Kimi wo Mamoru : 8
Haibara was getting discharged today. She was not perfectly recovered yet but the doctors decided that she was well enough not to be detained further in the hospital. As Conan's fingers rested on the doorknob of her hospital room, he had to pause and remind himself that he had to stop referring to her as 'Haibara'.
He had no idea what name she has decided to call herself this time but 'Ai Haibara' did not seem to fit anymore. somehow, there was a different feel to her now. at least, the Haibara he knew had never been so withdrawn.
Going inside, he was surprised to see a dark-haired young woman packing clothes inside an overnight bag, her back to him, and a young man lounging by the window, looking as if he had not a care in the world. He seemed to notice Conan first and an amused smile lit up his face.
"How good to see you again, chibi," he greeted cheerfully. "Are you here to escort Shiho back?"
It was when she finally turned around and their eyes met that Conan recognized her. The long dark wig she had on made her look very different, almost unrecognizable. She looked puzzled, as if not expecting his arrival but did not comment.
"You're Haruto, I presume?" he asked warily, addressing the young man. He did not understand why Haruto acted as if they had already met. As far as he remembered, they had only spoken on the phone.
"You don't recognize me," was Haruto reply, his smile widening. "We were involved in a case not too long ago. Of course, I was only helping the local police from the background so there weren't any opportunities for us to be introduced then. But I have been taking an interest in you since then, chibi."
He left the window to kneel in front of Conan. "My name is Haruto Sakuraba. I work for the Interpol and I am what can be considered as Shiho's childhood friend. Nice to meet you."
Conan's eyes narrowed. Haruto seemed a pleasant enough person. Nevertheless, Conan found it hard to trust him when his friendly smile did not at all match the sly glint in his eyes.
"I'm Conan Edogawa. Nice to meet you too, I think."
Haruto threw back his head and laughed. With a furtive glance at Shiho, who was watching them with a faintly disapproving frown, he said, "So I gather that 'Kudou' is just an affectionate nickname?"
"That's enough, Haruto," she said sharply, picking up her bag. "We should go now."
"Does the little detective want to come with us? Did you come here with that?" Haruto gestured at the skateboard tucked under Conan's arms.
Truly annoyed now, Conan decided not to answer. He looked at Shiho and said, "I brought the counter-agent you left. I figured you'd want to get started right away."
Shiho took the small pill box from him without a word. Looking at her now, Conan found it hard to connect this reserved young woman to the sarcastic eight-year-old he knew. Haibara was quiet, but she had always had a watchful look on her, as if finding some secret amusement in observing the people around her.
But this 'Shiho', who had the same red hair and the same eyes, had a wary air about her that he was not used to. In fact he found her downright unapproachable now. As if she was intentionally putting an invisible wall around herself.
"Where are you going to stay?" Conan asked her, interrupting his own musings.
"I'm checking myself into a hotel for today. I guess I'll think about living arrangements later." Shiho paused thoughtfully. "I suppose I can no longer stay at Professor's house. I don't want to get him in trouble."
Conan glanced at Haruto, wondering why she was not staying with him. As if sensing his thoughts, Haruto put up both his hands helplessly.
"I have been forbidden by Shiho to interfere in these matters. Pretty ironic, don't you think, since I was the one who helped her getaway from this country in the first place?"
That was one question answered. Conan had wondered exactly how Shiho managed to escape out of Japan without any trace. So she actually had a friend who was probably more experienced in anonymous travel than Conan cared to know.
"I can't owe you any more than I already do, Haruto," Shiho said, irritated.
"Ah, but my intentions in helping you have been wholly impure." He put a finger under her chin, forcing her to look at him. "Don't worry, I'll make sure you pay back exactly what you owe me."
The warning glint in Haruto's eyes and the tightening of Shiho's lips did not escape Conan's notice. After a long, tense moment, Shiho pulled away.
"Go back home, Haruto. As the hard drive you stole from my computer was completely useless, I don't see any reason for you to remain by my side," she said flatly.
"On the contrary," Haruto denied, "I have every reason to stay and none to return."
Turning now to Conan, he said, "Now, what say you to us seeing Shiho off to her hotel before the hospital staff kicks us out for overstaying our welcome?"
