Shinichi had settled down in his preferred seat in the lecture hall and was just pulling his books from his backpack when the commotion began.
It started off subtle, scattered whispers and murmurs from the back rows that Shinichi only registered on a subconscious level. But it soon grew to the loud buzzing of an excited crowd, interspersed with uproarious laughter, not all of which was good-natured. He frowned and turned to see the cause.
He wished that it surprised him even a little to find that the source of all the trouble was one Kuroba Kaito, currently clad in an atrocious three-piece suit. It was cut like a finely tailored tux but patterned with broad vertical stripes of various clashing shades of orange. Combined with the standard wild locks of hair that Kaito insisted were 'rugged and charming,' and he almost looked like he was attempting to cosplay a fancy carrot. No wonder several people were jeering.
Yet Kaito had never known the meaning of the word 'shame.' He strode down the wide steps toward the front of the room as if he were the star of a prestigious gala, soaking up all the attention both good and bad, and even flashing broad grins and little princess waves to their classmates as he went.
Shinichi huffed in fond exasperation and pointedly faced forward, refusing to indulge his friend's apparently clinical need for attention. He barely spared a glance for him when the shuffling sounds at his side indicated that the magician had finally taken his seat. Completely undeterred, Kaito causally propped up his head with his elbow against the desk, and shot him a blindingly bright mischievous smile.
"Morning, Shinichi!" he greeted cheerfully.
"There is treatment available for narcism, you know," Shinichi deadpanned in return, smirking a little at the opportunity for a jab in their never ending battle of wits. "And if there's something going on in your life that you need to talk about, there are healthier ways of dealing with it than public humiliation."
Kaito barked out a laugh and returned just as sarcastically, "Ah, but why treat it when I could make a lucrative career out of it instead~?"
Shinichi laughed, despite himself, and shook his head softly as he tried to focus on arranging his notebooks just right.
"So?" Kaito prompted eagerly.
"Soooo… do you like my outfit?" Kaito spread out his arms to display the hideous clashing colors even better, his eyes shining with anticipation as if he actually expected a compliment.
"No," Shinichi declared immediately.
"No?" Kaito seemed genuinely surprised, but if he was hurt, it didn't show on his still playful expression. "What do you mean, 'no'? It's tailor-made, it fits me perfectly!"
"Hmm," he hummed, considering. He gave the rest of the suit a cursory once-over, forcing himself not to linger too long. It was indeed very flattering on his friend's lean, muscular figure, but that was a topic he was not willing to let himself dwell on. "Yes, it does fit you," he stated matter-of-factly.
"Then what's not to like?" he pressed.
Shinichi couldn't help but scoff lightly at how sincerely excited the magician could be over the most trivial things sometimes. How could someone just waltz into a crowded lecture hall dressed like that, and then suddenly care what anyone thought of his outfit? And since when did anyone want Shinichi's fashion input anyway? He was the very last person one would ask about clothing advice, unless they wanted to know how to bulk order massive quantities of the school uniform.
"Um, how about the horrible choice of colors?" Shinichi answered with a laugh at the obviousness of the question.
"The colors?" Kaito asked. "You don't like these colors?"
"Of course not. They're gross. It's a waste of an otherwise perfectly good suit," he declared in a tone far more serious than he felt. He smirked again, hoping Kaito would take the teasing as intended. But the expression on his friend's face, though not upset, lacked the joyful spark that their interactions had always had before. He was seemingly lost in thought, frowning intensely down at his own crumpled sheet of paper and stubby half-pencil that he claimed sufficed for note-taking.
"Why do you ask?" Shinichi probed, sarcasm gone.
Kaito smiled at him, not the type of smile that Shinichi had grown to rely on as the very foundation of his happiness in life, but a sweet and genuine smile nonetheless.
"No reason," Kaito shrugged lightly. "Just hoped you might like it, is all."
