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Chapter Text

Kudo Shinichi had been no stranger to murders, thievery, abuse, violence. And the like. Right or wrong, he had climbed each furious rung to apprentice International Police member.

So it stood to reason that shrunken Kudo Shinichi, legally now Edogawa Conan, was no stranger to dead bodies.

"Step over it, Ayumi-chan," he said, voice soft, cautious to not spook the young girl. "We're going to get the local inspector to take a look, and then we'll move on. Okay? Don't think about it too much."

The little girl (who really isn't little, she eclipses him by at least seven centimeters and it's annoying), nods, clutches the offered vine of her starter. She won't stop shaking, she can't, rather. But it's much quieter than her friends, one of whom was vomiting up his particularly rich breakfast all over a den of thankfully pleasant weedle. The ones outside of Viridian Forest were always polite at least, he knew that.

"Conan-kun is, is that," stammers their third companion, lanky and shifting his heels. "Is that really a-a-"

"A corpse, yeah," Conan finishes. He takes off his glasses to rub his eyes, guilt and shame and fury all at once building up behind his eyelids. "Looks like…" He narrows his eyes, searching the bloated skin and frightened face. Very few victims are ever not terrified, he's noticed, including himself. Which means this is a murder.

Heavyset man, smells of rot, heat and dried bits of miltank and pidgey with haban berry and rice grains on a palm. Hairline starting to recede, fat only starting to slump, mustache too loose on the face, probably fake. Fingers going purple. Clean clothes on the front, no bite of teeth or poison needles.

And there in the center of the chest, are three holes, small and at first glance too perfect.

Bullet Seed, the holes are just too big to be from poison sting. If by the climate the murderer had been close by, if just by the move alone, it couldn't be a person from nearby. Bellsprout are too weak to get three clean shots through a body on their own. They needed drugs, candy, or more training than you could shake a stick at.

And the pokeballs are missing. There is a belt with silver magnets and no balls. They could have rolled away, but any murderer would do their best to get rid of the creatures that could seek vengeance for their master.

Conan finishes tapping out the observations on the pokenav plus with a grimace, looking over at his companions. "Everyone okay? Genta, Mitsuhiko? Ayumi-chan?"

"Le-Let me get back to you," wheezes Genta, who is rubbing his stomach in slow, practiced circles. Envy fills Conan's small frame for an instant too long, but he swallows it and looks at the other two.


Ayumi nods again, trembling less now. "Yes, yeah, I … kind of?" Her eyes well with tears. "I'm sorry, Conan-kun."

"It's okay," he says and it's not a lie. "I saw them before I met Ran-nee-chan, it's scary, really." He levels his eyes up. "Mitsuhiko? It's all right?"

Mitsuhiko nods, face tight in the mouth. "N-No, I'm all right. It was just a surprise, really."

"I'd hope." Mitsuhiko is from a good family, an honorable family, one that was powerful. One that invited enemies. He'd probably seen as many bodies as Conan had when he had first been ten years old. Still,the fact that he's pale gives Conan a little relief.

His pointed face flushes. "More-more of a surprise that it was on Route 2, rather than some place else. Closer, you know?"

"Closer to the city," Conan agrees, putting words to text, blue eyes narrowing behind his glasses. "I didn't think of that."

Despite the heavy weight and obviousness of the dead body in the situation, Mitsuhiko manages a timid smile. He's already steadying, the sign of a true elite. This is why he's going into training anyway. Mitsuhiko is going to be a powerhouse when he hits sixteen, and hopefully still kind.

They probably wouldn't have found the body at all if it wasn't so hot. The heat had brought the flying bugs and the sensitive noses out to play. Hence why pikachu is still sniffing from by Conan's sneakered foot. Then of course Mitsuhiko's charmander had run off to see whatever it was pikachu was warily poking around at and it was all over from there.

And Conan isn't seventeen years old and capable of herding them away to some competent nurse or trauma professional, like he had been shoved towards since he was four years old. No, now he is the ten year old boy who had to keep them together long enough to keep them safe.

"Genta-kun?" Ayumi manages to say, voice struggling to come out of her throat. Agasa had said she was a sweet Viridian girl, possibly cursed by the forest. They couldn't confirm it. Those tended to hate bloodshed as a rule. Barring Lance anyway, but that was the dragon in him. "Are you okay?"

Unlike when Conan asked, Genta perks up at once at the sound of her voice. Conan has yet to fix on why exactly. "Course? I'm tough!"

You just puked.

Squirtle chitters something of the sort, Conan assumes. He can't speak pokemon particularly well, and Ayumi can only hear thoughts, but judging by the way Genta's face sours he's pretty sure that's what they heard.

For a moment, as the others relax into normal children, Conan almost thinks he can do this again, be a child again, be around a group of people and earn badges and just simply be without all the responsibilities and problems that come with it.

The second the inspector arrives, heavy set and trailed by four mightyena, a drowzee, and a woman with her arcanine, he regrets that thought, shunted to the side despite the pokenav plus with information clearly in hand and the calm he's displaying.

Resentment wells up like blood from a pulled splinter and Conan squashes it firmly in the press of his fingers to palms.

He is not respected, admired loner Kudo Shinichi with the famous researcher and actress parents. He is not known in social circles and spoken with dread and awe. He is abandoned child from Unova Edogawa Conan with a queer awareness of the world around him and an uncomfortable pair of heavy glasses.

Not for the first time he wishes that he was Kudo Shinichi again, just for the respect alone. Just for the acknowledgement, the reminder that he is a person, not a burden.

That's what the trainer journey is for, Conan tells himself, taking careful breaths out of range of the smell so he doesn't start hacking up his own rice. I need the anonymity. Or the men in black could come and finish me off, finish off Ran.

That was what made this necessary. But it didn't take the sting away.

It hadn't been like this before. Just… just a month or two ago - had it really been six weeks? Had it? - he had been Kudo Shinichi, solving another case, something likely irreparable. A branch of Silph had lost an important document and the carrier was murdered and he'd of course had to figure out why. It was the bare bones of the business, but it was his job and he had been proud of it.

At seventeen how could he not have been he was a gods damned marvel and knew it. Everyone knew it, no one let him forget it.

But everyone, it seemed, had let him be forgotten.

There had been a deal, of course always a deal in this dastardly kind of bunk. And he had seen it after a date with Ran to celebrate her new status. And there had been a weight on his head, sharp and heavy and pointed. The world had blurred. Something- something else and then- then pain. Melting pain, heavy pain and blackness.

A lot of blackness.

But that doesn't explain the holes in his memory, the pain whenever he thinks too hard about that darkness- He was probably unconscious but that didn't mean anything, did it?


Conan lifts his head from where he had been resting it at his knees. He'd had no pokeball to bounce about all over, the skill gained from soccer and stuck for weeks on end with two broken arms, so he'd settled for looking hollowed out and pathetic, moved more by the murder when no one was looking.

Ayumi's wide eyes bore into his own, blue against blue and it wakes him up from his moping. "I'm okay," he says, managing a wry smile. "Just… Ran-nee-chan's going to be upset. I'm not ready for that."

Ayumi's eyes go wide with sympathy at the mention of not only Edogawa Conan's sponsor and guardian, but their sponsor and guardian. With anyone else, sponsoring children on their trainer journeys was just for the money, the fame, the prestige. The glory of adding to the ACE ranks, the veterans, the soldiers for the front line. The Great War that had sucked up the world thousands of years ago, forcing skirmish after skirmish even in the early youth of Shinichi's parents. In fact, the most recent skirmish had been what sent him to Agasa's in the first place. That was the excellent lie.

But it was the sponsorship that had sent him out the door. Sponsored by Mouri Ran, new member of the Elite Four and daughter of the once champion Kisaki Eri and current gym leader Mouri Kogoro, it would be easy to say she was sponsoring four kids for the money. But Kudo Shinichi had grown up with her. She did nothing just for the money.

That said, she is still an enormous mother hen. And she would hear about this and do… something. He doesn't know what.

Hopefully it won't be stopping their journey. He needs this. He needs to bring Shinichi back to her.

"She, she should be fine," Ayumi says. "We, we didn't get hurt and we got the police instead of just-"

"Instead of sticking our noses in." Conan grins and Ayumi has the grace to blush. "Just cause the professor gave us communicators doesn't mean we're real pros ya know?"

"Y-yeah…" the second the man had given the kids his new communicator prototype to test before submitting to a company, the kids had gotten it into their heads to try and catch their first Pokemon in an alleyway. And nearly gotten mugged in the process.

If it wasn't for the Kudo family Absol, the kids probably would have died. A sobering thought.

"We could be eventually though," Ayumi says, eyes going round. "Imagine us being the next elite four!"

Conan tilts his head. "I thought you wanted to make the first inter region trainer's union?"

"I can always do both, Conan-kun." She pouts at him with good humor.

"If anyone could, it's you," he agrees. She had been the one with the highest scores in care and survival of the three of them when he'd plopped himself into the situation and outclassed them all in what really was cheating if he thought about it too hard. But he's not. He's thinking about the way her face flushes so easily at him one minute and returns to normal the next. "But it's a tough road."

Though it's not as tough as Genta's who doesn't know what he wants yet, even though you need at least one idea at ten and some plan by the time your journey ends for the sponsors to like you. To have something beyond going home. But they don't know that. They're ten years old and middle class, born after the last war to the tunes of never again, not with us. Of the paved roads and paved over craters. The pledge of allegiance for Kanto is stifled with peace for them, but Conan had to remember not to speak of "the unbending flame that scorches their earth and snatches their water" every morning at the bell.

