A/N: Contains spoilers for Haibara's introduction case (chapters 176-181/episode 129) and the Mystery Train arc (chapters 818-824/episodes 701-704).
Chapter 3: Detective Boys Pt. 1 - Mitsuhiko
"Attention to all passengers aboard the Bell Tree Express! This is an emergency announcement! A fire has been reported in Carriage 8! For your safety, passengers in Carriages 6 and 7 should immediately evacuate to the front carriages of the train!"
As the announcement blared over the train, the young boy fiddled with the Mystery Train Pass Ring on his finger, twirling and twisting it around and around.
It might not be a proven fact that humans as a whole were highly resistant and opposed to the very idea of change, but it was certainly a well-accepted notion. Given the option of a choice, people would always tend to prefer being in control of any given situation. Rather unfortunately, this only worked when an individual was prepared for sudden swerves and shortfalls. In an ever-changing world however, the only way to avoid being caught off guard by any unforeseen changes was to hope that Lady Luck was on your side. But since how someone's luck went was basically dependent on the luck of the draw, the much more reliable method to guarantee coming out on top every single time was to simply game the entire system. You couldn't complain about an unexpected situation when all the cards were in your hand, could you?
He was a prime example of the latter train of thought, to the point where he'd amassed a reputation of being careful to the literal extreme. But such cautiousness definitely had its advantages. In this case, unlike the other passengers who were surely fretting and screaming over the sudden announcement made over the PA system, he was already well aware ahead of time that there would be a fire alarm.
Of course, this was because the fire had been deliberately started by his own men. Well, well, he chuckled. It appears that they've already made their move.
Noticing the others taking heed of the announcement as well, he subtly shook his head to quickly hide his pleasant mood. After all, given his supposed age, he was supposed to act like a panicked young boy. Hence, by the time the others glanced towards Tsuburaya Mitsuhiko, the freckled boy only had a fabricated look of panic on his face, just the way it should be. "Hey, this is Carriage 6, right?" he asked the other Detective Boys by his side, making sure to inject mild worry into his voice.
"Y-You're right!" Genta jolted forward in his seat from the realization. As panic began to ripple across the room passengers, his good friend Ayumi gazed worriedly towards the door. "Then we'd better escape!" she exclaimed in a worried, hasty voice. Sure enough, her advice was duly noted as the occupants in the room started to make preparations to evacuate the area.
Mitsuhiko made sure to follow closely behind as the other children and Professor Agasa began to run for their lives. Although he appeared to be in a rush as well, if one were to scrutinize and pay close attention to his movements, they might observe that unlike the others, he was walking briskly instead of outright running. He was taking shorter strides as compared to his friends, despite the fact that he was taller and should have easily outpaced them. This very slightly sluggish pace indirectly betrayed his lack of concern about the whole ordeal. After all, there wasn't a need to waste any energy on what he knew to be a false alarm. Unlike a good portion of the passengers, running around like a headless chicken was a useless endeavor for him, simply because he was already aware that he wasn't in any real danger at all.
"Everyone! Please calm down and proceed forward in an orderly manner. I repeat, please calm-yargh!"
Mitsuhiko snorted in amusement, stifling an amused laugh as he observed the conductor who had been trying to calm the other passengers down ended up panicking at the seeping smoke and made a run for it himself. What irony.
He placed his hands in his trouser pockets as he witnessed the sheer chaos around him, amplified even further thanks to the handiwork of the pyrophobic passengers from Carriage 8 utterly panicking and trying to make a break for it. He eventually made his way to the front carriage, joining up with the group who'd reached there ahead of him. As the crowd slowly began to pile up like lost sheep flocking to a shepherd, Mitsuhiko began to feel mildly uncomfortable. His small body was already beginning to get knocked about by quite a few grownups trying to find standing space in the packed corridor. Sure, the train corridor might be relatively wide, but it wasn't meant to accommodate the entire passenger load gathering at one area.
Then again, the Bell Tree Express probably wasn't equipped to deal with a murder or a carriage fire either, so that point was moot. Really though, what was Suzuki expecting when he modeled his train after the Orient Express? He was all but asking for eventual trouble.
Agatha Christie's famous mystery novel, Murder on the Orient Express, had a snowdrift stop the titular train, Mitsuhiko chuckled inwardly. But it looks like this express train would be halted by the heat rather than the cold…
"Otou-san!" A worried Ran tapped her father on the shoulder. "Have you seen Conan-kun or Sera-san anywhere?" she asked as she tried to scan her eyes around the massive crowd gathered around to see if she could locate either of them.
Mitsuhiko spun about on his heel to see the outcome of Ran's query. Which rather predictably, was a spluttering Mouri Kogoro. The detective gave an irritated how-should-I-know look to his daughter as he retorted back, "Eh? Isn't that four-eyed brat with you? He was with me until a moment ago…"
"Hey! Ai-chan's missing too!" Mitsuhiko gave a passing glance over to Ayumi upon hearing the girl's worried remark. To be fair, it was about time that the others noticed Haibara Ai's disappearance. If they had been just a tad more attentive, they might have actually observed that she had vanished for quite some time already.
"Isn't she with Conan-kun?" Mitsuhiko feigned ignorance as he asked the thought-provoking question to the adults in what appeared to be (and was) an accusatory tone. It was amazing just how effective a child could be when they called an adult out for being irresponsible of their well-being. It probably came with the innocent look that young children tended to unknowingly use on the grownups.
"Really? I doubt that." Unlike most people, Mouri Kogoro didn't beat around the bush, preferring to bluntly state his opinions on the matter. "Wasn't she with the rest of you children?"
"Haibara-san went to the toilet, but she never came back!" Mitsuhiko replied. That much was definitely true. From Haibara's terrified expression right before she had left their train room, he could deduce that the escaped scientist was most likely piecing together the not-so-subtle hints that the Organization was on her back. The fact that she looked like she was close to tears while she had stared at her phone at what was likely a warning message only solidified that theory.
"Hmph! Then I have no idea where she is whatsoever-guk!" Kogoro choked on his saliva, shrinking back when Ran gave him a fearsome glare as a warning to tone down his indifference. "Well, uh… she's definitely somewhere on this train!" he hastily added.