"Oh." Shinichi found himself tapping his pencil furiously against the edge of the desk as a darkness seemed to settle between them. Had Kaito actually wanted a rare moment of honest vulnerability instead of their typical jovial banter? He thought back on their conversation so far, but even in hindsight, he couldn't identify any cues to indicate it one way or the other. "Well, I'm sorry to disappoint," he added in a half-joking tone, smiling at Kaito in apology. Whatever social blunder he may have accidentally committed, he was sure his friend knew him well enough to accept the apology for what it was and forgive him.
Indeed, Kaito huffed out a small laugh and smiled gently at him, some unreadable intense emotion hidden deeply within his eyes for a brief moment. "It's ok," he reassured him. "I half-expected this anyway. Don't worry about it, really."
"Ok, good." Shinichi returned the smile, hoping his expression properly conveyed all the relief and gratitude he felt.
Neither of them had anything more to say while they waited for the professor to arrive to start the lecture. Everything was, officially, perfectly fine. And yet, though it could have been his imagination, it almost seemed to Shinichi as if the silence between them grieved.
Shinichi knelt beside a stain on the carpet, delicately brushing one gloved finger against the edge of the spot and drawing back to observe the lack of moisture on his glove.
"Or ya coulda realized the blood was dried just from lookin' at it," Hattori drawled in a mocking tone.
"There's a lot you can't know just from looking," Shinichi huffed defensively, rising to his feet and turning to face the other detective. "For instance, it could be partially dried, or have an unexpected temperature, or an unusual consistency or smell."
"…or ya could just look an' see that it's obviously just dried blood," he repeated, raising an eyebrow in judgment.
"Personally, I think it's very wise of Kudou-kun to be so diligent with all the evidence," Hakuba interjected with a slightly condescending look directed at Hattori, who growled in annoyance.
"How many detectives does one crime scene need, anyhow?" Hattori retorted, rounding on the British detective.
"Just one," Shinichi interrupted with a cheeky smirk in an attempt to distract his two argumentative friends from each other. "So both of you can feel free to go home and rest up anytime you like."
Hattori scoffed and hesitated for a moment, before deciding to take the bait and forgo his standard bickering with Hakuba this time. "As if! I gotta stick around and solve this case before ya, so ya don't get yer ego too big, Kudou!"
"As for me," Hakuba added, "I would still very much like to continue the conversation we were engaged in before the body was discovered."
"Eh?" Shinichi responded absently, now poking around the rows of bookshelves in the office. It took a moment for the words to catch up with him, then he frowned. "Why?" he asked, wrinkling his nose in distaste. "Kaito wore an ugly suit, and suddenly it's all anyone can talk about? He's always had a crazy sense of fashion. I really don't see what more there is to say about it."
The other two detectives shared a look behind his back while he crouched beside a suspiciously out of place stapler on the floor.
"Well," Hattori began awkwardly, "I think it's not so much the clothes as the meanin' behind em that's got people talkin'."
"What, there has to be a meaning behind every little thing now? It's just clothes," Shinichi complained, still only paying them half-attention.
"The general consensus is that the outfit was Kuroba-kun's way of coming out," Hakuba stated bluntly.
"'Coming out'?" Shinichi muttered. Then he stopped, abandoned the clues he'd found, and abruptly shot to his feet and spun around to face his friends. "'Coming out'?! You can't seriously think Kaito is gay just because of an outfit he wore once?!"
"I mean… yeah?" Hattori rubbed the back of his neck. "It's kinda obvious, right?"
"No! No, it is not!" Shinichi declared with a definitive wave of his hands. "That is horribly rude. You cannot make assumptions like that about people based on such flimsy evidence, and mere stereotypes at that!"
"I would hardly say the evidence is flimsy," Hakuba grumbled.
"Did he actually tell you he was gay?" Shinichi rounded on him with a harsh glare.
"Well, no, not in words, but—"
"Then your evidence is flimsy and not worth discussing," he announced, crossing his arms to emphasize the finality of his statement.
"So…" Hattori continued, either oblivious to the signals or just very rude, "ya mean to tell me that ya really don't care if he's gay or not?"
