Maturing

By Jaelle


Disclaimer: Gosho Aoyama created all of these wonderful characters and I merely wanted to play with them.


Mitsuhiko stared at the front door of Professor Agasa's house, and wondered if he could go through with it. He was terrified and his palms were sweaty, but he had to know. He had to ask. Because if he didn't, he could lose everything.

But if he did, he might still lose everything.

It had been ten years since the terrible summer of the Black Organisation, when Mitsuhiko's, and others, lives had turned into a nightmare of fear and violence. A huge criminal organisation had targeted a young boy for death, and all of his friends along with it. Only through the combined efforts of police officers such as Chief Inspector Megure and Heizo Hattori, detectives such as Kogorou Mouri, and a very unique group of teenagers and children had the vast, secretive organisation been destroyed. It had been a near thing, and so many had put themselves into deepest darkest peril to try and save the day, none more so than Shinichi Kudo or, as he was better known at the time, Conan Edogawa.

It had been rather strange for Mitsuhiko, Genta, and Ayumi – the "Detective Kids" – to find out that their friend Conan, was in fact none other than Shinichi Kudo. At first, it had seemed impossible, and they'd all wept for the disappearance of their "friend". But after the initial shock had been dealt with, they'd all begun to realise how Conan had been so different, and explanations for a thousand confusing incidents suddenly became apparent. Once they had gotten used to the idea, Shinichi had gently approached them all, and invited them to come and see him. At first nervous, they had all gradually relaxed as he and Ran had them over for teas, video game sessions, and all sorts of other treats. Of course Shinichi could no longer plunge into everything on equal terms as he'd used to, but he was remarkably good at taking them on rides and things, and eventually they'd all settled into a friendly camaraderie. A rather special one, given that he never looked down on them or treated them as "children". He'd always been there for all of them, from helping Genta with his homework, to coaching Mitsuhiko's soccer team, to taking Ayumi to special restaurants and treating her like a "real lady". And earlier today, Mitsuhiko had called on him again to help him out with a problem.

"Hey, Mitsuhiko! What's up?" Shinichi's grinning face had greeted him. "What can I do for you?"

"Um, could I talk to you about something," Mitsuhiko's eyes slid away. "It's kind of personal, and kind of important."

Shinichi had been instantly interested. "Sure. You want to talk about it here or should we go somewhere like a café?"

"A café would be good."

"Just let me get my coat."

The two of them had silently headed into the local shopping centre, stopping at a reasonably good café. Shinichi ordered some food and drinks for the pair, and then sat quietly until they had been served. Once the waitress had left and they had both sipped at their tea, he'd resumed the conversation.

"So, what did you want to talk about?" He'd asked, cutting straight to the heart of the matter.

Mitsuhiko's eyes had slid away again. "Um, well..." He'd looked nervously at Shinichi, who'd smiled back encouragingly. He'd gulped.

"Shinichi, um, you know how I feel about Ai-chan, don't you?"

Shinichi had grinned, eyes sparkling with amusement. "Everyone with eyes knows how you feel about Ai, Mitsuhiko."

Mitsuhiko had blushed. "She's wonderful," he'd said enthusiastically. "So smart and beautiful... and mature…" He'd let the last word trail off into a kind of question.

"Mmm-hmm," Shinichi had replied non-committally, sipping his tea.

"And, and, I feel happy whenever I'm with her," Mitsuhiko had confessed in a rush. "I think she likes me back a little too. I want to ask her out, to ask her to be my girlfriend."

"Mmm?" Shinichi'd prodded gently.

Mitsuhiko had fiddled with his spoon. "Is she..." He'd taken the plunge. "Shinichi, is Ai like you?"

"Like me how?"

Mitsuhiko had scowled at him fiercely. "You know what I mean _Conan_. Is she like you?"

Shinichi had put his teacup down calmly and turned the tables on him. "Have you asked HER that?"

"I can't, she... I don't want her to be mad at me." Mitsuhiko had stared at his plate again. "She doesn't like it when I ask personal questions. But it makes so much sense – the way you and she always got along so well, the way she'd act sometimes, the way she's so much smarter and mature."

"Girls do mature earlier," Shinichi had pointed out.

"No! It's more than that, it feels like... like she's already done this, and I just want to know. I don't mind if it's so! Really I don't. I just want to understand her and make her happy, but I'm not sure if... Shinichi, _Conan_, please tell me?"

Shinichi had just sighed. "I'm sorry Mitsuhiko, but I can't answer that question."