Ran narrowed her eyes dangerously. "Otou-san! Where exactly is Ai-chan?" She worriedly gazed towards the back, her concern for the small brown-haired girl obvious from the look in her eyes. "And it's not just her… Conan-kun's missing as well…"
Mitsuhiko let loose a snort. Of course Edogawa Conan was conveniently out of sight as well. That disappearance was most definitely not a well-timed coincidence in the slightest. Definitely not a coincidence, he thought sarcastically. "I think we should go and look for them!" he proceeded to suggest, his face the splitting image of a concerned friend. But before Ayumi or Genta could agree with him, Ran leaned downwards, shaking her head at the overly reckless trio. "I don't think so, Mitsuhiko-kun." She had a reprimanding tone in her voice, "I know that you're concerned for your friends, but a fire is very dangerous!"
"But we can't just leave them there! What if they're trapped somewhere?" Mitsuhiko flailed his arms exactly the way a panicked kid would. Seeing only a stunned silence from the group around him, he then vehemently shook his head and broke into a run, ignoring the protests of the others.
"Wait, Mitsuhiko!" Genta bellowed at the boy. "Where do you think you're going!?"
Mitsuhiko pointed towards the back of the train as he continued to run. "To find Haibara-san, of course!" he replied as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Haven't you realized that she's still missing! I bet she's trapped somewhere behind!"
"Don't be so reckless, Mitsuhiko-kun! There's a fire back there!" Ayumi cried out, managing to clutch his hand as she caught up with him. "Ai-chan will be fine, I believe in her! So please don't go, Mitsuhiko-kun! I don't want you to get hurt as well!"
"Let go of me, Ayyyyumi-chan!" he protested with an elongated whine, trying to tug his jacket free. "Please! I promise you, I'll be completely fine-wah!"
Without any prior warning, there was a loud bang that caused the entire train to creak and rattle along the tracks. The sudden motion caused Ayumi to let go of her grip on Mitsuhiko, and that sudden release meant that inertia took its course, resulting in Mitsuhiko falling forward with a yelp, landing ungracefully on the carpeted floor.
"Eh!" Ayumi ran up to him with an apologetic expression. "Mitsuhiko-kun, are you okay?" she asked.
He sheepishly rubbed his knee, thankful that his trousers had absorbed most of the blow. "Don't worry! I'm fine!" he reassured just before an even louden bang, one that sounded almost like an explosion, suddenly rang out.
"What the heck is going on here!?" Kogoro jerked his head towards the back as the entire train carriage vibrated. He rubbed his temples, exhausted. "Can't I have just one holiday where I can relax without trouble following me around like a hawk?" he complained, a disgruntled expression on his person. Kogoro's complaint would have been humorous if it hadn't been completely true.
Mitsuhiko pursed his lips. Just what was going on, anyway? The plan was for Bourbon to trap her until the backup group could capture her at Nagoya Station…
"Attention to all passengers aboard the Bell Tree Express!" the intercom blared once more, which led to many of the passengers looking at the direction of the speakers. The voice proceeded on, "Due to an emergency situation, the train would be stopping at a nearby station. We apologize for any inconvenience caused."
What the…? Emergency situation? Mitsuhiko thought in a daze as he shook his anyone could stop him, he got to his feet and broke into another run.
Using his small figure to his advantage, he squeezed between the legs of other standing adults, gaining some time on the others. Once he was certain that they had lost sight of him in the crowd, he ducked into the next carriage, running all the way down to the far end before he whirled around the corner and hid himself inside an empty room. Poking his head out into the smoke-filled corridor, he caught sight of two conductors talking to one another. "Did the storage hold really blow up?" One of the pale conductors asked his equally-stunned colleague.
"Yes, sir." He confirmed as he nervously peered towards the back. "When I heard the bang, I looked out of the window and saw a lot of billowing black smoke."
"Ahhhh! You're kidding me!" The first conductor yelled, slapping his forehead with a sigh. "The entire carriage really is gone? How the hell could something like this just happen? Oh man, the investigation is going to be a piece of work! If the audit finds anything we're toast!" He moaned in fear, "I could get sacked for this if the damages to Suzuki-sama becomes ludicrous and he lays me off!"
"Relax!" The second conductor gave a pat to the shoulder of his panicking partner. "Suzuki-sama won't be that harsh!"
"Not unless I can answer to him about how something like this happened!" He massaged the scalp of his hair, before tugging on it, "I can't even blame it on Kaitou Kid since that thief hasn't been seen even once throughout the entire train ride!"
Mitsuhiko was about to leave it at that until he noticed that he wasn't the only one eavesdropping on their conversation. He nodded in approval as he noted that poking his head out from two rooms away was his prime information specialist agent. It appeared that great minds thought alike.
As the conductors choked their way away, they didn't notice a man with blond hair walk out of a room and follow them back towards safety down the corridor. The man, Bourbon, had a contemplative expression on his countenance, barely showing the smallest flicker of annoyance in a slight frown. The man looked as though he had aged a good five years since he had first boarded the train.
It was then that Mitsuhiko got the feeling that something had gone very wrong. He had his confirmation barely a few seconds after, when Conan came hurtling down the corridor. Mitsuhiko ducked his head back in, only managing to catch a quick glimpse of the bespectacled boy hurriedly speaking on the phone as he dashed past the room Mitsuhiko was hiding in.
"Yes… took the bait… now safe… Agasa-hakase, you take it from here… need to settle loose ends." Those were the scattered pieces of words that Mitsuhiko was able to make out. Once Conan ran forward to the next carriage, evidently to rejoin Agasa and the others, Mitsuhiko found himself slumping to the carpeted floor. He shook his head with a swirl of emotions, angrily slamming his fist against the wooden door.
Damn it! Damn it all…
Mitsuhiko wasn't a dumb person. He didn't survive this long as the boss of a group of ruthless criminal mercenaries without being more cunning than all his subordinates combined. Just from a single glance, he had been able to tell that his good friend Conan-kun must have had some hand in botching up his subordinate's plans… once again. He received confirmation of that hypothesis less than a minute later, when his phone vibrated to notify him of a new incoming text message. Unlocking it, he glowered when he read the message from Ayumi asking him to return to the front carriage.
