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 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), who betaed Chapter 1-8, and SN1987a, who betaed Chapter 12-27, and the Aicoholics on LiveJournal without whom I would never have started this fic.
Ghost at Twilight
Dedicated to June ("Teainapot"/"Juneaddams")
The first faint glimmer of dawn...
The first faint glimmer of dawn is seeping through the translucent patterned curtains, casting intricate purple shadows on the white covers of the bed and the left side of the stranger's face while he is blow-drying his gorgeous long hair (will he give you the formula for his special shampoo if you ask him?) with a black monstrosity of a hairdryer, quietly humming to himself a melody you can't identify because the sound of the hairdryer partly drowns it. Much to your relief, he has exchanged his skimpy towel for another pair of jeans and a white cardigan, and you vaguely wonder whether he is trying to mock you with his choice of clothes or whether he has—consciously or subconsciously?—decided to match his outfit with yours.
"Nice cardigan," you innocently remark when you meet his thoughtful eyes, whereupon he turns off the hairdryer and gives you a faraway smile.
"Birthday present?" you continue intelligently, gesturing towards the red roses on the bedside table. It is difficult to treat a man who has seen you naked as a man who has only seen you clothed, and embarrassing memories usually have the inconvenient quality of being more permanent than they should.
"Ah, no," he distractedly replies, holding out the hairdryer to you. "I often get flowers from my fans. Taiki must have brought them tonight since he has the spare key to my apartment. I bet the dining room is already stuffed with flowers so that he had to put them into my bedroom."
"Taiki is your flower-loving brother?"
"Exactly that one. Yaten would only have trashed them. Sorry for earlier, by the way."
"I already told you to forget it," you sigh, thrown by his troubled gaze and his contrite apology because you can't comprehend why a man who can strip in front of a woman he just met without batting an eyelid should be fretting about such a silly little episode during which nothing actually happened. There is no doubt that he is one of the most carefree and light-hearted specimen you have ever met, and it would be more in character for him to shrug it off as an embarrassing incident which, in retrospect, was at worst awkward and at best amusing.
Noticing that you don't show the slightest inclination to take the hairdryer out of his hand, he turns it on again and casually proceeds to dry your hair while you, deciding that you might as well accept his gesture as a remedy for the juvenile prank he played on you, settle down on the bed next to him. The memory of Kudo and you sitting on the double bed in your shared hotel room in Paris (another part of the disguise you should never have accepted), comparing the conduct of French couples to the conduct of their Japanese counterpart while you were blow-drying your hair, emerges from the back of your mind and numbs you for a moment with its vividness. However, the moment immediately passes as the stranger shifts his position and you catch a faint whiff of his scent, reminding you that your hair smells distinctly different from his although you've used the same shampoo.
Are you the same woman who has snapped at Kudo—a friend you have known for years—for snooping around in her bedroom a few hours ago, you wonder as the stranger continues to dry your hair in silence. Assessing the situation, you realize that right now you are making yourself comfortable on the bed of a man you just met, letting him blow-dry your hair for you at the crack of dawn while you are only clad in an oversized bathrobe, a behaviour you would have considered as unacceptable a few hours ago. However, social norms seem to have lost their importance for you whereas marking the passing of time has taken on a new profound significance; the distinction between "tonight" and "last night" has become a blur as reality is interspersed with surprisingly vivid dreams; and hours seem to stretch into years while the whole situation seems so natural and at the same time so unreal to you that you almost expect to wake up soon.
"You surely like bizarre things," you remark in an attempt to bring yourself back to reality with the sound of your own voice. "I've never seen a hairdryer this extravagant."
"I didn't buy it," he laconically says before adding as an afterthought: "I don't like it either, but it was a present."
From whom, you are about to ask—wondering whether it was from his late sister—when you are distracted by his warm fingers running slowly through your hair like a lover's caress. The situation has begun to get out of hand, and you vaguely wonder whether Kudo would be amused or rather disturbed by your immediate and intense interest in a person you might never have met if both of you had not been waiting for someone else on the same bench during a particularly beautiful sunset. After going through the agony with Kudo once, it is easy for you to detect all the alarming signs of a foolish attraction that could escalate within a night and mess up your peaceful life by the end of the week at the latest, ruining an emotional bond which could otherwise have lasted for a lifetime.
"What would you have done if I had wanted to shower with you for real?" you ask, scrutinizing his reflection in the wardrobe door mirror in an attempt to analyze your muddled feelings Kudo has jokingly labelled as "unreasonable infatuation."
"Nothing," the stranger admits. "I knew you didn't want to, though."
"So you ended up doing something you didn't want to just to spite me? You surely have a tendency to defeat yourself."
He sighs and turns off the hairdryer without removing his left hand from your hair.
"Why do you think I didn't want to?" he teasingly asks. "Don't you have an instinct for self-preservation? I'm not your best girlfriend just because you treat me like one." The back of his fingers slightly—and deliberately?—brush against your neck as he removes his hand from your hair. "I could have misused the situation."
