//...reknowned genius detective who is still in high school, often hailed as the savior of the Japanese police. Missing for several months, officials are now beginning to question whether or not Kudou Shinichi is still alive...//
In the shadow of an awning, he pulled a cigarette from a case, clenching it between teeth which gleamed in the darkness.
"That punk, huh?"
Cold eyes scanned the streets as a match sparked to life, rising to ignite the tobacco.
"Che...he wasn't that smart."
Taking a deep puff, he glanced toward the door of the building across the street, exhaling a cloud of smoke into the chill night air.
"Dammit...what's taking that idiot so long?"
* * * * *
//To recap tonight's top story, officials are now beginning to question whether or not famous high-school detective Kudou Shinichi is still alive—//
"That's horrible!" a girl exclaimed from the sidewalk as they passed the store. "Ran...I'm sorry..."
The tall, brown-haired girl smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Sonoko, don't worry about it. We both know he's still alive."
"But what about—"
"Sonoko," Ran said, her smile tightening, "I don't care what the media says. I've got his mobile number, and he calls home a lot, so..."
* * * * *
Cold, murderous eyes widened.
*'Aniki...that brat detective...Kudou...the one you poisoned...he's still alive!'*
*'Kudou...? Che...Vodka, you know I don't remember the names or faces of the people I kill.'*
*But that's not entirely true...and Kudou is hard to forget...a very famous face...*
*And after all, Kudou was an integral part of that very, very long night at Tropical Land...*
*Kudou Shinichi...is still alive...*
* * * * *
"So why haven't you told the police about that?"
"Come on, Sonoko, you know Shinichi," Ran snorted. "He probably enjoys the attention..."
A soft red light in the darkness ahead caught her attention. The two girls watched as a cigarette butt drifted to the sidewalk, the tobacco still emitting a bright, cherry glow.
"HEY! Throwing a cigarette butt on the ground is rude!" Ran shouted, stepping forward to confront the culprit lurking in the shadows. "Come out of there or I'll..."
A click silenced her. It was a click of the type not normally heard in Japan...unless you were the daughter of a former police officer turned famous detective, who became involved in far too many murder cases...
She looked into a pair of the coldest, most ruthless eyes she had ever seen, and froze.
"Now, what is this you were saying about...Kudou Shinichi?" the tall, black-clad man asked. The gun muzzle with the silencer pointed squarely at her forehead chilled Ran almost as much as the man's eyes...
* * * * *
A small boy wandered down the dimly lit street, idly bouncing a soccer ball between his knee and head. Ran was out late shopping with Sonoko, and Kogorou, well...
Not that the idiot was useful for much of anything beyond a ventriloquist dummy, anyway.
Still, between Ran's absence and his current statural handicap, that left one truth which could not be ignored:
Edogawa Conan was viciously hungry.
So, he'd grabbed his pocket change and left the detective agency, feeling the need for a little fresh air, some decent food, and some exercise—which is why he'd opted to bring his soccer ball along, as well as his power sneakers. After all, it never hurt to be prepared.
As he walked, he reflected on the past week of his so-called life, a stormy scowl that definitely did not belong on a child's face gathering as he thought back on the week's "highlights"...
It had begun Monday, when Kobayashi-sensei chewed him out for sleeping in class. He'd been sent home with a note, and further scolded by Ran.
It's not as though it was HIS fault he'd been out until two in the morning the previous night. Who knew it would take six hours to work around the bumbling idiot and the incompetent police to solve that stupid murder?
Tuesday, Hattori had come to town to cheer for his favorite baseball team, and dragged Ran and Conan along. The Osakajin had been particularly irritating, and had rounded off a perfectly annoying day by swiping Conan's voice modulator, hiding in the crowd at the stadium, and calling out to Ran in Shinichi's voice.
Conan had kicked a souvenir baseball into his crotch for that one. Hattori was just lucky he didn't crank his sneakers to full power—he knew it'd upset and disappoint Kazuha if he did. Heh.
Wednesday, the Shounen Tanteidan had dragged him to some insipid Kamen Yaiba stunt show, during which a stage prop was rigged to kill one of the performers. He'd solved the case, but made it home past curfew, and was scolded again—though not as severely once he explained what had happened. However, Kogorou had rumbled something about cheeky little brats trying to pretend to be real detectives, and made several disparaging, drunken remarks about "that Kudou upstart" which rattled around in Conan's head like pebbles in a vacuum cleaner as he prepared for bed.
Thursday, some moron at school decided to play with a cigarette lighter—right underneath the emergency sprinklers. He'd been thoroughly soaked, and luckily got home and out of his wet clothes without catching a nasty cold.
And the previous day, Friday, he had been menaced by Mitsuhiko and Genta after Ayumi tried to nag him into spending Saturday afternoon with her. Even though he begged out of it, claiming to have errands to run for "Ran-neechan", the two larger boys had been rather put out, and at Ayumi's upset at his refusal, had only become more irate with him. The ensuing chase and scuffle had been singularly humiliating.
The less said about Shinichi's weekly call to Ran, the better.
That, too, had been getting to him more than usual recently. Seeing Ran's pain over his absence from her life always left him feeling raw, guilty, and anguished. He knew he had been such an idiot before his change—a real world-class jerk. He knew that now, because now, he would love nothing more than to wrap his arms around Ran and...well, and be the man he was in heart and mind, if not in body. To be deserving of her love, to show her how much he cared...to really be there for her...to make up for all the pain he'd caused, all the misery, all the tears...
But here he was, trapped in this small, scrawny shell, a child to the world around him—to the woman he loved more than life itself...
*I should have told her THAT NIGHT,* he thought bitterly, fighting the tears forming in his somber blue eyes.
As he stewed, Conan noticed a suspicious flash of light from the shadows...
* * * * *
"Sh-shinichi?" Ran gulped nervously.
"Yeah. You said he calls you. You must know where he is."
"I—no! I don't know! I ask but he'll never tell me! He just says he's on a difficult case..."
"Yeah, I'll bet he is." The cold-eyed man smiled. It wasn't a kind smile at all.
"Wh-what do you want with Shinichi?" Ran summoned the courage to ask.
"I don't see how that's any of your business."
Ran's fear of the man's gun—and his murderous eyes—kept her temper in check. "Wh-what're you—are you going to kill me?"
The man with the gun raised an eyebrow. "Well now, that all depends."
"On how useful you are to me," the man replied. His grin widened. With his free hand, he placed another cigarette in his mouth. "You see, I might need bait to lure Kudou out of hiding..."
He lit a match, holding it perilously close to Ran's nose...
* * * * *
The bright flash of fire in the shadows caught Conan's interest. He took a step closer to the street, peering across...
...at the unmistakable visage of the man whose cold, murderous eyes haunted his nightmares...and the girl whose beautiful face filled his days and nights with longing and pain.
His eyes widened. Panic gripped his heart.
*GIN! And...he has RAN!*
Scowling, Conan bent down and adjusted his sneakers to full power, then carefully took aim with the soccer ball.
*God, please do NOT let me miss...*
* * * * *
The cold-eyed man suddenly let out a yelp of pain as something collided with his gun hand, hard and fast. The gun clattered to the pavement, and Ran wasted no time kicking it as far away as she could.
The black-clad gunman clenched his hand in pain, cigarette falling from his mouth. He looked at the wall—and the soccer ball embedded halfway in its brick surface. His eyes widened. He turned...
Ran and Sonoko both turned to face the source of that voice, across the street. The flash of a streetlight reflected brilliantly off of a pair of lenses. Dark brown hair, just visible in the dim lights, ruffled in the night breeze. The diminuitive figure stepped forward...
As the young boy entered the light, his eyes became visible. The rage in them brought even the ruthless killer known as Gin short.
*What the—what's with this kid?!*
"Gin," the boy repeated, his voice grim and tight. "I finally have you. It ends tonight."
"What're you talking about, kid?" Gin replied, voice regaining a bit of his cockiness. "I've never seen you before in my life!" Inside, however, Gin was as unnerved as he'd ever been. *How does this kid know who I am?!*
"Haven't you?" Conan smirked. "Oi, Ran! Don't just stand there!"
Ran blinked. "Eh?"
"Ah...hai!" Remembering herself, Ran suddenly launched a vicious assault on the black-clad man. Gin, unprepared for this, fell victim to the first kick, barely ducked the punch that would have taken his head off, and countered with a sweep that sent the girl sprawling. Sonoko, meanwhile, had recovered her wits and run to pick up the discarded gun.
Gin smirked as he pulled a dagger from his coat. "Alright, girl, that's enough out of you..."
"NO!" Conan snatched up a helmet that was strapped to a motorscooter parked nearby and kicked it, sending it flying straight into Gin's face. Blood fountained from his nose as he staggered, the knife clattering into the shadows. Conan dashed across the street and kicked him in the shin. The amplified force of the kick caused his leg to buckle with a sharp, sickening *crack*, and he went down with a yell of pain.
Watching with detached horror and fascination, Ran began to wonder why the noise had not attracted attention from the shops surrounding them.
"You little BASTARD!" Gin hissed, clutching at his nose, curling his wounded leg protectively under him. "What the hell's your problem, kid?"
"You want to know what my problem is?" Conan asked, kneeling beside the cold-eyed man. "Alright, I'll tell you. First, you were holding a gun on Ran."
He kicked Gin in the ribs—only this time, he'd turned off his shoes' enhanced abilities, so it was the normal kick of a seven-year-old boy.
"Second, all the lives you and your organization have ruined and destroyed." Kick.
"And third, MY LIFE FOR THE PAST EIGHT MONTHS HAS BEEN A LIVING HELL BECAUSE OF YOU!" Another vicious kick, which caused something hard and metal to clatter out of Gin's inner coat pocket. The object gleamed in the streetlights, and Conan's smirk suddenly turned nasty.
"Oh? Is this what I think it is?" He picked up the case, opening it and examining its contents.
Conan ignored Ran, focusing his gaze on Gin. "APTX-4869."
Gin's eyes widened. "How the hell do you know about that?!"
"Oh, you don't remember? Let me refresh your memory. Eight months ago, near the Tropical Land park. You used this. Do you remember who you used it on?"
Gin frowned. "That brat detective, Kudou."
"WHAT?! WHAT DID YOU DO TO SHINICHI, YOU BASTARD?!" Ran yelled, leaning down and grabbing Gin by the collar.
"RAN! Enough!" Conan barked. Stunned, Ran dropped the black-clad felon.
Conan removed a red and white capsule from the case. "Yes...this is the poison you forced into that high school detective. The untested, untraceable poison developed by the woman you call Sherry."
"How does a little punk like you know all that?" Gin demanded.
Conan kicked him again. "Shut up!" He leaned down and forced the pill into the criminal's mouth, then took the water flask from the capsule case and poured a liberal amount in. Gin, eyes wide, tried to spit it out, but pressure to his throat by the boy forced him to swallow.
"You—you...do you know what you just did?!" Gin's eyes were wide with panic and fear, his voice harsh and rasping with pain and terror.
"Yes," Conan replied calmly. "I do."
"CONAN-KUN! What are you doing?!" Ran shrieked.
Conan glanced up at her, and she was taken aback by the look in his eyes. Haunted, angry, wrathful...those were not the eyes of a child...! "Getting revenge," he stated in the most cold, menacing voice Ran had ever heard.
Gin's entire body seized up with sudden, intense pain. *AAAH!! My bones...they're on fire...!* Wisps of steam began to rise from the long-haired gunman as he clutched at his chest, the bleeding of his nose long forgotten. *My heart...it feels like it's going to explode!* He looked up at the calm, cold face looking down on him, doubling as his vision blurred...black spots danced in his eyes in time with the pounding of his heart...he tried to yell in rage, say anything at all, but all he could manage was a strangled choke...
"ANIKI!" a voice bellowed. Another figure in black rushed up. A gun was drawn, targetted on Ran.
"CHIKUSHOU! I forgot about Vodka!" Conan cursed.
"What the hell's going on here? Aniki!!"
"DROP IT!" Everyone except Gin turned to Sonoko, mildly surprised that the vacuous teenager was holding Gin's discarded gun in a shaky grip, and pointing it at Vodka. The thug seemed taken aback.
"Better do what she says. Besides, you've got other things to worry about," Conan smirked.
Vodka slowly laid his gun on the ground, then rushed over to his partner, who was gasping and shaking on the ground, clutching at his chest and throat in horror. "Aniki! What's—"
What happened next came as a surprise for three of the four onlookers. The cold-eyed criminal suddenly began to collapse into his clothing, soon disappearing completely within the folds of the black coat. A thinning cloud of vapor shrouded the dark garment, like mist over a graveyard.
"He—he disappeared!" Ran gasped.
"Not quite," Conan said, stepping forward. He pulled the lapel of the coat back, and revealed a terrified child with wide eyes and long, straw-colored hair.
"Aniki?!" Vodka cried.
Gin looked down at his hands, which had fallen out of the black gloves he wore. "Wha—what happened—?" He looked up at the bespectacled child...and his eyes widened further. "You...don't tell me...!"
Conan removed his glasses. "I'M Kudou Shinichi. Eight months ago, you did this to me. I'm just returning the favor."
Vodka swept the diminished form of Gin, black coat and all, up in his arms. "You...Kudou...you'll pay for this! I swear it!" He began to run. Sonoko tried to shoot him, but missed. Conan, cursing, picked up the forgotten helmet, cranked up his sneakers...
...but it was no use. Vodka had turned the corner, and when the three of them finally caught up, a black Porsche was roaring away into the night.
"Chikushou!" Conan growled, slamming his fist against a nearby wall. "I let them get away! I'm so STUPID!"
A hand touched his shoulder, and he looked up. A pair of large, wet eyes shone down at him from a tear-streaked, frightened face.
The young detective slumped. "Ah, shit..."
* * * * *
"Fucking detective brat...!"
"Aniki...are you alright?"
"Do I LOOK alright, idiot?!" Gin's small hands fumbled in the pockets of his now-enormous coat, searching for his phone. He pulled it out, beginning to dial...then paused, frowning. "Dammit...Vodka, you're going to have to make the call."
