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10 a.m. on the third Saturday of April finds Kudō Shinichi at a two-seater table in the corner of a modest coffee shop in the heart of Tokyo. As he sips on his larger-than-life-sized cup of iced coffee with a splash of coconut water, he wonders why he isn’t at home or working on another case whether it be from a client or as a police consultant—didn’t Sato mention something about a possible serial killer on their hands?

And then he looks across from him and remembers the out-of-the-blue text he had received last night at 23:57 from one Kuroba Kaito. Right. That is why he’s here. Because Kuroba had asked him to come and Shinichi found it hard to say no.

(There’s something about Kuroba that Shinichi has never been able to understand—

—and it’s just so exciting.

Each time they meet, he always leaves asking himself why he feels drawn to Kuroba. There’s a sense of familiarity surrounding him. Shinichi might have asked the magician to meet up if only to satisfy his own curiosity; however, his awkward nature and Kuroba’s obvious discomfort around him have been more than enough to dissuade the idea.

Speaking of, why…?)

Warily, he eyes the mocha frappucino with a very generous chocolate drizzle over two pumps of non-fat whipped cream that Kuroba ordered and then looks down at his own very plain iced coffee. Quietly, he takes another sip while Kuroba snaps a few pictures of his (admittedly) aesthetically pleasing concoction. His watch tells him that it’s been fifteen minutes since they both ordered their drinks.

Kuroba hasn’t said a word.

Shinichi just wants to leave.

“Are you going to tell me why I’m here?” he asks, silently tacking on a vaguely annoyed instead of literally anywhere else, but preferably at the station at the end, but he refrains because it’s not like anyone is going to miss him—except maybe Takagi, but that man is just as concerned about him overworking himself as the others, which is totally illogical because even he knows his limits.

(Or rather, he learned his limits during a bomb scare that occurred not long after he had returned from being Conan. Haibara had given him the clear to make his return as Kudō Shinichi public. Quickly, he had learned of the bomber and had turned to Megure to request his permission to participate as a consultant when Kogorō’s help proved useless. The incident had him running on nothing but coffee for three straight days because the bomber had decided to use obscure folk tales as hints to bomb locations. Admittedly, Shinichi remembers very little about those three days.

He does recall finding himself trapped with the final bomb. Shinichi, who is still growing used to not having to rely on himself, had run off to the bomb’s location once he had solved the riddle. It didn’t occur to him that he could request for back-up and have people listen.

Megure still holds it over his head to this day.)

“Want half of my bagel?” Kuroba asks, dodging the question. “Cinnamon raisin with strawberry cream cheese.”

Shinichi wrinkles his nose. He never liked raisins. And eating in the mornings makes him sick. “No thanks. Can you just answer my question?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Kuroba says, waving him off. Shinichi quirks his left brow. “Just… just gimme a sec.” He huffs. “The lighting here sucks.”

“I’ve given you at least 900 of those—seconds, I mean,” he quips, only pausing to do the math. Kuroba snorts before his phone disappears with a flick of his wrist. Shinichi blinks, momentarily baffled, but shakes his head. Absently, he notes that, despite knowing Kuroba’s interest, he had never seen the magician doing any sort of tricks. Instead of pointing that out, he asks, “Is it a case?”

Kuroba looks at him and rolls his eyes with enough exaggeration that would make Shinichi’s own over-the-top mother proud.

Detectives,” he says, sounding just as exasperated as he does amused. The overdramatic way Kuroba slaps the back of his hand to his forehead makes Shinichi roll his own eyes. “You go out of your way to ask them to hang out once and they think it’s a case!”

He’s probably talking from experience, Shinichi thinks, only half-listening to Kuroba and his ramblings. He remembers how he had met Kuroba through fellow detective Hakuba Saguru. Apparently those two had attended the same high school and have never gotten along swimmingly—something about a really bad first impression and baseless accusations according to Kuroba; Hakuba just pinches the bridge of his nose and changes the topic.

Now, Shinichi and Kuroba, on the other hand, had a pleasant if a little awkward first encounter. Shinichi has immediately sensed that there was something special about him. Kuroba wouldn’t stop staring at him as though he were some sort of ghost—of course, this only occurred when he thought Hakuba and Shinichi weren’t looking—and Shinichi himself felt uncomfortable in the magician’s presence. By the end of the day, Hakuba had seemed pleased.