"Could have? You did misuse it, in a way," you remind him, "And you should question your instinct for self-preservation instead of mine. You've forgotten that I could either have taken a few photos of you with my phone or file a lawsuit accusing you of exhibitionism and sexual harassment."
"Nobody would have believed you," he chuckles, "and you would never have taken a photo of me because you didn't even dare to look at me. So you never got to see Kuroba naked during your two weeks with him?" In response to your disapproving scowl at his indiscreet question, he only flashes you a disarming smile.
"No," you sigh in mock disappointment, "although at least he did kiss me unlike a certain clueless detective. Kaito isn't the type that casually takes off his clothes in front of a woman he hasn't known for long." Remembering the scandalous reputation of the person next to you, you darkly remark: "You, on the other hand, seem accustomed to doing it."
"Not at all," he asserts and continues to dry your hair, twirling each strand around his fingers with the same smile he wore on his face when he watched the squirrel yesterday evening, making you wonder whether he is comparing you to the squirrel (because your hair and its furs are both reddish brown?) or whether he regards your hair as one of the "beautiful things" he enjoys looking at. "I only did it in front of you. Do you feel honoured now?"
"Incredibly! Even though I'll have to burst your bubble if you think you're the first naked man I've ever seen. You just happened to take me by surprise, that's all."
"So how many guys have taken their clothes off for you before me?" he laughs. "I promise I won't be shocked even if the number is enormous."
"Just one," you coyly reply, leaving out all the countless naked patients, human guinea pigs, exhibitionists and male models for the life drawing classes at Infinity (you had an all-round education at Professor Tomoe's exclusive academy before taking over the development of APTX 4869) your everything-but-innocent eyes have seen. Telling him the truth is impossible without revealing to him that you once belonged to the Organization, a fact you don't want him to find out so soon. Also, the details of your brief romance with Kaito—luckily, Kaito and you never got past the kissing and cuddling-on-the-sofa stage—are the last things you want to mention to him because they are acquaintances. The almost-kiss at Pandora's Box with Kudo—providentially prevented by Hattori's premature reappearance—was a mistake Kudo and you have agreed to erase from your minds, and the sight of Kudo changing his clothes after Hattori and he fished you out of the sea doesn't count either since he obviously thought you were asleep. After all, your ability to feign sleep has greatly improved over the years...
Trying to ease your guilty conscience with the thought that you can't tell your new friend the full truth without touching on the Organization and Pandora's Box, you conclude that there is no sensible reason for being clumsily honest. After all, what would a woman be without her white lies and her little secrets?
"Your first boyfriend?" the stranger makes a reasonable guess.
"Unfortunately yes—although I wish he hadn't."
"Why?" he gives you an incredulous look. "Was he so hideous that it was a traumatic experience?"
"On the contrary. But it led to other things I'd rather have avoided, especially since I knew he was a cold-hearted bastard who would choose his beloved Porsche over a human life at any time."
Tell him about the Organization now, says a rebellious voice in your head. Ruin the mood by letting him know that you were once a member of the infamous syndicate Kudo and Hattori brought down three years ago. He must have heard about it because it was everywhere in the news.
"Why did you go out with him if you loathed him so much?" the stranger inquires, apparently not in the least interested in Gin's Porsche.
"The usual childhood dream that developed into a teenage crush, and I really hoped that he would change for me. Those were the days!"
"But some people do change for the person they love."
"Maybe, but neither of us belonged to those people. Perhaps we were both too obstinate to be an item." Pulling your legs onto the bed and turning your face towards the window so that he can dry your hair on the left side of your head, you decide to grill him about the women in his life instead of letting him squeeze all the details of your private life out of you. "So how many naked women have you already seen?"
"Quite a few," he nonchalantly says and laughs when your eyes meet his. "Are you jealous?"
"Why should I?"
"I don't know. You seem somewhat competitive," he thoughtfully twirls a strand of your hair around his fingers. "They were all actresses whose love scenes I had to watch during the silly acting classes my first agent forced me to attend. So you win again when it comes to experiences."
"So you still claim that you've never had a girlfriend?"
"It's the truth," he declares, "and I have a theory about why you always think I'm lying." He cocks his head and narrows his eyes to scrutinize you with the air of an investigator. "You are lying to me all the time."
"You're making groundless accusations."
"You told me Kudo and you were only friends, that you weren't in love with him at all, and that Kuroba left you for his childhood friend." He lightly knocks the hairdryer on your head with each of his statements. "Three lies immediately after we met. Who is the liar now?"
"Kudo and I are only friends, I don't think I'm still in love with him even though there are some lingering feelings, and Kaito did leave me immediately when his childhood friend wrote to him that she would return to Tokyo. I wasn't lying to you at all."
