FRIENDSHIPS OF SORROW
Ran Mouri walked along the sidewalk. She had no destination in particular; she was simply bored. Things were quiet at home since her father had left town for a case. As often happened, Conan had managed to tag along. Ran herself had tests at school she couldn't miss, so this time the case was boys only.
I hope Conan-kun comes back in one piece... Ran thought to herself, knowing her father's lack of patience with the boy.
Her wandering eventually brought her to a familiar neighborhood. She saw two large houses, side by side. Her eyes automatically went to the nameplate of the first house.
Even though she knew there'd be nothing, she couldn't help but look up at the windows to see if any lights were on. She missed Shinichi greatly. His occasional phone calls just weren't enough for her sometimes.
Hoping to distract herself from such thinking, she looked to the other nameplate.
The home Professor Hiroshi Agasa shared with Ai Haibara. Ran had known Agasa for years, but Ai only a short while. Even though they'd seen each other a few times, it was a long time before the little girl ever managed to even formally introduce herself. The child was an enigma to Ran. So quiet and introverted; almost never acting like your average child might. Ran sometimes found herself worrying about how she was faring in Dr. Agasa's care. He had asked Ran to take Conan because he wasn't confident in child rearing.
Well, since I'm here anyway, I may as well look in on them. Ran thought to herself as she walked to the gate of the house. She pressed a button on the intercom and waited a moment.
"Yes?" answered Ai's voice. Ran thought she heard noise behind. A lot of rushing around.
"Ai-chan? This is Ran Mouri. Can I come in?" There was a long silence before an answer came.
"Wait a moment," came the somewhat curt reply.
That was one of the things that confused Ran most. Ai seemed to have something against Ran, even though they hardly knew each other. Ran got the impression it wasn't really personal, but it bothered her nonetheless. Did she remind Ai of someone she disliked?
Soon after Ai's reply, Professor Agasa came running up to the gate. He gave Ran a quick greeting as he unlocked it for her and ran back inside before she could ask what the big rush was. She walked inside the house, slipping off her shoes. Inside, Dr. Agasa was running here and there, quickly gathering this and that. She heard Ai's voice before she could even ask a question.
"Professor Agasa's been called on some urgent business," she said, not looking up from the book she was reading as she sat in an easy chair, "Apparently it's a chance to patent one of his inventions. He has to leave immediately if he is going to catch the last train."
"Oh, I see," Ran replied as she watched Dr. Agasa huff and puff as he ran around more than he probably had in years.
"Wait a second..." Ran said as a thought occurred to her, "Are you going, too, Ai-chan?"
"No," she replied.
"Professor!" Ran yelled suddenly. Ai and Professor Agasa were both startled at the unexpected outburst.
"Professor Agasa, if Ai-chan isn't going with you, just what were you planning on doing with her?"
"Uhhhhh..." Agasa stammered. Ai looked up from her seat, suddenly worried about where this was headed.
"Don't you dare tell me that you were going to leave a seven-year-old girl home alone overnight!"
Scientist and pseudo-child looked at one another. In fact, that had been the plan...
"I can't believe you!" Ran scolded, when the Professor's silence confirmed her fears. Agasa shrank back a bit in front of the young woman's fury.
"That's got to be the most irresponsible thing I've ever heard of! It's a lucky thing I came along."
Unknown to Ran, Haibara was now very worried about where this was headed.
"Professor Agasa, if you have to leave on this trip, fine. But you are not leaving Ai-chan home alone! I'm staying right here with her!"
"That's nice of you, Ran-kun, but..."
"There is no argument here, Professor," Ran said, her tone making clear it was final, so Professor Agasa didn't dare try anymore arguing. Ran didn't see him shrug apologetically at Haibara. Who merely shook her head.
Sadly, it was unavoidable. Haibara sighed in resignation as Professor Agasa continued his packing and made a quick exit. Haibara wondered to herself just how much of his sudden rush was done in the hopes of avoiding Ran's wrath and how much was intended to avoid Haibara's.
Ran's anger faded as soon as the Professor was gone. No matter how angry she was at Professor Agasa she wasn't about to go and take it out on Ai. She hadn't done anything wrong, as far as Ran knew. Ran thought about what to do now. This sudden babysitting gig had been rather impulsive on Ran's part. As a result, she didn't have anything prepared.
She had Ai come with her back to her home to prepare an overnight bag. The whole time between going home and coming back, Ai didn't say anything except a "Yes, Ran-san," when Ran told Ai to get her shoes on to go out.
Ran considered another thing about the little girl she found odd. Conan and all of his other friends called her "Ran-neechan," Ai, however, seemed to make a point of using "san." Ran didn't know if it was simply out of courtesy or if her dislike for Ran went so far as to avoid calling her a "Big Sister."
As she watched Ai sit at a table and begin her homework, Ran decided she was going to use this opportunity to get to the bottom of things once and for all.
Haibara struggled to keep her head. She knew Mouri had only good intentions as self-appointed babysitter. That knowledge did little to keep Haibara calm. She worried that she would end up saying or doing something that would anger Mouri and start an argument. Worse yet, she might say or do something to make Mouri suspicious of her real identity. Haibara knew perfectly well that she didn't really act like a child. Not when compared to Kudo, or to her school friends. Ran had, more than once already, had the thought that Shinichi Kudo and Conan Edogawa were one and the same. For now, Haibara and Kudo had her almost fully convinced her theory was wrong. However, the mere idea that, not only Kudo, but Haibara too was a shrunk down teen would surely restart her suspicions again.