"Of course I don't. Why should I care? It's his business who he likes. It makes no difference to me," Shinichi retorted.
"Then what of the roses he always gives you?" Hakuba pressed.
"What of them, Hakuba?" Shinichi answered, patience wearing dangerously thin for this tedious and disrespectful gossip.
"You are familiar with flower language, are you not?" Hakuba asked, as delicately as he knew how to in his perpetually overly-formal manner. Which is to say, not delicate at all.
"Yes, I know flower language, thank you very much," Shinichi replied with a deadpan.
"So those roses he's always givin' ya," Hattori insisted. "They mean nothin' to ya?"
Orange roses. Fascination, excitement. Peach roses for gratitude. And yellow for friendship. Kaito gave him the exact same colors of roses he gave to everyone else. Shinichi wasn't special. He'd known from that first yellow rose exactly where he stood, and it made him all the less eager to think about whatever special person, male or female, might've captured the charming magician's heart now.
"Nothing at all," Shinichi lied, with enough heat in his tone to cause both others to look away and hopefully drop the topic for good.
"Pity," Hakuba sighed under his breath, and Hattori hummed in agreement. Shinichi grit his teeth and turned back to the long-forgotten evidence at his feet.
It took a few days for Shinichi to consciously acknowledge the problems after that. He had hoped that Kaito was merely skipping class. Rare, especially for classes they shared, but certainly not unheard of for the unpredictable prankster. Yet even in the cafeteria and library where they always seemed to 'coincidentally' find each other multiple times a day, they had somehow managed to not see each other even once since the suit incident.
He told himself he was being paranoid and reading too much into it. He'd always advised Ran not to overthink these things whenever she complained about someone taking longer than three minutes to respond to a text message. After all, people have busy lives, especially in college, and there was no point worrying over something that was more often than not just bad luck. And Shinichi refused to forever discredit himself by immediately ignoring his own advice the instant he started to feel those nagging doubts himself.
Even the first few times that he texted Kaito asking to hang out and was met with various excuses, he bravely accepted the excuses at face value and would not permit himself to think about the situation any further. If Kaito had a problem with him, he would surely say so directly.
Or so he thought. A week was honestly not that long for two people to not see each other, objectively speaking. But when he thought about it, he realized with a sudden pang that they had actually never been apart for that long ever since the moment they'd first run into each other at the university's opening ceremony. Not even school breaks or their respective part-time jobs had managed to separate them for more than a few days at a time. Now, as even their text conversations ground to an unprecedented halt, Shinichi realized for the first time just how much he'd been taking his friendship with Kaito for granted.
A heavy sense of dread began to grow in Shinichi's heart. Had he actually managed to upset his friend without realizing it? Was Kaito really going through something that he didn't want to share with him? Then the sickening thought occurred to him that perhaps Kaito was just busy because he'd found someone, if he had indeed been 'coming out' with that ridiculous outfit, as everyone still seemed to think. Either way, Shinichi quickly become restless and decided he needed an answer, one way or another.
Since he was no longer sure Kaito would respond if asked directly, Shinichi simply waited and watched the school boards for the expected announcement like everyone else. It took a few days longer than normal, but Kaito did eventually post the details for his next regularly scheduled amateur magic show. Shinichi noted with a grimace that it was set for the exact same time as one of his more important evening classes. Kaito was too intelligent and meticulous for that to be anything but intentional. The message was clear: Kaito didn't want him there.
He went anyway.
A flicker of surprise showed on the magician's face when he noticed Shinichi in the audience, but it passed quickly and the show continued without a hitch.
Shinichi stood and applauded with the rest of the spectators at the end of the show, cheering with genuine admiration and enthusiasm. Kaito beamed and bowed deeply, soaking up the spotlight as always. The crowd slowly dispersed, but a few people lingering to chat with Kaito, who always happily engaged in conversation with his fans after such performances while he packed up his props.