Ayumi pumps her fists together, like Leaf did as a joke once on screen to tease Blue over his camera flexing. "I'll be fine, Conan-kun, just watch me!"

Kudo Shinichi would have heard that, taken a swig of Unovan tequila (a horrible vice but at sixteen his father had said it was fine for him to have at least one every year), and patted her on the head, telling her to pick one out loud and decide later when the road's made her hit her knees properly.

Edogawa Conan only smiles and tells her he will and lets Agatha rise from her spot as his side. The pikachu on her back chirps from its cheeks.

"Do you still want to go to the forest today?"

Ayumi swallows, and he knows she's thinking of the bloated dead scent that the muggy summer was hanging on to. Then she squares her shoulders and nods.

"Yeah," she says. "Let's do it. I wanna see some wild bulbasaur."

Conan smiles again, a little wider, a little more meaningful, and Kudo Shinichi chafes at the thought of that dark hell swallowing him up again. But he nods and goes along.

He had promised Agasa he would keep them safe, which meant him being safe.

Watson's cheeks spark once more, as if he too understands. Conan wouldn't doubt it for a second.

Chapter Text

Mew is an unwelcome guest in his trainer's journey.

They are not the first one. His first time, with Ran - they'd gone together step by step until Janine, who was leaving for the International Police after a long conversation with her father- the two of them had been blessed and cursed with the egg of a manaphy. The pokemon had hatched, calling them mama and papa. Perhaps that had been the beginning of the end of Kudo Shinichi's hard fall for Mouri Ran. She had loved it. The thought of it had made his skin crawl. He hadn't been able to control it.

Unlike Manaphy, who had been nothing if not an eager bidoof, curious and pawing and questioning (a grave interruption for those who were full of that themselves), this Mew hardly makes any attempt at being interested at all. Occasionally they pop their head out of the ball at Conan's bag, begging for treats Ayumi-chan makes by hand and teleporting Genta's fried tynamo into Mitsuhiko's hands, but in forests and cities, they make no effort to be involved, no danger follows their long, thin tail.

Conan is relieved about this, feeling a burden off his back he didn't know he had. After all, Viridian Forest was a nightmare to go through as it was.

It had been worse six years prior, he knows. The construction had been full force at the time. Desperate, hurried uses of rollout and water gun and mud bomb to make an obvious path, somewhere for the trucks to go back and forth once more. It had been yet another attempt to make a way for the world to flourish from Pewter to Pallet once more.

And now, all that remains is the dirt that marks the safe road to go. It never lasts. The pokemon are so loud too, all the ones that are safe in the daytime are frolicking, screaming, warning.

"They'll try again in a few years," he says. Ayumi's face twists, eyes dark with dismay.

"They'd better not," she says. "Sometimes the trees cry about it when no one's supposed to hear. We still don't have hoppip here anymore. I miss them. They brought lots of berry pollen."

Conan regards her, her downcast form, the way her eyes look a little bloodshot even though she'd slept well and they were a couple hours from the dead body now. "Maybe when you get famous you can push a law that no company can ever touch this place again."

Ayumi smiles. "And Mitsuhiko-kun will help!"

Said boy jumps, blinks, smiles shyly. "Really? I'd-I'd love to!"

"Can we just go?" Genta is grinning, despite the way his words bite. He has his starter's ball clenched in a fist. "I wanna get a scyther!" He bolts off into the nearest brush. Ayumi giggles and leaps after him.

"Genta-kun! You'll just find a caterpie over there! They're probably mad at you, leave them alone!"

"Kametaro and I can beat 'em up! Just watch!"

Mitsuhiko and Conan look at each other as their voices get steadily further away. Mitsuhiko offers a helpless shrug. Conan tries to smile. It comes out as a bored frown.

"We should catch up," he says. Mitsuhiko nods but he moves slowly. He's in no hurry, clearly. Or maybe, after the dead body, he's being cautious himself.

"Do you want to catch anything, Conan-kun?" the younger (in spirit, why are these kids all taller than him, he wants to call bullshit so hard) asks, stroking the top of his charmander's ball.

"Caterpie," he says without hesitation. "Mouri-ot-chan is susceptible to powder moves, Ran-nee-chan said."


"Studying." Conan lets Watson hop off of his arm, the mouse sniffing closer to the ground. "It's true though. His team is notoriously bad for status effects. Someone once invented this move called "Burn Powder" in this other region and brought it over. He was livid. It ended up getting banned."

"It would be a bug version of will-o-wisp?" Mitsuhiko nibbles on his upper lip. "That would be awful. He uses Normal types. They depend on defense."

"We're lucky he's our first badge to fight," Conan agrees. "His slaking has a limiter on it that only comes off during exhibition matches. We'd be slaughtered if we fought that." Mitsuhiko flinches. Conan flushes. "Bad choice of words, sorry."

Mitsuhiko waves his hands. "We should have gone to catch a nidoran or a mankey then. Those live by the league gates."

"That got banned about three years ago. The population got cut down too badly. Besides Ayumi-chan would be the only one of us who could train a mankey without a black eye."

"That's true, I guess."

"What about you? You interested in catching anything?"

Mitsuhiko pauses. "Venonat." His cheeks flush awkward pink. "I, I know they don't tend to run this far south, b-but still, there's been reports of importing them from Cerulean. It's, well…"

"Bit of a long shot." Conan shrugs. "Can't hurt. Shinichi-nii-chan thought he could catch a celebi when he first came here!"

Mitsuhiko laughs, loud and carefree and much more of a ten year old. "But that's impossible!"

Way to rub it in, kid.

All Conan does out loud is agree, hiding how the accidental sting burns his heart. Because it might as well be, but then, so is his entire life.

As Mitsuhiko gets a few steps ahead, Conan takes a moment to just stop and breathe the forest air. Somehow, the second time, the forest seems so much bigger this time around, so much more foreboding, even though he knows it better now, knows it much more from experience.

A chill runs down his spine as he realizes: you could hide a lot of bodies in here. Why had there been one outside of it?

Agasa had assured him that everything was legal, that he is legitimate and safe, particularly after the scare last month of the woman with many faces who had looked at him fondly as she had died.

Masami Hirota's voice had been steady and clear in the sunset as she had given nothing away to the very end but her blood.

It is dramatic but it is the truth. And Agatha had warned him, just as Agasa had promised she would.

He looks fondly at her ball. "Looks like it was worth bringing you along eh girl?" The ball shakes. "If only you could make me faster." The ball stops shaking. He supposes he deserves whatever that means. It doesn't change the point that he's trying to make though.

"Agatha is named after the Ghost Elite Four member right?" Mitsuhiko nudges his foot to move forward. Genta is shouting once again, this time orders of combat as Ayumi cheers them on. Must be a bug catcher. Anyone who looks down on bug catchers is foolish. They make their living in Viridian Forest and worse places everywhere else, where there may not have been a celebi, but Shinichi had run into a heracross the size of a young oak tree. And these people stick around anyway while knowing it is there and had a death count worthy of Mother Sabrina of Saffron.

Anyone who says Viridian Forest was a joke is a coward who had never gotten poison stings to their spine and it showed. Or they had an obscenely powerful fire type. Coward still.

"She's named for the author Agatha Christie," Conan grins. "It's stories like that that made me want to be a trainer."

"I thought she wrote mysteries? 'And Then There Were None' The Pichutrap, Yveltal Comes In the End? That sort of thing."

"She did. She used to be a trainer though, way back in Oak's time."

Mitsuhiko makes a face. "You said it wasn't for that Elite Four member."

"I just said she was named for Agatha Christie."

Mitsuhiko stares at him for a moment more. Then he huffs and struts away and all Conan can think is, wow, it's almost like Sonoko. Except likable.

It's cuter on this ten year old boy who is stuck being rich rather than a seventeen year old girl who knows she is rich.

… Conan promptly decides to stop thinking about that. He's emotionally seventeen for the sake of Arceus.

He hurries to catch up to his friends, Watson at his side. But there is an unfriendly prickle down his spine, and he can't place why.

He hopes there won't be another corpse for at least another day and a half. Two in twenty-four hours is some level of bullshit. And he doesn't really want to explain to Ran that her charges up and gave it up because of a couple of dead bodies in a day even though he wants to keep going. It'd look weird.

Then again he is Conan the orphan boy. He could milk that and its terrible implications some other time. When he isn't having to run and stop Genta from suggesting that his Squirtle use solarbeam on a stubborn spinarak. It's like they want to die or something.

Night falling on Viridian Forest is not like Ilex Forest in the slightest. There's something holy and glowing in the Johto home to celebi that doesn't exist anywhere else. In Viridian it grows louder the later it becomes, a steady thudding as metamorphoses complete themselves, leaving kakuna and metapod shells scattered across the various pockets of hives and leaf pockets, the steady knife sounds of pinsirs at the most stubborn of evergreens, buzzing hives, and of course the ariados, setting up the traps for the night.

If nothing else, Viridian Forest teaches a trainer to find a camping spot before sunset and protect it with everything that you had. All those beginner trainers who walked until it was dark or through moonrise to moonset learned fast to run or didn't learn at all.

Genta is the best at finding firewood and brush and he comes back within five minutes with enough not covered in spiderweb that Conan is convinced that if he lives to the age of eighteen they have a poketube survivalist star in the making. He doesn't even mind putting the meal together.

Ayumi sets up the tents with Mitsuhiko, leaving Conan to carefully put their belongings to float precariously using a net of bulbasaur made vine rope.

