~~I'm sorry it has to be this way but we're in love

Shinichi stares dumbly at the lone text message. He's already been staring at it for several minutes, though it's not like something as trivial as the passage of time means anything in light of a text like this. The coffee cup by his mouth also escapes his notice as he absently tips it back for a sip and instead gets a mouthful of coffee-flavored air. Normally, this might warrant some attention, but this time it fails to earn so much as a second of airtime in his mind. His world continues to stubbornly revolve around his phone, and, specifically, the concerning words on the screen. He slowly puts the mug down and continues staring, brows furrowed deeply in concentration.

"Shin-i-chiii!" a loud petulant voice accompanied by hands slamming the table across from him forcibly knocks him out of his trance, and he glances up to meet his childhood friend's objectively intimidating scowl. Then he returns to his staring contest with the message.

"Hey Ran," he mutters distractedly. She huffs and pushes his phone down to force him to meet her eyes again.

"I've been looking all over for you, you mystery geek!" she scolds him, ever the older sister. "You're not supposed to be here, you know!"

"Just wanted a coffee," he says simply, eyes darting down to the phone again but not daring to try to retrieve it from Ran's grasp, lest he have an unfortunate encounter with the wrong end of an award-winning karate kick.

"There's coffee back at the cabin," she reminds him, her stern expression adequate warning of the consequences of further ignoring her.

"No," Shinichi says with a deep breath, finally accepting the need to devote a fraction of his attention to this conversation. "There's brown powder in plastic packets labeled 'coffee' back at the cabin, but there's no actual coffee back at the cabin."

Ran half-sighs, half-groans as she sinks into the chair opposite him. "Still," she chides, "if you wanted something different, I could've picked it up for you when I went to the store earlier. You shouldn't have to come all the way to the café by yourself."

"It's not a big deal," he says defensively. "It's supposed to be a vacation, not house arrest."

"Dumb Shinichi," she pouts. "If there were really a difference between the two, we could've gone on a normal trip instead of your parents practically kidnapping you to get you to come to the most remote resort town they could find. I know you've been bored here, but we had to get you away from people and the internet on purpose. You would never take a break from your cases otherwise."

Shinichi hastily averts his eyes, his grip on the phone subconsciously tightening. Yes, he knows he's been a little… stressed lately. Overwrought. Not in the best state of mind. Call it what you will. And, in a way, he thinks he's actually rather fortunate that his friends and family all automatically chalked it up to too many people dropping dead around him, without ever bothering to ask him about the cause of his bad mood. Had the asked, he would've evaded, obscured, and simply denied everything. Then they would've tried to force it out of him, he would've gotten defensive, and, all in all, it would've just been an awkward experience for everyone.

Besides, the treatment for his real problem would've been mostly the same anyway — distance, time, and space away from the source of the issue. This trip might've actually really helped him, if he'd allowed it to. Perhaps it would've been better if he'd stayed cooped up in that wifi-less coffee-lying cabin after all.

Ran sighs. "I was the one in charge of watching you today too," she says sullenly. "But you snuck away from me. Just like always."

That one hurts. Guilt twists like an awful weight in his gut, as it always does whenever she mentions anything even vaguely Conan-adjacent. She knows that too, and probably does it on purpose. Not that he doesn't deserve it, of course.

"I'm sorry, Ran," he tells her, sincere despite the grimace of pain on his face. "Really. I just felt like I was going crazy being stuck in that cabin for so long, and, well… anyway, I was wrong to leave without telling you. I'm sorry." As he thinks about it, he has to admit that perhaps his parents might've had a small point when they'd accused him of being addicted to his phone. He'd only rolled his eyes at them at the time — lecturing a college-aged child about 'wifi withdrawals' was just such an old-person thing to do that he hadn't given it any credit at first.

"I know," Ran says, then heaves another sigh and sits up straighter, giving him a soft smile to signal the transition to a new topic. "So, how many cases have you run into since leaving the safety of the cabin?"

"None, actually," he answers, returning the smile with gratitude.

"Moouu, I don't believe that for one moment!" she scolds him playfully. "There has to be at least a virtual case, right? Maybe Megure-keibu emailed you about a tricky problem?"

"No, he didn't," Shinichi says. He's pretty sure his parents pulled some strings (and perhaps made some light threats) to prevent just such an email, so he hadn't expected any communication from Division One during this trip. Then he remembers the other relevant detail and frowns despondently at his phone. "But even if they had, I doubt I would've received the email. The wifi here is too slow to even open a webpage, and in the entire…" he pauses to check the time, does a double take, frowns, shakes his head, and continues, "hour and a half that I've been sitting here, only one message has come through. And quite frankly, I'm surprised there was enough reception for even that much."

"Huh," Ran replies, cocking her head to the side. "But what sort of message could it be that you were thinking so intensely when I found you?"