Shinichi still wonders what that was about.

“I think it’s only natural,” he comments idly, resting his chin in the palm of his hand. For one thing, Kuroba has never wanted to be alone with him for extended periods of time. For another, Shinichi has never been able to read Kuroba—something about a poker face—so it piques his curiosity when he notices telltale signs of nervousness: subtle twitching, darting eyes, the verbose prattles...

“Point,” Kuroba concedes, taking a swig of his beverage. His eyes, as Shinichi notices, seem to be focused on his face. Shinichi’s hand twitches—is there something on his face? “In all seriousness, it’s not a case—at least, not your usual one.”

Shinichi hums. Observing Kuroba’s face a bit more, he sees a light blush beginning to blossom on his cheeks. Immediately, he rules out the following: murder, kidnapping, and robbery. And it probably isn’t a missing persons case or a torrid affair. So, what does that leave, then? Not your usual one, he says. Now, what does that mean? What exactly constitutes as usual? What constitutes as unusual?

Debating the definition of a not-his-usual case, he takes a sip of his iced coffee and notes how the coconut water gives a faint taste of chocolate—he’ll have to thank Ran for introducing him to this combination. But deciding that he’s been patient enough, Shinichi prompts Kuroba to continue with an encouraging gesture.

“This might sound weird,” Kuroba tells him, sounding uncomfortable. Shinichi leans forward, already on the edge of his seat, as he gazes into Kuroba’s wandering eyes. He never noticed how blue they were. He only half-wonders if he should run while he still can. “But, um… you see them, don’t you, Kudō? The Red Strings Of Fate?”

Shinichi chokes.

That… that isn’t what he had been expecting.

Frankly, he doesn’t know what he was expecting, but that is far from it.

How did he—?

“What makes you say that?” Shinichi asks, sounding more defensive than he should.

“Your reaction just now, for starters,” Kuroba says, matter-of-factly. Shinichi feels his right eye twitch. “And maybe the fact that you wear those obnoxiously large glasses when you obviously don’t need them? They’re fake—I can tell. I’ve seen the papers—you never wore them until you returned from that big case. Other than old news, I’ve literally never seen you without them. And that was, like, back when you were sixteen.”

Kuroba reaches across the table, hand outstretched and ready to pluck the glasses off of his face. Shinichi flinches back. Kuroba has the decency to look apologetic.

Ducking his head, Shinichi readjusts his glasses out of habit. “That’s hardly enough evidence. Maybe I just like how I look in glasses.” He ignores the unimpressed look he gets. “Besides, all of that red string stuff? It’s—well, you know—”

“Yes or no, Kudō?” asks Kuroba, pinching his nose. “I’ll know if you’re lying.” He leans back in his seat, heaving a sigh as he crosses his arms and regards Shinichi with a heavy stare. “Look, I know Yukiko-obā—” Shinichi clears his throat “—Yukiko-san used to have her own matchmaking business until her acting career kicked off and then a certain author swept her off her feet.” Kuroba licks his lips, dropping gaze to his drink. “I also know that the ability is genetic—apparently sometimes it skips a generation or two. And that they make special glasses so that Seers don't see the red strings. And, well, it’s either you see the strings or…”

Or he doesn’t, Shinichi mentally fills in.

(Because Kuroba can’t possibly know that he was Conan, right?)

Well, Shinichi thinks, at least now the reason for Kuroba’s nervousness is clear.

It’s a tricky topic—the Red Strings Of Fate, that is. For thousands of years, matchmaking had been a popular business and has only become taboo in the past century. Seers would take in clients looking to find their Fated. Then, one day, not even fifty years ago, it came to light that Seers could manipulate these strings—could corrupt them—and change the Fated. Businesses boomed with people looking to find if their significant other or person of interest was their Fated.

And if they weren’t, well, the Seers would take care of that.

Then such practices were banned in certain countries—the manipulation, that is. Japan simply discourages and frowns upon it—unfair, they say, and the consequences can be… well, Shinichi isn’t too sure about those. Almost all matchmaking businesses shut down—those that didn’t simply struggled financially and some even began underground operations. People didn’t want to know if the person they love isn’t meant to be theirs.

