A/N: As previously said, this is my theory of Chris Vineyard's recruitment into the Organization. Let's assume she belongs to the generation of Atsushi Miyano, his wife Elena and Pisco; then, due to an operation gone ashtray, became included among the test subjects of the incomplete APTX 4869. And she also turned up as an exception, then living the double life of Sharon Vineyard and her "daughter" Chris.

I got this idea when thinking back to the previous Detective Conan episodes, and recalled Agent Jodie Starling revealing that Chris Vineyard and her "mother" Sharon is only one person. Hope you enjoy reading it as I enjoyed writing. Now, on with the story, shall we?

{By the way, the italicized lines mixed with others signify the characters' thoughts. The italicized paragraphs signify memories. The italicized single words signify emhasis in non-italicized paragraphs. The italicized and bolded lines signify quotations/emphasis/notes/titles}.

Disclaimer: Almost forgot to include but as you all know, I just own the plot. Detective Conan and any associated features belong to Gosho Aoyama. The lyrics used are from "When You're Gone" (Avril Lavigne) and "What If" (Kate Winslet), respectively. I neither own both the characters and the songs nor making profit out of them. Entertainment purposes only.

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MASKS

[Angels]

It is easier to be wiser for others than for oneself – François de la Rochefoucauld

The first time they met, she stood out – unintentionally, he theorized – among an entire classroom of students in fancy clothes, with her simple creamy blouse and a pair of black pants. But there was an aura of elegance about her, he noticed, either from the delicate pair of black high-heels framing her feet or the way her eyes intently followed his every movements, taking notes in the old university way, with a stack of paper on her clipboard.

She came up to him after class to clarify some points that he had neglected to explain during his lecture; and a little chat turned out to be a long conversation of research interest, in which he was further impressed by her ability to reflect on contrast points of view while still remained neutral. Since it happened to be raining when they reached the parking lot outside the building, he offered to drive her home; but was taken aback when she politely refused. Her reaction was unexpected to him, for the willingness to continue their talk was rather evident from both parties.

He decided to place her on the list without informing his sponsor. He had done enough to guarantee his status, and did not intend to risk it with a false alarm. When the time came to pick the apple, she would be acknowledged.

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She lay sprawled on her bed, her gaze stuck to the ceiling blankly. It had been three weeks since he last contacted her. Even though it was either a few chat lines, or a text message in his usual style, at 2 a.m. in the morning to see if she had time to listen to one funny story he just read, his antics had not stood a chance in "bothering" her, as he once jokingly inquired, like they had to so many others. Or like how others had annoyed her nearly to death with the very same actions.

She knew it was hopeless. He was her very first love, and had unintentionally trampled over those oh-so-fragile feelings, merely out of ignorance so frequently seen in men his age. Yet when they had a chance to reconcile, she had to bite back her tears when she learnt, again, by his ever-trusting confidence in her, that he had had a sweetheart of his own, for more than one year before the meeting that day. She remembered having used up all her acting abilities to keep a not only straight, but positively sympathetic face – even now she still could not refer to her expressions that evening as "happy for her other half". She knew it was a mixture of jealousy and regret, for she could not bring herself to confess to him back when they were still classmates; then, she could not bring herself, again, to interrupt his lovingly description of the woman she never met. She knew that was selfishness, she recalled having read somewhere about wishing someone happiness even though its formation never included you yourself and perhaps never would; but she, as well, could never feel happy for him. Her kindness, which he admired and praised so frequently, chose sympathy as its limit.

She did not forget her hopes rising when during one of the hours-long online conversations, she noticed him acting as if they were playing masquerade. Everything he said brought her a sense of overreaction. She knew. She could even confidently affirm that perhaps she knew him like the palms of her hands; and having acquired a sense of straightforwardness after their separation, she asked him directly, to explain it.

And he broke. He admitted to her his problems with his current girlfriend, how the woman was so thirsty of affection, so afraid of loneliness, yet so innocent that it helped justify all of her demands of attention or voice of needs. He admitted his frustration, being a young successful businessman always on the move, with the love of his life, a sweet young lady who had never experienced separation from her loved ones less than the personal hours during which they had to tend to their own business. He admitted his impatience, having tried to appear by her side as much as his schedules permitted, thus ended up staying whole nights to complete work, with the woman he chose, who he insisted not being evil in whatever sense of the word, just less sympathetic than her; but then he still had no regret.

"To put it frankly, dear friend, - he typed, while she held her breath – she was made and unintentionally enforced herself at the center of the world, as you unintentionally and so kindly put everyone else at the center of the universe".

