AN: This fic has been a work-in-progress for quite a while, a labor of love. I've actually been working on it slowly but surely for about, oh, four months or so. Started by a conversation with my pal FMP and spurred on by a few really bad days right in succession.

Oh, and I would like to dedicate this to fireblazie, whose writings I love and enjoy, and who inspired me to write my first stand-alone Heiji/Kazuha fic. And another thank you to Fred the Mutant Pickle, my faithful beta-reader and muse, who lets me babble on and on about the wondrous things that happen when my two brain cells manage to connect inside the empty voice that is my head, and then reads the results.

I don't own Detective Conan. I hope you enjoy my fic.

o

o

o

Holding His Gaze

They found him early Tuesday morning.

Two joggers, out for an early run, stumbled across the horrible sight. The only reason they even found him was because one of them happened to glance down as they were crossing the bridge, and caught a glimpse of a slumped form on the ground beneath the bridge. At first, they had thought perhaps it was a homeless person or a drunk who had passed out down there, but upon a closer look, they saw blood staining the jacket, and called the police.

It later proved that said jacket was the only thing keeping the body from falling entirely into the river beneath the bridge and being swept away by the current. Instead, the sleeve had caught on an exposed tree root and held him in place, half sprawled on the shore and half in the river. The investigating officers later said that by all accounts, the fabric should not have held like that; for all logic, the sleeve might have held for a while, but for as long as they were guessing he had been there, it should have torn long ago, sending him down into the water, where he might never have been found.

Luck? Or something else? At the time, no one verbally questioned what had held him there for all that time, though most speculated privately, or a few discussed later in rushed, whispered conversations. But sometimes, it was simply better not to ask.

When the first ones on the scene got there, they quickly discovered what had caused the sizable blood-stain on the collar and sleeve of the jacket. The blood had spilled from the wound that had claimed his life: a gunshot wound, right in the forehead. The victim had been staring his executioner straight in the face as he died, that much could be determined. And they could vaguely determine that he probably been killed late the previous night, perhaps in the earliest hours of the morning itself.

But all who came to handle the various parts of the standard procedures seemed unusually somber. Murder was never a walk in the park, but this one…this one was different. They all moved aside when the head officer on duty arrived and made his way to the victim.

The police officer in question took one look—and blanched.

A seasoned, hardened cop, and he could barely bring himself to look upon this particular victim. And he understood why so many shied away from the body with such unnatural haste; it was the same for them as it was for him. Normally, they would look for ID on the body, but in this case, it was simply not necessary. Instead, he merely turned around and announced the victim.

When he said the name, a hush fell over the assembled crowd of police officers, medical personnel, and assorted others. The dullest of disbelieving murmurs swept over the multitude, like someone had just uttered the Devil's name in the midst of a Sunday service. They all knew him, every one of them. The news was a blow to the kidneys for all of them, and not one of them wanted to believe that the name belonged to this victim, or any victim.

Hattori Heiji.

o

o

The night air was brisk, unusually chilly for this time of year. A breeze swept by, rustling Heiji's jacket; it was just enough to send a shiver down his spine, one that he ignored as he started storming towards home. He wasn't angry, just…irritated.

Another day, another argument. Just part of their ritual.

And he was mighty tired of it.

They had fought again, a particularly harsh one this time. In hindsight, he couldn't even remember what the catalyst had been. He wished he could have remembered what the spark had been, the flame that had lit the proverbial powder keg beneath them and erupted into the biggest fight they'd had in quite a long time. It had ended moments before, when he had stormed out in anger.

He had regretted it before the door had even closed behind him, but pride wouldn't let him go back. Besides, he was sure she wouldn't want to talk to him anymore at that moment, anyway. And simmering anger could lead to more harsh words. Better to wait until blood had cooled and tempers had burned themselves out before trying again. Better that than going back in too soon and potentially damaging their friendship forever.

Friendship. Heh. What a word…

Maybe it was time to just come clean, to tell the truth about something that he himself had only recently figured out, and even more recently managed to accept. Friendship, indeed.

He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he didn't notice the black shadow behind him, following him, slipping between buildings as he passed them, not even getting caught in the glow of the streetlamps. A casual observer might have been able to put it off as a trick of the eyes, an illusion created by the meeting of light and dark.

