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Artificial Anxiety

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It was a bright, sunny day in Beika, Tokyo. At Teitan High School, the second year students just finished their last period of the day, physical education. Which meant that the girls changing room was filled with all kinds of chatter and gossip. Among the other, Ran Mouri had no ear for them though. Normally, she wasn't a girl that flat-out refused to participate in such talks (otherwise her friendship with Sonoko would've been nearly impossible), but today, for no reason in particular, her mind was busy with remember the past months with her childhood friend and, since these past months, her boyfriend.

It all happened back at their not-date date at Tropical Land. And at a time Ran didn't expect anything to happen anymore. After Shinichi talked about Sherlock Holmes almost all evening, a pretty nasty murder case interrupted their quote unquote date. Shinichi solved it in his usual smart (and very cool, if you asked Ran) style, but after that, the atmosphere between was kind of heavy, especially since the case affected Ran emotionally way more than him. While she was crying, Shinichi spotted one of the suspicious man that was on the roller coaster with them and went off after him. "Shinichi, wait!" Ran shouted while trying to run after him, but her shoelace broke and tears blurred her vision. She had a feeling that she would never see him again and thus a nasty cold feeling spread through her whole body.


She looked up from the ground and wiped the tears out of her eyes and sure enough: before her stood Shinichi, with a look of worry in his eyes like Ran had only seen once in them, although she couldn't quite recall when. Suddenly, she remembered that she was the one that called out to him and her mind was hastily trying to come up with something to say. "I-I...uhm, Shinichi, I just...uhm..." was the best her brain could come up with. 'Nice going, Ran.' She mentally scolded herself. 'Now Shinichi'll think you've gone insane over something that's every day's business for him.'

To her surprise, Shinichi's look just began to soften a bit and he went over to her. "You know, maybe I...maybe I should just walk you home like I always do." Ran could've sworn that she saw a little blush and insecurity in his face.

"Yeah, that would be good..." Ran responded. So they ended up going back to her father's detective agency, in amicable silence, as both were seemingly contemplating important emotional matters. 'I can't believe Shinichi refrained from going after a case. Just for me? He has never done that in the past. And then the way he looked at me, he was definitely blushing. I thought I was just imagining things when I saw a blush on his face in the aquarium, but this time there is no way I'm mistaken. Could he actually...?'

Ran was taken out of her thoughts when they stopped in front of her home. " we are..." Shinichi stuttered.

"Yeah...anyway...thank you...for taking care of me instead of going after a potential case. I know that probably wasn't easy for you."

"Yeah, well, sometimes you have to have your priorities straight. And taking my childhood friend home was definitely more important."

"Your childhood friend, huh? Just friends..." Ran looked to the ground, while Shinichi started to fidget nervously.

"Uh, no, R-Ran...that's not what I meant..."

"You know..." Ran interrupted him. "I...I maybe said at Tropical Land that I was just kidding, but...what I said afterwards, that I really looked forward to going there with you, I wasn't kidding...and maybe..." Ran started to whisper. "Maybe I wasn't kidding in the first place..." She was still observing the ground like it was the most interesting thing in the world.

"Maybe, maybe..." She heard Shinichi say. "You asked me how I could be a great detective if I fall for such a simple, probably the reason why logic fails me when it comes to you is..." Shinichi stepped closer. "...because it is the same for is because when I see a couple like in Tropical Land...I can't help but to imagine..." Shinichi fell silent all of a sudden, unsure of his words.

"Imagine what?" Ran pressed.

"..." Shinichi hesitated, before he continued with a single word. ""

Ran and Shinichi looked away from each other; this conversation wasn't exactly easy, but it was too late to turn back now. From this point, they basically kept saying their names in different tones while getting closer and they almost kissed. Almost, because they were interrupted when Ran's father came crashing down from his Detective Agency. Thankfully, he was too excited to notice their closeness, because of the case of an abducted ten year old. Shinichi and Ran knew that entrusting Kogoro with such a matter wouldn't end well, so they followed him; and it turned out that a first kiss with the feeling of happiness and accomplishment after saving a little girl from a dangerous criminal wasn't the worst thing in the world.