Shinichi waited patiently on the sidelines until Kaito finally stood with his case in hand and waved goodbye to the last of the crowd. Then Shinichi hurried after him and fell into step beside him as they left the set together.
"Great job tonight!" Shinichi greeted him with a broad and genuine smile, being intensely careful to avoid any teasing, just in case. "That had to be one of your best shows yet. I still can't figure out how you did that trick with the fire in your hat."
"Thank you," Kaito answered plainly, offering him a neutral smile in return. "I hope the show was worth skipping class for."
"Don't worry about that," Shinichi hurriedly assured him, ignoring the way his heart stung at the reminder that he was neither invited nor wanted there tonight. "And besides, it wasn't just the show. I wanted to see you too."
"What for?" he asked, expression carefully blank.
"…you've been avoiding me," Shinichi began hesitantly. "I want to know why. And to apologize if I've upset you. Whatever it was, I swear I didn't mean it."
Kaito slowed to a stop, then hung his head with a deep sigh. He gestured to a nearby bench, and they both walked over and sat down wordlessly. Shinichi couldn't help but notice that there was significantly more space on the bench between them than he had come to expect from Kaito. Shinichi winced slightly and looked away.
They sat in heavy silence for several long minutes, just watching the street lamps gradually turn on one by one in the dying light of the evening as students leisurely wandered back to their rooms across the expanse of green grass in the square before them.
"I'm sorry," Kaito said simply after a long while. "You didn't do anything wrong, and it's selfish and unfair of me to avoid you. But I can't help it, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. I just need to not be around you, at least for now. Please understand."
It was like tugging the metaphorical rug out from under him, and all the breath escaped Shinichi's lungs. He suddenly felt hollow and broken. Like a drowning man scrabbling for any possible lifeline, he opened his mouth to beg for any change of heart. "Wait, no! That can't be. Are you sure there's nothing that can be done?" he asked desperately. "Is it because I didn't like your suit?"
Kaito's arms were crossed and his face partially hidden in shadow, but it was still all too obvious to see how his expression twisted bitterly at that final question. "I mean, yes and no?" he sighed wearily, tone laced with regret. "Obviously it's not a problem, and there's nothing wrong with your preferences, but… it just hurts, you know?"
The vulnerability in his tone was more distressing to hear than the mere avoidance had been, and renewed pain surged through Shinichi.
"I'm so sorry, Kaito," he pleaded. "I didn't mean to offend you or insult the suit. It really did look good on you!"
Kaito dismissed his apology with a weak gesture, still refusing to meet his eyes. "No, it's not your fault. Like I said, you did nothing wrong."
"Then is it about the rumors? How people are claiming you were coming out? Because if that's the case, I want you to know that I don't think of you any differently," Shinichi tried desperately for another shot in the dark at holding on to this friendship that he treasured so deeply. But Kaito only let out another miserable sigh, dragging a hand slowly down his face.
"I know you don't," he groaned in response. "It's just that—" Kaito stopped himself short, eyes snapping wide open and gaze suddenly caught on something on the ground. Then he suddenly swung his arm out to point at Shinichi's feet. "Your socks don't match."
Shinichi reflexively jerked his feet back, hiding them under the bench, but Kaito shamelessly bent over to look, all anguish instantly vanished from his expression.
"Yup, two entirely different colors," Kaito confirmed in a light and curious tone, then sat up to stare directly at him. "You're wearing mismatched socks, Shinichi."
"…...so?" Shinichi angrily crossed his arms in an instinctive and utterly ineffective attempt to shield himself. "It was dark and I was sleep-deprived when I got dressed. What does it matter?"
"Because… your socks don't match!" A grin was beginning to spread across Kaito's face, an idea clearly forming behind the too-clever glint in his eyes. "You always dress so meticulously in the same exact boring uniform all the time, but today your socks don't match."
"Can you drop it already?!" Shinichi snapped, then remembered the original purpose of this conversation and shook his head vigorously. "Let's get back to the topic of why you're avoiding me, and how I very much want us to still be friends."
