Disclaimer: "Detective Conan" belongs to Gosho Aoyama, and "Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon" belongs to Naoko Takeuchi.
This is an alternative story to my other fanfic "Encounter in Venice" and one of the possibilities of what could have happened if Ai had taken the antidote before Shinichi brought down the Organization.
Thanks a lot to my friends and betas Rae (Astarael00) and SN1987a and the Aicoholics on LiveJournal, without whom I would never have started this fic.
This chapter has been betaed by aritzen (SN1987a), who hasn't only kept me motivated for years but is even betaing the long fic now that it has ended. I can't thank her enough!
Ghost at Twilight
When I finally...
When I finally reach the small bench where he is supposed to wait for me, I see it's already occupied by someone else: a young black-haired man whose face is half-obscured by a pair of dark sunglasses, looking a ridiculous sight in the soft light of the evening. Fighting for breath, I let my gaze wander but can't find Kudo anywhere. He must have been caught in a traffic jam like me or—and this is just as probable a case—he has stumbled over a corpse again.
I look about myself and notice to my disappointment that all the benches within view are occupied, mostly by elderly tourists, who must have come to gaze at the cherry blossoms and the sunset, which has begun unusually early and seems to last longer than usual, as I already saw it when I got off the bus and expected that the sun would have disappeared completely by the time I reached the bench. However, the sky is still tinted by the last lavender light of the setting sun.
Noticing that I'm searching for a place to sit, the stranger smiles and makes an inviting gesture with his hand, indicating the place beside him. My feet are hurting in the new sandals, and I'm tired from walking at unaccustomed speed. Hence I gladly accept his offer with a curt "Thanks" and install myself next to him on the bench.
For a while, I only stare at the pond, watch the ducks paddle furiously towards the bread an elderly couple has thrown at them, dart unseeing glances at my watch, admire the cherry trees, and don't say anything to the stranger. As time goes by and nothing happens except that a few tourists have begun to gawk at us, I begin to throw a few furtive glances at the stranger, wondering why he is wearing his huge black sunglasses when the sun is almost gone.
Just when I've decided to ask him what he is doing here, on this bench, as he doesn't seem to be doing anything except gaze into the water, he turns his face to me and removes his sunglasses, giving me an amused smile.
"Satisfied?" he asks curtly, in a low, melodious voice.
For a moment, I don't know whether I should regard him as arrogant or impertinent. No doubt I would only roll my eyes at his response and interpret it as an aggressive overreaction to my harmless curiosity if his eyes weren't smiling at me. He seems the popular type with his trim good looks. Certainly he believes that I'm attracted to him, which I'm not!
"I was only wondering whether you were blind," I snap, irritated by his self-assured manner and his rude little remark.
He flashes me a wide toothy smile.
"Ah, and I thought you had recognized me."
Now that was an unexpected retort. I stare at his face, try to remember whether I've really met him somewhere, and realize that I must have, as he does look vaguely familiar to me, although I can't explain how I could have forgotten someone with such a spontaneous and cheeky attitude.
"Have we met before? I'm not sure..."
This time it's him who is staring at me in surprise. Then he smiles and sticks his sunglasses into his pocket.
"I'm not sure either. But you do look familiar to me... although I'm sure I wouldn't have forgotten you if we had met before."
If another man had said it, I would have thought he was trying to turn on his charm after insulting me with his breathtaking arrogance. Yet from his mouth it sounds natural, more like a statement than flattery.
"Why were you wearing sunglasses at this hour?" I decide to change the topic.
"I put them on this morning and then forgot to take them off," he claims, giving me an explanation I find unsatisfying and hard to believe. But I usually don't probe into other people's private lives and don't intend to cross-examine him now.
"Are you waiting for someone?" He looks genuinely interested.
"Yes, a friend." I glance at my watch. "But I see he is already forty minutes late… He is usually never late—but maybe he got stuck in a traffic jam? There was an accident somewhere near here this afternoon..."
"Why don't you give him a call?"
I don't have a mobile phone, I tell him, whereupon he pulls out a tiny black phone and hands it to me.
"You can use mine."
"Thanks, but I don't think I should call him. He knows that I'm waiting for him—so I'm sure that he will come."
I don't feel comfortable using the phone of a stranger to call Kudo, especially not when Kudo might be working on a case.
The stranger shoves his phone back into his pocket.
