Ran turned to face the door, alerted to the presence of guests by the creak of the stairs. She sighed, wondering if her father would ever get around to fixing it. Every time she asked him to paint the doorframe, or fix the leak in the bathroom, or replace the old coffee table, he came up with some excuse or another not to do it. 'Not now, I'm working.', 'Shhh! Yoko-chan is on.', 'I already blew the budget.' were all phrases commonly spoken by the famous detective with the shabby office. One would think the man would realize that a pleasant reception would attract more clients to him than his reputation alone.
Ran threw on a smile to hide her annoyance. Whoever was coming up the stairs might be a potential client, and the office hadn't seen a lot of business lately. Sure her father had solved a murder just last weekend, but the police don't pay nosey detectives. Clients paid nosey detectives, therefore clients bought her groceries. Maybe she'd get to make something special for dinner tonight.
"Yo." Ran tried not to look disappointed when a baseball cap came into view, followed closely by a dark skinned Osakan teenager. "Ah, Neechan. What's for dinner?" the boy grinned. Ran was saved from having to formulate a coherent answer by the girl stepping out from behind her larger counterpart.
"Heiji!" she spoke sharply, as if to misbehaving dog. "Don't be rude. We haven't even gotten our shoes off and you're talking about food. Guests are supposed to act more graciously!" Ran's scrambling thoughts finally grasped on to something.
She blinked once. "Guests? Will you be staying over? I'm sorry I'm not prepared." The mask of politeness was a good deal more comfortable than complete confusion. The other girl blinked in a close imitation of Ran's stunned look.
"You're not… You mean you didn't…" Kazuha-chan trailed off for a moment before turning violently on her clueless male companion. "You didn't tell her! You just decide to hop on a plane to drop in for a visit without bothering to inform your intended host. That's so…so…parasitic! Like a flea, or a tick. A leech! You're just a big fat leech! And you just couldn't keep you're leechyness to yourself, you had to go and make a leech out of me too. So know we're both fat leeches in a leechy pond, rolling around in the leechy mud and it's all your fault. I can't believe you!"
Ran winced, not out of sympathy, as far as she cared the boy deserved it, but because her friend's steadily increasing volume was a few decibels higher than comfortable. Hattori-kun took a deep breath, and Ran prepared to cover her ears in case the two of them decided to engage in a full blown shouting match. They usually had at least one of them on any given occasion; she only wished they wouldn't indulge right on her doorstep.
Hattori-kun didn't get the chance to defend himself. In a move both tactful and insulting, Kazuha-chan turned her back on him, fast enough that her ponytail nearly brushed his nose, and faced Ran with a charming smile. Hattori-kun sputtered and Ran mentally applauded. It took more than a little skill to turn what was becoming an argument into a slap on the wrist. Instead of allowing Hattori-kun level ground, she whipped the rug out from under him and left him on his ass.
When Ran had first met Kazuha-chan, she had been tempted to think of her as, put politely, socially inexpert. Of course Ran knew better now. Kazuha-chan's tendency to jump to conclusion didn't mean she wasn't thinking, and her blunt way of speaking wasn't ignorance but honesty. She didn't put up with veiled insults and polite snubs. She said what she meant and expected others to do the same. Ran admired and envied her clarity; she wasn't lying to herself, or anyone else.
"Anyway," Kazuha-chan continued to ignore Hattori-kun's half formed protests. "Ran-chan, thanks for letting us stay here." She was just a shade too pleasant, daring Ran to turn them away.
"Come in." Ran ignored the fact that they were already in. "Of course you're welcome to stay. Dinner isn't anything special, but I think I have enough ingredients for something simple."
Kazuha-chan looked relieved, despite her apparent confidence. Hattori-kun mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like an 'I told you so' and was rewarded with an elbow in his ribcage. "Sorry to be a bother." She was genuinely apologetic.
"Please think nothing of it. It's a pleasure to have you here." Despite her initial shock, Ran really was glad to see her friends. It was nice to talk to someone who understood the trial of being close friends with a detective, and Conan-kun would enjoy catching up with Hattori-kun. The little guy really looked up to the high school detective, almost too much, but Hattori-kun didn't seem to mind him tagging along. It was really too bad they didn't see more of each other. It wasn't often that they bridged the gap between Tokyo and Osaka, unless there was a case involved.
Ran became nervous, thinking of potential cases. "Just curious, but why are you here?"
