Disclaimer: Gosho owns Detective Conan, I do not. This particular incarnation of Az and his friends does belong to me, but really, they're public domain characters as it is... This short is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for mentions of violence and sexuality. This is in the same universe as "Sympathy By Moonlight," though it's not the one I'd originally imagined writing...
It was one of those rare nights where the air in Tokyo was as warm as the water off Hawaii. Beika Park was quiet, silence broken only by the squeaking of the swings he sat on. The humidity was swept away by the breeze that sighed around him, caressing his skin like a lover, or a mother with her child. Not hot enough to require the air conditioning, but every window in the apartment was open tonight, which was just as well. The sounds of traffic outside blended with the familiar noise of Kogoro's snoring, and so neither the old man nor Ran had stirred when Conan had risen from his futon, dressed, and slipped out into the blood-warm night.
... That may not have been the best choice of words, Kudo, the shrunken detective thought wryly, shuddering. They'd had another case, of course. There was always another case. This one, though... it had been different than any of the others. Usually, he didn't find the body. Usually, the ones he did find were already long dead when he got there. Usually, if he found someone still alive, they were shipped off to the hospital, and almost always recovered.
They didn't, they had never died in front of him, under his hands while he futilely attempted to stem the flow of blood leaking from a single vicious stab wound. On some level, he knew it had been too late as soon as he found the man-- the blade had nicked the aorta, no help could possibly come in time. But that hadn't mattered, he'd had to try...
The police had found him there, kneeling beside a dead body, covered in blood almost to the elbows. Thank all the gods it had been Megure-keibu, who knew Conan well enough to let him 'help' with the investigation. Most police inspectors would have had Ran take him away to recover. Megure, though, had known that the best way for Conan to deal with things was to see that the murderer was caught.
And they'd caught the killer, aided by a surprising number of excellent deductions from Kogoro. The old man could be a competent detective when he tried, Conan supposed... he just rarely did so.
They'd led the broken man away in handcuffs, as they always did, and Conan had watched, ignoring the looks from the uniformed officers who had seen him at so many crime scenes. Too many crime scenes. He ignored the looks, and the whispers, clinging to Ran's hand as he hadn't even when he'd truly been seven, trying to shut everything out. Even so, one whispered phrase had managed to penetrate his armor.
That was his nickname, among the more observant members of Division One. Not the ones who knew him, of course. Satou-san didn't tolerate the phrase, and he'd once seen Takagi and Shiratori give a simultaneous death-glare to a patrolman who'd had the poor judgment to use it in their hearing. But Conan knew they called him that, and there was truth in it, for all that he pretended not to notice or hear.
The Shinigami of Beika-cho. Where I go, people die.
It hadn't always been this way, had it? He couldn't remember seeing a dead body before he was fourteen, but... Even at seven, he'd crossed paths with police investigations, and not always because of his father. Even if he wasn't tripping over the corpses, death seemed to be his constant companion and had been for a very long time.
He couldn't sleep, so he'd come to the park to think. Even after midnight, in the heart of the city, he wasn't particularly afraid. Apartment walls were no barrier against the people who hunted him, and he was fairly certain that he could handle any other petty criminal to come along. A soccer ball or a sleep dart-- people let their guard down around potential victims. He was fairly sure he was safe.
The sound of an engine drew him out of his thoughts, and he looked up in time to see a motorcycle- some pale color, undefinable under the orange lights, white or silver or grey- pull up along the curb. The rider was tall and solid, dressed in black jeans and a black leather jacket. Conan's breath caught, even as he scolded himself. Black was a common color for biker's gear, especially for ones who rode classically styled bikes rather than modern racing cycles. Then the biker removed his helmet, and Conan blinked again. The face beneath was unmistakeably Caucasian, bearing a two-day growth of stubble and crowned by a crop of short hair that gleamed auburn under the lights.
Stepping off his bike to lean against the street lamp, the man lit a cigarette, taking a moment to blow out a cloud of smoke before turning his attention towards Conan.
"Hey," the newcomer said. His Japanese was perfect, even if the gravelly voice carried more than a trace of an Australian accent.
"Um... hi?" Conan replied, tensing slightly. The man, whoever he was, wasn't setting off any of Conan's alarms. There was a gap of several yards between them, more than enough for Conan to break and run if the stranger should turn threatening.
The gaijin smirked, waving negligently with the hand holding the cigarette. "Rough night, huh?"
Conan blinked. "Huh? What do you mean by that, ojisan?" The guy couldn't have been following him, Conan would have noticed him long before now.
"Never mind, stupid question. Forgive my lack of manners-- my name's Az."
