The Other Woman's Burden

by beaple leone michaelmas

Chapter One: Reunion

A/N:

Minna-san, allo! ::D As of now, I've outlined the whole plot for this thing, but I'm not sure of the specifics yet. I've just finished the first season of Full Metal Alchemist, and the way the events unfolded, not to mention the story, impressed me very much. It is my dream to one day be able to narrate things in such a systematic, artful manner – but, as Barry the Chopper says, a dream that becomes reality is no dream. So please bear with my haphazard writing, haha. Inyhoo, here's Chapter One! ::

Disclaimer:

I do not own Detective Conan; the whole concept belongs to Gosho Aoyoma-sensei.

Chapter One: Reunion

16 February, Tuesday

Kudo Detective Office, Tokyo

"Haibara-san, is that you?"

Haibara Ai jerked out of her musings as she heard a familiar, sweet voice call her name. Turning around, she saw herself staring straight into the eyes of a seventeen-year old Yoshida Ayumi, who was sporting an ear-to-ear grin as she threw both arms around the frozen Haibara.

"I was right! It was you!" Ayumi said by way of greeting. After giving her old friend a brief squeeze, she stepped back and observed Haibara. "You've changed much, Haibara-san. Life in London suits you well, I take it?"

"I could say the same for you, Yoshida-san," Haibara replied, smiling despite herself. "You've grown up quite splendidly, if I may say so," she added, causing Ayumi to grin sheepishly.

"More importantly… Haibara-san, what brings you here?" Ayumi said, her tone changing instantly. "Have you heard of what has happened?"

Haibara tensed up.

"No, I've returned to Japan for a vacation," she lied. "I thought I should pay Kudo a visit at least once while I'm here, but…"

"He's gone missing, yes," Ayumi supplied, smiling sadly. "He hasn't contacted us in two days and the police can't find any leads either."

She motioned towards the numerous police officers who surrounded them, looking for evidence within the Kudo Detective Office, snapping pictures left and right, searching for fingerprints, trying to find any clue pointing to Kudo Shinichi's whereabouts.

"Is that Haibara-san?" another familiar voice asked, jerking Haibara from her thoughts for the second time that morning. Turning to the sound, Haibara saw a twenty-eight year old Mori Ran, more beautiful than ever, although the light seemed to have gone out from her normally twinkling eyes. "Haibara-san, hisashiburi."

"Mori-san, it's been a while," Haibara acknowledged. "Suzuki-san, too."

Suzuki Sonoko, standing beside her best friend, raised a hand at Haibara in greeting.

"Haibara-san, we haven't seen you in, what, ten years?" Sonoko said. "It's rather unlucky that you chose this moment to visit though. Kudo has gone missing."

"Are you sure he has?" Haibara countered. "It's possible he's just gone to research on some case he's working on. After all, he is prone to disappearing without warning."

"Indeed, that was my initial impression," Ran said. "But when I visited his home this morning…" She groped for the right words to say.

"Blood," Sonoko said, seeing that her best friend found the topic extremely difficult to talk about. "There was blood on the desk in his study. We've had the police match it with his DNA earlier; it's his blood, all right."

Haibara blinked, trying to stay rational.

"Who was the last person who saw him?"

"That would be me," Ayumi said. "On Valentine's Day, Sunday, I was planning to work overtime, because the current case we're handling is heavy on the paperwork. But Shinichi-san practically ordered me to go home; he was adamant about me leaving the office. As I was leaving a little before noon, he was still sitting there," she said, pointing at his desk, "poring over papers."

"But, didn't you have plans?" Haibara asked Ran. "Of course, I'm just assuming you did have plans, considering it was Valentine's Day…"

"He cancelled them on the last minute," Ran replied slowly. "He called me earlier that morning, telling me he had an urgent matter to attend to so he couldn't meet me. He never said what he was working on though…"

"It was probably his latest case," Ayumi supplied. "Project China Doll – a case involving the kidnapping of beautiful, sporty teenage girls in Hong Kong. [1] It's a pretty big thing; even Interpol had no idea how to solve it before Shinichi-san joined their investigation team."

"Yeah, I did hear about those kidnappings," Sonoko noted. "It's a really big issue in Hong Kong…"

As the other women began speculating on how Kudo could have gotten into trouble because of the case, Haibara let her thoughts drift away.

