Genta, the largest of Conan's three Shonen Tantei friends had been absent for two days, today being his third. Today was Ayumi's second day missing school. It struck Conan as odd. It wasn't cold season or flu season, neither Genta nor Ayumi had any allergies that he or Mitsuhiko knew of, and to be absent for more than a day indicated something rather serious. Everybody else in school was healthy, only missing a day or half a day for a doctor's appointment or visiting a relative for a three-day weekend, or some such thing.
The oddity of it was starting to raise the volume on his TV, in a manner of speaking. The overly-polite Mitsuhiko also found it odd that Genta and Ayumi had been out but hadn't called them. Ayumi might be understandable if she called that evening, but for Genta to be out for what was now three days without any sort of communication? Even if it was only to whine about any detective work he might be missing? Strange. Of course, Mitsuhiko’s overactive imagination (his one failing that Conan was trying to work with, just like Genta's loud enthusiasm) had taken over on what could have happened to the two of them, ranging from alien abductions, to revenge for solving a case, to eloping (though he grumbled a bit on that).
The two had gone up to their teacher during lunch, asking why their two friends hadn't been to school.
"Oh, they just came down with something."
Conan wasn't convinced. That was a vague answer, but the teachers were informed by school administration of when their students would be out and for how long in order to send work home. It was one of Beika's requirements in all schools for parents to call in, otherwise the student was considered to be skipping and dealt with accordingly. It wasn't a problem in the elementary or even in the middle school all that much, but a few of Shinichi's classmates had been caught skipping in order to go out with a girlfriend or boyfriend, or just to avoid the pressure of school. Shinichi himself always called the school if he was going to be gone because of a murder investigation, since his parents were never around to call in for him. It was how he learned about it. He'd almost ended up in trouble because he didn't know about it beforehand.
"Ne, Conan-kun," Mitsuhiko leaned over once they sat back down. "Do you really think they are just sick?"
"Why don't we find out?" he replied.
The skinny boy brightened. "You mean investigate?"
"No, I mean why don't we visit them on our way home and see how they're doing?"
Mitsuhiko nodded enthusiastically. "And we can see if there are any clues on how they got sick!"
"Sure thing." Conan smiled and the volume turned down a bit. It may not be cold or flu season, but it wasn't unheard of to get sick. Perhaps it really was coincidence, or maybe Genta gave the cold to Ayumi. There was no need to put a mystery were there wasn't one. After all, Conan got enough mysteries and dead bodies; it was okay to have a break, right?
After school, Mitsuhiko and Conan were both racing towards the gate were Ran and Sonoko were waiting.
"Ran-nee-chan!" Conan called, waving. Inside, there was a brief flare of longing, but he ran right up to her, his freckled friend waiting somewhat impatiently a few feet away. "Ran-nee-chan, Genta-kun and Ayumi-chan are sick. Can Mitsuhiko-kun and I go visit them? They haven't been in school for a few days and are missing work and--"
"Slow down, Conan-kun," Ran admonished, bending down. "Your friends are sick?"
"And you want to go visit them?"
Conan nodded again.
"That's fine," Ran smiled, running a hand over his hair, straightening what had been disheveled with a day of play and school. "Give me a call when you're ready to come home and I'll come pick you up." She straightened his clothes a little and smiled as she stood back up. "Sonoko-chan and I will probably be shopping for the afternoon, but I'll be home in time to start cooking dinner. If you need me before that, I'll keep my cell phone on, so you can reach me any time."
"Sure thing, Ran-nee-chan!" Conan happily chirped. "We'll see Genta-kun first and then Ayumi-chan!"
"Alright. Be safe." Bending down once more, Ran placed the briefest of kisses on his forehead.
In that one moment of contact, Shinichi wanted to be able to do something as himself. Something to show how much he cared. Something that wasn't limited by being stuck in the form of a seven-year-old child. But Conan couldn't afford to. He couldn't let Them know he was still alive. So he shoved all those feelings down, squished them into a small box, and buried them. He'd find a way to cope later, but not now.
And just like that, the moment was over.
"Come on, Conan-kun!" Mitsuhiko came up as Ran stood up once more and turned to Sonoko. "Let us go see how our friends are doing!"
Conan gave a childish laugh and turned to the skinny child. "You bet! Race you down the street!" And like a shot, the childish form of Shinichi tore off down the street, the startled squawk of Mitsuhiko behind him, while the not-quite little boy worked to push down something very strong.
The volume of his TV was neither quiet nor loud at the moment, but he was steadfastly ignoring it entirely as he and Mitsuhiko went off to visit the first of their missing friends.
Ran chuckled to herself as Conan raced off with Mitsuhiko to see their friends.
"He's like a mini-Shinichi isn't he?" Sonoko commented, offering her own small laugh.
Oh what a can of worms that comment is, Ran thought to herself. But she wasn't going to think about it. "How do you mean?"
The heiress grabbed Ran's arm and started lightly dragging her towards the bus stop. "Oh, nothing specific. Just that he likes to run around all the time like Shinichi did when he was a kid."
Ran laughed lightly, memories filtering up from the age-shadowed corners of her mind. "I think Shinichi ran a lot as a kid because I was usually chasing him to give him a good karate chop."
"Oh yeah!" Sonoko bubbled. "Shinichi was into karate as a kid as well, wasn't he?"
Ran nodded, remembering all the classes the two of them had been in before soccer lured her friend away. "Yes. The sensei and I were sorry to see him leave for soccer. He had a lot of potential. He probably could have won matches like I did once I knew enough."
"Really?" The heiress raised an eyebrow as they sat down to wait for the bus.
"Oh yes," she replied. "Shinichi, even as a kid, always had very powerful kicks. I remember our sensei working a lot with him on making sure his kicks were perfect." Old images, not recalled in years filtered through Ran's mind with a great deal of fondness. Flashes of a seven-year-old Shinichi in a karate gi, practicing kick after kick. Flying kicks, split kicks, roundhouse kicks…
"If he had such strong legs," Sonoko turned to look at Ran, "why didn't your sensei work on his arms? If his legs where fine, doesn't that mean he needed work on his arms?"
Ran frowned, searching back through her recollections. "Shinichi's arms were just fine, Sonoko. He had the same power as anyone else in our class with his fists. But his legs were just more powerful."
"Probably from running from you so much."
Ran let out a long sigh. "Sonoko, you know that even in karate people have different, personal styles. Personal fighting preferences are just like fingerprints, unique to each person. If Shinichi had continued in karate and not left for soccer, his style probably would have been very kick-oriented. In karate, you always use your own strengths to find and then use your enemy's weakness." Ran leaned back and glanced out for the bus. "If Shinichi were to take up karate again, his kicks would probably be even more powerful now because of all the training he's done in soccer."
Sonoko looked at her with an odd look. "Why Ran-chan, are you jealous of Shinichi's legs?"
Ran turned scarlet.
"Or is it that you just admire his legs? I never noticed before, but you do tend to look at a guy's legs instead of his face or even his butt."
The heiress shrugged. "I'm just saying that you like to look at legs. That's no reason to get upset." Sonoko wiggled her eyebrows. "Unless of course, the only legs you like to look at are Shinichi-kun's?"
She only laughed as Ran got redder and redder.
Conversation slipped back into less-embarrassing territory on the bus ride to the mall; talk of how the school day had gone, how various friends were, and Sonoko filling Ran in with the latest gossip. They laughed, bought ice cream cones and chatted as they went from store to store.
"Come on, Ran, I can't be the only one buying things!"
Ran gave a small laugh. "Sorry, Sonoko, but my Dad didn't solve as many cases this month. Money is a little tight."
"But you were just saying how he solved this big case!"
"With that nail-polish killer?" Ran asked. Sonoko gave a brief nod and Ran continued, "Yes, but it was something he stumbled upon again. Nobody offered to pay him and the people involved weren't really making enough money to pay for the case." Ran let out a small sigh. "Normally, after my dad solves a case, one of the people involved is grateful enough to pay him for it, but that didn't happen this time."
Sonoko shrugged. "Then I'll loan you some money."
"No, Sonoko-chan," Ran said firmly. "I appreciate the offer, really I do, but neither my dad nor I will accept handouts."
"Oh come on," Sonoko jibed, "it's just money! Really, I can afford it and I want to."
"No, Sonoko." Ran smiled. "That really is very kind of you. But you know my dad. He has a lot of pride in what he does. He will never take money from you just to make ends meet."
Ran let out a sigh of relief.
"I'll just have to hire him for something."
"Oooooooh, Ran, look at that!" And just like that, Sonoko was dragging Ran into a store before Ran could register what was going on and the complete turn around in conversation.
"Oh, they have it in red! You should so wear this when you next see that Shinichi jerk!"
Something was placed in Ran's hands and she looked down.
"Isn't it just perfect?"
Sonoko bubbled on. "You'd probably need a red dress over it; I know we saw one that would look good on you a few stores back. Some heels - I'd go back for the heels, maybe with some red accents. You wouldn't even need much jewelry..."
"This is, of course, assuming Shinichi gives you some warning before he pops back into your life, but I know you don't like me talking about that. So we just have to prepare you for when he does show up, don't we?"
"Ran? Are you okay?"
"If you don't like it, we can try this one."
Of course, by now, Ran was as red as the silky garment in her hand. It was silky, red, and just this side of sheer. A slip, definitely a slip to wear under a dress. A sexy, lingerie/negligee slip. And in Sonoko's hand as an... alternate option... was a set of red panties and bra that would, no doubt, leave very little to the imagination with all that (or should she say how little) lace.
Genta's apartment was a few blocks down from Mitsuhiko, so on their way, Mitsuhiko, naturally, insisted on dropping a few things off at his home and leaving a note for his family on his plans for the afternoon so that they wouldn't worry. It was a thoughtfulness that Conan usually associated with Ayumi, but he was rather proud to see Mitsuhiko display the trait. Granted, it was probably inherited from spending so much time with the sensible girl and a subtle attempt from him to try and court her before Haibara arrived, but it was a good habit to get into and, from a detective's point of view, a good way to keep track of whereabouts.
As they walked to Genta's building, Mitsuhiko's energy from earlier was starting to evaporate as honest worry started to take over again.
"Do you really think they'll be okay?"
"There's only one way to find out," Conan replied. He would have rather assured his friend that both Ayumi and Genta were fine and that nothing was wrong, but he didn't really have the strength for that at the moment. The other members of his little detective band weren't stupid. They understood that things could go wrong in a heartbeat, even if Shinichi did his best to protect them from many of the grimmer aspects of detective work, like checking bodies and the like. Both of them had discussed earlier that for Genta and Ayumi to be absent was unusual and warranted looking into. Offering words to contradict that now would just be cold.
"I know," Mitsuhiko said quietly, watching his own steps. "But if they are not, then this is going to be serious, is it not?"
Conan looked over with Shinichi's eyes. With solemn honesty, he replied, "If something is wrong, that doesn't mean we don't investigate it with anything less than our best. It means we do better than our best to make sure that Genta-kun and Ayumi-chan are both fine and stop the culprit, if there is one, from hurting anyone else." He reached over and gave Mitsuhiko's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "We do what we always do."
The skinny boy looked up, just as solemn, and gave a firm nod.
"But," Conan offered with a slight grin, "we may not have to go that far."
Mitsuhiko's mouth twitched into a broad smile. Without warning, he took off running. "Race you!" he called back in a good imitation of Conan from earlier. Shinichi gave a wry chuckle before taking off after his friend.
They raced all the way up the stairs to Genta's apartment, laughing and teasing back and forth as Conan, unsurprisingly, took the lead until he tripped on the top step and Mitsuhiko overtook him. The impromptu competition stopped with both wheezing and knocking on Genta's door at the same time.
Their laughter ceased when the door opened. Towering over them was a man easily four times Conan's diminutive height and twice as wide as Genta himself. With no neck and a rather distinctly pointed head, there was no doubt as to who this was, though Conan had never met him directly.
"Good afternoon Kojima-san," Mitsuhiko bowed politely, obviously familiar with Genta's family as the large boy's best friend. Conan blinked briefly before also bowing and stuttering out his own greeting. "We have some school work for Genta-kun and we have missed him for the past few days. Would you mind terribly if we were to see him?"
Conan turned his head to hide a grin. Mitsuhiko was unfailingly polite, and its ability to disarm even some of their toughest foes with the sheer unexpectedness of it, was just a splendid weapon in the freckled boy's arsenal that he wasn't even aware of.
Above them, Genta's father blinked. Without a word, the large man stepped aside and let the two of them in. Conan's sharp eyes took in the living space, observing and deducing in the few steps over to the low table. By the time they sat, Shinichi wasn't liking the conclusions he was coming to.
"Kojima-san," he said quietly. "Genta-kun's at the hospital, isn't he? And he has been for at least a day."
Genta's father's face twisted painfully before staring down at Conan stoically. Beside him, Mitsuhiko's eyes widened, once again looking around the room.
"Boy, you're that Conan that Genta's always speaking about, aren't you?"
Conan nodded solemnly. "Genta-kun told us that you usually work afternoons and evenings so that you can spend the mornings with his mother. Yet you were the one who opened the door. Also, the room is a mess and--"
"Kojima-baa-san always keeps the house spotless," Mitsuhiko spoke, eyes still darting around the room.
The shrunken detective nodded to his freckled friend. "Very good, Mitsuhiko-kun," Conan offered. "What else have you noticed; you know this place better than me."
Craning his neck, Mitsuhiko looked around some more. "There's a suitcase on Genta-kun's futon, you can see it from here. And some of Genta-kun's clothes are in it, looks like pajamas, and some pillows, and that Yaiba doll he likes so much." He turned around to the low table again. "But that just means that Genta-kun's going on a trip, right?" There was no denying the hopeful edge in his voice.
Conan shook his head sadly. "There aren't any clothes in it, just pajamas. It looks like Kojima-san here just shaved, in the middle of the afternoon instead of the morning or evening. The pots in the kitchen sink are only half cleaned and look like they've been there for a day or more. And..." Conan shifted his gaze to Genta's room. "Genta-kun's room looks like a train went through it. Books have been thrown to the floor, some of his prize Yaiba videos look like they've been flung across the room. Genta-kun would never do that."
Mitsuhiko turned to Genta's father. "Was he attacked or something?"
Kojima, who had silently watched Conan run through his observations and deductions, frowned as anguish flitted across his face.
"No," the large man whispered, great fat tears welling in his eyes. "But he is very sick."
Shinichi asked, "What happened?"
"The day before yesterday, our little Genta came down with a common cold. It really wasn't anything, but we kept him home to get some rest." Shinichi and Mitsuhiko nodded. "Yesterday, though, he started acting really strange. Thrashing about, nightmares almost, but he was moving around like he was sleepwalking to them. So we took him to the hospital." The giant tears started to spill down Kojima's face. "It's bad. Some sort of bizarre virus. He's in the Intensive Care Unit as we speak. The doctor's kicked me out to get some rest, but I told my wife I'd just pick up a few things and head back."
Kojima used a giant hand to hide his teary eyes from the two boys. "I know that you and Genta are detectives. Look around all you like, I'm heading back to Beika General." He stood up and went into Genta's room, closed the suitcase, and headed for the door. "Mitsuhiko-kun, lock up when you leave."
"Kojima-ojii-san!" Mitsuhiko shouted, standing up. "We will figure out what happened! I promise!"
Genta's father gave a wan, placating smile and left.
The freckled boy scowled. "He knows we are good detectives! But he does not believe in us!"
Conan stood and put a reassuring hand on Mitsuhiko's shoulder. "Don't worry about it," he said. "Let's look around."
The skinny boy nodded. "Where should we start, Conan-kun?"
The room did indeed look like a train and been through it, as Shinichi had detailed before. Both Conan and Mitsuhiko looked around, uncertain where to start. Normally both would be enthused to look around for clues, if any existed, but this was Genta-kun's room. His private haven. It suddenly felt almost like peeking where you weren't supposed to.
Conan broke the silence first. "Let's put his room back to normal. It will be good for him when he comes home, and it will give us a good chance to catalogue everything he has and doesn't have."
Mitsuhiko gulped, unexpectedly nervous at the prospect of categorizing his best friend's items and personal effects, but to his credit, he took a deep breath and started by pulling off his slippers and padding to the futon in the middle of the room. "He always sleeps on his back, when he isn't tossing and turning," he offered as he tugged at the giant comforter. As the boy shook it out to fold it, several bits and things fell out from under it, originally lost in the depths of its mismatched folds. Conan pulled off his own slippers to study the items that fell. He picked up a magazine and two comic books, as well as a chipped cup that, from the scent of it, held tea. There were no stains on the futon, so Genta-kun had likely drunk it all before falling asleep.
Under the blanket was a cheap, handheld videogame and a more expensive Nintendo DS. Conan flipped open the battery case, but there were batteries in it. Turning it on, Conan listened to the long familiar theme of the Yaiba series as the characters danced on the screen while the videogame loaded.
"He loves that game," Mitsuhiko offered, finally managing to fold the blanket up sufficiently.
"He must have played for hours," Conan offered, powering it down. "To say nothing of reading, and then drinking tea to sleep." He blinked, something catching his eye at Mitsuhiko's feet. Crouching down, he picked up a plastic case, the heavy plastic ripped and ready to scratch unprotected skin. Conan eyed the odd shape of the case, having seen similar plastic wraps to hold things like headphones or iPods or other (often electronic) amenities. "Do you know what was in this?" the boy asked, holding it up to Mitsuhiko.
"Looks like it held a toy," the beady-eyed boy offered, looking around.
Conan poked at the pallet. There were no strong scents other than sweat, and underneath when he lifted the pallet he saw more comics and magazine. The perfect distractions for an elementary student sick in bed.
"His case broke," Mitsuhiko spoke up.
Conan looked up. "His what?"
"His treasure case," the boy repeated, standing before a small assemble-yourself bookcase that had been toppled over. "He kept his treasures here," he explained, digging his fingers under the shelving and trying to lift it up. "You know: his Yaiba DVD collection, his favorite CDs, his comics, the Yabai action figures..." Grunting, Mitsuhiko was unable to lift the shelf, and so Conan quickly got up to assist. It took both boys a lot of work; neither of them were the looming powerhouses that Genta was, but when the pair finally got it upright, they both stared at the mess underneath.
Everything had been smashed. Many CDs were snapped in half, whole volumes of graphic novels had been torn up and shredded, and the action figures lay in pieces. A mirror lay in shards under the wreckage, and an oddly shaped wood case lay cracked and off to one side, its contents missing. Conan blinked as he recognized the shape of the wood case.
Mitsuhiko noticed it, too. "Hey, that is what was in the plastic," he said, reaching over to pick it up.
"Wait," Shinichi said, stepping in front of the boy and crouching down. "You'll hurt yourself," he offered as explanation as he pulled out a handkerchief and picked up the case. It was cracked, one corner crunched into another, making it impossible to open. Conan pulled at it once or twice, but he had neither the leverage nor the strength to pry it open. Frowning, he put it back down, this time on the shelf, and turned back to the boy. "Let's get the rest of his room straightened out, and then go back to this," he said. "It's too messy for us to do without gloves and dustbins."
Mitsuhiko nodded, staring at the shattered collection. "He is going to be very mad when he sees this," he sighed in his proper tones.
They continued sorting through the room. Mitsuhiko focused on putting Genta's treasures back on the shelf, knowing where they went. The freckled boy did his best to put things back properly, but some of the shattered items just couldn't be put back correctly. Conan, meanwhile, dug through the other bits of the room, mainly old laundry that hadn't been done yet.
Of course, what Conan was digging through wasn't doing much. If he really wanted something from clothes, he'd need to see the clothes that Genta was wearing when he went to the hospital. But he still looked through everything, noting every little detail.
Conan was surprised, however, when he lifted an old T-shirt and found a book. Kneeling down, he gently picked it up, memories swirling around him. Back when he'd been a kid the first time round, his father had given him a series of books that were based off of Sherlock Holmes. They were simpler to read and the mysteries where still challenging. Shinichi had spent many an afternoon with his father entranced in the books, picking up clues, and trying to put together the mystery before Holmes did.
Genta had one of the first volumes, and there was a bookmark halfway through. Sticking out from the pages were sticky notes with Genta's messy handwriting listing what might be important or where a clue pointed.
Conan just stared at it for a while, feeling something in him tighten and loosen at the same time. These three kids: Mitsuhiko, Genta, and Ayumi, as annoying and irritating and stubborn as they were, these three kids were his. Shinichi gulped down something in his throat. He was a seventeen-year-old, stuck in a seven-year-old body and he had three children. No, they weren't Shinichi's in any sort of biological sense, or even through adoption. Hell, he was too young to even think about marriage (though he always knew who he'd be with). He was at the age where he should be pondering what college he'd go to and how to best pursue his dream of being a detective. But these three detectives-in-training were like his kids. Shinichi watched over them, trained them, taught them, and took great pride in their successes. They'd all worked admirably well when he'd been shot, and though they could be distracted as kids could be, they all looked to him for advice and guidance like he was a knowledgeable figure. Like a father, in a bizarre sort of way.
And, like a kid who was trying to please his dad, Genta had gone out to get a book to learn more about detecting.
And now, Genta was in the hospital.
Shinichi swallowed the lump in his throat again. This was too much of a realization for him to deal with right now. He needed to be alone to sort through all the emotions that were rising up and filtering through his heart and mind. The same way he needed to be alone whenever his feelings for Ran got too strong for him to deal with.
So, like he did with Ran earlier that day, Shinichi stomped all his feelings down, shoved it into a box, and buried it. Conan took a deep breath and turned to the freckled boy. "Hey, Mitsuhiko-kun? Where does this go?"
The two boys continued searching through the room. Other notable items included a pair of bedroom slippers that had some odd flaking on them, several juice boxes and another cup that smelled of tea, and a few extra pillows that Mitsuhiko said were usually saved for guests. A bottle of aspirin appeared to have been kicked under a table, and there were various wrappers from whatever cold medicine Genta's parents had been giving him.
Several observations. But deductions weren't helpful.
"What have we learned from all of this?" Conan asked Mitsuhiko.
The skinny boy frowned. "All the juice boxes indicate that Genta-kun was very thirsty."
Conan nodded, looking around the straightened room with a critical eye. "What about the pillows and aspirin?"
"Probably that he was aching, like when you have the flu." Mitsuhiko frowned. "But we already knew he was sick. His dad thought so; our teacher believed so. Genta-kun's even in the hospital."
"True," Conan agreed, "but a little verification is nice." He held the slippers in his hands and turned them over. "There are a few things that are fishy, though."
The young detective-in-training looked over to Genta's treasure shelf. "Like him destroying his treasures?"
"Yeah. And I don't know of any cold or common bug that makes the skin dry enough as to flake." Conan pulled out a pocketknife to scrape some of the flakes from the slippers into a plastic bag. He'd have Professor Agasa run a few tests on it. "Dehydration to that level is severe, and given how much Genta-kun's clearly been drinking, dehydration isn't the cause of flaking skin." It was a piece of evidence that didn't add up and it raised the volume on Conan's invisible, constant companion of a television. Something was decidedly off about this. Very definitive clues, but no connections. Plenty of observations, but not enough deductions. "I wish we could see the clothes Genta-kun was wearing when they brought him to the hospital. But they probably cut those off of him when he was admitted, depending on how bad he was. And from what Kojima-san said, it was bad."
Mitsuhiko nodded solemnly. "Should we visit Ayumi-chan next, or go to the hospital to see Genta-kun for more clues?"
"Ayumi-chan," Conan replied without hesitation. "I doubt they'd let visitors see Genta-kun right now, just family." He put Genta's slipper down and looked over at his friend. Mitsuhiko was looking a little pale. And torn. Two friends were sick, one of which was seriously so. No doubt the freckled boy was wondering which one should be a higher priority. Conan sympathized with the dilemma. But something about what his detective TV was saying was telling him that they needed to go see Ayumi first. If nothing else, the two of them could inform her and her family of what sort of symptoms to look out for.
Mitsuhiko glanced at his watch. "We had better get going. It is getting late as it is."
The shrunken detective nodded.
Ayumi's apartment was almost four blocks away and the sun was sinking lower and lower into the horizon as Conan and Mitsuhiko made their way up the stairs. The air was starting to get chilly and Conan wished for a brief moment that he had brought a warmer jacket. On the way over, both he and Mitsuhiko had been quiet. The news that Genta was in the hospital and evidently in a serious condition was difficult to take. Mitsuhiko was clearly worried and Conan kept going over the evidence he'd seen in Genta's room over and over in his head, looking at it from every angle he could think of.
Unfortunately, it all boiled down to the simple fact that he just didn't have enough clues to work with yet. He would need more to discern if this was just a simple illness or something more sinister. But to get more clues would mean that someone else would have to get sick, that someone possibly being Ayumi, and Shinichi really didn't want any more of his kids to get sick like this.
Ayumi's mother answered the door, surprised to see the two boys there.
"Oh. Mitsuhiko-kun, Conan-kun." Yoshida-san gave a small smile. "Came to visit Ayumi-chan, did you?"
Conan pasted on a halfway-smile and nodded. "We brought some worksheets from the teacher. We miss both her and Genta-kun."
"Genta-kun?" Yoshida asked, stepping away from the door and gesturing for them to come in. "He's still out? I remember Ayumi-chan mentioning he was sick the day before we kept her home."
Conan nodded again, noting out of the corner of his eye how Mitsuhiko stayed in the background, perfectly willing to let Conan take the lead. Well, Shinichi wasn't going to allow that. He, by necessity, was often the one dealing with adults, since he really was an adult in a kid's body. But it was time for some of his detectives-in-training to learn how to present. This may not be the best of cases to force one of them to the foreground, but something about this situation was warning Shinichi that he was going to have to be even further below the radar than he usually was (which wasn't much).
"Mitsuhiko-kun and I just came from Genta-kun's."
"Oh?" Yoshida asked politely, offering tea. "How is he?"
Conan looked to Mitsuhiko. The freckled boy caught Conan's eye and briefly shook his head. Conan, with his back to Ayumi's mother, looked at his skinny friend with Shinichi's eyes.
Mitsuhiko gave a small sigh.
"He was not home, Yoshida-obaa-san," he started, glancing back at Conan. The mini-detective gave an encouraging nod. "We found Kojima-ojii-san packing a bag with Genta-kun's pajamas. He said he was heading back to the hospital to give the pajamas to Genta-kun."
"Oh, my!" Ayumi's mother placed the teapot back on the stove and looked with pity at the two boys. "Do they know what he's caught? A bad case of the flu perhaps?"
Mitsuhiko shook his head. "Kojima-ojii-san did not tell us. We looked around Genta-kun's room, but it was strange. It looked like he had been on some sort of rampage and had wrecked part of his room. Based on what we found, we can," Mitsuhiko glanced at Conan again, struggling briefly for words, "...we can safely assume that Genta-kun was extremely thirsty during his sickness. There were a lot of pillows in the room, and it indicates hat he was probably aching, but his feet were apparently flaking, which is very unusual for a cold or flu. Kojima-ojii-san also said something about Genta-kun just suddenly destroying his room like he did not know where he was."
The freckled boy found his tea very interesting.
Good job, Mitsuhiko-kun, Conan praised. He covertly looked over to Ayumi's mother to gauge her reaction. She seemed the concerned adult, pitying them for having a sick friend. Until Mitsuhiko mentioned about the symptoms that Genta had apparently been displaying. Yoshida's eyes swept over to Ayumi's room. Shinichi mentally nodded to himself. Ayumi's mother had noticed something similar.
"Can we please see Ayumi-chan?" Conan asked, trying to put on his best childish-puppy-eye face.
Yoshida looked vaguely over at her daughter's room and nodded. "Yes," she murmured. "Her sister should be home soon... The two of us need to talk about a few things."
Conan understood that look and tone. Ayumi's mother and sister were going to have to discuss options and whether or not to take a pair of seven-year-old boys seriously, or if they could afford to just keep doing things as they had been. After all, Mitsuhiko had just dumped a lot of information and it needed to be discussed before it could be acted upon.
Taking their cue, the small boys went down the small, narrow hall of the apartment and politely knocked on the door that Ayumi's name hung from. Conan noticed that Mitsuhiko gulped, looking almost anxious. "What's wrong?" the boy asked.
"It is... It is a girl's room. Will I not get in trouble?"
Conan couldn't hold back a giggle, the noise coming out as a rude snort as he clapped his hand over his mouth. "I go in Ran-nee-chan's room all the time," he offered. The irony of it was not lost on the seventeen year old; that he was forbidden from her room as a young man, but perfectly acceptable as a boy. In some ways, he had much more freedom in this form, and in others... he shoved the sudden bitterness aside and knocked again before carefully sliding the door open.
"Sorry for intruding," he offered.
Slowly, the two boys entered. Mitsuhiko fervently tried to keep his eyes to the floor; fearful of some kind of retribution for the transgression he was performing.
The room was nothing like Ran's. Hers, even as a child, did not have the girly frill that one expected of the female gender. Ran's room was geared towards education, martial arts, and books of her own liking - there was even, Conan had discovered, a small collection of the Sherlock Holmes series in a bottom shelf. The only hints of "girly-ness" were the occasional flower vase or romance novel. Ayumi was the exact opposite.
The room, while not blaringly so, had a lot of pink frills to it that Mitsuhiko seemed to involuntarily shudder at. There was a sliding glass door that lead to a small balcony and all the shelves in the room had various dolls, stuffed animals, childish make-up and wigs to practice hairdressing on. Even Conan had to wince a little as the room shouted "LITTLE GIRL" loud and clear.
Turning to Mitsuhiko, Conan whispered, "Look around like we did in Genta-kun's room. See if you find anything odd. We don't want to wake up Ayumi-chan yet. Let her rest."
The skinny boy nodded, carefully going over to the shelves. He glanced back at Conan rather reluctantly and then to Ayumi rather embarrassedly before carefully pulling things off the shelves one by one, looking them over, and returning them.
Conan gave a small smile of pride and turned to Ayumi's dresser and nightstand. Better him than Mitsuhiko to go through this. It was necessary, but if Ran caught him going through Ayumi's clothes, either as himself or his abbreviated version, there would be hell to pay. In the back of his mind, Conan could hear cries of "Pervert!" and the oncoming approach of a fist as he went through the underwear draw as quickly as possible. Conan rather doubted Mitsuhiko and his polite nature could survive the scandal.
Grateful that that little task was over, he turned to the nightstand and the garbage can beside it. Conan paused. Before he even opened the drawer in the nightstand, he immediately bent over the trashcan and pulled out a handkerchief to pull something out.
It was plastic, ripped open with sharp edges. He'd seen something similar in Genta's room. Where the shape of Genta's matched a wooden case in the room, Ayumi's shape was different. It was probably nothing. But Conan's mind had latched onto the fact. This was Japan, after all. It was a wealthy country and its citizens could find all sorts of technological bits to satisfy their needs. It was rare to find a person who didn't have a cell phone nowadays. Genta had two electronic games to keep himself busy while sick, so Ayumi getting something wasn't impossible. But the timing, the same way that both Genta and Ayumi had gotten sick so closely together, was raising the volume of the TV for Shinichi.
Genta's ripped plastic didn't contain plastic. Its shape matched a wooden box. What had been in the wooden box was unknown. The question was, what did Ayumi's ripped plastic match up with? The shape indicated a doll and Shinichi whirled around, his sharp eyes quickly scanning the room. It wasn't anything near Mitsuhiko. It lay with Ayumi.
The girl lay sleeping in the middle of her bed, encased in a menagerie of stuffed toys. Dolls, tigers, bears, Pokemon, and even a stuffed Yaiba doll that she clutched tightly. Shinichi took note of the dolls, comparing them with the ripped plastic that he carefully put back in the garbage can. There was a clear hierarchy on Ayumi's bed, the most treasured surrounding her head where she could easily see them, while the mid ranked or larger stuffed toys were around her body as pseudo pillows. The disliked dolls collected by her feet. The king of the collection, the stuffed Yaiba, was the only one whose size and shape matched the ripped plastic.
"I did not know Yaiba had stuffed dolls," Mitsuhiko observed in disgust, having glanced over. He paled slightly after saying it, still glancing around for some kind of retribution.
Considering Yaiba was a Shonen, a boy's anime, Conan was surprised, too. He leaned over the bed next to Ayumi and studied the doll, looking for a tag to mark the manufacturer. Frowning, he even went so far as to gently pry the doll from the sleeping girl's grasp. He heard the disapproving, "Conan-kun..." from Mitsuhiko as the boy walked over quietly, but only barely, as his focus tightened around the doll, his mind trying to reach for a deduction he didn't yet understand.
The boy blinked and realized that Ayumi was awake.
"It was his idea!" Mitsuhiko exclaimed nervously.
"Hey, hey," the boy replied flatly. He turned back to the girl. "How are you feeling?" he asked in a more gentle voice.
"... Sick," she murmured.
Conan half grinned in response, before Shinichi's face fell across his young features. "Ayumi-chan, where did you get this doll?" he asked.
Her eyes were slightly glazed, most likely from fever, as she looked at the doll. "Gift..." she answered.
"From whom?" Mitsuhiko demanded, incensed at the idea.
"Give it back... 's mine..." Ayumi pushed herself to her elbows and reached for the treasured stuffed doll. Conan only heard it dimly as he continued to examine the doll, still looking for a manufacturer's tag and growing more suspicious when he couldn't find one. He started looking under the stuffed Yaiba's clothes.
"Ayumi-chan, this was custom made; hand made. Who gave this to you?"
"Give it back..." she insisted, her voice a little stronger. "Give it back... Give it... Give him back! Give Conan-kun back!"
Both boys blinked, Conan's attention finally pulled from the doll. His eyes took in everything, the details automatically being catalogued and itemized; from the glazed eyes to the flushed, fevered face to the empty tea cup hidden under a stuffed tiger, to the empty water bottle under the blanket, and to the cracked, dry hand that Ayumi used to demand the Yaiba doll.
"Give Conan-kun back, you bad man!!" Her voice was hoarse, but the volume was loud enough for her mother's voice to distantly sound from another room in the apartment. The girl lunged - a verb Conan would never have attached to the girl - and her dry hands moved to grab the Yaiba doll back. "Give him back!"
"Ayumi-chan, that is Conan-ku--" Mitsuhiko was not given the chance to speak. As he stepped forward to touch her shoulder she gave a shrill, ear-piercing screech. Shinichi, completely startled, stumbled back, an inbred fear of Ran being angry asserting and transplanting itself to the image of the fevered Ayumi. The girl stood to her full height - much taller on the bed - still screaming, before taking a shaky step forward and staggering.
"Give Conan-kun back!!" She jumped off the bed and tackled the shocked Shinichi. On instinct, he caught her and took the brunt of the fall back onto the floor, the Yaiba doll flung away as he caught the girl.
"Ayumi!" The mother was there, kneeling down and wrapping her daughter in a warm embrace and pulling her off the dumbfounded, diminutive detective. "Ayumi, calm down, sweetie, calm down. Ssh, it's okay, it's okay."
"It's not okay!" the girl screamed, struggling weakly against her mother's grip. "That bad man's taken Conan-kun! Don't let him get away! Don't let--!"
"Ayumi-chan!" Mitsuhiko said, stepping in front of her, "That is Conan-kun!" He reached forward to place a hand on her shoulder again. "He is right--" But the little girl harshly clawed at the boy's face - just out of reach - not recognizing him either. Grabbing his offered hand, she bit into it and scratched at his arm. Mitsuhiko retracted immediately, backpedaling and tripping over Conan, who was still on the floor, clutching at his hand as his already pale face became nearly translucent.
All this in a matter of seconds. Finally, Shinichi's mind jump-started. Quickly, he rolled over and grabbed the Yaiba doll he had dropped. Standing, he stepped forward in confidence and knelt down, looking up at the girl held tightly in her mother's arms. "I'm not a bad man," he said in soft tones. "I was... I was just having a talk with Conan-kun." He offered the Yaiba doll to the girl. "He was telling me how helpful you are when you're solving mysteries, but now he wants to come back to you."
Ayumi, sniffling and with tears streaming down her face, shakily took the Yaiba doll, immediately clutching it to herself. Her glazed eyes still glared balefully at him, though, and she bit out a vicious, "I hate you."
It cut into Conan in a way he hadn't expected, and for a moment he just stared at her, hurt blooming in his heart. He lowered his gaze, his shoulders unconsciously rising in shame, before he said in a low voice. "I don't blame you. It must have been very scary for you. But you should let Mitsuhiko-kun talk to you; he was just as scared as you were."
Her fevered eyes turned slightly, widening as she saw her scratched and petrified friend. "Mitsuhiko-kun?"
"A... Ayumi-chan..." the boy whispered, before carefully and hesitantly reaching out and hugging her. The little girl held the doll closely with one hand while the other rubbed at her tears, dry skin flaking off her fingers as she did so. With one last, hateful glare towards Conan, Ayumi relaxed into her mother's embrace and Mitsuhiko carefully pulled away, worry etched on his face.
Shinichi took a deep breath and slowly backed away. He registered at last that Ayumi's sister was in the hall, staring in shock at the scene. The detective trapped in a boy's body stuffed his hands in his pockets, to hide the shaking.
"You'd better call an ambulance," he said in a dull, tired tone, sounding more like his teen self than his boy self.
When the phone rang, Ran went to the sink to wash her hands. She had just been starting to cook dinner, when the annoying ring sliced through the air. Her father, undoubtedly, was watching television and therefore "too busy" to pick up the phone, leaving her to do it.
So help me; if that's another sales call...
Conan would be home soon, and Ran knew that then she'd have two hungry mouths to feed. She had gotten home late as it was because Sonoko had dragged her into a lingerie shop; she had nearly died of embarrassment! With dinner being off to a late start, she was expecting complaints from the two boys of the house and she really didn't have the time to fend off people who always called during dinner hours to sell some random product they didn't need.
"Mouri Detective Agency," she greeted politely.
"I'm Ayumi's mother. I believe we've met on a few occasions."
Ran's eyes widened and a trickle of worry slid down her spine. "Yes, how can I help you?"
"Conan-kun needs a ride home and I'm afraid neither my daughter nor I can do that."
"Oh?" Ran blinked. "He should be able to walk home from your apartment. It's not that far."
"Sorry, dear," Yoshida sighed over the phone. "I'm so scattered right now I'm not making sense. We're at Beika General Hospital."
"Conan-kun and Mitsuhiko-kun came with us when we took Ayumi to the hospital. Could you come pick him up? I..." Ayumi's mother took a moment as her voice wavered. "I'm sorry. Things have just been so crazy that I can't look after children right now."
"I understand," Ran said quickly, "I'm on my way." She hung up the phone and ran into the living area. "Dad! Hurry! We need to go!"
Her father, Kogoro, glanced up from his precious television. "Now what?" he grumbled.
"We need to pick up Conan-kun!"
"That freeloader?" Kogoro looked mournfully at his television. "Let him walk."
"Dad! He's at the hospital!"
"He had to watch a friend of his get transported to the hospital. She's very sick and Conan-kun's probably scared and worried! You have a driver's license, so get off that sofa," she loomed over him, fist raised, "get your coat and shoes," she brought her fist down, "and take us to the hospital now!" and as the fist connected with a pillow, it scattered feathers into the air.
Her father gave a weak "Yes!" before stumbling off the couch to find his keys and coat.
The drive to the hospital seemed interminable. There was a major accident - somewhere - and the rubberneckers and morbidly curious caused full-stop traffic for miles. Kogoro was muttering a long litany of offenses under his breath, his diatribe including words such as: "Freeloader," and "Sponge," and "No account, good-for-nothing brat," paired with phrases like "The things he puts me through," "The trouble I go to," and "For what? No thanks for the man of the house."
Ran wasn't listening to him, and frankly, all the cars honking and his intelligently low tones kept her from picking out more than phrases. To be sure, her mind wasn't on anything about her father, it was entirely about a little boy who had fallen into her life.
It was overwhelming her; her worry for Conan. No doubt the boy would remember when he was shot and how scary it was. He'd been so brave at the time; the other children had regaled her with how level-headed he had remained, even in such pain as he had been, and how he had calmly lead them out of danger in that cave - a summer adventure that had gone excitedly, horribly, frighteningly wrong. It had been that resolute calmness in dire emergencies, then and many other times, which had first put the inkling in her head.
For so long now, she'd harbored suspicions and denials about him. Despite repeated evidence to the contrary, there was always a portion of her that had latched onto the idea that the cute, adorable, and far-too-intelligent Conan-kun was her dearest friend and person who held her heart: Shinichi. She wasn't entirely certain how the suspicion had become such a strong belief. After all, it was impossible for a human being to lose ten years of age. But once the thought had been created, peculiar things about one seven-year-old Edogawa Conan started to make sense.
Belying the calmness in the face of danger, there was the near countless other similarities that precipitated the suspicion. Little Conan, for one thing, was far too intelligent for his age. She watched him do his homework, taking time to work out math problems, reading something slowly, but it was the times she didn't watch, the times she was in the kitchen or he was in his room, when the schoolwork was mysteriously done in a flash and decidedly perfect in computation, explanation, spelling, grammar, and even embellishment. That perfection, however, was often hidden in erase lines, as what was loosely considered more "grade equivalent" answers were written over them. Ran knew how intelligent Shinichi was and how smart both his parents were, and so she had at first just filed it away as a genetic trait. Conan clearly knew how smart he was, and trying to hide it was natural, Ran rationalized, so he wouldn't stand out so much and be picked on by the other children. She did wonder if he shouldn't be put in an accelerated program, but she remembered what even someone as arrogant as Shinichi had gone through when he was younger. It may not have affected him, being called all those names and the ridicule he faced, but Ran was angry and hurt for him, and she didn't want that stigma for Conan.
Secondly were the mannerisms. The hands in the pockets, the ever-sparkling look of curiosity, even how the boy ate. When Ran had noticed that Conan twirled his chopsticks as he ate, she openly stared, because it was a habit unique to Shinichi. Even she, a martial arts master, did not have the dexterity to spin and wheedle chopsticks and other silverware around her fingers of even one hand. To see a seven-year-old, distantly related cousin do just thatwas jarring. There was also the arrogant smirk - something Conan didn't show often, but just enough for Ran to double take whenever she saw it, because it was Shinichi's face when that smirk crossed his features. She constantly had to remind herself that it was a fluke, a genetic accident that a distant cousin looked so like the boy she had grown up with and grown to secretly love.
But when it was all added together, mannerisms or looks that were intimately personal, shared only between her and Shinichi, and to see them coming from Conan made her wonder.
She violently shoved those thoughts aside. Conan or a mini-Shinichi the point was that someone important to her had watched a friend be taken away by an ambulance. Shinichi hated it when people were hurt; it was part of why he was so passionate about catching murderers. He couldn't stand being sick either; he'd had no patience for it as a kid and Conan tended to show similar (amazingly similar) feelings. If his friends at school were out sick, Conan would whine about how annoying it was to catch them up. If Kogoro was down with the flu, Conan had zero patience and poked and prodded him if her father needed to do something. The only difference Ran had ever noticed was when she, herself, was sick. Conan was extra thoughtful and considerate, always attempting to do things for her.
She smiled at that thought. Just a few weeks ago she'd had the flu, and Conan had somehow managed to navigate the kitchen and make her favorite soup. The bowl was giant and he could barely hold it as he carried it into her room, and he didn't have enough leverage to lift it onto her bed. She'd been so touched she grabbed him into a fierce hug, and he came away from it distinctly flushed. If it was from embarrassment or something else, she couldn't tell; he quickly ducked his head and mumbled something before escaping the room.
And she started to wonder again.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Ran had expected to just ask for Ayumi's room number and to go there to get Conan. What she certainly hadn't expected was to be told that Ayumi was in the Intensive Care Unit. Both Ran and her father paused at that.
"Is Ayumi-chan really that sick?"
The nurse at the desk shrugged. "Sorry, I don' really know. Are you family?"
"No," Kogoro replied. "But a boy we're taking care of was there when the girl was taken in an ambulance. Her mother called us to come pick him up."
"I see." She offered the two of them a sympathetic smile. "The ICU is on the sixth floor. I'm sure you'll be able to find your boy up there."
"Thank you," Ran replied, heading straight for the elevators. She already knew where the ICU was from when Conan had been shot. He'd spent a day up there after his surgery for monitoring before being moved to the patient wards. Biting a nail, Ran worried about how Conan would be.
She couldn't decide whether to be surprised or not when she found the boy.
He was sitting in a seat, his legs swinging back and forth above the floor, as he held his chin deep in his hand, brow furrowed in thought. The face he wore made her still; it was Shinichi's face, cranial activity being processed in bulk just behind his eyes, the blue orbs darting back and forth in minute gestures, cataloging and working so fast that even his eyes could not keep up. Ran could only stare in wonder, before firmly shaking her head and pushing her suspicions aside. Taking a deep breath, she put on her "Big Sister" face and bent down.
The small boy started, looking up and blinking at Ran's suddenly larger-than-life face. Something that looked vaguely like panic washed over his face for a fraction of a second before a (seemingly) more natural look of worry settled on his features.
In a small, quiet voice, all Conan said was, "Ran.... nee-chan..."
Compassion for this boy swelled within her, no matter who he was. Just the quiet offering of her name said more on how he was affected by the afternoon's events than any other statement could, and Ran didn't hesitate in the slightest to sweep him up into a hug. He stiffened in her arms briefly, having never seemed to like physical contact, before his tiny arms reached up and wrapped around her neck as he buried his head into his shoulder. For a moment, Ran felt something. Something very strong. But it was gone as Conan pulled away and out of her embrace.
