School.

Monday.

In a classroom in Japan, a student sat restlessly as his teacher droned on with the day's lesson. While this may have been any student in any classroom, this student was different.

This student, unbeknownst to all but a few, was more than a simple student. He was in fact the most wanted man on the planet, the latest in a long line of respected, hunted and sought-after criminals that had walked the globe for centuries. He was known by dozens of names, and even popularized by his FBI criminal case number.

And he was bored.

VERY bored.

That morning he had scanned the papers and noted that some jewel thieves in Nagoya had nearly pulled off the heist of the year. Their target had been one of his former, the wealthy queen of the Suzuki financial empire.

At the time, he had only paid it minor attention, but now as he sat in class and went over it again in his head, a plan began to form.

Slowly a grin started to creep across the thief's young, handsome face. A grin that would have confirmed certain long-held suspicions had the blonde-haired detective sitting in front of him turned back to look just then.

It wouldn't be anything too elaborate or dangerous, and it might in fact actually be helpful for a few interesting people he knew. Besides, if absolutely nothing else… it was something to do.

And why?

'Because I can,' he thought to himself.

And that was that.


The Case of the Girls Night Out!

Part One: Thieving Clues and Recess Blues

A Detective Conan fanfic by BGlanders


"Oy, Haibara-san? Agasa-san?"

Kudo Shinichi, also known as the Great Detective of the West and second-grader extraordinaire Edogawa Conan, plopped his dripping book bag by the door of Professor Agasa's house as he quickly removed his tiny blue blazer in an effort to get dry. 'Conan' had heard about the storm on the news that morning but, in his efforts to wake up sans coffee, had completely ignored it.

He had managed to cling to that small holdover from his former life for several months, but apparently his addiction had finally drawn some unwanted attention when one morning over breakfast Ran had snatched a cup of steaming coffee from Conan's hand before he could take a sip.

"Coffee isn't good for young kids," he was told by a slightly scolding (yet affectionate), Ran-neechan several weeks ago. "It could stunt your growth, and you're short enough as it is, Conan-kun."

No words could properly describe the answers that Conan silently bit back.

So Conan had learned to adjust to the lack of coffee in his life. He had been able to sneak in one or two quick stop offs at the Coffee Shop on the way home from school, but those had been cut short by Ayumi-chan's nagging about how coffee was a "big person's drink" and how "Conan-kun may be mature, but coffee is bad for you at this age." He'd ignored her, of course. It was only when she'd threatened to tell Ran about his recent visitations to the bean house that he'd finally given up in defeat. Conan suspected there was a pay-off involved somewhere

'Since when has Ayumi-chan cared what I drink?' He thought, but without solid proof, there was nothing he could do about it.

Being coffee-free had been just another adjustment in an endless series of adjustments to his life that he had never considered until they made themselves painfully clear. Things like counter tops, door handles, high shelves… the list went on and on, as did his silent rage against a world that had obviously forgotten what it was to be little.

'There is only one truth,' Conan thought to himself, 'and it is this: I'll either continue to adjust, or I'll simply pop.'

Considering his recent luck, he was leaning towards popping.


Earlier that day…


School for Conan had been the same as it had always been: mind-numbingly boring. There was one thing that had caught his attention though; after effectively tuning out a lecture on fairy tales he decided to do some people watching regarding his fellow classmates.

Granted, this week the teacher's favorite had been L. Frank Baum and Conan had remembered liking his stories from his first time around, but that was just it; he'd heard it all before and seen it all several times. There was next to nothing in grade school that held any interest for him.

Conan continued to people-watch as the teacher went on about the cowardly lion. Honda looked like he was sneaking an early lunch, Mitsumi was fast asleep, apparently one of his classmates decided to pass some notes to kill the boredom…

Waitaminute.

Conan did a double take. There was no mistake, a note was being passed. This in itself was nothing big, but the passer of the note was what caught Conan's undivided attention.

It was Haibara Ai.

Ai never did anything in class except finish her work, mumble and leave as soon as she was able to. Occasionally she joined him in reading during recess, and on rare occasion Conan had actually caught her playing with the other Detective Boys, but that seemed to be more their doing than anything else.

So why was Ai passing notes in class?

Conan saw the note slide from Ai's fingers to the waiting hands of Ayumi. All the while Ai's eyes remained focused on the teacher, her disinterested expression never wavering.

Conan made a silent promise to never play Ai in a game of poker.

Ayumi read the note eagerly while hiding it behind her text book. Her eyes seemed to scrunch several times, 'most likely due to Haibara's vocabulary' Shinichi thought. Eventually Ayumi's face lit up with the largest grin he'd seen in months. Quickly, Ayumi flipped the note over and began writing one back in a hurried scribble. Then, as soon as the teacher wasn't looking she slipped it back into the waiting palm of Haibara.

All the while, Conan had been entranced by the sheer normalcy of this act. He never saw Ai do much of anything kid-like, but here she was; passing notes to kill time. That simple act both shocked and alleviated the young detective. Maybe now she was finally going to lighten up a bit? Conan could only hope… but then another though occurred to him.

'Just what are they talking about?'

Ai had never been one to do anything without having a reason. She never just 'killed time,' even when she was bored. She was the type of person who performed each and every action with purpose, right down to passing notes. If that was the case, then what, exactly, was her purpose in passing notes with Ayumi?

After making sure the teacher wasn't looking, Conan tried to shift in his seat to see what was on the notes that were going back and forth. Briefly he considered using the magnifying glass that Agasa had built into his glasses as he peered over to Haibara's desk; his body leaning almost dangerously over the aisle between his desk and hers. As he strained to get a better look at her note he heard several giggles from the kids behind him. Suddenly realizing how far he had been leaning and how obviously he was snooping, he looked up.

Ai's cold gaze quietly met his own.

With a quick gulp and the look of a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Conan quickly leaned back and resumed being interested in his readings as the teacher continued in her lecture. Without a word, Ai reached into her bag, brought out another piece of paper and began writing on it with a bright pink pen.

Lacking anything worthwhile to focus on and not wanting to embarrass himself further, Conan felt himself slip into deductive-mode for the second time that day. He considered every use and purpose Ai would have for passing notes, from the casual to the morbid, and even the obscene. Quickly deciding that Ai wasn't the type of person to go down those roads, he turned his thoughts to other…

'Huh?'

Conan blankly looked at the folded piece of paper that had landed on his open textbook. To his right, Haibara sat with her face towards the teacher, her hands crossed over her desk.

It was a note. Conan opened it and read the following:

You always look so serious when you're trying to figure out what's going on around you, Kudo-kun. You really should relax more before that cute little wrinkle above your eyes starts to set in.

Besides, do you really want to know what girls talk about when you can't hear? What about what they do when you aren't around? I never would have pegged you for a voyeur. How scandalous, Kudo-kun.

Consider this punishment for prying.

-Ai

Conan blushed as he read the letter to himself. 'Geez, talk about knowing how to read a guy. I am NEVER playing cards with this woman. How did she manage to write this so fast? What does she mean 'cute'? Her tone… Is she hitting on me? What the Hell is going on! What did she mean by 'punishment'? Is…oh.'

Conan noticed the shadow that had fallen over his desk.

"Tell me Edogowa-kun, would you like to share the contents of your note with the rest of the class? You must, since it's apparently MUCH more interesting than anything I have to say."

Conan barely got out an 'eep' before the teacher snatched the note out of his hands and held it to the side. To his horror, Conan noticed the other side of the note had been adorned with giant hearts, X's and O's, with his name in the center.

This wasn't something that would go unnoticed especially in a second grade classroom.

Conan sank into his seat with a face redder than the side of a barn as the cat calls and 'oooooooo's started to chorus from around the room. Not that any of this had any lasting effect on him, but some things in life are just instinctual no matter what the age, and one of them just happens to be getting embarrassed by a teacher when they call you out.

"The next time you want to pass notes, you can wait until you are at recess. Do you understand?"

"Yes ma'am," Conan meekly answered. Beside him, Haibara allowed herself a small smile as the Detective Boys hooted and hollered, save for Ayumi who looked slightly embarrassed for her friend, and slightly sad.