"Huh? Oh, no, it's ok, just forget all about that, it's nothing," Kaito replied cheerfully, waving off his question and beaming brighter than a lighthouse. Shinichi, though shocked at the abrupt and drastic change in mood, nevertheless suddenly felt more grounded and alive than he had in a week.
"Wait— what? Really?" he asked in equal parts hope and confusion.
"Yeah, everything's fine now, and we're still friends! So I'll see you tomorrow, Shinichi!" he confirmed as he stood to leave.
Shinichi smiled broadly as he waved goodbye, then, feeling intensely disoriented from the last few minutes of whiplash-inducing mood swings, sighed in exhaustion and decided to head back to his dorm.
Overwhelmed and confused, with several competing emotions swirling through his mind, he eventually decided to focus on his gratitude that he had not, in fact, just lost his dearest friend. Whatever else troubled him, at least Kaito would still be by his side. He could figure out the rest later.
Shinichi toed off his shoes inside the door of his dorm, shrugged off his jacket, changed into his pajamas, then tugged off his socks and tossed them directly into the trash can. For good measure, he opened the top drawer of his dresser, gathered up the rest of his socks, and dropped them all into the now-overflowing garbage bin as well. He flopped backwards onto his bed and opened his phone to a shopping app, where he immediately put in a bulk order for thirty pairs of identical plain black socks that would be impossible to mix up ever again. He selected the fastest shipping option, then set the phone aside and rolled over, willing himself to forget the day and pass into a quiet sleep.
Shinichi awoke the next morning to the vague feeling that something was off, though not in a threatening way. He sensed the presence of someone else in the room with him, which was already strange enough by itself, but more than that, he seemed to be wearing his Conan glasses for some reason.
He'd kept the glasses for their useful built-in gadgets, but they were stored in a special case in the back of his desk drawer. He didn't wear them often, and certainly not while he slept, so something weird was definitely going on. He sat up in bed and moved to take them off when he froze.
Right before his eyes was a bright splash of… red. A more vivid and intense red than he'd ever seen before in his life.
Not just red.
The entire wall directly across from him was dancing with glittering spots of refracted light from the multi-faceted crystal sculpture that had been placed at the foot of his bed. The more he blinked, the more his eyes adjusted to the specialty filters of the glasses, and the more radiant and enchanting the colors became. So many colors, so many more than he'd ever known to exist, filling his vision and flooding his mind with indescribable emotion.
Perhaps it was the prolonged staring that caused his eyes to water, but even as reserved as he was, Shinichi would admit it was the captivating beauty of the scene that caused him to move a hand to cover his mouth.
"Thank you," he breathed out softly to the person in his peripheral vision who was sitting on the desk chair next to his bed.
"You like it?" Kaito asked quietly, afraid to break the mood.
"Kaito, I… I can't describe it. It's so beyond words. Thank you." Shinichi finally turned to face him as he spoke, but gasped when he saw him.
Without thinking, Shinichi swung his legs out of the bed and leaned forward, grabbing Kaito's face in his hands and nearly pressing their foreheads together in his desire to get as good a view as possible.
"Kaito!" he exclaimed passionately. "Your eyes! I never knew — your eyes, they're…" So much better than any of the glittering colors in the rainbows on the wall, a unique and intriguing deep color accented with a myriad of different hues that almost seemed to shift in different lightings. Shinichi moved his face back and forth in fascination, utterly entranced by the sight and only more in love with every new angle that illuminated those unrivaled eyes all over again.
"I've never imagined anything more beautiful," he finally said, still breathless from amazement. Then Shinichi noticed the eyes start to glaze with the beginnings of tears, and the realization shocked him out of the moment. He pulled back to sit upright, and then noticed his friend's outfit for the first time.
"It, uh, it looks significantly less ugly in its real colors," Shinichi admitted sheepishly, gesturing to what he assumed was the same three-piece suit Kaito had worn to class that fateful day.