But an astute observer might have thought privately that the shadow looked almost…human.

o

o

Kazuha knew something was wrong the moment she walked inside. Actually, she had realized that something was terribly amiss when her best friend had been notoriously absent from school that day. She hoped it had nothing to do with their fight from the night before, and had every intention of calling him the minute she got home.

She paused with her hand on the doorknob to her home when she heard voices inside. She recognized her father's, and Hattori Heizo, but there were others she didn't recognize. Shouldn't her father be at work right now? She listened, and caught snippets of conversation that baffled her. "…Shizuka can't stop crying…" "…unbelievable…" "…could have done this…" "…was dumped in the river…" "…we knew something was wrong…" "…he never came home…"

Her frown of confusion turned to outright fear when she heard Heiji's name. Had something happened to him? Apprehension tugged at her as she pushed the door open and stepped inside.

Indeed, there were several people waiting for her. Her father, Hattori-keibu, and others she knew vaguely from the police department. They all turned and looked at her as she entered. But her own father looked concerned, and Heiji's father, in spite of his usual stoic demeanor, looked sad. What was going on?

Her school bag fell to the floor by the door, forgotten before it even left her hand. She slipped her shoes off and slid her feet into house-scuffs with the slightly stilted movements of one who was only doing it from force of habit. She waited, with a sudden, sinking feeling that she wasn't going to like this.

Her father looked distressed as he addressed her; she had never seen him look like that before. "Kazuha, sweetie, I…" He looked around for a moment before seemingly deciding that this was best handled elsewhere. "Come with me for a minute."

Too surprised and curious to resist or argue, she allowed herself to be pulled from the room into a next one. The door was closed behind them. In the foyer, the small assembly waited apprehensively. For what seemed eternities, there was silence beyond that door.

That was shattered when a shriek broke through the stillness—the heart wrenching scream of a woman in every kind of pain. A muffled thump, and then the hushed, uncontrollable sobbing of one whose world had just come crashing apart at the seams.

o

o

Heiji had taken an exceptionally long route home, hoping that the night air would offer some aide in clearing his head. It was late, but he figured that it had been long enough. A dig into his pocket produced a cell phone; a couple pressed buttons, and there was a ringing on the other end.

He wasn't overly surprised when he got Kazuha's voice-mail message. Sighing, he left a message—a pretty good-sized one, longer than his usual "Hi, I called, call me." Another pressed button disconnected the call, and the phone was re-pocketed.

Better. He felt better. She would probably get the message tomorrow morning, and things would be fine between them—maybe things would even change between them. He kind of hoped so.

He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets to protect them against the chill. He really needed to get home now. His parents would probably be starting to wonder, given that he hadn't called yet. He wondered vaguely if they would know that there had been another blow-out…

But thoughts were displaced as a hand collided squarely with his back, sending him sprawling face-first into the shadows of an alleyway. Only through severe determination did Heiji manage to keep from falling completely over. Instead, he managed to keep his balance, and wheeled around.

To find himself staring into the barrel of a handgun.

As Heiji's eyes adjusted to the darkness, the outline of the handgun's wielder became clearer. It wasn't entirely clear, though, as his assailant was wearing a hat with a brim that obscured his face and any identifiable features, and his clothing was black.

Black, like a raven…

It clicked in an instant, but he said nothing. He simply squared his shoulders and swallowed hard, willing himself not to move. Instincts were kicking in, urges as old as time itself, telling him to turn and run, to flee from the danger. But that wouldn't do any good. He would take a bullet in the back before he'd gone two meters. So he stood his ground.

"So you're the Hattori boy?" a gravelly voice asked, confirming Heiji's initial guess that his gun-wielding assailant was male. When Heiji remained silent, he simply said, "Excellent."

"You're one of Them," Heiji said flatly. No further elaboration was needed.

The man—his executioner, he knew—sneered; his brilliant white teeth almost glowed in the dark. "Shouldn't be poking your nose in where it doesn't belong, kid," the man in black said, his voice harsh and raspy, like gravel ground beneath a tire. "Should've minded your own damn business."

o

o

Another knock on the door was turned away by silence.

Kazuha didn't want to see anyone. She simply wanted to be left alone. She hurt, everything hurt so terribly, and she wanted to be by herself, though certain people (mostly her concerned father) seemed determined that she didn't.

