The Longest Hour
Chapter One: Hitori
Breakfast was a mystery, so far as Edogawa Conan could tell.
He would take his place at the table beside Mouri-san, hopeful and expectant; esoteric clatterings and mysterious whirring noises would emit from the kitchen, and eventually mouth-watering scents would waft into the dining room as a preamble to the wonderful things Ran brought out so matter-of-factly to present to her eagerly-awaiting supplicants.
Weird; every time either Conan or Ran's father attempted to use the kitchen, all they would produce would be a possibly-lethal, messy, unrecognizable disaster. As he watched the dishes being placed in all their glory on the table cloth, the boy silently thanked God for microwave-popcorn-packets and instant Ramen; the two males of the household would have surely starved during Ran's occasional absence otherwise.
But right now..... eagerly he began to make inroads on his breakfast. One of the few good things about being an erstwhile seven-year-old, he had found, was the fact that he could tuck away *enormous* amounts of food without feeling at all ill; his child's body burned up the calories like so much paper. Maybe it wasn't much of a consolation, but it was something.
Seven-year-old? No, today was..... Well, it was his 'birthday' of sorts, wasn't it? The day Kudo Shinichi had passed out of the world and Edogawa Conan had first seen the light of day--- or, more specifically, the light of a policeman's flashlight, shining in his startled eyes. His birthday. He was 'eight' now. Yeah, right..... *Happy Birthday to me* he thought bitterly, a bite sticking in his throat.
A year ago today..... He glanced up; the table was unusually silent this morning.
Mouri Kogoro was shoveling his breakfast into his mouth stolidly, frowning at the newspaper as usual; his black brows were clenched as he worked his way through the local crime section and into the obituaries, looking for a juicy murder or baffling theft. Conan sighed; every morning it was the same.... his 'host' would grumble and grouch across the pages while munching Ran's cooking without a single word of thanks; Ran would eat quietly and talk with her young friend..... oh. She wasn't saying a word....
No; she was looking down at her plate, picking at the food as if looking for omens in the crumbs. Her dark head was bent, one chestnut-brown lock of hair falling softly forward to lie across her cheek. Ran was silent this morning; and Conan knew why.
Or rather, Shinichi did.
The boy swallowed hard, remembering; he had made a promise the night before, actually written it out plainly on paper..... When Ran had woken up in the early morning, she had been greeted by a gift, spilling over her windowsill and into the room: flowers, stolen from the neighboring gardens. Flowers that had been carefully delivered in secret by hands that loved her no less despite the fact that they were smaller now than before; hands that had tucked a note into a particular knot of blossoms. And the note had been a promise, and the promise was waiting to be kept, and the keeping would be a difficult thing.
'Dear Ran, I couldn't be here for you the way I wanted to be--- so these flowers have to be here in my place. There's so much I want to tell you, and I promise you'll understand everything by the end of the day. It's going to be so very hard to explain, but please, Ran, wait for me--- I won't leave you ever again. I promise.'
A year was a long time to wait for anybody. Too long--- and he had been waiting too---
"Conan-kun?" *Huh? What?!?* Startled, he pushed his glasses up on his nose in a reflexive gesture.
Ran was smiling across the table at him, her sharp, dark eyes catching the morning sunlight coming in through the window and throwing it back at him. "Today's your birthday; what would you like to do? We could go to the park, or go downtown to the arcades, or to the bookstores---" she knew his tastes; "--- what would you like to do? I told you'd I'd go anywhere with you today....."
Well, this was it; this was the moment when he could either chicken out, like a little kid--- or try and act like the young man he had once been. He smiled back at her, the slightly ironic expression sitting a little oddly on his young face. "Let's--- go to the amusement park, Ran-neechan, to Tropical Land; that'll be... fun." He tried to feed a note of enthusiasm into his voice, tried to act the child for her; it must've worked at least a little bit, for she smiled at him and reached across the table to tousle his dark hair with one playful hand.