"Doesn't that statement more or less answer it?" Mitsuhiko had asked, shoulders slumping.

"Not at all," Shinichi had said sternly, "There are many possible explanations for why Ai is the way she is. She could have been abused when younger, she could love her privacy, she could have had a tragic loss, she could simply be smarter than you... the only way you'll ever know, is if you ask her." He'd paused then, before continuing. "Mitsuhiko, in love you have to be honest and trust the person you care about. Believe me, _I_ know."

Mitsuhiko's face had been a study in depression. "But what if she hates me for even asking?"

Shinichi's face had softened. "She won't Mitsuhiko. You're her friend, and she cares about you. Now you have to go tell her how you care about her."

He'd tried a few more times after that to get Shinichi to tell him, but the older man was far more adept at avoiding traps and playing word games than Mitsuhiko was, and eventually they'd finished and Shinichi had walked him to Agasa's, before going home.

Which left him outside the house, staring at it, terror gripping him.

What if it was true and she wasn't interested in a younger man?

What if she didn't want to be his friend anymore?

What if she hated him?

He gulped. Maybe she wouldn't be home.

Finally he swallowed dryly, and pushed the buzzer. A minute or so later, the door opened.

"Mitsuhiko," Ai Haibara looked at him in surprise. "Hello, I wasn't expecting to see you today. Has something happened?" She felt a rush of concern for her friend.

"Ai-chan, I... I..." Mitsuhiko stammered, feeling his face flush a brilliant shade of red. Aagh! He sounded like such a dork! "I wanted to ask you..."

Ai stared back at him blankly and he felt his courage failing.

"It's just that, for the longest time, and I didn't want to bother you because it really doesn't matter, and I... I... I should go now," he turned to flee.

"Mitsuhiko," Ai reached out quickly and captured one of his hands. "Wait!"

He turned slowly to face her.

Ai thought quickly. "Whatever it is that you want to say, it's obviously important. Why don't you come in and we'll talk about it?" She gave him a slight tug to draw him into the house, but he just stepped closer and stared down into her eyes.

She blinked at him, "Mitsuhiko?"

"It's true isn't it?" His voice was more confident now, the tone of a man who has solved a problem. "You _are_ like Shinichi, like Conan, aren't you?"

Her eyes widened in surprise at this comment, and then she gasped in shock as he suddenly lunged forward and caught her in a ferocious hug.

"Please don't be angry, I won't tell anyone," Mitsuhiko said somewhat muffledly into her hair. "I just needed to know, because I want to understand who you are, because... because you're my friend and I like you."

Ai just stood there for a long moment, frozen in surprise, before gradually relaxing into his embrace. She patted his back. "I'm not angry Mitsuhiko."

"Really?" His tone conveyed great doubt.

Ai smiled and gently started to hug him back. "Why would I be angry? I'm so proud of you for managing to work that out all by yourself. I thought I'd been so clever at hiding it. Noone else has figured it out."

"So, you're not mad?" Mitsuhiko began to relax his tight grip of her.

"No, I'm not mad." She patted his head and then resumed the hug. "You're my friend Mitsuhiko, and I like you too."

"You do?" Mitsuhiko felt like the top of his head had just come off. "Really?"

"Really," Ai essayed a squeeze, and squeaked as Mitsuhiko enthusiastically squeezed back, cutting her air off briefly.

"Ah! I'm sorry, did I hurt you?" Mitsuhiko tried to pull back, but Ai wasn't letting him go.

"It's okay."

The two of them stayed that way for a long time.

"Ahem," Professor Agasa cleared his throat behind them. "Ai, Mitsuhiko, perhaps you should come in out of the doorstep."

"Eep," both teens leapt back, and then giggled half-hysterically as Professor Agasa walked down the corridor and back into his lab, pretending he didn't notice.

"Oops," Ai said.

"Yeah, oops," Mitsuhiko added. "Umm..."

"Come in, come in..." Ai let him in and shut the door, then dashed off to the kitchen to make some tea. Mitsuhiko hung up his jacket and then made himself comfortable. Ai returned with tea and more snacks and the two settled down on the sofa in a companionable silence.

"So..." Mitsuhiko finally spoke, "can I just ask you, why?"

"Why? Why all this?" Ai said, gesturing at herself. "Why am I like this, why didn't I turn back like Shinichi? Why was it all a secret?"

Mitsuhiko nodded.

Ai sighed. "It's kind of a long story, and I can't tell you some of it because it's a big secret – classified."

Mitsuhiko nodded and Ai continued.