"We're close to the forest's core," Ayumi chirps, giving the dirt another apologetic stab with one of the poles. "The really rare pokemon are down there. There are these red and white and orange eggs there that feel so soft you'll think they'll hatch immediately. The wild bulbasaur protect them from harm until summer every they all explode into those sun bugs!"

Genta wrinkled his nose. "Larvesta. Gross. Give me a victreebel any day."

Ayumi pouted. "They're cute! I'm gonna hatch one myself."

"Then I'll douse it!"

"Not a chance!"

Conan tightens the vine one more time as Mitsuhiko gets in between the two of them. Once again, envy stabs at his gut. He swallows it.

It's not their fault. They've been together for four years, saddled with him two weeks ago. It's natural he doesn't fit in. Even so, they seem to like him. But it doesn't make him miss good conversations with Ran any less.

He swipes the match, coaxes the fire low and slow, and leaves them to it. By the time the fish is cooking on the sticks, they've devolved to arguing about something else, the three of them, and Conan is swiping through his pokenav plus apps, scanning for news and emails. By the time he's finished responding to Ran, the food is almost done and he's reluctantly pulled back into reality.

Back into something else.

He has to find more information about that organization. He has to know who and what they are. And he has to do it alone.

No pressure.

The forest ruffles his hair. He doesn't need Ayumi to tell him even the trees don't believe him.

Chapter Text

Night and day pass inside the forest. Technically, if you're doing runs or shipments or been here a thousand times, a person could traverse Viridian Forest in thirty six hours on foot at a brisk walk, eighteen in a run, six on a fast bicycle, and three hours by moving vehicle. A Pokemon would make it vary. Of course there were no moving vehicles allowed in any forest anymore by law, but no one said people obeyed the law.

One of Ran's favorite parts of apprenticeship, she had told Shinichi once, was enforcing that law on motorcyclists. He honestly had not wanted to know that much detail.

But it was good. She could still be a kid. They could still be kids, still, still.

Well, Conan is quite literally.

If he could go back though…

For what, his mind whispers. For someone who's already in love with someone else?

For someone who has suffered enough?

Conan gives up sleep that second night and sits up. Watson is settled above his head. The head or the shoulder are always favorite places for smaller, prey pokemon. They make excellent advantages for those who could become predators and tear into their enemies. Or in the case of pikachu, who could burn them alive in a second if they tried. He reached out a hand and smooths his thumb over the cheek. His pokemon stirs and licks his fingers, opening big brown eyes and yawning.

"You can stay," he says, smiling fondly at the sight. Watson only rolls over, moving forward in slow steps until he can climb onto his human's shoulder. He sniffs the air twice, then squeaks just loud enough for Conan to hear. "Something's out there huh?"

Another squeak, this one likely an affirmative. Conan reaches into his bag and pulls out a pokeball and a knife before straightening. Agatha's ball is still, which makes him feel a little better about the whole situation.

He slips past the others. They're too young and fresh to keep watch. Even early on, he and Ran had depended on her riolu and his shinx to keep them alive in Viridian, counting on the rarity of their pokemon, the sheer unknown factor of the whole thing, to keep them both from becoming weedle fodder. It had worked then, there were too many kids in this group now for him to try. Their starters had only been with them for days and their family pokemon, probably weren't experienced in combat, let alone life or death combat.

So the pokemon will wake if there are any problems. Right now, the kiddos deserve their sleep.

So does he, and so do his pokemon, but Shinichi had long sleepless nights down pat in Celadon since he had been actually six years old. For Conan it would only be an inconvenience and for a traumatized orphan, an understandable one.

So they walk through the trees. Conan keeps his steps light and quiet. He's gentle with the grass that knows his real name, watches the sleeping day light life, ducks away from the hoothoot spearing a half open metapod to try and chomp through with its smaller beak. It was pathetic, but Conan, remembering his quivering bones, drudges up sympathy for the creature.


"Watson," he mumbled. "Kill it."

It was only right to stop the failure before it continued and left a butterfree corpse in the morning along with the hoothoot. Besides the hoothoot wold be a meal.

Watson's legs bunch, his big eyes narrowing as he leaps more like a buneary than a mouse.

Step one, knock the hoothoot free of its prey. The quick attack is simple, effective enough that the blood spray isn't too bad due to both the smallness of the beak. It didn't pierce through which is even better. It'll be a pain to heal but the potion will have less work to do.

Step two, thundershock the bird while it's still spiraling. Continue shock, no matter how much it tweets and shrieks and hoots. But thankfully it's too surprised to make noise. He doesn't want the whole forest on him. Yet.

Step three. He reaches into his pocket for his spare pokeballs and enlarges one. With a single, light toss (he used to trust his feet but his body's not built right anymore, he has to practice in pewter), he engulfs the butterfree in it. It goes in silence. Not a single twitch of the ball, which could only make sense it was probably dying right now. He's really saving it for no reason other than personal choice.

Still, he's going to do it anyway. The ball flies back to his hand, staining it a little red. He pockets it.

He becomes suddenly aware of the silence. And it's not a good silence.

The forest has gone still, barring the gentle shifting wind. Conan doesn't even have to look to see all of the eyes on his back.

"Too flashy," he whispers. "Watson, the others… wake them up."

Watson almost protests, but Conan pats Agatha's flank and hoists him up with deliberate slowness. "Quick Attack," he orders. "Don't stop until you get there. Until they know. Then come back. Okay?"

Conan gives the dead hoothoot one last look. Then he puts his glasses away. "Let's go, Agatha. Ready?"

Watson's brown eyes glimmer. But his pokemon obey, and the world blurs as he moves through it, the air filling with shrieks and howls.

I don't even get to eat the kill either, he reflects miserably. And that's what you're supposed to do!

Agatha's not supposed to be a mind reader, but she snorts at the right time to make him wonder.

Ayumi used to wake slowly, as the sun rose, and so that by the time she was sitting up, her mind was clear and ready to start the day with whatever needed doing, be it helping tie the hay or burn the sage.

But as she'd gotten older, her waking grew more sudden, more unnatural. The more she grew close to nature, to the trees and away from the city streets bathed in light bulbs and hard dried tar, the faster she awoke.

She stared up at the stars in the sky. They were far enough into the forest now that they could see closer to the sky her grandma had slept under. The stars twinkled around the waning moon, the wind moved lazily. Everything was peaceful.

So why was she still awake, knowing that?

There was the sound of footsteps, not human ones. Paws smaller than their pokemon. That meant Watson.

She'd found it cute at the time that their new partner with cold eyes like hard little diamonds had named the cute little critter Watson, the detective story fan he was.

"Things from the detectives made sense," he had said. "And everyone underestimated Watson sometimes, even Holmes. But Holmes believed in him without anything. Because that was what they did." He had reached out and scratched the pokemon behind an ear. "So I'll believe in my Watson."

If Ayumi was honest, and she was she was a good girl, she had found that moment so cool. The other two had found it dumb, but then they hadn't really thought much of the symbolism. Detectives were for book readers and rarely cool on tv. Mitsuhiko loved them but more of their methodology, not who they were. But then Mitsuhiko was… not like them.

I'll either need a detective or I'll need to become one. Like Looker, like Mister Nanu. Like them. I have to.

And she still didn't understand that but no one could, not even him. What she could understand was the approaching Watson with a brown feather in his mouth. Not even bloody, but smelling of smoke.

A kill. A pokemon had been killed. Ayumi paused an instant, clapped her hands together without thinking to pray-

And a spark laced up her legs and made her shriek pain.

Her friends woke up yelling. Conan-kun did not.

He wasn't here.

He was apparently somewhere in the forest with Agatha. This was no time to pray for the dead.

"We've gotta go," Ayumi said, voice filling with sternness and the quiet tree whispers. "Conan-kun's in there and something is moving."

Genta grinned at the thought, almost demonic with how it stretched his face. "Awesome! We gotta get used to training in the dark!"

"We have three pokemon between ourselves," Mitsuhiko protested. Watson barked and Mitsuhiko made a face. "Right, four, sorry." He shakes his head. "Still, we should go get help. Are we close to the other side, Ayumi-chan?"

Ayumi shakes her head. "Not really. We're towards the exit, but unless we ran the rest of tonight, we'd not get there until after the business rush started."

Dread steals over them all.

Genta kicks up some dirt. "What'd that idiot do anyway? We've gotta go find him now and we won't be able to sleep for ages!"

Mitsuhiko seeks to placate him because Watson is bristling, as starters do at the threats to their own.

Ayumi merely places a hand to the nearest tree trunk and listens. The world opens up like flower buds in spring, whispering and blurring her vision to fast moving beams until she-

Yanks back her hand with a sharp noise.

Both boys look at her. "You found him?" Genta asks eagerly because the only way to really go is forward now.

She shakes her head. "Girl," she gasps out. "There's a girl. In the cocoon den. With the larvesta. With the beedrill. They're moving towards her… she's not moving."

Genta and Mitsuhiko look at each other. Then they nod, and their nods are steady, firm, becoming. "Let's save her," Genta declares.

"Watson," Mitsuhiko says, unruffled by the look he gets from the irritable mouse. "Can you rest up while we pack up? If Conan-kun is headed that way, you need to reach him first so he'll know."

The pokemon stares at them. Pokemon have never been stupid, even the lowest on the food chain are dangerous and frightening in the wrong hands. Then the mouse nods and curls up, makes his muscles unclench.

The forest wakes up early around them, and it's grumpy.

Ayumi merely sets her face with purpose.

Deep in the gloom, in the dark, a girl stirs. Grass rips under her knitting fingers, grubby and small. So small.