"I thought it might," Kaito answered with a gentle smile, proudly tugging on the lapel of the coat. "And I'm just now realizing you wouldn't have any way of knowing this, but these are the same colors from the LGBT flag, which does in fact make this a very convenient and fashionable way of coming out."
Shinichi leaned back, resting his palms on the bed behind him, as he pondered this new information. His eyes wandered hungrily around the room, soaking up the world for the first time.
"'Fashionable'?" he repeated quietly to himself.
"Oi, you're focusing on the wrong takeaway here, love. I'm trying to tell you that I like guys."
Shinichi met his gaze again, instinctively sensing an important decision was about to be made and feeling suddenly solemn.
"Or, well, more accurately," Kaito took a deep breath to gather his courage, then produced a richly colored red rose with a puff of rainbow smoke. "I like you. And I have been giving you, and only you, red roses since we met. Also pink and lavender. So. What do you say?"
At a loss for words and unable to hold back his joy any longer, Shinichi leaned forward again, put his hand behind Kaito's neck, then pulled him into a quick kiss.
Well, it was intended to be a quick kiss, anyway. But neither of them were in any hurry to break it, and Kaito's hands came up to cup Shinichi's face, so they shifted slightly for a better fit and lingered in simple contented bliss.
When they finally pulled apart for air, Kaito smiled at him with enough force to knock his sense right out the window, so Shinichi dove right back in for another 'quick' kiss.
Kaito laughed in delight. "I'm going to take that as a 'yes.'"
"Good, because it is," Shinichi agreed, grinning so hard it hurt.
"Then how about a date? I want to show you the butterfly pavilion, and the botanical gardens, and the art festival, and the fireworks show! Shinichi, you're going to love it!"
"I'm sure I will. But I'm not going in my pajamas, and no, don't even think about changing me yourself, you pervert. I… I want to actually look at my own clothes today."
"Hmm, I suppose I'll allow it, then. Just this once," Kaito smiled fondly at him. He gave Shinichi another quick peck (then another), before telling him to take as long as he wanted and excusing himself to go wait in the common area.
Left to the privacy of his own thoughts, Shinichi first sat for a few more minutes to simply stare transfixed at the display of rainbow lights on the wall, and at the understated beauty of every ordinary object in his room. When he did get out of bed, the first thing he did was find his reflection in the mirror.
It wasn't the color of his own eyes or hair that he wanted to see, but the way he looked with glasses. He cringed. It wasn't an attractive look at all, and it reminded him far too much of his Conan days. Plus, it would be blatantly obvious to anyone who knew what to look for that these were not prescription lenses. Any particularly observant people — and most of his friends and acquaintances were abnormally observant — would know exactly what these glasses were for.
He sighed as his internal debated raged on. On the one hand, he knew that it was irrational to be ashamed of his disability. His parents and doctor, the only other people who knew about it, had assured him of that many times. But he still always hated to ask for help or show any signs of weakness in general. And he really hated how he looked in glasses.
On the other hand, as he glanced around in wonder at the extraordinary beauty of the mundane world, he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to go back to the dull sepia of before.
He shook his head. At least he could pick out his outfit properly today and make sure his socks matched, and then decide whether or not to wear the glasses after a quick shower.
Shinichi considered the glasses, carefully set aside on his desk, for a long while as he lingered with his hand on his doorknob on his way to go catch up with Kaito. He meticulously weighed the pros and cons, whether to continue life muted and safe as he'd always done before, or whether to risk weakness and embarrassment for a more radiant future.
He decided to wear the glasses.
In the end, none of the other reasons mattered. It was worth it just to see Kaito's eyes.
I tried really hard to get the balance right between making hard to guess the twist yet also clear once everything was revealed, but that's a tough thing to do. It would also be hard to know what's going on if you're not aware that specialty glasses exist that can cure some cases of colorblindness. So in case anyone is still confused, Shinichi has red/green colorblindness in this fic, which is like seeing the world through a sepia filter where everything is some shade of orange/brown/yellow, and Kaito bought him the speciality glasses that allowed him to see all the colors for the first time.