Second Wind

By Ysabet

Epilogue:  Endings and Beginnings

In the end, it took a little research to make everything clear, but the facts were there to be found.  Once Megure-san and the rest of the police department had come into play, enough links were discovered to forge a tentative but compelling chain of events-and the rest, as it's said, lay in the details; and those would come later.

For the most part it was like this:

Once upon a time in the city of Tokyo there had been a drug boss, a syndicate leader by name of Hedoro Ransou.  A greedy, intelligent man, he had organized a tight little shipping ring of experimental drugs-new and stronger variants of known poisons.  Rather than bring them through in large quantities, Hedoro had chosen to run them into Japan via small, independent 'employees' --- it made for greater risks, but a receiver seldom knew who actually picked up their shipments or who paid them off.  Hedoro-san was greedy, yes, but careful too.  The small shipments entered the country disguised as medical equipment, toys, foodstuffs, what have you--- and coffee, of course.  After the drop-off each shipment would be taken away and broken up into saleable amounts, cut carefully with relatively safe secondary substances; then the packages would find  their ways out into the streets, dangerous little serpents in the corrupt Eden that is Tokyo.

But--- Hedoro-san got caught.  Oh, not through a drug-bust or something dramatic like that--- no.  It was the car wreck that did it, really… a small altercation on one of the city' s main thoroughfares, nothing more.  But Hedoro was injured, knocked unconscious and taken by ambulance to the hospital… and when the routine blood tests showed that he had been foolishly sampling his wares, everything hit the fan at once and he fell, never to rise again.

But the drugs….. they were still coming in, scattered here and there across the city.  Hedoro Ransou had been cautious enough that the left hand had seldom known what the right hand was doing; most of the suppliers had caught wind of his fall and dried up, but one or two were ignorant or greedy enough to keep going…

And that was where Ojiwa Ryu and Nodomo Hiroku came in.  Nodomo-san had been approached by Ojiwa during a time when the money stretched a little too thin, a few years after his wife' s death--- what with a kid to raise and a gaping hole in his finances, the supply clerk had shrugged and taken to the game, caring very little about the consequences.  It was just for a little while, after all, just something to tide him over…..  But weeks became months and the shipments just kept coming, and Ojiwa was so damned insistent that he keep things going just like normal---

--- and when he tried to back out, when Nodomo's conscience began to twinge, Ojiwa Ryu had stared him down with cold, black eyes and smiled.  "You don't want to do that, Nodomo-san, now do you?" he had asked, grinning nastily.  "After all…  I know where your son is all day long.  You wouldn't want anything to happen to the boy, would you?"  He had chuckled then, walking away; and a shiver of apprehension had threaded its way down the clerk's spine, cold as poisoned ice…..

The problem was that Ojiwa-san, admittedly a small fish in Hedoro's organization, had wanted to become a big fish; so he had seized  his opportunity and run with it, seeing nothing in the least wrong with the thought of feeding filth to anyone who would buy it.  Money made the world go 'round, right?  There were enough little bastards out there who' d pay through the nose to try a new drug, weren't there?  Sure there were.

That was when Nodomo had started taking notes.

A word here, a bit of information there, from driver's records and phone conversations, from scraps of facts that Ojiwa let fall over too much sake after work…..  and there were those times when Nodomo-san had played the good little flunky, driving his drunken co-worker home from a bar…..  Those were the most fruitful chances of all; he had been able to look around Ojiwa' s apartment then, even to open his computer files while the science teacher lay passed out on his bed.  And all of it, every scrap of phone number or address or half-illegible name had gone to feed a set of files on the school computer, stored in the Personal Records section under his son's I.D.

It had taken months.  And in the end, after all his terror and regret, Nodomo had not had the guts to use  the data that he had so painstakingly collected.  Ojiwa had found out somehow--- he never knew how; but there had been the confrontation that night, and the horrific moment when he had seen his son fall into the teacher's hands---

Some fathers will do anything for their sons; Nodomo Hiroku figured that he had already sold his soul to the devil for a chance at wealth--- what was there left for him to do?  So he kept hoping, praying that somebody would find his boy and end the nightmare---

And there was the matter of the deaths, too; that had really been the straw that broke the camel's back, the impetus that made Nodomo-san realize that what he had been bringing in was poison, just poison  and nothing else…..  Hedoro the Drug Boss had been greedy, but he had *nothing* on Ojiwa Ryu.  When Nodomo found out that the teacher was cutting the packets of powder with supplies from the school chemistry lab he had protested; but the teacher had merely shrugged.  "Why the hell should I worry about what the little bastards do with this trash once they've paid their money to my guys on the street?  They can all drop dead for all I care--- in fact…" and he had smiled, measuring out something from a vial that smelled bitter and corrosive, "----- in fact I couldn't be happier if they did; keeps our names out of sight, ne?  What's the saying?  ' Dead men tell no tales'….?"

And he had laughed, chilling Nodomo's bones with cold.  As he left the backroom lab the clerk's eyes had strayed towards the open box of rat poison sitting on the counter…..

But that was months before his son had disappeared.  As time had passed and he had grown more and more afraid and guilty, a suspicion had bloomed within him that his partner in crime was sampling the pure, uncut drug; Ojiwa' s increasingly erratic behavior and growing paranoia had seemed to bear the theory out.  The man had always had a tendency towards violence--- how many times had he shown off his gun collection to the frightened clerk, smiling as he clicked a clip into place and sighted down a barrel? Guns were appallingly hard to get hold of in Japan--- Nodomo knew these had to be illegal--- but still he said nothing…..  He was too afraid.

When his son was abducted his world collapsed--- and a mind already weakened by doubt, guilt and terror began to fray…..

After all the flurry was over, the data that he had compiled allowed the police of Tokyo to make a fairly clean sweep of the remaining sources for the drugs; a great many guilty parties went to jail, and the deaths slowed down.  They never quite stopped--- but a few people lived who might have died.  In the end the clerk managed to redeem himself a little at least, paying for the wrongs he had done with his life.

He hadn't really been a bad man, had Nodomo Hiroku--- not really; just a very, very weak one who never quite learned how to grow strong.  It was a great and terrible pity that his son had also been forced to pay for his mistakes.


*Hmmmm….. let's see…..  One broken arm, a busted head--- that happened twice--- stitches in my right knee when I gashed it open at the beach--- ummm, the tonsillectomy when I was twelve; okay, that' s five times in the hospital when I was still Shinichi.  Then afterwards….. well, there was the gunshot wound in the gut, and that time I got tossed like a ball when the little miniature-airplane bomb went off in the park, and--- uh, that' s all so far, I guess: twice.  And this makes three times, assuming I haven't forgotten any.  Eight total.*

Conan was counting trips to the hospital.  It was a little difficult, really, since the world seemed to be more than a bit hazy and soft-edged at the moment; pain-killers did that to a guy.

There wasn't much else he could do, not while being rolled down the hall on a gurney towards his room.  He had been poked, prodded, x-rayed, examined and checked and charted---  And the doctors had all just grunted, muttering things like "minor dehydration, IV fluid treatment recommended" or "double hematomae, moderate concussion".  And then they had all demanded more blood tests.  Why was it that all doctors were vampires?

He had put up with it fairly well… for the most part.  After all, there was no Ran-neechan to rescue him from the fiendish clutches of the lab techs anymore…..  Just a small girl, only a little taller than he was, with the most beautiful dark eyes in the entire world.

Waiting for him--- in the lobby, outside the lab, in his room.  Just like she had waited for him for an entire year…..  Deep beneath the façade of Conan' s features, a young man swallowed hard against the lump in his throat and wondered at Mouri Ran's strength.

*Not to mention her patience…..*

The boy stretched, one hand rubbing at the bandages around his bruised andswollen neck as the gurney clicked its way across the hospital-floor tiles.  The finger-marks circling his throat from behind had brought about a few raised eyebrows and a great deal of sympathetic looks from nurses; one doctor had commented laconically that if he had been choked from the front he wouldn't be here, not with that much force used.   *Thank God for small favors, I guess,* Conan had thought a little ironically.  At least there was no permanent damage; it'd be a while before his voice came back to normal, but it would eventually.  In the meantime he' d just have to make do.

Great.  Just… great.  Not that he felt much like talking, really--- it was just so good to be out of the dark and not hurting!  Well, hurting less  anyway, what with painkillers and salves and warm blankets and all.  Everything seemed to be wrapped in a warm, fuzzy cocoon.

(Except…. for the moments when his thoughts strayed to the other  child who had been brought into the hospital, the one in the closed bag.  They had sent for a second ambulance for Toshiro, and Conan was glad of that.  It was easier to remember the boy eating ice-cream at Tropical Land, attempting futilely to skip stones across the water, playing with his half-sovereign….. much better to remember him that way.)

He sighed and lay limp on the gurney, eyes closed against the overhead fluorescent light-flicker, just reveling in the feel of being cared for.  After too many hours in cold darkness and pain, the sheer luxury  of this was… intoxicating.  It didn't even seem to matter that he was being treated like a kid who would be crying for his teddy-bear in a minute by the nurses--- they had cooed over him, told him what a brave boy he was, done damn well everything short of hold him in their laps.

And, for once, Conan/Shinichi didn't care.  Apparently there really *was* a lot of needy child left inside the teenager's heart.

Click-click, click-click, click-click…..  The tiles slid past beneath the gurney' s small wheels; even with his eyes closed the boy could feel that he had left the part of the hospital utilized for testing--- the air was fractionally warmer (it was always cold in hospitals) and he could hear an increase in voices all around him.  He blinked, eyes opening and nose wrinkling against the smell of cleaning fluids as a custodian went past with a rolling cart equipped with buckets and mops…..

*Speaking of custodians…  Wonder how long it took for Hei-san to disappear?  I'd bet even money he didn't hang around long enough to help the police with their investigations.  They' ll probably figure him for a minor drug client or something, or maybe just somebody with a shady past who had rather not step out into the light.  Hah; if only they knew.*

(*Wonder why the hell I'm worrying about this, anyway?  Must be whatever that last doctor injected me with…..*)

*It's stupid… but I'm going to miss him.  "Hei-san", that is.  Not the Thief…..  That says something about either his acting ability or my gullibility, one or the other. Wish I knew more about him besides the usual head-butting we do in cases.  Why did he do what he did, anyway?  Why was he there at all?  It' s not like we keep valuable jewels at Beika Elementary, and that's his target-of-choice; no, I'd swear he was there simply and specifically for no other reason than to expose whoever was behind the drug shipments.  Why?*

*And… why'd he let me see who he was?  I mean, that little 'accident' the other day with the charm….. yeah, right, an 'accident'.  He wanted me to see it--- why?  Idiot; if I hadn' t been so deep in the Ojiwa case I could've screamed for the cops right then….. but…..*

*Guess he had me figured out.  Jerk.  I think Rin'll miss him too.*

*…..Dammit, I really ought to be more worried about this, I guess… but I'm just too relaxed, and it IS sort of, well, funny…..  Must be the painkillers.  I'll worry later.*   For some reason the whole Hei-san situation seemed terribly amusing at the moment…..