In conclusion, that was the day their friendship advanced to the next stage. For outsiders everything seemed to be the same, some didn't even notice it. But for them, everything was different. Many everyday things they did before suddenly had a completely new meaning to them, while other things stayed completely the same (making them realize that their classmate where partially right when they always said that the two of them were doing really couple...ish stuff already). Ran also started to stay at the Kudo mansion more often. At first just when she or both of them fell asleep on the couch in the living room, then later on purpose with Ran staying in one of the many guest rooms; in fact, the one guest room she was always staying in was more of her own room by now, she even had some clothes stored there. They'd be studying at his place again today; that this all went to the great displeasure of her father (after he actually figured out what was going on; it took him way longer than it should have) bothered Ran at first, but after some talks with her mother and Shinichi, she decided that her father had to endure that his daughter would have a relationship with a boy sooner or later and that he, like every father, had to learn how to deal with it.

Ran stopped to think about her own relationship and listened to the other girls conversations around her to hear about their relationships. After all, she had the only normal relationship among the people close to her. Her parents marriage was kinda on hold, Sonoko and Makoto were separated by distance rather than emotional burden and Heiji and Kazuha were still in the friendship phase, although Kazuha clearly felt more for him, considering the jealousy she displayed during Shinichi's and Ran's visit to Osaka - thinking back to that first meeting still made her feel embarrassed, but she did understand where Kazuha was coming from. That didn't make it less embarrassing though.

In the corner of the girls locker room where Ran and Sonoko changed, there also were Kamiko, Maiko, Motoka and Hikaru having a conversation, with the topic changing to their boyfriends just as Ran decided to listen in. "So, Hikaru-chan, how are things going with your boyfriend?" Sonoko asked the other girl.

Said girl tried to suppress an embarrassed giggle. "Oh, you know, we've just gone out twice. I still can't really believe he asked me out. And he even held my hand after we went to the cinema!"

Ran gave Hikaru a warm smile; that girl was extremely shy and her now boyfriend also wasn't a very outgoing person, so it was good to hear that they found someone they could be comfortable around.

Sonoko turned to Maiko. "And what about you, Maiko-chan?"

Said girl rested her head on her right hand and sighed "Hmph, he's been ogling some younger student last week, so it's cooled down a bit between us at the moment. What about your boyfriend, Sonoko-chan?"

Sonoko waved her off with a slightly annoyed look on her face "Eh, not much better, the 'prince of kicks' is very busy with his training. I don't mind that he pursues his passion, but currently we don't talk very much and the distance isn't helping either."

"You should consider yourself lucky, Sonoko. Many girls wanted to be with Kyogoku-san." Ran interjected.
Sonoko looked at her best friend with a bit of confusion "Really? How do you figure?"

"Well, he gave an interview to the Karate Weekly magazine recently, where he mentioned that he has a girlfriend now. The online reactions by his fangirls expected and pretty mean. I thought you always read the articles about him?" Ran told her.

"I can't follow all of these karate magazines. Let's see..." Sonoko grabbed her smartphone from her bag and looked through the online comments. "Oh, damn. They're pretty nasty. I love it!"

Ran was more skeptical. " it?"

"Sure, they're all jealous of me and they can't do anything about it. It's glorious!" Sonoko turned her head from her phone to Ran and raised her eyebrows with a teasing look. "I thought you would understand, since your relationship with Shinichi upset a lot of fangirls as well."

Ran blushed; actually being in a relationship with and doing most of the stuff Sonoko teased them about didn't make Sonoko's teasing any less effective. Meanwhile, Motoka was still digesting the information she just received. "Wait. Ran-chan is actually together with Shinichi-kun now?" That question just earned her some raised eyebrows. "Really? Nobody told me? Come on, I thought that I wasn't the only single here and now I learn I am?" Motoka threw her arms up in an overly dramatic manner. "I need to find a new boyfriend..."

Maiko sighed again. "You can have mine if you want. Although, you're probably too old for his taste, just like me..."
Sonoko smiled at the girls dry remark, but turned the attention back to Ran after that "So Ran, how's it going with dear Shinichi-kun?"