"Agasa-hakase said that Conan-kun has managed to find Ai-chan! Please come back, Mitsuhiko-kun. :)"
Oh, if only Ayumi knew the truth. Those words in the text message seemed so innocuous, too. He slipped the mobile phone back into his pocket. Conan-kun, Conan-kun, Conan-kun… whatever should he do with Conan?
Despite everything his rational mind was telling him, Mitsuhiko found himself willing to close one eye to the whole ordeal yet again and pretend that he knew nothing. He found that he'd come to bond with the boy as a friend even after he had realized just how similar their predicaments were. Despite how much that woman wanted to keep Conan's involvement with the organization a secret from him, nothing ever escaped his eyes. As a matter of fact, he'd known the truth ever since he felt that something was amiss during the Halloween Party, and did a little snooping around on his own to locate the source of the problem.
It was probably a good thing he didn't send reconnaissance agents to do that job. No one outside of his innermost circle needed to know that shrinking to a child was possible. Once was a miracle. Twice was a coincidence. Three times was just the universe taunting him.
At least Conan wasn't as big of a troublemaker as Akai Shuichi had been before Mitsuhiko'd unceremoniously had his men get rid of him. And if he had his way, Edogawa Conan would never be more than a mild nuisance, just so long as his men continued to play their parts — distracting him from the true prize.
In spite of all his respect he held for Conan, the boy was still enough of a troublemaker to annoy him. Mitsuhiko pouted as he strolled down the corridor to make his way back to the front, but not before he took out a separate phone and prepared to type one disgruntled text message to his most trusted subordinate.
"What the heck is going on?" he mouthed as he typed those same words into the phone, hitting the Send button before placing the phone back into his jacket.
Mitsuhiko took in a deep breath of it, enjoying the cold refreshing breeze that lingered on his face as he walked out of the Bell Tree Express. He relished it after breathing in the sooty air caused by the storage hold being blown to smithereens. How ironic it had all turned out… the fake tear gas that posed as an excuse for a fire ended up turning into an actual fire when the storage hold mysteriously blew to pieces.
Aside from Agasa-hakase and the other Detective Boys, also by Mitsuhiko's sides were countless other stunned passengers who'd stumbled out onto the train platform with dazed and confused expressions on their faces. He supposed that he couldn't fault them for their sour mood. They had bought tickets to the Mystery Train in anticipation of a relaxing journey, only to end up directly in the line of legitimate danger. He would bet that some of them weren't able to distinguish reality from fiction, their discombobulated eyes still darting all around as if expecting cameras to pop up at any time, revealing that this was all an elaborate hoax by the Mystery Train team at their expense.
Too bad that wasn't going to be the case though. Mitsuhiko almost chortled at the idea of the whole thing being an act. A mere train crew most certainly didn't have the budget or the methods required to gain the amount of highly explosive C4 required to blow up a whole train carriage. It didn't help for the Suzuki Corporation that setting off such magnificent fireworks would be highly illegal as well and if they actually pulled a stunt like this, it would be the ultimate scandal for a company like theirs.
"It's just a shame that I couldn't meet you in Nagoya, especially since you've been waiting so patiently…"
Mitsuhiko narrowed his eyes as his ears caught wind of a conversation that probably shouldn't have been made so carefreely in public. Making sure not to look too conspicuous, he strained his head to focus on where the voice was coming from.
"Aren't you satisfied with Sherry being reduced to dust?"
Bingo. The woman mentioning the word 'Sherry' was all the confirmation Mitsuhiko needed. He'd tensed up when he heard the codename so recklessly mentioned, but relaxed when he realized that no one knew that it was referring to a codename and would rather conjure up the image of the alcoholic drink instead. Regardless, that was all he needed to confirm that the one talking out loud was his subordinate in this disguise.
Mitsuhiko snorted as he followed her voice to lock down her location, since her appearance differed but her voice—by some luck—was still her usual one this time, a playful vocal tone that he recognized. He gave an approving grin, nodding his head imperceptibly. As always, she had an impeccable disguise on hand — plain thick-rimmed glasses along with a white beach hat. Her getup was actually very outstanding in the crowd, but that was the point. The more obvious you made yourself stand out, the less that people around you would suspect anything amiss.
Once Mitsuhiko located her, he very subtly veered to the right from the group to head in the direction she was at. As he was the frontmost person of his group, his very slight change in the direction had the subconscious effect of the rest of the group unconsciously following his lead by also going very slightly off from their original course and straight into his subordinate's line-of-sight.
He slowed his pace to a stroll as he walked across the platform, buying himself as much time as possible to remain inconspicuous since he was waiting to remain hidden until she dropped her call. It finally happened when he and the others were barely five meters behind her. When she held her phone away from her ear to end the call, that was when an amused Mitsuhiko made his move. "But I was so surprised!" he exclaimed with unbridled glee, making sure to raise his voice so that he would be able to catch her attention. He was duly rewarded when he saw her slowly turn her head back, at which point he brazenly finished his statement, "I had no clue that Haibara-san was safe and sound all along, in Room B of Carriage 7!"
He had to physically control himself from showing any visible reaction via his body language upon seeing the shock on her face as she processed this new information. The temptation to put a teasing smirk on display was so tempting. Resisting his natural instinct to gloat or laugh at her, he instead chose to innocently break eye contact as he walked by with the rest of the children. Even so, Mitsuhiko had to admit that such teasing was quite unlike his usual personality. Maybe he had truly become a kid at heart after pretending to be one for so long.
"Ah, but don't you see, Mitsuhiko? The reason the room was freed up and vacant because it was the dead victim's room," Genta pointed out as he tilted his head towards Mitsuhiko, readily giving his own input. At this, Mitsuhiko could only cluck his tongue in response. That chubby boy had a tiny bit of an ego problem, always striving to come out on top in a conversation. It wasn't much of a problem for the moment, but it would certainly be an issue in the future if it wasn't quashed when he was still young.
Ayumi gave a soft gaze at the exhausted Haibara clinging onto Agasa's back. "Yeah! She probably took a rest there because her cold made unwell. Poor Ai-chan…"
"Shush!" Agasa put his finger to his lip, hushing the enthusiastic children. "Ai-kun's feeling worn out, so she's getting some well-deserved sleep. Let's not wake her up, okay?"
