowing his identity?

He hadn’t had the chance to answer then, because the door to the roof had flung open right at that moment, bringing with it over a dozen uniformed officers, as well as a belligerent Detective Nakamori.)

Conan hadn’t come to any of his heists after that, and after three months, Kaito had to concede to the thought that perhaps something had gone terribly amiss with the detective’s secret mission, after all. Perhaps he should have given him whatever luck Kaito didn’t possess.

Perhaps it was easier that way, considering the only people alive who knew of his identity were Jii-chan and his mother, and that was more than enough people he’d constantly put in danger without even counting in people like Aoko.

(Hakuba and Akako don’t count, because it’s not like he’d actually confirmed it to either of them.)

But evidently he’d been wrong, because Kudou Shinichi is standing mere feet away, looking healthy and whole, and Kaito wonders what would happen if he goes up right now and introduces himself to the other man.

And then Kudou turns his head and makes eye contact with Kaito.

In the next second as Kaito blinks, Kudou looks away, but—

There hadn’t been an ounce of recognition in his gaze just then.

What?

***

For a magician, Kaito has the absolute worst luck when it comes to the things that actually matter.

Case in point, the fact that Hakuba’s in front of him, right now.

Linking arms with Aoko, of all people.

“Didn’t get enough of me in high school, Hakuba?” Kaito sneers, as he pauses in his footsteps on his way to his first class, and dodges the punch he sees coming from Aoko.

“Kaito, could you stop being an asshole for five seconds, for once?”

Hakuba only smiles smugly when Kaito fails to sidestep away from his childhood friend’s merciless kick to his side, and yelps in pain, because Aoko’s taken to wearing incredibly pointy shoes (“For fashion, Kaito, not that you’d get it”) these days,  which hurt significantly more than her school shoes ever did.

“On the contrary, this school was my first choice, Kuroba. Plus, wouldn’t it make sense to attend the same university as my girlfriend if given the chance?”

And Aoko says Kaito’s the asshole.

Kaito can hear her cooing as he turns and walks ahead of them, gritting his teeth in annoyance.  To be honest, he doesn’t really give a shit, as long as Aoko’s safe and happy, but… God damn, Hakuba’s a hard pill to swallow. The fact that they’re in the same class as him, judging from how they’re walking right behind him only makes him wishes he’d bothered to take a look at what his other classmates had decided to choose for their universities.

When he finally finds the lecture theatre and steps inside, he immediately wishes it again, only ten times harder.

“Akako-chan, you’re here too?” Aoko squeals in delight as she skips over to their former classmate, who’s surrounded by… Wow, fifteen men, all of them supposedly smart enough to have gotten into university but gullible enough to fall for Akako’s brand of mischief. Akako stands up and deigns to accept Aoko’s exuberant hug, much to the mixed wonder and envy of everyone else around them.

Kaito snorts. “Oi, Hakuba. You should probably rescue your girlfriend.”

“Mmm, I’ve found that she’s more than capable of taking care of herself,” Hakuba answers lightly, as Aoko pulls back from the other woman, all bright smiles and chatter. Kaito shakes his head, fondness snaking its way around his chest, and moves to find a seat that’s not occupied by any lovelorn idiots.

It’s as he’s settled down towards the back of the theatre, at the end of a row of chairs and away from anyone he remotely knows that someone taps him on the shoulder, and asks apologetically, “Sorry, every row’s full except yours. Could I just, ah, slip through?”

He’s definitely mimicked that voice on more than one occasion.

“Yeah, no worries,” Kaito says, grinning as he looks up, and Kudou Shinichi answers him with a quick, “Thanks,” and a small, grateful smile, before he squeezes between Kaito and the chairs in front of him to sit two chairs away.

Kaito takes one glance at him, and exhales quietly. If this doesn’t work, then somehow, something must have happened between the time they’d last met as Kid and Conan, and now, when they’re merely first-year university students, getting ready to study about… Statistics? God, why did he choose to go for further studies in the first place, again?

Jii-chan’s voice comes to mind, and he immediately suppresses it. Right, now or never then. He clears his throat, catching Kudou’s attention.

“By the way, I’m Kuroba. Kuroba Kaito,” Kaito says, extending a hand towards Kudou, who’d looked up at the sound.

“Oh, I’ve heard of you.” Kaito’s heart does a weird somersault and drops in the next instant as Kudou adds, “The magician, right? Kudou Shinichi,” Kudou replies, smiling curiously as he accepts Kaito’s hand in a firm handshake. “Nice to meet you, Kuroba.” And then he turns back to face the instructor who’d just come in through the door in a hurry, and knocking right into the edge of the table with an extremely loud and painful whimper.

But even as the rest of the theatre explodes into titters, with some concerned calls of “Are you okay?”, all Kaito can think of is the fact that somehow, Conan really did manage to keep his word, even if he doesn’t seem to remember it at all. Kudou doesn’t take another look at him throughout the rest of the class, his gaze focused on the lesson, but Kaito’s mind is reeling as he thinks back to every conversation he’s had with the detective.

Fuck, he’s definitely going to have to borrow Aoko’s notes after this.

Wait, how did he know Kaito does magic?

***

“A friend of mine invited me to one of your shows last year,” Kudou explains after class, after he and Hakuba greet each other with an eerie, twin-like “Detective”, “Detective” and a handshake as well for Aoko. (Akako had merely looked at Kudou, found no hint of interest in his demeanour towards her and sort of, disappeared into the shadows.) And then Kudou adds frankly, “I’m not usually entertained by tricks, considering I can see through most of them, but you exceeded my expectations.”

“Perhaps it was just luck,” Hakuba offers and Kaito rolls his eyes, even as he’s trying to tamp down the pride that he’d managed impressed Kudou on some level, just like he had with Conan once.

“You’re just sore that you never got to figure out the finales for any of my shows,” Kaito snaps in annoyance, and Aoko only groans a, “Kaito, normal people don’t actually gloat about their dorky hobbies.”

But Kudou chuckles, and when Kaito glances at him, he’s surprised to see there are differences in the way Conan and Kudou looks, when caught smiling. For one, there are slight wrinkles at the edges of Kudou’s bright blue eyes, his nose slightly scrunched, and while Conan’s smiles (incredibly rare as they were) had been filled with unabashed awe and glee, Kudou’s grin is wide and crooked, like he has a secret to tell.

He kinda wishes he’d be let in on the secret, especially if it concerns why exactly Kudou had forgotten all about him.