So he had kept his investigation on the Hashiba Ruka case a secret, even from his subordinates at the office. Also, Kudo had lied about heading for Ran's place; it would seem he had never planned on meeting her that day. If he wasn't going to meet his fiancée, where was he headed? Why had he wanted to be left alone in the office? Why was there blood in his house? Where was he now and could he possibly have been taken away by that something he so firmly insisted was haunting him? The mere thought of it seemed absurd…

"Haibara-san," Ran said suddenly, causing Haibara to jump. "Is something the matter?"

Composing her expression, Haibara replied, "No, it's nothing."

If Kudo had wanted this to be kept a secret, Haibara was going to keep it that way.

XXX

"We've searched everywhere in his house for clues," Mori Kogoro said, accepting the cup of coffee that was offered him, "but we just can't find any. There are no signs of struggle, not a single object out of place!"

His daughter bit her lip.

"Surely there's something that will lead us to him," Ran said, willing her father to say something more. "Maybe you've just missed a spot in your search. Maybe you should look again."

Kogoro gave his daughter a sympathetic look.

"I'm sorry, Ran," he said apologetically. "But the police believe we're not getting anywhere searching for him like this. Personally, I feel the same way. That's why we're going to start searching for him by interviewing the last few people he came in close contact with."

"That would mean most of us gathered here," Tsuburaya Mitsuhiko said. "Give or take a few people."

"I'll go call his colleagues," Kojima Genta offered. "Maybe they know something."

"And I'll call his parents," Yoshida Ayumi said. "They, of all people, should know what's going on."

Haibara Ai watched in silence as the people around her bustled with activity, trying to find something to do to keep themselves occupied. Sitting on the couch across her was Detective Mori Kogoro, accompanied by Professor Agasa, both pensive as they sipped on the coffee Ran prepared for them. Several hours had passed since Haibara's arrival at the Kudo Detective Office, and still, no progress was in sight; Kudo Shinichi was still missing.

"Mori-san," Officer Takagi Wataru said, walking into the room with a sheaf of papers in his hand. "The results from the forensics lab have just come out. The only fingerprints we found in the house were those of Ran-san's, Shinichi-san's and Agasa-hakase's."

"So if anyone else has been inside the house," Kogoro said, his face darkening. "They were very careful to cover their tracks…"

Unless no one came.

Haibara found the situation difficult to believe. Here she was, entertaining the possibility that one of her closest friends had been abducted by a supernatural being - she, the Director for Research and Development at the world-renowned Wiltord Pharmaceuticals. Why was she even considering the possibility? In the face of this crisis, she should be gathering evidence, just as she used to!

"Haibara-san, what's wrong?" Ran asked as Haibara abruptly rose from her seat. "Where are you going?"

"I feel… ill at ease," Haibara managed to reply. "If you don't mind, I'd like to look around the office…"

"Suit yourself," Kogoro said. "But you do know the police have searched the area twice?"

"Nevertheless…" Haibara responded, more to herself than to anyone else. "Excuse me."

With a slight bow, she exited the receiving area, fully aware of the eyes that were directed at her person. Standing on the threshold of the spacious office, she scanned the area once with her eyes; not a single thing looked out of place. To her right were rows of wooden shelves filled with folders, video tapes and other surveillance equipment; to her left were three desks, each with a personal computer, bearing plaques with the names of Kudo's three young assistants.

On her desk, Yoshida Ayumi was talking to someone on the phone.

"Yes, Kudo-sama, I understand," Ayumi said, her brows furrowing. "Yes, I will tell Ran-san immediately. Goobye, Kudo-sama."

As she hung up, Ayumi sighed deeply.

"What's wrong?" Haibara heard herself ask.

"His parents aren't taking the matter very seriously," Ayumi replied heavily. "They said they'd be coming to Japan as soon as Yusaku-san's latest case is solved, but Yukiko-san didn't sound very worried to me."

"It's because they believe Kudo will get out of this mess on his own."

"Well, if he were that capable, he wouldn't have been caught in the first place," Ayumi countered sourly. "Of course, I'm just assuming he's been kidnapped; we can't conclude for sure…"

Sighing for a second time, she suddenly realized Haibara was still standing before her.

"Oh yes, Haibara-san, what is it you need?"

"I just wanted to have a look around," Haibara replied, smiling slightly. "I realize this whole office has been searched thoroughly but…"

"You feel the need to do something, don't you?" Ayumi supplied, smiling. "I understand completely. It's a trait you and Shinichi-san share…"

Haibara kept silent.

"I know!" Ayumi said suddenly, clapping her hands in a moment of realization. "Why don't you search his personal office? If he's working on something top secret he wouldn't be leaving the evidence lying around just anywhere, would he?"

