Title: The Safest Place I Know
Fandom: Detective Conan
Pairing: Hattori Heiji/Toyama Kazuha
Disclaimer: I do not own Detective Conan or any related characters. They belong to Gosho Aoyama. I simply throw fruit at them, take pictures, and call it modern art. Critics love me.
Summary: She hit rock bottom and tried to burn her bridges. He followed her with a fire hose.
The first time they had hugged, Kazuha had hugged him.
It was her birthday, and she was a very grown-up young lady of six years old. Her father had thrown her a party in her honor, and they had invited all the children from their class at school for an afternoon of fun and games.
And of course, Heiji had been there, and they had managed to have an argument in the middle of the party that resulted in him storming off and Kazuha pouting over by the cake.
When the time came to open presents, Heiji had reappeared, holding a large green gift-bag. "Here," he muttered, shoving it at her. "This is for you. Hope you like it. Happy birthday." Then he had stepped back and watched, waiting expectantly for her to open it.
While the rest of their class looked on eagerly, she opened the bag and dug through the white tissue paper to find her prize. And she had squealed loudly as she pulled out the teddy bear—its fur was a light brown color, and it had a green ribbon tied around its neck.
Green was her favorite color, after all.
She had dropped the bag and the teddy bear and jumped at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him tightly. "Thank you!" she had cheered, while he went all red and tried desperately to pry her off of him. But it was a moot point; she belatedly realized that she had dropped her new teddy bear in the grass, and panicked at the thought of it getting dirty. But that was the first time either of them experienced the feel of the other's arms. It would not be the last—most frequently, though, it was her hugging him while he blushed or yelled.
It was only later that she named the bear. After the party was over (and Heiji had managed to start another fight just before he left), she sat on her bed in her room, surrounded by the wonderful things she had gotten as presents, and named her teddy bear in honor of her stupid best friend.
Ahou. That was the bear's name.
It would sit on her bed for many years to come, even through high school and graduation…
"Why are you leaving?" Heiji asked quietly.
She nearly jumped at the sound of his voice; she hadn't heard him come in. But there he was, standing in the doorway of her room, watching her pack. She wondered how long he had been there. "God, Heiji, don't sneak up on me like that!" She glared at him and returned to placing folded shirts neatly into the open suitcase on her bed.
He took two steps into the room and remained silent for another few seconds, watching her, before he repeated his question in that same odd little voice. "Why are you leaving?"
Kazuha straightened up and turned to face him fully. In that second, she memorized him, wanting to always remember him exactly as he looked at that moment: jeans, a black shirt, and a dark blue zip-front hoodie, with his hands shoved casually into his pockets and his trademark cap squarely on his head. "Because I want to travel. I want to go places and see the world before I have to settle down and get married and provide my father with grandchildren to amuse him in his old age."
Heiji simply stared at her. It was almost unnerving, to see the usually-volatile teenager so solemn. As the tension mounted, he turned his head and looked down at her bed. To her surprise, he actually smiled. "I can't believe you still have this old thing," he commented, reaching down to pick up the teddy bear sitting on her pillow. He'd noticed it before, of course, but every once in a while he would comment about the fact that she'd held onto it for so long.
"Why wouldn't I have it?" she retorted.
"It just seems dumb to hang onto something for this long," he commented in reply.
"Ahou," she said automatically. But she smiled then. "Why don't you keep it?"
He looked startled. "No way."
"I mean it—take it. Something to remember me by."
She was startled when he walked towards her and pressed the teddy bear into her hands. "You need to take it with you. I gave it to you, ahou. It's yours." And then he stepped back, looking faintly embarrassed at his own display.
Kazuha looked down at the bear and back up at him. "Thank you."
"Well…I guess this is it," Kazuha said softly.
"I guess so," he replied. He fidgeted a bit before adding in a whisper, "I'll…miss you. Ahou."
That was almost enough to make her forget about America and just throw herself into his arms in the hopes that he would catch her and not let go. But…no. It was wouldn't do any good, she told herself for the umpteenth time. It was time to let go of that dream and face the cold of reality.
But she did loosen her self-restraints to hold her arms out to him for a goodbye hug. He walked into it willingly and it felt amazing. Far too soon, she had to release him, and he stepped back. It was time for her to leave—they had called for boarding.
"Well, I…" Heiji faltered and sighed. "Take care of yourself, okay?"
"You too," she smiled and hoped that it looked more real than it felt. "Goodbye, Heiji."
And she was gone, walking down the ramp and boarding the plane. She had a window seat, and as they were getting ready to start taxiing she glanced out the window back towards the terminal. She saw Heiji standing there at the window, watching the plane.
Kazuha took that moment to memorize him.
And then she pulled the shade and sat back as they prepared for takeoff.
She had no way of knowing that Heiji stood there long after the plane had taken flight.
And she had no way of knowing that it would be well over a year before she saw him again.
It was raining when they landed in Osaka.
Kazuha bolted from the airport terminal and to the street, standing in the rain until she finally flagged down a taxi. Giving the driver an address, she slumped over in the backseat, clinging to her one small bag as though it were a lifeline. She said nothing, but stared at the back of the driver's seat as the streetlights flickered past the windows, their light casting a yellow glare across the rain on the window.
What was she doing? This was insanity. She had essentially jumped on a plane on a whim and flown to the other side of the world to run to someone she hadn't let herself see in months and months. She had spoken to him briefly on the phone—that was the only contact she'd had with him, and only when he had called her. His letters had gone unanswered, sitting in a box in her nightstand. But they had been read many, many times, and no few bore the stains of tears she hadn't wanted to shed.
"Why are you leaving?"
He had asked her that.
"Because I want to travel. I want to go places and see the world."
That was her answer. And he had simply looked at her, looked through her…
…had he known she was lying?
She still didn't know what she was doing here. This was ludicrous.
There was no possible way that Heiji would be happy to see her. She half-wondered if he would slam the door in her face. She had cut those ties and left him behind, out of frustration and weariness and…was it fear that had ultimately sent her running off to America under the pretenses of wanting to travel? What was she afraid of?