Using all her might to pull deaf ears on the words, she began her usual "healing" process, pointing out to him that the woman certainly meant him no harm, that she was probably used to the almost instant attention of others even if she did so much as to shed a tear, that she was never away from home for long and if ever was, judging from her profession, might just have been a vacation surrounded by her loved ones. She assured him that he did not make a wrong choice at that – all the while brushing away a stray tear – then advised him to try surprise techniques, like sending his woman flowers, small gifts, calls at the most unexpected moments, etc.

"She was just insecure, - she smiled to the laptop, picturing him on the other side of the keyboard, on the other half of the hemisphere – So securing her is all you need".

He commented to her that she would be very successful in her career, for she had just detected and resolved his trouble without counselling him face-to-face.

She just smiled back, replying that her area of study had never had anything to do with mind-reading.

She pulled back from her laptop, closed the Message Archive window, and spread her silver-blonde hair all over the pillow. Several times she had referred to herself as a bitch. She had, to be precise, taken advantage of his situations more than once, leaving a deeper and deeper impression on him while his heart was staggering; and the only thing that helped him patch things up with his sweetheart instead of tearing him away was only the strict code of honor that she always embraced. She knew she was walking a thin line, with one side entitled the perfect soulmate but never lover, and the other belonging to, blatantly, the seductress. She knew if she pushed, trespassing the invisible but never invincible wall, she would be his. Or he would fall under her sway. Either way, trespassers shall be punished.

She had long realized, that Angelica, his sweetheart, resembled someone she knew all too well. She had long noticed the description of the young lady conjured up images of something so familiar that was no longer awake.

… Her past.

She was once Angelica, or to put it differently, the latter was her imperfect intial. Like Ange, she grew up in a middle-class family, a loving mom, a caring dad, a peaceful childhood with the worst memory being a mad dash to escape the neighbor's unleashed dog. At school, neither the nerd with exam top scores, nor the happy-go-lucky cheerleader, but she was loved in her friend circle, the ones that sometimes she intentionally got detentions with for them not to feel lonely, that always dragged her along whenever they left to the arcade. In her neighborhood, she was the lovely little girl that tried to steady an old woman and hit the ground herself in the process, that never skipped an opportunity to put the envelope of money her family gathered in the charity box with the most solemn expression she could handle, that spent a week indoor trying to arrange her parents a surprise anniversary party after work.

Until she realized she loved him, her world was still a pink bubble with her consent but without her knowledge.

Till the present she was well-aware it was not what they termed "puppy love". Something so childish could not have lasted so long, lingering even when they had not seen each other again, growing under her nurturance, in his absence, for three years straight.

"Out of sight, out of mind", if the old saying ever qualified as a love advice, she would gladly be an exception to it. Distance and lost of contact only fertilized her feelings...

"When you're gone the pieces of my heart are missing you

When you're gone the faces I came to know is missing too

When you're gone the words I needed to hear to get me through the day

and make it okay...

I miss you..."

But the final line never came. From both sides. She had spent days imagining the reunion, with him admitting to sharing her feelings and their living happily ever after. But at the actual reunion, she got another, still unintentional, heartbreak.

She recalled having listened to again and again while pondering over the very same thing that made up a song's title...

"What if I have never let you go?

Would you be the man I used to know?

If I stayed... if you tried... if we could only turn back time..."

She had long known, the past would always be the past. That what ifs would lead her nowhere, may be to her demise at most. That she had long dug her own grave in love, by switching to standby mode and accepting a shot of emotional immunity to herself, waiting in vain for the return of someone who had never been aware of her feelings in the first place. That she had been clinging to a wild fantasy, not a dream.

A dream held a chance, however tiny, in becoming reality. A fantasy would only follow into her dreams, at best.

Many of her friends, hearing this, would say she had been foolish beyond imagination. Of course, that was her darkest secret, one she did not think she would confide in anyone; surprisingly, not because she was afraid of being misunderstood. One could never understand oneself thoroughly, hence slips of the tongue or any other unprepared acts. Thus who were they, and who was she, likewise, to judge what was or was not misunderstood?

But her intention, in that regard, lay on an entirely unexpected side. She did not want to shatter her image, one she had long devoted to its construction and elaborate maintenance. In playing the bystander to affections, she had, initally unbeknownst to her, built a reputation of the unattainable.

And someone was probably right when concluding that a beauty, once acknowledged, would be cultivated. That a woman could be pretty if she wished to, and had the appropriate means, in her case, knowledge. As well as simplicity. Like, her slender figure would look best in office blouses, or her silver-blonde hair would stand out with black.

And the web of secrecy and detachment she weaved around herself only added to it.