"Good. You can get this back at the end of the period, Edogowa-kun." And with that, she let him be, taking the damning note with her to her desk. Conan knew his teacher well enough to know she wouldn't betray her students privacy by reading the note aloud, but it still bothered him that something with his real name had been confiscated.

'Nothing I can do about it now, I suppose' he thought to himself.

The morning periods continued without incident. Conan grudgingly noticed at least two more notes being passed before the final bell rang, but the teacher in her infinite watch for misconduct seemed to have missed both acts. Conan mused that maybe it was some type of conspiracy between the women of the world to make men suffer at every chance for idle amusement.


Recess.

While the weather had been miserable for most of the day, the clouds had decided to seal up for the time being, allowing the children of Conan's school the chance to run and play on the slippery, cold playground equipment and splash in the murky, freezing puddles that had formed on the faded blacktop.

It was the only time during the school day that Conan somewhat enjoyed. He had consigned himself to the fact that he was stuck in the itty-bitty version of his body months ago, and if he was going to relive his childhood then by God he'd at least get something out of it.

It had been noted amongst Conan's classmates that for a runty kid, Conan could play pretty darn hard when he wanted to.

Today however wasn't one of those days. Conan was in a funk, one he doubted would go away due to excessive swinging from wet monkey bars. Too much was distracting him for a week when nothing was supposed to be distracting him, and that was getting distracting. Grumpily, Conan wished for a murder, robbery, abduction…ANYTHING to break the boredom, and then stopped.

'Woah there; it's not like I WANT these things to happen, I just… I need something to take my mind off of things. Actually, in point of fact I need something to put my mind ON. Damnit, I'm bored…'

Conan was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he failed to notice the young woman walking beside him.

"Conan-kun?" Ayumi asked tentatively.

"Hmm? Oh, hi Ayumi-chan. Sorry about that; I was off in my own little world for a sec."

Ayumi had been taking in her classmate's attitude and demeanor for most of the day and had come to a conclusion. While a child and not as attuned to things at the level of Conan or Haibara, Ayumi was arguably the brightest of the three children involved with the Detective Boys. Genta had the muscle and gumption, Mitsuhiko had the courage and thought things through logically when possible, but when push came to shove, Ayumi was the strongest and smartest of the three.

Being kidnapped several times and working on multiple murder cases will do that to a person.

At the moment, Ayumi was employing every skill and ability that Conan had taught her over the last few months. She may not have been terribly experienced, but she had an intuition that was beyond her years. Through that plus Conan's tutelage she knew that her favorite classmate was in a funk.

"Conan-kun, are you okay? Did those kids hurt your feelings in class today?" Ayumi asked as she stuffed her hands inside her pink windbreaker. Other kids ran and played around them, each dressed for the unseasonably chilly air the storm had brought.

Conan shrugged and smiled at his friend. "I'm fine, Ayumi-chan. They didn't bother me, I was just a little embarrassed, really."

Ayumi nodded and then paused, a question on her mind. Conan read the concern on her face and asked, "What's bothering you, Ayumi-chan?"

Ayumi looked up, slightly surprised that Conan knew something was on her mind. "Conan-kun…can…can I ask you something?"

"Sure Ayumi. What's on your mind?"

Ayumi paused as she debated the best way to ask her question. When dealing with boys, Ayumi knew that sometimes you had to use different tones to get the right answers. She was still learning this fact of life and didn't know quite how to put it into words, but she knew that certain ways of saying things tended to get ignored, while others tended to get results, especially with boys.

Ayumi looked up with a slightly accusatory look in her eyes and said, "Who was that note from in class today, Conan-kun?"

Conan stepped back in shock at her anger. 'Ohhhkay, she's mad. I'd better say something fast or else she'll start crying, and then...'

Conan looked across the playground to Genta and Mitsuhiko. They hadn't noticed what was going on…yet. Conan knew that the second Ayumi started crying they would be on him and then… then the chasing would start.

Conan wasn't in the mood for chasing. Conan wasn't in the mood to be grilled, either.

"It was nothing, Ayumi. It was just…"

Ayumi started to tear up in front of him. "Conan-kun, do you have a girlfriend that I don't know about?"

Conan could hear her real question in the back of his mind and it made his skin bristle.

Conan-kun, are you considering a woman besides ME!

"No! NO! Ayumi-chan, listen. That note was nothing more than…" Conan spotted Ai sitting nearby reading a thick novel on a small, wiped-down bench. With a glare, he raised his voice and continued.

"…Nothing more than a childish prank pulled by a very, very immature little girl, Ayumi-chan. I promise."

Conan knew he was laying it on a bit thick, but he figured it was worth it. It wasn't often that he could ruffle Ai's feathers and she seemed to be in a mischievous mood today, so why not?

He watched as Ai stopped in mid page turn and set her book down. She quietly got up and walked over to the tiny couple, her gaze never wavering or showing any sign of emotion. Inwardly, Conan started to wonder if he had just made a mistake.

Ayumi had just started to calm down when Haibara stopped in front of both of them.

Ai looked to Conan.

Ai then looked to Ayumi.

Ai looked back to Conan… and smiled.

'Ohhhhhhhhhh shit.'

"Co-chan!" Ai suddenly squealed as a bright smile bloomed on her face, "Did you get my note? Oh I was so embarrassed when the teacher took it from you! All those PRIVATE THINGS I wrote about us! I was so scared, Co-chan!"

'What? WHAT? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?' Conan reeled back, a look of abject terror on his face. In all the horrors he had seen on a crime scene, none were more frightening than this.

"Ha…Haibara-san! What… What are you…C…Co-cha…? I…WHAT THE?"

Ai moved closer and before Conan knew what was happening, she hugged him tightly and said, in a loud, childish voice that made Conan's hair stand on end, "Co-chan! If any of those mean ole' boys try to make fun of you, you just tell me and I'll beat 'em up!"

Conan was still semi-speechless, his brain having stopped working several seconds ago.

As Ai stated to pull away she paused, looked Conan dead in the eye and whispered, "Told you I'd get you back, Kudo-kun."

And then she kissed him square on the cheek.

On the playground during recess.

It was like setting off a nuclear bomb.

All around, the children of Conan's elementary class began to cheer and chant the whimsical, mocking tune of "Conan's got a girrrrl friend!" Conan stood in shock and embarrassment as every child on the playground started to bellow so loud that the teachers had begun to move in to restore order.

"Bye! I'll see you later, Co-chan!" Ai called out as she ran to another part of the playground. Conan stared ahead in mute horror for several seconds trying to wrap his mind around what had happened. His thoughts were further derailed by Ayumi's sudden screaming.

"You… YOU… HOW COULD YOU, CONAN-KUN?" Ayumi's voice carried above the howling and caterwauls with all the fury of Hell behind it. What little blood was left in Conan's face drained completely as Ayumi ran off screaming and crying her eyes out.

"Wait! Ayumi-chan! I…um…wait a minute!"

While Conan was still trying to catch up with reality his brain, scrambled as it was, processed one very loud and clear message:

You just made Ayumi-chan cry.

Conan's eyes, now the size of saucers, turned slowly to where the two other male members of the Detective Boys had been standing. They had since moved from their former spot and were now hovering dangerously close to the panic-stricken Conan. Genta was cracking his knuckles while Mitsuhiko was shaking in rage.

"You just made Ayumi-chan cry," Genta said through clenched teeth.

Mitsuhiko was nearly ready to explode with anger. "One just wasn't enough for you, was it! You just couldn't keep your hands to yourself you… you…Casanova!"

Again, Conan's brain chimed in through the chaos.

You might want to run.

Ten minutes later, Conan was still running.


Ran was never what a person would call impressionable. She had never felt overly intimated by the wealth of her friend or the power that came with her last name, but there were times when Sonoko tended to make Ran feel… uncomfortable. Ran supposed it was a trait that Sonoko had learned from the gung-ho attitude of her mother and knew that it was just a part of her personality, not the whole package. Still, there were times when Sonoko's ideas could get a little… out there.

"Ran, come on! It'll be fun, I promise! Besides, who will know?"

Ran fidgeted in her seat and said, "I really don't know, Sonoko-chan. That's… a little much, isn't it?"

