Disclaimer: ::scoffs:: Yeah, I wish.

Memento Mori
25.06.04, 1:06 AM

"Whoa!" Conan Edogawa leapt backwards, scrambling to put maximum distance between himself and the 97 centimeters of pitch black, slithering snake. "H--habu..." he trailed off.

"Tokarahabu, Trimeresurus tokarensis, to be exact. " Ai Haibara's voice sounded from a few feet away. A safe distance away. "But don't worry, Kudo... habu won't attack unless provoked. ...usually."

"Does it look unprovoked to you?" Conan demanded, staring at the spitting, hissing mass of black as he continued moving backwards, not breaking eye contact as he stared at the snake in horrified fascination.

Ignoring Conan's question, Ai continued reciting from a taxonomy guide she'd read once. "Its excruciatingly painful bite is quite fatal, though."

Conan, sick of not being able to see where he was going, spun around and ran for his life. Or at least, spun around and tried to run after losing his footing and falling. Right into a river.

It had been eight years since his hope for ever escaping the prison of his own body had been revived in his acquaintance with Ai Haibara, and yet still Shinichi Kudo remained hidden from Japan. Ran was currently studying medicine in graduate school, and still she did not know what became of Shinichi Kudo. He had wanted to tell her, but clung to the foolish fantasy that someday soon a cure for his plight would magically find its way to his eight year old fist and he would knock on the door to Mouri's Detective Agency one day, present a shocked Ran with a bouquet of flowers, and confess his love to her. But days became weeks, weeks became months, and soon it was May, and Ran was graduating from high school and leaving for college soon. Even then, in denial of his fate, he hoped, he begged, he pleaded, and he prayed to gods he didn't even acknowledge that Haibara would call one day and casually inform him that it was done, that he could have his life back.

On the day of Ran's high school graduation, he steeled himself to do it. He had to tell her. He sat on the couch directly facing the door the entire day, shades drawn, lights off and ceiling fan turned to maximum speed. He would tell her the moment she stepped through the door. The door opened, noiselessly, so it was the shaft of light cast upon the floor before him, shining in brazen defiance against the darkness of the shadows that informed him of her return. But it was the same situation that gripped his attention for a split second and refused to let go. Even in the play of light, they mock me, Conan thought, noticing that the beam of light was not unlike himself, surrounded by minions of Darkness, alone and unable to escape. And in that split second, the sky came crashing down.

Conan, meet Ryu-chan. Three words. That was all it took to tear his world apart and leave him to the turbulent ferocity of loneliness.

"Ryuji Ooka," a boy said, stepping out from behind her, revealing that he was holding hands with Ran.

Shinichi! I'm Shinichi, not Conan! SHINICHI, Shinichi Kudo! He screamed mentally. He was on the verge of saying it out loud; he opened his mouth, but Ran had begun speaking again.

"Ryu-chan is the reason I'm going to enter the medical field; he wants to be a pediatrician, so I followed into medicine." Ran announced cheerfully with no idea how much pain she was causing the boy before her.

"I knew it!" Ryuji exclaimed. "I was wondering why you'd ever go into medicine, seeing as you hate Biology so much, but was afraid to tell you not to do it just for me because I was afraid I might be wrong about me being the reason, even though it's been three years." His face darkened a bit. "But you shouldn't do that just because of me... I mean, it'll be great seeing you in college and classes and stuff, but you should really just follow your heart when it comes to career choices... you'll regret it, baka." he ended affectionately, squeezing her hand for emphasis.

"But... my heart told me to follow you," Ran protested, her face red as a rose.

Seeing how much they loved each other, Shinichi knew he had to let her go. But that didn't mean he had to like it. I'll... I'll kick your 'dragon' ass one day... I swear I will. You're probably such a pathetic dra--you're probably not really a dragon at all, just a pitiful snake. A slimy, low, man-slut who hits on other guys' girls. His thoughts were quickly losing his usual eloquence, fading into incoherence. Wait, Ran hates Biology? She's going into medicine? Since when?

"I'll go put my stuff in my room... be right back." Ran skipped towards her room happily.

With a furtive look around to ensure that Ran was gone, 'Ryu-chan' leaned closer to Conan conspiratorially and whispered, "Do you know where Detective Mouri is? I've actually come to seek permission for proposing an engagement." he admitted, a pink tinge slowly spreading across his face.

And just like that, Reality crashed through the fragile bubble of denial his mind had created as a haven for his psyche.

Conan had fled for the safety of Agasa's lab once Ran set off for college with Ryuji, her fiancée; the notion of living with Kogoro terrified him. In the depths of the lab, he punched the walls, kicked to door, screamed until he was hoarse, and cursed Ryuji.

At first, Ran had sent him cards on the holidays, but those soon stopped. That was eight years ago.

As he fell, he faintly heard Haibara call out about 'river', 'behind you', and 'current' . Cursing his luck as the shock of the freezing water cut to the bone, he splashed and flopped, trying to wrest his pack from the grasp of the swift current. Finally, he stood triumphantly, holding a thoroughly soaked backpack up, slightly shaking.

"Missing something? Or maybe I should say, some stuff?" Ai's voice called from the bank. She strode forward, stepping closer to the river bank--and the habu.

"What?" Conan called back, confused. He had his pack, didn't he?

Calmly, Haibara bent down and picked the black snake up, walked towards a nearby grove of trees, and set it on the ground. "You know, I don't think it was particularly perturbed," she commented neutrally after stepping back to the riverside.