She already knew, though. In the end, she knew.
All would be revealed when she got there, she supposed. For better or for worse.
Finally, the cab came to a stop. She paid the driver and got out. He drove off, leaving her standing there on the sidewalk, staring up at the brownstone building. One of his letters had spoken of moving out of his parents' house and into a new apartment, and had given this as the address.
Kazuha stood there for a long time in the rain, clutching her purse and bag and trying to figure out why she was doing this or what to say when she actually went up there. By the time she started to move towards the door, she was completely soaked.
She slipped inside and headed up to the second floor. She knew his apartment number by heart. After all, she had read that letter dozens and dozens of times, even though she had all of them memorized. Yet she would always return it to that box beside her bed without a reply.
Once she got to the right floor, it didn't take long at all to find the right door. She set her purse and bag down beside her and again, she stood in front of it for a long time.
Insanity. This was insanity. She should just turn around and go…
With a sudden burst of courage, she lifted one hand and knocked, and instantly regretted it.
"Coming!" a painfully familiar voice called from beyond that door.
That voice was enough to freeze her in her tracks. She couldn't move; she couldn't breathe.
All she could do was just stand there and wait. Wait to find out…
The door opened.
Heiji's eyes widened visibly and his jaw dropped in surprise at the sight of her. "Kazuha…"
It was only then that she realized how truly awful she looked. Her clothes were a mess, her hair was a nightmare, and she was drenched from head to toe. She felt pathetic.
"Heiji, I…" she tried to say something, but her throat seemed to clench shut, and she couldn't speak. Not that it really mattered—she didn't know what to say anyway. So she swallowed hard to try and clear that painful lump in her throat. It didn't work, and so she just stayed silent, feeling more and more like an idiot with each second that ticked by.
Trying to distract herself, she took a good look at him. He hadn't changed a bit in the months she'd been gone. And maybe it was irony or coincidence or just some imp of the perverse, but he was wearing the same outfit he had worn the night he had asked her why she was leaving. Jeans, a black shirt, and a blue zip-front sweatshirt.
"Kazuha, what are you doing here?" he asked, leaning against one side of the doorframe.
She was silent another few seconds before replying honestly, "I don't know."
Strange, though…he wasn't slamming the door in her face. He wasn't telling her to buzz off and go back to America. He wasn't shoving her out of his life the way she had tried to push him out of hers. He was just watching her with curiosity and…was that concern?
"Are you okay?" he finally asked.
Kazuha finally lifted her gaze to meet his squarely. His eyes hadn't changed a whit either. Still the same amazing shade of green. Still so deep. Still looking right through her. Just like he always had.
She didn't realize she was crying until she saw his eyes widen and heard the first sob rise out of her own throat. It was a horrible, pathetic sound—just when she thought she couldn't be any more pitiful, she had to go and start crying.
Before she could regain any sort of control over herself, words starting pouring out of her mouth, and she was powerless to stop them. "I'm sorry…" she heard herself whisper; it was like she was watching someone else. "I'm so sorry…I missed you and I screwed up and you have every right to hate me and tell me you never want to see me again…I was so stupid…" On and on, the torrent of words poured.
Kazuha wanted to die on the spot. She dropped her face into her hands and just cried.
And through the whole outburst, Heiji just stood there. Watching. Listening.
After what felt like years, he moved. He pushed away from the doorframe and stepped towards her, holding one arm out towards her. "Kazuha," he said softly, but firmly. "Come here."
She didn't need to be told twice; she walked into him and let him grab her arm and pull her inside. She kept her face hidden in her hands, not daring to look at him. He pushed the door closed behind her with his free hand before looping that arm around her waist; his other arm slid around her shoulders.
They stood like that for a long time, just inside the front door of his apartment. It seemed that she would never be able to stop crying…and she hadn't even told him anything yet. The reason why she had stumbled onto his doorstep after all this time…he would ask eventually, but for now…
When he moved, he kept his arms around her to pull her along with him. She didn't pay too much attention to where they were going—she was too exhausted to have resisted, even if she had wanted to. So when he leaned forward to send her backwards to the bed (his bed, she noted on some level), she accepted the gesture passively and let him pull the comforter up around her.
"Go to sleep," he said softly. "You'll feel better. It'll be okay."
She hiccupped and reached for his hand. "Don't go…" the words sounded frightfully hoarse to her own ears, but she had to say them anyway. "Please don't leave me alone…don't go…" She didn't want to be alone anymore. She didn't want him to leave her here.
He said nothing in reply. But he stayed right where he was.
As she finally fell asleep, Kazuha felt him move. The other side of the bed shifted as he lay down beside her; his arm wrapped securely around her waist. And she slept, feeling safe for the first time in ages.
The next morning, Kazuha awoke to find herself in a place she did not recognize. More importantly—and more frighteningly—she was curled up in a bed. And she could feel someone lying next to her. She turned her head in horror, ready to scream—had she done something she shouldn't have?
…until she saw who was sprawled beside her, still sound asleep. The scream of alarm died in her throat, and she fell silent, just staring at the young man, warm and wonderful, alongside her as she remembered what had happened the night before.
They were both still clothed, though a bit rumpled from sleeping in their street-clothes. Kazuha was sure her hair was a disheveled mess, but…it really didn't seem to matter that much at the moment.
Still, as she watched him, her smile faded slightly. She had an awful lot of explaining to do about certain things. The previous evening was the safest and happiest she had felt in a long time. If he rejected her now…it might very well kill her. But she pushed that from her mind and contented herself with just watching him sleep and hoping silently that it wouldn't be the last time she would get to do so.
Far too soon for her liking, he opened his eyes. Bewilderment and alarm flashed across those green eyes before he recognized her and remembered what had happened. The confusion melted into a smile. "Mornin'," he half-yawned.
"Good morning, sunshine," she smiled back. It felt so strange to really smile like that, even when she knew that this little happiness could be snatched away from her in a heartbeat if he knew.
Heiji sat up and stretched his arms over his head. "How long've you been awake?"
