SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1

Blowing Out the Candles

By Ysabet

Chapter One:  Running With Scissors

The entity that the world knew as 'Edogawa Conan' was a mask.  'He' was not real; 'he' was a disguise, a fictitious personality whipped up in a handful of frantic seconds to fool Mouri Ran and keep her from discovering what had happened to a certain Kudo Shinichi.  'Conan-kun' was NOT real, had never existed before that moment, and (if the selfsame Kudo Shinichi had his way) would not exist beyond whatever time it took for him to be cured and resume his old life.  If he ever could, that is.  Conan was a mask, no deeper than necessity made him, no realer than survival required him to be.

Nevertheless…..

Sometimes—just sometimes—Edogawa Conan really, really got tired of being Kudo Shinichi.

* * * * *

*Okay now… raise up his arm and sort of wave it in the guy's general direction and get their attention over there.  Whups, his hand flopped a bit—quck, drop the arm!  Good, they're looking away—*

"…and that was your fatal flaw:  you got clumsy, Muraki-sensei.  After all, he *was* your patient—did you really think you could keep getting away with murder?  You could change the records and disguise it as a death-by-illness a few times, but—"

The culprit glared in murderous outrage, crossing his arms and stalking towards the door with a cold-eyed sneer.  "I've had enough of your outrageous accusations, Kogoro-san!  I am a man of Science, not a serial killer.  Your idiotic conclusions no longer either interest nor amuse me, so a good evening to you."  He slammed the door shut behind him with considerable force.

*--and there he goes, just like I thought he would; psychos are so PREDICTABLE sometimes.  Sure hope Megure's ready--*

From outside there was a sudden scuffle and a number of thuds, accompanied by excited voices.  *Guess he was, and a good thing too.  This guy's dangerous—seven possible murders, a string of peculiar disappearances, hints of odd medical experiments, and then there was that mess he was in with the cruise ship that went down last spring.  Suspected illegal organ transplants, wasn't it?  NOT a nice man.*

A crash now, as of glass breaking; the excited voices had become alarmed voices, which was not good.  Conan dared to peer past the arm of the overstuffed chair that the Sleeping Kogoro was currently occupying.  *Crap.  Sounds like he's getting away; hmm, wonder if he remembers that we're on a--*

There was the slamming of a door, the thudding of footsteps—

*--cliff-top?*

…and then a descending scream—

*Oh.  Guess not.*

….. and afterwards, everything had gone pretty much as usual.  Mouri Kogoro had woken up somewhat befuddled but had accepted everyone's admiration (and a quick explanation from Megure, who hated to embarrass the source of his excellent arrest record by leaving him in the proverbial dark) like the sponge he so often resembled.  Little Conan-kun had slipped outside to watch the police as they attempted to retrieve the murderer's body from the sea (not that anybody had actually *seen* him die, but a fall to rough waters and rocks usually killed most people, even one-eyed homicidal doctors with indecent amounts of luck); he sat on a boulder, chin resting on his hand.

*So the Amazing Sleeping Detective solves another case; go Kogoro-san go.  Yay me.  At least Muraki-sensei won't be killing another teenaged boy; much as I hate to admit it, that man gave me the CREEPS.*   He sighed; the policemen searching the choppy waters seemed to be coming up blank.

*There's NO way he could have escaped, could he…?  Oh well, never mind, let the cops deal with that part.  You've done your bit, Kudo, and a damn fine job of it too.  Time to be cute little Conan-kun again.*

*Rrrrgh.*

Moodily he kicked at a rock or two as he trudged back towards the house.  It was late afternoon by now, and the shadows were deepening as they fell at a sharp angle across the weedy, wind-scoured excuse for a lawn that fronted the old building.  *So… what would Conan do at this point?  Hm; Conan-kun'd complain that things were boring, that he wanted to go home, that he was hungry and there was nobody to play with and nothing much to do…  They're still filling out the paperwork, though, so I might as well see if there's anything raidable in the kitchen.*

Ran seemed to be safely occupied giving her statement to one of the detectives, so slipping past and into the high-ceilinged, drafty old kitchen wasn't a problem.  The owner had contacted the Mouris a week or so previously after all attempts to find his teenage son (a rather unstable boy with an unhealthy fascination in the occult, if the designs he had chalked on his bedroom floor were any indication) had failed.  The youth's charred remains had been found in the incinerator of the hospital where Muraki-sensei worked; and the rest, as they say, had been elementary.

