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After making up with Ran, the childhood friends had somehow fallen into a simulacrum of their old relationship. Whatever time Shinichi wasn’t spending with Kaito was essentially spent with the girl that once filled his heart. Every now and then she would do something or say something, and Shinichi knew he still loved her. That love was muted though; not the same. It was a love that was always there, supporting the romantic love they had both let go of a long time ago now.

If it wasn’t for that love, a special familial love Shinichi gave to few, there was no way the detective would ever step foot in Mouri Kogoro’s office again. Now that everything was over and done with, Shinichi sometimes found himself doing something Conan would do. He would switch over to a child’s speech or begin walking to elementary school. Luckily Kaito was usually around to cover for him, but he made do. Being in the Mouri Detective agency simply meant Conan’s life. He knew how many steps it would take to get to Conan’s room, how blue the walls, and how empty and lonely it would be.

As Ran apologized again and dashed down the hallway to her room, Shinichi laughed her off and stared at the messy office. Before Ran went to college, she kept the place clean, but the lack of free time clearly showed in the boxes of food and beer cans spread all around. The same old couch beckoned from the middle of the room and Shinichi answered the call, slumping into the soft cushions. For a second, his legs jerked up, surprised that his feet touched the floor. They hadn’t before. He closed his eyes and pressed a hand to his face. He was Conan before.

From the other room, Ran shouted, “I’ll be right out Shinichi! I just can’t,” he could hear grunts and bangs from her room then finally a growl. “Find this stupid book!”

Breathlessly laughing, Shinichi looked up to the ceiling and tried to relax into his body. “I’m sure she won’t mind if you hold onto it a bit longer!”

“Ugh!” Apparently she wouldn’t be taking his word for it. “Conan did you—” Both of the froze, neither seeing the other through the wall separating them. Standing alone in her room, a disaster zone all around her, Ran clenched her fists. Breathe in, breathe out. She looked up to her collection of pictures, friends and family smiling back at her. A small detective smirking as she grinned at the camera. He hadn’t called in a while. “Oops! He was here for so long I forgot he left! Remind me to tell you all about him later!” Shinichi hadn’t decided yet if he would. Calming down, Ran went back to her search while Shinichi gazed about the office. Then the bell rang.

Both adults froze again, looked towards the door. The bell rang again, followed by a knock. Before Ran could ask Shinichi to get it, a high-pitched voice called out, “Detective Mouri! Are you there? Ran-nee-chan?” Ran skidded down the hallway in seconds, waving Shinichi back down. Not that he was moving. He was too busy choking on whatever suddenly clogged up his throat.

“It’s Conan’s friends! They love mysteries as much as you, Shinichi. You’re gonna love them.” With that brief introduction, Ran opened the door on Shinichi’s old life. The group of children excitedly greeted one of the few adults that always took them seriously as Ran spared each of them a smile. As always, they waltzed into the office like they owned the place and Ran let them.

All their blustering ground to a halt when they saw Shinichi lounging on the couch. In Conan’s spot. “I-is that? Kudo Shinichi!” Of course Ayumi would be the first to speak up. Genta and Mitsuhiko gasped in wonder while Ai idly stared at the boy she had helped retake his life. Pasting a smile on his face, Shinichi tried to think of some way out of this situation. If he had a hard time not acting like Conan around adults, what would meeting the detective squad do? Once again, he wished Kaito were around to magic them out of the situation.

The excitable members of the group clamored around him, asking questions too fast for anyone to decipher. At least Ran could keep them in check. Clearing her throat only once, she settled a stern glare on the children and they backed off, sending her sheepish glances. Satisfied, she smiled at her childhood friend. She smiled at him more than she used to. At Shinichi, that is. Either she was better at faking smiles than before, or letting go had been the right choice. Shinichi hoped it was the latter.

“Shinichi, this wild bunch is the Junior Detective Squad.” They cheered and held out their badges to show off, Ai taking part as well with a smirk on her face. “This is Haibara Ai, Yoshida Ayumi, Tsubaraya Mitsuhiko, and Kojima Genta. They were Conan’s friends. And they solved a case or two on their own.”