The square-jawed man frowned, then nodded, accepting the phone. Completing the number, he pressed 'Send'. Beside him, the diminished Gin continued to mutter various imprecations about Kudou Shinichi.
"Bastard...when I get hold of that little punk..."
//What is it, Gin?//
"This is Vodka. There's been a...small incident."
"Take your size jokes and shove them up your ass, along with my foot," Gin seethed.
//Vodka? Where is Gin?//
"I'll KILL that goddamn son of a bitch!"
"He's here, but he's...not exactly in any shape to talk right now. I'm bringing him to the safehouse."
"—fucking bathe in his bloody GUTS—!"
Gin's tirade abruptly ceased as Vodka slammed one rock-like fist over his head, knocking him out cold.
//What the hell's going on?//
"I'll explain when I get there."
* * * * *
"Shinichi? Is it...really...?"
Conan glanced around, and his eyes fell on Sonoko. "Oi, Sonoko. The gun."
The blonde blinked. "Eh?"
"The gun! Give me the gun!"
Sonoko stared down at the cold steel in her hands, eyes widening suddenly. It nearly fell from her hand onto the street.
Conan growled and marched over to her, practically ripping the weapon out of her hand. He fished a handkerchief from his pocket and began carefully wiping the gun, taking care not to touch any part of it with his own fingers.
"Cona—iie, Shinichi..." Ran began again.
The young boy sighed, folding the handkerchief around the gun and slipping it into his own pocket. "Yeah, Ran. It's me. All those times you suspected, you were right. It wasn't easy staying a step ahead of you."
Ran's eyes narrowed. "Why? Why did you need to lie?"
Conan shot her an incredulous stare. "BAROU! Didn't you see what just happened here? Don't you understand? I'M A TARGET! These guys aren't playing games, Ran! They make the yakuza look like playground bullies! I had to let them think I was dead! I couldn't take ANY chances..." He sighed. "And yet, there were some chances...I had to take." He looked up. "I had to call you. I had to...I couldn't bear seeing you suffering and not being able to..."
"And if you'd just told me the truth from the beginning..."
"I'd have put you in danger. The fewer people who knew, the better." He chuckled. "Not that it matters now. I really stepped in it tonight. I can't blame THAT fiasco on anyone but myself." He sighed, and looked at the two girls. "We should get off the street. Sonoko, you're staying with us tonight."
* * * * *
"Megure-keibu," began the forensics technician as he entered the inspector's office.
Megure glanced up from the report he was filling out. "Ah, do you have the workup on the evidence for the Kawazu case?"
"Hai." The tech placed a sheaf of papers on the desk, bowed, and withdrew.
The portly inspector stretched, yawning, and picked up the new documents, idly thumbing through them. He paused for a moment, frowning; he had the nagging feeling something was out of place. Something missing? Or something that shouldn't be there...
Hunching over his desk, he began examining the document more closely. It was a standard workup; a fingerprint list taken from an object which was a crucial piece of evidence in a murder case. The object in question, a photograph, had been handled by everyone connected to the case at one point or another—himself (though he had worn gloves), the victim, the confessed killer, the two other suspects who had been cleared, Mouri Kogorou, his daughter Ran, even the precocious little tagalong, Conan-kun, who always seemed to be around every time there was a murder investigation.
And that, presently, was what was disturbing him:
The name "Edogawa Conan" was NOT on the fingerprint list.
He briefly considered that maybe the child's fingerprints had simply been wiped off by someone else handling the photograph, or that someone's prints had overlapped his and obscured them—perhaps even his own gloves had wiped them free. It was certainly not unheard of...
...but then his train of thought abruptly derailed as he noticed a name on the list which did not belong.
Megure's eyes narrowed, his mustache twitching as he frowned thoughtfully. He pressed the intercom on his phone, and called for the forensics technician to return.
"Hai, keibu-dono?" the harried man asked as he rushed into the room.
Megure sat forward, chin resting on his hands. "When you ran the fingerprint analysis on the photograph, did you notice anything particularly unusual about any of the prints?"
The inspector tapped the paperwork in front of him. "I see the name Kudou Shinichi on here, but he wasn't at the crime scene—if you've been following the news, you know nobody's seen him in months. Was there anything—"
"Ah!" The technician slapped his fist into his open palm. "Hai...there was a minor discrepancy in that the size of that set of fingerprints was inconsistent with the age of the individual."
"Hai. It was odd...it could be explained by a very light touch, or something pinching the fingers, but Kudou-san's fingerprints were abnormally small for a sixteen-year-old. They were more consistent with the prints of a preadolescent." He shrugged. "Given the age of the photograph, though, it's not possible Kudou-san could have handled it as a child. I don't entirely understand it, but...the prints matched in the database."
"And Edogawa Conan-kun? His prints were not found on the photograph?"
The technician frowned. "Not that I recall. I ran every set of prints through the database twice. Standard procedure. His name didn't come up. Either he didn't touch the photograph, or someone forgot to print him at the scene."
"I see. Okay, thank you." As the technician bowed and left, Megure stroked his chin, frowning.
*More consistent with the prints of a preadolescent...the fingerprints of Edogawa Conan were not present on the photograph...and Kudou-kun has been missing for months...*
Megure's eyes widened. "That...no, that's...ridiculous..."
But suddenly, he didn't seem to be able to shake the notion out of his head...
* * * * *
The three of them trooped into the apartment on the third floor. "Tadaima," Ran called, removing her shoes, as behind her, Sonoko and Conan did likewise. The small detective then carefully locked the door.
"Oi, Ran! Where've you been? It's really late! Do you think a man could get some dinner around here?"
"Order pizza," Conan commanded, his tone now all business as he marched into the living room and fixed the older detective with a sharp gaze. "Use my expense account. Order a few, and sodas too. Sonoko's here, and we're all going to be up all night."
Kogorou stared at the boy, mouth agape like a fish. The stern impatience in the sharp blue eyes—no longer hidden behind glass lenses—made the older man ill at ease. "Oi, brat...what do you think you are, coming in and barking orders like—"
"Just do it, and quickly," Conan snapped. "We have a problem, and there's a lot to talk about. We're ALL in danger now."
Kogorou blinked. "Wha—Ran, what's going on? And you, boy, mind how you talk to your elders..."
"Otousan, Sh—Conan's right. We have a BIG problem."
"Or a small one," Sonoko murmured, eyeing the younger boy, her usual attitude beginning to return.
Kogorou looked at the three of them, expression unreadable. "What's going on?"
"Better go ahead and take care of ordering those pizzas first," Ran suggested. "I have a feeling it's gonna be a long night..."
* * * * *
Vermouth raised an eyebrow as Vodka walked in, carrying a small child in his arms. A rather angry-looking child, who seemed to take exception to being carried, and who was wrapped in what she recognized as Gin's coat.
"Where's Gin?" she asked. "And what's with the kid?"
"I am Gin," the boy hissed, wriggling free of Vodka's grasp and wrapping the coat around his small frame. He winced as, upon making contact with the floor, his ruined leg buckled, sending him sprawling. "DAMN that Kudou brat...!"
Vermouth blinked. "Kudou..." Then, she laughed.
Gin stared at her. "What's your fucking problem?"
"Oh, this is rich. Kudou forced you to take APTX-4869, didn't he?"
The other two stared at her. "You KNEW?!"
"Of course I knew," Vermouth said lightly. "I've known for some time that Kudou Shinichi was still alive...AND what the...unusual effects of the apotoxin are."
"And you didn't tell me this WHY?" Gin demanded hotly.
"Because you didn't need to know, and because I've been having fun toying with him—and his Angel," she replied. "And besides, Kudou is our best lead to finding Sherry." She smirked. "Who, incidentally, is also a member of the height-impaired club. In fact, I came very, very close to finishing her not so long ago..." She sighed. "But that was the night the silver bullet grazed me."
Gin's eyes widened. "You mean she's—that traitorous bitch is—?"
"The same as you are now," Vermouth nodded, smiling.
"WHY DID YOU NEVER TELL US ANY OF THIS?!" Gin roared—well, as best he could, given his current size and voice.
"As I said...you didn't need to know. But that's rather a moot point now, isn't it? So it's time to make a new plan, to deal with the traitor...AND the Cool Guy." Suddenly, her smile grew much, much nastier. "But first, I think it's time a very careless agent relearned a few old lessons..."
* * * * *
"Okay," Kogorou began as he hung up the phone, "Now, is anyone going to tell me what happened tonight? And why we're all taking orders from the brat all of a sudden?"
"Because the brat," Ran said archly, "is Shinichi."
Kogorou spat out the beer he had just taken a sip of. "WHAT?!"
"It's true," Conan said, leaning against the wall. "I'm Kudou Shinichi."
Kogorou looked from Conan, to Ran, to Sonoko, and back. He then burst out laughing. "Oh, that's hilarious! You almost had me going for a few minutes, but you know I'm not stupid enough to fall for—"
"This is not a joke, or a lie, or a game," Conan said, his voice taking on the rough, serious timbre that revealed how very unchildlike he truly was. "Ran was attacked tonight by the same men who did this to me. I stopped her from being taken or hurt, and then—"
"RAN WAS ATTACKED?!" Kogorou blurted. "Are you—"
"I'm FINE, Otousan," Ran cut across him. "Like Co—Shi—like he said, he saved me, then we both sort of beat up the guy who attacked me, then Shinichi fed him some kind of drug, and..." Ran swallowed. "We saw him...change. All of us. We saw it. That man turned into a kid...just like Co—Shinichi."
Kogorou stared, dumbstruck, at the three of them, eyes wide. "You—what you're saying isn't—it can't be..."
"Eight months ago," Conan interrupted, "the day I went to Tropical Land with Ran, I stepped into something bigger than I could handle, and this—" he gestured at his diminuitive body— "is the price I paid. Edogawa Conan was born that night, out of desperation. I didn't realize at the time just how bad the situation really was...or that I'd be stuck like this for as long as I have."
Kogorou frowned. "But—no, we've seen Kudou since then, remember, Ran? When that Osaka boy showed up?"
"THAT was Hattori's fault," Conan said with a wry smirk. "Remember the first time we met him? He gave me a glass of Chinese whiskey for my cold? It changed me back...for a little while." He glanced at Ran. "Remember, I was trying to get that bottle off the shelf later, and you stopped me?"
Ran nodded mutely.
"That's why. I thought drinking more of it would change me back for good. Or at least longer than the first shot did. But it turns out, it was a one-time deal." He winced. "I can still remember the hangover, too."
"And what about that other time we all saw you?"
"You mean the school festival? A temporary cure...a certain acquaintance concocted it for me, but it's dangerous to use it too much, and I've been warned not to use it again unless it's absolutely necessary. It could kill me."
Ran knelt beside him. "Shinichi..."
The elder detective frowned. "But no...remember, we saw Conan AND Kudou there!"
Conan shook his head. "No, you saw me on stage as the Black Knight, in my real body, and Haibara in a wig, wearing a cold mask and my glasses, pretending to be me."
Ran put a finger to her chin. "Conan-kun DID seem awfully quiet that day..."
Kogorou leaned across the table and glared at the boy with narrowed eyes. "Okay, so explain how your mother—CONAN'S mother—showed up looking for you, if you're really Kudou."
"Edogawa Conan doesn't have a mother," Conan replied. "That woman was my mother, though—Kudou Yukiko, in disguise. She IS an actress, remember?" He chuckled. "She sure fooled me. Her and Tousan both...they took me for a real ride, that day..."
The older detective sat back, crossing his arms. "You know," he said at length, "Thinking about it, you DO look like Kudou." He paused. "But if you really ARE Kudou—"
"He is, Otousan. I'm sure of it." Ran stepped up to the desk. "I've...suspected, for a long time. I've noticed things...habits, the way he acts sometimes, how he seems so much smarter than a normal kid. And there were times...but every time I really began to believe it, something happened—he showed up, or I got a phone call, or..." She glanced back at Conan, uncertainly.
Conan solemnly removed his bow tie, fiddled with a dial behind the red silk, and raised it to his mouth. "I'm really sorry about that, Ran," he spoke—and the eyes of the others widened as Kudou Shinichi's voice came out. "I had to do things I hated doing—lying to you, fooling you—to keep my secret. I couldn't be found out..."
Kogorou suddenly stood up, marched over to Conan, and snatched the bowtie away from him. "Give me that!" He glanced at the back of it, seeing the dials there. "A voice disguiser?" He spoke into the tiny microphone. "Testing, one, two..." His voice came out sounding like Shinichi, and he blinked, tossing the device onto the table.
"Agasa-hakase's handiwork," Conan replied, once again with the voice of a child—and yet not the voice of a child. "A few other things, too, like the sneakers, the skateboard—because he knew I'd need them, since I can never keep my nose out of a mystery."
Kogorou grunted. "True, you DO seem to get into everything..." He paused, narrowing his eyes. "This voice changer...can it do other voices? Besides that one? Like, for instance, mine?"
Ran frowned. "Shinichi...I remember seeing you do something funny with your watch one time..."
Conan began to sweat. "Er...ah..."
Kogorou reached down and picked Conan up by the collar. "Oi, runt. Anything else you want to say while you're sharing secrets?"
The doorbell rang.
"Um...pizza's here?" Conan ventured, slipping into his 'cute-little-kid' voice with a nervous chuckle.
* * * * *
While the others were distracted by the arrival of the pizza, Conan slipped to the phone and made a call. "Hakase? Sorry to call so late. We've had a little trouble tonight. Tell Haibara that I've got APTX-4869. Yeah, you heard me. No, I'm fine. Uh...problem, though. Ran, Occhan, and Sonoko all know about me now. And...aheh...so do Gin and Vodka. I know, I KNOW! Yeah, I know she's gonna be pissed. Just tell her to get over here and get this pill case from me as soon as she can. And tell her to be careful!"
After he hung up, he rejoined the others for dinner and further explanations. There had been many tense moments, and some truly embarrassing ones. He'd been interrogated rather harshly about a number of things—particularly after Sonoko had, in jest, snagged his watch and wondered what kind of 'secret spy thing' it was. He'd tried to stop her from messing around with it, but the inevitable had happened—she'd accidentally shot herself with the microtranquilizer, and slumped face-first into her slice of corn, tofu, and mayonnaise pizza. After seeing this, Kogorou had asked a very pointed question about the 'great Sleeping Kogorou', which had been followed by a fifteen-minute chase around the living room, and ended with a large, painful lump on Conan's head. The disgruntled detective had then flopped down in front of the television with a beer, the remote, and a volley of glares aimed at the shrunken youth.