*Must be the drugs…..*

* * * * * * * *

The middle-aged nurse pushing the gurney smiled down at the cute little boy in her care; such a good child, so quiet and all.  Of course he was quiet for good reason--- the poor thing couldn't speak yet, not with those dreadful bruises!   But he was being awfully good, not squirming around or pulling at his IV.  In fact, for a moment there she had almost thought he was giggling.

Well, she had a lovely surprise for him--- that ought to cheer him up even more!  As they took the final turn into the North Wing ward of the hospital, she remarked cheerfully, "We' re almost to your room, Conan-kun--- and guess what?  You have a very special room-mate!"

The boy turned his head a little awkwardly, blinking up at her with an inquiring expression on his face; the nurse noticed that he was clutching a somewhat battered pair of glasses in one hand.  What a sweet-looking child--- and he'd be just adorable in the glasses, wouldn't he?  "That's right--- your, ah, guardian decided to put you in a semi-private room instead of in a ward… and look who your room-mate is!"  She wheeled the gurney the last few feet , turning in through the door.

Sitting up in her bed, the room's occupant smiled at the boy--- the nurse had been told that she was his guardian' s wife or some such.  Whatever; the child was certain to find comfort staying with someone he knew instead of stuck off in an impersonal multi-bed ward!  A pity that two members of a family had been injured at the same time (she had even heard  that the young woman had been shot, of all things!), but they could make the best of it this way.  Just look at how that nice Mouri-san was grinning where he sat by the window--- he seemed so  pleased with the situation, as did the woman in the bed…..

"Hello, Conan-kun; I'm so glad to see that you're all right….. it looks like I'll be in here for a few days as well, so I thought it'd be just… lovely…  if we were to room together.  In fact, I insisted on it."  The bandaged woman arched one eyebrow, still smiling sweetly as she pushed her wire-framed glasses up her nose and smoothed her light brown hair back from her face.

Such a pretty thing, thought the nurse; and so young to be a lawyer, too…..  She wondered if the open-mouthed little girl holding her hand was her daughter.  The girl was turning to stare at the boy, eyes wide---

Why, look at the little tyke; he almost seemed in shock--- he kept opening and shutting his mouth with the most peculiar expression on his face as she assisted him into his bed…..


It was much later in the evening; Mouri Kogoro sprawled snoring in one of the hospital room's chairs, lines of fatigue and unaccustomed worry only now beginning to relax away.  Sonoko had gone home at last, driven by Professor Agasa--- her wound had been minor (although it had  required stitches, and she had confided to Ran that the doctor that had stitched her up had been rather cute in a stuffy, professional sort of way).  The Professor had had his own little problems--- Kisaki Eri, while not particularly heavy, was no lightweight… and Agasa-san was no athlete.  From what Ran could gather, he had pulled a muscle in a rather delicate  place while trotting down the hall with her mother in his sweating arms.  As he limped his way from the hospital the scientist had been making definite plans to visit a hot springs spa out in the country…..

In the bed near the door, Ran's mother--- Rin's obasan--- shifted slightly in her sleep, the pallor of her face still showing the pain-ghosts of her own injuries.  Ojiwa' s bullet had missed anything major, but it had torn muscle and caused a considerable amount of blood-loss; the woman would be in bed for a week or so, healing.

The three Young Detectives had been carried home in triumph by a police car, much to their excitement.  The two boys seemed all right for the most part--- but Ayumi-chan was perhaps a trifle too quiet as she left the hospital.  Ran had put this down to the trauma of her experience--- the poor girl had been dragged bodily through the school by a homicidal madman, after all; who wouldn't be traumatized?

*Ayumi-chan…..*  Impulsively Ran had run forward to hug the child; Ayumi's tear-stained face had lightened a little as her new friend squeezed her tightly.  "It's okay, Rin-kun," she had said, wiping at one eye with the back of a slightly grubby hand.  "We got Conan-kun back, right?  So it's okay."  And she had giggled half-heartedly at Ran's dumbfounded look.

*You're a pretty special kid, Ayumi-chan, and I'm really glad you're okay too.*   The parents of all three kids had been horrified, of course, but not as surprised as they might be; sometimes Ran had to wonder about them… and not for the first time either.  Ayumi's mother had arrived at the hospital to take her child home, but the little girl's pleadings had finally won her the coveted ride in the squadcar… although her eyes had followed her daughter's every move until the door shut and the car drove away.

Ran had also watched her friend leave; the diminutive young woman had clenched her small fists until the nails cut half-circles in her palms.  Outwardly the child seemed  all right, but Ran remembered how ghostly pale her face had been when the first rays of late afternoon light had fallen on it through the opened Boy's Room door.  *Damn you, Ojiwa-san--- what happened to you was too fast!  Ayumi'll have nightmares about this for a long time; it's just not fair.*

No, it wasn't fair…..  So many things weren't, like poor Toshiro's death…..

Ran sighed, rubbing her forehead with one hand.  She sat cross-legged in a chair by the hospital-room window, her slight form fitting easily into the seat.  It still startled her (and scared her sometimes, if she were to be honest) how little there was of her--- while Conan had been undergoing his tests, she had amused herself by playing with an indulgent nurse's scale and height-measure, pulling the level down to rest gently on top of her head and stepping back to read it.

More than half a meter, gone into vapor.  So very strange, all of it.

But… life was like that.  And so was death, apparently.  She hadn't talked to Conan much about what had happened (it was kind of hard to carry on a conversation when one side of it was all winces, nods, headshakes and scribbled lines), but she was pretty sure that he'd been forced to change his I-Don't-Believe-In-Ghosts,-Of-Course-I-Don't stance.  And she wanted  to talk to him about it--- she really did.  It would have to wait, though.

*Poor Toshiro-kun…..*  Her eyes drifted towards the small lump that lay so quietly under the covers in the bed nearby.  Conan had come so close to joining Toshiro in death---

What would she have done if he had died?

Her mind refused to contemplate the idea--- it simply balked at it, refused to go on with the train of thought.  Carefully, quietly, she slid off the chair and padded softly across the room to peer closely at the sleeping boy.

So still; Shinichi's face, Shinichi's soft brown hair that her fingers had itched to touch so many times (not that she would have admitted it to herself a year ago, not even under the most refined of tortures)… all smoothed down and reduced to Conan's youth.  Almost against her will she found her hand reaching out, stroking one pale cheek with her fingertips; so soft---  Her hand trailed up into his disordered hair without any orders on her part, moving independently; when she leaned forward to rest her cheek beside him on the bed she could smell the faintly-sweet scent of the soap that the nurse had used to clean his injuries beneath the bandages.

Relaxed in sleep, he looked so innocent; relaxed in sleep, he looked so very much the child.  But she knew better- and somehow, right now, she suddenly wanted to forget the small boy and remember the young man, remember  Kudo Shinichi….. just as she wanted (desperately, just for a moment) to be Ran again.  Wanted so much to hold him, to be held by him; wanted, in a moment of déjà vu, what she had wanted for an entire year during the moments when she had allowed her heart to speak.

But….. no…..  Not possible; a beautiful dream, but not possible… at least not now.

And yet….. if she closed her eyes…..

It was funny, the way  memory worked; it could be almost tactile sometimes.  Resting here, she could actually feel the warmth of the morning sun on her face and hair as the two of them walked to theirhigh school along the sidewalk; that warmth was still there, that sun was still shining somehow.  If she turned her head she could swear that she would see Shinichi' s animated face, catch some silly wise-cracking comment or long-winded enthusiasm about Sherlock Holmes, the flash of dark blue eyes.  If she let herself remember…..

….. it was almost like being there all over again.

Her fingers moved in his hair, stroking it softly as she had now and then when he was just Conan-kun and she had been just Ran-neechan-as she had never done when he was Shinichi-kun and she had been Ran-kun.


She had a lot of good memories stored up-nearly eighteen years'  worth.  It was time to start making new ones now, now that her new life was really going to begin.  Even if Ai-chan found a cure, they could never go back to the two teenagers walking together to school again.  Too much had happened.

*Besides…* she reflected wryly, one finger trailing down his cheek, *I don't think I'd want to, not if it meant giving up… this.  These feelings.  I guess I can learn to live with being a kid all over again-it seems to be working out so far.*  Ran laughed silently to herself.  *It really does take one to know one, doesn't it?*

He turned his head a little in his sleep, restless; Shinichi's smile (how had she ever missed seeing it?) passed briefly across Conan's young face before he burrowed deeper into the pillow.

Ran's own face lost some of its sadness, a small smile curving her lips as she studied the boy's countenance so close to hers; his warm breath ruffled strands of hair against her cheek.  *He still looks like himself; he always has.  I just had to learn to see it.  This whole thing with Toshiro and Ojiwa and everything-it's the first time I've watched him in action from the same level, sort of; it' ll take some getting used to.*  She sighed and stood back up; she was so tired.  Moving gently she slid one knee up onto the bed, and with a slight hop hitched herself up onto the corner.   There was room for them both, after all-and this was where she wanted to be.

As Himitsu Rin, once Mouri Ran, settled herself down in a curl at the foot of the hospital bed, she felt the last traces of fear and tension slipping away and melting into the blankets beneath her.   One small hand crept over to brush lightly against a foot-shaped lump under the covers; she sighed again and her eyes closed once more.

… this was where she wanted to be.

* * * * * * * *

On the other bed Eri's eyes lidded open a little as she watched her daughter drift off to sleep; the faintest of smiles flickered across her face as she relaxed again, and after a moment her breathing slowed a little as she joined the rest of the room's occupants in sleep.


When Conan opened his eyes, Hei-san was sitting calmly by the open window, watching him in the dark.

*Mph…  Wha-----??---!!  Errghk!!*

Sleep still fogging his brain, the boy yelped in alarm-or tried to.  With all the will in the world, he found himself totally unable to produce more than a mangled sort of 'eep!' sound, and even that rasped his throat painfully.   None of the sleepers in the room stirred in the slightest.

