{Disclaimer: Aoyama Gosho alone owns all rights to the series Dectective Conan and Magic Kaito, and these names, characters, and places are borrowed without permission to be used for entertainment only, and will not be sold.  Please enjoy!}

Taceant colloquia.  Effugiat risus.

Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae.

(Let conversations cease.  Let laughter depart.

This is the place where death delights to help the living.)

Sometimes They Come Back

Chapter One

"Mistakes"

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well, actually, it wasn't a dark and stormy night at all.  The noonday sun had just reached its zenith, glaring down at all below with a blistering heat capable of scorching even the darkest of skin (though he barely felt the heat in his hurry).  The birds were chirping, the cooling breeze was calming, and there was a flurry of activity everywhere: kids eating ice cream (despite their mother's scolding that it'll rot their little teeth), kids playing soccer, kids just generally chasing each other around…

In fact, it was about as far from a dark and stormy night as you could possibly get.

He hurried forward impatiently, half walking and half running, as if he wasn't quite sure whether someone his age should be so undignified as to actually run like a little kid but couldn't quite contain the excitement inside.  A wide, almost silly grin split his face as he rushed on, and he felt so happy and light he could've just starting floating for all he knew.

I'm me…I'm finally me again…

Out of the corner of his eye he could see two children, a girl and a boy (siblings?  Friends?) having a tug-of-war with a chocolate bar, each screaming "Mine!!" at the top of their lungs.

He paused, watching the two with a faint smile on his face, but his eyes were glazed, distant with a wealth of pleasant recollections—it was not this quarrel, not this fight, that he was watching, but one much older, a long forgotten echo of memory, a half-joke, half quarrel in much younger years between a pair of very different children:

"I'll bet you anything that you can't beat me at the next karate tournament!" the girl had proclaimed proudly, her face flushed and alight with the golden afternoon sunlight.

The boy tightened the belt on his gi, purposely flicking his first dan at his friend as the two walked, side by side, out of the dojo.  "Bet you I can!!"

"Will not!"

"Will too!"

"Will not!"

"Will too!"

"You two…"  With a laugh and a shake of the head, the boy's mother ruffled both their hair affectionally, and both wore slightly belligerent looks of rebellion at the gesture, which they deemed were for little kids (though it would be another while before they realized that no matter what they thought then, they were still little kids).

The threesome strode towards the parking lot, where the boy's father waited in his car, dark eyes twinkling behind his glasses.  But as they strode past the building's main office the boy spotted something—

"Wait here, Mom!  Ran, I'll be right back," he promised as he dashed in, making a beeline for the vending machine by the front desk, fishing in his pockets for money, which he eventually found.  He eagerly popped the coins into the candy vendor and waited a few seconds, then picked a package out of the slot at the bottom before dashing back towards them, giving a forceful push at the glass doors.

The blond woman laughed lightly as she moved to ruffle the dark-haired boy's hair again, a move which he nimbly dodged.  "Why, Shin-chan, hungry again so soon?"

He ignored her, and turned to face his young friend with a triumphant expression, who was looking at him with a slightly bemused look.  "See?"  In his sweaty hand he held a chocolate bar, the golden wrapper glittering with a blinding light in the glory of the afternoon sun.  "I wager this chocolate bar that I'll beat you next time!"

The girl glared back, sticking out her tongue at her friend, but the dark blue eyes held as much reluctant laughter as there was pride.  "You're on, Shinichi!"

And they pinkie-squared on it.

Of course, seconds later the two of them, both faces flaming a bright red that bore some decidedly certain resemblances to their local fire trucks, were chasing a third friend across who had apparently just came back from the water fountain and was waving a Polaroid Instant Developing camera at them laughingly as she ran.  Just to spite them a little, Suzuki Sonoko made sure to add other playful comments along the lines of "husband and wife" and "married couple" and even "newlyweds" over her shoulder with a very knowing smirk.

The two amused parents watched, chuckling to each other across the parking lot, as the blushing duo shouted "COME BACK HERE, SONOKO!" at the top of their lungs as they made a third lap around the building.

It had been a good couple of years then, with life peaceful, his parents settling down in Japan for once instead of globe-trotting all over the place…he could still remember the pride, the joy he felt when he and Ran won the class championships together.  It wasn't much; just announced the two as the winners of their own (very small) small karate class, but it had been one of his greatest accomplishments on memory.  It was the scene he had chosen for the locket, the one with them betting on the chocolate bar, after winning the class tournament together and wagering on the city one coming up next.

Shaking his head, he grinned to himself, watching as a harrowed-looking young adult (mother?  Babysitter?) came over and tried to pull the struggling two apart.  Of course, after I lost that tournament Ran let me hear no end of it—think I had to give her about a whole box of chocolate bars, and not just one bar…  Don't think she let me live it down until a couple of years later…but that was probably the fault of my own arrogance.  Childish pride, it was—I had fallen behind Ran in karate a long time ago due to soccer practice…

Think that was the last straw that made me really quit karate to take soccer full-time, I guess.  Never did try crossing Ran after that…

Ran…

A sudden burst of longing swelled in his chest like a blooming wildflower, and suddenly, even being a few minutes away seemed far too long.  It had already been entirely too long since he was himself, and he was going to spend it well—with her.