"Alright!" All three of them agreed. At least they all held a consensus there. It certainly was a tiring ride, regardless of whether a person was involved in the deception or not. Even he was certainly going to take a long rest when he got home.
And it looked like home was going to await him really soon. After all of them universally agreed that taking a train back to Beika was out of the question, they began to debate on what the best mode of transportation back would be. Fortunately—or perhaps unfortunately—for Mitsuhiko, that was when a new voice cheerfully called him out.
His eyebrow twitched. There was only one individual on the planet which called him using that honorific. Hiding a scowl, he whirled around at the source of the voice. "Onee-chan!" he beamed, no traces of irritation in his expression or voice.
"Mit-chan!" Tsuburaya Asami ran up to Mitsuhiko, kneeling down to cradle his face, "What brings you here?"
"Unintentional train stop, onee-chan," he replied while looking away embarrassed. The vague response on his end was intentional.
"Eh! Aren't you Mitsuhiko-kun's onee-chan?" Ayumi exclaimed. "What are you doing over here?"
"Well, my little Mit-chan sent me a message to tell me that his train got into an accident. But since I happened to be in the area, I offered to pick him up." She leaned down and shot her younger brother a pearly smile. "Isn't that right, Mit-chan?"
Mitsuhiko barely grimaced, before shaking off his shock and nodding his head to show the others his affirmation. "That's correct, onee-chan!" he chirped.
Genta shot a disappointed frown. "You're leaving us, Mitsuhiko?" He could even guess why Genta was being so snobby about it — the Detective Boys were usually almost always together, so by going home alone, they probably felt a little "betrayed". But at least Genta accepted that he wasn't going to win a word of words with his elders and hence, the unofficial Detective Boys leader conceded. "Well fine, just go then."
Mitsuhiko couldn't help but to give a smile back. "Bye guys!" he waved with his free hand as he walked away from the others. "I enjoyed the trip! It was super eventful!" he added while performing exaggerated hand gestures to emphasize his point. It was definitely the truth. After all, the train ride was certainly an eventful trip for him, in more ways than one.
"Bye, Mitsuhiko!" Genta yelled back. Ayumi gave the boy a hearty wave as well, "See you back in school, Mitsuhiko-kun!" she shouted.
Ending his phone call, Conan slipped his phone into his pants pocket, giving Mitsuhiko a subtle nod of his head. "Yeah, see you later." Honestly, that was probably the most enthusiastic response that he'd be able to get out of Conan.
"Yep, yep!" Mitsuhiko chirped in response.
"Oi, Mitsuhiko." Conan frowned slightly. "You sure you'll be okay?" he called out just before he and his elder sister were about to round the corner of the station and head out of Conan's sight.
"Don't worry, Conan-kun!" he reassured the paranoid boy with a feisty grin. "I'll see you after the weekend!"
"Okay then…" Conan returned, "Then I'll see you at school next week as well, Mitsuhiko-kun."
"Sure thing, Conan-kun! Bye bye everyone!" Mitsuhiko had a cheery smile on his face as he walked off in tow with Asami. As he rounded the corner, he observed that Conan appeared to be slightly grouchy. It appeared that the boy had been looking forward to having Mitsuhiko around on the return trip. He continued to walk along silently, leaving the station platform and walking along a footpath.
He kept the act up until he was certain that the others were gone. When they were a sufficient distance away from the others, Mitsuhiko snapped his head around at Asami. "Stop calling me 'Mit-chan'," he glowered at her. "You know that I absolutely despise it when you call me by that nickname."
"Mit-chan!" Asami gasped, wagging her finger disapprovingly at him. "That's very impolite! Otou-sama and okaa-sama raised you better than that!"
"But Asami-neechan, I'm having a bad day! Can't I at least rant about it?" he playfully bantered, although the sneer on his face didn't make it seem like so much of a joke.
"I'm telling otou-sama, Mit-chan! Now you're definitely going to get a good punishment when we get home, you little naughty boy!"
Mitsuhiko ignored her, narrowing his eyes slightly as he strolled on. "Alright, that's enough. You can drop the act now," he muttered in a serious tone, putting his hands by his hips. "Especially considering that your default disguise is that of a sister who is non-existent unless you decide to make fun of me. Isn't that right, Asami-neechan?"
'Asami' let her ditzy expression fade away, revealing a sharp, wicked grin that didn't fit right on her face. Mitsuhiko folded his arms while giving her the evil eye in response. "Don't you have anything better to do?" he hissed, "Weren't you disguised as Akai Shuichi to confirm that he's dead? When did you get the time to rip that disguise apart, walk off the train in another disguise, and then immediately disguise yourself as Tsuburaya Asami yet again?"
"There was a public washroom at the station. I simply ditched Bourbon back there and put on this spare disguise in my purse before catching up to you."
"Heh!" he snorted. "Any reason as to why you're so hasty today?"
"Well, I happened to see your text message and decided after I read through your angry little message—", she said those four words in a singsong-like manner that made Mitsuhiko almost want to jump up and strangle her neck, "—I simply felt that I had to personally explain matters to you face-to-face." As she finished, she reached a finger up to her eyes to remove two contact lenses, turning her ditzy eyes into sinister, cunning blue ones. "But can I at least keep the disguise on?" she asked as she flipped her hair. "Not only are we in public, but I also spent quite a bit of time preparing this emergency mask and really, I'll prefer if it wasn't a waste. I'd hate to rip it out in just five minutes after applying the foundation up."
Mitsuhiko stopped walking, turning his head slightly in her direction with a stern expression that made it seemed like he was about to decline. She simply stared back with defiant eyes, her smile slowly growing wider. After an unbearable silence, Mitsuhiko turned away, giving her a barely noticeable nod in acknowledgement.
He supposed it couldn't be helped. Vermouth usually managed to get her way, courtesy of her perks of being his favorite member. His amused and jovial face turned solemn after Vermouth dropped the 'elder sister' façade. "Why do you want her dead so badly anyway, Vermouth?" he questioned her, cutting straight to the chase.
"Come on now, boss," she smiled down at him while stroking his cheek. "Don't make me tell. After all, a secret makes a woman, woman."