Somehow, someone suggests having a meal together sometime soon (Hakuba did, probably to prod at all of Kudou’s well-documented cases in some form of nerdy alpha male showdown); all of them exchange Line accounts and again, even as Kaito calls out a, “See you around, Kudou,” the other man merely smiles and replies, “Likewise, Kuroba,” like that name really didn’t mean anything to him beyond a new acquaintance and a potentially flunking coursemate.

***

Three weeks into the semester and here are the things Kaito’s found out about Kudou:

  1. Kudou Shinichi is charming as fuck. Where Hakuba comes off as smarmy and arrogant, Kudou’s brand of charm straddles the lines of capable confidence and an earnestness that almost veers into the area of noble idiocy.
  2. He can’t function without coffee. They had a makeup lesson for their stats course, the only class they share together and Kudou had turned up looking like one of the corpses he usually encounters on a regular basis. Apparently, he’d just closed the case half an hour before the class, and only had time to shower and go straight to the lesson, which was on a Wednesday at eight in the morning. Somehow, he’d stayed awake throughout everything, but it was a near thing considering how he’d almost walked into three tables on the way out of the theatre.
  3. The man likes lemon pie. Kaito’s more of a chocolate cake guy, but no one’s perfect.
  4. Sometimes, Kudou looks at him and Aoko with an odd expression that’s reminiscent of nostalgia and longing, but it never lasts for more than a split second, so Kaito’s always left wondering if he’d imagined it in the first place.
  5. He doesn’t seem to be interested in anything else beyond classes, his cases, and the meals the four of them share twice, thrice a week, but then again, Kaito’s never seen him anywhere else that wasn’t on campus.

Which is why he’d been startled by a knock on his door, while he’d been lounging in bed and mindlessly flitting through the month’s top international magic acts (“Everyone’s done the walking on water bit, but if you’re going to steal something from Jesus you could have gone the ‘water to wine’ route”), and had opened it to see Kudou Shinichi in a slightly torn suit, the right side slightly bulged out and looking extremely sheepish.

“Did I wake you up?”

“… No. Wait, how did you know where my room was?”

Somehow, Kudou manages to look even more sheepish. “I saw you when we had to register for our dorm rooms that first day, and I asked Aoko as well. I—perhaps this isn’t a good time, I can come back later if you’re not busy—”

“Kudou, it’s past eleven on a Saturday night and I’m in my dorm room. I’m obviously, incredibly busy right now,” Kaito says sarcastically and inwardly grins when Kudou’s eyes narrow at him. Kudou’s leagues better than Hakuba, but that doesn’t mean Kaito’ll ever give up on annoying every single detective in his immediate vicinity.

Before Kudou can say anything, though, the bulge in his clothes shifted, and Kaito takes an involuntary step back, because if Kudou’s harbouring illegal shit due to his work as a detective, he’s not about to have any part of it.

But then Kudou cups the edge of the lump, a quiet, “Hush,” falling from his lips and then a tiny, black, furry face pops out, slow, blinking eyes almost as blue as Kudou’s and nose twitching adorably.

“Kudou, please explain to me why the hell you’ve got a cat in your suit.”

The man sighs, and answers, “I found him at the crime scene earlier, seems like he was either lost or abandoned and I… I couldn’t just leave him there.”

Kaito raises an eyebrow, unwillingly interested in the whole situation at this point. “And you decided to bring the cat to our dorm, which I’m sure you know, doesn’t take kindly to us having pets here.”

Kudou shrugs, and the movement causes the kitten to shift and climb out a bit more, snuffling at his collarbone and Kaito’s loath to admit it, but it’s a terribly adorable sight. “The RA isn’t very big on spot checks, and he’s not very noisy. Hasn’t meowed once the entire way here, which is slightly concerning, but I’ll take him for a check-up in the morning. It’s just that…” This time, Kudou awkwardly rubs at the back of his neck. “I was obviously not prepared for this situation, and I need to get some appropriate cat food, since I forgot to get some on the way back just now.”

Kaito stares at him.

“Kudou, are you asking me to babysit your pet?”

“I—no, I just need you to watch him for fifteen minutes, okay?” Kudou sputters, looking less put together than Kaito’s ever seen him. “I’ve been trying to keep him warm ‘cause I found him in a puddle of all places, but he was shivering pretty badly. I think it’s mostly gone, though,” he muses, and then gently pulls the furball away, cradling it in his palms and pushing it forward to Kaito.

For lack of a better thing to do, Kaito unconsciously accepts the kitten, frowning at how light it feels in his hands. Its fur is slightly matted, but clean enough, and when Kaito brings it close to his chest the thing lets out a small huff and nestles itself between Kaito’s hand and neck.

It shakes a little in his hold, but it’s not shivering, like Kudou said it had, and Kaito looks up to see Kudou smiling slightly at the kitten. He looks besotted by the animal, and Kaito nearly makes fun of him but it’s late, and he’s apparently got a cat to babysit, so he only says, “The nearest combini closes at midnight, you might want to hurry up.”

Kudou blinks at him, and then nods. “Right, I, I’ll be back soon. Just try to keep him warm.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m capable of looking after a furball for at least fifteen minutes,” Kaito teases, and Kudou only snorts before he leaves down the hallway.

Kaito doesn’t really know the first thing about taking care of an animal, but he figures it wouldn’t hurt to swaddle the cat in a towel or something. Except its claws kept getting caught in the fabric and it was restlessly trying to get free of it every other second, so Kaito resorts to lying down on his bed with the kitten tucked against his chest, his covers over the both of them as Kaito opens a new browser and clicks the first interesting show he sees on Netflix. It’s how Kudou finds them when he announces his presence on the other side of the door and Kaito had beckoned him to come in with a, “Door’s open.”

“You two look cozy,” Kudou comments as he closes the door behind him, a small plastic bag in hand.

“Furball fell asleep three seconds after I laid down,” Kaito answers, and carefully moves to sit up, trying not to dislodge it. The cat wakes up anyway, sniffing his neck as it stretches its (tiny, so tiny) body against Kaito, and opens bleary eyes to survey its surroundings.

It starts moving a bit more when Kudou painstakingly pours out some milk for the cat in a plastic bowl he’d gotten, and the cat finishes every last drop of it, before mewing once and falling asleep in Kudou’s lap.

And that’s how Kaito learns yet another thing about Kudou Shinichi that night:

  1. There’s not a single living thing that he doesn’t care about to an extent that borders on too much.

***

Kaito doesn’t really understand how he’d gotten roped into parenting a kitten that looks too much like Kudou Shinichi, but the man starts coming around more often, furball securely wrapped in one of his many cardigans. By the time April ends, Kaito’s got a bowl in the corner of his room as well as an inconspicuous litter box in his bathroom for Nigou when he comes over with Kudou.

