Warnings: Sonoko x Makoto, Ran x Shinichi, Sonoko x Ran. Nothing graphic.

In honor of Movie 11, which prompted me to take a closer look at Sonoko than I ever had before, and made me realize that I liked what I saw a lot more than I expected. Part 1 of 3.

Disclaimer: … Someday I'd love to be a writer capable of creating something as epic and amazing as Detective Conan. That day is not today, however, and even if that day ever comes, Detective Conan itself still will belong to Aoyama Gosho, not to me.

# # # Chapter 1 # # #

A pleasantly cool evening – uncommonly warm for late February, but just right for the sort of walk they'd just completed, a leisurely stroll around a nearby park as they spoke infrequently about everything and nothing. The crackling heat of a fireplace, near enough to warm their slightly chilled bodies but not so close as to make things uncomfortably hot. Lighting bright enough to see by, but dim enough to make the rest of the world seem to fade away, so that she could almost believe that the two of them were, in fact, the only people left in the world. A single candle casting its light across the pristine white tablecloth, glinting off the flawlessly polished silverware, and casting shadows across her companion's face.

And of course Makoto-san himself. Here, now, as he had been the whole day. Calm, patient, quiet – except that one incident with the would-be mugger, but he clearly regretted it once Makoto-san finished with him, and nothing had actually been taken, so Sonoko was content – as gentlemanly as always. It had been, quite possibly, a perfect day.

Well, it might have been even more perfect if Kid-sama had shown up to whisk me away – no, not with Makoto-san here, that would have been awkward. Although. If Kid-sama whisked me away, would Makoto-san come to rescue me? That would be the best of both worlds!

She sighed happily.

"I hope you enjoyed today?" The man himself said quietly, leaning a bit closer, his eyes focused on her face. That was one of the things she loved about Makoto-san – when he was paying attention to her, she knew his attention was truly focused on her. "I only regret that we don't have the chance to do this more often, the way you deserve."

Sonoko could feel herself flushing. "Today has been perfect." She repeated her earlier thoughts. "So perfect I find myself wondering if this is actually just a dream."

"Even with the mugger?" He asked.

She waved it off. "That small fry. I knew you'd protect me."

"And that murder scene?"

She waved it off more impatiently. "Ran's husband was there to take care of it. No need for us to worry about it."

That gave Makoto pause. "Husband? Do you mean –"

"Shinichi-kun, that's who I'm talking about. The two of them have been clearly joined at the hip since elementary school – they may not be actually married yet, but everyone knows it's only a matter of time." She frowned, suddenly. "After finally coming back briefly from – wherever the hell he's gone – he better not have let that mess make him late for his date with Ran. … Idiot detective." Not like it's his shoulder she cries on when he disappoints her or runs out on her or again.

"Isn't that … a little harsh?" Makoto asked after another brief pause. "Someone died, after all."

Sonoko shook her head. "You don't know him. Murders just have a habit of spontaneously happening around Shinichi-kun. Have ever since middle school. If he let every single one distract him, he'd never have time for anything else." She frowned harder, an edge of bitterness creeping in no matter how she tried to suppress it. "Oh wait, that's right, he doesn't."

Silence fell, and Sonoko cursed herself for letting her long-standing issues with Shinichi-kun interfere with her long-anticipated date with Makoto-san, which had been going so well up until now … Now he probably thinks I'm some sort of shrew or something.

"Anyway!" She said with forced brightness. "He was already pontificating by the time we passed by, which is usually a sign that he already knows exactly what happened and who did it; he just wants to cow the murderer with his freakish knowledge of their every move, and thoroughly impress everyone else in listening distance with his brilliance before he actually lets anyone in on the solution. And that was at least an hour before Ran said their date was supposed to start. It was probably fine."

She shrugged. "And between him, Ran's father, and that brat staying with them, if I let a little thing like the dead bodies of strangers ruin my day I'd never have a good day." She smiled. "So while I'd have preferred not to have seen it, certainly, it didn't change the fact that this has been an amazing day with you."

"And the sudden rain shower?"

Sonoko went starry-eyed at the memory. "Sharing an umbrella in the rain – so romantic! That made the day better, not worse!"

Makoto laughed and shook his head. "I sometimes wonder if I will ever understand you, Sonoko-san. But I'm glad you managed to have a good time, despite everything that happened."

"Absolutely!" She enthused. Then hesitated. "I hope you've had a good time, too. I know it must be hard, pulling yourself away from your study abroad and all the tournaments you go to. And I really do appreciate it."

He shook his head. "Not at all. I only wish I was here more often. So that I could be the sort of proper boyfriend that you deserve." He hesitated. "Maybe I should come back to Japan to stay. There are plenty of strong people here, too … I'd probably still do a lot of travel, but in-country the distances are a lot closer so I'd be able to be around more often, for longer periods of time …"

But even Sonoko could see the conflict on his face, and all the romance novels and TV dramas she'd read and seen made her choice clear. Now she was the one to lean forward, and in a motion that was half-spontaneous, half apprehension at how the gesture would be received, she reached across the table to put her hand over his. "You shouldn't have to do that for me. Your quest to improve yourself and pit your strength against all the other strong people around the world is important to you. I don't want to interfere with that. I'm content to wait here for you, and enjoy the time we have when we have it."

He blinked and smiled, the dim lighting and the tone of his skin conspiring to make it difficult for Sonoko to tell whether he was blushing or not. Then he set his fork down with a decisive clink, and covered her hand with his other. And Sonoko knew that if nothing else, she was now blushing. "Thank you. It is important to me. But you're important to me too."

Sonoko was fairly certain she was about to spontaneously combust from happiness. This really is the best day ever.