"Remaining tight-lipped about the topic again, eh?" Mitsuhiko raised an amused eyebrow as he stepped aside to move her hand away from his cheeks. "Peh! In my personal opinion, you keep far too many secrets to yourself."
Vermouth stood back up, her eyes twinkling in a way that was very familiar to him. Having known her for a long time, Mitsuhiko knew exactly what she was going to say even before the words left her mouth. "Don't even think of keeping what happened on that train from me, Vermouth," he snapped, bringing the topic back on track before she could redirect the flow of the conversation. "What exactly were you and Bourbon doing?" he questioned her as he began to impatiently tap his foot, "Because whatever you two did back there, you caused the entire train to rattle around like dice rolling around in a casino."
"Oh, you mean that?" Vermouth jerked her head down, her hair flipping through the motion. "That rattling was courtesy of the explosives that I detonated after the storage car had been delinked from the Bell Tree Express," she explained, a teasing smile threatening to break loose.
His eyes narrowed to slits, "Explosives?" he repeated as she proceeded to smile even wider. Well, at least that explained all the booming noise he had heard aboard the train earlier.
Mitsuhiko almost rolled his eyes at her innocuous reply. "So you were planning on blowing her to smithereens?" He shot the woman a deadpan look. "That's very weird, you know," he said with sarcasm laced in his words, "Because I certainly don't recall that being in the original plan."
"Hahahaha!" Vermouth gave a hearty laugh at her boss' bluntness. "It's what I would call an improvisation!"
"Improvisation?" He clapped his hands in a cynical fashion. "I don't know what your definition of that word is, but I myself wouldn't call preparing enough explosives to blow a storage hold sky-high a last-minute 'improvisation'…"
"But it's true…" she playfully whined with a tone that made Mitsuhiko instantly know that she was messing with him. "Besides, I swiped those explosives from Gin. He was planning on using them to blow up Nagoya Station."
"Excuse me?" He raised a bored eyebrow. "Gin does know that I'm on the train headed to Nagoya, right?"
"Not exactly. There aren't many people know of your condition, sir." Mitsuhiko grunted at her words. They were serious, but the impertinent smile she had on her face made it seem more like a taunting jab at his expense.
"My condition…" Mitsuhiko put his hands to his face, before angrily shaking his fist at Vermouth. "Hey! Don't call it a 'condition' just because I'm stuck looking like this!" he shouted, stomping his foot on the ground as if to invite the woman to criticize his looks. "Besides, it won't be long until I look young forever. I am this close, this close to completing my immortality!" He held his thumb and index finger close together just to emphasize how close he'd really been.
The drug was to be administered in multiple parts, but the final dose, the one which would have stabilized his immortal young self, had been incomplete when their head scientist flew the coop. "But isn't it ironic…" he said in a hauntingly low voice as he wrung his fingers in desperation. "The key to perfecting the drug to immortality lies in Haibara-san's hands. The very same Haibara-san who I see in class every single school day! Part of the Detective Boys, no less! I've been around her so much that I practically know her inside-out!" He gazed up at the sky, deep in thought, "This meant that her whole shrinking act and her alias had all been for naught from the very start… since I always knew where she was. If I order Gin to get to here from Nagoya right this moment and proceed to ambush her, she would be completely mine! Not even her precious Conan-kun can get her out of this!"
Mitsuhiko turned his head briefly to the Bell Tree Express train by the station, knowing full well that the person he was after would still be hovering around the area. "But even with all that knowledge in my hands, it's no use at all! I-I just can't sell her out! I can't betray Haibara-san!" he shouted, losing control of his usual calm composure for just a moment.
The lanky boy couldn't help but tune himself back to the day that he'd encountered the caramel-brown haired girl one more time.
Many months ago…
"What! Sherry has escaped!? Who the hell is responsible for this mess? No, be quiet, I don't really give a damn about the details. Just call the cavalry and get her back immediately, you imbecile! Tell the men that this is a direct order from me!"
Fighting back a growl, Mitsuhiko had given the permission for a manhunt, a scowl on his face. He seethed with anger at the news that had been dumped unceremoniously onto him a few hours prior. Incompetent morons! They were only supposed to hold her until she relented and continued her work. How could they possibly lose the head scientist for the APTX-4869 project? Heads were definitely going to roll for this… quite literally.
Not bothering to lift his head from the table, Mitsuhiko tilted it slightly towards his left so that he could see the speaker. "G-Genta-kun…" he mumbled in a daze, "What is it?"
"Pay attention to Ayumi when she's talking!"
He grunted and lifted his head up, letting his dark thoughts leave his mind as his eyes turned from narrowed silts to innocently wide eyes in the span of a second to complete the act that he pulled every day. Gone was the megalomaniacal chief mastermind planner, and in its place was a mere seven-year-old boy.
"Did you hear the news? A new student will be joining our class today!" Ayumi chirped.
"Really?" Genta mumbled.
"Yep, yep, yep! I heard Kobayashi-sensei mention it in the staff room!"
Even Mitsuhiko couldn't help but let his curiosity be piqued. "We haven't had a new transfer student since Conan-kun," he commented. While he was still stuck in the rigid and regimental life of a Japanese first-grader child, he supposed that a new student joining his class was the closest thing that he'd have to breaking the boring status quo of relearning multiplication tables and hiragana all over again.
As Ayumi and Genta began to hypothesis on what the new transfer student would be like, he sighed and went along with their conversation, feigning interest in making guesses of their name and appearances along with them. Really though, making predictions was futile. You couldn't predict what a person would be like even based on first impressions, let alone when you knew absolutely nothing about them. There was no point in making assumptions when you could simply know the answer by waiting for a few minutes.
And sure enough, after two more minutes, their new classmate arrived by the classroom door, much to the enthusiasm of the entire class. As Mitsuhiko laid his eyes on her, he'd almost flinched back in shock, the shrunken freckled boy only managing to stop himself from doing so at the last moment.
Even so, he couldn't help but blink his eyelids multiple times in sheer disbelief at the sight ahead of him. Mitsuhiko recognized her. How could he not when he'd just literally ordered a manhunt to locate her.
It can't be… Sherry? She'd shrunken down as well! His mind went into overdrive as he realized what this new development meant. Then that means… the completed apotoxin research is with her!