About an hour after Conan's call to Agasa's house, the door chime once again rang. "Hai?" Ran answered.
//I need to see Kudou-kun,// a muffled female voice called over the intercom.
"Anou..." Ran paused, frowning. "He's—"
"It's okay, Ran," Conan replied from behind her. "It's Haibara. I'm expecting her."
"Are you sure?" At his nod, Ran shrugged and tiptoed down to the locked entry hall. Conan followed her, stopping at the edge of the second floor landing.
Ran cautiously opened the door to find a small figure dressed in a hooded lavender jacket, hands jammed firmly in the pockets, face obscured by a sterile mask and sunglasses. She blinked.
The small form removed the mask and glasses, and Ran breathed a sigh of relief as it was, indeed, the expected girl. "Come on in..."
Haibara pushed past her, shaking off her hood. She scowled as her eyes searched the steps above, her scowl deepening as she spotted her target. Like lightning, the small girl shot up the stairs, stopping at the landing, and...
"Ai-chan!" Ran shouted, eyes wide.
A stunned Conan fell backwards onto the floor, clutching his red cheek.
"You IDIOT," Haibara seethed. "You utter FOOL."
"Ne, Ai-chan..." Ran began, reproach in her tone. The younger girl's gaze stopped her cold.
"Kudou-kun has put all of us in danger. Especially me. I don't appreciate being put in even more danger by a thoughtless, idiotic act of someone who doesn't think before he does STUPID THINGS!"
It was then that Haibara's use of Conan's real name registered on Ran.
"Masaka...Ai-chan, are you...?"
"Like the idiot detective here? Yes."
Both girls looked at Conan, who was getting to his feet. He looked down at the ground. "I know, I screwed up. He...he was threatening Ran. And...I guess that on top of everything else...it just got to me."
Haibara sighed. "Well, what's done is done. So, give me the apotoxin."
Conan reached into his jacket and produced the pill case. Haibara examined it, nodding. "Right. There's five capsules missing out of eight. That means other than you, Gin has poisoned four people with this."
"Three." At Haibara's questioning glance, Conan smiled grimly. "The fourth...was revenge."
Haibara blinked...then stared, slack-jawed. "You didn't."
"So when they got away..."
"Vodka had to carry Gin, yeah."
Haibara then did something very out of character for her—she laughed out loud. "Well, you're still an idiot, but I think I can live with the idea of a chibi-Gin." She then paused, frowning. "Of course, this means that now they know what APTX-4869 does, so they'll know—"
Conan sighed. "Your 'disguise' is useless now. I'm sorry, Haibara."
Haibara waved a hand dismissively. "I was never safe to begin with, even with this. Too many people in the organization knew me when I really was this age. I told you that when we went through that whole thing with Pisco. And you were THERE that night, with Vermouth..."
"Ah, right..." The small boy stuck his hands in his pockets, frowning. "So what's our next move?"
"MY next move is to get back to the lab and see if I can make a cure, now that I have the drug. YOURS is to make sure none of us die before then. Oh, and..." She frowned. "It won't be easy, but try to track down the other victims of this stupid thing." She tapped the pill case for emphasis. "There may be other people out there like us—we need to find them and get them all together. Right now, anyone who has taken APTX-4869 and lived is the most valuable weapon we have against them."
Conan raised an eyebrow. "Do you have any idea how tall an order that is? Finding little kids who aren't really kids here in Tokyo? Assuming they're even all IN Tokyo? Assuming ANYONE other than us actually survived the apotoxin?"
Haibara met him with a cool stare. "You're the 'great detective', Kudou-kun. Finding stray sheep is right up your alley." With that, she turned and left, concealing her face with the hood, mask, and sunglasses once again.
Ran placed a hand on Conan's head and smiled down at him. "You can do it, Shinichi. I know you can."
* * * * *
Elsewhere in Tokyo...
She sighed as she untied her pigtails, letting her hair fall free about her shoulders. A routine nighttime ritual...except that seven months ago, it'd never have been tied up in the first place.
"No...I can't start thinking about that again. Things are going too well lately. I'm getting used to this life, and I have friends—good friends. I'm...happy."
She WAS happy...right?
"I'm glad to hear that."
Startled, she spun around—and relaxed, smiling. "Chichiue," she said.
He wagged a finger at her. "'Papa', remember? You're supposed to call me 'Papa' from now on. Cute little girls aren't that formal."
She rolled her eyes. "Hai, Papa." Picking up her brush, she turned back to her vanity and sat, beginning to brush out her auburn locks. "So, how did it go?"
Her father sighed. "Not well, I'm afraid. I've checked it as far as I can without anyone getting suspicious, but..."
She nodded. "It's okay. I don't want to put you in danger. I don't think they knew who I was, so it's best..." Frowning, she set down her brush and turned to face him. "Maybe it's best if we just drop this whole thing."
"NO!" He bellowed, striding forward and putting his hands on her shoulders. "I'm not going to forgive the bastards who did this to you! My precious girl...you were halfway through college! Your future ahead of you—marriage, family, everything..."
"And I still have a future, Chich—Papa." She patted his hands comfortingly. "It's just going to be a little while longer, is all." She sighed. "True, Ken-kun won't be part of it anymore. I can't expect him to wait for me, even though I doubt this can be kept from him forever. And...I do miss my friends." She sighed wistfully. "But I've got new friends now, and...this life I'm living isn't so bad. You know how much I missed my high school days, and now I can live them all over again..." She smiled, although her eyes were damp. "It's going to be okay, Papa. I'll get through this. I'm strong."
He crouched down in front of her, tears falling from his own eyes. "I know, musume. You've always been stronger than me. It's just...I..."
"I know, Papa. I know." She stood and wrapped her arms around him—the slender, small arms of a young, innocent girl—but not so young, not so innocent.
Losing the baby had been the worst part of it.
But she was strong. She'd pulled through, and now she was going to overcome everything. She was alive—she had her whole life ahead of her, and then some. She had her friends, and she had her father. She had love all around her, and that was more important than anything—more important than a cure, and especially more important than revenge.
She could stand being eleven again. It wasn't such a bad age.
"Have you eaten, Papa?" At his headshake, she frowned. "Mou...come on, I'll fix dinner."
"You don't have to—"
She quelled him with a stern look. "I'll fix dinner."
As they walked down the hall toward the kitchen and dining room, the phone rang. She picked it up. "Moshi-moshi, Mihama residence. Ah, Tomo-chan! Eh? The English homework? Mou...isn't Yomi-san there with you? Why can't she help—ah, sou ka." With an apologetic glance and a roll of her eyes at her father, who grinned in reply, she sat down for what was sure to be a long call...
Officers responding to reports of a disturbance in the main shopping street of Beika-cho that night found no signs of any perpetrators, and no direct witnesses—those who had heard the muffled shouts and yells in the street had been too panicked to actually look.
Megure had not responded directly to the disturbance call, but had informed the investigating officers to notify him of anything unusual at the scene—anything out of place.
He knew it was a remote chance, but his intuition and instinct were nagging at him. Something was amiss...there was a hidden mystery under his nose, and damned if he wasn't going to find it.
He may not be in the same league as Kudou Shinichi when it came to detective work, but he didn't make the rank of chief inspector by being an idiot.
An officer walked into his office, carrying a pair of sealed cardboard boxes. "Megure-keibu," he said, "here's the evidence collected at the disturbance call."
Megure blinked. "What the—? What on earth is all that?"
The officer set the boxes down on a chair. "All I know is I was told to bring it to you, and that it hasn't gone through processing yet—the boys on the scene just said you'd want to see this." He paused. "Oh, and here are the photographs of the scene." He handed the inspector a thick envelope, bowed, and left.
Megure frowned as he opened the envelope and took out the pictures. There certainly had been a disturbance, he mused grimly. Evidence of a struggle, a handgun and a knife lying on the street...blood? Not enough to be a gunshot wound, though...and—
A soccer ball—embedded in a brick wall?!
* * * * *
The night seemed to go on forever. At half past two, Kogorou finally passed out from too much drink, and Sonoko, having been slightly refreshed by her impromptu drug-induced nap, finally wound down and decided to catch a few hours' sleep before heading home in the morning.
That left Ran and Conan awake—and Ran was clearly in the mood to talk. "But not here," she said softly. "Let's go down to the office."
Conan nodded, and the two of them padded silently down the steps to the detective office on the second floor of the building. After locking the door behind her, Ran stood at the broad windows, looking out at the night sky, arms crossed. In the dim reflection, Conan could see the beginning of tears in her eyes—and stormclouds in her expression.
"Ran," he began.
She whirled around, and her face was furious. "You absolute bastard," she hissed. "You knew I suspected—you knew all along, and yet you kept doing things..."
The young detective bowed his head. "Gomen na, Ran."
"An apology isn't going to cut it, Shinichi," Ran snapped. "You've put me through too much pain...too much worry. You could've been dead a dozen times over by now—I had to give you BLOOD, remember? When you were SHOT?"
"If I'd really been a kid...if I were really Conan, and not Shinichi...I'd still have been shot, and you'd still have—"
"That's beside the point!" Ran yelled. She took a deep breath, and turned her back on him. "I don't want to hear excuses, or bullshit about the kurozukume, or lives in danger, or any of that. Do you hear me? You hurt me. You hurt me by making me worry, and you hurt me worse by lying to me. By not trusting me."
"I trust you with my life," Conan replied softly.
"Liar," Ran said bitterly, tears streaming down her face. "If you really trusted me with your life, you'd have TOLD ME."
"I trusted YOU with MY life," Conan replied. "I didn't trust ME with YOURS."
Ran turned and looked at him, blinking. "...what?"
"Ran, if...if something happened to you, because of me...because of my stupid..." Conan sighed, rubbing his eyes. "If anything happened to you, and it was my fault...and I wasn't able to save you..." He swallowed thickly.
Ran sighed. "Shinichi..."
"You—to me—are the most important thing in the world, Ran," Conan said, walking towards her. "I've been dying inside, these last months, knowing how much I was hurting you, and not being able to...knowing what'd happen if..." He scowled, looking down at the floor, trying to compose himself. He then looked up at her, locking his sharp blue eyes on her face. "I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you because of me."
"But...something DID happen to me," Ran countered. "I spent months hurting inside."
"I did too."
"And you could've ended it all, with just a few words..."
"And if you'd gotten hurt on the outside? Because of me?"
"At least I'd have known the truth."
They stood, staring at each other.
Conan sighed. "I guess it doesn't do much good to keep going back and forth like this," he said.
"I guess not."
"Ran...I know it doesn't help, but I really am sorry. I never meant to hurt you—if I'd known, that night, what living this lie would mean...if I'd known how long it'd go on...I'd have told you right away. I'd have ignored Agasa-hakase and told you. Even if it meant putting you in danger with me. I..."
Ran shook her head. "No. You wouldn't. You know it, and I know it. You'd never let anyone in if it meant putting them in danger. I know you, Shinichi. You never meant for me to know what had happened to you, even after you'd found a cure."
Conan hung his head. "You're probably right. But...so many times, I really DID want to tell you. It hurt, watching you..."
"So we've both been hurting, all these months," Ran said, kneeling to face him on his level. "At least that puts us on equal ground. Now, we both need to heal."
The young man in a child's body nodded. "I..." He paused. "There's something I've wanted desperately to say to you, for so long. But...I don't want to say it now. Not like this. Not with this voice, from this body. I want to say it as me." He looked up at her, eyes shimmering in the dim light from the windows. "Please wait for me, Ran. Please wait...until I can be Shinichi again, and tell you..."
"I've waited months, Shinichi. I can wait a little longer. And...right now, I don't think I want to hear those words...not yet. I need time too."
Conan nodded, swallowing a lump in his throat. "I'll wait...until we're both ready. Until we both heal."
* * * * *
Gin was shaken awake roughly by Vodka. "Oi, get off," he grumbled.
"Aniki, wake up. Mezcal's here."
"Mezcal...?" Gin blurted in confusion, sitting up...and wincing in pain. "Agh, SHIT!"
A dry chuckle. "Please...try to limit your movements, Señor Gin," a rich, lilting male voice said. The shrunken killer looked up to see an olive-skinned man with dark brown eyes and curly black hair standing over him, an amused smirk on his face. "Aggravating your injuries before I attend them will only make the pain worse." The glitter in his eyes said that he wouldn't be sorry to see Gin suffer.
"Mezcal," the assassin spat. "She just HAD to call you, of all people, didn't she?"
Mezcal laughed richly. "My dear Señor Gin, I am presently the only qualified surgeon available to attend you. You are most fortunate I was not away on...business."
"Your little 'medicine' racket in Tijuana?" Gin sneered. "I'm surprised they let you keep that going, considering—"
"Considering he deals in more than illegal narcotics there, but also information crucial to the Organization," Vermouth interrupted smoothly. She strode over to stand beside Mezcal. "So, Mezcal...what's the verdict?"
"Guilty of terminal stupidity and carelessness," Mezcal said, smiling. At Gin's narrowed eyes, he amended, "Ah, it is only a joke. You need to develop a sense of humor, no?" Shaking his head, he held up an X-ray. "We took the liberty of examining your leg while you were asleep. It is fortunate the medication also kept you sedated...it would not have been pleasant for you, even with the morphine."
"How bad is it?" Gin grunted, clenching his teeth.
"I am afraid that your right leg is...rather extensively damaged," Mezcal replied. "Possibly beyond repair. I see no need to amputate, but..." He shook his head. "The force of the blow completely shattered the tibia, and snapped the fibula in half. The fibula can be repaired with surgery and immobilization—it was a clean break, and seems to have remained in that condition despite the...change. The damage to the tibia, however..." He shook his head. "It is completely shattered, and the injury was aggravated drastically by your transformation. Ordinarily, this would be a case in which we would insert a plate and a number of screws to correct the damage. However, between the rather...nasty results of your metamorphosis, and the fact that inserting that much hardware into your leg which would have to be removed as you, ah, 'grow', and then re-inserted..." He smiled. "I have recommended the application of an external support brace for the leg. You will, of course, require a crutch, once you are able to walk again."