Which, of course, was when the phone decided to start ringing. Muffled, but still audible, coming from off to her right. She looked around, irritated. Sure, this restaurant did not forbid cell phones, but it was still awfully rude to all the other patrons to subject them to that obnoxious –

"Sonoko-san." Makoto said. "Isn't that your ringtone?"

She blinked. Come to think of it –

She produced her phone with only a little bit of digging, and glared at the cheerily lit screen announcing the incoming call for a moment, on the verge of giving in to the urge to just reject the call and turn the phone off. It's what the caller would deserve, for disturbing her precious date like this. Then her eyes focused on the name emblazoned on the screen, and she stood suddenly, almost not even noticing the way her hand slipped easily from between Makoto's two larger ones. "I'm really sorry, Makoto-san, but – I've got to take this. It's Ran."

He smiled. "Go. I'll still be here when you get back."

If it wasn't both completely inappropriate given their current surroundings and, more importantly, an additional delay, Sonoko would have squealed and hugged him. Best boyfriend ever. "I'll be back as soon as I can!"

By the time she'd taken three strides away, she'd accepted the call; the fourth brought her phone up to her ear. "Hello? Ran? What's wrong?" In deference to the rest of the guests, she tried her best to keep her voice low and outwardly calm, though she couldn't help the anxiety that clutched at her gut.

"Sonoko, good, you're there – I was beginning to worry when you didn't pick up for so long." Her best friend replied, sounding a bit relieved, but otherwise normal. Sonoko relaxed … mostly. It was a good sign that Ran hadn't sounded undeniably distressed, but. To call, and now, of all times … "Ran, are you all right?"

"… Yeah. I think … yeah. I'm fine." And now she did sound something – but it sounded more tired than anything else. "Sorry, I hope I'm not disturbing you. I just – I needed to talk to someone."

She'd reached the doors of the restaurant – the inner side, which faced back into the mall. If it had started raining again, she'd pass on standing outside in the dark and the wet without her knight and his umbrella. … Though she would for Ran if she had to. Sonoko nodded to the man standing at the entrance, making a pointed gesture towards her phone; busy with another customer who sounded like she was arguing heatedly about whether she and the man standing beside her had, in fact, made reservations, he merely nodded distractedly back in her general direction. Good – hopefully he'll remember me when I come back in. If not – well, I'll deal with it somehow.

Then she was through the doors and out into the mall proper. It happily wasn't too difficult to find a bench nearby to sit on, and at this time of the evening and this area of the mall, it was – not deserted enough to worry her (or rather, make her seek out Ran or Makoto-san to accompany her), but certainly thinly populated enough to make conversation easy. She leaned back, glad that the bench she'd chosen was near enough to the wall that she could lean against it, crossed one leg over the other primly, and closed her eyes. "I always have time for you. What's going on?" She opened one eye, looking up towards the ceiling, and made her best guess – though honestly, this sort of thing didn't need a genius detective to see through. Especially given how competent all the genius detectives I know are at matters of the heart. "How did the date with your husband go?"

"Sonoko!" The blonde girl grinned at the mortified tone in her best friend's voice. Some jokes never got old. A brief pause, and then – "… Fine. It went fine."

Sonoko reopened both eyes just so she could roll them. "How many dead bodies this time?"

That surprised a laugh out of Ran. "None, surprisingly enough. … Though he did tell me about the incident he ran into on the way. At length." The last two words were fondly exasperated.

"It didn't make him late, did it? Makoto-san and I passed by on our walk, but he seemed to have things under control."

"No, he was actually on time for once. Though out of breath, so he may have run part of the way. Were any of the people from Division 1 there? If so, I bet they delayed him a while afterwards, trying to talk to him. Get his advice. Find out where he's been. Though I wish them luck with that." There was an unaccustomed viciousness to her final sentence that had Sonoko sitting up straighter, biting her lip lightly. That sounded like something I would say.

Then she cast back into her memory, trying to recall. "I – wasn't really paying attention, except to Shinichi-kun – he kind of stands out, you know. But I think Takagi-keiji was there. And maybe Satou-keiji?"

"It's pretty uncommon for them to be apart, being partners and all." Ran's voice lightened, colored by her fondness for the terribly awkward police couple. "In that case, that was almost certainly the cause of the delay. I know Takagi-keiji in particular really likes consulting with Shinichi when he gets the chance."

Silence fell. Sonoko caught herself tapping her foot and stopped. Considered making some sort of pointed remark about the fact that she was still in the middle of her date, thanks, but didn't quite have the heart. Especially since that would probably just cause Ran to become absolutely mortified and clam up completely, and she still hadn't told Sonoko what was wrong. And when Ran 'needed to talk to someone', there was always something wrong.

She'd opened her mouth in preparation for saying something else – though she hadn't even really decided whether to go for something light-hearted to distract Ran from her brooding (because she clearly was), or something sympathetic to hopefully draw out whatever the real problem was; much less what she'd actually say in either situation – when Ran abruptly started speaking again.

No fool (shut up, Shinichi-kun), Sonoko closed her mouth again and listened.

"Do you think Hattori-kun was right? About that thing he said when we first met?"

Sonoko looked up towards the ceiling again. Argh, that sounds so familiar. I'm sure she's mentioned it before. But – "… what was it he said again?" She asked sheepishly. "I don't really remember."

"About how Shinichi was probably really just sneaking around the area in secret, and not off on some trip to who knows where after all."

"Oh right, that. Because he never asked about how you were, right?" Now she remembered – it had driven Ran nuts for weeks, wondering if Hattori-kun had been right, and if he was right, wondering why. "I thought we decided a long time ago that he'd probably been mistaken, though. Shinichi-kun did start asking after you more often, after all. And could you really see him managing to pull off avoiding you this long if he actually was nearby?"