The shadowy figure in the chair shook his head, crossing his arms.  "Relax, Kudo-san-I'm not here for a confrontation, and you're not in any shape for one.  Wouldn't be fair, now would it?"  The voice was very, very soft, a raspy echo of the Janitor's usual laconic tones, nearly inaudible over Mouri's horrible snoring.  Someone (probably a nurse) had turned the light out, and Conan could just barely make out the other figure's amused, slightly wary expression.

*Wary?  What the hell does HE have to be wary of?  HE's not the one stuck in a hospital bed with needles all over the place, and who the hell knows where my shoes and my watch are- dammit, I'm helpless-*   He shrank back a little, eyeing the dim shape nervously.  *Okay, 'Hei-san'….. why are you here and what do you want?*

Something in his expression must have conveyed his thoughts to his visitor; Hei-san let out a quiet snort of laughter, leaning back and stretching.  "Soooooo….. I suppose you're wondering why I've called this meeting?" he asked in a low-toned rather president-of-the-board-ish voice, grinning.  "Just wanted to clear up this or that before I'm on my way.  I guess you're wondering why I was here at all, too--- hmm, Kudo-san?"

Habit made the boy glance reflexively around the room, but there was no-one there who did not know his secret; talk about a first…..  He cocked an eyebrow at the coverall-suited figure, beginning to feel more curious than worried.  In the shadowy flicker of streetlight from the window he could see that one sleeve of the coverall seemed to be torn, stained darkly; the white flash of a bandage gleamed momentarily beneath the tatters.

At his inquiring gaze Hei-san glanced down, flexing his fingers.  "What?  Oh, this?  Just a scratch; guess Ojiwa got a lucky shot in.  Y'know, that sort of thing never happens to me when I' m being chased by cops….."  A faint grin flickered across his face.  "…OR detectives…..  just the bad guys.  I must live right or something."

*…'or something'…..*

An enormous snore from Mouri-san made them both jump; 'Hei-san' eyed the Sleeping Kogoro with amusement for a moment before continuing on.

He stretched again, yawning and scratching at his hair.  "By the way, thought you' d want to know something kind of funny.  Before he got squashed, Ojiwa-baka-san managed to collect a bullet in the side himself---only, when they took a look at what was left of him down in the morgue--- and they damn  near had to pick him up with a sponge--- seems it came out of his own gun."  The shadowy face grimaced.  "Unlucky guy; must've caught a ricochet.  So don't let Mouri-san over there crow too much, hm?"

*Huh; weird.*

"Weird, huh, Kudo-san?"  The boy gave him an odd look, wondering at coincidence; things like that made him nervous.

*Very weird.  Talkative tonight, aren't you?*

Hei-san glanced at the rest of the room's occupants, his brown-eyed gaze softening briefly as it rested on Rin's small form, curled up at the boy's feet like a sleeping kitten.  "Y'know….. I kind of wish you could tell me the story behind you two…" he said softly, cocking an eyebrow towards the girl.  "Whatever it is has GOT to be worth hearing; but….. you've got your agenda….."

Slowly he stood up.  "…..and I've got mine."  The young detective tensed, shifting so that he could throw himself across Rin if he needed to.  But Hei-san just shook his head.  "Settle down, Kudo-san--- I told you I wasn't interested in a confrontation.  I just want to get a bit more comfortable, that's all.  What's wrong?  Don't you *trust* me??"  At the faux gradeschooler' s scowl he sighed dramatically and began shrugging out of the janitor's coverall, allowing it to drop to the floor and revealing a plain dark shirt and pair of jeans beneath.  He flexed his long arms outwards, cracking his knuckles.  "Ahhhhh…..  That feels better…"

Interestingly enough, the voice sounded younger now than Hei-san's had; a bit higher in tone, lighter, different.

Settling back into his chair he scrabbled at his hair, tugging off the dusty brown wig; it was too dark in the room to see his actual hair color.  Tugging a small plastic bag from his pocket, he carefully began peeling the sections of mask from his face, never quite allowing the broken light from the window to touch his features.

Narrow-eyed, Kudo Shinichi watched what he could (the disguise pieces, for the most part-but they were interesting enough), noting the padding in the lower jaw, how the shape of the ears had been changed, the thin caps for the teeth that were popped loose… and finally the brown contacts that were carefully dropped into a tiny box.

At last the shadowy figure blinked at him, rubbing a little at one cheek.  "Whew.  You ought to feel honored, Kudo-san--- that was one of my best disguises.  Let's see, it's been--- what? Three times we've met? Four?"  White teeth flashed at him through the dimness, Hei-san's uncharacteristic smile in an unseen face.  "You always demand my best work--- guess that's one of the reasons I came to see you tonight before I disappear like a good little thief should."  Dark blue eyes picked up a stray beam of light from a passing car, their color glinting sudden and startlingly brilliant in the dim room.  He chuckled.

The soft voice sounded even younger than before--- more like that of someone in their early twenties or late teens, perhaps even someone Shinichi's own real age.  *But I figured that out a while ago, didn' t I?  Just another puzzle to do with Kid…..*

The Once and Former Hei-san stood up, tucking the roll of clothing and the small bag under one arm.  "Wish you could tell me how you rumbled me so quick--- I mean, I was actually enjoying being Hei-san, Wonder Janitor, y' know?  Except for the cleaning.  And obviously I let you see that little charm of mine to tip you off….. not really sure why I did that; guess I just wanted to give you something to think about, rattle your cage a bit….."  A low chuckle filled the room.  "I think I'm going to miss Hei-san."  And for a moment the youngish voice was almost mournful.

Shinichi frowned a little, lying more at his ease now.  *How'd I know you weren't who you seemed, 'Hei-san'?  Simple, really; it was when Ojiwan struck you on the face.  There wasn' t a red mark--- not the smallest trace of one--- so what he struck had to be something other than skin.  And you didn' t sweat enough; that too.  Even the best, most porous mask holds back sweat to some extent.  And there was the way your hands moved; you gathered up those papers when we were reading like a magician shuffles cards, and you didn' t even think about it.  Nothing really substantial, just enough strangeness to make me look at you like a suspect instead of just… Hei-san.*

*Arigatou, Hei-san; nice knowing you.*

The slender dark figure stood up, pulling a baseball cap from his back pocket and tugging in on, the brim low overhis face.  A pair of mirror-lensed glasses went on beneath it, the shades effectively masking the face as well as any top-hat and monocle ever had.  He sighed, glancing out the window; it was beginning to rain lightly.  "I… owe you something, a little…  When I came here I planned on taking care of Ojiwa and his mess without anybody getting hurt; maybe if I had moved a little quicker--  I wish I had known it was him that was dealing the drugs; I didn't, or I would've been in and out good and quick.  But… I didn't, and it took me a little too long to figure it out--- longer than you did, Oh Great Detective of the East."  He shrugged and, with one swift movement, swung a leg out and over the sill.

Still staring a little distantly out the window, he continued to speak quietly.  "If I had known, maybe Toshiro-kun would still be alive, and Nodomo-san.  I'll never know, and that's my burden to carry."  For a moment the voice roughened; it was hard to tell what the speaker was feeling behind the mirrored glasses, but his voice seemed to bear a load of--- was it guilt?

Hard to say.

He swung the other leg over, sitting on the sill as calmly as if in a chair.  Shinichi sat silent, willing him to go on.  After a moment, the young man who had been Hei-san smiled a little in what seemed to be self-mockery-not bitterly, but with a kind of sad amusement.  "I… have a friend, y'see.  And she had a friend, too….. emphasis on 'had'….. somebody foolish and naïve enough to think that they could play around with drugs and not get hurt.  They were wrong; they got one of Ojiwa's little Rat Poison Specials and paid for it the hard way."  The soft voice was quiet for a second or two.  "I--- promised my friend that I'd do something, I didn't know what-something to help stop the spread of the drugs.  I'm not enough of an idiot to trade the role of thief for one of Caped Crusader," and he laughed a little wryly; "---but I did manage to play detective enough to trace the drugs back to Beika Elementary.  And as for the rest… well; you saw the rest."  He shrugged again.

As the thief slipped out of the window he glanced back at the boy one more time.  "See you later, 'Conan-kun'--- nice working with you on this one.  Oh, and, um, thanks for not pressing the nurse call-button while we talked, too--- or did you even think of that?"  He cocked his head curiously to one side.

*Smartass—would've served you right if I had, you know…..*  The young detective shrugged; he had, but somehow it just hadn't seemed… right.  Much as he hated to admit it, he owed the guy.  *You're about as strange as they come, aren't you?  I' d give a lot to know your story, too.*

Standing on apparently nothing but air, the dark figure hesitated for a second.   "Whups, almost forgot---if you check the second locker over from the teacher's lounge in the South Hall, you' ll find those magazines you and the girls liked, by the way; I left a note with that American librarian about 'em, and she'll be dropping off the occasional stack there as well.  Seems she has a couple of subscriptions….."  He chuckled at the expression on the boy's face.  "My little parting gift, ne?"

"Oh, and speaking of parting gifts---"  A quick flick of the wrist, and Shinichi tensed as something flew through the dark towards him---


-- to land on the boy's chest with a soft *chuff*.  A rose, golden-hearted and as white as the moon.

The thief grinned down at him, a brief flash of white teeth in a dark face.  "Give that to the little one, to Ayumi-chan, okay?  For courage under fire.  And tell her maybe I'll see her again sometime… who knows?  She might make a good Kaitou someday….."

Shinichi glared daggers.  *Over my dead body--*  He struggled to sit up-----

But the curtains fluttered briefly in the evening wind, and the thief was gone.


Three rooftops away, Kuroba Kaito was still laughing to himself at the look on the young detective's face as he navigated a tricky bit of loose tile-work.   *Whoooo--- that was worth any risk--!  Kudo looked like he was ready to throttle me himself.  One of these days I'm gonna push that guy too far, but 'til then he is SO damn much fun to tease--!!*   Still chuckling, he squinted through the rain at the next rooftop, gauging the distance before he made the leap; it wouldn't do for a Master Thief to fall and bust a leg or something supremely embarrassing like that.

*Kudo'd have my ass in a sling and my name on an arrest warrant faster than--- well, maybe, or maybe not; he's kind of handicapped at the moment, of course….. and probably pretty confused right now, as well.  This isn' t the first time he's owed me; bet he's sweating it out, wondering when I'll collect.  He's not such a bad guy, is he, for a law-and-order sort?  Kind of a pity, really; he'd make a damned good Kaitou himself….. if he wasn't so short, that is.*

He gathered himself, coiling like a spring.  *Well, it's done; time to go back to the normal routine….. school, homework, squabbling with Aoko, astounding the authorities and giving Nakamara-san grey hairs…..  If I' d had to stay any longer, my school-leave papers'd have to be renewed, and that might have been trouble.  Oh well--- *

----  he jumped, compact and low and moving like a cat----

*-- at least I can tell Aoko-kun something has been done about the drugs, even if I can't give her any details.  I don't… like to see her cry.*

The thief landed without a sound and went on his way through the rain, whistling softly, heading for home.