Forcing his steps to quicken into a fast jog, he headed towards her house—

Wait for me, Ran, wait for me…

As it WAS Ran's birthday, softly under his breath, he began to sing Happy Birthday—horribly out of tune, of course; he could play instruments but never sing a single note in-tune—as he resumed his jog.  Idly he wondered to himself what Ran's face would look like when she finds him, Kudo Shinichi in the flesh, on the steps in front of her door and ringing her doorbell…

Despite his currently exultant mood, a calm and decidedly cool voice rang in his ears, a scientist's detached dialect, one that had listed to him painstakingly about every last dangers and should-nots about this trip of his.  Welling up in his mind was yet another echo of memory, but one far less pleasant…

~*Flashback*~

"This," she had stated coolly, two small, nimble fingers holding the red-and-white capsule that was his ticket to real life and salvation, "is a clinically-proven dangerous drug, highly unstable, not able to even guarantee a full twenty-four-hours of usability, and will very likely kill you, which it so far has not done—whether that's because of your healthy heart or just a fool's luck, I don't know.  And yet you take it—or want to—time and time again, for foolish, trivial matters of the heart.  Were it for purposes regarding our…mutual interest, at least you would have an excuse for doing so—but time and time again I find you wanting one after another merely to see your girlfriend.  Tell me, Kudo-kun…why is it that you can use your vastly superior mind to overcome other obstacles with no difficulty, but can't force yourself to obey your caution and remain properly hidden?  Why is it that you risk your life, my life—all our colleagues' lives—just for one trivial woman?"

He bristled, hackles raising and small child-hands balling into tight fists.  "Don't you dare talk about Ran like that!" he snapped at her angrily.  "Ran isn't—isn't trivial!  She isn't foolish!!  Just—" he could barely speak through his anger and defensiveness "—just because you like computers more than you do people doesn't mean the rest of us do!!"

As soon as he said this he regretted it, clamping one hand over his traitorously big mouth, realizing what an utterly stupid, foolish, idiotic blunder he had just made.  The former Miyano Shiho, now Haibara Ai, had his very ticket to salvation in her hand, and one mistake—like the insult he had just said—could very well mean he doesn't get that cure.  Normally it was simply a matter of mind-over-matter to get over that, to convince himself that he could wait if Ran could, to wait for the day the real cure was discovered and the syndicate gone, where he could return to his true form without shadows of fear hovering over him…

But not that day.  He couldn't miss That Day.  Not ever—he wouldn't be able to forgive himself if he did.

Especially not after a full year and still no sign of the syndicate or the cure…

Instead of taking offence, however, the miniature scientist merely cocked her head to one side and began circling Conan slowly, as if he was Exhibit A displayed at some sort of museum exhibition that she couldn't quite figure out…

"Why, Kudo-kun?" she asked, almost curiously, as she stared right at him, her sky-blue eyes a matching shade with his own and boring into them.  "Why do you risk so much for one woman?  Why do you dare risk your life, my life, all our lives on her whims, when you feel that you need to cheer her up?"  Her voice softened slightly, and more of the confusion filtered through, as if she couldn't understand his desperation and pain whenever he saw Ran hurting.  "What is it about Mouri-chan that enchants you so?"

He stiffened slightly, feeling slight offence for Ran at being spoken of like an inanimate object, but forced his indignation and temper down to try to give her a decent reply.

But he couldn't word it right.  How could he tell her even a fraction of what he felt for Ran, and the measures he would go just to see her happy?  He couldn't—he was never any good at expressing himself.

There was one thing he could say that might settle the matter though.

The truth.

No matter how awkward and stupid-sounding the words may be, no matter that it wouldn't even sum up a fraction of what he felt for Ran, he had to tell her.  He owed her that, at least.

"You don't understand, do you?" he said haltingly.  "I…I care a lot about her, Haibara.  And she's sad…she's sad because of me.  I know that it's dangerous, and I know that…" he swallowed thickly, feeling like something had lodged in his sandpaper of a throat and stubbornly refused to leave.  "…that maybe I don't have the right to keep her waiting, to keep her hoping like this, especially when I run the risk of all our lives…  But…"  He glanced up at the young blonde face, squaring his jaw determinedly.  "But if she's ready to keep on hoping…then so will I."

"And risk all our lives in the meantime."  Her voice was flat.

He tried to nod, but stopped himself, feeling dread in his stomach at the look in her eyes, squeezing his own eyes shut at the piercing gaze.  Oh no—she's not going to give it to me, she's not, and I'm gonna miss Ran's birthday…!!

And that was why he was so very, very surprised when her cool hand brushed his to place a very familiar-feeling capsule in his small childish palms.  "I don't know why I'm doing this, but…  Here, Kudo—your temporary cure."

His eyes shot open, and he stared at the red-and-white capsule sitting sedately in his palm, then looked up at her, gaping in shock.  "This…"

"Go."  She didn't look at him as she slowly turned back to her computer, her voice just a little thick with—anger?  Bitterness?  Disgust?  Some other emotion?—and her steps just a little heavy as she trudged towards her chair.  "Go now before I change my mind."

"I—ah—"  At a complete loss for wards, the faux grade-schooler opened and closed his mouth like a gasping fish before he realized not to look for the proverbial gift horse in the mouth and dashed towards the door of her lab, the pill cupped carefully in his palm like a sacred treasure.

But before he turned out the door, he looked back, his dark blue eyes honest and sincere.  "I…maybe someday you'll understand how I feel.  When you'd risk everything just for that one person…everything…then you'll know what it's like in my place.  Then you'll…understand.  And I hope, for your sake…I hope that you can find that somebody…one day."

She didn't say a word, her head lowered, blonde bangs covering her face.  He sighed inwardly and retreated out of the lab.  "Thanks, Haibara."

Unbeknownst to him, she was watching him, watching the teenager hiding inside that happy little boy bound out of the house through the slits in the strands of her hair, blue gaze wavering as tears slipped slowly out.  Her voice was a shaky whisper when she finally spoke, and whether it was to him, herself, or the otherwise empty room, perhaps she herself would never know.