"I'm glad you picked that, Conan; I called your friends last night and told them we'd be going somewhere for your birthday, so they should be arriving any time now." He stared at her in dismay. *Oh God, like this isn't going to be hard enough as it IS---* The gentle amusement in her face faltered at his reaction. "Don't you want them to come along, Conan-kun?"
He forced a smile from somewhere. "Oh, sure; I just didn't expect--- you said they should be here soon? I'll go meet them!" And he hopped down from his chair, scuffing around the corner to scoop up his tennis shoes as he clattered down the few steps into the foyer. Behind him, he could hear Mouri-san grunt and turn another page of the morning paper.
Ran stared after him; he was acting..... odd this morning. Well, it was his birthday; he was entitled. Eight was an important age for a little boy, and *this* little boy was..... exceptional enough as it was.
Sometimes she wondered just *how* 'exceptional' he was. And just how much of a little boy he was, too. But that was stupid; she knew that, knew her wild speculations regarding Conan were just that: wild speculations, nothing more. It was just her imagination that made her watch his gestures, listen to his inflections, watch those eyes behind the lenses.... and think about Shinichi.....
Just her imagination.
She shook her head as if trying to dislodge the disturbing thoughts from her mind. Across the table her father grunted once more as he folded the newspaper up, chasing a last bite across his plate. "So you're going to take the kid out for the day, hm? Well, don't go overboard..... but here; have yourself a good time too. You've been looking a little ragged lately---"
Startled, Ran looked up; it wasn't like her father to really pay attention to that sort of thing; and now he was eyeing her with a certain amount of concern in his black eyes as he slid a folded wad of currency across the table to her. Slowly she picked the money up. "Um, thanks--- that'll help a lot. But I'm okay, really. It's just been a long week and all, and---" She broke off at the sound of the door opening down below, and smiled in spite of herself at the burst of three-part childish chatter that exploded in, accompanied by three stampeding young bodies. Conan's calm voice sounded over them all, trying to corral their energy in the manner of a much older person.
Ran shook her head again, laughing at herself. She slid out of her chair, picking up the plates and placing them in the sink. "I'd better get everyone going or we'll miss our bus." She bent to kiss her father on one cheek; he snorted briefly, but his eyes softened as he watched his daughter gather her purse and shoes. "Don't be too late coming back--- and don't let those brats wear you out!"
Pushing her hair back from her eyes, Ran shrugged; "It won't be that bad--- Genta's father Kojima-san will be picking them all up at the park gate at three p.m., so they won't really be with me all day. And it is Conan's birthday--- I want him to have a good time!"
Her father just snorted again, drinking the last of his coffee. "You spend too much time on that boy. It's not like he's even ours..."
His daughter laughed, lowering her voice a little. "Well, can you imagine Dr. Agasa taking him to the amusement park for his birthday? I mean, no chance..... and that's the only relative he has near him right now; poor kid." Her words trailed off as she started down the stairs to the impatiently-waiting group below. Ran glanced down; as usual, Conan's three schoolmates were talking non-stop, trying to draw him into their conversations. He was taking it all in his usual fashion, unusually calmly for such a young boy. You'd think he was older, the way he reacted.....
*Stop that. You're just..... He's just a bit more grown up than they are, that's all. Remember: It's just your imagination.* Turning back for a moment with her hand on the stair railing, she called: "Will you be here today, or are you going into town?"
Her father sat his cup down on the table with a clink of china and stood up, checking his watch. "No--- don't you remember?" He ran an impatient hand over his hair, smoothing it into place. "I've got to meet your mother today for lunch, and then we're going out to look at that car she's thinking about buying." He looked sour. "...Can't imagine what she'd want with a car....." he grumbled, shaking his head.
Ran hid a smile as she ducked her head, shuffling on her shoes in the foyer entrance. The "car" incident was probably another of her mother's attempts to see how her husband was doing..... it happened now and then. "So--- you won't be home until late?" She could always hope they were beginning to reconcile; their meetings seemed to be a little more frequent lately.