She doesn't open her eyes. It hurts. Everything hurts, her body, her heart.

Nee-chan, she thinks, through rawness scraping her throat, through sleepy pain. It pulls, gently, like long fingers through once unruly hair. Wants her down. Down, down down.

It sounds nice, preferable, compared to living without her.

The shaking in her pocket draws her back in, wells up like a sob of some sort. And something shivers beneath her, shaking with sobs of fear.

And Miyano Shiho remembers, dizzily, weakly, where she is, what she's doing here, and that she absolutely cannot die.

But gods her body hurts and does she want to. Giving up is easier. It had been the idea really. But now she's here and unless she wants to die from the will of the forest, she can't do that.

Then, inexplicably, she hears a voice.

"Mew, where the flying hell are we going? You usually don't- what do you mean, a necessary detour, we're heading for where the eggs are are you trying to get me killed here?"

Exasperation. Fury, fear, pain, guilt. Like the speaker must have done something stupid.

"Oh don't you take their side Agatha. We're sending birds straight for babies. Is that the disaster you want, huh?"

He's loud, but he's loud on purpose, she realizes. Because a forest battle is going to break out and better that than an ambush.

It clears her head and she makes to roll over. The creature underneath her -so small, so much more helpless than even she is, squeaks in a pathetic sort of way, one she knows well. And she curls her small arms to bring it closer.

Something croaks beside her and she briefly sees green and red. It shuffles beside her and settles, as the large paws grow closer. She struggles. Whoever is coming, she must be ready, even if it's to flee.

Her sister would want her to live, so much, so much. That was all she'd ever asked for.

She raises her head as the paw treads slow to a halt and she sees-

Blue eyes, cold like hers, naive somewhere in the dark, but hard all the same. Eyes that had seen so much more on a face that couldn't have seen anything more dangerous than a wurmple cut apart. Or maybe not.

He slides down from the back of the white creature he's on. It glows in the moonlight, dark horn gleaming.

"Are you alive," he asks, and his voice is rougher than she's ready for, older sounding than it should be. She knows who this is, she knows, she knows but his name escapes her.

She nods and he straightens, looks behind him. She'd rather he keep looking at her, and it's disgusting that she thinks that way.

"Hey, Mew, you brought me here for them right?"

There's a little chiming sound in the air and the boy shudders a moment. "Course, of course. Can you pick them up for Aggie? Her telekinesis ain't so hot anymore."

The absol drags its claws into the earth and he makes a face. "It's not, Aggie, you're really bad at that."

And she knows again. But she isn't given much time to deal with it as warmth wraps around her body and lifts like she is just a bubble. It gives her limp body full view of him in the moonlight.

"Kudo Shinichi," she breathes and it hurts, her entire chest aches afresh. She watches his face twist, flinch, shatter, recompose. "You killed my sister."

And finally she gives up on talking on doing much more than breathing because the embrace has pulled her down, and pulled her down with glee and his sharp grey eyes, laughing at her the whole way down with sharp teeth.

Chapter Text

Conan's first instinct upon hearing his name is to backpedal and let the girl die.

He squashes it because his first instinct comes without clues, without solid information. Not to mention the pain that had risen up at the sound of his old name (not dead name he doesn't have the right to those words), the sting of that accusation because he's not entirely sure who he is being blamed for leaving this time. For being too slow for. He can only think of two, but one was-

It's too late for me. But it isn't too late for you, little detective.

And it wasn't them. It definitely wasn't them.

So who was it?

He'll think about it later. Duty calls.

Mew floats beside him, gesturing to the two pokemon crawling towards them. Conan makes a face but he understands, catches it at once. The others need pokemon now more than ever. Hoothoot usually don't hunt that brazenly, or with that much hunger. Metapod aren't enough sinew and flesh and muscle for hoothoot. There should be enough pikachu or nidoran to fall from a few well placed confusions or even some butterfree.

It's only going to get worse from here, not better. And the girl will be more indebted to him if he gives her this.

He swallows the breath threatening to explode out of him in a scream.

A quiet peep reaches his ears and Watson leaps to his shoulder. He pets one ear without thinking. "Good work. Get ready. Are the kids far back?" Another squeak, this one a bit in the negative. "All right." Conan grins a little. "Charge."

Immediately, Watson obeys, staying on his shoulder as long as he can to do so. Charge was a move, sure, if you counted tail whipping as an actual attack. All electric pokemon knew how to charge electricity, it was just good manners to tell opponents that was going to be the case. Or to warn

This was just a trainer's way of saying, do as much as you can handle. If he was lucky the first spread were butterfree and they'd fall like bug rain and squash some beedrill that are too young. As long as it wasn't the larvesta eggs, he was fine with that.

"Conan-kun, wait!"

He pauses but he doesn't want to. He sees translucent wings slowing a little and cocoons shuddering. Feet thud behind him and Ayumi appears first, eyes glowing gold in the dark. Her skin crackles, hair standing on end.

"Stop," she says, voice calm. She's not looking at Conan, or even the pokemon. Her gaze is fixed on the tree, as if it will suddenly spout words "He is one of mine. He was being kind. He didn't want to wake you."

The beedrill buzz, coming out of the trees. Genta and Mitsuhiko arrive, Genta's fists up and charmander's tail burning bright.

Ayumi ignores all of them as one of the butterfree reaches her. She holds out her hand. "Forgive us please," she says. "We don't mean harm to you. We didn't want to interrupt you. Please allow us to take this girl and leave."

The butterfree considers, head tilted. Then it floats up and away. And the forest goes softer.

Ayumi doesn't move. Then she sags, the moonlight fading from her skin, eyes watering with tears. "Th-That was awful," she blubbers, curling in on herself for a moment. "All of them were so disappointed! Like we'd done something bad for nothing! I-"

A small hand rests on her shoulder. "Sorry." Conan's voice is quiet, soothing almost, in her ear. "I'll keep my hero complex for the daylight next time."

Mitsuhiko snorts, and Genta lets out a huff of discontent. "You woke us up for a metapod!" he grumbles, but he's smiling. "A metapod! That's lame, Conan."

"In my defense I was trying to do it discreetly so you stayed asleep." Conan scans the area now. "Ayumi-chan, is this the nest you were looking for?"

Ayumi hesitates, opens her eyes. They go wide, shining a moment. Then she pushes herself up, running forward into the dark. Genta moves to stop her, but Mitsuhiko grabs his arm with surprising strength. He shakes his head no.

"Let's examine the girl," he says, giving his friend a gentle tug. Genta leans back and doesn't want to.

Conan steps between them before they can. "Probably best not," he says. "She passed out when I got here. It's better not to move her around too much. Aggie's fine, she'll be able to take her out of here without much jostling. Besides, it looks like Ayumi-chan's almost done."

Said girl returns to them with shaking legs, a small egg of silk cupped in her hands. Her eyes are big and relieved as she runs over. "Got it," she says, eyes sparkling with triumph.

Conan nods at her. "Then let's get moving. We can rest at Pewter, camping at Route Two is a bad idea."

No one disagrees.

Route Two is haunted, after all.

The kids are all flagging by the time he sees Pewter, and the girl has only stirred at most. Aggie's fur is steadily turning pink, which is the only thing keeping the other kids going, lest Mitsuhiko start hyperventilating. Conan can't blame them, but he's the war boy and it wasn't like he'd seen this bad at six, let alone ten. But there's only so fast they can go.

"The ghost are awful quiet," Mitsuhiko chatters.

Genta manages to snort. "Cause there aren't any, dummy!"

"Oh no, they're real." Conan keeps his voice easy and breezy. "Ran-nee-chan and Shinichi-nii-chan were chased out of here by the ghost of Brock once along with some banette. They've never exorcised the area.

Ayumi and Genta make whines of discomfort and Conan can't help but laugh softly. "Relax, idiots," and he says the insult with so much more affection than he means. But they seem to like it anyway. "The ghost of Brock just likes a laugh sometimes. He won't hurt anyone. You just aren't supposed to stay because it's excessively rude. It's why no one camps in Lavender Town."

Mitsuhiko squeaks in alarm. "Oh-Oh…"

Conan contains all the laughter he can. It's hard, but at least they look relaxed. They need to stay awake for a while so they'll sleep tonight.

It's going to be a long day.

They reach Pewter and immediately the two kids are wrinkling their noses. "Gross!" Genta complains.

"Can't help it," Conan replies, leading them on. "It's an industry city. And apparently a few years ago, it was worse. Smoggy and less trees."

Now the trees are threatening to swallow the museum whole from behind, the bricks of the buildings baking brown in the sun of years and years old. People part when they see the children, whether because of their physical state, the unconscious girl, or that Agatha was walking beside her master without pause. Either way, the children all drew closer together with Conan at the head. His eyes sweep across the streets, cold, daring, strong steps.

The girl, starting to droop off Agatha's back, groans.

"Good," he says cheerfully and breaks the tension like a piece of glass. "She's alive enough to feel that!" He turns to the nearest bystander and the chill in his eyes melts innocently. "Miss!" he calls to the woman with her baby. "Which way to the pokemon center?" Like they hadn't been walking that way already. She points with a trembling finger and he smiles, all teeth and disarming cuteness. "Thanks!"

And he leads them on. The other three scuttle after him, shooting the

The pokemon center is immune to the absol and more concerned with all of them.

Which is good because the second they all reach air conditioning, Mitsuhiko's legs give way and the boy nearly topples face forward into the tiling.

Then the lot of them collapse in their room, and no matter how loud Conan turns up his phone they're all unconscious within ten minutes.