"No, I suppose not-"

"Here, come here, Haibara-san," Ayumi said, motioning Haibara towards a heavy-looking door made of dark wood. "The police have seen most of the stuff here, but they can't make sense of most of it. Even we don't fully understand the things Shinichi-san keeps here, but maybe you'll be able to glean something out of them…"

Kudo's private office, like the rest of his headquarters, was furnished in a Victorian London-ish style, complete with rich wooden tables and heavy velvet curtains. Three walls of the room were covered in bookshelves extending to the ceiling, mimicking the expansive study in the Kudo residence. Walking over to his desk, Haibara saw that Kudo had left his paperwork neatly arranged; not a thing seemed to be in disarray.

Opening his drawer, Haibara saw a thick, leather-bound book. Taking it out before Ayumi, she was given the brief explanation, "It's his datebook – a present from Ran-san. He hardly writes in it though, because he likes to jot things down in that little notepad of his."

With leaden fingers, Haibara flipped the heavy journal to the present date; she saw it had barely been written in. Flipping back a few pages, she caught a few scribbles in Kudo's neat handwriting: February 14, Kathryn's with Ran.[2] February 10, Hong Kong: 4PM. February 5, Yokohama: 8AM.

The note stuck out like a sore thumb in Haibara's mind. If logic served her right, this entry was proof that Kudo had been working on the Hashiba Ruka case; in fact, he'd been working on it for barely a fortnight. This was another fact that bothered Haibara. The Kudo she knew was efficient in handling cases; he never let an unsolved mystery carry on for a long time under his watch. So why had it taken him more than a week – nay – more than a day to solve this particular quandary?

"Ayumi-chan, the new investigators have arrived from Headquarters," Mitsuhiko said suddenly, his thin figure walking in through the wide-open door. "They want to question all of us one-by-one, and you're up first."

"Right… I'll be right back, Haibara-san," Ayumi said, turning to leave with Mitsuhiko.

With a small nod and a faint smile, Haibara replaced the journal on the drawer as the two teenagers left the office, the door clicking shut in their wake. Deciding it was probably her only chance to look up on Hashiba Ruka, Haibara looked around for something from which to gather evidence. It was then she realized Kudo kept very little on his desk.

Curse the man for being so distrustful of written evidence.

She ambled towards his computer, and impatiently pressed the power switch, silently praying the investigators would take much of Ayumi's time. Haibara expected his computer security to be difficult to crack - this was after all, the paranoid Kudo Shinichi – but she had faith in her hacking skills; she had never met a computer program she couldn't bend to her will.

Indeed, within a few minutes, Haibara Ai was efficiently sifting through the mass of information in the Kudo Detective Office database. No matter what keyword she typed, however, whether it was Hashiba, or Ruka, or Yokohama, or massacre, nothing relevant to her search came up on screen. Frustrated at her futile attempt at gathering information, Haibara ran a cold hand over her tired eyes. She had gone to the extent of breaking his computer system; would she get nothing in return for her efforts?

Distractedly, she let her gaze trail along the shelves around her; perhaps Kudo, being old-fashioned, had decided to keep a hard copy of what she needed? Her eyes fell on the scarlet and evergreen faux-leather folders that lined the walls. Occasionally, there were two or three discrepancies to the color coding of the files: some yellowing books, some folders brimming with paper. But it was no use; nothing jumped out saying, "It's me! I'm what you're looking for!"

Sighing inwardly, and feeling the bitter, rather foreign aftertaste of failure, Haibara leaned back against Kudo's soft-padded office chair…

… And realized it wasn't soft at all.

Sitting bolt upright, Haibara registered that a smooth, thin, box-like container had been stuffed inside the cushions. Casting a wary glance at the door, she fell to her knees and inspected the chair, turning it so that she faced the doorway. Poking around the seat, she felt rather than saw a small button embedded into the wood. Pressing it, she heard a soft clicking sound, and the backrest swung open slightly, revealing a thin brown envelope placed inside a small metal folder-like contraption.