She heard footsteps padding down the hall, and knew that this latest attempt had been successfully rebuffed. Sighing, she huddled back down under the blankets and pulled the pillow closer to her chest. Her breathing came in hiccupped gasps that hurt…everything hurt so much…

They'd argued last night—no, that was wrong. They argued every day. Last night, they had fought, a full-fledged storm of real anger, instead of their usual mindless bickering, and he had stormed out in a rage. She had regretted the whole thing before the door had closed behind him.

When he hadn't appeared for their morning walk to school, she had sadly assumed that he was still angry, and she would see him in class. She had briefly pondered that it wasn't like him to stay angry for that long or to hold grudges. That just wasn't who he was. Something wasn't right.

But it was when she had arrived at school and found his absence that Kazuha had actually started to worry. It was surprisingly quiet at school without him around; there was far less arguing, and their classmates even commented and teased about it. He didn't appear all day, and she walked home alone. Something was terribly wrong, and she knew it.

Her instincts had been confirmed when she came home, and her world had fallen to pieces.

She uncurled one of her hands and looked tearfully at the small object inside it. Hattori-keibu had given it to her silently and stoically, with only a slight tremor of his hand betraying his own emotions. That was who he was, though, and she didn't press the issue.

The omamori. It had protected him for so long—or so she liked to think. And yet he was gone.

She closed her hand around it again and hugged the pillow, crying into it.

They said that his body had been dumped in the river, possibly to avoid detection or immediate identification, but a stroke of belated luck had kept him in a place where they could find him. He hadn't actually died there, where he was found.

How had he felt, she wondered, during that last moment? Standing there, alone, staring death in the face? And he had been—they hadn't wanted to tell her, but at her insistence, they told her that he had died of a gunshot straight to the forehead. He had been looking at his attacker, looking right down the barrel of the fatal gun. Had he been frightened? Did it hurt? Did he feel any pain? What did he think about during those last awful seconds?

But most importantly, why? Why? It was the question that she most desperately wanted answered, and the one that no one seemed to be able to give her the answer to, and it made it all the more difficult. She did not know why someone had seen fit to take her dearest one away from her forever.

She sat up and looked around blindly, suddenly restless. She suddenly wanted to talk to someone…someone who could understand what it felt like, to have that special person absent from her life.

Her eyes lighted on the cell phone on her desk. She picked it up, scanned through the numbers until she found the one she wanted, and pressed the button. She waited anxiously until a familiar voice came on the other end. "Moshi moshi?"

Kazuha took a deep breath…and despite her best efforts, dissolved into tears again. "Ran-chan…"

o

o

"Where's Kudo?"

He had actually expected that, but he still was a bit startled at the question. "Kudo?"

"Kudo Shinichi. I understand he's a friend of yours," the gravelly voice went on, the gun unwavering from its position, mere inches from Heiji's forehead. Point-blank range, no chance of missing if, or when, he decided to fire. "Where is he?"

Kudo. They had figured out that Kudo was alive. Heiji had wondered briefly if he would ever face this, but he already knew that even if he told them what he knew, that Kudo was still alive, that their poison had failed to kill him, but left him a child…even if he told them, he was not going to leave this alleyway alive. They would kill him, and Kudo too, and anyone who they considered a threat.

He'd known this was a possibility since he discovered Kudo's secret. And he already knew his answer. He'd known for a long time. He schooled his expression carefully, and knowing full well he was sealing his own fate, placing the seal on his own death warrant, he said one word.

"Who?"

o

o

"Yes…yes...are you sure you're all right? Okay…call me if you need anything. Yes. Goodbye."

Mouri Ran hung up the phone—and promptly burst into tears.

Her father lowered his newspaper enough that he could stare at her in bewilderment. Conan was perched on the end of the couch, peering at her curiously over the arm. "What's wrong, Ran-neechan?" he asked softly, ever inquisitive and ever concerned about her.

"That was Kazuha-chan…" Ran hiccupped, tears still streaming freely. "She needed to talk to someone, and wanted to let us know…what happened…" She broke down again.

"Know what?" Conan asked carefully.

