Friendships of Sorrow
Ai Haibara sat on the sofa in her home. On the coffee table in front of her was a flyer. Next to the flyer was a half dozen small cards. Sitting at the opposite end of the table was the boy who has brought both. Haibara couldn't remember the last time Genta Kojima had come to see her on his own. In fact, now that the thought had occurred to her, she did not believe Genta had ever come to see her by himself. That only made the favor he was asking for even more puzzling.
"Kojima-kun, I have to ask... why are you coming to me with this?" She pointed to the flyer. "I don't intend to seem ungrateful that you thought of me at all, but surely I'm not the first person you thought of when you found out the game center by your home was having a fighting game tournament this weekend?"
"Well," Genta said nervously, "The prize is a box set of the last season of Kamen Yaiba. I can't let that get away!"
"I understand why you want to enter," Haibara told him patiently. "What I want to know is why you're so determined to get me to enter with you."
"The more of us who enter the better the chance one of us will get it."
"I realize that." Haibara's patience was beginning to waver "Why me, specifically?"
"Because you don't want it," Genta replied. He held out his hand to Haibara, palm outward. "Besides me," Genta folded his thumb, "Conan's no good for this."
"He held the controller upside down, last time we played video games together," Haibara replied as Genta retracted his pinky finger.
"Ayumi-chan is better." Genta's ring finger curled into his palm. "But she's not good enough to win a contest unless it's for only pressing the punch button."
Haibara nodded, acknowledging the point.
"Mitsuhiko would be best." Genta removed his middle finger from the equation. "But he'd insist we share, since he'd want the box set, too."
Genta's index finger turned and pointed at Haibara.
"You're as good as me and Mitsuhiko, but you're not into Yaiba so you won't care about sharing the prize."
Haibara nodded. She had to give Genta credit; this was actually well thought out. More so than she would have expected the most impulsive and hot-headed of her elementary school friends was capable of.
"Ah, but don't worry," Genta said, possibly misreading her thoughtful expression as a glare. "I'm not asking you to do something for nothing. That's where these come in."
Genta picked up the cards and, with a flourish, handed them to Haibara. She recognized what they were immediately.
"Trading cards?" Haibara asked, staring at the image of Ryusuke Higo present on each of them.
"They're all the Higo ones I got," Genta said. "I picked them since he's your favorite."
Haibara looked at Genta and was relieved to see no sign that he meant anything other than exactly what he said and was not, as some others seemed determined to, interpreting her admiration for Ryusuke Higo as some kind of child's crush.
"So, just to make sure I've got this correct," Haibara began. "Your want me to take part in a contest I would otherwise have no interest in to help you get a prize you want badly and, in exchange, I get these Higo-san cards?"
"Exactly!" Genta beamed. "It's win-win! Well..." he hesitated, "it is if one of us wins, anyway."
Haibara was silent for a moment. When she spoke next, she did so while glaring at Genta. Genta quailed at the sight.
"I don't know what makes me angrier," Haibara said. "That it never seemed to occur to you I would help just because you asked me to," she held up the cards Genta gave her, "that you thought this would be an acceptable bribe," Haibara sighed, "or the fact that you were probably right..."
"A... about the bribe?" Genta asked hesitantly. "Or about helping me at all?"
"Yes," Haibara replied.
Silence reigned in the Agasa household's living room for a long moment before Haibara sighed and spoke again.
"All right, I'll do it," Haibara said finally. Genta stood and whooped for joy.
"Hug me and I'll take it back," Haibara said quickly as Genta moved toward her.
The next day after school, armed with pocket money provided by their respective guardians, Haibara and Genta found themselves at the game center by Genta's home. Genta had insisted on getting there quickly, to get time on the actual game before middle and high schoolers got out of classes and flooded the place. The plan after that was go to Genta's apartment to play the home version. Genta looked excited to go in, but that faded slightly at the sight of Haibara.
"Are you really okay with this?" Genta asked.
"I said I would help, didn't I?" Haibara replied. "What makes you ask that now?"
"I just realized you're wearing your 'I don't wanna be recognized' outfit."