Even him.

He still wakes up and curses his ten year old body and its awful endurance and stamina and gets out of bed immediately to check on their wayward patient and call Ran. But well, girl first. Ran second. Ran worries after all, because of their journey before, because of the regulations now, because no one wants to deal with the terror that had been sponsoring the other grandchildren of Professor Oak ever in life in someone else. That pink one is still considered a threat on a region level, even though she's long since settled back in between dimensions or something. No one knows.

No, well, Conan does, but a promise is a promise and he'd rather not be skewed by feathers that were on fire without good reason.

He leans up against the counter and beams at the nurse. She smiles back at once .

"You were the boy with that girl who was brought in, yes?"

"Yeah!" The balancing act is leaned better now, more towards what adults mostly prefer out of children, the happy, endearing, but polite child who used the wrong language on accident but still had a personality that wasn't annoying and wanted things. People forgot that they were like that when they got older, it just doesn't sound like whining and sounds demanding, which really is worse if he's honest. "How is she doing?"

"Sleeping peacefully now, her injuries were rather extensive but most of them should be healed with ditto and grass root treatment by tomorrow. Do you think you and your friends would be able to give a statement to the police when she wakes up?"

Conan pauses, thinks. "Uhm, I was separated from my friends and found her, they just followed me later… I dunno how much help they could offer…" He trails off and watches her brow furrow. "But I can ask, miss nurse!"

She relaxes a little. "That'd be wonderful. Just be careful with your little heroics next time okay? That cocoon you gave us will thank you, but the forest might not."

"It's ok! I'll be fine!" And that is customary child bravado because they expect that too. Even so, Conan isn't scared of the forest. He's in awe of it. He respects it, but he doesn't fear it. That is for those who want to cut it down further to worry about. "I'll be more careful next time. But… that metapod will be all right, won't it?"

The nurse nods fondly like she's looking at a young bug catcher rather than a real trainer. "She should be. She'll just need more time to rest. If you're hoping to use her at the gym, you've got a little longer to go."

Conan pouts visibly, but in his head, he hadn't been planning on it. Kogoro tended to use two pokemon on newbies, a slakoth and vigoroth if he was in a bad mood, an eevee and a porygon if he's feeling on top of the world, lillipup and munchlax for general rule of thumb or swapped with starly and deerling or occasionally if the trainer who signs up is a known troublemaker/asshole, a stufful and a chansey. Among other things, Conan's sure he's rounded up his training work by now because again, that slaking is still illegal to use. Just that slaking.

"Hey, uhm… do we have any idea who that girl is?" he finally asks because he's dying to go into that room with some kind of advantage beyond "life debt shit" because he already knows what he's going to do with that. He's a Kudo for Mew's sake. He knows exactly what to do with it.

But first he needs to know who she is.

His spirits fall as the nurse shakes her head. "Nothing's come up so far on the registered trainer database. The League would have to get involved if we wanted to explore past trainer records. For all intents and purposes, she's probably like you, Edogawa-kun."

For some reason, that statement makes him nauseous. He settles back on his feet instead of his tiptoes. Not because of the lie, but because of the truth. This strange girl is likely an orphan with no papers who was left to die.

Much like Edogawa Conan, the boy whose life had been struck out at the tender age of infancy by the man and his ice ship.

Screw Ghetsis by the way. He still thinks that Tanis girl deserves way more reward for that than she got.

"Can I see her?" he finally asks, almost not affecting his voice just in time.

The woman smiles and nods. "Of course. She might still be sleeping, but she'll likely be grateful you saved her."

Somehow, Conan doubts this.

Chapter Text

Miyano Shiho opens her eyes to sterile white and disappointment in her stomach. She hadn't died. That says a lot about her program. Or about genetics. She's not quite sure which it is right now and isn't entirely sure she wants to know. Everything is simply too sore. Her limbs are tied down by tubes, her arms are

Nee-chan must have felt worse, she thought, and the guilt lurched to life.

"Oh, you have woken up after all."

The voice at first sent panic up her veins. She couldn't move. Her limbs were still too heavy, too weak to do more than clench her fists. And even that ached. But she forces her head to turn despite the pain.

"Oi, oi, not so fast, do you want to break something?"

I won't break something sitting up, she couldn't help but think, mutiny in her gut. But she had no proof of it in the interim. But she was able to look and see-

The shrunken Kudo Shinichi, or… what did he call himself now? Conan? Something from a book perhaps? She'd read Kudo Shinichi's file, he devoured reading. It wasn't who she had assumed it was. Interesting. She could remember the night before, looking at him, watching his face as she accused him, as she told the truth. He had walked her sister right into a death trap without even realizing it. That wasn't his fault of course, but he had pokemon, and they might have been able to scare them off, make them hesitate, give her another twenty-four hours, anything. He was there.

He regards her behind those fake, augmented glasses. Scuffs and bruises and rips all up and down his clothes and face. He is shifting on his feet, and not in a nerves way, rather rolling them to keep from falling over, from collapsing. There were probably blisters, heavy bruises from a long night and day of walking, just to get her here safe and sound, relatively speaking.

… Oh. Oh this little bastard.

"So," he says, moving towards the chair and sitting down on it like he can't read her thoughts. "We're gonna have a chat, and then we're gonna give you your pokemon, and then you're going to rest. And probably meet my friends, which is the opposite of rest, but I figure being unconscious for nine hours helped. Sound good?"

She just stares at him.

"Is your throat good enough to talk?" He sounds concerned, and that's honestly the more disturbing aspect of this.

She takes a deep breath, exhales. "Barely," Shiho admits and god admitting anything to this little brat feels terrible, even knowing they're at best two years apart in reality.

"Then I'll talk more," he says, looking very matter-of-fact. "Everyone used to tell Shinichi-nii-chan he loved the sound of his own voice." And that stare bores into her, cold and thoughtful and aware of whatever she'd said in her semi-conscious state. "You accused me of killing your sister. There are only a few people who are aware of who I am, and unless you have a lot of good connections, none of them have mentioned another little girl like you. So if it was your sister, and you blame me for her dying, this is in reference to-"

"Don't." She croaks the word like a palpitoad. "Don't you dare make light of it."

He looks at her with solemn eyes. "How could I? She was-" He balks at his words, shakes his head back and forth. "I wanted to stop her. Masumi Hirota lied to my face and whispered of a woman she was trying to help."

"Miyano Akemi." It hurts to say her name, the nee-chan who left, the nee-chan who no one cared about, the nee-chan who was dead. "Hirota was… was the name of someone else." That's enough. That's all he needs, right?

He nods slowly, reverently. "And who are you?"

He cuts to the bone, this one. He has lost kindness this one. But it's important. "Miyano Shiho. I…" She doesn't want to say it but why should she lie about it? "I made the drug, the machine, the… what made us like this. The version for now."

She sees his eyes widen but not the horror, nor the disgust, not even fear. He just regards her a moment.

"Did they make you take it?" He's unforgiving this boy, and unflinching. He's looking at the truth that she doesn't want anyone to unpack. It's hers to unpack.

So Shiho lifts herself up on her elbows, hissing sharply, staring back with unforgiving green. "I took it myself. Because I have run out of uses. Because I've run out of people."

She doesn't expect anything in those eyes, but she sees them glimmer, sparkle with sympathy, understanding, awareness.

"That's fair," he says. "Conan Edogawa doesn't have people either."

And it takes her a few seconds, but that's enough. It's not enough for forgiveness, Shiho doesn't want to be forgiven, she wants to be despised by him for a moment, but she sees the olive branch. She is looking at someone who is willing to throw everything away just as she is, who already has. Just as she had tried to do. But for what purpose?

"So what?" she breathes, willing the words to have more bite than they should with her stuck in the bag.

"I saved your life," he says, like someone else says they buy milk. "In return, I want you to travel with me. I've got three actual children to look after and I can't do it by myself. I'm too curious for my own good. You might actually like them. They're fairly positive and have big hearts. And because you'll know who and what i'm after, even by rumor. We'll know who we need to avoid and who we can take down."

"So I'm bait," she says drily.

"Were you expecting to be something better?" He shakes his head. "Think of it like that if you want, I guess. It'll just be less suspicious for a little girl who survived hell to become a trainer among new friends to keep surviving, rather than be a no-name girl stuck in the hospital for mysterious injuries she doesn't remember."

He's not asking her for revenge, for justice. He's asking her for her life in his hands, in their hands, to carry others. To spite who wanted her to die because she was nothing and everything.

Shiho regards the boy thoughtfully. "You're not what I expected," she admits after a moment.

He smiles, grim and thin. "Kudo Shinichi would be," he says. "Noble and justice and feral for the truth. Edogawa Conan survived on Unovan streets with little more than hopes and prayers and spite. He'll do anything he has to to not go back there and freeze. Kudo Shinichi isn't here so, yes, pretty much." He settles again in the chair, still shifting around like people are watching. "So, let me ask again, for the records I tell the nice nurses: who are you?"

For a moment, Shiho considers baring her teeth, growling monster to monster. But then she holds out her hand to shake. "Haibara Ai," she says instead, meeting eyes with eyes. "Stolen from Galar in a horrible Locke campaign. I escaped with a single family pokemon and a lot of scars. Sole survivor."

Conan nods at Ai, lips twitching into a smile. "Nice to meet you Haibara."

"The same to you, Edogawa-kun."

The adults who are children stare each other down. Then they laugh at the unnecessary edge grafting their words, because the adults have made a child's vow that cannot be broken, on the result of swallowing a thousand needles. Conan steps towards her and links their pinkies together, just to complete the illusion of childhood promises.