But… some people never believed in the strings. After all, not everyone can see them. For some people, the strings exist only in romantic movies or romance novels. Hell, most people never even find their Fated! Part of the reason so many matchmaking businesses shut down is because so many people thought them to be scams.

“If I were a Seer,” Shinichi starts, “what would you do about it?”

Without missing a beat, Kuroba replies, “I’d ask you to see whether my best friend and I are Fated.”
 
“And if you aren’t?”

Kuroba sucks in a breath. Shinichi counts the seconds it takes for him to reply. 9… 10… 11…

“I’d ask you to make us Fated,” he whispers.

•••

“Tanaka Kenji, aged 21, part-time worker at Danny’s and a university student at Tokyo University, found dead in his apartment by girlfriend Shishido Judi at approximately 10:30 a.m.,” Takagi says, reading off of his notebook.

Shinichi tugs on a pair of gloves as he kneels down next to the body. One doesn’t need to be a detective to deduce that Tanaka had died from a stab wound located in the chest; it appears to have gone through the heart. A quick glance around the room, which was apparently Tanaka’s living room, shows nothing in disarray and no obvious weapon in sight. There are drinks on the table though. He purses his lips and turns his attention to the body.

A roguishly charming visage. Dark hair that seems to have been dyed a shade darker than its natural color. A somewhat crooked nose. He probably didn’t have a lot of money, but definitely enough and some to get by and splurge on the occasion. And his fashion sense left a lot to be desired—not that it’s something of note—but, oddly enough, he’s wearing a loose red tie over a pale blue sweater and black jeans that had seen better days.

“Kudō-kun?”

“And the girlfriend?” he asks, still examining the body. Warm and stiff. Dead for as long as three hours but no more than eight. “10:30 was just over half an hour ago.”

“She’s in Tanaka-san’s bedroom with Sato-san,” Takagi replies. Out of the corner of his eye, Shinichi catches him slipping his notebook into his inner breast pocket. “Megure-keibu managed to question her before she had a breakdown and became inconsolable. Miwa—er—Sato-san’s been trying to calm her down so she thought it was a good idea to do it somewhere quiet.” The man pauses. “Thank you for arriving so quickly, by the way.”

Shinichi waves him off as he asks one of the forensic officers if they have an idea on what the weapon could be. When he gets a negative, he thanks the officer with a nod. He turns to Takagi with a crooked half-smile on his lips and says, “It’s no problem. I was actually in the area.” He stands up to give the officers room to take pictures of the body. “Thank you for calling me, by the way.”

And for the excuse to leave, he adds privately. Kuroba’s quiet admission had left him feeling uncomfortable. Shinichi didn’t feel right. The idea of possibly having to cut Kuroba’s string seems… wrong. They stared at each other in silence until the call had come in, minutes later, requesting for his presence at a crime scene.

Takagi gives him his own little smile. “Well, we were hoping with your help we’d wrap this up sooner,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck. More solemnly, he adds, “Sato-san and Megure-keibu think this could be the third victim.”

With his brows knitting together, Shinichi tilts his head curiously, which happens to be one of those odd habits he still hasn’t managed to shake from his time as Conan. Thinking back to the other day during a visit to the station when Sato offhandedly mentioned a possible serial killer, he frowns. Shinichi had been working on the murder of a diplomat that one of his clients brought in when she brought it up while he was visiting the station, so he had already been busy.

And Megure has been discouraging him from taking on police cases unless he’s called in or there’s reason to believe that there is some relation with his own cases. Besides, at the time, it wasn’t certain that those two murders had been the work of a serial killer so he told himself not to worry just yet.

“The serial murders, right?” he asks, taking another look at the body. “Sato-keiji mentioned it. I wanted to join the investigation sooner but…” He shakes his head. “Anyway, what makes you think so?”

“Well,” Takagi starts, scratching his chin. Shinichi notices the barest hint of stubble—likely a product of having forgotten to shave with the stress over the idea of a serial killer, no doubt. Without meaning to, he rubs his own chin as well. “Tanaka-san seems to have been attacked the same way the other two have—a stab to the heart, but not with a knife as far as forensics can tell.”