"Not long," she said. "I didn't want to disturb you." She would have said more, but her stomach chose that moment to speak up and remind her that she was starved. And she also realized that she felt rather grimy. "Umm…how about breakfast? And maybe a shower?"
This seemed an acceptable plan to all parties involved.
Her departure from America had been so hasty that Kazuha had barely had the presence of mind to grab herself a change of clothes. And that's really all she had come here with—the contents of her purse (which wasn't much at this point) and a small bag with one clean set of clothing. She had slept in the clothes she had arrived there in the night before. She felt like a mess, and a glance in the bathroom mirror proved that to her eyes, she looked like one as well.
At her sheepish request, she found herself supplied with towels and free access to the bathroom, all of which she accepted gratefully. With the bathroom door locked securely behind her, she stripped off her old clothes and hopped in the shower.
It was amazing how just standing there, letting the hot water run over her could make her feel human again. She stood there, motionless, for several minutes, just relaxing and not-thinking before she set about locating the shampoo and starting to scrub herself down. Fifteen minutes later, she turned off the water and reached for the towels.
A few minutes later she emerged, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with her hair wrapped up in a towel. Heiji took his turn in the now-vacant bathroom; he took less time than she had.
Toast made for a simple, yet satisfying breakfast. Kazuha felt the best she had in a long time, really. She even jumped up to make quick work of the few dishes they'd used in their morning meal, humming to herself. She paused with her glass in her hand, and decided to take one last drink before she washed it and put it away.
Heiji had been watching her all morning with relatively few words. Now he spoke up. "Kazuha?"
"Hmm?" she murmured around a mouthful of orange juice.
"…why are you here?"
She jumped at the question and nearly sprayed the juice across the room. Instead, she managed to only dump half of it on her shirt. Now her hands were shaking and she was nervous and cursing under her breath at her own stupidity. Thirty seconds ago, she had felt alive. Now she wanted to curl up in a hole somewhere and disappear.
"Ahou," she heard him mutter. He stepped back into his bedroom while she found a towel and started mopping up. By the time she'd finished, he was already standing there with something white in his hands. "Here. It'll be huge on you, but it doesn't have orange juice all over it."
She took as long as possible changing shirts. The one he had given her was a plain white button-up shirt. She noticed that it smelled like him, and she liked that. Now if only she didn't have to face him…
But it was inevitable.
Finally, she came back out and found him waiting for her in the living room. He was sitting on the couch, and he looked up at her when she walked in. "Better?" he asked. When she nodded, he stood up and gestured for her to have a seat; she did. "So what's this all about? Didn't you like it in America?"
"…not really," she said, looking down at the floor.
"If you didn't like it there, why didn't you come back sooner?"
"There are a few reasons. I'd rather not go into it."
"So why'd you come back now?"
Kazuha swallowed hard and said in a strained voice, "I made a big mistake."
She could feel his surprise. "What do you mean? What did you do?"
"I screwed up," she went on. It hurt to say it…but he deserved the truth, before anything else happened. "Heiji, I…met someone there. And I dated him for a while. And…" she swallowed hard and forced herself to continue, "…it turned out really bad."
"…how so?" he asked in a quiet voice. That was a dangerous, dangerous sign.
She looked up at him, just to see exactly how he was reacting, and found herself unable to look away, no matter how much she wanted to. "I…did something stupid." She stopped there, leaving it to him to figure out the true meaning behind that statement.
His eyes widened as he realized exactly what she meant. And there was no way for her to miss the flicker of anger and hurt that flashed across his eyes at the comprehension. "Kazuha…"
The phone rang, interrupting the awkward moment. Heiji lingered, looking at her for a second longer before turning away to answer it. Kazuha didn't move at all, dropping her gaze downward, not even bothering to listen to his end of the short conversation.
A moment later, he hung up and turned back to her, looking faintly sheepish. "The police need my help with a case," he told her—almost apologetically. "A murder. I have to go check it out. Will you be okay by yourself for a while?"
She didn't want him to go. She'd had enough of sitting alone in an apartment. But…this was Heiji's passion, not to mention his livelihood. She refused to tell him not to go—she was selfish enough as it was without doing something like that, although she had the impression that if she'd said the word, he would have stayed home. Instead, she smiled. "It's fine."
He seemed relieved, somehow. "Great. I'll be back as soon as I can." He hesitated for a moment, as though there was something else he wanted to say. In the end, he seemed to decide against it, and headed for the door. "Later!" He was all smiles and happiness, and she knew it all to be an act.
"Bye!" she waved with a lot more cheer than she actually felt. When the door closed, her smile faded into a far more thoughtful expression. She was alone, and that meant that she could take a bit of a look around now—not that she would snoop through anything, but she realized that all things considered, she hadn't had the luxury of taking a tour of the place. And besides, it could prove a very worthy distraction at a time when that's what she really needed most.
There wasn't really a ton to see, but it was something. The apartment was of a decent size, and perfectly suitable for a young bachelor. A nice kitchen (though she privately wondered if he actually used anything in it besides the microwave), a neatly-furnished living room with a sizable window to let in plenty of the late afternoon sunlight, and a cozy bedroom decorated in green and white. It was in the bedroom doorway that she paused and looked into the room, contemplating. Remembering.
She had woken up there in the latest hours of the morning, feeling truly safe and truly protected, two sensations she had desperately missed in the past months. Well…okay, there had been that initial panic of finding herself in a strange bed. But once she had realized whose arms were around her…it was the happiest she had felt in a very long time.
Yet it all seemed so short-lived.
Kazuha had known he would ask. How could he not? After over a year's absence, she just appeared on his doorstep, an utter mess. He had been kind, but sooner or later he was bound to want an explanation, and he certainly was entitled to one. She hadn't wanted to tell him, even though she knew she really had to. There was no other real cause behind her breakdown. But she had known…
The look on his face when he realized what she was trying so hard not to tell him…it broke her heart to even think of it. The way pain had flickered across his eyes before he shuttered his expression to keep her shut out of his real thoughts and real feelings…she wanted to disappear.