Mouri Kogoro shrugged. "Who knows? Not me, that's certain..... your mother is one mystery I'll never be able to solve." But the tips of his moustache quirked up a little and a certain smugness crossed his face. As she shepherded her charges out the door, it occurred to Ran that her father wasn't completely oblivious, after all.....
"Conan-kun, Conan-kun, will you ride the Saucer Ride with me?" Ayumi bounced in her seat on the bus, eyes sparkling. On either side of her Genta and Mitsuhiko looked daggers at the other boy, who sighed.
"I guess so.... but let's all ride, okay? There's room for all of us on one saucer." *There; that ought to help. Tell me, God, is it really necessary for you to inflict me with a little girl's crush? Is it that funny? I mean, she's a kid--- if I took her seriously, I'd feel like a child molester or something.* Conan caught Ayumi's slightly disappointed pout, but he also saw the relieved (if puzzled) looks on the other two boys' faces. *And I've got rivals, too. Hooray. Sure hope You're getting a big laugh out of this, 'cause I'm damn well not...*
The bus rumbled on towards its destination.
Three seats back, two figures were watching the small group intently. The larger figure turned increasingly worried eyes down to the smaller and whispered "Ai--- are you sure this is a good idea?? You said it was an emergency....."
The smaller figure glared up at him. "Keep your voice down--- do you want them to know we're here? And it is an emergency." Narrow-eyed, the small blonde girl slouched low in her seat, tucking her chin down as her hands played idly with the package in her lap. "You know what today is--- you know what happened a year ago. I'm quite sure that Shinichi is planning something... dramatic; it's his style." Her sharp eyes gleamed as she looked up at Dr. Agasa. "He's probably going to tell his girlfriend the truth, don't you think? Unless I miss my guess--- and I doubt that I have--- he's decided to make a big presentation of the whole thing." Now she sighed, running her small fingers through her hair in an unmistakably adult fashion. "How very romantic." Her tone dripped sarcasm.
The older man beside her grunted, shifting his portly form a little closer to the window. Sometimes he couldn't quite like this unchildlike child beside him, despite her undoubted scientific genius; her tendancies towards amorality made him uncomfortable. He frowned down at her. "Isn't that his right? If he wants to tell her, well--- that's his business, isn't it?"
The girl shrugged. "Certainly it is. I simply want to make certain that... things... go as they should." She smiled slightly to herself. "I have a stake in this too, after all; the more people know our secret, the more chances exist of disclosure." Her hand slid into the pocket on her rather baggy jacket, fingering two items there: one was large, heavy and cold, the other small and lightweight. "And..... I rather respect the Mouri girl, actually; she has a brain and a certain amount of courage. Shouldn't I do all that I can to make sure that everything works out the best for them both?" The smile that she gave to the doctor was probably intended to be an innocent one.
His eyes darkened. "Just what are you planning, Ai?" He huffed his breath out in a snort. "I should call out to them right now and let them know we're here---" The girl placed a placating hand on his arm. "Calm down; I promise you, I won't do them any harm whatsoever. Truely, I only mean them well; after all, if something happened to Shinichi I'd be out my greatest defense, correct? He's like a weathercock; I always know if there's trouble sniffing around, because he knows it first." She chuckled. "It's in my best interests to keep him healthy--- AND happy."
Somewhat mollified, the older man sat back. "Hrrrm. I suppose so....." He poked a beefy finger at the package lying in his companion's lap; it gave back the rustle of cloth inside its wrappings. "What's that?"
The small blonde head bent over the package, smoothing the wrappings again with her delicate fingers. "A present for Ran..... just something I thought she might need later. I'll give it to her at the amusement park tonight." A certain sparkle gleamed in Ai's eyes for a moment. "In fact, I have several presents for Mouri-chan tonight. And, do you know, I think she'll like them all..... eventually."
She beamed up at the older man. They might have been any uncle and niece, riding on the bus through town together.