Shinichi turns his attention to the body and kneels down beside it once the officers are done taking their pictures.

“I see,” he murmurs. He moves his hand, placing his index finger just below his bottom lip. It takes a few seconds for him to notice the weight of someone’s gaze on him. Shinichi looks up and meets Takagi’s eyes. The man jumps back, visibly startled and flustered. “What?”

“N-nothing!” Takagi squawks, drawing attention from the forensic officers. He apologizes and everyone returns to work. Shinichi continues to stare at him, brows raised and feeling just a hint of self-consciousness—what is it with people and staring today? “Sorry… just, you looked—it’s nothing! Sorry, Kudō-kun.”

Shinichi frowns. “Okay… I’m just gonna do the, uh, investigative stuff, okay?”

The man just nods fervently, leaving him to his devices. Shinichi ignores Takagi’s odd behavior when he notices a slight bulge in Tanaka’s right pocket. Curiously, he reaches in and pulls out—

Oh.

A velvet box slips from his fingers and he stares at it. He hears Takagi call out his name, but he pays him no heed. Shinichi picks it back up and opens it. Inside, he finds a modest diamond set in a silver band.

“Is that…?”

Shinichi nods, closing the box. “Tanaka-san was probably going to propose to her,” he says despite not needing to. He swallows. “Should we tell Shishido-san?”

The girlfriend, no doubt, deserves to know. The question is: would she want to know?

Takagi looks just as conflicted as Shinichi feels. None of the officers are paying attention—and Shinichi doesn’t know any of them well enough to feel comfortable in asking for any opinions. He looks to the inspector, who has been busy chatting with a forensics officer, and calls out to him. Megure simply purses his lips and nods when Shinichi gestures to the ring.

“Let her know, Kudō-kun,” Megure says. “Then secure it for evidence.”

Shinichi slips the box into his pocket and turns to Takagi. “I’ll talk to her. Please notify me if you find anything.”

“Ha-hai!”

Shinichi grimaces as he heads down the hall. He notices the door at the end is open. Inside, he sees two figures—one being Sato and the other presumably the girlfriend—sitting on the bed. Heaving a sigh, he presses forward.

“May I come in?” he asks, rapping the back of his hand against the open door.

“Kudō-kun! Just in time,” Sato says, turning to smile at him. He nods in greeting. “Megure-keibu suggested you might want to ask your own questions. Shishido-san says she’s ready now.”

“Thank you, Sato-keiji.” Given that both of the women were seated on Tanaka’s bed, Shinichi stood in front of them awkwardly before he pulled the desk’s chair towards him. With as pleasant a smile as he could muster given the circumstances, he says, “My name is Kudō Shinichi. Shishido-san, I understand that you are Tanaka Kenji-san’s girlfriend? How long had you two been dating?”

Shishido gives him a watery smile as she nods. “Ke-Kenji and I have been dating since our second year of high school.”

Assuming she’s also twenty-one, then the two had been dating for about five years. Interesting. He glances around the room. There’s nothing to suggest a woman living here. So, Shishido and Tanaka had yet to move in together. Perhaps the two were waiting to move together in after marriage?

“Can you tell me when the last time you spoke with Tanaka-san was?” he inquires, watching her for any tells that she may be lying. As she’s the one who found the body, it’s only natural that she would find herself as the top suspect; however, her answer and its verity may change that.

“He called me around 9 p.m.,” she tells him, looking like she’s about to burst into tears. “He asked me to come over today—said he had a surprise for me.” When she wipes the corner of her eye, there’s a streak of mascara left on her face. “I was in the middle of a shift at Lawson, so I just said yes and hung up.” With a sniffle, she adds, “I was supposed to be here by 9, but I overslept.”

Lawson. A convenience store. He’ll have to check if one of the officers verified her that statement. Jotting this down in his tiny notebook, he allows for Sato to console the woman. Privately, Shinichi thinks about how odd it is to see Sato acting so quiet and soothing in contrast to her usually—for lack of better words—dangerous demeanor. Though, when he thinks about it, her softer side came out plenty of times whenever she spoke with him as Conan or to the kids.