"I've never seen you in this park before," he remarks. "Do you and your boyfriend often meet here?"
"No, no, you've got it all wrong. We're not going out with each other... And actually, it will be the first time that we've met here."
"Oh, the first date!"
"It's not as romantic as it sounds." I glare at him. "It's just a game... I told him I didn't have anything to do this weekend because our mutual friends are on a school trip. Hence he drew a map and dared me to hunt for a treasure tonight."
"And the treasures are the cherry blossoms in Ueno-koen?"
"The sunset and the cherry blossoms. I solved the code, which said I should wait for him on this bench at six p.m. to watch the sunset before we go somewhere to have dinner together... Well, but now the sunset is almost over and he still hasn't come yet. I hope he won't be late for dinner."
He throws a mischievous look at me.
"Now I see why you said that he will come. You know, very few men would design such a romantic game for a friend if they didn't have very special feelings for them."
"Then he must be one of the few men who do. He is going out with a woman he has been in love with since they were six. You can be sure that he doesn't have any feelings for me."
"Ah, sorry, I didn't know about the girlfriend." He gives a rueful smile.
"Come on," I sigh. "We've known each other for years. If our friends weren't on the school trip and his girlfriend busy training for a karate championship, all of us would be sitting here, feeding the ducks, and then going out to have dinner together. But since they're away, it's just us two... It's not like I'm in love with him."
"Really…" he remarks as he gazes thoughtfully into my eyes. "From the expression on your face when you talk about him, I bet you are."
I stare at him in disbelief, speechless at the matter-of-fact way in which he talks about my feelings although we've just met.
"But I could be wrong." He grins. "Appearances can be deceptive. A casual observer could get the impression that we two are a couple just because we're sitting here together, right?"
"Exactly!" I smile back. And even though I'm feeling completely at ease sitting here with him, watching the water shimmering in the soft lavender light while a cool breeze ruffles my hair, there is something on my mind… a little voice nagging at me. I have the feeling there is something important I have forgotten, something I've erased from my memory.
"And who are you..."
"And who are you waiting for?" you ask, deciding to probe into his personal affairs without scruple now that he has dared to tease you about your friendship with Kudo.
"I'm waiting for a friend of mine, too." He smiles. "We went to school together and still meet occasionally in this park."
"Ah," you comment with a knowing smile. "To watch sunsets and cherry blossoms?"
He grins and even blushes a little, much to your amusement.
"To have a little walk," he says simply.
"That sounds romantic," you remark.
Whereupon he tells you that the fair lady—a radiantly beautiful woman with a happy-go-lucky zest for life—is happily married to a promising young surgeon, who is always busy and probably glad that he takes care of his wife for him in this platonic way lest another man take advantage of the situation. That woman must be irresistible, you think, to have two nice men at her feet whereas you don't have even one. He tells you in passing that he has been in love with her—rather pining after her, you think—for seven years by now.
"Whenever we have time, we meet here. She wanted to come this afternoon, but perhaps her husband has a bit of free time tonight and she'd rather spend the evening with him. She told me I should go home if she didn't come before sunset. But I think I'm going to wait for a bit longer. I'm not busy this weekend." He grins. "You see, I'm an optimist."
"You mean you sit here for the whole evening, waiting for hours, just to take a walk with a woman who is married to someone else and who won't come if her husband is home?" You stare at him in amazement. "Doesn't it seem... futile to you?"
Once again you realize that appearances can be deceptive. You didn't expect him to have such low self-esteem. Pining away for a married woman and waiting patiently in a park just to spend an hour walking around with her whenever her husband is busy seems humiliating, idiotic, and above all depressing to you. What irks you most is that it must seem to him as if you were doing the same thing he does. He certainly thinks that you're waiting for Kudo because you are pining after Kudo and are trying to spend time with him whenever possible—grabbing your chance when Kudo's girlfriend is busy training for the next championship.
"I don't think it's pointless because I don't expect to gain anything from it," he protests, kicking distractedly at a pebble. "I only enjoy spending my free time with her, nothing else."
You realize you've touched a nerve. There must have been a friend (or more than one) who had told him the same thing.
"I didn't mean you need to expect anything from it... But isn't it depressing to pine away for someone who is happy with someone else? What about getting over it and looking out for another woman? There must be an alternative."