*God, who designed these seats, Torquemada? Whoever it was sure didn't have little kids' butts in mind.* Conan shifted in place, trying for a more comfortable position. Across from him his three young friends were laying bets as to who could ride the most rides without being the first one to throw up. *Oh joy; better make sure I sit in the front, then..... less of a splash-factor there.*
Beside him Ran stretched, leaning back against the hard cushion behind her. She was turned slightly away from him, looking out the window; the boy swung his feet a little, watching her expression carefully. He could see that her profile was pensive, withdrawn; Ran's dark eyes were silent and thoughtful, not really seeing the streets and vehicles outside so much as something visible only in her mind.
What was she thinking of? Was she thinking about what day it was? About him? About time? He watched her furtively while his friends chattered about anything and everything around them.
Time..... It would take an hour or so to get to the amusement park; Conan felt trapped. He was going to have to figure out a way to explain things to Ran damned fast..... He had an hour. But he had been thinking about it for a while anyway, hadn't he? Why was it so damned hard to come up with a good way to explain this? He was supposed to be intelligent, right? So why did his brain automatically start swimming in little circles whenever he thought about telling Ran the truth---?
Time to think about that truth, and how to tell it. He had an hour.
The longest hour in the world is the one you spend deciding how to tell the person you love a secret that will change their life--- and, quite possibly, destroy yours.
Rides had been ridden, treats had been consumed, and Ran had been driven half-mad herding her charges through the amusement park in some semblance of order throughout the long day. But three o'clock had come and gone, and the children were even now waving goodbye to their friend and his guardian as they climbed into Genta's father's car.
At the last moment, Ayumi darted back towards where the two stood, stepping up to press a kiss onto Conan's cheek. "Happy Birthday, Conan-kun!" said the girl, beaming at him with a giggle. Astonished, Conan stared at her; then smiled wryly and said "Uh, thanks, Ayumi-kun--- " and he blushed, touching his reddening cheek with his fingers.
Ran chuckled at his discomfiture; kids were so cute at that age.
The other two boys were staring at Ayumi with huge, wounded eyes; as the car began to drive away, their stares switched over to Conan--- and the looks they gave him were anything but 'wounded.' He sighed, tugging his glasses off and rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "I'll pay for *THAT* at school tomorrow....." His voice was weary and slightly disgusted.
Ran frowned, hitching her purse up on one shoulder. That tone was *odd*..... In fact, the boy had sounded strange throughout the entire day. Distracted and a little aloof, he had been rather quiet even while riding the rides--- much quieter than a young boy should be on a birthday outing with his friends. And several times she had caught him sitting silently, staring at her with those huge, knowing eyes, those eyes that saw so much and hid even more.....
..... She was imagining things again. It had been like this all year, the same routine, played over and over and over again like a broken record. Step One: Conan-kun does something... unchildlike. Step Two: Stupid Ran looks at him and suspects ridiculous things involving Shinichi--- Step Three: Clever and Practical Ran suppresses ridiculous ideas, because they obviously can't be true..... hadn't Shinichi said it? 'There's only one truth.' So..... just because some really stupid, stupid part of her kept shouting that there was something there, that didn't mean that it was really true, did it? Step Four: Strong, Clever, Practical Ran shoves the idiot part of her that comes up with stupid, stupid ideas down into its proper place at the back of her heart-----
*Just your imagination, Ran you idiot..... there's only one truth. A child is a child, a man is a man, and no matter what your heart says, your head knows better that things like that just.... don't happen. Shinichi isn't here--- but where IS he, anyway? He said he'd explain 'everything' to me by the end of the day, and it's getting late and we haven't even seen him-----*
She watched the boy as the car pulled from the parking lot and was lost in traffic. The late afternoon sun reflected off his glasses as he folded them and began to tuck them into his jacket pocket. Stopping, he shot Ran a guilty glance, then pulled out his glasses case from the same pocket and slipped them inside. The young woman smiled smugly; he was finally taking care of them properly--- it had taken her ages to coach him in that. You'd almost think he had never worn glasses before this.....
"Conan-kun? Don't you need your glasses?" Ran asked; a flashing glance from those unchildish eyes made a strange quiver run down her spine. He smiled faintly up at her.