Gin scowled. "One of those cripple contraptions, like the old polio victims wore?"
"Oh, nothing so primitive as that," the doctor said in oily tones. "You see, for you to remain, ah, useful to the Organization, you will need something far more durable."
"Useful?" Gin asked.
Vermouth smiled. "Ordinarily, I'd have just killed you for your incompetence...but I believe I can use your situation to my advantage. You are of little use as an assassin now, obviously. However, as a spy..."
"Yes. Kudou, as well as Sherry, are...diminished, as you yourself are. It stands to reason they're keeping their cover by hiding in plain sight. You, in your current state, will be able to do the same."
Gin thought about that for a minute—then his eyes widened. "You can't be serious."
"I believe I am," the blond said with a smile.
Gin hissed. "Alright, so I'll have to wear a stupid leg brace."
"Ah...it is slightly more complicated than that," the Latin doctor said.
"How much more complicated?" Gin asked warily.
"A brace ordinarily assists the joints of the leg, preventing an unwelcome collapse due to paralysis or limited range of movement," the doctor explained. "Your problem is rather more severe than weak or immobile joints. Keep in mind that the bones in your leg can no longer support any weight. In fact, there is nothing holding the leg...in a leg shape, as it were. The tibia is shattered completely through." Mezcal showed Gin the X-ray; the young assassin paled. "A knee-ankle-foot orthosis, of the type once used for polio victims, would be of no practical use to you in this condition; it would at the very least reaffirm the proper shape of your leg, but it would not facilitate any regrowth of the bone—I am not ruling out the possibility, however small, that the bone might heal partially. It will never heal fully, but..." He shrugged. "The human body is a strange machine."
"So you're saying I'm basically lamed," Gin replied.
"In a sense...however," Mezcal continued, "I have devised a procedure which will allow you to remain upwardly mobile...if rather limited in that mobility." He paused for a moment. "We will, of course, put a cast on the leg once I operate on it to insure the fibula is aligned properly and the bone fragments are not in danger of piercing any major blood vessels. After a period of bed rest, you will be fitted for a special brace, which will involve a combination of upright supports, cross straps, and an intramuscular frame of titanium rods."
"Intramuscular?" Gin asked, not liking the sound of that.
"I am afraid," Mezcal said, his eyes glimmering with barely-concealed mirth, "There will be much, much drilling."
Gin glared at the doctor and Vermouth. "Give me a gun, so I can fucking shoot myself."
* * * * *
Despite the extremely long night, Ran and Conan both woke up fairly early the following morning. As it was a Sunday, they didn't have anything in particular planned, but there was one thing Conan wanted to take care of straight away. He picked up the phone and his calling card and punched in a number he knew by heart. Ran watched him curiously, wondering what new surprise this small boy who wasn't a child at all would bring into her life.
"Oi, Hattori, it's Kudou," Conan spoke into the phone after a moment. "Sorry to call so early, but we had an interesting night last night." Ran noticed the smirk and the twinkle in the young boy's eyes, and realized, not for the first time, that she really WAS looking at Shinichi—how had she ever missed it before? She must be the most blind, foolish person in the world...
"Na, Hattori...how'd you like to help me out with the missing-persons case from hell?"
* * * * *
Megure frowned as he examined the plastic-wrapped, carefully tagged objects taken from the disturbance scene.
The largest two pieces were somewhat disconcerting: a soccer ball, one side covered with brick and mortar dust, and a motorcycle helmet with a wide crack on the back side and a few drops of dried blood on the crown. There was also what looked remarkably like a scuff mark from a shoe around the location of the crack.
The other evidence included a gun with a silencer, a dagger, and a cigarette butt. For a moment, he wondered why the investigators bothered collecting this last piece—but after all, he had instructed them to be thorough, and cigarette butts certainly had their uses in forensic investigations.
But the soccer ball—and where it had been found—and the cracked, blood-stained helmet bothered him the most. The helmet had, according to the report, been stolen off the back of a nearby motorscooter (the owner had been contacted), and the damage pattern obviously did not indicate use for its intended purpose. But...
...the only thing he could think of, based on appearances, was that the helmet had been kicked at somebody.
But that didn't make sense, right?
Nor did someone who could kick a soccer ball with enough force to put a dent in brick...
He knew of only one person capable of such a feat.
Frowning, he picked up the phone and jabbed at a button. "Megure," he barked. "Tell the forensics boys to come get this crap from my office."
When a lab tech arrived a moment later, Megure stood, scowling. "Run this stuff immediately. I want the soccer ball given priority."
The technician blinked. "But...the gun and the knife, sir..."
"The soccer ball is PRIORITY," Megure repeated. "I want the fingerprint match results yesterday."
As the harried technician left with the boxes of evidence, Megure examined the photographs of the crime scene again, frowning. *Could Kudou-kun really be back...?*
* * * * *
"Whaddya mean, y'don't know WHO'S missin'?" Hattori Heiji snapped into the phone. He was still pissed at Kudou for the baseball incident, and now the obnoxious brat was playing games with him at eight in the morning...?
//That's why it's going to take the two of us combined to solve this one,// Kudou's voice answered calmly. //You see...we're not sure who our targets are...but we DO know what we're looking for. Sort of.//
"....that ain't really very helpful, Kudou," Heiji said.
The younger boy chuckled. //We're going to be looking for victims of APTX-4869. We suspect there may be as many as three others like me, not including Haibara. So we're looking for people who vanished mysteriously—and little kids who appeared out of nowhere.//
Heiji's eyes widened. "Kudou, what the hell's goin' on over there?"
//Like I said...we had an interesting night.//
* * * * *
Kogorou finally woke up a short while after Conan's call to Heiji; he spent several minutes in the lavatory before emerging to look for breakfast. Luckily for him, despite their relatively early start (considering how late into the night they were awake), Ran and Conan had not gotten around to breakfast yet; Ran quickly prepared breakfast for all three of them.
As they ate, the detective kept shooting nasty glances at the small boy across from him. Conan did his best to ignore this, but finally, he could take no more. "Oi oi," he grunted.
Kogorou snorted. "You're lucky I'm not throwing you out, Kudou," he said. "You're not exactly my favorite person right now." He frowned. "But...things have gone a lot better for me and Ran since you showed up like this. And you did save Ran's life last night—even if it was your fault she was in trouble in the first place. And...Ran'd probably throw ME out if I threw YOU out." He paused to sip his tea. "So, I'm going to let you stay—the expense account your parents set up is still good, so I'll just start taking rent out of it now that I know the truth. Two things, though."
"One. No funny business with Ran." The girl in question choked on her miso soup.
"OTOUSAN!" Ran shouted, face flaming. "Shinichi wouldn't...besides, it's not like he even COULD, like that—" At the expression on the boy's face, she became even redder. "Gomen ne, Shinichi..."
"It's okay," Conan sighed. "I've gotten used to it. BELIEVE me, I've HAD to." Nodding to Kogorou, he added, "Agreed. Like she said, I would never do that anyway." *Not that I wouldn't WANT to, it's more that she'd pulverize me...* "Condition number two?"
"Condition number two," and here his scowl became nastier, "No more 'Sleeping Kogorou'. Understood? It's a miracle I haven't developed some kind of terminal illness from all the drugs you've been shooting me up with."
"The stuff in my darts is more or less Valium, at a lower dosage than you'd take to go to sleep at night," Conan said. "It just kicks in a hell of a lot faster."
"That's beside the point!" Kogorou growled. "I won't be...used like that, do you hear me?"
"Haaai," Conan said. He sipped his tea. "I have a couple of conditions of my own, though."
Kogorou raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" he asked dangerously.
Conan nodded, and glared sharply at him. "One. No more hitting me on the head or throwing me around like a rag doll. I put up with it because I didn't have any choice before. If you try any of that crap now, I'll kick the nearest solid object into your balls so hard you'll never so much as think about your precious 'Yoko-chan' ever again."
Kogorou winced. "I...suppose that's fair."
"Two. No shooing me out of an investigation or ignoring anything I try to say during a case. You know who and what I am now. I'm a detective. I catch clues you and Megure-keibu miss a lot of times."
"Only because you're so much closer to the ground," Kogorou grumbled.
"Otousan!" Ran chided.
But Conan actually grinned. "Yeah, that's right. I am. It's one of the little advantages I've found this body has." He paused for a bite of rice. "And I will be actively involved in the investigations from now on. I agree that doing the dummy thing isn't an option now—I'm amazed it worked for as long as it DID. And I've tried using a conscious person as a dummy; it doesn't work very well. So instead, we'll just have to work out a way to work together."
Kogorou snorted. "As if I need YOUR help."
The other two just stared at him for several seconds.
"Che...alright, we'll work out something. Maybe we can say I'm making you my apprentice or something, so we can 'confer' and make it look like I'm teaching you."
"That works," Conan said. Inwardly, he thought, *Him, teach ME? As if.*
"So, any more 'conditions'?" Kogorou asked sarcastically.
Conan shook his head. "Nope...except, of course, that both of you need to remember to call me Conan. As far as anyone outside is concerned, I'm NOT Kudou Shinichi."
Kogorou snorted. "You already blew your secret to the guys you were hiding from, didn't you? So is there even any point to pretending you're not Kudou anymore?"
Conan nodded. "Yeah. There's people who aren't involved in this at all, who don't need to be—if the police found out, for one, they'd want to get involved in my case, and I'M gonna be the one to bring those kurozukume bastards down. And..." He sighed. "Then there's the 'Shounen Tanteidan'. Edogawa Conan is their friend. if they find out he doesn't really exist, they'll be crushed. I just...can't do that to them." He shook his head. "Life'll be much easier all around if I keep being Conan until Haibara works out a cure. Then I can get my life back, and Conan can..." He shrugged. "Go back to America, and never be seen again."
Ran frowned. "Shi—err, Conan-kun...how many people know your secret again? With everything going on last night, I really lost track of some things."
Conan paused to think. "Okay, there's you two, Sonoko, Agasa-hakase, my parents, Haibara, Hattori, and of course Gin and Vodka. And that means their bosses know—the whole organisation knows." He frowned. "And then there's that obnoxious thief, Kaitou Kid..."
Kogorou spluttered. "KAITOU KID?! The hell?!"
Conan shrugged, putting his hands behind his head. "I've had a few run-ins with him, and he's shown up disguised as me—I mean the real me—before. I don't know HOW he figured out the truth about me...for a thief, he's no slouch in the brains department. Even keeps me on my toes."
"You almost sound like you admire him," Ran said.
Conan glanced up at the ceiling. "I respect his intelligence and cunning," he replied. "And from what I know of him, he seems strangely honorable and decent. But he's still a thief, which means it's only a matter of time before he slips up, and ends up in jail." He smirked. "I wouldn't mind being the one to put him there, but catburglars are small-fry, even famous ones like him. I'm more interested in solving murder cases and the like."
Kogorou shot him a sideways glance. "Oi. That's a little sick, you know?"
"Ehhh!? Eisuke-kun knows?" Ran exclaimed, staring at the shrunken detective.
"Un. Don't ask me how, he never did tell me how he figured it out. He just dropped it on me out of nowhere." Conan sighed, blowing at his bangs. "Everything ABOUT that idiot is a nuisance." He paused. "Ah, right, Jodie-sensei and those other FBI agents know."
"I thought they might, after that night..." Ran trailed off.
Kogorou raised an eyebrow. "Oi, Kudou...for something that's supposed to be such a big secret, it sure seems a hell of a lot of people are in on it."
Conan laughed bitterly. "Well, what do you expect? I've pretty much been Murphy's buttmonkey ever since this whole thing started."
Ran blinked. "Whose what now?"
"Nevermind, bad joke. Ask Jodie-sensei if you really want to know."
* * * * *
A little after ten, the door chime rang. Ran greeted the caller at the intercom, and breathed a sigh of relief when the voice that chimed through the small speaker was that of Yoshida Ayumi. //We were hopin' Conan-kun could play today,// Ayumi said.
Ran frowned. "Matte yo, Ayumi-chan," she replied. She glanced over at the small detective, who was idly scanning the newspaper on the sofa. Switching off the intercom, she called, "Shinichi? Ayumi-tachi are downstairs..."
Conan sighed. "Dammit. I'm tired from being up all night, and I don't really have time for them today, but..." Shrugging, he stood up, putting the paper down. "It'll look suspicious if I don't keep up the act, so..."
Ran nodded, and switched the intercom back on. "He'll be down in a minute, Ayumi-chan." Clicking it off again, she knelt down next to Conan as he approached the door. "Be careful, Shinichi," she whispered, enfolding him in a tight hug.
"I will, Ran." He smirked. "They're not going to do anything in broad daylight with lots of witnesses. I'm more worried about YOU, really."
Ran shrugged. "Like you said, it'd be a little too noticeable if they acted in broad daylight."
Conan nodded, exchanging his slippers for his sneakers. "I won't stay out too long," he promised. "I need to sleep sometime...and I need to pull my weight on this wild goose chase, or Hattori'll have my ass."
Ran giggled. "To think, a few days ago, I'd have scolded you for talking like that."
* * * * *
As the four kids shuffled out onto the sidewalk, squinting in the bright morning sun, Conan looked at the others. "So, what's on the agenda for today?"
"We have a case!" Genta declared proudly.
Conan blinked at him. "A case? Not another missing cat?"
"Nope! A missing PERSON!" Mitsuhiko exclaimed enthusiastically.
"A missing person?" *Who the hell would ask three little kids to look for a missing person?* Conan wondered to himself.
"Un," Ayumi declared. "We're gonna solve the case of the missing Shinichi-niichan!"
Conan spluttered, coming to a dead halt. "WH-WHAT?!"
"We're gonna find Shinichi-niichan," Mitsuhiko replied. "Cuz the police can't find him."
"But Conan-kun's real smart...just like niichan!" Ayumi exclaimed. "I bet you can find him in no time!"