After a couple of minutes of this, at which point the now named Haibara's chest really starts to hurt, Edogawa pulls out two pokeballs and presses them into her palms. "These two were sticking by you when we picked you up. I figured they belonged to you, or ought to. So, they'll be registered to you once I get a hold of the professor, who will take charge of you. Like he did for me."

"Does he know?"

Edogawa regards her again, over those glasses. "Most people say thank you when given things." He grins a bit again. "About you? Nope. I'll tell him today and you can talk to him. About me? Yeah. He's a good guy, our professor."

He's smiling but not with his heart. Fair enough, she supposes. They don't know each other well enough. But if he has his way, they will. She's of the opinion that isn't likely.

"So," he says, watching her take the pokeballs and hold them with reverence. "They're probably gonna release you today by the way. You're sore but the grass root bath will dull that in a few hours. You'll be in our room probably."


"You were exhausted, not broken so they can't justify keeping you." He's annoyed by it, his brow furrowed. "Ran-nee-chan will sponsor you, likely, so she'll talk your ears off about it. As an Elite,abandoned children are an issue that she wants to take care of. It affects pokemon too, and people love responding to that. So you can come with us to the gym, or you can go back to our room and ransack us and flee."

"Morbid." Haibara tastes her name on her tongue and teeth. "I'll come along, learn what I'm looking after."

Conan nods. "Then, if you don't mind, I'm gonna sit here and make phone calls, so you know what we're dealing with and just what you lose not being able to drink."

"You were supposedly too young to drink," she chides but doesn't disagree. She watches him settle on the chair properly, settling back into the pillow mountain because where else will she have the energy to go?

Well, nee-chan, she thinks dryly. Is this the boyfriend you wanted me to get?

Conan watches his new ally (not friend, she's from an evil organization like Team Rocket. He's forgiving, not stupid.) without trepidation. She's half-dead from exhaustion and just like him five weeks and six days earlier. She'd be lucky if she could stay awake this whole time.

He shrugs it off. He isn't afraid. Not yet. She has nothing left to lose so she's unpredictable at best. But that shouldn't be a reason to die, surely. If she'd taken the poison willingly, rather die herself than die by them, there's no way she completely agrees with the organization as a whole. Or even at all. He'll figure it out when they're on their journey.

He sits back into the cushion of the chair and watches the screen of his PokeNav Plus as the phone icon rings and moves all over. He doesn't bother to stick his headphones in. He wants Ran to be aware anyway, because she'll take one look at the now named Haibara Ai and fall in love. She'd adopt everything within a five meter radius if she could, now that she can afford it.

Just when he's beginning to think he'll have to leave her a voicemail, which she hates, the screen changes to her face, glistening with sweat, a towel around her neck and her gi scuffed with dirt. Her baffled face is replaced with a beaming smile.

"Conan-kun!" she greets, eyes bright. "I didn't expect to hear from you until tonight."

"We walked all night, Ran-nee-chan," he replies, and the words really do get easier every time. "Everyone else is still sleeping. We had an emergency so we had to leave the forest as fast as we could."

"And why weren't you sleeping?" The disapproval is creeping up so fast, he remember she'll pull a hawlucha from nowhere and fly to box his ears if he doesn't play this right.

"I was," he says, because he had been, he's surprised there isn't drool on his face still. "But I couldn't sleep. I had to check on the girl we found and the metapod."

Ran pauses. She has a habit of taking too long to start people and their stories that they think they can get away with whatever she's talking about. "Start at the beginning."

And he does. He feels Haibara's eyes on him the whole time as he omits most of these things that Ran doesn't really need to know. Even with her position, telling her about the organization whose name he doesn't even know is like telling a pikachu to use bite. It's not going to have any effect, it's just going to be a move because pikachu can bite, he just can't use the shadows to make it work in the same way.

When he's finished, Ran eyes him shrewdly. "Is this girl in the room with you?"

"Yup," he says, unapologetic. "I wanted her to meet you as soon as possible."

She shoots him a look of fond exasperation that he remembers from when they'd been chasing bugs out of the gardens of Pewter together. "Sometimes you can be so rude, Conan-kun."

"I'm sorry," he tells her, smiling because he's not. "Want to meet her? I think she's awake."

He glances at her and sure enough, she is, stroking the fur of the first pokemon, a soft little eevee, that looks barely a month old. The second, a bulbasaur, is at her other side, taking in the sun. Ayumi is going to adore her.

Ran squints at him. "I see what you're planning mister. I wasn't born yesterday, you know."

"You're perfectly young, Ran-nee-chan," he says because he's met his mother, he's not stupid.

She giggles. "Fine fine, let me see her."

He hops to his feet, which are hurting less now, thank Arceus and moves to the bed. Haibara takes the device from him and Conan lowers his head to examine the dozing eevee. It whines at him, batting at his nose. Yes, he had to take away her previous petting.

Shrugging, he offers her a hand to sniff. She merely bats at it, clamping both her front paws around his fingers. He sighs and scratches her chin.

"So put upon," Haibara tells him, looking away from the way Ran's eyes are growing so wide they should pop out of her head at the sight of her.

"She really is," Conan agreed. "But she likes you."

"Oh gosh you two are adorable," Ran mutters.

Haibara's face turns an interesting shade of red. "I-I beg your pardon."

Conan had expected everything so far except for that. That he did not want to think about.

Ran laughs at them both. "Get used to it, I'm officially sponsoring both of you."

Conan really doesn't want to get used to it. This is like… a flag in those games, right?

Chapter Text

Once again, Conan finds himself mostly correct. The kids all like Haibara Ai. Probably because she's polite and despite the frosty awkward confusion that is her entire existence as she stumbles over her name once or twice, she's not rude to them. She's cold, but Conan doesn't begrudge her for that, nor for sticking close to his side as she paces herself gently after them. It's a little weird, but he is the first face she saw in this situation. The natural gravitation makes sense.

Plus they're kids. They're overwhelming.

"Are you really okay, Haibara-san?" Mitsuhiko has puppy eyes. He's enforcing actual baby-doll-poochyena eyes oh my gods, Conan would laugh if it wasn't so darn sad he was dealing with someone twice his age. It's like poor Ayumi-chan for that first couple of days, goodness gracious.

As it is, Haibara has a very good blank face. "Yes, mostly. Nothing that a good night's sleep won't fix."

Genta makes a face. "He's just being nice."

"And while appreciated, I'm perfectly well, Edogawa-kun and the nurses saw to that." Haibara's voice is even, if awkward. "There's no need to go out of your way."

"Don't get me involved now," Conan says as Genta scowls at them both. "I'm just doing my duty as a good trainer."

Haibara snorts a little too loud and this gets Genta to grin. Just a little, but it's enough.

Conan claps his hands. "Ok, ok enough." The other three actual children pause, look at him out of the corners of their eyes and Conan doesn't falter. This was what the professor had told him to do after all. "You're doing a battle run, Genta. Did you catch anything in the forest?"

Everyone aims to pick a course on their journey, sometimes two if they're crazy enough, three if they're absolutely arrogant. League badges opened more doors than the animes aired all over tended to realize. Every city was required to have at least four different ways to obtain a badge. Even the most impoverished trainers and rookies should be able to earn the badge. Shinichi and Ran both had done two. It tended to rake in more money, more sponsors. That hadn't been Shinichi's concern, but it had been Ran's and despite all of his flaws, he would never leave her alone in the lurch.

Genta makes a face, then grins as he pulls a single pokeball from the back pocket of his shorts. "Just this guy! He's gonna be tough."

Conan nods. It's probably an oddish or something. Kogoro hates those things. "Ayumi-chan?"

"I'm taking the conservation course," she chirps, likely for Haibara's benefit. "I'll be taking my Scorchy egg!"

"Good luck!" Conan glances at Mitsuhiko. "Have you decided yet?" Mitsuhiko shifts on his heels and Conan softens his voice. "You don't have to, you know. You can take any road you want when you're ready."

Mitsuhiko nods. "But…. Shinichi-san took the battle road and the study road. That was how he got into the International Police, he, he told me. You need to be well-rounded. So I don't want to hold back because it seems difficult. I want to give everything I have."

Conan swallows, pretends his eyes aren't threatening to mist over because he's absolutely not a gods damned sap. "All right. But you only have charmander. You'll be at a disadvantage."

"I'll catch something while Genta-kun's in his battle," Mitsuhiko says, and sees Genta's face fall. He raises his hands. "I know you're going to win, Genta-kun! I believe in you!"

"Me too!" Ayumi cheers. Conan nods once. Haibara… watches. Which, fair. He'd watch too in her shoes. Unfortunately Ayumi takes that moment to turn to Haibara herself. "Hey, Haibara-san, what do you want to do?"

Haibara twitches, clearly having not thought that far ahead. Conan internally enjoys it, keeping his smile to himself. "I'm not certain, but perhaps… something in research or the apothecary. I know a fair bit about first aid."

"Oh good we need a healer," says Ayumi, pumping a fist. Genta looks a little sour and Mitsuhiko just looks if anything, more smitten. Ayumi just beams wider. "Come on, let's go!"

And the three of them are off, chattering excitedly and waving their arms. He had pulled them away from their previous tv show after all, they were likely going to pull it up on Mitsuhiko's pokegear the second they were in the waiting room seats.

Ai settles beside him as they exit into the heat that is Pewter in June. "Well then."

"Excitable aren't they?" Conan offers with a wry grin.

