A/N: Yes, I know I'm the worst person in the world, I saw the reviews on Chapter 8. Ahaha.
I had quite a lot of Chapter 9 written back in 2009. I'll admit, though, the idea of writing The Reveal intimidated the heck out of me. Everything about this sacred scene, I just didn't know if I wanted to touch. Would Ran be furious? Hurt? Would she actually forgive him? What range of emotions would she go through? Was it okay to tie a romance scene to The Reveal? I overthought it so much that I left Chapter 9 half-finished, 700 words in on my desktop until I had entirely forgotten how it was supposed to go and I knew I'd have to re-read and edit everything else first. I didn't really have time, honestly. I spent enough time in front of my computer when I could have been out enjoying Japan, and I was working on an original novel (which I have since finished, so at least I got something done). I shuffed to-do fanfics in my Dropbox. I turned off my FFN email notifications. I wrote lots of original fiction and blog posts and even a few EarthBound one-shots.
Yet I didn't write the final chapters of this fic. My roommate still writes frequently (and even in this fandom!), though, so somehow I ended up going through my profile last night and removing all the old unfinished stuff...but I couldn't take this one down. Not so close to the end. Instead I sat down and finished Chapter 8 and then moved on to the finale at last. It took three rewrites of this first scene to come up with something I liked enough to post. And I also re-wrote one of my Conan one-shot stories, "Legal" - you'll find it quite a ways down my profile. Overhauled, 2012-style.
A productive day, to say the least!
Shinichi patted Ran awkwardly on the back, cursing his clumsy, shaking hands. Of all the reunions he had imagined over the years, this one hadn't even been on the radar.
He didn't even know how to start this conversation. Where was he supposed to start? Tropical Land? How far would he get before she karate-chopped him onto the pavement and left?
What if she never wanted to see him again?
He fumbled with the glasses, taking them off and then putting them on again. Taking them off again. Would she know him as Conan when she saw them? He had worn them for so long that he felt naked without his spectacles. But she never even turned to look, facing toward the parking lot, her eyes on the ground. He jammed them back in his pocket, sitting heavily on the grass.
"Ran," he began, and then stopped.
"So what's brought you back this time...?" she said at length, crouching down beside him. "Starting a case? Or finishing one? That's always how it is. Or did you really come back to see Conan?"
Shinichi shot her a sidelong glance, his hands twisting knots in his shirt. He could feel the sweat of exertion smearing the makeup Kaitou Kid had applied on his face. He hoped Ran didn't notice. "The end of a case," he said truthfully. "A very, very long one...the biggest case of my career."
"Hm." She didn't sound very interested, but then, Shinichi hadn't expected her to be.
"I've been working on it since...since Tropical Land," he continued quietly.
"That was a long time ago," Ran murmured. It was obvious that her mind was on Conan, not what Shinichi was saying. She clenched and unclenched her hands, pulling up blades of grass one by one.
"You're telling me." He exhaled, a long-suffering sigh. "I haven't been able to relax since that day. Until they were caught."
"And you did?"
"I think so." Shinichi looked up at the sky. "I hope so. Because things are too far gone now to go back. Everything changes after today, whether we like it or not."
Now she looked at him. "Was it that bad?"
"I almost died. Many times," he told her seriously. "Just my being alive put everyone in danger. You and your dad, my parents, the Professor, Hattori...there were so many of them, and only one of me. That's why...that's why I left."
"But you said you were working on a case. Multiple cases."
"I was, but I was also in hiding. I couldn't take a chance that they'd try to get to me through you."
"So you were just hiding?"
He winced. It hadn't been the right thing to say after all. "Ran, don't be mad. I'm trying to explain it. Didn't you want the truth?"
"I meant the truth about Conan-kun!" she cried. "Or did you forget?"
"How could I?" he retorted, for a moment forgetting to be gentle. "Not even for a minute, Ran. I'm getting to that. The truth."
His heart twisted when she looked at him like that.
"I..." Shinichi swallowed hard. "Well, about Conan, you know...he's all right, I promise. He's not hurt or dying. I swear it."
Her features eased with relief. "You mean it? But why? Why did you lie to me?"
"Because you probably won't be seeing him again. At least, not like before," Shinichi said softly, his own heart pounding at the thought of what was to come. There was no going back now.
"Those parents of his!" Ran was suddenly furious, her voice rising. "They took him, didn't they! They took him back to the U.S. and they made you lie about it! I know they're family, but that's cold!"