When he looks up, about to ask if Shishido is still up for questioning, he notices that the buttons her top had been improperly buttoned as though she had gotten dressed in a hurry. She could be telling the truth or she quickly changed out of another shirt when it got covered in the victim’s blood during the attack, but he’ll give her the benefit of the doubt until he has more information. And, quickly realizing how inappropriate it may seem to be staring at the buttons of her top, he looks up.

“Are you still okay with questioning?” he asks. She nods while pulling out a handkerchief. With the affirmation, he continues. “Where were you between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.?”

“Sleeping,” she mutters, hiccuping in the middle of the word.

He winces. “I don’t suppose you live with someone who could verify that, do you?”

“My roommate’s been staying with her parents for the past week.” She sniffles. “And we don’t talk to the neighbors in our building, so they probably got nothing to say.”

He purses his lips and asks for the name of the building. When she tells him the name, it’s only after he writes it down that he realizes that she lives in the same apartment building as Ayumi. It would take her about half an hour to get here then. Shinichi makes a note to have Megure send someone over to confirm that Shishido did not leave her apartment before ten a.m.

“Thank you,” he says. Shinichi wracks his brain for anything else he can ask. “Did you and Tanaka-san fight recently?” When she looks at him with an expression of devastated offense, he hastily adds, “I’m not suspecting you of having killed him, but please understand that I’m only asking so I can get a feel for your relationship with Tanaka-san.”

And for a motive to murder him, he thinks to himself. Of course, the benefit of the doubt still stands.

Sighing, she says, “We had a huge fight about a month ago—we’ve never fought so hard. It… it was because I asked how he felt about living together and he said he wanted to wait until we were married, but he said he didn’t want to get married to anyone but his—” she chokes on a sob “—his Fated.” She rubs her eyes. “We went to see a counselor that one of his friends recommended to him or something. Don’t know why. Didn’t think we needed to see one. I thought—I thought we were fine after that.” When she looks him dead in the eye, she adds, “I-I’d never kill him over that. I don’t care about being Fated, but apparently he does—did. I… fuck.”

Sato shushes her while rubbing circles on her back before she, too, makes note of this. Shinichi shifts uncomfortably, unsure of what to do or say in this situation. So, he waits patiently for the tears to pass.

Fated, she says. Shinichi has to resist the urge to groan. There’s that stupid word again.

“Did you two ever check to see if you were... Fated?” he asks.

Sato looks confused by his words, but he ignores her look when Shishido says, “N-no. Even if we weren’t, that doesn’t change my feelings for him. It’s not like you can easily find a Seer business anymore.” She looks away and bitterly adds, “Kenji always… he always talked about how much he wanted us to be Fated. Something about how you can only be your happiest with the person you’re Fated with.”

Not true, he thinks sullenly. Sure, it’s said that there is something almost fulfilling when you find your Fated, but Shinichi is a firm believer in making one’s own happiness with whomever they choose.

“Fated?” Sato echoes, looking dubious. “Not many people care about that type of stuff anymore. It’s usually the older generations.”

“Yeah, well, Kenji obviously did,” Shishido mutters.

Shinichi frowns. He fingers his glasses, wondering if it’s worth checking out whether Shishido and Tanaka were Fated. It’s been a while since he’s taken the glasses off with so many people around though.

“Do you know what he meant to surprise you with?” he asks, mind drifting to the velvet box in his pocket.

When she shakes her head, he expels a sigh as he leans back in his seat. That… that may complicate things. If she truly doesn’t know…

“Do you want to know?”

“What does—” He holds a hand up, prompting Sato to close her mouth while he repeats his question in a voice which he hopes conveys his seriousness.

Slowly but surely, Shishido nods, looking apprehensive. Shinichi takes a deep breath as he pulls out the box, holding it out to her. Sato’s eyes widen in realization. Shishido stares at it.

“I think this,” he says, smiling sadly, “belongs to you.”

•••

After Shishido found herself having a breakdown while clutching the ring to her chest, Sato decided to call it a day. They could return for questioning at a later date and time now that they had her contact information. Shinichi couldn’t object—not when he saw Ran’s face in Shishido’s dark hair and tearful bluish-purple eyes.