Behind the desk, Kogoro was watching apprehensively. He had never been good at handling women at the best of times, and it was at times like this during, outbursts of emotion, that left him the most at a loss. But Ran was his daughter, and he was concerned.

"H-Hattori-kun…" Ran rasped. "They…they found him…this morning…"

A chill ran down Conan's spine, and behind Conan's glasses, Kudo Shinichi waited uneasily.

"He…he's dead," Ran finally finished, getting a grasp on herself long enough to relay what Kazuha had told her tearfully over the phone. "They found him under the bridge this morning. A gunshot to the forehead. M-murdered…" She trailed off again, crying for the loss of her friend.

Kogoro remained still for a moment; then he got to his feet slowly, setting his paper down on the desk. He moved around the furniture, coming to stand beside his daughter. He looked completely unsure of what he was doing. And he looked even more bewildered when Ran suddenly grabbed onto him and continued crying. Mostly, he just looked startled. The Hattori kid…dead?

But he wasn't the one most in shock.

Conan slid from the couch and slipped out of the room unnoticed. He closed the door behind him, and leaned heavily on it; his well-trained mind was running in little circles around this one notion.

No way. That couldn't be right…Hattori wouldn't let himself be…no way.

But even though his surprise, his detective's intuition was already hard at work processing the little bit of information he'd been given. He'd been found dead under a bridge—perhaps he'd been dumped there? The gunshot had been to the forehead. He'd been staring at his attacker.

Typical Hattori. Stubborn as hell.

But the fact that it was a gunshot was what had Shinichi the most troubled. Guns weren't easily obtained. And though he really didn't have any evidence to go on, his instincts were telling him what he really didn't want to believe.

Had they finally caught up to him? No…

Yes.

NO.

…yes…

The mask of Edogawa Conan fell away, and had anyone seen him at that moment, there would have been no doubt in their mind that this was not a normal child. There was weariness and grief written on his features that should never have found a home on a child's face.

Those were Kudo Shinichi's eyes.

And he hung his head, closing his eyes.

Hattori…

I know it was Them. I'll bring Them down for you.

…take care, my friend.

o

o

They stared at each other. The gun remained at Heiji's forehead, cold and unwavering. But for some reason, his executioner had yet to pull the trigger. The tension was building, almost to the point of being absolutely unbearable.

"Turn around," the gravelly voice ordered suddenly.

"No," Heiji said firmly, crossing his arms across his chest; he had the sudden, startling impression that his own demeanor had unnerved the man who was to kill him. He could make out the whites of the man's eyes in the darkness, more so with each passing second as his own eyes adjusted, and he had held that gaze, refusing to back down or look away.

"Close your eyes," the gunman demanded again, and the young Osakan detective felt vindicated, knowing that he was right. Not that it did him much good, but it was a strange victorious feeling, to know that he had actually intimidated one of the Black Organization's own.

"I decline," Heiji was surprised to feel himself smile. "I'd rather look you in the eye."

And Heiji stared at his executioner, holding his gaze.

The gunman's eyes widened visibly beneath the shadow cast by his hat-brim.

Heiji wasn't sure where the words came from. But he wasn't afraid, and he stalwartly held his executioner's gaze. He was going to die. Here. Now.

He wondered vaguely what would happen now. How would Kudo take the news? He would undoubtedly realize who was behind it—not that the chibi-tantei would be able to do anything about it right out, but he would know. He would find them, and he would see them brought to justice. His own death would be one among many, many others.

His parents…how would they feel tomorrow? Later tonight when he didn't come home, didn't call them and let them know he was going to be late?

And as he thought about it, he realized that there was only one thing he really, truly regretted…

The hammer on the pistol cocked with a sharp click.

He was going to die.

Kazuha…

The trigger squeezed.

He would never talk to her again…

It was too late now…

There was an explosion, like a firework going off in his ear, and his head jerked back as a force smashed against his forehead. The world exploded into red, brown, and then into black. The barest hint of pain and cold then, as he felt himself falling, and then…

Floating towards the unknown. He was floating in peaceful darkness, where there was nothing.

Save for that one desperate regret…

In a place where such things were superficial and unnecessary, it ached.

o

o

Kazuha pressed the button to end the call. She felt a smidgen better, be able to vent to Ran for the few minutes that she had. But it wasn't much. Now she wanted to crawl back into bed and try to forget that anything existed. But as she lowered the phone, she noticed an icon on the screen.