Leaning forward, Shinichi stared at each of them for a few seconds, “Looks like I’ve got some competition for the title of Great Detective.” Don’t act like Conan. You don’t know them, his mind supplied. They’re kids you just met.

Ayumi just giggled, “You could always join us if you want.”

Genta and Mitsuhiko lit up and nodded their heads. “Yeah! We could use an extra set of hands until Conan gets back!”

The mood in the room dropped as the adults stopped breathing. Shinichi glanced over at Ai who shrugged, a sympathetic look on her face. Ran’s own gaze wandered off as she tried to tamp down her own desire for the precocious child to come back. Mitsuhiko nudged Genta with his elbow and whispered, “Conan went to America. They said he wasn’t coming back, remember?”

“What!” Genta was as loud as Shinichi remembered. “Why not?”

It was Ran’s turn to step in, or kneel down in her case. “Conan wasn’t able to live with his family, but now he can. Wouldn’t you want to be with your parents Genta?” The large boy muttered his agreement and joined his friends in pouting at the floor.

Shinichi was suddenly feeling even more guilty than before. There was no way he was lying to the kids and telling them Conan was coming back. He couldn’t tell the truth that bluntly either. Where was a case when he needed one?

Reaching out an awkward hand, Shinichi patted each of their heads, skipping over Ai. It was nice being taller than them finally. “Sounds like you really like this kid. I’m sure he likes you all just as much and really wants to come back and be with you.”

“Then why doesn’t he come back, Shinichi-nii-chan?” Leave it to Ayumi to act familiar with him on the first meeting. 

Gulping, Shinichi tried to think of any reason that wouldn’t break their hearts. There really was no way to reconcile Conan and Shinichi’s lives, even as tightly intertwined as they were. “I think that’s a mystery you need to solve for yourself.” At least until he could give them a better answer.

Ai nodded at him and pulled Ayumi back at long last. Mentally sighing in relief, Shinichi forced a smile on his face again. Ran wouldn’t meet his eyes when he looked up and Shinichi almost frowned. His eyes skittered away from the girl. There were no words he could say to alleviate her thoughts.

“Haha.” Ran’s laughter sounded awkward, but Shinichi wouldn’t comment on it if the kids didn’t notice. “Well, Shinichi and I had plans—”

“Oh! Ran, you’re home! Can you—”All eyes turned to the new addition just as he realized how many people were in his office. “What’s with all the brats? I thought we got rid of one! We’re not taking care of them!” Detective Mouri in all his glory. Shinichi snickered, earning a glare from the older man. “Oh, you’re back. Need the great detective Mouri’s help on a case, brat?”

Rolling his eyes, Shinichi regretted bolstering the man’s reputation as much as he did. “Yeah, solve any lately?”

“Listen here, you!”

Before they could start off another fight, Ran jumped in with a threatening fist and glare aimed at both men. “Behave yourselves.” They shrank back as commanded. “Dad, these are Conan’s friends. Remember? Shinichi and I were about to go meet some people.” Sending one last glare towards his young rival—who didn’t feel the same way at all—Kogoro shrugged and sauntered to his desk. 

“Then take all the brats with you! I’m busy!” She knew exactly what he was busy doing, but Ran shrugged it off. She’d deal with after she got back home.

Ushering the small crowd out of the office, Shinichi and Ran sent the kids off with promises to play with them another day and took off to their own plans at last. Finally he could relax. “If only it were just Kaito.”

Snickering, Ran nudged her friend, smirking back at his small glare. “How cute. You two are so much in love!”

Shinichi groaned, then tried not to dignify that with a response. There was no hope. Once Ran and Aoko got together, the teasing would just get worse. He should save his energy. At least then Kaito would be a target as well. It only took a few minutes for the smiles and laughter from earlier to return, and Shinichi’s mind turned back from dark thoughts. His two worlds were colliding, but now he could believe that was a good thing. Conan would never be back, but perhaps Shinichi could fill the void Conan never could.