Conan sweatdropped. "Ah...heh..." *Oi, oi. Now they've got me trying to find myself.*
* * * * *
Toyama Kazuha couldn't help but notice that her long-time friend and personal aggravation was a bit preoccupied, sitting at the desk next to the phone, chin cupped in one hand, nervously drumming the fingers of the other.
"Heiji? Is somethin' wrong?"
Heiji glanced up, and shook his head, laughing. "No, no...just thinkin'."
"Y'sure? You're awful spaced out there..."
Heiji swore under his breath. "Just got a call from Kudou," he shrugged. "Nothin' to worry about."
"Eeeh? Kudou-kun?" Kazuha raised an eyebrow. "Wasn't a social call, I reckon."
The teen snorted. "Not hardly. He needs my help with a case."
"Kudou Shinichi...needs help with a case."
"Must be SOME case."
Heiji chuckled. "That's an understatement."
Kazuha frowned. "Any way I can help?"
"No!" Heiji bit off sharply. He then winced, and amended, "I mean...thanks, but this is really Kudou's thing...kinda personal, y'know? I don't wanna get you or anyone else mixed up in it if I can help it."
Kazuha sat down, frowning. "Is Kudou-kun in some kinda trouble? Is—" she paused, blanching slightly. "Is Ran-chan—?"
"Neechan's fine, as far as I know," Heiji replied. "This has to do with..."
"With?" Kazuha prompted.
Heiji was silent for a very long moment. "Actually, y'know? Maybe there IS a way you can help—but I hafta tell you, we gotta do this under the radar. Nobody—an' I mean NOBODY—can know what's going on."
Kazuha's eyebrows went to her hairline. "What, are you a spy now instead of a detective?"
Heiji chuckled. "Sometimes." He then became serious. "Kudou'll kill me for this, but...I don't think we're gonna pull this off without every resource we can get our hands on."
Kazuha smirked. "A 'resource' now, am I?"
Heiji swatted at her playfully. "Ahou. What I mean is—"
"I know what you mean, ahou. So...what're we doin'?"
Heiji took a deep breath, knowing that his next words would break Kudou's confidence—but if what he suspected was right, it probably no longer mattered. "We're lookin' for two things: unsolved missing-persons cases, an' related incidents of young kids suddenly showin' up outta thin air..."
* * * * *
Early in the afternoon, Agasa looked in on Haibara, who had sequestered herself in the basement and had asked not to be disturbed. He figured she would be hungry, having skipped breakfast, and brought her a large sandwich and a glass of juice. "How's it going?" he asked as he placed the food next to her.
Haibara was typing furiously at her computer, her eyes darting rapidly from the figures on screen to the microscope next to her. A number of test tubes were bubbling and frothing over a row of burners on the counter beside her. "I'm breaking down the original formula to see why my first antitoxin didn't work properly, and testing another sample's reaction to the antitoxin to figure out how to improve the duration," she responded. "The results so far are not especially useful, but I didn't expect this to be an easy task." She glanced at the sandwich beside her. "Tuna salad?"
Shrugging, Haibara picked up the sandwich, took a bite, and set it down. "Thanks," she replied.
"Ayumi-tachi came looking for you earlier. I told them you were away for the weekend, and might not be at school tomorrow."
Haibara nodded, her eyes never leaving her work as her small fingers flew over the keyboard at speeds most adults would be jealous of.
Agasa watched her for a long moment, then sighed and trudged back upstairs.
* * * * *
"So just how did you guys expect to find Shinichi-niichan again?" Conan asked the three children. It was now late evening; soon, it would be time for them to part company and head for home, and they were seated in the park, snacking on onigiri bought at a nearby convenience store.
Conan sighed. "Look, you guys have your hearts in the right place, but this just really isn't a job for us. Did you stop to think maybe he doesn't want to be found?"
The three wannabe detectives blinked. "But why wouldn't he wanna be found?" Genta asked.
"I got lost once, it's scary," Ayumi said.
"Doesn't he care that people are worried about him?" Mitsuhiko put in.
*They don't even KNOW the real me well enough to worry about me...* "Look...he's a detective, right?"
"And he knows how to take care of himself, right?"
Conan nodded. "Now, I know that Shinichi-niichan calls Ran-neechan every couple of weeks. So he's okay. He always says he's on this big case and he can't come home, but he calls to let her know he's okay. So he's only missing because he doesn't want to be found."
The others stared at him for a long moment.
"Why didn't you tell us that sooner?" Genta bellowed. "We wasted a whole day we coulda spent at the arcade!"
Ayumi's eyes brimmed with tears. "He's really okay, Conan-kun?"
Conan nodded, smiling confidently. "Un. Trust me on this."
Ayumi flung herself at Conan, hugging him tightly, causing him to sweat. "Arigatou, Conan-kun!"
* * * * *
Monday saw the return of the usual routine. Ran and Conan got ready for school and said their goodbyes as they parted ways on the walk, but it was hard for them to keep their true emotions in check and show the world the face of big sister and little brother that had, only two days before, been so natural.
Throughout the day, Conan was distracted by Haibara's empty seat and by the worry that Sonoko would blab his secret all over Teitan High. Meanwhile, Ran was equally distracted, wondering how Shinichi was doing, hoping he wasn't too bored out of his mind...but hadn't he been doing this for months already?
"Ne, Ran," Sonoko whispered during a break between classes, "how's Shi—"
"SHHH!" Ran hissed. "Not here, Sonoko!"
"Hai hai," the rich girl replied, dropping the subject. "But later, ne?"
Kogorou spent the day in his office as usual, waiting for cases—but none came; with the revelations of the last thirty-six hours, he was beginning to wonder if his fame as a detective had been flicked off like a switch the moment he found out the truth about Kudou.
But that was absurd, wasn't it?
Still, he had little to do over the course of the day except read the newspaper, watch a horse race, and go through most of a case of beer.
And as for the kurozukume...
"In a bit of pain?"
"YOU GODDAMN SON OF A—"
"Such language, Gin. Please, do relax."
"KILL YOU, YOU FUCKING—AAAAAAAGH!!"
"I do believe you should refrain from such struggles and obscenities. I would not wish to get...nervous and make an error."
* * * * *
Megure sat in the break room, a cup of coffee on the table next to a stack of manila folders. He had one folder open in his hands and was deeply engrossed in its contents.
As he'd expected, the prints found on the soccer ball belonged to Kudou Shinichi. However, after receiving this report, he'd gone down to the forensics lab and asked the technician to run the prints again, and stayed and observed the process.
As before, the technician had matched the prints to the database record for Kudou Shinichi. However, as he was about to clear the search, Megure stopped him. "Continue running matches...no. Tell the computer to pull up the print records for Edogawa Conan."
"Do it, and let's do a visual comparison."
The technician shrugged and did as told. The two men crowded around the screen, examining the fingerprint patterns on the left (Evidence Set #43297) with the patterns on the right (Edogawa Conan).
The lab tech, a seasoned veteran who had worked for the metropolitan police for seventeen years, frowned suddenly. "I can see fifteen matching points of comparison without even trying hard," he said. "In fact, the match is much clearer than the Kudou Shinichi match—the prints are the appropriate size."
Megure nodded. "That's about what I expected."
The tech frowned. "Megure-keibu...do you want me to put the computer into full analysis on these prints? It takes a little time to do a complete match, down to the last ridge, and I do have a lot of other work piling up—"
"It's fine, Takeda. I've got what I need. Thank you."
So now, Megure had a real puzzle on his hands. The case files for the past several months showed that Kudou Shinichi had been identified as present at a lot of crime scenes he knew for a fact the teen detective had been nowhere near. Simultaneously, Edogawa Conan was, according to the forensics reports, completely absent from the scene—which, again, Megure knew to be incorrect.
He scowled. *Some of the newer labrats need to be reprimanded for laziness. This should've been caught months ago.*
Edogawa Conan had appeared at the same time Kudou Shinichi disappeared. And now, Megure had tangible evidence which suggested the two were, in fact, the same person.
The only thing left to figure out was how. Unfortunately, that particular answer didn't seem to be anywhere in his files.
Megure sighed, sipping his coffee, and began poring over the documents again, looking for anything he had missed.
* * * * *
"How was school, Ran-neechan?" Conan chirped as he met up with the tall girl outside the gates.
Ran blinked down at him, seemingly unable to answer for a moment. Then he flashed her a wink and a cheeky grin, and she giggled. "It was fine, Conan-kun. You?"
"Mm, okay. So, are we gonna pick up groceries for dinner?"
"Sure. What do you feel like having tonight?"
Conan made a great show of pondering this. "Hmm...how about tempura shrimp?"
"Heh, Otousan would love that. Okay, we'll do it."
And they headed off for the shopping street, unaware of two sets of eyes watching them: one belonging to a blond American woman standing in a classroom window two floors above ground...
...and the other, also belonging to a blond American woman, disappearing behind a black-tinted window in the back seat of a black Porsche.
* * * * *
Satou and Takagi found Megure in the break room, a stale cup of coffee forgotten on the table as he rifled intently through a number of case folders.
"Megure-keibu?" Satou asked, setting her own coffee down across from his and seating herself at the table. "Is something wrong?"
"Everyone's noticed you've been a little preoccupied today," Takagi commented, sitting beside his partner.
Megure grunted noncommittally, mustache twitching, as he reflexively reached for his coffee, took a sip, and nearly spat it out on the papers he was reading. "What the hell's wrong with the coffee today?" he rumbled.
Satou smiled. "You've let it sit for a few hours, maybe?"
The heavyset inspector blinked. "A few...hours?" He glanced at the clock, and swore. "THREE HOURS?! How did I let THREE HOURS pass? I've got things to do—!"
* * * * *
"Tadaima!" Ran called as she and Conan arrived on the second floor landing. They were halfway to the door to the detective office when it burst open, and Kogorou stuck his head out.
"Oi, runt," he rumbled gruffly, "Message for you. Call Hattori." He shut the door just as quickly, and they heard him stump back to his desk.
Conan and Ran blinked at each other, then shrugged. Ran dug out her keys as they trudged up the next flight of stairs, and unlocked the apartment door. Kicking his shoes off as soon as he was inside the apartment, Conan immediately headed for the phone and repeated his procedure from the day before.
//Mosh'-mosh',// Hattori Heiji's voice rang out on the other end.
"Oi, Hattori, it's me," Conan said, settling onto a chair. Ran took his backpack and set it in his room, and went to deposit her own things in her room before shuffling into the kitchen to start dinner.
//Hey, Kudou! I think I found somethin'.// Hattori sounded positively excited.
//Kaneda Chitose, age twenty. University student from Okayama. Disappeared visitin' relatives in Kyoto. The cops found all her stuff, even some of her clothes, in an alley, no sign of her...presumed dead after a month-long search.// He paused. //Ouch. She was engaged to a Matsura Kenta, an' she was two months pregnant.//
"Damn. That sucks."
//After her 'death', her father up an' moved to Tokyo—the family's loaded, an' he moved into one of their estates in the city. It belongs to his cousin, Mihama Norio, but Mihama-han's been in England for the last five years, an' the house has pretty much been empty all that time. Kaneda-han does most of his office work over the Internet, an' only goes into the office once or twice a week. But that's not the best part...//
"Oh?" Conan imagined that Heiji must be wearing that confident, excited grin that said he'd found something truly interesting.
//He's been made guardian of another cousin's daughter—Mihama Chiyo, age eleven, who just five months ago passed high school entrance exams—aced 'em, in fact—an' was pushed all the way up from the fourth grade to first year high school. Her records say she's a child prodigy with high aptitude scores...a certified genius.//
"Wish I'd thought of that," Conan remarked.
//Heh. Well, here's the kicker—I did some checkin', an' it looks like the only teacher at her old school who remembers her ever bein' in any classes was her fourth grade teacher.//
"Maybe she'd just transferred—"
//Ahou! You think I didn't check that? Yeah, a different school's listed for her for the first few years of school. Thing is, I checked around, an' nobody there'd ever heard of her.//
Conan grinned. "Sou ka...this sounds like a real lead. Thanks, Hattori. I'll take it from here."
//Right. I'll keep diggin' to see what else turns up. I didn't expect it to be this easy, to be honest.//
"Neither did I. I'm surprised you found it first."
//Well, actually...// Heiji coughed nervously.
A pause. //Kazuha found the file on Kaneda Chitose.//
Conan blinked. "Toyama-san did...? Masaka...Hattori, tell me you didn't..."
//Kudou...Neechan knows now, doesn't she.// It wasn't a question.
//Then this is really high priority stuff now, isn't it?//
//I thought so. That's why I've got Kazuha helpin' me. I haven't told her any details yet—only what we're lookin' for now. But—//
Conan sighed. "I understand. It's...it's okay, go ahead and tell her."
//Don't worry, you can trust Kazuha. She won't blab your secret.//
The young boy snorted. "There IS no secret anymore. They know I'm still alive, and what the apotoxin really does. That's why this is so urgent."
//THEY KNOW?! AHOU! WHEN WERE YOU GONNA TELL ME THIS?!//
Conan laughed nervously. "Anou...I guess I should've mentioned it..."
//DAMN RIGHT YOU—//
"Listen, Hattori, I gotta go. Thanks again, and tell Toyama-san thanks for me!"
"Mata ne!" Frowning, he looked at the names he had written down on a notepad while talking to Hattori, then headed for the row of phone directories stacked on a shelf in the corner.
"What did Heiji-kun want, Shinichi?" Ran asked.
Conan flipped through the pages of the phone book quickly, scanning. His eyes landed on the name he was searching for, and he quickly copied down an address. Hopping up, he called, "We've got one. I've got to go check it out."
"I'll be back in time for dinner!" Conan shouted, already halfway out the door with his skateboard and soccer ball.
Ran stared at the closed door where he had once again disappeared. Then, she sighed. "Good luck, Shinichi." Without further thought, she returned to the kitchen.
Her little detective was going to be hungry when he got home.
* * * * *
From his perch in a tree, Conan watched the street corner intently. Several minutes passed before he saw two girls, one short, with light reddish-brown hair tied up in cute twin tails, and one older, extremely tall, with long raven hair. The younger girl was chattering animatedly at the taller girl, who was silent, but had a small, content smile on her face.