They were sitting on the rain-soaked roof of their high school, doing their best to avoid the lunchtime crowd by going outside. The roof had pooled various shallow puddles as the rain water attempted to seep into the Astroturf and gravel that adorned the top of their school. Knowing that they wouldn't have found any dry place to sit, Ran and Sonoko had raided the food counter's napkin containers and now 33 wasted napkins later they sat on a small bench that still radiated a faint layer of wet and cold as they shared a cold bento.

Ran shifted in her school uniform unconsciously. She was a very strong and independent girl, but there were some things that Ran was still shy about. It was this shyness that many of the boys at her school had found attractive in a secretive, alluring way. She wasn't blind; she could see their stares and heard their whispers as she walked past, and she wasn't so modest as to say she didn't have certain… assets that other girls her age were still working on, but she honestly just didn't care. If that was all they could see, then they weren't half the man she was waiting for, and right now he was nothing more than a voice on a phone.

Sonoko lowered her gaze to Ran's blushing face and said, "Oh come on, Ran! How often do you get the chance to go skinny dipping at a private beach?"

Ran shifted in her seat again and tried to smile nervously. "But Sonoko, doesn't the press watch your beach from time to time? You…um…are pretty well known, you know. Besides, there'll be kids there!"

Sonoko shrugged and casually went about eating her bento. "Hey, maybe they'll get a little show then, eh?" She saw the horrified look on her friends face. "Oh Ran I'm kidding! You know I wouldn't really do that to you! Besides, I know you're too shy to actually try something like that."

"A lady tends to guard her dignity. Besides, it's not a hot spring. There could be people watching!" Ran defended herself while trying to cover her blush.

Sonoko nodded and said, "I know, I know. Trust me; that thought was the last thing on my mind."

Ran shot her a quick, skeptical glance and thought, 'so you say, but what if I had said yes? Sometimes I wonder who follows who when we end up doing stupid things.'

Realizing the answer was probably 'both', Ran let it drop. They had been friends since they were toddlers, and Ran knew how capricious her friend's moods could be.

Ran bit into a roll and asked, "Sonoko? Not that I mind, in fact I think it's pretty sweet of you but, why did you invite everybody this weekend? It was just…well…"

"Doesn't seem like me?" Sonoko asked.

Blushing lightly with embarrassment, Ran nodded.

Sonoko continued to munch on a bit of sweetened egg and rice and smiled. This was just one of the many reasons Ran had always been her friend; she always spoke honestly and directly to her, and to the heir to an Aristocratic family and fortune, that was something more precious than gold.

Sonoko swallowed her food and said, "Honestly I want…well… Ran, this is going to sound silly, but…"

"What is it, Sonoko?"

Sonoko put down her chopsticks and put her hands in her lap. Ran saw some of her friend's Rich Girl demeanor slip away and some of her real friend start to shine through. "Ran, you remember when we were growing up? We never had…well… can you remember one time when we had a slumber party?"

"Sure," Ran started, "I remember we used to go to your place or mine all the time and…"

"That's just it!" Sonoko said, her voice now slightly remorseful, "I loved hanging out with you, but Ran… I never really had too many friends outside of you. All the times we got together, didn't you ever want more people? Like a real slumber party?"

Ran sighed and nodded, knowing her friends definition of a "real" slumber party was probably something she got from television. Still, she couldn't deny that it had been just them for quite a few years. Sure they had made friends with plenty of other girls, but the two of them had always been best friends, and that tended to get a bit exclusive after a while. As they got older, Ran had never had a problem branching out from this and meeting new people.

However, Sonoko had never really learned. Most of her "other" friends had been cold, shallow or after her as a trophy friend. They only saw the Suzuki name and fortune and not the teenage girl that stood before it.

"Ran, I want a slumber party. A big, honest, all-girl slumber party! I want to hold it with as many girlfriends as possible, and I want it to be with real, honest girls who actually care about things like that! I didn't want to invite people who were fake. I wanted my girlfriends, and honestly Ran, you four are the only ones I could think of.

"Sure we had parties with Ayako-chan, but it just wasn't the same. I always wanted to just hang out and party with people who, well… damnit, it's not the kind of thing I like to put into words."

Sonoko snickered and said halfway to herself, "I suppose that's kind of funny, isn't it? Me, a rich and powerful heiress can't even find four friends to come over for a fun evening without exhausting every honest female she knows."

Ran, knowing when her friend was putting on airs and when she was serious, scooted closer and placed a reassuring hand on Sonoko's now clenched fists.

"We are going to have a fantastic time, Sonoko. You've picked some good friends, and I know we'll have a blast. I haven't done something like this in years, and besides…"

"Besides?"

"Besides," Ran said, her voice turning deadly serious, "I need to get OUT of that apartment for a night! I love those two to deat, but…they're just such…such…!"

"Men?" Sonoko asked?

"YES!"

Both girls erupted into laughter. Ran noted that Sonoko's mood had already improved.

"So," Sonoko asked, "when will Kazuha get here?"

"She might already be here," Ran said between bites. "Her and Hattori-kun got today off from school for completing a semester project early."

Sonoko sighed and looked out over the rooftop view. "She's so lucky. There he is; a tall, muscular, intelligent man ready and waiting to stand by her. Always protecting her, always there…"

"Oh, stop it," Ran mock-pouted. She already knew where her friend was going. "Shinichi protects me in his own way. He's… my protector. He always has been."

Ran tried to kid, but her mind went back to the breakfast table and what had happened that morning. Just another clue in an endless series of clues that screamed he was closer than she dared to believe. Was she right? Was he actually there with her, or…?

Sonoko cast a sly smile at her friend. "I can see that, what with him always at your side."

Ran knew how to joke, but she also knew how far her friend could carry things. Ran could see this was starting to cross into Do Not Discuss territory and didn't want to spoil her good mood. Besides, Rans thoughts about the incident at breakfast had made her feel slightly uneasy about the subject of detectives.

Idly, Sonoko shrugged and said, "All I'm saying is that maybe you shouldn't limit yourself, that's all. He is a good man, but there are others. I just don't want to see you be unhappy, that's all."

Ran primly took another bite from her bento and refused to answer. Sonoko saw the closed-off look on Ran's face and smirked again.

"Besides," she said coyly, "I saw you checking out Makoto-sans butt in PE."

Ran sputtered back to the conversation. "I did not!"

"Did too! You were drooling like it was a slab of beef! Not that I blame you…"

"Sonoko!" A now very red Ran pushed her laughing friend on the shoulder. "Would you stop? You're embarrassing me!"

Smiling, the two friends finished their lunch with some idle chatter and light fun poking, asking each others opinions about everything and nothing. It was what friends did when they were together.


Still slightly earlier that day…


Conan had not been surprised when the teacher had asked him to stay behind to straighten up the class room. Being the top pupil in your class had some advantages after all and one of them was receiving more lenient punishments for his wrong-doings. Besides, he was known for being the kid in class to stop something from happening, not for being the one to start it.

Ergo, instead of detention he received clean up duty, along with a note from his teacher. It read:

You really should be more careful with your mail, Edogawa-san. The next time, someone might read it out loud.

"I knew it, it's a conspiracy." Conan muttered to himself darkly as he crumpled both his teacher's letter and Haibara's returned note in his tiny fist. Angrily, began straightening the rows of the classroom.

Normally he would have thought of himself as lacking proof concerning his theory about women, but this time, he knew they had it in for himAfter the two-man lynching posse had given up chasing him around the playground, they left Conan leaning against a still-soaking jungle gym, panting for breath. Through the body heat-induced fog that was growing on his glasses, he saw the cause for his displeasure sitting on the swings about 30 feet ahead.

Haibara.

She was swinging lightly and talking…

To Ayumi.

'Scratch that,' his brain said, 'She's talking and LAUGHING with Ayumi.'

Ayumi, who fifteen minutes ago had been ready to kill him over his…erm…infidelity with Haibara.

Conan supposed this was what other people might call 'funny'.

As if on cue, Ayumi noticed the panting form of Conan slowly making his way to where the girls were sitting. With a giggle, she pointed and Haibara looked over. Smiling, Ai waved.

'Let's see…how well you…wave when…I break…your arms off…you bi…'

"Conan-kun! Are you okay?" Ayumi's voice cut through his murder-haze and brought him back to reality.