"Mitsuhiko-kun's already gone home," he said quietly, turning to look at the doors into the ICU. "I can't see either Genta-kun or Ayumi-chan."
Ran was about to offer some comforting words when what Conan said caught up with her. "Both Genta-kun and Ayumi-chan?" The child nodded morosely, the picture of a boy who had lost his friends. She ran a hand through his hair. "Let's find out what's going on, shall we?"
Conan nodded with a tiny grin before automatically reaching up to hold her hand. Together, they walked over to Kogoro, who was chatting with a very pretty nurse.
Or trying to chat.
To avoid any major problems, Ran reached over with her free hand and yanked at her father's ear. The nurse gave a small, thankful smile and Ran nodded. She gave Conan's hand a squeeze.
"Excuse me, but would you mind if we inquire about a few patients here in the ICU?"
"Not at all," the nurse replied. "Let me know the names and I'll check with the families. Once they give the okay, I'll be happy to answer your questions."
"Kojima Genta-kun and Yoshida Ayumi-chan," Conan replied. "I haven't heard anything since we came with Ayumi-chan to the hospital."
The nurse blinked, looking down at the small boy before leaning over. "I haven't noticed you at all around here. What a well-behaved little boy you are. I'll go check right now on your friends."
With the nurse heading back into ICU, Ran, Conan, and her father were alone in the hall. Ran looked down at the strange little boy that had taken up residence in her life and knelt down to him.
"While she's getting some information, why don't you tell us a little bit about what happened this afternoon, Conan-kun?"
The boy nodded. "Mitsuhiko-kun and I went to see Genta-kun first..."
And thus came the story of finding Genta's father packing pajamas for his son and being told that Genta was in the hospital with some strange symptoms. Following that, Conan and Mitsuhiko rushed over to Ayumi's to check on her, but during the visit Ayumi seemed took a turn for the worst and her mother and sister had taken her here.
"Nobody will tell me anything," Conan said in a soft whine. "All Mitsuhiko-kun and I could do was follow Ayumi-chan's mother and Nee-chan around."
Ran's father muttered something under his breath, but she ignored him. "This must have been very scary for you, Conan-kun."
"There's just no information." And for a moment, Conan's face held frustration. Strong, sharp, and painful frustration. And in that moment, it was Shinichi she was looking at instead of a seven-year-old boy. Ran mentally shook herself.
"Boy, have you been pestering the doctors and nurses here in your attempt to play detective?" Kogoro growled.
"I'm not playing!" the boy retorted, his eyes fierce even behind his glasses.
"Dad, really," Ran chided quickly, coming to the boy's defense. "Now isn't the time to be picking on him; two of his friends are in intensive care!"
"I'm not going to coddle some free-loading--"
Ran flattened her gaze. "Dad..." she said in a low voice.
Kogoro smartly paled and took a step back before trying to shrug the reaction off and stuffing a hand into a pocket and trying to look more grown up. It failed, however, considering his voice was actually whining when he said, "We got the brat, can't we just go home now?"
"No!" Conan interjected before Ran could open her mouth. "Not before I know what's going on!" She looked down at the boy, his fierce and determined eyes so similar to Shinichi that she blinked. It belied his high-pitched, boyish voice, the plaintive tone; and she had to wonder which told the truth, the voice or the eyes.
Regardless, the demand was a reasonable one, and so Ran reassured him. "It's okay, Conan-kun, we're not going anywhere until at least the nurse comes back, okay?"
He looked up at her with gratitude of the highest caliber, before turning a smug grin to her father and sticking his tongue out at him. The adult promptly knocked him on the noggin, shouting explicative after explicative before stomping off, back to muttering about waiting in the car.
It wasn't long before the nurse returned, followed by Yoshida-san, Ayumi's mother.
"Yoshida-san!" Ran exclaimed, rushing over to the older woman. "How are you? What's been happening? We've been so worried!"
"Thank you for coming," she replied, accepting Ran as the young teen took the older woman's hand in hers. "I'm sorry to have worried you..."
"No, no, think nothing of it. How is Ayumi-chan?"
"She's stabilized, they say," Yoshida-san answered, the two of them walking down the hall. Conan, darting ahead, reached up and pushed the paddle-sized button that opened the automatic doors to the ICU, scooting in before the doors had fully swung open. Ran internally smiled at the childishness of the motions before returning her attention to Ayumi's mother. "Her temperature was starting to get dangerously high, but they've lowered it enough that she's not in any danger. We've only been here a few hours; they've just finished giving her a battery of tests, so we don't know for sure what she has."
"Ne, ne," Conan interjected, his voice soft in respect for the situation, "Which ward is Ayumi-chan's?"
The mother looked down, blinking as if trying to process the question, before saying, "Ward Three, over there." Conan darted off again.
"Has she been sick very long?" Ran asked.
"Only a few days," the mother replied. "We all thought she had a bad cold, or perhaps the flu, but then this afternoon..." Pain crushed the woman's face, and Ran was afraid to ask what had happened. Yoshida-san hid her face behind the curtain of her hand, fighting to maintain control. Ran patiently gave her time, glancing over to see little Conan hopping up to the bed where Ayumi lay.
The girl looked small in the mechanical bed, two IVs in her tiny arm, and a cool cloth on her forehead. Ran remembered the day after Conan's surgery. He'd been on a respirator while he was in ICU being monitored, giving his lungs a rest while his body took time to heal. That had been almost too painful to watch, seeing the tube connect from a giant machine on one end and to a child's mouth and deep into the lungs in another - made even worse because of her suspicions that it was Shinichi on a respirator. Ayumi and her mother were spared the image, however, and the young woman was very grateful. Ayumi gave a small cough, turning her head weakly to one side. Yoshida-san instinctively looked to her daughter, but breathed a sigh of relief as the child settled back down.
"Anyway," she continued, "You should be very proud of young Conan-kun. He did a wonderful job calming her down. How he was able to think clearly after everything that happened I'll never understand. Even I was a wreck when it happened."
Ran turned back to Yoshida-san. "I'm sorry, but Conan-kun hasn't told me what happened."
The mother blinked. "Oh. I see. It was all really frightening."
After the tale had been told, Ran readily agreed. To have such a close friend enter a violent delirium - and at poor Conan - Ran couldn't believe that it had all happened. Her thoughts took her back to the deep thought on the boy's face when she'd first found him in the hospital. Perhaps it wasn't frustration over the investigation, but hurt at what Ayumi had called him and shouted at him. "How terrible," she murmured.
"I don't know how he did it," Yoshida-san agreed. "But he got her to settle down, and even got her to recognize poor Mitsuhiko-kun. I fear he'll have nightmares over this. I know I certainly will."
"Is there anything I can do?" Ran asked.
"No, thank you. You've been wonderful. I'm sorry to have worried--"
"Yoshida-san?" A middle-aged man in a white lab coat, stethoscope poking out of a pocket, approached the two women.
Ran looked to the older woman. "Do you want me to stay?"
"Goodness, no, it's late enough as it is, and I'm sure you want to get young Conan-kun home."
Ran hesitated, but nodded and stood. "Conan-kun, it's time to--"
She looked around, but the boy was nowhere to be seen.
Conan darted ahead of the "adults" and into Ayumi's room. For a moment he just stood there and stared, appalled and sickened that a child would be hooked up to IVs and heart and blood pressure monitors and rectal thermometers and other machines. He took a deep breath though, pushing all that emotion aside and hopping onto the bed for a closer examination. He glanced at Ran, but she was absorbed in conversation with Yoshida-san. She was the only "adult" in the world, it seemed, that kept any kind of eye on "Conan", but Shinichi knew that even she could be lax. Using that to his advantage and silently apologizing to her that he was doing so, he started examining his classmate.
He began with pulling a skin sample from her dry and cracked fingers, and slowly lifted the blanket up to examine her feet. They were cracked and flaking too, but her legs were not, and neither were her arms. The dehydration only applied to extremities then, another piece of information to file away for analysis later. Shinichi examined her arms and saw a small cut on the inside of her wrist, something he'd noticed before and now again, but paid it no mind and continued to look.
Unfortunately, there were no outward signs of her odd symptoms other than her skin, and so he slid silently off the bed and began looking around for a medical chart, frowning when he realized that, having just been admitted, one hadn't been placed in the ward yet. He wandered outside to think.
ICU had several wards, rooms where the patients lay in a psychological bubble of privacy. The illusion was lost, however, when exiting the ward to see the nurse's station, an oblong oval of computers and terminals and nurses sitting at them, watching the monitors and machines that were hooked up to the patients in their charge. That was to be his second stop: his first was to the giant man he saw at the other end of the station, the one he'd met several hours earlier packing pajamas for his son.
"Kojima-san?" he asked, putting his little boy voice on.
The man turned, his bulk and height making him look like a mountain to the abbreviated Shinichi.
"Ayumi-chan just got here, and I was visiting her," Conan explained, the young teen remembering how he'd observed other children act when they were tired and emotionally spent, "and I was wondering if I could visit Genta-kun, too."
"Ayumi-chan? She's here too? Yes, yes, go and see him. I'm going to go check on Yoshida-san."
Conan gave what he hoped was a tired nod before stepping into his other friend's room.
He wasn't entirely sure what he was expecting to find as he hopped up onto the boy's bed, but seeing a second friend attached to IVs and monitors made him pause, made him stare, made him shove all the emotion that welled up in him aside and kicking it into a hole to bury before shaking his head and getting back to work. Indeed, what good was he if he couldn't find out why two of his kids were so direly sick?
Unlike Ayumi, Genta had had a PICC line inserted at his elbow, to allow for more IVs. A quick tally revealed a baker's dozen of thin plastic lines that worked their way to Genta's PICC. As with Ayumi, there was no respirator, which eased Shinichi's mind. Neither Genta nor Ayumi were so poor in health as to need machines to ease the stress of bodily functions.
Slumped in a chair on the other side of Genta's bed was his mother, breathing deeply and sound asleep; understandable given the circumstances. With the extra presence in the room, Shinichi moved slowly and quietly as he inspected his friend for the first time. He carefully lifted blankets, as he had with Ayumi, to see dry, cracked skin flaking off the larger boy's fingers and feet. A glace at the rectal thermometer showed that Genta had a high fever of 102 degrees, occasionally topping off at 103.
Shinichi looked through Conan's glasses and noted other vitals as he had with Ayumi when he noticed two things. First was a vial for sampling blood, unopened and unused on the nightstand among other various bits of medical miscellany that gather in the room of a patient. Shinichi's much smaller fingers were twitching. Carefully, he reached over, ripped open the packaging, and grabbed an alcohol swab. With precision belying even his true age, he swiped both the vial and an offshoot of the PICC line. He may not have been a doctor or a nurse, but he'd watched both take blood from him to check for infections during his recovery after he'd been shot. He remembered it clearly and he imitated his memory to get a vial of blood from Genta to take to Agasa and Haibara for testing, along with the skin samples.
The second thing he noticed was a healing cut along the back of Genta's hand. Given how energetic the large boy could be, cuts and bruises were often common along Genta's arms and legs. (And Conan's when Genta started roughhousing...) Shinichi couldn't say why his eyes focused in on it. Something about the healing abrasion was turning up the volume on his private, danger-radar of a television. It was an important clue, but he couldn't give any sort of reason as to why. So he stored it away.
Another covert glance at Genta's mother revealed that she was still sleeping, but Shinichi didn't want to press his luck, it was only a matter of time before Genta's father or a nurse came in to check on him. It was sheer luck that he was able to get a vial of blood as it was, so he quietly slid off the bed and gently touched his feet to the floor.
Conan paused at the door and turned back to his sleeping friend as he had with Ayumi. He bowed his head and offered a silent promise that he would figure out what had happened.
The next thing he needed to look at would be any medical records for Genta and Ayumi beyond the vital signs being monitored in the rooms. To do that, he'd need access to their files. The smaller version of Shinichi hung by Genta's door, observing the nurse's station. Ideally, he'd wait until all the nurses were helping the various patients of the ICU and then he'd just walk over, innocent as could be, and start looking up the information he needed.
But that wasn't going to happen. Ran would notice he was missing soon enough so waiting wasn't an option. He needed another way to look through Ayumi's and Genta's medical charts (assuming Ayumi's data had been inputted into the system). That meant Shinichi would need to use his "little-boy-charms" to somehow get one of the nurses at the station to give him what he needed.
Deep breath. Deep breath. And go.
Conan trudged over to one of the nurses at the computers, the same one who had remarked on what a well-behaved boy he was. He waited by her knees for a moment, before lightly tugging on her scrubs. "Nurse-nee-chan?"
Glancing down, the nurse blinked before giving a gentle smile. "You're the good boy from earlier. How can I help you?"
"What happened to my friends?"
"Didn't Yoshida-san explain it to you?"
Conan sadly shook his head. "Yoshida-obaa-san and Ran-nee-chan are talking. I don't understand what they're saying." Conan glanced over to her computer and offered a brighter smile. "Can I look it up online?"
There was a small hesitation as the nurse appeared to internally debate what to do. Finally, she hefted Conan up onto her lap. "Come here." The small detective's heart raced as he realized that the screen on the computer was actually Genta's file! He started to read in earnest, noting the notes that the ER doctor made at Genta's arrival when the window suddenly closed. Deep inside of Conan, Shinichi stomped in frustrated fury. The nurse opened an internet window and went to a kid-friendly website about healthcare. "Why don't you look through this? It should answer some of your questions."
Yeah, Conan thought to himself. It'll answer any and all questions on how you're treating him, not what he has. Thanks a bunch. Really. Still, he played the good boy and poked around the site, looking at bright, cheery animations of doctors looking after sick kids. His sharp eyes, however, noticed that Genta's file was still open, merely minimized. The nurse holding him was talking across the ICU to another nurse who had poked her head out of a room with a question of some kind, so Conan seized the opportunity to go back to Genta's file and read through as much as possible.
He didn't get very far when, "Conan-kun!"
Conan automatically switched the window back to the kid-friendly website and looked up to Ran, who was on the other side of the counter looking down at him, blessedly unable to see the computer screen.
"Ran-nee-chan!" he attempted a cheery chirp. "Look, look! This nurse is showing me how they'll be treating Genta-kun and Ayumi-chan! They'll be better in no time!"
The nurse behind him and Ran shared a glance that Conan understood all too well. He doesn't understand how sick they are. But he did. From the small bit of Genta's file that he was able to read, he did understand, probably better than Ran at his point, just how sick Ayumi and Genta were. And how the doctors didn't know what was causing it and could only treat the symptoms and not the actual problem yet. That the doctors had been running test after test on Genta once they stabilized him and were already planning on running comparisons with Ayumi. The affects on the nervous system that caused hallucinations and that Genta had gone through two more incidents since his arrival at the hospital was why both Ayumi and Genta were being sedated.
Conan understood what was happening to his kids all too well. But he couldn't show it. So he smiled brightly, if tiredly, while Ran gave a small smile of her own. "Come on Conan-kun. Let's go home."
"Can we visit tomorrow?" he asked, like any other kid his apparent age would.
"Sorry, Conan-kun. We were lucky to get in today at all. The ICU is for family only."
He frowned, but hopped off the nurse's lap and scurried around the counter to Ran. "When will we seem them again?"
"When they get better," Ran replied, reaching down. Conan thought she would just take his hand like always, but instead, she picked him up and held him close. "Come on. Before Dad gets too cranky."
Blushing madly, Conan nodded, hoped she couldn't feel the vial in his pocket, and gave himself a moment to just hold her, like he had earlier. He was going to have to get away for a while with Agasa soon so that he could properly decompress from his hellish life. His emotions were getting closer to the surface and he needed some time as himself to properly deal with and then bury them again.
Kogoro was muttering in the car when they arrived, and there were quite a few swear words being bitten out as Ran buckled Conan in, but the teens both ignored him as he started the car and began the drive home.
"Are you okay, Conan-kun?" Ran asked after a few minutes.
Shinichi eyed her with many, many emotions bubbling just under the surface, but all he could throw together was a muttered, "I'm tired," in his little boy voice.
Ran smiled softly, warmly, lovingly, and it was everything Shinichi could do to not burst into theory and harangue about what he'd discovered and what it all meant and the implications and all the questions that what he was putting together were leading him to. This was not an illness. It wasn't. But this was only the start of the case, and so there was a lot still to be done; and besides, none of this could be shared with Ran. Not one word of it.
And it sucked. Really, really sucked.
Something must have shown on his face, because Ran's smile widened, and she put a gentle hand on the top of his head. "It's okay to feel that way, you know. When bad things like this happen, it's natural to feel hurt, and angry, and tired and frustrated. Helpless, even, but you can't let it wear you down." Her face changed, becoming sadder, more distant. "It hurts not to know sometimes, but that doesn't mean you can give up; you just have to keep believing that everything will turn out alright, that everyone will come home, and soon..."
And Shinichi knew exactly what she was talking about, and guilt swelled in him. It was his own inability to solve his own case that made her suffer like this, and everything he felt over his kids was compounded by what he felt for what he was doing, consciously and deliberately, to Ran. Without thought, he put his tiny hand on hers. "It'll be okay," he said, his voice thick with emotion he couldn't hide.
"I'll fix it. Somehow... I'll fix it. I'll fix everything."
Ran hiccupped and pulled Conan close, holding him tightly in the car. "It's okay, Conan-kun. You don't have to fix it; that isn't your responsibility."
She didn't know. She didn't understand. And that was his fault.
Shinichi bent his head down into her embrace, and fought with everything in him to not cry.
That evening, after everyone had gone to bed and was surely asleep, one tiny figure skulked down the stairs and into the office to pick up the telephone. The small form hopped onto the chair, exhausted but unable to sleep, as a number known all too well was dialed.
It took seven rings, but a voice finally coughed at the other end of the line. "Cough, cough, Hel-cough-lo?"
"Shinichi-kun! My it's cough late of you to call."
Shinichi blinked, rubbing sand from an eye. "Are you okay, Professor?"
"Just fine," the old man's voice reassured him. "I was working on something new, but I think there were some inadvertent reactions in the--"
"Yes, yes, Shinichi-kun. How can I help? And why are you calling so late in the night, in any case?"
"I have something for you to analyze. A few somethings, actually. For both you and Haibara."
Shinichi nodded, though his old neighbor couldn't see it, "Yeah. Haibara will probably have to take tomorrow off from school, because the two of you need to make this top priority."
"This sounds serious, Shinichi-kun. What have you gotten yourself into now?"
The minimized teenage detective blinked tiredly. "Genta and Ayumi are in ICU. The doctors don't know why and they've been exhibiting some bizarre symptoms."
"Such as?" came the calm, cool, and young voice of one Haibara Ai, creator of the drug that had shrunken both Shinichi and herself. It wasn't really a surprise that she had eavesdropped on the phone call.
"Flu and cold symptoms at first. Coughing, fever, aching, and extreme thirst. Extremities such as the hands and feet become so dehydrated that the skin is flaking off. Violent hallucinations. According to some of the medical records I saw at the hospital today, it's affecting the nervous system, which is causing the hallucinations. Lots of things." A tired sigh. "I made notes. I was able to get skin samples from both Ayumi and Genta, and somehow I was able to get a blood sample from Genta. I can drop it off tomorrow on the way to school."
"Understood," Haibara replied. "Professor? Would you be so kind as to inform the school that I'll be out for a few days?"
"Of course, Ai-kun. Now Shinichi-kun, you realize that I'm not a hospital. Some of the tests that we may have to do will take time, improvisation, and me going out to get supplies."
"I understand," Shinichi replied. "I'll come by this weekend and see how things are going."
"Very well. We'll see you in the morning, Shinichi-kun. Be safe."
Shinichi gave a dry chuckle as he hung up the phone. Safe indeed, he was about to enter one of the most irritating facets of his newer life: trying to sleep.
Though the Mouri's lived above their office, the apartment was indeed very small; they only had two bedrooms, and there was literally no place for little Conan to sleep. Ran had offered to have him sleep in her room and, of course, was enthusiastic about having a little brother to sleep with.
For one Kudo Shinichi, however, stuck in a seven-year-old body, the idea was terrifying: he would surely die of sleep deprivation.
"Ran-nee-chan," he'd said more than a little desperately, "I'm a big boy," in more ways than you'd guess, he'd added privately. "I can sleep on the floor in the living room."
But, what he would eventually learn to call the Firm Big Sister Expression slid over her face, and she had replied, "That's impossible, Conan-kun. It's rude to you as our guest. If you don't want to sleep with me, then you'll sleep with Dad."
"Eeeh?" the older man in question had exclaimed. But Ran had turned to him with what Shinichi already knew to call the Stern Daughter look.
And that was how the nightmare began.
The first night had been spent with the two of them, for all intents and purposes, staring at each other. Conan, patched up from his beating in the kidnapping case - his first case as the reduced detective - was trying desperately to show that he was a little boy for the world and wanting to have only one little corner to put a pillow for his head, and Kogoro, put out at the very idea of looking after a kid that wasn't Ran - and more over giving up his valuable and precious space - glared at each other as soon as the door was closed and Ran went off to sleep.
Conan, holding his futon and pillow, had been unsurprised to see the state of the room: littered with beer cans and sake jugs, clothes randomly lying about the floor, bits of wrappers and other signs of a man who didn't look after his things. For Shinichi, who had been learning to live in the public eye and having lived alone for three years to begin with, it was against everything he was ever used to.
"Let me make one thing clear," Kogoro had said after they had stared at each other for several minutes. "You don't live here. You're only here because my daughter is a beautiful and kind person who is too good for the likes of a freeloader like you."
Shinichi snorted, still not used to playing a child. "And let me make one thing clear. You don't have a say in the matter, and I'll never be in her bad graces."
Needless to say, Kogoro did not like having that pointed out to him, and so had kicked clear a tiny corner of the room and grunted something about Conan sleeping there, and that was just fine with the boy. It was only going to be a temporary thing anyway, so there wouldn't be any hassle.
Conan snorted at the memory, ticking off the number of weeks and months that his... condition... had persevered. Tipping up on his toes, he pulled open the door to the room he'd been forced to share since his first night.
Kogoro was already asleep, snorting beatifically in his proper bed, an arm and a leg dangling off the mattress, a hand loosely wrapped around a beer can.
"Oh, good," Conan muttered to himself, "at least he's not dreaming." Because that was the biggest problem: the noise. Shinichi had always been a light sleeper, but Conan, by trial of his experiences, was a "born" poor sleeper. Every little sound exploded into his sleep at night, waking him up instantly. Paranoia indeed. And the Sleeping Kogoro did nothing to help matters. There was the snoring, of course, but also the tossing and turning. The bed was old and creaky, and if Kogoro put too much weight on one particular corner, it sounded like the door opening, and Conan instantaneously woke up (again) to see who had come to murder them in their sleep.
Secondly were the dreams.
The sad fact of the matter was that Kogoro was emphatically not a quiet sleeper. As the faux boy pulled out his futon and pillow for his tiny corner of the room (which had to be cleaned of Kogoro's refuse again), he heard the beginnings of the worst kind of dream the older man could have.
And all Conan could think of was: Oh, shit...
Kogoro loved his wife. Let that be repeated: Mouri Kogoro loved his wife; and he loved her in his dream, too. Loud, long, and hard. For the next twenty minutes Conan mentally recited the dream Kogoro had at least once a month:
"Eri... want you back... need you back... oh, yeah... love you... yeah... yeeah..."
The first time he'd listened to the dream, Conan had not slept at all, even retreating to the living room with his blanket and pillow - both of which pulled over his ears to block them - he could make out the occasional grunt of satisfaction in Kogoro's dream, and frankly the imagery of what Kogoro was dreaming about creeped out the teen a little too much. Children didn't like knowing what their parents did at night, and the same held true for the parents of the girl you loved.
The morning after that horrible night, Ran was sorely tempted to keep Conan home from school, because the poor boy was so flushed, and it wouldn't go away. Conan had adamantly refused to be anywhere near the house, though, and couldn't look Kogoro in the face for days afterward without turning beet red.
By now, however, the shrunken detective knew the drill. Sighing, he walked over to the groaning older man and pulled hard at the sheets under him. The loss of equilibrium was enough to tip the dreaming man out of bed and onto the floor.
"Lousy kid, what'd you do that for?" he growled.
Conan shrugged, putting his hands in his pajama pockets. "You snore," he said simply. Aggravating as the dreams were, Shinichi did respect a man's privacy.
Kogoro snorted. "The hell I do. At least I don't wet the bed, brat."
That depends ENTIRELY on your definition of "wet," Occhan, Shinichi thought dryly to himself. Out loud he said, "Toddlers wet beds. I'm not a toddler." I'm nowhere NEAR toddler.
Kogoro shrugged it off, pulling himself back to bed. Within two minutes he was back to sawing wood.
Needless to say, Conan didn't need to really "wake up" the following morning. He'd been up most of the night tossing and turning and doing everything in his power to tune out The Drone. He'd also spent most of the night trying to plan how to go about investigating this intimately personal mystery, a vain attempt to keep his mind off the snores, grunts, and moans of the man he shared a room with.
Normally, he would merely stumble upon a body and all the suspects and clues would be right there or within the vicinity. It had been a while since he came upon a case so late after the fact. This was going to involve a lot of the legwork that police normally did. Backtracking to question family, friends, and possible witnesses, investigating the scene of the crime well after the fact, etc. Things that meant the clues may not be fresh or may be gone.
It was going to be frustrating.
Conan let out a long sigh. He rubbed the sand out of his eyes and, out of a long time of forced habit, reached for his glasses and stared up at the ceiling. If this was a deliberate infection, he didn't want anyone else to be involved, but he couldn't investigate the way he normally would. The first step would be at school, and, like it or not, Conan was going to need Mitsuhiko's help.
With another sigh, he rolled out of his futon. He could already hear Ran in the kitchen, preparing breakfast, so Conan went about his normal routine of getting ready for the day. For all that he didn't sleep, Conan was able to decompress a little. Shinichi wasn't quite so close to the surface, so he planned to get through the day without any screw-ups like he did the previous day. No doubt the missing Ayumi and Genta would press at his mental walls heavily, especially as he continued investigating, but Conan believed that he could weather the stress.
He came down the stairs yawning greatly, which made Ran look over.
"Conan-kun?" she asked.
"'Morning, Ran-nee-chan," Conan replied, grinning widely. "Ne, ne, can we pick up Haibara from Professor Agasa today?"
Ran didn't answer right away. Instead, she wiped her hands on a towel and knelt down to him, putting a hand to his forehead. "You had a long day yesterday, Conan-kun. Are you sure you should be going to school today? You look tired."
Conan shook his head and backed away from Ran's hand. "I'm fine, Ran-nee-chan," he chirped, hopping onto his chair for breakfast. "The nurse showed me that website, remember? Genta-kun and Ayumi-chan are going to be just fine."
She hesitated, concern clearly on her face. But Conan ignored her and grabbed his chopsticks with a twirl. "So when's breakfast? And can we pick up Haibara today? We're doing a project together with Mitsuhiko-kun, and we didn't get a chance to talk much yesterday!"
Ran raised an eyebrow. "Oh? What sort of project?"
Dammit! What sort of project would you give to a second-grader? A brief moment of panic washed over him before he spouted out, "A science project! We need to observe the moon and stars for our unit on astrology!"
"Ah, I see," Ran replied in full mothering tone. "All right. We'll go pick her up." She turned back to her cooking, but Conan couldn't help but see a pang slip briefly through her face.
With her back to him, Shinichi looked down to the table. Oh yeah. That will take us by my house. Ran's going to be hurting from that... He owed her a phone call. A chance to talk to her as himself, but answering those questions about when he'd be home were always torture. There is only one truth. He'd always sucked at lying, but with Agasa, Haibara, his parents, and so many people telling him that it was safer for everyone if he just stayed hidden, he'd gotten quite good at weaving his deceits. Dammit, he missed being able to talk to Ran. But he couldn't be selfish about this. Her safety came first, no matter how much it hurt both of them.
Conan looked up when Kogoro finally ambled in, rubbing his eyes and looking like he'd slept in his cloths.
Kogoro's reply was incomprehensible as he took his seat. Conan could smell alcohol and decided to keep his mouth shut. Kogoro's little love-taps were always a bit harder when he was inebriated or hung over.
"Breakfast is ready!" Ran caroled, bringing over plates of delicious, hot food. They sat down together and Conan happily lost himself in food and playing the little boy as they talked about the day ahead of them.
Conan hid a smirk as Ran's jaw dropped.
"Ai-chan's visiting family?"
"Yes," Agasa replied from where he was, clearly distracted from mixing chemicals. "They called last night and asked if they could have Ai-kun for a few days. I thought it'd be a good idea for her. She'll be back this weekend."
"Ye...Yes," Ran was still trying to pick up her jaw, but Conan had slipped away from her side and upstairs to Ai's room where she was "packing".
"Kudo-kun," she greeted. "The samples?"
Conan nodded and pulled off his backpack to reach inside. He pulled out the two plastic bags with Genta's skin flakes from his room and Ayumi's skin flakes that he'd collected from the hospital. From a pocket, he pulled out the vial of blood he'd miraculously been able to draw from Genta's PICC line.
Ai raised an eyebrow at the vial. "I didn't know whether or not to believe you last night when you said you'd gotten a blood sample."
"Pure luck," Conan replied. He gave a half grin. "Have fun visiting your 'family'."
The mini-scientist said nothing, merely looking at the blood sample. "Like we said last night, Kudo-kun. This weekend. Don't bother us before hand."
Conan rubbed the back of his head. Not that he'd ever admit it, he really could be a pain when he wanted an answer. "Don't worry Haibara. I'll leave you alone."
"Good. And those notes you made?"
He pulled out a notebook from his backpack. "I'm not a doctor or even a pathologist, so I'm not sure how helpful they'll be."
"But you're observant. These will be fine," Ai replied, already flipping through them. "Observant and thorough."
Conan shrugged. "I'll be going now, before Ran starts calling for me."
"Be careful, Kudo-kun."
He merely offered a grin before leaving and heading back downstairs.
School was the epitome of boredom every day for Conan. He'd already learned everything years ago and was way advanced. Even in his own grade, he tended to be in the more advanced classes since he seemed to absorb information like a sponge. If his own school was boring for him because he picked up things so quickly, being stuck in elementary school again was just painful.
He'd tried, once, to bring in some of his actual schoolwork. But the teacher had found it (after all, he wasn't really paying much attention) and told him that while it was nice to try and imitate his nee-chan, he wouldn't get to that material until he'd covered the basics she was teaching. Conan had to take notes, pretend to pay attention, deliberately answer questions wrong on occasion, ask for extra help when he deemed it necessary, and stay hidden.
It was something that he used to keep his mind sharp. During his days at elementary school, he practiced multitasking his mind. He kept his deductive ability sharp by constantly observing his class, teachers, and events going on in school. Frankly, he could probably out do Ayumi in a heartbeat when it came to gossip (and accuracy) and knowing the student body, because he was always watching. With that going on in one part of his brain, he often tried to recite his favorite mystery novels in his mind to at least keep his imagination going. And while doing all that, he took notes and worked on acting like a child, honing any acting skills he'd inherited from his mother, both by observing fellow students and making sure that, while acting like a kid, he didn't stand out.
It wasn't until he actively tried to not stand out that he realized how much work it took. When he had first been enrolled to the school, it was only a week later when the teacher pulled him aside to praise him on how smart he was, and that if he kept it up he'd be put in a more advanced class in no time. He'd very nearly panicked when he realized that, and had to hastily stammer that of course it was easy, he'd already had it before in his old school (technically not a lie) - it was ahead in terms of curriculum. The teacher smiled and patted him on the head for his good work, and that night young Conan's homework was much more involved, spending many hours locked in front of a computer for a typing assignment over at Professor Agasa's (at Ran's questioning).
He'd looked up the Japanese standardized tests, how they were scored, how they were broken down, exemplars, and then the national curriculum for not only second grade, but first, third, and fourth, before printing them all out and taking them up to his room to study them side by side.
It was one of Shinichi's first conscious decisions about his new identity, one of the few things he'd had time to construct and hone to his own preference. He'd broken down the strands for all core subjects - Japanese, math, science, and social studies, and decided which ones Edogawa Conan would be strong and weak in. He'd given away a fair bit in that first week, and so he aligned himself with a curriculum and studied what he was and wasn't supposed to know. He'd gone to school the next day with strong math and science skills, but terrible spelling and not enough attention for open-ended responses.
Knowing that and applying it was two different worlds, but for Shinichi it was a wonderful boon, because it gave him something to think about and control. Every worksheet, every question, every lesson that was presented he had to make a decision on what national test subject and strand it was, and calling up his academic profile for Conan to decide how well or how poorly he did. All this so he wouldn't stand out.
"Not standing out" was his creed in school. He had, after all, gone to this school during his first childhood. Thankfully, he was on a different team and most of the teachers he'd had the first time had retired. That didn't mean there weren't some teachers that Conan always avoided like the plague. For example, that day they were in the computer lab for a period. The woman in charge of their computer lessons was there when Shinichi had been in school, so Conan kept his head down in class. Hopefully, he was just a name on the roster that was a well-behaved, if quiet kid. It was also why Conan avoided getting into the kind of trouble that would send him down to administration. The principal, vice principal, secretaries, school nurse, guidance program, and other non-teachers, were all there from his first time. As Kudo Shinichi, his pranks tended to generate a lot of trouble and he'd often been spoken to about his behavior. He did not want that to happen again. He didn't want anyone to recognize him. So whenever those people were near, he kept his head down.
The previous day, after he'd given his notes and samples to Ai, Conan had had a long talk with Mitsuhiko on the way in to school on how to go through their investigation. Their first point of attack would be to see how many kids from school were actually missing. Conan would focus on their own grade. Mitsuhiko was to investigate the other grades and find out who was absent. After all, the freckled boy was in the computer club after school, which had students from all grades. He'd have a better chance of finding out how many were missing from each grade. Conan, himself, was doing head counts. And he wasn't liking what he was finding.
A class of thirty students stayed in one room the entire day. The teacher cycled through the core subjects. Break periods had the teacher leading them to other rooms of the school, like for sewing or for gym, but ultimately the day was spent in one room. Even lunch was eaten there; they did not have the cafeterias that Shinichi had seen when he was in America. It made for assessing the overall health of his grade something of a challenge, but Conan decided he would just have a poor week for bladder function, and asked to utilize facilities on occasion. When the sensei let him go, he quickly padded through the halls without looking like he wasn't supposed to be there and poked his head into the rooms of the other teachers. Often just looking through a window or holding his ear to a partly open door and counting the number of voices or how many desks were empty. At lunch he decided to get a free lunch on the cart that was wheeled around and asked the server if she noticed a lot of absences.
"Whatever do you mean?" the middle-aged lady had asked.
"Well, you see, Ayumi-chan and Genta-kun are both really, really sick," Conan explained, all innocence, "And I was wondering if they caught it, like a bug, from someone else."
"Well, now that you mention it, some of the classes are a little emptier," the server responded, a hand going to her cheek in thought. "I know poor Sanada-sensei is missing almost half his students, and Hashiba-sensei is shy a few girls - though for him that's a boon, the little chatter-boxes. I guess a cold really is going around."
It was with that dark little clue that, after school, he waited on the front steps of the school as Mitsuhiko conferred with his club.
It was while he was waiting that Conan went over the facts thus far in his head, trying to turn them around and look at them from every angle. On his lap was a notebook open to a blank page. It was something that had always been a key part of any detective taking notes. Policemen were always jotting down facts and even fictional investigators like Archie Goodwin were always writing something down, even if it was later. However, in this childish form, Conan couldn't take the risk. The ingrained habit of Shinichi to take notes had, out of necessity, been discarded. An elementary school child wouldn't take notes at a crime scene. He pushed it as it was with his pointed and leading questions.
Besides that, any notes he took would be physical evidence, and nothing could exist that would link Edogawa Conan to a pint-sized Kudo Shinichi. When Conan was in the middle of an investigation, his notes were reminiscent of when he had been himself. He wrote in kanji (something elementary kids didn't do, they wrote in hiragana), in a type of shorthand that could be easily identified as Kudo Shinichi, Great Detective of the East, and while a child didn't have the fine motor control of an adult, there would be no denying the similarity in the handwriting.
So Conan learned to memorize all the facts he came across and improve his recall, since he could no longer organize his thoughts on paper.
Mistuhiko-kun, where are you? I'm depressing myself here. Give me some good news.
It was then that something took the remote and raised the volume up to blaring. Colors where sharper, sounds more pronounced, detail in High Definition. Conan stood up, notebook forgotten as it fell to the ground. Someone is watching me...
He raced as fast as his short legs could go to the front gate to the school, the only entrance to the campus. Conan's eyes raked across the street, scrutinizing every detail. A pair of elementary kids were playing on the sidewalk, a small group of middle school girls were packed around each other gossiping over something, a high school girl was walking a dog, a middle-aged business man was rushing by with a briefcase and glancing at his watch, a mother was walking a stroller; so many people, and none were paying attention to the elementary school other than a spare glance. Observations were still going on at full volume, and Conan continued to look amongst the passers-by. It wasn't any of them unless the person who had been watching him had turned a corner; not from what Conan could see.
With one final glance, he raced back onto the school campus and circled the building, looking for anything out of place. With his observations in paranoid-aware mode, he picked up things far faster than he normally would. Deductions were already being listed in regards to what had happened on the school grounds over the course of the day ranging from a first-grader burying something under a tree to an older child tripping during gym class and sliding across part of the field and verifications if he looked more closely. Nothing he saw, however, could be associated with anything other than children running rampant at various parts of the day. No sign of strangers. The smoker's corner had butts piled, but none of them were new or fresh. No sign of ropes or someone being along the wall.
Finally, Conan made a full circle of the school, sweaty and panting. He raced back to the gates and looked around the street once more, but by then the faces had changed. Nothing. Dammit, who was watching me and where? Finally, a light bulb went off and Conan looked up. The buildings across the street had lots of windows to observe from. And by now, the observer would be long gone.
Panting heavily, Conan turned and headed back to his discarded notebook and backpack. This wasn't the first time he'd felt eyes so keenly on him. Shortly after he'd become Conan, he'd felt eyes on him. Part of it, he was certain, was his paranoia, but he could never be too sure. It was usually in just his day-to-day life. Such scrutiny was never felt when he was on an investigation, nothing that keen. The eyes that followed him were exceedingly rare, but it was damn frustrating and did nothing to alleviate his paranoia.
Conan landed heavily were he was sitting before, still trying to catch his breath. He ran a hand through his now sweaty hair and scowled at nothing. Whoever was watching him wasn't part of the Black Organization; that he was certain of. The eyes that had been watching him could often catch him acting more Shinichi than Conan, and if it was the Black Organization, he'd be dead beyond a shadow of a doubt. But that didn't mean his mystery observer was benign. The question was what the hell this observer was waiting for before doing something? Stalkers, after all, eventually approached the person they were stalking and Conan was certain that his stalker would come out of the shadows eventually. But how was he supposed to prepare for that confrontation without any clue of what was coming other than knowledge that it was coming?
The minimized detective started. It never ceased to annoy him how, even in his paranoid-aware state, his kids or Ran could get close to him without his realizing it.
"Mitsuhiko-kun! You startled me!" Already, Conan's alert senses were noting the other members of the computer club filing out from the school and heading for the gate without a care in the world, though some were looking a little somber.
"Conan-kun, are you well?"
Glancing around once more and not spying his stalker, Conan let out a small sigh. "I'm worried, Mitsuhiko-kun. I don't like what I was finding out today while I was investigating. Out of our grade of one-hundred-and-fifty-three, almost a fifth of the students are absent. Eighteen total absent. Very few in the same class, so teachers aren't noticing the drop in attendance. I'm really hoping you have good news."
The freckled boy looked down, his grip on the straps of his own backpack tightening. "I do not have such uplifting news. There are similar numbers missing in each grade. This is bad, Conan-kun. What shall be our next move?"
Conan frowned again. There were several routes to go; the question would be which one. "Do you have some names of the students who are absent?"
"Then this weekend I think we should--"
The teen-turned-boy jumped again, whirling around so fast one might have thought the devil had just touched his shoulder. Ran blinked as she looked down at him, not expecting such a strong reaction, her smile replaced by surprise.
"Ra... Ran-nee-chan!" Conan sputtered, waiting desperately for his heart rate to go down. Was it possible for a seven year old to die of a heart attack? "You startled me!" His voice was louder than he intended.
The surprise wore off her face, and she smiled gently, bending down to his level. "I'm sorry," she said in soft tones. "Did I catch you planning something bad?"
Conan blinked. If you count investigating a gross number of cases of mystery poisoning bad, I guess. Dry commentary aside, he put on a more childlike face and shook his head. "Uh-uh," he responded. "Mitsuhiko-kun and I were gonna go out on Sunday, if that's okay."
"Sure," Ran said brightly. "I can finish my homework in the morning and--"
Conan thought very quickly: "Aw, but it was going to be a Men's Day Out." He put a whine in his voice and hoped he'd mastered the puppy-dog look.
Ran giggled, and Conan was relieved. "Well, if you say so."
She made for a wonderful adult presence, Ran did, but the legwork he had in mind was tedious and far-reaching. Ran would question why they were doing what they were doing, and it would only make her worry. If she knew that Conan was Shinichi, she would actually have been a great boon in helping with the tedium of legwork - a thought that brought a complex mix of bitter resentment, anger, self-loathing, and depression - which he shoved brutally aside in favor of a bright grin and a cute "waai!" of exultation at "getting his way."
"Ne, in the meantime, Conan-kun, I have a surprise for you. Are you free?"
His look of bewilderment was too cute for words. Ran's declaration of surprise left the boy at a blank loss that only made her smile more brightly. It had been a fluke really, she'd been talking with Sonoko over the paper when she'd seen the ad and, knowing what a fan Conan was, decided to go for it. Her best friend had been all for it - a surprise considering she only ever called Conan-kun "chibi," but then Sonoko was like that.
After Conan had arranged to meet his friend, Ran took his hand and slowed her pace so the boy could keep up, walking him to the train station. The car was packed, like it always was this time of day, and to save room, Ran picked the child up and held him on her lap. Conan flushed and tried to refuse, but pragmatism eventually won out and he acquiesced.
Ran had never considered herself very maternal. Shinichi had teased her about it from time to time, but her martial arts training kept it only from time to time. To be honest, she'd never pictured herself as a mother. She was too athletic, too into martial arts, and too into academia to consider herself even mother material. She'd always pictured mothers as gentle, nurturing women in aprons with a strict eye on the children and the checkbook. Her own mother wasn't much of an example; she was a powerful, independent woman with her own mind and the will to work; Ran rather thought she took after Eri, and had visions of leading a similar life - even with Shinichi. Her fantasies had them coming home from their respective days of work and fighting bitterly over who was more tired and who should cook dinner, or going to conferences together to keep the other company, or meeting somewhere for a quick lunch. Really, children were never on her mind.
She took care of her father, of course, and before, she would have thought of that as a daughter's obligation rather than any kind of motherly action. He was just a man in a rut and needed a meal here and there; he worked enough to pay the bills and that was that. It wasn't until Conan entered her life that she realized just how good she was at the role.
It was... natural; in a way she wasn't expecting. The boy was just so cute when she first met him, flustered at being caught when trying to hide; a stuttering wide-eyed bundle of adorable that she wanted to wrap him up and take him home with her - when she found out she could she was ecstatic: a little girl with a new doll to play with, that was the feeling that kept bubbling up when she led him home. She wasted no time telling him about her secret love of Shinichi, giggling and blushing like a middle-schooler, and the plans she had on buying him all kinds of clothes over that first weekend - which he had to try on of course - and asking him his favorite foods and other little bits and odds and ends.
The reality of it all didn't sink in until he disappeared, just hours after meeting him, during the kidnapping investigation. When she'd used the dogs to finally find the kidnapper; when she'd found brave, stupid little Conan bloody and beaten in his attempts to help the kidnapped girl; then she realized just what a responsibility it was to have a child.
From zero to a hundred back to zero.
It was after that that she became much more observant of the boy, making sure he was where he was supposed to be and not getting into even more dangerous trouble. His value for independence was discovered quickly, and Ran was perfectly willing to watch from the background as he learned how to do things for himself. Maybe that was what she'd valued in her own mother, Eri; her decision to let Ran figure things out for herself.
Conan shifted his weight on her lap, and she unconsciously hugged him tighter. She loved this boy, suspicions or not, and she would sooner die than see him hurting.
They got off after three stops, and the boy blinked when he recognized the station.
"Ran-nee-chan, what are we doing here?"
"We're here to see a movie, of course," Ran replied, smiling brightly as he blinked at her, taking a minute to parse the sentence. So cute!
"Movie? What..." his voice trailed off as he looked up and read the various slots that were available. A flat look crossed his face when he read "Kamen Yaiba: Star-Crossed Battle of Love and Friendship!" and an eyebrow twitched.
"I agree," Ran said in sympathy. "The title could use some work. But I know how much you and your friends like Yaiba, so when I saw this in the paper this morning with Sonoko-chan, I couldn't resist."
"So this was her suggestion?" the boy asked, a hint of ire in his voice.
"She thought it was a wonderful idea," Ran said with a sweeping gesture. "I know you're not fond of her, but she's a really good friend of mine, so I hope you appreciate her."