Man up, Kudo, he told himself. It was time to take responsibility for what he'd done. "No...that was my fault. I shouldn't have tried to lie my way out of it. Ran...I've told you a lot of lies. I can't even start to explain the whole story until I apologize for those. Even if you can't forgive me for it...all of them were to protect you. Well," he corrected himself, "most of them, anyway."
"You made it up?" Her voice was only a whisper now. "So he hasn't left for America? Then why can't I see him again?"
Shinichi took a deep breath. "What if I told you that you had to choose between Conan, or me? You could only have one or the other?"
"Impossible," she told him with eyes as hard as chips of glass. "I could never choose. What a thing to ask!"
"I wouldn't," he assured her. "I wouldn't ask that. You don't even have to answer. But just say...there was no way for us both to stay in Beika. That's the kind of situation this is."
She looked so confused that finally he reached for her hand and held it tightly. He wasn't going to give her a chance to punch him or run away this time. "Ran, Conan and I can't be in the same place at the same time. Every time you've seen us together, it's been an illusion."
"I don't understand," she said at last, though her eyes were wide.
"I think you do," he said gently. "Because you already accused us of it. I know you remember."
"That was a crazy theory," Ran whispered. "It couldn't be real."
He didn't have to respond. He caught her gaze and held it until she looked away, hurt and confused. "But he's always looked like you."
"He always was me," Shinichi replied softly. "I had to hide in a place where I could protect you."
She shook her head. "If this is your way of making me feel better..."
He barked a laugh. "If only it was that easy!"
"If what you say is true," she said slowly, "then you know everything Conan knew. Even-" Ran stopped suddenly, her cheeks flushing. "Ah-!"
"Even about what he said to me...yesterday, when he..."
"When I...?" In answer, he slid the glasses onto his face. For all the times she had seen Conan without his spectacles and thought he looked like Shinichi, there was no denying that when Shinichi wore the spectacles, the resemblance was unmistakable.
Then he leaned in until their faces were almost touching, their lips so close. "When I told you...how I felt..."
He closed his eyes. He didn't want to hear her call him by that name - not like this. Not now. Drawing away from her, he caught her gaze and held it. "Shinichi. Because I'm not going to be hiding anymore. Will you let me explain it to you? Will you hear the whole story, from beginning to end?"
All she could do was nod.
Heiji and Haibara waited inside for what seemed like an eternity, feigning complete surprise when a troop of security guards and nurses searching for the missing patient found them in the lobby. "Didn't he go home?" Heiji had laughed nervously, looking at his young companion for support. "I really thought he'd gone home."
"Yes, his father came and picked him up," Haibara confirmed.
"Impossible. He wasn't discharged - none of the staff were told," the nurse said furiously. "Nobody was told. A patient can't just walk out of here whenever he wishes - especially a child!"
"Is there a problem?"
Heiji and Haibara breathed twin sighs of relief. Yukiko had arrived. "Edogawa-san!"
The head nurse looked at her critically. "Your son is missing from his room."
"Of course." Conan's mother studied her with equal distaste. "We've moved him elsewhere. He certainly wasn't getting any better here."
"Of all the-"
"You can't just take him out of the hospital without telling anyone," the nurse who had cared for Conan said reasonably. "You need to fill out papers, he needs approval from the doctors..."
"Well, I'll fill out your papers, but my husband is at the airport with our son," Fumiyo said airily. "I'm afraid he'll have already left with our private doctor for San Francisco before I could fetch him back. Of course, you don't want our son to be further traumatized."
"But his medications!" the kind nurse gasped. "That poor child!"
Conan's mother waved him off. "Our doctor has it perfectly under control. He's the best in the country, you know, and we have all the facilities to treat our son in-flight on the way to America. I really don't know why we waited so long to fly him home. But I thank you for his care up until now."
The head nurse just looked at her, speechless.
"And those papers?" she reminded them, a touch of haughtiness in her voice.
"Y-yes, ma'am," the other nurse replied, scurrying away. The head nurse shot her a scathing look and stalked off, the guards at her heels.
"Nicely done, Yuki-neechan," Heiji complimented, wiping imaginary sweat from his brow.
"Thanks...I just hope I did the right thing. I trust you do have my Shin-chan somewhere safe?"
"Safe, and still practicing old habits, I see," Haibara said dryly, jerking her head in the direction of the main doors.