She asks it gently, not wanting to push him, and he debates whether to tell her. His time as Conan had trained him to instinctively hoard information as if every minor personal detail were some high-stakes trade secret that could sink an entire economy. On the other hand, he is not getting anywhere by just thinking about this message himself, and he really would like to get some answers. And Ran, like most other humans, does tend to be better at this sort of thing than he is.

He considers the phone in his hand a moment, examines it as if it's a live and angry scorpion, finally accepts that he'll never be able to repeat such outrageously insane words out loud, and so unlocks the phone and passes it to Ran with the message open for her to see.

Ran accepts the phone, but her face remains frustratingly impassive for a moment, until it hits her all at once and her eyes suddenly grow several sizes. "'I'm sorry it has to be this way, but we're in love'?" she reads incredulously, cheeks flushing. Shinichi reflexively lifts his still empty mug to his face and turns to the window, fighting back his own blush now.

"Wh—," she begins, then stops. "From… Kuroba-kun? Oh. Ok…" she trails off and lapses into silence, keeping her expression intentionally blank.

"Well? What do you think?" Shinichi asks her impatiently after a moment of her continuing to stare fixedly at the phone to avoid looking at him.

"Um, well…" she says, slowly, carefully, looking away. "I mean, sure, I'm surprised, but I'm not upset at all, of course! And I guess, in hindsight, it does actually make a lot of sense?"

"It does? How so?" Does she really think any of this makes sense? Shinichi puts the mug down and sits up straighter with a twinge of hope at maybe getting some insight into this problem.

"Umm…" Ran gives an awkward half shrug, looking off to the other side now and brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "It's just… you know... the way you two look at each other? And you're so close to each other, it seems so natural when you're together… And… I mean, now that I'm thinking about it, I can't remember you ever looking at women like that, so…"

"Oi oi oi, hold on just one moment!" he splutters, throwing his hands up. "Ran, I don't know what you're implying, but that is not—" he catches himself short, the words dying an unpleasant death in his throat when he realizes with another surge of remorse that he was about to lie to her again. Instead, he shakes his head, clears his throat, and redirects himself. "That is not what I'm asking about right now. I just meant, what do you think the text means?"

"Oh." She flushes and ducks her heard and looks back at the phone to have something to do with her eyes. She absently plays with a strand of her hair and frowns at the message, scrolling a little through the chat. "Hmm, I guess there isn't much context for it in this thread. I assumed it was an inside joke or something?"

"No, that's exactly it, there's no context at all!"

"Hmm," she hums again. "Ok… So, just to be clear, you're not dating Kuroba-kun?"

"No!" Shinichi's face screws up with the effort of resisting the urge to bury his head in the nearest available sand and then promptly die of embarrassment. He compromises by propping his head in one hand to at least partially cover his face and squeezing his eyes shut to try to block out reality for a moment.

"Of course we're not dating," he mumbles into his hand after a moment, grief replacing his embarrassment to leave him feeling subdued. And he was going to shut his mouth and leave it at that. He really should've. But now that he's finally talking about this, the words, laced with deep longing, slip out without his consent. "Kaito is straight."

Ran snorts.

Shinichi's eyes instantly snap open so that he can shoot her a dirty look. "Oi oi, what's that for?"

"Shinichi, really! Kuroba-kun is not straight!" Ran giggles in bemused delight. "No straight man knows that much about fashion and make-up! Remember the shopping trip?"

"Of course I remember the shopping trip," Shinichi retorts dryly. How could anyone forget? Ran, Sonoko, and Kazuha had dragged Shinichi and Heiji along to the mall as pack mules for their bags. Kaito had tagged along simply because he happened to be around Shinichi when Ran invited him.

But when the girls had started debating which shoes would match the frilly dress, Kaito, to everyone's surprise, had stepped up to offer advice. Then he began recommending entire outfits for them and even advising on matching accessories. From there, the shopping trip had rapidly devolved into Kaito basically arranging an entire fashion show with the girls modeling everything he found interesting, attracting a small crowd of impressed customers and employees alike. Until Kaito had become a little too demanding about how the girls should walk while modeling the clothes and threatened to demonstrate a proper runway strut himself, at which point Shinichi had seized Kaito's arm in utter mortification and forcibly hauled him out of the store while Heiji nearly ruptured a lung from the force of his laughter at them.

They had not been shopping together since, though the girls sometimes still sent Kaito pictures of outfits they were considering for his 'expert' opinion.

"But Ran," Shinichi continues, not eager to dwell on that particular memory, "it doesn't mean anything. I can assure you, there's a perfectly good reason for it." That perfectly good reason might involve a certain phantom thief's proclivity for identity theft, and therefore was not something he could share with Ran, but it was still a perfectly good reason nonetheless.