The eyebrow twitched again, but Conan admitted defeat and put on a bright face. "If you say so, Ran-nee-chan," he said in a bright and more boyish tone. Ran shrugged her shoulders; at least he was trying. Shinichi had never completely warmed to Sonoko either; he was constantly making sarcastic comments or ironic observations about the boy-ditz under his breath whenever her friend was with them. This was promptly followed with a well-placed elbow to the rib cage. The two often got into loud fights about Sonoko, but ultimately Shinichi understood that Ran saw in her something he didn't, and that she was Ran's friend, and so he acquiesced.
After buying the tickets, Ran let Conan scamper ahead to pick out candy of his choosing, smiling.
If she and Shinichi ever had children, she hoped they turned out like Conan: bright, inquisitive and mature... maybe with a few hints of her facial features, and a decidedly smaller penchant for getting into trouble. The idea sounded wonderful, and she found herself blushing at her own fantasies. She wondered if Shinichi ever thought about his future, having kids and what they would be like. Probably not, she decided. Shinichi was like she was before Conan came, incapable of seeing himself with children simply because he had no experience with them. He'd make a good father, though, when she thought about it. He was a good teacher, and for all his cocky arrogance and clipped language, he was always very gentle when he needed to be, and he had a sense of empathy Ran rarely found in other boys. The poor teen detective had no idea what to do with it, of course, but that was okay; time was a good teacher in that respect, and he would have her with him.
"Ran-nee-chan, why are you blushing so much?" Conan asked. Ran blinked and looked down at him, surprised that she had wandered off into dream-land like that. She quickly shook her head and put her Big Sister face back on.
"Oh, sorry, Conan-kun. I was having a very happy thought. Come on, let's see what the previews are before the movie!"
She took his small hand in hers - there was a warmth in it that reminded her of her precious teen detective - and led her charge down to the correct theatre.
For the next hour and a half, Ran let herself delve into those fantasies, giggling occasionally in spite of herself. Conan, she felt, spent more time looking at her than the movie, but when it finally let out he was decidedly more relaxed, and had a very mature look on his face, something wistful and nostalgic, a hint of a grin that looked so much like Shinichi, Ran could only smile back.
Conan had cheered up. Mission accomplished.
Ran stretched mightily, her back arching almost in half - a testament to her flexibility - as she tried to pull the sleepiness out of her body. It was three minutes before the alarm was to go off, but she hadn't closed her curtain enough last night, and a shaft of light had been shining across her face. Feeling refreshed, she arched a few more parts of her body before finally getting out of bed. It was Sunday, and though it may be her day off, she did have breakfast to get.
Changing the intimates and throwing on a set of jeans and clean sweater, Ran ran a brush through her hair - nothing fancy; that came after breakfast- and stepped out of the room. She was surprised to smell fish on a fryer. Following her nose, she found little Conan, dressed in shorts and a sweatshirt standing on his stool flipping a pan.
"Ah," the boy said brightly, turning around. "Ran-nee-chan, good morning!"
"Good morning," she answered automatically. "What are you doing?"
"Making breakfast," he said happily.
"I can see that, but why?"
"Because," he said simply. "Because Mitsuhiko-kun and I are having a Men's Day Out, and I didn't want you to be lonely, so I wanted to do something for you."
Ran blinked at first, but finally a broad smile spread across her features. "You're very thoughtful, Conan-kun. That's very sweet of you."
The boy's face fell slightly; he quickly turned back to the skillet, his back to her. "There's so little I can do for you," he whispered, his voice lower, his tone deeper. "I want to do something."
The sentiment was sweet beyond measure, and the depth behind it made Ran wonder again. But whoever this child was, she gently ran her fingers through his hair in appreciation. "You do a lot, Conan-kun, more than you realize." She didn't think he even realized that his similarities filled a void that had appeared in her since Shinichi's disappearance - his actions and mannerisms and frightening similarities to her teen sweetheart gave the illusion that he was still around and that he hadn't really left her; and that was perhaps the biggest reason she never questioned too deeply. Because if she did, then the very real possibility that he no longer cared, perhaps never cared for her, was too much for her to handle.
Conan was a good host - he didn't let her help in any way, and inside of fifteen minutes the two of them were sitting down to a hot breakfast.
"So where are you going if this is going to be a Men's Day Out?" she asked.
Conan blinked. "Oh, er, that's men's business!" he said quickly.
Ran giggled and let him have his secrets.
Kogoro appeared eventually. He was not what could be considered a "Morning Person"; the buttons on his shirt were wrong, his jacket was inside out, and he hadn't yet shaved, his calloused fingers scratching and scraping at various parts of his stubble and uncombed hair. His intellectual conversation consisted of grunts and grumbles with the occasional growl before he started to look awake. Conan served all three of them, though with Ran's father he looked decidedly put out.
After a slow and bright hour, Conan stood up and cleared his plate. "I gotta get going," he said brightly. "I'll be back this afternoon, okay?"
"Okay," Ran said. "Be careful, be safe."
"I will. I..." his face changed again, a look Ran couldn't read, but he said, "I'll call you."
With that he disappeared to the front step.
"Where's the brat off to?" Kogoro asked.
"He's off to enjoy himself," Ran answered, running a hand unconsciously through her hair, trying to straighten it out. "He's been depressed since Ayumi-chan and Genta-kun got sick. It's good to see him start to brighten up."
Twenty minutes later, just as she was stepping out to have her own day, the phone rang.
"Hello, Mouri Detective Agency," Ran answered.
"Good, I was hoping I'd get you."
"Hey, hey, careful; you'll make me deaf!"
Shock wore off quickly, replaced with irritation. "Shinichi! Where have you been? I haven't heard from you in weeks! Do you ever realize how worried I get?"
There was a very long pause on the receiver; so much that Ran was beginning to wonder if he'd just hung up on her, but then, "......... Yeah, I know you worry." It was such a small voice, mumbled and ashamed, quiet and sounding almost like Conan. Ran's emotional tirade came to a screeching halt when she heard his response.
"I know I worry you. I..... If there was anyway I could just drop this... this stupid case and come home, I would in a heartbeat. I want you to know that. It... It isn't pleasant for me either, being away like this."
Emotion welled in Ran. "Then why don't you come home?" she demanded. "No case is worth--"
"I can't," and there was such emotion under those two words, Ran's own emotional profile did a one-eighty. "I can't come home. I want to... I want to so badly... but lives are depending on me. A lot of lives, and I can't... I just... I wish... I can't."
Ran heard the emotion, raw and unhidden. Shinichi was the brooding type. Growing up, he and she had both had a happy childhood. However, that didn't change Shinichi's incredibly bright brain. Whenever they came across something that he didn't understand, Shinichi would turn the great mechanisms of his grey cells to the problem. However, understanding people was something that Shinichi had initially been rather inept at. His parents were bizarre with their own set of rules, and if Ran didn't like anything he did, she put him right in his place, even as a child. But that was the limit of his social experience until he entered school. It provided many an amusing memory, of Shinichi going through elementary school and disappearing from social gatherings while he pondered and brooded on how to interact. Ran had helped him and once Shinichi created his own sets of algorithms, he grew more and more confident.
That didn't change the fact that Shinichi remained a private person. It was easier for him to get along with people if they didn't see how deeply he felt on things. He was very kind-hearted in that regard; he always tried to cheer people up in his own mystery-geek way and protect all around him. His own feelings were private.
But those two words of "I can't" held so much pain and raw feeling. For the detective to have such emotion in his voice meant that this was bothering him badly. Whatever this case was, it was disturbing him, bothering him, and wearing him down. Sympathy and empathy welled up in Ran, and she felt here eyes water. Damn it, she didn't want him to know she was crying! She brought the back of her hand up to her eyes furiously and took a deep breath.
"Well," she said in a shaky voice, "things have been very busy here. Dad solved another case two weeks ago. A lawyer was killed by one of his clients because he lost the case. Very dreadful, she dressed up as a boy and stabbed him in the back of the neck. Dad figured it out just from the smell of nail polish remover!"
There was a snort on the other end of the line, followed by a poor excuse of a cough. "I'm sure he was brilliant," he managed, disbelief and dry sarcasm in his voice.
"Don't be like that. Dad's been really great with all these cases."
"Hey, hey, I'm a firm believer in his celebrity," Shinichi offered, a grin evident in his voice.
Ran smiled, glad that she was able to distract her precious, precious friend. "Conan's been very worried, though. A lot of his friends are in the hospital, and I don't think he's taking it well. I've managed to cheer him up, but they still don't know what's making the children sick."
"Oh, really?" Shinichi asked, completely casual.
"Yes, Ayumi-chan - she's one of his friends, was so sick she had a fever dream. She thought Conan was a bad man trying to kidnap himself! Her mother Yoshida-san said she's had three more episodes like that, and Genta-kun seems to be suffering the same thing."
"Delirium, huh? And there have been more of them? That doesn't sound like a bacteria infection."
"I know!" Ran agreed. "The doctors don't know what's wrong. Yoshida-san says they're even going to do a spinal tap to see how deep this seems to be going."
"Ran," Shinichi said in a solemn tone. "This does not sound like a run-of-the-mill flu."
The young woman stilled; that was his detective tone, reserved for when he was completely focused on a case. "... Shinichi?"
"Nothing, nothing," he said quickly. "Just thinking out loud; you know me."
"Shinichi, you're always right," Ran said carefully. She had to mind her steps, whenever she'd tried to push at what was going on in the young detective's mind - at least when he was a voice on the phone - he often shut down and hung up (and with fleeting calls like these she wanted to maximize every minute). "Is there something you know?"
"No, nothing," he said quickly. "Just... be careful." There was a half laugh, filled with an irony that Ran didn't understand. "I can't protect you all the time."
The line did the trick; Ran huffed and made a face. "Mou, Shinichi! I'm perfectly capable with taking care of myself!"
"I know, I know, but... much as I want to, I can't do a good job of it as I am now. There's so little I can do for you; I want to do something."
Exactly what Conan had said just over an hour ago. Her heart panged as she recognized the sentiment, the depth. The voice was deeper, richer; it was Shinichi's voice, but it was Conan's sentiment, Conan's emotion. She smiled into the phone. "You sound just like Conan-kun," she said softly.
There was a panicked snort followed by an indignant grunt. "What, that brat? Never."
Ran took her turn for an indignant noise. "Don't say that, you two are just alike!"
"Hey, hey, don't insult me," the detective said in disgust. "Anyway, I can't stay much longer. Some test results from the lab just came in. I gotta go."
"Shinichi, wait, when can I see--"
But the phone was hung up, and Ran listened to the dull drone of a dial tone.
And the sense of loss sprung up all over again.
Conan... Shinichi hung up the phone, his hand lingering on the receiver as his head drooped against his chest, loss mixing with the agony of self loathing and unabated hatred for Gin and Vodka and unadulterated mourning of his precious Ran. His body was entirely too small - in either size - for the world of feeling his synapses were firing back and forth in his brain. He wondered in a dim corner of his mind about brain explosions, or perhaps heart explosions, but it hurt just as much, if not more.
"Kudo-kun," a soft, little girl's voice whispered from the other side of the room.
All the feeling was violently shoved aside as Shinichi straightened, mentally rearranging himself, realigning his thoughts to the case, and turned around with a face that no longer held the haunted look that was ghosting it before.
"Yeah," he grit out, voice still betraying him.
Haibara Ai gave him a distantly appraising look; studying and gauging him, before she moved on in her usually bored tones. "You gave me quite a challenge."
"The skin samples were worthless; there was nothing in them other than trace amounts of... everything. But the blood, I haven't seen samples like that in a long time."
The teen trapped in a boy's body blinked, something cold and slimy setting in his stomach. "What do you mean?"
"Come with me," she said without ceremony, the tiny blond turning and walking out the room and down Agasa's narrow hallway. Conan followed.
She led him to her lab, unsurprisingly, and gestured to a microscope that clearly had been set up beforehand. Removing his glasses, Conan complied and looked at the sample. It was an amalgam of spots and colors. Shinichi recognized them as cells and bacteria and amoeba, but that was all. His knowledge of biological forensics was not as deep as his knowledge of other sciences. High school only just skimmed the surface of human biology, and his skills were more central to what he could immediately see, not the microscopic.
"I don't know what I'm looking at," he said finally, pulling his gaze from the microscope.
"Tropane alkaloids," Haibara replied, "in disproportionately high quantities." She pulled a book open and flipped it open to a seemingly random page, showing it to Conan.
"This doesn't look like anything in the microscope," he said slowly. That cold and slimy feeling was spreading out of his stomach and up his spine.
"No, because it's been modified. There are traces of antihistamines, diphenhydromine, hydroxyzine, temazepam, and sodium thiopental."
Conan perked up, recognizing the last item. "Truth serum?"
Haibara nodded. "Yes. This is a manufactured anticholinergic: a deliriant." She pulled out another book, opened to a page, and showed Conan a collection of plant photos: floripondio, henbane, and thorn apple to name a few. "Tropane alkaloid is the largest ingredient, and these are the most probable sources. They were either genetically modified or concocted with other agents to make this. A cocktail like this is just asking to create hallucinations."
Conan cocked his head to one side. While he had vast knowledge of forensics, what Haibara was talking about fell more into biochemistry. While he had a vast mental database of various ways the body could react to anything in the throes of death, nothing listed was clicking. It was rare indeed when he didn't understand something, but, having said that, Haibara's expertise was well outside of his; and so he didn't feel (too) stupid when he asked, "What does this have to do with truth serum?"
"The idea of truth serum is a fallacy," she said simply, "all sodium thiopental and its cousins do is make the user more likely to talk - it does no prompting of truth telling, it just increases the chances that something will slip out. It has some hallucinogen properties, which is probably why it's been lumped together with the rest."
"So then, these hallucinogens..."
Haibara nodded. "Deliriants like the ones in those pictures antagonize acetylcholine receptors of the brain; they're often called 'true' hallucinogens, because these are the kinds of chemicals that will make a person have conversations with people not there, or become angry at someone mimicking them - not realizing it's their own reflection. The victims, fortunately, don't remember their hallucinations when they return to a proper state of consciousness. You said both Genta-kun and Ayumi-kun were dehydrated, correct?"
"And they were suffering from mydriasis, pupil dilation?"
Conan nodded again.
Haibara took her turn to nod in response, expecting the affirmatives. "Those are side effects of deliriants. With a combination like this, any number of other side effects could occur, such as aches you observed, or the fever perhaps - though I suspect that's just the body trying to combat the deliriant. Anything in high enough doses is harmful, but hallucinogens can be lethal if overdosed. What was Ayumi's delirium again?"
"She thought I was a bad man, and that the doll I was holding was me, and that I was kidnapping myself."
Haibara nodded again. "Deliriants generally cause the same kind of hallucination: dark entities, peripheral disturbances, being alone and watched simultaneously, and things ceasing to exist. Her hallucination was just starting, so likely you were the dark entity, seeking to cease your existence. Genta-kun probably felt something similar. This coupled with confusion and hyperactive 'positive' symptoms like agitation and combativeness, and the violent outbursts can all be explained. 'Seeking the Magic Mushroom,' indeed," she said with the closest sound of a snort one as emotionally closed off as she could manage.
"Why haven't the doctors found this?" Conan asked, keeping pace with his fellow trapped child.
"Large as the quantities are, they're not that easy to find unless you know what you're looking for. Even if they did find the foreign agent, breaking it down would be extremely difficult."
"You did it."
"I knew what I was doing. I was a poisons expert." She inhaled deeply through her nose, holding the bridge of her nose and closing her eyes - perhaps the strongest show of emotion Conan had seen from her in a long time. "It's a work of art," she whispered, respect and admiration fighting with a self-loathing that Conan knew all too well. "On par with my old work, there's an efficiency in the chemical combination, a beauty in its construct; it's... delicately wonderful." The hand lowered, and the traces of emotion were gone, and to all observers it was as if her expression had never changed. "A professional made this."
"For what purpose?" Shinichi asked gravely. "Why make people hallucinate?"
"I don't work for Them anymore," she said simply.
Shinichi knew it was coming, but he still reacted. His body stiffened, his back straightened, and his heart stopped for three seconds. He knew, his mental TV kept telling him that one fact, but he'd irrationally refused to acknowledge it, refused to believe it as the cold and slimy feeling engulfed his heavy heart.
"The Black Organization," he said simply, his voice ruff as he grunted out the name.
He was so screwed.
"Ah! Conan-kun!" The skinny boy gave a wan smile, waving.
Down the street, pushing a skateboard normally along, rolled her favorite follower, face tight with something. The boy looked like he hadn't slept much or eaten much, given how pale he looked. But all that wiped away once he got to the tables and off his skateboard to meet up with his friend.
"Gomen, Mitsuhiko-kun," the boy said. "I had some difficulty getting way."
Ah, your girlfriend keeps a good eye on you, doesn't she? she snickered to herself. Now if only your girlfriend knew she was watching you instead of you...
"How shall we approach this investigation today?"
"I was thinking about that last night and..." the mini-detective started to glance around, eyes wary.
Well damn, if something doesn't have you more aware than normal. Time to go.
"Yamazawa-san, how are you?" Mitsuhiko greeted politely.
"We're doing a survey for our math class," the shrunken detective added, peering intently into the apartment.
"Would you mind terribly if we were to ask you and your son Hiromu-senpai some questions?"
The woman at the door was pale, tearstains tracing her cheek. At the mention of her son's name, fresh tears trailed down her face. "I'm sorry," she mumbled around a lump in her throat. "I can't, I... I think you should go now." The door shut behind her firmly.
"Well, Conan-kun? Did you see anything this time?"
"No," was the irritated reply. "There's something niggling in my mind, but I'm not sure what it is. Let's change tactics. We won't get anything from the parents and we can't even get in long enough for a chance to look around. Let's go to the library."
Mitsuhiko gave a sad little nod. "I am getting very worried."
"So am I."
Well shit this isn't good, Shiroyuki swore to himself. Whatever his critic was into wasn't something he just stumbled into. His favorite follower was doing a lot of legwork for whatever this case was, and something about that was worrying Shiroyuki. Still, he knew were the nearest library was, so he headed around a corner and disappeared from the line of site of the two boys he'd been with all day. He needed to do a little set up at the library.
Mittaki Erika was waiting for the two children who entered into the library. Her nametag was in place and she had memorized what was where in the stacks enough to fudge what she needed. If the tantei-kun picked up on her not knowing anything, she could merely claim to be new.
Erika raised an eyebrow when she saw the two come in. Thus far, over the course of the day, Mitsuhiko had been in the lead with the list of addresses and, apparently, leading the survey-interview. But this time, her critic was front and center. He walked right up to her and hesitated. No doubt whatever books he was going to ask for might not be accessible in the kiddie-section, but Erika would gladly turn a blind eye to that.
"Librarian-san?" he asked.
Erika looked down and offered a warm smile. "What can I help you with?"
"Um, well," he looked down and winced. "We were talking about something in school this week that I didn't understand. So I wanted to do some research."
"Oh? Well I'll be happy to point out where you need to go." She winked. "Of course, this is my second day here, so I know the adult section more than the child section. Would that be a problem?"
There was a brief glint in her favorite follower's eyes. Whether he was grateful he'd be going straight to the adult section and not the kiddie section or suspicious of her because he always knew when he was being watched, she wasn't sure. Her mind was focusing on puzzles, so she didn't think she was activating his ten-foot radius sonar, but better to be safe than sorry.
"If it is a problem," Erika continued, "I can go get one of the other librarians. They would probably know the stacks better than me."
"No, that's fine," her tantei-kun said. He glanced at Mitsuhiko before continuing. "Actually, Mitsuhiko-kun needs help with current events. He'll need newspapers from say, the past month or so. As for me, we had an anti-drug class at school--"
"--and I didn't understand a lot of the terms. Where can I look up things about drugs?"
Erika smiled blandly and started to guide them through the library while inside, her brain was doing flip-flops. Drugs? What the HELL have you gotten into, tantei-kun?? Why do drugs require you to visit families that seem to be slamming doors in your face? It's bad enough that you follow murders like a kicked puppy, now you're chasing after drugs? What the HELL kinda DEEP SHIT have you wandered into??
She set up both Mitsuhiko and her favorite follower at a secluded corner of the library usually reserved for college students who are doing papers. Erika informed them that if they didn't understand any of the kanji to just come find her and she'd help them out.
Both nodded agreeably, but once Erika was hidden in the stacks doing shelving, she observed. The shrunken detective was easily doing three things at once: taking vigorous notes, reading through the newspapers, and cross-referencing something in all the books they'd found for him.
This is serious. Erika shook her head. Chiisa Tantei-kun, what am I going to do with you?
It was Wednesday, fully a week after Ayumi-chan got sick and was rushed to the ICU, when Ran began to realize just what was going on. Little Conan's Men's Day Out had ended, not with the smiling faces of a pair of boys who'd spent the day adventuring, but with the sullen and downtrodden looks of boys who'd just gotten a long string of bad news. Mitsuhiko had barely said two words before going over to Agasa's to call his mother, and Conan wore Shinichi's face of determination so thoroughly she was afraid to even ask, picturing Shinichi spouting off on a frustrating day in which a small army of people had somehow insulted his dear Sherlock Holmes - or worse - spitting out techno-babble about forensics or trajectories or the side effects of sodium chloride or some other detective jargon.
Monday morning brought Conan back in his little boy face, making small conversation as if the doom and gloom he'd brought home hadn't happened at all. Ran had actually begun to think she was simply imagining things, her overactive suspicions getting the better of her.
But Wednesday morning was when she learned that, as always, her instincts weren't wrong. Knocking on her father's door to announce breakfast, she slid it open to see that Conan's futon had never been set up; she knew because he always put it away after breakfast.
Frowning, she went into the study, where the game station was. It would not be the first time, she'd mused, to find him asleep in front of the TV, trying to increase his prowess in video games to no avail.
He was not there however, and that made her frown. He wasn't anywhere in the apartment, and she was beginning to worry when she finally went downstairs to the office and she finally found him. He was curled in her father's chair, chin and an arm barely reaching the top of the desk to pillow each other, glasses carelessly tossed on the phone.
For a moment Ran just stared, completely unable to understand what had happened to precipitate this, until she looked at what was under him. Library books on - Ran blinked and tried to remember the kanji - deadly nightshade? - medical journals on hallucinogens, chemistry and pharmaceutical articles. She could hardly read half the kanji, and by the arm that was pillowing the boy's neck she saw a piece of paper with scribbled notes. She recognized Conan's writing, she'd seen it enough when she checked his homework - only it was in kanji, things he shouldn't even be able to read. Ran found her breath quickening, her heart beating faster as she recognized bits of shorthand, anxiety welling in her stomach as she looked at the child again. Too many things were bubbling up in her mind; she didn't really know what to do. She continued to stare, but her mouth gave her away.
The boy stirred, a deep breath filling his nostrils as a bleary and sleep-fogged eye opened up.
"... Ran..." he mumbled, and the lack of any kind of suffix was louder in her ears than had he tacked on "nee-chan."
Then, suddenly, his blue eyes shot open, as if realizing just where he was, and he pitched backward, the wheels of the office chair spinning out from under him, the boy and the chair toppling over, papers and books flipping in the air to add flourish to the fall. Ran watched in disbelief as Conan struggled to hide the evidence, flustered and sputtering bits of sentences.
"Uwaa! I'm sorry... I fell asleep... I was... I couldn't understand... I... I was trying to..." the boy paused, Ran seeing the dark circles under his eyes, as he stared at the bit of handwritten paper, staring at his notes, his notes in Shinichi's shorthand. Ran watched his face, watched it darken and droop, his brown locks hiding his eyes, his free hand ball up in a fist, before she saw a deep breathe and the face lift, the look of boy who was caught. "I'm sorry... I..."
The pause lasted so long Ran couldn't stand it, but her body was frozen as she stared at this little boy that she'd known for so long, her fears and suspicions and her anxiety, her loss and betrayal and so many other emotions paralyzing her and preventing her from acting.
Something flickered on the child's face, something that looked pained, and finally, he spoke. "Gomen ne, Ran-nee-chan. Shinichi-niichan came for a visit last night. He said he wanted to check in on you and see how you were doing, but he didn't want to wake you. Then he asked what I was doing up so late at night, and I told him about how kids at school are really sick, and he looked at all the books I got from the library and helped me look through them. He even told me what to write. He said..."
The pain again, then,
"I didn't understand all of the words, but he seemed to follow what was going on. He got really worried and took off. He said to be careful. I tried to work some more, but it was harder without him, and..." Conan looked down. "He said, 'Be careful,' but he's an idiot, ne? He should have talked to you, ne? He should have..." and his little shoulders were shaking again.
Perfectly reasonable. Shinichi heard about the kids being sick, he had already cautioned Ran, saying it didn't sound like a run of the mill flu, hadn't he? He'd told her to be careful, hadn't he? He would stop by if he was worried, that was like him - he'd dragged himself to her when she was stuck in that building that was going to explode, had helped her disarm the bomb when he was only a wall away. He was always courteous about things like sleep, night-owl tendencies always had him mentioning the next morning that he'd thought of stopping by until he looked at the clock and realized she would likely be asleep. Something like this would spark his interest; it would. He could easily be up all night researching things and helping Conan take notes. Perfectly reasonable, it made perfect sense.
"Stupid Shinichi!!" she shouted to the top of her lungs, startling the little boy in front of her as well as herself. "Stupid irresponsible Holmes-addict Shinichi!! Making a kid take notes for him! He should have put you to bed!"
Yes, yes, anger. It was much easier to deal with anger, because it was perfectly reasonable.
Huffing, she collected all the books. "Didn't even take the books with him, what did he think was going to happen when he left with a cryptic comment like that in the overactive imagination of a child? Mou, he can be so thoughtless! Didn't even leave a note! Stupid Shinichi!!"
Conan looked on with flat eyes, a wry grin under his tired circles. Ran had seen this look several times, and offered a glare reserved to the detective this boy... to the detective this boy looked like. "Don't you dare go thinking this is funny!" she snapped. "I've half a mind to keep you home from school just so you can catch up on your sleep! You'll be struggling to make it through the day as it is--"
"Uwaah, don't do that!" Conan cried out, little boy tones sprinkling his inflections. "I have to go to school!"
"Give me one good reason!" Ran shouted. "You're as bad a Shinichi!! Letting yourself be taken in by him and not going to bed - it would serve you right!"
Conan offered a placating smile, hands raised in a similar gesture, "Gomen, ne? I was stupid, ne? I'm sorry, ne? Please let me go to school, ne?"
"You have exactly ten minutes to get ready!!"
And the little boy was off like a shot, back upstairs. Ran stood in her father's office, books and articles in her arms, alone in the morning light, flushed with more than just anger.
But her instincts were wrong; it was all perfectly reasonable.
Ran was decidedly not speaking to Conan, mumbling something about irresponsible detectives that never called and stabbing at her eggs and fish with a veracity that had both Kogoro and Conan leaning back in fear. Kogoro, unaware of the bed of needles he'd walked into that morning, had put the morning news on, and it was the only conversation that could be heard at the table.
"And now for breaking news, a serious epidemic has taken hold of the citizens of Beika Prefecture. Specifically, its children."
Any and all thoughts at the breakfast table were suspended.
"Now, a substantial number of elementary children have been admitted to hospitals for common symptoms: most notably fever dreams and hallucinations. Doctors are at a loss as over two-dozen children flooded their doors in a day with this mysterious illness. People are advised to make sure they take their flu shots and other vaccines, and that if they experience any abnormal symptoms to consult their physician. We will have more on this story as it develops. In other news..."
Worry colored Conan's face, Ran saw, and the little boy had paused in his eating.
For all that she was angry, Ran put it aside in favor of getting rid of that terrible face Conan was making; it was too much like Shinichi for her to currently stand. She turned for her father.
"Ne, Dad, do you think you should be looking into this?"
The older man looked up from his newspaper. "Into what?"
"Dad! This! The kids and their getting sick! Even that idiot Shinichi," Conan visibly flinched, "said it didn't sound like the flu. I've been noticing the last few days that there are fewer kids in the morning; this could be serious. Shouldn't you be looking into it?"
Kogoro snorted. "Hmph. And who's going to pay me for it? I'm feeding you and that freeloader; I'll have you know. Besides, I'm in the middle of a job right now; you know that. I'm tailing that womanizer who's daring to cheat on that beautiful woman."
Conan made a snorting sound but quickly covered it with his tea. Ran gave him a level glare and decided if he wasn't going to be grateful she wouldn't try to help him. Huffing, she got up quickly and started pushing her dishes away, grabbing her bookbag and putting her shoes on before Conan even realized what she was doing. She heard a belated, "Wah! Wait up!" but she dutifully ignored it and power walked her way to school. Stupid Conan. Stupid Shinichi.
"And he didn't even knock on your door?" Sonoko demanded, chopsticks halfway to her mouth. Ran wondered if the other girl noticed that she'd dropped her rice about four minutes ago. The blonde daughter of a major zaibatsu was still inattentive of the fact, busy as she was in "irate girlfriend" mode. Sonoko huffed, actually huffed, as she explosively leaned back in her chair. "The nerve! How decidedly unromantic! Lech!"
"So-no-ko," Ran said plaintively, drawing her friend's name out. "He was probably going to leave a note but got side tracked with Conan-kun and his problems." Yeah, that was it, really; the other idea, the one she constantly toyed with, was too fantastic for words.
"How can you defend him?" Sonoko demanded, blessedly oblivious to her best friend's internal plight. In enthusiasm she slammed her fist down on the table, catching the attention of more than a few of their classmates. "He's dropped off the radar from how many months? He barely calls you for more than five minutes at five week intervals and now he stops by without even seeing you?! It's despicable!"
Ran flushed at the attention of her classmates, but it was a short-lived embarrassment; Sonoko's outbursts were common enough to only ever cause a blip on the radar.
"Just Suzuki bitching about that Kudo-guy."
"Kudo Shinichi, you know, that famous detective?"
"Oh, yeah. I'd about forgotten he even goes here. I haven't seen him in how long? Where is he?"
"Who knows? Probably too good to come to this school anymore. Always was a little cocky."
Ran frowned at the comments; it wasn't the first time she'd heard such talk. Sonoko heard it too, and despite her opinion of one Kudo Shinichi, she saw what the side conversation did to Ran, and in a common but often unnoticed moment of sensitivity, she let the subject drop until after school. Ran offered a smile of thanks, offering a piece of her own boxed lunch as a peace offering. It was these kinds of moments that other people didn't see in her best friend, caught up as they were in her superficial tendencies, her healthy interest in members of the opposite sex, her propensity to gossip, her staggering wealth. Even Shinichi, observant and keen eyed as he was, was not yet emotionally mature enough to see this side of Sonoko.
After school, Sonoko dragged Ran off to the roof. For all that anime and manga made it an isolated spot for lead characters to meet secretly, the roof of Ran's school was actually quite popular. Many a free period was whiled away on the roof even in the frigid winter months. It wasn't until after school, when everyone was in a club, that it saw less action and Sonoko used that to her advantage.
"Ran," she said in a quiet moment of seriousness, "How can you keep pining for him if he keeps hurting you like that?"
The teen was taken aback by the question, uncertain how to answer. She couldn't well share her thoughts and suspicions, irrational as they were - as she kept telling herself. Sighing, she pushed those feelings aside and leaned against the safety railing, remembering their conversation on the phone over the weekend.
"He wants to come back, Sonoko," she said simply, a breeze picking up and running its fingers through her hair. "I don't think he likes the case he's on; he doesn't like how long it's taking, and he doesn't like how it takes him away from home, from me. I... when he called me this weekend, there was so much pain in his voice. Every time I hear it, I can hear the sincerity."
The blond watched her best friend, the far away look on her face as the wind continued to play with her hair. Finally, she sighed and shrugged her shoulders. "He's still an idiot for not seeing you, even to watch you sleep."
Ran smiled at the thought. "Ew, that's creepy," she giggled. "Shinichi the Stalker."
Sonoko laughed outright. "All he needs is a black trench coat and shades."
The image was disturbingly cute, and Ran offered her own giggle. "Hiding behind lampposts and mailboxes."
"Ducking into doorways and around corners!" Sonoko added.
"Reading the paper upside down!" Ran continued, the image becoming more and more distorted until the two were clutching their bellies in giggles.
"Haah," Ran said, holding her ribs. "I needed that!"
Sonoko rubbed at the corner of her eyes, giggles still escaping through her nose. "The famous Kudo Shinichi, caught stalking his girlfriend!"
Ran's face fell slightly, remembering what her classmates had said. "If he keeps working on this case, he won't be famous for much longer."
Sonoko looked up. "What do you mean?"
Turning back around to lean against the railing, Ran looked out over the rail to the elementary building three blocks down where Conan was. "He hasn't been seen in public for a while. Heiji-kun shows up in the news more than he does these days. I'm worried that if this keeps up, he'll fade back to obscurity. I know how much he liked public attention."
Sonoko snorted. "Glory-hogging show off," she scoffed.
Ran shook her head. "No, it's deeper than that." She turned to her friend. "When did he first get media attention?"
The blond shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know, a couple years ago. Why?"
"It was two weeks after his parents left for America."
Sonoko blinked. "Oh?"
Ran smiled, remembering the time. "He loves his parents dearly, don't get me wrong, and I love them too. But they were very rarely at home to begin with, and when he was fourteen they disappeared entirely. His father off and running from his editors, his mother adventuring with him; Shinichi is a little attention starved."
Sonoko snorted at the very thought.
"He is," Ran defended, standing up straight. "He wants people to like him, but he doesn't really know how to go about doing it. He almost got me to hate him when we first met."
"I remember him saying you'd make a great Dr. Watson."
"Saying I was definitely fat enough," Ran corrected, scoffing at the memory. "But when he explained that Watson was Holmes' best friend, that he kept Holmes active and healthy and got him off drugs, well, Watson suddenly seemed like a good guy to play."
"As I recall, you got back at him pretty well."
"Oh yes, he couldn't stand being a Sailor Scout, but that's what you get for being four." Ran smiled again. "He was just so happy that someone would listen to him babble about his interests, he put up with anything I put him through. I swear, he'll do anything to make people happy." The teen leaned back on the railing, watching as the elementary school let out, a sea of small kids crossing the streets. She tried to see if she could spot Conan. "But with other people, he doesn't really know how to handle them. With a strong sense of humanity and a weak sense of social aptitude, he'll take whatever display of affection he can get. The public idolizes him, and he has a substitute for his parents." She gave a small, half laugh. "If he has time to think about it, I'm sure it makes him even more lonely."
Sonoko looked at her best friend, gauging and thinking, before taking a deep breath and putting a smile on. "All right. That's that. I still think he's a jerk and an unromantic bump on a log, but you won't be swayed, so let's see what we can do about cheering you up. Come on, let's go shopping!"
"Sonoko, we went shopping last week," Ran was complaining as Conan trotted up to them. He gave her a hopeful look, but she decided she was too busy with her best friend. "Dad hasn't gotten paid yet for the job he's on, and I really don't want to be embarrassed again."
Sonoko grinned evilly. "Oooh, don't tell me you didn't have dreams of meeting dear Shinichi in that tiny red--"
"SONOKO!!" Ran shouted, her face flushing instantly. "There are kids here!"
The blond laughed outright. "Oh relax, he doesn't know what lingerie is, do you chibi?"
But Conan's face was turning decidedly red as well at the word, and he quickly fell in step behind Ran to hide it, though his teen guardian did see it.
"Anyway, I wasn't talking about clothes shopping, though I do think we should schedule a day to go looking for things for the chibi here. You'd mentioned that you were getting low on rice, right? Why not have me help you with the food shopping! Come on, I can help carry food and the two of us can check out the cute check-out boys!"
Ran gave a flat smile. "Ah, so that's what you want to do to cheer me up," she muttered. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Conan perk up at the comment, before looking down guiltily.
"It's decided, then. Come on, let's go," the blond said, grabbing her best friend by the elbow and pulling them off to the train station.
At the supermarket things went steadily downhill for Ran. It went something like this:
"Ooh, Ran, look at that guy in the gym shorts! Those legs are to die for! Say, Ran, how about having crab?"
"That's too expensive, Sonoko."
"Oh, don't be ridiculous, if you want I'll pay for it. You want crab, don't you, chibi?"
A flat, "No."
"Hmph! Rude little - ah, Ran! Look at these cute little chopstick sets! You could get one for everyone, even Shinichi!"
Then there was,
" 'Oooh! If only Shinichi were here to help me carry the groceries! We could each hold half the bag and walk down the street looking for all the world as if we were a married couple!!' Isn't that right, Ran?"
"Ran-nee-chan, if... if the bags are heavy do you want me to help you carry them?"
"I'm fine Conan-kun."
"Oh, but isn't he cute? He wants to be your husband too! But it's too bad, chibi, you're a little young for her tastes. Anyway, did you see that guy doing the bagging? He was totally hot, don't you think? Hah, I think I've fallen in love... But no! I mustn't be swayed from my beloved Kaitou Kid!"
"Who doesn't even know you exist."
"You shut up, chibi! What do you know?"
This was followed shortly by,
"... and then he said he wasn't interested in a two-timing tripe like her, and she said it served him right for being an insensitive jerk, but then that new boy showed up and said he didn't want anything to do with her if she was going to be that way, and then..."
"Ran-nee-chan, does she ever shut up?"
"Oooh! That brat!"
And so, by the time Ran finally trudged her way home, Conan carrying one giant grocery bag he couldn't see over and she was ready to take a long, hot bath and forget the afternoon had even happened. But of course,
"Ran, it's about time you came home. I'm starving! When's supper?"
Conan beat her to the punch. "Ojii-san! She only just got home; you can't just expect her to get dinner ready by magic. Shouldn't you be helping her?"
"Brat!!" Kogorou said, lunging forward and grabbing Conan by the head, "I don't need you telling me what to do!!" And he pitched Conan, grocery bag and all, across the office and down the hall, foodstuffs spilling everywhere.
Ran decided she'd had enough.
"Mou!!" She gruffly dumped her bags onto the nearest table and leveled a pointed finger at her father. "You just made a mess of all the food I was going to use for tonight's dinner, so now you can pick it all up! You are not getting one drop of beer until it's all off the floor!"
"But," Kogoro said weakly to his daughter, "But..."
Stomping down the hall as her father got to his knees, she bent down and crouched in front of a certain little boy. She noted that one of the cans of soda she's bought had broken open, covering the boy's clothes and the hardwood floor beneath him. "And you," she said in dark tones. It gave her a certain amount of pleasure, she darkly admitted, to see him back up and squirm.
"I-I'm sorry, Ran-nee-chan," he stuttered quickly. "I knew you were still mad and I wanted to do something for you and Ojii-san--"
"And you," Ran said again in much softer tones, "had better get changed before you get too sticky." Pulling out a handkerchief, she wiped the worst of the damage off his forehead. Bending forward, she added, "Thank you for trying to look out for me."
Getting back up, Ran turned from the stunned Conan and went back to commanding her father. "Honestly, Dad, don't you know not to just pile things?" Huffing again, she went back to her grocery bags, digging her arms under them and hefting them to the kitchen. Her bath would have to wait.
It was an hour later before she finally kicked her father out from under foot. Much as Shinichi constantly said the older man should pull his weight, he was truly hopeless in the kitchen, and it was just much easier to do it all herself without Kogoro muttering under his breath, or using salt instead of sugar, or cutting himself trying to dice vegetables. Even Shinichi had been easier to teach cook, though she smiled when she remembered some of the more disastrous first attempts. The first month when his parents left him on his own, she would come to school desperate to find him for fear that the poor detective had given himself food poisoning of some kind, and more than once he would meet her and ask what he'd done wrong as he explained how he'd tried to cook something.
It wasn't that Shinichi was a bad cook, just inexperienced, and perhaps a little too smart for his own good. She watched him try to make dinner once, and realized that he kept thinking it should be simple, and get frustrated when he messed up or wasn't sure of an instruction, which lead him to think he was doing something wrong, going back, and becoming so absorbed in figuring out where he'd gone wrong (when he hadn't even done anything yet!) that something would inevitably burn or be forgotten.
Once she explained that cooking was like solving a mystery, where all the clues had to be gathered and lined up before it could be presented, it came much easier to him.
After she put the sweet potatoes in the oven and set the time, she wiped her hands on her apron and pulled it over her head. Finally, now she would get out of her uniform and into something more comfortable!
The teen turned. "Conan-kun?" she said, looking down. The boy had changed into jean shorts and an oversized sweatshirt.
"I..." he flushed, looking down in embarrassment. "I drew a bath for you," he said simply. "You have to wait for everything to cook, right? So I thought..."
Something in her chest warmed, and Ran crouched down as she so often did, putting a hand on his head before leaning forward and kissing the child's forehead. Her instincts were wrong; there was no way this child... But she pushed the thoughts all aside, again, in favor of acknowledging what this child had done. "That was very thoughtful of you," she said softly, smiling as his suddenly red face.
Standing, she pulled at her necktie and went to enjoy her bath. "You're more thoughtful than that idiot Shinichi," she called out, more to herself than anything else, thoughts dissolving at the idea of a good long soak.
She never heard the soft reply, "That's one way of putting it."
Two days later, Friday morning, Conan gave a great yawn as he trudged into his classroom. After his near-miss with Ran discovering who he was, he had deliberately (and reluctantly) pulled away from his detective work and would need to stay in "little-kid" mode through at least the weekend to keep assuring her that he wasn't who he really was.
But damn if he didn't miss just talking to her. Shinichi and Ran, inseparable childhood friends. Despite their differences, despite how bored Ran could get with his talking of Holmes and mysteries, despite how bored he could get with some of the things Ran was interested in, the two of them could talk about anything for hours on end, even if they'd heard it all before. Shinichi hadn't realized until he was truncated just how much he relied on his time with Ran to decompress from whatever he went through. Gruesome murders that made even his iron stomach turn could be put into perspective after an afternoon with Ran to help him re-center himself.
It wasn't the same, talking with Haibara or even Agasa. Haibara was too cold and focused on whatever the task at hand was, and Agasa's method of dealing with things involved making things blow up in his home. Hattori came close, as the only equal that Shinichi ever really had (who was legal, in any case. Hang-gliding-thieves need not apply...) and if the two of them shared mysteries over the phone or worked a case together, Shinichi would find himself re-centered. But Hattori was all the way down in Osaka and any sort of regular phone calls could ultimately be traced back to one Edogawa Conan.
Shinichi needed Ran, but even his phone calls to her couldn't do what they needed to do. He couldn't talk about what he really needed to talk about for fear of putting her in danger. There were times, like the previous night, when he just lay awake, throwing the pros and cons of telling her around in his mind. Thoughts like: "Is Ran really safe not knowing? Or is the association enough to put her in danger and should she know so she can be keep an eye out for herself?" conflicted with: "I've been lying to her for so long, telling her now would just tear her apart and I don't want to see her that hurt." In the end, his thoughts circled round and round and he got nowhere. But that didn't change the desire to tell her.
Conan yawned again, taking his seat. Haibara walked over and waited patiently while Conan pulled his Conan mask more to the surface and pushed Shinichi back down. Rubbing a smidge of sand out of his eyes, he turned to her. "How's it going?" he asked quietly.
Haibara said nothing. She and Agasa had been working on proper treatments for the drug. Given the hallucinogens it was based off of, the two scientists were fairly certain that the drug would work it's way out of anyone's system. After all, these sorts of drugs created addicts who needed a new fix to keep the high going. It was temporary. But that didn't stop Hiabara and Agasa from coming up with something to alleviate symptoms and ease withdrawal to remove dependency, depending on how potent the damn drug was.
"That bad, huh?" he asked around another yawn.
"Agasa-hakase is taking me on vacation next week."
Conan blinked. "Huh?"
"There's a biochemistry convention down in Kyoto next week and the two of us will be going there." Haibara raised an eyebrow.
Conan nodded. With signs of Them having made this poison, Agasa was making sure that Haibara was well hidden by removing her from Tokyo for a while. It also prevented her from getting exposed to whatever was administering the damn drug to elementary students. No doubt a lot of parents would be taking their children away for a "vacation" to stop the spread of the epidemic. Thus far, the city hadn't been quarantined since the epidemic didn't seem to be transmittable, as the news had pointed out that morning. However, the doctors and the media didn't know yet that this was a poison and not a disease.
"Haibara, I was thinking of visiting Ayumi and Genta after school. Would you like to come along?" To get more samples, went left unsaid.
"No, thank you. I have a project to work on."
The mini detective blinked, his observations tallying up in his brain and raising the volume. "Where's Mitsuhiko?" Don't let him be sick too....
"He was paged down to the office before you arrived."
Thank God. "Ah. Thanks."
Nothing more needed to be said, so Haibara went back to her seat and class began.
Almost two hours later, Conan's volume was rising, as Mitsuhiko still hadn't returned. At the first break he got, he went up to the teacher, easily maneuvering through a class that only had half its students.
"Ne, sensei? Where's Mitsuhiko-kun?"
The teacher looked down and gave a small, sad smile. "With so many students sick," she explained, "the school is setting up some counseling. Mitsuhiko-kun is with the school psychologist right now. Apparently he's been so worried about Ayumi-chan and Genta-kun that he hasn't been eating at home and his parents insisted. He should be back during the next class."
Conan's stomach dropped out from under him. He turned and noted that Haibara was close by, looking in his direction, having overheard everything. The small scientist's eyes glittered with something before she turned and went back to the assignment.