With a raised eyebrow, Haibara looked at herself and realized what he meant. She wore a non-descript coat and had her hair tucked into a cap. It was, as Genta pointed out, an outfit she wore when her paranoia about the Organization spiked and she feared recognition. Between that and the fact she wants wearing jeans rather than a skirt, even her gender wasn't immediately recognizable at a glance.
"You can spot this," Haibara said, "yet it never occurs to you to wonder why not even Edogawa-kun didn't question our cover story that I'm tutoring you?"
"That's because it's such a great excuse," Genta said without any apparent irony. Haibara shook her head and followed Genta inside, where she immediately winced as the rush of noise came at them from the open door.
The game center was much like Haibara expected. Arcade games were lined up at different points, creating a small maze to navigate. Because he was more familiar with everything, Haibara followed Genta's lead to the Kamen Yaiba fighting game that would be featured in the contest. Unsurprisingly there was already a crowd of elementary schoolers around the two or three machines the arcade had.
Once upon a time, Haibara would have imagined nothing but chaos as the children vied for their chance to play. Her experience since re-entering elementary school herself had taught her that kids had worked out ways of doing things with something almost resembling order and fairness. Each child played until they lost or, if they just keep winning, until the crowd whined enough to chase a player off so someone else could get a turn. Haibara and Genta each got a few turns at playing. Genta technically got fewer turns, but that was because he performed much better than Haibara, who was still getting the hang of the controls and only on her fifth go around had begun winning any games.
As she played, Haibara couldn't help but feel bemused by it all. Whiling away her time after school in a video arcade was not something she had ever done as Shiho Miyano. Shiho's actual experience with video games had, in fact, been quite minimal. So much so, Haibara reflected as she attempted a combo attack, that she had easily played them more in her relatively brief time as Ai Haibara than in her entire life as Shiho.
Akemi Miyano had owned a video game console when she and Shiho had been children. However she had not yet matured into the remarkable, patient woman Haibara usually associated with her memory, and so had jealously guarded her most expensive, breakable, or favorite toys from her toddler sister no matter how much little Shiho begged, pleaded, or temper tantrumed to be allowed to play with them. This included the video games, which were rated as "all of the above", until Akemi had moved on to the infinitely more mature activities of adolescence. Unfortunately, rather than fall to Shiho as a hand-me-down, the games were then thrown out as an unnecessary distraction to Shiho's education.
Where Akemi had restricted Shiho to sitting in her lap and watching, Ayumi, Genta, and Mitsuhiko had been absolutely insistent on including Haibara when they played. Further, the Detective Boys were Professor Agasa's preferred testers for the games he made in his spare time. Haibara went along with that because those games actually produced a modest part of their household's income. Then, of course, there was the sheer frustration she got to watch Conan Edogawa develop when he played video games due to being so inherently bad at them. That and the annoyance when Haibara easily showed him up were often more fun than the games themselves.
Haibara's musing was interrupted by the game announcing she'd lost her second round and taking her to the continue screen. Before she could move to let the next in line go she felt something slam into her and send her careening to the floor. Haibara quickly checked herself for injury, found none, and looked back to the game, where a boy had taken her place at the game. He was a stocky boy wearing the black gakuran uniform Haibara knew belonged to a nearby middle school.
"You didn't have to shove," Haibara complained. The boy ignored her. Looking past him Haibara noticed that several other children were glaring at the large boy.
"Apparently I'm not the only one who got pushed around," Haibara muttered. This time the boy looked at her.
"What'd you say, squirt?" he asked, glaring at her.
"Just noticing that you seem to have shoved your way to the head of the line," Haibara replied. The boy's eyes narrowed as the lack of fear in Haibara's response registered. The middle school boy turned his body towards Haibara and leaned down at her with a leer.
"What're you gonna do about it?" he asked.
He thinks he's being intimidating, Haibara observed. Looking at the nervous elementary children he had pushed aside, he clearly was to them. For someone who had been face to face with the likes of Gin or Vodka, it would almost be cute if it weren't right in her face.
"Obviously there's someone in charge to report to," Haibara said.
"Ooh, gonna tell on me?" the older boy sneered. "Yeah, there is someone you can tell. The manager. My uncle."