"Alright, children!" Kobayashi-sensei announced, unaware of the thoughts that a certain not-child was thinking in his head. "Meet your new classmate, Haibara Ai-san!" she said to the eager students as she wrote Haibara's name down on the board. "She will be joining Class 1-B starting today. Do make sure to give her a warm welcome!"
Mitsuhiko had forced a friendly smile on his face to go along with the rest of the class as she walked down the desks to pick a seat, of which a mildly surprised Conan had the honor of being selected as her seat partner. For the remainder of Kobayashi-sensei's class, he remained spaced out by this revelation. The normally focused boy snuck glances at Haibara when she wasn't looking, only stopping when Kobayashi-sensei almost caught him out. Mercifully for Mitsuhiko, the bell rang soon after, signaling the end of the class.
As Haibara picked up her bag and took her leave, he deftly followed her. Fortunately for him, it turned out he wasn't the only one to do so. Ayumi and Genta had beat him to it. It turned out that they were also interested in Haibara, although for entirely different reasons from him. He decided to stay back, hanging alongside Conan to gauge her behavior.
"Hai-bara-san!" Ayumi greeted Ai as she caught up the aloof girl's back, "Let's go home together!" Much to Ayumi's disappointment, Ai merely paused before continuing her walk without even looking at her. Seizing the chance to make conversation now that he wasn't the first one to do so, Mitsuhiko quickened his pace to catch up to her side. "You'd just moved to this neighborhood, right?" he innocently asked. "Where do you live?"
He was actually legitimately surprised when she actually answered his question. "Beika City 2nd District, No. 22. That is where I currently reside," she replied plainly, an unfocused look on her face. Mitsuhiko noted that while he had been the one who asked the question, she had actually directed her answer at Conan, sending the boy a cryptic glance. He chose to ignore that minor detail though. It was insignificant when he now had much more important information at his fingertips. He had to control himself to resist from grinning maniacally by telling himself that as a rule, normal first-graders do not burst into crazed laughter.
But still, that was certainly careless of her to reveal her hiding spot like that. Heh! Now she was only one phone call away from her doom.
"By the way…" Ai started as the group approached their lockers. "I've heard quite a few rumors about the whole lot of you. Are you the so-called Detective Boys?"
He sighed as Ayumi and Genta's lips begin to rise to that of a smile. He supposed he'd have to keep up the nice polite boy act for a little longer. "You bet we are!" Genta bragged in a such a loud voice that almost every student currently in the locker room was able to hear him. Any traces of humbleness or subtlety were nowhere to be found from him.
Mitsuhiko let a boyish smile cross his face. Looks like he would have to stand corrected on his previous presumption — he was going to have to keep up the nice polite act for far longer than 'a little while'.
First off, the concept of henchman wearing black had been his idea. How dare some random unaffiliated criminal steal it from him! Although to be fair, he had watched a mafia-themed movie on the day he made that decision for his organization.
Secondly, they'd made the mistake of messing with Conan-kun. They were practically toast by that point. From what Mitsuhiko knew of fellow Detective Boys member Edogawa Conan, he was certain that they were doomed the moment Conan had set their eyes on them like a dog lapping up his meal. The boy was a walking spanner in the works whenever it came to crime.
But to top it all off, the whole case had been a cheap money laundering scheme that had not been worth his time. His own people had amassed about a fifth of Japan's national GDP in terms of funding. In contrast, the amount of illegal money that those unprofessional amateurs got by kidnapping someone to forge banknotes for them was laughably measly compared to what his group dealt with on a daily basis. Mitsuhiko had to resist laughing at the audacity of the overconfident ringleader's scheme when he was being held at gunpoint along with Ayumi and Genta. It would be really out of character for a little boy to laugh when his life was being threatened.
He'd left the area with Ayumi and Genta in tow, giving the humble excuse that the time was running late for them, thus leaving Conan and 'Haibara' behind with the police to wrap up the case. The last thing that he wanted at this point was for the police to interrogate them for any details.
Mitsuhiko proceeded to heave a sigh in relief when it was all over. There were always cases that his carefree friends got into like this one, cases where he was tempted to ditch the façade of being a helpless kid because the Detective Boys would always wind up getting into a ridiculously absurd amount of trouble. Most of the time however, he chose to remain calm with nerves of steel. As long as Conan-kun was still kicking, he knew that he himself would not be in mortal danger, and hence had no reason to blow his cover. As a bonus, the competent bespectacled boy would draw all the unwanted attention away from him.
And speaking of Conan…
"Conan-kun was so cool when he confronted the lady in black like that! He saved me from that mean woman!" Ayumi whirled around towards the two boys, clearly eager for their opinions on the climactic showdown between Conan and Haibara against the woman in black. "What do you guys think? Conan-kun was great, wasn't he?"
"Hmph! I suppose so…" Genta turned his face away, grumbling under his breath. The jealousy that he held for the smaller boy whenever Conan bested him was clearly there on his face.
"Yeah…" Mitsuhiko mumbled. It was times like this that he was envious of the other actual children of the group. At least Genta or Ayumi didn't need to fake their enthusiasm. During his actual childhood once upon a time, he really had been such a polite, shy, and curious child. But as the years went by, his curiosity had slowly died down, as most children did as they grew into mature, more down-to-earth adults. Having to act carefree again was slightly jarring to him, especially with such adventurous friends.
That said, even though he was seven again, Mitsuhiko had actually carried quite a few personality traits over from his past life. His meticulousness and attention to detail, for instance, had carried him through both childhoods. It allowed him to notice minor details that most people would overlook. For example, when Haibara picked up the gun that the woman in black had dropped, he noticed her expression when she pulled the trigger. She looked cold and dead on the inside.
This was not good, he thought. He narrowed his eyes as Haibara's cold face flashed through his mind again. He'd rather not deal with having an irreplaceable asset being self-destructive.
After talking for a while more, he split up with Genta and Ayumi, claiming that he had a faster way back to his house. Bidding his goodbyes to the other two, he turned around a corner to walk along a dark alley. Ensuring that no one was in the vicinity, he pulled out a black cellphone separate from the normal phone that he used. Completely focused on the screen, Mitsuhiko then began to type in a text message that would seal her fate.