It was much later, and Kudo Shinichi was dreaming; he dreamed and knew he dreamed, sitting a little ways off from everything and watching the moments as they passed like scenes on a movie-screen…..

(darkness inside of a box, close and unwilling confinement wound around with terror and pain and the knowledge that no-one knew where he was--- Will they find me in time?  My head hurts so much--- )

***Yeah, it did hurt, it really did.  I've been hit on the head a lot of times before but this was the first time I ever had a concussion.  Hope it's the last time.***

(a boy waiting in a park with a tainted flashlight in his hands, the half-coin, flickering and spinning over and over and over as he tosses it:  only half a chance really, never enough of to make a full chance, a real chance… just the ghost of a chance for freedom)


(her face, the face he knew almost better than his own, the one he had watched for a year through a mask of glass: new, strange-familiar, changed and yet the same, no less hers, no less loved---   "Conan-kun's got a giiiiirl-friend!  Conan-kun's got a giiiiirl-friend!  Conan-kun's got a giiiiirl-friend!")

***Shut UP, guys!  Okay, okay, YEAH I've got a girl-friend!  Satisfied?  Sheesh!***

(poor sad little ghost-child, skipping stones on the banks of an illusionary pond, eating a dream of ice-cream in an amusement park made from air and nothingness…..  .  "This is real dirt--- it's making my fingers dirty, and it' s cold and wet!  How can it be not real?" said the boy, frowning at the illusionary ground--- )

***I'm so sorry, Toshiro-kun.  You deserved better, and I couldn't give it to you.***

(and the half-coin was spinning again, flipping over and over through space….. that smell, so horrible--- he knew what it meant and he had to look, had to look though he didn' t want to because it would mean that he was too late and he had been too late from the beginning and that was *impossible* because there was no such thing as ghosts---)

***So much for that idea.***

(the hands pulled him from his tomb, such large hands (he had once had hands like that) gathering him close to Mouri/Ojisan and bringing him out of death into life again…..)

***Mouri-san, I--- uh, well, I----   Anyway: thanks.  Thank you.***

(and her face again: laughing at him, a smear of mud on one child-round cheek and her hair still dripping from being splashed at the park….. love in her too-wise child's eyes, woman's eyes….. *Ran*…..)






….. and the dream-images began to blend and blur into darkness, familiar calm darkness starred distantly with the pinkish orange sulfur-lights of Tropical Land' s parking-lot.  Dream-sounds faded away into indistinctness as the soft scuffing of two pairs of sneakers replaced and overlay them, moving quietly along in a double rhythm across the asphalt towards the unlocked gate.

"Why am I not surprised?" Kudo Shinichi asked himself, glancing upwards at the starless sky, hands in pockets.

His self answered:  "Well, maybe because we've spent so much time here lately we ought to get a local mailing address? Or maybe set a tent up back of the arcade?  Or maybe---- Ow!"  A set of knuckles thumped the boy on the head, and he scowled up at his alter-ego.  "I threatened to punch Ojisan in a pretty damned uncomfortable place if he did that to me again---"

"---and if you punch me there you'll be hitting yourself, which is pretty stupid.  So don't try it, pipsqueak.  Besides, our mom taught us better than that."

The boy crossed his arms and hunched forward, muttering:  "…works both ways, you know; you just thumped yourself, so what's that make you?"

Shinichi opened his mouth, then closed it and looked annoyed; he shrugged.  "Hey, I deserved it."  A snort was the only answer he received, and his mouth crooked up into a grin.  "Who cares, anyway?"  He threw his head back and laughed.  "We're OUT OF THAT DAMNED BOX!!"  The shout rang across the empty parking-lot, echoing off unseen walls.

"No shit, Sherlock.  Now can you be any louder, hmmm?"  The boy beside him rolled his eyes, though the same grin sat broadly on his rounder, softer features.

"It's like I said----  who cares?  I mean, who's gonna hear us *here*??"  Shinichi kicked at a pebble on the asphalt; it skittered off across the rough surface.

"Well….."  The toe of Conan's small shoe thwacked against the pebble as it rolled to a halt before them; he kicked it a little further.  "I guess….. since you put it like that….. nobody, really….."

Shinichi smirked.

"….. except those two up there by the gate….."

"Huh??"  His older self jerked his head up from where he had been searching for the errant pebble.  Two figures stood by the gate, waving; even from half-way across the parking lot the two could recognize who waited for them.

Conan smirked *back* at his alter-ego.  "Race you----- " and  he was off, short legs pumping as his small feet thudded on the asphalt.  For one long moment Shinichi gawked after him--- and then he threw himself into pursuit with a shout as if his life depended on it, long limbs flying.

The shorter of the two figures by the gate turned to the taller.  "Well?"

"Hmmm?"  Ran was watching Shinichi, her eyes shining a little with laughter.  Her long, dark hair drifted about her face in the cool evening breeze, the chestnut strands reflecting the flickering neon of the amusement park's signs.

"Which one do you think will win?"  The small girl tucked her thumbs into her pockets, leaning back comfortably against the legs of her taller self where they stood against the railing.  They watched as the taller figure overtook the shorter, scooping the short form up and tucking him kicking and yelling under one arm as Shinichi ran.  "Umm, never mind.  Moot point."

Ran giggled, looking down at herself.  She stretched alittle, her long, slender arms arching above her head as she marveled at the simple sensation of *height*; it felt strange, seeing the ground so far away again.  After a moment her gaze dropped to her child-self's small form; she brushed the soft brown hair crowning the little girl' s head with light, curious fingers, wondering at the softness of the strands.

The child glanced up inquiringly.  "What?"

"Oh… nothing.  I've just never seen the top of my own head before, except with a mirror… it's kind of strange."

Rin eyed her with a small grin.  "You should see the view from here, Ran-kun; you look awfully tall… and, umm, sort of… well, a bit less flat-chested than I remember being….."

Her other self swatted at her with an indignant squawk; the little girl dodged, laughing.  "Well, what did you expect?  The view's *different* from down here!"  She giggled.  "Better watch how you stand around Conan-kun….."

"Awp!  RIN!!"  The child just laughed as Shinichi came pelting up to the gate, a highly-indignant Conan-kun tucked under his arm like a sack of groceries.  She beamed up at the young man who halted, panting and leaning on the gate.  "You' d better put him down; didn't you bite when you were a little kid?"

Both males sputtered identically; it was quite a sight.  "Hey----  Rin-kun….. c'mon, now; I was REALLY little when I did that!  I mean, smaller than the pipsqueak here, that is…"  Shinichi wiped hair from his eyes, upending the smaller boy to drop him with a *thud!* onto his feet.  Conan snorted in annoyance as he brushed himself off, muttering imprecations under his breath and glaring up at himself.

A gentle hand smoothed his tangled hair from behind; startled, the boy turned to stare up into Mouri Ran's expressive dark eyes as she straightened his jacket with practiced fingers.  Neither spoke, but they both shared a strange, tender sort of momentary déjà vu in which (for one gentle, phantom second) only a normal young woman called Ran-neechan and a rather bright little boy named Conan-kun stood there…..

Then the moment passed.

…..and the heart behind the small boy's smile was one that she had known for eighteen years.  Of course, the fact that Shinichi was also standing by *watching* them both with a curious, reminiscent look on his face was enough to make a person's head spin--- but none of them really minded much.

Without another word, the four passed through the gate and began walking, not really paying much attention to where they were going.  Conan fell in beside Rin, their shoulders brushing; she smiled a little shyly at him, her eyes straying to the two taller figures  that walked in front and how their hands were intertwined.  Two smaller hands linked together; there was trust in the clasp, and a lot of things that would gounsaid for the next decade or so.  Sometimes it was better that way; when you didn' t speak, you didn't stammer or get the words wrong… and besides: it was unnecessary, for the most part.

The lights of the empty rides and attractions flickered brightly to either side, and off in the distance the sound of the Mystery Coaster making its endless rounds roared like the waves of a wood-and-metal sea; Rin lifted her head briefly to watch as it climbed a hill, paused, dropped---

They talked a little as they moved through the park, of everything and nothing.  Memories, things that had come up in the past few days, questions, plans for the future…..  At one point Rin turned to Conan with an amused lift of an eyebrow and commented that when they woke up he had better plan on running for his life--- her father had seen her use the sleeping-darts from her pendant, and it wasn' t much of a leap of conjecture from there to the Famous Sleeping Detective…..  Conan swallowed hard, wondering if he should talk to Haibara Ai about escape-routes.

But Shinichi simply shrugged.  "Bet he doesn't say a thing."  He met their three incredulous gazes with a wry grin, shaking his head.  "He's too fond of the idea of being some sort of genius--- sorry, Ran, but that's how it is,  you know him better than we do----- "  Laughing, he dodged a mock blow that she aimed in his direction.  "And if he doesn't ask about the darts, he won't know for *sure* that we' re responsible for him solving any of those cases… and I'll bet he prefers NOT to know."

Ran sighed, running the fingers of her free hand through her hair; she nodded a little gloomily.  "You're right, I guess….. but… he really was pretty fantastic this afternoon, wasn't he?  I mean, in the fire-fight and all….. it reminded me of how he was when I was little, when he was a cop."  She walked on in silence for a moment, face thoughtful..

"Something on your mind?" asked Shinichi quietly; his hand was warm in hers.

The dark eyes that looked up into his were filled with sorrow.  "I was just thinking… about Toshiro-kun.  I wish we could've done something more for him."  She hesitated, wanting to ask but half-afraid to.  "…..When you were still in that horrible cabinet--- when we were in the hall, I thought I saw----- "  Ran stopped, a wondering light in her eyes.

Rin turned to stare curiously at Conan as well, who avoided her gaze by glancing shiftily up at his taller self.  "You want to handle this one?  After all, you're the one who used the double-sided coin….."  The small boy grinned wickedly, and Shinichi shot him a dirty look.

"Oh, thanks *loads,* the older youth growled.

"You're welcome….. cheater," the younger boy smirked.


 Then Shinichi sighed, grimacing as he turned to Ran with slightly pained expression.  "It's kind of hard to explain…  I sort of wish Toshiro-kun was still here so he  could explain.  I just, well, *winged* it.  Toshiro-kun kept showing up here, and he had this idea that one of us could leave with him and… umm… try to contact you---" The young detective faltered, his entire aspect drooping sheepishly  under twin horrified stares.