Ran chuckled. "Given his luck, I'd run into him randomly on the street just as he was in the middle of solving yet another case. Like you did this afternoon."

Sonoko nodded firmly. "See? There's no way he could pull it off. Maybe he's just in the general area sometimes, and it's just coincidence that he was, then. Or maybe he's getting all the gossip from his mom through your mom – they talk sometimes, right?"

Ran snorted indelicately. "That would be the most inefficient chain of gossip I've ever seen. I mean, you know how often I see my mom – certainly not regularly. And unless things have changed significantly recently, my mom talks to Shinichi's mom maybe every couple of months – less if they're off hiding from his dad's publishers in various foreign locales the way they have been lately – and Shinichi at least used to talk to them even less frequently than that."

"… Come to think of it, I guess back then the gossip chain usually flowed the other way, didn't it?" Sonoko laughed. "He always looked so irritated when you told him something about his parents that he hadn't heard yet."

Ran laughed too. "Didn't he, though? Though I could never tell if it was irritation with being out of the loop or just irritation with his parents in general."

"… This is Shinichi-kun. And his parents." Sonoko pointed out, with all the authority of having been a friend with him since childhood herself. (Well, a reluctant companion when they were both made accessory to Ran's schemes. Or a reluctant follower when he dragged Ran into his schemes. Or she supposed she'd dragged him along with Ran into a few schemes of her own. Though really, no one had been forcing him to come along. Well, except for – But anyway, that wasn't really the point. … The point was that she should stop getting distracted and concentrate on the conversation she was having with her best friend right now.) "It was probably both."

Ran laughed again. "You're probably right." Then fell quiet again.

"So what's got you worrying about that again?" Sonoko asked. A little boy who looked about the brat's size but probably a year or two younger stopped, about twenty feet away, and stared in her direction, tugging on his mother's hand. Sonoko gave in to her urges (she'd never been terribly good at resisting temptation) and made a face at him.

She didn't get a chance to notice what his reaction was, though, because that was when Ran started talking again. And, well. Priorities. "… I'm not worrying."

"Has anyone ever told you that you're a terrible liar?" Besides me. Many times. She hesitated, then added, "And if it's bothering you so much, you could just ask Shinichi-kun? You are dating now, officially, after all. And he's not a great liar, either. Plus, he's here in person still, right?"

"Ugh, I don't know." Ran sounded irritated. "We made tentative plans to get together for breakfast tomorrow – but you know how he is these days. All 'I'll try to make it' this, 'but something might come up' that … I can never get him to actually commit to anything, he just blows back into my life at random, sets it all into disarray, and then blows back out again." She paused, then added, even more exasperated, "And it's not bothering me! I just … wonder, is all."

Another pause, much longer. Sonoko considered saying something, but – she was fairly certain Ran wasn't done. So she simply amused herself by casting her eyes across the view from her bench – nothing to write home about, and the little boy and his mother were no longer in sight so either her actions had had an effect or the kid's mother had dragged him off – and uncrossing her legs, re-crossing them in the other direction.

Finally, just as she was about to break and start speaking again, Ran beat her to the punch. "He did start asking about me more often, yes, not long after that first time Hattori-kun visited. I kind of wondered at the time if that was just further proof – if he'd been around to hear what Hattori-kun said and was just asking to throw me off the scent, or out of some sense of guilt over lying to me, or something … but he kept doing it for quite a while, so I figured I was overthinking things. Like the time when – well. I overthink things a lot, where Shinichi is concerned."

"But then he kind of trailed off and stopped. And once he stopped, he's never really consistently started back up again. He remembers to occasionally, but honestly he asks how the other guys in the soccer club are doing more often than he asks about me. And that just seems strange, you know? And it makes me wonder if Hattori-kun was right after all." Yet another pause. Sonoko could almost see her friend biting her lip on the other end of the line. "… If Shinichi really is hiding something of that magnitude from me. If somewhere along the line, he really has become that good of a liar."

Sonoko uncrossed her legs so that she could start swinging one back and forth, rhythmically scuffing along the pavement. "So why not ask him? If it's bothering you this much – and it is so bothering you, don't even try to deny it – he'd have to be pretty thick-headed not to realize. … Though that wouldn't surprise me, seriously, given how long it took you to get together for real. But anyway, given how much he cares about you, if you are just imagining things I'm sure he'd be happy to tell you. And probably logic you into submission, making you feel silly for ever thinking otherwise."

Ran chuckled. "He would, wouldn't he, the deduction otaku." Another pause, and a very faint sound that Sonoko thought might have been a swallow, and then, even softer than before – "… but what if I'm not? I'm not sure I could bear it if he lied to me and I knew he was doing it. Not again. Not on top of all the other lies and omissions and not being there."

So you'd rather just pretend? Like that's any better? Sonoko sighed, and did her best to unclench the fist that wasn't holding her phone. Maybe I should have gone over to him this afternoon. I don't get to see him often, after all, and he never calls me, and he never gave me his cell phone number. Well. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I gave him mine either. But anyway, since I see him so rarely, I really should have taken the chance to go give him a piece of my mind or three about the way he treats Ran.

But that was then and this was now, and as absent as Shinichi-kun tended to be a lot of the time, she still ended up running into him for some reason or another most of the times he did show up. There'd be another chance to vent. In the meantime, "So what got you to thinking about this again?" She asked. Please don't tell me you've been seriously worrying about it for a long time and I just haven't noticed. I hope I'm not that bad of a friend.

"Nothing, really. Just – he spent a lot of the date talking about the case he solved on the way there, and asking after everyone, and getting distracted by looking at and deducing things about everyone else but me. It made me kind of feel like I was the least interesting thing in the room, but I know he doesn't actually feel that way – I don't think –"

"A confession as awkward as his was?" Sonoko broke in, doing her best to sound amused rather than letting show her always-simmering anger whenever the subject of Shinichi-kun and the way he treated Ran came up. "I think you can be fairly certain that was sincere."