"No; not now. I don't need to wear them with you anymore." With that cryptic answer, the boy turned away to stare towards the one ride they had not yet gone on: the Mystery Coaster. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he glanced at the sky. "A little early, but I guess it's okay...." she heard him mutter.
"A little early for what?" She quirked one eyebrow quizzically. Shooting her a slightly embarrassed look, Conan turned back to look at the ride again. "Nothing important, not really..... it's just that last year I rode that ride right around sunset; I kinda wanted to do the same thing this year, but..... Let's just go ride it, okay?" And he glanced over his shoulder at her, his eyes smiling.
The line was unusually short; it seemed no time at all before they were being buckled into their places on the Mystery Coaster. The attendant grinned down at the boy as he snapped the last restraint in place. "Aren't you a little young for this ride, kid?" Conan merely rolled his eyes and looked disgusted. Ran laughed; "Actually today's his birthday..... he's old enough, right, Conan-kun?"
The boy raised his eyebrows. "Yeah....." he drawled; "I'm all of eighteen..... I sure look it, right?" The attendant broke up at that. "Well, Mister-Young-For-His-Age, you take good care of your girlfriend then, okay?" Still chuckling, he stepped back up onto the platform and released the ride; it shuddered into motion as Conan gripped the handrails, muttering "If you only knew, wiseass....." Before Ran could sputter out a comment regarding his choice of words, they were in motion and it was too noisy to speak, much less hear.
RUMBLE-RUMBLE-RUMBLE-CRANK-CRANK---CRANK----CRANK-----CRANK--------CRANK---------------- They reached the top of the first hill; without thinking, Ran reached for Conan's hand and gripped it tightly in her own. For a moment, her mind flashed back to a moment when she had held another hand in this place, on this day, a year past..... The other hand gripped hers......
----------CRANK----------CRANK-CRANK-CRANK-ROOOOOOAAAAARRRRR!!!!!!!!!!! And they were speeding down the hill, a scream or shout of exultation and terror rising from each passenger's throat! Ran felt her hair flying behind her like the tail of a comet as they rushed into a dark tunnel; phantasmic faces seemed to leap out at them from the sides, and she shrieked and leaned closer into the comforting warmth beside her, clutching the hand even tighter.....
..... the hand which, for a single timeless moment seemed to be larger, large enough to enfold hers, to lace warm, strong fingers between hers and hold them tight..... His eyes flashed at her in the strobing darkness of the tunnel, shoulder-level, no, they were level with hers, no, shoulder-level, no, they were.....
.....and they were out, blinking in the sunlight and the rush of wind as the coaster swept forward in wild, wind-burning flight towards the next hill. Ran stared down at the boy beside her, who looked up with laughter and excitement sparkling in his eyes. He gripped her hand tighter, small fingers laced in hers---- and then they were reaching the summit again, and there was no more time for thought as the ride rushed on and on and on.
Ran was still edgy with adrenalin as they walked away, shaky-legged, from the Mystery Coaster; beside her Conan seemed to have gained some sort of second wind--- he was all but bouncing with energy, tugging her towards a concession stand. "Ran-neechan, let's get something to drink, okay?" Out of habit he had slipped his glasses back on, and the lenses reflected the late-afternoon sunlight back like mirrors. His hand was still gripped in hers, and when he smiled up at the young woman she realized that for some reason he was suddenly looking happier than he had all day. She blinked; did he really like rollercoasters that much? Maybe they should ride it again..... She paid the vendor for their sodas and then paused to take a look around, brushing her wind-disheveled hair back from her face.
"Well, Conan-kun? What's next?" The light in the sky was beginning to fade a little as the sun sank towards the west. Ran felt her heart sinking with it; where was Shinichi? The day was almost over, and he had promised to meet with her by the end of the day and explain 'everything,' whatever that 'everything' was.....
She felt a tug on her hand and looked down. "You're thinking about Shinichi, aren't you?" said the boy softly.