Nodding, Conan leapt down from the tree to begin the game. As the two girls drew near, he stood on the sidewalk opposite the large residence with the nameplate MIHAMA, kicking his ball against the boundary wall. As the girls drew closer, he carefully, precisely aimed his next kick a bit too high, sending the ball sailing over the fence. "Oh, NO!" he cried loudly. "Kaachan's gonna kill me!"
The two girls stopped, blinking. "What's wrong?" the younger girl asked.
Conan put on his best 'distressed little boy' act. "Kaachan just got me a new ball for my birthday an' I just kicked it over the fence an' I saw a big scary dog in that yard an'...an'..." He sniffled for effect.
The pigtailed girl smiled, patting his head. "It's okay," she said. "This is my house! And my dog is really nice. Come on, let's get your ball."
"Hontou? Arigatou, Neechan!"
The young girl preened slightly at being addressed thusly, and the taller girl chuckled softly. Conan followed them into the yard. Inwardly, he frowned. *I need to get this girl alone to talk, but...* He noticed the tall girl walking hurriedly to the large white dog which was bounding up to them, and sighed. *I have a feeling she's gonna be here a while.*
"Ne, Neechan," Conan asked his target, "Is that your Neechan?"
The girl laughed. "Iie, Sakaki-san is my friend from school." She bowed. "Gomen, I forgot to introduce myself! Mihama Chiyo."
"Edogawa Conan." Conan made a show of running over to grab the 'lost' ball, and bounced it on his knee as he ran back over. "Yatta! ...ne, Neechan, can I stay in your yard an' play for a bit? Kaachan don't like me playin' in the street, an' maybe I won't lose my ball again this way."
Chiyo smiled. "Sure thing, Conan-kun." She smiled. "Ne, why don't I play with you? I don't need to do my homework right now, and I could use the exercise."
"Hontou? Sugee!" *Perfect. Now we just need the big girl to leave.*
Fifteen minutes passed, and Conan allowed himself to be lost in the simple fun of horsing around with a soccer ball and a new friend. After a bit, the tall girl suddenly stirred from her reverie. "Chiyo-chan," she called softly, "I just remembered, I've got to pick up stuff for dinner—I'd better get going."
"Ah, okay! I'll see you tomorrow, Sakaki-san!"
"Ja," the tall girl called as she left, lingering just long enough to watch the two children at play before disappearing from sight.
After a moment, Conan idly commented, "Ne, Neechan...Sakaki-san's your friend from school, right?"
"But you don't look a lot older'n me," he pressed, kicking the ball toward her. "She's gotta be in high school."
"Un," Chiyo replied, stumbling a bit as she returned the ball. "I'm in high school too."
"Eeeeh? Wow, you must be really smart, Neechan!"
Chiyo blushed slightly, but there was an unmistakably proud grin on her face. "Eheh...I guess."
Conan tucked his hands behind his back and began bouncing the ball from his knee to the top of his head and back. "Y'know, I'm pretty smart, too. I bet I could be in high school."
"Really?" Chiyo commented, watching him with an amused smile.
"Un. I know lots of things. I know math, I know English, I know history..." He paused, stopping the ball under his foot, and dropped the 'cute little kid' act. "I know secrets."
"Secrets?" Chiyo asked, tilting her head.
"Un." He rolled the ball back and forth under his toe. "Big secrets. About bad men who wear black. And detectives. And kids who aren't really kids at all." He fixed her with a sharp, calculating stare. "Like you, Chiyo-neechan...iie, Kaneda Chitose-san."
Chiyo paled, her eyes wide. "Wh...what..." She stammered. "Wh-what're you..."
He smiled. "Saa, Hattori was right." He took off his glasses and pocketed them. "Relax...and I think we should go inside before we talk any more, don't you?"
Chiyo nodded mutely, swallowing. "H-how did you...I mean...wh-who are you?"
Chiyo's eyes tripled in size.
* * * * *
"I'm not the only one, then," the chibified girl said as she sipped the tea she'd just poured.
"Nope. There's at least two others, including me, but we suspect there may be more."
"But how did you—I mean, we were so careful..."
Conan smirked. "I told you, I'm a detective. And obviously, I know exactly what to look for." He frowned. "Kaneda-san..."
"Chiyo," the girl insisted. "Kaneda Chitose is dead. Please...please just let me be Chiyo."
The smaller boy shrugged. "Chiyo-san, then. The reason I'm here is that I may need your help."
"MY help?" Chiyo snorted. "Do I look like I'm in any position to help anyone? I seriously doubt you need tutoring in your homework, and that's about all I'm good for these days."
"No...that's not true," Conan replied. "You're a witness. You've seen them. You know. You're living evidence, like me."
"You want me to testify against...them? The men that did this to me?" Chiyo laughed bitterly. "I'm sorry, Kudou-san, but...they've already done worse than kill me. I..." She choked down a sob. "I've lost more than you can imagine..."
"I know," Conan said softly. "And I'm sorry. But...don't you want to make them pay for what they've done to you?"
The small girl glared fiercely. "No. I've got a new life, and new friends, and I'm happy. I don't want...anything to..." Chiyo began to cry silently. "I just want to forget..."
Conan stood, walked over, and placed a hand on her shoulder. "I understand. Believe me, I understand. But I...we..." He sighed. "The truth is, they know what that drug of theirs does now."
Chiyo's eyes widened in horror. "They...they know? About...me?" The last came out as a squeak.
"THAT, we can't be sure of," Conan said. "We don't know if they knew who you were before, after all. But they DO know that APTX-4869 isn't the lethal poison they thought it was, and they're going to be...well, obviously, they don't want potential witnesses running around who can expose them."
"Just who ARE 'they', anyway?" Chiyo asked. "Yakuza, or...?"
"Much worse," Conan said. "Much, much worse." He fixed her with a piercing gaze. "Which is why you may be in danger. Which is why my partner and I tracked you down, and why I'm here now." He paused. "This is very important: you must be extremely careful to avoid suspicion. You already stand out too much as it is, a grade-schooler in high school. But that in itself isn't terribly suspicious, so just don't blow your cover if you can help it."
"I don't intend to," Chiyo said, frowning.
"But the fact that WE found you, is proof that so can they. So you really need to be on your guard. I'm not saying you need to jump at every shadow or anything, but just remember that you are in danger now." He paused. "And...I'm not promising anything, but there's a chance we may have an antidote, and soon."
Chiyo blinked. "An antidote? You mean..." She looked down at herself. "...I could be...that person again?"
Conan nodded. "Yeah. If you want." He sighed. "I know what you lost. I know you...were pregnant when you were changed. And I can understand if going back to that life, and having that loss on your heart, would be too much for you. I just thought you deserved to know that there may be a way back, if you want it."
Chiyo swallowed, and her voice was thick when she replied. "Arigatou."
Conan stood and handed her a business card, which she pocketed. "I'll be in touch if I have anything new to tell you, or if I need your help. If you need to contact me, call. And don't forget that I'm in hiding, like you, although a lot more people know my secret than I'm guessing know yours." He paused. "Take care of yourself, Chiyo-san."
She nodded. "You too, Kudou-san...iie, Conan-kun." She smiled, wiping tears from her eyes. "Ne, is it okay if I tell my father what you told me? He's been running himself crazy these last months, trying to find those guys who did this to me..."
Conan nodded. "Sure. But don't mention my name, okay? The fewer connections to me you have, the better. I'm a major target for them right now."
"And I'm not?" Chiyo asked, arching an eyebrow.
Conan grinned. "You didn't use that drug on one of them. I did."
"You..." Chiyo blinked. "You turned one of THEM into a kid?"
Chiyo squealed. "That's great!" She paused. "But that's why they know about us now, isn't it?"
The smaller boy scratched his head nervously. "Aheh...probably."
Chiyo sighed. "Well, better you than me."
Conan chuckled. "I'll be in touch," he repeated. "Take care of yourself, and call me if you have any problems." As he neared the door, Conan paused. "I almost forgot. Do you happen to remember what the men who poisoned you looked like?"
Chiyo frowned. "A bit. It was dark, and I was really scared, but...one of them had the coldest, creepiest eyes..."
"Did he have long hair, the color of straw?"
"And the other one, was he stocky, kind of a brick-like face, sunglasses?"
Chiyo thought about it, then nodded. "That sounds about right."
Conan pulled out a notepad and scribbled something on it, nodding. "Okay, good. That accounts for one of Gin's pills. Thanks."
"Gin...?" Chiyo asked, tilting her head.
"Gin and Vodka. They're the same ones who got me. I took down Gin the other night, so I know exactly how many capsules of his supply of APTX-4869 were missing. That's why we're looking for people like us. Trying to account for everyone Gin got."
"And this...Gin...was he the only one who had the poison?"
Conan shrugged. "We don't know. For all I know, there could be dozens like us in Tokyo. But it seems more probable that Gin was the only one actively using it. More than a handful of cases like ours...it'd draw too much attention after a while, ne?"
"Oh, one more thing..."
"If you drink certain strong spirits like Paikaru while you have a fever, you'll change back for a little while. It hurts like hell, though, and it'll only work one time. Oh, and a certain acquaintance of mine has developed a temporary cure which works for twenty-four hours, but taking it is risky. I've tested it, so I can vouch for its effectiveness."
"Just thought you might find that useful," Conan replied with a shrug.
"Aa...ee," Chiyo answered. With a final wave, the detective left the house—and left a young girl who was really a young woman with a lot to think about.
When Conan returned home, he found an unexpected surprise.
"Megure-keibu," he stated, noting the police inspector seated on the steps leading up to the second floor.
"Ah, Conan-kun," Megure nodded. "I've been waiting for you."
"Waiting...? Then why aren't you upstairs?"
Megure shook his head. "I saw you leave earlier, but I lost track of you about three blocks away, so I decided to wait right here."
*Something's not right.* "Anou...what's wrong? Am I in some kind of trouble?" With virtually no effort, he cranked up the 'innocent little kid' routine.
Megure frowned slightly. "Not exactly. I just need to ask you a few questions."
"Questions?" *Maybe it's just about a case...but then, why...?*
"Aa," Megure nodded, shifting slightly. "I've recently found some unusual discrepancies in numerous reports from cases over the last several months. Cases you've personally been involved in."
Conan swallowed nervously. "Dis...huh?"
"Don't pretend you don't understand. We both know better."
The boy shrugged. "Yeah, okay."
"Now," Megure continued. "I've found evidence that leads me to suspect you might be the key to the disappearance of Kudou Shinichi."
"Shinichi-niichan?" Conan asked, tilting his head. "Why would I know—?"
"I've found evidence," Megure cut across him, eyes narrowing, "that indicates that you are, in fact, Kudou Shinichi."
*Oh SHIT.* Conan stood, poleaxed, staring in shock at the portly police inspector. *Okay, Kudou, think. How do you get out of this one?*
Just then, a voice drifted down from the landing above them. "Aa, Megure-keibu!"
Conan stared past Megure, who had begun to turn around, and felt another sharp lurch in his heart. *What the HELL?!*
Kudou Shinichi leaned casually against the wall opposite the door to the detective office, smirking.
* * * * *
Megure stared. "Kudou-kun?! But...I..."
Shinichi snorted. "Barou. I heard it all. How silly is the thought I'd turn into some little megane brat? Na, Conan-kun?"
"Aa...hai..." Conan stuttered, staring in shock at the apparition above him. *What the hell's going on here?!*
Megure frowned, looking uncertainly between the two of them. "But..." Shaking his head, he muttered, "Maybe I need a break..." He then glanced back up at Shinichi. "Oi, Kudou-kun," he began, "about the incident Saturday..."
"Oh, that?" Kudou shrugged. "Some punks tried to mug Ran and Sonoko. I just happened to be passing by, and stopped them."
"Just happened to be...?" Megure spluttered.
"I'm not as 'missing' as you seem to think, keibu-dono," Shinichi said with a smirk, eyes twinkling. "I've got a good reason for keeping a low profile right now, but I'm still around." He sighed. "In fact, I need to get going, as soon as I say goodbye to Ran. Oi, megane, you coming up for dinner or what? Ran's worried sick about you."
Conan blinked. "Aa...hai!" He glanced at Megure. "Was there anything else, Megure-keibu?"
The inspector sighed, shaking his head. "No, I guess not. Kudou-kun, I would like you to make a statement about the mugging incident at your convenience. Ran-kun too."
"Of course," Shinichi nodded. "Oh, and I'd appreciate if you didn't let anyone know you saw me here." With that, he turned to disappear back up the steps, Conan quickly following behind him.
Once the two of them had entered the apartment, Shinichi peered out the peephole to make sure Megure hadn't followed them up. Then he laughed. "Oh man, that was great!"
"It worked? He fell for it?" Ran asked.
"Hook, line, and sinker," Shinichi said, smirking. "You should've seen your face, Kudou," he added, glancing down at Conan and snickering.
Conan looked between them. "Wh—what's going on here?"
'Shinichi' laughed loudly. "Ahou...you're supposed to be my equal?"
Conan's eyes narrowed in realization. "Hattori."
The detective from Osaka grinned, wiping his face with a handkerchief—and removing a thick layer of makeup, exposing his darker skin. "Did I get it right this time?"
"BAROU! You almost gave me a heart attack down there!"
"It worked, then," Ran giggled.
"And I'd say the timin' couldn'ta been better."
The shrunken detective scowled, jamming his hands in his pockets. "You got any idea how much it sucks watching everyone on Earth pretend they're you? I mean, if it's not you, it's that asshole Kaitou Kid..."
"But it's convenient for you, isn't it Shinichi? It helps you keep your cover, right?" Ran asked, just a slight tone of hurt in her voice.
Hattori chuckled. "Man, I know one guy who's in the doghouse."
Ran frowned at him. "I'm pretty mad at YOU too, you know." She arched an eyebrow. "And I'm sure Kazuha-chan's gonna have a few choice words for you when SHE finds out."
The Osakajin cringed. "Oi, oi...I'm innocent here! It's Kudou's fault..."
Conan sighed, blowing on his bangs in frustration. "Yare yare..."
* * * * *
Ayumi scuffed her shoes on the ground as she walked home. None of her friends were able to play today; Genta was at the dentist, Mitsuhiko was out with his family celebrating an uncle's birthday, and Conan...had just run off after school, saying he had something to take care of.