"I'm…fine….Ayumi….chan." Conan panted out. Haibara stood and offered him a seat. He glanced at her face and read heavy amusement and sneakiness, but a hint of genuine concern was there, too. Grudgingly, he sat down as Ayumi started to giggle.

"I'm sorry Conan-kun. I…I didn't think they'd…chase you that long!" Ayumi couldn't hold in her laughter any more. She was practically doubling over with the giggles as she clutched her stomach. Beside her, Ai did her best to look stoic while covering her mouth with her hand.

"I'm sorry as well… Co-chan." And with that, both girls lost it.

Conan was furious and exhausted as he realized what had happened.

"You... you did all that on purpose, didn't you?"

Ayumi and Haibara both stopped laughing enough to nod a reply. Ayumi stopped laughing enough to compose herself and gave her best 'humph'.

"Well," Ayumi puffed, "that's what you get for trying to pry into women's secrets. And for calling Ai-kun immature. Annnd for…um…being a boy!"

Conan stared mutely as Ai joined in. "Sorry about that, but you were getting a bit nosey. Besides, not everything is so vitally important that you need to stick your nose into other people's business."

Ayumi saw the look on Conan's face and shifted from looking angry to apologetic in the blink of an eye. Conan felt his resolve starting to crumble as Ayumi asked, "You're… not mad at us, are you Conan-kun? It was just a joke. I'm sorry if we hurt your feelings…"

Conan began to fidget as his anger seeped away. Ayumi had an amazing gift when it came to making him feel guilty, even when he was in the right. "No… No, Ayumi-chan. I'm not really mad. Out of breath and worn out, but not mad."

Ayumi grinned and hugged the tiny detective. "Good! Ai-kun said you'd understand!"

Conan flashed a look to Ai, who simply shrugged her shoulders and smiled her standard, elusive smile. "I guess I was just bored and got a little too curious, that's all," Conan said with a sigh.

As if on cue, the recess bell sounded, bringing an end to the afternoons activities. Ayumi, now satisfied that all was well in the world, nodded and started to walk off… and then paused. Suddenly her cheeks became very red as she looked from side to side. Once she was sure no one was watching, she leaned in and quickly kissed Conan on the cheek.

"See you in class…Co-chan." Ayumi giggled and ran off with a glance over her shoulder, her cheeks bright red with blush. Conan stood in temporary stillness as a light blush crept over his cheeks. Beside him, Haibara crossed her arms and sighed.

"And you're how much older than she is?"

Conan gave her a look and said, "Don't even joke. Ayumi may have a crush on me but I'm not stupid enough to return it. Besides, even if we are physically the same age I'm still pretty sure I'd be breaking several laws."

Ai nodded and said, "True, but I on the other hand am about the right age…right size, too…"

Conan began to sweat again as Ai crept closer. At first he thought she was joking, but then he felt her arms snake around his. Suddenly there was a very close and very cozy Ai Haibara leaning in towards his face. As his mind started to reel with confusion and muddled horror for what felt like the thousandth time that day, Ai leaned near his ear and whispered, "that's twice I've gotten you today."

And with that she casually let his arm go and turned to head inside. As she wandered towards the doors of the school, Conan called out, "What the heck was that for!"

Conan rushed to catch up as Ai calmly answered without breaking her stride. "Just accept that there are some mysteries even you'll never be able to solve, Kudo-kun."

Before he could come up with a response they were already walking through the doors of the school, ready to start the remainder of their day.

The Detective Boys (which ironically enough were now nearly 50 girls) had all but forgotten the chasing incident during lunch and offered to wait for their pint-sized leader while he cleaned the classroom. Conan looked to the seemingly innocent faces of Genta and Mitsuhiko and suspected some peacemaking had been accomplished by Ai and Ayumi, but said nothing. Better to let sleeping dogs lie; besides he really didn't feel like dealing with any more head games.

The group (even Ai) had offered their help, but he reminded them that if they did stay they would be missing out on the Most Important Thing To Happen All Month, or in normal speak, the Kamen Rider Spectacular show in Beika Park. While their loyalty to their friend was high, their idol-worship had won out in the end and after some more reassurance from Conan, they had left him to his duties.

All of them, including Haibara.

'That's kind of odd,' Conan thought to himself. 'Ai usually doesn't go for things like that, and I didn't think she had a ticket… unless she's decided to try to blend in more. That or she had something in the works back at the lab.'

'Then again, she probably just felt like leaving me to simmer. That girl has a vicious sense of humor sometimes.'

While Conan knew who Ai was and while the two had become friends (even though she would be pressed to admit it), Conan still didn't know his compatriot as well as he did the other Detective Boys. Today's little episode of 'Let's Make Conan Squirm' had pretty well nailed that point home for him. He had stayed the night over at Genta's and Mitsuhiko's several times, and several times they had camped out or spent the night with Dr. Agasa as a group, but even during those outings he never heard that much from the always-quiet Ai-kun.

Her silence didn't bother him, it just upset him from time to time to know that right here was a friend who KNEW, and she was the hardest person in the world to open up to. Sometimes Conan wondered if she ever opened up to anybody, and that made him a bit nervous.

'So which is the real Ai-kun? The pessimistic woman or the active child? She can open up to Ayumi just fine, but…ahh Hell. It's not worth picking my brain over.'

He considered Ai a friend and knew she at least listed him as a comrade, but beyond that he was pretty well clueless as to the inner workings of her brain. Not that it was something he tried to pick often, but it was a mystery, and being who he was it was something that called to him.

Especially on days like today when there was nothing else to focus on.

'I suppose it's what I get for being too nosey, but still… when she wants to, she can be a kid just like everybody else. I just wish she'd pick another target for her mischief.'

Conan mulled over his thoughts as he began cleaning the chalk boards. Behind him, the school janitor quietly wheeled in and began stacking the chairs in order to clean the floors.

Conan noticed him and turned to say, "You don't have to do that, I've…"

"I've got it. It's Friday, let me help." The janitor replied.

The cleaning went quickly and in silence. Before long Conan had gathered up his book bag and headed for the school doors as the janitor pulled out his mop and began cleaning the floors. With a nod and a wave he said goodbye to the janitor as he passed, grateful for the extra help. The janitor (who never quite struck Conan as being a typical janitor) gave a short nod and tossed Conan a small packet. Conan nearly dropped the small package as the janitor did his best to cover up a grin.

"I figured you'd get too wrapped up in your thoughts again and forget."

Conan examined the small square of folded plastic with a cautious eye. After deciding it wasn't anything dangerous or overly important he nodded back and said "um…okay… Thanks. Take care, Hei-san!" Sometimes the janitor could be a little odd, but he never seemed to do any wrong by Conan, and he acted nice enough…

Running for the door, Conan tucked the small square in his coat pocket, figuring he could look at what it was later at home after he had caught up with the others. Knowing Hei-san, it was probably some new puzzle or game for the young detective to pass the time with.

All thoughts of that came to a screeching halt when Conan stepped outside and realized that why yes indeed, it had been raining all day. Freezing in step, he also remembered that he had left the umbrella Ran had set aside for him by the door that morning. With a defeated sigh Conan looked from the drizzle and gray outside to his own life and wondered which was mirroring which.

He also wondered how miserable he would be by the time he got home.

That's when Conan froze again. He suddenly remembered the conversation from earlier on in the coffee-free morning.


"Conan-Kun, will you be okay on your own tonight?"

The drifting inquiry from the living room brought the young, pajama-clad detective out of his half-sleep eating trance. With more effort than he felt was needed, Conan turned his eyes away from the television at the end of the table to this new intruding sound.

"What?"

Ran walked through the archway between the kitchen-dining room and tiny living room to ask him again. Conan groggily noted that she was already dressed for school and looked absolutely beautiful. Her hair had been shown some extra attention and her eyes and face seemed to carry slightly more shine to them than normal. In her hands were two bags; one was her regular book bag while the other was a slightly larger tote bag that looked somewhat bulky with padding.

"I asked if you'll be okay on your own tonight, Conan-kun."