Heiji looked over his shoulder. Shinichi had just entered with Ran, Conan's thick spectacles perched on his nose. Yukiko gasped. Full-grown! Her Shin-chan was all grown up - again!
Ran saw her first. "Shinichi...that woman..."
'That woman' flew to her son and enveloped him in a hug. "There you are! Do you have any idea what I've been through today! First your father runs off in the middle of the night, and now you disappear, and then Kaitou Kid shows up and tells me to come to the hospital right away...well, hello, Ran-chan, sorry about this mess..."
"Hello," Ran replied warily. "But you're Conan's..."
"Oh?" Yukiko burst into a broad smile. With her puffy-cheeked disguise and enormous glasses, the effect was rather grotesque. "Oh, did you hear that, Shin-chan? I've still got it! I tell you," she regarded her son seriously, "I never should have left the stage."
"No way." Ran's face was incredulous. "It was you the whole time?"
"I need to watch out for my little boy," Yukiko told her, the picture of sincerity. Shinichi rolled his eyes.
"Kid again," Haibara pointed out, looking around the lobby. "First Mouri-san and then Kudo's mother. Did he call everyone except the Professor?"
"I called him too," said a voice in Shinichi's ear. The detective straightened, touching one hand to the arm of his glasses. "He's waiting in the parking lot in that cute little car of his. Good taste. Hey there, don't start peering around, Kudo - I don't need the whole hospital knowing what I look like. I'll keep your little transmitter, if it's all the same...very nice design."
The professor's, Shinichi mouthed, thinking Kaitou Kid was still somewhere close enough to read his lips.
He was correct; Kid chuckled. "I'd commend him on his workmanship, but I don't think he's happy with me right now. I had to borrow a few items to complete my disguise."
Shinichi groaned. Ran and Heiji looked at him in surprise, but only Heiji saw the way his eyes searched the crowd. He moved close to Shinichi to hear the voice in the speaker; so much easier now that they were the same height. And the Organization?
"Some of them are still out there. Sorry." He paused for just a beat. "But Gin, Vodka and Bourbon are dead. Vermouth and Chianti are in custody - Chianti isn't talking, of course. I don't know how many of them knew your face or your name..."
"If there were others, I never knew," Shinichi said, just loud enough for Heiji to hear, but he stopped short when it came to naming the Black Organization operatives who had threatened him for so long. Gin and Vodka were... Shinichi just shook his head. I probably wasn't even a blip on the radar for anyone else but Vermouth. Gin was the threat.
"Be careful," Kid said softly, and Shinichi had to crack a smile at the thief's concern. "You may be safe, but that girl isn't."
"She knows," said Heiji, nodding at Haibara. "The antidote was only for you."
The thief didn't even sound surprised. Shinichi had to wonder just how much Kid knew about the Organization. "She'll stay a child?"
Shinichi looked down at his hands. "I never asked her directly. I doubt she'd answer...but I always thought that given the choice, she wouldn't go back."
Kid's laughter was eerie in his ears - it was so similar to Shinichi's own. "Those brats - I mean, kids - are good for her. Besides, Ayumi-chan would be heartbroken to lose you both."
The detective's eyes narrowed. "And what do you know about Ayumi-chan? Stay out of my life from now on, if you know what's good for you, Kaitou Kid! I've no obligation to protect your secrets!"
"You can't cut that guy a little slack?" Heiji looked at Shinichi, surprised. "Look at the mess he just bailed you out of."
"That's a matter of opinion," Shinichi gruffed, but he knew that it was true.
So did Kid, he knew, because the thief decided to toy with him one last time. When Shinichi opened the backseat door of the professor's car, he found that it was filled with hundreds of paper flowers - and beneath them, a hard disk drive with a post-it note stuck on top. "Some video recordings that the police might like to have. I included Vermouth's confession, just for you."
Shinichi's smile was grim. If Kaitou Kid's plan was immunity in exchange for information, well, that didn't sit very well with Shinichi's detective spirit. Still - to know the Organization's secrets...Kid drove a hard bargain. He supposed that as long as the thief didn't cross his path directly, he wouldn't need to seek out Kid just yet.
"I think we'll just call a truce for the moment," he agreed to the air, knowing that somewhere, the thief was laughing at his expense. He looked over his shoulder to where Heiji was in tears of mirth at the flower prank. Even Ran was smiling - the first time she had smiled since he'd confessed it all. Shinichi gulped - he still had bigger problems than Kid to deal with right now.