*Well, as elementary as it gets when you're dealing with psychos, anyway.  Give me a nice normal homicidally-minded businessman anyday; brrrrr…..*  The faux gradeschooler poked around the dusty kitchen, squinting into the 'fridge; nothing but a jar of rather rancid mayonnaise, a piece of moldy cheese and half a head of wilted lettuce.  *Damn.*  He settled for a stale box of cookies from the back of a cupboard and was still munching on a handful when Ran at last (to his relief) called him out to the car.

Most of the time, The Amazing Sleeping Kogoro's post-mortem of his most recent case was amusing to listen to—he got so many of the facts wrong; he even occasionally came up with an intelligent observation or two.  But this time, a brooding sort of depression had settled over the transformed teenager's spirits like a veil, and he slumped in the backseat of the car, staring out of the window.  *If I was a light fixture, I think my bulb would've just burned out.  Why the hell am I so moody today?  I just finished a case, the culprit is either dead or in custody by now (I hope) and Mouri should pocket a nice, fat fee.  I've earned my keep again, nobody in a black trench-coat is currently after my blood, Ran's here with me and I'm—*

*--unhappy.  WHY am I unhappy?  Besides the obvious stuck-in-a-kid's-body thing, I mean?*  Brood, brood…..

*I don't know.  Maybe it's because… I'm tired?  I *am* tired.  We've had case after case lately, and I'm working harder now than I did when I was my old self, a LOT harder.  Shit, you'd think that being a kid all over again would allow me to play more; kids are supposed to goof off and have fun, aren't they?*   Staring out at the passing scenery, he ignored a niggling little voice in the back of his head that insisted that even as a kid the *first* time around he hadn't excelled at being childlike.  *I mean, Genta and Mitsuhiko and Ayumi, they drag me out to play and all that… but somehow we always seem to end up doing something serious.  Like last Saturday, when we went rollerblading.  Ten minutes, hell, not even ten—and I spotted that guy that Sato and Takagi lost sight of the day before, the perp from the jewelry store heist.  So what did we spend the rest of the day doing?  Rollerblading like good little kids?  Get real; no, we tailed the guy halfway across Shibuya and THEN I had to keep Genta from breaking his neck on the stairs, bruise my foot kicking a trash-can into the guy's face, hunt down Sato and Takagi *and* keep the perp from getting away.*

*I'm seventeen years old, not forty-seven.  I may be a genius and all that crap, but most guys my age are either trying to get a date or out goofing around with a bunch of other guys in—I don't know, an arcade or something.  Conan-the-gradeschooler works harder than Shinichi-the-teenager; how's that for sad?*

*I need a vacation.*

A signpost whipped by, nothing more than a shape against the blur of roadside past the glass; the boy's eyes were unseeing in the window's reflection.  *I'm whining, I know, but--  I'm always worrying about things… the Black Organization, murders, whether or not I'm really fooling Ran and the rest, whether or not Haibara's actually telling me everything…  I *deserve* a little whine.  When I was my old self, I hardly ever had any bad dreams; now I have them almost every other night.  I need a break.*

Being a kid was supposed to be like one long vacation, though.  Could it be that he just didn't know how to relax?

*Either that or I've got a stick up my butt, like Hattori says.  I'm 'too serious', he says.  Well, maybe he's right.  Now, the question is:  what do I do about it?  It's not like I can tug on Ran's shirt-tails and say "Ran-neechan, I'm getting an ulcer from stress—you don't mind if I go on a tropical cruise, do you?  Great, give my elementary school teacher a call for me, please, and put a hold on all murders until I get back…"*

*I'm tired of murders and murderers.  I'm tired of tripping over corpses.  I'm tired of cleaning up after Mouri's mistakes and covering his ass.  I'm tired of being so goddamned responsible all the time.  I'm tired of being an adult when I'm stuck being a kid.*  Mulling over these thoughts, his moodiness deepened; it was as if something had come to a head in the boy's mind, some darkening of spirit that had been fermenting silently away, fueled by too much tension and nerves that were slowly being whittled down to fine, tight wires.