Ai, of course...well, she hadn't expected anything there.
The young girl sighed, eyes never leaving the patch of sidewalk in front of her. *Conan-kun was really worked up all day long. He was like that yesterday, too. Something bad happened. I know he'll never talk about it, though.* She gazed up at the sky, clouding up with the threat of an evening rain. "Why doesn't he trust me?" she asked the heavens, eyes glistening with their own precipitation. "Conan-kun..."
A sound across the street caught her attention, and she looked up. She was standing in front of one of the more popular cake shoppes in Beika-cho.
A plan suddenly formed in her mind. Scrubbing at her eyes with the back of her arm, Ayumi smiled and skipped into the store.
* * * * *
"So, how'd it go with that girl?" Ran asked as the three of them sat down at the table, cups of tea and a plate of rice crackers in front of them.
"Hattori was right. She's one of us." Conan sipped his tea. "I don't think she's gonna help, though."
"Eh? Why not?"
The boy detective sighed. "Did Hattori tell you the details?" At Ran's headshake, he frowned. "She was engaged when it happened. And pregnant."
Ran gasped. "Sonna..."
"Yeah. It was too much for her. She doesn't ever want to go back to her old life, and doesn't want anything to do with who she used to be. Not even getting justice." He sipped his tea again. "She's made a new life for herself, and says she's happy. I think she's sincere. She certainly seems to have adjusted." He shrugged. "Maybe it's best if I leave her be. I did give her my card, though."
Hattori nodded. "Still want me to watch her, like you asked?"
"Just for a few days." Conan was silent for a few minutes. "Hattori...what exactly have you told Kazuha?"
"I haven't told her about you, yet. I think she's starting to figure it out, though. She's not stupid, and what I had her helping me look for..."
Conan nodded. "Okay. It's time to tell her the truth, then. Make sure she knows how important it is to keep it quiet, though, and make sure to give her the list of people who know."
The door intercom buzzed.
* * * * *
Ayumi skipped happily down the sidewalk, stopping at the door leading up to the Mouri Detective Agency. Smiling, she darted up the steps.
She faltered slightly when she saw there was an older girl already there, on the landing. The girl turned at the sound of Ayumi's feet on the stairs, and smiled. "You're one of Conan-kun's friends, right?"
"Hai!" Ayumi nodded, bowing. "Yoshida Ayumi."
The girl bowed. "I'm Toyama Kazuha. I'm a friend of Ran-chan's. Were you going up to see Conan-kun?"
Ayumi nodded. "Un! I brought him some cake because he's been down." She held up a bag clutched in her hands.
Kazuha giggled, holding up a similar bag. "I brought some too as a visiting gift. Come on, I just buzzed Ran-chan that I'm coming up."
As the two girls ascended the stairs, they saw Ran standing in the open door of the apartment. They also heard snippets of heated conversation inside.
"—really need to lighten up, Kudou—"
"BAROU! You need to take this more seriously!"
"I am taking it seriously. I just think you're a little TOO serious..."
"YOU try being stuck like this, having people out to kill you, and then the whole thing with me and Ran—"
"AYUMI-CHAN, Kazuha-chan!" Ran greeted, rather loudly. The talking inside the apartment shut off as though a switch had been thrown. "Come on in!"
The two girls slipped off their shoes as they were ushered in. As Kazuha exchanged pleasantries with Ran, Ayumi watched the others inside, brow furrowed. The tall, dark-skinned boy, she thought she recognized from somewhere. Conan-kun had a very, very unpleasant expression on his face. He was also plainly surprised to see her—and not in a good way. Even the dark-skinned boy looked rather taken aback by her appearance, and Ran's smile was a bit strained.
She clearly was neither expected nor particularly welcome.
But she was already here, and it'd be awkward to turn around and leave, so she set her shoulders and marched into the room with a smile.
* * * * *
"So Ran-chan, I bet you're happy that Kudou-kun's back," Kazuha said idly as they sat around the table moments after the two girls had arrived.
There were some rather strange reactions to this around the table. Heiji choked on a piece of cake, Conan looked rather panicked, and Ran nearly spat tea across the room.
Ayumi's eyes widened. "Eeeh?! Shinichi-niichan's back?"
"Ah, well, that is...!" Ran laughed in a forced manner. "It's...well..."
"He's not back, but he called Heiji-niichan to ask for help with something," Conan said hastily. "Ne, Heiji-niichan?"
"Ee, sou da na," the dark-skinned boy nodded rapidly.
Kazuha scowled. "Mou...that jerk! He's IN Tokyo, isn't he?"
"Ah...maybe," Ran hedged. "I mean, he could be anywhere...he's moving around a lot. This case has him really busy."
"And now he's dragged THIS ahou into it," Kazuha said, glaring at Heiji. "It's really gettin' old, watchin' these two jackasses run around, ne Ran-chan?"
"Ano...eto...ee, sou yo," Ran said with a pained grimace and a halfhearted giggle.
Kazuha stared at her, eyes narrowed. "Somethin's up, isn't it? What—"
"AAA!!" Conan exclaimed suddenly, standing up quickly. "Ayumi-chan, wanna see a really neat book I got?"
Ayumi glanced at him. "Demo...I wanna hear about Shinichi-niichan..."
"It's a book I borrowed from his house! One of his dad's detective novels. It's a first edition! Come on, let's go see it!" He grabbed the girl by her wrist and started dragging her away.
* * * * *
The three teenagers were silent for a long moment. Kazuha blinked. After a moment, they heard Ayumi giggle happily, and Ran sighed. "Okay, that's helpful."
The Osaka girl glanced at her friends quizzically. "What's goin' on?"
"Kazuha," Heiji said, suddenly very serious, "It's important—absolutely vital—that you NEVER hint, to ANYONE, that Kudou's anywhere near Tokyo. Or even that you know he's still alive."
"Still ali—what the hell're you talkin' about?"
"Kazuha-chan," Ran said, "Shinichi is mixed up in some very, very deep trouble. Some very dangerous people tried to kill him. They know he's still alive now, and that's put us all in a real mess. I'm sorry you've gotten involved in this, but now that you're involved, you need to know everything. It's going to have to wait until Sh—until Ayumi-chan goes home. She DOES NOT need to know ANYTHING about what's really going on."
Kazuha stared, eyes wide. "You mean the reason Kudou-kun's been a no-show for months is because—"
"He's been hiding from professional killers, yeah," Ran said, frowning. "I'm still pretty pissed at him for lying to me, but I've seen, first-hand, what he's been up against. I understand why he's done things...lied, hidden...it's really complicated, though."
"Please, Kazuha," Heiji said, "You need to trust us. Me, Neechan, Kudou...and I know we can trust you, but you hafta know this is serious. Everything's so screwed up right now it ain't even funny."
"It...it must be," Kazuha replied shakily. "I mean, if...but...is he still in danger? I mean..."
"Hai. More now than ever."
* * * * *
"Ja, Ayumi-chan! Mata ashita ne!"
The door closed, and Conan leaned against it, sighing. "Yare yare..." he moaned, slumping back to the table. "Na, Hattori, Ran. You told Toyama-san everything yet?"
"Not all of it," Ran said.
Kazuha blinked at the change in tone of Conan's voice—not to mention the change in address to everyone. Something was very off here...
Conan nodded, sipping at his tea and grimacing. "Che...of all the times for that girl to decide to visit...I've really gotta put a stop to this crush thing before it gets outta hand."
"Looks like it's too late for that," Heiji said, smirking.
"Mou, be a little nicer to the poor girl, Shinichi," Ran said. "It's not like she can help it. I mean, if she knew...but she doesn't, and she won't, will she? So you just have to humor her."
*SHINICHI?!* Kazuha's mind blared, all trains of thought derailing.
"Yeah, but it's driving me nuts..." He blinked suddenly. "Ah. I guess THAT's the part you didn't get around to telling her while I was babysitting, isn't it?"
Kazuha was staring at Conan as though she were a deer, and his glasses were the headlights of a semi. Those glasses...which he was now removing and setting aside. He stood up. "Toyama-san, I don't believe we've actually properly met." He bowed. "Kudou Shinichi."
"...well, she took that well," Heiji commented.
* * * * *
Kazuha had come around after a few minutes, to find fresh, hot tea in front of her, Conan—Kudou?—still with his glasses off, and...
"It can't be that Conan-kun is..."
"He is," Ran said.
"It's a very long story," Conan said, in that eerie not-a-little-kid voice, and began to relay his tale...
* * * * *
The transceiver badge dropped from Ayumi's nerveless fingers, the tinny, distant voice of Edogawa Conan still rattling out of it, peppered with interjections from the other voices.
No...not Edogawa Conan. Because Edogawa Conan didn't exist. He was a lie.
He'd lied to her. All along.
He wasn't who he said he was...and many, many things started to make sense.
There was a hiss of static as the batteries of the transmitting badge—the one she'd nicked from Conan's room and tossed under the table as she was leaving—finally, mercifully, died. Ayumi didn't move to pick her own badge up or turn it off.
It didn't matter anymore.
The 'Shounen Tanteidan' were over. It was all a joke...everything.
He'd just been...'humoring' her.
And she drove him...'nuts'.
And again, not in a good way.
The tears began to fall, slowly at first; soon, they were streaming silently down her cheeks, dampening the pavement. She ran as hard as she could through the streets of Beika-cho, not caring who saw her, not caring what they thought.
Nothing mattered anymore, because he...
...because that person...
...none of it was ever real.
* * * * *
"Nan da? Shinichi...?"
"... ... ..."
"Chikushou! Ano gaki..."
"Shoganai, na? Kaeruze."
As the Japanese couple left the small diner, the two tourists that occupied the booth next to theirs shook their heads and chuckled.
"Damn foreigners. Wish they'd learn t' speak th' language."
Kazuha decided, albeit over her father's protests, to take a few days off from school to help out in Tokyo. Heiji and Kazuha spent the night at the Mouri residence, Kazuha in Ran's room and Heiji downstairs in the detective office. Kogorou wasn't thrilled with the idea of more houseguests, especially given the limited space available, but he grudgingly accepted it as they weren't in his way and had paid for dinner (and Heiji had brought a bottle of liquor as a visiting gift).
The next morning, Ran and Conan got ready for school as usual. After dressing, Conan emerged from his room, looking puzzled. "Okashii na," he said. "My Detective Boys badge has gone missing."
Heiji blinked from where he sat eating breakfast at the table. "Missing?" He frowned. He then noticed something out of the corner of his eye, and ducked under the table. "Here it is," he said, flipping the plastic badge to Conan, who caught it easily.
"Thanks," Conan replied. "Wonder how it got there...?" His eyes narrowed suddenly. "Chotto...the send button is clicked on." He frowned. "Something's not right..." Shrugging, he pocketed the badge. "I'll figure it out later. Hattori, you'll be watching that girl's school today, right?"
"Right. And Kazuha's gonna help out in Occhan's office an' go through his files to try 'n' find another apotoxin victim."
The shrunken detective nodded. "Yosh'...I'll see you later, then."
Several minutes later, Ran and Conan were on their way to school, when Conan noticed something on the sidewalk. "A-re-re?" He bent down to examine it...
"What is it, Shi—Conan-kun?" Ran asked.
"It's...a Detective Boys badge. With the receive button clicked on." His eyes widened suddenly. "Shimatta...! My badge was under the table, with the send button clicked on...!"
Ran blinked. "Masaka...you don't think..."
"Ayumi-chan," Conan said, closing his eyes and bowing his head. "This could be bad."
* * * * *
"Ne, Chiyo-chan, you okay? You've been really jumpy today."
The class was outdoors, suited up for sports; today, they would be playing softball. Mizuhara Koyomi stood in front of the small girl, leaning forward slightly, concern marring her face. The light glinting off her glasses made Chiyo pause for a moment, remembering the previous evening...
"Eh? Aa...hai," Chiyo chirped, pasting a big fake smile on her face. "Gomen ne, Yomi-san."
"Aa, Chiyo-chan's just got a stomachache," Kasuga Ayumu put in, milky brown eyes drifting lazily upward to watch soft, puffy clouds float overhead. "She was holdin' her tummy at lunch an' lookin' out th' window a lot."
"Eh? You've got a stomachache, Chiyosuke?" Takino Tomo asked, a strange glint in her eyes. The others glanced warily at her, remembering the infamous hiccup incident from earlier in the school year...
Chiyo waved her hands in the air frantically. "I'm fine, I'm fine!" she protested loudly. "Really, I've just got stuff on my mind, is all. Just family stuff."
The others nodded sagely. "We've all been THERE," Tomo replied smartly.
Unnoticed by all, the tallest member of the class frowned slightly.
* * * * *
The previous evening...
Sakaki fretted as she made her way home. She'd been distracted on the shopping street by a very cute store display of a new virtual pet system. She had waited ten minutes to have a chance to reserve one without being seen by anyone; by the time she was finished, she was rather late in getting home with the groceries. She was certain her mother would be displeased.
As she walked, she spotted the small, bespectacled boy who had visited Chiyo-chan earlier and played in her yard. She smiled slightly; he was a cute kid. Especially with that serious, intent look on his face as he idly bounced his soccer ball on his knee...
Figuring she wouldn't get in any more trouble for being a few minutes later, she shadowed the small boy for a bit. After a few minutes, he paused suddenly, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a cellphone. "Moshi-moshi?" he greeted loudly. He then continued moving again, speaking quietly into his phone. Sakaki moved closer, hoping to remain unnoticed, and strained to hear.
"...were right. She's like me and Haibara. She might not be useful, though. She wants to be left alone. ...I can't really blame her. She's been through hell. Even worse than me. I mean, she lost a—I can't even begin to...yeah. She seems happy with her new life. I don't want to bother her again if I can help it. Have you got another lead? ...damn. No, it's okay, we've got time. I think. Are you still in Tokyo? ...I see. Okay, I'll meet you back at Ran's place in a bit. Na, Hattori? We might want to keep an eye on that girl for a few days, just to be sure. I want you to do it, though—the kurozukume don't know you're involved in all this, but if I'm seen anywhere near her, it might be bad. Real bad. Hell, I might've already doomed her just by going there, but...hm? Yeah, I was seen. This tall girl in her class—no, I'm sure the girl's normal. She was a little scary-looking, but nice enough. ...barou, of COURSE I didn't. You know better than...no, that's how YOU act, Great Dork of the West. ...gomen, gomen. Seriously, thanks, Hattori. See you in a bit." Pocketing his phone again, he hurried his pace, abandoning his idle dribbling of the soccer ball.