In a single day, everything had changed.
That wasn't to say that anyone was particularly sad to see these changes, after everything they had been through. But if Shinichi had spent the first days of his sickness looking forward to returning to the Mouri Detective Agency, he knew now that those times were long past. The one blessing was that Ran agreed not to tell her father the truth - the damage between him and the Kudo family would be far too severe. Instead, "Fumiyo" came to the agency to formally thank him for caring for her son, give him a large cheque, and say goodbye on Conan's behalf as the Edogawa family set out for San Francisco. Like the Detective Boys, Ran and Shinichi agreed that Conan's secret was best kept from those who would never understand. Shinichi begrudgingly left the decision to tell Sonoko up to Ran.
The recordings Kaitou Kid had left him had made getting information about the raid much easier, and Megure let him see Vermouth, though the investigation was still closed to him. Shinichi suspected that it was his father who had arranged it so; Yusaku confirmed. "Stay out of this until you've recovered," he'd instructed. "Leave it to me."
Shinichi didn't care to leave everything to his father (really, who was the detective here, and who the novelist?), but his parents had been adamant. And, he had to admit, he felt too much like a zombie yet for the case to get his blood up. A few days of careful thought might be to the benefit of all. What Shinichi really wanted now was to know whether they would be safe - Ran and Haibara, the professor and the Detective Boys; everyone whose lives he would be endangering by coming back. They didn't like it, but they agreed to let him see their canary.
And when he stood before Vermouth and asked why she had done it, she offered him her usual insincere smile. "Don't be silly, Silver Bullet-kun. I don't want to die for the likes of Kir and Chianti."
"Your boss is still out there," he pointed out. "You're in danger even now."
Vermouth locked her hands behind her head, posing and smiling as though she were in a martini bar rather than an interrogation room. "Am I? You trust your police force, don't you? And really, with the speed at which the FBI was unravelling us," she added dryly, "I was getting a little sick of it all anyway. But that's not really why you're here, Shinichi-kun?"
Vermouth yawned, patting her mouth demurely. "Please. I don't think for a second that you won't be hearing everything I've said to your law enforcement. No, you want to know what I won't be telling. I don't gain anything by selling you out."
"Of course. You would have sold me out long ago."
"As for your name - well. Who knows if Gin and Vodka even remembered icing a high school detective? I never heard them mention you, except for Bourbon...but you got yourself into that mess."
She smiled. "I think you're free to go, boy. Must be nice."
"She's not safe. She wouldn't be, until every one of us is dead." Vermouth shrugged. "Good luck with that. Sherry knows it, and so do you."
Haibara did know it. After the visit to the police station, the girl didn't even want to know what Vermouth had said - even being in the lobby of the building where Vermouth was being held gave her chills. Shinichi knew there was no point in asking how Haibara felt about having the cure right there and being unable to take it.
Rather than allow Shinichi to return home, Professor Agasa and Haibara kept him in their care for the first few nights. She acted confident in her antidote, but Haibara didn't seem to want him out of her sight. She even slept in the same room, her futon pulled up beside the professor's, with all of her medical instruments closeby. But Shinichi didn't show any signs of ill-health beyond the malnutrition he had suffered in the hospital. After just one meal, she gave up on trying to "ease" him back into solid foods.
The Kudos came from next door almost as frequently as Hattori Heiji. Shinichi was tempted to tell his parents to back off, but they seemed to be there for the professor's company as much as his own, so he put up with their antics and tried to enjoy having them around. After all, he decided, he had no way to know when they might be jetting off again. It was just as well that he take advantage of food and company when he had it - going back to living alone in the mansion after all those years of Ran's home cooking was going to be quite a leap.
And the only thing missing from his new life was Ran herself.
Shinichi didn't get it. She'd seemed so understanding at the hospital - she had gasped in all the right places during his delivery of the truth of what happened that night at Tropical Land. She nodded uncertainly when he explained why he had agreed to come live with the Mouris. She had even smiled and laughed at their shared memories, especially ones at his expense - it was embarrassing for him to recount the times that he'd been tossed around, teased, mocked and mortified. When he told her about going back to grade school, she had howled with laughter.
He was just glad that she hadn't remembered the hot springs.
Yet even after hearing it all, accepting it all - and more importantly, not punching him - Shinichi still wasn't sure how she felt about him. When they'd brought him back to the house in Agasa's car, Ran hadn't even come back with them. She didn't visit or even call.