Conan was busy inspecting the contents of his pack, making sure that everything was still there. His teeth chattered uncontrollably as a wind picked up; it was mid-November, they were in higher altitudes, he was wet, and there were dark storm clouds covering the sky above. Of course school was still in session, but Conan and Ai skipped school all the time; in fact, they were never there except to take tests, or when they realized their absences would attract unwanted attention. Of course, then it was only a matter of coming to school through the front doors and leaving through the back. He realized something was wrong when he couldn't find a jacket. Or sleeping bag. Or blanket. Crestfallen, he silently cursed himself for coming on this backpacking trip.

Exactly eleven hours and 3 minutes ago, Ai had yawned, leaned back in her seat, and stretched. Miraculously, Conan and Ai were actually in class, but were most definitely not paying an ounce of attention to the teacher. Eight years had brought a lot of change to them both; Ai was now a lot more open (at least towards Conan, who was actually on her intellectual level), and Conan had gotten over Ran. It had take a while for these changes to happen, but as they lived their messed up lives, Conan had realized that it was too late for anything, and finally let go. Conan and Ai started talking to each other, since they were the only two stuck in that situation, and soon became inseparable; if one was spotted, the other was sure to be nearby. They had scoffed at the notion of school, but had to meet the minimum required by law, and were now know as 'the two geniuses' to the students and 'the two 16 year-old slackers that could do so much more if they just applied themselves' to the teachers and staff.

"Hey, wanna do something?" Ai asked, not bothering to lower her voice; it was naturally soft. "I'm bored." Class had started 5 minutes ago. Without glancing at the clock or his watch, Conan knew it was 7:45 AM. It never took longer than five minutes for the Topic to come up. Sometimes it resulted in wild, crazy, and far-fetched ideas such as leaving to tour Europe or climb Everest, but it usually lead to Conan and Ai sneaking out of class and grabbing a bite to eat, playing a few rounds of one-on-one soccer on school fields (in plain view of the gym classes), or even a round of mud wrestling once in 6th grade; it all depended on their mood.

"We've done everything there is to do... we've hit every single possible place to go in a 30-mile radius from the school." Conan replied. He couldn't deny that he was bored to death, though, and began racking his brains for an idea.

"Let's go backpacking." Ai suggested, switching the teacher's lecture on the specifics of Metaphase I into the background.

So they just walked back to Dr. Agasa's lab, packed some necessities, and left for the trails. And here they were.

"I guess we could stop here; it's getting late, and this is close to a water source, and we're obviously not going to make it back as early as planned." Ai held out her hand to catch Conan's pack as he threw it towards the bank.

"M-maybe we sh-should call home and tell Dr. Agasa that we'll be a little later than expected..." Conan replied, still shaking like a leaf as he pulled out his phone.

"...or we could get you dried off and put you in a few more layers first so I'm not stuck with a frozen detective." Ai answered, digging through Conan's bag for a jacket. "Uh... your jacket either swept away with the current or you never had one. Even if you did, it'd be soaked through."

Conan stepped onto firm ground, repeatedly pressing buttons on his phone. "Damn, the batteries must've gotten wet," he said, turning to Haibara. "Did you bring any spare batteries?"

"No." she replied calmly, now looking in her own bag.

"D-do you have anyth-thing we could use to contact the outside world? A phone? A radio?" he asked.

"No, no, and no." Ai answered, still staring into her pack.

"What? Wh-what did you bring, then?" Conan asked exasperatedly.

"This." Haibara replied, handing him a handgun. "And a flashlight, matches, water, and a knife, for starters."

"M-matches? Why don't we start a fire? I'll go g-gather some wood." Conan volunteered.

"Shinichi, you're in no state to go off wandering; you'll freeze. Plus, there is no wood that would burn decently; it just rained, remember? When we passed that rock that looked so much like Genta? Here, change and put these on." Haibara handed Conan a jacket and blanket from her pack.

"But... but... this is a girl's jacket," Conan complained, eyeing the jacket.

"Yeah, Kudo. Now change before I'm stuck in jail with a murder charge on my head. And then put this blanket over yourself." Ai answered, thinking about how to survive the night on wet grass with only a sleeping bag.

Glumly, Conan reached down and pulled his shirt off without bothering to turn around. Haibara stared at his wiry body, noting how every minute movement sent muscles rippling. Wow, when did that happen? She knew the six pack was from soccer, but as for the origin of the rest, she could only guess. She had to bite back a laugh as Conan slipped the jacket on, grumbling. He slung the blanket across his shoulders like a cape and raised his gaze to meet Haibara's.

Ai felt the flush spreading across her face, and quickly broke the eye contact, backing away immediately as if their proximity burned her.

"Uh... so what do we do now? All the food I brought was in airtight containers, so the dampness shouldn't affect them," Conan broke the silence, handing Ai some beef jerky.

"Find a place to sleep, rest, and we'll set off tomorrow morning," Haibara mumbled. Suddenly, her eyes lit up as she recovered and her sense of adventure kicked in. "So you want to head back tomorrow, or trek on?" she asked enthusiastically.

"Uh, I 'unno. Whu'ever..." Conan replied between mouthfuls of beef jerky.

Haibara looked around, occasionally kneeling down to pat the grass with her bare hand, testing it. "Has to be under the open sky, grassy and padded, free of mud, relatively dry..." she muttered to herself.

"What?" Conan asked, thinking she was speaking to him.

"Nothing... just trying to find a good spot to sleep," Ai replied, rising. This spot will do. She reached into her bag and pulled out a large sleeping bag, smoothing it out and placing it on the ground.

A sudden realization struck Conan. "Ai... I... I don't--my sleeping bag is--I--the ground is wet..." His face blushed furiously at having to make a request like this, thinking about how to phrase his words. "I-lost-my-sleeping-bag-in-the-river-and-the-ground-is-wet-and-the-temperature-is-freezing-and-I-have-nowhere-to-sleep." he spat out in a jumbled rush, face flaming like a bonfire.

R&R Please!