Still half-asleep, Conan mumbled between cereal bites, "Oh. I'll be okay. Have fun at Sonoko's. Your dad will manage fine with the leftovers you put in the fridge and I'm probably going to stay the night at Dr. Agasa's, but I haven't decided yet. Thanks for calling Mitsuhiko and Genta and asking their folks, but they're probably busy tonight."

Across the table, Mouri Kogoro wearily sat down in his light blue bathrobe and cracked his first beer of the day. A rumpled newspaper lay at an angle by his plate of toast and egg. Without looking up he said, "Humph. I'd be worried if Kazuha-san wasn't going to be there, but since this looks like an innocent slumber party I can't object. Call when you get there, Ran."

Ran started, and then stopped like a deer caught in headlights. "I'm going over to So… Conan-kun? Dad? How…how did you…?"

Without looking up or fully realizing that he was in deduction-mode, Conan calmly answered between his bites of cereal, "Your second bag is filled with clothes but your gym clothes are still at school. You've done your hair and makeup but you're not going out to see Shinichi-niichan, and you've got a giddy impatience about you that says you're off to do something you haven't in a while, and it's been over a month since you've spent any real time with Sonoko."

Ran stood stunned. "But that doesn't mean…"

Conan went on. "You've always slightly done yourself up whenever you've hung out with Sonoko out of self-consciousness due to her life style. It's nothing major, but it is noticeable from time to time. On top of that, since you just ran a load of laundry last night I'm guessing you washed your swimsuit and PJ's to get ready for this. They're tucked in your bag."

"How did you…?"

"Also," Conan continued, "you've been in the living room for over ten minutes. I couldn't hear you over the TV, but since that's where the phone is I'm guessing you've been talking to Sonoko and confirming everything for tonight. Then you called Mitsuhiko-kun and Genta-kun's parents to see if we could spend the night, but they're going to the Kamen Rider stage spectacular. I'd probably go with them, but the show is sold out. You done with the funnies, old man?"

Conan picked up the remote and turned off the TV behind the speechless Ran. The commercial blaring in the background about a Kamen Rider show in Beika Park was cut off abruptly as the gentle sound of morning thunder rumbled in the distance.

With a grunt, Mouri passed them over and Conan began to read. Seeing it was his turn, Mouri took over. "The green and black stripped shirt you borrowed the last time we were in Kyoto wasn't hanging on your door this morning. Also, you also have your omamori on underneath your shirt. I can see the loop of a necklace around the edge of your collar, but you normally don't wear jewelry. Logically, you're returning the shirt to Kazuha and wearing the charm she made out of respect. Boy, did I pass you the Sports in that?"

Conan shuffled through the small handful of paper he had received until he found the racing results. Silently, he pushed them back across the table.

Mouri grunted a thank you over the top of his beer can.

Ran just stared.

There were times when Ran was honestly impressed by her father's seemingly careless and offbeat way of deducing things. While she considered him a great detective, she was sometimes put off by his normal behavior of drinking, making a public nuisance out of himself and chasing after anything cute in a skirt. All this made Ran forget from time to time that Mouri Korogo was actually an extremely sharp individual and extremely good at deduction when he applied himeslf. Just because he tended to close himself off from other opinions and facts from time to time didn't mean that he wasn't capable of figuring things out. He was a detective, after all.

Then there was Conan, who she had seen perform feats of deduction that even her father had stopped to comment on. His excuses about being helped by her father and his love of TV aside, sometimes they were feats that someone of his age just shouldn't have been able to perform.

As she stared at him, she realized that the only reason he hadn't slipped into his obligatory little-boy cover up at this point was that he was too tired to notice his slip up. Again the questions started to come… the ones she was scared that she already knew the answers to. Again she recalled all the obvious clues and signs that a person simply couldn't ignore even if they tried…

This chain of thought was broken when she realized what time it was.

"I've… got to get to school. Ku…Conan-kun, you be sure to have a good day at school, okay? I'll see you when I get home…"

No sooner did she say that did Conan scoot his chair out and shuffle over to give Ran a tired hug. "G'bye, Ran-neechan. I'll miss you."

Surprised, Ran knelt down and returned the hug to her young charge. There were times he acted very much like…someone else, and times he was more like a kid than even she could overlook. It was confusing and sometimes it hurt her to think about what the truth might actually be, but for the moment, he was her Conan-kun. That was what he wanted her to see, and that was what she needed him to affirm. With a smile, Ran tried to write the behavior off as just another quirk that made her housemate such a wonderful and special addition to her life.

"Dad, we'll be at Sonoko's…if…well…I guess you already knew that, so… bye!"

And with a hug and a smile, she was gone.

With a glance, each detective seemed to communicate across their makeshift breakfasts.

Not bad, Runt. The older detective seemed to say.

Not bad yourself, Old Man. The younger detective seemed to answer.

Silently, they finished their meals.


As he stood in the rain staring at the backlit letters painted on the windows of the agency, Conan weighed his options in his mind carefully.

He considered going inside and spending his afternoon at the detective agency in the company of Mouri.

He considered spending the evening in the company of Dr. Agasa, who would undoubtedly get wrapped up in some strange, explosive experiment while Conan inevitably wandered off to watch TV or read his books. Again.

Conan then remembered that the liquor store down the street from the detective agency was having a sale, and that tonight there would be a televised concert of one Miss Yoko Okino.

Conan stopped considering.

As he took off his jacket in the Doctor's entranceway, his thoughts once again went back to the tiny girl who was not a girl, and how strangely she had seemed to click into his network of friends.

If anyone understood Ai, Conan thought, it would be Dr. Agasa. Somehow the two seemed to complement each other in a way that was quietly fitting and scarily comfortable at the same time. Considering the Doctor's eccentric behaviors and her withdrawn personality, it didn't seem right… and yet, there were no two people who seemed more at home around each other.

'Hey, opposites compliment each other, I suppose,' Conan thought as he busily shook his jacket clean. The small piece of plastic the janitor had given him earlier carelessly flying from his pocket and landing on the floor.

"Conan-kun! We were wondering when you'd arrive." Dr. Agasa walked into the entranceway with a towel and some slippers in one hand and a hot cup of cocoa in the other. Gratefully, Conan took the towel and dried off his hair and kicked off his shoes. Once he finished donning his indoor slippers he accepted the cup of cocoa, slightly dismayed that it was missing the required amount of caffeine he had been hoping for.

"Thanks Agasa-kun. Missed Ai-kun, didn't I? Oh well… Suppose it's best after today. I hope you and Hattori weren't kept waiting long."

"Not at all, my boy. Not…um… Kudo-kun, how did you know that Hattori was here?"

Conan sipped his cocoa and shrugged. "There's a motorcycle helmet sitting by the doorway. Also, these athletic sneakers in your entranceway don't particularly look like yours."

"I could have taken up a new hobby, and the shoes could have been mine," Agasa retorted.

"True," Conan said, "but then tell me: who is wearing the extra set of slippers? Ai-kun's are still at the door, but you had to fetch me a pair. Aren't there usually three sets out here?"

Agasa laughed and scratched the back of his head in slight, yet familiar, bemusement at the young detective's powers of deduction. "And you know that Ai-kun dislikes people messing with her slippers. One of her quirks, I suppose. Excellent deductions, Kudo-kun, but again, why should my visitor be Hattori-kun? Maybe someone else with a motorcycle or mo-ped stopped by?"

"Because," a thickly accented voice called out from behind Agasa, "Kudo already knows Kazuha is in town. If she's here, then chances are I'm here, too."

Conan nodded and smiled at the Great Detective of the West. "How've you been, Hattori?"

"Could be better. The rental bike I got doesn't do well in the rain."

Conan took a sip from his coca as he headed into the living room. "Not much you can do about it. I suppose it would be a little excessive to drive your machine all the way up here, wouldn't it?"

Hattori laughed, "yeah, not to mention expensive. 'Sides, Kazuha would kill me if she had to ride on a bike for that long."

Conan flashed a grin as he sat on what he considered his section of the couch. Hattori took a chair opposite while Dr. Agasa wandered in carrying Conan's coat. Conan looked around, half expecting another prank or uncomfortable teasing, but Agasa caught his young friend's glances and said, "Ai-kun is spending the night with Ayumi tonight. She said something about having a girl's night out and just took off."

'So THAT'S what those notes were about! Mystery solved!'