Conan sat down heavily and looked down at his worksheet. Given how much time he'd been investigating everything with Mitsuhiko, he should have noticed. This case was different. People they knew and cared about were the victims. And while Shinichi was old enough to separate what he needed to in order to keep investigating, Mitsuhiko was still just a child. He hadn't developed the coping mechanisms for the more dire aspects of detective work. It was part of the reason why Conan always kept them away from any dead bodies that they (continuously) stumbled across.
Of course all the investigating that he had been doing had shown Mitsuhiko that this illness was deliberate. That someone had purposefully drugged the children of Beika. And of course, Mitsuhiko would be affected. But, like always, Shinichi had plowed ahead, following clue after clue. No body, no harm, right? The diminutive detective could be such a dimwit sometimes.
The door to the classroom slid open and Conan was interrupted from his self-abasing as Mitsuhiko walked in. Conan weaved through the desks and walked right up to his skinny, freckled friend.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
Mitsuhiko gave a small grimace before smiling. "I am well, Conan-kun. Saiko-sensei was wonderfully attentive."
Oh yeah, Saiko-sensei, the school shrink. Saiko was one of the faculty members that Conan kept his head down and avoided. He was the school psychologist back when he'd gone through school the first time round as Shinichi and given how often Shinichi got in trouble with his pranks and attempts to get attention (yes, he did recognize his behavior back then as attention-grabbing, he'd just die before he admitted it to anyone other than himself... or Ran...), he'd been a frequent guest of Saiko's office. To avoid any confusion with being himself, Conan steered clear of the office whenever he could. But those where his own issues. This was about Mitsuhiko at the moment.
So Conan put on his own, small smile. "Did it help? Talking to him?"
"A little, yes," the skinny boy replied. "He did not criticize me for our investigations."
Oh shit, Mitsuhiko, why did you tell him we were investigating? "You mentioned we were investigating?"
"No, I did not mention our current case," Mitsuhiko looked a little put out. "You have told all of us repeatedly that it is best not to mention our mysteries until we are ready to present our findings. Adults will not listen until we have all the facts for them to hear. I spoke of other investigations that the five of us have partaken in."
Shinichi let out a looooong internal sigh of relief.
"Sorry, Mitsuhiko-kun. This case is..."
"Difficult," the freckled boy supplied. "I wish to keep investigating. I would like to know who would hurt our friends and so many other classmates."
Actually, I'd rather keep you as far away from Them as possible, Conan frowned. "I hate to say it, but Ran-nee-chan found out I was investigating. I think we should take a break this weekend and start up again Monday."
"Will that not let the criminals get further away from us?"
"Maybe," Conan gave a large smile. "Or it might give them more time to leave clues."
Mitsuhiko brightened considerably. "Very well. Monday it shall be. Now, what have I missed in class?"
"Edogawa Conan, please come to the office. Edogawa Conan, please come to the office."
Said child looked up from putting away the remains of his lunch and blinked. "Huh?"
Haibara and Mitsuhiko looked at each other and then at Conan.
"Edogawa-kun, what have you done this time?"
"Eh? Conan-kun has done something mischievous enough to be called to the office? Is that not unlike you, Conan-kun?"
"Hey, hey," Conan glared. "Haibara, no need to make jokes."
Mitsuhiko and Haibara smiled unrepentantly. Well, Mitsuhiko smiled; Haibara merely had a gleam in her eyes. Conan let out a sigh and stood. "Mitsuhiko-kun, I'll meet you after school and we'll go visit Ayumi-chan and Genta-kun."
The skinny boy's wide smile softened and he nodded.
So Conan left his lunchbox with his friends, knowing they'd take care of it, and went down the halls to the office to see why he'd been paged. A secretary pulled him through a door into guidance and Conan started to worry. He avoided this area. And, sure enough, the secretary knocked on Saiko's door and the psychologist waved Conan right in.
Saiko was an old pro, someone who had been at the school for pushing on twenty years, to say nothing of the experiences he had before being hired. His hair was receding, but his brown eyes remained friendly and sharp. Conan pushed his glasses up his nose in a vain attempt to emphasize the difference between his current identity and when he'd first been in Saiko's office over ten years ago after fingerprinting his entire grade (and teachers) with permanent marker.
"Hello--" he paused, pretending he didn't know the name.
"Bakekatsuwagawa Saiko. Please call me Saiko-sensei, I know my family name can be a bear to say."
The psychologist smiled and closed the door behind him for privacy. "Shall we sit down?" he said, indicating the large cushy beanbags in a corner, ones that little kids can never really refuse.
Conan sat down, desperately trying to call up any knowledge he had of grief counseling and how a child of his apparent age was supposed to act, and keeping in mind the personality that the administrators of the school saw.
So he hopped into one of the beanbags smiled brightly, and asked, "What's up?"
Saiko gave a warm and gentle smile. "We've never really had a chance to talk, Conan-kun."
Damn straight, and there's a good reason for that...
"I know that two of your friends were the first to fall to this sickness that's sweeping through your classmates. I just wanted to check in with you."
Conan looked down and adjusted his glasses again, trying to figure a way out of this without revealing too much about himself. About the only thing he could think of for a response was the truth.
"I want them back."
The psychologist gave a small, sympathetic smile. "I know you do. So does Mitsuhiko-kun. And your teachers and all the parents. You're not alone, Conan-kun."
"I know," Conan said, trying to look appeased. "Ran-nee-chan will be taking me and Mitsuhiko-kun to see Ayumi-chan and Genta-kun today." Best method of attack, chatter. Little kids sometimes just couldn't stop chattering. "Kojima-ojii-san called last night. Genta-kun and Ayumi-chan were moved to a different part of the hospital so we can go visit. We couldn't before."
"Oh?" Saiko asked with a confused raise of an eyebrow. "I recall Mitsuhiko-kun telling me that you lucked out in getting to see them when Ayumi-chan was taken to ICU. He was rather jealous and regretted going home so early."
URHG! Just because Mitsuhiko-kun hasn't talked about the investigation we're doing apparently doesn't mean he wasn't talking about what I was doing. He didn't know I was getting samples for Haibara. Conan, after a long time of difficult practice, kept all his panic and fast thinking hidden behind a small childish smile. "Yeah, wasn't that great? Ah, but if Mitsuhiko-kun feels jealous maybe I shouldn't have gone in to see our friends." Come on, take the sidetracking....
"Conan-kun, just because you received an opportunity that Mitsuhiko-kun didn't doesn't mean you should feel guilty about it. Things happen beyond your control. Yes, it is unfortunate that Mitsuhiko-kun did not get the same chance as you, but just because you have an opportunity that someone else doesn't, doesn't mean you should hold back. If you hold back you'll miss many things that could occur in your life."
Goooooooood psychologist, Conan let out a breath of relief. Time to continue the roll of putting others ahead of himself. It was something that Shinichi wasn't known for; Shinichi was cocky and arrogant, even as a kid. Saiko would remember Shinichi as someone who would think of himself first and how his decisions affected others as a distant second. Conan, however, would come across as the exact opposite. A perfect cover.
"But Saiko-sensei, isn't that awfully selfish? Isn't being selfish a bad thing?"
Saiko gave another friendly smile, completely fooled by Conan's innocent and childish question. After all, children had a difficult time seeing things in shades of grey; life was either black or white. It wasn't until their teenage years that people started questioning both sides of an issue. Conan thanked his brain for having him study child psychology after he was compacted to better play the part of a child.
"You'll find, Conan-kun, that sometimes it is okay to be a little selfish. Being selfish is only a bad thing if you are never selfless. When you think of only yourself and never consider others, that's when you become a hurtful person. But always putting others first will hurt yourself. You don't want to be hurt, do you, Conan-kun?"
"No," Conan mumbled, utterly pleased with the divergence.
"Good. So don't feel bad if you have an opportunity that someone else doesn't, alright?"
Saiko gave a small, warm smile, and leaned back into his beanbag chair, stretching his back. Conan noted that Saiko's age was probably making it more difficult to use this method of talking "levelly" with the kids.
"Are you hurting, Saiko-sensei?"
Warm eyes looked over at Conan and gave an embarrassed smile. "I'm not as young as I used to be, Conan-kun. Would you mind if I were to sit in the chair?"
"Nope!" he replied brightly. Then he bit back a yawn.
Saiko settled himself into his chair with a contented sigh. Noting Conan's not-yawn, he asked, "Conan-kun, are you getting enough sleep?"
Argh. How many syndromes does "lack of sleep" fall under and how do I convince him that lack of sleep is just lack of sleep and not an underlying issue...
"Yeah, I guess."
"Your teachers have mentioned that you're often yawning in class, to the point of getting other students to yawn. Mitsuhiko commented that when you're investigating something, you never stop until you've finished your case. Are you investigating something now?"
Deep inside Conan, he fumed and railed. Saiko had always been perceptive, but it seemed that age had honed that skill, much to Conan's frustration. Either he admitted investigating something (but what?) or the lack of sleep could lead to questioning about some sort of syndrome or disorder. He couldn't use the Shonen Tantei group as an excuse because Mitsuhiko was part of the group and hadn't let anything on about an investigation.
"Well of course I'm investigating," Conan said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Ojii-san is a detective and I always try and help him with his investigating." Conan paused and screwed his face up in confusion. "Is it bad to help Ojii-san?"
Saiko grinned with a small look of relief. Hah. Take that. I'm a normal, curious little boy. I'm trying to help the people I'm with the same way any kid would try and help their parents in something that was interesting for them. So there!
"No, Conan-kun, it isn't bad to help someone out. Just remember that you need your sleep as well. What is your Ojii-san investigating?"
Like I'm telling you. "I can't tell you!" he chirped. "Ojii-san says that it would break the promise he makes with his clients. He promises to be private, so he won't tell anyone."
"But he's the Great Sleeping Kogoro, isn't he?"
"Yup!" Gah! Do I have to sound so proud of him??
"Doesn't he always tell everything to the police? To the authorities?"
Oh, so you think you can fool me with that, do you? Sorry, no way, no how, Saiko-sensei. "Of course! Because when he investigates a crime that's what you're supposed to do."
"So he tells someone when they are supposed to know."
"Then what about me, Conan-kun? I'm worried about you. I'm worried about all the students in this school during such a difficult time. It's the police's job to know about crime so that they can take action to prevent it or give out consequences. My job is to try and make sure all the students here are healthy. But to do that I need information. You're entitled to secrets, but sometimes it's not a good idea to keep them. Do you understand?"
Saiko-sensei, you'd probably have a heart attack after just hearing one of my secrets. You're not getting a thing out of me. "Yup! If anything bad happens, I'll let you know!"
The balding man gave a small sigh, but he still gave a friendly smile. "That's all I can ask of you, Conan-kun. I'm going to give your guardians a call to make sure you get enough sleep. My office is always open for you."
No thanks, I'll go back to hiding in my classroom now.
Conan tried not to look too happy that he was getting the hell out of there.
When the final bell rang, it had startled Conan awake. The detective trapped as a boy hadn't even realized he'd dozed off for the last hour of school, but he felt better for it; his eyes were burning less, and there was an alertness he didn't remember having before. He pounded the halls with hundreds of other students to the footlockers where he pulled off his school scuffs and pulled out his beloved sneakers. He stared at them a moment, wishing he could use them to soccer-ball someone into the next week, but alas he had no one to attach the label "distributor" to other than the horrific visages of Gin and Vodka.
Sighing, he pushed that thought away violently as he laced himself up and pulled his backpack over his shoulders. Letting the flow of student traffic carry him outside, he paused at the gate and turned back to the school (only after giving a dark glare at the building across the street and whatever anonymous stalker had tried to follow him there) to see if he could spot Mitsuhiko. It would be good for him to visit with Genta and Ayumi, and it might relieve the pit of anxiety that was still in his stomach over this whole ordeal.
Stupid Shinichi, angsting over everything won't help, don't be the idiot Ran thinks you are. Don't blame her; between never having a chance to call her to being away all the time to freaking her out a few days ago with my notes, it's a miracle she wants anything to do with an insensitive clout like me. Ergh, what did you just say about the angst? Suck it up and deal, Kudo, don't be a baby.
Conan sucked in a deep breath and tried to shake the negative feelings off himself.
"Are you feeling cold, Conan-kun?" Mistuhiko asked, strolling up to him. He held a wrapped article in his hands. "With the late autumn breeze the temperature can sometimes feel quite chilly."
"Not really," the shrunken detective replied, pulling himself from the gate he'd been leaning against. "Come on, let's go to the hospital and see how Genta-kun and Ayumi-chan are doing."
"Yes! It will raise our spirits to the utmost!" The freckled boy bounced ahead, backpack jiggling with his movements. Conan jogged after him.
"Hey, what's that in your hands?" he asked, eyeing the present in the boy's hand.
"I know not!" Mitsuhiko said, his face and posture suddenly becoming haughty. "It was a present bestowed upon my footlocker!" He preened as if that explained everything. Conan just blinked.
Mitsuhiko became suddenly agape in shock. "Conan-kun, do you not know? Do you not see? It is a present from a girl!!"
"... And how does that follow?" Conan replied, flat faced as he began to realize where this was going.
"Is it not obvious?" Mitsuhiko asked in shocked indignation. "Why, in every manga in existence, a girl who likes a boy will secretly bestow some kind of gift to said boy, in erstwhile secret so that the boy can be unaware of her identity; but because of the thoughtfulness and care taken in the choice and delivery of the gift, the boy learns the identity and the two fall in love! Conan-kun, when I solve this mystery I will know whom my wife will be! Haah," he sighed in contentment as he clutched the wrapped article to his chest. "I dare not even guess yet as to who has fallen in love with me. I hold little hope that it is Ayumi-chan, still in the hospital as she is..." his face fell briefly, but his shook it off as Conan had done earlier. "But there is one other that I dare hope for! If it is she, then I will no doubt be guaranteed a life of fulfillment and happiness!"
Conan finally stopped walking, his flat stare even flatter, and ironic grin of disbelief twisting his mouth. "You actually believe that?" he managed to ask.
"One is a fool if one does not!!" Mitsuhiko squawked; enraged at the mere thought that someone didn't.
Even with this second childhood I will never understand kids, Conan decided. Against Mitsuhiko's conviction, the abbreviated youth could only shrug his shoulders. "You can't figure it out if you don't open it," he said simply.
"You are correct!" And with reckless abandon Mitsuhiko proceeded to rip open the gift and walk at the same time. Conan, if nothing else, appreciated the boy's ability to do two physically demanding things at once. It was proof of potential, if nothing else.
Once the wrapping paper was savagely eviscerated and discarded, Mitsuhiko held his prize up for all the world to see. "Is it not wonderful?" he beamed. Conan looked at the beginner's chemistry set and raised an eyebrow.
"It's certainly appropriate for you," the boy muttered.
"It is! And so is the person who sent it!!" Mitsuhiko replied, already trying to rip the heavy plastic casing off. True to form, it bent and groaned under the pressure, but did not give.
"You already know who gave it to you?" Conan asked, watching in near-mute interest at the boy's sheer enthusiasm. They paused at a corner as a light turned. A teenager pushed the button to grant the pedestrian's passage.
"Of course! Only Haibara-san has an interest in science that equals mine, and so she is the only likely candidate! Oh, we will be happy, Conan-kun, just you wait and see!"
Struggling, Mitsuhiko finally admitted defeat and pulled out a small pocketknife (the boy was a regular Japanese Boy Scout whenever the Detective Boys went on a treasure hunt) and serrated the offensive plastic until it at last lost the war. With the tear, Mitsuhiko grabbed the two ends and pulled, trying to force the rip to open further and free the coveted chemistry set. Sweaty palms slipped, Conan observed, and the heavy plastic casing twisted out of Mitsuhiko's hands, thumping to the ground.
Conan's eyes snapped back up to Mitsuhiko, something making them widen as he saw the boy holding the base of his palm. "I have cut myself," the freckled youth muttered, licking the tiny wound while pulling out a handkerchief to apply pressure. Conan's senses heightened, his eyes entering hi definition and his ears flipping to surround sound as the little television in the back of his head had the invisible remote stolen from him and set to full volume. Synapses fired back and forth in his brain in rapid fire succession, mental pictures of Genta and Ayumi, the cuts on their hands and wrists, the plastic casings in their rooms, the plastic casings they'd seen in other rooms when they had done their investigating nearly a week ago, going door to door, and it all fit together.
"Mitsuhiko!" Conan shouted in alarm, grabbing the boy's wrist and yanking back under his scrutiny.
"Uwah, Conan-kun, what--"
"You've just been poisoned!!"
... Holy shit what?
"Conan-kun," Mitsuhiko whimpered, "You're scaring me."
"Those bastards; it's so obvious! Why didn't I see it when we searched Genta's and Ayumi's rooms! They both had plastic casings that held treasured things: the Yaiba stuffed doll, that weird trophy box, and in the apartments! There were similar cases in the other apartments! And both Genta and Ayumi had cuts on their hands. It was a blood-borne pathogen, we knew that much, and the best way to do that is to give the kids a cut that wouldn't be thought about. The plastic is probably coated in that tropane alkaloid concoction, and even then, full symptoms won't display for several days. Mitsuhiko-kun! We have to get you to a hospital!!"
The freckled boy was actually shaking. "C-Conan-kun... I feel fine..."
"You won't! You'll have the symptoms of a cold by the end of the day. Oh, I'm such an idiot for not figuring it out sooner, the kids probably all found presents like that in their shoe-lockers! Come on! We have to get you to a hospital!"
Conan shouting explicative after explicative and tugging on the petrified Mitsuhiko.
"Boys, boys, is there a problem here?" Officer Takagi asked, crouching down to their level.
"Yes there is!" Conan said in clipped but panicked tones. "This boy has just been poisoned with a propane alkaloid concoction, it's the same thing that's making all the kids at Beika Elementary sick, we have to get him to the hospital now before symptoms start manifesting!"
Officer Takagi simply stared, wide eyed. Oh, it was what an adult cop would be expected to do when a seeming seven-year-old just gave him orders like that, but there really wasn't much acting involved.
"I'm serious," Conan insisted. "He was cut on the plastic and--"
Takagi held up a hand, making his eyes narrow and gauging.
Kudo growled, actually growled in frustration as realization that he wouldn't be listened to sunk in, and Takagi watched the wheels turn at what he assumed to be maximum speed in the boy's head as he tried to come up with an excuse. Fumbling himself, the faux cop quickly had one pop into his head, and he let his face light up in recognition.
Conan blinked for only a split second and seized upon the opportunity. "Yes! That's right, he's been looking at this case in his spare time and he thinks this is a case of poisoning, not disease, so we need to get Mitsuhiko-kun to a hospital and--"
Officer Takagi turned to Mitsuhiko and eyed him. "How are you feeling, boy?"
There was no doubt that the freckled youth was scared out of his mind, he was shaking and pale, trails of sweat tickling his forehead. "I'm," his voice cracked, "I feel fine."
The officer nodded, and turned to offer his back. "Better to be safe than sorry, right? Let's prove your friend wrong."
He saw the grimace on Conan's face, but the sad fact was there was no helping it. He had a role to play, and this was the best he could do. Mitsuhiko reluctantly climbed onto Officer Takagi's back, and the boy disguised as a man nodded to the boy trapped as a child before boldly crossing a busy street, holding up a hand to the oncoming traffic, letting his uniform do the talking.
"The radio's broken," Takagi offered when he saw Conan's suspicious glances at the aforementioned item. "I'm technically off duty, I was going to go to a repair shop; precinct budget cuts won't service them in house anymore." And, depending what precinct you worked, that was actually true, and Conan seemed to know this.
It was a six block hike to the hospital, all uphill, of course, but Takagi's uniform helped a lot, people naturally parted when an officer asked them to step aside, and it was amazing how quickly traffic came to a stop to accommodate a man with a whistle and white gloves.
"Ah, here we are, Conan-kun," Officer Takagi offered to the still-shaking Mitsuhiko. When he swung his head around to glance at the freckled boy, he couldn't hold in a gasp as he realized how pale the boy had suddenly become. That could be explained away with fear, but the glassy, dilated eyes could not, and Takagi realized that Conan was right.
Not that he doubted it, but seeing it happening as the teen-toddler predicted was always a little unnerving.
"Mitsuhiko-kun!" Conan said, alarm coloring his tones. Takagi hitched the sick boy higher up on his back and maneuvered to open the door to the hospital. Lengthening his stride, he bee-lined to the first desk he saw.
"I'm an officer of Beika Headquarters Police," he said with authority. "We've been investigating the poisoning of the children at Beika Elementary and we have reason to believe that this child has just been infected with propane alkaloids, and will soon be experiencing hallucinations. I need you to test him and treat him, and test this as well." He held up the plastic container Kudo had accused and slammed it on the desk. The nurse clerk looked at him in shock. "Well?" he demanded, deepening his voice and raising it to turn a few heads. "What are you waiting for? This is top priority!"
"Propane alkaloids you say?" a man in a white lab coat said, jogging up.
"Yes," Takagi repeated, shifting the now obviously sick Mitsuhiko into his arms. "Every child that has gotten sick has received a package wrapped in heavy plastic like this," he gestured to the offensive item, "and we have reason to believe that that is the cause of this epidemic. Now get this kid to ER before more symptoms start manifesting!"
The lab rat pulled the phone from the desk and went on the intercom, calling all doctors, as it were, while snatching the plastic at the same time. Within seconds, it seemed, doctors were swarming the three, pulling the petrified Mitsuhiko onto a portable bed and rolling him into ER, Takagi and Kudo trailing behind, following the mob into a cubicle. Timing it on his watch, Takagi watched no less the four vials of blood were taken from the boy, a PICC line inserted into his elbow and sensors set up to monitor him, swabs taken from the cut on his palm (at Kudo's prompting), and a mild sedative administered before Mitsuhiko choked on his panic; all in fifteen minutes. After the initial swarm, though, it wasn't long before it was just the three of them: Takagi, Conan, and the sedated Mitsuhiko.
Takagi saw the circles under the boy's eyes, and realized that Conan had not been sleeping.
"He's not the only one you know who's sick, is he?" he asked, keeping his voice soft. The flick of clouded blue eyes in his direction was the only acknowledgement he received. "What else does Sleeping Kogoro know?"
Conan's face froze for a moment, his jaw clenching along with his fists, and under the mask Takagi realized the shrunken detective knew a lot more.
"Not much else," the boy churned out slowly. This was more than his groupies getting sick, something was making this much more personal.
"Conan-kun, I'm just following orders," he said in deep tones, offering a hint of himself, "Been on the force only 1-2 months, I've been told by Commissioner that if you or his kids made a suggestion, we should follow it. So? You have a suggestion?"
"His parents need to be called," Conan said, energy having been sucked out of his voice. "Ran, too."
Takagi couldn't let that slip catch him. "'Ran'?"
That seemed to bring the Conan back to pace. "Oh, I mean Ran-nee-chan," he fixed, a patchy little-boy voice coloring his tones. "I lived in America for a while, so sometimes I forget."
"Hello, Mouri Detective Agency."
"Hello, I'm looking for Mouri Ran."
The girl at the other end audibly started. "Ah, where's Conan-kun? Is he alright?"
"Er, yes, he is, but his friend is not, or rather, we're unsure if he is."
"Just say what you mean!" Ran cried out, making Takagi pull the phone away from his ear. Conan looked on and winced, turning away in shame. "I went to meet them to go visit his friends at the hospital but he never showed and I'm so worried!"
"Calm down, Mouri-kun," Takagi said in placating tones. "We're at the hospital now, so you can come and see him. His friend..." the officer paused, turning around looking for the freckled boy's name even though he already knew it.
"Mitsuhiko-kun," Conan offered in exhausted tones. He was still pacing the ER ward.
"... His friend Mitsuhiko-kun cut himself on some plastic, and the boy, Conan-kun, was pretty upset. I brought them to the hospital to make sure it was nothing serious." "But he's okay?" she demanded.
"Yeah, if you count pacing the room okay."
"Oh, thank goodness! I was so worried!!" And there was the hitch of breath that signified tears. Good god, Takagi was squirming in his shoes! "I'll be right there!" she said, and blessedly hung up. Safe! Takagi let out a sigh of relief he didn't need to fake, and turned back to the kid, only to see the diminutive detective to be long gone.
"Fine, then," Takagi said in even tones. "Stick with me kid, you might learn something." He went back to the ward with Mitsuhiko and looked at the nurse. "I hate to impose," he said genially.The nurse flushed involuntarily batted her eyelashes. Score! "But since we're investigating this poisoning case would it be possible to forward the test results to me? Without patient names, of course, to protect their privacy."
"Oh, I don't know, I'll see what I can do," the nurse said demurely, still batting her lashes. She finished running her checks and disappeared with a backward glance at the handsome young officer.
Having said that, it was over an hour before a doctor came in.
When the doctor finally did show, he offered many placating phrases and expressions of sympathy, but absolutely no hint of giving information. Both them were glaring when he left, but that was as far as either of them got before another teen, this time a girl, appeared.
Conan's face betrayed longing and regret and a dozen other emotions and didn't even squawk when Ran picked him up to hug him. The sense of distance and anticipation and hopelessness was too personal .With her here, Conan was set for a while, and so takagi silently disappeared into the background, and then from the hospital.
The embrace was so sudden, so warm, and so Ran that Shinichi almost gave in completely. Almost. The boy turned a deep breath and started to squirm, a child's sign that enough was enough. He very nearly pulled her back, but well-worn reminders kept him from relying on her too much. He had to stay hidden, and to do that he had to stay alone.
"Conan-kun," Ran said, kneeling down to his level. "What happened? Do we know if Mitsuhiko-kun is hurt badly?"
It took a moment for Shinichi to parse what she had said, parts of his brain were working overtime while others were struggling to keep up with things. "Uh..." he started intelligently. "He's been poisoned; he's sick like the others." Even in his own ears his voice sounded hollow, and he winced as he saw the look of horror appear on Ran's face.
"What?! Are they sure?"
If they're not, they will be... "... Yeah."
"Oh, Conan-kun!" Ran drew him to her again, but he ducked out from under it, unable to stand the idea of being so near her and so far at the same time.
"I'm... I'm tired," he said; and it was true.
Ran offered a look so filled with sympathy, so filled with compassion, so filled with love (but not the kind of love he wanted to see) that Shinichi turned away, stuffing his hands in his pockets and desperate to not think about what he was turning his back on. Mute, he left the sedated Mitsuhiko and trudged out to the main thoroughfare of the ER. The parents had arrived, and Shinichi took a deep breath and walked up to them. The father recognized him and looked down.
"... I'm sorry," Shinichi, no, Conan said simply. He stepped around them and left the ER, leaving Ran hurrying to catch up. Finding an elevator, Conan reached up to push the button, listening to the gears and hydraulics lifting or dropping the elevator to their current floor. He heard the ping and stepped in before the door even opened halfway, Ran right behind him. He reached up to press the appropriate floor key, but realized he was too short to do so. Thoughts darkening, Ran interceded and pressing the floor button.
"Conan-kun," she said softly, kneeling down to his level. God, how he hated that she had to do that. "Conan-kun, this isn't your fault; you don't have to put so much on yourself, okay? There's no need for you to apologize."
Shinichi started to say, "But I didn't--" but caught himself and struggled to stay as Conan. But I didn't figure it out in time, and now he's sick because of me.
Stroking his hair, Ran smiled. "What am I going to do with you?" she said gently.
You can call me Stupid Shinichi before kissing me senseless to make me feel better. But even that thought was trudged back down where it had come from, Shinichi fighting the blush that that particular thought had generated. Scowling, the elevator pinged and opened, giving the faux grade-schooler an excuse to get out of Ran's wonderful proximity. A dim corner of his mind wondered what Ran would say if she realized the kind of thoughts "Conan-kun" had about his "nee-chan."
Not thinking about that. Takagi. Think about Takagi. Yes, that sounded much more productive.
This wasn't a challenge; it was likely a true mistake. No one knew (outside of Hattori, at least) that Conan kept those kinds of lists.
His last kid was sick...
Shinichi shook his head.
Navigating the halls and looking for the room number, Conan finally entered Ayumi's room. It was late afternoon, now, and there weren't many visiting hours left. The boy paused, looking up over the height of the bed to see that the female member of the Detective Boys was sleeping, chest moving up and down in slow rhythm. Her color was much better than when she had checked into the ICU, and aside from one IV in her elbow, one would never have thought that she was sick.
The girl stirred, and one bleary but decidedly clear eye opened. "Conan-kun?" she asked sleepily.
Said boy hopped up onto the bed and took her hand. "Ah, I'm here," he said evenly.
"Why'm I 'n the hosp't'l?"
His eyes widened when the question sunk in.
"You were very sick, Ayumi-chan," Ran said, bending over Conan's head, and the boy startled at her presence, having forgotten she was there.
"Ayumi-chan, you don't remember anything?" Conan asked in a low, Shinichi-like voice.
"I caught a cold," she slurred, eyes closing again. "'n I wen' to sleep..."
Her breathing evened out again, and Conan's synapses were firing back and forth again. Ran was reaching over to do something comforting, but he spun away and marched purposefully out the room, hooking a left and a right before he could find the next room he wanted to visit.
Genta was wide awake, apparently, holding a Nintendo DS and scribbling on it wildly. "C'mon, Link, come on! No, not that way! Stupid boomerang."
"Genta-kun," Conan started, and the giant boy whipped around.
"Ah! Conan-kun! Tell me you brought snacks! The food here's way too healthy!"
"... Ah..." Rummaging in his pockets, he pulled out a few pieces of hard candy bites, only to have them snatched out of his hand by a disapproving Ran.
"Hey, no fair! You already have Conan-kun, can't I get the sweets?"
Ran could only offer an indignant "Hmph!" while Conan blushed furiously. Shaking his head from those particular thoughts, he coughed. "Genta-kun, listen to me, this is important: What's the last thing you remember before waking up in the hospital?"
The large boy frowned, crossing his arms and tilting his head in a somewhat stereotypical gesture of thought. "Mm, I was playing Zelda on my DS, I think."
Genta snorted. "I was home sick, what'd'ya think?"
"You don't remember anything after that?"
"Nah, not really. Why? 'S it important?"
They don't remember... None of them remember the delirium... It made for interesting food for thought. Presuming that the Organization was testing the drug, a logical supposition given that they were only poisoning children, then that would imply that they would be tracking the symptoms the same way he and Haibara were; similarly, they would be drawing conclusions and refining the drug...
Shit, they were using the kids as guinea pigs, just watching them suffer and taking notes while they made a bigger, better drug to make people suffer! And old, familiar panic worked its way up his stomach, and he couldn't contain a violent gasp of a reaction when something touched his shoulder. Blinking rapidly, he realized he was staring at an equally startled Ran who had been reaching out to him and a confused Genta.
"Y'okay, Conan-kun? Are you getting sick, too?"
Ran's expression became as panicked as his, and Conan had to think quickly.
"No, no," he placated, allowing himself a large yawn. "I'm just tired, I think. I should have visited earlier. Ran-nee-chan, can we go home?"
"Y-yes, yes we can, Conan-kun." Ran offered her hand, and Conan mutely took it, nodding goodbye to Genta before letting himself be led. His mind was spinning in chaotic thoughts of poison and research and experimentations and Black and Alcohol and shadowy figures and guns and murder and mayhem and evil and shrinking and pain and loneliness and hiding and...
Not thinking about that; decidedly NOT thinking about that! NOT thinking about Mitsuhiko-kun sedated in a hospital bed, NOT thinking about Ayumi-chan and Genta-kun being there too, NOT thinking about the Black Organization and its role behind putting them all in the hospital, NOT thinking about how this could very well be my fault if they've found me and are punishing me for being alive, NOT thinking about how they're trying to break me before they kidnap me and torture me for information before killing me, Ran, and everyone else even remotely associated with me. No, NOT thinking about any of this, not thinking about anything at all, not...
Conan's eyes finally slipped closed, and shear exhaustion overtook him. He hadn't even been aware that he had been led all the way to the taxi and was riding in one.
Ran watched his fall into a fitful sleep, and ran her fingers through his hair, wishing she could do more.
It was well after midnight. Two shadowy figures met in an abandoned office with only the moonlight to offer any differentiation between shadows. They briefly shook hands and eased into well-cushioned office chairs.
"Mr. dealer, it's been a while," said the figure who stayed in the darkness.
A shadowy figure swiveled in the moonlight, taking off a black fedora and rubbing a black-gloved hand over a bald and aged face.
"I've been checking in on my distributor up in Hokkaido. It's colder up there and there've been problems in testing since long sleeves and sweaters are hampering the method you've been using here and in other experimental populations."
The figure in darkness offered a glint of teeth. "Granted. I've not run into such issues."
Dealer leaned further back into his chair, the moonlight giving a soft reflection off his sunglasses. "There have been other issues in your distribution."
"The media. It's known all over Japan about this 'mysterious illness' that's infecting Beika's children. I told you to lengthen out your choosing of test subjects."
A barely seen shrug of shoulders. "Given my position, if things work out well, I'll actually be able to publish about the affects of this. Not for a few years, granted, nor will I leak anything out about you or your organization."
"You won't," Dealer agreed with a stout nod. "Because you won't publish anything."
The figure in the darkness said nothing, but his pause had a questioning note to it before the figure finally said, "Ah, but my research wouldn't be on the actual drug. You know my chosen field; that's why you had me chose your experimental sample here in Beika."
"Precisely. You can be removed from that position very easily."
A wince in shadows.
"Back off. With media attention, there is an investigation. We don't want anyone to know that this is a drug, nor do we want anyone figuring out how to combat the compound. This experiment can't be compromised by outside influences." Dealer gave a cold smile and scratched his bald head once more. "Now that we understand one another, what are some of the results of this drug?"
The shadowed figure gave a small shudder. "All hallucinations fall along the same line. A dark figure is trying to take something in their lives and they react violently as a result. Children are such selfish beings; it's hardly a surprise that their hallucinations are spin-offs of self-aggrandizing fantasies where they take their pretend play to the ultimate level. Does this hold true for the other age groups?"
"That's not for you to know. Your job is the distribution and collection of data here in Beika."
A slight nod. "There have been a few physical side-effects not foreseen. Cold- or flu-like symptoms. And dry skin, to the point of flaking."
Dealer nodded. "Anything else?"
The figure in darkness hesitated. "There is a boy who is associated with that Sleeping Detective. Apparently I've put a few of his friends into the hospital with this."
The shades lowered and a cold glare of black eyes froze the room. "Is that detective investigating?"
"No. I spoke with him. He complains that there's no client in it to pay him. But that boy might push with so many of his friends hospitalized."
"This is why you should have spaced things out. Now you have to take care of it."
The shadowy figure leaned forward. "How?"
"Your tracks are sufficiently covered; no one will trace it back to you. So drug the boy, make that detective worry over him, then stop all distributions. You have no evidence that links you, so you leave it alone. For months. Go about life normally. Then go back to the experiment slowly. And listen when I tell you slowly."
"An interesting method. With the detective occupied with ensuring his charge is healthy, he won't have time to investigate. And when he does, there will be nothing for him to follow. Maybe I can do a study on him...."
"No, you idiot." Dealer stood to his full height, eyes still glaring ice. The build of the man in the black hat and overcoat was muscular, though age was written clearly on his face. "You leave them alone in order to stay hidden. If you insert yourself, a detective takes notice. If you're going to be like that, it would be easier to just wipe out the whole family: the detective, the boy, whoever else is there."
"Oh come now," the shadowed figure replied. "They're far too interesting to not study. I'll do as you say. The detective will be distracted."
Dealer put on his fedora and lifted his shades once more. "One day, your fascination of case studies will leave you high and dry. You're just a distributor. An easy expenditure that can be replaced."
A sigh. "When will I see you next?"
"I'll let you know. For now, I have a plane to catch to Osaka."
After almost three weeks of fretting and worrying, there was one high school student who was actually excited that it was Tuesday. Tuesday. Not even the middle of the week, when the usual grind of school started wearing one down as the blessed weekend lay so far out of reach. A Tuesday was a day for rejoicing.
Because it meant that one dark-skinned detective was able to take his childhood friend home from the hospital.
Heiji had skipped school for this. (Though, really, his teachers knew and understood.) Kazuha's parents were at home making a surprise party ready, something small so as not to wear her out, but before Heiji had left to go get his aikido-master, he had seen Kazuha's mother putting a cake in the oven. The Osakan detective's parents were also over, helping to prepare and discuss how much better Kazuha had been doing.
It had started almost three weeks previously. Heiji and Kazuha were arguing on their way home, as was normal, calling one another "Ahou!" when Heiji remarked that she should probably stay home since it looked like she was starting to get sick. Kazuha, naturally, denied it, saying she was just fine. It wasn't her fault that her skin was drying out so quickly and that her preparation for an upcoming aikido match was leaving her so tired.
But that was when things had gotten scary. In mid-sentence, Kazuha had stopped, staring at Heiji but no longer seeing him. Whatever she had said following that, Heiji didn't remember, because Kazuha had suddenly come at him, in full aikido-form, to try and take him down. It was only through the dark-skinned detective's quick reflexes that he didn't get pounded into the ground and the only way he had stopped her was when she had sneezed. It had provided enough of an opening for Heiji to break her stance and tackle her to the sidewalk. She had struggled weakly after that and had only recognized Heiji after he had called her an "Ahou!" with a voice cracking in fear.
During her hospitalization, Heiji had visited her every day. Doing his homework in her room, ignoring the whole family-only policy in ICU, and avoiding any calls for help from the police in lieu of just being by her side. She had gone through four more hallucinations during her stay, but after a week and a half, she improved enough to be moved to a regular room. She had returned to herself after that and hadn't really remembered anything of her hallucinations or even the days prior to her hospitalization.
But none of that mattered to Heiji as he smiled as brightly as the clear autumn sun. She was coming home. That made all the difference in the world. After three weeks of hell, nothing could be better than this.
He parked his motorcycle in the parking garage and made his way inside to collect his precious charge.
"They sent 'n ahou like you t' take me home? I thought m 'dad had more sense 'an that."
Heiji let Kazuha's grumbling wash over him as he handed her a small bouquet. She smiled softly, still looking a tad pale.
The detective tried not to blush.
"Are m' parents okay? They didn't catch this thin', did they?"
"Naw, they're fine. Ahou, whaddya think they're doin'? They grabbed my folks 'n' they're gettin' ready for yer grand return."
Kazuha gave a small laugh. "Then we'd better not disappoint. C'mon."
A nurse arrived to wheel Kazuha out of the hospital and to Heiji's bike. Upon seeing the mode of transportation, however, the nurse frowned. Kazuha, however, was thrilled.
"Oh, Heiji! How'd ya know I wanted t' go home on yer bike?"
"You, stuck in there," he jerked his thumb back to the building they'd just left, "fer almost three weeks? Didja think I'm stupid?"
Kazuha said nothing, smiling and giggling like a little girl as she grabbed the offered helmet. "Aw!" she pouted briefly, thwacking his arm, "ya went 'n' got a side-car? I'm not gonna break y'know!"
"Don't blame me!" Heiji gave a mild growl. "Yer folks insisted if I was gonna take you home."
The aikido-master offered a grumbled opinion what her parents could do with the side-car, but she took the helmet and eased into it. Once seated, she gave out a small sigh.
"Yeah. Just a little... winded." Kazuha scowled down at herself. "It's gonna take forever ta get myself back inta shape. 'n' I missed my match."
Heiji swung a leg over the bike and leaned down, putting an arm around her thin shoulders.
"Hey, no bein' mad on acounta that. Yer still here so no cryin' over spilled milk."
"Okay," she mumbled, leaning into his arms briefly. "Take me home?"
Heiji rather deliberately took the long way home, taking side streets and areas with more stop-and-go traffic. It gave him a chance to lean over and see how his passenger was doing, plus it was a little easier on her rather than going at highway speeds. Of course, when Kazuha asked why, he told her that it gave their parents more time to prepare.
It was at one stoplight that a newspaper caught Heiji's eye.
EPIDEMIC STILL GRIPS BEIKA CHILDREN
Children's Hallucinations Drive Parents Mad - Police Withholding Evidence
The Osakan detective narrowed his eyes. Since it had hit the national news the previous Wednesday, Heiji had been worried. There were only one person in Beika who could attract that kind of trouble, but Heiji had had his own hands full when, not ten minutes after he saw that broadcast, Kazuha had fallen into another hallucination that demanded his full attention.
The light turned green and Heiji continued his way home. Of course, the similarities between what the news was leaking out and what had happened to Kazuha hadn't escaped him. Hallucinations, dry skin, symptoms of a cold, dilated eyes, etc. Whatever the children of Beika were suffering from, Kazuha had contracted it as well. But while the news spoke of attempts to find similarities between the disease's victims, Heiji had done some legwork of his own. He had never left the hospital, but upon inquiring, it turned out that almost once a month, a high schooler would come in with hallucinations and flaking skin, much like Kazuha had. The doctors and nurses had all thought that it was just a case of a really bad flu in each instance, the same with Kazuha.
But it was all too suspicious for Heiji. If whatever was happening in Beika had already happened (at a much slower pace) in Osaka, then the chances of it being a disease or a flu-gone-bad were getting small, especially since no other cases seemed to occur anywhere between Tokyo and Osaka. No, this had the smell of planned and deliberate and Heiji knew of only one organization that had the resources to do something like that.
He needed to talk to Kudo. Compare notes and see if they were both coming to the same conclusions. But to do that, Heiji needed to do some more extensive legwork, validate a few things on his own.
At another stoplight, Kazuha leaned against him.
And he wouldn't do any investigating until he was sure that Kazuha was back on her feet. He'd poke around things that weekend and visit Kudo the following week. Heiji placed a hand on Kazuha's shoulder. Yeah, that sounded like a plan.
Ran blinked when she brought in the mail. She had just come home after dropping Conan off at Genta's apartment, since the large boy was scheduled to come home that day and the Kojiyamas had been kind enough to let Conan come over once he promised to not tire out Genta. They would give Ran a call when Conan was sent on his way home. But what made her pause as she put her backpack down was a package of some sort in the mail, addressed to Conan. The return address was horribly smeared, evidence that it had spent some time out in the rain before she picked it up; Conan's name itself was difficult to make out.
She wandered into the office to finish shorting through the mail. Bills and possible payments were placed on her father's desk while junk was filed appropriately in the trash bin. There were some town notices, a change in garbage-pick-up policy and other odd bits that always seemed to accumulate in a mailbox. Ran noticed the monthly check from Conan's mother for his wellbeing. In fact, it seemed to have the same postmark as the package for the small boy.
Ran blinked. It was one of the aspects about Conan that placed doubt in her suspicions about his being Shinichi. When Conan's mother had arrived, much to Ran's surprise, Conan had reacted very strangely. After all, one does not shout "Who the hell are you?!" to one's mother after not seeing her in so long. Upon reflection, it had initially lent credence to her theory, crack-pot as it was. But after that initial reaction, Conan acted like a normal little boy, if reluctant to leave his new friends. Conan's mother had dropped by once or twice since then, and Conan had always been happy to see her, if sometimes a little suspicious of alternate motives.
If Shinichi was really hiding as Conan, then who would willingly play his mother? And send regular checks for his upbringing? Ran doubted that Shinichi's parents knew if he was shrunken, given that they were never around, and if Shinichi really was stuck in the small form of Conan, there was no way he could send checks for his well-being. So Conan must be Conan and Shinichi must be Shinichi.... Right?
Shaking off her suspicions Ran picked up the package. Curiosity was burning inside of her. Conan wouldn't mind if she opened his mail, would he? No, surely not. A child wouldn't understand it as invasion of privacy since children didn't really get mail any more, so much as email. And if it really was Shinichi.... Well, he could stuff it. It was addressed to Conan, not Shinichi and she was curious.
She ripped open the top and tilted, letting the contents spill onto her father's desk. A card came out and Ran grabbed that first. It was a simple index card that read, "I knew you'd love this! Love, Mama," in a plain, typed font.
When she saw the actual gift, Ran agreed. Conan would love this, be he Conan or Shinichi. Encased in thick plastic was a pair of action figures. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. With a smile tugging at her lips, Ran already had a plan formulating on how to best present them to her little charge. She reached into her father's drawers to pull out a pair of scissors and open the plastic.
Conan, meanwhile, was smiling as Genta beat him (yet again) at the video game they had been playing since he'd arrived. Putting down the controller, the detective turned to the only one of his children that was currently out of the hospital.
"Genta-kun. We've been playing all afternoon. How are you?"
The large boy gave an embarrassed smile before looking back and forth to ensure that parents weren't in hearing distance.
Leaning forward, Genta whispered, "Bored outta my mind. You got any good mysteries?"
Conan's jaw dropped.
Then, with a small chuckle, he shook his head. "Sorry, Genta-kun. Nothing pressing at the moment. Investigating alone is no fun and it wouldn't be the same without Ayumi-chan or Mitsuhiko-kun or Haibara."
"Awwww, damn that sucks."
"Genta-kun?" called a sweet voice from the living room. "Polite language, please!"
Genta's eyes bugged out as he automatically cringed way from his mother's voice. "How's she do that! I swear I was quiet! What the he--heck!"
To this, at least, Conan had a very sage answer. "She's a mother. She's supposed to be able to hear like that." He remembered when his own mother threatened to wash his mouth out with soap when he started to swear. Thankfully, she had never carried out her threat, but for a young Shinichi, he watched his p's and q's as it were. Mothers, by their very nature, could be scary.