She closed her eyes and turned away from the room to wander back into the living room, where there were numerous pictures in frames on a table. There were photos of his parents, friends…and one of her and him at their high school graduation, well over a year prior. They looked happy together, though she could easily see the shadows around the edges of her eyes. Kazuha picked up that picture. The frame was worn and faded, as though it had been picked up and handled with great frequency.
Sighing, she set it back down. She was a fool, and she knew she'd hurt him. But maybe…maybe there was a way to salvage things between them. Maybe they could rebuild their friendship—it would never be the same as it was in the old days, but…they could piece it back together somehow, couldn't they? Trust could be earned. After all, if Heiji had kept that photograph of them and still looked at it…and the way he had just welcomed her into his home without any reason to other than the fact that he still cared…it meant there was a chance, wasn't there?
Feeling better than she had in quite a long time, she let herself fall back onto the couch. When he got back from his case…then they could talk this out and figure things out between them. It would be okay, she told herself, as soon as he got home.
But time has a way of planting and tending the seeds of doubt until they grow into full-fledged trees. And as time ticked by, Kazuha couldn't help but think that Heiji had been gone for quite a long time.
Should it really take him this long to solve a case? Must have been a really tough one.
Or maybe…maybe he had already solved the case and just hadn't made it home yet?
…or maybe he had stopped somewhere on the way?
…or maybe he was avoiding coming home?
So many maybes, so few of them happy…
Kazuha sighed and looked up at the clock for the umpteenth time. It was starting to get late, and the sky outside was just starting to grow dark. Where in the name of Ellery Queen was that boy?
Her resolve was melting like ice cream in the sun. She was starting to wonder if maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Maybe coming here in the first place hadn't been a very good idea…
Kazuha stood up. She was freaking herself out, and it was only making things worse. Plus, her stomach was speaking up to remind her that she hadn't eaten in a while. Maybe some food would help calm her down. She headed to the kitchen.
There was a good amount of food in the refrigerator, and it almost surprised her. Had Heiji actually learned how to cook? Before, he had barely been able to work a stove. Sure, he could boil water…but when things were floating in it cooking, he had a tendency to get a bit confused. She smiled slightly at a few memories along that vein before resuming her hunt for food.
But instead, she found something else—something far more interesting and useful, given her current state of mind. Had she really given it any thought, she would have known that this was a very bad idea and that it would just make things worse…
But overall, Kazuha just didn't care.
That case had been unusually tricky, Heiji reflected. He had almost missed spotting the crucial clue that cracked the murder case wide open. Once he had found that, it was remarkably simple to piece the rest of the crime together.
But he was thinking now—during the reveal, the guilty man had raged against his victim. He had loved her, he said, and she had played him for all he was worth. That was why he had killed her. But even after everything he swore she had done to him and put him through…he still loved her.
It all rang painfully close to home for Heiji.
Having Kazuha drop back into his life like that…he still couldn't believe that she was here and safe and not dead because goodness knew that the ahou was incapable of taking care of herself…he shook his head at himself. Something about her tended to bring out his inner asshole, he had noticed. But more importantly, he shouldn't be thinking like that. All things considered…
He really couldn't wait to get home. It had been tough to keep himself focused during the case; his thoughts kept drifting towards a ponytail and pretty green eyes. And now, all he really wanted to do was get home and talk to Kazuha and get this all worked out. The truth was that he was hoping he could convince her to stay in Japan at the very least…if not talk her into staying right there with him.
Strange how a year without hearing her call him 'ahou' could clear up so much for him.
He quickened his pace as his apartment building came into sight—one of the officers had given him a lift partway home, but he had opted to walk the rest of the way there. It cleared his head and gave him a chance to think about what exactly he was going to say to her.
Finding out what had happened to her with that guy in America…it made Heiji's blood boil. He wanted to get that guy and make him pay—hadn't that bastard realized what a good thing he had? And he had thrown it away. Although…Heiji hated himself for thinking such a thought, but in a roundabout way, that guy was the reason Kazuha had come back. In a twisted way, he almost owed the nameless man a thank you for that…but if their paths ever crossed, however unlikely, that guy was in trouble. Big time.
Heiji had tried not to let her see that the idea of it all hurt him, but he knew she had seen it. Even after all this time, she still had a knack for seeing right through him at the most inopportune moments. He could only hope that she recognized that he was more angry and upset by the situation, and not with her specifically. The whole thing just had him up in arms.
But it would be okay, he decided as he entered the building and jogged up the stairs to his apartment. Things were going to be just fine. They just had to talk it out, and they would be great.
When he opened the door, though, he found the place dark and Kazuha not in immediate sight. And he could smell something. It was familiar, but for some reason at that moment he could not place it. What was that smell?
But more importantly, where was Kazuha? He felt a clench of fear—had she left? No…she had said she would hang out here. She wouldn't have…would she? "Kazuha?" he called out into the seemingly-empty apartment, hoping and praying for a response.
He got one—a giggle from the vicinity of the bedroom door. A second later, Kazuha appeared. She was grinning at him, and looked…not quite like herself somehow. "Heiji!" she said brightly.
The slurs of her speech jogged his brain, and he finally recognized the smell.
And that led him to the terrible, inevitable conclusion.
"Kazuha?" he walked towards her, and his sense of smell confirmed it—didn't have to be a detective to pick up the clue and solve that particular mystery. "Kazuha…you're drunk!"
She giggled again and stumbled forward, falling right against him. Instinctively he caught her. "Kazuha, what are you—"
He was cut off when she suddenly rose up on her tiptoes…and kissed him.
Full on the lips.
And both her arms came around his neck, so even if he had the presence of mind to do so, he couldn't have pulled away.
Surges of every imaginable emotion lanced through him as he smelled booze and tasted Kazuha. He was shocked by the move, repulsed by the alcohol, attracted by her boldness…and she had always been a very pretty girl…
Instinct kicked in, and instinct said to kiss her back.
His own arms moved now to wrap around her, pressing her back against the wall. The moment wasn't sweet or romantic or loving—it was hot, passionate, almost animalistic, a surrender to the most basic of primal urges that swallowed reason and left only desire.