"Ummmm.... how did you know?" The young woman felt her cheeks heat a little. Conan's eyes dropped, and he studied his soda with great intensity, stirring the crushed ice with his straw. "You looked..... sad. You've been looking for him all day, haven't you?" And now he drew a deep breath, seemingly steeling himself towards something; he linked his hand in hers again, and Ran could feel his fingers tighten. "Let's walk..... there's a place I want to show you, and something I need to tell you, too."
Her eyebrows drew down; "What?..... Conan-kun, is--- is Shinichi there? He said he'd meet me----"
The boy smiled up at her, a lopsided smile. "Sort of. You'll see..... Just come with me." And pulling her firmly after him, he led her between two buildings towards the back lot of the park. As they walked, Ran craned her head up; she could see the lights of the rollercoaster beyond a thick stand of trees..... they were in a rather derelict-looking area now, a clearing between the back of the arcade and some deserted-looking outbuildings, somewhat overgrown with shrubbery and a small copse of trees. Empty crates and old lumber leaned against a wall. "Conan-kun? Where are we going?"
The boy studied the clearing carefully; his eyes fixed on a spot between two bushes, up against a wall across the way. "Right there--- it happened right there....." he muttered, tension making his small shoulders rigid. Then he seemed to relax slightly, and he tugged his companion over to a bench at the back of the arcade. "This will be okay, I guess." Slowly Ran sat down, her eyes confused. "Conan--- there's nothing here..... wait, is Shinichi going to meet us here?" Her eyes lighting up, she looked in all directions, a smile beginning to find its way onto her face. "This is just the kind of place he'd want to meet in..... all spooky and deserted." She laughed, a lovely sound, and shook her head. "Shinichi, you mystery-loving idiot..... do you ever stop trying to be mysterious?"
Conan felt a ripple of terror quiver through the excitement that had gripped him since the coaster ride. Something about the rush and wildness of the Mystery Coaster had firmed his resolve, given him a strength to see this through. Maybe it was just that he had finally, finally come full-circle, back to the place where Shinichi had ended and Conan had began..... It was as if something had snapped into place; the pattern was complete now, the circle was closed, and they could both move on. He was still absolutely terrified of how Ran would react--- but somehow he wasn't afraid of telling her the truth, not anymore. There was a certain inevitability to the whole thing; it was time.
Still looking around for his past self, Ran turned her head back to look at him; God, she looked so pretty in the dim light, her dark hair a little tangled and her cheeks flushed..... "Conan? What's the matter? You said you had something to tell me..... What is it, Conan-kun?"
*Okay--- here goes..... God, You owe me one--- help me make this work!* Conan slowly took off his glasses, folding them and slipping them into his pocket again. When he looked up, it was no longer a child that fixed his piercing eyes on the young woman.
"Not Conan, Ran..... not Conan. Never Conan again, not to you. I'm Shinichi, Ran..... I know it sounds crazy, but----- I'm Shinichi." His eyes never left hers.
She faltered under his gaze, stumbling a little on her words. "W-what? Conan-kun, what're you---" He cut her off with a curt, unchildlike gesture. "Not Conan--- Ran, please..... listen. I said I'd tell you everything today and I meant it. Just listen, please listen to me--- I ---" Abruptly he ran out of breath; with a gasp, he continued, the words tumbling over each other in their rush to finally come out. "Last night I climbed up to your window and I left you those flowers and the note--- I knew you'd remember where to look, and you did, didn't you?--- and I promised I'd tell you everything, and if you'll just let me explain I will, but Ran, you've got to believe me, I never meant to keep this secret from you, but if word got out that I was like this and still alive you'd be in trouble too, and I----- I didn't want you to be hurt-----"
Now she held up a hand, stopping the flow of desperate words. Ran leaned back on the bench, perplexed; as she stared at the boy in front of her, the boy whose eyes held *nothing* of a child in them, she began to shiver.
And, after all the long months of denial to finally, *finally* allow herself to think.....
.....and, at last, to believe.....