Hattori-kun sneaked a little revenge, waiting for Kazuha-chan to open her mouth, then cutting her off. "Kazuha is in an aikido tournament tomorrow."
Ran exclaimed her delight. "Would you mind if I came along to cheer you on?"
"Of course. Actually that would be great. There are so many good people going to be there I'd be glad of your support."
"If you make it past the preliminaries."
"What was that, Heiji?"
"I didn't say anything." Hattori-kun studied the ceiling. Ran guessed he was still prickly from being thwarted, or else he probably wouldn't have dared.
"I thought so."
It was good to see the two of them getting along as usual. In her opinion, they should just tie the knot and make it official; they bickered like a married couple. Of course they would first have to admit their love for each other, obvious to everyone but them. Ran fought off a slight blush, she really shouldn't be throwing stones, or her own walls could come crashing down.
Suddenly feeling annoyed and a little bit jealous, though she would never admit it, Ran smiled a slightly evil smile and said in her most innocent voice: "How sweet of you, Hattori-kun, to accompany Kazuha-chan all the way here so you could cheer her on. I wish I had a boyfriend like you!" Several thing then happened at once. Kazuha-chan blushed in what was, to Ran at least, a highly satisfactory fashion and sputtered something unintelligible. Hattori-kun yelled denials and insults in a frantic attempt to make it clear his was NOT dating his best friend. The door swung slowly open to reveal a pair of ice blue eyes glaring daggers at the entire room.
"What do you mean by that, Ran-neechan?" Conan-kun's voice was as sweet and sticky as pure sugar.
"Idiot! We're not… I mean… Who would date a violent girl like her, anyway?"
"Did I say boyfriend? Silly me, I meant guy friend."
Kazuha-chan jumped on the distraction. "Who are you calling an idiot, idiot! That's no way to speak to your host! And just what do you mean by violent? You got a problem with me?" she brandished a fist threateningly.
"Is Heiji-nichan staying over? Why? Can't he and Kazuha-neechan split a hotel room?"
"Yeah I got a problem with you! You're loud and rude and you snore!"
"Urgh! You're such an idiot! Why do I put up with you? I wouldn't share a room with you in a million years."
"Why is Heiji-nichan here anyway? Doesn't he belong in Osaka?"
"Pipe down, ku-conan-kun! Can't you see I'm trying to have a conversation here?"
"Hattori-kun, don't yell at Conan-kun, he's just a kid!"
"Who were you calling violent, Heiji? Are you gonna make the poor kid cry so you can feel better about yourself? You're a bully now too?"
"Jeez, quit ganging up on me, it's not like he's actually sev-OUW!" Conan-kun kicked Hattori-kun hard in the shin. "You little runt!" he reached out to grab the boy by the collar and missed. With a quick movement Conan-kun dodged again and took shelter behind Ran's legs, one hand fisted in the hem of her skirt.
"Hiding behind your girlfriend, huh ku-"
"STOP" the word wasn't so much loud as powerful, especially since it was accompanied by the cracking of wood. The room fell completely silent, except for the fragments of the doorframe falling softly to the floor. Ran unclenched her fist slowly and took a deep breath.
"What are you thinking, Hattori-kun, picking fights with children." Ran looked down at Conan-kun, who looked up at her with damp eyes.
"Wha-, picking fights? He started it!" Hattori-kun poked a finger towards the boy, as if revealing the true criminal of a mysterious case.
"You're blaming the seven year old? I thought I was joking about the bully thing, but I guess you really are a coward." Kazuha-chan's voice was laced with derision.
"Heiji-nichan is scary." Ran bent to gather the boy into her arms. He did look rather shaken. She felt her blood rising. Punching solid wood hadn't been enough of a stress relief. She needed to focus on something else before she accidently broke something. She looked at Hattori-kun; or someone. She looked at the doorframe; else.
"Kazuha-chan, would you please help me with dinner?" The boy squirmed in her arms. "Conan-kun too, of course." She turned an icy gaze on the detective. "You stay here." She turned on her heel, not waiting for confirmation, and disappeared into the kitchen.
"I'm sorry, Ran-chan." Kazuha-chan sounded sheepish, an uncommon occurrence.
"You have nothing to apologize for, I'm not mad at you." She stressed the last word, making it clear that she was indeed mad.
"But Heiji and I kind of started it all, so I kind of feel responsible." Kazuha-chan insisted.