"Ah, I have nothing to complain about, really..." Ran tried to quickly shut down Sonoko's attempts of putting her in the spotlight of this conversation, but the look on Sonoko's face told Ran that her best friend still had something to tell the other girls.

"It's perfect between you two, huh? I wonder how far you've gone after ten years of secret loving?"

Ran's blush got even more intense. "Sonoko! I-I...I mean...what are you even talking about...?!"

Sonoko was just getting started. "Really now? Well, I think you're not telling us the truth. And I even have evidence!" Now Sonoko had the attention of the whole group, except for Kamiko, who had been confusingly quiet recently.

"What kind of evidence do you have, Sonoko-chan?" The other girls asked.

"Well, a couple of days ago, I wanted to talk to Ran about something for the next day of school. It was already pretty late, but usually Ran is still awake because of her father. So, I called her cell phone, but she didn't have it on. Naturally, I just called her home directly, maybe her battery was simply dead. Turns out, that wasn't the case..." Sonoko took a break for the dramatic effect, meticulously folding her hands on her lap. "Because the one who took the call was Ran's father. That old man told, no, he almost whined to me, that his daughter was staying over at that detective brat's house for the night. Again. Apparently, she does that so often that he doesn't even remember the last time they had dinner together."

It may have seemed like Sonoko was being really mean to Ran, but the truth was that this was already the friendship version. If Sonoko wanted to denounce Ran, she would've told the other girls how drunk Kogoro probably was and how Ran had to play home keeper for him, since he wouldn't be able manage his life otherwise. These were things that stayed between Ran and her closer friends, a principle that Sonoko didn't breach with her words.

As to why Sonoko was spreading out the details of Ran's relationship, Ran figured that she simply didn't tell her friend enough. Usually, when it came to relationship related stuff, Ran and Sonoko conversed in private about that, but Ran had been very quiet about her relationship with Shinichi, not only to Sonoko, but pretty much everyone. Ran wasn't ashamed of their relationship, not at all: she didn't deny anything when asked about it, they kissed and sometimes showed affection even in public places, but she just didn't want to actively talk about it, almost as if telling anybody too much about it would ruin the magic.

'I should've seen this coming.' Ran thought to herself. 'If Sonoko doesn't get her information from the source, then she will pry elsewhere and I doubt she got anything from Shinichi. Clever as always, making this the topic of a girl forum is probably the best move to find out more. At the very least it will make me tell her more in private. Ah, Sonoko, still the master of high school gossip.' Ran smiled, but only for a short moment; she was still in the girls locker room cross-examination.

"So, Ran, tell us." Sonoko continued. "What do you and Shinichi-kun typically do on one of your many nights together? Doing homework?" Sonoko raised on of her fingers to her chin, while the other girls giggled, safe for Kamiko, as that suggestion seemed like most outlandish thing in the world.

"Eating together?" Sonoko said.
"Warmer..." The others girls said.
"Cuddling on the couch?"
"Doing something...naughty?"

Ran shook her head. "Sonoko, Sonoko...truly you haven't lost your touch for drama. It's good to know that our school play is under good care with you." She said, hoping that evading the question would get the other girls off of her.

"Sounds like you're evading the question, Ran." Sonoko said. Damnit. "Come on, you can tell us..."

"W-what?" Ran stuttered.

"If you did something naughty." Maiko said.
"Something more than kissing." Motoka continued.
"Something like-..." Sonoko wanted to continue, but she was interrupted.

"They want to know if you had sex with him." Kamiko suddenly said, her first words in this conversation. Her words made all of the other girls blush and look elsewhere; it seemed like Kamiko's bluntness had struck a nerve. "So? Did you?"

"Did I what?" Ran replied in plain wonder.

"Dear lord, wake up! Did you have sex with Shinichi Kudo?!" Kamiko insisted. Her usual no nonsense attitude and lack of patience were especially showing today.

"Wha...well no...but that's not...I mean, it's not...that doesn't mean...I mean..." Ran stuttered again, the bluntness of the other girl confusing her. It's not like she hadn't thought about that, she was a teenager after all, hormones were most definitely happening, but being asked upfront about it like this wasn't something Ran was comfortable with.