"You're wrong, Kudo-kun; I do understand…or I did.  But not since Akemi died…"

~*End Flashback*~

His smile faltered and slipped away as he remembered the look on Haibara's face; angry and irritated and even partly disgusted like a scientist should be when a variable suddenly goes out of control, but underneath there had been a wistfulness underneath, a pained jealousy born of envy at his joy at the simpler things in life…things like returning to a waiting girlfriend, returning to his old life and was welcomed, returning to a life he missed

But she can't do that, can she?  No longer does she have a former life to speak of.  No longer does anyone wait eagerly for her return.  She has never stepped out of the Black Organization enough to have a social life—and obviously not; those people were slaves to their ambitions and had no time for anything else—and she didn't have a life outside of Haibara Ai.

She didn't have anyone caring, waiting for her… not since her sister died.

He wished that someday, she would find someone to do that for her…that one day, she would find her other as well.

Good luck, Haibara…the best of my wishes to you.

Despite his honest well-wishes, he had to admit—to himself, if nothing else—that he wasn't in the mood for true sympathy.  After all, it was Ran's birthday, and he had gotten the temporary cure from Ai (though he'd be damned if he figured out why—not that he cared; he got it, and that was the important thing, right?), and he was going to visit Ran on her birthday as himself…

But there was some part of him that was a little wary, a little skeptical after all the arguments against his trek.  Haibara wasn't the only one—Hattori Heiji was, as well…

Though he was a bit more…forceful…about it.

The streets were starting to fill with its usual traffic, the young children (the rather irritating kind which he was forced to accompany for the length of his imprisonment, yet somehow made his little situation a lot easier to bear) chattering amiably, and he smiled—wistfully, thoughtfully—as he lengthened his stride, determined to make it there before Heiji did to avoid another confrontation.  Their last conversation had ended in a battle of warring wills, where for once he lost his level head and calm in an argument where Heiji wasn't the only one yelling:

"Dammit Kudo, get the fact into your head—you can't go; you'll blow your cover and endanger Neechan and Ojisan and everyone else, even your parents!  Use that brain of yours!  You don't understand the dangers and risks and—"

"No, YOU don't understand!" he snapped back heatedly, an angry snarl twisting his innocent-looking features, looking absolutely nothing like a child.  "YOU'RE not the one who's been stuck like this for over a year, and YOU'RE not the one Ran's been worrying herself sick over the past year!!  For her sake, for my sake to return me to a little bit of normal sanity, for ALL our sakes, this is for the best!  You still have Kazuha-san, your parents—whom you can actually CALL your parents instead of Obasan and Ojisan—and a perfect life.  You have no right—no idea—of what I'm going through right now, so you SHUT UP!!"

Heiji's face purpled, and his hands fisted suddenly.  Conan got the distinct impression that it was taking every last ounce of the Kansai detective's self control not to strangle the little 'boy' in front of him right now (not that he was going to back down.  Oh no, he wasn't going to give Hattori an inch).  "You're not going Kudo, and you leave Kazuha out of this!"

His voice suddenly became very calm, laced with a deadly cold, and the tone was soft and deadly, making it crystal clear that he who defies him would be very sorry later on.  His eyes had sharpened behind his glasses, and he slowly took them off, levelling a glare at his fellow detective that gave even Hattori Heiji the shivers, and he pronounced every word slowly, clearly, in a voice that had nothing little about it save for its childish timbre:

"Don't tell me what I can and can't do, Hattori Heiji.  When you've been trapped like I have for over a year, when everyone you love is within arms reach but you can't tell them, when you constantly fear for your life and your family's in more ways than a father being a cop, when you've suffered like I did because of what that syndicate did to me, my life, and everyone I love, THEN you can tell me what I should and I shouldn't do.  Not before then."

Their conversation had ended rather abruptly then, as Kazuha and Ran had came in the kitchen, hefting humongous shopping bags and wondering what in the world was going on for a teenager and a little boy to be screaming this loudly.  As the two of them floundered for an excuse, Conan had suddenly yelped and dove under the cupboard to emerge with a small fire extinguisher, fumbling for the safety pin release.  Heiji merely stared in confusion before his nose finally recognized the slightly-off smell of their carefully made meal they had prepared together before the argument had started, and turn to see the whole stove of the Osakajin's kitchen a merry blaze of flame.

Of course, Conan-kun had learned ALL about fire drills in school, and proceeded to spray the flickering tower of fire with the chemicals of the fire extinguisher, and being only a little boy of eight acting on what must've been left of his absolutely terrified instincts, no one blamed him when he accidentally sprayed a little on his Heiji-niichan instead of on the sheet of fire.

'A little' turned out to be a lot.  The image of Hattori Heiji, the famed Great Detective of the West, covered from head to toe in a thick white foam until only his eyes and that dratted baseball cap was visible sent most of his anger out the window as Conan snickered a very adult and very Shinichi-like snicker, surreptitiously of course.  Heiji merely spluttered and glared at him—and if looks could kill, that would have been it for him then—while Ran and Kazuha howled with even more laughter and wrote off the screaming as the rather loud and typically male response of boys bemoaning the fate of their carefully prepared lunch.

That had been a tad of a close call, though he daresay Heiji had never had this sort of thing happening to him before; he refused to talk to 'Conan-kun' for the rest of the day…his glare, when he bothered to look in his direction that is, communicated his opinion quite clearly:

You're gonna kill yourself with this, Kudo…and you're taking the rest of us down with you.

Of course, he had ignored him, otherwise he wouldn't be where he was and who he was right now.  Kudo Shinichi wasn't an idiot; he WAS the famed Great Detective of the East after all; who was there to say that he couldn't fend for himself?

But there was that one tiny shadow of doubt somewhere inside him; granted, he WAS the Great Detective of the East, but it worked both ways—Hattori Heiji was ALSO the Great Detective of the West as well, and on par with him in intelligence and tactics (though perhaps lacking a little in patience).  If both he AND Haibara strongly advised against it—or in Heiji's case, wanted to stuff him into a gunnysack and stow him away until the danger has passed—then should he really go?