(Kaito had named him that, on account of the fact that both the furball and its owner have a scarily striking resemblance. Kudou only rolled his eyes, but he hadn’t refuted.)

On nights when Kudou would study together with him, Nigou curled up in either of their laps, Kaito would think about how unlikely this scenario would have been a few years ago, and it takes everything in him to not ask about his experiences as Conan, and how had he really viewed Kid back then.

Turns out, he didn’t even need to try, because their whole group, including Akako, who’d started joining them recently because, “If Aoko-chan insists,” overhears someone say, “Hey, don’t you think Kaitou Kid’s disappeared for too long this time?” while they’re having lunch in one of the cafeterias on campus one day.

“That’s a name I haven’t heard in a while,” Hakuba comments, looking at him directly.

Aoko sniffs, and says haughtily, “Well, good riddance to him, then, wherever he is right now,” and Kaito has to suppress the urge to laugh right in her face.

But Akako sighs, shaking her head despondently. “It’s a shame. Even if he couldn’t do real magic, his silly tricks were usually a spectacle to watch.”

Silly? Not real magic? “Psh, I could have done way better than that old has-been,” Kaito grins, but it gets wiped away when Aoko sneers at him.

“You keep saying that, but you’ve never even come close to catching him once, Kaito.”

“As if your boyfriend was ever successful!”

Hakuba bristles, but the satisfaction that Kaito gets is short-lived when the blond exhales, and admits, “He was a formidable opponent, and it’s unfortunate that he’s seemed to have disappeared before I could capture him. Kudou, you’ve met him, haven’t you?”

When Kaito turns to the other man, hiding his curiosity because he doesn’t remember ever meeting Kudou Shinichi face to face, Kudou only tilts his head, smiling. “Once, but I was on a helicopter, and didn’t really get a good look at him. I have to admit, though, the canvas with the clock face was a pretty brilliant deception.”

Wait, that was him? Kaito remembers the terror and the thrill colliding with each other as he had to frantically devise a way to get the fuck out before he was captured, and that feeling had sat with him long after the night ended.

(Of course it would be Kudou Shinichi. It didn’t matter what form he took, the man’s intelligence and intuition definitely rivalled Kaito’s own and keep him on his toes every time they clashed.)

“But, ah, my cousin was the bigger fan. He went to a few of his heists, I believe,” Kudou adds, and Kaito’s eyebrows raise at that.

“Conan, right? I believe we met once, he was definitely a highly perceptive child,” Hakuba offers, and Kudou nods, though his nose wrinkles a little. Kaito wonders if it’s because of the way Hakuba had inadvertently referred to him as a kid, and stifles a chuckle at the thought.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as exhilarated and as dejected as he’d ever been after every heist, considering how close he was to catching the Phantom Thief on a few of those occasions,” he continues, and there’s a feeling that’s too close to pride welling up in him when he realises just how much he’s affected the detective, way before they’d even met, formally.

If that’s so, why can’t he remember me then?

“He sounds… Interesting,” Aoko says questioningly, staring at Kudou in confusion.

Kaito laughs at that, and smirks at Kudou. “He’s got pretty good taste. But again, I’d probably be able to sweep the man under a rug with any one of my shows.” He leans a little closer. “How about inviting your cousin to one?”

Kudou looks flustered, but he recovers quickly enough, as expected. “Oh, he’s, um, he moved back to the States, unfortunately. But if he’s ever in town, I’ll let him know.”

Akako turns around at that, and fixes her gaze on Kaito. It’s taken him years to train his body not to flinch every time they make prolonged eye contact, but he’s still uncomfortable under the scrutiny, considering she has tried to kill him before. “When are you going to hold a show again, Kaito? Your last one was a year ago, after all.”

“Summer break, probably. I’ll need time and space, and the dorms aren’t really great for that,” he shrugs, and ducks from the piece of carrot stick that Aoko throws at him. “What the—Aoko!”

“You also need to do well in your classes, Kaito, you’ve been slacking, haven’t you,” his childhood friend admonishes him, and alright, perhaps he’d skipped a couple, but he turns his assignments on time (five minutes to the deadline is still punctual) and his grades are decent.

(He’d only gotten a B- once, but that was because Nigou had puked on his assignment due to an upset tummy, and the only digital copy had mysteriously disappeared on his laptop and he didn’t have time to write everything up from scratch, thanks to asshole professors who insisted they handed in a physical copy of their work at seven in the morning on Saturday.

Kudou had felt bad about that, but it was honestly Kaito’s fault for not being able to say no to the furball’s silent huffs for treats, and Nigou’s fault for being greedy.)

And then Kudou of all people comes to his defence, which stops Kaito right in his tracks of bringing up Aoko’s C+ from her assignment just the other day, still something of a sore spot for her.

“We’ve been studying together regularly, so Kuroba hasn’t actually been slacking very much,” Kudou says calmly, like the others had known about their study-sessions-slash-babysitting-Nigou together all this while.

“I—wait, you have study sessions together?” Aoko asks curiously, frowning.

This time, Kaito takes over and waggles his eyebrows, wrapping an arm around Kudou’s shoulders as he winks at her. “Aww, feeling left out, Aoko?”

His friend flushes, and she turns her nose up at him as she crosses her arms. “We’ve studied in high school together more than enough, I definitely don’t want to relive those days again.”

Kaito sneers, but he pulls away from Kudou, belatedly realizing that they’d never really been in such close proximity to each other, despite having spent a lot of time together, recently.

The matter gets dropped as soon as Akako flips her hair and stands up, drawing the attention of the usual trail of boys around her. “Well, I hate to run, but I’ve got somewhere to be, unfortunately. I’ll see you around, and I’m holding you to that summer show, Kaito,” she smirks, and walks away in a cloud of sweet perfume and a huddle of star-struck expressions following her every step.

Hakuba and Aoko leave soon after, and then it’s just Kaito and Kudou, who looks at him pensively.

It sends a flurry of self-consciousness down Kaito’s neck, but he suppresses it, and tilts his head at Kudou. “Something on your mind?”

The man hums, a barely-there smile on his lips as he asks, “Will you really do that show?”

Kaito blinks, and feels himself breaking into a wide grin. “Wow, did I really wow you that much, detective?”