That got another blink from the shrunken detective. He'd said "Az," that was definitely an A, not the rounded sound of an English short "o," but what kind of name was that? It had to be short for something, but Conan couldn't think of any given name that would shorten to that.
Still, the guy was polite, and he WAS keeping his distance, so Conan shrugged and replied. "I'm Conan Edogawa."
"'Edogawa Conan, detective,' right. I've heard of you. You've got quite a reputation in certain circles, you know."
"What-- kind of circles?" Somewhere in the back of his mind, Conan's hard-learned paranoia was jumping up and down and waving a banner, but... He couldn't feel it with any urgency. Something about this man felt safe, even though he felt dangerous as well.
The memory snapped into place with a jolt. This feeling, of being utterly safe in the presence of a dangerous predator, it was a stronger version of the tingle he felt every time he stood under the moonlight, facing a certain white-clad thief. Kid was as sharp as a well-honed blade, but he'd let no harm come to those who chased him, and Conan knew it, down to his bones. This was the same, multiplied several times over.
Az smirked at him, taking another drag off his cigarette. "Well... among the dead, for starters. Closure's not just for the living, you know."
"Are you talking about ghosts?" Conan couldn't hide his skepticism.
"Not exactly. More what would be ghosts, if you didn't step in. Whether you believe or not, kiddo, the knot of a violent death can tie a person to this world. Stay like that too long, and the results get ugly. But if you solve the mystery, the knot goes away... and sets the dead free. You've been the hope for a lot of people, even while you lose your own. Which is why I'm here."
Folding his arms, Conan let his swing slow to a stop. "So you did come here looking for me. Why?"
"Because we've got a lot to talk about. This isn't the best place, though, and it ain't the most comfortable. How would you feel about going out for a cup of coffee? There's an all-night coffee shop just around the corner."
How did he feel? It'd be insane to accept. A strange man all in black asking a seven-year-old to go for coffee-- there wasn't any good interpretation of those events. He ought to kick a soccer ball at the man and run.
"Sure," Conan heard himself say, almost without his own volition. "Coffee sounds great."
The cafe wasn't one Conan had been to before, which was just as well. Not that he would have been recognized-- just the opposite. None of the cafe's staff seemed to notice or be surprised at a gaijin walking in at three AM with a seven year old boy and ordering two cups of black coffee. Frankly, if Azuza-chan at Poaro had looked through him the way the waitresses here seemed to, Conan wasn't sure he could have handled it.
Once ensconced at their table, Conan took a long sip of his coffee, then looked up at his companion. "Okay... so what did you want to talk to me about?"
Az winced. "This is going to sound absolutely nuts, but please don't write me off as crazy 'til we're done, okay? Just... listen to the whole thing." He took a drink of his own coffee, then continued.
"How much do you know about Western demonology?"
A blink from Conan. That was not something he'd ever been expecting to be asked. But he shrugged one shoulder. "Not a lot. Bits and pieces... the demons were angels who rebelled with Lucifer against God, and a third of the Heavenly Host fell, right?"
"That's about half of the story, yeah. The other half... ever hear of the nephilim?"
"Um... the watchers, the Grigori, who 'found the daughters of men fair, and took wives from among them?'"
"Bingo. You're pretty well-read, even for a detective. Like most legends, they're not true stories, but they're based on things that are.
"You know enough archaeology to know there were people on the earth six thousand years ago, right? Fourth millenium BC, Sumer and Egypt getting started, neolithic Chinese, stuff like that. Well, what you don't know is that there weren't just humans on the earth back then. Two other sentient races were around at the same time, and they were a fair bit more advanced than most humans."
Conan raised an eyebrow. "Lemme guess. Angels and demons?" he commented skeptically.
"Well, that's what they came to be called, though they weren't exactly the type of things the legends painted. See, my people believe in one single force animating the universe. Universal life-force, chi, pneuma, lots of different words for it. Me and mine, we call it the Power. The Power basically... it exists to fight entropy. To keep the world running against its tendency to run down. And to that end, there's three basic philosophies, I guess you could say. Light, Dark, Shadow. Simplifying it 'cause we don't have several years to get into the specifics, Light's focus is on the good of the many over the one. Self-sacrificing, but take it to the extreme, and you get repression of individuality, the hive mind. You following so far?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"Dark's self-directed. Rugged individuality, self-sufficient, self-contained. Nothing wrong with offering someone a hand up, but there's nothing saying you SHOULD, or that you should expect anybody else to help you if you're down. No obligations but ones you freely choose to enter into, not even the normal ones of the social contract. Downside of that system is that there's a lot of license to brutality and nastiness built in.
"Last is Shadow, which is kind of a balance between the two. The clan, and this is not always a blood definition of clan, trumps both the individual and the larger society.
