DISCLAIMER: If I owned the Conan cast, I'd be rich. Since I don't own them, don't waste the time it'd take to sue me.

The rating on this fic has gone up. You've been warned. And I know this is very, very late. Due to personal issues, computer problems, and other barriers, this and the fic contest had to be put on hold. Work will be resumed on both immediately.

Also, I should have explained this earlier: the word veritas means truth in Latin. (I'm a language freak.) I apologize for the late clarification.

Comments welcome.

==========

Veritas

File 7: Wine and Fire

"They're coming."

Kazuha looked up, her hands bound at the wrists.

"They are coming," the woman repeated, with a slight accent. She adjusted one of her black gloves. "Very soon. Is that not what you are waiting for?"

Kazuha glared at her. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Your Prince Charming, oui? He is coming shortly." She smiled. "And if things work out as they say, he will bring someone else with him of importance, and your role and his and mine will be complete."

She stretched languidly, but Kazuha saw that every muscle in the woman's black-clothed body was taut with alertness. The light that came in through the basement's dirty window had faded hours ago, and there was only a small electric lamp on a table for Kazuha to see by. The woman leaned against the table, and she was the only person Kazuha had been able to see to some extent clearly since she'd arrived. The facial expressions were no longer indiscernible, and she wasn't wearing sunglasses or a hat. The thought was somewhat disturbing; the lack of caution her kidnappers were now displaying meant her seeing them was no longer a risk factor. And there was only one logical step from that, and Kazuha stayed away from the thought as much as possible.

"He's not my Prince Charming," Kazuha said flatly. It wasn't a lie. Heiji didn't exactly turn on the charm for her benefit.

"Really? You are not one for fairy tale endings? I always enjoyed them myself when I was younger." The woman fingered the pistol in her hand.

"How nice."

Looking agitated, her captor flipped her shoulder-length hair past her shoulders, catching the light. Red, Kazuha saw triumphantly. A dark red.

Somehow, the loss of the woman's cool made Kazuha braver. "They won't come," she said. "I don't know who this person of importance is" (though she could guess, and if she was right she and he would have a nice little talk after this... yes, think of after) "-- but they won't be stupid enough to come without help. And then you'll be trapped in here."

The woman raised a carefully-shaped eyebrow. "Do you really believe that?"

Kazuha hesitated. "Yes," she said firmly. "I do."

"Then you are a fool."

"Who are you?" Kazuha demanded.

The woman frowned. "That is not for you to know."

"It is for me to know!"

"Quiet!"

Kazuha froze. The pistol was trained on her, the safety off. Her captor's hand was steady.

"I am Cognac," the woman said harshly. "That is all I will tell you."

"Cognac," Kazuha breathed. "Vodka, Cognac."

How ridiculously cliche. Alcoholic drinks. If the situation wasn't so serious, Kazuha would have laughed.

A thud on the one staircase sounded and Cognac swung her gun at the doorframe, then cursed in French. Another person also clothed in black stood in the door, hands up in surrender, a mask covering his or her face.

"Never do that!" Cognac said fiercely. "If I had not recognized you, you would be dead now."

"Sorry." It was a man's voice, completely unrepentant and muffled under the mask. "But I have orders to move her to the higher floors."

For a fleeting moment, Cognac's face registered fear. "Why was I not informed directly? I was put in charge of this operation, I should have been the one contacted."

The man shrugged. "How should I know how the higher-ups think?"

"Take her," Cognac said, suddenly toneless. "Cover her face and take her. I will follow shortly."

As the man grabbed Kazuha's arm, for a brief moment she considered her options. She could use her martial arts and get away from him -- but then there'd be Cognac's gun to face, and though Kazuha knew she wasn't helpless, she wasn't sure if she could handle the trigger-happy and tense woman without her hands free.

Kazuha was a very proud girl, but she wasn't stupid. So she let the man lead her away grudgingly, memorizing every step and turn she took. She could wait a little longer.

When the last of the slow trudge up the stairs was heard, Cognac wiped her brow with a shaking hand.

*

"You okay?"

Kudo Shinichi, unknowingly mirroring similar actions taking place on the other side of town, wiped his brow and damned his shaking hand. "I'll be fine in a minute," he said, reveling in the depth of his voice and his old height. It felt great, not having to stretch up to unlatch the bathroom stall's door. But his heart was pounding.

Heiji grinned in relief as his friend stepped out of the stall. The entire transformation had set him on edge. For some reason, he hadn't considered how much it would have to hurt to revert back to an adult form until he had heard the pained shrieks coming from the locked stall, muffled by sheer will and Conan's shirt.