(He nearly slips, his moniker for Conan at the edge of his tongue, but he’d rather not let Kudou know about their intertwined pasts. Not in this manner, at least, when they’ve just established some sort of rapport as fellow university students and co-parents of a stray furball.)

Kudou’s reaction doesn’t disappoint, as he rolls his eyes in mild annoyance (and is that fondness as well? Kudou’s expressions are layered, fleeting, and Kaito’s observation skills are always put to the test when it comes to parsing the detective’s emotions) and purses his lips. “It was probably a fluke, a regrettable mistake on my part,” he replies calmly, and shit, it’s been a long, long while since those blue eyes have held such fire, directed at him. “I’ll be sure to not slip up again.”

Kaito feels his smile getting bigger as he leans back, rubbing at his chin just for the hell of it. “Ah, can’t disappoint my favourite detective now, can I?”

Kudou’s eyes widen a fraction. “I’m your favourite?”

And oops, he’s said that to Conan once, hasn’t he? He recalls saying something to that extent, at least. And it’s as true now as it was then. But Kaito only flaps a hand, and says dismissively, “Well, the only other ones I know are Hakuba and Aoko’s father, and they’re definitely not any favourite of mine.”

The odd tension breaks as suddenly as it had appeared, and Kudou laughs, all crinkles and soft huffs. “That’s mean, Kuroba.”

“Yes, doesn’t mean I’m not right, Kudou. Now come on, we’ve both got an hour until our next classes and I reserved a catnap with the furball.”

“You spoil Nigou too much.”

“Says the man that’s got an entire drawer filled with cat toys hidden under his criminology textbooks.”

***

Kaito starts taking Nigou out for walks at night, right when May begins, out in the compound of the dorms, when he’s no longer stumbling about on the floor of their rooms and he figures the open air would do the cat some good, instead of being cooped up all the time. They stay away from the brightly lit areas, because as lacking in discipline their RA is, they’d rather not risk anyone else in the dorms finding out about Nigou.

Kudou hasn’t joined yet, but that’s because he’s always got a case or three piled up, and Kaito doesn’t really mind the excuse to escape his books.

It’s as he’s trying to get some weird-looking twig out of Nigou’s mouth (“Come on, furball, I really don’t want to deal with your vomit again”) that Kudou actually shows up on the fourth night that Kaito brings Nigou out, fresh from a case and watching the both of them with raised eyebrows and—

“Holy shit, Kudou, that’s some shiner,” Kuroba gasps incredulously, as the moonlight illuminates the detective’s face enough to show a purple eye and a scratched up cheek, and the first thing he does is laugh hysterically, because what the hell. It has the added benefit of startling Nigou enough that he final lets go of the twig, and Kaito straightens up, bringing the squirming furball in his arms.

“I’m glad me being unable to see out of my left eye amuses you, Kuroba,” Kudou says dryly, but his lips are twitching anyway as he reaches out to stroke Nigou’s head.

“Come on, you’ve probably got a first aid kit in your room, right?”

“Sound deduction, have you been learning from someone?”

“And I wonder why you’d get beaten up.”

They sneak Nigou in, past a few vaguely familiar students in the common room, and head up towards Kudou’s room on the second floor, and Kuroba can’t help but give the other man side glances at the way he walks a little stiffly, favouring his left leg. There’s obviously some other shit besides Kudou’s eye that’s already started to swell, but Kuroba keeps it to himself.

If Kudou doesn’t tell him, he’s not going to push.

Five minutes later, he’s thinking of retracting that idea, because he’s sat in front of the detective in his study chair, with Nigou kneading his claws in Kaito’s jeans, the both of them watching Kudou gingerly poke at the still-bleeding, albeit tiny gashes beneath his eye with a cotton swab, one hand holding up a cold compress to his eye and nearly blinding himself while obviously trying not to agitate all the injured parts of his body.

It pains Kaito enough that he sighs, and moves with Nigou to sit on the bed beside Kudou, placing the furball in his lap instead before grabbing the cotton swab from him.

“Kuroba, I can do this myself—”

“Nope,” Kaito interrupts firmly, shaking his head. “I’d rather not see you try to poke your own eye out when I’m perfectly capable enough to clean up those scratches.”

And Kudou honest to God pouts, but it makes for a ridiculous sight with the cold compress and the way half of his face looks like it got ran over by a damn truck, so Kaito only rolls his eyes and gets to work, swiping a clean cotton bud from the pile and applying a bit of alcohol on it.

Frankly, Kaito muses, as Kudou bites down on his lip, soft hisses escaping him as he jerks, every time Kaito presses a little more firmly, the man’s taking it remarkably well.

It doesn’t mean he still can’t tease him, though.

“Stop whining and stay still; you’re setting a bad example for Nigou.”

He looks down at the cat, who’s contentedly licking its fur, paying no attention to either of them. Kaito wishes he has the same amount of ‘who gives a fuck’ air, but that would mean having to watch Kudou try to treat his injuries without intervening, and that ship’s long sailed by now.

The detective sighs, but makes an attempt to reduce his aborted, jerky motions, and Kaito hums, gentling his actions in return. Soon enough, he manages to swipe on some antibiotic ointment, before applying a bandage over the scrapes.

“Good as new,” Kaito declares at last, stepping back and glancing at the cold compress on Kudou’s eye. “Well, not really. You took a pretty bad hit, there. I wouldn’t have pegged you for being someone who’d get involved in a fight.”

“It was less of a fair fight and more of a disgruntled victim,” Kudou shrugs, and Kaito’s eyes narrow.

“The victim did this to you?”

Kudou chuckles, but there’s no hint of humour in his tone. “It was either that, or accept that her fiancé had fucked halfway through her women’s minor baseball team and murdered two of them.” He traces the edge of the bandage on his cheek, and adds lightly, “He was definitely well off, though. That diamond ring hurt.”

Kaito watches him, as he lets Nigou sniff at his fingers for attention, the furball burrowing its face into Kudou’s stomach and hearing the detective mutter a, “Oi, that tickles, silly,” and lets the cat have its way anyway.

“Do you get hurt like this, often?” Kaito doesn’t know why the words slip out of his mouth, because the obvious answer is yes, of course, Kudou is a fucking genius when it comes to just about everything, but it doesn’t make him any less human, any less vulnerable and anything could happen to him, knowing just how reckless the other man can be.

(Something must have happened to him, between the last time Kaito had met him and the day Kudou Shinichi met Kaito for the first time.)

This time when Kudou laughs, there’s less of that weird, dryness that seems to scrape at his throat, and he fixes his gaze somewhere on his table, his smile a little more genuine.