Oh, right, like I'm really gonna miss this…  Snorting to himself at his own indecisiveness, he stepped on his next steps just a little forcefully—not enough to be called a stomp, but definitely more heavy and forceful than was strictly necessary, as if the heavier footfalls would remind him of the reason he made this decision.  What's gotten into you, Kudo?  You KNOW better than to take Hattori and Haibara's advice at face value—those two are just paranoid and you know it.  Too well, actually.  Yes there IS a danger, especially with those black guys on the prowl, but there always is a danger to everything—and that's half the challenge and a hell lot of the fun, isn't it?  Besides, just one little trip to see Ran wouldn't hurt…and it is her birthday…

Just hope this half-baked excuse for a cure holds out until I can get to see her open my birthday present for her…

He shook his head forcefully as he felt his cheerful, excited little-boy smile that would've looked perfectly in place on Conan's features falter and fail, slipping off unexpectedly.  C'mon, Kudo, don't think that way!  Happy thoughts, happy thoughts—that's the way to go.  Think HAPPY—can't let Ran see you with a face like this…

Ran…

Now THERE was a happy thought.  A very happy one, in fact; and the happiness was made all the sweeter when he remembered that he was heading for her house right now, going to meet her, going to finally come to her birthday…

IF the antidote held out, that is.  If.

He shook that thought off too—he wasn't going to ruin his mood and his twenty four hours of salvation moping about what is and what could have been—he could've not followed Gin and Vodka on that fateful day that year ago, he could've sated his stupid curiosity and continued on with his date, he could've…the list went on and on.  But that wasn't what mattered right now—what mattered was that he was himself, and he was going to live the life as himself to the fullest.  He had a scant twenty-four hours (if not less) before he had to go back to the child-prison he was forced to inhibit, and dammit, he was going to live those twenty-four hours well.  Starting with a dinner-date with Ran, her birthday party, and her present to just name a few…

Speaking of birthday presents…the letter…

He shuddered inwardly at the memory.  Oh no, he hadn't WANTED to write it, not at all…but suffice to say that Haibara designed an excellent drug, and the search for the antidote without the original batch of drugs had been three steps forward and two steps back.  The temporary antidote was just that—temporary.  It had been a stroke of luck, pure luck and nothing else (though it'd be doomsday and Armageddon mixed as one before the blonde mini-scientist would admit it)—that Haibara had mixed that bunch of chemicals that just happened to temporarily contradict the original APTX-4869's effects, but she had learned very little from this stroke of luck.

With how fickle the antidote could be, he had to have a backup plan in case he couldn't make it to the party…and that was where the letter had came in.  He had written it very early in the morning, shortly after his painful transformation so that it would be his handwriting, and not the weakly childish one of Conan's that she would see.  He hadn't wanted to write it, no, not at all—he wanted to see her, not leave a stupid piece of filled stationary at her door, but luck was always against him, it seems, and the apotoxin antidote had an uncanny ability to fall short right before something extremely important…the almost-confession at the restaurant being a case in point…

Maybe…if only…as long as…

Maybe.  If this stupid half-baked excuse for a temporary cure held out, then damn, he would too…starting with the truth, the WHOLE truth that he was going to tell her—it had been over a year, after all…and he just WASN'T going to put Ran through more waiting; she deserved more than that…

They were through with lies, the two of them, and now it was time for sorrow, realism, anger, bitterness, pain, sadness…and whatever else the truth will bring.  It was time for the truth—and the underlying softer emotions—to emerge.

And afterwards…if she could forgive him for it, and understood why he did what he did, maybe they could move on…to something more

Maybe, after he fulfilled his promise of coming back, they can get onto another promise…this time, none so painfully bittersweet…

Maybe.

He'd have to survive her wrath and earn her forgiveness first, wouldn't he?

He quickened his pace, trying his hardest to ignoring the tugging in his heart, owing it all to his bittersweet sorrow…but it wasn't heartache; not in that sense.  It  wasn't over Heiji, or Ran, or anyone else.  It was…it was kind of like the feeling people got when they forgot something, but couldn't for the life of them remember what…like leaving something of the utmost importance behind, but never quite remembering what that thing was anyway…

Something…had been…Forgotten…

Given my track record, it'd probably be Ran, he snorted to himself.  I've been ignoring her and neglecting her ever since that day at Tropical Land…

 He scowled, his thoughts growing irritated and pensive for the first time that cheerful day, and he quickly shook it off as a dog would shake off the rainwater on his back.  It wasn't a time for thoughtfulness, for what should've been his…it was a time to enjoy himself, one scant day to live life as he should've, as he could've, had he not followed those bastards on that Fateful Day…

No use thinking about that now, he thought to himself wryly.  He had made his decision, and maybe…maybe somewhere, in his heart of hearts, knew that he would've done the same had he known the stakes.  Ran was waiting for him, waiting…but she was alive.  And safe (relatively, anyway).

The lives he had saved whilst in that prison, however…he couldn't say the same.  Had he not been forced to go into hiding, so many more lives would've been paid.

After all, how many criminals are dumb enough to put a mere child on their list of 'People to Avoid and Watch Out For'?  A child of such a young age could barely get through their times tables, much less comprehend the perverse, bloodthirsty glory of feeling the coppery liquid on their faces, sweat dampening their brows, a twisted smile stretching their mouths and lighting up their eyes with a wild glow…

And since so few noticed the young 'child' running around and asking strangely pointed questions, many would sit in their cell behind iron bars and wonder just how the hell did the police catch onto them so quickly.  No one notices a child running loose—they were children, after all, and their knowledge was restricted to whose turn was it on the swings or fighting over the seat on the seesaw.

But not Edogawa Conan, detective.  And for all his faults he made whilst in that prison, at least he saved some lives.  And when Haibara design that cure and he returned to his true self, he would bring down those bastards once and for all.  But until then…

He waits.  And so does she.