'…'

'God, I'm bored.'

Conan swore he could literally feel his brain rotting with atrophy. If the highlight of his day was cracking the case of the mystery letter in his second grade English class, he knew things were looking pretty grim. That might change though… Hattori was here, and if Hattori was here, that meant…

With a shrug, Conan turned to his long time friend and said, "It's been months since you've come all the way up here, Hattori, and while I appreciate the visit, you usually don't come unless something is up."

Hattori just smiled.

"Let's see… you came on short notice and rented a bike, you're here instead of out enjoying the sites, which means…" Conan took another sip of his cocoa and noted Hattori's sly, almost anxious smile. "You've got something cooking, don't you, Hattori?"

Hattori chuckled and said, "Maybe I was just bored and decided to come by to visit? Maybe there wasn't anything interesting going on in Osaka or Kyoto at the moment."

Conan leveled his gaze at the taller detective and said, "If that were the case, you would have stopped off in Nagoya for the musical festival down in Naka-ward and saved yourself about 10,000 yen."

Grinning, Hattori nodded and reached into his coat. "Don't get me wrong; I like visiting you, Kudo, but the train ride here is kinda expensive."

"That, and you wouldn't rent a motorcycle for a two day trip to Tokyo unless you needed to go where the trains couldn't..."

"Good call, Kudo. Besides, I've never felt comfortable on those public trains. Too crowded."

"Then you shouldn't live in Japan," Conan snickered. Agasa brought Heiji his own cup of cocoa, which he accepted gratefully. Agasa had also been tipped off by Ran as to Conan's need to break his 'dangerous habit' and had acted accordingly. He still remembered how distraught the boy had been when Conan discovered there was nothing but juice, tea and cocoa in the doctor's kitchen.

"So, what's the real reason you're here?" Conan asked.

"Well… to keep an eye on Kazuha, for one…"

"And the other?"

Hattori flashed a grin, "I might need your help, Great Detective of the West."

Conan laughed, "Bring it, Great Detective of the East."

Gleefully Conan awaited whatever Hattori had lined up for him. Conan had been desperate for something, anything to come along (the detective agency had been miserably slow for the past two weeks), and suddenly here was Hattori with a problem so big he had to come to Tokyo personally just to deliver it.

Hattori dug through his coat until he emerged with a folded envelope and tossed it to Conan. The top had been sliced through effortlessly, leaving a near-perfect tear in the paper. Conan idly noted Hattori's abilities with anything edged hadn't diminished since they'd seen each other last.

"What's this?" Conan asked.

"Open it and see. This guy is more your department than mine, anyway."

Intrigued, Conan reached in and removed a small note written on lineless, light green paper. It read:

For such a night one may labor/'Tis Rome-work, made to match

By Castellani's imitative craft

One in four for west we head

The farthest point of twinkling stead

Affluent and once removed

Now will have a different ruse

Through the glasses, colors change

A ball of fire, a tiny sage

The City lies, but in this case

A glistening of truth, embrace!

Before this party has begun

I invite you, one to one

To one

And one night,

Now the nights are short,

Then just two hours, and that is morn.

And underneath, a familiar caricature of a smiling face adorned in a top hat.

Conan looked to Hattori, who was still smiling the smile of a predator. "Kid."

Hattori nodded. "It was delivered about three days ago, right around the time Kazuha got a call from Sonoko-kun asking if she could come up this weekend for a sleepover.

"Has anyone else seen this?"

"Only you, me and the good doctor," Hattori answered. "I've already notified the police and Nakamori has already gotten his Task Force lined up to capture the Kid down in Nagoya."

Conan looked up. "Nagoya? Why is he down there? Am I missing something here, Hattori?"

"Do you remember seeing the advertisements from bout two months ago when there was a weekend music festival for that new eco-city project over at Oasis 21?" Conan nodded as Hattori continued. "Well, to follow up with that, Sony and Honda decided to sponsor a second musical festival to celebrate the start of summer. Same one you just mentioned, but what you didn't mention were the sponsors. Businesses from all over Naka-ward are getting involved, and one of the key attractions is the presentation of the Heaven's Eye, a ruby being presented around the world, on loan from a private aristocratic family in northern Honshu."

Conan nodded and remembered how Ran had considered taking a trip to Nagoya for the show. Mouri had wanted to go for the Sumo competition at the Nagoya Dome, but then a nasty double homicide had cropped up. By the time Conan had solved it, there wasn't enough time to see the festival.

"Kid never does anything without a reason," Conan said. "If he sent it to you and not Nakamori… hmmm…"

Hattori nodded and said, "I figured as much. Nakamori jumped on the obvious lead, but there's something about this that didn't sit well with me. By the time I figured out the first clue I was already on the train with Kazuha. Besides, if this note is right there isn't enough time to relocate the task force."

Conan looked up from the note. "Decided to spend the weekend with Kazuha instead of trying to catch the Kid, eh?"

Hattori snorted and looked away. "I promised her I'd see her this far. Besides, she'd probably get lost the second she set foot in Tokyo Station."

Conan grinned. "Business before pleasure, Hattori?"

"Bite me, Kudo."

Hattori sat back and silently watched as 'Conan-kun' slipped into full deduction mode. Both he and Agasa stared on as their tiny comrade studied the note for a good five minutes. After awhile Dr. Agasa left the two young sleuths to check the status of an experiment on the computer running in the corner of the living room. Fifteen minutes passed and still Conan stared relentlessly at the paper in his hands, his eyes darting over each word and going back again, hunting for something small to lock on to.

Suddenly, Conan's head shot up and with obvious anxiousness in his voice he asked, "Dr. Agasa, could I please see the newspaper?"

Agasa nodded and retrieved a copy of the day's news. Eagerly, Conan flipped through the sections looking for something he remembered from earlier that morning. Something…

Yes!

"What's the date?"

Hattori broke into a wide grin. "You caught that, too? Damn, Kudo… That clue took me a day and a half to figure out, and only after some heavy research. You're right, it's May 7th. Damn… How did you get that so fast?"

Conan grinned as his eyes flashed back to the paper. Normally the Kid's notes took way longer than this to crack, but normally they didn't relate to something Conan was already familiar with.

"The Kid always tells where, what and when in his notes. He's playing a game, and he's never deviated from those rules before."

Hattori stared Conan down. "Kudo, that clue took me nearly two days to crack. I don't care how smart you are; that was extremely obscure. Tell me how you knew."

Conan flashed a slightly sheepish grin and said, "I've been doing some reading to catch up with Ran. I don't plan to be like this forever, you know." Conan gestured to his body.

Hattori nodded and said, "Let me guess; Ran is currently studying 19th Century English poetry?"

Conan nodded and added, "In fact, her teachers assigned her some fantastic Browning to read over Golden Week. Therefore, I've recently reread some Browning myself."

By now Dr. Agasa had wandered over to where Conan was sitting and looked over his shoulder at the mysterious note. "I'm afraid you've lost me, Kudo-kun. What does Ran's schoolwork have to do with this clue?"

"Why, it's elementary, my dear Agasa," Conan said, a look of triumph on his face. "Look here at the second and third lines. Notice how they're different from the rest of the note? That's because Kid is quoting here."

"Hmmm… it does seem different, but what is he quoting?"

"It's a verse from the first chapter of The Ring and the Book, by Robert Browning. It's a story about an Italian murder trial and the different views of a crime… kind of like Rashomon. Anyway, it serves as a double clue."

"Look here," Conan tilted note towards Agasa so that the doctor could see it clearly. "See this last line? He's quoting from another Browning poem here, a smaller one. That's to show us the real clue isn't the passage so much as the author himself."

Agasa nodded in bewilderment. "But why would he pick such a passage? Is it because of notoriety, or is there something else to it?"

Hattori chose this moment to step in. "Actually, the quotes are to serve as a clue as to the place as well as the time of the crime. The reference to days caught my attention right off, but it might have been tossed in to mess me up. Kid likes to use double meanings in his notes."

"Possibly," Conan said, "this first quote is from Browning's most famous work. This last line is from a short poem called In Three Days. Kid always likes to keep his targets guessing, but this is a pretty involved riddle, even for him. My guess is that Kid wanted to point out the day and time through these quotes. When did you receive this letter, Hattori?"