Ran sighed and set her small burden on the counter. She grabbed up her apron and handed the spare to her friend. "I'm more responsible than you are." She jerked the fridge open. "I provoked him on purpose." She chose several items. "Conan-kun, would you like some juice?"
"Sure!" At least Conan-kun seemed more cheerful now. It wasn't fair of Hattori-kun to pick on him like that.
"Provoked?" Kazuha declined Ran's implied offer as she poured two glasses. Instead she started arranging ingredients and utensils on the counter.
Ran took a sip of juice, not really tasting it. "I miss Shinichi." Kazuha-chan nodded wisely.
"Conan-kun? Are you Okay?" Ran fussed over the boy, wiping up spilled juice.
"Uh, yeah. I'm fine. Can I go talk to Heiji-nichan now?" He sounded as sweet as ever. That confused Ran, considering his 'nichan' had him on the verge of tears not ten minutes ago.
"Huh? But… Conan-kun are you sure you want to? We don't mind if you stay here with us, do we, Kazuha-chan?"
"Not at all. We're just going to be talking about boring girl things though. Maybe he doesn't want to listen to us chat, Ran-chan." Conan-kun nodded enthusiastically.
"But…" Ran glanced toward the living room, separated from the kitchen area by a sturdy door.
"Don't worry Ran-chan. Heiji might be a little hot headed, but he'd never actually hurt the kid."
"I know that, its just…" Ran let the sentence fall into a slightly uncomfortable silence.
Then Conan-kun chirped, "Is Heiji-nichan mad at me?" making both girls look at him with surprise. "Does he hate me?" the pure innocence of the question brought motherly instincts into full effect, and had both girls practically tripping over themselves to reassure the boy. Babbling about how of course Heiji-nichan didn't hate him, he was just a little upset right now.
"So I should go apologize." The girls were, once again, stunned by his cuteness. "If you don't want someone to stay mad, you should apologize right away. I don't want Heiji-nichan to be mad anymore."
Ran blushed, Ashamed of the uncharitable thoughts she had been directing at the detective. She really could learn a thing or two from her little charge. "Of course. We can handle making dinner, but then you two have to do the dishes." His reply was less than enthused, but he scurried out the door fast enough.
"Are you actually going to make him do the dishes?" Kazuha-chan was curious rather than accusatory.
Ran giggled. "He can't reach the sink. Hattori-kun will end up doing them all. It can be his punishment." Kazuha-chan took up a kitchen knife and joined in the giggling, and for a while the two girls worked in silence.
"So," Kazuha-chan used the tried and true method of breaking long pauses. "Kudo-kun, huh?"
Ran's knife faltered. "Yeah." They lapsed into silence again.
"It's just, sometimes I think he's avoiding me." Ran paused again, but Kazuha-chan was smart enough to know that sometimes silence was the best persuader. "I mean, he hardly answers his phone, and he never tells me what's going on, and when we do talk, he acts like nothing is wrong. Maybe he just doesn't like me anymore, but he doesn't want to hurt my feelings."
"Don't be silly Ran-chan, he'd be a fool not to like you. He's probably just wrapped up in a big case and to stupid to notice how you feel about him." Kazuha-chan glanced sideways and Ran got the feeling she wasn't just talking about Shinichi. "Boys are like that."
"mhmm." Ran was trying not to rub her eyes, because she was NOT crying dammit. "Thanks, Kazuha-chan, but…"
"but what? If you really think that way, maybe we should just go out and find you a real man. If Shinichi-kun is into you, he'll come home all jealous to claim you. If he isn't, than maybe you can find someone who is." Kazuha nodded decisively. Ran giggled again.
"That's not it at all. Its just… when I'm not thinking he's running away from me, I wonder what he is running from. I know it sounds silly, but I sometimes get the feeling he's in some real trouble."
Kazuha-chan considered her for a moment. "You should send him a charm. When Heiji is off doing god knows what and getting himself into all kinds of messes, it helps me to know that he's carrying my feelings around with him." Ran forced herself not to start giggling again. The poor girl was bright red from the admission.
"Even if I wanted to, I don't know where he is or how to get one to him." She sighed again. "Oh look at me, all doom and gloom when guests are over. I'm going to go ask the boys how hungry they are so we know how much to make." Ran shook herself off and pulled her focus away from missing detectives and mysterious feelings. Her friend had come all the was from the other side of the country, so the least she could do was try to enjoy herself.
