Teitan Middle School, Tokyo - Early Afternoon
Ai Haibara was on her way to leave the school grounds. Their lessons for the day were over and since club activities were on break this week, she didn't have to stick around boring herself in the Biology Club, just so she could later claim that she was always genius in that scientific field. This claim was, of course, also supported by her remarkably high grades; her teacher, Takeuchi-sensei, had just returned another test to the class. Ai had the best grades by far, even exceeding her friend Mitsuhiko, who was always baffled how she managed to score better than him, since he studied much more than her. Poor boy, he really had no clue what he was up against. But then again, Mitsuhiko always pushed himself further in his attempts to catch up to Ai and thus improved his already excellent grades. And since he would continue to fail in his quest to surpass Ai, his motivation would probably never falter.
Speaking of which - on a normal day, Ai would usually go somewhere with her friends, Genta, Ayumi and, of course, Mitsuhiko. Together they were the Detective Boys, the crime solving group of friends, ever since Elementary School. Although their crime solving adventures had lessened over the years; officially, because their parents insisted that they had to focus on their academic path. The unofficial reason however, was a very different one; it was also partly the reason why Ai wasn't with her friends right now. Today was no normal day; today was the day he died.
Ai was almost through the gate, along with many other students who were excited about going home earlier than usually, when she heard a very familiar voice call out to her from behind. "Ai-chaaan!" Ayumi exclaimed. Ai sighed and turned around to the other girl. The two of them went to spot aside from all the ruckus of students leaving the premise. Both were clad in the Teitan Middle School winter uniforms, consisting of a navy blue collared white sailor outfit with a green ribbon and a navy blue skirt.
After a few moments of silence Ayumi tried to start a conversation. "Say, Ai-chan, I was wondering..." Ai wasn't looking at her, she knew what was coming and really wasn't in the mood for it. "...since today is...you know...the anniversary of his death..." Ayumi continued. It was pretty obvious what she was trying to say; atleast to Ai, who was still looking elsewhere. "...maybe you'll join us this year...visiting his grave, you know...yeah." Ayumi finally finished.
Ai took a deep breath and looked straight at her friend. "I'm really sorry, Ayumi-chan, I'm too busy today. Maybe next year." Ai said, faking a polite smile. She wasn't busy at all, it was a complete lie, but she was sure Ayumi would buy it, like every year. However, it seemed liked Ai was mistaken this time. "You always say that..." Ayumi whispered.
"Huh?" Ai wondered out loud, who had already stood up and was on the verge of leaving. "Come again?"
"You always say that you're busy..." Ayumi repeated. "Every year you say that you're busy, that you have no time...every year something is more important!" She was getting louder, almost screaming now. "I wonder what is so important that you cannot come with us, it doesn't even take long!" All of a sudden, Ayumi got all quiet again, tears welling up in her eyes. "You don't have anything to do, right, Ai-chan?"
Ai took a step towards her friend. "Ah, no..."
Ayumi looked up to her, tears were now rolling down her eyes. "I understand, that his death wasn't easy for you, it hasn't been for any of us..." She wiped away some of the tears with her hands. "...but it's been eight years! And you have never come with us to visit his grave, not even once! You just ignore it and never talk about it, you act like he's not gone...but he is, Ai-chan! And ignoring that fact won't make it any better! It won't...so, we want that you come with us this year, no excuses!"
Ai looked over to the entrance of the school, spotting Mitsuhiko and Genta in their black gakuran and slacks, which made up the male winter uniform of the school. Seems like they were with Ayumi on this matter, but decided to stay behind and let Ayumi do the talking. 'Typical...' Ai thought.
She turned back to Ayumi. "Well...if it means so much to you...sure..." Ai said, still very hesitant, but it was enough for Ayumi to forget any tears she shed just now and flashed Ai one of her brightest smiles.
"That's great! Come on, let's go!" Ayumi exclaimed and grabbed Ai's arm firmly. Ayumi waved Genta and Mitsuhiko over to them and the four of them made their way to the graveyard.
The Beika Central Graveyard was quite eerie at the time they arrived. Some would probably always call a graveyard eerie, but at this moment it was especially so. Seemingly no one was around, the sky was grey and Tokyo seemed to a lot more quiet than usual. Many times, the talkativeness of her friends annoyed Ai, but today, it was their silence that unnerved her.
They were already a lot more quiet than usual, but the walk to the grave happened in complete silence. After what felt like an eternity and countless rows of graves, they finally reached their destination. A big, grey piece of stone. The letters on it read:
Ayumi laid down some flowers she bought on their way here. "It's a shame he died so young...too bad there wasn't a funeral for him either..." Genta said.
"Yeah." Mitsuhiko agreed. "He was one of the good ones, the real Detective Boy...we're decent now, but nothing compared to back then...although even back then, he could've done it alone I think...but we had good times and we should cherish those memories..."