"I received this letter on the fourth."

"Which means that in three days time…would be tonight." Conan continued.

"And Robert Browning's birthday is May 7th." Hattori finished.

Both sat in silence for a minute, sharing a look they had many times before. A shared understanding and revelry in the fact that they had defeated a challenge and that they were still equal in terms of mental muscle. This had been a pretty obscure one, too. Why, they…

This moment of superiority was broken when Agasa asked, "So where is the crime taking place?"

And at this, both detectives gave a sigh.

"No idea," they said in unison, and both burst out laughing. As the boys laughed and relaxed, Agasa felt himself relax and was surprised; had he really been that tense since this had started? No, that wasn't it… Then why this feeling of nervousness and anxiety? Then he realized what it was; it was the first time he had heard Kudo laugh in days.

Dr. Agasa would be the first to admit that while he was well beyond the level of many geniuses, there were simply some things he had problems with. Deductions were one of those key things. He often fancied himself as a Dr. Watson to Shinichi whenever the boy got seriously wrapped up in a case… but even Dr. Watson had picked up on a clue or two.

It didn't take much in terms of mental reasoning to know that Shinichi had been lonely. It had become increasingly obvious to Agasa with each passing day. Why else would he chose to come here afternoon after afternoon only to be politely put off by Ai and himself while they worked on their experiments? Granted, he and Shinichi were friends, but there was an age gap. More than that there was an interest gap that made the doctor wish for more than the occasional trickle of deductionary light to shine through his own tunnel vision. He sometimes felt like he just couldn't talk to Shinichi, and that's what made him upset the most.

As far as Dr. Agasa was concerned, Hattori Heiji was something Kudo needed more than any amount of coffee. He was a friend that Shinichi could genuinely relax around, and that meant that the doctor's long time friend was happy.

That, he figured, was worth more than any bauble the Kid could think of stealing.


The Diner had been Ran's idea.

She felt a little guilty sneaking away after school like this, but it wasn't like the men in her life didn't know where she was going, was it? Besides, they could find plenty of ways to pass the time.

Well, Ran figured her father would mostly pass the time by getting drunk and passing out, but Conan was a bright boy. He'd figure something out.

Honestly, Conan and her dad had been part of the reason for agreeing to all this. She loved both of them, but every vacation, every outing, every day was spent in their company, and as a woman Ran decided that love only went so far. There were times when you needed to surround yourself with the fairer sex, and that was her highest priority for the evening. No murders, no mysteries, no blaring TV's and fathers smelling of beer. No moping little boys quietly reading or leaving at odd hours to make her worry… tonight was for her, and through her, all the women of the world!

What had pushed her over the edge was how scarily comfortable her father and Conan seemed to feel about, well, being absolute slobs. While she did indeed love them both, they never picked up around the apartment. Ever. It drove her mad to play surrogate mother, wife, daughter AND housemaid, and she was about ready to pop.

Ran silently mused that maybe the behavior of men had been decided upon as part of a vast conspiracy to make women slowly go crazy.

As her mind wandered, the door to the diner opened and a slightly wet and nervous-looking Kazuha Toyama walked in.

"Kazuha-chan!" Ran called out affectionately to her friend. Instantly the petite Osaka girl brightened up and headed for Ran's table. Ran stood to hug her friend and instantly her feelings of frustration concerning her male housemates started to melt away.

The second she saw her friend, Kazuha visibly cheered up. "Ran-chan, it's been ages! You have no idea how long it took us to get here. We've been traveling all morning! I'm glad you picked a place I knew…this city is so large!"

While not a detective, Ran wasn't a dummy. In point of fact she was extremely bright. Living with detectives had also honed her deductive abilities to a point, and while not nearly as perceptive as her roomies, she tended to pick up on a few things.

"So, Heiji-kun give you a ride on his bike?"

Kazuha blushed slightly and said, "He didn't want me to ride the JR. Ahou! It's not like I don't know where I'm…how did you know I rode on his bike, Ran-chan?"

Ran meekly pointed to her hair and said, "Um, you've got helmet-hair, Kazuha-chan."

Kazuha's face instantly went red as her hands went to the top of her head to fix her hair. "That…that…Ohh! He KNEW I'd mess my hair up on that dumb bike of his. It always happens! I bet he made me ride on purpose just so that he could make fun of me later!"

Ran smiled as her friend fixed her hair. Never mind that Kazuha had ridden on Heiji's bike countless times, and never mind that he never seemed to care what her hair looked like. Ran never saw any disapproval from Heiji over how Kazuha looked, but she did notice his occasional blushes when she wasn't looking.

"So," Ran started, trying to change the subject, "I know this was short notice, but thank you so much for coming! I've missed you, and we needed a girl's night out."

Kazuha shot Ran a glance and said, "Don't thank me; Sonoko was the one who asked me to come, remember? I didn't even know you were planning all this until she called me."

Ran nodded and said, "I know. She's the one who told me about it at first, too."

"Oh," Kazuha felt herself flush slightly with embarrassment. She never meant to come off sounding short to Ran, but her jealousy over Ran's beauty and personality tended to get at Kazuha from time to time. Despite that, Ran always seemed to meet her with patience and caring. Kazuha couldn't think of another person in her life that had met her with more kindness and sincerity than the woman before her. Not to mention her limitless patience.

'Must come from living with two guys, I suppose. Speaking of which…'

"So how's your little guardian angel these days? Is he still following you everywhere you go?" Kazuha asked.

Ran blushed slightly as the morning's conversation flashed through her thoughts. "He's… occupied for the night. I… he's fine, Kazuha-chan, just fine. So… are you excited about tonight?"

"Are you kidding?" I haven't been to a sleepover in ages! This is going to be a blast!" Kazuha said.

Ran grinned and said, "I know! Sonoko has been practically bouncing off the walls with excitement. Tonight is going to be wonderful! A night just for us!"

"Where is Sonoko, anyway?" Kazuha asked, "I thought she would be here with you…"

"Oh," Ran started as she stirred her coffee, "she's currently primping. Seems a certain junior with a 'cute butt' walked in several minutes ago and she wanted to make a good impression."

Kazuha grinned and sat down across from Ran as Sonoko emerged from the W.C. at the end of the diner and did her best to look aloof. At the end of the counter sat a hunched over young man in a Beika school uniform reading a text and sipping a cup of steaming coffee.

"Good afternoon, Makoto-san," Sonoko said as she walked by. Ran and Kazuha both noticed a distinct increase in eye-batting from their friend.

"Mmmm," mumbled Makoto as he set his coffee down and took a bite from a cold sandwich that had apparently been sitting in front of him for quite a while. His eyes never left the page in front of him while Sonoko paused behind him.

"I don't recall seeing you here before, Makoto-san," Sonoko tried to spark some conversation again, her nervousness starting to show on her face.

"Maybe it's because you aren't that observant," Makoto offered, his eyes glued to his book.

Kazuha and Ran, already seeing where the conversation was headed, turned their attentions back to each other. "So, I notice you're Munchkin-free tonight! Does this mean we're finally going to have an outing for just us girls?" Kazuha asked excitedly.

Ran nervously smiled and said, "Um… well, yes and no. This is an outing for just us girls, but, ah…"

The bell above the diner doors gave a familiar jingle as Ayumi and Ai walked through.

"…it will be decidedly not Munchkin-free."

Kazuha looked to the newest arrivals, shrugged and then smiled in recognition. "You're Ayumi-chan, right? I remember you from when you visited us in Kyoto. And you're Ai-chan, right?"

Ayumi happily nodded while Ai raised her eyebrows slightly at being called 'Ai-chan'. Ran noticed this and mentioned politely, "Actually, I think she prefers being called Ai-kun, Kazuha-chan."

Kazuha studied the petite woman before her and knelt down so that she could look her in the eye. With a smile, Kazuha extended her hand and said, "In that case, let me say hello again, Ai-kun."

Ai smiled slightly and shook the 'older' woman's hand firmly. "A pleasure to see you again, Toyama-san."

Kazuha grinned and said, "You can call me Kazuha if you like, Ai-kun."

Ai allowed a small grin and said, "As you like, Kazuha-san."