'Found Sherry's whereabouts.
Her location is No. 22 Beika Street, 2nd District.
Take her back to me alive.
It was only at the last moment that Mitsuhiko hesitated to give the order. He let out a tsk in annoyance as a new thought came to him, his finger dangerously hovering over the button to send the message. His face contorting in anger, he backed out of the message and slipped the mobile phone back into a hidden compartment in his pocket. The text message lay saved as an unsent draft on his phone, a smoking gun left unfired.
He'd almost sent the message to Gin before realizing that sending such a demand to the silver-haired assassin under his employ meant that she would most likely end up in a body bag. He couldn't have that now, could he? At least not when he needed her alive and in one piece to finish up the apotoxin. He knew Gin well enough to realize that entrusting this mission to him and Vodka would be an absolute travesty. Despite all the pros, it could only end in disaster thanks to the history between him and Sherry. It was far too risky to send him, and Mitsuhiko didn't trust any other lower-ranked members to pull off a successful kidnapping.
Worse still, she'd already been introduced to an entire class of first graders as Haibara Ai. If she disappeared immediately, it would certainly lead to several questions. The school would not simply let a suspected kidnapping of a child go unresolved without a massive investigation. A successful cover up would be extremely tricky to pull off, especially if the trail ended up leading back to him.
In the end, he had come to the conclusion that it was far too soon for him to come and retrieve Sherry. Being hasty and kidnapping her back right now would make it blatantly obvious to anyone paying attention that a member of the Organization was watching Teitan Elementary, and he most certainly wasn't going to blow his cover in such an unprofessional manner. If she thought that she could hide, all the power to her, but two could certainly play at that game. Mitsuhiko chortled to himself as he strolled back to his house. He would let her think that she got away with hiding herself in Beika City, when in reality he'd keep his eye homed in on her, perpetually knowing her whereabouts.
And what better way to do that than to induct and recruit her as a member of the Detective Boys?
It had been months since he made the decision to remain close to her so as to keep a watch over the scientist. Since then, things had changed greatly between the two, to an extent that even a calculative mastermind like him was unable to predict or prepare for.
Mitsuhiko had never wanted things to turn out this way.
"How do you think Haibara-san would feel?" he asked in a quiet voice, his eyes instinctively hovering down to the ground. Months of lies and deceit had slowly taken its toll on him. "How would she react if she knew that the Tsuburaya Mitsuhiko that she'd known for months at Teitan Elementary had been the one who'd commissioned the Miyanos to make the apotoxin in the first place?"
He shook his head, a scowl on his face. The question that he'd asked was rhetorical and he knew it. "That's why she can never find out. She must never figure out who I really am… what my true identity is. Now you see it from my point of view, don't you? Why I can't just go after her personally, and as a result let only my subordinates locate her."
As she remained silent, his lips curved upwards to flash a teasing smile. "Oh, come on," he chided. "Don't you me you didn't realize the reason Bourbon managed to lock Sherry's location down to the Bell Tree Express in the first place?" Seeing that he now had Vermouth's full attention, he went on, "It would be too suspicious if the mysterious boss of our little organization randomly decided to give a deliberate order to hunt down a traitor like Sherry after ignoring her for so long, wouldn't you say? Therefore, I proceeded to pull a few strings to make sure that you'd find her of your own accord."
"You don't mean…?"
Mitsuhiko chortled, gazing confidently at Vermouth as she gasped. She certainly looked shaken up by his admission. "That's correct," he confirmed her suspicions, "I was the one responsible for the information leak in the first place."
He reached into the pocket of his trousers, deftly pulling out his smartphone. "I'd secretly filmed a video that featured Miyano Shiho along with her Mystery Train pass ring using my mobile phone a few days ago. Under the guise that me and my elementary school friends wanted to thank her, I immediately sent that incriminating file to the Mouri Detective Agency, knowing full well that Bourbon had already managed to get access to the computers there." He shrugged, a playful smile on his lips. "Of course, now that I admit that much, it must be obvious what the real reason I sent that video was, right? It was to ensure that I set you folks on her trail again by instigating the crisis."
"But why?" Vermouth pressed, "You already have her dancing in the palm of your hand. You can crush Sherry at any time!"
Mitsuhiko shrugged unenthusiastically. "Oh, come on. Even my eternal patience has its limits. Acting exactly like a genuine kid takes a lot out of me when I'm around others that are stuck in the same boat as me."
As Vermouth's expression subtly changed, Mitsuhiko realized that he might have said just a bit too much. He knew exactly why her reaction was so worried too — she suspected that her boss knew something about another shrunken boy. "But regardless of our current situation, Haibara-san and I are in it for the long haul until you lads buck up." He defused the situation by backtracking from the danger zone, making it appear that he was only aware that Haibara was the only shrunken one.
Certainly, Vermouth's expression returned back to normal after the added "clarification". What he didn't expect was for her expression to go from a leer to the complete opposite so quickly. "Aw… Mit-chan's got a cute little crush!" Vermouth teased, deliberately reverting back to her 'Asami' voice. Feeling the woman ruffling up his neat hair, Mitsuhiko angrily shoved her hand aside. "Hey, hands off the hair!" he yelped, before using his hands to comb down and attempt to salvage his now-unkempt hair.
"You know, boss, you could always gel your hair in order to make it neat again."
"Well, unlike you, I don't use hair gel!" Mitsuhiko snapped, giving up on trying to make his untidy hair neat. "I prefer my hair au naturel."
They then continued to walk in silence until Mitsuhiko eventually spoke up again, his voice much softer when he finally continued the conversation. "Well, regardless of everything, I suppose that I'm forced to admit that Haibara-san managed to get the upper hand over the Organization in the end. It looks like she got away rather unscathed from both you and Bourbon."
He shot Vermouth a glance as he said that. The unspoken assumption was that it was due to Conan that she managed to get away. He knew that and she knew that, but Vermouth was making the false assumption that her superior didn't know. "I guess that considers us even for the burning shack incident," Mitsuhiko mumbled, before cursing inwardly once he realized that he said that out loud.