But not today.  Today was Ran's big 18th, and there was no freaking way he was going to ruin this twenty-four hours as he did that last one they met and had a long talk…stupid him went off for another mystery, and lost his chance to speak…

This time—this time, it'll be different.  He promised himself that…promised himself, and her.

He checked his watch quickly and fell back into a determined trot as he resumed his journey back into the real Land of the Living—Conan was a child prison, and he couldn't live like he was supposed to when he was him, not when he knew he was actually Shinichi; if the cursed drug had wiped his mind as well as rob him of his body, then maybe he could have a new life.  But when all they did was steal his physical self, it was not so, especially if they had forgotten that the true strength and character of a person lies inside

Grinning to himself, he picked up the pace again, running as fast as he could at an all-out sprint and raced towards the house of a certain Mouri Ran in the heart of Beika—

—feet never quite touching the ground…

~*~*~*~*~

It was quiet.

She stumbled slowly back into her room, her eyes red from long hours of crying.  Her staggering caused her to briefly crash into the door, but no matter—there was no one here but her…

Or it felt like it, anyway.

The emptiness of everything greeted her, nothing and everything all at once, hollow, empty.  She was alone.  Alone, save for the strewn newspapers and magazines thrown haphazardly about covering every visible inch of her floor and desk; alone, save for the pictures of a very famous, late, and familiar genius that was grinning up at her from the obituary section of every volume, edition, sheaf, and stack in her room…

Her eyes teared.  Again.  Hands shaking, she reached up to grab the silver locket on her neck, the one she's never taken off since his death.

A familiar click at the switch hidden well on the side opened the clasp, revealing an aged photo from years ago—one that she now looked at every waking second of the day (not that she could sleep anymore anyway).  The side profile of a young boy and girl hooking pinkies together was starkly shown, with the boy triumphantly smirking and small hand deftly waving a golden wrapper of chocolate as the girl stared at her companion with a rather belligerent look at the smug grin on his face.

Crystalline tears trailed, familiar and forgotten, down her face, and she fell numbly back onto her bed, small sobs escaping the confinement of her throat once more.  The dozens and dozens of said boy's photographs stared at her from all angles of the room, smirking, laughing, thinking…profiles of almost every possible emotion were displayed rather messily, as the development of the boy had been carefully recorded and kept by said young girl.

One that had to grow up in a hurry, and aged almost overnight.

Hitched sobs escaped as she swiped at her eyes, finding only more tears to follow, until she finally gave up trying not to cry and buried her face in her pillow, the translucent, pearly tears now covering her face in a wet, shiny sheen.  Miserably alone and drowning in her sorrow, all she had for company was the faces of all the various pictures and photos of one certain boy from what felt like eons ago.  They stared at her, their gazes almost following her around as she crashed into the pillow, staring with a look that could almost be described as a strangely mocking sympathy at her as she sobbed…

Curling into a small, wretched, miserable ball, she hid in whatever shadows she could, as if the darkness was the only balm and solution to her misery—and in all accounts, it probably was; nothing worked QUITE as well as desperation and darkness to relieve the pain of losing someone loved.  Of course, after that you're pretty much gone if you let the darkness take your soul away, but could she care less right now?

The whole room was sheathed with darkness; curtains had not been drawn and no lights were turned on.  Shrouded with shadows and an unearthly eerie feeling, she curled into a tighter ball until only the bright red thread knitted into the silver chain links of her locket, the only thing brightly coloured and filled with something other than desperation and dread in the entire room, could be seen in the dark—almost as if it glowed…

Red was the colour of love, was it not?

But was the one she loved here?

She closed her eyes, not wanting to look at the various pictures that were all somehow looking directly at her, as though she could feel the gazes burning into and through her…  She dared not look, even though she both wanted to and not; wanted to because then she could at least see him again in some form, but she also knew it'll only bring back all too painful memories…

But some things were not so easily blocked out.  Unfortunately.  Memories flooded her, the streams of time slipping through her mental fingers like fine grains of sand; memories of happier times, younger times, when they were both happy and free and alive

"Baka…Shinichi…"

The cold house loomed over her protectively, offering solace in its empty embrace.  The building was as silent and still as a tomb.

No one was there to hear her cry.

Well, maybe one…just one

I'm coming Ran, I'm coming…

~*~*~*~*~

He half-ran, half-skipped, and one-third pranced down the block (highly undignified for someone like him, but he couldn't care less right now), heart soaring and feeling as light as a feather—maybe he was, really.  He certainly felt like he could just fly off the ground right now, the excitement and joy and anticipation making his blood sing and his heart pound so much it felt like it would fairly burst out of his chest…

The one corner of his mind that still retained its sanity despite his current hyper mood noted oddly as he looked around at how little the people around him seem to be noticing a young adult dashing around and only barely falling short of cheering and whooping at the top of his lungs.  Most just went about their own business, a child or two stared at him (or was it just his general direction?) with a puzzled, inquisitive look on their young faces, but soon shrugged in short order and went back to their games.

He personally found nothing in the least to be strange or puzzling—what, haven't they ever seen a cheering teenager race down the block and falling just short of doing cartwheels before?—after all, he was himself and going to her birthday party, even if he could only relish the feel of being an 18-year-old for twenty four hours.  He was going to enjoy the feeling of being tall, of being old, feeling lean strong muscles working in harmony with his sharp, keen mind…

Just like it should be.

Moisture dripped down his face, and he swiped at it irately, wondering why in the world was he sweating (or he assumed it was sweating) so much anyway—sure, the transformation takes a lot out of him, but Haibara said it would deprive his body of its hydration, not increase its production…

Despite it being one of the happiest days of his life—or should've been—it felt oddly…empty.  Like his happiness could only mask the hidden darkness, but never eradicate it.  He had no words for it, but—but there was just something…wrong…with the atmosphere around him…

Perhaps it was because he was used to being ignored as Edogawa Conan yet literally worshipped as Kudo Shinichi, but he found it quite odd that no one seem to recognize or even notice him in the least while normally girls would be crowding around him and bowing at his feet (or at the very least, demand for autographs).  Surely a famous high school detective bounding down the streets and screaming like a little kid is worth at least some attention…?