Kamiko sighed. "So, that's a no."

Ran shyly nodded. "Yes, it's a no..." She whispered.

"I suspected as much." Kamiko smirked and put her bag aside, sliding her slender form closer to Ran. She was quite attractive, with long, curly, black hair and a body that made the boys in their classes drool (certain mystery freaks excluded of course); Ran was about on par with her in terms of beauty, while Sonoko was close, but still a step below Ran and Kamiko. Motoka, Maiko and Hikaru weren't too shabby either, but no comparison to the other three. "Don't tell me you haven't thought about it. You're both attractive, you're both seventeen, nothing is standing in your way."

"Well, it's not like it hasn't crossed my mind..." Ran said even more quiet than before, but Kamiko still heard her.

She wrapped an arm around Ran's shoulder, pulling her closer. "Good, that's good. Now, there is something you should know before you do that though..." She said in a condescending voice.

Sonoko raised an eyebrow at the girl who embracing her best friend, almost like a snake. "Hey, hey, what's with the tone? It's not like you're the authority on this topic."

"Silence!" Kamiko hissed at Sonoko. "This is a conversation for women and not girls like you, Sonoko-chan."

"We...we're all the same age here..." Sonoko said, baffled how Kamiko spoke with her all of a sudden.

"Yes, we are." Kamiko nodded. "But the number that determines your age does not determine your maturity. No, that is determined by other things. Sexual activity being one of them. And I have more experience than you with that."

"You did..." Sonoko mumbled.

"Yes, with my boyfriend, Ikema." Kamiko smirked, feeling superior for a reason that only she understood. "So, I'm more of the authority, as you called it, than you. Remind me again, what was the last status with your boyfriend? A shy kiss when you said goodbye to him at the airport?"
Sonoko blushed at the memory and looked away; she never expected the other girl to turn that story against her. Kamiko smirked.

"Hey, you shouldn't talk to Sonoko like that." Ran said, trying to get a bit of distance between her and Kamiko.

"Nevermind her." Kamiko continued. "We were talking about you and Kudo-kun having sex. First thing you've gotta know, it will change everything about your relationship. Kudo-kun will begin to be more possessive, physically and emotionally. The brain of a man is genetically programmed to see their sexual partner as their property; it's a leftover from the beginning of mankind, where that kind of behavior was in order to protect their heritage. Over the centuries, where humanity became civilized, this whole behavior changed its meaning, with the property aspect only becoming less culturally accepted in recent decades. But they can't fight against their genes, so that will always still happen, but in different forms. And brace yourself, the experience will hurt. Even a martial artist like you will have a rough time."

Ran wasn't sure what to make of Kamiko's words. However, the other girls bar Sonoko were listening to her like she was a prophet. "It's...that bad...?" Motoka shyly asked.

"Yes!" Kamiko exclaimed. "It will hurt a lot, it'll be a ravaging experience. But only the first time, it gets better. Eventually. But don't expect him to care about your feelings or about your pain, they will only be distractions for him."

"I don't know..." Ran said. "...if what you're describing can really be applied to people in general...maybe Ikema-kun is like that..." Not hard to imagine for Ran, Kamiko's boyfriend Ikema was a brute from what she could tell. "...but Shinichi and Ikema-kun are not alike."

"Doesn't matter." Kamiko made a waving motion with her hand. "It's the same for every man. Think about the couples you know and you'll see that this is the case for every last one of them." Ran actually wanted to think about that, but Kamiko continued before she could do so. "Kudo-kun might be nice now, but that'll change. Soon after, he'll see you as a doll that is supposed to look nice at his side, so don't forget to smile." Kamiko released Ran from her arms. "But don't hesitate much more now. If you keep him waiting for too long, his brain will see you as a frigid, old hag and he'll ditch you. Doesn't matter what kind of cheesy crap he wrote you on a White Day card or whatever. His instincts will tell him to ditch you, so you give him what he desires."

"It wasn't cheesy..." Ran mumbled and stood up. The only desire she currently felt was to get away from Kamiko. "I better get going. See you all tomorrow."