And that, he thought, was even more worrisome than the threat of violence.
It was a curse having a near-perfect memory, at times. Shinichi recounted to himself each and every time he had ever done something as Conan that Ran would have slapped Shinichi for. Worse, when he thought back to the way he had confessed, he couldn't help but notice that she had never really confessed back. Was that because she was surprised? She didn't know what to do?
Or didn't she want it anymore?
He knew she liked him. He knew it. It didn't take a great detective to see that! And of course, she knew how he felt...but the longer they went without contact, the more that nagging feeling surfaced. I pushed her too far. She understands, but she can't forgive me.
"Do you think it's because Conan was little a little brother?" he asked Heiji worriedly. "Maybe now that she knows I am Conan, the thought of being my...girlfriend...isn't all right anymore?"
"Has it occurred to you that she's just angry because you lied?" Heiji retorted, disgusted. "You're lucky she didn't sent you into the stratosphere. Romance is gonna have to wait, Kudo."
"Easy for you to say, you're going home to Kazuha in the morning," Shinichi groused.
"What was that?"
"Oh, don't pretend, Hattori! It's written all over your face!"
Heiji's naturally dark skin had flushed an unbecoming shade of maroon. "Why would I look forward to seeing that idiot? Do you know how much she ran up my phone bill this month!" He decided not to tell Shinichi that he and Kazuha had gone and signed their cell phones up for a 'Pair Plan' to save money. That information would be far too valuable in Kudo's hands!
"If you're so eager to know, invite her out."
"Fine. I'll invite her out." Heiji took out his cell phone. Shinichi didn't even pay attention until his companion turned the screen around with a grin. "Ten o'clock, Tokyo Station, platform eighteen. You're welcome."
"I was coming to see you off anyway," Shinichi grumbled.
"Well, bring flowers. I like flowers."
The boy detective just rolled his eyes.
If Shinichi thought he was going to have a chance to be alone with Ran, though, he found himself much disappointed when Heiji showed up the next morning - late - at Tokyo Station on the back of his mother's motorbike, and with Yukiko in tow.
"You gave him a ride and left me to get the train on my own?" Shinichi looked at his mother, betrayed. He hadn't even had time to get the flowers.
"Oh, Shin-chan!" Yukiko gushed, throwing her arms around her son as if she hadn't seen him just half a day prior. "But Heiji-kun is leaving! He's like my second son now!"
"Evil twin is more like it," Shinichi muttered.
Heiji shrugged. "I've been sleeping in your room and wearing your clothes and letting your mother cook for me - what's your excuse?"
"Where's Ran-chan?" Yukiko was looking around the platform. "It's two minutes to - I thought you wanted to go on the ten o'clock train?"
"I do want to. But I won't leave without Ran-chan." Heiji looked worried. "Any ideas, Kudo?"
"How should I know?" Shinichi retorted.
Yukiko looked between one and the other. "Is there something going on that I should know about?"
Luckily, Ran appeared at the top of the stairs at just that moment, her platform ticket still clenched in her hand. "Sorry! Sorry I'm late! Otousan had all these little chores he was asking about just as I was trying to leave."
"No problem," Yukiko said pleasantly. "At least you got here before the train did!"
"Right. I would hate for him to leave without saying goodbye." Ran smiled, but it was an empty smile, and she levelled it right at Shinichi.
Cold as ice, he thought. So she is mad! "Yeah...that would be, ah, awful."
Heiji punched his arm lightly. "After all this, I better see you on the first train to Kansai if I ever get sick! Earlier, if you've got the time. You know you're welcome at my house."
"I'll have time, I hope." The other detective smiled warily. "As soon as we get done convincing the school board that I've been enrolled overseas, though, I'll be busy with that and whatever cases come up."
"Oh yeah, I guess it's 'The Kudo Detective Agency' from here on, isn't it?"
"Actually, no," Shinichi said slowly. "I was going to ask Occhan if he might take me on as another set of eyes."
All three of them looked at him incredulously.
"Kogorou-kun?" Yukiko couldn't hide her scepticism. "You aren't going to let the police just consult you, like you used to?"
"And why ask my dad?" It was the first time Ran had addressed him directly since the hospital. "He can't stand you."
"Ouch," Hattori muttered.
Shinichi looked at Ran, trying to gauge her reaction - if she didn't want him around, surely it would show on her face. But she was blank, unreadable. "I just thought that maybe he could use a little help, if he'll accept it from me. Things with be tougher for him without Conan."
