And then Tazzy wanted to know about other Blue Rose patrons. *facepalms*
It felt like drowning.
The train swayed around a curve in the track, a sea of legs and briefcases surging close to Conan and then away. Sunset painted them all coppery red, tinting the suits dark as the blood whose scent was suffocating in Conan's memory.
She'd been a schoolgirl this time, just a kid really, skipped cram school only to find a man strangling her mother...
Arterial blood, a panicked grab for a knife - she'd gone quickly, not painlessly, her mother's ex-lover only caring to get back to his revenge...
Breathe. The train's brakes squealed as she must've, tight with shock, in that last minute before he got hold... Stop thinking about it.
Up the stairs, the world nothing but trousers and neon signs and red, red sky. And Tokyo Sky Tower, lit in long streaks of violet blue. It was the first clean mark in a world gone abattoir, but only the first: the blood faded out of the air as Conan fled down long crowded streets and into crooked residential ones, though the stench remained, coating his throat with every breath.
The narrow alley never changed: it always looked dingy and damp, even if it hadn't rained for weeks. Conan would never have found the place at all had he not overheard an older officer swearing by the club's coffee, and Googled directions from sheer curiosity.
No lettered sign announced the club's name, just a painted rebar rose that could've been simple art, someone's way to quietly improve the view from some badly-aligned window. Conan jammed one sneakered foot into the lowest petal and hoisted himself up with a little huff. The clean, chalky smell of wet concrete cut a little sliver through the scent-memory of fresh blood, just enough that he let his head rest against the well-washed wall for a moment before leaning over to rap on the door.
A sliding panel just above his fist opened, eyes glinting in the darkness behind it. That gaze landed on him, and Conan dug into one pocket for a fold of bills and passed it through. The panel snapped shut. Conan hopped down to the ground, and a moment later, the door opened to reveal a looming bouncer.
He stuck a small jar under Conan's nose, icy menthol like a splash of cold water to Conan's senses. "Okyaku-sama?"
"Thanks," Conan said hoarsely. He cupped the little jar in both hands and breathed deep, feeling the press of imaginary blood draining away.
"You're welcome." He stepped out of the way, bowing politely as Conan entered the building. "Welcome back to Blue Rose, okyaku-sama."
"Glad to be back," Conan replied, not entirely truthfully, as he returned the scent jar. Glad to return, yes; glad for what always drove him here, no.
He headed down the gloomy stairwell, tinted faintly green by fire exit signs, gripping lightly at the lower stair rail. Like this, he could almost pretend he was normal again, that the staircase was just overly steep... that he smelled only the lingering traces of lemon soap steeped into the concrete.
At the bottom of the stairs, another door opened onto low music, murmuring voices, and the occasional clatter of dishware behind the curtained alcove. The club was moderately busy, as it seemed to be no matter when Conan came, but looked fuller than it really was. Patrons sat clustered at various vantage points: near the bar, in the top tier with the lounge spread before them, strung down along the center and in freestanding little tables near the stage.
Conan himself preferred the darkened corners of the second tier, farthest from the bar and entrance alike. The view wasn't very good from there, but people didn't pass by and give him strange looks every few minutes.
Today, his favorite booth was open, and he clambered into the side nearest the wall. Sagging into the warm velvet, he let his head fall against the sloped backrest, tossed his glasses onto the tabletop, and sighed. He'd never dealt with this many murders before the apotoxin. At this rate, he was going to end up dreaming of blood every night. Bad enough that he woke up once a week from nightmares of empty corpse-eyes. Something was going to have to give.
The familiar and welcome smell of coffee cut through his musings. Conan opened one eye to see a silent waitress setting down a bowl of crackers and a black eye coffee: Vienna roast prepared in the American drip style with two shots of espresso.
He hummed an acknowledgement low in his throat, sounding almost like his adult self for once. If only, he thought, the familiar sting fading as fast as it came. There was nothing to be done about any of it - not his body, not his cases, not the poor kid or her mother or the next body to come - for now. So he could just shut off.
Cupping one hand around the curve of the cup, not quite touching the hot porcelain, Conan laid his head on his other arm and breathed deeply. The scent of coffee, thick and steaming, filled his world.
Up on the stage, someone began to play a quiet song on the piano.
No more blood.
No more death.
No more thinking.
Someone nudged his shoulder.
Huh? The waitress wasn't supposed to talk to him... Conan blinked open bleary eyes, feeling grit pricking in the corners.
It wasn't the waitress. A young woman in a vintage lavender gown stood next to the table, one gloved hand pulling away from his shoulder. Concern darkened an impish face, faint traces of shimmering makeup near her hairline and flecked in her brows. "Okyaku-sama," she repeated. "The club is closing."
Closing? It had been barely seven... oh. He'd fallen asleep. He sat up, eyeing his stone-cold coffee wistfully. A small plastic carton of rice and tea sat next to it, the club's nod to custom far less obtrusive than announcing a last call.
"Come on," the woman said warmly, stepping away from the end of the booth. "We'll walk you home."
Conan paused. "... We?"
Her eyes slid towards the stairs. Following her gaze, Conan saw a young man in pinstriped blue and matching hat just stepping down onto the second level, a medium-sized takeaway cup in hand. He met the woman's eyes with a small half-smile, then turned a slightly more formal version onto Conan. "Konban wa, Edogawa-san," he murmured.
It took a second for the voice and the slightly Caucasian cast to the man's features to click into something recognizable. "Hakuba-san?" He looked... where was the cheap suit? The tense arrogance? "But... what... huh?"