"A secret makes a woman woman"

Her favorite quote. She rarely mentioned it to anyone, for it contained the type of confidence that not all possessed. She herself was not sure if she did possess it, but she believed it anyway. Ironically, while her former fantasy would surely end in a blind alley, the more recent one polished even more her image.

Her thought drifted back to the laptop, subsequently him, thereby linking to his lover. Even when she had finally let go of her feelings, and lived on with her present, their relationship to her was still of great interest.

For heaven's sake, she thought to herself whenever she realized she was analyzing her own private life, what a workaholic I've become.

Ange... Somehow she could not refer to his girlfriend as her official name, Angelica, and resorted to a nickname that upon hearing a stranger would end up assuming they were very close to each other, one a soulmate and the other a serious love interest. But in fact the young lady did not even know her, or maybe barely as an old classmate of his with whom he still kept in touch. They both agreed not to let her know of the difference between a classmate and a soulmate, since both did not want him to be antagonized with a heap of suspicion of adultery, other than the original self-doubt.

She got off the bed following a phone call from her mom at the other end of the country to check up on her, then resumed her daily tasks. Tomorrow she got a class of his again. The Japanese visiting professor, except for his awkwardly habitual addressing of students by their last names at first, brought up some very intriguing research interests. And their after-class talk turned out to be a pleasant experience, just as she had expected upon taking glimpses of his personality during the lecture. He was still young, perhaps a few years older than her, but very talented indeed.

She smiled, recalling a lightning of surprise crossing his face when she refused his offer of a lift. She did not want to reveal too much of herself to an almost total stranger. The conversation was very inviting a prospect, but a tiny secret would not hurt at all.

She slided open her window, and when glancing at the sky, notice a cloud in the shape of what, in her eyes, seemed like a pair of white wings.

Angel's wings...

She shook her head, dismissing the thought. She always knew why she did not refer to his girlfriend with her given name. If all angels were similarly so naively unaware of the changing universe, they would all end up as fantasies only... no more, no less.

_The sky looked beautiful, don't you think sir?

_Please, - the black-haired man turned to her after briefly stopping for a hurried glance – Miyano would be enough.

_Professor Miyano, you didn't notice, - she pointed out – I specifically recommended a second look.

_You mean the cloud almost afloat in the center? - he glanced up again.

_Yes.

_The tint of sunset was pretty, - he commented. If you want a better vantage point I suggest something other than staring through the glass ceiling.

When they stepped outside she appeared worried.

_Something the trouble, Vineyard-san?

_No, Professor, - she shook her head – but looks like it's going to...

A few seconds later the rain poured down with no mercy. At all.

_Too bad that cloud was overwhelmed, - she eyed the darkened sky inquiringly.

_Out of curiosity, what do you think of it?

She turned to him.

_ Cloud?

_No need for sarcasm, Vineyard-san, - he smiled. Remember what I said about inspriration?

_I'm no poet, Professor. Out of curiosity, - she turned the table on him – what's your opinion?

_Well, I was expecting to relate to our previous discussion.

_Now that you mention it – she looked thoughtful. He noticed a strand of her silver-blonde hair usually framing her face when she was lost in thought, but dismissed the stray thought himself.

_It looked like the wings of an angel hidden in the sky watching over people, - she finally answered.

_An angel, you say? - It became his turn to be lost in thought. Perhaps... but you know, Vineyard-san, if all angels were to be in white, the suppossedly color of innocence, they would end up too bright that humans would drop dead just being seen through.

_Kind of like a converted Medusa, isn't it? - she calmly responded.

_Yes, - he nodded, his eyes deep – a Greek myth with reversed roles.

She glanced at her own reflection in the mirror. Seemingly, they – she herself and the Japanese professor both emerged from a background buried in different mysteries. And unmasking had never been of her interest.

The process itself might prove difficult. Masks were, in her opinion, like skin to humans. Vital, and transgressing borders. She had no interest in digging up buried stories.

But, who knows. One day they might cross path, long enough for her to end up unveiling the curtain. Unconsciously. Just as one day, if all angels turned white, humans might be able to look at them, enlightened without being blinded.

"But I guess... we'll never know..."

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A/N: I myself don't even know who is the man I wrote about that Chris Vineyard fell in love with, and I don't think that fits with Gosho Aoyama's idea either; but she has been a very intriguing character to me. I started thinking, what if she was only an ordinary lady like all others, with extraordinary skills that not every person had been able to sharpen? Thus, the story began.

Looking forward to your review.

Chrys.

PS: Please don't associate my screen name with my interest in this character. Just a nickname, that's it.