It wasn't until he felt her hands slide under his shirt that he let reality clock back in from its coffee break. This was wrong. No matter how right it felt to have her in his arms…no matter how good it felt to have her lips pressed against his…no matter how much either of them wanted this…she was drunk. Very drunk, if his guess was right. And that negated everything else.
It took an exercise of iron will, but somehow he forced himself to push away. He grabbed her shoulders and shoved her back against the wall, keeping her at arm's length. He was gasping for air by now, and so was she, and she looked confused by his sudden rejection. "Heiji?" she murmured.
"This is wrong," he breathed.
"You're drunk," he cut her off. "I'm not going to take advantage of you like this." He skillfully ignored that part of him that was telling him to stop worrying and just finish what he'd started. But that would destroy everything.
"Don' care," she slurred. "I wan' you." She was trying to reach for him again.
"No," he repeated. He pulled away. "Go to bed."
Now she looked hurt and lost, like a little girl. "Coward," she whispered while a tear slipped down her cheek. "You're a liar."
Heiji grabbed her arm and pulled her to the bedroom. "Go to bed and sleep this off, and we'll talk in the morning." She looked ready to either cry in earnest or jump at him again, neither of which he felt he could handle at this point. If she lunged…he might not be able to resist. Making a quick, difficult decision, he all but bolted from the room, closing the door behind him.
Heiji fell asleep on the couch that night, listening to Kazuha cry on the other side of the wall and wondering what he would have done if she had been sober. He knew he had done the right thing…but it didn't make it any easier when he thought about where he could be right now, even with the inevitable consequences that would come with the sunrise and the end of the dream.
None of it made the ache in his chest go away.
Kazuha awoke the next morning to the sun in her eyes and the jackhammers drilling at the inside of her skull. She had the worst headache ever. She let out a tiny cry and rolled over, burying herself under the comforter to protect herself from the evil, evil sunlight. She lay there for a long time, waiting for the migraine to recede.
Once the pain started to subside, she tried to think, though it was proving a difficult task. She recognized the green and white comforter as Heiji's, and knew herself to still be in his apartment. But where was he, and why was she—
The events of the previous evening came rushing back to her, and she sat upright in bed. The move inadvertently set the war-drums pounding in her head again, but overall it couldn't possibly have made her feel any worse. She felt sick to her stomach.
She remembered feeling rather elated about deciding that she would talk things out with Heiji, but then getting nervous as she waited for him to get home from his case. She recalled finding that bottle in the refrigerator, and deciding that it would be a good idea for her to relax a bit. But somehow, "relaxation" had gotten swept up and lost in "wow, I feel a lot better," and she had gone way beyond any semblance of a limit. By the time Heiji had gotten home, the world had felt very fuzzy and she had been feeling very bold. And apparently, she was a very honest drunk.
When he had walked into the apartment…what was she thinking, throwing herself at him like that? He had to think her a complete tramp, especially after what she had told him about the mistakes that had brought her back! And then she had kissed him…
…but he had kissed her back, hadn't he?
Kazuha tried to think. Heiji had kissed her back, and seemed receptive enough to her drunken advances…but then he had pushed her away and stopped it because he realized that that's just what they were: drunken advances.
"I'm not going to take advantage of you like this," he had told her. And then he had left her in here alone to cry and sleep it off with a promise that they would talk in the morning.
Well, it was morning now. So where was Heiji?
She carefully climbed out of bed and padded to the door, making no noise in her bare feet. She listened, heard nothing on the other side of the wall, and carefully eased the door open. She tiptoed out into the living room and saw no one. "…Heiji?"
A glance at the front door proved that a pair of his shoes were missing. So he wasn't here—he'd left. Gone out while she was still asleep.
Kazuha walked over to the couch and dropped onto it without concern for the piece of furniture. All the worst possible scenarios were flashing through her mind—most prevalently, the idea that he was just trying to get away from her after her awful display the night before. She ignored the little voice in her head that suggested he had simply gotten called out on a case or something as mundane.
She couldn't even cry anymore as she stood up again and went to find her bag, her mind made up. She quickly gathered her few belongings and slipped on her shoes. She paused long enough to leave a note on the counter and take one last look at the apartment before leaving. She went down the stairs and out to the sidewalk, where she hailed a cab. When she climbed in, the driver asked her where she was going.
She took one last look at the building before replying, "The airport."
Kazuha had no way of knowing that twenty minutes later, Heiji came home with groceries to find Kazuha gone, the apartment empty, and a note waiting for him on the kitchen counter.
I'm going back to America. I'm sorry.
He stared at it for a good long minute, processing all the implications of that tiny little goodbye note. Then he whipped around, grabbed his keys, and sprinted out the door, leaving the groceries sitting, forgotten, on the kitchen table.
Two more people.
There were only two more people in front of her in line at the ticket counter. And Kazuha was getting very, very antsy. She wanted to get her ticket, get on the place, and get out of here. America really wasn't any better, but at least if she was there, she wouldn't have to face Heiji.
No. She wasn't going to think about it. She was trying desperately to forget her abhorrent behavior from the night before, though the murderous headache was making that rather difficult. She could only guess what he thought of her now. She blew it big time, and that was that.
The line shifted. Only one more person.
As she waited, she let her thoughts drift towards where she might go next. She was considering spending some time in Europe—she had heard that Germany was lovely, or perhaps Spain. She wasn't sure. Not that it mattered; she could just pack up and run with the wind, if she so chose.
It seemed like the person in line in front of her as having a problem of some sort. He was arguing with the woman behind the counter over something. It sounded like he was going to be there a while.
In spite of herself, she found herself wondering if Heiji had discovered her absence yet. Probably—he had to have come home by now and found her short note of explanation. She wondered how he had reacted—was he angry? Relieved? In the end, it really didn't matter. There was a pang of guilt there at just taking off without a word, but she kept telling herself that it was for the best. She was burning her bridges, and that was that.
It occurred to her as she waited that she was still wearing the shirt he had lent her—a plain white button-up shirt. She had cuffed the sleeves up to her elbows for comfort's sake. It smelled faintly of alcohol, a reminder of her stupidity from the night before. She would have to return this to him eventually. Perhaps she should mail it back to him.
