"L-lots of contexts, Ran!" Shinichi stammers in response, several minutes after she's asked her weighted question, when he finally rediscovers the wonders of how to produce sounds from one's vocal cords.

She merely raises a single judgmental eyebrow in a silent request for elaboration. He flags a waiter and orders a coffee.

Eventually he manages a weak explanation about how Kaito is a strange guy who chooses weird wordings sometimes and who thinks he's funny, and no, Shinichi doesn't know why Kaito is like this, only that he's a strange guy and you just kinda have to get used to it.

Ran doesn't really have anything to say to that, so she gives him a very strained side glance, shrugs as if to say she's done all she could do for him, then orders an expensive specialty drink and an overpriced dessert on his tab. He figures he got off easy.

They transition to easier topics, finish their drinks, then begin the long but leisurely walk back through the countryside to the cabin. Ran gives him one final lightly veiled threat about not wandering off anymore when she locks the door behind them, and they both know from the fear in his eyes that he takes it seriously.

True to his word, he's made no further escape attempts, and hasn't even left the confines of the cabin except to take in the evening sunlight and scenic views from the back porch. His parents return in the evening as usual, and Ran casts him an inquisitive look that he immediately returns with a desperate 'oh please no anything but that' look, so they don't mention the incident to his parents.

Shinichi can't focus on any of the conversations, food, or post-dinner activities, however. Not that that's a particularly new thing — he hasn't exactly had what one might call a 'clear head' for quite some time now. But now his distraction is sharper, laced with a heavier dose of anxiety, maybe a little angst thrown in there. His parents surely notice, but are gracious enough not to call him out on it. The three of them continue their valiant efforts to attempt to help Shinichi 'get his mind off things.' He appreciates their efforts. It's totally pointless and doing absolutely nothing to help, but he appreciates it nonetheless.

What he doesn't appreciate so much is the way Ran's attitude toward him has subtly shifted away from 'concerned big sister' and closer to 'excitable gossipy friend who's just caught a whiff of some juicy new drama' sometime in the last few hours. But that's a problem for another day.

He decides to ask his dad if he's heard of any new or interesting murder cases lately, just to make sure his parents continue in their delusions about the source of his personal problems. He certainly doesn't need three people looking at him like that.

"Ok, I think I've got it!" Shinichi declares to Ran over breakfast, after his parents have left for the day on yet another extravagant outing that he didn't care for.

Ran rolls her eyes fondly and gives him an amused smile. "What is it this time?" she asks expectantly, clearly too entertained by all this. He can't say he exactly blames her — even he is begrudgingly aware that his theories have become increasingly outlandish with every additional day that he spends in this stupid cabin with no wifi or proper coffee.

First, he'd theorized that Kaito had intended the text for someone else, perhaps someone that he was rejecting with a lame excuse. Then he'd thought it might be a song lyric, or perhaps a quote from some show he was watching. That had led to the theory that maybe Kaito was reciting a conversation he'd overheard. Then Shinichi had realized that 'love' is a rather vague word with multiple possible interpretations, and had started listing off all the family, friends, and neighborhood pets that Kaito loved, before Ran had interrupted him and offered the sensible counterpoint that 'in love' is significantly less vague.

Shinichi still stands by all those possible theories, even the ones that made Ran laugh. But this is definitely his most realistic one yet, so he puts on a smug grin before announcing, "The context is that he just got a girlfriend and will therefore be spending less time with me from now on, which he's sorry about, but it just 'has to be this way' because he's in love with his girlfriend."

"Hmm…" Ran hums thoughtfully, tapping her chin. "Well, except for the part that I'm still sure that it wouldn't be a girlfriend, I guess that could be possible."

Shinichi widens his smirk, focusing intently on the knowledge that he's gotten a good point in, as a way of trying to drown out the sickening lurch of heartbreak that clings to him and burns like a knife in his chest.

"But," Ran continues, startling him out of his thoughts, "why would he text you about something like that while he knows you're on vacation?"