Rather than waiting for a reply, Haruto grabbed Shiho's bag and sauntered out of the room. He was whistling cheerfully, as if tense words had not been spoken between him and Shiho only minutes ago.
"Sorry you had to see that," she apologized. "That's how it is between us. I'm not even sure if I like Haruto but we've been friends for as long as I can remember."
She began to move away but Conan surprised both of them by grabbing hold of the end of her shorts. He quickly let go, realizing the randomness of his actions. But watching the exchange between Shiho and Haruto, and then listening to her talking about him bothered Conan.
Something about the way they were so familiar with each other left Conan feeling like an outsider. He had always regarded her as someone who was dependant on him because she had no one else in this world. But she had left, proving that she was not quite as reliant as he thought. And then she returned, only to bring Haruto in tow, proving that she was also not quite as alone as he thought.
Now, because Haruto's presence made Conan felt more like an intruder on their private moment than a concerned friend, he had an irrational urge to hold Shiho back, at least for a little while, just so he could steal some of her time. Just so he could have her all to himself, even for a brief minute.
Blushing, he tried to think of something to say to fill the sudden silence. "Uh, what name did you register under at the hotel?"
Her face changed and he had the distinct impression that he had embarrassed her. "I can assure you that it was not under obvious ones like Shiho Miyano or Ai Haibara."
"I never thought you would," he said, smiling wryly. "You don't have to get all defensive like that."
"Well, you don't have to treat me like a kid like that," she shot back. "I'm not. You are."
"And the fact that this conversation is bewilderingly childish doesn't bother you?"
"You started it," she muttered. However, a smile was beginning to form on her lips. He returned hers, realizing that he had also been holding his breath. And now that the tight expression had gone from her face and she was smiling again, he felt his relief go out of him in one breath.
That was what he was waiting for. Just that one small smile to tell him that there was still a trace of Haibara in her. The Haibara that used to smile in genuine when she occasionally let down her guard and thought no one was watching.
An idea suddenly popped into his mind.
"You know, about your lodgings, you're always welcome to stay at my house," he offered, barely giving himself time to think about it.
Shiho's eyebrows shot up. Then her smile disappeared, replaced by a cynical lift of her mouth. "And leave myself right within firing range of the Organisation? Gin and Vodka must be observing your house."
"What are you talking about? Professor Agasa's house is right next door and you never had any qualms about staying there. If those two had really been watching, don't you think you'd have been found out already by now?" He glanced at her hair. "Besides, you've got that wig. And you can wear glasses to hide your face."
"Even so, what would she say if she saw me living in your house? What do you think it will look like if there is suddenly a strange young woman coming in and out of Shinichi Kudou's house as if she belonged there?"
The she Shiho meant must be Ran. Conan felt his muscles tighten when he remembered what had happened between him and Ran.
"Ran won't say anything," he said curtly.
That seemed to take Shiho off guard. She frowned uncertainly at him, not sure what he meant by that.
"Anyway, I'd much rather have you under my nose than being kept wondering all the time if you're alright," Conan continued, ignoring her stare. Even he himself did not know what he meant by that.
He looked up to see a strange expression cross her face. Then she looked away and slowly said, "I'll think about it."
A few days later, Shiho turned up at the Kudou household with a disgruntled expression on her face. She marched in obvious displeasure as Conan opened the door for her. Sitting down on a nearby chair in a huff, she eyed the eight-year-old warily.
"You don't have to give me that expression," Conan muttered, crossing his arms.
"Well, if you're hoping I'd put on a happy face after both you and Haruto gang up on me, you are seriously deluded," Shiho snapped.
"Ganging up?" Conan echoed. "We didn't gang up on you. We just… had similar goals—that is, so that you'd stay here."
"Call it whatever you want, it's still cheating."
"I was worried for your safety. I know you wouldn't have listened to me so I asked Haruto to persuade you a little," Conan said, exasperated.
"Well, I'm glad that you and Haruto are now bosom buddies but God, please, stop interfering with my life! It's bad enough that I had to put up with Haruto. Now you're acting all overbearing and controlling as well. What's up with that?"
"If you really don't want to come, then just say no to him. It was easy enough for you to do that with me," Conan pointed out.
Shiho glared at him. "He's different," she muttered.