She was just about to turn the corner into the living room proper when she heard something that stopped her dead. "Seriously Kudo," that was Hattori-kun's voice. Had Shinichi come by without warning again? "What was with the crying thing? I nearly barfed." He was talking to Conan-kun.
"Hattori. Keep your voice down." That was definitely Conan-kun's voice, but why was he answering to Kudo? And since when did he call Hattori-kun, by his family name? and with no honorific? "Isn't nearly blowing my cover once today enough? Or are you going for a new record." Cover? What?
"Y'know, you wouldn't have to worry about it if you just fessed up. Seriously, what's the worst that could happen?" He sounded sincere, but then Hattori-kun and Kazuha-chan were alike in that regard. They were both bad at keeping secrets.
"Your kidding right?" Ran noticed a depth to the boys voice that was usually missing, and a sense of irony that no seven year old should have, no matter how bright. Theoretically they didn't have enough life experience to be able to utilize sarcasm. "Other than what we've already discussed, did you not see the doorframe? Do you want that to be my face? She'd kill me before I even got a chance to explain."
"I don't think your giving her enough credit. Hasn't she waited long enough?" She'd certainly heard enough, though she almost couldn't believe it. She crept back to the kitchen and slowly opened the door.
"Well then," Ran raised her voce so the whole house could hear her. "I'll just run out and pick up some groceries. I'll be back soon."
Kazuha-chan looked confused. "ah… but…"
Ran tuned and left as quickly as she could, but not before hearing one last conversation. "Did you guys say anything to her?" Kazuha-chan was still confused.
"Because there's plenty here. We don't need supplies at all."
She felt ice blue eyes watch her go.
Ran grabbed her purse from beside the door and walked calmly down the stairs. She looked up at the window from the sidewalk and waved encouragingly to the worried looking boy. He smiled and waved back at her. She swung her purse lightly as she strolled down the block. She turned the corner, out of sight of the agency and curious eyes, and sat down to cry.
The conversation she had heard could only mean one thing. Sweet little Conan-kun was actually Kudo Shinichi. This whole time, while she worried and cried over him, while she waited. He had been there, seen her, and didn't think it was worth mentioning. Her head dropped into her hands under the weight of her grief. She trusted him, had always trusted him, and for him to not trust her back was… heartbreaking.
"I'm such a fool." She couldn't help but remember back to the night 'Conan-kun' had appeared. She had told him she loved Shinichi, and he didn't say anything. She had taken a bath with him and washed his hair, and he hadn't said anything. She had chased him out of crime scenes and scolded him for being in the way and he hadn't said anything.
"I'm such a fool." Her voice was quiet and sad, almost pathetic. The sound of it was maddening. Is that what she had been reduced to? She, who was admired for being strong and confident by friends, family and even fans, was sitting in the gutter whining. "He lied to me! Manipulated me! He's probably sitting there laughing at me. 'Gullible and naïve Ran, How easy it was to trick her.'," Ran stood suddenly and stared to pace. She needed to move, to work out some of what she was feeling. The shock of the unbelievable truth was dissipating, and her sadness was melting like a popsicle in hell. Ran's hands balled into a comfortable and familiar shape, one that was known for cracking concrete, and could potentially be used to break faces. Ran smiled, with one particularly cocky face in mind.
She paced. Back and forth, first one way and then the other; her mined traced and retraced the same paths, each time working further into turmoil. She couldn't decide which way to go. Her self righteous anger urged her to march strait back home and beat some answers out of the liar, while her deprecating sadness wanted her to leave and never come back.
"He lied to me! And I knew it! I knew it was him but he tricked me!" back and forth. "He mocked me, and used me!" To and fro. "I trusted him." Ran was crying furiously and could barely see the ground in front of her. Indecision kept her in place, never taking more than a few steps in either direction, endlessly moving but going nowhere.
"Don't cry." Ran stopped, shocked from her restless thoughts.
"Please. Don't cry." The voice was young and sweet, though the tone was anything but. It was a voice Ran recognized. She rubbed the water from her eyes and peered at the small shape in front of her, not really seeing, not comprehending.
"If you continue to cry, I might start to hate you." The little girl looked up at her with cold, dry eyes. Ran blinked, sure she misheard. There was no way this girl could say something that awful.
"I believe you heard me quite clearly, but in case you didn't, if you continue to cry I'll have no choice but to hate you." She flipped a piece of light brown hair away from her face. "After all, you don't have a clue." And just like that, Ran's anger was back, but with a brand new, much more accessible target. She wasn't about to attack a child, but she wasn't about to let her slide either.