Genta gave a small pout before turning back to what they were talking about. "Well Ayumi-chan'll be out of the hospital t'morrow. Haibara will be back Friday. We won't be investigating alone."
Conan looked down to his hands. "But what about Mitsuhiko-kun?"
Genta looked down as well. "Well, shit, Conan-kun. Do we know how long he'll be stuck there?"
"Based on what you and Ayumi-chan went through, we're looking at three weeks. Unless the doctors can isolate what's going on and combat it better in its initial phases." The brick in Conan's stomach squirmed. "We got him in earlier than you and Ayumi-chan, so maybe he won't get as sick, but..."
The room fell silent, save for the Yaiba tune of the video game recycling over the speakers.
"We really scared you, didn't we?"
Shinichi looked up, eyes wide.
"I mean, Mom and Dad told me a little of what happened. You and Mitsuhiko-kun hadda go with Ayumi-chan to the hospital. That musta been... weird. I remember when you hadda go to the hospital." Genta shuddered. "Carrying you through those caves. Hoping you'd make it after you passed out. It was really serious back then. But we knew you'd be okay 'cause you woke up before we got you to the ambulance. But Ayumi-chan didn't, did she? And when you got to the hospital, I wasn't awake and didn't wake up. Hell, I don't even remember that day before I hadda go to the hospital. And now Mitsuhiko-kun's asleep and not waking up. I'm fine. I don't remember what happened, but I'm fine. So you don't need to ask about me, Conan-kun. I'm fine. I'll be okay.
"What about you, Conan-kun?"
And Shinichi felt something well up inside of him. His children were worried about him. Mitsuhiko stuck by his side like glue while investigating, providing whatever aide he could. Now Genta was checking in on his well being with all the worry and stress.
Shinichi was oddly humbled by how much they cared for him. He lied to them like he lied to Ran and he didn't deserve such devoted faith. They were his children in an odd not-biological-but-still-very-much-his way. He played with them every day, taught them every day, raised them every day. And as annoying as they were, as much as he tried to protect them from the darker aspects of investigatory work, they still followed right along and looked to him for guidance.
So, with a watery smile, he replied, "I'm fine, too."
"You sure, Conan-kun?"
"I'm sure." Shinichi's smile grew. "So, Ayumi-chan's coming home tomorrow right? What are we going to do?"
Genta's reply was "THROW A PARTY!" like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Genta-kun," his mother called, "don't tire yourself out? Take it easy, okay?"
The large boy whirled around in his futon. "But Mom!" he lamented. "Ayumi-chan should get something!"
The Kojima matron appeared at the door, smiling widely. "Of course. But leave the preparations to your father and I. We and the Yoshidas have been talking. We'll be taking you over tomorrow afternoon since the two of you couldn't see each other much while you were in the hospital." She looked to her small guest. "Don't worry, Conan-kun. I left a message with Ran-kun. You're invited as well as long as you don't tire them out."
Shinichi smiled. "I won't," he said. "And I won't let them tire each other out, either."
"Good boy. Now, Genta-kun? Are you hungry yet?"
And with a deep breath, Shinichi fell back and Conan came back to the foreground.
The best place to hide a twig is in a forest.
Haibara Ai was not what one would call a staunch subscriber to that philosophy, simply because the idea of being anything other than what she was irked her on a level she didn't bother to analyze, but at the same time (to borrow another anecdote) beggars can't be choosers, and when it came to hiding, Haibara would subscribe to anything. Within reason.
Watching Kudo act the little boy, putting on high-pitched chirpy tones and deliberately say things that were childishly obtuse, always made a nerve twitch deep in Haibara's brain. She never felt the need to be anything other than herself;, pint-sized or otherwise. Staying silent required no acting, and therefore she never deemed it necessary to lower herself to pretending to be something other than what she was. But this did not mean she did not follow the logic, just disagreed with it when applied to her.
It was always very frustrating when an adult would see her walking around and bend down to ask if she was lost or if she needed help. She couldn't grudge Kudo the convenience of having Ran or Mouri-san around to act as a guardian, but Haibara herself always did things her own way. It was part of what had gotten her into so much trouble to begin with.
Frowning away from that thought, the tiny scientist looked up at Agasa as he led them through the throng of people - the forest she was hiding in - from one workshop to another. Her hands were filled with brochures and advertisements, the price of navigating conventions like this, as well as some interesting books she'd found and Agasa had paid for.
One booth salesman had blinked when he's seen the old man give Haibara the book without comment, asking, "You're making your granddaughter carry your things?"
Agasa has simply smiled and said, "If I didn't, she'd make me start exercising."
And that was why she liked him.
Agasa, too, didn't pretend to be anything other than what he was, and he didn't try to make excuses unless necessary. He let people think what they wanted, and shrugged off people like the booth salesman. The old man made the perfect "guardian" for her.
"Hakase," she said in soft tones, garnering his attention, "You're going the wrong way. The map indicates that the toxin-antitoxin presentation is going to be this way."
"Oh? As you say, Ai-kun," the jovial man responded, content to turn around and follow the woman-turned-girl.
Truth be told, Haibara had never been to a science convention before. Given her prior line of work, there had been no opportunity for her to go to one, and the idea of sharing her findings made her stomach turn (not that she ever would show it, of course). The novelty did not escape her, and she intended to enjoy it thoroughly.
It kept her mind off other things. The Black Organization, for instance. Hiding, for another instance.
Shaking her head again, she ducked under the elbow of a particularly aggressive booth salesman, rolling her eyes when the man stopped poor Agasa before backtracking to grab at his sleeve. "We're going to be late, hakase," she said simply, and continued to push forward.
Finally leaving the booth area, the crowd started to thin out, and she let go of the old man's hand. Checking her map of the complex, she made a left turn and then a right, entering a double wide hallway lined with doors, checking their numbers before finally stopping at the one that was highlighted on her brochure and calmly walking in.
"Little girl, are you lost?"
"No, no, she's with me," Agasa said as Haibara walked down the halls to the front row. "She loves science like I do, and she begged to come. I have to go now before I lose her."
Haibara, well ahead of him, had found a chair and had reserved it by putting her papers there. She waited only long enough for Agasa to arrive before explaining, "I'll see if I can find them," before letting herself disappear back into the crowding hall. Simply put: she was looking for doctors. Not just any doctors, but specifically for any signs of doctors that were from Beika General, where all the poisoned children were going. This was a convention that had been on the docket for months, as had this particular lecture. If anyone from Beika General had signed up for this convention, they would have crashed this presentation, and that was what Haibara was hoping for.
Just listening to the bits of conversation was stimulating. Haibara had obviously not been in the field for a long time, and listening to the animated conversations about chemistry and biology and bacteriophage and electron microscopes brought back her love of her field. It took much effort to not enter the conversations, not offer her own observations, not ask questions, let alone walk away when she decided the people she was listening to weren't the people she was looking for. She sighed internally and refocused on her goals.
Two men and a woman caught her eye, and she wandered over to them. The woman looked decidedly stressed, and one of the men was on the phone, asking for updates on, "the kids." The third was flipping through a brochure that Haibara had a copy of, and the minimized blonde tried to move in closer.
The man on the phone hung up his phone with a flourish. "The latest kid just had another hallucination," he said with a growl. "I'd love to know how the cops figured out this was propane alkaloids. They sure as hell never came to the hospital over this, even when whoever that stupid idiot was leaked this to the news."
"I heard that detective, Sleeping Mouri I think, is looking into it," the woman said, ringing her hands. "I've read about some of his cases, if he can put things together that quickly, then that might explain it."
"I doubt it," the one with the brochure said, "but I won't bite the hand that feeds, either. Now we know that there's a foreign agent in the kids, and now we know how it entered their bloodstream."
"Anyway," the woman said, "Let's sit down and see if we can learn anything from this. Is there a question and answer segment?"
"No, but you can bet people will be asking questions after the lecture. We just have to make sure we're first in line."
Satisfied, Haibara followed them a little bit more, invisible because of her height, before memorizing where they sat and going back to her own seat. "I've found what we're looking for," she whispered as the light started to dim. "Do you still have my notes?"
"Yes, yes, Ai-kun," Agasa replied, patting his breast pocket. "I'm not nearly as geriatric as you make me out to be."
"You'll be post-mortem if you keep neglecting your health," Haibara softly tossed back. Agasa looked appropriately affronted.
The lecture itself was nothing Haibara didn't already know. Being a poison researcher herself, she had known the material inside and out, though privately she did find the different perspective the presenter used refreshingly unique and thought provoking in some ways. It was two hours later when the presentation finally concluded, and Haibara looked at Agasa. He gave her the notes she'd brought with them, and raised a grey eyebrow. "Are you certain you want to do it this way? Email can be much more anonymous."
Haibara's gaze didn't change, but she did take the time to reply as she folded up her notes and suggestions. "My area of expertise is in biochemistry and toxins, hakase. My knowledge of computers before 'this,'," she gestured to herself vaguely, "all began was limited, and while the internet can do much for teaching me how to hide myself online, and how to look at networking traffic, I'm not nearly competent enough to send an email that can't be traced back to me. No, I'll do it this way."
Done folding her papers into origami football-triangles, she climbed down from her seat and marched back into the crowd, eyeing the three hospital doctors she's found earlier. Palming the documents in her hand, he made the effort to put a smile on her face, and ran up to the woman doctor, enveloping her in a hug from behind, hands clumsily groping for the taller woman's pockets.
It startled the adults, and it gave Haibara just enough time to drop her precious cargo where it was supposed to go before the doctor with the phone put a hand on her shoulder.
"Little girl, what are you doing?"
"She needed a hug," Haibara said. She refused to raise her voice, but she did try to sound perky. "Ojii-san says sad people always need hugs."
"Oh, that's nice of you, sweetie," the female doctor said, crouching down to her level. "Where's your Ojii-san now?"
"He's with hakase," she responded, keeping her smile on. The corners of her mouth were starting to hurt;, she wasn't used to smiling often or this widely. "They're over there," she gestured vaguely in a random direction. "If I'm gone to long they'll be worried." Swallowing her pride, Haibara hugged the woman again before darting off where she'd pointed, looping through the chairs and disappearing from sight before leaving the hall and rejoining Agasa outside by the booths.
"So? How'd it go?"
"As well as can be expected," Haibara said without ceremony. "They have equipment we do not. With my notes and chemical breakdown, they should be able to use their resources to synthesize and anti-toxin. Hopefully it will do something to stop Them."
Agasa offered a look of sympathy at the last sentence, but Haibara ignored it in favor of wandering back into the booths. She didn't need sympathy; her predicament was her own fault, as was the death of her sister, as was all the deaths she had helped precipitate. The least she could do was to stop the Organization in some small way.
Even if she did risk her life just now in the process. She had every intention of being the silent, well-behaved, invisible little girl now that she's finished this particular little stunt.
"Let's get something to eat, Ai-kun," Agasa offered.
She looked at her convenient guardian. "So long as you have nothing with salt, protein, saturated fat or caffeine."
Agasa admitted defeat.
It was getting chilly outside, or at least it seemed that way to Ran as she hugged her coat a little closer to herself. Conan trotted beside her, his own coat open to the cold; children seemed immune to temperatures, Ran observed. Shrugging off a shiver, she held in a cough. She'd caught a cold yesterday, and with poor Conan's friends in and out of the hospital, the last thing she wanted to do was worry her small charge. The boy was kicking a soccer ball around on the walk to school.
Not along the street, mind you; no, he was juggling it with his knees and shins as he walked, the black and white ball never touching the ground as it bounced around and behind him, occasionally butting his head before dipping behind for to the sole of his sneaker before arcing to the front for to the inside of his foot and then his knee and then back behind him again. The boy was deep in thought, the movements subconscious and almost too smooth for the motor control of a grade-schooler.
The boy hadn't been sleeping well. Even her father had seen the dark circles under his eyes and commented that he stop playing video games until all hours; but Ran knew better. She was a light sleeper; she always knew when he was gaming. No, the boy was up pacing the house, worrying over everything that had been happening in the last two weeks.
Ran watched as a particularly dark thought flitted across the boy's face - a look that was becoming frightfully common since Mitsuhiko illness (she still couldn't believe it was poisoning!) the past Friday. The dark face accompanied a vicious kick, and Ran watched as the soccer ball arched up into the air high above the din of the streets before bouncing off the brickwork of a building and across the street.
Conan stared after the soccer ball before muttering a curse that Ran pretended she didn't hear. Really, she couldn't blame him. She, too, was worried out of her mind; so many children were sick - the police were all over the hospital now, they couldn't see Mitsuhiko because of it, and no one was really explaining how they had figured out that it was poisoning. Her father was no help whatsoever, either; he was so absorbed with his tailing case he steadfastly wanted nothing to do with it. Really, he was so frustrating at times!
The pair crossed the street without a word once the light blinked, and meandered to where the soccer ball had last been seen. It had landed, apparently, in a small connector alley, after having knocked over a garbage can. Ran had missed it entirely, but Conan as ever didn't miss a detail, and he rolled the soccer ball out from the mess, grimacing at the state of the sports ball, before wordlessly going back to kicking it around his head.
"Ne, Conan-kun," Ran offered, "Do you want some ice cream? Or maybe a baked sweet potato, it is the season. What about some--"
"I'm not hungry, thanks," he replied distantly. Under his breath, he was muttering bits of phrases. "How they distribute it... ways of monitoring... time delay, too... how do I catch them..."
That made Ran stop. "Conan-kun, you're not thinking of investigating this case, are you?" she demanded.
The boy stopped mid kick, the soccer ball bouncing off his knee and then on the sidewalk, rolling back where it had come from. He blinked, wide eyed, as he mentally replayed what he had just been thinking about.
"Uwah, no! That's not... Ran-nee-chan..."
"Conan-kun, I don't believe it!" she shouted, putting her fists on her hips. "I know you love mysteries but this is too dangerous! It's bad enough Shinichi put all those thoughts in your head and made you stay up late," (or Shinichi had stayed up late taking his notes and with a relaxed guard called her by name the next morning because he was Conan) "and I know that you're upset, but this isn't some case you can help Dad out with; people are being poisoned! If you go poking your nose around where it doesn't belong you might get--"
"You think I don't know that?" Conan snapped, dropping pretense. It was Shinichi's eyes that were staring at her, and Conan suddenly seemed much taller. "You think I don't know who's in the hospital right now?"
Ran almost started to say "Shinichi..." but caught herself, shaking her head and cursing her cold for making her think that. "Conan-kun," she said instead, kneeling down and putting a hand on his shoulder. He tried to shrug it off, but she held firm. "Conan-kun, I'm sorry. I know you're worried about Mitsuhiko-kun. And Genta-kun and Ayumi-chan, even though they're out of the hospital. But I said this before; it's not your fault. You can't hold yourself responsible for this, okay?"
"Of course I'm responsible!" Conan cut in, his voice raising.
"Conan-kun, you shouldn't--"
"They're like my kids!" he shouted. He kicked the soccer ball again, a quick, jerky motion completely unlike the fluid movement he had been producing earlier. It shot forward, bouncing off a businessman's leg this time before losing steam.
Ran, well, Ran stared. The small boy was unaware of this, seemed unaware of what he had said, as he kept going. "I've been trying to keep them safe, to stay out of the worst of it, but then this... I couldn't... I wasn't fast enough! I didn't figure it out quick enough! They got to me again, and this time without even knowing it!!" He gave a frustrated growl, jerking out from Ran's grip and chasing after the soccer ball, lifting his leg behind him to give it another violently solid kick, and chased after the object.
The teen girl slowly stood, her eyes following the jerky actions made by the frustration of... of...
She shivered, not entirely because of the cold, and finished the walk to school only because her legs were working on autopilot. Sonoko gasped when she saw how pale her best friend was, demanded to know what had happened, poked and prodded and pulled, but Ran had lost herself in her own thoughts, the cold reducing her awareness of the outside world.
She remembered how Shinichi held chopsticks, like Conan did now; she remembered how Shinichi kicked a soccer ball to think, like Conan did now; how Shinichi disappeared as Conan appeared; how Shinichi solved cases like Conan helped her father; how Conan wrote in Shinichi's shorthand; how Conan looked like Shinichi and vice versa; how Conan was never home when Shinichi called...
"They're like my kids!" a phrase no child would ever say...
She didn't really remember much of the school day.
"Edogawa Conan, please report to the office. Edogawa Conan, please report to the office."
Conan startled awake when he heard his name, and flushed when he realized he'd been napping in class again. Sleep had decided to take a vacation on him, and often his nights were spend with his brain in an odd kind of overdrive, where he was trying to raise the volume on the TV of his brain but couldn't find the remote. There were connections to be made, but his brain wasn't making them and he didn't know where to go. It made him tired, which made it harder for him to focus, which made him more tired. He couldn't even really remember the walk to school this morning, other than mulling over the case and kicking the damn soccer ball. Truth be told, for all he knew he could have confessed all to Ran in his non-sleep-sate (a dream come true and a nightmare all at once) and he wouldn't have been able to say for sure.
"Conan-kun?" the teacher asked, and Conan realized he was starting to doze off again.
Shaking his head, he forced himself to get up from his seat. "Yes, sensei," he said in a tired voice, taking his pass and slipping out the door. God, he could use some sleep. Good luck trying to find that fickle mistress, though. Hell, good luck finding coffee to keep him awake.
Padding down to the main office, he was directed to guidance, and when that fact finally clicked in his head, he realized he was sitting down in Saiko-sensei's office on the beanbag chairs.
Aw, great! Inwardly he growled as he crossed his legs and waited for the school psychologist to get comfortable himself. Just what I need: Hi, sensei; I'm losing sleep over a mysterious Black Organization that not only shrunk me without knowing it, but put all my kids in the hospital without knowing it - or rather knowing it but not knowing the connection to me; could you tell me how to properly express these feelings of anxiety and stress to my seventeen seventeen-year year-old girlfriend who doesn't know I've been shrunk and thinks I'm off solving a case, which technically I am only it's right under her nose? Yeah, that'll go over real well.
Conan's eyes roved around the room, looking for distraction from his dark thoughts. Parts of the office were still the same from his first childhood: the degrees and certifications still hung from the walls, the "Believe in Yourself!" posters scattering the rest of the walls, the piles of books and folders and binders that were common in any room associated with school. The beanbag chairs Conan was sitting on were new even if the concept wasn't. There was a duffle bag by the psychologist's desk that had the distinct bulges of balls.
"Sensei, do you play sports?" he asked. He absolutely did not want to talk about the case, not when he was this tired, and so he tried for distraction.
"Oh, I wouldn't say I play them," Saiko-sensei said, still shifting his aging weight around to get comfortable. "I help out at the middle school, though. The kids all gave me their lucky balls and I guard them between games, and sometimes I take them to a shrine near my apartment and have them blessed for good luck."
"Then do you know a lot about soccer?" he asked, hoping to keep the distraction up.
"A little, but that's not why we're here, Conan-kun."
Damn. There was just no luck for him today. Not that there ever was any, but Conan was feeling it keenly right now.
"Then why are we here?" he asked, trying to keep his voice innocent and curious.
"I wanted to see how you're feeling," Saiko-sensei replied, his brown eyes still warm, if searching. "You don't look very well;, did you catch a cold?"
"No, not really," he said, shifting in his beanbag chair. Paranoia made his senses alert, but the news hadn't made any comment over the switch from "disease" to "poisoning", and so Conan knew that there was no way the sharp eyed psychologist would make the connection.
"Are you sure?" the older man asked. "You look a little pale, and you clearly haven't been sleeping."
Wasn't I just thinking about that...? Conan tried to quickly figure away out of this particular line of question. He said, "I'm tired. I'm worried." Ah, stupid!
"About your friends, I know," Saiko-sensei said. "It must have been very scary when the police officer took Mitsuhiko-kun to the hospital like that. Did the officer say anything to you?"
Conan stared flatly at the gentle-eyed psychologist, having no patience for the rigmarole but seeing no means to escape it. It was a microcosm of his life, if he thought about it. He shook himself, trying to war off the exhaustion he felt that was causing such dark thoughts. "Not really," he finally replied. "I'm just a kid;, they don't really tell me much."
To this Saiko-sensei had a gleam light up in his brown eyes. "Oh, now really, Conan-kun; you forget I've talked to Mitsuhiko-kun, and Ayumi-chan and Genta-kun. I know that that inspector, Megure-keibu, takes what you Detective Boys say in high regard. You've helped catch everything from murderers to Italian mobsters looking for gold."
Thanks kids, Conan thought dryly, I can always count on you to make my life more complicated. ...Idiot, is that any way to think of kids that are in the hospital? Conan decided he needed sleep, a lot of it; if this kept up... he wasn't even awake enough to draw up a proper comparison. "Yeah, I guess," he said with indifference, "but that doesn't mean that they let me in on everything." Sorry, old man, I'm not dropping a word.
Saiko-sensei's thick eyebrows pinched together, a frown decorating his face and adding lines. But he shrugged and gave a warm smile, leaning back in his beanbag. "Well, do you think you could regale me with cases you have solved?"
Conan, however, had had enough; "Can I go now?" he asked in a whiny voice. "I've already missed a lot of class because I was sleeping, now that I'm awake I want to learn something. Then I want to go to go home and get some sleep."
The balding man leaned forward. "As you wish," he said gently. "I don't blame you. Here, let me write you a pass."
It took time for the older man to lift himself out of the beanbag chair, and Conan watched with tired eyes as Saiko-sensei labored to his desk, kicking his duffle bag before sitting at his desk and pulling out a packet of passes, scribbling Conan's name. The boy took it without comment, and had just reached up for the doorknob when,
"You have to talk about it eventually, Conan-kun. Life can be very hard, sometimes, and it's not healthy to keep feelings like yours to yourself. Eventually it will make you break. Far better, then, to talk to someone who knows how to listen. When you're ready, I'll be here."
Fat chance I'll tell you anything. Conan opened the door without comment, but the words stuck with him for the rest of the day.
Gruaaaah! Why do little boys need to use the toilet so damn much? I couldn't have had to go this often when I was a kid the first time round!
Rubbing his eyes, the truncated detective slowly got out of his futon and went to utilize certain facilities.
And I was finally getting some sleep, too. Most likely because I slipped some melatonin earlier, but I need more sleep than just four hours. Of course, that's more than what I've averaged for the last week, but I have a large deficit to catch up on. Still, four hours sleep did make his head just the tiniest bit clearer. He'd probably have to take some more melatonin before he went back to bed, but at least then he would hopefully have a full night's rest as a result.
Really; if this kept up, he wouldn't be any good to anyone.
Ah, for the days when all my cases had everything right in front of me and I didn't have to do so much backtracking and going over the same things...
Cynicism and sarcasm aside.
With a large (if stifled) yawn, Shinichi made his way downstairs towards the kitchen where the medicine cabinet was. He'd have to drag a chair over, but he was going to get a full night's sleep, come hell or high water. With a small hop he turned on the lights to the living room and blearily blinked as he crossed to the kitchen. He never quite made it across, however.
Shinichi stopped, something cold and icy creeping down his spine as he slowly turned from the kitchen entrance to see Ran sitting on the couch. What's she doing sitting in the dark at 1:30 in the morning?
"Ahh..." he stuttered.
"You are Shinichi without your glasses."
Shinichi's small hands went straight to his face to discover, yes, he'd left his glasses up in Kogoro's room. Shit! Worse than shit! hyping shit! Now what do I...oh no...
The minimized detective stared at Ran. She was curled on the couch, an afghan wrapped around her form. But peeking out from underneath the afghan, Ran's toes were dry and cracked. On the coffee table was a large glass of water with a straw. Ran was pale and her nose was running like she had a cold. And her eyes. They were slowly dilating.
No.... Not Ran! She had been poisoned. But how? He hadn't seen any thick plastic anywhere in the apartment. But then, the previous day was trash day, so he couldn't go looking for any evidence. If she was sick then she would have gotten the dose Monday, the day Genta got home. Or Tuesday, when Ayumi returned, at the latest. He certainly hadn't seen any gifts left in his shoe locker and Ran hadn't mentioned anything of the sort. So how did this happen? They hadn't received any gifts recent... Oh. When he'd come home from Genta's, he'd found on his dinner plate a pair of dolls - Holmes and Watson - with a note from his mother. Given her propensity to tease him, he hadn't thought anything of it at the time. But if that gift wasn't from his mother, then--
"Come here, Shinichi. We need to talk."
This must be her hallucination. That I'm me. Too bad her hallucination is the truth. Against his will, Shinichi's tiny feet brought him to the couch were he climbed up and sat opposite her, curling his knees to his chest. Ran looked at him with her slowly dilating eyes so calmly. Why wasn't she reacting violently? Was her delirium just starting, or did this drug affect people at different age levels? How would that work?
"Oh Shinichi, it's been so long." Her voice was off. Lower and the rhythm over annunciated. She'd been poisoned. The Black Organization wasn't just testing elementary kids. Of course they'd be testing all age groups. That made sense, but wouldn't they--
"Shinichi? Please talk to me!" Ran's eyes started to water. "Shinichi? Is it true? I always thought you... But you never told me this, does that mean you... Shinichi?" Her voice never quavered and suddenly, Shinichi's mind was a complete blank.
She's hallucinating. She's been poisoned with this. That means that she won't remember any of this. And probably today, maybe yesterday as well. And despite how selfish a thought it was, Shinichi couldn't help it. I can really talk to her. About everything and anything. Oh God! I've missed it so much! The drug is for hallucinations. It won't kill her or leave permanent damage; Genta and Ayumi are walking proof of that. Would it really be okay for me to just steal a few hours with her? To just be with her, even if I'm not me but I can finally be me?
And in his exhaustion, Shinichi made a selfish decision.
"Ran," he started, his voice thick as his own eyes started to well up. He scraped at them angrily. "Oh Ran, don't you dare think that I don't care!"
"I care!" he said more firmly. "Ran I care so much I--" Worlds failed him. "So many people have told me, repeatedly, that you can't know I'm me. That it's the only way to keep you safe. Ran, I miss you--"
"Safe? Shinichi?" Ran leaned forward, her eyes still partly dilated and filled with tears, as she looked him calmly in the face. "Shinichi? What's happened to you? Why are you Conan-kun?"
The small detective took a deep breath. "That, Ran, is going to take a lot of explaining."
I guess it's a good thing that the damn poison is keeping her somewhat calm (Why isn't she getting violent like everyone else has?)... I'd hate to think what'd happen if I told her and she was herself... I'll still have to some day since she won't remember this...
Shinichi held very little back. He told her of that doomed day at Tropical Land. Of hurrying to create an identity because he thought it would just be a temporary embarrassment....
"I really thought the nightmare would be over quickly. But it just kept going on and on and on."
"Yes, I know, Shinichi. You were gone and gone and gone."
... Of Agasa and his parents repeatedly telling him to stay hidden....
"Your parents knew?"
"Not by my choice. Agasa told them. My mother even masqueraded as 'Conan's mother' to check in on me from time to time. Scared the hell out of me when she first showed up."
... Of his encounters with shadowed figures in black who were heartless killers....
"You mean that girl from that bank job only died because..."
"Because she was trying to free her sister from the Organization. She knew they existed so she was a threat."
"But....but...that's just so....so...."
"I know, Ran..... I know...."
... Of how once he saw their ruthlessness the importance of keeping her safe and unknowing became all the more prevalent....
"They blew up a building just to get one person?"
"Yes. It is rather hard to defend yourself from them when you don't know they exist."
... Of how he met the nameless scientist who created the drug and received an even better idea of how extensive and cruel the shadows could be....
"Who is she? This scientist that shrunk you."
"I'm sorry, Ran. That's not my secret to tell."
"I'm telling you everything that has happened to me, Ran. I've missed being able to talk to you. But surely you've realized that this Organization is just evil. I won't compromise her secret. It's not mine."
... He told it all.
Through his explanation, he kept a close eye on his childhood friend. The poison had muted her feelings, no doubt. (Shouldn't she be yelling at him? Throwing him across the room? Something like that?) Not that the feelings weren't there. Shinichi, after all, had a lifetime's worth of knowledge of her and he'd come to know her even better since being reduced. There was pain tightening her eyes. Her lips thinned. And the tears that welled in her eyes would leak out at the particularly painful parts.
Shinichi let out a sigh as he finished.
"Ah," Ran said, leaning back, her eyes fixed on his. "So that's why you were always so reluctant to take a bath with me."
"Hyguah!" Shinichi coughed, his face easily turning ten shades of red. That poison's hallucinations just have to bring up the most embarrassing and shameful events, doesn't it!! Argh!! "Ran! I tried to... I mean I didn't... It's just... Urgh!"
She wiped at her eyes, her dried fingers leaving small trails of slightly flaked skin. "You don't trust me."
And just like that they were back to the seriousness of it all. Damn hallucination induced mood swings. Damn propane alkaloid poison. Damn everything. But I can finally talk so I don't give a damn.
Shinichi let out another sigh and gave a soft, sad, wistful smile. "It wasn't about trusting you Ran." He wiped at his eyes again. "Ultimately, there were two reasons for never telling you. First, follow me through a hypothesis. Knowing who I am, imagine another murder investigation. Another suspect being cornered. Now picture them pulling out a knife and stabbing me. Whose name do you call out?"
Ran scowled at him. Or semi-scowled given her muted state. "Shinichi..."
"Exactly. You'd call me by my real name. I've done it repeatedly with you, calling you Ran instead of Ran-nee-chan when I thought you were in trouble. Now that mistake with me can be easily explained. Conan's grown up in America and they refer to siblings by name, no suffix." Shinichi looked into Ran's eyes. She had to understand this. She had to. "But how can you explain away you calling me 'Shinichi' instead of 'Conan' in a moment of crisis? Especially, given how many murders we keep coming across, that it would probably happen more than once."
Ran's frown deepened. "Shinichi. Is this Black Organization so powerful that they'd have some sort of agent at every murder case we stumble into?"
"It would only take once."
Ran's lips thinned again. "The other reason?"
To this, Shinichi looked down. "I couldn't trust myself."
"You're you Ran." He scrubbed his eyes again, trying to find the right words for something he'd felt a long time but had never had to vocalize before. "I've thought a lot about this. You'd be better knowing because you could defend yourself. Maybe not against bullets, but you could prepare. You could be watchful and attentive. You might spot things ahead of me given that you're now taller than me. You are a karate champion for God's sake. You can kick ass, especially of anyone who'd be stupid enough to attack.
"Ran, being able to be me around you would make life so much easier. So much easier that I'd let my guard down. I already let my guard down a lot around you. So much so that you've suspected about me being me for a while. I slip up enough when I have to be Conan full-time. I don't want to think how much I'll slip up if I don't have to be Conan all the time. I can't risk you like that..."
Shinichi's head bent lower. "I can't lose you, Ran. You mean too much to me." And finally, the dam broke. Everything that Shinichi had been holding in since he'd first been shrunken became too much to bear. It all came pouring out. The feelings he could never say, the anger he could never express, the longing he could never show, the pain of his situation that ate away at him like acid. Everything he'd crushed down and buried deep in his soul came surging up and out and he had no choice but to weather the storm.
Somewhere during the flood, Shinichi became aware of arms wrapped around him, holding him tightly. Tears and sobs were echoing around his ears that weren't his own. The body that held him shuddered under waves of emotions. The tsunami that both pairs of feelings generated engulfed them, drowning them, so that they clung to each other like buoys.
"Never wanted to lie.... got so buried in it..... couldn't get out...... Oh Ran..... so sorry...... Never wanted to hurt you.... not you.... don't deserve you....... hurt you so much..... sorry......"
"Shinichi..... Shinichi..... waited so long for you...... there all along........ you've suffered so much.... still mad but you're finally here....... not leaving me again........"
And both said, "I love you."
And, much to Shinichi's shock, Ran kissed him soundly.
"Mph! Mmmmmmm..." Shinichi leaned in, thoughts scattered to the four winds until he tried to put his hands in her hair. Then, the full state of his shrunken form crashed down onto him again. He pushed back, "No, Ran," he mumbled around her larger mouth. "Not like this! Not Conan! Let it be me!"
Ran's face was flushed as she continued leaning forward, pressing him back onto the sofa cushions. "Shinichi! You're Shinichi!" Her voice was starting to slur. "Pleasssse, Shinichi, 've been waiting ssoo long for thisss..." and she placed another open-mouthed kiss over him.
"Shit, Ran!" He wiggled and shifted, trying to get away. This wasn't right... This wasn't what he wanted. No, it was what he wanted on lonely nights, but not like this. Finally, he was able to slide off the couch, escaping her arms and landing with a thud on the floor.
He stood up quickly and looked at her unmoving form. She looked like she was asleep, but her fingers and toes remained dry and cracked. Shinichi had forgotten that she'd been poisoned. It had been so wonderful to just talk to her, that his current case flew from his mind. His stolen hours had left the damn drug more time to work its way through her system.
"Dammit, Ran!!" He would not lose her.
The Great Sleeping Kogoro, as his name indicated, valued his sleep immensely. Nothing, save a call from a client, could interrupt his nocturnal hours of rest. (Even calls from clients were often ignored in favor of some precious shut-eye, but for all his mumbling and grumbling, he would come if the call was urgent enough.) Interrupting his quality-time with his pillow often resulted in him grousing and growling at whoever had dared to disturb his slumber until they left him alone so he could go back to sleep. Of course, his daughter and their young charge were probably the only people (outside of his wife, but she wasn't around anymore...) whom he couldn't grunt away to let him have more sleep.
That didn't mean he didn't try.
So, when his warm sheets were suddenly ripped off of him, exposing him to the chill night air, he awoke ready to make heads roll.
As usual, it was his miniscule roommate who had decided to wake him up. Kogoro fumed. This little brat always woke him up in the middle of the night for no reason other than snoring (which he did not, thank you very much).
With a swift knock on the noggin to reestablish just who was in charge, Kogoro finally woke up enough to really look at the kid.
To say the boy looked exhausted would be an understatement. There were still dark circles under the boy's eyes and he was looking incredibly pale. There were faint trails down his cheeks indicating that the child had recently been crying and he wasn't wearing his glasses.
Now Kogoro had raised his precious daughter Ran. He knew the look of a child who had just woken up from a bad dream and was upset. But Ran was special. She was his daughter. Kogoro wouldn't be a parent to a child that still had parents somewhere else; it wasn't his place to do so. "I'm not dealing with your nightmares," he grunted, reaching down to try and grab his cooling blankets.
The brat would have none of that, however, and grabbed his sleeve, still looking down to the floor. "It's Ran-nee-chan," he said quietly.
Kogoro rolled his eyes. "Ran's old enough to handle her nightmares, kid. Now get some sleep."
"Ojii-san," the child yanked at his sleeve. "That's not it. Ran-nee-chan's sick. She's sick like all the kids at my school."
That sent shivers through Kogoro's whole body. He'd been watching the news and reading the newspapers like everyone else. He knew about the illness of students that had been going on at the elementary school. While he was in the middle of his own case, that didn't mean he didn't study it on his own, despite what he'd told Ran. After all, there was the chance that the brat staying with them could catch whatever strange warped-flu-strain was going around. With no client, two mouths to feed, and bills piling up, he couldn't afford to just go diving into the case (even if, realistically, grateful parents would probably pay him) without knowing that there'd be a paycheck coming. But this epidemic wasn't going away and it was getting worse.
But it was only affecting little kids, right?
"What.... What did you say?" Kogoro choked on the words, not entirely sure he really wanted an answer.
"She's sick, Ojii-san. She keeps calling me by Shinichi-niichan's name."
Hallucinations. Because there was absolutely no way that the missing detective could have been shrunk to a little child.
Kogoro was out of his bed quickly. "Where is she?"
"The living room...."
Kogoro rushed down the hall and down the stairs. Ran was on the sofa, face down, an afghan wrapped around her. Her feet and hands were visible and he could see the cracked skin that was trying to flake off.
"Ran!" he cried out. Nononononononono, not my daughter Ran! He knelt down beside her, a hand on her shoulder, gently shaking it. "Ran, wake up! Come on Ran, tell me that kid is wrong. Ran!"
"Hnnnnn," she gave a small moan. Slowly her eyes opened and Kogoro could see that they were partially dilated. No! Ran!
"Ran? Are you okay?"
"Ran, you're sick, we need to--"
Ran wasn't listening, however, she was looking around frantically. "Shinichi? Shinichi! You said you wouldn't leave me! Shinichi!"
"Ran! It's me, your father, listen to me, Ran...."
But she didn't recognize him. She glanced at him, saw an obstacle, and the next thing that Kogoro knew, he was flying across the room and crashing into his desk. Owwww.... Oh yeah, hallucinations tend to be violent.... Can't get her aggravated... Owwww....
"There you are, Shinichi!"
"I'm not going anywhere, Ran. But I don't think Occhan appreciated being tossed across the room."
The sleeping detective wondered if that little brat had had acting lessons back in America. Because there wasn't a sign of hesitation or fear or confusion at what was going on. Hell, even the speech pattern was the same as the Kudo brat. But Kogoro could (avoid) complement the kid later. Right now he had to get his car and get Ran to the hospital and call Eri.
Oh, Eri was going to freak.
"Owwww..." If he could ever get up, that was.
Ran appeared in his line of vision, holding the kid close to her with a fierce protectiveness and possessiveness. "Tou-san! I'm so sorry! Are you okay?"
She's calm.... Keep her calm.... "Um, Ran? I could use a little help..."
"Of course! Oh I'm so sorry..." Ran shifted the kid's weight but never let go of him. Kogoro took her offered hand and was finally able to pull himself up to his feet.
Her eyes seemed to clear a little, which Kogoro prayed was a good sign. She looked to the little brat in her arms and raised an eyebrow in some sort of silent inquiry. The kid seemed to know what she was asking and shook his head.
Ran nodded. "Um, so, ah, Conan-kun?" There was hesitation in her voice. "Why are you up so late? What time is it anyway?"
Kogoro let out a sigh of relief. She recognized the kid as the kid. Thank you God.
"Ran," he drew her attention, carefully (and very slowly) putting a hand to her forehead. "You're burning up. You don't look well. Why don't we get you to see a doctor?"
"Dad, I'm fine, I..."
"Ran-nee-chan?" She stopped, looking to the child in her arms that she was still holding onto tightly. "It's better to be safe than sorry, right? Who knows what's poisoned you?"
Her face went pale, and tears sprang to her eyes. "Yes, you're right...Shi...Conan-kun. Dad? Why don't you get dressed? You can take me to the doctor."
Kogoro wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Ran was recognizing their little guest as their guest, but if that little slip was any indication, she still thought she was looking at the Kudo brat. This meant she was coming out of her hallucination, right?
"Ran, don't you want to change?"
"I'm not leaving Conan-kun," she replied sharply. "We'll get our coats. It's chilly tonight Dad, make sure you wear something warm. Conan-kun and I will be fine."
"O-Okay." Kogoro went to his room to grab some pants and his keys. While there, he rummaged around for his phone and glared at it. They were going to have to meet Eri at the hospital.
Everything was fuzzy. And warm. Fuzzy and warm. But that wasn't comfortable at all.
".... she does have the same symptoms as the children...."
".... she be okay, Doctor....?"
Concentration was a shattered thing, thoughts barely able to form.
".... will know more with some tests...."
Still, with effort, scattered bits of self-began to slowly reassemble.
".... how did it happen, Kogoro...?"
".... don't know.... musta caught it a few days ago...."
She ached. Not as bad as having the flu, but she was definitely uncomfortable in her own body.
".... so tired...."
".... of course..... it's dawn....."
She'd had such a peculiar dream.
".... let's get you home.... could use a shower....."
".... don't want to leave her...."
".... me neither.... but we're both just barely decent in pajamas....."
But the dream was so realistic. She had finally been able to confront Conan-kun (again) on her suspicions of him actually being Shinichi. And rather than deny or evade or squirm, he'd admitted to it. They had talked. Shinichi, little seven-year-old Shinichi, had explained a great deal. She was still furious with him. She understood his reasons, he had laid them out very clearly, but that didn't change all the hurt she'd gone through. All the worry. And Shinichi had watched her suffer. It made her livid. Until he finally broke down. When she had seen him collapse into tears, trying valiantly but being unable to hold them back, her heart had instinctually reached out to him. For all that she had suffered, he had suffered right along with her silently. It didn't make everything okay, it didn't make what he did right, but Ran could never deny Shinichi the right to cry, since he never let himself cry unless everything had built up to the point where he couldn't handle it any more.
And this had been building for a long, long time.
But that was all a dream, right? There wasn't really some Organization that was out murdering people under the police's noses or developing drugs to addict the public or poison the public or run extortion rackets or blackmail people or buy politicians or....
She shuddered. She didn't want to think about that, because if Shinichi was going up against all that alone it was really no wonder he tried so hard to stay hidden. (But from her?)
By shuddering, however, she realized that someone was sitting at the foot of her bed. Putting weird (and scary) dreams aside, she thought back. During her dream, she remembered her father and Shini--Conan-kun convincing her to go to the hospital. Given the smell and the fact that the bed she was in was somewhat reclined instead of flat, she knew she actually was in a hospital. (That meant that part of the dream was real, not the whole thing, only part because Organizations didn't exist...) She had vague recollections of not letting anyone take Shi-Conan away from her because she thought that Conan was Shinichi (really, that was a dream, right?) and the doctors having to sedate her as a result. Conan kept her calm, despite her remembering the instinct to give anyone a karate-chop if they got to close to pull Shinichi (Conan!) away from her.
She remembered her parents trying to talk to her, but she'd been too out of it to answer. She remembered hearing her parents saying something about showers. But they would have taken Conan with them, right? But that small weight at the foot of her bed, resting at her feet was the right size for the shrunken Shinichi (Conan!! Get it straight!) How had he convinced her parents to stay behind? Of course, if it was Shinichi, he'd just stay quiet and hidden like he'd been doing for months and her parents would have forgotten about him. Really, she felt she was the only one who looked after Shinichi... Conan.
Well, the only way to verify her observations and deductions was to open her eyes.
To say she was shocked at how much effort and will she had to muster to just open her eyes into slits was an understatement. Really, she wasn't that bad off, was she?
But, sure enough, there was Shinichi, setting against the footboard of her hospital bed, leaning onto her legs, glasses askew, the picture of exhaustion.
Shinichi... No, Conan-kun... She felt for him. No doubt seeing her so sick was frightening. Of course, she wondered what she had. That dream was so realistic; maybe she'd had a fever dream?
She let her eyes settle back down, that small amount of work seeming to have tired her.
The door to her room opened and soft footsteps entered with the smell of flowers.
Shi...Conan spoke in the low mature tones he always seemed to refrain from using around her. "You. I'm in no mood for your riddles or attempts at humor. I've told you repeatedly to stop dressing up as me. Go away."
The voice that replied sent her heart racing. It was Shinichi's voice.
What?? Ran's mind whirled. Yes, it was known that Kaitou Kid had disguised himself as Shinichi once, but Conan made it sound like the mysterious thief had done it more than once. Wait a minute. Didn't Conan-kun say to "stop dressing up as me"? Does that mean my dream.... wasn't a dream? Didn't Shinichi say that Kaitou Kid had dressed up as him when he was explaining everything to me? That was all true? Despite being relaxed in bed, Ran felt a little dizzy as all the implications settled around her.
There was the sound of a spray and Ran opened her eyes enough to see the disguised Kid (he really looked like Shinichi) spray some sort of pink gas at the real Shinichi (he's so small...). "Don't worry tantei-kun. After some sleep you'll feel better. Plus I gave a friend of yours a call. You won't be alone for all this. You need some back up."
Shinichi struggled to stand before collapsing into Kid's arms. The smoke dissipated quickly and Ran struggled with herself. Shinichi really was helpless in the form of a child. He couldn't defend himself. She had to do something! Even if Kaitou Kid was known for never hurting anyone, she wasn't about to let someone take Shinichi away after she just got him back.
"Shinichi..." her voice cracked. She swallowed and tried again. "Shinichi!" Drawing on her karate-trained focus, she started to sit up. Reaching out a hand for the small form cradled in the thief's hands, she tried again to make her body work. "Shinichi!"
A nurse came rushing in. "Stand back," the nurse said firmly. "She's hallucinating again."
No! I'm not! Don't let him take Shinichi away! I need him! I have to talk to him! "Shinichi!!" But the not-boy stayed oblivious. The thief-imposter, however, leaned forward, putting a hand through her hair as the nurse put something in Ran's IV.
"Ran," Shinichi's voice and speech patterns. "It's fine. You're safe. I'm just going to take Conan-kun to my house for a while. I don't think your dad can look after him at the moment."
The sedative was pulling her down and the nurse was gently pushing her back in bed.
Ran glared fiercely at the thief. "You are not Shinichi," she growled. "Give him back to me."
And, true to a thief who could impersonate anyone, a look of pain flashed across the face of not-Shinichi. "It's okay, Ran. Your parents will be here when you wake up. I'm just going to look after Conan-kun."
Ran faded back into darkness.
Ahou! How was I s'pposed t' know all cell phones were t'be turned off durin' the landing? ... No, I did not do it 'n purpose, fer cryin' out loud! ... Oh, get over yerself, ahou!"