But really, he told himself, it was the wisps of steam coming from the stall that had freaked him out. Not the pain. No way.

And now Kudo Shinichi was breathing heavily, leaning against the row of sinks and staring critically at himself in the mirror. He tried to flatten his dark brown hair against his forehead pointlessly, then stretched happily and reveled in his old soccer build and strength. His old clothes fit as well as they had a year ago. "Wish I could see Ran now," he said, almost wistfully.

"You'll see her soon, Kudo," Heiji said in his best show of cheerfulness. "This lasts for seven days, remember? She'll be up and around by then, no problem."

"But those will be seven days of tracking down Syndicate members," Shinichi said dully. "It's obvious they're watching her; if I'm supposed to be dead, I can't visit her." His fist clenched in frustration. "It's not fair, Hattori."

A knock at the door to the men's bathroom made both boys jump.

"Conan-kun? Are you in there?"

Detective Satou. We are so screwed.

"Why is she looking for me?" Shinichi hissed.

"Doesn't matter now," Heiji said. He scooped up Conan's clothes, opened the one rectangular window at the far corner of the room, and threw the bundle outside.

Shinichi's eyes narrowed. "Is this the only escape route?"

"Well, yeah. It's not like we can go waltzing out the main door; cops are supposed to take me home soon, remember? And this is the first floor, it's not that far of a drop." Heiji hefted himself onto the window ledge. "Think you can fit through without your pipsqueak body to help you?"

Shinichi answered by shoving his friend out the window, then climbing out himself, remembering to shut the window behind him.

"Conan-kun! Is something wrong?" Praying that there weren't any other people inside the restroom, Satou opened the door.

Empty.

She frowned in confusion. The nurses and other personnel she had asked had been certain that a little boy in oversized glasses and an older teenager had entered the restroom. None had mentioned either one coming out.

"Great," Satou said to the world at large. "I've been on assignment for little more than half an hour, and already I've lost my charge." She could already see the smirks of her fellow officers. Quickly, she ran out of the restroom.

Pressed against the wall directly under the restroom, two teenagers heaved identical sighs of relief.

"She left." Shinichi's face settled into a grim expression. "Let's go."

*

A reddish-blonde head peeked from a high-floor window. Haibara Ai was standing on a waiting-room chair, watching as the two boys ran from the hospital.

"Did they go? Is Shinichi-kun all right?" Professor Agasa asked anxiously, from his place beside her.

"They're all right." Ai sank down onto the chair. "For now."

*

"Anything?" Ayanami clutched his rifle to him.

"Nothing." His partner in guarding the side door snorted and tapped his gun impatiently. He peeked outside the door. "I don't know what we're so worried about. They're kids, right?"

"I've heard stories about these ones. They're famous, or something."

"Ha. Fame doesn't mean anything. It's all just --" Suddenly Ayanami's partner pitched forward, dropping his gun and slumping against the doorframe.

"What the --" Ayanami cocked his gun. It was too dark to see, and he cursed. Then he gasped as he felt a prick on his arm, then fell silently to the ground beside his partner.

"Sleep tight," Shinichi said quietly, hiding behind an old tree several meters away from the Beika Observatory. He pocketed his wristwatch, but not before checking the time. It was too small for him to wear now, but the anesthetic was just as potent.

As the two passed stealthily over the men and into the building, Heiji muttered, "They're gonna wake up with one hell of a headache from that." He remembered his own experience with Conan's stun-gun watch all too clearly.

"You only had a headache because Ran's dad knocked you around." Shinichi smirked.

"I like to think of that as a good thing," Heiji said quietly. "I might never have figured things out about you if he hadn't woken me up early during your little deduction show."

"I always thought it was one of the worse things that have happened," Shinichi said, only half-joking.

"You better take that back --"

"Shh. Where's Kazuha?" Shinichi halted and looked around warily. One of the presentation rooms. Chairs were stacked upside down against the wall, a podium resting on a small curtained stage. It was dark, and the room closed.

Heiji cracked the door open slightly to find a dim hallway lined with display cases and astronomy memorabilia, lit only by the occasional glimpse of the moon through the large windows and the muted light of hallway lamps. "All clear. How am I supposed to know?"

"Great," Shinichi responded sarcastically. "We'll have to search room by room. You find Kazuha, I'll go after the one in charge."

"Good idea. Contact me if you have any problems." Heiji hesitated. "Good luck."

"Same to you."