*I'm fed up.  I realize completely that it's stupid to feel this way… but I do.  I look like a kid.  Why can't I be a kid, even if only for a little while?*

He slumped back in his seat, brows drawn down hard.  *Why can't I?*

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

'Be careful what you ask for'—that's what they say.  It's a well-known fact that, given the slightest provocation, the gods delight in handing the equivalent of a lit stick of dynamite to those who call themselves to their attention…..

And besides, the gods also love a good joke as well as anyone.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

There was a small figure waiting on the stairs outside the building that housed the Mouri office/home; Conan frowned a little as he peered past Ran's tall figure.  "Is that… Mitsuhiko?  What's he doing here?" he wondered aloud.  "I thought he was on his way to his relatives' house in the country or something—"  It was, after all, Golden Week, and there was no school for the next few days; everybody but Conan had gone off somewhere or other.

As he hurried ahead of the Mouris, it occurred to him a little belatedly that this might be one of the causes of his depression.  Of course, that was silly--  Why on earth would *he* get depressed because a bunch of little kids he hung half-unwillingly around with were all off doing whatever, leaving him behind?  Granted, Genta was at some sort of gaming convention out east ('Warhammer', he had called it) and Ayumi had gone to visit her grandmother way up in Hokkaido—

*--but that's no reason to get depressed--  They're just little kids--*

Of course, they were also company and the closest friends he had, in a weird sort of way.  He saw them day in and day out, shared their lives and their small concerns, worried about them, taught them, spent more time with them than even with Ran… which was not a thought that cheered him up any, all things considered.

*Oh, shut up, Kudo.  You whine too much.*   Nevertheless, he still found himself nursing a ridiculous lift of spirits at the sight of his friend.  "Mitsuhiko-kun?  Why are you here?"  Conan settled down on the stairs beside his friend, who was looking nearly as gloomy as he felt.  "What's wrong?  Did the trip get cancelled?"

The freckled boy scowled down at the stairs.  "Nooo… not exactly….."  He seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of interest in an ant that was making its way up a crack in the concrete; the other boy waited more or less patiently.  Pushing Mitsuhiko was almost always a mistake.  "Um.  Conan-kun?  Are you going anywhere for Golden Week?"  He fidgeted, eyes fixed on the ant, and his classmate raised one eyebrow.  What on earth was the problem?

"Me?  No—I was just going to—"

"Then will you come too?" the other boy blurted out.  "To my uncle's house, I mean?  I don't—I mean, it'd be more fun if somebody else came, and it's a cool place, Conan-kun—he has horses and a barn, and there's a stream—"  He was still fidgeting, his body language practically yelling out 'SAY YES'; if he had had it printed in big, red characters across his forehead it couldn't have been any plainer.

*And just why does he want me to come along so badly?  He's been raving about going to see his uncle for days…  Why the sudden case of cold feet?  He looks like Takagi does when he calls for backup.*  "Uh, Mitsuhiko?  Is—"

"—and we can camp out on the lawn in a tent, I've already got one packed, and my aunt Kuriko, she's a really great cook and—"

By now Ran and her father had reached the stairs, and the young detective that lived behind the face of Edogawa Conan was conscious of a faint prickling of disquiet between his shoulderblades as Mitsuhiko rattled on.  Maybe it was the sudden lightbulb-going-bing! look on Ran's face as her father went on up the stairs past the two boys.  She sat down on a lower step, looking up inquiringly.  "Mitsuhiko-kun?  What's this about camping out?"

The gradeschooler rambled a bit, but eventually enough detail emerged to make the situation all too clear.  His uncle (only he wasn't *really* his uncle, it seemed, but an old family friend who stood as Mitsuhiko's daifu, his godfather) was having his seventy-sixth birthday party and had invited what amounted to a small horde to help him celebrate.  Apparently the old man lived on some sort of small country estate up near the mountains in Niigata Prefecture, which explained about him having the horses and so forth; what it didn't explain was why the boy was suddenly so desperate to have Conan come along.