Her heartbeat racing, Haibara lifted the envelope with her long, elegant fingers; it was unsealed. She looked through the contents of the package eagerly, seeing a few photos, a sketched map, and one printout. Taking the single piece of bond paper in her hand, she saw a newspaper article, together with the snapshot of a large mansion with an imposing iron gate. As she read further the brief report that came with the picture, her eyebrows furrowed deeper, her frown becoming more prominent with each word she comprehended:

Young Woman Murders Family, Commits Suicide

Friday, November 30 – Police inspectors walk into the Hashiba residence in downtown Yokohama, covering their noses to avoid the stench of nine five-day old corpses. The bodies of Attorney Hashiba Junpei, 51, along with that of his wife Yoko, 45, and those of their children Ruka, 22, and Sano, 14, were found shot through the forehead by .45 mm gun. Among the dead were the household staff Yamamoto Nana, 63; Arakawa Shun, 43; Arakawa Manami, 37; Nobi Hayate, 27; and, Muira Hiromu, 20; all of whom had similar wounds.

The prime suspect for what is now known as the Hashiba Massacre is the family's eldest daughter, Ruka, who was a fresh graduate from the Yokohama Conservatory, majoring in piano. [3] Police found the main weapon for the killings in Hashiba Ruka's hands; judging from the strange angle of the bullet's entry through the eldest daughter's forehead, it is widely believed that the suspect committed suicide after murdering her family members.

The Yokohama community, especially the Yokohama Conservatory's Piano Department, is still struggling to accept that such a heinous and barbaric act could be committed by Hashiba Ruka.

"She was such a beautiful, kind-hearted girl," claims Toyama Masumi, 47, a piano professor who trained Hashiba Ruka for four years. "She was timid, and meek, and she never complained. In fact, I believed her to possess a rather aloof character."

Police forces entered the Hashiba Residence after neighbors complained of a ghastly, otherworldly smell wafting through the iron gates.

"We definitely thought something was wrong," says Hinata Shiina, 59, who resides and keeps a tofu stall across the street from the Hashiba Residence. "The Hashibas [they] were very friendly people. Although Attorney Junpei was almost always busy with work, he and his wife never forgot to check up on us [their neighbors]. So when one day, they stopped coming out, even their servants, and the wind began to smell a dirty, rotting something, we knew something terrible had happened."

Police are still investigating other possibilities for this case, but it seems the evidence against Hashiba Ruka is strong. The last remaining member of the murdered family, Hashiba Yana, 18, was on a graduation trip to Italy during the time of the murder, and has so far not been available for comment.

~ Report by Kitade Akiko

Haibara felt her hands quiver slightly as she stared, slightly wide-eyed, at the paper she held in her hands. The murderer of eight people… committed suicide? It certainly was a grave incident; even in recent years, she had not heard of many murders half as ghastly.

Hashiba Yana. The name sounded oddly familiar. Yana was not a very common Japanese name; Haibara felt sure she had come across it somewhere…

But exactly where she couldn't tell.

"… don't think Haibara-san has been in contact with Shinichi-san recently," Haibara heard Ayumi say as the door to Kudo's private office suddenly opened a fraction. "I suggest you ask her yourself though, just to be sure."

"Yes, we'll do that," replied a familiar deep male voice that Haibara couldn't place. "The rest of you, however, we'll have to question thoroughly."

"I understand," Ayumi said, voice laden with emotion. "Anything to find Shinichi-san. I'm sure the others won't mind as well."

Haibara's trembling fingers shut the secret compartment just as Ayumi and her companion's footsteps became uncomfortably magnified. Trying to compose her expression, she folded the now-crumpled printout into quarters and stuffed them into her jacket pocket, cursing inwardly as Ayumi called her name.

"Haibara-san, Inspector Shiratori wishes to speak to you," the teenager said. A pause. "Haibara-san?"

"Hai, gomenasai, my earring fell," Haibara lied, straightening up with both hands holding her earlobes as though attaching one of her pearl earrings. "Officer Shiratori, it's been a while. I see you've been promoted."

Shiratori Ninzaburo smirked in his signature "I-know-you-know-something-I-need-to-know" manner.

"Haibara-san, it's unfortunate that we had to meet again under such dire circumstances," he said as Haibara strode forward to face him up close. "I haven't seen you since the Black Organization broke apart."

"I went to London to further my studies," Haibara explained. "I've been living there since."

"I see…" Shiratori trailed off, giving Haibara a cold, penetrating stare.

Ayumi stepped in, holding a hand out to shield her old friend.

"Haibara-san would never betray Shinichi-san, if that's what you're thinking," Ayumi said, rather violently. "In case you don't remember, it was with her help that he gained enough information to bring down the Black Organization."

"I believe the correct term is insider information," Shiratori said cooly. "In any case, Haibara-san, I really must know: have you been in contact with Kudo Shinichi over the past six months?"