"You always were his good-luck charm," she murmured.
Behind the group, a nozomi bullet train was pulling into Platform 18. Heiji slung his duffel bag over his shoulder and grinned at them. "That one's gonna be me. Can't say I'm sad to leave Tokyo behind, but I'll miss you guys. Give my regards to the professor and Ai-chan, and Kudo-san, of course."
"We will," Yukiko promised. "And don't forget to sit on the right side of the train so that you can see Mount Fuji!"
"Say hello to Kazuha for us, too!" said Ran.
"And your friend in white." Heiji winked at Shinichi. "If he's ever in town, he's welcome at my place, too."
"I'll tell him," Shinichi agreed, still thinking that if Kaitou Kid knew what was good for him, they wouldn't be crossing paths anytime soon!
"See ya!" Heiji stepped through the doors. They watched him sit down in a window seat - Yukiko was nodding in approval. After a minute or two, the buzzers sounded to close the doors, and the train began to pull away. The three waved until the Osaka-bound train disappeared around the curve of the track.
"Well," Yukiko said sadly when it was out of sight, "I guess I'd better get back, but the house is going to be a lot quieter. Won't you come home, Shin-chan? It's looking very tidy now. You should have seen the dust."
"I had some idea," Shinichi said dryly.
"Then won't you? Tonight?"
"If Haibara says it's safe, I'll come home," he promised.
His mother looked at Ran. "Ran-chan, come for dinner? I'll make Shin-chan's favourite lemon pie. I know you love it too."
"I guess so," Ran said uncertainly.
"Marvellous." She clapped her hands together. "I'll see you at seven. Don't be late, now!"
Shinichi didn't need to ask his mother why she seemed to be in so much of a hurry - he could tell that she suspected something was amiss. Yukiko disappeared down the staircase before Ran could so much as ask her for a ride home.
When they were alone - or alone as they could get with another bullet train boarding across the platform - Ran looked at him expectantly, but he didn't know what to say. None of the practising he'd done with Hattori had actually prepared him for getting her alone with that look on her face.
"You don't want to be around me," he concluded, and he could see in her eyes that it was true.
"That's not it." Ran protested.
She shook her head. "I don't know how to be around you. You're...a completely different person than who you were before. You're not even the person I thought you were last week."
"Yes, I am," he argued. "I'm still the same as I always was!"
"No, you aren't! You were a jerk-faced, perverted, skirt-chasing...jerk...when you disappeared. Then you created this cute seven-year-old persona that you had to keep to all the time and every time I saw 'Shinichi' he was different than how I remembered...which one is you?"
"All of them," he said softly. "Even when I wore a younger face, I was still me."
Ran shook her head. "Conan wasn't you."
"Well, now that I look like this," he gestured at himself, "I can't exactly go by that name anymore."
Her face crumpled.
"But Ran, don't you get it?" he hurried on. "I am Edogawa Conan. He's me. I've been him for so long that...well, I guess I'm more Conan than Shinichi nowadays. Isn't that okay? That old Kudo Shinichi, from before I shrunk...he just grew up." Shinichi made a face. "Figuratively speaking."
Her voice was hardly above a whisper. "I don't know what to think. I missed you. Even if you were a...a...well, not always the nicest person. You were my...best friend." She swallowed. "But now I miss Conan-kun, and finding out that he wasn't...real...is just hard."
"Not real? Why wasn't he real?" Shinichi pressed. "Didn't he - didn't I - try to be a friend to you? Didn't I eat your cooking every night and hold your hand when you were upset? Didn't I come for you when you needed to be rescued? I kept secrets, Ran, but it was always me. I was always looking out for you."
"You were always...getting into trouble," she had to laugh, just in case she cried. "Getting us locked up with murderers and thieves. Running off by yourself. So hard-headed."
"Stubborn. Sneaky. So serious - never acted like a real kid." Ran took a deep breath. "Conan never told me when something was wrong with him or when it was right. A Holmes maniac - and so dramatic! You'd think that the whole world revolved around him. Everything had to be his way or the highway."
He looked at her expectantly.
Her eyes widened. "Maybe you're right. You were - so similar."
"What does it matter if I'm not the, well, as you put it - the jerk-faced jerk that I was before APTX? Is that Shinichi the one you want around?"
"No," she admitted. "He's not."