Never mind that, Kudo…get your head back on track and get to her birthday party, God!

He looked down at the hastily-wrapped package cradled in his hand; just the mere thought of it made him blush.  It—well, it wasn't that it was particularly suggestive or anything (good Lord, of course not—she'd put him through a wall if that was the case), for sure—it was just a locket, a small locket about their past, but…

But in a way, it was special—and it wasn't a cliché gaudy trinket some jock in their class would give to the class queen or social butterfly.  There's a part he liked the most, and that was that she was herself—she never tried to be anything she wasn't, and she was a good, honest girl that was truthful about what she felt—and somehow, her honesty and openness had gotten her more 'true' friends than the social butterflies themselves.  Not once had she ever tried to be anything but uniquely her, and that was what he liked about her.  She was herself—and she was proud of who she is.  She was a remarkable, special girl (a fact that was not about to be ignored)…

She was his Ran.

Which is why he chose this as a gift—a special girl must have a special birthday present, and there was nothing more special to them than their past, right?

Of course, not that that applied to him much—as smart as he was on everything else, especially involving forensic science and murder investigations, Shinichi privately admitted to himself he was not as apt at other things…birthdays for example.  To be honest, he had not thought of the locket until almost too late (but it was an improvement for a guy who forgot his own birthday, right?)…and it took a good deal of effort to get Agasa-hakase to bring him shopping without letting him look at what he bought (a most daunting task, since the professor had to pay for it and he pay him back later—little boys just were NOT seen buying silver lockets) too…

Okay, so he admits it—so his present was probably worth a lot less than what many of the others would give her—Sonoko for example.  The second daughter of the Suzuki Corporation had a good heart, but sometimes the ditzy airhead got a little too far under his skin when she want to grind his nerves.  She meant well and everything, but Shinichi didn't like the 'cheapskate' digs she jabbed at him offhandedly during Ran's past birthdays; maybe it was just him, but he liked to think sentimental value was worth a little more than how much this absolutely gorgeous dress from the mall had cost.

Well…whether it was worth it or not, he'd see when he gets there, ne?  No more waiting…true, he had a twenty four hour leeway last time, but the temporary cure was as fickle as it was dangerous, and even Haibara Ai herself could never guarantee whether that red-and-white pill would kill or save him next.

He resumed his speedy walk down the street, wrapped up in a whirl of chaotic emotions, but all of the sweet kind…of worry, longing, anticipation…very far from the panic and fear he had had to suffer through everyday as Edogawa Conan.

Wait for me, Ran…

The two children fighting over the candy bar earlier looked up in his general direction as he passed swiftly, but said nothing as they resumed munching on the chocolate, taking absolutely no notice of him.

After all, who takes notice of something they can't see?

~*~*~*~*~

And throughout the city, phones were ringing at the various funeral homes and traditional clothing shops as arrangements were being made…

Across the streets, a restless spirit stirred.

~*~*~*~*~

The morning was growing darker as he continued his walk.  Oddly enough, he couldn't muster up the spirit to run anymore.  He personally didn't understand it—one just didn't spend their twenty four hours of freedom moping like this, but he just couldn't bring himself to be cheerful, Ran's birthday or not.  It was—well, strange; on some weird fundamental level it just flat-out felt wrong…

He was himself, and yet he couldn't bring himself to be happy.

Why?

Yet, for all his efforts, he couldn't remember why.  It was like someone plunged an icy hand into his head and tore them right out; the same feeling when one goes to a cemetery and listen to the restless spirits come and go…

A silent breeze blew by, stillness in motion…

The leaves of the short, stout bushes planted in the cemetery rustled noisily behind him.

And the building of the Beika General Hospital he had stopped in front of was no better.  He stared blankly at the white scrubbed walls of the stout building before him, the sliding glass doors separating him from the world of death and injuries, keeping him from feeling the full extent of the icy hand of hell.  It was so different, and yet completely the same from the lonely desolation you would feel at a cemetery, another extension of the Beyond itself.

He shivered involuntarily.  What am I doing here?

A young couple bustling hurriedly by broke him out of his reverie; he spun around—completely unnoticed by the duo—and his gaze somehow fell on the man's watch.

It was no special watch—a normal Quartz one; one that you can find off every 800 yen stand in the mall.  A plain black backing was set into a silver frame, tough and durable.  But that wasn't quite the point.

Time.  That was the point.  And in that instant, somehow, without having rhyme and reason, knowing the current time seemed very, very important.

He fished out his little Conan-watch from his jeans pocket; the blue-black background darkly reflecting the sky's darkening grey against the glass.  It looked just like all the other times he's been looking at it.

But the hands—the hands—

—they were frozen in the exact same time he had checked last; a little before ten.  And it was already a good while since then, of that he was certain.  He was not far from where he remembered he checked the time; it was only a couple of blocks from here…

But it was a lot later.  And whenever his intuition said something, it was rarely wrong.

Why?  How?

He snorted to himself.  And this coming from the Great Detective of the East…get a grip Kudo, so your watch stopped.  Must be all that time you spent using the flashlight on it or something…just go inside the dratted hospital to check the time.

But he paused, hesitating…there was something decidedly wrong.  How many times had he busted alibis wide open because their times didn't match up?  More than he cared to count for, at least.  And to his (limited) experience, even the slowest walker didn't take (what felt like) two hours to walk a few blocks.