*

Two flights of stairs. If they came from the basement, that meant that Kazuha was on the second floor. She looked around: another empty room, though much smaller and cleaner than the basement. She had refused to sit this time, and her new guard (the same one who had led her to this room) had only shrugged in response, then posted himself nervously at the door to watch her, fiddling with his gun.

They stood silently for what Kazuha guessed to be an hour. Then there was a small thump from outside. Her guard jumped and instinctively turned to look outside for the disturbance.

Kazuha almost smiled.

He had presented his back to her. Big mistake.

Before he could turn to face her again, she had crossed the space between them and had landed a swift kick to the side of his head. He slammed against the wall, cursing, and swung his arm around to shoot, but Kazuha was ready. Two more kicks sent the gun skidding across the room, and her guard fell in a heap, unconscious.

"I've been waiting to do that," Kazuha said in satisfaction, "since I got here." Picking up the discarded gun was a little difficult with her hands still bound, and Kazuha wasn't familiar with firearms, but she managed and ran out of the room.

Kazuha, remembering where the staircase was, headed toward it cautiously. Then she stiffened at the threshold: a dark shape was coming silently up the stairs. She looked around wildly for a place to hide, and ducked into a thankfully-empty room, peeking through a crack in the door.

The dark form crept slowly up the staircase, and paused at the second floor landing. As if sensing her presence, the form moved closer toward the door to the very room Kazuha was hiding in, then halted.

Oh nooo...

Kazuha stood and backed against a wall, then aimed the gun at the door. It slowly opened, and Kazuha opened her mouth to shout a warning. The words caught in her throat.

"Kudo-kun?"

The boy in question grinned at her thinly, closing the door behind him. "Were you going to shoot me, Toyama-san? I didn't think you knew how to use a handgun."

Her eyes filled with tears. She had only met Kudo Shinichi once before, but the relief of seeing a familiar face was overwhelming. "I thought you were -- Is Heiji with you?"

The grin was replaced by a serious frown. "He was. He's looking for you now."

Kazuha paused, and then the reality of his words struck her. "You idiot!" she said furiously. "Did you come for me by yourselves? That's just what they wanted you to do!"

"What did they tell you?" he demanded.

"Never mind that, we've got to find Heiji!" She grabbed Kudo's arm, then frowned at the handgun at his side. "What are you doing with a gun?"

"It's not mine," he said impatiently. "I took it off one of the guards. Look, I'll show you how to get out of here and how to get to my house, and Hattori will show up there, but I'm not coming with you yet."

"Why not?" she asked, suddenly suspicious.

"Got a few things to do," he said flatly.

"I don't believe it!" she retorted. "You want to go after them! Couldn't we just call the police?"

"We will call the police. Just not yet. But first.." Shinichi pulled out a pocketknife. Catching the look on Kazuha's face he said in exasperation, "It was a present, okay? From my dad for my thirteenth birthday, and I'd promised him I wouldn't use it, and I haven't. At least, not often. You really are jumpy."

"You try being stuck in this place for who knows how long!" she shot back. "I don't even have a sense of time."

"It's been one morning, afternoon, and evening since your disappearance. It's late evening now, a little past eleven." Shinichi, no matter how literal, sounded weary himself. "But I know what you mean, it feels like a lifetime." He cut the ties of rope around Kazuha's wrists. "Come on, I'll show you the way out."

Kazuha rubbed her wrists gingerly. "No."

"What?" He stared at her. "This isn't a matter of choice, Kazuha-san."

"I don't care, Kudo-kun," she said defiantly. "I'm coming with you. So we can find Heiji and get out. Besides if Ran-chan ever heard that I left you alone in this place, she'd be furious."

"And Hattori would hack me into bits if he found out I let you tag along!"

"Tag along! I was handling things just fine before you showed up!"

"Which is why I found you huddled in a corner."

Kazuha began a quick retort, but the sound of new footsteps coming from down the hall made her clamp her mouth closed and retreat into her spot against the wall. Shinichi crouched behind the door, waiting.

The door jerked open, a black-clothed man stepped in, and Shinichi slammed the butt of his gun into the man's temple before he had a chance to cry out. The man crumpled with a groan, his gun slipping from his fingers to the floor. Kazuha and Shinichi exchanged glances.

"We don't have time to argue," Shinichi said tersely, looking distinctly unhappy. "If you're going to follow me, be careful about it."

*

Heiji made his way slowly room by room. He had already seen enough star charts to last him a lifetime, and inwardly he wished he'd brought along his katana. But the need for stealth had commanded that he leave it at the Professor's.