Heiji flipped his phone closed just for spite, right when Kazuha's particular shriek started to announce itself, and growled as he stuffed the object back in his pocket, muttering to himself. "Take the time t' wait 'til she's better, give'r advanced notice I'm visitn' Kudo even before he calls, but noooo, I need t'call as soon as I land, 'n' if I'm three seconds late boom! Pushy, bossy, swelled up..."
Shaking the irritation off, Heiji tugged at his pack, shifting the weight from one shoulder to another. A few changes of clothes was one thing, but something was sitting wrong in his gut, and he'd brought his sword, carefully wrapped and boxed, to satisfy a nervous sense he'd developed since learning about Kudo's... small problem.
His gut instinct had only gone from bad to worse when he'd visited the Mouri apartment. No one was there, and at seven in the morning that was unheard of. Even if Ran and Kudo had gone off to school early, Mouri would still be there, working off his most recent hangover so he could open his next can of beer. The door was locked, but the doormat was askew, as if someone had slid on it in his or her rush out the door, and Mouri's car wasn't anywhere to be found. It just didn't feel right, and any number of possibilities were floating through Heiji's head, each darker than the last.
It didn't take much for someone in the know to recognize the Organization's influence in recent events. Kazuha's illness - no, poisoning - in combination of other high school students in month intervals would only have made him wonder if it wasn't for the sick kids in Beika. Kudo was probably caught between being worried out of his mind and scared out of his mind, all the while chasing after the bastards. Heiji wondered what kind of shape he'd find his best friend in.
Turning the corner, Hattori slowed as he reached the gate of the Kudo household. First glance showed no signs of life, but Heiji, like Kudo, saw a lot more on first glance than other people. He eyed the recent wear on the doorknob, the scuffmarks on the mat, a dark brown hair. Frowning, Hattori rang the doorbell, hoping to narrow down the possible reasons for the extra hair.
Imagine his surprise, then, when Kudo answered the door. Not Conan, Kudo, seventeen years old, in dark wash jeans and a collared shirt unbuttoned at the top.
"Kudo?!" he blurted out in surprise. "What're y'doing big? What happened t' make ya take a pill?"
Even more surprising, Kudo's eyes blinked in blank incomprehension before there was a low whistle. "Follow me," he said without ceremony, turning around.
The behavior was unusual for Kudo, but Heiji followed anyway, hoping to find more clues. He saw Kudo's and Conan's shoes on the genkan as he pulled off his own, and there was recent activity in the kitchen - take out bags and an open microwave - and as Heiji was led upstairs he wondered what these clues were leading him too.
"I think the one you want to talk to is in there," Kudo said, twisting a doorknob open before stepping aside to let the Osakajin in. He gave Kudo a long, hard stare, not quite trusting something about his old friend. But the only way to learn anything was to go into Kudo's bedroom, and so he stepped in.
To find Conan sprawled on the bed, a jacket draped over his tiny form as a blanket.
"Kudo?!" Then who--
Heiji spun around and stepped back into the hall. "Who the hell're y--"
But there was only a puff of smoke where the fake Kudo was.
Head swiveling around, Heiji could find no immediate signs of either the imposter or his escape. His first urge was to try and follow, but his brain was still back on the image of Kudo on the bed; his face half covered by the jacket, no motion whatsoever, body limp... If he was dead...
Spinning another hundred-eighty degrees he stomped back into Kudo's room. "Kudo? Kudo!! Hey, open yer eyes!"
A bleary blue eye responded to the shaking. "... Hattori?" a disturbingly young voice murmured.
The green-eyed detective breathed an enormous sigh of relief. "Geez, Kudo, y'really know how t' scare a guy."
It took hours for Kudo to wake up after that; whatever the imposter had drugged him with was still in his system. The Detective of the West let the teen trapped as a child sleep, instead busying himself about the house, laying down his pack in a spare room (but not before pulling out his sword, he was going to be armed at all times and damn that he was right to bring it) and doing a more thorough inventory of the kitchen. Hattori didn't trust the take out, but he found some instant coffee for when Kudo awoke.
There were also the calls. He left a message on the Mouri answering service, letting them know he was there and crashing at Kudo's, that Conan was there and sleeping, and he faltered after that, not knowing what else to say. The fake Kudo surely would have been there to pick up the real one, and knew that Kudo was Kudo and not Conan, but what could he say to it? So he just didn't bring it up.
Later he pulled out the phonebook for take out (he didn't dare leave the house with Kudo alone) that he did trust, and was soon filling the fridge with foods he recalled his best friend liked, along with unearthing a box of tea on top of the instant coffee, and two boxes of crackers. The house had been virtually abandoned, leaving little else in the kitchen that was salvageable. Wandering the house, however, Heiji saw that Kudo somehow found time to stop in occasionally to clean it. Dust was a fine layer covering everything, but it was not the thick layer one would expect of a location that had been left all but derelict.
His primary occupation, however, was trying to discover how the imposter had disappeared (literally) from right under his nose in a puff of smoke. It didn't take long to find a small capsule, broken open, that no doubt held the puff of smoke - a visual distraction while the imposter made his getaway. Heiji examined the residue - he couldn't be a hundred percent, but he was pretty sure it was a potassium chloride and sodium bicarbonate mixture. Rather than being pressurized, it appeared as thought the chemicals were stored in separate compartments of the small pellet, mixed when broken and the moisture of the air in the house did the rest to generate the smoke. Simple in proof but clearly delicately handled in execution; Heiji couldn't help but admire the craftsmanship of the smoke capsule's remains.
Frowning, he moved on to look for other evidence. Going back to the front door, Heiji needed his microscope to look for traces of the lock being picked; only there was none. In point of fact, the keys were left in the living room. That made sense, Heiji realized, because they were Kudo's keys. There was no need to pick the lock if the seven year old you were dragging around actually had a set. But wait, did Kudo really carry his house keys around? He didn't visit often, there would be no need to keep them on his person; and this was belying the way Kudo went out of his way to keep his identity secret - that would include having house keys of "Shinichi-nii-chan" on his person for no reason.
It was a barb then, a blatant statement of, "I can get in whenever I want." That irked Heiji to the extreme, and he resolved to tell Kudo to change the locks - he'd pay for it, if necessary.
It was early afternoon by the time his one-time rival and best friend padded down the stairs. Heiji wordlessly heated up a cup of coffee, and the small detective was soon nursing his second cup, much more alert if no less exhausted.
"Y'look like hell, Kudo," Hattori offered finally. "What happened?"
And it all boiled down to one sentence: "Ran was poisoned."
"... Shit," was about all Heiji could offer. "How'd it happen?"
For the next hour the shrunken Shinichi explained what had been happening for the past three weeks, starting with the discovery of Genta's arrival to the hospital and Ayumi's terrible hallucinations to the overabundance of legwork and painful assembly of clues, starting with a detailed list of symptoms to the states of the sick children's rooms to a timeline of who got sick when. Heiji whistled at the level of detail he heard.
"You don't keep a notebook anymore, right?"
"Kudo, y'never cease t' impress me; t' keep track of all this! Even fer people as detail oriented as us, y'can't help but be impressed."
The pint-sized detective frowned, shrugging his shoulder. "Details don't do a detective much good if he can't put it together." That was when he explained Haibara's discoveries when she analyzed the blood sample Kudo had managed to get, the propane alkaloid compound and who (really, who else?) could deliberately poison children.
"They're testing the effectiveness of the drugs, and likely its side effects and duration and other things. Whoever's distributing this likely has at the very least rudimentary medical training and a connection to the hospital to track the results. Either that or there are people working in tandem."
"I doubt that," Heiji interjected. "At least, not 'n one location."
Kudo's brain came to a full stop at that sentence, his eyes widening in horror as the full scope of what Heiji had divulged opened before him.
"I didn' get th' chance t' tell you Kudo," Heiji explained solemnly, "why I decided t' visit ya. Kazuha was poisoned jus' like yer kids 'n' Nee-chan were. Damn near broke m' arm when she started hallucinatin'. She just got outta the hospital 'couple days ago. After yer school got on th' news, I did some checkin'. Once a month, a high school kid'll show up with th' exact symptoms ya've been describin'. I'll bet money there's a middle school somewhere that's gettin' the same problem. The question's how come they got all overindulgent here? Poisonin' so many kids at once?"
"I don't know," Kudo replied, rubbing his chin in thought, his head dipping down. Absently he fingered his long empty cup of coffee.
"I still don't get why they got Nee-chan," Heiji ventured slowly.
"That's easy: it was meant for me." That brought about the explanation of Kudo's discovery on how the poison was introduced, a gift in the footlocker that was cut and opened, cutting the child. The boy's voice dropped even lower - sounding almost like his real voice - as he explained watching the freckled Mistuhiko get sick. And wasn't it convenient, Kudo explained, that it wasn't long after he made the discovery and passed it on to the doctors, that a plastic wrapped box of Holmes and Watson action figures "sent from Mama" appeared on his doorstep, that Ran had opened and placed on a dinner plate for him, not thinking much of the small cut she's received on her finger from trying to open the thick plastic.
"But how the heck'd they figure out it w's you? Y' let the cop take th' credit fer the discovery."
"I don't know," Kudo admitted, "And that's really bothering me."
A long silence fell between the two young men, both lost in their thoughts.
Heiji was about to change topics, instead bringing up the imposter (because if it was really Organization, his best friend would be dead now), when Kudo opened his mouth first.
"The only way to do this is to draw Them out." The mumble almost wasn't heard.
Heiji blinked. "What?"
"We need to draw Them out."
"............ What?!" Heiji became saucer-eyed as he stared at his shrunken best friend, the mini detective's eyes hidden both under his glasses and his hair, mouth obscured by the tiny hand that held his chin. "Are y' outta yer mind?!"
Kudo looked up, his blue eyes exhausted, haggard, and utterly lost; but under that was an expression Heiji knew all too well; one he often wore whenever looking at his father:
"They're too good at hiding," Kudo was explaining, Heiji still trying to process what he was hearing and getting over the shock of seeing that kind of expression on his friend's face. "There isn't enough evidence to deduce who's performing the distribution - something I never thought I'd say - and even if we did, They would just quietly (or not so quietly) replace him, leaving us back at square one: no clues. If we're going to catch Them and make Them pay, we have to lure them out into the open. The only way to do that is to get their attention, and the only way to do that is if I start dropping more hints that I know about them."
"Yuh've lost one t' many hours sleep, Kudo," Heiji exclaimed. "Listen to what y're saying: Y're deliber'tely puttin' yerself out 'n the open. Y're riskin' exposure! If it doesn't work, then They know abou'cha and boom! You die fer real!"
"If it does work we'll have one of Them in custody," Kudo responded, his eyes still defiant. "The Japanese government will know about them, and the noose will be a little bit tighter. Don't worry, I'll be careful. I'll make sure they only get me."
"It's suicide!!" Heiji shouted, banging his fist on the table. He wasn't expecting this. A worried, exhausted, even fragile Kudo was one thing, he'd seen all variations of that; even a desperate Kudo he'd seen, but never, never an irrational Kudo. "Let's jus' say it does work, They'll still know abou'cha! An' everyone'll be at risk! Izzat what ya want? Is catchin' 'em worth killin' Nee-chan?"
Something in Kudo's face changed; it darkened like Heiji had only ever glimpsed before, the pain much more raw, as if the last hint of self restraint had sapped out of the diminutive detective.
Heiji's tone dropped, his face grave as he tried to drive the fact home. "Hurting yourself won't make Nee-chan's suffering any better," he said in clear, standard tones.
A small, ironic and loathing smile flitted across Kudo's face. "Maybe being rid of me and all the danger that follows me is for the best," he said quietly. Then he snapped open his wristwatch, Heiji dumbfounded as the tranquilizer needle pricked into his neck.
"Kudo--what--" But the dart was already doing its job, adding weight to his limbs, closing his eyes for him. He'd never tried to stop Kudo from doing anything, he had no idea how to do it, and now it was too late. His head banged on the table before he collapsed across the kitchen floor. "K... Kudo..."
But he fell asleep.
"I try and try and try, and she still got hurt. All I ever do is hurt her, and I can't stop it. What good... what good am I?"
Then he heard a faint, "Kudo!"
Spinning his head around, he saw the other detective, Hattori, skidding to a halt, looking around to find his friend.
"You know," he said, "For a guy that isn't much good, you sure have a lot of people who worry about you. I wonder what's wrong with them, unless they see something you don't?"
Hattori ran up to him, panting and out of breath.
"Don'cha.... pant.... evah..... huff, huff..... do that..... gulp.... again.... Ahou!"
"Ahou! ... Stupid thick headed... ahou! I oughta hit cha! Ya think yer're th' only one involved in this? Ya think I'd jus' stan' aside 'n' let cha get yerself killed? Ahou! Yer're better 'n 'at!"
Hattori continued to pant and catch his breath, Shinichi staring at his best friend, wide eyed. The tall Osakan kept muttering "ahou" under his breath.
He remembered Ran, in her hallucinations, being so grateful that he'd returned to her, been with her all the time; and then he looked at Hattori, having run likely half the city to the ground to try and find him. And Kaitou Kid, in his own whimsical way, making sure Everybody's Safe. To expend so much effort for him, over him, after everything he'd done...
He gave a soft, tired smile, one that made Hattori pause in his panting tirade.
"Sorry, Hattori," Shinichi said in low tones. "I guess... I guess I lost my head."
"Damn straight!" Hattori shouted, but there was no malice in it, as he straightened and wiped the sweat from his chin. " 'm gonna have a welt th' size o' riceball thanks t' that sleep dart."
Shinichi grinned and shrugged his shoulders, putting his hands in his pockets. "I don't know," he offered, "We can hope it's an improvement."
Ran flipped a page in her book though nothing she read was really registering in her brain. The past two days had been.... the best word was probably confusing. She was still in the hospital. Thankfully, though, she'd be released soon. Both her parents and the doctors had informed her that she had the same poisoning the elementary students of Beika had been suffering from. This didn't make much sense to her. She'd spoken to both Genta-kun and Ayumi-chan since their release from the hospital, and neither remembered anything of their illness or hallucinations. Ran, however, had very clear memories of everything that had happened to her, both before and after hospitalization. She remembered her long talk with Shinichi and the thief Kaitou Kid spiriting the shrunken sleuth away...
But that had been two days ago. And that was her hallucination, right? After Kaitou Kid had taken away Shinichi, Ran had awoken to her parents' worried faces and that was all she had seen since - no visitors outside of family while the doctors monitored her condition. It had taken work (and her mother holding back her father from going for a doctor every time) but she had stopped referring to Conan as Shinichi. Ran understood her father's concern. She had thrown him across the room for no reason.
But even though the doctors were pleased with her improvement, Ran couldn't bring herself to tell them that she remembered her "hallucinations". That if she thought about it enough, she was certain that they weren't hallucinations or dreams, but the truth.
She needed to talk to Conan. But he never visited her. Kogoro had told her that "the Osakan brat" was looking after him, since he himself was busy. When Eri had demanded what was more important than looking after a child, he replied hotly that his time was divided between hospital visits and three tailing jobs he'd taken on to take care of the bills. If the Osakan brat wanted to take a little responsibility off his shoulders, he wouldn't argue. Eri quieted after that. Then pulled his ear about letting their finances get that bad. Ran chuckled at the memory.
But that didn't change the fact that she needed to talk to Conan. To see if that bizarre dream was just a dream or not. And if Conan really was a shrunken Shinichi and he really was supposed to be dead to stay safe, then there was much that needed discussion. Like trust. Except it wasn't about trust for Shinichi. Or rather, it wasn't about not trusting her, at any rate. Shinichi: brilliant, confident Shinichi, didn't trust himself with the stakes so high.... and the possible price so great....
Ran flipped another page.
"Eh?" the hospitalized teen looked up to see Sonoko dive into her arms, sobbing.
"Ran! I was so worried! You didn't come to school and I couldn't reach you at your home or anyone for that matter and it wasn't until I called your mom that I found out you got the same disease as the kids. Ran-chan, are you okay?"
Ran couldn't help but chuckle and hug her best friend a little closer. "I'm fine, Sonoko, really I am." The heiress sat back, wiping away tears. "I'll be released in about three days and back to school before you know it!"
"I'm so glad," Sonoko sniffed. Without the other girl in her arms, Ran took a moment to study her friend.
"Wait a minute! Sonoko, did you skip school just to visit me?"
"Of course! I heard that even your husband was worried enough to sneak in to see you!" So that wasn't a dream. "I've been trying to come in since I found out, but your mother made sure all the nurses and staff knew what I looked like so I couldn't come in. Something about making sure you rest. Really, all I'd want is to talk! It's not like I'd make you start dancing or something."
Ran put on a smile. She'd think about Conan (Shinichi?) later. "I was very weak, Sonoko. Even asking how my parents were doing tired me out."
Sonoko pouted. "Fine fine!" she said airily. "Today's the first day they're letting in non-family visitors anyway." The heiress gave a soft smile. "I missed you, Ran."
Sonoko's smile grew wider and Ran just knew that Sonoko was all better. She worried, though, when the heiress's smile grew more sly. "Sooooo, I heard from the nurses that Shinichi actually came out of hiding from my wrath to check on you. How sweet! He's not hopeless after all!"
Ran sighed and, after a second's hesitation, lied to her best friend. "I don't remember it." She didn't want to talk about it.
"Awwww!" Sonoko sat back, looking disappointed. "I guess I still need to instill my wrath upon him."
Changing topics. "So, Sonoko, do you have some homework for me? I've been bored with nothing to do and I don't want to fall behind."
The heiress made a face. "No, I don't. I'll bring it in tomorrow."
"Sure thing," she shrugged. "But I can catch you up on other things. Did you know..."
Ran put her book down with a smile and settled in for some much missed girl talk.
Hours later, Ran was smiling and feeling tired, but content. Being able to talk with Sonoko seemed to put everything back into perspective with a heavy dose of normal. If it wasn't for Sonoko's unknowing confirmation that Kaitou Kid had whisked Conan away, Ran could think the whole thing was just a dream.
She had settled down with her book, actually reading it this time, while waiting for the nurses to arrive and transfer her to a shared room now that she was doing so well. Her father had dropped by during her lunch and spent some time with her before heading back to his tailing jobs. Her mother had also stopped in shortly after, before she had to get to another meeting. Sonoko's visit that morning had really lifted her spirits and helped her push thoughts of Shinichi and Conan aside.
"Ya don't look sick 't all."
Ran looked up, surprised. "Hattorki-kun!" The Osakan detective grinned brightly as he took off his hat and jacket.
"Heard ya were sick butcha look fine t' me."
She smiled. "I'm still not quite back at full strength, but the doctors say the worst has passed."
Hattori nodded as he took a seat. "'Spected that. I hear the docs here gotta better handle on all o' this 'n' how ta treat it." He smiled somewhat sadly. "Wish they'd known all o' this 'en Kazuha was sick."
Ran felt ice suddenly run through her veins. "Kazuha-chan had this?!"
"Yep," Hattori crossed his arms and looked down. "'llucinations 'n' all. Nearly broke m' arm on 'a way home f'm school." The dark-skinned detective looked up with a smile. "She's b'n callin' m'ear off tryin' to find out how y'are. Never min' the whole No Visitors policy."
"Is Kazuha-chan alright?"
"'Course. Brought 'er back home earlier this week. She's pro'ly workin' her ass off ta get back inta shape. If her parents let 'er, that is."
"But she's okay?"
"Yeah. She's fine."
Ran let out a sigh of relief, and to her shock (and Hattori's as he didn't know what to do with it), tears started to flow down her cheeks as the emotional upheaval of the past few days and the uncertainty of her health and the questions she had for Conan flowed up and out. "Oh Hattori-kun," she sobbed. "I've been so scared!"
Under his breath Hattori muttered "...told Kudo he shoulda come but nooooo....." as he leaned forward and attempted to pat her on the shoulder.
She remembered Shinichi saying that Hattori knew of his... condition, but she didn't want to discuss it with him until she'd talked to Conan. Everything had to wait until she'd spoken to Conan. She didn't know what Hattori did or didn't know. Maybe parts of her "hallucinations" were real and other parts weren't. But the Osakan often called Conan "Kudo", something Shinichi despised as the chance of blowing his cover. Shinichi may have told Hattori that she'd been sick, but he may not have mentioned their talk; Shinichi was always private like that.
So she couldn't talk about what she needed to talk about.
"I'm sorry, Hattori-kun," she mumbled, trying to pull herself together. "The doctors have told me a little about this that they haven't told the media." Actually, all her information was from Shinichi and confirmed by what she'd seen and overheard from the doctors. "It's not an illness or disease but some sort of drug. The doctors don't think I got a full dose and the treatment they've started using on Mitsuhiko-kun and the more recent victims has worked really well on me, but it's still so scary...." She was babbling and she knew it. But she couldn't stop it. "My parents put on a good face in front of me, but I can tell this petrified them. I actually attacked my dad!"
Hattori's eyes widened. He hadn't known that. Either Shinichi hadn't told him or it was just a dream. But it wasn't a dream. She was so certain...
"Today was the first day that either of my parents have gone back to work and not spent the day with me...
"Poor Conan-kun. I haven't seen him since I was hospitalized. He hasn't come to visit. When I call home, he's not there, he's not at Professor Agasa's, none of his friends have seen him, Dad says you've been looking after him. Please, Hattori-kun, is he okay?"
Is he really Shinichi? Is he breaking down under all the stress he's under? He nearly broke in my arms, is he handling this or ignoring it? Did Kaitou Kid really take him back to the Kudo house? I've been too scared to call......
She couldn't talk about it, but as long as Hattori was there she was going to pry answers out of him, even if she had to call Kazuha to do it.
Heiji left the hospital feeling exhausted. Ran had a lot of worries that she wasn't showing her parents, but would show to Conan if he was around. But Kudo wasn't there and Heiji ended up being the next best thing for her. She had poked and prodded him about both Conan and Shinichi. If Heiji didn't know better, he'd swear Ran's hallucination had been about the two of them, but she claimed she didn't remember and Kudo refused to talk about it. And, while Heiji would admit that he lacked tact, he wouldn't pry into something so private unless someone brought it up to him.
He'd tried asking the doctors and nurses some questions about the poisoning, but was impressed with the stonewalling he'd received. The staff were petrified of anything leaking to the media, not that Heiji could blame them. Apparently, if you weren't a specific officer from the police department, nothing was to be said. Heiji admitted it was a good policy. Nobody wanted Tokyo panicking (or all of Japan for that matter) but it made for gathering information rather difficult.
"Che. Almost wish I waz Kudo-size. Then I'd b' able ta sneak 'n fer the stuff I needed..."
Heiji's stomach informed him that he hadn't eaten since early that morning before he'd gone down to chat with Inspector Megure. So he stopped off at a small restaurant and ordered some take out.
The visit with Megure had been just as fruitless as talking to the hospital staff because the police didn't know anything more than what Kudo had given them through Kaitou-Kid-impersonating-a-cop. (Heiji still had a hard time swallowing that.) All the legwork he'd been doing was turning up nothing and Heiji was getting frustrated. He'd consulted on cold cases back in Osaka before and he knew how slow it could be going back over the same material until the proverbial light bulb went off, but they weren't getting even a whiff of a direction to go in. No wonder Kudo wanted to draw out the Organization.
With a sigh, Heiji took his order and got on a bus to head back to Kudo's house.
"Oi, Kudo!" he called when he arrived. "Food's here, so c'mon 'n' eat!" No response. "'m I gonna have ta find ya 'n' stuff it down yer throat?"
"No need to get violent," Kudo grumbled next to him, making Heiji jump.
"Geez, when'd ya learn ta sneak like that?"
Kudo glared up at him. "When this," he gestured to his childish frame, "happened, it rather became a necessity."
"An' here I thought tha' thief o' yers may ha' taught ya somethin'."
A small foot landed hard in his shin.
"Ow! C'mon Kudo, get s'me humor!"
The diminutive detective said nothing, merely sighed and went into the kitchen. Heiji limped after him and quietly got lunch set up. The Osakan was glad that Kudo seemed a little more together than when he'd first found him, but something still seemed off, like he wasn't back up to a hundred percent yet. He hoped the small detective didn't start breaking again because Heiji wasn't sure what to do if he did.
So, try and lighten the mood.
Heiji nearly dropped his chopsticks. "Then why haven't ya?! We're always chasin' down crooks. So he's flashier 'an other thieves, he's still a criminal."
Kudo shook his head. "In that case, so am I."
"Hattori, think about it. Edogawa Conan is a fake identity and it wasn't created through Witness Protection. It's a complete forgery. That doesn't even get into the computer hacking I've had to do to access files or breaking and entering and trespass to get into a crime scene, to a large number of other offenses I've done." The smile widened with the irony.
"But what am I? A person who is a victim. Someone who's trying to right a wrong done to him. I chase after Them because of what was done to me. And I'm breaking the law to do it, but I'm trying to make sure that nobody gets hurt by either Them or me."
Kudo took another sip of his coffee. "And what is Kaitou Kid? He's the second Kid, most likely because the people who shoot at him killed the original. So he's someone who's trying to right a wrong done to him. He's chasing after something because of what happened to him. And he's breaking the law to do it, but he tries to ensure that nobody gets hurt by either the people after him or by himself."
The odd smile softened slightly as Kudo closed his tired eyes. "Really, he's no different than me. I have no right to arrest him. Catch him, yes; but not arrest him."
Heiji sat back, once again in awe of his best friend. It wasn't often, but once in a while Kudo would spout something out that just... humbled him. The very first time had been when they'd first met face to face and Kudo had said, "There are no wins or losses, no higher or lower; what there is, is one truth." Similarly, when he'd said, "A detective who corners someone with logic, but lets the culprit commit suicide is no different from a murderer". It was why (even if Heiji would never say it out loud) Kudo was the better detective. Not because of the ability to observe, deduce, and verify, but because of something, deep down, that was just.... natural.
Sighing, Heiji sat back. "Well, the hosp'tal 'n' Megure came up blank. Didja find anythin' 'bout poss'ble plastic producers?"
Kudo shook his head. "No."
"Heh," the Osakan shrugged. "I suggest a break 'is afternoon. Ya need more sleep. I'm gonna call Kazuha 'n' give 'er an update on Nee-chan."
Haibara looked down at her feet as they swung back and forth from her perch at the foot of a hospital bed. She had only been gone for a week and so much had happened. When she had originally told Kudo that she would be leaving, she had thought she was leaving him in good hands. Ran, being his "nee-chan" would look out for him and make sure he took care of himself and Mitsuhiko would be glued to his side during investigation work, as good a deterrent as ever was to keep Kudo out of trouble. After all, with signs of the Organization behind the propane alkaloid mixture, it wasn't really all that surprising that Agasa had packed her up and made sure she was out of town for a while.
But if she was ever to leave, she always made sure that certain things were taken care of, Kudo being the first on her list. The shrunken sleuth had, in many ways she never admitted, saved her life, even saved her soul if she was feeling spiritual at all. Not only that, but he was her running experiment on the poison she had created and its rare and odd... side effect. Not that she ever showed it, but she had a lot of feeling where that not-boy was concerned. Not all of it she could label, but what she could identify were gratitude and admiration. Kudo was a very rare type of person.
So if she ever had to disappear for a while, she always ensured certain measures were in place. Usually, she didn't have to do much. Ran and the Shounen Tantei usually were the primary line of defense in keeping him relatively safe. If the Shounen Tantei were with him, Kudo was always extra careful because he had their safety to consider. If Ran was there, well, she was the only "adult" that ever truly kept an eye on him. And Kudo always tried to keep her safe, so he always kept an eye on her.
It had been a shock to discover that Ayumi and Genta had been poisoned. She'd been skeptical at first when Kudo came over with skin and blood samples for her to test. But Kudo was her one shot at taking down an organization of pure evil, the ones who had killed her sister, so she always humored whenever he started getting suspicious. Both she and Agasa had been horrified by what they had found and Agasa had turned around at that moment and asked her if she was interested in a convention that would be happening down in Kyoto. That was two weeks ago.
She had wanted to visit Genta and Ayumi, but by the time visitors would be allowed, she had been on her way to the old capital with her research notes in hand to ensure that they'd get better treatments. By the end of the convention, both she and Agasa were already starting to hear positive things from the doctors she'd found as they shadowed them. All her research was paying off. The latest victims were responding better. Something to ease her conscious.
The previous day, Friday, they had arrived home and Agasa had called the Mouri residence so that they could update Kudo on what had been happening. But there had been no answer. Calling around had received nothing, so Haibara had done some of her own investigating. It was very possible that everyone was out for the day, but something seemed off to her, especially since Kudo didn't answer over the Detective Badges.
So she had gone to Mitsuhiko’s house in hopes that his parents would know where their polite son had gone with Edogawa-kun. Imagine her surprise when she was told that Mitsuhiko was hospitalized and had been for the past week.
Haibara had left the parents in a daze. One more of the supports for Kudo had been removed. That was dangerous. And she had been a fool to think of Mitsuhiko as safe. The poisonings were random. Granted, they were aimed at elementary school students, but there was no rhyme or reason to who was drugged or when. Realistically, there was no way to know that Kudo or Mitsuhiko wouldn't be poisoned, because they didn't know the method of poisoning. There had been the chance that whatever delivered the toxin could also deliver it to those she was leaving behind, and it had happened.
Of all the Shounen Tantei, Ayumi showed the most level head, but when it came to knowledge of facts, Mitsuhiko was the best. There was no denying that Kudo was like an encyclopedia, but Mitsuhiko also had a large set of knowledge himself. His insatiable curiosity was no match for the mini-detective, but there was no denying that the skinny boy showed a great deal of promise, especially in the sciences. Haibara envied Mitsuhiko’s wonder and amazement with each new experiment in class or fascinating fact that either she or Kudo would spout off.
Haibara wasn't blind. She saw the close bonds between people who had grown up together. Kudo and Ran being a primary example, as well as the Kansai couple. Even amongst the Shounen Tantei, there was a connection that the three actual kids shared. It was something that Haibara herself had been denied growing up in the Organization as she had. All she'd had was her sister, and she was gone. Looking at these examples, it made her wonder if she was capable of maintaining such friendships. She was hardly the open or friendly type and, as far as she was concerned, she wasn't all that desirable to know. But Kudo had once pointed to the three Shounen Tantei and they had, without question swarmed around her to try and make her feel better.
It made her wonder, if during this childhood she actually could have childhood friends. An interesting experiment.
But Mitsuhiko getting drugged merely showed her that this wasn't just an experiment. This wasn't about discovering what she could and couldn't do as a person once she was put into a "normal" situation. These children had lives as well. And something she was tainted with had rubbed off on them. And Mitsuhiko, of all people, hit her the worst. She wasn't blind to his crush on her. The skinny child had always had an interest in science, but once he learned she liked science as well, there was no denying the look of puppy-love that tended to appear on his face when he looked at her. She outwardly remained oblivious to it, as was her role, but that didn't stop a small soft spot for him emerging when there really shouldn't be one. It was the same with Ayumi, who had also found some way to worm herself into Haibara's closed heart.
Haibara looked up from her swinging feet to see Mitsuhiko blinking owlishly.
"Good morning," she replied in her usual monotone voice.
The skinny boy looked around. "G-goo-d..."
"Your throat is undoubtedly dry. Wait a moment." She hopped off the foot of the bed and pushed one of the chairs in the room to the bedside table. She climbed up gracefully and poured some ice water from a waiting pitcher into a small Styrofoam cup. Standing on the chair, she turned and offered the cup to Mitsuhiko.
He had a faint blush, but he looked more awake as he took the offered drink and scooted over to make room for her to sit.
Haibara hesitated. It might be viewed as encouraging a relationship and she wasn't sure she wanted to do that. Despite physical appearances, she wasten years older than him. Any interest she showed could be viewed as pedophilia. However, the same could be said for any man her true age that she might someday be attracted to. But it was a dilemma she could work on later. For now, she was a child and Mitsuhiko was a child. So she levered herself onto the bed and sat beside the freckled boy with some space between them.
Mitsuhiko took a long sip from his cup and gave a small sigh of contentment. "Good morning, Haibara-san. Did your vacation go well?"
Vacation. Of course, that would be how children viewed her disappearance, instead of hiding from danger.
"It was good," she told a half-truth. "Professor Agasa took me to a science convention down in Kyoto. It was very... informative."
"I am pleased." The skinny boy glanced around again. "Do you know where my parents are? They are usually here at this time."
"Your mother told me that your father couldn't get out of a meeting and your mother received a call about something in your apartment breaking down and she needed to oversee the repairs. She told me that she really didn't want to leave."
Mitsuhiko nodded. "Our washing machine has been most finicky lately. I am unsurprised." He was blushing again and fighting to keep it under control. "I am sorry that you had to come home to my... illness, Haibara-san."
There was a hesitation, in how he described his condition. "Do you know what happened to you?" she asked.
The freckled boy looked around again, and leaned to her ear. "I do not think I should mention the details. But Conan-kun thinks that this is not an illness, but a poisoning."
Haibara's heart stilled. "He told you that?" How could he? If he was to keep these children safe from Them, he shouldn't have said that it was poison, it was like broadcasting that he knew They existed.
Mitsuhiko leaned back. "I do not think Conan-kun meant to. When my..." he paused, hunting for a word.
"'Condition'," she supplied.
"Thank you. When my 'condition' started, Conan-kun was quite worried. Unfortunately, I do not remember much after a police officer started carrying me to the hospital. But I--"
"Ah! Mitsuhiko-kun! You're sharing a mystery without us!"
Both Haibara and Mitsuhiko blinked and looked over to Genta and Ayumi leaning through the door and grinning brightly.
The freckled boy smiled brightly. "Ayumi-chan! Genta-kun! You are well! I am so pleased to see you! Conan-kun, Haibara-san and I have been quite worried about your health! It is good to see you have recuperated so swiftly!"
Above the children, Genta's mother and Ayumi's mother smiled.
"We came here straight from school!" the small girl chirped, clambering up onto the bed.
"We even skipped out 'n lunch!" Genta agreed, looking at his mother in an attempt of puppy-eyes as he took the chair that Haibara had climbed off of.
"Okay, Genta-kun. Yoshida-san and I will get the four of you some lunch," Genta's mother smiled. "Remember to watch your language."
"Have fun, Ayumi-chan, don't strain yourself." The two mothers smiled at the children and closed the door to head to the cafeteria.
"So!" Genta rubbed his hands together in excitement. "What's this mystery?"
Haibara hesitated, but Mitsuhiko did not. For the skinny boy, there would never be secrets from his friends. Haibara rather envied his innocence. "The case of our poisonings."
"EH??" the other two children chorused.
"SHHHHH!!" Mitsuhiko shushed.
"It would probably be best if we didn't let adults know what our discussion was about," Haibara added. "This is a somewhat... different sort of case."
"Haibara-san is correct, we must keep the utmost secrecy."
"Well?" Genta demanded in a whisper. "What the hell have we missed?"
Haibara let Mitsuhiko explain, interested in listening to how much he'd been able to absorb from Kudo in regards to what was going on, as well as knowing how he was investigating since she had spent all her time in front of a microscope.
The skinny boy explained, starting from discovering Genta was in ICU to taking Ayumi to the hospital (the small girl had been appalled at how she had treated Mitsuhiko and Conan and apologized repeatedly) to checking attendance at school. From there, with a list of who was out, Mitsuhiko had explained how he and Kudo had gone to each home looking for clues but coming up with nothing.
"Ai-chan," Ayumi asked, "where were you while Mitsuhiko-kun and Conan-kun were doing all this?"
"I was helping the Professor look into what sort of compound could cause the symptoms that you showed." No need to mention the blood sample that had turned their world upside down.
"Plus, she was away last week," Mitsuhiko added before continuing. "However, the case started to make more sense to Conan-kun when I was poisoned, for we discovered the method of delivering the poison."
"Like a murder weapon?" Genta asked, his face intense.
Mitsuhiko nodded, his earlier excitement in explaining the case dimming. "I had," his face flushed, "received a gift in my shoe locker."
"Oooooooohh!!" Ayumi cheered. "Who was it from?"
"A very bad person," Mitsuhiko replied quietly. Looking up, he looked at his... their two friends. "Genta-kun, do you not remember the treasure box you apparently received?" The large boy nodded. "Ayumi-chan, you were given a Yaiba doll?"
"Oh yeah," the girl nodded.
"Both were encased in a thick plastic, were they not?"
"Uh-huh," both agreed.
"I'm pretty sure I cut myself on the damn stuff," Genta nodded. "It's so hard to pull apart and that kinda stuff's always slippin' in your hands."
Ayumi nodded her head fervently. "I did to!"
Haibara had already seen where this was going. That explained how such a dangerous toxin had been administered into a child's bloodstream, the children did it themselves without realizing it.
"The same occurred with me," Mitsuhiko nodded, a finger rubbing along a week-old cut on his hand. "Conan-kun started to act most peculiarly after I had cut myself. I have never seen him so panicked before."
Haibara nodded to herself. That would make sense. And Kudo in a panic ranged from being highly paranoid to doing anything to accomplish an immediate goal. Getting Mitsuhiko to a hospital would definitely fall in the later category.
"I am uncertain if I am correct, but I believe that Conan-kun knows who may be behind this, or at least has an idea."
"And he didn't share any of this with me!" Genta growled. "He was over at my place after I was released 'n' he didn't say anythin'? Damn him!"
"Edogawa-kun most likely needed a break," Haibara coolly stated. "With me out of town and the rest of you hospitalized, it would make sense for him to pull back."
"But this is Conan-kun!" Ayumi exclaimed. "He's always investigating things by himself!"
"I doubt he can investigate at the moment," Mitsuhiko said quietly, looking down again. "My mother told me yesterday that Ran-nee-san has also been hospitalized."
And suddenly, it made sense that she hadn't been able to reach Kudo at all.
"Hattori-niisan is looking after him while Mouri-ojiisan is looking after Ran-nee-san."
At least Hattori would keep Kudo out of trouble. Haibara let out a small sigh of relief.
"This is... scary," Ayumi mumbled, looking down at the sheets. "A lot of kids have been hurt by this, right? Why would anyone try and do this? What should we do?"
"We investigate the bastards, of course!" Genta replied.
"I agree," Mitsuhiko nodded. "I do not want to see any other classmates hurt by this. As detectives, is it not our responsibility to make sure that people are safe?"
Haibara smiled. Kudo really didn't realize how much influence he had on these children, how much they trailed right after him. He was even instilling his intensively strong moral fiber into them without him even realizing it.
"But where do we start?" Genta growled, frustrated. "How do we find who dropped off the plastic? Do we case the shoe lockers waitin' for another delivery?"
Haibara was going to have to take the lead now. In order to keep these children away from Them. Because if they found who the culprit was, they might get into even worse trouble. "I think we should try a different approach," she suggested. "Why don't we try and work with the professor and figure out what could be used to make the poison and where those ingredients could be obtained." She'd have to brief the professor that evening and set a few things up for when they came over, but it would keep them occupied and out of trouble. She would also have to call Hattori that evening to see how the mini detective was doing and share some information.
"An excellent idea, Haibara-san," Mitsuhiko glowed. "I will be released tomorrow. I have heard that some new treatments have sped my recovery greatly. I look forward to coming over."
"Yay!" both Genta and Mitsuhiko cried out.
Talk dissolved into less serious things: seeing what everyone else was up to, how school was with so many fewer students, etc. When Genta and Ayumi's parents returned, there was much cajoling and prying to ensure that they would be able to visit Haibara the following day, and even triple the effort when Mitsuhiko’s mother arrived to ensure that he would be there as well.
As they continued to chatter animatedly, Haibara let herself drift with the flow of conversation, reflecting on how lucky she was that these children were safe and that her work with Agasa on creating treatments had contributed to Mitsuhiko recovering at a much faster pace. She cared a great deal about these children, but there were a lot of walls between her and them. Perhaps she should take down some of her barriers. Not all, but something to show how grateful she was that they were still there.
Quietly, she leaned over to the skinny, freckled boy, and whispered, "You don't have to call me 'Haibara-san'."
Mitsuhiko’s face went scarlet and he looked at her with a large smile. "Thank you so much. I greatly appreciate the honor... Ai-san."
And Ai felt a small part of her cold heart melt.
Two days later, Monday morning, Saiko was once again sitting on one of the beanbags in his office, looking at a student he was worried about. Edogawa Conan looked exhausted as he sat quietly in a bright red beanbag as he fought back a yawn. When Saiko had heard that one of Conan's guardians, Mouri Ran, had been put in the hospital, he'd been worried. This poor child had had his circle of friends disappear and now a family member as well. And what bothered the school psychologist the most was that Conan refused to talk about it to him. He had very rarely ever seen a child so close-mouthed. If it weren't for the fact that he knew Ran and her father from when they'd been in his school years ago, he'd suspect child abuse. But Conan showed none of those symptoms. He never had unexplained bruises and his interactions with both other faculty and students were all healthy. The little boy was quite the puzzle.
"How are you, Conan-kun?"
Silence. Not even an attempt at distraction with chatter like he'd done before. Saiko let out a small sigh. This boy needed to talk to him. And soon.
"Mitsuhiko will be back in school this week, I hear."
Conan nodded. "He went home yesterday and he'll probably be back in class Wednesday at the earliest, his parents say."
"I've had the chance to talk to Ayumi-chan and Genta-kun since they came back to class. Some of the other students who've returned as well."
"They say that you haven't come to see them since Ran-kun got sick."
Conan bit back a yawn. "Haven't had the chance. I've been at the hospital with Ran-nee-chan."
"Come now, Conan-kun. I've spoken with Mouri-san and he says that you haven't been there since the two of you took Ran-kun to the hospital. He says some Osakan detective has been looking after you."
Another yawn was swallowed.
"Has the gentleman looking after you been treating you properly?"
To that question, the tiny boy let out a low chuckle that sounded much older than the child in front of him. "Hattori-nii-chan? He's great! He's been telling me all about these cases he's been solving back in Osaka! But he always stops in the middle of a story to send me to bed! It's not fair! All his cases are so cool, just like Ojii-san's!"
At least this Osakan was attempting to distract Conan from his troubles. That was a good thing, but they needed to be discussed eventually. Preferably with the school psychologist.
"Conan-kun, I know you're not very comfortable talking to me..."
The look on the boy's face agreed whole-heartedly.
"But you do realize that you'll need to talk to someone soon? So many of your friends, and now your family, have become ill. You can't bottle this all up inside."
"Really, Saiko-sensei, I'm fine!" he chirped lightly. "Hattori-nii-chan, and Agasa-hakase, and Ojii-san have all been really great." The smile wavered briefly. "It's kinda sad, and not exactly easy, but I'm okay."
The school psychologist nodded, a small ache starting to form in his back. "Very well, Conan-kun. Tell me about some of these investigations that you're currently in?"
The child scowled horribly. "Nobody's letting me investigate anything right now."
Whoever made that decision was very wise. The last thing such a child needed right now would be an investigation with so much emotion that wasn't dealt with yet. Saiko gave a warm smile. "Nothing at all? Not even something as benign as how your classmates are getting sick? I believe I heard that your Ojii-san might be investigating that."
Conan shook his head. "No, money's too tight. He said he'll only take a job where he knows he'll get paid." The child suddenly smiled brightly. "Should I tell him to investigate? Maybe he can find something! Would you pay him to do that?"
Saiko gave a warm and gentle laugh. "No, Conan-kun, I doubt I could afford a private investigator like Mouri-san."
"Awwww," Conan pouted.
The school psychologist gave another warm chuckle. "Okay, Conan-kun. You should probably get back to class. Take good notes for Mitsuhiko-kun, won't you?"
To that, Conan gave a look that was amused and looked much older than a child should. "I think Haibara-san will be taking care of that."
Saiko raised an eyebrow. "Okay, here's your pass," he said, scribbling out the date and time before levering himself back up.
"Hey, Saiko-sensei? You said you'll bless lucky balls?"
"No, Conan-kun, I'll take them to a shrine near me for a blessing. Why?"
"I have a lucky soccer ball. I was wondering if I could you wouldn't mind...."
And thus, the child was back at trying to distract Saiko. The school psychologist decided to play along. "I wouldn't mind at all, Conan-kun. Why don't you bring it in and I should have it back to you within a week."
Pass in hand, the child left Saiko's office. With a tired sigh, the psychologist sank into his swivel chair. Conan was really worrying him. Most of their conversation had been attempted lies and misdirection, childish as some of them were. And the child was good at misdirection from his own problems. Saiko hadn't had to deal with a child who didn't deal with things to such a degree since Kudo Shinichi had crossed his doorstep. Multiple times.
With another sigh, Saiko reached over to his phone. He had some phone calls to make.
Let's make one thing perfectly clear: Heiji planned this. After watching his best friend Kudo moping in a bottomless pit of angst for five days - something that even the throws of a high-stakes investigation couldn't shake off,; after watching Nee-chan brood in worry and indecision for three days - all over something that neither of them would talk about, well,; Heiji had had enough. And so, a full week after Kazuha came home from the hospital, Heiji was once gain celebrating that it was Tuesday. Why?
Ran was coming home. Hers had been the shortest stint in the hospital yet, less than a week.
It had taken a little bit of planning, of course. Getting the parents out of the house had been easy enough;, they were the ones bringing the girl home, and Kogoro, at least, was more than willing to spend time with his estranged wife. After that, it had been surprisingly simple to spirit away all the food in the kitchen - even simpler, Heiji realized, when he saw how little food was left. Five days of worry of two parents didn't leave much time for shopping, apparently. Laden down with the foodstuffs, Heiji carted them all over to Kudo's, using the excuse that he was getting tired of anything instant or take out. The pint sized detective had given him more than one suspicious look, but it was all "perfectly reasonable," as Heiji had explained when he tossed the milk and radishes and mushrooms in the fridge while munching on a rice cracker.