Shinichi caught her hand in his. "Then didn't you notice, all those times on the phone? That I was different from before?"
"I couldn't see you."
"I couldn't lie to you about the important things," he said softly. "Ran, I wanted to tell you. I wanted you to know. But I wasn't willing to risk your life for it. All I could do was wait for the day when I could come back for real. There were so many things I wanted to say to you that I just couldn't say to you as Conan."
"Like how I...f-feel about you..." his throat seemed to have been replaced by a giant, hissing snake. It had been so much easier to say this when he wasn't in control of his senses! "I told you in London...that I always wanted...to be more than your friend. Even more than your best friend."
Ran stared at the floor. "Then the kiss wasn't...because of the drugs?"
"What? No! I've always felt that way! And I tried so many times...to tell you how I felt and that I wanted you to wait for me...it's always been about you. About coming back to you. I thought wasn't ever going to see you as Shinichi again, when I kissed you in the hospital...it was the best I could do, given the circumstances. If it made you so uncomfortable..."
He noticed that her hand was shaking. He took it in both of his. "I understand if you don't see me as boyfriend material now that you know where I've been all this time. But if that's how it is, then I want to change your mind."
"B-b-boyfriend?" she stuttered, red as a tomato.
Shinichi took a deep breath. "I am asking you to be my girlfriend, Ran. I really like you. I've...been in love with you for a long time."
He shook his head. "I messed up big-time. I'm sorry. But I don't need to keep secrets from you anymore. I won't."
"I don't know what to say..."
"As long as you don't say that you see me as a little kid," he replied. Impulsively, he pulled her close and kissed her on the cheek, even though the station was full of people. All around them, other couples were solemnly shaking hands to say good-bye.
Ran jumped and looked around, making sure nobody had seen them. "H-Hey! What was that for?"
"Because I don't remember what it was like last time," he said. "And honestly, if you don't want me around, that might have been my last chance."
"You idiot!" She shoved him, but not nearly as hard as he knew she could. "You better not embarrass me in public if we...if we...!"
"If you say yes?" Shinichi asked, mouth dry.
"Yes," she muttered. "Of course it's yes. If I didn't give up on you all that time...I'm not giving up on you now."
"Ran." The relief he felt was immeasurable. "I'll make it all up to you. I promise."
"You'd better," she instructed. "And I'll start working on my dad, but if he finds out about Conan, your life is over. You'd better go back to the Apotoxin, because you won't last long."
"Also, I'm not cleaning up after you in the office anymore. You're a big boy now. As for cleaning your house, I'll show you to the broom closet."
"Aw, but Ran..."
"And maybe you could wear your glasses every little while." She nodded to herself. "Just for old time's sake. But not when Otousan's around, of course."
"And one more thing-"
"Is it so bad, knowing that your first kiss was me after all?" He grinned. "The next one - it'll be better, I promise."
"You idiot - you set a pretty high bar for confessional kisses!" she laughed, and Shinichi was so relieved to see her smile. "You'll pay for that one! After all you put me through, you'll be making it up to me for a long time!"
"I'm prepared for that," he promised, and he smiled back. "So are we? Or aren't we?"
"We are," said Ran. "I've been waiting way too long to tell you 'welcome back,' again. No more secrets, this time. That's all I ask."
"No more secrets," he agreed. "We won't need them anymore."
And then, even though the platform was teeming with departures and arrivals, he kissed her again.
"It's too late - you already agreed!" he reminded her with a grin.
"I should have known it was you all along, Kudo Shinichi!" she told him, but he knew she wasn't angry. Not for real. "Because you never, ever really change, do you!"
"No." Her hands tightened their grip on his shirt. "I like you just the way you are. Jerk. Deduction freak."
"Wow, I sure missed hearing that. Say it again."
"I'm serious!" he protested. "I missed it! I missed you!"
"I missed you too," she murmured. "I'm glad you're home."
Even if the Black Organization was still out there...even if they had many more scrapes ahead of them. Even if he had to fight her father every day for his approval and eat humble pie as his 'assistant' detective. Even if he had to live with the guilt of leaving behind Ayumi and the others, and lying to Ran for the rest of his days - Shinichi was just glad that everything was as it should be, at long last.
A/N: 'At long last,' indeed. Thank you to everyone who supported this story over such a long period of time.
I hope, too, that my depiction of The Big Reveal wasn't too out-of-line with what Aoyama envisioned for the end of his saga. Someday, we'll all know.