“I’m not a masochist, Kuroba.”

Kaito smirks, because Kudou’s always so, so open to attacks when it comes to shit like this. “I mean, I’m not trying to kink shame you, detective—”

“Fuck off,” Kudou interrupts cheerfully, and Kaito giggles. God, Kudou never disappoints. “I was… A little tired, and said some things that could have been worded a lot differently,” he continues, shifting the compress and wincing. “I… There was someone before, that would tell me if I was being too insensitive, but we had a sort of falling out.”

Kaito hums, and coaxes Nigou to come over to his side as he asks innocently, “Let me guess, you were being insensitive to them?”

It startles a bark of laughter from Kudou and causes Nigou to jerk, before burrowing itself in the folds of Kaito’s shirt.

“Probably in their opinion, yeah. I kept something really important from them, and when they found out about the secret, they, well. It wasn’t—I mean, we’re, ah, still friends, fortunately. But I don’t think they can trust me anymore, not that I blame them, really.”

Kudou quiets after that, both eyes closed as he switches hands to hold up the cold compress, fingers shivering slightly.

There are a lot of things that Kaito wants to tell the detective, how he’s pretty sure what his secret is, and how it does nothing to deter him from annoying the absolute shit out of Kudou on a regular basis, that Kudou doesn’t understand social tact sometimes but it doesn’t matter when he overworks himself constantly for the sake of the cases, the police force, for the victims’ closure. That Kaito’ll listen to his maudlin musings and actually make an effort to only tease the man half of the time.

Instead, he goes with, “I think we’re both out of kitty litter.”

“… Damn it, Kuroba. You could have told me earlier while I was out.”

“Nigou could probably hold it until the morning, he went behind the bushes near the back of the building earlier. But you still get him tonight, though. I’ve got a paper that’s, uh…” Kaito winces as he checks his phone. “Due in like, eight hours, fuck.”

Kudou kicks him out soon after that, but before he closes the door, the detective stares at him, long enough for Kaito to have to draw out his poker face at the odd scrutiny, just so Kudou wouldn’t see just how uncomfortable he’s feeling at the other man’s undivided attention right then.

Finally, he blinks, smiling and says, “Thank you for the help, Kuroba. And for, ah, listening as well. Ignoring the obvious pain in my face, this was a pretty okay night.”

It’s a smile that Kaito’s not familiar with, soft and small. He’s not quite sure why, but his throat goes dry at the sight, and it takes him a second to realise that Kudou’s probably waiting for a response.

“Uh, no problem, I guess. Night, Kudou. Hope your eye gets better soon.”

“Mm, not for a few days, probably, but thanks anyway. Good night, Kuroba.”

And then the door closes, and Kaito’s left wondering if he should have said something more. It’s not until he heads to his room and goes online that he realises what the date actually is, and groans in frustration as he reads the congratulatory wishes on Kudou’s profile.

On a whim, he texts Kudou.

Oh my god, why didn’t you tell me, asshole?

12.34am

You’ll have to specify what you mean, Kuroba.

12.35am

12.37am

Kudou.

12.37am

I hope it was a good birthday, despite the shiner.

12.38am

It was, thank you.

12.40am

Now do your paper, or would you also like a lecture on how you’re setting a bad example for Nigou?

12.40am

Shut up, it’s not your birthday anymore, go to sleep

12.41am

I’ll get the kitty litter tomorrow

12.44am

Kudou grins at him when he meets the rest of them for lunch the next day, the lemon pie Kaito had left in the detective’s room now in his hand, and Kaito finds himself wondering about all the different ways Kudou smiles, and how many of those he’s still keeping hidden from him.

***

Aoko finds out about Nigou first.

Or rather, Hakuba had apparently deduced the existence of the furball weeks ago, but he’d only told Aoko recently and she’d come by to confirm it by crashing one of their study sessions together.

And then, as she’s busy cooing over Nigou on the floor of Kudou’s room, the cat seemingly ambivalent at the attention but acquiescing to the petting, she freezes, and frowns at Kaito, unaware of Nigou butting his head against her hands.

“Wait, so when you blew me off last week to take care of ‘Kudou Jr’, this was what you’d meant?”

Kaito breaks into hysterical laughter, as Kudou sighs heavily, as if the entire earth’s weight was upon his shoulders. “What the hell, Kuroba.”

“Am I wrong, though?” Kaito insists, and shit, okay, he’s got to stop laughing, his abs are fucking hurting, but he can’t resist adding in, “You look just like Nigou!”

“… I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to be the other way round.”

The next time Aoko comes by, the drawer of cat toys in Kudou’s room becomes an entire box of miscellaneous pet contraptions, but Nigou’s favourite thing is still one of Kudou’s shoelaces that he’d chewed up to hell and back. Neither of them lament about the waste of toys, because by this point Kaito will readily admit that Nigou is without a doubt, the best cat to have ever existed, even if he’s scratched up both of their sheets to hell and refuses to eat anything that isn’t chicken and tuna flavoured.

The furball still rarely meows, but that’s a good thing in their opinion, because it’s getting bigger now, and it’s more difficult to hide and sneak it out at nights, especially as May ends and the weather starts turning a little balmy, disregarding any use for jackets or cardigans. Kudou starts carrying a bag for the sole purpose of carrying Nigou out, and Kaito can’t help but compare him to the ladies uptown with their poodles and Pomeranians in their handbags, both dog and owner groomed to the nines.

He’s starting to realise that for all that he knows about Conan, which is admittedly, still very little, he’s never actually felt as real as Kudou does right now, sat beside him and teasing Nigou with a leaf he’d found as the cat rolls around between his legs, that fond smile he reserves for the furball clear as day on his face. This is the most relaxed he’s seen Kudou, shoulders slumped and his mind racing lesser than usual.

It makes Kaito finally ask:

“You were gone for a while from the whole detective scene, weren’t you? Did you do, like, a study abroad thing?”

He’s loathe to see those shoulders tense, and he knows he’s treading dangerous territory, but Kaito is nothing if not daringly reckless to a fault, and curiosity eats at him as he watches Kudou freeze, figuring out what he’s able to say to Kaito without giving away too much.

“… Something like that,” Kudou finally answers, letting go of the leaf and allowing Nigou to nibble at his fingers. “I… I got mixed up in a bit of trouble with some rather unsavoury people, and there were complications from that, so I thought it was best to lay low. It’s all over now, of course.”