 "LEAVE??  Leave HERE??  Leave *yourself* behind??…..Shinichi….. does 'This is a BAD idea' mean anything to you?  What do you think you are, some kind of magician?!?  That is *absolutely*--- that's----"  Ran tried to find the words for the situation, eventually giving up and settling for waving her arms and sputtering.

Rin picked up right where she left off; hands on hips, the diminutive girl  glared up at the young man severely.  "----that's one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard of," said the small girl sharply, snapping at him in pure exasperation.  "I mean, it's bad enough that you got stuck in that box, but *this*----  who knows what could've happened?  You could have----- "

"---you could have died, or gone crazy, or, or----   Separating from *yourself*??  Shinichi, you--- you----" Ran dissolved again into sputters, her hands also on her hips.  The two confronted Shinichi with identical expressions of horror and indignation; he seemed to shrink a little in place, and Conan edged around behind a post, wide-eyed and apprehensive.

Sheepishly the young man ducked his head, studying his toes. He scratched at his head.   "Yeah, yeah, I know.  But I was kind of desperate. Well--- actually, I was REALLY desperate.   There was nothing else we could do!  We couldn' t get the damned drawer open, couldn't make any noise, couldn't contact anybody any other way----   Dammit, Ran, I----- "

The sound of a step towards him and the lightest brush of a hand on his shoulder and a finger against his lips stopped the flow of words; Shinichi looked hopefully up into Mouri Ran's face, hesitating.  "I know," she said softly, a lingering trace of anger still edging her words; "I know.  You've always been so good at taking chances---  no matter *what* size you were."  She shook her head, one corner of her mouth quirking up a little.  "Brain-damaged as it was, I guess this was just one more gamble, ne?"She was standing very close to him now, dark eyes gazing a little up, straight into his.

(Behind them Conan frowned.  "Hey!  'Brain-damaged?'  It----- "  But Rin shook her head, touching *her* finger to his lips and tugging him away a little.  "Shhhh-------")

Shinichi swallowed, feeling his pulse beating in his throat.  "Gambles… sometimes a chance for something you really *need* is better than a sure thing you already have, if you're willing to take the risk… and if you want it hard enough.  But you know more about gambles than I do, don't you, Ran?  You took the biggest one of all….." he said softly; she blinked at him for a second, and then her eyes strayed past his shoulder towards a distant spot behind the arcade as comprehension dawned.

Shinichi gathered his courage then, and took another gamble; his hand came up to cup her cheek as, very gently, he kissed her.  Ran's eyes widened in astonishment, then closed as her own hands came up and behind him to caress the back of his neck, the softness of his hair.  The gentleness of the kiss caught fire after a moment, fueled by all the fear and longing and love that they had both felt over the last few days, and their arms were suddenly tight around each other as they forgot where they were, forgot theircompanions, forgot the world.

And if the kiss was a little unpracticed or clumsy, neither minded in the least.

But….. even they had to breathe after a few moments; at last Ran rested her head against Shinichi's shoulder, cradled a little self-consciously in his arms.  "We… should have done that before, when we had a chance in the *real* world, you know?" she whispered, laughter making the words tremble.

He brushed his lips a little awkwardly over her forehead; he loved the feeling of her skin and the scent of her, warm and fragrant and oddly *comfortable* against him.  "Y-yeah… not sure if I could have, though; you know what a coward I was about anything like that…"  It was strange, holding her so closely--- but somehow Shinichi thought he could get used to it pretty easily.  He sighed, resting his chin on the crown of her head.

She laughed softly, turning so that her face was half-hidden against Shinichi's chest.  "Me too.  Every time anybody said I was your girlfriend or something, I always made a fuss about it--- and if YOU did anything affectionate, I never knew how to take it--- but you know something?  I don't think we were fooling anyone."  Looking up at him, laughter sparkling in her eyes, she was just about the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, and he opened his mouth to say something, he didn't know what---

---- but she was drawing him down to her now, one hand pressing against the back of his head.  This kiss was long and sweet and less awkward than before, with Ran's fingers twining in Shinichi' s hair; they were getting better at it (some small part of Shinichi's mind was dancing gleefully in the background and chanting something about 'Practice Makes Perfect').  A third kiss seemed to be agood idea as his hand slid down to the small of her back, pulling her closer; a fourth one sounded even better---

Someone cleared their throat.

Flushed and startled, the two teenagers were suddenly a good two feet apart from each other, red-faced andout-of-breath.  Cheeks burning, Ran  swung around to confront the two small figures who were sitting side by side on a fence-railing a few feet away, watching with interest.  "WHAT?!?"  Behind her, Shinichi glared.

"Oh, nothing….."  Rin merely smiled a slightly smug smile; beside her Conan silently offered a small paper bag, and the girl crunched on a few kernels of popcorn from it before glancing up.  "Don't mind us….."

Shinichi was suddenly at Ran's shoulder; he glared down at his counterpart with a distinct don't-say-anything-you-might-regret-later look in his eye.  The boy merely beamed back up at him, munching; the smell of the buttered popcorn floated through the cool air.  After a moment, a slightly distracted Shinichi reached around Ran to nab a bite for himself; he crunched thoughtfully."Where'd you get the popcorn?"

In answer Conan nodded towards a darkened concession stand, his mouth full; he swallowed, passing the bag to Ran; the boy's dark-blue eyes twinkled a little as he held it out.She hesitated, blushing even redder, then relented and took the bag with all the air of someone accepting an apology.

They walked on, further into the park; no particular destination drew them--- it was simply something to do together (the 'together' part was the most important bit).  Crumpling up the paper bag, Ran tossed it towards the dark mouth of a trash-bin, wondering for a brief moment if it would show up there in the 'real' world the next day.  She glanced up at Shinichi, whose hand held hers loosely, fingers intertwined.  "You know… I just thought of something…"

He looked sideways at her, tilting his dark head in that gesture that she had seen so many times before.  "Yeah?  I did too.  You first, though----  what'd you think of?"

She chuckled a little.  "I think I know why we're… well, like this."  Ran gestured at herself and at Rin with her free hand. " You know--- twins, sort of.  I think I've figured it out."

Now she had all of their attention; serenely, Ran continued on.  "There's two things we both have in common:  We both took the capsule and became kids again….. and we're both sort of survivor-types--- you know, stubborn.  Right?"

Frowning up at her, Conan objected; "There's a LOT more we've got in common beside just those---"

She tapped him on the nose with one fingertip.  "Quiet, you; that was a rhetorical question.  Now….. when we each took the capsule, our old selves--- Shinichi and I--- sort of 'died', right? We don' t exist in the *real* world anymore, unless you two use one of those temporary cures you told me about… which might be interesting…..  So: if we couldn't continue to live in the waking world, then what I' m thinking is that we kept on living here, wherever here is----- " and she chuckled again; "---basically because we're too stubborn to just give up and die."

Three astonished sets of eyes stared at her.  Again, Conan was the first to speak.  "Are you saying," he said slowly, "that you two still exist because we're too--- too damn *pigheaded* to just let go of who we were?"

"Yes."  She grinned down at him.  "Well?  Is anything I just said untrue?  I know it sounds crazy, but----"

Rin crossed her arms, a peculiar look on her young face as she eyed her older self.  "I refuse to think about it too hard…" and she gave a shiver.  "Ghosts and things like that are bad enough, but at least they're not US, if you know what I mean.  That's….. creepy."

Beside her Conan grimaced, shoving his hands into his pockets; he sighed, shaking his head hard as if to dislodge a bad idea.  "I'm with you… I've had enough headaches lately; I don't want any more!"  He rubbed at  his temples gingerly.

Their two older selves looked at each other and shrugged simultaneously; Shinichi snorted once in amusement.  "Yeah, well, I can sympathize."

They walked a little further on into the park; by now the wind was beginning to rise a bit, blowing drifts of leaves in scurrying little groups across the sidewalks and roped-off waiting areas.  A damp, green scent filled the air, the sort of smell you get when the grass has been newly cut and the sprinklers have been on; kicking at a leaf, Conan wondered who handled the landscaping for *this* landscape?

Errgh; never mind.

The two girls had dropped back a little to talk; he glanced over his shoulder as he fell in beside Shinichi.  Ran's head was tilted a little so she could whisper down to Rin, and the identical looks of surreptitious humor on their faces made him sweat slightly.  He indicated the pair with a nod of his head towards the detective.  "Hey--- think we should maybe interrupt?"  Even to his own ears he sounded tentative.

Shinichi cast a look back over one shoulder and shuddered.  "Not for anything in the world am I gonna get near enough to hear what they're saying about us right now," he said firmly, shoving his hands into his pockets.  A giggle from behind them made both boys hunch their shoulders a little, and Conan gulped, agreeing silently.  After a moment, though, he glanced up.  "You told Ran that you had figured something out, but you never told her what it was---- ?"

"Yeah, right; and on second thought, I'm not *going* to, either."  At the boy's inquiring look he sighed, muttering something indistinct that was probably better not heard.  "You remember how much we hated it being dark inside that damned box?  How much we wanted light?"

"Um… yeah?"

"Well….. I guess when you get conked hard enough to rattle your brains, you get a little… forgetful."  Shinichi held up his bare left wrist and tapped it with one finger.  "What are you wearing that I'm not?"

The boy thought for a moment; then his eyes bugged out.  "Awwwp!  DAMMIT….."  His fingers slid along the band of the wristwatch that Professor Agasa had designed for him---

----- the wristwatch with the flashlight in it.

Quietly Conan began to swear under his breath.  His older self listened resignedly fora few moments until he ran out of steam, then helpfully added a few phrases he had forgotten.  In total accord the two looked at each other, dark blue eyes meeting dark blues eyes.  "Let's not say anything, okay?"

"No shit, Sherlock," said Shinichi, rolling his eyes.

* * * * *

"Soooooo….. "  Rin grinned up at her counterpart, who arched one eyebrow.  "What?"

The small girl snorted, a most unladylike sound.  "Oh, c'mon.  Was he a better kisser this time?"

Ran suppressed an urge to smack her on top of the head.  "That's none of your business, is it?--- umm, well, I guess it sort of is since you're me, but---"

Rin grinned up at her.  "Uh huh…  and when we wake up, we'll be one person again and remember what it was like *anyway*, so…??"

"I'm not going to tell you."  The young woman crossed her arms and glanced away huffily.

"No fair!  Oh c'mon, Ran-neechan…" wheedled the little girl, her heart-shaped face framing large, imploring eyes; "Pleeeease?  Pretty please?"