"I'm sure you'll have worked out that it's to do with the Black Organisation. Back when Shinichi first became Conan, I was working for them. For a couple of reasons, I decided to leave, but the Black Organisation doesn't exactly just let people go, so I went into hiding. I found Shinichi, and he and Professor Agasa helped me. I didn't want to turn back to my former self for a long time, because I was afraid that they would find me. I was hiding from them, and I've been hiding for a long time."

"But the Black Organisation is gone now," Mitsuhiko pointed out.

Ai nodded. "I know. It's funny, even though I've been safe for years, I never _felt_ safe. And there didn't seem to be much point in changing back; I had no family and no friends – except for all of you. I didn't want to go back to having nothing, I didn't want to start over again as an adult, and I... didn't want to lose you. Any of you." She took a deep breath. "It was Shinichi who suggested that I stay as I was. He said I should think of it as a 'second chance' at life. He and Professor Agasa both encouraged me not to take the antidote, and grow up all over again, this time with a normal childhood." She shrugged, embarrassed. "It was a little strange at first, but then it just felt right. Eventually all those in the know forgot that I had ever been anything other than Ai Haibara. The Professor and Shinichi are practically the only ones who remember it now, and now that I'm approaching the age I was formerly, I... I feel better. About myself, about everything. I... used to have a lot of problems. I was depressed, fatalistic, constantly afraid of being caught. Now I'm... happy." She peeked at Mitsuhiko, who nodded.

"If it feels right, then it is right," he said. "You went through a lot, you deserved a second chance. I'm glad you stayed." Greatly daring, he reached out, took her hand and squeezed it. Ai closed her fingers around his.

"I'm glad too," she said. "And I'm glad you feel that way too. Do you... are you angry with me? That I lied and hid all this time?"

Mitsuhiko was shocked that she could even think this. "No," he said emphatically. "You did exactly the right thing. You needed a chance to live, and to find out who you were. And you weren't lying, you were being who you really were. For the first time, you got to find out who _you_ wanted to be."

Ai smiled shyly and leant against him. "I feel more relaxed now," she said. "It was hard to let down my guard at first. But I was so lucky – I had you, and Ayumi, and Genta. I can't tell you how much you all meant to me."

"Even though you thought we were silly kids sometimes?" Mitsuhiko asked cautiously, putting his arm around her.

"I never thought that!" Ai said firmly. It was quite pleasant, this holding they were doing, she thought to herself. She hadn't known that before. "I thought you were a little strange sometimes – so open and unafraid," she continued. "But then I gradually realised that it wasn't you who was strange, it was me."

"Not strange exactly," Mitsuhiko inserted hurriedly. "Just different."

"Different huh?" Ai mused, and the conversation lapsed.

Holding her a little closer, Mitsuhiko finally broke the silence. "Did you, when you were this other person, did you have another name?"

Ai closed her eyes in pain at the memories. "My code name was Sherry," she said steadily, "but my name was Shiho Miyano."

"Shiho Miyano, Sherry," Mitsuhiko rolled them around on his tongue, tasting the names, testing the way they sounded. Ai waited nervously.

He made a face. "Doesn't suit you," he said decisively. "Ai Haibara is _much_ nicer." He held her tighter.

"I think so too," she replied, enjoying his warmth. All this time she'd thought of Mitsuhiko as a nice little boy, but it was slowly occurring to her that he'd grown up these past few years, and he didn't seem quite so young anymore. In fact, today he'd been very mature and intelligent. And more affectionate than she'd ever seen. She'd noticed him looking at her and blushing quite frequently over the last year or so, but had never really connected it to this. She wondered how she'd missed it.

Without thinking, she cuddled into him some more.

"Ai-chan?" His voice was soft and gentle.

"Yes?"

"I really do like you, you know."

Ai thought about this, and felt a strange wave of happiness rising within her. "I think I like you too Mitsuhiko." How strange, and how right.

"Do you think that maybe I can help you find out who you want to be, and what you want in your life?" Mitsuhiko asked, tensing slightly.

Ai smiled happily. "Only if you let me help you find out those things too," she replied.

Mitsuhiko smiled and relaxed. "Then let's find these things out together."

The End

Author's Notes:

Why? Because. I love Ai/Mitsuhiko and I really don't think Ai should turn back. She's so much happier as she is. Ai's probably a lot more soppy here than she is in the manga, but keep in mind that she's had ten years to mellow out a little.

Jaelle, 3.44 am, 27 April 2003.


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