It wasn't supposed to be like this at all! He wasn't supposed to wind up feeling indebted to her! Things were supposed to be perfect! An immortal life locked down in eternal childhood should have been one of no stress, worries, or consequences whatsoever — a chance to break free of society's norms without others judging him! Because, really, who'd expect a kid to conform to society's rules and regulations?
Only far too late did he realize that all along, he might have only been deluding himself. He could never lead a carefree life when he had to worry about whether his friends would discover his secret every single waking hour of the day. Ayumi-chan and Genta-kun were problematic enough, but Conan-kun and especially Haibara-san would be pure disaster.
Mitsuhiko wasn't sure how long he could continue to keep up the masquerade, and the boy could imagine in very vivid detail just how well the confrontation would go if they ever found out the cold, hard truth. Haibara would tremble with terror-filled eyes as the criminal mastermind approached her, his cover blown sky-high. "Why!?" she would cry with a quiver in her voice, "Why did it have to be you, Tsuburaya-kun?" The girl would then most likely point an accusatory finger at him, "I trusted you!" she would yell, the betrayal in her voice almost beating out her fear.
"Heh. Now that was your own mistake, you know? Letting your guard down like that… how very careless for someone like you, Haibara-san. But truthfully, did you really think that you could hide from us forever? But still, I suppose this is the point where I admit that it was all lies and deceit. When it came down to it, I was only part of the Detective Boys because I wanted to keep an eye on you and see the APTX-4869 progress through to the very end!" That was what Mitsuhiko would brag, lying through his teeth to Sherry-no, Haibara. Perhaps that might have once been true at the beginning. But now in the present, Mitsuhiko wasn't so sure. He couldn't say that statement with one hundred percent certainty. After months of getting to know her, he couldn't say that he harbored any more ill intent towards Haibara. All he truly wanted from her now was her research. That was all he needed. He didn't require anything else from her.
And if Mitsuhiko really was forced into a final confrontation with Haibara as a last resort so that he could get the completed apotoxin, then it was almost a certainty that Conan-kun, with his myriad of gadgets, would take him down. It wasn't a matter of if, it was a matter of when. He'd seen Conan's 'soccer ball plus kick-enhancing shoe equals extreme pain' in action against other criminals before, and decided very early on that he would very much prefer not to be Conan's next target for soccer practice.
The boy was a very dangerous foe to have, especially now that the FBI pest Akai was finally dead. Therefore, all he could do at the moment was stay under the radar as an elementary school student, and maybe, just maybe, they'll never find out. Perhaps if he was patient enough, there was a chance that one of his useless subordinates would actually manage to succeed in acquiring Sherry's new research, leading to what Mitsuhiko felt was the best-case scenario: he would be able to complete the drug without any of his elementary school friends discovering the truth.
"Hah!" he laughed pitifully at his own joke. The laugh was filled with so much bitterness that even Vermouth dropped her poker face, briefly glancing down at him in mild worry. There was definitely very little humor in that bout of laughter. "Fat hope for me, especially with so many incompetent fools in my organization lately! Perhaps a restructure of my executive group might be imminent…" he mused with a finger to his chin.
Before he could consider the idea any further, his work phone vibrated and succeeded in interrupting his morbid thoughts. Reaching into a pocket hidden within his green sweater, he pulled out a sleek black flip phone. Unlocking it by using the fingerprint-sensitive lock, his eyes quickly scanned the message that had been sent to him.
'Mission was successful.
The blood of that traitor has been spilt. Her death was confirmed by Vermouth and Bourbon.
Mitsuhiko gave a bitter laugh at that statement. He couldn't help himself — Gin had no idea just how right he was. After all, the Black Organization member Sherry was indeed dead: she'd died the exact moment her sister Miyano Akemi was killed by Gin. But Haibara Ai, on the other hand, was still very much alive.
He closed his eyes as he continued to chuckle darkly. After he finally calmed down, he clicked out of his message inbox and entered the draft folder. That unsent message that pinpointed Haibara's—Sherry's—hiding place still lay unsent in his phone. 22 Beika Street, District 2… looking back, it was so blatantly obvious where that address was that he didn't even need a map or a GPS satellite to know the answer to that question. It was where Agasa-hakase's house was situated.
Despite currently wearing a jacket in the warm weather, he couldn't help but shudder involuntarily. Mitsuhiko couldn't deny that perhaps it was a blessing that he hadn't been hasty and jumped the gun back then. He actually liked the kooky old professor that acted as a surrogate grandfather to him and the rest of the Detective Boys. It would have definitely been a shame if Professor Agasa had been unfairly snuffed out by his own hand.
He blinked at Vermouth's concerned tone, realizing that he had dazed out. Shaking his head vigorously to snap himself out of his stupor, he slipped the phone back and proceeded to give an order. "Let's go," he lamented in a tired voice that really didn't sound like it came out of a seven-year-old's mouth. "There's nothing left for us to do here."
Vermouth nodded in affirmation and proceeded to walk forward, with Mitsuhiko strolling closely behind. Taking one last glance at the Suzuki family's famous steam locomotive, he used his left hand to slip off the pass ring wrapped around his right index finger.
He glared at the bronze ring before unceremoniously letting it fall onto the ground, where it landed with a clack. "Graghh!" With a bout of rage that rarely adjourned the normally cheerful freckled boy's face, he used his shoe to kick the object away like it was an insignificant little pebble. After bouncing twice, the Mystery Train pass ring was flung into some shrubs by the footpath, out of his sight. He tsked in annoyance. Who would have thought that the train pass was ironically, a perfect analogy of his current situation?
Just barely out of his reach, almost within his grasp… and despite all that, impossible for him to attain.
So yeah. Detective Boys. APTX-4869 shrunken Shonen Tantei-dan=Boss is another crack theory that's been theorized for forever, namely for the shock factor. Theories about them being BO boss are usually quite absurd, but I do like the idea… even though it's quite unbelievable thanks to the abundance of DB cases, which would mean that if this really was true in canon a whole bunch of DB characterization would be very screwed.
Also, for some reason, Japan really likes the idea of Mitsuhiko being the shrunken one out of the three. Out of all of the Detective Boys, he (and Ayumi to a certain extent) is the one most usually cited to possibly be the boss. Anyway, I actually really had fun writing this one, even though it ended up turning into angst halfway through. I didn't mean it, I swear!