"I know." Ran sounded exasperated. "I do. I know it's just Shinichi being his normal deduction otaku, hopeless self. And knowing him, he probably doesn't need to ask after me because he'd deduced everything happening in my life recently based on the way I did my hair this morning or, or something. Or maybe he deduces enough to know that I'm fine and just figures that that's all that matters. Maybe that is all that matters to him."

Okay, so in other words, you managed to come up with a possibility even more depressing than the possibility that your boyfriend is wandering around the general area stalking you and then lying about it.

Sonoko kicked her leg harder and thought. One of the downsides to growing up around a certain deduction otaku was that when it really mattered, she liked having actual proof to back up her arguments. Especially when talking to Ran. It made it a lot harder to be comforting. "I really don't think that's the case." She finally said slowly. "I mean, this is Shinichi-kun we're talking about. It takes a crisis or you running away in tears to make him actually be honest about his emotions. He was probably doing all of that deducing to try and impress you."

Ran snorted. "You'd think he'd have figured out by now that it's more annoying than anything else. Especially when I'd like him to be spending at least some of that focus on me."

"Yes, well, it's Shinichi-kun we're talking about. And remember what he said when he confessed? About you being so difficult a case to figure out that even Holmes couldn't manage it, or something like that? Maybe he wasn't paying attention to you because he's shy."

"Shy? He seeks out the spotlight like a homing pigeon!" Ran protested, then paused. "… Or he used to. He seems to be avoiding media attention these days. Though that certainly doesn't keep him from forcing his way into every murder investigation he trips across."

Sonoko huffed a laugh. "I'm pretty sure it's a reflex. See case – solve case." She was pleased to hear a brief chuckle from Ran as well.

"But that's not what I meant. I mean, look at you, too – you think nothing of getting up in front of a crowd of thousands of people at karate championships, but how long did it take you to get up the courage to tell Shinichi-kun you liked him back? Even though it had been blatantly obvious for only, oh, approximately forever?"

A long, long pause. Then a sheepishly muttered "… Months."

"See?" Sonoko asked triumphantly. "I don't know whether Shinichi-kun's actually secretly stalking you, and that's why it didn't occur to him to ask after you – and I still think if it bothers you so much you should ask, because you know he wouldn't want you to tear yourself apart over something that he could do something about. But if you're just worried because he was being an insensitive jerk –"

Ran attempted to insert some sort of weak protest, but Sonoko could tell from her tone that even Ran didn't believe what she was saying, so she felt perfectly justified in steamrolling over her. "—I hate to tell you this, but he's always been like that." Then, just to get a reaction, "You know, if you ever get tired of dealing with him, there are plenty of other fish in the sea."

"Sonoko …"

"It's been a while since we did a beach trip – it's a bit chilly for it right now, I suppose, and I guess it's getting a bit late in the year for a properly crowded ski trip. We could do another hot springs trip, though – I know some places and some people, just let me know what weekend works for you –"

"Sonoko!" The blonde grinned at the embarrassed horror in her best friend's voice. There we go. That's my Ran.

"I'm just saying." She said, trying for innocence but knowing Ran could probably hear the grin currently attempting to split her face in two. "… I'm not giving you Makoto-san, though, just so we're clear."

"I don't – that's not – aargh, Sonoko." Ran descended into spluttering incoherence. A moment or two of exasperated breathing, then she sighed. Sonoko could almost see her running a hand across her forehead, through her bangs, and back across the back of her head, the way she often did when she'd been exasperated to the point of giving up. "I … like Shinichi." Ran said firmly, and Sonoko smiled. It made her happy to hear the way Ran was slowly becoming more assured about acknowledging her feelings. She still tended to stumble over the words – and Sonoko was certain that her best friend was currently red as a beet on the other side of the phone – but she was getting better. "I'm not interested in finding another boyfriend, as exasperating as Shinichi can be. No, not even Makoto-san." Then her voice softened. "… Thank you. For cheering me up. For being there. I guess I kind of take you for granted sometimes, too."

Sonoko felt her cheeks heat up. Idiot. What are you blushing for? "That's what friends are for." She said airily, and was glad her voice didn't betray her sudden bout of completely stupid embarrassment. "It's not like I haven't talked your ear off many times before, too. Over much sillier things." Besides, one of us ought to be around for you. Stupid Shinichi-kun.

"Yes, well. I still appreciate it." She paused. "Hey. Speaking of Makoto-san, I haven't asked how your date went! You mentioned running into Shinichi – I hope he didn't suck you into his case and ruin your date. Though you mentioned he had things under control, so I assume you came by when it was all over but the explanation?"

Sonoko straightened, face brightening. "Yeah, he was well into 'talk-the-culprit-into-submission' mode when we passed by, so we left him to it. And it's going great!" Comforting Ran could be hard, especially when she'd talked herself into the sort of state she had tonight. Not that she begrudged the effort it took – she just wished she knew how to do it better. But babbling about what a great time her date with Makoto-san had been so far? Super easy.

She was about halfway through a blow-by-blow description of Makoto-san's altercation with the mugger – not that there had been many blows involved, but the process was lengthened by the fact that for all she'd grown up with Ran and cheered her on in countless matches, she'd never bothered to learn all the names of the moves, so she ended up falling back on descriptions like 'and then a kick like that one time you kicked that one culprit in the face' – when Ran interrupted. "Sonoko?"

"—and then – what?" The tone in Ran's voice stopped her cold, and she frantically started thinking back through the past several sentences, trying to find some place where she'd been insensitive or said something she shouldn't.