"When life and societies started on Earth, the Angels, for lack of a better term, were adherents of the Light philosophy. The Demons followed the Dark. And humans, as they became aware of the ways of the Power, were pretty much led by Shadow. Then came the Fall, sometimes known as the War in Heaven.
"Lucifer didn't exist, the character's kind of a composite of several charismatic Angels who decided that the Dark fit them better than the Light. The Fall was a lot more gradual than the stories make out. Basically instead of three societies each worshipping one principle..."
Conan nodded. Even if the story was fantastic, he could see where it was going. "You had individuals choosing the principle they thought best, and then following it. It's the Gnostic idea of the Fall, from a state of primal ignorance into a realm of knowledge and self-determination."
Auburn eyebrows arched. "You know a heck of a lot more than you let on."
"Eheh... for Westerners, at least, religion's often a motive for murder, so... I've done a lot of research."
"Good point. Anyway, most people stuck with the ways they'd been raised with, as people usually do. But the ones who chose different principles often went to live with their new societies. There were some nasty flareups in the Angel/Demon cold wars, especially when the ones who later got mashed up into Lucifer left... there was some nasty fighting, which ended up with the Demons and Angels both pretty much leaving this dimension, either voluntarily or being sealed away. The world was left mostly to the humans."
"Yeah, well, that's where the tale of the nephilim comes in. Angels and demons... not all of 'em looked human, but a lot of them did. Or at least close enough. And a lot of the ones who chose the path of the Shadow... well, they were living in a society that valued clan and family ties above all. And even if clan didn't have to mean blood, it usually helped. So they bred. A tiny percentage of humanity these days is carrying angelic or demonic DNA... and that has consequences. For the most part, it just makes you different. Other. People with that kind of blood don't... ever quite fit into the societies around them. Friends, family, sure, they can have people who love them to death, but they're never quite normal and on some level, they're always aware of that.
"Beyond that, though... get enough of the variant bloodlines crossing, and people like that do tend to marry, often because it's only another angel or demon-child who understands... sometimes you get abilities. Psychic powers, usually. Psychometry, empathy, sometimes low-level telepathy... and sometimes it's a little more dramatic."
Leaning forward, Az looked Conan directly in the eyes. "Back in the days before the Fall, there were six divisions of what today might be called the Heavenly Host. Red was for the Heroes, the leaders, the guys who got things done. Green was support staff, back up, ordinary soldiers, who took fewer risks, but had more steady jobs. Blue was medical. Yellow was research, historical and technical. White was spiritual needs, energy manipulation... and then there was the Black Division. Humans would probably call most of what they did Black Ops, but they also handled clean-up... letting the spirits of the dead of whatever type move on, to wherever they were going next. If you've got enough Angel blood in you, your personality will put you into one of these categories. Which means if you fall into the Black... You're called to the dead. Because they need you. And you're not the kind of person who can walk away from being needed. Are you, Kudo-kun?"
Conan stared. The story was absolutely insane. The man had to be certifiable, but... he knew who Conan was. And Az couldn't be part of the Black Organization, or Conan would have been dead already. But this was insanity, it was unbelievable... and yet Conan couldn't seem to stop believing.
"Wh..." His voice died away in a croak and he tried again. "Why are you here?"
"Because you're one of mine, kiddo, and I don't want you self-destructing. Aside from the fact that you do good work in setting ghosts free, and it'd be a shame to lose you, you're also handling a major thorn in my side with some people who are poking at things they really shouldn't poke at. And on top of that, I see enough good men die on a daily basis, the last thing I want is to see another."
"One of yours?"
A wry grin. "Just 'cause the Angels left this dimension doesn't mean we don't meddle occasionally. There's only six of us now who do, one for each division... and I'm in charge of the Black. You're one of mine."
Bits of information tumbled together in Conan's head with a click. "... Az is short for Azreal. Isn't it?"
"As I said, very well-read."
Taking a deep breath, Conan let it out in a long sigh. "Okay... so I'm just called to the dead for a reason. I can live with that." He gave Az a look. "So, if the Syndicate's a thorn in your side, does that mean possibly I'm going to get some help with them?"
The man grinned. "Well... as Mike says, divine intervention's not dead, it's just gotten subtle. Keep your eyes open... you'll meet somebody you should talk to about this in the next few days. He's one of mine, too, as much as he is anybody's."
Conan thought about that for a moment. Angel blood, which meant he didn't quite fit with humans, and didn't quite fit with the angel categories either... He banged his head lightly on the table. "Kid. Oh HELL."
It took Az a while to stop laughing, but at least he had the decency to buy Conan another cup of coffee.