It took a little more work, but then interrogation techniques had always been one of Shinichi's strong points.  He eyed his friend, comprehension dawning.  "Okay, Mitsuhiko-kun, what's wrong?  WHY don't you want to go alone?"

The boy squirmed a bit.  "…….."

"Oh, c'mon; spill it, Mitsuhiko—"  Rather belatedly he remembered to add in what he thought of as a Conan-ism, just in case Ran had caught that 'spill it' comment (he had used that phrase a lot as Shinichi).  "—I mean, how come?  You said it was NEAT, and you were going to have all sorts of fun—"

"……ummm…….."

More squirming, but eventually the boy caved.  "… Conan-kun?  Have you ever gotten beaten up by a bully before?"  Mitsuhiko's freckled face looked both embarrassed and hopeful.

"Uh—yeah, when I was a k-kindergartener."   He had almost said 'kid'.  "Why?  --oh.  You have bully problems at your Uncle's, Mitsuhiko?"

The details dragged and meandered somewhat, but apparently there were three boys—two brothers and a cousin of theirs.  "Kusege, Karu and Kasane—and Kusege and Kasane are okay, but Karu's a PAIN.  He shoves anybody younger or smaller than he is, and acts mean all the time… and he's *big*."  Mitsuhiko looked sulky.  "As big as Genta-kun, and older too—he's ten.  He wasn't going to be there 'cause he was going to camp, but my Okaasan said that they wouldn't let him come back this year because of how he acted last time."

Ran bit her lip meditatively, pushing her hair back from her face and stretching out her legs across the steps; she had dressed comfortably for the trip back, and behind Conan's face Shinichi noted appreciatively how good she looked in shorts.  *She got a nice tan this summer, too.*  Jerking his attention back to the subject, he leaned back on his elbows and wondered out loud:  "Why's he such a bully?  Don't his parents care about how he's acting?"

Mitsuhiko shrugged, scowling down at the concrete between his tennishoes.  "I dunno…  Can you come, Conan-kun?  It'd be BETTER if there were two of us—and I *promise* I'll try to keep him from beating you up, since you're still a shrimp."  The freckled boy grinned.  "Can he go, Ran-neesan?  Pleeeeease?"

*Oh, thanks LOADS about the 'shrimp' comment, Mitsuhiko-kun.  Remind me to deposit you head-down in a trashcan if I ever get back to my old self--  Whoa, is Ran actually considering sending me?*

"…Well…"  The daughter of the Amazing Sleeping Kogoro was looking thoughtful.

*Uh-oh; she is.*  Visions of several days stuck avoiding getting pounded into the ground by a miniature version of King Kong flashed through Edogawa Conan's mind, and he winced.  In his first childhood he had also been something of a shrimp, and he had played that particular scenario out a few too many times for comfort.  "Uh, hang on a second here—"

Ran turned a slightly preoccupied gaze on him, wrinkling her forehead.  "Conan-kun?  You don't *want* to go?  Whyever not?  It sounds like so much fun… and I admit, it'd be—you see, there's something I wanted to do, and, well… this would be just perfect—"

"??  Ran-neechan?"  *Something she wants to do--?*

She crossed her ankles, her eyes dropping.  When she did things like that, she looked like a little girl.  "Um, Sonoko-kun invited me to go to a concert with her and, um, a few of our friends--  It's Shonen Knife, and too old for you, Conan-kun, you couldn't go with us—"

Shonen Knife.  For a moment bitterness flooded through him, too much to allow words.  He had gone to a Shonen Knife concert three weeks before his ill-fated trip to Tropical Land; nothing special, not really, but it had been the last time he and Ran had 'gone out' as a couple… sort of.  *Okay, granted, we were with two other 'couples', but still--*  Concerts were things you went to with your friends… or with a date.