Maybe that's why I act like I do? Haibara wondered. Her often negative attitude towards Mouri perhaps being based in fear that she would figure everything out and endanger them all. On the other hand, while that could very likely be part of it, something else seemed to tug at Ai whenever the girl was around. Something that bothered her greatly. Something she could not yet identify. Nor was she interested in doing so. Not tonight. Haibara wanted nothing more right now than to get to the next morning without incident.
To that end, she decided to concentrate on her homework. It was a temporary distraction, and Haibara knew it. She would finish the ridiculously easy work quickly, as she always did. Still, it was something to keep her mind off of the situation. Oddly enough, while Shinichi Kudo was always complaining about the simplicity and utter ease of first grade schoolwork, Haibara found it unusually relaxing. When one spent most of their time working on what could very well be an impossible task, being able to concentrate on something simple once in awhile was strangely cathartic. As expected, she finished the homework within twenty minutes. Not quite so expected…
"That's amazing, Ai-chan. You finished it all so fast!" Ran said from behind. Haibara jumped, wondering just how long Ran had been watching. She regained her composure quickly before she let herself respond.
"Yes. So I did," Haibara replied coolly. Ran frowned at her.
"Ai-chan?" she asked the not-so-little little girl.
"Hm?" replied the child, as she got up as she began searching Dr. Agasa's bookshelves for a magazine or book to read. Another distraction.
"I've been wanting to ask... is there something about me you don't like?" Ai stopped moving for a moment.
"No, not really..."
"Well, it just seems that I bother you for some reason. I was wondering why."
"I don't know."
Ran wasn't sure if Ai was telling the truth or dodging the question. But she knew she wouldn't be getting an answer yet. Ran didn't mind, she had all night. Maybe after the girl became more used to her presence an answer would come. If Shinichi, her father, and even Conan had taught her anything, when you wanted to solve a mystery, you needed to be patient.
Ran felt a small rumble in her belly, and made the decision to get dinner started. She had Ai come with her into the kitchen. For a moment, Haibara feared being labeled something silly like "special helper." Fortunately, Ran needed her mostly to tell her where things were. To Ran's surprise, Ai knew where just about every item was located.
"How do you know where it all is, Ai-chan?" she asked good-naturedly.
"I organized it," Ai replied.
"Wait... does Dr. Agasa make you cook?" after what she witnessed tonight, she wouldn't put it past him.
"No, it's more like I make him not cook. He knows his way around a science lab, but he's helpless in a kitchen."
Ran struggled between laughing at the remark and scolding Ai for saying something like that about an elder. She settled on laughing after recalling a memory of her own.
"Sounds like me back home. I was learning to cook way back when I was your age because my parents didn't know anything about preparing meals. And, unfortunately for me, it wasn't for lack of trying."
Ran wasn't sure, but she could have sworn she heard a snort of laughter below her. When she looked down, Ai was making a point of looking away from her.
Looks like I'm making progress.
Haibara had heard about Ran's cooking skills from Kudo. But this was the first time she'd eaten a full meal prepared by her. She had to admit, she was impressed. The only person she could think of who might top this meal was her sister. The times Shiho and Akemi Miyano had been able to see one another, there had always been at least one home cooked meal. The memory both cheered and saddened her.
"Are you okay, Ai-chan?" Ran asked. Haibara looked up in surprise.
"You looked kind of down all of a sudden," Ran explained, "Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine," Haibara said as she quickly ate another mouthful of food. Her face had given her away when Haibara was thinking of her sister. She'd have to avoid such thoughts for the rest of the night. Haibara was normally very calm, cool, and collected. The only times she got very emotional was when either the Black Organization, who currently sought her life, or her elder sister were involved. Seeing as she wanted to remain very unemotional tonight, she tried to push away those thoughts.
Haibara realized too late the ultimate flaw in that plan. The more one tried not to think about something, the more one did think about it. Leaving Haibara more depressed than usual over the next hour.
Mouri noticed, and for that hour tried various tricks to cheer up her charge. She turned on the television to Kamen Yaiba, the other kids' favorite. Haibara ignored it and stuck her nose in a book. Ran tried striking up a conversation, asking Haibara if she liked any boys in her class. Haibara said no, then found a new book. Ran asked Ai about what she was reading. Haibara put the book back where she got it and tried pretending to fall asleep. Not falling for it for a second, Ran asked if Ai might like to learn some basic karate moves. Haibara replied she disliked violence.
The whole thing had left both girls very frustrated. Ran was beginning to wish she'd just stayed home tonight. Haibara would have been very glad if she had. Haibara decided to just put an end to this night and go to bed. Seeing her last opportunity, Ran decided to finally try the direct approach.
"Ai-chan, wait!" Ran grabbed Ai's shoulder and kneeled down to look her in the eyes. "Will you please tell me what is bothering you so much, tonight?"
Haibara was silent. She really didn't have an answer.
"Do you hate me that much?"
Haibara silently shook her head.
"If it's not me, what is it?"
Haibara did not answer.
"I'm ready to listen to any problems you might have..." Ran encouraged, "If it's a secret, I won't tell anybody. Come on now, you can tell neechan all about it."
Ran was startled when she saw something flicker in the small girl's eyes. Ran understood at once she'd somehow gone too far. Ai was angry.
"Don't call yourself that!" Haibara suddenly demanded.
"E-excuse me?" Ran stammered, at a loss for words.
"Don't dare call yourself my neechan!" she shouted, tears forming in her eyes as she pulled herself free from a startled Ran Mouri's grasp, "You're not her! You never will be! So stop trying!"
"W-what..." Ran could only mutter as Ai ran away. She heard a door slam and knew the girl had retreated to her bedroom. Leaving a dumbfounded Ran Mouri to ponder just what had happened.