He slinked into yet another darkened presentation room. Did the Observatory really need this many presentation rooms? Vaguely he wondered at the number of presentation rooms of the Osaka Observatory. There was no way Beika could have more.

A small thump from a closed room ahead of him made Heiji duck into an adjacent hallway. He listened hard -- voices? No, one voice, foreign and nervous. Heiji paused for a moment, debating, then slowly moved closer and crouched against the door.

The voice was low and harsh. Female. European, most likely.

"What do you think you are doing?" the woman said angrily. By the muffled sounds of feet on carpet, Heiji guessed that she was pacing. A moment of silence. "I was assigned to take the girl and eliminate the fool detective. I did both. There is no reason for this."

It took all of Heiji's willpower not to barge in triumphantly and corner the woman, but he wasn't an idiot, no matter how often Kazuha proclaimed otherwise. He took out his cell phone, clicked on the recording feature, and held it to the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. He wished he had a better recording device, but this would have to do.

"I admit, I might have overreacted a little, but as long as I carried it out --" (another pause, this time more shocked) "-- but, they are all alive? All of them? Impossible --" (a flustered quiet) "-- just because you have his favor, that does not give you authorization to issue commands to me. I work for him, not you." (a more menacing silence) "Do not test me. It can be finished tonight, under my own direction, and the whole reason you have for staying in Japan will disappear. I have heard about your other... projects... and when he tires of coddling you, you will regret threatening me."

The footsteps were coming closer to the door now. Heiji stiffened.

"... over now. Goodbye. See you in hell, Vermouth."

And then Heiji's phone let out a quiet beep, high-pitched and loud in the stillness of the Observatory.

Crap.

The footsteps stopped their movement. There was a second beep as the woman disconnected her own cellular phone line, and a small sigh as the doorknob settled with the weight of a hand on the other side. "Who is there?"

A confrontation with a desperate and probably-armed Black Organization operative alone was not on his list of immediate priorities; at least, not before finding Kazuha. Heiji took off as fast and silently as he could, running down the maze of hallways, left, right, left again, until he ran into a large dimly-lit room. His eyes strained; the room was tiled with lineoleum and littered with scattered round and rectangular tables, chairs carefully upended onto the tabletops. Toward the wall on the right was a scrubbed stainless steel countertop, and behind the counter were several neat rows of cookware and stovetops. The observatory cafeteria, he guessed. Probably the staff one; it was too austere to be used for visitors.

Dodging under the counter, Heiji moved aside the blenders and settled down to check his phone messages. Then he rolled his eyes.

H -

HAVE K, BUT NO B.O. OP. USE RID, BE CAREFUL.

- K.S.

"Hattori, I have Kazuha, but not the Black Organization operative. Use the riddles, be careful. Kudo Shinichi," he read aloud. "Stupid Kudo; you could've gotten me killed giving me dumb advice."

Irritated, he began punching in a reply. B.O. OP -

The cafeteria door opened before he could type in any more. Praying Kudo would get the hint, he pressed the send key, then Heiji quickly pocketed the phone.

The sound of heels on lineoleum tile echoed through the room. "Who is here? There must be someone here." The foreign woman. "I heard footsteps in this direction." Click, click, click, of her shoes. "You have kept me waiting for a long time. Is it you, Kudo-kun?"

There was a crash, and Heiji started from his place behind the counter. The woman had shoved one of the tables into a wall with surprising force. "It's not polite to keep a lady waiting. Any Prince Charming knows that."

The sound of her heels was getting louder. Any time now she'd look over the countertop; it was the only real hiding place, and Heiji cursed his stupidity.

"I had thought you would be here much sooner. The riddles were, to borrow your favorite literary character's phrase, quite elementary. At night they come without being fetched, by day they are lost without being stolen. How much simpler can it be? How much we had to lay out for you, just to bring you here to an observatory! Stars, a cute answer to a cute problem. It won't always be this easy, but it was a matter of convenience for us."

There was another crash, this time closer. Heiji winced.

"To be honest, I was expecting more fanfare from the great detectives of the east and west. Where are the marquees, the cops, the photographers? Imagine my surprise in finding two of my agents unconscious at the eastern entrance! Or the news that the girl had run away. I would have failed long ago, if it had not been for your silly ambitions. The swelled egos of slightly-intelligent people can always be counted on."

A chair squeaked in protest as it was lifted from a tabletop. "Goodbye, great detective."