"'Going'?" Ran asked, and Sonoko cringed, clapping her free hand to her mouth. She'd been so determined not to say anything about the fact that Ran had interrupted her date, and then been tripped up by a verb tense, of all things.

"I meant 'went'. It went great." She corrected weakly, without much hope of success – she was an even worse liar than Shinichi-kun; a complete stranger could almost certainly have called her on it, much less someone who knew her as well as Ran did.

"Sonoko …"

… Or she could just use that voice. Sonoko folded immediately. "I'm sorry! I didn't want to say anything because I knew then you'd feel super guilty about interrupting my date! And I really don't mind!"

"You should have said something!" Aaaand you being that upset is precisely why I didn't want to. Damn it. "Or, or just not picked up or something. I could have waited to talk to you until tomorrow. Or just not bothered you at all with my stupid worries about stupid Shinichi."

"No." Sonoko surprised even herself with both the suddenness and the vehemence of her reply.

"Don't you dare stop talking to me about your problems, Mouri Ran. You're my best friend, not some sort of burden. I'm talking to you because I want to, because you're important to me. If you ever do bother me, I promise I'll tell you. So just – don't. Okay?"

"… … … Okay." She finally said, though Sonoko could hear the reluctance. "But no more letting me interrupt your dates, okay? Not with Makoto-san only able to make it into town slightly more frequently than Shinichi-kun. That's not fair to either you or to him."

At least my boyfriend lets me know where he is and what he's doing. Sonoko thought, uncharitably. So really it's not the same thing at all. "… Okay." She said. Hopefully Ran wouldn't realize that she was lying through her teeth this time. Some things were just important, that's all.

Ran huffed, but didn't pursue the subject. Which either meant she believed her, or had realized that further arguing wouldn't do any good. (Which … was true, actually.) "… So what did I interrupt you during?"

"Um, dinner?" Sonoko offered sheepishly. "We were mostly done eating, though."

"Because that makes everything better." Ran said sarcastically, and Sonoko winced.

"… At least that means I wasn't distracted by hunger?"

Ran huffed a laugh. "You're impossible. … Now what are you waiting for? Go back to your date, already! I'll grill you for details tomorrow. You know, after it's finished."

Sonoko smiled. "Yes ma'am." Hesitated, then added. "And good luck with Shinichi-kun tomorrow morning." If he actually shows up.

Ran unknowingly repeated her last thought on a sigh, then added. "… Thanks. I hate to say it, since I'm still mad at you for not telling me that I was ruining your date with Makoto-san, but … talking really did help. And I'll think about talking to Shinichi."

Sonoko was trying to think of something to say in response – more cutting remarks about a certain childhood friend of theirs warring with you haven't ruined anything – but Ran cut in again. "Now what are you still doing on the phone? Shoo! And apologize to Makoto-san for me, will you?"

"Yes ma'am!" Sonoko repeated, grinning. "I'll talk to you tomorrow. Bye!"


She hung up only moments before she suspected Ran would have done the same and stood, stretching the kinks out of her back. Wow, that bench was sure uncomfortable. Then checked the time on her phone and cursed. My chat with Ran took that long? I know Makoto-san said he'd wait for me, but even I've got to admit that that's pushing it!

She barged back into the restaurant at a speed a bit too fast to be properly decorous – not that she was terribly good at that in general, but at a nice restaurant like this it was only polite to try and pretend – and was relieved to see that it was still the same man at the entrance, and given that his only reaction to her entrance was to politely nod in her direction, it appeared that he remembered her. Good. I don't need anything slowing me down even more. … And maybe that means that Makoto-san's still here; he'd probably say something if he knew my companion had left. And Makoto-san 's, well … I just can't see him getting up and leaving without at least saying something to me when he left. Not even if he was really mad.

I hope he's not mad.

… … I'm a terrible girlfriend, aren't I?

From there, it took maybe 30 seconds to retrace her steps back to the table the two of them had claimed earlier that evening. Empty. And for a moment her heart clenched, before her eyes caught up with her fears and she spotted the bag from their earlier shopping expedition (Seriously. Best. Boyfriend. Ever.) and breathed a sigh of relief. Most of the things in there were hers, but he'd bought a few things – souvenirs for his family, a blouse for his sister that he'd shamefacedly explained that she'd harangued him into acquiring for her next time he was in Tokyo. If the bag was still here – and she could see the blouse still folded on top, so he hadn't just divided his things out and left the rest either – then he was almost certainly still here.

Breathing a sigh of relief, she sat back down. Brilliant deduction, Sonoko. Next time try making it before you give yourself a heart attack. And while you're at it, why don't you try deducing where he actually is.

But that turned out to be unnecessary, for here came the man himself – at a gratifyingly faster clip than initially, once he noticed that Sonoko had returned.

"I apologize for being away when you returned." He said. "I had a bit of … pressing business to attend to." From the light blush dusting his cheeks, the circumspectness of his wording (and it really was so adorable, how he made such an effort to use considerate language like that), and the direction he'd come from – deeper within the restaurant – she had a good idea where he'd come from and what business he'd been attending to.

She shook her head in response to his question. "No, I only just barely sat back down myself." Looked down at her plate, and the long since cold remains, finding it hard to look at Makoto-san, suddenly. "More to the point, I'm sorry I was away for so very long. I didn't realize – I wasn't keeping track of the time – I hope I didn't ruin our date, and with you having made such a point of coming to visit …"

Her hands, framing her plate, curled into fists. He's such an amazing boyfriend, and here I am just … And the worst part of it was that she couldn't bring herself to honestly regret it.