Before Haibara could curse the nature of nepotism, a large hand shoved her to the floor again. Haibara choked down a growl. Haibara thought she heard a few voices of protest at his picking on a little kid, but they were quickly silenced. Haibara looked up to see the middle schooler glaring at the crowd.
No help from that avenue, Haibara thought. Not that she had been expecting any. Her own childhood had not included much physical bullying, but some aspects, it seemed, were universal. One such aspect was that the one being bullied shouldn't expect anyone to stand up for them.
As Haibara got back to her feet, a shadow fell over her. She looked up, prepared to give this malcontent a defiant glare and make another smart remark when she found herself instead looking at a person's back. Larger than Haibara but clearly smaller than the middle schooler, Genta had put himself between the two.
"Leave Haibara alone," Genta growled.
"Your little buddy needs to learn some manners." The older boy cracked his knuckles. "Do you need a lesson, too?" Haibara saw her friend flinch, but to his credit stood his ground. Between the bystanders being unable or unwilling to help and Genta about to throw himself into the fray, Haibara decided now was the time to step in before things escalated further.
"It's fine, Kojima-kun. Just leave it-"
That was as far as Haibara got a third blow sent her to the floor yet again. This one was struck her in the face as she stepped in front of Genta and tried to push him away. Haibara wasn't sure how long it was before she shook off the daze and her to her feet, but by then it was too late.
A man in an apron and name tag was pulling an enraged Genta off the middle schooler and out of the building.
"...and that's when the arcade's manager said Genta-kun was banned?" Professor Agasa asked from the driver's seat of his volkswagen.
"It's only for a month." Haibara nodded from the passenger seat. "But it might as well have been forever for Kojima-kun, since it means he'll miss the tournament this weekend."
"Hm," the Professor grunted. "He was looking forward to that, too."
"He was, yes..." Haibara said.
"At least his parents hadn't seemed upset with him," the Professor noted.
"He got a lecture about starting fights," Haibara explained. "That struck me as mostly a formality. Between my giving Kojima-kun's mother my side of the story and his father regarding standing up for a girl the height of manliness, they didn't seem to think anything more was necessary. They seemed more concerned with your reaction."
Haibara grinned, but that grin faded at the Professor's more serious expression.
"Well," he said, "in their eyes my child got injured on their watch. I've worried about that more than once myself."
Personally, Haibara had thought their insistent apologies had been a bit much, even if they were absolutely sincere. They couldn't have helped what happened, and they had been quick to respond to Haibara's injuries as well as Genta's. Haibara had spent the time waiting for the Professor to pick her up with an ice pack over her face to stop the swelling and getting other assorted scrapes and bruises tended to by Genta's mother. They had done everything that could be reasonably expected of them.
"Are you banned from the game center as well?" Professor Agasa asked.
"No," Haibara said. "There was such an uproar over what happened that it was all the manager could do to ban Kojima-kun whole letting his nephew off the hook without having a miniature mutiny on his hands. I got lost in the shuffle."
Indeed, a few older children had checked on Haibara, but most had been too busy finding their courage after watching the intimidating middle schooler get tackled to the ground by a furious first grader. Haibara had been in no condition to witness it firsthand, but from the remarks she'd overheard it had been a sight to behold.
"Are you still going to participate?" the Professor asked.
"Yes," Haibara said immediately. "Kojima-kun got himself in trouble for my sake. The least I can do is try to win his prize for him."
The Professor's serious expression became a smile, as if Haibara had given the answer he was hoping for.
"Going to give that spoiled brat what-for for Genta-kun in the process?"
"While the thought has appeal, I can't," Haibara replied. "There's enough children participating that the manager separated everyone into age brackets. As you can imagine, him and I are rather far apart to be likely to face each other."
The Professor grunted his acknowledgement. There was a part of Haibara that wished she could teach that boy a lesson. Not just for hers and Genta's sakes, either. Shiho Miyano had not had much experience with physical bullying, but her mixed ancestry had invited other kinds and that experience had taught her that someone like that boy would only continue to cause problems unless given a reason to rethink his behavior. Unfortunately, there wasn't much she could do about that. She couldn't haul off and punch him as Genta had. To him, she was a seven year old girl he already saw as a target.