"Please?  After all, who else are you going to talk to about it?  Or were you planning on explaining about *this*" and Rin waved a small hand at their surroundings "to Sonoko-kun?"  Ran flinched at the very idea; the child crossed her arms, smirking.  "No, huh?  So….. was he?"

"Ummmmm… "  The young woman could feel her cheeks heating; a broad smile crept across her face and she giggled.  "Yeah--- he was.  And I think I was too.  Was it you or Conan that cleared your throat?"

The girl frowned, perplexed.  "I'm not sure, really."  Shooting a mischievous look up at her other self, she giggled back.  "Good thing one of us did, though, or we might have been there all night, ne?"

"Oh--!  Give us a little credit----  we do have some restraint, you know….."  Ran scowled down at her indignantly, blushing even redder."

"Oh, sure, sure, you both looked really restrained just then---"  Leaping sideways, a laughing Rin-kun dodged the older girl' s grab and scooted past the boys, followed by the young woman in hot pursuit.  Their steps echoed of the silent, brightly-lit attractions to either side as they clattered past the two boys, who followed them with their eyes.

"She really IS something, isn't she?" murmured Shinichi, watching as Ran dove towards the smaller girl with one hand outstretched; Rin promptly skittered around a tree and took refuge up its trunk, scaling the rough bark like a squirrel.  Her laughter shook twigs down over both combatant and audience.

Conan nodded, his eyes shining behind his glasses.  "Yeah, they are.  Wouldn't tell 'em so too often, though---"

"---just now and then, so they don't murder us or anything when we get too annoying---"

"---right; gotta keep them on their toes somehow….."  A little girl's shriek announced Ran's attempt at pulling her counterpart down from a treebranch by the ankles; leaves flew everywhere.  Both boys laughed…..

….. only to freeze at more laughter from behind them: little boy's laughter, familiar laughter.  As one, they turned in place to see---

Toshiro-kun, perched on a fence, giggling.

* * * * *

The party of four--- no, FIVE now, with the addition of someone they had never thought to see again--- were sitting at the ice-cream vendor's; the sound of cones being crunched vied with the scraping of plastic spoons on bowls in the silence of the park.

Toshiro was explaining.

"---and they said they'd take me where I need to go, but I could say goodbye first… so I came here."  The little boy licked at a drop of chocolate syrup that had escaped tothe corner of his mouth; he wiped his face on the back of one hand, smearing the smudges a little more evenly around.  Ran resisted the urge to help for a moment or two longer… but the habits of a year of Conan-keeping finally took over and she gave in, reaching across to dab at the thin young face with her own napkin.  The boy squirmed a little under her ministrations, then grinned up at her and took another bite.

He seemed to have taken a liking to her; it had come as a startling realization that he had actually never met her as Mouri Ran, just as 'Rin-kun'.  In fact, Rin had taken great delight at introducing her other self as ' Ran-neechan, Shinichi-niisan's girlfriend'…  The two Great Detectives had (much to their amusement) simultaneously blushed a fiery red and the little boy had giggled.

And now she was wiping chocolate syrup from Toshiro-kun's face.

He just didn't seem like a ghost.

She bit her lip, trying and failing to reconcile the busily-munching, sticky-faced child in front of her with what she had so briefly seen in the storage room at the school.  Impossible--- and maybe, just maybe, it wasn't important anyway.  That pathetic remnant was the past; what sat before her was what had survived and was moving on and away, out into his future.  Maybe it wasn't the sort of future that he deserved, and maybe it wasn' t what he would have wanted---

But it was out of their hands, wasn't it?  That was what Toshiro-kun had come to tell them, so that they wouldn't worry.

She took another bite of her raspberry sorbet, trying to swallow the lump in her throat along with the cool sweetness.  Beside her Rin looked up privately at her with the same mixture of grief and wonder shadowing her unchildlike eyes; the older girl shook her head quietly.

Apparently *someone* (or, from the sound of it, several someones) had picked him up from the schoolyard right after Ojiwa's demise.  Toshiro-kun was quite calm about it--- they had said that they' d take care of him, and that all would be well.

There was a certain comfort knowing that things like this *were* taken care of, wasn't there?  Still… thinking about it made her twitch.   Ran shivered, leaning against Shinichi a little harder and looking over her shoulder one more time.  Nothing, or nothing yet…..

God, but she hated ghost stories.

Toshiro-kun was talking again, interspersing his words with the sounds of the last bits of his ice-cream cone:  "They said (*crunch*) that they' d be here (*slurp, crunch*) in a little while--- they had to get some stuff first, but (*smack, wipe hands on pants*) I could come play with you here while they were busy."  He licked at his fingers.

Eyebrows raised, Conan opened his mouth to ask a question; he grunted as he received an elbow in the ribs from Rin.  "Don't; just *don't*, okay?  I don't think we' re supposed to know too much about this sort of stuff, and furthermore I don't WANT to know.  This is one time when ignorance is bliss, okay?" she muttered sotto voce, glaring daggers at the boy.  He subsided, looking slightly sulky.

"Anyway---" and Toshiro licked his fingers "---they also said I need to do something before I go….. so….."  He scooted off of his chair, hopping down onto the leaf-littered pavement and stepping back from the table.  The four people sitting there regarded him somewhat apprehensively as he looked back gravely, stood a little straighter---

----  and bowed with all the solemness of a little boy determined to do things right.  "Domo arigato, Conan-kun, Rin-kun, Shinichi-niisan, Ran-neechan.  Thank you for saving me."  He straightened, a grin slipping out as he regarded them all.

There was a long silence, broken only by the sound of the soft wind rattling the canvas umbrellas at the tables and the distant roar of the Mystery Coaster.

Ran was the first to speak, her eyes glimmering with sudden tears.  "But… Toshiro-kun… we didn't save you… we---"  Her voice broke.  Shinichi stirred restlessly in his seat, looking unhappy; beside him Conan swallowed, remembering what he had seen in the storage room.  He shared a momentary glance with his other self, a mere flicker of gaze between them that spoke volumes:

*Too little, too late.  We tried, Toshiro-kun, but it just wasn't enough.  It was too late for you, too late for us.*

As if answering their thoughts the child shook his head firmly.  "You DID too save me-you let me out!  I didn't want to be there anymore---"  He scuffed one toe across the pavement, his fists balled tightly at the memory, "---and I'm OUT now!!"  The last few words were full of triumph and relief, and the boy laughed.

He regarded his companions for a moment longer, then grinned a little wider.  "I've got one more thing I gotta do before I go-don't look, okay?"  And Toshiro turned around, fumbling in both pockets for something; glancing over his shoulder he giggled; "No cheating!"

Conan cocked his head to one side, watching the boy curiously.  "But---"

Toshiro-kun shook his head, turning back and holding out both hands in front of him.  "It's a magic trick-they taught me how to do it-here, Shinichi-niisan, Ran-neechan, you each take one…"  In his palms lay two wadded-up napkins with a suspicious lump in them.  "Only you can't open them up until later, okay?"

The two teenagers looked at each other, hesitating; 'later' would be after they were awake, and… that would change everything.  Not that it was likely that anything they were given *here* would translate to the waking world-

--or, thought Shinichi, sweating, probably  not.  He had given up guessing on this sort of thing.  *No more ghost stories,* he thought plaintively; *no more hauntings, no more unexplainable phenomena, no more supernatural stuff--just plain old, ordinary, non-weird murders, please- no more ghosts!  I don't WANT to believe in ghosts, okay?  Give me a homicidal maniac any day, or a jealous wife, or a crazed businessman… but no! more!! ghosts!!!*

He fingered the small wad of paper curiously, wondering what it might be.  A magic trick?  Ran met his troubled gaze with her own as she thanked a somewhat gleeful Toshiro for her 'gift' ; just on the off-chance, maybe they should slip the little packages to their younger selves later…..

The detective shook his head; what was he thinking?  …Oh, never mind.  It was enough to make his head hurt all over again.

"Oi!  Toshiro-kuuuun!"

The voice made them all jump, startling Shinichi badly as it shook him from his thoughts; he nearly fell over backwards from the table.  *God, sombody ELSE is here?!?  It's damn near getting crowded-*

'Somebody else' turned out to be two somebodies, one of which was waving his arm cheerfully off in the distance.  The figures (one tall and  thin, one smaller and slighter) were walking towards them from far back along the midway; it was hard to really make out details from here, but they didn't look familiar-

*Oh...  right…..  Urk!!*

It was, all things considered, a good thing that they didn't look familiar, since they were apparently coming to pick up Toshiro and take him… away.

"…I don't want to know.  I don't want to know.  I don't want to know….."  Shinichi glanced across the table; the small, determined mutter belonged to Rin, who was gripping Conan' s hand tight enough to bruise judging by the white-knuckled clench she seemed to have going.  Then again, considering the sudden pressure on his own fingers and the young woman who seemed to have scooted her chair close up against him with a nervous look on her face, she had company.  Some things never changed.

The two men were close enough to see properly now, their steps ringing on the asphalt.  The taller one wore a black trenchcoat and a normal-looking suit; his rather flyaway dark hair blew across his eyes in the soft breeze, and he brushed it impatiently back with what looked to be a habitual gesture as they covered the last few yards, shifting the paper bag he was carrying into the crook of one arm.  His blonde companion (who also carried a bag; Shinichi' s eyes widened a little as a wisp of steam rose from the opening) seemed quite a bit younger, with a solemn large-eyed face and an expression much older than his apparent years; he was dressed like any teenager you' d see on the street, jeans, sneakers and a sweatshirt.

"Hi!" chirped Toshiro, completely at ease.

The trench-coated man grinned at him, an infectious grin that made his face seem to light up from inside.  "Ready to go, Toshiro-kun?  Hey-you've been eating ice-cream!  Where'd you find it?"  The boy pointed at the counter.

The blonde maybe-teenager opened his mouth to say something scathing-you could tell it from the look on his face-but he stopped, rolling his eyes.  "Go on," he said, sounding resigned.  Without another word his companion gleefully plunked his bag into the other's arms (who swore as he juggled both containers) and dove behind the ice-cream counter, opening glass cases and beginning to pull out scoops and toppings with abandon.

Shinichi's nose twitched; that little wisp of steam… he could swear-no way--  If he wasn't losing his mind entirely (which was a definite possibility by now), he' d lay even money that the bags the blonde was holding were….. takeout?  The appetizing smell of teriyaki beef and yakisoba noodles filled the air.

Yeah, right.  Like you ate Chinese takeout in the Afterlife?