Her thoughts kept drifting along those lines until finally the man in front of her seemed to resolve whatever problem he was having, and stepped aside. Finally, it was her turn.
She stepped up to the now-harried woman behind the counter and offered the best smile she could muster up—which really wasn't much, all things considered. "I need a one-way ticket—"
"Home," a voice cut her off as a tanned hand closed around her fingers on the counter. Kazuha spun around, already knowing exactly what she was going to see, and…
Heiji muttered a quick apology to the airline employee and grabbed Kazuha's bag out of her hand before he began dragging her away from the counter and towards the terminal exit. She tried to protest, but her voice wouldn't work right; attempts to wrestle her arm free were met by a grasp of iron.
He pulled her out to the parking lot, where a small car was waiting; she remembered him mentioning in one of his letters that he had acquired said automobile. He opened the back door and tossed her bag in before opening the driver's door and looking over the car roof at her. "Get in," he ordered flatly.
"No," she refused, trying to hold her ground in a battle she knew she had already lost.
They just looked at each other for a long moment, a silent battle of wills.
Then, surprisingly, Heiji's expression softened. "Kazuha, get in the car." She hesitated…but obeyed. Heiji waited until she was inside and buckled in before climbing in himself and starting the engine.
The drive home was silent and tense; neither spoke. When they arrived at Heiji's apartment, Heiji went to his own bedroom while Kazuha locked herself in the bathroom for lack of any other place to go. This was his home, after all—she did not live here. Before, she had been allowed to stay here because of his generosity. Now, she felt like a prisoner in a home that was not her own.
The silence and the tension were almost unbearable. Things were going to come to a head very, very soon. And knowing both of them, the end result would be explosive.
Kazuha had been sitting in a chair in the living room, staring out the window. When he spoke to her, she turned her head to find a mug of something steaming being offered to her; it smelled suspiciously like tea. She turned away in a silent refusal, but Heiji persisted gently. "You'll feel better. And you haven't eaten anything today, right?"
She was about to say no when she realized that her stomach was painfully empty. And though the initial smell had been revolting, the second whiff definitely had merit. With shaky hands, she reached up and wrapped her fingers around the warm ceramic. "Thank you…" she whispered softly before taking a sip. It warmed her from head to toe.
Heiji stood beside her chair and watched her. "Better?"
She nodded mutely.
"…we need to talk."
Kazuha closed her eyes. "Okay." This had to happen sooner or later.
He pulled a chair up to sit facing her, so they were knee-to-knee. He didn't speak right away, leaving her more time to feel self-conscious; she felt like a mess, and was still wearing that shirt of his.
"Let's start with the basic question. Why did you come back?" His tone was quiet, but kind.
He had asked that question once before, and she hadn't wanted to answer it, but…if there was ever a time to be honest, this was it. She knew that. Still, it was nearly impossible for her to open her mouth and force the words out. "I…was lonely. And I wanted to see you."
"If you wanted to see me, why were you avoiding me?"
"Does this have anything to do with what you said when you…last night?" he wisely skirted the issue of the previous evening's drunken advances. It was embarrassing enough as it was—for both of them—without him mentioning it again.
Kazuha visibly winced at the recent memory, but tried to mask it by taking a long drink of tea. Even after she lowered the mug, she didn't meet his gaze again, nor did she speak or answer him.
Heiji sighed and changed the subject, even though that was the topic he most wanted to pursue. Still, there was time—he hoped. "What happened with that guy in America, exactly?"
"It was a mistake," she said softly. "A big, stupid mistake. I was lonely, and I think he saw it and sort of played on it. It was…flattering…to have someone paying attention to me like that. I really shouldn't have let it go on as long as I did—I wasn't really looking for a relationship or anything, but…I liked the attention, I guess. In the end…I just screwed up. I don't even know why I did…that. And then after it was over…" She felt herself wilt even further as she trailed off.
"…what happened?" he prodded.
She sighed. "That was the end of things."
"His call or yours?"
Kazuha didn't reply.
Heiji growled, and she sensed that he was angry. She wondered if he was angry with her for her indiscretion and betrayal, or if the nameless boy in America was the subject of his ire for using her like that and then tossing her aside so callously. And…why did she think of what she had done as a betrayal? It really wasn't—at least, not by the textbook definition. For it to be a betrayal, she would have to have been his in the first place. And she wasn't Heiji's. Not in the true sense, anyway.
Emotionally…that was another story.
But seeing the flash of pain and anger across his eyes when she told him of it that first morning…it felt like she had betrayed him. And that hurt.
"If you didn't like this guy that much," Heiji began slowly, and she felt that he was seriously reining in his temper, though his tone was harder than before, "then why the hell did you have anything to do with him in the first place?"
"I can't tell you that," she whispered.
"Because you'll get angry and you'll tell me to leave," she said. The first blur of tears welled in her eyes against her will, and she hated herself for them. "You'll hate me."
"Kazuha," he said, "if the lack of phone calls, lack of response to letters, and overall avoidance tactics and lack of communication over the last year didn't make me hate you or even start to dislike you," he tallied the points off on his fingers as he said them, "then I don't see how whatever your reasoning could possibly accomplish it."
His words were true…but they were like a dagger through her heart, and she reacted accordingly. She jumped to her feet, eyes blazing with anger and tears; the mug fell from her hands, splashing the remnants of her tea across the floor, but she didn't care. Heiji stood up as well; as close as they'd been sitting, this put them almost nose-to-nose. Her expression was dancing the knife-edge between fury and heartbreak; his was completely even, giving nothing away.
He had grown up over time. She still felt like a child.
Were this a movie, this was probably the point where something would given way, and they would have fallen passionately into each other's embrace with kisses and declarations of love, and everything would be beautiful again. They would be together. They would have their happily ever after. But…this wasn't a movie. This was real life, with all its cruelties and harshness and pain. There weren't happy endings in real life, she had decided. No matter what you did or how hard you tried, there was just more of the same. More hurt.