Furrowing his brows, he searched back on his memory…

Edogawa Conan could not sleep.  Of course, it was only natural, as the being of Kudo Shinichi hidden inside the faux gradeschooler's body knew perfectly well that today was The Day.  He had all but begged Haibara for another temporary cure to see Ran, because after over a year—a full year and a half in another month—with still no cure and organization in sight, it was the least he could do to visit Ran on her birthday…

Now, of course he could get up early.  Kids were a bundle of hypercharged energy—strange, was he this hyperactive when he really was a little kid?—and it was almost strange to see such a young grade-schooler actually sleep in.  It was almost unheard of for anyone to actually start 'sleeping in' until they've at least hit their preteen years.

But of course, if Conan-kun 'woke up' now, he'd be sitting on pins and needles for hours on end until the occupants of Professor Agasa's house was up (and knowing the professor's sleeping habits, that could take a while) so they could cover for Conan-kun's alibi of 'going camping' as well as help him with the expected pain of the transformation.  He'd go stark-raving mad with the wait, he was sure…

Not that he wasn't as he hid under the bedcovers.  But at least he could fidget under the stealth of his blankets, right?

The morning went by with a slow agony, and even Mouri Kogoro had commented—a bit unkindly, of course—on how jittery and impatient the young grade-schooler was that morning.  As soon as he possibly he could he had grabbed his backpack of 'camping necessities' (actually his adult clothes and other things he took from his own house earlier) and dashed over to the professor's house…

And from there, it was smooth sailing all the way—Ai had pointedly ignored him most of the time, and the professor had seen him through his transformation, gave him a quick something to eat and couple of last warnings before letting him go out the door with cardboard box in tow, heading happily for one Mouri Detective Agency…

And that was when the details began to get a little hazy.  He remembered dressing up in a pair of good slacks and a new black sweater, skipping out of the house like a real little kid…people HAD noticed him then, he remembered; but few came up for autographs—he heard someone distinctly muttering about only an idiot would pretend to be Kudo Shinichi in such an undignified manner.  He took his time walking, very slowly…just to make the time frame a bit more believable to Ran for someone who had just came from…uh, Shikoku…

He was only about two blocks from where he was now when it happened: he recalled a sudden, sharp spike of fear—no, make that sheer terror—before he suddenly felt a burst of PAIN and everything went really, really black…

He didn't remember anything for (what felt like) a long while after that.  Nothing, save for the cursed darkness.

Something didn't add up right here—Kudo Shinichi was, no doubt, very smart; there wasn't a single person on this planet that would be stupid enough to call him…well, stupid.  And what didn't add up right now was Time.

And his watch had just conveniently chose this time to stop.

He scowled, and walked up the short flight of stone steps to greet the sliding glass doors, which parted at his presence (though he noticed one of the receptionists at the counter glanced up sharply in his—or the door's—direction as he entered).  He peered around the lobby, looking for a clock that would tell him the time—

Wait a minute…!!

The concept of Time completely fleeing his mind, he stared at the wall in a shocked haze of disbelief, looking at the mounted sheaf of papers that had caught his attention.  What in the world…?!?!

Underneath the mounted wall clock, there hung a calendar, much like any other office or official buildings would be.  What startled him, however, was not the existence of the calendar, but rather, what it portrayed.

The calendar read, very clearly, that it was Monday—

—but Ran's birthday was on Saturday

~*~*~*~*~

On the train a distance away, two teenagers sat together, clad completely in black and leaning sombrely against the wall.  The girl's eyes were red, probably from crying, and one hand tightly gripped her omamori at her neck while the other wrung at the already-creased fabric of her skirt…

The taller boy leaned back, crossing his arms behind his head and sighed heavily, in a tone that held as much anger as pain and regret.

"Two days," he said softly.  "Two whole days…"

The girl shivered, and leaned closer against him, her ponytailed head resting on his shoulder.  Amazingly, the Osaka boy did not protest.

"Two days…only two days?" she said haltingly, her voice shaking.  "It feels so much longer…"

"Yeah it does, doesn't it, Kazuha?" he answered hesitantly, his voice holding the slightest hints of tremors as well.  Despite that, one hand clutched hers reassuringly—for himself or her, neither knew.  Maybe both.

"Kudo-kun…he should've known.  He should've told her…"

Hattori Heiji shook his head, a strained smile mixed with bitterness, regret, pain, sadness and wistful memories twisting the expression on his face into something not quite distinguishable.  "He couldn't.  No more than I could…though me calling him Kudo all the time didn't really help.  Maybe this is my fault…I knew they were watching him, but…"

Toyama Kazuha jerked her head up to stare sharply at him.  "It's not your fault!!  Don't you ever say that, Heiji!!"

"It's not Kudo's fault either, is it?" he said softly.  "It wasn't his fault from the beginning…he never asked to be turned into Conan.  No, if the blame had to be pinned on someone…blame those black bastards that put him into that situation."

"I…feel so sorry for him," Kazuha admitted, staring down at her hands.  "I was really mad at him, for Ran-chan's sake, but…"

"But he's really not to blame."  A deep, guttural sigh.  "And Neechan's probably falling apart by now…"

"Are we…in danger, Heiji?"  The question was voiced quietly, the small voice holding a note of fear.  "Now that I know, and you already knowing for such a long time…will we be targeted, as well?"

"I…don't know.  Maybe."  There was another sigh, deep and pained, as if wrenched from the bottom of his heart.  "That's another reason why I didn't want to tell you…I didn't, and still don't, want to put any more people at risk than absolutely necessary."

"Ran-chan…"  Kazuha clutched the bouquet of lilies resting sedately on her lap.  "What about Ran-chan…?"

Heiji patted her shoulder reassuringly, but the smile on his face was forced and didn't quite touch his dark, stormy eyes.  "Hey, don't worry about Neechan so much…she'll pull through this.  She's a survivor."

I hope.