Her clenched left hand was suddenly engulfed by his larger right, and the touch – even if she had done it first, earlier that night, even though they'd done that much and more before – was still enough of a surprise that it broke her concentration on her plate, dragging her eyes back to his face.

"You haven't ruined anything, Sonoko-san." He said gently. "I assure you that I've enjoyed this date at least as much as you have. And I know how important Ran-san is to you."

She smiled hesitantly back, reaching over to cover his hand with her other, the way he had done earlier that night. "Thank you. For being … for understanding, I guess."

He appeared on the verge of saying something else, then seemed to change his mind. Sonoko waited, more interested in watching the play of thoughts across his face – even if she couldn't claim to be able to read any of them, except perhaps the indecision he seemed to be struggling with. As always, though, her patience did not last nearly as long as she liked to think it did, and after a minute or more of watching silently as he seemed to be unable to come to a decision on his own (and ignoring the small part of her that wondered if maybe the reason he was struggling so much was because it was something she might not want to hear, because this was Makoto-san, after all), she finally pulled her top hand away, propped her elbow on the table and her chin on her hand, and grinned at him. "Whatever you're thinking – you can just say it, you know."

At least that seemed to break the stalemate. After a moment of blinked surprise, something firmed in his face and he nodded, settling back in his chair. He pulled his hand away, leaving Sonoko's still more relaxed than before, but feeling oddly chilled, and propped both elbows on the table, folding his hands together and hiding his mouth for a moment. He then let them fall back to his side as he gave Sonoko a penetrating look. "Sonoko-san," he began, some of the hesitation having returned. "Do you mind if I ask you a somewhat … impolite question?"

She blinked, mind blank as she tried to think of what sort of question he'd be likely to ask that would lead with that. And combined with her own only passing acquaintance with such things as 'tact', it was her curiosity that did the trick. "Of course! I'm impolite all the time, it only seems fair." She said brightly, then winked, "I'm not going to tell you my three sizes, though. There are some things a girl ought to be able to keep to herself!"

Makoto-san coughed, and she thought she detected the hint of a blush on his face – though between his darker color and the dimness of the restaurant it really was irritatingly difficult to tell for sure. "I'll … keep that in mind." He said awkwardly. "But that's not what I was planning on asking."

He took a deep breath. "The thing is – I know I probably don't say so as often as I should, but I like you, Sonoko-san. I like you a lot."

Crap. Now I'm the one blushing. "I –" she started, eager to return the favor – she knew how she felt, and trying to lie about it or hide it had never been her style, especially not when she had seen first-hand what sorts of knots it had tied Ran and Shinichi-kun into. Idiots, the both of them. But Makoto-san raised his hand in a 'let me finish' sort of gesture and so she reluctantly subsided.

"I do really want to be with you," he continued, still remarkably calmly, considering that even Sonoko thought she might stutter a bit (not to mention blush even brighter than she was doing so now) when being quite that forthright. "But. I'm ashamed to admit that I'm more selfish than I thought."

The bottom dropped out of her stomach. He's not seriously going to – but he said – "—Is this about –?"

"Your conversation with Ran-san earlier?" He said. "Yes and no."

"I said I was sorry." She protested. "And I am. And you said you didn't mind –" And a slow burn of anger was starting to gain on the hurt, as part of her mind jumped straight to How dare he! even as the rest of her struggled to not jump to conclusions. To hear him out. Because Makoto-san was a good boyfriend, and he'd said he didn't mind, and she liked him so much she sometimes thought she'd burst from it and she just didn't want to believe that he'd try to stand between her and Ran.

Not like all those dramas where she was always shouting at the screen for the girl to just pop the man one – or better yet, get her karate master best friend to do it for her – and find a better guy. She refused to believe that Makoto-san was that kind of guy.

He shook his head. "I know how important – sorry. I know that Ran is very important to you, Sonoko-san. And I respect that, and I would never try to stand in the way of your friendship."

See? See? Sonoko's more optimistic half crowed, but the pessimistic half wasn't listening, still stubbornly convinced that there was a 'but' coming.

"But." (See? Her pessimistic side parroted, grimly vindicated.) "… For my own sake, and for your sake, too, I need to know – is friendship all it is?"

Sonoko's thoughts ground to a halt. … What? She blinked, shook her head, and it still didn't make any more sense. "… What?" She repeated, this time out loud. The only thing she could think of – but that was ridiculous. "You're not trying to imply that – of course we're just friends. And we're both girls. Who are both dating other guys."

He shook his head. "Sorry, I'm not saying things right. I know – I assume – that there's no formal romantic relationship between the two of you. What I'm trying to say is …" he ran a hand through his short hair, clearly frustrated. "I really like you. I do. I sometimes let my imagination run away with me and think of us being together for years. But I don't want to – I don't think I could in the long term live with – being with you if you don't feel the same way. If you really like someone else. You know?"

Sonoko's mind was still struggling to catch up with the initial concept. It was just so ridiculous – she couldn't see how Makoto-san even chose that of all things to worry about. She kept opening her mouth and closing it, each time on the verge of a scathing rebuttal, each time rethinking it because really there were so many places to start from she couldn't even figure out which was the right place to start.

He rubbed his head again, softer now, and continued quietly, "I thought … if I'm with you, that that would be enough to me, but … I can't bear the thought that you might be simply settling for me. It's not fair to me, and … it's not fair to you, either. I want you to be happy, even … even if it's not with me."

And a feeling close to panic was growing in her stomach because she could feel him drawing away, even as neither of them moved physically, and even though she still didn't know what to say she knew she had to say something, because otherwise she was suddenly terribly afraid that she would lose him for good. "I'm not settling." Was what finally came tumbling out of her jumbled brain, emphatic enough to make his eyes widen and loud enough to turn several heads at nearby tables and make her wince and sit back down from the half-standing position she'd found herself unconsciously taking.