Which was worse—to have one big painful moment, get it out of the way, and then live the rest of her life with the dull ache of that aftermath…or to take a risk and have a lot of little hurts that might spring up over a long period of time?
Kazuha swallowed hard, trying to take that risk…but her voice wouldn't obey her and her body went into an open rebellion, moving without her permission. "I'm sorry. God, this was so stupid…" She sidestepped him and moved past him into his bedroom. He had carried her bag in earlier from the car when he had accosted her at the airport to stop her from fleeing back to America, and she was sure he had just taken it in there with him. Sure enough, it was sitting on a chair. She grabbed it and slung it over her shoulder. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come here in the first place. I'm going home." The word home felt so empty as she said it—that place wasn't really home. It was a place where she lived. Nothing more.
But when she tried to exit the room, Heiji was there to stop her. She was fenced in. On one side, the dresser. On the other side, the bed. Behind her, the wall. In front of her, Heiji. Behind Heiji, the door—the only way out of the room, and her ticket to escape.
"Heiji, move," she ordered with a great deal more bravado than she felt. She tried to move around him again, but he moved to block her path. "Goddammit, Heiji, get out of my way!"
"Why are you running away?" he asked.
"Why are you stopping me?" she snapped back, appalled when her voice cracked.
"Because you're too stubborn to admit that you're making a mistake," he replied. At last, a touch of anger had wormed its way into his tone; she was finally having an effect on him. "So I'm stopping you from making that mistake. Now sit down and talk to me."
"How dare you!" she said angrily. "You don't know anything—"
"I would if you would tell me!" he snapped back, his temper finally rising.
"It's none of your business! Now move!" she hated herself for saying such things, but kept on. To prove her point, she tried to walk at him with the crazy intention of pushing right past him (never mind that he was taller than her and quite strong) and making good her escape.
When he didn't move, she tried to push him, and he grabbed her wrists and pushed back, trying to force her backwards and away from the door. "Kazuha, would you stop already?" She stuck out a leg to try and trip him, but he caught himself and stayed on his feet, still struggling with her to keep her there.
She realized exactly how low she had really sunk at that moment. She was ready to physically fight him in order to escape from him. One of the only people left in the world who gave a damn about her, and she was lashing out at him, trying to hurt him…what was wrong with her?
But Heiji's infamous temper had hit its boiling point, and he was fighting back. He had caught both of her wrists with iron-grips and wasn't letting go. He was trying to push her backwards. His expression…he looked so angry. It gave her a chill as she wondered if maybe she had pushed him too far…
Suddenly, he changed tactics, from pushing backwards…to jerking her sideways. Her knees hit the bed, and she lost her balance, toppling over to land on her back on the green and white comforter; her knees were bent over the edge of the bed, her feet still brushing the floor. It didn't hurt, but it was enough to startle her into inaction.
And Heiji moved, climbing onto the bed and looming over her on his hands and knees; his hands were still wrapped around her wrists, pinning them against the bed above her head. And he looked so angry…was it possible that he had actually lost control of himself?
A stab of pain lanced through her, both physically and emotionally, as she realized that she had just made the worst mistake of her life, and there was no way to take it back.
Kazuha's fury vanished and was immediately replaced by terror as a flicker of something she wanted desperately to forget flashed in front of her. He had her pinned and in his power and his temper had gone beyond his control. And while on some level she knew that he would never hurt her like that, a more basic level of instinct was frightened beyond that sort of reason—if he really had lost control, there was no telling what he might do. She had to get away, get him to stop somehow…
At a loss for what else to do, she screamed. "Stop, Heiji! STOP!"
He froze. His expression changed in an eye blink, from blind fury and rage to comprehension as he seemed to realize exactly what position he was in, and her relative position: straddling her, pinning her down against the bed by her wrists. And she just looked up at him with wide, terrified eyes that were just starting to brim with frightened tears. She couldn't move. She could barely even breathe as she waited for him to do or say something.
Finally, he did. He leaned back very slowly, easing his grip from her wrists. When he had let go of her wrists entirely, she put one hand over her mouth to try and stifle her frightened sobs. He looked pained at the sound, possibly from knowing that he had caused it.
He sat back and stared at her for a moment before he shifted to move off of her entirely. He seemed to be in shock, like he couldn't believe that he had just done something like that.
Once she was no longer pinned beneath him, she rolled over and all but flung herself off the bed; she stumbled across the room, both hands clasped over her mouth, tears running down her face. And she made a beeline for the door. But when she got there, she paused and turned around.
Heiji was sprawled on his back on the bed. One arm was slung across his stomach; the other lay across his eyes. And she could hear him muttering, "Stupid…so stupid…the hell is wrong with me…"
Kazuha watched him for a moment. She should just turn around and leave. The door was right there, open and waiting for her. She could go back to America, and he wasn't about to stop her now. The path was hers to take.
She took a slow step back towards the bed. And another, and another, until she was standing beside it, looking down at him. Heiji apparently hadn't noticed her presence; he had not moved. For the first time, she realized how tired and sad he really looked…was it because of her?
She put one knee on the bed and rocked forward to crawl across the comforter towards him. He moved his arm slightly to watch her; he seemed surprised that she hadn't grabbed her things, taken off running, and never looked back. Slowly, he moved his arm from where it was draped across his stomach to the bed beside him in a silent invitation.
Kazuha crawled right up to him and wrapped her arms around him as best she could, given his position—one arm around his shoulder, the other around his torso. She curled up against him, her head resting on his chest. Heiji awkwardly wrapped his free arm around her. "Kazuha?"
"Don't do that again," she sobbed. She was crying again, out of fear and anger and loneliness, and she couldn't stop herself anymore. "Heiji, please…please don't do that again…"
Now both his arms were around her, holding on for dear life. "I'm sorry…" he whispered. "I'm sorry. I completely lost it. I'm sorry…" He had grown up in so many ways. The old Heiji would have to be under threat of unspecified torture to manage something that might have vaguely resembled an apology. Now he gave them freely in a situation that called for them.