Laying low isn’t the first thing I’d think of when it comes to Conan, Kaito thinks, but he nods, his lips quirked up as Nigou finally tires of headbutting Kudou’s knees and ambles over towards him, sniffing at his pockets for treats, no doubt.

He really is like Kudou, he muses, as he takes out some sort of chewable and lets Nigou have it, resigned to the fact that the furball is the best cat in the world, but it’s also undoubtedly one of the most spoiled ones as well.

He can feel Kudou watching him, but Kaito can’t say anything, because Kudou’s explanation is acceptable enough, but it’s far from what the man must have gone through as Conan, except he can’t know that, because he doesn’t know the Kuroba that had donned a white suit and a hang glider cape, who’d look for ways to stun and amaze the young boy Conan pretended to be.

Finally, he merely says, “Some study trip. You probably terrorized the foreign police force there whenever you could.”

Kudou bursts into laughter, the sound brighter than anything else.

“What about you?” The detective asks, once he’s calmed down slightly. “What made you decide to do magic?”

And that’s how they end up staying out until past two in the morning, debating the merits of Robbins and Holmes (“He was a cocaine addict, Kudou,” and refuted with “No one’s perfect, least of all that mere pickpocket of yours”). They only stop because Kudou starts yawning through every other sentence, and Nigou’s long past making himself comfortable on Kudou’s lap, purring loudly in contentment.

Kaito tells himself that he’s only walking Kudou to his room to make sure the man doesn’t trip over anything in his sleepiness and squash the furball in the process, plus, his room is on the floor above anyway, but it’s hollow reasoning, and it’s a miracle that Kudou doesn’t catch it, as sleep-deprived as the man probably is.

It’s when Kudou calls out a sleepy, hushed “Good night, Kuroba,”, his eyes drooping and his smile wide and relaxed and unfamiliar yet again, as he shuts the door between them, that Kaito’s suddenly struck with the stupidly absurd thought that all he wants right now, is to be on the other side of that closed door.

***

So, he’s got a crush on Kudou Shinichi.

He’s not quite certain when that happened, but there’s no mistaking the flip in his chest every time Kudou grins at him these days, when he’s bested Kaito in a quiz, or when he catches the detective rubbing his face in Nigou’s fur and all Kudou does is smile sheepishly, and it takes everything in Kaito not to smile back helplessly, now that he’s made fully aware of his less than platonic feelings for the other man.

Kaito’s also at a loss as to what to do.

The detective has never actively shown any interest in anyone (despite both Aoko and Hakuba’s attempts). Plus, any non-platonic feelings he’s ever had for Aoko were well buried under a mountain of ‘just keep her safe’ throughout his time as Kid, before it eventually fizzled, so it’s not as if he knows the protocol for figuring out just how he’d actually gone and fallen for someone else, much less his former rival.

(His former rival; that has a rather lovely ring to it.)

But this means that he constantly has to pull on a poker face every time Kudou gets too close, whether it’s during their lunches with the others, sat side by side and elbows occasionally bumping into each other; or while they’re studying together, him sprawled on the floor and Kudou sat on his bed and leaning over Kaito’s shoulders to look at his notes, with Nigou walking over their papers and books and thinking their laptops were his personal heat pads.

It’s worse now, because he’s starting to notice all these little, stupid details about Kudou that should be inconsequential, but his mind’s decided that they deserve a prime spot in the forefront of his mind, at all hours of the day.

Like how Kudou rubs at his chin like he’s actually Sherlock fucking Holmes when he’s thinking deeply about something, and it should look stupid and idiotic, but it only amps up his adorable nerd factor somehow.

Or how he’s got this odd habit of fiddling with the ends of his bangs, and Kaito assumes it’s because he’s used to his glasses as Conan, and it’s disgusting how that endears him even more.

And sometimes, when Kudou comes back from his cases late at night and Kaito’s out in the dorm compound with the furball, he brings back a cold carton of chocolate milk, because, “I had to get some coffee anyway.”

And all Kaito can reply to that is, “You’re an addict, Kudou,” because he’s almost twenty and very much still in the ‘pull their pigtails’ phase.

Just as he starts to think that perhaps nobody would ever find out about this weird pining he’s started to develop for the detective, that thought gets instantly derailed by Akako literally materializing from the shadows and scaring the shit out of him, while he’s trying to get Nigou to not shit on the flowerbeds.

“What the—God damn it, Akako, you can’t just do that!”

The woman smirks, and Kaito actively tries to ignore the fact that she’s kind of… Floating. Witchcraft, no matter how he looks at it, just isn’t the same as magic, and never fails to give him the creeps.

“Waiting for the detective, Kaito?”

Kaito frowns. He is, in a way, but Akako really doesn’t need to know that. “I’ve mentioned that I let the furball out pretty much every night, right? Doesn’t really matter if Kudou’s here or not.”

Akako hums, slowly crouching down. Nigou turns at the sound of her voice, and lazily walks up to her, letting her hands scratch its ears and purrs like a rumbling engine, obviously contented.

Kaito can only stare at the traitor, and resolves to not give the furball snacks for the next three days.

“Why are you here anyway?” He asks after a while, as Akako allows Nigou to nose at her fingers.

“Cats have the keenest senses when it comes to real magic,” she replies lightly, sidestepping the question. Kaito makes sure she can see him rolling his eyes in her peripheral vision.

“And… I wanted to let you know, that you look at Kudou the way Aoko-chan used to look at you, you know,” she adds, smiling widely. “I’m just wondering how that feels like, for you.”

Kaito’s not often speechless.

“I’ve got no idea what you’re on about,” he finally exhales, but the damage is done, because Akako titters, like it’s the most hilarious thing she’s ever heard.

She straightens up, still giggling, and when Kaito looks down Nigou’s chewing on a treat, eyes closed and heedless of everything else around it. “Damn it, Akako, he just had dinner,” he mutters as he goes over to the furball, and fails to coax it to give up the snack.

He doesn’t get a reply though.

When he looks up again, there’s no one around, and Kaito sighs. Fucking witchcraft.

He brings Nigou back to his room after a few more minutes, figuring that Kudou would be stuck at his case later than he’d thought, but when the time on his phone indicates that it’s closer to early morning than it is midnight, there’s a quiet knock on his door. Kaito takes a second to make sure Nigou’s out of sight, but he needn’t have bothered.

“I wasn’t expecting a booty call,” Kaito greets the detective jokingly when he opens the door.

But Kudou doesn’t reply him, heading straight for the furball, who’s under the covers of Kaito’s bed, and Kaito swallows as he watches Kudou toe off his shoes and climbs under the sheets, curled up with Nigou cradled against his chest, his breathing shaky and his face hidden in the cat’s fur.