That was when it hit her.
She pulled out her phone and turned on the front-facing camera. Her face stared back at her, a bandage covering a cut she had gotten in one of her falls and a bruise just below her right eye that promised to become an unpleasant sight after enough time. With her free hand, Haibara picked up the hat that been sitting in her lap. Her hair wasn't as tucked in as it had been that earlier that day, but it was close enough. Haibara ran over everything that had been said during the confrontation with the older boy, the exact words used.
A smirk spread across Haibara's face as an idea came to her.
"Professor, I need to make a stop on the way home."
The weekend eventually came, but for a depressed Genta Kojima it was nothing to be happy for. Haibara's demand that he come to the game center he was currently banned from had not made things any better. The arcade was the last place he wanted to be right now, for a whole bunch of reasons. But she had insisted, and the Professor had even picked him up.
"You don't gotta do this, you know," Genta told Haibara on the way.
"Yes, I do," Haibara told him. "This much, at least, I do."
"No you don't," Genta insisted. "You wouldn't have even been there if it weren't for me. It's all my fault you got that shiner."
Genta saw Haibara glance at the rear view mirror. The bruise on her face had turned into a nasty looking black eye in no time at all. Genta had taken it upon himself to explain to the other Detective Boys exactly how it had happened. The fact he had excluded them from his plans was thankfully forgotten as they all expressed degrees of worry and anger over the incident. Mitsuhiko had even praised Genta for protecting Haibara, though Genta himself thought he'd done nothing of the sort. Haibara had gotten some makeup and been able to make the bruise far less obvious than Genta would have thought possible. Today, however, she had gone without and her black eye was clear as day to anyone who looked their way.
"I don't want to argue about who's to blame," Haibara told him. "I'm going to participate in this tournament and if you're that against it I'll just keep whatever prize I win for myself."
"Let's not get hasty!" Genta said quickly, only to be met by a smirk from Haibara. Genta shook his head. "Why bring me along, though? I'm banned, so it's not like I can watch!"
"Not the tournament, no," Haibara agreed. "But you can get to see something just as good." Haibara's smirk spread further across her face. "You may also see that there's more ways to fight a battle than with your fists."
Before Genta could ask what she meant by that, the car stopped and the Professor announced they had arrived. Everyone filed out and walked from the parking space the Professor had found to the game center. When they arrived, the place was already crowded with kids. The manager was trying to get everyone separated into their proper places. Genta frowned when he saw that middle school boy from earlier in the group of contestants. Haibara noticed him too, Genta saw, only she was smirking.
"I suppose I should head in," Haibara said.
"Good luck, Ai-kun," the Professor said.
"Do your best, Haibara!" Genta cheered.
Haibara smiled at the two but, before entering, took off the coat and hat she had been wearing up until now.
"Hold these for me, would you, Kojima-kun?" Haibara handed the coat and hat to Genta, who could only stare wide-eyed at her.
Underneath the coat, Haibara was wearing a dress. This was not an unusual choice for Haibara, in and of itself. As a general rule, however, she usually opted for darker colors. It was rare to see her in something as bright and pink as the dress she wore now. Genta was further confused when, before going inside, she pulled a red ribbon out of her pocket, walked to a window, and used the reflection to tie it in her hair. She nodded, apparently satisfied, walked inside, and approached the manager to register her name.
Genta saw the mood inside change at once. As soon as she made her presence known to the manager several children stared at her. Then those same children looked around until they found the middle school boy and began glaring at him. Several of them whispered something to others, and more glares began to focus on the large boy, whose confidence began to falter as he sensed more and more hostility being directed his way.
"I don't get it," Genta said. "What's happening?"
"Ai-kun asked me to remind you about the Stadium Bomber case," the Professor said. He shrugged at Genta's confusion. "She thought you'd know."
Genta thought back to that case. It had been one of the first cases Haibara had been involved in as part of the Detective Boys. It had all started with a gunshot to demonstrate the thread. A gunshot that had a camera had been directed to see by using Haibara as a reference for where to go. Then it hit him.