He vigorously shakes his head to dislodge the foolish wisp of hope that automatically sprung up at her words. "Why wouldn't he?" he counters. "Kaito's my best friend. He's the person I spend the most time with. Of course he'd tell me as soon as something like that happened."

"So who is it then?" she asks innocently.

"Huh? Who's who?"

"Who is he dating?" she clarifies with a playful shine in her eyes as she serves herself another pancake. "If they're this much in love already, then it must be someone he's known for a while. Since you two spend more time together than apart, I'm sure you must have at least some idea of who it could be."

"…no, I don't," he admits sullenly after an embarrassingly long pause. "So I guess that means he either never told me about her before, or, more likely, he met her sometime in this last week that I've been locked up in this damn cabin."

"Shinichi, do you really think Kuroba-kun would abandon a years-long friendship the second he started dating someone that he'd met in the last week? Even to the extent that he'd interrupt your vacation just to tell you that he won't be around anymore?"

"Yes," Shinichi answers immediately, eliciting a light-hearted laugh from Ran at his apparently too-obvious pout.

"But he wouldn't, though," she tells him, sounding so sure of herself that he's tempted to actually believe her. "He's not like that. And besides, he's in love with you. Now that I've started thinking about it, I'm just really surprised I didn't see it before."

"No no no," Shinichi refutes, for maybe the twentieth time so far. "That doesn't explain the message! It would be such a strange way to phrase it if he wanted to confess."

"You said yourself that he phrases things in weird ways," she shrugs. "Besides, it doesn't have to explain the message. It's true anyway."

"But the message means something! Most likely that he's in love with someone else. And there are a lot of other reasons that he can't like me anyway. No, there's definitely something more going on here, you'll see," he declares, waving his fork for emphasis. He frowns off into space, completely zoning out for a few minutes until she calls him back to reality again to finish his breakfast before it gets cold(er).

"Maybe he's talking about an inanimate object," Shinichi suggests idly after only one more bite. She nearly chokes on her drink in her consequent fit of laughter, and he can't suppress his own smile. "I'm serious!" he insists, playfully. "Kaito's a weird guy, you know? He's always exaggerating about everything. Maybe he's just saying he loves his motorcycle so much or something."

He attempts a somber expression to hold her gaze for a moment, until they both burst into laughter.

"Well, it's good to see you're finally feeling a little better," Ran sighs through residual giggles a few minutes later. At his bewildered expression, she rolls her eyes and explains softly, "You haven't made a joke in a while. It's nice to see your sense of humor coming back a bit."

"…oh," he says, looking down and away. He hadn't realized it, perhaps because utter agony and despair still consumes his entire existence, but it has gotten a little better over the last few days, hasn't it? If nothing else, he feels a little freer, less constrained, as if there's a bit of room for the utter agony and despair to stretch out and breath a little. His lips quirk into a hint of a smile, and he forces himself to meet Ran's eyes. He knows that, to the extent that this counts as 'better,' it's only because someone else finally suspects the root of his troubles and can hear him out about it.

Ok, so yes, obviously Ran doesn't just 'suspect,' she knows. She knows exactly what's going on, but neither one of them has put it into anything as concrete as actual words yet, and Shinichi would very much prefer to continue in the illusion that he still has any semblance of privacy left at all, thank you very much. He's always felt that words are grossly overrated anyway.

She smiles sweetly at him, then takes their dishes to the sink to clean up.

"You know what you need to do, right? When we get home?" she asks gently over the sound of the running water. Shinichi groans in pained frustration, grateful her back is turned so he doesn't have to fear that she'll see the depth of emotion spilling out from his expression and posture. Overall, he is very much not happy that they're finally directly talking about this.

"Yeah, I know," he sighs bitterly. He'd really rather not, all things considered. But what can you do? "First I'll tell him to leave me alone, and then I'll block his number and never speak to him again, right?"

"Ha. Ha," she states flatly, tone dripping with sarcasm. "No, I mean that you need to talk to him and tell him how you feel."

"I'm not the only one making jokes today, I see," he retorts with a half-hearted attempt at deflection.

"Shinichi—" she begins in a whine, turning to give him a look, and he hastily cuts off her protests.