The rest of the ride was spent in silence.

~*~*~*~*~

Kisaki Eri threw the car into overdrive and sped down the road, wheels striping the asphalt as she spun a neat 180 and skidded into an empty parking space in front of the Mouri Detective Agency without so much as scratching the paint of her blue car.  Grabbing her purse and stuffing her car keys inside, the normally calm woman dashed down the short stretch of concrete sidewalk in an atypical frenzy of speed to head for the door of the Mouri Detective Agency.

Her husband was waiting for her.

"Eri—thank God you're here," the normally gruff man said hastily via greeting, dark black eyes harrowed and panicky, looking beside himself with worry.  "I honestly don't know WHAT to do with her—she's locked herself in her room ever since two days ago and absolutely refused to come out; I don't think she's even eaten a single bite or drank even a sip of water since, and—"

"Shinichi-kun's death has been hard on her," she said shortly as she hurried up the stairs.  "Especially when it's on her birthday.  I honestly am not surprised at her reaction, though—she cared a lot for that boy.  But Kogoro, here's what I want to know—how did Kudo Shinichi get killed?"

The former policeman's eyes hardened and darkened, and he growled slightly, chewing absentmindedly on his moustache as his disgruntled dismay turned to grim seriousness.  "What, they didn't show you on the news?"

"No.  The media made a valiant effort to keep everything hush-hush."

The detective grimaced as he opened his door.  "In all honesty, the method of killing the boy wasn't so spectacular or pronounced: a shot to the back of his head.  That isn't exactly difficult, aside from the fact that Kudo usually had more sense than to let someone sneak up on him like that.  But…the motive…"  He rubbed at his face with a tired hand, shaking his head.  "Me and Megure-keibu have reason to believe it was intentional."

Eri paused sharply in the middle of peeling off her coat, eyes wide behind her glasses.  "Intentional?!  As in, intentional murder?!"

"Yeah.  We were tempted to write it off as—well, as an idiot caught up in gang warfare or something equally stupid, and I really wouldn't put it pass Kudo to do so, but…there was only one party…or rather, side…shooting.  We picked up several shells of the same type; maybe even from the same model of gun—whichever bastard that shot them was a damn bad shot; shot everything but Kudo until…uh…" he sweated slightly at his estranged wife's glare, most likely directed at his impersonal usage of phrase at the late young man who just happened to be the world to their daughter (and vice versa).  "Anyway, I got the feeling Kudo was dodging a couple of them with only minor injuries—one scraped his face—before the last couple nicked him on the head."

"Now why would Shinichi-kun have someone shooting at him on the day of his return?"  Eri's eyes narrowed in speculation, her expression made all the more harsh by the severe bun her blonde hair was knotted in.  "Certainly he has made many enemies, but most of them are still sitting in jail…"

"I can answer that," a voice said softly.

Both Kogoro and Eri jerked; neither had expected company—the Mouris certainly don't want any right now.  And to find one right in their living room—!

"You!" growled Kogoro as he recognized the boy and girl hovering above him and his wife.  "What're you doing here, Hattori?!  And how the blazing hell did you get into my house?!"

Hattori Heiji shrugged.  "The door was open," he said frankly, by way of explanation as he nodded at the widely-thrown-open door.  His gaze then fell on the woman sitting beside Mouri (who had begun to swear under his breath about the rudeness of teenagers, barging in someone's house without even knocking…).  "Sou…you must be Neechan's mom.  Kisaki Eri, ne?"

Eri blinked at the teenager.  "Hai…that'd be me.  Uh…and you are…?"  Her eyes sharpened with recognition.  "Wait—you're the one with Ran-chan and Shinichi-kun on Saturday!"

A strained attempt at a smile; she didn't miss the grimace that came with the mention of That Day.  "Hai…you've got a good memory, Kisaki-san.  Hajimemashite, I'm Hattori Heiji.  This is my friend, Toyama Kazuha," he introduced (who quickly bowed and whispered a soft "Doozo yoroshiku" to make up, at least partly, for her childhood friend's uncouth frankness).  "We're here to visit Neechan."

Honestly speaking, that wasn't the best way to introduce oneself to an elder, but Hattori Heiji had never been one for manners.  Eri immediately decided that she liked this young man—he was brash, young, and even slightly rude, but at least he was upfront and honest and wouldn't pretend to be something he's not.

Mouri Kogoro was still muttering some highly uncomplimentary comments about Heiji and his general ancestry, and Eri shushed him with a Look as she nodded crisply at the teenager in return.  "I doubt she wants to see anyone right now, especially if she won't even open her door to her family."  She regarded him with a critical eye, taking in the dark choice of dress, the insufferable baseball cap emblazoned with the SAX logo, the darkened eyes behind the seemingly cheerful face.  "So…you're Hattori Heiji, the Great Detective of the West?  I've heard a lot about you from my daughter, Kansai detective…"

A grin, slightly on the sheepish side.  "Are they good things or bad things?  Kisaki-san," he added hastily at a hard elbow in the ribs from Kazuha.

"A little of both, Hattori-kun."  The older woman smiled; it was not a very nice smile.  "Now, you said you knew something about Shinichi-kun…?"

"We both do, actually…but I know more.  I know a lot of things; a lot more than I should or want to.  And I know the reason for Kudo's death."  Heiji's gaze hardened slightly, and he sat down decisively opposite them on the couch (at a little gasp of dismay from Kazuha and a glare from Kogoro at his bluntness, but Eri silenced them both with a wave of her hand and a glare of her own for Kogoro).  "Kudo Shinichi—"

~*~*~*~*~

"—is dead," Shinichi whispered in shock as he stared down at the steel bed.  "I'm…dead…"

And in the steel gurney, still and motionless, devoid of a pulse and looking every bit the corpse, the pallid face of Kudo Shinichi stared back at him.