Series: Detective Conan
Summary: Desperately ill, Rei is grounded by a voice from the past. But there's only room in Rei's life for one ghost.
For the past four nights, Beika’s serenity has been rent by explosions, the silence broken by man-made thunder and the skies lit by hungry flames. There’s a bomber on the loose, and while the police have dedicated all available resources, the one most likely to solve the crime is an elementary-school student.
Rei is confident the Organization has nothing to do with these crimes – there is no apparent motive, and the men in black act only for profit or self-preservation – but when Edogawa Conan comes looking for assistance from someone with a car he’s more than willing to help. For one thing it’s his duty, but it also affords a chance to keep an eye on Okiya Subaru. Okiya Subaru, who is 99% sure to be Akai Shuuichi.
Following a trail of bizarre, abstruse clues they end up in Beika’s warehouse district alone on a Friday night. Aware that, for all his brilliance, his accomplice is to outward appearances a 7-year old, Rei orders Conan to stay in the car and direct him through the labyrinth of narrow streets by means of a GPS tracker and his laptop’s tracking app. Rei puts him on speakerphone and slips the smartphone into his breast pocket to keep his hands free. If the boy noticed, he hadn’t said anything about the Heckler and Koch holstered at Rei’s side beneath his blazer.
He’s just come to a right-angle with a large metal dumpster ahead when he hears the footsteps behind him. The wind is at his back, and with it comes a faint hint of cigarette smoke.
Rei turns around.
Akai Shuuichi is walking down the street. He’s dressed in black slacks and a black leather jacket with his usual black knit beanie on over his sleek head. There’s a cigarette hanging from his mouth; his jacket is unzipped to reveal his own sidearm holstered there.
“You’ve got some nerve,” growls Rei, tensing.
“I’m simply a public-spirited citizen, protecting his city. Much like yourself.”
“Amuro-san?” comes the puzzled child’s voice from his phone. “Is someone there?”
“Just an old ghost,” answers Rei. Akai smiles.
“I like that. But can you kill a ghost, Furuya-kun?”
“You don’t think I can send you back to hell?” growls Rei, stance widening, the leather soles of his shoes scraping over the uneven ground. “It’s where you belong, you bastard.”
“Amuro-san, I think I know where the bomb is. There should be a dumpster nearby – it’s in there. But time’s almost up. You should evacuate.”
A dumpster. He frowns – and then he looks up as Akai takes a sharp step forward.
“Furuya-kun.” He reaches out, hand open, eyes wide.
Rei turns around and spots the dumpster. Then the night explodes.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Metronome. Steady beat. Bass to his guitar.
Darkness. Midnight. Starless sky over the bay.
Sharp odors: charcoal; blood; iodine.
Warmth against his hand. A strong grip. Fingers used to strumming strings.
“Sleep now, Zero,” says a soft, familiar voice. A gentle touch on his forehead, stroking his skin like a smooth stone skimming over water. Numbness descends, encapsulating him in a soft cocoon.
Words fly around him like hornets, sharp, buzzing. Some land in his brain, stinging him.
He tries to open his eyes, to see what’s happening. But there’s only darkness: endless, empty.
He floats above it all on a cloud, untethered to the world below. His thoughts are wild things, roaming at will into dark thickets and sunny meadows, shifting from white to black whiplash-quick. He remembers the Academy’s shooting range / Vermouth’s smile / Akai’s red mustang. Remembers Hiromitsu’s soft voice / Akai’s jade-green eyes / red, red blood.
The only thing that keeps him anchored is the warm grip on his hand, the constant pressure of fingers encircling his.
“Hold on, Zero,” says the soft voice beside him, the voice that sang to him and goaded him and laughed with him. “Hold on.”
There’s something terribly nostalgic about it, something that plucks at his heartstrings and makes his eyes tear up. He can feel the tears coming, feel them choking him.
Fingers squeeze tight against his. He squeezes back.
Vitals are stabilizing.
He’s turned the corner.
The words are coming through more clearly now, although still playing through constant background static. He’s present enough to recognize that he’s high as a kite on god knows what meds, to recognize he’s in the hospital and something’s gone badly wrong.
He still can’t see.
His mind wanders down confused corridors, opening doors at random onto old and new memories. Somewhere there must be a clue to what’s happened, but when he tries to find the right door the knobs burn his hand and darkness fractures into flames.
He’s drenched in sweat, swimming in it, his skin stinging with it. The world is burning and his mind is alight. He tries to call, to shout, to scream. He’s panting fit to burst, trying desperately to find the wind to breathe.