A message?

She frowned. Who…but she already knew. Of course she knew. Who else would it be?

Her hand trembled slightly as she held the phone up to her ear and waited through the electronic voice rattling off that she had one new message. There was a pause, and then…

"Uh…hey, Kazuha," Heiji's voice, abnormally unsure, echoed into her ear. The sound of it made her heart ache and tears spring anew to her eyes, and she almost shut the phone off just to shut off the pain, but she didn't let herself do it. If what she was thinking was right, then he must've called her last night, just before…she forced herself to listen.

"Umm…it's me," Heiji said onto the phone. "And…well, I—I guess I said some really stupid stuff tonight…but you did too, and—well…" He was stammering badly, something he only did when he was flustered…or apologizing. She recognized that that's what he was trying to do, even though he was failing miserably.

"But listen…I've been thinking—I know what you're thinking, and yes, I do think, aho. And…" Stutter, stutter, stutter! "I think we need to talk. I—I've been noticing that things feel kind of different, and…" She could see him in her mind's eye: walking along at night, the phone in one hand, the other hand shoved casually into his pocket, his expression a desperate attempt to stay cool, in spite of the rising blush she was quite certain would have been at home on his face.

She was surprised, though, when he suddenly started speaking a little more calmly, like he had decided something. It was almost out of character for him, actually…but it was his voice. "Okay, look. We need to talk. About us. I can't imagine us not arguing. That would just be weird, and besides, you're an aho either way you look at it." She would have smiled if she wasn't crying. "But…I really hate it when we go at it like we did tonight, and…" A pause. "Well, we can talk tomorrow, I guess."

Kazuha's fingers tightened around the omamori. Was it possible…?

"But anyway," he cleared his throat noisily, and she could almost hear him blushing, "I'm heading home. Don't do anything stupid, aho." A pause, then a softer tone when he said, "I'll see you later."

And the message ended. Kazuha sat stone-still, the phone still against her ear. And after a long minute, the world faded back in. The electronic voice was asking her if she wanted to delete or save the message. She pressed the button to save the message, and closed the phone, holding it tightly in her hand.

Tears still escaped from the prison of her eyes to run free down her face as she stared at the two items she now held. In one hand, Heiji's omamori. In the other, the cell phone that held the precious message of his final words to her.

He'd been wrong when he had said he would talk to her tomorrow.

But he was right when he said he would see her later.

She flopped down on her bed and lay back, putting the phone back to her ear and dialing into her voice mail. The message began playing again. "Uh…hey, Kazuha. Umm…it's me."

Heiji was definitely right…

o

o

Kazuha opened her eyes, and her tired, wide-eyed expression gave way to a fond smile.

Heiji grinned down at her, then offered her a hand. "Ready to go?"

She nodded, and reached up to accept the proffered aide. The hand that reached towards him was wrinkled and spotted with age. But the fingers that intertwined with his were slender and smooth. Young hands.

The hand of one barely eighteen summers old, rather than eighty.

He drew her up to him. "You're always late. Why do you always take forever? And here I thought you'd be ready." But though the tone was exasperated and the words scolding, she could plainly see him smiling. This was a very special moment.

A moment that had been sixty years in the making.

"I do it just to spite you," Kazuha smiled, putting her arms around his neck without hesitation or any further pretense. And she was vindicated when his arms slid around her waist to return the embrace wholeheartedly.

He had missed her as much as she had missed him. All their time apart…and yet here he was, holding her, murmuring unintelligible things into her hair. And they would never have to be apart again. They were together, and nothing would ever separate them.

No more loneliness…

When he let her step away, their hands found each other once again, and they left. After all, he had come especially to collect her. And the two, reunited in the same forms in which they had been parted, soared together towards the sky, away from the confines of the mortal, physical world, leaving an old woman's body behind on the bed.

And into eternity.

Owari

PS. Fred said that he thought the Black Org guy was Gin, so we can continue to hate him and his Blonde Hair of Evil. I leave it to you to decide what you think. Also, again, kudos to Fred the Mutant Pickle for making a comment along the lines of, "Wouldn't Heiji be a target because he knows Shinichi's identity?"

Thank you for reading.