".........................Shinichi.....?" *It--- IS him. Oh dear God.....*
*It--- IS him. Oh dear God.....*
At the stricken look on her face, Conan/Shinichi reached forward to brush light fingers against her cheek. "Ran--- it's okay, it's really me--- Ran? Ran??" She had flinched from his touch as if scalded. Appalled, he drew back; but before he could pull too far away she had caught his small hand in her larger one, as she had held it so many times while walking, while playing, while helping him with something too large for his small frame to handle..... so many times over the past year.....
Her face was white. "---How--- Shinichi, it IS you, isn't it? I--- " Ran couldn't seem to catch her breath; it felt as though some great pit had opened up beneath her feet. "There's been moments that I've thought--- I..... I've wondered, so many times..... I kept looking at, at C-Conan, and seeing you-----" Ran's eyes were huge; they dropped down to where she held his hand, and her fingers traced the shape of his as it lay in hers. Slowly she dropped it and brought her own hands up to her face, covering her eyes as if to blot out the truth that she had suspected, had somehow known in her heart of hearts for the greater part of an entire year.
"..... this is insane....." Her voice quivered, splintering like broken glass. A cold wind seemed to breath outwards from her words.
Silence. They remained that way for a timeless moment, frozen within the second as if trapped in amber. At last Conan, no, Shinichi moved, slipping past the girl to sit beside her on the bench. He began to speak very quietly, looking out across the small grove of trees.
"I never intended to keep this a secret for this long..... I never really thought it'd last this long--- being a kid, I mean." He laughed a little wryly. "I thought--- I guess I thought I'd either find a way back to normal by now, or maybe... maybe that the damned drug would've killed me by now." Shinichi ducked his head, staring at the rough grass below the bench.. "I couldn't tell you, Ran, I couldn't----- and I wanted to so badly---" His soft, childish voice cracked on the final word.
At last she looked up. *White as a ghost* thought the boy; he had always thought that was just a turn of phrase. When she spoke, her voice was remarkably steady. "Sh-- Shinichi? What 'drug'? And WHY couldn't you tell me?!? WHY?!?" There was an underlying trace of anger behind her words, far down but strong, like the deepest current in a stream.
Now it was his turn to close his eyes briefly, a look of pain passing across his young face like a shadow. Taking a deep breath, he began: "Okay..... You remember that day a year ago, when we saw that murder on the Mystery Coaster? And afterwards, you remember I decided to follow those guys in the black outfits? Well--- that was the worst decision I ever made, believe me....."
And, haltingly, he talked; and slowly he explained; and he told her..... everything. And she listened, while the minutes passed and time ticked by for them both as the day shaded towards a blood-red sunset.
After the words ran out, Conan sat silently beside Ran on the bench. The shadows were beginning to gather with the onset of evening, and the distant roar of the amusement park behind them sounded oddly detached, not part of the cold, quiet reality that the two of them were sharing at all.
At last the young woman stirred; her eyes were still wide with shock, and with something else: pain. "You've been here with me all the time....." she said softly; "...all the time; you've been right here--- and you never told me."
Shinichi closed his eyes. "Ran--- if it got out, if the Black Organization found out I was still alive--- you'd be toast. You'd be the first on their target list; then your dad would die--- maybe your mom, and then Dr. Agasa, and then probably Genta and Mitsuhiko and Ayumi--- I just couldn't take the chance! Don't you think I wanted to tell you?!?" He laughed, a small bitter laugh. "I used to dream about it--- We'd go someplace for lunch, or we'd be at school or something, and I'd tell you about everything that had happened and then--- well, these were dreams--- suddenly I'd be back to my normal self, as if telling you the truth had been a magic charm to make me what I used to be." The boy shook his head, hard. "But there's no magic that's going to make me what I was; just hard science, if Ai manages to find a cure....."
Ran's voice matched her eyes; it trembled somewhere between fury and grief. "But, but Shinichi--- didn't you trust me?!? I wouldn't betray you--- you knew that---"
"Ran--- of course I trusted you--- it was me I didn't trust! If I slipped just once, you'd die, and your dad and Agasa and the kids..... All I could do was wait..... and wait, and wait; and hope---" his voice broke--- "that you would wait for me, too."