"They didn't know Haibara was a girl!" Genta exclaimed.
"Come again?" the Professor asked.
"During that case, Conan got a clue to where the culprit was because they used Haibara to tell the cameras were to go. Only they called her a boy because she'd had her hair tucked into her hat like she does and the culprit couldn't see her skirt. She was dressed just like she was that day, only this time she didn't have a skirt at all. She wore pants."
"And now," the Professor said, following Genta's train of thought, "all those kids who were there that day are likely recognizing Ai-kun as the elementary schooler who got hit in the face that day. Of course, now the child they thought had been a boy at the time has walked in wearing a bright pink dress and red ribbon with that black eye on full display."
Genta understood. In one move, Haibara had turned that middle school boy from a bully who hit little kids, which was bad enough, into a bully who hit little girls, which was way worse. Genta scanned the crowd again and saw nearly every child present, be they elementary, middle, or high school student, was now glaring at the boy who had attacked Haibara. The boy himself was looking a little pale as he understood what everyone was thinking and realized that, as of that moment, every single opponent he faced would be gunning to be the one who took him down. Being the arcade's manager's nephew didn't mean a thing in the face of that.
"Do all girls fight this dirty?"
"I'm... not sure I'm qualified to answer that."
The middle school boy didn't last one round. Within ten minutes he was leaving the arcade looking dejected; not even noticing the Professor or Genta even as he walked right past them.
Genta and the Professor waited. The older kids were getting the most attention, so they couldn't know what was happening with the younger players without going inside. Genta couldn't do that, and the Professor wasn't going to leave him alone. So instead they waited for Haibara to come out and let them know how she did. It was over an hour before she finally came out of the game center holding a small shopping bag.
"Third place." Haibara handed the bag to Genta. "It was the best I could do before they stopped going easy on me because of the eye."
Genta eagerly opened the bag and pulled out a box with a Yaiba action figure. Genta quickly went over his collection thus far and realized it was not one he already had.
"I know it's not what you were after but-" Haibara began. A cheer from Genta interrupted her.
"This is awesome! I haven't seen this one before!"
He eagerly tore open the package and took a good look at the figure. The smile on his fact was infectious, as the Professor and Haibara both followed suit.
"You're the best, Haibara!"
"I know," Haibara said with a grin.
That evening, Haibara rode home with the Professor, having dropped off Genta at home with his new toy. He was already making plans to show it off to Mitsuhiko and Ayumi later. For herself, Haibara wanted to get home and change into clothes more her own style. As they drove, Haibara heard Professor Agasa chuckle.
"What?" she asked.
"Oh, it just occurred to me that you and Genta-kun are actually quite similar."
Haibara glared at the Professor.
"In what regard?" she asked flatly.
"Genta-kun attacked that bully as soon as he hit you," the Professor began. "I doubt he was thinking for a moment about what it would cost him when he did it. It probably would not have stopped him even if he had. You, meanwhile, attacked in your own way as soon as you figured out how because you felt you couldn't what happened to Genta-kun pass."
"I felt no such thing," Haibara said, turning away from the Professor. "Kojima-kun had asked for my help. I was simply seeing through the obligation."
"You could have done that just by showing up and playing the games. You didn't need to doll yourself up for it."
"What's your point?" Haibara asked irritably.
"You and Genta-kun are both the type to get angry for someone else's sake before your own."
Haibara thought about this. She thought back to the crowd of bystanders, several of them larger than she and Genta. None of them willing to stand up to a single bully until she and Genta had, in their own ways, made them. But Genta hadn't hesitated for a moment to defend Haibara. To jump between her and that child. To attack him when Haibara had been hurt. The Professor was right that, in her own way, neither had she. She had told herself it hadn't been just for her and Genta's sake, but now, with the Professor's words, she was less certain. Haibara pondered this in silence before sighing.
"I suppose I can accept that," Haibara said at last.
There were far worse things to be.
Author Note: For anyone who doesn't catch the joke/reference, the "In what regard" bit was taken from a running gag with Gohan in Dragon Ball Z Abridged.