"Me too…" she replied softly, her own voice hoarse from yelling and crying. "I'm sorry…"
They stayed like that for a very long time. Even after her sobs had finally receded, they lay there in silence as they shadows on the floor grew longer and the sky outside the window grew darker. Neither moved and neither spoke. Caught in a moment and each other's arms, both were far too lost in their own questions and own worries and fears to risk breaking the silence too soon.
But it had to end eventually, and it was Heiji who spoke first. "Are you okay?" When she nodded against his shoulder, he asked, "…will you tell me why you got involved with that guy?"
Kazuha hesitated a moment before deciding that it was really now or never. If everything that had just happened was to be believed, he wouldn't throw her out for it. "…he had your eyes. They were exactly the same. And I…I wanted him to be you." She closed her eyes and waited to see if the axe would fall.
Instead, the hand on her back slid up her neck to the back of her head. She felt a tug as he pulled the ribbon loose, releasing her hair from the confines of her ponytail. His fingers slid through her hair, against the back of her scalp; it felt so nice.
She decided to ask her own question. "Why were you so determined to stop me from leaving?"
"I watched you walk away once," he replied, remembering that day at the airport when he had put her on a plane to America and regretted it before the plane had even pulled away from the gate. "I didn't want to do that again unless I knew there was no other alternative." His arms tightened around her. "I just didn't want you to leave until we'd at least worked something out."
Kazuha snuggled closer and closed her eyes. She was suddenly so tired, physically and mentally and emotionally; when she tried to answer him, she found herself yawning instead of speaking. She didn't even try to stay awake, realizing for the foregone conclusion that she knew it was.
She tightened her arms around him and let herself drift off.
When she woke up, it was dark outside.
More importantly, she was alone in bed again—tucked in underneath the green and white comforter. She sat up and looked around sleepily. Heiji was nowhere in sight. Technically, that was the way things should be, but…
She swung her feet off the edge of the bed and stood up (feeling the strangest sense of déjà vu as she did so) and headed towards the door. It was open a few inches, and she peered out into the apartment. From her vantage point, she could see that the television was on. But she couldn't see Heiji.
Kazuha pushed the door open and stepped out into the living room. Her guess proved correct—Heiji was sound asleep on the couch, his head resting against a throw pillow for comfort. He looked so calm and sweet and peaceful, lost in the world of slumber. One would never know he could be such a pain in the ass when he was awake and arguing.
…except he really wasn't, was he? He was Heiji, her friend, ahou, and arguing partner. But he had also proven himself way more than he should have had to over the last couple of days. She had spent all this time trying to burn her bridges, but it taken all of this for her to realize that he would always be right behind her with a fire hose to stop her from running. She dropped silently to her knees beside the couch and studied him closely as he slept.
Girls might mature faster than boys, but he had certainly been the first of them to reach adulthood in the most real sense of the word. Where had his patience come from? He genuinely seemed to be waiting for her—waiting for her to figure things out and come home. Heiji had never been that patient before…
…unless he knew it was something absolutely worth waiting for, like the final clue or the slip of a suspect's tongue that would solve an unsolvable mystery. Did that mean he thought she was worth waiting for? That would speak volumes about his feelings…and the idea made her feel fluttery inside.
She was so lost in her thoughts and revelations that she didn't notice that Heiji had opened his eyes and was watching her with a slight smile. But she didn't jump when he spoke. "What?"
"Nothing. Just thinking," she said. She lifted both arms to rest on the couch cushion beside him and propped her chin on her forearms. "I woke up and you weren't there."
"Figured I'd let you sleep," he replied, closing his eyes.
"Aren't you sweet?"
"I think so."
Kazuha sighed and closed her eyes as well. "So what do we do now?"
"I don't know. Tell me…what do you want?" he asked.
"…I want to feel safe," she replied honestly. "And so far…this is the safest place I know."
"You want to stay?"
"…yes. I think I do."
"Well, there ya go."
It was a far cry from the drama and emotion-driven outbursts that had filled the past couple of days. The exchange seemed so simple and straightforward, even though the decision made within it was potentially a very life-changing one. But…it was the right one.
The first thing she had done right in ages, Kazuha privately thought.
"I'll have to go back to America for at least a little while," she said softly, trying to be a bit more pragmatic while her heart was doing cartwheels. "All my stuff's there…including that teddy bear you gave me." She grinned at his faint blush. "And then I'll have to find an apartment here somewhere."
"Why not here?" Heiji asked.
As usual, he managed to throw everything so far off track for her. "There's only one bedroom."
"Okay…so we'll find a two-bedroom," he said airily. "Why not? We could be roommates."
Kazuha raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure that would work?"
"Why wouldn't it?"
"Because if certain…things develop," she pointed out, "then it might get a bit tense."
"…what kind of things?"
She smiled. "Like the feelings I have for you?"
"Hmm…could make things interesting."
"Heiji…do you…" her smile faded slightly, and she opened her eyes to wait for his answer.
"You couldn't tell?"
It wasn't really much of a confession, but it still made something warm run through her.
Now his eyes were open and looking up at her, warm and green and happy. "C'mere…" She smiled and lowered her head, and his hand moved to the back of her head as her lips met his.
George Bernard Shaw wrote that "A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing." Humans are creatures who may live their entire lives by the blunders they make. It can be far easier to live with a mistake than to correct it…
But sometimes, just sometimes…it's worth taking the chance.
PS. (eyes fic suspiciously) …is it done? O.o Holy cats, what happened here? This was supposed to be a nice, sweet, LITTLE story, and somewhere along the line…the plunnie mutated. This is officially the longest challenge fic I have ever written, beating out my nine thousand word story for 40 Nights. It's also the second longest one-shot I've ever penned, after "Sorrowful Soul." YIKES.
And with this…the challenge is COMPLETE. Thirty fics and thirty hugs for Heiji and Kazuha. THANK YOU LORD. Honestly, part of the reason I did this was because I feel this is the pairing I am the weakest at writing. And I still think that, but now at least I have some practice.
Thank you all for reading, whether you're just tuning in for the first time or you've been with me since day one. I have enjoyed my time on this, and I hope you have enjoyed reading it. Thanks, all! Much love!