*'A few of our friends', huh?  I wonder who--*

*Shut UP, Shinichi.  It's none of your business.  If she wants to go on a—if Ran wants to go out to a concert, that doesn't concern you.  Quit acting Neanderthal.*

Some of his tension must have communicated itself to Ran; she hurried on.  "Um, and anyway, I really like the group—I saw them almost a year ago with Shinichi-kun… but Touchan's been invited to spend a couple of days with some of his Mahjong friends, and I can't just leave you alone… so….."  Her eyes fixed on his coaxingly.  "Wouldn't you like to go with Mitsuhiko-kun, Conan?  If his parents say that it's okay, I mean--  You've been doing so good in school lately, and I've felt a little bad not having anything nice planned for you for Golden Week."  She smiled down at him, reaching out to flick one finger through the cowlick of hair on top of his head.  "Well?"

*Shit; 'Conan-kun?  How would you like to spend a few days acting like a manic 7-year-old with a bunch of other preadolescent midgets?  Oh, and running from a bully?  That's right, just what you need for a vacation, the chance to act like just one more kid—'*

*Oh; wait.*

*--wasn't that just what I was wishing I could do a little while ago?  Stop playing Responsible Conan and instead try being—well, not IR-responsible Conan, but just… me.  Me, as a kid.  No worries other than a kid's worries; no corpses, no murders, no mysteries.  Just for a break; just for a change.*

*Just for a LITTLE while…*

*…….hmmmm……..*

"Conan-kun?  My Uncle has a really cool library, too…" Mitsuhiko prompted.  He grinned, then, adding:  "AND he said I could use his computer this time.  We can go online!"

*'Online'?  Really?*

It was a sore point with Kudo Shinichi that Mouri Kogoro had yet to join the current century as far as computers were concerned.  Both Conan and Ran had talked, persuaded, connived and cajoled, but the Sleeping Detective was still unwilling to fork out the funds necessary for a decent system and online capabilities.  Sooner or later he would give in, but 'sooner or later'  hadn't happened yet and all of Conan's online research had to be done at Professor Agasa's.

*And a good library too, huh?  …..hm…*

Edogawa Conan hesitated for one last second.  That second ended when the door at the top of the steps behind them opened and Mouri Kogoro yelled irately down at his daughter:  "Ran, telephone—some kid from school named Teichi wants to talk to you about a concert."  He scowled and slammed the door, popping the top on his beercan as he did so.

Masai Teichi was one of Ran's (and formerly one of Shinichi's) classmates.  He was smart, athletic, and taller than Kudo Shinichi in both his incarnations.  He had also shown a marked attraction for Ran in the past, which Shinichi had promptly squelched without being too obvious to either Ran or himself.  Or so he had hoped, anyway.

*Teichi-kun.  Oh, wonderful—I'm out of the picture and—oh, you can just BET that Sonoko invited him along, dammit.  But what did I expect?  I mean, Ran *is* seventeen and… she's pretty and all that, too.  She can't wait for me forever.*

*After all, it's not like I ever asked her to, did I?*

*No; I didn't.  I'm an idiot.  But I could maybe call her up as Shinichi this evening from a pay-phone and--  I don't know, talk to her and say--*

*What?  Say what, Kudo?  'Wait for me', 'Don't go out with anybody else', 'Don't get on with your life without me'--??  Don't act  any stupider than you already are.*

*Rrrrgh.  Maybe this is just what I need.  It's sure what I asked for.*

"Conan-kun?  So do you want to go?"  That was Mitsuhiko again. 

Abruptly Conan made up his mind.  *Oh, why the hell not?  I wanted a break, and taadaaah!  Here it is, giftwrapped and ready to go.  And maybe being pounded into the ground by a prepubescent Arnold Schwartznegger'll take my mind off Ran and concerts and Teichi-kun.*

He smiled at Mitsuhiko as genuinely as was possible.  "Sure; it sounds like fun.  When do we leave?"

*The sooner the better, right?*

*Right…..*

*****************************************************************************************************

TO BE CONTINUED………

Ysabet's Notes:  Hello……  Another fic, this time a wee bit different.  Another murder-mystery, but with some oddities from my childhood (and hopefully everybody else's) added in.  Shorter chapters than usual, I swear!  Honest!  Really!  Oh, and…. Errr, I just HAD to put Muraki in there; couldn't resist.  :D