Conan scowled. "Well, whatever. In any case, you've got the privacy you need here. And Professor Agasa is always within reach if you need anything. If you're worried about your safety, I'm sure Haruto's men can take care of any intruders."
She sat up, surprised. She had not told anyone that Haruto was going to send some of his subordinates to watch over the house in case the Black Organization returned.
"How did you know?" she asked.
"Well, they were discreet, but not discreet enough I guess. I saw one of them as I was coming in earlier. It was actually quite obvious that they're working for Interpol from the way they dress so I immediately knew they weren't from the Organization." He glanced at her, an eyebrow raised. "So I guess he was worried about you, too."
"Believe me, that's so not it," she muttered.
She thought it was weird at first when Haruto was so adamant that she went to stay at Kudou's house. She at least expected him to force her to stay at his house. There was no reason for him to want to her to go to Kudou's unless he was genuinely concerned for her safety.
But she was wrong.
"Don't flatter yourself."
That was the reply she got when she voiced out her suspicion.
"Your presence in that house won't remain unnoticed. Sooner or later, the Organization will appear nearby. That'll be the perfect opportunity for me to nab one of them."
In the end, she was only bait.
"You can use my room while you're here. I've moved some of my stuff to my parents' bedroom to make room for yours. And the computer's at your disposal as well," Conan was saying.
Shiho stood up. "I'm going to get to work then. Who knows how much time I have left."
"I'll try to stay out of your way in that case."
That stopped Shiho mid-stride. She turned to look at him, confused. "You're not leaving?"
"No, I'm staying here."
He gave her an odd look. "Until you finish everything."
"You're not going back to the detective agency?"
"Not for a while," he said evasively.
Shiho frowned. Clearly, he was hiding something but she was not going to probe. He probably had a fight with Ran anyway. Although he did not exactly confess everything to her, she could sense that there was something going on between him and his childhood friend.
It was obvious in the way he kept avoiding the mention of anything that had to do with her—which somehow was telling in itself.
"Well, as long as you stay out of my way," she said brusquely.
"Well, as long as you show your face once in a while," he said, mimicking her tone.
She narrowed her eyes at him, which got him grinning. Shrugging, he said, "I don't want you getting sick without me noticing."
"You're just like Haruto."
Conan's shoulders stiffened. "What?"
"Haruto thinks of me as nothing but decoy; a tool for his own professional advancement. And you're no better," Shiho snapped.
"In what way am I similar to that—snake?" Conan snapped back, standing up straighter. But it was really hard to argue with Shiho when he was at least three feet shorter.
"You both never think of me as a person. For you, it's always 'APTX, antidote, research'. In that respect, you're both like the Organization. For all of you, I'm just a tool."
"A tool?" Conan repeated. "If that was true, why do you think I worry so much about your health? Why do you think I've been frantic while you were missing?"
"You're just worried I won't finish the drugs."
"The drugs? What drugs? You've already finished when you left! From what I see, it's you who is running yourself down with your paranoia! Do you have such a low opinion of yourself that you can't believe that there are people who care about you?"
Shiho took a step back, hesitating, and Conan continued, "What about Ayumi and the rest? Are you going to say they're nice to you because they want something from you? What about Professor Agasa? Is he a manipulator as well?"
"I'm not talking about them! I'm talking about you! You and Haruto!"
Conan gritted his teeth in frustration. "What about us? I don't know about Haruto, but I honestly care for you. But you just won't believe me, no matter what I say! You always find a reason or an excuse to turn my friendly gestures into nothing more than calculated moves to use your abilities."
By now, they were standing toe-to-toe and despite the difference in height, Conan's blazing eyes did not waver from staring into her uncertain ones. After a few more seconds of charged silence, he finally stepped back, shaking his head.
"I'll leave you alone for now but I'm coming back to check on you this evening." He turned towards the door and it was all Shiho could do not to call out his name.
She knew she had to apologise. She had been completely unfair and ungrateful. But she'd seen the way Kudou's eyes had steeled when she flung all her accusations at him and she was afraid he wouldn't accept her apology.
Besides, she still had her own feelings to sort out.
Tonight, she promised herself, I'll apologise tonight.
AN: Okay, despite Conan's opinion, I still love Haruto. Hohoho…