A strong arm is holding him down, pressing him into the bed.
“You’re alright. It’s going to be okay, Zero. Calm down.”
Rei’s dead. It’s the only answer. He’s finally burnt his luck down to the ground like a stick of incense, and this is the afterlife. Blindness and sweat and pain.
Rei leans back his head and laughs. Laughs and laughs and laughs.
“Nurse,” says Hiromitsu, very calmly, still holding Rei’s hand.
Then comes the morphine, and with it more bittersweet dreams.
When he wakes the next time he’s much closer to lucid. He knows it as soon as he slips into wakefulness and feels his face stinging – not with tears or sweat but with cuts. He reaches up with his left hand and feels bandages crossing from his eyebrows to the bridge of his nose, with plasters on his cheek and chin.
He can still feel the gentle pressure on his right hand. As he looks over, though, it makes to pull away – and he catches it. Grips hard, fingers crushing against a strong man’s hand.
Rei heard his voice so clearly, let it call to him, let it hold him here. But that was a dream. Had to have been.
With his thumb he tugs the bandages from his eyes, blinks them open and winces at the bright light.
Okiya Subaru is sitting beside him. Okiya Subaru, wearing a peach turtleneck. Okiya Subaru, who is almost certainly Akai Shuuichi.
“You,” spits Rei, his hand beginning to cramp; he lets go of Okiya’s hand and the man withdraws it, pulling back to a safe distance. Okiya doesn’t respond. “Why are you here?” and then, “Answer me.”
Okiya reaches up to his neck; Rei snaps his hand out. There’s an IV line in the back of it and it snaps against his hand before he can grab Okiya’s; the pole threatens to topple and the engineering student catches it.
“Answer me,” repeats Rei. “Without changing the goddamn voice-changer.”
Okiya pauses. Then sitting down. “Is this what you wanted to hear, Furuya-kun?” he asks.
Okiya’s words; Hiromitsu’s voice.
It hurts. Hurts like road rash dressed with vinegar, like barbed wire pulled across his naked skin.
For a short time, Hiromitsu had been here. Had been alive. Had been with him.
And now he’s back in his grave, put back there for a second time by Akai Shuuichi.
“You fucking bastard,” says Rei, voice giving out so that he nearly chokes on the words. “How dare you? How dare –”
He can’t breathe. His rage is strangling him, his throat closing up. His vision begins swimming and he drops back, choking.
Akai is calling someone; a nurse appears in a white uniform seemingly out of nowhere and slips a needle into a point in the IV line. Rei feels himself growing cool and distant, his heartrate slowing, his breathing easing.
“Why are you here?” he asks again – this time it’s not an accusation. It’s a plea. Why can’t you let Hiromitsu rest?
“Because you needed me, Furuya-kun,” answers Hiromitsu’s voice.
Tears in his eyes, Rei’s head drops down into the pillow, and so to sleep.
When he wakes again, Akai is gone.
He finds that he’s been in the hospital for four days now, fighting a potentially deadly bout of sepsis brought on by infected cuts from the dumpster explosion. His face is slightly burnt and there are deep lacerations near his left eye, necessitating the bandage. Other than that he’s received burns and cuts to his chest and left arm.
It will all heal, he’s reassured. No permanent damage, no scars.
Conan and the Detective Boys, and the Mouris, and Azusa come to visit him now that he’s conscious and lucid. Even Vermouth sends an encoded text chiding him for getting himself hospitalized.
There’s no further sign of Okiya Subaru – no, of Akai Shuuichi.
He’s released a week after his admission, finally free of the smell of antiseptic. Azusa’s brought him a change of clothes and accompanies him home while telling him firmly that he’s not to come back to work for another week.
He stops in at his apartment for the look of the thing, waving goodbye to Azusa at the door. He uses the time to fetch his gun, tucking the Heckler and Koch into a holster and pulling a blazer on over it. Then, sure that Azusa’s gone, he leaves again.
Some kind soul returned his car to its parking space; he finds it waiting for him and slips into the leather seat, closing the door behind him. For a moment he pauses to reflect on his intention.
But then, he never was one to forgive a grudge.
He starts the engine and heads across town, to the Kudou mansion.
The gate’s open when he arrives and for a moment he wonders whether Akai has already fled, has packed his bags and abandoned his nest knowing that Rei’s been released. But that’s ridiculous – Akai has never run from a threat. More likely, he’s welcoming Rei’s visit.
He steps up to the door and knocks, then tries the doorknob. It’s open.
Rei steps inside the wide foyer and looks around.