Ayumi and Genta nodded and the three of them kneed down to say some prayers Ai didn't care about. She continued to just stand there, eyes focused on the grave. She'd never been here; as Genta said, there hadn't a proper funeral and she always excused herself in the years after.
The three Detective Boys stood up again and looked over to Ai. They didn't seem to be angry or even upset by her just standing there, doing nothing, no, they were rather confused, not sure what Ai was doing.
After a few more moments, Ai broke the silence. "Would you mind...leaving me alone for a bit...?"
Her friends were a bit startled by her sudden words, but they looked somewhat happy. "Sure!" Ayumi said. "We'll wait at the front gate for you!" Genta and Mitsuhiko didn't add anything, so the three of them left her alone. Ai continued to stare at the gravestone. For how long, she didn't know. It wasn't until she heard footsteps, that her attention got driven away from staring and thinking.
"Oh, Ai-chan! We didn't expect to meet you here." A familiar female voice called out to Ai. She turned her around to greet the woman.
"Hello, Ran-san." Ai said with a slight smile. Then she turned her gaze to the man she walked arm in arm with. "Hello, Kudo-kun."
Shinichi returned her smile. "Hello, Haibara." The couple came to a halt beside Ai, looking at the grave. Ran also brought some flowers and laid them down beside Ayumi's. Meanwhile, Shinichi shifted his attention to Ai. "So, you came with the Ayumi, Genta and Mitsuhiko this year? We met them on our way here, but usually you're not with them...is this your first time?"
Ai shrugged. "There's a first time for everything..."
"Right." Shinichi continued to look at Ai. Ran had finished draping the flowers and stood up with Shinichi again. The two of them spent a few silent minutes at the grave; Shinichi looking from the grave to Ai all the time.
"I think I'll head back now." Ran said, looking at Shinichi. "You're gonna stay?"
Shinichi smiled apologetically. "Yes, just a little bit."
"It's okay." Ran gave him a kiss on the cheek. "I'll wait at the front and give the kids some company." And with that, Shinichi and Ai were alone at the grave of Conan Edogawa.
"Sure has been a long tim-..." Shinichi started, but he was interrupted by Ai.
"Why do you come here?" She asked.
"Why do you visit this grave, every year. I can understand Genta, Ayumi and Mitsuhiko, but why do you come here? Your wife even bought flowers too...but why? You both know that this place is a lie, that he isn't dead...that he is standing right in front of me in this very second...yet still, you come here like there was something buried under that stone...why?"
Shinichi took a deep breath and observed their surroundings, but there was still no one there. "Conan Edogawa touched many lives, Haibara, and indeed, there was much grief when he died eight years ago. But, in the end, the grief passed and acceptance followed, acceptance that he was gone. If he'd just returned to the USA and barely ever called and effectively went MIA...no, leaving it open ended like that isn't good. Some people might want to search for him, some will be forever sad he forgot about them, some will maybe start to resent him..."
"So, he died so people won't start to hate your other self?" Ai asked sharply. "And that doesn't answer my question."
Shinichi offered her a smile. "No, it doesn't, but I'm getting there. You see...he died to complete the circle, tie up loose ends...the death of Conan Edogawa and this grave in particular are for finality. Ran and I, we come here to remind ourselves of that finality, that these times are over and in the past, you know...something that you should remind yourself off as well."
Ai turned to Shinichi again. "What...?"
"You're still having nightmares about them, don't you?"
"But how did you...? The Professor..."
"Yes, he told me, because he worries about you. Haibara, while Conan Edogawa might still be technically alive, they are most certainly not. Not one of them. Gin, Vodka, Chianti, even Sharon. They're all dead and their ashes have unceremoniously been scattered. They don't have gravestones you could spit on...but their death also brought finality, finality to that awful time we effectively spent hiding and with our lives in danger. And that finality is also embodied in this very gravestone. For me, it stands for the end of my time as Conan and for the beginning of my second chance at life and what came of it..."
Shinichi looked over to the where the front gate was and smiled, even though he only looked in the direction and couldn't really see the gate. "Ran is pregnant, you know..."
Ai was surprised. "Really...? That's very nice for you, congratulations."
"Thank you. We're only telling our relatives for now, so keep it to yourself for a while, okay?"
Shinichi smiled again. "The point is: Times have changed, Haibara. Don't waste your second chance at a live being afraid and stuck in the past. We are free...you should always cherish that." He turned around and started to walk away.
"If it is a boy, you're not gonna name him Conan, are you?" Ai asked.
Shinichi chuckled. "Probably not." He waved as he walked away. "See you around, Haibara."
"Yeah..." Haibara quietly said. "...see you."
She couldn't resist a little smile. 'That idiot, still talks big and still has such a sense for drama, just like his mother...' Ai took one last look on the gravestone, before she also left. She had kept her friends waiting long enough.
'Times have changed indeed...'