"So Kuroba and you went out with each other only one or two months before his marriage?"
"No, a year. He married her over a year after leaving me. They naturally didn't invite me, but I heard about it from a mutual friend."
"See, you're lying to me again! I actually attended their wedding, and they told me they had been dating for a month before their marriage. She returned to Tokyo about two months before they started going out with each other. It's their word against yours, and I don't know why they should lie about such a harmless thing. It's also hard for me to believe that Kuroba left you for her after only two weeks. He is the type that knows exactly what he wants and sticks to his decisions."
"And why, do you think, should I lie to you about Kaito?" you frown, simultaneously piqued by his impertinence and astonished by the things you've just learnt.
"Because you dumped him for Kudo?" he takes a wild guess while distractedly twirling another strand of your hair around his finger with obvious pleasure.
"I didn't. Kudo came first. A year before Kaito. Don't you dare give me locks or I'll cut off your ponytail," you shoot him your deadliest glare.
"So Kuroba was only his substitute? No wonder the poor guy couldn't take it longer than two weeks. He must have thought you had been kissing Kudo instead of him."
No, he wasn't, you sigh. You wouldn't have gone out with Kaito if his personality hadn't been somewhat different from Kudo's. There was no sense in repeating the same mistake for a second time, and Kaito had everything you liked about Kudo while lacking all the things that made Kudo and you incompatible. If he hadn't fled just when you began to feel a bit attached, you would most probably have ended up marrying your charming magician some day although you won't complain because you had, once again, narrowly escaped marriage. Nothing is as important and underrated as independence.
In the end, Kaito's face and voice turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help because it was impossible for you not to be reminded of Kudo when you were with him, you conclude. So much for the theory that you had been using Kaito as Kudo's substitute.
"It must have been extremely confusing," the stranger contemplates you with sympathy. "A bit like biting into a chocolate cake that looks exactly like a glass of vanilla ice-cream—"
"—which is taken away from one and served to another customer just when one has begun to enjoy it! Just like what happened with the vanilla ice-cream one liked so much... I'm glad you finally understand what I've been going through. That's why I'm on a diet now. No cake and no ice-cream will ever tempt me again! I want some type of food that belongs to me alone and that I can eat regularly without ruining my health."
"But what type of food am I for you?" the stranger asks with his most dazzling smile. However, this time you are deeply irritated by his casual flirting because you can suddenly imagine him saying the same to all the female celebrities and fans he encounters and forgets as soon as they are out of sight.
Nothing edible, you tell him in a friendly voice. Something which might look tempting at first glance (and smell deliciously at first sniff!) but is most probably poisonous the first time one takes a bite. He is to women in general and to you in particular the equivalent of a carnivorous plant to an insect, not that you would ever get the idea of comparing yourself to an insect. It's only an example to illustrate the kind of food he resembles—
"Thanks a lot," he gloomily retorts, removing his hand from your hair even though he is still aiming the hairdryer at your head as if it were a weapon. "If I were a carnivorous plant, you'd be fully digested by now, you moody little butterfly!"
"Oh, I was never stupid enough to fall into the trap. I'm the cautious and prudent type."
"What have I done to you?" he queries in disbelief. "Why couldn't you at least compare me to some type of sweets like Kuroba and Kudo?"
"You absolutely wanted to know the truth. It's not my fault if you can't handle it," you shrug. "Although they both dumped me for lame reasons, they are both people who can commit, marry and probably raise kids, albeit with women other than me. You, on the other hand, are the type that can't ever settle down."
"Aren't you the one that never settles down?" he raises his brow. "You told me yourself you aren't made for any kind of close relationship."
"I'm not. I've never pretended to be the nice girl-next-door men can marry and have kids with. But at least I don't have a reputation that would have made Casanova blush. You probably wouldn't have such a reputation either if you weren't flirting with any female you meet."
He usually doesn't flirt with strangers, he insists, and he has never told anyone so much about himself as he has told you. A ridiculous assertion which only strengthens your belief that flirting is so natural to him that he couldn't even stop if he wanted to.
"Apropos flirting," he chuckles, and you've already sighed inwardly when his following remark completely throws you off balance. "Did you once belong to the Black Organization?"
He has asked you the question in the same tone in which people ask you for the time, and you discover to your surprise that you don't feel even the slightest fear of him, only a strange sense of relief because you no longer need to hide it.
"I grew up in it. But what does the Organization have to do with flirting?" you ask him, stupefied.
"Infinity," he turns off the hairdryer with a victorious smile. "I think I saw you there once although it was so long ago that I needed a while to figure out where I met you. After seeing the scars on your body—bullet wounds, aren't they?—I knew you must have led a more dangerous life than I thought, because your scars are of different sizes and some are already fading whereas others looked as if you had received them at a later time. So, when you mentioned your boyfriend who would have chosen his Porsche over a human life, I thought of the Organization and Infinity immediately came to mind."