Sato and Takagi had driven Shishido back to her apartment while Shinichi went to the station with Megure, exchanging notes and observations in the car, and signed in as a consultant. By the time the pair had returned, forensics had narrowed the time of death to around 7:30 a.m., which means that Shishido would have had to leave her apartment around 7:00 to have killed Tanaka. And, according to Sato and Takagi who had gone ahead and verified Shishido’s alibi via security footage, she likely could not have done it since footage shows her leaving around 9:58 and there were no alternative routes for her to have taken.

Shinichi looks over the first case file. The victim, twenty-seven-year-old office worker Yoshino Yui, was found in her home by her twenty-five-year-old girlfriend Niwa Kiyoko. Same cause of death as Tanaka Kenji. Had been dead for three hours. Nothing else of note.

He turns to the second case file. The victim was thirty-two-year-old Mitsue Shiba, who worked as a baker at a bakery in Beika’s downtown shopping district. He had been found by his wife, Mino, in their home after she returned from an outing with two of her coworkers. He had been dead for five hours. Again, nothing jumps out at him aside from the victim having died the same way the other two had.

The only indication of it being the same killer would be the way each victim died. But… what’s the connection? Is there something connecting each victim or are they chosen at random? That… that doesn’t sound very reassuring—the being chosen at random prospect, that is. If this really is a serial killer with little to no criteria for choosing their victims…

“Kudō-kun?”

Shinichi looks up to meet Sato’s curious gaze. “Wataru brought you the case files, right?” she asks, nursing a fresh cup of coffee. The scent tickles his nose. Her eyes drop to the desk. “Oh, good. So, what do you think?”

“I literally just got them,” he says, giving her a half-smile. It falls away as he turns back to the case files. “Well… I can’t say for certain, but I’m inclined to think it’s the same killer. I’ve only skimmed the files, but…” He scratches his cheek. There’s no doubt in his mind that Sato realizes the distinct lack of connections between the victims. “I’d like to ask the girlfriend and the wife a few questions.” Glancing at his watch, he frowns. It’s just after noon, so maybe a lunch break is in order. “Can you check to see if either of them are available later today?”

“On it,” Sato replies without missing a beat. “Anything else?”

Shinichi shakes his head. “Thank you. Sorry for troubling you. I think I’m gonna take a lunch break now, if that’s okay.”

“You hardly need anyone’s permission to eat,” she retorts with a roll of her eyes. “We are not having a repeat of the bomb scare, am I clear?”

Ah, yes. Hadn’t Sato been the one to find him passed out at a desk in the station at one point during that case? He still feels bad about that. She likes to remind him of it.

“Crystal.”

With that, she disappears with a fleeting smile, leaving the faint scent of jasmine and honeysuckle in her wake. Shinichi sighs to himself and tidies up his desk before grabbing his suit jacket and heading out the door with the case files safely hidden in his messenger bag tucked under his arms. He’ll consult them with a nice glass of iced coffee. Maybe some curry.

“Definitely some curry,” he mutters as his stomach rumbles.

And it’s thirty minutes later that Shinichi finds himself seated in the corner of a Danny’s, ironically enough, with a plate of curry and a tall glass of iced coffee. He cleans off half of the plate before deciding that his stomach is satisfied enough. Then, he pulls out the file on Yoshino Yui’s murder.

Shinichi flips straight to the photos. Thankfully, the scene isn’t gruesome, but he still does his best to keep the pictures hidden from wandering eyes lest he traumatize someone; it is, however, enough to dissuade him from taking anymore bites of his curry for the time being. Serves him right for working on a case over lunch.

He hums. Nothing seems out of the ordinary with Yoshino’s body in the first photo. Shinichi frowns at the image. She’s half-curled up on the floor. One of her slippers is missing. Her long hair is half-covering her face, obscuring the mask of death that had settled on her visage.

Shinichi looks over part of the written report. No signs of anything in her system—sedatives, poisons, drugs… nothing. Stab wound to the chest…

Wait.

Nothing in her system? And a stab wound with its entry point being the front of the body? Did Yoshino see her attacker? The idea has Shinichi digging into the other file after pulling it out without hesitation. Mitsue Shiba also had nothing in his system. And Shinichi is willing to bet that the same can be said for Tanaka.

Hm…