Heiji leapt over the counter. He finally saw the operative with his own eyes: red hair, dark eyes, a few centimeters shorter than his own height, slim. She had begun to lean over the counter the moment Heiji had sprung out, a chair held high over her head.

He did the first thing that came into his mind, and sent a kick at the chair. It sailed across the room and slammed into a whitewashed wall, cracking the plaster. With the racket the woman made with the tables, this was resulting in too much noise; her slow-witted but better-armed minions would show up any minute. He had to end this fast.

The woman pulled out a handgun, looking incensed. "How dare you!"

Heiji leaned back over the countertop, groping for a weapon of some sort. His fingertips brushed against a handle, and Heiji pulled out a large stainless steel pot. "Damn it -- not exactly what I was hoping for --"

Distracted, the woman shouted with laughter. "You must be Hattori Heiji. Goofball detective of the west and second fiddle to Kudo Shinichi."

"Watch it, lady!" Heiji snapped hotly. "I'm second fiddle to nobody!" And with a battle cry, he launched himself at her, brandishing his makeshift weapon.

Calmly, the operative aimed her shot.

Heiji swung, and let go of the pot.

The woman fired, Heiji threw himself aside, with a flash of metallic orange the bullet slammed into the counter behind him, and in the time it took for the woman to fire that shot the pot connected solidly with her ribcage.

The woman staggered from impact and surprise, and her grip on the gun loosened. Heiji darted forward and wrenched the gun away. Seconds later the operative regained her balance, to find her own handgun aimed carefully at her, mere inches away.

Hattori Heiji grinned at her in triumph. "What were you saying about goofballs?"

The operative was expressionless. "Kill me."

The smile faltered. "What?"

"I said kill me! Do it!"

"Sorry," he said quietly. "I don't do things that way."

"To be defeated by a child armed with a kitchen appliance is disgraceful," the woman said bitterly. "It is over anyway. If you do not kill me, they will."

"Stop trying to make me feel sorry for you," Heiji replied roughly. "I don't. Where are your lackeys?"

"I do not know. But once they learn I have failed, they will run and report me."

"Not very loyal lackeys."

The woman sniffed in disdain. "They are loyal, only not to me."

"Right... You might want to talk a little more. For your own benefit. Who are you? What are your organization's plans?"

She hesitated.

"Look, lady, you say they're going to kill you, right? Well I have no desire to kill anybody if I can help it. You do the math," Heiji said impatiently. Subtly he reached for his cellular in his pocket, clicked on the recording device once more, and turned the phone so the recording piece casually poked out of his pocket.

She frowned in resignation. "My codename is Cognac."

"And you're a French operative," he prodded. "I could guess that."

"Yes. But as to the organization's plans... I was only assigned to take the girl and kill Mouri Kogoro. That is all I know."

"Fine. In other words, you're useless. In that case --"

"I am telling you the truth! That was all I was assigned to do. The rest I have gathered on my own." She pressed her lips together. "There is a war coming."

Heiji frowned. "What war?"

"There is a split, a rebellion. The best agents of the organization are planning a -- a coup d'etat against the main body -- I cannot think of a similar word in Japanese. They want something, and soon the others will understand, and a war will begin."

"But an underground war will put innocent people in danger, not to mention expose your entire organization. Why --"

"They want something," she said urgently. "I do not know what they are looking for, but the rewards must be greater than the risk, to face execution as a traitor. If I had known, if I had only guessed earlier, I would not have aided them. But I have, and now I am a traitor just like them. And I will face the same punishment."

Without thinking, Heiji said, "We could help you. You don't have to die. There's witness protection and --"

Cognac laughed painfully. "Witness protection!"

The cafeteria door clanged open, causing both people to jump. Instinctively Heiji raised his head away from the woman's to look at the intruder, hand still steady on the trigger. Swiftly Cognac cupped her hands around the base of the gun and over Heiji's fingers. Before Heiji could turn back to face her, she murmured, "Goodbye, detective," and pushed hard with her fingers over Heiji's own. Heiji gasped, but it was too late.

She forced the trigger, and a bullet exploded into her chest.

Kazuha screamed, standing in the open cafeteria door behind Shinichi, and tried to run to Heiji. Shinichi's arm shot out and held her back.

The gun fell on the linoleum floor with a clatter. Heiji stumbled back and turned to face the door. He was covered in blood. He tried to smile, and the expression wavered for an instant before disappearing completely.

"Hey, Kudo," Heiji said shakily. "Where the hell have you been?"

~ End File 7 ~

Began: November 13, 2002

Completed: April 25, 2003