Sakaki stood in the street for a long moment, thoroughly bewildered by what she'd just overheard. She didn't understand what was going on, but one thing that definitely troubled her was the voice of the small boy.
He did not sound like a child...!
* * * * *
"Ne, Kudou-kun," Haibara whispered at lunchtime, "Don't you think it's strange? Yoshida-san has been avoiding you all morning."
Conan sighed. "Un. I think...she overheard something she wasn't supposed to."
Haibara raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"She might have heard me, over the badges, talking to Ran, Hattori, and Toyama-san last night."
"She might know who I am."
Haibara shook her head. "You're going to get all of us killed. You do realize that, right?"
"I don't need that from you right now, Haibara." Sighing, Conan stood and walked to where Ayumi was sitting, by herself, picking at her bento. "Ayumi-chan," he began.
She looked up at him, eyes puffy and red, and frowned, then bent her head back over her lunch. "What do you want?" she asked.
"I want to know what's wrong," Conan asked. "I'm worried about you. You're not your usual self. Ayumi-chan is cuter when she's genki."
Ayumi sniffled. "Right. You don't really care. You're just humoring me."
Conan jolted. "What..." He put a hand behind his head and laughed nervously. "What makes you say that?"
"GO AWAY!" Ayumi shouted suddenly, jumping to her feet. "Seeing your lying face is making me sick!" She dropped her voice to a whisper, bowing her head so that her eyes were shadowed, and whispered, "Leave me alone...Shinichi-niichan."
Noticing the attention they were drawing, Ayumi continued in a soft whisper, "I won't tell anyone what I know. But...just don't bother me. I hate you." More loudly, she yelled, "I HATE YOU!"
Conan sighed. "Gomen nasai, Ayumi-san." Head bowed, he turned and walked away, many pairs of young eyes following him.
* * * * *
"Conan," Genta said, blocking the much smaller boy with his girth. Mitsuhiko stood beside him, arms crossed, looking decidedly unhappy.
*Oh great, this too.*
"What'd you do to Ayumi-chan? You'd better talk, or..." Genta cracked his knuckles.
"It has nothing to do with you," Conan said, letting every ounce of frustration and menace enter his voice as he glared sharply at the enormous boy. "And whatever you're thinking of doing to me for some perceived slight against the girl you have a crush on, I'd think twice about it. I've long since gone past my limit. You really do not want to push me right now."
"You little...!" Genta lunged forward to punch Conan, but the detective was ready; he dropped and swept Genta's leg, sending him sprawling. He then surreptitiously raised his watch and fired a dart into the larger boy's butt, knocking him out cold. He turned to Mitsuhiko. "And? Do you want some, too?"
The tall boy shook his head. "I don't want to fight you, Conan. I just want to know why you made Ayumi-chan cry."
Conan sighed, bowing his head. "I didn't mean to hurt her. She just...heard something she didn't need to hear, and is taking it very hard."
"What? What did she hear?"
The bespectacled boy shook his head. "Sorry, Mitsuhiko. I'm afraid that's my personal business. I can't tell you."
"But...I thought we were friends..."
Conan glanced up, eyes deeply sorrowful. "There are things you can't even tell your friends sometimes. You'll understand one day." He then walked away without another word.
* * * * *
"Haibara-san? What's going on with Conan-kun and Ayumi-chan? Neither of them will say..."
Haibara shrugged. "You assume I know. Even if I did, it's not my place to say."
Mitsuhiko sighed. "I just...don't like seeing my friends fight...we're such a strong group, we've been through so much, but it feels like we're falling apart..."
"It's funny what secrets can do to friendships, isn't it?" Haibara remarked.
"That's just it. You and Conan-kun have always had secrets, we all know it, but we accepted you anyway because we thought if you wanted to tell us, you would. But now...something's not the same."
"You're right. Something's changed. Yoshida-san found out something she wasn't supposed to. And look what it's caused. This is why secrets should stay secret."
"I...I guess so..."
* * * * *
"Chiyo-chan," Sakaki spoke up softly as they walked home.
"That boy that was at your house yesterday. Did he seem...strange to you?"
Chiyo blinked. "Strange? How?" She tilted her head curiously.
"Like he..." Sakaki began, then paused. "Nevermind. It's nothing."
"Are you okay, Sakaki-san?" Chiyo asked brightly, eyes sparkling with innocence.
"Aa...hai. I'm just..." Sakaki paused for a long moment, then shook her head, her long dark mane swaying. "I'm just being silly. Ja, ashita o." She proceeded briskly down the sidewalk in the direction of home.
Chiyo watched her for a long moment, a worried frown on her face. She then turned and walked into her house, where, after slipping off her shoes, she scowled darkly.
*Dammit, Kudou, did you do something to make Sakaki suspicious? I don't want my friends finding out my secret...!*
* * * * *
"Ne, Yoshida-san," Haibara called lightly as she walked up behind the morose girl.
Ayumi looked around, then smiled slightly. "Ai-chan," she greeted. She noted the absence of any of the male members of the Shounen Tanteidan, and smiled more brightly. "This is unusual for you."
"It's been an unusual day," Haibara commented. "You crying and shouting, the boys fighting..."
Ayumi sniffled. "I didn't mean to make a scene, it's just..."
"You're upset. I understand that. I don't know exactly what you heard..."
Ayumi snorted loudly. "You don't WANT to know."
Haibara raised an eyebrow. "Oh? I know Kudou-kun can be a bit abrasive when he's upset, but was it really all that bad?"
"He said I drive him nu..." Ayumi trailed off and STARED at Haibara. "You...know...?" she breathed.
Haibara shrugged. "Mm, you could say that."
Ayumi's eyes blazed. "He could tell YOU but not the rest of us...?! He...that...!"
"Calm down, Yoshida-san," Haibara said softly. "There's a reason I know. I'd rather not discuss it on the street, though. Come with me to Agasa-hakase's place, okay?"
Ayumi gaped at her for a moment, then nodded.
Ten minutes later, the two girls were seated in Agasa's living room, sipping juice. "So why is it you knew and never told me?" Ayumi asked.
Agasa suddenly peeked in. "Oh, Ai-kun, Ayumi-kun, hi," he said. "The boys aren't with you?"
"Hai," Haibara replied. "This is just a woman to woman talk. Yoshida-san is mad at Kudou-kun and doesn't understand some things, so I'm explaining them to her."
"Is mad at...?" Agasa blinked. "But...I don't..."
"She knows," Haibara said simply.
The professor blinked, nodded, and retreated from the room, his last glance at Haibara demanding explanations to be given later.
"Is that why you know? Because he gets gadgets from Hakase, and you live here?"
"Not exactly." Haibara sighed. "I know because...I'm the same as him."
"You're NOT to tell anyone this, understand? Even knowing this means your life is in danger. But as long as you know any of it at all, you might as well know it all, so you understand just how dangerous things are."
"Dangerous?" Ayumi asked, tilting her head. "I mean, I know Co—Shinichi-niichan said he was in trouble with some bad guys, but..."
"These 'bad guys' are the worst that exist," Haibara said. "If they knew you knew anything about any of this, you and your family would all be dead by dawn."
Ayumi gulped, eyes wide.
"Like Kudou-kun, I am not who I claim or appear to be. Haibara Ai is a name I adopted after I was changed by the Apotoxin-4869, the drug I was forced to develop by those people."
"Forced...? You were one of them?" Ayumi asked.
"Un. I'm not a very nice person, Yoshida-san," Haibara said with a small, sad smile. "I'm nineteen years old in reality, and I've done a lot of things in those years that guarantee I'll spend my next life in Hell. I had my reasons. I'm not proud of any of it, but it's in the past. Right now, I'm trying to make amends by working on a cure for this poison, so Kudou-kun can turn back to normal and get on with his life." She sighed. "You, at your age, can't understand the suffering he has endured because of me."
Ayumi frowned petulantly. "I may be a kid, but I'm not stupid."
"I know you're not. That's why you have to understand that you can't blame Kudou-kun for living this pretend life. He's had to, out of necessity. His real identity doesn't matter as far as you and the others are concerned. Until I can return him to normal permanently, he IS still Edogawa Conan, and I know he happens to think of you kids as friends." She chuckled. "Even I've gotten attached to you, and I tend to dislike people in general."
Ayumi blinked. "You...you really mean it? That Shinichi-niichan—"
"'Conan-kun'," Haibara chided.
"—Conan-kun really...but...he didn't sound that way, when I was..." Ayumi blushed. "I guess I don't have much room to complain, since I did a bad thing, huh?"
Haibara chuckled. "Hey, it's something detectives do, listening to private conversations. But you need to understand, some very strange and frustrating things happened to Kudou-kun over the weekend. He's just stressed out right now. Whatever you heard, I'm sure it wasn't meant as harshly as it came out."
Ayumi sighed. "I hope so."
"The only way to find out is to talk to him."
"Un..." Ayumi looked up. "Ne, Ai-chan, you said you're really nineteen?"
"Who...I mean, you..."
"You want to know my real name, I presume?"
Haibara chuckled. "Miyano Shiho. But that person is gone, so I would prefer not to hear that name, if you please."
Ayumi nodded solemnly. "Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me this."
Haibara shrugged. "The way things are going lately, I might as well take out a two-page ad in the newspaper and tell the entire city who I am. Kudou-kun too...I think there are more people who know the truth than don't by now." She shook her head, smirking. "Some people have no concept of how to keep a secret."
* * * * *
"Tadaima," Conan called blearily into the room as he trudged in, shucking his shoes.
"Okaeri nasai!" Ran called. She surveyed him from where she was bringing iced tea to the table; Kazuha sat there with a stack of papers in front of her, nibbling on a cookie. "How was your day?"
The boy detective chuckled. "Oh, the usual...had a confused, hurt little girl tell me she hates me, got in a fistfight with a second grader twice my size...on the other hand, nobody died today, so that's a plus." He snorted. "Of course, day's not over yet..."
The two teenage girls stared at him. "A fistfight...what...?"
Conan sighed, tossing his Detective Boys badge on the table next to the tea tray as he sat down. "Ayumi pulled a fast one on me. She snuck my badge out of my room last night and stuck it under the table. She heard every word I said from the time she left to...whenever she dropped her own badge on the sidewalk and ran off." He grimaced, taking a cookie and a glass of tea for himself. "She knows the truth. And she heard...some of my more indelicate comments. She's pretty upset."
Ran winced. "Ouch."
"Anyway, she told me—and the whole class—how much she hates me now, and Genta got pissed off and tried to beat me up."
"Genta?" Kazuha asked.
"Really big kid," Ran explained. "Thinks about food all the time. Head shaped like a cannon shell."
Conan snorted into his tea. "Yeah, that's about the size of it."
Ran started. "Wait...he tried to beat you up?" She made as if to inspect the shrunken detective for cuts and bruises, but he waved her off.
"Please, Ran. I may not be able to handle a full grown adult as easily as I used to, but a big dumb mountain with legs like Genta? I got him in the butt with a dart before he even laid a finger on me."
Ran frowned. "Well...still, I don't like that you're fighting with your friends, even..."
"You think I like it?" Conan shot back. "Life is gonna be harder than usual until I can get this whole thing smoothed over, and God only knows what kind of miracle THAT'LL ta—"
The intercom buzzed.
Conan sighed, and walked to the door. "Hai?" he asked.
//A...anou...Conan-kun...// a nervous, abashed, but unmistakable Kojima Genta finally replied.
*Speak of the devil...* "Hai?"
//Ah...I came... to apologize...me an' Mitsuhiko an' Ayumi-chan all talked, an' IwannasaysorryItriedbeatyourheadin...//
//I said I'm SORRY okay? Sheesh.//
Conan sighed. "Are the others with you?"
//Un. Haibara-san too.//
"Okay, everyone come on up."
* * * * *
There he was again. He'd covered his face with makeup, and a cap shaded his eyes, but the way he leaned against the wall was unmistakeable.
This was the second day in a row the guy had been following them. No, following Chiyo. "Ne, Chiyo-chan," Sakaki said.
"I've got something to take care of, so I can't walk with you all the way home. I'll see you tomorrow, alright?"
"Okay! Ja ne!"
"Ja." Sakaki turned and walked down a side street.
As soon as she was out of sight of both Chiyo and her stalker, she ducked into the shade of a tree, concealing herself from view. Carefully, she shadowed the strange young man from a discrete distance.
Once Chiyo was inside the gates of her home, the stalker veered into the open, walking down the sidewalk, whistling tunelessly with his hands in his pockets. Two blocks away, he turned into an alley.
Sakaki followed him.
The man busied himself with unstrapping a helmet from the motorcycle hidden in the alley. Creeping stealthily up behind him, Sakaki braced herself...and lunged, turning her prey to face her, slamming him up against the wall, and pinning him by the throat with a vise-like grip in one smooth motion. He gasped, eyes wide.
"Why are you stalking Chiyo-chan?" Sakaki demanded.
"Wha—what are you—urk!"
Sakaki held the pressure on his throat for a moment, then relaxed her grip just enough to allow him to breathe. "Are you that Hattori guy the boy with glasses was talking to Monday afternoon?"
Hattori's eyes widened even further. "How the..."
"I know you two want something with Chiyo-chan. Now, talk."
Hattori sighed and nodded acquiescence. Sakaki released his throat, but kept him pinned against the wall. "I'm a detective," he said hoarsely. "So's the kid. He's my partner. Your friend, Chiyo-chan...she was a witness to a syndicate deal a while back. The men she saw think they killed her. We just wanna make sure they don't find out she's still alive, an' kinda hope she'll help us take them down."
"A detective...?" Sakaki asked, frowning.
"And that boy, too...?"
"One of the best," Hattori said, grinning. "Not as good as me, of course."