"Yeah yeah, I know!" he defends, then heaves another deep sigh and turns to stare out the window, suddenly feeling incurably sad. "I know. I'll tell him."

"It's the only way you'll start to feel better," she adds delicately, and entirely unnecessarily. He knows. He's held out as long as he could, basked in the warmth of Kaito's one-of-a-kind roguish smile, indulged in the company of a person he could never get tired of, and committed every detail of that beautiful joyful face to memory. But he knows he can't keep it up forever, that the pain is becoming too great, and that he needs to cut it off before the heartache drains him completely. He knows. He's always known.

It still makes him sad, though.

The vacation drags on several more excruciating tortuous days.

His parents keep trying to come up with fun activities to invite him on, he keeps insisting he doesn't enjoy horseback riding or hot air balloons or fancy photoshoots, and Ran keeps claiming disinterest as well in order to stay back to watch him. He spends the days mindlessly staring at the books he's been wanting to read since forever, and the evenings pretending to be engaged in whatever game or show the others attempt to engage him with.

He realizes they must be becoming somewhat desperate in their attempts to cheer him up when they voluntarily allow him to 'completely ruin' a game of Clue, and then put on an atrocious movie adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes story for him to mock. When he can only manage a single snide remark about the glaringly obvious plot holes, the others exchange a few concerned glances. Shinichi turns away, absently fiddling with the useless phone in his pocket, not able to bring himself to care about anything else.

Even though neither he nor Ran mention anything about Kaito or the mysterious text message again, he still manages to waste every minute of his potentially restful time in the countryside letting his brain be entirely consumed by the one thing he should've been getting some space from. But, in his defense, they had left him unsupervised for a few minutes that one time last week, so is it really his fault that he snuck away from Ran to get a quick cup of decent coffee?

Of course it is. He can't bring himself to care about such an irrelevant detail at the moment, though.

Sure, it's unhealthy to be constantly obsessing over something he doesn't have sufficient information on and can't do anything about and is probably inconsequential anyway.

Again, not important.

He thinks of nothing else, barely even noticing his surroundings for the last few days of the vacation. When asked about the trip later, he will be entirely unable to recount a single detail from these days, for all he is aware of is the tortuous ordeal of being in suspense, unable to test any of the dozens of increasingly bizarre and distressing theories echoing through his mind on repeat.

He never wants to go on vacation again.

Eventually, mercifully, it's time to leave. They set out mid-morning, Shinichi for once not complaining about getting up at the unsightly hour of nine am. But his parents were quite thorough in their choice of remote location, and the first few hours of the drive still don't have them within range of any proper cell service. Shinichi would know. He refreshes his messaging app approximately once every five seconds.

They drive past a small town which might've had some service, but Shinichi sleeps through it. The early hour and cumulative stress of vacationing maybe got to him a little more than he would like to admit.

The car breaks down the next time they're solidly in the middle of nowhere, and they spend several hours sitting at the edge of a field by the side of the road waiting for a tow truck. By the time the car is operational again, everyone is tired, sore, hungry, and a little cranky. So of course the others insist on stopping at the next restaurant they find, even if that 'restaurant' is barely more than a few upturned boxes serving as makeshift counters around an improvised outdoor grill under a handwritten cardboard sign.

Suffice to say, the restaurant offers neither wifi nor adequate coffee. The meal at least helps calm the others so that Shinichi is now the only one in a sour mood.

He continues impulsively trying to refresh his messages over and over for the next hour or so until he notices that his battery has nearly died. So he scowls and pouts and tucks his phone away and stares morosely out the window, wishing he still had enough energy to act tougher than he is but honestly not really caring much anymore.

The next time he wakes up, he notices that he's surrounded by the glittering sight of Tokyo at night. Elated, he snatches his phone and flicks it on. What he sees nearly causes his heart to escape his chest — he feels weightless, unstable. He takes a few breaths. He was aiming for deep breaths but he's getting a little dizzy and thinks he might be unintentionally hyperventilating.

He was right, there was more context.

The previous message has come through.

The thread now reads:

We're going to run away together and get married

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