He drew a deep, hard breath. "I've been with you, just like you said..... waiting; waiting for time to take me back to myself, waiting to come home to you the way--- the way I was. And it hasn't been all bad---" He laughed, the ironic note of his laughter sounding strange in a child's voice. "I've learned some humility, if nothing else. And I've learned patience..... well, a little, maybe. But---" and he turned to her, his eyes intense.
"BUT WHAT?!?" she cried out, her anger beginning to turn to tears. Ran pressed her palms against her burning eyes. "What can you tell me that'll make this any better? I mean--- Sh-Shinichi--- " She stood up, spinning around and spreading her arms wide--- "How can we go back to normal life now?? How--- how can I see you every day and just act the same, knowing it's you there behind Conan's face?" She stopped abruptly; her shoulders slumped. Turning away, she walked a few steps out into the clearing, staring unseeingly at the trees and bushes. "I've picked you up..... carried you in my arms; I've held your hand when we crossed the street--- I've treated you like a child..... like the child I thought you were! And now I'm just supposed to go back to that? When I know who you really are?!?"
The tears glinted on her cheeks in the lights from the arcade; Shinichi stood helpless. He wanted to go to her, hold her----- but if he did, it would be a child's arms she was held in, not the ones that she wanted. "Ran--- Ran, I don't know what to tell you----- you deserved the truth, after waiting so long---"
She whirled to face him. "Waiting? Yes, Shinichi--- I've been waiting. Waiting for you to come back to me--- and now, now you may never come back. We may be ten years out of step with one another for the rest of our lives----- and perhaps if we, if we were both o-older, we could manage. But I've known you since we were children---" and her voice stumbled on the word. She was silent for a moment; then she looked up, and her eyes were clear and desperate. "Shinichi, I can't wait for you to come to me any longer..... I don't know what we can do, but we've got to do something. Tonight has to be the end of the waiting."
He stood frozen; if a heart breaking made a sound, he thought despairingly, surely the whole world heard his then. "You... don't love me now, do you? You can't....."
At that she stepped forward, eyes kindling. "Don't be stupid--- of course I love you! Would I even be here now, talking to you, if I didn't? It's just--- it's time for the waiting to end. A year----- a year-----" Ran paused, breathing hard; her face still glinted silver in the dim light, wet with tears. She stepped away from him then, moving towards the old lumber stacked against one wall; without the slightest change of expression she drew back: ***CRACK!!!*** A board fell to the ground in two split pieces, and Shinichi recalled in that moment that Ran was still accounted as the Karate champion of his old school.
Still facing the boards, she spoke; her words were soft, barely audible of the distant roar of the arcade. "I love you as much as I ever did, Shinichi. I--- suppose I'm stupid that way. Stupid enough to love somebody who's trapped in the body of a little kid. Stupid enough to know that---- that I'm stuck l-loving you, no matter what, but Shinichi..... the waiting has to stop... somehow....." Dashing one arm across her eyes, she turned away, stumbling back towards the main park.
Relieved and yet heartsick, he reached out for her. "Ran---?"
She shook her head. "Just let me go..... I need to think. We've got to do something, there's got to be something that hasn't been tried." Ran attempted a smile, a wan, pale imitation of her usual expression. "I'm not abandoning you, Shinichi; I'm way too stubborn for that--- you know I am. But..... I've got to think." And she paused; "Will you be--- alright, if I go off for a bit on my own? I just... I just need to think."
He looked down at his toes, fidgeting with the drink he still held in his hands. "Sure..... You--- you'll come back, won't you? I'll wait for you....."
Briefly she nodded, brushing at her eyes. And then she looked at him, really *looked* at him, and smiled a little again. "You know, I can't understand how I didn't see it before..... I guess I just didn't let myself see. But..... you're you. You're Conan, but you're..... you." And quickly she turned and walked away, back towards the lights of the amusement park.