"I'm not." She repeated, more quietly but no less emphatically, then "Um. Maybe we should finish this conversation somewhere else."

Makoto-san looked around as well, seeming to notice for the first time the attention that Sonoko's outburst had drawn, and coughed lightly. "… Perhaps we should."

They said little to each other as they waited for the check and as Makoto-san paid; Sonoko because her mind was still whirling from the clear ridiculousness of Makoto-san's accusations, and him because … well, the small part of her that wasn't concentrating on her own problems thought he looked determined but sad. Regretting that he'd said anything? But clearly committed, now, to the path he'd chosen. But how do I convince him that he's wrong?

They exited the restaurant and Makoto-san looked in both directions, then turned purposefully towards the left, their bags in one hand, umbrella in the other. Sonoko took several quick steps to catch up, and was somewhat reassured to see that with that small reminder he slowed his pace slightly to match hers (and she swore that next time – if there was a next time – no, she refused to believe there wouldn't be – she'd wear flats, because trying to keep up with his longer stride in heels was a serious pain) but couldn't quite bring herself to latch onto his arm the way she had earlier that afternoon, not with him still radiating distance clearly enough that even she noticed. … I guess it's a good thing it's stopped raining.

She wasn't entirely sure where they were going, but when all was said and done, she still trusted Makoto-san. Even if she made him so angry that he immediately swore off being her boyfriend – if he hadn't already given up completely on her – she knew he'd still see her safely home before disappearing from her life for good. Makoto-san was just that sort of person. So she followed.

A block passed by, as Sonoko looked around at all the bright neon lights that lit up the evening sky, advertising the shops below or beside or above their signs, or other shops 'just one block further on the right', or other things entirely, lending an atmosphere to the area that felt as cheerful as it did chaotic; and Makoto-san stared straight ahead. Not stiffly, the way she thought he'd probably be if he was angry (though Ran was depressingly good at making herself appear relaxed even when she wasn't, except when she was really upset, so it was probably best not to depend too much on a martial artist's body language), but not terribly openly either.

Sonoko took a deep breath. Okay. My move. I can do this. … I think.

"… There's something I'm curious about, too." She finally said quietly, looking away because it was easier, cursing herself for sounding so much less certain than she had intended to. "I … why is it Ran you're so worried about?" She blushed, and bit her lip, but if Makoto was committed to this path then she could hardly do less than figure out why, even if it was super embarrassing, even if it made her admit things she didn't really like to. "You know me well enough by now. You can probably guess that I make eyes at every passing good-looking guy when you're not around."

Makoto-san snorted, but it sounded more amused than irritated or angry, so she chose to interpret that as a good sign. "I don't really mean anything by it, but … I wouldn't really blame you if you thought I did. So why is it Ran who you're so worried about? She's my best friend, not some guy poised to steal me away from you." Like Kid-sama! … No, Sonoko, stop that. Bad thoughts. Not now.

"… I can't say that I'm terribly happy about your looking at other guys when I'm not around." He admitted grudgingly. "But … that's part of who you are, too, and I would not try to change you. Especially not when, as you said yourself, you don't really mean anything by it. And if you ever did find some guy you liked better, someone who would treat you right and be around for you the way I haven't been … I think you'd at least have the courtesy to let me know and let me down gently."

Sonoko blinked. "Of course I would. If I ever did. Which I won't, since you're the most amazing boyfriend ever."

He smiled down at her wryly. "I suppose I should feel heartened that you still think so." Then looked upwards, where although it had stopped raining, the overcast sky made it impossible to see the stars. "As for why Mouri-san is different … because she does matter. You don't look at other men when you're with me," he paused, "… well, most of the time. I feel like your attention is honestly on me, is what I'm getting at. But the moment Mouri-san appears – even over the phone, as she did tonight – it's like I've ceased to exist. Or that's how it feels sometimes. Particularly if she's at all distressed – and when that happens, you always look so distressed, too, and helpless, as though you'd like nothing more than to make whatever it is that's bothering her disappear permanently if only you knew how."

He sighed. "… I don't think you've ever looked at me that way. I don't think … I'm not sure you've ever let me far enough into your heart to care about me that way." He shrugged, and smiled down at her again, sad and resolute. "I didn't really want to bring it up because I know it's probably just me making mountains out of mole-hills, but … I need to know."

Sonoko shook her head. "Ran is my best friend. We've been together since elementary school; we share – or at least used to share – almost everything. And Shinichi-kun is not here, and an idiot besides, and it's hard on her. And you're right, I don't know what to do, or how to help, because the only thing I can think of is to somehow grab that idiot detective and make him actually stay, but I'm also pretty sure that's impossible, and" her voice wavered, and she realized she was almost crying, and didn't that just make everything peachy? "I just wish I could get her to smile again, and really mean it."

She took a deep breath, and tried to force down the upset, because getting this upset over something she could do nothing about was just stupid, and she was supposed to be convincing Makoto-san that she didn't have feelings (and even just thinking it made her feel ridiculous) for Ran, not whining about her own inadequacies.

She took another deep breath, and judged that to be steady enough (or at least as steady as she was likely to get), and admitted, "You're probably right that I'm more tuned into Ran's moods, more likely to try to help her, more likely to notice that she needs the help. And part of that is that we've together for approximately forever. But part of it is, well … you're strong, Makoto-san. I don't expect you to need help, well, ever … and even if you did need help, I can't see it being anything that I would be capable of providing. I'm not hyper-intelligent or a brilliant martial artist or even a particularly good friend, but I'm all Ran has when Shinichi-kun isn't around, and half the time even when he is. She needs –"


What am I saying? Ran needs me? For what? A friendly ear? Reassurance that Shinichi-kun isn't a total idiot (well, except for when he is) and liar, reassurance that everything will turn out okay? That's awfully arrogant of you, isn't it, Suzuki Sonoko, to assume that Ran would be lost without you?