An hour later, once he knew Nee-chan was properly comfortable in her own room with the parents doting on her, he grabbed Kudo by the scruff of his neck and hauled him off his feet (once Heiji made sure that he had the watch).
But Kudo picked it up quickly enough as soon as Heiji left the house and turned left down the street.
"Hattori! Stop!! This isn't--"
"It's abs'lutely necessary," Heiji drawled, lugging the bespectacled boy over his shoulder. "Yer angst is gettin' on my nerves, an' so's hers. But go ahead; throw a tantrum in fronta everyone. Kick 'n' scream like a toddler."
Kudo growled but otherwise stayed silent.
As it turned out, Heiji's timing was perfect. He rang the doorbell politely before opening the door with Kudo's keys to see the Mouri parents going at it.
"You never think far enough ahead--"
"And you're too busy micromanaging--"
"It's your home--"
"It's your job--"
"Ya!" Heiji called over their voices. "There a problem?"
"You shut up!" Kogoro growled, "And get that freeloader out of my sight!"
Across his shoulder, Heiji heard a very impolite word, and the green-eyed teen could only breath a laugh before bending down to drop the boy detective. He kept a firm grip on said detective's shoulder. "Conan-kun here's been too scared ta see Nee-chan inna hospital. I figured he'd have 'n easier time here," he threw a meaningful look to his best friend, "where it's a li'l' safer."
Eri, more demure than her husband, gave a soft smile. "That was very thoughtful of you. I'm sorry, though, that I can't serve any snacks." At this the wife gave a very dark glare to Kogoro. "It seems someone forgot to buy food."
"I already told you--" Kogoro started, but Heiji already had it covered.
"If ya want, I can look after Nee-chan and K-onan-kun here," he said, catching himself.
"I'm not leaving my daughter alone with a teenage boy!" Kogoro fumed.
Eri, behind him, rolled her eyes and grabbed his ear. "It's your own fault, 'dear,' so if you even think about complaining I'll be happy to remind you. Besides, you wouldn't even know what to buy. It's a wonder Ran has turned out as well as she has. Your influence..." Her lecture could be heard all the way out the door and down the stairs to the street as she pulled Kogoro along.
Heiji blinked after the couple, not having many memories of the two to recognize it as normal behavior. That didn't last long, however, as he realized that Kudo was no longer in his grip, and he twitched.
"Oi!" he called out, spying the diminutive detective making for the door. "Are ya that much ova coward?"
"Hattori, I'm not ready for this! I--" Kudo froze, his face a myriad of emotions and memories, before he looked away. "I'm not ready."
Heiji sighed through his nose, having sympathy, before shrugging his shoulders and lunging for him again. Kudo tried to back away, but his predilection for corners and having his back to a wall worked against him, and martial arts won out over soccer in a grabbing contest. He hoisted Kudo to his hip, rolling his eyes as the not-boy threw a boy's tantrum: squirming and whining and shouting all the while as Heiji made his way to his final destination.
She obviously heard them coming, but Heiji knocked anyway out of politeness before sliding open the door and walking into Nee-chan's room.
"Ya!" he said brightly. "Hate ta drop in an' run, but I just 'membered this really important appointment back at Kudo's place. Call me if ya need me, but otherwise, have fun!"
He unceremoniously (if much more professionally than Kogoro) tossed the pint-sized Kudo onto Ran's bed and slid the door closed.
Then he waited. Only when he was certain that the talking was real and not a ploy to get him to move away from the door did he go back to Kudo's and fish out the food he'd been ferrying. He was getting hungry, after all.
Conan lay sprawled on the bed, mentally cursing Hattori six ways from Sunday, before finally getting his hands under himself and hoisting himself back into an upright position. Ran was openly staring at him, eyes wide and unblinking, a flush of something coloring her cheeks. She looked beautiful. She looked confused.
"... Are you okay?" Conan asked, grimacing as he added, "... Ran-nee-chan?"
Her pause was even longer.
".......... Conan......... -kun?"
Paranoia, a trait he'd developed into a finely honed skill, messaged his brain saying to beware even as his eyes widened slightly at the thought.
Ran was still staring at him, unblinking, her brow furrowing as something was being put together behind her eyes. She nodded to herself slightly, her face becoming determined.
"There were two reasons," she said slowly, in carefully constructed and neutral tones. "The first needed a hypothesis: you working on a murder case, and getting hurt; the question revolving over whose name I would call out."
Conan's eyes doubled in size.
"The second was that you couldn't trust yourself; because even the slightest slip up could put you at risk, and while you would gladly put yourself on the line, you couldn't put me on the line." Ran looked him directly in the eyes. "Wasn't that right? Shinichi?"
........ Panic!! Panic, panic, panic, panic panic PANIC!! She knew! She remembered! How on earth did she remember?! That... It... What... Uaaagh! Shinichi's thoughts ran into all kinds of circles as sweat started to bead on his forehead and his breathing quickened. "Deny, deny, deny," that's what his paranoia center was screaming to his brain, while the guilt desk was shouting, "This is the consequence of your own selfishness! Now she's at risk!" while the blame office was growling, "Hattori, I'm going to kill you!!" all while an unnamed third party was whispering, "Just fess up and admit it; you're running out of chances like this." There were too many opinions to take a vote, and nobody wanted a subcommittee.
He was starting to hyperventilate, a fact that dimly crossed the violent debate going on in his head, as he was unconsciously backing up from the confrontation he always knew he had to face but never wanted to go through. Someone was giving a filibuster on the merits of fainting, and his body was just bout to take a vote on that when long fingers traced their way to his chin and tilted his head up, filling his unused vision with Ran.
"Shinichi, please," she begged in a soft voice, her face ready to shatter. "Don't break my heart again."
And finally, there was silence on the floor.
"..... 'm sorry," his voice said, startling Shinichi. One emotion finally, quietly, offered to take the front, and guilt swept across his childish features. "I'm sorry, Ran-neechan" he said in clearer tones. "I'm sorry... I'm sorry...Ran-neechan" He bent his head down, unable to look at her.
He was unaware of how vulnerable he looked, he always was, and stuck in the form of a child it was only more pronounced, and Ran was so moved she wanted to draw him into a hug and rock all the pain away. She wouldn't have dared when he was a teenager, and it was that realization and that kept her resolve from crumbling. Shinichi never wanted to be babied, soft as he was, and Ran had always respected that. Taking a deep breath, she drew his head up again to look into her eyes. "Is it really so terrible to let me help you?" she asked softly. She didn't dare speak any louder, her precious detective's temptation to deny everything was still warring behind his anguished eyes - he had still yet to admit anything, and until he did Ran had to mind her footfalls.
".... I can't see you at risk," he said, his voice a whine that sounded exactly like Conan. She had a double take. "I can't lose you."
"what are you trying to say," Ran said softly, trying to understand this complex little boy.
"But why couldn't you take it off for me?" the words left Ran's mouth before she fully realized what she was doing. She leaned forward, eyeing him. "Why did you have to stay away from me?"
Ran leaned back from her intimately close distance to Shinichi and hand going up to her cheek.
“ gomen ne Ran-neechan , it was shinichi niichan who told me to do that , I don’t want to cheat but I can’t see you hurting so lied to you , whatever I said was told me to say. I ‘m very very sorry. That’s why I can’t face you I know you missed Shinichi niisan very much that’s why you have those hallucination.” Replied Conan with some tears in his eyes.
With shock Ran asked “ you are saying you not shinichi, all that were hallucinations?”. Yes nodded Conan.
“ I ‘m sorry Ran-neechan , I know because of my face you always doubt it that’s why I think its better for you I should leave. I would call my mother to take me back.” Conan replied.
Will you leave me? Why? I mean ... I ‘m sorry that you have traumatize yourselfagain because of my stupid hallucinations. I so sorry.Conan-kun, please do not abandon me.
Do not worry Ran nee chan. Do not cry. He moved a little away and, as he suspected, saw her tears; He wiped them with his little fingers. I promise you I will not leave forever. Do not be sad, Shinichi niisan would not like anything to know that I made you sad, it was not my intention.
It's just ... I'm scared, you know. How I lost it to Shinichi could lose you, and I do not think I can stand to go through something like that again.
Don’t worry I will not leave but please keep smiling.
“ then Shinichi really came to visit?” asked Ran. “ Yes, but then He took flight to Hokkaido because he got information that drug was created there” replied Conan.
Then he smiled;, a watery, grateful one that didn't often cross his features, either as a boy or as a teen. About all he could muster in reply was a throaty, "........ Ah."
Ran replied with an evil smile. "I hope you don't think I'm going to suddenly throw my arms around you and kiss you again; a pedophile I am not."
Shinichi turned bright red, saucer eyed and slightly panicky, before he blinked and muttered under his breath, "So there were some things she did remember."
When Heiji came back, he noted that the parents had yet to arrive;, that surprised him little. It didn't take much to picture them arguing at a checkout line or over a sale in the market, and it was probably for the best., Kudo and Nee-chan needed the time to sort through the scare they'd inadvertently put each other through.
Knocking before digging out the key he'd taken from Kudo and letting himself in, he walked through the office and up the stairs to the apartment, minding his step. He only wanted to check in on them;, if they were still talking he'd turn right around and go back to giving them privacy.
"Ah, Hattori, there you are."
Spinning around, the Osakan found the pint-sized Kudo walking down the hall with a tray in hand. "I was wondering when you were going to get back."
Heiji kept his voice down, both in respect and caution of Nee-chan. "How'd it go?" he asked. "Did th' two o' ya get a chance ta talk?"
"Ah," Kudo said in conversational tones. "More than you'd imagine." Padding past the kendo student, he called down the hall, "Ran, he finally came back!"
Heiji blinked. "Oi, Ku--Conan-kun, shouldn't ya be callin' Nee-chan 'Nee-chan'?"
"Its okay alone if you want but not in public," Ran said, coming in dressed in straight-legged jeans and an oversized sweater. "no Ran-neechan it was because sudden I will always refer you to neechan."
Heiji blinked, his brain immediately jumping to only one conclusion.
Ran's smile was warm and welcoming. "I can hardly say I'm okay with the choices, but there's nothing to be done about it now, so it's best to just move on."
Heiji smiled right back, proud that Nee-chan was reacting so well. "Alright, then, let's get ta work."
“Ran-neechan can I help Heiji-niisan in this because it all was started for my school” asked Conan.
“okay but I will also help, I can’t forgive that criminal who done this to these innocent kids.” Replied Ran.
Conan, not about to let the recently hospitalized Ran do any work, collected the snacks Heiji had returned and the tea and served them in Mouri's office. Nee-chan wanted to be brought up to speed, and that took about an hour for the abridged edition to finally be finished.
"Is it really possible that they found out you were the one to discover how the poison was being administered?"
"Nothing is impossible," Conan replied. "they know the cop that took us to the hospital was, but anyone could have overheard the conversation we were having - even if they didn't suspect me specifically, it doesn't take much to learn I'm connected to your father, and with his 'reputation' the obvious choice would have been to take him out of the picture by making him obsess over his charges. It wouldn't have mattered which of us it was, so long as it was one of us. I'm willing to bet that's why it was left at our doorstep instead of my shoe locker." He turned to Heiji. "Did you learn anything?"
"I did some pokin'," the Detective of the West replied. "Since Nee-chan there haven' been any more cases. Since the culprit was averagin' a new case every three days, I'd say he's closin' up shop 'til the heat dies down."
Conan nodded. "Media attention has dropped down - wait a moment," he interrupted himself, reaching into a jacket pocket and pulling out a small marble. Rolling it around in his hand, Conan found what he was looking for and pressed the marble before placing it on the table. "There," he said.
"What is it?" Heiji asked, inspecting the device.
"Ah," Conan affirmed to their flabbergasted faces. "If he went to the bother of checking up on me, the bother of taking me home, the bother of bugging the house to see what he could do, it's only fair he listen when we're talking about the investigation. This was the only bug he put," he added when Heiji opened his mouth to protest, "and it was in the kitchen, where we did the most talking."
Heiji violently grabbed the marble-like device. "I hope ya get 'n ear infection!!" he shouted.
Conan snorted. "If you're quite finished," he retorted. "Media attention has dropped down as well, partly because there are no new sick kids but also because Agasa says the doctors have gotten pretty tight lipped. With Mouri Kogoro out of the picture, the culprit likely thinks it's safe to quietly finish collecting data and forward it to his or her superiors."
"Just how high do you think this goes?" Ran asked.
"High enough," Heiji and Conan said simultaneously, dark undercurrents in their voices.
"The big question is who the distributor is," Heiji replied, still glaring at the marble transmitter. He was so going to dissect that little piece of... Anyway, back on topic. "Shoe lockers are pretty open access, all you need is a loose connection of the school."
"But you need time to access the lockers," Ran offered, frowning in thought. "There's always someone coming in and out of school, parents for meetings, deliveries, kids leaving early..."
Conan snapped up to attention a fraction of a second before Heiji did. "That's it!!"
"What, what?" Ran said.
"Who in school knows all the students?" Conan said, honing in on Ran's question. "Who in school has free reign of the halls? Who in school can get the keys to the shoe lockers and not look suspicious doing it?"
"Administration," Heiji responded. "Teachers would only know sets of students, only admin would know the entire body, and if anyone asked about them poking around shoe lockers they could make the claim that they were looking for contraband."
"But that's still so many people..." Ran said, leaning forward. "The nurse, guidance, the principal and his team, that must be over a dozen suspects."
"But it's a starting point," Conan insisted. "Which is better than where we were."
Heiji stood up. "I'll hit the net," he said, "see 'f anyone in th' school 's any kind of medical backgroun' or medical connections."
"Ah," Conan replied. "It's time I started going back to school."
Nee-chan looked up in worry. "But that's not safe! They already tried to get to you--"
"The point was to distract Occhan," Conan said gently, reassuringly. "That, I can say, was successful."
"I don't like it..."
"Ran-neechan," Conan said, reaching over and grabbing the marble and turning it off, "I'm a great detective of East Kudo Shinichi’s apprentice ."
"No," Conan said, tapping his head. "I'm not helpless. My mind is my greatest weapon; and failing that, I have my shoes to kick them"
"B'sides," Heiji said, putting a hand under his chin. "He's got two great bodyguards."
As he sat in the chair across from his distributor, he gave a small half smile, because being an alcohol came with certain... expectations. Though Dealer himself didn't dip into it as much as the harder liquors, that didn't mean he wasn't perfectly capable, and as he stared at the person across from him, surrounded by motivational posters and kicking a duffle bag full of sports balls, Dealer was deciding if he needed to... terminate... this particular investment.
"You closed shop rather quickly," he started off genially.
"Of course," Dr. Bakekatsuwagawa, Saiko-sensei, as he preferred to be called, replied. "You got the numbers you wanted. I'm almost done collecting your data as well, though I must say, the data I'm collecting for myself could go on for months depending on how I milk this. Child psychology has always been such a fascinating field for me, and the opportunities you'd provide me if we decide to keep this contract will be innumerable."
Dealer hated scientists. They had no concept of reality. He asked, "And the cover story?"
"Will appear in about two weeks. All the students ate from the lunch cart, and all ate a particular fish from a particular boat, and it will be discovered it wasn't processed correctly. If that's too soon I can push it to three weeks."
"No, the sooner this operation is over the better," Dealer replied. "I was interested in how you would put this operation together; I needed to see how... creative, you could be in order to assess you as an asset, but there are certain things you have done that have cause for concern with my superiors."
"I followed the directions explicitly," Saiko-sensei replied, a tone of defense in his voice.
"Except for the part about not drawing attention," Dealer offered as counter point. "You failed to understand this operation is discrete."
"You don't know much about magic, then," Saiko-sensei responded, a smooth grin on his warm and friendly face. The incongruity of such an inviting face on man of such potential was always slightly disturbing, another thing in the doctor's favor when Dealer had selected him for this operation. "There are several tricks to sleight of hand, one of them is distraction. The public only knows that the children are getting sick, not how or why, and their instinctive rationale is something completely mundane, like a gas leak or bad food. The idea of someone deliberately poisoning children is dismissed out of hand as ridiculous. Although," and here his voice trailed off, and his face became thoughtful.
"What?" Dealer asked.
"One of the children, Edogawa Conan," he said. "He's the one with connections to that famous detective, Mouri Kogoro."
"You poisoned him right? Distracted the detective? There shouldn't be a problem, then," Dealer said. "Now you leave him alone for months."
Saiko-sensei shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not worried about the detective," he said genially, that warm smile still on his face. "I called after the daughter got sick, he's got his plate more than full, especially with the estranged wife in the picture however temporarily. But the boy is still a puzzle. I've been trying to press him, and I've never seen a child so closed-mouthed. He's inherently proud of Mouri-san, and he may decide to investigate under his own power."
"Let me get this straight," Dealer said, disbelief coloring his voice. "You're worried that a seven-year-old ankle-biter is investigating an experiment that my superiors constructed." Any potential this psychologist had vanished with that one completely insane thought.
The warm smile disappeared for a thoughtful frown. "It's not something I can put into words," the psychologist replied. "He hasn't graced my door before this started, so I didn't notice at first, but there is an air about him, an intelligence that he tries to hide but can't always manage. He reminds me of a repressed Kudo Shinichi, back when he was in elementary school." He laughed and waved a hand, "A name I'm sure you don't now, but I didn't get as far as I did when I was doing therapy without having instincts."
Dealer stood up and shrugged his shoulders, tired of listening to drivel. "Then kill him," he said simply. "You're proven how creative you are, so just take care of it."
Saiko-sensei blinked, swallowing hard. "I thought that was your department?" he asked slowly, his voice cracking.
Dealer leveled his best glare at the psychologist. "Why involve me when you much such a nice scapegoat? If you're crazy enough to think a child is a threat, then you're crazy enough to take care of him," he replied, before turning and leaving the school, black fedora in hand.
Wednesday and Thursday proved very busy for Conan, Ran, and Hattori, as the three started digging through the administration of Conan's elementary school. Looking up anyone with a medical background proved to be moot, since the school nurse, school psychologist, and guidance counselors had all taken medical classes during their college days (clinical psychology, after all, still counted as a medical class, despite Hattori's grunt of disapproval) and the three of them had been shocked to see that two secretaries were enrolled in night classes to become nurses and one of the vice principals was a volunteer EMT. So they were relegated to old-fashioned snooping in order to try and eliminate possibilities.
Wednesday had Hattori "dropping off" Conan really early in the morning, when only one secretary was there since Hattori, being from out of town, didn't know the schedule and had "messed up". So while the Osakan chatted with the secretary, Conan had free reign to quietly poke around and explore all of the secretaries' desks for any clues or information or anything out of place. That afternoon, Conan came to the office during the lunch block to "report a case of bullying" to the vice principal of his grade, and was allowed to patiently wait in his office while the office sent someone to collect him wandering the halls on his own version of "lunch duty". Still nothing.
The following day, Conan had dutifully done the same trick to check out the other vice principal's office, interested to see if this vice principal had any clues since this was the one who was a volunteer EMT. But this resulted in nothing, and Conan was able to "go home sick" as arranged with Ran, who like Hattori with the secretaries, chatted amiably with the school nurse while Conan rifled through things. Nothing yet again. Thursday afternoon had him, Ran, and Hattori contemplating various strategies to try and get Conan into the principal's office, but that seemed to be a bit more elusive a task.
Still, there was at least one more person that Shinichi could investigate for the week, and he decided to take care of it Friday. Ran had been expressing concerns with how often he'd visited administration the past few days, even if there were reasonable excuses to. Conan agreed; he was too far out in the open for his liking, but he wanted to get one more done before laying low for a while. With no new cases of poisonings, there was no doubt that the distributor, whoever he was, was also attempting to get out of the public eye and hide for a while, and Shinichi wanted to catch him before he slipped from their grasp.
So Friday, during the last class, Conan turned to Haibara and nodded. She nodded back and went back to their project. Mitsuhiko looked between the two and turned to Haibara to ask a question, but Conan was already talking to the teacher and putting on an appropriately "bothered" look.
"Hn? Yes, Conan-kun?"
"May I go see Saiko-sensei?"
The teacher looked down to him and smiled. From what the school shrink had mentioned during their talks, Shinichi knew that his teachers had been worried about him and if he had been handling the situation better, they never would have noticed. But for now, he could use their worry in his favor. He felt lousy doing it, but he didn't see much choice.
"Of course, Conan-kun. Here. There's no homework today and your friends can catch you up on anything you miss." She handed him a pass.
"Thank you," he replied politely and took the familiar route down to the guidance office. Now, when Hattori had given him a chance to go through the secretaries' desks, he had also noted who had meetings and when. Saiko-sensei had a PPT during this time, and Shinichi also knew that Saiko-sensei always left his door open in case a student needed a quiet place. So he handed his pass to the guidance secretary and quietly entered Saiko-sensei's office and shut the door behind him, though not all the way. No doubt the secretary would be calling into the meeting that Saiko-sensei had a student waiting for him, but for now, Shinichi had free reign. He doubted he'd find anything, but being able to do something was better than what the past month had been like.
Saiko smiled to himself as he strolled down the hall. The silent Edogawa Conan had finally appeared in his office asking to speak to him, instead of Saiko himself calling the reticent child down for a chat. Something must have happened to crack open the boy's silence and Saiko couldn't help but wonder what had occurred. Hopefully something interesting for the various case studies he was doing.
But the smile faded. Saiko turned the corner and looked through the windowed wall into the guidance department. Through those windows, he saw his door slowly swing open, as it always had a tendency to do whenever he didn't shut it completely, and he could see the bespectacled child looking through his desk and book shelves like a seasoned detective might. He was obviously doing a good job of keeping silent, since his secretary didn't seem to notice anything.
That just wouldn't do.
Saiko pulled out a handkerchief, ready to pull a middle-school prank. No fingerprints could be left behind.
Shinichi was unsurprised to see that Saiko-sensei's office had nothing out of the ordinary, like every other administrator he'd seen. Since some instinct had hijacked the remote of the constant TV and raised the volume up to blaring, there had been a constant drone along his awareness. He was missing something, he knew it with absolute certainty, but he had no clue as to what.
With a sigh, Shinichi started to unzip Saiko-sensei's duffle bag, curious to at least see which sports balls students wanted him to have blessed. Right on top of the balls was a leather-bound notebook that looked like it had seen a lot of wear and tear recently. Curiosity piquing and volume rising, Shinichi pulled out the notebook and flipped it open.
Inside looked to be notes. Lots and lots of notes. Case-study notes. On the children of Beika and how they handled the tragedy occurring to their classmates. With excited annotations and observations. Was Saiko-sensei going to publish something about the psychological effects of all this? That was just sick... And twisted enough that Saiko-sensei would probably be the type of person that the Organization would go after as a distributor, but not for recruitment. Then that meant that Saiko-sensei...
All thoughts were jarred as a piercing alarm cut through his brain and his thought processes. The high pitch shrill of a fire alarm engulfed the building and outside of Saiko-sensei's office, Shinichi could hear the sounds of an orderly fire drill as teachers and students started to flow outside.
Shinichi growled despite himself. He needed more than this to convince the police. He attacked the desk again with gusto, part of his mind already planning that he'd play the scared little kid if asked why he didn't evacuate like he was supposed to.
The thought had barely formulated, however, when something heavy collided with the back of his head and he pitched forward, darkness engulfing him.
"It just scares me, Hattori-kun," Nee-chan was saying as the two of them walked side by side to Conan's school. "When I think of Conan as... as... like that, I can't help but realize how vulnerable he is. That night when I... fell ill, and he was taken by... by..."
Heiji smiled softly with compassion. It took time and (on his part, at least) considerable effort to talk about Conan without talking about Conan so that eavesdroppers couldn't reference what was being said. She was better about it than he was, at first, and that was to her credit.
"Y'mean th' time Kudo took Conan-kun home?" he supplemented.
"Yes," she said grateful for the words. "Conan-kun, he was limp in... Shinichi's arms, he was so defenseless."
Heiji laughed good-naturedly as they crossed the street. "One thin' about that guy, Nee-chan," he replied, "izzat he ain't defenseless." He laughed again, but Ran's face persisted in worry. In more serious tones, he said, "Look, Nee-can, he doesn' want ya t' think he's defenseless; 's."
"I know, Hattori-kun, I do know; even before he... before this started I knew he didn't want to be thought of as defenseless. "
Y' can't think that way," Heiji interjected. "Once ya do, it just goes downhill from there, an' in the long run it only hinders'im, 'cause he doesn't think that way. It took me time, too."
The pair lapsed into a comfortable if heavy silence, crossing another street and turning the corner to Conan's school...
... to see a throng of children and adults milling about across the street.
"What's going on?" Ran asked, but Heiji was a few steps ahead of her, power walking to the nearest adult.
"Excuse me," he said in polite tones. "We're here t' pick up a student. Why's ev'ryone out here?"
The adult, a teacher, apparently, moved to answer before swiveling her head around. "Kirigawa-kun! Get back in line right now or I call your mother! Yes, sorry, the fire alarm was pulled about fifteen minutes ago. Hanamane-chan! Stop poking the people around you; and no, don't pretend that I don't see it!"
Heiji only asked one more question. "Did ya know there wuz going ta be a drill?"
"No, but we're not always - Ichouyama-kun and -chan!!"
Right. Next source. Heiji took Ran by the hand and started leading her through the mob of waist high bodies.
"Hattori-kun, does this mean--?"
"Relax, Nee-chan," he said smoothly, even as worry started climbing up his own spine. "Conan says it himself, ya need ta verify the facts first before ya jump t' a conclusion." But, to be sure, in his knowledge fire drills were always given at certain times of the day, never during the lunch blocks, never before classes start, and certainly never fifteen minutes before the end of the school day. Nee-chan was a worrier, though, and better to wait until Conan was found before she started to have a heart attack. "Oi!" he called out, looking at a woman going up and down the teachers with a clipboard. "Y' got an attendance roster?"
The woman, petite and bony, with a long ponytail of chestnut hair, spun around. "I'm sorry?" she asked.
"Y' got 'n attendance roster?" Heiji replied.
"Have you seen Edogawa Conan-kun?" Ran interceded. "We're supposed to pick him up and he's not with his teacher."
The woman blinked, repeatedly, processing the question. "Hang on just a moment," she said in placating tones. "I need to finish gathering the attendance sheets." She disappeared quickly, faster than Heiji would have expected for a woman so small. Turning to Ran, he asked, "Which one's his teacher?"
Ran was ahead of him, however, powering through the throng of children. Heiji followed in her wake, quickly picking out the Detective Boys as they huddled together. Ran walked up to the teacher, and Heiji moved to the kids. "Oi," he said in light tones.
"Hattori-nii-chan!" Ayumi said brightly, garnering dark glares from Genta and Mitsuhiko. "We didn't know you were in Tokyo!"
"Maa, I wuz just visitin' Conan," he said genially, waving a hand. "I'm here with Nee-chan ta pick up Conan-kun. Ya know where he is?"
The blond, Haibara, answered: "He asked to see Saiko-sensei."
.... Oh, shit...
"Hattori-kun!" Ran exclaimed as she ran up to her friend. "Sh--he went off to see Saiko-sensei! What if--"
"Hang on, Nee-chan," Heiji said quickly, glancing at the kids. They were already picking up on her nervous energy. "All we know izzat he wuzn' with sensei when th' drill went off. Let's go ask that bony woman again if she's finished with attendance."
"Excuse me," the bony woman interjected, right on cue. "I have all the attendance rosters now, who was it you were looking for?"
"Conan-kun," Ran said, her voice an octave higher in worry. "Edogawa Conan-kun."
For several painstaking moments, the woman, Heiji deduced a secretary, flipped through the attendance forms. Heiji and Ran watched in intense anticipation, the kids looking up as they, too, realized their friend was currently unaccounted for. Finally,
"Saiko-sensei was in a meeting," the secretary said apologetically, "it adjourned just before the fire alarm went off; he wasn't in his office to see if anyone was there."
"Nee-chan," Heiji said, spinning his head around to face her, "Now you can worry."
Then he blinked. His first thought was, My God, he's a pedophile! before his mind caught up enough to take a proper inventory of his current state and surroundings. Shinichi kept his head down and glanced through his bangs. He didn't have his glasses, his shoes and socks had been removed, as well as his jacket, bowtie, and shirt. That was why he'd shivered; the chill autumn air was making him cold. He was sitting in a chair for someone of his tiny size, with his feet just barely off the ground. His arms were tied to the arms of the chair.
Shinichi scowled. Saiko-sensei's making sure I'm uncomfortable. Bastard. Another glance and the small detective's eyes shot open. In each elbow was an IV. Why did he have a pair of IVs? With adrenaline suddenly pouring in his veins, Shinichi sat up with a start and looked around. His right arm's IV led to a pouch that, if he squinted, contained some sort of anti-coagulant if he was reading it right. His left arm's IV merely led to a bucket. What the hell??
"Ah, Conan-kun, so good to see you're awake."
Shinichi whirled his head around and fought back a wave of dizziness that followed as he looked at Saiko's warm smiling face. Act like a kid; act like a kid; act like a kid! "Saiko-sensei?" No need to fake the tremor in his voice. "What's going on?"
"You're helping me with an experiment," the school psychologist easily replied. Shinichi looked around. Outdoors, fall leaves littering a stone path to where he was sitting. Shrubs and trees obscuring a building in the distance that looked traditional - Shrine? Dojo? Sun starting to sink in the afternoon sky, shadows lengthening. He hadn't been unconscious for too long.
"Yes, Conan-kun," Saiko's warm brown eyes shined with delight. "I have a math problem for you, Conan-kun. I know you're very good with numbers. So pay attention, you can't take notes for this."
Shinichi continued to look around. Come on, someone be near by! But there wasn't anyone. And the binds on his wrists were tight and didn't allow any movement.
"Ah ah, Conan-kun. Stay still or you're going to make this problem more difficult." Saiko was jotting things down in his well-worn leather-bound notebook. "Now, are you listening?"
Play along... for now... Oh, how he wished he had his shoes. The bucket would be in his face by now if he had his shoes. And without his coat or bowtie, there was no way for whoever might have his glasses to trace him, because right now, Shinichi's only hope was if Haibara or Hattori or Ran or someonehe knew had his glasses. Because he didn't see any immediate way out of this.
"Conan-kun," Saiko's voice was firm.
"Yes, sensei, I'm listening."
"Good." Saiko sat back, his smile still as warm and friendly as when they sat on beanbag chairs in his office. "Now, the average adult has fourteen to eighteen pints of blood."
"Now when an adult loses six pints of blood, they usually fall unconscious. Are you with me, Conan-kun?"
"Saiko-sensei, do we have to use American Standards? Metrics is so much easier."
"No, Conan, use the American scales. You're a bright boy. You should be able to convert ounces, quarts, and gallons with liters without any problem."
"Good. Now, you are a bit smaller than the average adult."
"So, how long will it be until you fall unconscious?"
Saiko stepped closer and unclipped the IV that was in Shinichi's left arm. They both watched as the clear tube filled with red and slowly, one drop of blood fell into the bucket with a near silent splat, then another, then another; perhaps two or three per second dripping into the bucket.
Shinichi's face slackened in shock as he looked to the school psychologist he'd known when he was in elementary school the first time round. He's making me watch myself bleed to death. Oh, my, God.
Shinichi scowled. He had time before he would pass out. Time for people to notice his disappearance. Time for help to arrive. For now, he was going to have to hold on. It took work to bite back a growl. There had to be a way out of this. Already, the tube on his left arm felt warm compared to the rest of him as his blood continued to ooze away. Ran. Hattori. I hope that damn fire drill that Saiko caused isn't slowing you down.
Heiji looked at his watch again. It had been almost fifteen minutes before they were finally let back into the building - a half hour since the alarm had gone off. That was a lot of time to take the pint-sized Conan somewhere, but rational thought was always in his favor, because he knew the culprit would go to familiar ground first, keeping the radius relatively small. Convincing Ran of this, however, was a different story entirely.
"Nee-chan," he said in low tones, his gaze intense as he deliberately picked his words. "We're goin' ta get'im back. Ya need ta keep it together 'til then, otherwise there 's no point in his tellin' ya."
That had the desired effect, she looked as if she had just been slapped - which to a verbal extent was true - and while the fear didn't disappear, it was quickly channeled into a fighter's spirit, something Heiji knew very well. Good.
Once the firemen gave the all-clear, Heiji and Ran stormed into the school with not even a blink at the administration who tried to stop them. The kids were hot on their heels, and Heiji knew he could only keep them around for so long before they'd start getting in the way. This was too serious for them. Haibara - Chiisana-nee-chan seemed to sense this; she kept giving him glances as if to ask when she could pull them away, but he wanted absolute confirmation before he went to the cops. It was what Conan would do.
Bursting into the main office, Ran bee-lined to the principal's office while Heiji moved down a narrow hall into guidance. The bony secretary from before followed at his heels; she was the only one to seem to understand that Conan was missing and didn't simply decide to go home early - which apparently over a dozen kids had done with the alarm.
A quick glance of the secretarial desks didn't reveal anything helpful; though they were looking at everyone, both Conan and Heiji agreed the likelihood of it being a secretary was slim at best. The culprit needed to be someone with access to all the kids, and know what their favorite things were to send them such personalized poison packages. Heiji moved into the guidance counselor's offices, looking for things out of place and/or different. Teachers, he'd learned from many an investigation, were as varied and eclectic as the children they taught. This was verified by seeing one counselor's desk riddled with frog paraphernalia while another was covered with American Red Sox posters while a third was littered with live plants and posters of kittens. Still, nothing looked out of place or different, and Heiji's sensory perception was on high alert.
It wasn't until he hit the psychologist office, at the end of the hall and the one that Conan had decided to visit, that all wheels came to a stop in his minds. Bright red beanbag chairs, inspirational posters, framed degrees, a desk littered with paperwork, but what struck him as odd was the myriad of sports balls: soccer, football, baseball, basketball, and tennis balls, scattered across the floor. He'd seen messy offices in his time, but this didn't sit right, because it looked as if a bag had been emptied of its contents, and while his desk was filled with paperwork, it was in rough piles of one who was loosely organized. Then why were so many balls on the floor?
"Oi," he said in a low voice to the secretary.
"Why's the shrink-sensei like sports?"
"He doesn't," she replied, "At least not the way you think. The kids all look up to him, both here and at the middle school, so they give him their lucky balls to have them blessed at a shrine."
"Does he always leave 'em hangin' 'round like this?"
"No, he usually keeps them in a duffle bag that he totes back and forth."
And Heiji finally realized what had happened, and he couldn't hold back a curse. "Shit, Conan!" Because the shrunken detective was small enough to fit in one... He turned fierce green eyes to the startled secretary. "Where is he? Where'd the shrink-sensei go?"
"I don't know," she said quickly. "I only take attendance of the students..."
His long legs propelled him back to the main office where Nee-chan was having an involved conversation with the principal. "Oi, the shrink, where 's he?" he demanded.
"I say!" the principal grunted in indignation. "First Ran-kun, now you, young man; have your teachers taught you nothing?"
"Later!" Heiji growled, unconsciously taking a kendo stance. "The shrink, didja see where he went afta the fire alarm w's pulled?"
"He went home like everyone else," the principal replied loftily.
"When?" Heiji pressed.
"Not long after the alarm. He'd finished for the day anyway, not that any of this is your busine--"
"Did he have a duffle bag with him?"
The principal blinked at the growl, finally realizing that this just might be something serious. "Of course he did, he always does--"
Heiji spun around and looked at Haibara. "Call the cops," he ordered before spinning back to the principal. "Where's he live?" he demanded.
"Honestly, what on earth--"
"He wuz in the duffle bag," he bit out. "Ku... Conan-kun wuz in the duffle bag! Y're shrink's the guy who's poisoning all the kids, now where th' hell does he live?" He glanced at his watch; half-hour since they'd entered the building, an hour since Conan had been kidnapped.
Shinichi shivered again. That was, of course, one of the signs of blood loss: feelings of extreme heat or cold, sweating, light-headedness. He had no sense of time and his focus was deteriorating. Trying to distract Saiko was difficult, as the psychologist stayed on the point of Conan's math problem quite diligently. That didn't stop Shinichi from trying to make the shrink slip up and reveal something, anything he could use in his favor. His brain was his only weapon at the moment, and he had to use
"Ah!" he cried out childishly. "Ne, Saiko-sensei? Did you know what your name sounds like in English?"
"I'm afraid I don't speak English, Conan-kun. Now, you were just telling me-"
"Your name isn't Saiko, it's Psycho!" Shinichi chirped in childish tones. "Psycho means a crazy person! My mom had this old black and white movie by that name and--"
A hand firmly slapped him across the face.
"Conan-kun, you have a task in front of you. Stick to it like a good little boy."
Shinichi growled deep inside. The insult had garnered a reaction, like he'd wanted. But Saiko was staying strictly professional and not letting things get in his way. There was just no wedge against the air of friendly-but-firm professionalism that Saiko had built around himself.
Alright, time to change tactics. Shinichi decided it was time to give Saiko a little bit of the answer he wanted.
"Well, Psycho-sensei," the psychologist frowned, but did not react to the change in naming, "you see one drop weighs approximately one minum. I seem to be averaging two or three minum a second; we'll call it two and a half drops of blood a second, it would take twenty minums, or eight seconds to make a milliliter, and thirty of those, or two hundred forty seconds - four minutes - to lose one ounce of blood. There are sixteen ounces in a pint, so it would take about sixty four minutes, just over an hour to lose one pint of blood."
The school shrink stared at him in surprise. Shinichi plowed on.
"The bucket is basically a cone with the top cut off, and the area of a cone is one third of pi r squared times h, r being the radius and h the height. So using the area of the top of the bucket since it's wider, I can calculate the volume of the bucket by taking the volume of it's 'cone'. From there I'd subtract the smaller cone that's been cut off by using the same formula, but only using the bottom of the bucket as the base of the smaller. Granted, this takes some estimation of what the full height of the cone would be based on the slant of the bucket, and that requires some trigonometry, using the slant as the hypotenuse. But I am confident my approximations would be accurate. Would you like me to plug in some numbers?"
The pencil had long stopped moving in the notebook.
"I can even tell you how long I've been here. Using similar volume formulas with the approximate depth of the blood already in the bucket, I can merely work backwards on how much blood I've lost, and then determining how many minutes it would take to fill that volume." Shinichi offered a confident and smug smirk that he always had when facing down a murderer. "How's that, Psycho-sensei?"
The psychologist stared at him for a few more moments before the warm and friendly face reappeared. "Conan-kun, you astound me. Tell me, what are you?"
Ah, pleasant distractions. Maybe now he can make a mistake. Shinichi dropped back into childish tones with the ease of far too much practice. "Me? I'm just an elementary school student! What else could I be?"
"I see I'm going to have to reassess a few things about you, Conan-kun. But I wonder how much time I'll have before you pass out? After all, part of the problem I posed to you was how long until you would pass out. Don't tell me you know how many pints of blood you actually have?"
Shinichi kept on grinning innocently. "How would a little kid know that, Psycho-sensei?"
He was slapped again.
"Conan-kun!" Ran dashed into the apartment after Hattori had strong-armed it, dashing in before the Osakan could grab her shoulder and stop her. It was a tiny one-room apartment; kotatsu taking up the most room while a closet was open to reveal bedding and pillows. One of the kitchenette's cabinet's was open to reveal bowls and flatware, but nothing else.
She spun around to her only source of reason. "Where is he? Where is he, Hattori-kun??" she pleaded.
"We'll find him, Nee-chan," he said in placating tones.
Oh, it was just so easy to panic! Ran took a deep breath and closed her eyes, trying to focus herself. She couldn't get the picture of Conan, tiny little Conan-kun, being carried off in a duffle bag; it was too horrible to imagine. She couldn't even fathom what else could be being done to him. Anxiety twisted her stomach; this was like when he was shot, sitting in the hospital waiting after she'd donated her blood; only it really was Shinichi, not just the fear that it was. It was too much to take in at once, she needed time to fathom everything she'd been told, and worrying out of her mind was not helping.
"Worry is a detective's worst nightmare," Shinichi had told her once. "Worry and what ifs." They had been walking home from school in high summer, snacking on ice cream cones. "The mind has to work through all possible scenarios to handle the case, but some of those scenarios get pretty gruesome pretty quick."
"Then how do you handle it?" she had asked, licking at the sprinkles of her cone.
"You have faith," he replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. He took a big bite of his ice cream and hissed as it hit a sensitive spot in his gums. "Faith is a detective's best weapon: faith in your abilities, faith in the evidence, and faith in the friends you have."
"But Shinichi, you're always off solving cases on your own. It's so rare for me to be around."
"So?" Shinichi has queried. "So long as you believe in me, I know it'll all turn out alright; and even when it doesn't, I still know that you believe in me, and that makes me try harder next time."
Softly, under her breath, Ran whispered, "I believe in you, Shinichi; so you're going to be just fine." If he wasn't, she was going to kill him.
Re-centered, Ran opened her eyes to see Hattori rifling through papers. "Have you found anything?"
"No," Hattori growled, his own anxiety showing through. "Shrink-sensei has t' be smart, otherwise the Organization wouldn't o' used'im. That means if he kept any records they're either well hidden 'r on his person. I'm bettin' the latter, so 'e could take notes when talkin' to the parents 'r the doctors. He'd have ta be the one collectin' the data, that way he'd make a perfect scapegoat if somethin' went wrong." He growled, muttering to himself. "He pro'ly caught Conan snoopin' 'round. He's runnin' scared, but he's gotta tie up loose ends or the Organization'll kill him. Where'd he go if he wuz in a state like that?" Another growl. "Ya go ta what ya know, but where'd he go?"
He turned to Ran. "Ya had him in elementary school, yeah? What wuz he like?"
Shaking her head, she said, "Sorry, Saiko-sensei didn't interest me all that much at the time. Even in the middle school, when he helped out with sports, he was more interested in the team sports, basketball and baseball and soccer - Shinichi kept running into him when his teammates would ask him to get the balls."
Hattori blinked, straightening suddenly. "Tha' bony secretary said somethin' 'bout that."
"Yeah, he lives near a shrine or something, and as a favor to the kids he'd take them to be..."
Both of them widened their eyes simultaneously. "The shrine!"
Hattori launched to his feet and flipped open a window, sticking his head out. Ran closed her eyes and tried to picture where she was in the city and what temples or shrines would be near her.
"There's no view here," Hattori said, grabbing her wrist, "C'mon, the roof." He glanced at his watch again as he gave an initial yank before the two were racing back to the stairwell and up to the roof of the apartment complex. It was not as high as some of the high rises that surrounded them, but it afforded them an adequate view of the city, and soon Ran and Hattori were scanning opposite sides of the roofline, looking for traditional buildings or patches of trees.
Ran had a thought and pulled out her cell phone, opening up a map application and searching for shrines and temples in the area. It came up with over two-dozen locations, and she growled in frustration.
"Hattori-kun, there's too many temples to check them all!" she said, jogging up to him.
The Detective of the West saw the phone and grinned. "Nee-chan, ye're brilliant!" as he snatched the phone out of her hands.
"I am? What?"
"There 'uz an orthopedic cover t' th' chair in shrink-sensei's office," he said, tapping instructions into the phone. "He's past middle age, an' with back problems, he wouldn' be the type ta go outta his way just ta bless some kids' balls; he'd wanna short walk. Here!" He spun the phone around and Ran stared at the screen. "It's th' only one in walkin' distance!"
And lo, he was correct; Hattori had zoomed in the map function several times and restricted the radius of the search, and there were only three temples on the map; and only one was close to the apartment complex.
"C'mon!" Hattori shouted, and Ran was more than quick to follow as he tossed her phone back to her.
Shinichi took short breaths as he leaned his head back. Technically, the best thing to do when feeling light headed was to put one's head between one's legs or to lay down with one's feet elevated. However, Shinichi was tied to his chair. Such luxuries weren't available to him. The bucket already had several inches of his blood looking almost like a black hole in the fading twilight sun. The moon was already starting to rise in the distance, not that he could see much in the shrouded corner of whatever place he was being kept at. Focus was dwindling fast as he lost more blood with each second. In a more pessimistic part of his brain, Shinichi wasn't sure that Ran and Hattori would make it in time, so he was going to have to come up with something on his own, but he'd tried every trick he could think of to make Saiko make a mistake. But the shrink remained true to whatever experiment he was aiming for.
"Conan-kun? Have you finished solving this math problem yet?"
"Come on, Psycho-sensei," he growled still gasping for air.
The psychologist smiled a warm smile. "Well then, how about telling me who you really are?"
"I rather doubt that."
Shinichi didn't reply. Something had stolen his remote control again, and despite how hard focus was, everything heightened. Off in the distance he could hear his name being called. "... Conan-kun!... Conan-kun!!" That was Ran. And another voice was calling out as well. One with a thick Osaka drawl. "C'mon, where 're ya?" And up along the roofline was a flash of white, a figure with a cape flowing behind him as he searched the grounds.
He could be humiliated about how much he sounded like a little kid later. At the moment, he didn't really care. With a deep breath and a muster of strength, "RAN-NEE-CHAN!!"