You pause to imitate his gesture and kick a pebble into the pond just to see what's so fascinating about it. "There is always an alternative!" you insist, hating yourself at the same time, as you realize how superficial and rude you sound. Your attempt to bring him back down to earth is simply ridiculous since you don't have the right to advise him. You are a complete stranger! On top of that, you're not older (perhaps even younger?) than him, and have made worse mistakes in your life than running after a person who is in a happy relationship with someone else.
You're usually not so obnoxious and hypocritical, you think. Something is terribly wrong with you today. Your nerves have been on edge since you saw that Kudo wasn't waiting for you as expected even though he is never late without a good reason. You feel irritable this evening, which is unusual, as you've become calm, almost placid, since the Organization was destroyed.
"I know there is always an alternative," the stranger agrees, kicking another pebble into the pond. "But I can't think of one... I don't want one!"
You smile and shake your head at his blissful ignorance. Your irritable mood has vanished, perhaps because—against your expectations—he hasn't compared the friendship between Kudo and you to the relationship between him and the woman he is waiting for. We're all fools when we're in love, you think, generously generalizing from him to all people.
"Since you said you're an optimist, I bet you still hope that she will change her mind someday," you remark in a conversational tone, showing that you don't take the talk seriously anymore and that he shouldn't either.
"Now I know you can read my mind." He is obviously relieved that you've lightened the conversation, which had taken a direction he didn't like.
"Although I'm shocked at your ignorance, I'm impressed by your optimism!"
"So you think it's unlikely that she will ever change her mind?" he asks, which surprises you, as you've expected that he would gladly change the subject of your chat.
"She is married to another man, isn't she? And since you've met each other for years just to have a nice little walk, it doesn't seem to me as if she wanted to change the situation very soon."
"Imagine this scenario: Perhaps she does love me and just won't admit it to herself because she knows it would only complicate things. She was already engaged to him when we met. She loves him, I know, and would never do anything to hurt him. But... Would you want to meet a guy you're not in love with three times a week in a park? For a few weeks, maybe, when you're frustrated with your life and need someone to cheer you up, but certainly not for five years..."
You admit he has a point although you think it only makes his situation worse. If she does have feelings for him and still chooses to be with her husband, there is nothing he can do to make her change her mind. It's not like he is trying to take advantage of the situation—he tells you—being not only a former admirer but also a good friend of hers. He seems to have contented himself with the thought that he will be waiting for her on some bench in some park for the rest of his life.
For a while, you two don't say anything but only sit next to each other in companionable silence, watching the wind ruffle the water in front of you.
Then he breaks the silence with a small mirthless laugh and grimaces playfully, perhaps to hide the melancholic expression which has just flitted across his face.
"To be honest, I know that's just wishful thinking... But it's still a very comforting thought."
Even an easy-going guy like him has a face he wants to hide from others, you think, recalling a young magician telling you that, even in the worst situation, a real showman mustn't forget to bow and smile.
"You had better hope she doesn't love you at all," you casually remark, deciding to tell him a story which might distract him from his bleak prospect of a life-long unrequited love. "Your life would be in danger if she loved you. Have you ever heard the story of the ghost at twilight?"
Usually, you don't act on a whim, especially not when it comes to talking about childhood memories with a stranger. You don't know why you're trying to tell this stranger something you've never told any of the people close to you. It's neither his good looks nor his friendly manners, as you've already met many good-looking, friendly people and have never felt like confiding in them. He doesn't look like a confessor either—not that you would have felt compelled to tell him anything if he had been one...
You simply like his easy-going manner. There is something about him which brings back old memories you thought you had already forgotten. If you were an artist, you would call him your muse—even though that doesn't really describe your feelings about him... As it is, you're not going to label him anything and are only going to enjoy his presence.
There is something else, too, something about today, which is troubling you. Is it because you're sure you've really met this person somewhere? Like Gin, you don't have a good memory for faces although you have what people call a sixth sense. Your intuition tells you there is something about today you've blotted out. But, no matter how hard you try, you cannot remember.
A/N: The story has already been completed, and I'm uploading the edited and betaed version. :) Since I've messed up the chapters whenever I replaced the edited version while keeping the old ones, I've decided to delete the old chapters this time, especially since I've regrouped the scenes because the old chapters were either too short or too long.
Edit: I've split this chapter again since it seemed a bit long and ending it after this scene feels natural as well.