Haibara Ai tried not to blink. She tried not to think of Ayumi coming to her defense, of Shiratori's old prejudice against her being a one-time member of the Black Organization, of the fact that she was hiding the truth from Mori Ran. She pushed at the forefront of her mind the one thing that she had come home for, her sole goal for the moment: Hashiba Ruka. Hide Kudo's involvement with Hashiba Ruka and find him somewhere along the road of deception.

"No," Haibara heard herself say. "I have not."

XXX

"Shiratori's one hell of an interrogator, isn't he?" Mori Kogoro said as he cricked his neck. "He kept asking the same questions for more than half an hour - as if he was almost hoping our answers would change!"

"You think you've got it bad," Kojima Genta complained. "Imagine working for the man who's gone missing. Mitsuhiko, Ayumi and I have been detained for more than an hour each! And now I'm hungry," he grumbled, massaging his stomach.

Ran smiled.

"Minna-san, how does dinner sound? My treat," she offered, smiling weakly. "It's the least I can do for all the trouble you've gone through just to help."

"No, Ran-san, we-"

"Free dinner? Oh, yeah!"

"Genta!"

"Is food all you ever think about?!"

"Hey, I'm worried, too!" Genta retorted. "But how am I supposed to think on an empty stomach?"

As his companions dejectedly cradled their heads in their hands, Haibara smiled. She was finally making progress. Now all she had to go was find Hashiba Yana, and get some more information regarding the case…

"Haibara-san," Ran said, jerking Haibara back to Earth. "Would you like to join us?"

Haibara blinked several times successively.

"Oh, I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I'm a bit tired," she reasoned. "I was planning to return to the hotel early."

"Yeah, jet lag is the pits," Sonoko piped in empathically. "It's a shame you won't be able to join us though… Hey Ran," she said suddenly, turning to her best friend, "I just remembered. Hashiba Yana's scheduled to play in Ayano's restaurant tonight. Why don't we go there?"

"Hashiba… Yana?"

Sonoko stared at Haibara in surprise.

"Yeah… Hashiba Yana the pianist," she said slowly. "Youngest winner of the Contini Prize for Piano? [4] Won it at 19, I think. Familiar? No?" She frowned at Haibara's glazed expression. "In any case, she's Ran's favorite classical musician. How about it, Ran? I'm sure hearing Yana-sensei's music will make you feel somewhat happier…"

Ran smiled, more genuinely this time.

"Yes, I think I'd like that very much," she said. "Do you think Ayano would give us a discount?"

"On second thought, I believe I'd like to join you for dinner."

Seven pairs of curious eyes fell on Haibara.

"I'm interested in meeting Hashiba Yana," Haibara admitted. "I've heard my colleagues in London talk about her, so I'd very much like to hear her play."

"Doesn't classical music make you sleepy-?"

"That's great, Haibara-san," Ran said, smiling as always. "I'm sure you'll love her."

Haibara merely smiled back.

A/N:

I really enjoyed writing this. I think it's a bit warped - what with the "lucky breaks" left and right - and a bit overdescriptive, too, but I enjoyed writing the "sudden realizations" nonetheless. On a side (side) note, the news article is really meant to be BAD. Its trashiness plays a pivotal role, actually; but to be honest, I just really can't write properly. Especially straight news. Sorreeee ::X

PS:

Thanks to everyone who's reviewed this story so far:

aquagirl520, ada, haveabreakfast, haibaraai4869,

MikkiMouse, maddie88

I'd also like to thank everyone who's made TOWB part of their story alerts; I'll try to update soon.

Again, I'd like to (shamelessly) promote my La Corda d'Oro fanfics, Bridging the Gap and La Noche Triste. The first one is cheesy; the second one tries not to be so.

Thank you, thank you, thank you everyone! ::D

Revenge of the Footnotes:

[1] Project China Doll. Saw the movie Naked Weapon while on a bus. Disregarding its adult themes, it's actually a pretty interesting story; it's also really rather disturbing were it to happen in real life.

[2] Kathryn's. Kathryn's is an actual cake shop; its main branch is in Divisoria, Cagayan de Oro City. I'm using it here because, I think, if the owners sued me, I could talk my way out of a fiasco. Haha.

[3] Yokohama Conservatory. I hope this does not exist in real life, else I may have tarnished their rep.

[4] Contini Prize. Something I took from another fanfic attempt of mine, Bridging the Gap. In case you're interested, I came up with the name from the movie The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. Have never seen it, but it ought to be good if it's on the list of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.