*I don't want to know.  I don't want to know.  I don't want to know.  I don't want to know…..*  Shinichi gulped, fighting back an insidious, almost overwhelming desire to ask questions.

Not even slightly fazed by the stares he was receiving, the blonde teenager smiled very slightly; he glanced around, taking in the empty park, then nodded towards the older man behind the counter.  "Don't mind him--- he's an idiot, but he's harmless."  An indignant "Hey!" came in answer, but the youth ignored it, shifting his bags a little.

At that, Toshiro giggled, stepping forward to peer up into the boy's face.  "I did what you said… I thanked everybody-but we didn't have time to play!  I wanted Shinichi-niisan to show me how to skip stones better…  Do we have to go *now*?  Can't we stay a little longer?"

The blonde young man shook his head firmly.  "Sorry, 'Shiro-kun, but it's time… past time, really; you should've gone on more than a week ago, but-well.  Never mind that."  A somewhat sad  smile stole across his pale face as he regarded the crestfallen boy.  "It's okay, though--- remember what we told you?  There's somebody waiting for you, somebody that needs you to help him…"

Toshiro seemed to brighten a little at that.  "Oh yeah--- my daddy's waiting for me!  …but… why does he need me to help him?  What's wrong with him?"

*His--- daddy?  His father?  Nodomo-san.*  Shinichi traded a look with Ran; her dark eyes were distressed and filled with memory, but a shade of relief underlaid the sorrow.  His hand tightened a little in hers, trying to offer what comfort he could.

The young man sighed, shifting the bags again.  "It's kind of hard to explain-and I don't know a lot about his case-but the first thing he needs to do is apologize to you.  He has a lot of things he' s sorry he did and a lot of work to do to pay for them-he has to begin somewhere."  At the boy's puzzled look he shook his head.  "You'll understand later, 'Shiro-kun; don't worry about it right now, okay?"

"okay…"  The gradeschooler looked a little uncertain, but he smiled trustingly up at the older boy, who returned it fleetingly.  He didn't seem like the type of person who smiled often.

His companion seemed to be trying to make up for it, however, bustling around the counter with three ice-cream cones of truly monumental proportions balanced precariously in his hands.  He beamed at all onlookers, eyes sparkling like a child's. "Here's one for you, Toshiro-kun… and one for you---"  He offered a multi-layered tower of ice-cream to the blonde, who eyed it dubiously.  "Tsuzuki, I didn't want a--- oh hell," he broke off at the hurt look on the other' s face.  "Here, take a bag---"  Slightly less burdened, the younger man took an experimental taste.  "Hm. Not too bad, I guess…"

The others watched owl-eyed.  Conan and Shinichi traded glances; this was just too weird for words.

Taking a huge bite of ice-cream, the dark-haired man grinned back, swallowing; his eyes were large and expressive, and the color seemed to sparkle oddly violet in the dim light.  "Nice place you've got here--- I can see why you two-- um, I mean four--- come here so often."  His eyes widened a little at their apprehensive looks and he shook his head, still smiling.  "Don't worry, we're only here for Toshiro-kun… you lot are safe.  Your names weren't in the Kisekei or anything like that, so--- oof!"

His companion had just elbowed him in the side, looking annoyed.  "What he's trying to say is that we're just here to collect the boy, and then we'll leave you alone."  The teenager sighed.  "So you can quit looking so panicky."  He cocked an eyebrow above one green eye at Shinichi and Conan; "What's the problem?  Thought you two were supposed to be the Great Detective of the East or something, right?"

The two components of the Great Detective of the East eyed each other with a certain trepidation, each wondering whether or not they should be actively terrified that whoever-this-was *knew* something about them (and fighting back the urge to ask what a 'Kisekei' was.)  "Uhhh…  Sorry--- we're just not used to---"  Conan waved a hand vaguely, indicating the entire situation.  He felt Rin grip his free hand even tighter.

The blonde teenager offered another faint smile.  "I'd be surprised if you were.  Ready, Toshiro-kun?"  The last was directed at the boy who was busily consuming his second (much larger) ice-cream cone of the hour.  "We're late as it is---"

Obediently the gradeschooler stepped up to stand between the two, wiping at his mouth with the back of one smeared hand.  Beside Shinichi Ran drew in her breath sharply, hesitated--- then suddenly stood up, walking over and stooping to dab at Toshiro's sticky face with a napkin again.  The boy wiggled but allowed her to clean him up a little, and when she was finished he looked up solemnly into her face.  "Don't worry, Ran-neechan," he assured her earnestly; "It's okay.  I'm going now, and you and everybody else won't have to worry anymore."

Ran felt her eyes fill with tears; impulsively she caught the little boy up in a hug, wondering just how much he really understood of what was going on.  Behind her she heard Shinichi swallow hard, scraping his chair a little as he stood.  "Goodbye, Toshiro-kun….. you take care of yourself---"  She drew back a little, looking up past the boy at the two who stood to either side.  "You'll make sure he's alright--?" Ran asked hesitantly, to be reassured by the dark-haired man's nod.  "I wish… I wish he could come back with us when--- when we wake up; I wish we could just pretend that none of this had happened, that he could just go on to school like a normal little boy---"  She stood slowly, releasing him; her tears spilled over, trickling down her cheeks to drop to the pavement below.

Long, strong hands came to rest on either of her shoulders as Kudo Shinichi drew her up then, tugging her back gently to stand against him.  Ran could feel his warm breath stir the tiny hairs on the back of her neck as he whispered:  "There's only one truth… no matter what, it always comes back to that.  Even if we pretended--- even if he could--- it would be a lie, and it wouldn't work.  Things change."  His voice was low and slightly rough.  She turned in the circle of his arms to press her face  against his chest, a sob rising in her throat.

Toshiro looked on, distressed at her tears.  "Ran-neechan?"  The soft voice sounded tentative.  "What's wrong?  Did… did I do something bad?"

She turned hastily to speak, but before she could Rin was on her feet and moving forward; the little girl smiled at the boy despite her own tears.  "No, you didn't do anything wrong; she just… hates to say goodbye."  The child drew a hard breath as Conan stepped up to stand next to her, looking a little awkward.  "You go on now, and--- and Toshiro-kun?  I hope everything works out for your dad, too."  She leaned forward then, and kissed his cheek gently with a little-girl kiss; it made him blush bright red--- he goggled at her as she stepped back and away, wiping her eyes.

The two silent figures behind him shared a glance, and then the trench-coated man placed a hand on the boy's shoulder.  "Time to go now, Toshiro-kun," he said quietly.  The boy nodded-then stopped, turning back to look at Conan.  "Thank you, Conan-kun…  I'm sorry you got hurt helping me; I wish I could stay and play with you more--- maybe you could teach me to be a detective too!"

Conan smiled back, fighting down the building-sized lump in his throat; there was a stinging in his eyes that he struggled to ignore.  All the worry, all the work, all the terror of his time in the box--- everything seemed to distill and dwindle in that moment down into something insignificant next to the fact that, for *once*, he had actually been able to help a murder victim after the crime was over.  That had never happened before; every other case had only brought solace for those left behind, not for the ones that had gone on.

This time it had been different.  This time…..

….. justice had stretched just a little further than usual.  And damned if it hadn't been worth it.

He nodded gravely at the boy.  "I wish you could too.  You'd have made a good detective, I think…..  See you later, Toshiro-kun."

Toshiro grinned his familiar grin.  "Bye, Conan-kun."

As the two men turned to leave with their charge (still licking at the last of his ice-cream), the trench-coated man glanced back; his face was solemn but his eyes smiled just a little— they were very kind.  "Don't watch us go," he said softly; "It's easier that way."

The four watchers looked at each other; then, as one, they turned away back towards the direction from which they had come.  Ran bit her lip to keep the tears back, and Shinichi rather awkwardly put one arm around her shoulders.

Behind them the sounds of three sets of footsteps continued on, gradually diminishing in volume as they moved further away---

--- and then ceasing entirely.  Conan stole a last look back over his shoulder, but there was no-one there to see, only silent pavement and an emptiness of shadows.

* * * * *

The walk back was very quiet.

It was funny, thought Conan, what kinds of silence there were.  You had the bone-chilling, hackled silence that came with the knowledge of danger, or the comforting silence of safe haven, or the hard, stunned silence of realization; you could find solace or terror in quiet—it all depended on the situation.  This was a strained, sad quiet… the sounds of emptiness; something had been there, something was gone.  This silence was made up out of people missing someone: a boy named Nodomo Toshiro, aged seven years and no more.

He glanced sideways at Rin, watching the lights play over the softened child-roundness of her face.  Had she been that pretty the first time around?  He didn't think so (or if she had, he hadn't noticed, little idiot that he had been)… ten years of experience lent a depth to her eyes deeper than any jewel's. 

She tilted her head back a little, following the movements of something overhead; Conan glanced up and frowned as he shoved his glasses back up his nose with one finger.  Hey, were those--- no way… were those clouds overhead?  *Don't be stupid, Kudo; the only thing that's ever been in *that* sky was when it rained blood, and I don't think that's gonna happen again anytime soon.  At least I hope not.*  He shuddered.

It was true, though—the dreamscape's sky was always empty; no sun, no moon, no stars, no birds, nothing.  Just darkness, thick and black.  So why was there a distinct look of movement way up there?  The boy turned to nudge his older self, but the young man was already looking up warily.

*Damn, I hope it doesn't rain again…..*  He eyed the clouds (and they WERE clouds—weird…) uneasily.

"Conan-kun?"  Rin was still staring up at the sky, pale face softly lit by the midway's glitter.

"Hmm?"  He kicked at a pebble, watching it skip across the sidewalk towards the ornamental pond to one side.  It cleared the shore and entered the water with a plunk! as he continued on past.

(Toshiro, sitting on the bank, trying to skip stones….. "I almost got one all the way across!  You want to try, Conan-kun?")

"Do you ever wish you were doing something else?"  Rin's soft, lilting child-voice was subdued.

He eyed her sideways a little oddly, still walking; a soft breeze fluttered her dark hair across her face, the strands twisting in the wind like streamers of silk.  "Sure…  I mean, when I was in that damned box I wished I was doing all sorts of something elses, up to and including explaining my watch-darts to the Amazing Sleeping Kogoro, which says a lot about how desperate I was right then.  Is that what you mean?"

She elbowed him, making him grunt slightly.  "Behave, Chibi-chan, or I'll tell my mom you have a secret crush on her."  He blanched.  "No, I mean… do you ever wish you weren't doing detective things?  That maybe you had gotten interested in something *different*… ?  I don't know, maybe acting or sports or—or just something else?"