“… Kudou?”

The man looks up, and Kaito’s breath hitches at the cracks in the calm expression Kudou’s desperately hanging on to, his eyes dull and his lips pulled tight, like if he says anything, everything will break loose.

“Sorry,” Kudou rasps at last, and clears his throat. “I didn’t mean to hijack your bed. Or Nigou, for that matter.”

Kaito shakes his head, because it doesn’t matter what Kudou does, as long as it’ll wipe away that godawful look on his face. He takes a step forward, and when Kudou doesn’t say anything, he plants himself at the other end of the bed, watching the other man closely as he continues to cuddle the furball, who’s started purring at this point.

“Bad case?” He asks quietly.

Kudou looks away, and absently strokes Nigou as he sighs, the sound like shutters against a tempest, rattled and heavy. “She died the day before she turned 10,” he starts, and Kaito flinches at the blunt words. “She… She looked a lot like someone I know. Long black hair, pale skin. Apparently she was a judo prodigy,” he adds, letting out a hollow chuckle, pulling his head back slightly when the furball starts squirming.

“It’s not the first time I’ve encountered a child’s death, not by a long shot, but a suicide? At such a young age?” Kudou shakes his head, and places Nigou on his lap as he grips at the bedsheets. “It’s rare—but not rare enough.”

Kaito frowns, and welcomes the furball into his arms as it wanders over towards him. “I thought you mostly just worked on murder cases?”

“I do,” Kudou says, nodding. “She was… She was supposed to be a witness, but she’d gone missing and I—I was too late.”

The silence that follows his words is enough to choke.

Kaito understands near misses, mistakes that couldn’t be avoided, no matter how much luck or how much effort one had put in; success was a fickle fortune granted by an equally fickle force, and right now, there’s nothing he can say that would make Kudou understand that he’d still done his best, because tonight, his best wasn’t good enough.

It takes everything in him to not crawl closer, just to wipe the sorrow off of Kudou’s face, but he settles with a squeeze of the man’s arm, and only says, “I’m sorry you had to deal with that, Kudou.”

“If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else. And I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.” Kudou shrugs, and Kaito knows the man really does mean his words. It only makes Kaito more determined that he would wish it, no matter how abhorrent and terrible the thought, because he’s starting to realise that he’d do anything to see Kudou healthy, and sane, and not emotionally traumatized for once.

It’s bad enough that he can’t say the same for himself.

(They make a right broken pair, he thinks, and stifles a hysterical snort at the image.)

Kaito’s loathe to let Kudou leave, but his bed is tiny, and there’s no spare futon, so he exhales heavily, standing up and clasping the detective’s shoulder.

“You should probably get some rest, detective,” he says, tilting his head to the side as he takes in the dark shadows under Kudou’s bright, blue eyes. “Do some of that self-care shit that Aoko’s always on about. Warm shower, fresh clothes, hmm?”

Kudou blinks up at him, and Kaito suppresses the insane urge to stroke his cheek and put him to bed himself, right the fuck now.

“… Perhaps you’re right,” Kudou says at last, and finally breaks into the first smile Kaito’s seen on him all day. It’s still not right, cracked and trembling, but it’s enough to make Kaito see the strength that pushes Kudou to keep running to his cases, no matter what horrors he encounters. “I—could I take Nigou with me, tonight?” He asks, and Kaito knows the only way the man’s ever going to get any semblance of sleep is with the furball in his bed, so he doesn’t even bother arguing.

“Akako dropped by earlier and gave him a treat, so he’s not allowed another one until after his lunch tomorrow,” Kaito replies, and Kudou’s eyebrows rise. “Don’t ask me why.”

Fortunately, Kudou leaves it at that, and he leaves the room with Nigou, but not before pausing in the doorway, the hallway barely lit and his expression slightly hidden in the dim light as he says, “Someday, I’d like to tell you about that study abroad thing I did.”

Kaito hopes the detective doesn’t catch the trepidation his words bring, as he replies, “Looking forward to it. Night, detective, furball.”

“Good night, Kuroba,” Kudou replies, waving Nigou’s paw at him and walks away, and Kaito’s room has never felt emptier.

***

Kudou doesn’t lapse into another emotional breakdown after that, but that’s because summer break’s around the corner, which should be a good thing, except—

Exams, he’s beginning to rediscover, are a bitch.

June kicks off with assignment deadlines, projects, and the start of mid-terms, and Kaito’s really starting to regret enrolling in university in the first place.

(Except, he’s not. Because of one single reason that constantly keeps him on his toes when it comes to their grades, their banter, and how he pouts at Kaito when he successfully lures Nigou away from him.)

It’s not that studying isn’t easy; it’s easy enough that it’s tedious, and annoying, and he only cracks his books in front of Aoko to dodge her punches.

On the other hand, Kudou doesn’t even seem to understand the concept of breaks, because the only time he’s seen the guy sleep these days is during his catnaps with Nigou, and somehow Kaito’s been tasked with making sure he keeps Kudou alive, by Hakuba, of all people.

(“I’m certain that’s his third coffee for the day, and it’s barely past ten in the morning, Kuroba.”

“Kudou’s not a child, he’s perfectly capable of taking care of himself.”

“Then please explain to me why he’s just downed an entire cup of iced espresso, and is heading over to the counter to get presumably another one of those concoctions.”

“What—Kudou, oh my god.”)

Not that Kaito had needed much convincing, in the first place.

The detective, as apparent as it is to everyone, is a fucking genius in everything, except when it came to a passable study-work-life balance. It gets bad enough that Kaito resorts to banning him from going to cases during their mid-terms week, and Kudou looks about five seconds from losing it, brows furrowed and his face carefully blank.

“You understand what you’re asking of me, right?” He says harshly, and Kaito rolls his eyes, because he’s forgotten just how dramatic Kudou gets when he’s sleep deprived and running on fumes.

“Completely. You look like one of your corpses, Kudou, and I’m not about to let you actually become one of them, no matter how much you seem to love them,” Kaito replies dryly. When Kudou doesn’t look like he’s going to budge, Kaito sighs, and resorts to the big guns.

“You’re only with Nigou when you need to sleep, and that’s barely half an hour each time. The furball’s starting to claw at my table because it’s fucking bored out of its mind and I won’t bring up the cat toys to my room, because there are principles, Kudou,” he hisses, as Nigou bats at his shoelaces.

At that, Kudou looks slightly mollified.