Ran looked over the two girls and felt herself slip into Mother-Mode. While she was still a teenager and had no children of her own, living with Conan and watching over him and his interesting friends had nurtured some strong maternal instincts that until recently she honestly didn't know she had. Over time she had grown to love each of the children that her small companion called friend, and they in turn had come to see her as someone special in their lives.

With a critical eye, Ran examined each of them. Ayumi was dressed in her pink windbreaker and carrying a matching pink umbrella, which was covered in wrinkled cartoon hearts and stars. Over her shoulders was her backpack that looked to be bulging with clothes, and on her head was the special hair band that Ran had bought for her at Tropical Land. Her face was shining with a bright, toothy smile and her eyes were shining with excitement. Ran couldn't help but return her smile as she checked her over.

Ai was dressed conservatively and her face remained semi-passive, but Ran could see some mild excitement buried in her eyes, along with a bit of apprehension. Ran wondered to herself if this was the first time the young prodigy had ever been to a girl's slumber party before as she examined the bag on the young girls back.

Ai was wearing her dark gray coat with a new gray hat lined with pink (a gift from Ran during their trip to Tropical Land) and a collapsible umbrella underneath her arm. Her bag appeared to be packed neatly with bulges of clothes and what looked to Ran like books.

Ai noticed Ran performing her obligatory inspection and said, "I've packed all the needed clothes and toiletries for this trip, Mouri-san. There's no need to worry about me."

Ran smiled and nodded to the young scientist. "I trust you, Ai-kun. I'm just making sure for my own piece of mind. You both brought swim suits and tooth brushes?"

Both girls nodded.

"Good," said Ran, "if the weather clears up we can go swimming at the beach tomorrow. In the mean time we can go swimming in Sonoko-chan's indoor pool."

Ayumi's eyes bulged in their sockets. "Sonoko-chan has an indoor pool?"

Kazuha and Ran both smiled as Ran nodded yes.

"You insensitive JERK!"

All four girls looked across the Diner at a red-faced Sonoko as she angrily stormed her way over to where they were sitting. Behind her sat a confused-looking young man covered in coffee, his coffee cup perched upside-down on his head. As soon as Sonoko saw the latest arrivals, her mood instantly brightened.

"You're all here! Wonderful! Tonight is going to be loads of fun…and thankfully boy-free." Sonoko muttered darkly as she glanced at the coffee-covered boy behind her.

While Ayumi was practically hopping up and down with excitement, Ran made some space at the table for Sonoko to sit down. Sonoko looked to her companions and asked, "Is anyone hungry? We've got time for a snack before we get going. Just don't get too much or you'll spoil your dinner. We're having pizza tonight!"

Ayumi cheered and took a seat next to Ran while Ai quietly slid in next to Kazuha. Food was ordered, light conversation was shared and eventually, all five girls were ready to make the journey by train out to Sonoko's estate.


Despite the rather late delivery of the note, it had actually taken three weeks for the Kid to set up this particular job.

He knew that Nakamori would get the clues in the note wrong, just like he knew that Hattori would choose to spend his weekend with Kazuha instead of at the task force stake out. He also knew that if Hattori was in Tokyo and figured out his riddle, he'd come for him, and Kudo wouldn't be far behind.

'Hell, he'll probably lead the charge,' Kid mused to himself.

Granted, this last note was one of his more obscure, but if given to the right parties it shouldn't prove to be too difficult. He has planned that, too.

There was very little that happened on a Kaito Kid heist that wasn't planned out, but by the same token, the Kid always left room for improvisation. His outfits were ready, his gadgets checked and rechecked…all in all, everything seemed to be in perfect order. Now it was just a matter of getting things into place.

Kid sniggered to himself as he went over his checklist one last time. Of all the jobs that he had pulled, none had quite been like this. Truth be known, he wasn't exactly sure why this job in particular appealed to him, but for some reason… all those wonderful opponents in one place just seemed to sing to him, and besides, the Kid always retuned the loot from his heists. It wasn't like anyone was going to come out empty-handed.

He had been forced to go light on his dinner due to his mother's whims. Once their afternoon television programming had been interrupted by the latest news bulletin concerning the elusive phantom thief, his mother had calmly gotten up and headed for the kitchen to prepare his meal.

Kuroba Kaito was almost positive his mom knew what was going on. She wasn't a slouch, and her son's magical inclinations combined with his random disappearances had most likely not gone unnoticed. Still, she never said anything and he never revealed, at least, not in words.

There were other ways of saying someone knew something than by using words. For instance, Kaito reflected on his dinner of vegetable tempura and miso soup. His mom had prepared his favorite light meal for him tonight. It was a meal she only seemed to prepare whenever the news talked about an upcoming Kaito heist, and tonight was one of those times.

Then there were the newspapers he would find lying around, each one opened to a story about a recent heist or a particular jewelry collection on display.

Then there was the fact that despite never taking his uniform to the cleaners, there were times he would come home and enter his father's secret chamber to find his clothing pressed and cleaned.

The fact that the shelves of his father's secret lair had been mysteriously dusted on a regular basis didn't escape his attention, either.

Still, she never outright said anything, and he never told. The most she would do on nights like this was to ask if he was going out, to which he'd say yes. Her reply to this was always the same, "Just be careful, mind your manners and be a gentleman and I'm sure things will turn out okay."

To the untrained eye, nothing about that exchange would seem abnormal in the slightest… Save for the white rose that would always be on the mantle by the door.

In point of fact, Kaito was pretty sure his mother knew exactly what was going on. Because of this, Kaito considered his mom to be the coolest mother in the entire world.

Kaito whistled a small, broken tune as he headed out the door to catch a train. It was still mid-afternoon and he wanted to make sure he arrived at his destination on time. He had done the dishes from his early dinner right away, kissed his mother on the cheek, checked his supplies in his father's secret lair and headed out the door, mindful to take the mysterious white rose that constantly appeared every time he was ready to go. His mother could be heard in the next room mumbling something about never being able to find a vase, but Kaito, being a master showman, could recognize a cover when he heard one.

'Moms are the best,' Kaito thought as he headed down the street to the bus stop. Along the way he debated stopping by a certain inspectors home and visiting with a certain inspectors daughter, but time tables had been invented for a reason and he had to get going. He was just lucky that he had until later that night to get things into position. While he probably could skip school without anyone noticing, it wasn't exactly something he wanted to attempt.

'At least not yet', Kaito mused to himself.

That night he had a relatively simple task ahead of him that he promised to make insanely difficult… for the sheer fact that he could. He could have performed tonight's duties without anyone being the wiser, but where would the fun be in that? God didn't drop opportunities like this in your lap often, and Kaito wasn't about to let this one slide.

Kaito hefted the small yet heavy duffle bag on his shoulder up onto the bag rack of the bus as he settled in for his ride to the station. Through the vinyl of the sack, Kaito could feel the outline of some of his more…elaborate pieces of equipment. Soon he would be in place.

Soon… the show would begin.


Notes!

This is my very first Detective Conan fic! Yay! I've been a fan of the show for years, but I've never tried my hand at actually writing a DC story until now. This story was inspired largely from reading the works of Ysabet, Icka! M. Chif and Becky Tailweaver, to name a few. There are tiny tributes throughout this story towards each author, but the most blatant is a cameo by Hei-san from Second Wind by Ysabet (she told me I could! Honest!). Hei-san just seemed to fit so nicely that I couldn't resist using him.

This story has been completed, but the latter half is still awaiting editing and correcting. It should be up as soon as it gets fixed. Also, I ran into some nasty formatting problems when I uploaded to , so this story doesn't quite look/feel the way I intended, but...ahh well.

A huge thank you to the pre-reader that was brave enough to step up to this project. SubDivided, I cannot thank you enough for your patience, observations and your nagging concerning my Midwestern accent. -hug- Seriously, you rock.

Detective Conan and its characters are the property of Gosho Aoyama.

The Ring and the Book and In Three Days are the works of Robert Browning.

The Wizard of Oz and the Cowardly Lion are the works of L. Frank Baum.

This is an original work of fiction that is being written for entertainment purposes only. No profit is to be made through posting or distribution of this work.

Any and all CnC should be directed towards BGlanders at aol . com.

"If there's only one truth, then why does the show have two titles?"