She chooses her words carefully. "They're an experience."

"Also that."

"Any particular reason for Kojima-kun's distaste?" she asks as they start to walk.

Conan shakes his head and shrugs. "He's like that with me too, I'm afraid. The other two get particularly cagey when I ask."

"Underlying trauma?"

"Not everything is that serious." Conan pauses a moment. "But it's likely. We'll deal with it at an inconvenient time. It's not like I've known him more than a month. He'll talk when he's ready."

"I suppose," Haibara agrees well enough, though her voice hints that she doubts that.

They reach the gym. Unlike all the other league affiliated buildings (those got the dubious right of a similar marketing scheme so even the colorblind would recognize the exterior symbols if nothing else), it is not made of stone, like Pewter's initial gym had been. Instead, it is a simple four floor building you could compare to those in regular cities. Mouri Gym and Detective Agency was painted on each window in neat kanji with a faded white banner dangling underneath claiming the type specialty they'd be challenging and the latest discount.

Whenever people say it's why Brock's ghost haunts Route Two, Conan cheerfully reminds them that Brock isn't dead. That's just his father and no one remembers the man's name.

Genta is reading the sign out loud so noisily that Conan bets there are people five blocks down who can hear him and are repeating the words under their breath.

"Looks borin'," Genta was saying as they got closer. "Even Pewter Gym looked cool before! It was part of the cave once! Dad helped make it safe for people to use. He has pictures!"

"Kogoro-otchan is mostly a detective because he's training apprentices who run the gym challenge areas," Conan replies with serious disinterest. Apprentices in gyms were normal, even encouraged nowadays after all the mess with Hoenn and the titans. "He used to do mostly the gym stuff 'cause it made more money but with the police departments all over stretched so thin with crime he ain't gotta choice but to go back to his detective work."

Which he had been at least decent at. Mouri Kogoro was seasoned and smart, he was just also extremely lazy and impatient. He was too young to retire, too old to become an advising journeyman veteran or go into other careers like Shinichi's own parents had, but he was still useful.

"So we're not even gonna be fighting him?" Genta huffs. "That's lame."

"You'll probably be fighting Amuro-san," Conan says because god he hopes so. Amuro-san is a terrifying guy. "I know I am. He's tough too and helps with the cafe down here. I'll be more surprised if otchan is here at all." Ran hadn't mentioned that he would be but… better to be realistic about these things and assume he wouldn't respond if he was. If he was he was probably using his detective sofa to sleep off another hangover.

Genta grumbles again and Mitsuhiko winces. "Perhaps I won't have enough time to catch something after all…" Genta is very much an attack! Attack! Attack! Person after all.


Conan waves him off. "I'll go first and get him over with. So go ahead."

"Well I'm definitely not leaving if that is the case."

Conan rolls his eyes. "Whatever. It's your funeral." He steps inside first, letting the cool air wash over him again. Summer can really suck sometimes.

… Also he needs new clothes. The little suit had made Ran happy and it held something important, but for now he needed better. He needs safer. Also Haibara has to go shopping anyway.

Gods so much to do.

Something brushes up against his skull, feather light and touching at his brain. He grimaces before he can control it. Sorry.

It understands and pulls away. Thankfully it's not Gaia being a little shit again.

The receptionist beams at them. "Conan-kun! Welcome back! It's time is it?"

Four pairs of baffled eyes are awkward but he's endured worse. "Yep! It's been a while, Azusa-san!" He bounds over to the desk. "Why aren't you over at Poirot?"

"They're renovating," she says with a sigh. "The whole kitchen's gutted. It's a mess."

"I'm sure Amuro-san's pleased with that," Conan hedges and she laughs.

"One less mask for him to wear i suppose you could say. But he's disappointed. He was hoping to cook a meal for Ran when she returns this weekend."

Conan contains his delight at those words because he doubts they'll stay that long. "Their kitchen works fine."

"Mouri-san might say differently."

Conan laughs. Of course he would. "Hey, are there any spots open today? We wanna try the gym."

"All of you?" Conan nods so the others don't say anything foolish. Or suspicious, in Haibara's case. She's not a registered trainer yet, but she can get the badge and add it later. "Amuro-san's definitely free, but Mouri-san is resting after a stakeout."

He lets his eyes widen. "Oh really? Did he leave the papers on his desk again?"

He gets a poke on the nose for his teasing. "Don't go bothering him now, Conan-kun. I don't think your head's recovered from the last time."

Conan makes a face but nods. "Only if he does this one right this time!"

"Amuro-san will keep him on track." she waves him off. "Now sign up. You've got time for one today. The rest of you will have to do it tomorrow."

"They're not all battle roaders," Conan protests. "We have a lot of them for study path."

Azusa narrows her eyes. "And have you told them the answers?"

Conan pouts. "I'm not nice enough for that Azusa-san!" He whines the last words even though he feels the other kids' hair stand on end. His answers would be out of date anyway. "Now, I'm ready!"

And he signs his name with a few quick swipes on the touchpad and his trainer barcode, inked onto his wrist. (It doesn't hurt as much the second time.) He's never been so relieved on the fact that they aren't using fingerprints as identification. Barcode tattoos were so common for youngster trainers and unofficial folks, they'd probably assume his other one it wasn't real. But fingerprint technology is good enough he'd get Kudo Shinichi blaring over that large monitor to the side and that's not a thing he needs. Or Haibara needs.

Miyano Shiho still sounds super familiar and he can't place it.

"You're all set to go up, Conan-kun!" she tells him, jolting him out of his thoughts. "I'll get the rest of your friends set up and contact Amuro-san. Head up for now and get ready, okay?"

Thank you, Azusa-san!" And he darts through the left side doors and out of sight. She doesn't yell after him, so she knows exactly what he's doing, which is bothering Mouri Kogoro.

Kogoro, simply put, has never really liked Conan nor Shinichi. He'd tolerated Shinichi because he'd stood up for Ran, child kidnappers were no joke! They'd spent their lives together for so long. But Conan is just a miniscule drain on his daughter's now independent funds and possibly his own space.

Conan knows it, and often makes sure to needle the old man as much as possible. Well that and because most of the time the man really is a shit detective. He wasn't kicked off of interpol just for shooting at his wife after all. You need incentive to get through interpol and not shitface yourself so hard you forget your name.

If the man didn't love Ran with all his soul, Conan's pretty sure the guy'd be dead by now. So Conan makes sure to needle him so he remembers that she still needs the man.

So he knocks on the door cheerfully. "Kogoro-otchan!" he chirps because the man hates that too. "How hungover are you?" He knows ten-year-olds don't sound like that but everyone thinks they're stupid so he plays off that.

Why do you let ten-year-olds out into the wild without thatknowledge, he wonders.

There's a shout and something hitting the door. Conan waits an extra few seconds, then the knob turns. "You surprised him, Conan-kun," says the man.

Amuro Tooru is built to destroy, if Conan's honest. His shoulders are broad, skin dark, eyes always alert no matter how soft they look, his stances always ready to change at a moment's notice. But right now he's smiling, brushing at Conan's messy hair.

"That was the idea," Conan tells him, pretending the strain doesn't hurt his neck.. "Azusa-san said you were on gym duty today."

"And she's right. Which is good because my other duties are at a lull right now. They're all busy looking for Shinichi-kun in the other department. He's the one who helped you during Ghetsis' attempt at another coup right?"

"Yup!" He's mastered the lie a little more by now. "I visited him right after that. But we had to be careful because of things like this." He scratches at the spots he remembers are supposed to itch from the ancient ice. "There's no news."

"No gossip?" He droops himself a little. "I hope someone finds something. Everyone's losing their marbles. Ran-nee-chan's scared."

"So do I. He was very good. But…" He musses up Conan's hair again, grinning now. "Come on, that's none of your business. You're a trainer. You're here for your badge. So what's the plan?"

"I did the survival course when I first got here." Out of boredom and because if he stayed too close it would look super suspicious. "I'm aiming for Hunter class!"

Amuro whistles. "Yikes. You are rather like a houndoom. I pity whoever gets in your crosshairs, Conan-kun."

Conan beams. "I could say the same about you."

The kind blue eyes briefly turn to steel. "Quite. Ready to get started?"

Conan smiles back, this time much more sharp. "Uh-huh!"

Chapter Text

Announcements blare over the intercom of course, the referee a respectable distance away. Conan could swear they look familiar but the blood is buzzing in his ears. It may be structured, but it is still battle and not mobbing. He can't help the thrum of joy in his heart. Watson's ball trembles and Conan smiles.

Amuro-san smiles back as the leader calls the rules. A two-on-two, the challenger for the throne can exchange at any time, use of two healing items from the challenger's side and one from the leader proxy. Amuro-san wouldn't use items, he never did. He didn't like to waste things, even when he had the money for them. Conan offers him the same courtesy, even subconscious.

Conan waits for the man on the referee box to fall silent, their voice making his ears ring with nostalgia. But he doesn't, can't, focus on it now. Instead, he straightens and lowers himself into a familiar bow, one arm outstretched in stage greeting.

From the stands, he hears Haibara Ai whistle and cracks a grin.

This is the salute of war, he thinks, the salute of the bitter Unovan boy who threw stones at warships and broken bottles at League officials. Edogawa Conan's trust in real authority is about as low as anyone's in Plasma. He knows Amuro-san won't risk bowing back because of it. He'll probably be too offended at the blow to his pride.

Conan lifts himself straight once more, and bares his teeth. This, Amuro-san returns and tosses out a ball of his own.