"How dare you say that? How can you tell me I'm clueless when you're the one who doesn't know anything! You can't possibly know how I feel!" Ran took a deep breath, too righteous in her anger to feel bad about yelling at a child. The girl smiled a toothy smile and Ran felt suddenly afraid, like she had fallen into a hunters trap.
"Oh? Is that so?" She could have been talking about the weather for all the emotion she was showing. "So I couldn't possibly know that you were hurt and betrayed by the person most important to you. I don't know how stupid you feel for not noticing sooner how similar a strange little boy was to someone you know so well. I couldn't guess how unimportant you think you are to him, that he couldn't even let you in on a secret." The girls every word cut like a knife, each one the truth to the core. "So I also wouldn't know how very wrong you are, and that if you don't stop crying right now and pull yourself together, you are going to lose something precious, and I will hate you for it."
Ran stopped crying. For whatever reason, shock, curiosity, or maybe some part of her recognized the truth in those words, Ran stopped crying. For the first time, she really looked at the girl. "You…Aren't you Co- aren't you friends with Co-", Ran couldn't finish she name.
"Yes I am friends with Edogawa-kun, and yes, I am friends with Kudo-kun." She paused and watched Ran search for words. "You know me as Haibara Ai, but please," her eyes glinted with emotion Ran couldn't recognize, "call me Sherry."
"Sherry?" Ran looked at the girl and thought of another child who was more than he seemed. "But how?"
"Hmpf. There is more going on here than you could possibly imagine more mysteries in the world than can ever be explained. Suffice to say I'm a good deal shorter than I used to be, just like Edogawa-kun. But unlike him, I chose this." Ran started, considering, as she should have from the start, why Shinichi was smaller than he should be. The lying and the tricking put aside for now, people didn't just shrink. She had once thought the professor had invented some weird drug so Shinichi could hide out, but this girl said it wasn't his choice. So then what?
"Before you bother asking, I won't tell you." Ran snapped her mouth shut, interrupted by the girl's, no, Sherry's cold voice.
"Why not? Shouldn't I know? After all that's happened and all that I've been through? Don't I have the right?" Ran hadn't forgotten her anger.
"Didn't I already say so? You're absolutely clueless. You don't know what's happened and you haven't been through a fraction of what others have, including him. You don't deserve to know anything." The girl almost sounded upset, but she was far too controlled. "But that isn't why I'm not telling you."
"Then why?" The question hung in the air, both people considering the answer.
Finally Sherry spoke. "Because the truth can`t make you forgive him. That's something you`ll have to do on your own."
It was Ran's turn to carry the silence. Then: "He lied to me. He`s still lying to me. Why should I forgive him?" the words sounded harsh, even to her own ears, but Ran couldn't let herself regret them. It was a valid question. Why should she put up with this any longer? She deserved better.
"That's something only you know."
"And?" Ran pressed. "So what? You won't tell. What's to stop me from asking Shinichi. I know who he is now. I won't be fooled again. He'll have to tell me."
"Will he, though?" The sun had begun to set just behind the strange little girl, spreading it's glow around her while making her appear shadowed. Ran had to squint her eyes. "You want the truth. If you ask him, you won't get the truth. Not all of it, at least, and probably not even most of it. I'll tell you everything I can."
"But you said-"
"If you can forgive him, come see me at noon three days from now. It's the holiday, so school won't be a problem. You know where to find me." It was the best Ran would get, and she knew it. Shinichi wouldn't tell her, not really. He'd make something up, cover the truth with more lies. Such a thing would seem to be against his nature, but Shinichi always put other people ahead of himself. He would carry the burden of truth alone to keep the weight of someone else's back. Such a thing was unacceptable. Maybe even unforgivable.
"And if I can't? Forgive him."
Sherry smiled without warmth. "If, that's the case, you don't deserve him." She turned away.
A/N: Yay! I finaly wrote something I think is worth publishing! My intention is of course to finish this story, but I kinda have a history of leaving things half done. I will do my best though, especially if I know people are interested in reading it (Hint: please review. Its a great motivator.)
If you think the way I refer to characters is kinda wierd, its because its all from Ran's point of veiw, so I'm useing the termes she normaly uses. I hope I got them right.
also, fyi: in my mind aho=idiot, baka=fool/stupid, barro=moron