Hakuba set the cup onto the edge of the table. "Kouun-chan is a classmate of mine," he said calmly. "I come to watch her performances. She's very skilled," he added, glancing at her with some amusement.
She blushed. "Flatterer. So then," turning back to Conan as he slid out of the booth, "that coffee is for you. On the house."
"I... oh." Conan swallowed back a tiny flutter of warmth, oddly touched, then gathered up the coffee, his glasses and the carryout rice. "Thank you."
"Anything for a friend of Saguru-kun's," she replied cheerfully.
"Er..." Not that he wanted to disabuse her of the notion, but he didn't know Hakuba all that well. ... Also, 'Saguru-kun'? Interesting... It was one thing to call the lady by what was obviously a stage name (who the heck named their little girl 'lucky', after all?), but for her to use Hakuba's personal name in return...
"Don't mind Kouun-chan." Hakuba gestured for them to precede him up the stairs. "She has some strange notions of friendship." Which explained the use of a personal name, if they weren't extremely close or dating. Conan turned back to his coffee. Mm, coffeeeee... exactly the way he liked it, too.
He should've felt Hakuba's eyes on him. As it was, he didn't have more warning than the faint humor in Hakuba's voice when the man added, "For example, she thinks I should date Kid."
Conan nearly choked on his drink. He sputtered and coughed as Kouun-chan giggled, quickly managing to hold his breath and gulp down what he had without making a mess. "D...date?"
"Of course!" Kouun-chan agreed. "All those little love notes-"
"Heist notices," Hakuba explained.
"Pranks and returned goods."
"The thrill of the chase!"
"More pranks, hijinks, and general mayhem."
"It's all so romantic!"
"And by your own argument, Kid is courting the entirety of the police force, Interpol, and several independents. Including Edogawa-san here."
Conan promptly held up his hands, covering Kouun-chan's dainty little 'mouuu' of offense. "Whoa, whoa, leave me out of this." Hakuba smirked, then nodded politely to the bouncer as the latter held the outer door open for them. The air was cooler outside, and he shrugged off his jacket to slip it over Kouun-chan's bare shoulders, leaving himself in only a waistcoat and shirtsleeves. "Besides," Conan said, eyeing that, "Aren't you two dating?"
Kouun-chan burst into laughter, half-falling against Hakuba's shoulder, and Hakuba actually grinned, a bright and open expression that Conan hadn't thought the man could do.
Okay, he'd missed something. "I mean," Conan went on, "Doesn't Kouun-chan have a coat of her own? For example? It's awfully cold to be coming to work without one..."
Hakuba's grin went slightly sheepish, and that at least looked more natural on him. "Well, she does, yes. However..." He glanced at her, and she straightened a little, catching her breath and coughing a bit.
In a light baritone, she answered, "The trains would've stopped running if I'd taken the time to change."
"You're a boy?"
"Bingo!" She paused, tipping her head thoughtfully. "Though that doesn't preclude the idea of dating Saguru-kun, I suppose, does it?"
Conan felt his brain short a few tiny circuits. Ow. It wasn't the crossdressing so much as it was the fact that Kouun-chan's mannerisms and language were still perfectly female, while her - his - voice itself was entirely male. And oddly familiar, too... It was almost as if Kouun-chan, Hakuba's classmate, friend, and possibly more, was Kai-
No. Certainly not. Conan just needed more coffee. He took a hasty drink from the cup, hissing a bit at the temperature.
Kouun-chan frowned. "Isn't there anyone you need to call?" she asked. "I'm sure someone's worried sick about you."
ACK. "Ran!" Conan blurted. He'd completely forgotten for a bit there that the rest of the world thought he was seven. "I... yeah, hold on..." He fumbled for his phone and hit the speed dial.
"We were so shocked to see you asleep in the booth next to ours," Kouun said pointedly as it rang through. "Weren't we, Saguru-kun?"
"I hesitate to think of when you would've been found had we chosen a different place to eat after work," Hakuba agreed dryly.
Subtle they were not. Okay, they'd back him up on a cover story if he wanted to keep the Blue Rose to himself. Someone picked up, and Conan grinned sheepishly at the phone. "Uh, moshi moshi-"
"WHERE. HAVE. YOU. BEEN?" Ran all but shouted. "WHERE ARE YOU?"
It helped with the acting to hunch up his shoulders a bit, grip at the phone like... well, okay, so it wasn't acting per se. "I'm really sorry, Ran-neechan," Conan said in a small voice. "I fell asleep at the restaurant..."
Ran's breath hitched on the other end of the line. Oh no please don't cry... "Do you have any idea how worried everyone's been?" she asked sharply. "Megure-keibu and his team have been looking for hours!"
"I didn't mean to!" Conan whined, trying very hard to sound seven-years-old. "Hakuba-san and his lady friend found me and woke me up, though," he added blithely, because of course if he was seven that would seem like it fixed everything, "and they're walking me home."
Ran paused. "Who? Let me talk to one of them, please, Conan-kun."
"Er, okay." Conan waved the phone upwards with a perfect bozu smile. "Sorry. She wants to talk to one of you."
"Naturally," Hakuba replied, taking the phone. "Moshi moshi, Mouri-san. This is Hakuba Saguru... I believe you may recall Sunset Mansion? The occasion when Kaitou Kid impersonated your father? Yes, that's me. Edogawa-kun is fine, a little sleepy," Hakuba smirked slightly at Conan, "and he's charming my classmate with impertinent questions."
"I am not."
"That's what you think," Kouun-chan said cheerfully, her voice back to its female register. She bent closer to Conan, and - projecting smugly towards the phone - added, "Tell me again about how I'm supposedly dating Saguru-kun."