Unsurprisingly, his vision swam from the sudden adrenal rush as his heart rate shot up but didn't have the blood pressure to do so, and also unsurprisingly, Saiko once more slapped him across the face. Darkness started to encroach itself along his eyesight and he nearly blacked out completely, but only his firm resolve to not pass out kept him conscious as his ears started ringing from the exertion.
Shinichi started gasping for air again, trying to have his senses settle down enough to start processing the information that they were giving him. Time was interminable. The ringing started to fade and he looked up. Shinichi could see down the stone path that lead to his current prison and sure enough, Ran and Hattori were racing towards him. Along the roofline, a white shadow flitted about, barely ever staying somewhere noticeable.
"Saiko-sensei! Give him back to me!" Ran shouted as she charged forward.
Something cold and narrow pressed itself to Shinichi's forehead. He strained to see out of the corner of his eye, and saw the black barrel of a gun. As if matters weren't complicated enough.
"Now, now, Ran-kun," the shrink said in a warm friendly voice. "Conan-kun's a most unusual child. And I don't just mean his intellect. At the moment, his blood has a fair bit of anti-coagulant mixed in. If I were to pull out either of these IVs, he'd bleed out in no time."
That was when Heiji really registered what he was seeing. Conan was bleeding. Not through a gunshot, or a stab wound, or anything like one would expect when one thought of the word "bleeding". No cuts or scrapes could be seen anywhere on the minimized detective's pale, pale skin. But by Conan's feet was a bucket that was filled with blood. A bucket that was being fed by an IV coming out of Conan's left arm. Now Heiji had seen a lot of people bleed and for many reasons over the years, especially when he started his detective work. It was all horrible and one of the many reasons why Heiji had such a strong sense of justice. People should never have to bleed like that. But this... Seeing that Conan was watching himself bleed to death... It wasn't just horrible; it was horrifying. Heiji's stomach lurched and he gripped his sword more tightly.
Shinichi watched as both Hattori and Ran paled as they looked at the bucket of his blood that was by his feet.
"Ya better turn yerself in," Hattori growled. "This ain't gonna help yer case any."
"Oh tut, tut," Saiko replied, a warm smile on his face. "Hattori-kun, it may shock you to know that I'm not as stupid as you seem to think I am."
The Osakan said nothing, instead, taking up a kendo stance and pulling out his sword. Shinichi had to smile to himself. Ever since the dark skinned detective had arrived, he had never left his sword behind, even carrying it in its standard kendo case like any other practitioner of kendo might carry their bokken.
The psychologist shrugged. "Allow me to say a few things about the two of you. I am, after all, a trained observer." There was a faint tug on the IV in his left arm, the one that led to the bucket. "I hardly think you can refuse me the opportunity."
Hattori growled and Ran had her hands to her face as her gaze flittered from Shinichi to the bucket to Saiko's hold on his IV. Shinichi's ears started to ring again and his vision blurred as he continued to gasp in as much air as he could. It took force of will to stay with it, but he was unaware of what was going on around him while he tried to bring his body back under control. Another gasp of air and the ringing slowly started to fade. Shinichi grimaced as he opened his eyes to see what he had missed while his body betrayed him.
Saiko was saying, "Now, before either of you even attempt to claim that the police are on their way, I beg to differ. Ran-kun, I doubt the thought even crossed your mind. You probably were only thinking of dear Conan-kun. I've heard from those Shounen Tantei that you normally have to be told by your father or by Conan-kun here to call the authorities. No, you haven't thought about them at all." Saiko turned his warm smile to Hattori. "As for you, Hattori-kun, you're far too short-sighted. In the middle of an investigation you don't think of calling the police until you have the culprit in hand. You're known for your recklessness. And now, both of you are in a stalemate. Neither of you can do anything because I'll either pull out Conan-kun's IV making him bleed out, or I'll shoot him. Thus, the two of you have no other choice but to do as I say."
Shinichi glanced up at the white shadow and grimaced to himself. Well, he'd never get that blood back in anyway, and there needed to be a distraction for anything to get done.
"Ne?" he huffed, breathing still difficult. "Psycho-sensei? ... You clearly .... don't know ...... either of them ...... at all."
With both feet on the edge of the bucket, he shoved, startling everyone as it tipped over and spilled its crimson contents everywhere. With automatic revulsion, Saiko stepped back, letting go of Shinichi's IV and Hattori and Ran both rushed forward. But Shinichi couldn't see what happened because his vision was engulfed ,snipped both IVs, clipped them shut, and easily sliced off the binds on his wrists before lifting himself with careful grace and disappearing into the trees. There was a loud shot, but Shinichi couldn't control the head rush he was getting. He wasn't bleeding any more, but there was no denying that he'd lost a lot of blood. He didn't have the strength to stay conscious much more. But at least now he could pass out. ________________________________________
Dealer put down his binoculars in surprise He was keeping an eye on Saiko to ensure that he didn't spill anything about their Organization. So far, so good. Wine was already planting evidence back at the shrink's apartment to ensure that the blame for the entire ordeal fell solely at the psychologist's feet. Once he was arrested, they'd keep an eye on his interrogations. If necessary, a convenient suicide would be arranged. He'd see if it was necessary first before taking any necessary steps.
Besides, this was proving to be an entertaining show, if nothing else.
Heiji and Ran raced up the temple's northern steps. When they reached the top, Heiji was certain they were at the right temple. It was old and worn down; there were very few people there, mostly elderly who had probably been coming here since the temple's heyday years ago. The main building was where any people would be gathered, but Heiji could only see, at best, two or three inside the main temple, including the priest. They wouldn't be of any help. Saiko would go to a more hidden alcove or building.
"Conan-kun!" Ran cried out, cupping her hands around her mouth. "Conan-kun!!"
She had a good idea. Heiji was certain that if Conan could hear them, he would definitely try and get their attention somehow. So he raised his voice as well "C'mon! Where are ya?"
The priest inside the temple looked at them with a small scowl. No doubt they were interrupting whatever ceremony he was performing, so the old man merely stepped forward and shut the doors. Fine with Heiji. No more distractions.
From somewhere off to their left, Heiji and Ran heard a distinct shout. "RAN-NEE-CHAN!!"
"C'mon," Heiji shouted, running towards Conan's voice. Ran didn't need to be told twice as they both surged forward. There was a rock garden and off by a wall, Heiji could see a batch of trees and shrubs near an indent that would be perfect for hiding; just over the bushes, they could see a man glancing around.
"Saiko-sensei! Give him back to me!" Ran shouted as she charged forward. Heiji swung his bokken case off his shoulder and pulled out his sword, tossing the case aside as he ran forward with the Nee-chan. They both skidded to a stop when Saiko pulled out an automatic and put it to Conan's forehead.
"Ya better turn yerself in," Heiji growled. "This ain't gonna help yer case any."
"Oh tut, tut," Saiko replied, a warm smile on his face. "Hattori-kun, it may shock you to know that I'm not as stupid as you seem to think I am."
The Osakan said nothing, instead, taking up a kendo stance and pulling out his sword. Justice may need a sharp edge that night.
The psychologist shrugged. "Allow me to say a few things about the two of you. I am, after all, a trained observer." There was a faint tug on the IV in Conan's left arm, the one that led to the bucket. "I hardly think you can refuse me the opportunity."
Heiji growled and Ran had her hands to her face as her gaze flittered from Shinichi to the bucket to Saiko's hold on his IV.
"Stop it," Ran cried out. "He's just a child! Stop it!!"
"What th' hell ya playin' at," Heiji shouted. "Yer makin' him watch himself die! Ye're supposed ta be a doc. This ain't no way fer ya to be--"
Saiko cocked his gun. "I am a child psychologist. I've had to deal with children for a very long time. But let me tell you, children don't get the research they need in order to best treat them. I am merely doing an experiment to advance my field."
"By making him watch himself bleed to death?" Ran shouted. "That's not advancing your field, that's torture!"
"Exactly." Saiko gave a warm gentle smile. "The scientists of Germany who preformed human experimentation on the victims of the concentration camps were taken in by the American scientific community so that everyone could benefit from the results of that research. I was granted an opportunity at my elementary school to study how tragedies can affect a child's mental health. How could I not do a case study? And now, little Conan-kun here offered himself for another type of experiment."
Heiji scowled fiercely, the grip on his sword getting tighter yet again.
""Ne? ... Psycho-sensei?" Conan looked up at the crazy shrink with the confident smug smirk he used when facing down even the most terrifying of criminals. "You clearly ..... don't know ...... either of them ..... at all." And with a firm kick, the bucket was knocked over, spilling its contents everywhere.
Heiji was determined to have a long talk with Conan about idiocy. Spilling his own bucket of blood! Was the shrunken sleuth insane? But it gave Heiji the chance he needed. He ran forward while Ran went after Conan. Heiji's sword flashed as he brought it down, diverting Saiko who was aiming for Conan. Or rather, aiming for Kaitou Kid (where the hell had he come from?) since the thief had completely hidden Conan from view while he took care of Conan's restraints.
The gun fired as Heiji landed the back of his sword, breaking Saiko's hand and things got painfully chaotic for a few moments. Kaitou Kid had disappeared with Conan. Ran was missing as well, no doubt following after. Saiko was holding his gun with his other hand, seeing as how Heiji had rather sufficiently broken the first one. (This pleased Heiji more than he'd rather admit.) But Heiji himself toppled over because his body was on fire. The gun's discharge hadn't hit Conan, but it had gone right through his hip.
"Ow" didn't even begin to cover it as he hit the ground and rolled, hands instinctively dropping his sword to clutch at the wound. Pain was radiating from his hip outward, down his leg and up his torso; every twitch his body involuntarily made set his nerves on fire. Kendo mental training be damned, he grunted in the pain - it hurt, damn it. Cursing, he tried to angle himself to somewhere where it wouldn't keep shooting fire up his nervous system.
As a fan of samurai movies, he'd more than once seen someone take a serious blow and just shrug it off. "Just a scratch," the samurai would say with rich, masculine bravado, and all the viewer would see is a trickle of sweat and a circle of blood around the fabric. He decided it was a load of bull. His jeans were soaked in blood, to say nothing of his hands and his shirt, and blood was still spurting out of him, the wound burning with the fire of agony.
"Shit," he growled. He reached out blindly, and wrapped a bloody hand around his sword. He realized belatedly that in his rolling and writhing on the soft earth he'd rolled into Conan's spilled bucket of blood. The urge to throw up warred valiantly with an urge to pass out.
Growling, anger at everything that was happening pumped adrenaline in his veins, and he surged to his knees, pain threatening to overwhelm him, trying to balance on his good leg and lunged forward, intent on catching Saiko before the shrink could escape. It appeared as though he'd never seen someone shot, Heiji observed, because he was staring in fascination as Heiji struggled to work through the continual explosion of pain. But the psychologist proved to be slippery. Perhaps returning to his senses, the shrink backpedaled, but not before Heiji swung his sword again, slicing part of Saiko's leg. It wasn't debilitating, but it would be enough to slow him down and leave a trail of blood for people to follow. The shrink ran/limped away while Heiji tried once more to get to his feet. Even if he had to crawl after the psychologist, he would not let him get away.
"Conan-kun? Conan-kun?" That was the girlfriend's voice.
There was Ran, frantically looking around, her winter coat flapping open as she darted first in one direction, and then another, head swiveling this way and that.
She had enough intelligence to check to see if anyone was following her before jogging over. Hopping over the root, she squinted her eyes to the darkness of the shadows before recognizing Takagi.
".......... Ran..." he whispered, his voice sounding more childlike than when he ever tried to play a child.
"Sh..." words failed her.
".... 's....... okay. He's..... okay."
At last, the girlfriend released her grip, and
"He needs to keep warm."
Ran nodded, shrugging off her coat and wrapping it gently around Conan.
".... Where's... Hattori-kun...."
"He went after Saiko-sensei," Ran whispered, holding her beau close. "I don't know what happened."
"I'll go check," Takagi offered softly, poking his head out again to spy if anyone was around.
"Where were you hit?" Ran asked slowly, kneeling down. God, there was so much blood; he was going to be sick!
"Hip," Hattori replied, face laced with pain and anger. " 'm no good ta Conan like this..."
Saiko limped into the temple, his hands still shaking. His mind was still working though, and he wasn't sure that would have ever happened after events fell apart so disastrously. Oh, he knew as soon as Dealer had approached him with this fascinating business venture that he was getting... involved... in things he heretofore never thought of. He had purchased the black-market gun for that exact reason - to be prepared and to protect himself.
That never prepared a person for actually shooting someone.
Accident though it was, watching the Osakan fall to the ground as blood spurted out of his hip pushed buttons he didn't like; and why didn't his hands stop shaking? Even the broken one wouldn't stay still, and it was sending shockwaves of pain up his arm.
"Saiko-kun, what was that noise just now?"
To his own surprise, Saiko saw his hand with the gun rise to aim at the elderly man. The priest's eyes doubled in size in a comedic shock take that didn't sit right in the psychologist's head.
"Things are getting a little messy outside, sir," Saiko said politely, giving an award-winning smile. He watched as, even with the gun pointed at his chest, the monk involuntarily relaxed under the gaze before tensing up again. It was, perhaps, Saiko's greatest weapon. "I recommend hiding."
The monk quickly disappeared, down the hall and into a private room. Good, Saiko knew where to go for a hostage if necessary. Now, forward thinking: what happened after he got out of this? His time in therapy had given him quite a wealth of resources. There was the politician who confessed while raging in his office that he'd killed his wife; the idol singer who didn't want her long-since-over drug habit ever discovered, the banker who confessed that he'd cheated on his wife multiple times. Opportunity was something that knocked on his door several times over the years, and now it was time to call in his favors.
The banker first, to get money; the idol next, to have a place to hide; and the politician last, to get him out of the country. Oh, and a call to the engineer, for the new identity. Then... America first, perhaps England; yes, that sounded good. That should keep him hidden from not only the disaster of his life, but also from the Organization. He couldn't look to them; they were no doubt taking steps to set him up as the fall guy.
Plan decided on, Saiko could focus on the more immediate goals: getting out of here with a broken arm. He was fortunate that none of all that ghastly blood landed on him; if he worked fast enough he could check into a hospital and have his arm set before the cops started checking them.
The voice stopped all train of thought in the psychologist's head. He spun around, looking for the Western Detective.
"Saiko-sensei, how could you do this?"
That was from his right, but swiveling his head he didn't see any sign of Ran-kun.
"Psycho-sensei," little Conan-kun's voice whispered, almost right in his ear, and that freaked the older man, making him jump and spin around, but still no one was there.
"Where are you?" he demanded.
"Ya hadda go 'n' shoot me, didn' cha?" Left.
"Why did you do that to Conan-kun?" Above.
"There's so much blood on your hands." Behind.
"D' ya really think ya c'n get outta this?" Right.
"I'll never forgive you!" Behind again.
"Do you really hate children that much, sensei?" Above again.
Saiko was almost completely turned around now, trying to locate where the voice was - because he knew there was no way Edogawa could be talking, and likely there was no way Hattori could be up and walking around; but damn if he didn't sound just like them.
" Then, "Na, sensei, may I ask you a question?"
. "What makes you think you know anything about anybody?"
Stumbling, Saiko fumbled through the smoke, still coughing as his eyes watered against the irritants in the gases assaulting him. Unable to see clearly, he banged into a wall, jarring his broken arm and gasping as pain shrieked up his arm and right to the pain center of his brain. Disoriented, he spun around and tried to back up away from the smoke. He thought he saw a shadow of white, and he ducked back further. Finally getting his wits about him, he recognized he was in the right hallway, and so he spun around and plowed down the hall.
Slinging open the door, he found the elderly monk cowering in a corner under a blanket. Snorting at the cowardice, he ripped the blanket off, causing the old man to whine, and dug his good hand under the older man's arm, yanking him up.
"Sorry, old friend," he said softly, shocked at how calm his voice was. "This isn't how I expected to repay you for all the help you gave me at school."
"There is still time, Saiko-kun," the old priest sniveled. "I won't say a word, I promise!" He actually shriveled away from the man he'd watched grow up.
"Unfortunately, that won't help, old man," Saiko said, still the picture of calm even though listening to Kid's impersonation of Conan's voice had disturbed him greatly. "I've left a little too much evidence. One thing you can do, however," he added, "is keep me safe from a certain madman."
Tugging and pulling, Saiko went back out into the hall, angling the old priest in front of him.
"Lost your voice now, haven't you?" he shouted. "Hate violence right? What if I told you I could snap his neck if I wanted to?" The priest jolted at the comment, his struggles increasing but, old as Saiko was, the priest was older, and infinitely feebler.
"Well, you've certainly got my attention," Hattori responded, his voice seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere.
"I find it interesting that you only show respect to people who hold power over other people's lives," Saiko said slowly, trying to edge for the door. It was damn difficult with the old priest struggling as he was; the psychologist was tempted to just dump him in favor of running - but he knew as soon as he did Kid would take him down. Why the hell had an international thief gotten involved in this?
"It's quite the opposite, really," Hattori replied, a dry chuckle of confidence in his voice. "I only respect people who respect life."
"Then you should take no issue with me," Saiko said evenly, his nerves finally calming down. Talking he could do, he was more than amply trained to talk. "I respect life more than the people you steal from."
"Oh? Yet you're willing to snap an old man's neck?"
Saiko snorted. "Like you haven't had your back against a wall. Look at my work, Hattori, I'm a clinical psychologist - my research can only benefit people."
"Oh, yes, there's that," the voice replied with an undercurrent of sarcasm. There was still no sign of him anywhere; perfectly content, it seemed, to hide in the shadows. "But then," he added in much more serious tones, "you fail to realize the amount of hurting you do to your experiments. That,"
There was a sudden hissing sound and the crackle and pop of... fireworks? This late in the year? His ears rung from the sudden loud noise.
Sirens could be heard in the distance, only in Saiko's ringing ears.
"I can never forgive."
At last, Saiko's mind went blank.
"I think I've stolen enough time," she said lightly, adjusting his contentiously large top hat. "Enjoy your life in prison."
And, with a puff of smoke, he was gone.
Ran shivered under the black cloak to hide under. While made of a heavy material, it couldn't stop the wind from slicing through. She angled her back to the chill breeze and did her best to keep Conan covered by both her coat and herself. Her detective had passed out again. There had been no sounds other than Conan's labored breathing; no sign of Hattori, Kid, or Saiko. So Ran stayed hidden, holding her detective close to her.
"Sh...Conan-kun!". In some ways, that was very easy, and in others, it was extremely difficult. "Are you alright?" Dumb question.
"... tired.... hard to focus......" He managed a deep controlled breath before returning to gasps. "... Hattori?"
"I don't know. I haven't heard anything since I heard sirens."
Shinichi gave a small nod, his worn face dark with worry. "Hattori... he was... the first one... that got close..." His bleary eyes looked up at her, breath still coming out in gasps. "... Sorry... you... should have been... first..."
Emotions too varied to name welled up in Ran.
The small form of a boy lifted his head, eyes squinting. "Sirens.... are coming..."
Ran gave a watery smile. "You always had better hearing than me, Conan-kun."
A tiny laugh. "... Heh... Not worth... a damn..... compared to.... your karate..."
She hugged him tighter. "Mou..." she grumbled through unshed tears. "You dumb mystery-otaku. You scared the wits out of me."
".... Sorry... Ran.... Didn't.... mean to....."
"I know you didn't." Ran held back a sob as she ran a hand through his hair. "This is merely an adjustment. Adjustments take some time and have some rumples along the way."
"... Some.... rumple.... this is...." Shinichi mumbled through gasps of breath.
".. How are you.... Hattori?"
"I 'll live, Conan. But Saiko shot me in the hip while I was getting you to safety."
Ran gasped as she felt the not-child in her arms tense.
" The tension eased but didn't disappear. "And Saiko-sensei?" Ran asked, unconsciously stroking Shinichi's back in an attempt of reassurance. "Shouldn't we make sure he's--"
"Oh he won't be going anywhere," Heiji smiled broadly. "I stole all the time we needed, but I can't exactly return something like that. So instead, I gave something else back to the police. One gift-wrapped... person."
Shinichi gave a small nod before he fell limp again. Ran hugged him close.
"He'll be fine," Ran replied, smiling at the small form in her arms. "hattori-kun. I really can't thank you enough. I don't know how I'll ever repay you for this."
From the entrance of the temple, a voice was starting to yell out a long string of curses that seemed determined to scorch the very earth.
Ran nodded, She waited a moment, holding her precious, precious little detective close to her. She owed him that much at least.
She turned her head. That sounded like Inspector Megure. But how did he know they were at the shrine? Never mind, one thing at a time. While Hattori had said that Saiko was under wraps, she wasn't going to just go about like everything was fine. Not with Conan still gasping for air, not until she was with Megure or she had seen that Saiko was no longer a threat. So, getting her freezing legs under her and standing, she carefully left the enclosed roots of the sacred tree and started to make a stealthy approach to the collected officers. Her coat fell slightly, slipping off one of Shinichi's bare shoulders; she shifted his tiny amount of weight to free an arm to fix the situation and covered him more thoroughly with her coat. Meanwhile, she saw the Inspector's trench coat, bright in the moonlight, as the heavyset man scanned the area, the taller form of Takagi behind him.
Ran snuck closer, hiding behind shrubs and walls of the temple in order to avoid notice by wherever Saiko had hopefully been detained.
Megure scowled harshly. "I beg your pardon, I got a call from the Osakan detective Hattori Heiji about a child who had apparently been spirited away to this location. Now if you'll excuse me, as head of the Major Crimes Unit, this makes it my jurisdiction."
"Inspector," Megure growled with a flat stare, "I have to conduct a search, now would you and your Task Force please leave."
"Inspectors!" she called out, stepping around the corner and into the moonlight. "Help me!" she shivered in the cold air. "hattori has Saiko-sensei tied up around here somewhere! Get him out of here and call an ambulance!"
"Ran-kun?" Megure asked, a raised eyebrow. He and Takagi rushed forward. "Are you hurt?"
She rushed between the two Inspectors and shifted her coat, pulling it back to reveal the panting and pale not-child in her arms. "Saiko-sensei had him bleeding into a bucket!"
Jaws all around dropped. Megure's eyebrows disappeared under his hat, Task Force and MCU officers crowded around to see the tiny form of Conan.
"Conan-kun!" Megure shouted, leaning forward.
"Find that son of a bitch now!"
Takagi, ahead of them, already had his phone out and was calling for an ambulance in a panicked voice.
"Where's Hattori-kun?" Ran asked, feeling Conan, Shinichi, stir in her arms. " he was shot in the hip--"
"Saiko-sensei..." Shinichi breathed, his head lolling back. Both Inspectors looked down. "... he was poisoning... the kids... I got... too close... and he..." but his eyes closed again.
"Please!" Ran begged, looking at both of the Inspector. "Do something!"
The two men gave appraising glares at each other. It faded under Ran's pleading look to them both, and they gave the great sigh of the defeated. Megure turned to his assistant.
Takagi responded to his unspoken question. "And ambulance will be here in six minutes," he said.
"And Hattori-kun?" Ran asked.
"'Hattori-kun'?". "That Osakan detective you mentioned, Inspector Megure?"
Men! " he was shot in the hip," Ran repeated, frustrated. "Is he alright?"
Ran very nearly fainted at the sight of it. Hattori was covered in blood, chest to knees, and he kept writhing, unable to stay still as pain seemed to keep shooting though his body. Shiratori was with him, kneeling down gingerly with a hand on the Osakan's shoulder.
"Calm down," he was saying in his traditional monotone.
"Not 'til I know how he is!" Hattori was shouting. He moved to get up again and fell back, grunting in pain. "Shit this hurts."
"Hattori-kun!!" Ran called out, jogging up to him with the limp Shinichi in her arms.
"Nee-chan!" he cried back, working himself to his elbows. "How'z he?"
"He keeps going in and out," she said, kneeling down by Conan's best friend. "Look at you! There's so much blood!!"
"Ain't all mine," Hattori replied, morbid grin on his face as a trickle of sweat ran down his forehead. "Somehow got mixed up 'n K-Conan'-kun's blood."
"... Hattori..." Everyone froze when Conan opened his eyes a sliver again. His unfocused blue gaze fell in the Detective of the West's direction. "... 'm sorry..."
"Ahou!!" Anyone who knew the Osakan rolled his or her eyes. Even the rookie gave a snort of amusement. "When ye're conscious enough I'm gonna yell yer ears off fer this stunt! Knockin' over yer own bucket o' blood fer a distraction!"
A new set of sirens could be heard, and at last she could relax, because now her dear Conan could get help. Hattori sensed it as well, because he finally allowed himself to be pushed to the ground, muttering, "Kazuha's gonna kill me..."
The overriding priority for the police and the Task Force both was to get the two injured civilians taken care of. Megure, more familiar with those involved acted as spokesman
The EMT that looked at Conan quickly and methodically removed the IV lines in both of his elbows, taping them both shut while asking questions. Ran answered as best she could, but Hattori seemed to be of better use; as he explained that Conan was likely filled with anti-coagulants and blood thinners, and that he'd been losing blood slowly for around two hours. Shinichi opened his eyes again, and offered an approximation of how much blood he'd lost before drifting off again, and even the seasoned EMT couldn't hold back a widening of the eyes and a frown of disapproval.
The men in charge of Hattori did not have so pliable a charge; he kept twitching, every movement causing him pain, and the idea of an anesthetic was rejected whole sale. "Ahou!" he'd shouted, "Not 'til ya take care o' th' kid!"
"Sir, we're doing that now," the EMT had said.
"Then where's th' blood bags?" Hattori demanded. "He needs - ow! Stop pokin' that! - He needs pints o' blood!"
Ran tried to step in, "I have the same blood type as Conan-kun, you can--"
"Conan'd kill me if I letcha do that!" Hattori replied, spinning his angry green eyes around to her. "Ya jus' got outta th' hospital fer bein' poisoned over this case!!"
A younger EMT muttered under her breath, "Can't we just knock him out?"
Things eventually settled down, and Ran was just about to get into the ambulance with her precious charge when, out of the corner of her eye, assistants dragging Saiko-sensei in multi-colored rope and Sato keeping a firm grip on Saiko's handcuffs with a furious eye.
Hattori, insomuch as he was able, tried to lung out of his stretcher. "That's him!! That's th' guy!"
Ran, more mobile than he, could only see red as she stormed out of the ambulance, her focus narrowing as she took a deep breath. She heard Megure's cries but only distantly; the only thing she could comprehend was that it was this man who had hurt her Conan, and Hattori, and Kazuha, and Ayumi-chan and Genta-kun and Mitsuhiko-kun, and all the children, and who knew whom else. This man had worked with an organization of people who dealt in death and harm. This man had poisoned the students of Conan's elementary school, and was guilty (if by association if nothing else) for poisoning Kazuha. This man had shot Hattori, and this man had made Conan watch himself bleed. This man had a lot coming to him. And Ran was just the person to deliver what was coming.
"Ran-kun!" Megure called.
"Ran-chan," Sato said, getting in front of the coming karate champion. "Calm down, it wouldn't be a good idea to--"
Ran swiftly ducked around the female officer and every Task Force member between her and the deranged psychologist with the grace of her discipline in martial arts. When she reached the shrink, Saiko was pale and unable to defend himself with his hands cuffed behind him and wrapped in scarves and colorful ribbons.
This man had earned some retribution.
"Haaaaaah!" It was a perfect spin kick, with the full force aiming right for the shrink's pale, frozen face.
It was only one voice that made the red film of her vision clear.
The foot stopped millimeters from the nose. Saiko fell backward with a muffled cry of pain from his arm. Ran's face went blank as she lowered her kick. She turned slowly, looking through all the officers that she had sidestepped to the ambulance where one small child was gasping for breath in the arms of an EMT, slumped forward, sweat streaming down his face, and looking her in the eye.
"Conan-kun," she whispered. The faraway child nodded and let the EMT push him back to the stretcher.
Ran turned and looked down at the school psychologist. Saiko looked up at her, and offered a friendly smile. "Go ahead, Ran-kun," he said quietly. "You're better at nurturing children than karate any day of the week."
"Keep up that psycho-babble, and I'll finish Ran-chan's kick," Sato retorted, roughly pulling up the shrink to standing again.
Ran ignored them and rushed back to the ambulance. Shinichi was far more important.
Shinichi let out a long sigh of relief. He eased himself into sitting up and looked around. He was in a double room, but the other bed was empty. Ran, Kogoro and Eri were all asleep in chairs huddled around his bed and a quick glance out the window showed it was early morning. They had most likely stayed all night with him. Another IV was in his left arm, the clear tubing leading up to a bag of blood that was replenishing his highly dwindled supply. Necessary as it was, Shinichi had rather had his fill of IVs.
Still, other people were in the room. Shinichi took a deep breath and faded away, letting Conan come forward.
Conan reached for his glasses, which were on the stand by his bed, and was almost glad to have them back on again. As Clark Kent a disguise as it was, it was reassuring to have their familiar weight on his nose and ears. There were details he wanted to know about now that he was a bit more... with it.
"Ran-nee-chan?" he asked quietly. He didn't want Kogoro or Eri to wake up and with Ran as worried as she was, he hoped she would be a light sleeper.
"Ran-nee-chan?" he called again, a little louder.
She stirred. "Conan-kun?" she mumbled. Then, all at once, she was awake and sitting by his bed, leaning her head against his. "Conan-kun?" she said.
Conan smiled and dropped his mask. "I'm fine, Ran-neechan," he replied before slipping Conan back on again.
Ran leaned back with a huge smile, tears welling in her eyes. "Thank goodness."
Looking around again, Conan tried to put the awkward feelings that were stirring in him aside. "Ahm, Ran-nee-chan, what--"
"Conan-kun," she replied firmly, a wide grin on her face. "You can call me 'Ran' if you want."
The compact detective nodded towards her parents. "It will take some getting used to." And explaining. Kogoro had been told about the lack of suffix, but he heartily disapproved, and it would take time to introduce it to the other people who knew them well. Ran nodded.
"So," Conan chirped. "What did I miss?"
Chuckling, Ran ran a hand affectionately through his head. Conan couldn't hold back a grin.
"Well, after you passed out in the ambulance on the way here, I called my dad to let him know I wouldn't be cooking dinner for him."
"He must have been so pleased."
"Be nice." Ran looked over at her father with gentle eyes. "He really was wonderful last night. He and mom didn't like me donating blood to you, neither did Hattori-kun, but they were all supporting."
Conan frowned. "You were just let out of the hospital."
"And you have a rare blood type and you needed it immediately. The doctors have been monitoring you all night. The poison seems to be completely gone from my system and you've been doing fine."
To that, Ran laughed. "He was absolutely horrible to the doctors. He'll be released today, but Kazuha has a lot to say to him. She's with him now."
"... And the hospital's still standing?"
They both chuckled.
Conan glanced around and lowered his voice. "Psycho-sensei?"
"Is in custody," Ran replied just as quietly. "Apparently the police found all sorts of evidence in his apartment that he was creating and distributing the poison here in Beika to record the psychological effects. Which is interesting, given that Hattori-kun and I didn't find anything of the sort."
"Them," Conan whispered.
Ran nodded solemnly. "Hattori-kun is very angry that they've escaped again. But frankly, I'm just glad that Saiko-sensei won't harm anyone again."
"If he lives to trial it might come out," Conan replied, "but that depends on how much he knows about Them."
Her eyes widened. "what You mean they might..."
Conan nodded. "I know there is a organization in Hokkaido which was behind this. Shinichi –niisan told me about it.”
The door opened and both looked over as Eri shook herself awake from the sudden noise. Kogoro snored on. The doctor was still looking at a clipboard and they waited expectantly.
"Ah, Conan-kun," the doctor finally looked up. "It's good to see you awake. I understand you've been through quite the ordeal."
No, sensei, I just watched my life's blood slowly drain from me into a bucket at my feet and had no way of stopping it. That wasn't much of an ordeal; really, it wasn't. But he said instead, "It all okay because Ran-nee-chan came to rescue me!"
Ran gave him a flat look that he understood at a glance. Right, tone down the sugar.
"In any case," the doctor turned to Eri, "you are his guardian?" Conan grinned. As always, the kid was to be ignored, presumably because they wouldn't understand.
Eri aimed a glare at her husband. "Yes," she replied, not bothering to explain the complexities of their family. Ran was there and she was the important one to hear all of this.
The doctor nodded. "Aside from the blood loss and bruising on his face, he's in excellent health--"
If you ignore my shrunken state.
"--and will be able to go home tomorrow. We want to keep him here for observation to make sure that there are no other complications from something that Conan-kun wasn't aware of during his time under.... that person's.... care." The doctor flipped through the clipboard again. "Now for the average adult, plasma is restored after just a few days, but restoring the red blood cells can take anywhere from twenty to fifty-nine days. Children usually aren't so depleted of blood and the pint that your daughter provided will help. But basically, he'll be feeling like a blood donor. I would strongly recommend having him rest for at least two weeks, if only because we're not sure what else happened to him during his captivity."
"Thank you, doctor," Eri bowed.
Ran turned to her mother. "Mom? Why don't you and Dad go home and clean up. I'll stay with Conan-kun and go home after you two come back."
Eri frowned. "Why don't we reverse that, sweetie. You were running around a lot yesterday searching for Conan-kun. Why don't you get a shower and freshen up? I'll keep an eye on him."
Ran glanced at Conan. "It's okay, Ran-nee-chan! I promise I'll be good for your mom!" She hesitated a moment more, before nodding. "But before you go," he said quietly, fighting the blush that was heating his cheeks, "can I have a hug?"
Ran's face reddened against her will, making her look absolutely beautiful, before smiling and leaning down. "Of course, Conan-kun. You can have a hug whenever you want."
Later that day, Conan was reading a mystery novel that Ran had brought with her. She was sitting on his bed, one arm around his shoulders the other texting Sonoko. Eri and Kogoro had headed out to work, Kogoro still grumbling about bills that needed to be paid and how even more were now coming in. Conan could care less about the old man's grumbling, because being able to spend time with Ran as himself was absolutely heavenly.
Naturally, their time together got interrupted.
The door opened and three people came in. Hattori was wheeled in looking defiant and pissed. Wheeling him in was his father Hattori Heizo, looking displeased and firm. And following the two in was Kazuha, who had a bizarre mix on her face of being irritated and respectful of the elder Hattori and irritated and worried at the younger Hattori.
"Oh," Ran said, shutting her phone. "Hello. I heard you were being released today, Hattori-kun. How are you feeling?"
The dark-skinned detective just growled.
It was his father that spoke. "Mouri-kun, if you don't mind, I have a few questions about how my son was injured yesterday."
Both Kazuha and Hattori's father glared at him. Hattori just scowled and crossed his arms.
Ran felt distinctly uncomfortable and Conan was glad that as a child, he was being ignored behind his book. "Of course," she replied.
"Now I understand that my son was investigating the illness of children here in Beika?"
Ran nodded. "Shinichi gave him a call. He'd dropped by a few weeks ago and when he heard about Conan-kun's classmates getting sick, he got suspicious. But he couldn't stay so he called Hattori-kun. Unfortunately, Hattori-kun couldn't pull away until he knew that Kazuha-chan was doing well."
Conan looked up to Ran, and the complete truth she had created on the spot. Hattori was also staring at her.
The elder Hattori looked down to his son. "And you chose not to tell anyone because?"
Hattori scowled. "We weren' sure," he retorted. "No proof. We had ta hunt down 'n independent source ta even see what sort o' compound could b' used ta fit all the symptoms the kids were showin'. Didn't know anythin' solid 'til Nee-chan got sick. Still didn' have any proof 'n' before we could confirm anythin', the kid here got grabbed."
The elder Hattori gave a clearly disapproving glare. Conan frowned. It was something that Hattori didn't really talk about much. Hattori couldn't stand a lot of the "traditional" views that his parents had strictly held him to and he rebelled in his own respectful manner. He loved his parents, and valued their opinions, but there were many things he didn't agree with. So he clashed, especially with his father.
"And neither you, nor Mouri-kun, saw fit to call the police?" The old man was radiating displeasure and Kazuha, who had remained respectfully quiet, looked torn between wanting to tear the man down for berating his son and turning to Hattori and demanding the same thing.
So Conan decided to diffuse the situation. He hid behind Ran's arm and peeked out from behind it. "Hattori-ojii-san?" Four sets of eyes swiveled to him. "You're sounding like Psycho-sensei."
"You sound like Psycho-sensei," Conan replied, still behind Ran's arm. "I remember. I remember Psycho-sensei making fun of Hattori-nii-chan and Ran-nee-chan because they didn't call the police. But he was wrong. He didn't know them at all." He looked over to Hattori with a little-boy smile. "Hattori-nii-chan didn't know where I was till he and Ran-nee-chan found me at the temple. He couldn't call because Psycho-sensei had seen him and Psycho-sensei had a gun to my head. He called the police once he was alone, right? He called for Megure-keibu."
He turned his little-boy smile up to Ran, and put a little bit of Shinichi into the expression. "And Ran-nee-chan couldn't call the police at all. She had me and she couldn't make any noise that would make Psycho-sensei find us." Ran gave a warm smile and moved the arm he was hiding behind to wrap around him.
Conan turned to Hattori's father. "So please don't be mad at them? They saved my life. I don't want them in trouble because of that."
Hattori's father said nothing, merely sighed. Score one for the cute kid. "I'll go try and hurry your paperwork, Heiji."
When the door shut behind him, Hattori let out a sigh of relief. "I'll probably still catch hell fer this when I get home," he grumbled.
Kazuha, however, had a lot to say on the subject.
"Ahou!" she yelled, her eyes filling with tears. "Didja have any idea how terrified I wuz when we were called last night ta be told that ya were 'n the hospital?!"
Hattori's eyes flashed. "Ahou!" he yelled back. "Ya think I had a choice 'n gettin' shot?"
Conan rolled his eyes. Those two were getting along as swimmingly as ever.
"Now, now," Ran tried to intervene.
Kazuha wasn't listening. Tears were streaming down her eyes as she continued to yell at the Osakan detective. "I thought y' understood! M' parents toldme how scared ya were when I wuz in the hospital, so why didja go 'n' scare me like that?" And she fell forward, wrapping her arms around Hattori, balling her eyes out as all her worry and fright throughout the night purged itself from her system.
Hattori grimaced from the extra weight on his hip, but otherwise looked utterly shocked. He awkwardly put his arms around his childhood friend, clearly not having a clue what to do.
Embarrassed that they were seeing something so private, Conan and Ran looked away. When the storm was finally weathered, Ran stood up. "Hey, Kazuha-chan? It's getting on lunchtime. Why don't we go get something and let the children talk?"
Kazuha sniffed but grin. "Good idea." She playfully thunked the back of Hattori's head. "This kid has a lot of growin' up ta do. Maybe Conan-kun can teach him a thin' 'r two. Now what were ya sayin' 'bout the fantasy-Conan 'ppearin'?"
Ran chuckled, winked at the two of them, and guided Kazuha down to the cafeteria.
Hattori turned with a wicked grin. "How long 've I been tellin' ya to tell her? Don't it make life easier?"
Conan chose not to dignify that with a response. "Hattori. Are you really okay?"
"Seriously, Conan, 'm fine. 'll be fine. 'n' I still need ta yell yer ear off."
"Heh. Consider me deaf."
Flat stare returned.
Both laughed and spoke more freely, enjoying each other's company until Ran came back with Kazuha.
Conan flipped a page in his book. Sonoko had come and practically dragged Ran away to "get her away from dreary hospitals" and he was spending the afternoon curled around his book. The pint of blood Ran had donated was now in his system and his blood count had improved; Conan had to admit that he felt a lot less anemic. Of course, since Sonoko had come to give Ran some fresh air, the minimized detective was fairly certain he would be getting another set of visitors soon. He was hoping to at least finish the chapter before they arrived.
Placing his bookmark, he looked up and smiled. "Hey everyone!"
The Shounen Tantei piled into his room, clamoring for good seats. Genta took the chair that both Ran and Kazuha had used over the course of the day, Mitsuhiko and Haibara perched themselves at the foot of his bed, and Ayumi in a fit of boldness, had crawled up to sit by Conan's side like Ran had done earlier. Conan gave her more room.
Genta was the first to be heard over the loud chatter of several kids talking at once. "Conan-kun! We've had enough of hospitals, why the hell are ya in one?"
That, naturally, received a flat stare. "Hey, hey, it's not exactly like I wanted to end up here."
Ayumi leaned into his personal space, her face covered in worry. "Are you okay? No one's told us what happened after you disappeared yesterday!"
"Yeah!" Genta shouted. "Didja chase the criminal? Why didn't you let us come along?"
Conan gave them a grin. This seemed like a good time for some practice.
"Well, you're all detectives, aren't you? Why don't you tell me what happened?"
The three real children scowled at him briefly before actively partaking in the challenge. Haibara gave a small grin.
"Well," Ayumi started, "I remember Hattori-nii-chan shouting about you being taken away in a duffle bag."
Conan nodded, giving an encouraging smile. "Whose duffle bag was it?"
"Saiko-sensei's," Mitsuhiko responded, then frowned. "I found talking to him about things... helpful. He was the culprit, was he not?"
Both Haibara and Conan gave a solemn nod. "Unfortunately," Conan agreed. "I may not have liked talking to him, but he was always nice and welcoming. But we accept that he wasn't what he told us he was, and go from there." There was a small twinge in his feelings about that, since he was doing the same thing to them, but he pushed that aside.
"Well," Genta said after a moment of silence, "I'd say he hit ya a bit. What with that bruise on your face."
Conan raised a hand to where Saiko had slapped him during Conan's attempt to pester the shrink into making a mistake for escape. He had forgotten about the bruise. He didn't really feel it when talking or eating. It must look bad. He shrugged. "That was part of it. But mostly, he slapped me because I was trying to annoy him."
Haibara gave an amused smile. "And we all know how good you can be at irritating people."
"But there was more?" Ayumi replied, appalled.
Conan nodded. "Can you figure out what?" He gave an internal grin, wondering which of them would start going in the right direction first.
All three stared intently at him, as if trying to see any other injuries that would account for him to be in the hospital.
"My mom's always threatening to hang me by my ankles," Genta said suddenly. "Did that bastard do that to you?"
"No," Conan stated.
"I remember a movie my sister saw where a man got hit in the back, did that happen?" Ayumi asked, trying to peer behind him.
More silence as they studied him. "Did he..." Mitsuhiko started hesitantly. "Saiko-sensei was a doctor, correct? And he made that drug we all eventually suffered from, so he has medical knowledge. Did he do something... medical to you?"
"Right direction," Conan praised. He lifted the sleeves of his yukata to reveal the bruised veins where Saiko had placed the IVs.
Haibara frowned. "Did he give you that poison?"
"No," Conan replied seriously. "Only one IV led to a bag."
"But wait a minute," Genta frowned, leaning forward to look at one of the elbows. "Ya mean that he had more than one IV in you? That one o' these marks isn't from the hospital? I know I had a lot of tubes in me when I woke up."
Ayumi nodded. "Me too. Isn't one of those bruises from the hospital?"
Conan shook his head. "Nope, the hospital put their IV here," he pulled open his yukata to reveal the small bruise by his neck. "They didn't want to use my elbows because Psycho-sensei did."
"So then, what did he pump ya full of?" Genta asked, a bewildered look on his face.
Haibara hissed in a breath.
She defined dryly, "Anti-coagulants are blood thinners. They are usually used to make blood flow more easily and to prevent blockages. They are normally used for people with heart problems or to prevent strokes and blood clots."
"So Saiko-sensei wished to make Conan-kun's blood move more easily through his veins?" Mitsuhiko raised an eyebrow. "If anti-coagulants are beneficial, why would a malevolent man like Saiko-sensei use them on Conan-kun?"
Conan looked between the three, curious to see who would work it out first. Haibara, given how she was studying him, had probably figured it out. Mitsuhiko had done well in using logic to look at a medical point of view, but then, while Genta and Ayumi were in the hospital, the skinny boy had been by Conan's side for an investigation most unlike the ones they usually did.
It was Ayumi who looked to Conan first. "You said only one IV went to a bag. Where did the other one go?"
"To a bucket."
"EEEEHHHH??" all three shouted.
"What the hell for?" Genta demanded.
Mitsuhiko breathed in sharply. "Once your blood was thinned, did Saiko-sensei let you bleed so freely into that bucket?"
Conan nodded. "Exactly."
"EWWWW!!" chorused all three.
"Aww," Genta moaned. "My mom gives blood regularly. She's always so tired and can't do nothin' for a few days after she donates. Is that the same with you, Conan-kun?"
The minimized detective snorted. "More or less, though I gave a bit more than a blood donor would. Ran-nee-chan gave me blood like she did when I was shot. I won't be practicing soccer for a few weeks, but I'll be fine for normal stuff. As long as I don't push it."
"We'll see that you don't," Haibara said with her monotone voice.
There was silence for a moment before Ayumi leaned into Conan's personal space again. "I heard Kaitou Kid was there! What happened after that?"
Well, Conan mused, better to talk about that thief than the concept of me almost dying. They did well with their deductions. They're improving.
And Conan was very proud of them.
Few days in the newspaper there was heading a whole organization was arrested by the Tokyo and Osakan police join force who were involve in creating the drugs and testing on kids.
Reading this Conan sighed and thought they had no connection and how could I find them. I was stupid to think they could perform this act so openly.