"What, because of his time in the theater club?" Ran scoffs with a fond eye-roll. That was the excuse Kaito had given at the time. Shinichi had been impressed that he'd thought of such a solid cover story so quickly, though now it seemed it had been maybe less effective than they'd hoped. "You know, not many straight men spend as much time in the theater club as Kuroba-kun does," she explains happily.

They do if they're professional actors who need to keep their skills sharp so they can infiltrate maximum security vaults, Shinichi thinks to himself wryly. Again, not exactly something he can say. It irks him to have so much perfectly solid evidence that he can't use to disprove Ran's outrageous claims.

"That still doesn't prove anything. You haven't seen the way he looks at Nakamori-chan," Shinichi tells her, trying and failing to hide the bitterness in his voice. He looks down with a heavy expression, and the mug clicks against the table as he grabs it reflexively. "Those two are close. I'm sure they're going to get married someday."

"Shinichi, we're close," Ran reminds him gently, which is definitely awkward for a moment until she shakes her head and continues. "I've seen them together too, and they seem like good friends to me."

"I heard he used to flip her skirt all the way through high school. How can he not be interested in her?" he retorts.

"Moouuu, Shinichi! How could anyone interested in women do something like that? Kuroba-kun is too smart and too good at reading social cues to behave like that toward someone he actually wanted to date! It sounds to me like he only did it because he wasn't interested in Aoko-chan."

Shinichi purses his lips, flailing for a response to that, and Ran cocks her head in amusement.

"Whereas, when he's around you," she pushes on mercilessly, "he's always kind and happy and tries his best to be charming. Sometimes I'd say he even looks a little nervous, which is really cute. And he always acts so familiar around you, like you've known each other forever!"

"There's a good reason for that, too," he grumbles. Another good reason that he can't share, naturally. Kaito had, in fact, known him for years, back when Shinichi was constantly trying to arrest him for high-profile jewel theft. Of course the dumb criminal would want to avoid pranking Shinichi too much, lest the detective change his mind about the whole not-throwing-him-in prison thing.

"And what about the roses he always gives you?" Ran prompts, raising her eyebrows skeptically.

"He gives everyone roses," Shinichi replies dismissively. This is ridiculous. If Kaito were even slightly interested in him, Shinichi surely would've picked up on it by now, given that he's been desperately looking for the slightest hint of any such interest for the past several months. Every word, every glance, every expression in those captivating indigo eyes, every enchanting smile and every beautiful laugh so full of life, Shinichi had memorized, analyzed, and overanalyzed, hoping against hope for some clue about the other's feelings. By now, he must've spent three minutes overthinking every angle of every interaction for every one minute that they actually spent together.

And, honestly, yeah — there was a reason he'd been forcibly vacationed like this. But Ran is working off too much false data for her conclusions, and Shinichi can't correct most of her 'facts,' so he's starting to regret asking her about it at all. He tries one last time to refocus her attention and salvage some of his dignity from this conversation. "Anyway, about that message. There's no context, no previous hints of romance, and no possibility of it being flirting. So do you have any other ideas?"

Ran is taken aback by the change in topic and blinks a few times before returning her attention to the phone still in her hands. She frowns and opens her mouth to say something, then thinks better of it.

"I bet it's a wrong number," Shinichi breaks the silence lightly after a moment. "Either that, or someone took his phone and is pranking him."

"Huh? But isn't Kuroba-kun usually the one doing the pranking?"

"Well maybe someone is getting back at him? Or maybe he meant to prank me?"

"Um… maybe…?" she offers uncertainly.

"Or maybe there is context," Shinichi suggests with an exaggerated helpless spread of his arms. Then the idea suddenly takes root and snaps into place and the hopeful queasy knot in his stomach eases itself into a much more manageable subdued disappointment. He smirks his confident deduction-solved smirk.

"Yeah, that's definitely it!" he grins, relieved. "Like I said, I'm surprised there was enough reception for just the one text message to come through. I bet its part of a long thread and, by some wild coincidence, this just happened to be the only message that I received. But when I get home and have data again, I'll see all the messages that came before it, and it'll make perfect sense in an entirely normal and non-romantic way!"

Shinichi finishes his explanation with a flourish, then nods slightly to himself in affirmation. He looks down at the mug still clutched in his hand, realizes for the first time that it's empty, and raises his head to try to find a waiter to ask for a refill.

He stops in his tracks at the expression on Ran's face, something between incredulity, worry, derision, amusement, and pity.

It causes his brain to stall, and he stares at her dumbly.

"Shinichi…" she begins, in a tone of voice to match her expression, which somehow makes him feel even more small and pathetic.

He feels like he should be defending himself, or at least ordering more coffee, so he opens his mouth to attempt human speech. Nothing comes out. He simply waits for her to continue. He probably deserves whatever she has to say anyway.

"What sort of context," she asks, slowly, as if speaking to a not particularly bright child, "could possibly make this text message sound normal or non-romantic?"