Are you sure that it's not the other way around? That you need her? That you would be lost without her?

Is the constant low-grade anger that you feel towards Shinichi-kun, that you try to hide (sometimes, not very successfully) really just because you hate the way he keeps breaking your best friend's heart, or is it secretly also jealousy? Do you really think you could do any better?

Sonoko felt suddenly dizzy, like the ground had fallen out from her or like she was trying to stay upright on a really unstable train with no hand-holds in sight, because this, she realized, was familiar.

She did think she could do better. Hadn't she sworn to herself, that she'd never treat her boyfriend – whoever he turned out to be, because this predated even her meeting Makoto-san, much less their starting to date – the way Shinichi treated Ran?

She'd even thought it, jokingly, once or twice: If I were Ran's boyfriend, I'd be there for her. I wouldn't treat her the way Shinichi-kun does. Not even if I was in some sort of horrible danger; I'd tell her. I'd trust her to watch my back the same way I'd hope she'd trust me to watch hers.

But Shinichi-kun's the one you'd want to watch your back, right?

She was seized with the sudden urge to laugh, standing there in the middle of a mostly-dark street, the neon signs reflecting off the small puddles on the ground from the recent rain, Makoto-san several strides ahead (she didn't remember when she'd stopped walking, but apparently she had, and Makoto-san had noticed and stopped and he was such a good boyfriend so why did it feel like her heart was breaking?). But she also worried that if she started laughing, she wouldn't be able to stop. (Even though it wasn't really that funny, except no, it kind of was.)

What if that wasn't really a joke at all?

What if Makoto-san's right?

"I –" and her voice sounded strange, like it was coming from the end of a tunnel, like it secretly wasn't her voice at all "—does it really matter, though? Even if I did have some sort of silly feelings for Ran, she's got Shinichi-kun. She really does love him, and for all his faults he really does love her back, and I'm not a home-wrecker. I'm not."

Even if I am doing an excellent job of completely screwing up my own relationship at the moment.

"Don't say that, please." Makoto-san's voice was almost a surprise after how deeply she'd dug into her own head; him closing the distance to take one of her cold hands in one of his slightly warmer ones (umbrella passed over to his other hand to be held awkwardly at an angle from the shopping bag) was definitely a surprise. "The only reason this conversation has happened at all is because of my stupid insecurity. If anyone's screwing up our relationship, I'd say it's me."

Oh. Did I say that aloud?Apparently so. Sonoko curled her fingers more tightly against Makoto-san's hand, clinging to the feeling of warmth and stability in a world that suddenly seemed to have stopped making sense. Or has it started making more sen – she shoved that thought away, burying it the mess of other things she was now trying hard not to think about, and smiled wanly up at Makoto-san. "I guess your insecurity wasn't so stupid after all, though, was it?"

She took a deep breath, then another for good measure, and managed to pull together a smile more closely approximating her usual brightness. "But really. Does it matter? Whether or not my feelings towards Ran are or could ever become more than friendship, that's definitely all she feels towards me. And I would never mess with her relationship with Shinichi-kun. And I do really, really like you. … Couldn't that be enough?"

"Even if you never told her – if you never told anyone else, even me – don't you think you yourself deserve to know? To understand how you feel?" Makoto-san returned quietly. "What is it that Kudo-san always says? Something about –"

"'There is always a single truth.'" Sonoko quoted quietly, again suppressing a completely inappropriate urge to laugh. She ought to know, given the number of times she'd heard Shinichi-kun say it.

But what if I'm afraid to know?

And what if all the truth does is hurt everyone? What's the point to a stupid truth like that?

She suspected she knew what Shinichi-kun's answer would be. Even if it was a stupid, hypocritical answer, because even if he wasn't lying to Ran about being nearby, he was definitely lying about something, through omission if nothing else, and if he valued the truth so damn much maybe he could try telling it.

And her friends' stupid inability to communicate seemed to tear at her twice as badly now even though there was no reasonable reason why (because even if she did feel something more than friendship, it wasn't like it mattered, it wasn't like she could or would actually do anything). And she looked up into Makoto-san's face – handsome and open and so worried and if her heart was breaking, then what about his, and she seriously was the worst girlfriend ever – and remembered what he had said about happiness and about settling, and, well.

Well. Maybe she did owe it to Makoto-san and to herself (and maybe even to Ran, even if she would never, ever know?) to figure out the truth. Even if it turned out to be a stupid truth.

She closed her eyes briefly – it made it easier to let go of Makoto-san's hand and take a step away – and took yet another deep breath as she reopened her eyes. "Okay. I – Okay." Way to go with the coherence. "I'll think about it. Try to figure it out." She wanted to rage at him – how dare he disturb her equilibrium with his crazy accusations (that may not be so crazy after all) and his assurances that he's only thinking of her own good? – but that wouldn't do anyone any good and she liked to think that she wasn't quite that petty.

Suddenly she found herself wrapped in his arms, face pressed against his chest, and she fought to keep from just melting into him (because seriously, was it really the time to enjoy being in the arms of one person when you'd just as good as promised to figure out whether or not you loved someone else?), even if it felt so good that she almost completely didn't mind the way the handle of the umbrella was digging into her shoulder. "Thank you." He said quietly, his voice a rumble that she felt almost as much as she heard. "And I'm sorry."

Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes again (stupid tears), and she finally gave in and melted into his embrace, because there was a hollow cold feeling in the depths of her heart that made her feel like this was the last time they'd be together like this (and that was a stupid feeling, too).

I'm sorry too.

17 March 2013