By now he had slowed a little and was staring at her, one eyebrow arched.  "Why in the world would I want to do that?"

Rin also slowed her pace, turning to glare at him slightly.  "Well, for ONE thing, if you hadn't gone all detective on everybody you wouldn't be living a second childhood, right?  You wouldn't have gotten bashed on the head, or chased by criminals, or shot in the stomach, or—well, any of all the other awful things that you've had happen to you over the past year.  You know, THOSE things.  Your life would probably be a lot more peaceful—"

"—and a lot of criminals would've gotten away with murder," he said flatly, brows furrowed.  "Ra—I mean Rin, what are you getting at?"  He hesitated.  "Is this—are you asking me this because of how you've been changed?  You *know* that if I could have stopped you, I would have—"

She rounded on him fiercely, her eyes throwing back sparks.  "That is NOT what I mean!"  For a moment she sounded exactly like the adult she had once been—the inflections were unmistakable.  "I'm not talking about my life, I'm talking about yours!"  She drew a deep breath, tucking her chin and looking down at her little girl's body.  "I don't mind this so much any more—I'm not saying I *won't* later, but I still think I made the right choice… no matter what happens."

They walked on a little more; then Conan spoke up again in a small voice.  "Do you—do you wish I had been different?"  He sounded very young in that moment, and rather tired.  "Rin… this is how I am; I think it's a little late to change….."  The boy laughed, but there was little happiness in the laughter.  "*Really* late, all things considered."  He shrugged his narrow shoulders, and the gesture seemed to emphasize his small stature.

"Stupid."  Her tone was affectionate, if still a little annoyed.  "If I wanted you to change I wouldn't be here with you right now, would I?"  A small finger reached out, tapping Conan squarely on the tip of his nose; he looked up, startled.  "No… I just wondered, that's all… I just wondered if you thought it was worth what you've paid."

His eyes softened, the sharp dark blue gaze gentling as it traced her features through the mask of his glasses.  "Can't say I like it all the time—but it's a hell of a lot nicer than it used to be.  And… I've done some good, maybe in some ways that I couldn't have if I had stayed the way I was.  I guess….. yeah; yeah, it's been worth it."

Conan laughed a little, then, hunching his shoulders forward.  "Of course, that's not going to stop me from trying to get us back to normal one bit…….. and there's the Black Organization and all to still bring down….."

"But it's a hell of a lot better than dying in some amusement-park back lot, I guess.  Especially now."

He turned his head, craning to look up at the two silent figures walking behind them.  "What, no comments from the peanut gallery?  You two are awfully quiet all of a sudden… I almost thought you had gone off without us."  Conan reached out, poking his counterpart's leg with one finger.  "Anybody there?"

Shinichi looked down his nose at him, grinning a small grin.  "Just us chickens… or," he added dryly, "in your case, shrimp."


The young man chuckled; Ran elbowed him in the side ("Ooof!"), then hugged him a little as if in apology.  After he had recovered his breath, Shinichi scratched his head and continued, a thoughtful look in his eyes.  "You're not saying anything I haven't thought of before, so why should I say anything now?  You're right; even if there's moments when we hate it—when we hate being too damned small, too damned weak—when we want our life back….. it's not so bad."  His gaze flickered sideways towards the young woman beside him.  "We're not alone anymore.  And we will find a way to bring down the Black Organization."

Ran's own eyes sought out those of her older self's; they shared a conspiratorial glance for a moment as they walked.  "Besides," the small girl said softly, "we can always start over again if things don't work out, you know…"

"Hmm?"  Both males frowned identically, turning to stare at her.  "What?"

She blinked at them both innocently.  "Well, if Ai-chan can't find a cure and we have to grow up a second time, we'll have our whole lives ahead of us, right?  And when we get older—when we're old and gray-- if we haven't stopped the Black Organization yet we can always take another capsule apiece and turn into little kids *again* and start all over…..  I'll bet we could find a home with Sonoko when she has a family, or maybe with Hattori-kun or somebody like that… or even maybe with our own kids or grandkids….."  She blushed a little but continued to smile serenely up at the two boys, who sputtered incoherently at her for a few moments.  Ran hid her own snickers behind one hand, then pounded on Shinichi's back when it looked as though he was about to choke.

"And besides….." Rin laughed softly to herself, "who says that one lifetime'll be enough?  It's something to think about, isn't it?  I think I could manage several lifetimes with you….."  She tilted her head, laughing up at the young detective, who reddened.

Shinichi smiled down at the top of her head, his cheeks warm.  "I… guess it is at that.  A second lifetime or a third… it doesn't matter how long or short they are, really—they're time well spent."  And he chuckled, the sound a little roughened by the emotions tightening his throat.  "But we are NOT going to live with Sonoko….."

She stuck her tongue out at him.  "Spoilsport."

Beside him Conan looked up at Ran; she smiled down at him.  "Well, Chibi-chan?"  He made a sour face, but his lop-sided grin snuck through.  "Guess I'd better agree—if I don't, you'll probably beat me up, won't you?  You and your little gradeschooler karate thugs'll make my life hell at Recess otherwise….. you'll sic Ayumi-kun on me or something---"

She chuckled and riffled his hair.

The two couples walked on; the wind was rising even more now, moving the now-distinct clouds across the sky in a roil of grey; dry leaves skittered across the pavement like tiny children, dancing in circles and spinning around each other.  Shinichi lifted his face towards the broken darkness above; after a moment he spoke again, his words soft enough to nearly be indistinct.  "Y'know… all this 'ghost' business….. I keep thinking:  in a way, Ran and I are the ghosts here— we're the past, and you two," he nodded towards the small figures beside them, "you two are the present.  Not to get philosophical or anything, but….."

Ran mock-frowned.  "I don't feel much like the past—I feel like me."  She tugged at one strand of his hair, turning his face towards hers.

Kudo Shinichi shot the young woman a wry grin.  "Well, you are you—and if Haibara does manage to find a cure, I guess we're the *future* as well….."

Conan snorted, but softly.

They had nearly reached the main gate by now, and they paused to look around at the blinking lights, the flutter of leaves.  "It's different, isn't it?" whispered the boy, peering up wonderingly at the sky above as if looking for clues.  "I don't remember it ever being like this before—"

Shinichi shrugged.  "Things change."

A gust of wind blew across them all, swirling in a momentary burst of coolness; it spoke of distant rain, of green and growing things and the promise of newness.   The four of them stood still, breathing in the scent of life….. and over their heads, the clouds broke up at last.

"Look, everybody—" whispered Ran, her eyes shining; she leaned back comfortably in Shinichi's embrace.  His hands tightened on her shoulders as her eyes sought out the heavens, and he tilted his head back as well.  "Look up--- you can see the stars."


Outside the hospital the night flowed onwards as had a million, million other nights before, darkness begetting darkness and leading inescapably towards the conclusion of dawn.  Lights from the traffic signals below reflected in red-green-yellow semaphore, sending cryptic signals and clues to the few drivers that were out this early; the patterns broke up in the puddles on the pavement, starred by falling drops.

If one were to look up from the sidewalk, one might have seen a certain window; and if one had been able to rise up like an angel (or a Master Thief, perhaps) and ascend towards the heavens to peer in through the glass, one might have seen something else, too…..

Two children sleeping as soundly as any innocents ever had, one bandaged and tucked into a bed and the other curled like a kitten at the  foot.  Their faces were calm and relaxed in slumber; any dreams they might have been sharing together were surely dreams of peace, devoid (at least for the moment) of any conflict or sorrow.

The small girl's hand was clasped tightly by that of the little boy, right within left; and loosely held in the free hands of each…..

….. were plain paper napkins, somewhat wadded up but open enough to display what lay within:

Two halves of an old coin, roughly split but with worn edges, shining golden in the darkened room like hope, twinned and glimmering from the bottom of Pandora's Box.

For a moment, the echo of voices (or perhaps merely the memory of voices) almost seemed to shiver through the room's silence:

…..In the past, it was customary occasionally for sweethearts to cut a coin in half, each one keeping part of it as a keepsake…..

…..My mama gave it to me when I was little….. you're supposed to keep it with you so you remember the person who has the other part…..  Goodbye, Conan-kun…..


Outside the window the wind was picking up; the rain was lessening, and the clouds were beginning to break.  It was still some time before sunrise, but there would be stars before dawn.


Ysabet's Notes:  Sigh.  It's over.  Do you know, I've been writing this story for seven months?  Long haul…..  I hate stopping a storyline I enjoy; it leaves a big chunk of empty space in my writing portion of myself.  Fortunately I've got several other stories going right now that'll fill in the space nicely (the next chapter of 'Conversations Among Ghosts' will be up shortly), but this one will always be sort of special to me; it was the first thing I wrote after my father's death (he died on 11/30/01) and a lot of the angst in this one came from dealing with that.

And by the way, to anyone who couldn't handle the mushy waffiness in the last part due to saccharine poisoning, well….. it got a little out of hand, I admit.  But it just had to be done.  Hope you liked the Yami No Matsuei crossover….. couldn't resist!

Got one last thing to say, just a bit of an explanation and probably Big Time unnecessary on my part, but I've been wanting to say it all along: it's about the 'window' concept.  From the very first story in this trilogy ('The Window') through 'The Longest Hour' and up through 'Second Wind', I've been using the idea of a window for all sorts of things.  I mean, in all three stories you had physical windows (Conan's and Ran's windows in the first one, the bus windows in the second one, and Conan's again as well as the storage room's window in the third one).  Fine; those were deliberate and obvious.  But the main idea behind a 'window', for me, has always been time—opportunities that you'd miss if you let them go by, split-second chances that you just could *not* afford to hesitate on.  Think of the 'launch-window' that an astronaut uses, and you'll get the idea.  That's what I was thinking of, and I used the old trick of making the symbol be the thing itself throughout the whole story arc, just for fun.  Am I getting too obscure here, or was it obvious?  Just curious.  I adore symbolism, and the concept of Time is SUCH a crucial part of the whole Detective Conan series…  I've always loved the opening scene at the beginning of the first season's episodes, with Conan standing on the moving arms of a giant clock, staring defiantly out at the Universe.

Errrrrrm; I'm getting soap-boxish, and that's unintended.  Just wondered if the concept had worked.  Blahblahblah, natternatternatter… I do tend to run on, don't I?

Next question……. I sort of left this open-ended, with Ayumi getting distinctly suspicious about Rin (and why Sonoko keeps calling her 'Ran', the doofus).  Whatcha think?  Should I go with the idea, or have I worn this one out?

Let me know, okay?  And thanks for coming along on the ride; I had a hell of a lot of fun………. Ysabet