It pops out, a soft little white, black, and pink bear on all fours. At the sight of him, its spherical tail wags.

From the side, Ayumi squeals. Genta, on her other side, makes an acute noise of terror.

Conan cannot blame him.

"The gym leader chooses stufful!" declares the referee and the horror kicks in on the other faces proper except he's pretty sure Haibara is grinning, the ass. Oh he will probably kill her before she kills him. Likely letting Aggie do it but neither of them need to know that. "Challenger, make your choice."

Conan resists the urge to deck the referee in the face or visibly melt and squeal because holy shit, Tim Goodman was reffing! His match! His first match in years! He makes himself focus because how awesome and useful is that?

He really only has one choice in partner and he knew it wasn't Watson. Watson would probably die at the first blow from a super powered teddy bear. At least metapod was still in the hospital. That would have been just embarrassing.

Still, Conan can't help his smile. He just can't. This is what he lived for his first time. Why would it change now?

"Ready, Aggie," he whispers to the ball. Its button flickers green. "All right. Let's go!" He tosses it and out pops his absol. Agatha lands in the dirt of the field with an incredible amount of poise, not even faltering at the sight of the tiny bear who could still break the entire floor without really trying.

"Are you out of your mind?" Mitsuhiko hollers, pulled out of good manners by the seeming utter stupidity of his choice. Genta looks a little pleased, which is fair because Conan had shown him up how many times before in the past couple of weeks? Ayumi looks, well, somewhere in the middle because cute pokemon and oh god he's insane. Haibara simply watches, but Conan is absolutely sure she's smiling too. But not for the same reason. Because she knows.

"And the challenger has chosen Absol!" Oh yes he does know that referee. "Ready… begin!"

Amuro-san whistles and the bear bounds forward. It's not very fast but it uses its forelegs to throw itself forward, black paws wrapping themselves in visible darkness. Agatha steps to the side, using a glancing blow with her paws. Stufful rolls over, landing on all fours, lunging again.

"Aggie," Conan calls. "Step lively!"

Make him squirm.

Agatha's form glimmers white as she leaps across the battlefield, dodging more furious swipes. Then, her front leg bends, too far. She skids to a halt and an orange foreleg slams into her jaw. Agatha goes flying into the nearest psychic barrier and crumples.

There were noises of distinct pain and Conan winces. But Agatha rises up and in one smooth motion, throws a blade of wind at stufful's throat. Not full power, of course, his absol had a very realistic track record on account of being almost twenty years old, but it would take more than a basic razor wind to kill a stufful anyway. It still sends the pokemon rolling, squirming and making noises of dismay and pain. Stufful soon squirms to its feet and lunges again.

Conan shifts from foot to foot. He wants to move. Real battles mean you move with your pokemon. You have to to keep their visual perspective. It's normal. But he can't because he's up in a box and the last thing he needs aside from losing is to fall off the perch. Which counts as a loss because you crack your head open. Weak.

Agatha leaps back and then forward, horn meeting forehead and separating again. Blood trails down Stufful's head and into their fur. The bear blinks it out of their eyes and bays with rage. In the next moment, the bear lunges.

Conan doesn't flinch. It's a very loud voice sure, but it's also high pitched and squeaky and not that threatening considering Amuro-san's honor bound inability to break the rules on things that please him. "Play Rough," he shouts.

And in that moment, the fight is pretty much over.

Play Rough was a move that his mother had raised this absol to master for him once, taken from the breeder most battlers went through, and through her contest years had mastered it so effectively it would have been humiliating for his pokemon not to know it.

Little disaster you are, she'd said affectionately to Shinichi once. He'd never let her live it down. Because of course it had hurt, they aren't idiots but they believed their boy was of sterner stuff than that.

... At any rate, an absol having play rough is a one-trick pony until they learn psycho cut and absolutely drive everyone up a wall. Still, for the first gym, it is a riot. Judging by Genta's creative use of an f-bomb he wasn't supposed to know anyway.

And for an absol anything could be play.

Agatha darts and drives the squeaking, angry bear into a wall corner and bats him back and forth between her front paws like an easy peasy rubber ball. Blood dots from accidental scrapes of claws and Conan whistles. Agatha leaps away as the creature lunges, head meeting chin again, clacking jaw, drawing blood, but in the right range for this play rough. Stufful flies to the ground and goes still with a groan.

"Count of 1!" calls the referee and Agatha pads back to where Conan's standing. He can't touch her, not yet, the count is still going for a few moments.

But then the referee reaches ten and whistles. "Stufful is declared unable to continue. Challenger, do you wish to continue with your pokemon?"

"I'll switch." Agatha is panting in front of him and he'd rather not risk her right now. "C'mere, Aggie."

Agatha scowls but trots to his side, settling near enough for the beam to return her. He strokes her fur, watching Amuro-san's pokemon disappear in a spot of red light.

The man grins. "You're lucky this is your first gym."

"I'm really not," Conan mutters under his breath. "Watson, let's go."

The pikachu leaps from the ball and onto the field, sparking with sheer glee.

Amuro-san smirks and releases…

"The second round is… Pikachu vs Deerling!"

"Jerk," Conan mutters, but it's all in good fun.

The second the referee calls for the start the two pokemon are off, dashing across the field in little blurs. Deerling and sawsbuck were generally fairly harmless, often eaten in parts of Galar and staples in war. But tick one off and you were almost guaranteed a broken rib or two. Them and girafarig were the worst.

But Watson is a little bit faster, zipping with the speed of a pokemon used to laps, used to dashes. After the other day, nothing is impossible to run.

His body sparks.

"Is that your style, Conan-kun?" Amuro-san asks. "Overwhelm them with pure power?"

Conan grins, savage and wild, glasses gleaming in the spotlight. "Only today," he says, and Watson streaks across the field, a volt tackle shooting star into the deerling.

Deerling swings and glows green, feelers spreading like great, deadly antlers. But still it lands and sends them both again across the stage. Watson wobbles to his paws, the pads a light pink. Deerling wobbles and begins to glow green once more.

But deerling are fragile. He topples over as Watson continues to stumble. Landing on all fours, Watson whines.

He stays standing.

Conan beams.

It shouldn't mean anything, really. It's just a gym battle. He's done them before, tens of times at this point. But it's still nice. It's still affirming. It's still good.

Then again he may also be very starved for validation at this point. Conan would not be surprised to add it to his laundry list of issues and ailments, as his mom would put it.

"Deerling is down. The challenger wins!"

The kids shriek!. Haibara claps slowly, eyes heavy on his own. He looks at her and grins wider.

She smirks back.

Honestly, he doesn't know what he expected.

Haibara trails after the children. Tsurubuya-kun (They'd introduced themselves in the stands and she'd taken it… marginally well, she still feels a sensory overload headache coming on.) is arguing with Edogawa-kun about his choice of absol against stufful, like it's a crime against nature.

"Ash did it," Edogawa-kun is saying with a small smirk.

"He only won against Brock because of the sprinklers!" the other boy snaps back, fuming.

"It was only going to work once, better it be with Aggie than someone else."

"That doesn't make any sense Conan-kun!"

"Now now," Yoshida-san starts. "It did work. I thought stufful were supposed to be rougher though."

"They gotta be domesticated," Kojima-kun says with a puff of air. "My mom does that, ya know. Rehabilitates nutso pokemon and stuff."

Tsurubuya raises an eyebrow. "Genta-kun, you were doing so well…"

"What?! What'd I say?"

Watson squeaks against the fabric of Edogawa-kun's jacket. He scratches him behind the ear.

"What do you think, Haibara-san?" Yoshida-san was looking at her. Eyes big and blue, soft and guileless.

"It was a reckless strategy," Ai finds herself saying, earning a half-hearted glare from one boy and a look of admiration from another. "But for absol, who are often put on an offensive and speedy track to survive, it was logically sound. The deerling could have gone either way. That said, it won't be the same for the rest of the battles."

"Duh," Kojima-kun said, only to get smacked in the back. "What? That's how it works though!"

"For different reasons than a Nuzlocke campaign," Edogawa-kun says with disinterest "Which she'd had to do."

The other children freeze and look at her with a whole new light. Yoshida-san, almost accusatory."You've killed pokemon?"

Ai regards them thoughtfully. Strictly speaking, of course she has. She truthfully, did have to do a Nuzlocke survival run. It's the only way to get into the Organization, no matter who your parents are or aren't. She hadn't wanted to but dying hadn't sounded great either. Should she tell them that? They are actually ten years old after all.

Edogawa-kun lets out a snort. "Guys, remember? I've killed pokemon. I've eaten them. Don't lose your heads now."

The three of them flush, abashed, and all look away, murmuring to themselves and her in apology. Ai shakes her head and glances at Edogawa-kun again.

Why was Edogawa-kun traveling with real children? Sure it was normal but most real trainers, most elite trainer wannabes anyway, went at it alone. Eventually their dreams diverged, their hearts went separate ways and they parted soon after.

She'd read Kudo Shinichi was a loner. One friend, a few colleagues, some rivals. A lot of bad eggs. Little connection with his parents. His disappearance was more remarkable for the paperwork it left behind rather than most people's concern.

So why had he chosen kids? Why not do an internship or an apprenticeship or school? Less obtrusive, more safe. What was special about them? Only one of them looks vaguely familiar to her.

"Don't think so much."

The tense cloud is gone and Edogawa-kun is step for step beside her.

"I wasn't."

"Your eyes tell otherwise." He grins. "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone you have a heart in there somewhere."

Of course I do, she thinks, but not over this.

But it goes unspoken and she's pulled into the conversation once more.