“You’d better close the door,” says Akai Shuuichi’s voice from above. Rei looks up and sees him descending the stairs. He’s wearing black – black socks, black pants, black shirt – and a faint smile is playing about his lips. “Congratulations on your discharge,” he says.
Despite several days of coalescence Rei’s still not entirely steady on his feet; he can feel his hands trembling. He wants to draw on Akai, but he knows if he did his shaking arm would give away his weakness. Instead he just glares.
“You never should have revealed yourself to me. You must have known I wouldn’t forgive you.”
“I would rather live with your ire than your death, Furuya-kun,” replies Akai, reaching the bottom of the stairs and stopping some two meters from Rei. “Why don’t you come in? You should be sitting down.”
“Don’t patronize me,” snaps Rei, slamming the door behind him.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Akai walks across the hall to the large lounge with double couches and a large plasma TV. “But it would be a shame if you collapsed and I had to bring you back to hospital.”
Rei stalks in and leans his hip up against the side of the couch for stability. “Yes, I’m sure you would hate to have the upper hand of me. I, however, have no such qualms.” He produces his pistol and aims it straight at Akai’s heart, his right hand steadied by his left. “Tell me why I shouldn’t. One reason,” he says.
Akai looks down the barrel of his pistol, eyes calm. “I tried to save him. That night, on the roof.”
“Why would you save him?”
“Why wouldn’t I? He was a fellow NOC, and a friend. All this time you’ve been so eager to believe that I killed him, but have you ever wondered why? What possible motivation would I have had?”
“Because you’re a cold-hearted bastard who’d happily walk over the bodies of his friends on the way to a promotion, and Scotch’s death earned you real currency in the Organization.”
“Less than you imagine. Neither Gin nor Vermouth believed my motives; I gained little. And I lost much.”
“Don’t cry me crocodile tears.” Rei steps forward, arms starting to weaken but still for the moment steady.
“You’re right – I shed no tears for Scotch. But I would for you, Furuya-kun. You’ve always been special – top in your class, top agent in the PSB. And top in my esteem. You cared for Scotch, so I stepped in and broke my cover for him. I would have brought him in, gotten him to America if necessary.”
“So why didn’t you?” spits Rei, eyes fierce.
“Because he shot himself to protect his secret. To protect you. And out of respect for that final wish, I let you believe what you wanted to – that I was responsible for his death.”
Rei crosses to Akai in one swift movement, shoving his pistol into Akai’s chest. “You’re lying.”
Akai smiles softly. “Cross my heart,” he says. And then, “If I were lying, why would I blow my cover a second time just to see you safely through your illness?”
“Only you would feel no guilt in wearing a dead man’s shoes.”
“To save you? You’re right – I feel no guilt. Will you shoot me down because of it?” He spreads his arms, offering a perfect target.
Rei’s arms give out. The pistol drops to the floor where it clatters under the table. Akai catches him as his knees start to shake, and walks him to the closer couch. “Don’t you understand? I don’t want your help!”
“In this case, Furuya-kun, I would rather balance Scotch’s wishes against yours. And I tend to give the dead extra weight.”
He’s breathing hard, his hands shaking. Akai is still watching him from a meter away, eyes thoughtful.
“He never asked you to lie to me,” he says, scraping at straws. He’s already lost, and he knows it. Lost to Hiromitsu’s memory, and Akai who raised him from the grave like a phoenix, albeit briefly, to save him.
“I don’t regret it,” replies Akai. “But it hasn’t been an easy secret to keep – you make a dangerous enemy.”
“I’m still your enemy.”
“For now,” agrees Akai. “But perhaps not forever.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” hisses Rei, standing to walk out, legs stiff to keep them from shaking. He walks out into the foyer, opens the main door, and slams out of the house without looking to see if Akai followed him.
Rei crawls into bed when he gets home, alone and exhausted. For a while he lies there stilly, recuperating. Then, as he often does, he pulls his laptop onto his lap and accesses the PSB’s secure file archive. Looks up a closed case file: Agent Morofushi Hiromitsu.
Hiromitsu’s serious face stares up at him from the screen, still young and idealistic. Rei’s only other photos of the other agent are locked away in a storage unit that only Kazami has the key to. This is his sole remembrance of his childhood friend, his partner. He stares at the photo until his eyes begin to ache, then closes the laptop’s screen and puts it away.
Hold on, Zero, hold on.
The words ring in his ears so clearly. But that hadn’t been Hiromitsu – hadn’t been real. Had been nothing more than the whispers of a ghost.
Rei turns over and closes his eyes. Sleep is a long time coming.