And then Kaito adds exasperatedly, “It’s just four days, Kudou. I know you’re gonna wipe the exams with your brains, but only if you stay awake long enough that.”

Kudou finally sighs, shaking his head. “Coffee’s a miracle worker, Kuroba, I’ll be fine.”

“Kudou, I had to tell you that your shirt was inside out this morning.”

“But that was a lie!”

“Still made you check, though.” And Kaito can’t help but smile smugly when Kudou doesn’t even bother refuting the fact.

To be honest, he’s surprised the detective had caved in somewhat easily—he’d been prepared to withhold parenting rights over Nigou, since “a responsible dad doesn’t collapse in his blood-covered suit at four in the morning, Kudou.”

Kaito also feels a little guilty, because—

He’s taken to fiddling with his cards again, after months of debating whether it was finally safe enough to truly embrace his persona as Kid, and make him bend to Kaito’s own will and vision for his magic.

It’s not as if he’s neglecting his studies, but he’s prepared to admit that he looks through the password-encrypted hidden folder on his laptop a little too often, filled with all sorts of reference materials for the magic show he’d promised his friends, and he’s absolutely itching to go back and practice his craft again.

But the mid-terms arrive, and he gets through them with only some minor difficulties (seriously, statistics is not his best subject), and when they gather for their last lunch before summer break, Kaito tells them to keep June 21 free.

Aoko teases him good-naturedly, tells him, “You’re dumb, Kaito, but even you would know that birthdays are for you to receive gifts, not give them.”

“Your applause and Hakuba’s dumbstruck face will be more than enough of a present for me, Aoko.”

“… I accept your challenge, Kuroba. Kudou?”

When Kaito turns to look at him, heart pounding and trying not to look too eager, he’s greeted with that familiar fire that burns Kaito up, the way Kudou looks at him like he can’t wait to take him apart and solve him to his heart’s content, his smile ambitious and looking entirely too pretty for Kaito to deal with right now.

“I look forward to dismantling your tricks, Kuroba.”

And that same fire lights that dark recklessness in Kuroba, the need to impress and entertain, and he’s never felt it this strongly, but leave it to Kudou to defy all expectations.

They part ways that weekend, the summer heat beating down on them as they walk Kudou to the train station, Nigou safely tucked in Kaito’s bag because Kudou can’t bring him back on the train (“You needn’t bother—”, “But we’ll only see one another at Kaito’s show during the whole break!”), and to everyone’s surprise, Kudou winds up inviting all of them to his home, about three hours away by train, and “Only if you’re up for it, though, I understand it’s a little far from the rest of you.”

Before anyone else can answer, Kaito grins cheekily, slinging an arm around Kudou’s shoulders as he gasps dramatically. “The Detective of the East? Inviting us to his private home? You should let us know beforehand what you’re hiding, so we can be prepared. It’s a secret sex dungeon, isn’t it? Or, actually—”

He blinks in surprise as his voice gets muffled by Kudou’s warm palm.

“For the love of god, please stop talking.”

It takes him half a second to react appropriately and laughs, throwing his head back, the feeling of Kudou’s hand still tingling on his lips long after the other man has placed his hand back by his side. Hakuba and Aoko leave first, their hands linked and Kaito wondering when his disgust at the sight had turned into some sort of misplaced envy on missing out on that particular experience with a certain somebody.

Nigou chooses that point to stick its head out of the bag, blinking lazily and looking at both of them expectantly.

Kaito can’t even bring himself to tease Kudou when the man automatically reaches out to scratch the furball’s chin.

“I’ll miss you,” Kudou says to the furball, and Kaito has a split second to internally yell at himself for being jealous over a cat. And then Kudou looks up, grinning. “You as well, but a little less, I’d say.”

It’s a testament to Kaito’s impeccable poker face that he merely smirks, glad that his hair’s messy and overgrown enough to hide the undeniable flush of his ears.

“Mean, Kudou. And here I was going to offer to bring him over when we visit you.”

If Kaito had known his words would prompt that disgustingly adorable smile on Kudou’s face, cheeks pink and his eyes sparkling, he would have said it a lot earlier. As it is, Kudou strokes the furball’s head and quietly, happily replies, “Oh. I… I’d like that.”

Kaito grins back. “I’ll try to keep him alive until then. Your train’s arriving any minute, so we’ll see you at the show?”

The detective nods, stroking Nigou’s fur once more before he straightens up and takes a step back. “Looking forward to it. Good luck preparing for the show, Kuroba.”

Kaito waves a hand dismissively, shaking his head ruefully. “I don’t really have the best of luck, but thank you.”

But Kudou stares at him for a beat longer than normal, and slowly says, “I feel like you’ve said that before, but I can’t remember when.”

He frowns, and then—

“I don’t really have the best of luck, myself. But I don’t think you quite need it, Meitantei.”

Kaito hides his shock under a placating hum and shrugs, his mind reeling when he realises when exactly he’d said that before.

“Before an exam, maybe?”

Thankfully, the detective nods, but he still looks unsure. The weird moment gets broken up by the announcement of Kudou’s train arriving, and Kaito bids him goodbye as he wills himself to not run the fuck out of there, lest Kudou’s memories somehow rematerialize themselves. He places a trembling hand on Nigou’s fur, forces his body to remain relaxed in case Kudou looks back, and it’s only when he’s back above ground and out of the detective’s sight that Kaito lets himself release a huge sigh.

“Fuck, that was close,” he mutters, and Nigou sneezes.

He glances around at the busy street, and grins as he catches the sight of a dark blue car at the end of the block, and hurries his steps, careful not to jostle the furball. He doesn’t bother announcing his arrival to the driver, opening the car door and cheerfully slides into the backseat, stroking Nigou’s fur to calm the furball down as he takes it out of the bag and places it on his lap.

“I wasn’t aware you’d be bringing a guest with you, young master,” the driver greets him, and Kaito smirks.

“Eh, the furball’s a special case.” As if on cue, Nigou huffs, and nibbles at his fingers, but Kaito doesn’t pay it any mind. Instead, he leans forward, clasping a hand on the driver’s shoulder as he says, “It’s been a while, old man. You ready for the show?”

And Jii-chan turns around, eyes twinkling as he smiles widely, excitement visible on his expression, and it takes everything in Kaito to not tell him to speed home, to the basement of his house and the workshop that’s left abandoned for too many months, the very essence of everything that makes him feel alive waiting for his touch again.

He doesn’t bother holding back his own grin, wide and ludicrous, as Jii-chan replies firmly, “Always, young master.”