Izawa was a smooth boy- lean, charismatic, attractive in the way a rattle snake's tail drew attention. He was handsome, too, raven hair with purple eyes, round diamonds like a cauldron that drew the girls in. He was refined, and smart, and the perfect gentleman…
And he had his eyes on her.
She wouldn't have known, probably, had Izawa not gone out of his way to get in her space. He was european, and she knew that, but even so his affection was excessive. He set his hand at the small of her waist to walk her to class, stood behind her as she stewed over a pot of curry in her cooking class, even caressed her cheek in the way a vampire stroked the breast of his meal. The attention unsettled her, not because Izawa was creepy, or because he was the type who knew peering ruttish eyes followed him when he walked, but because he had deemed himself her suitor. That meant, in the simplest terms, that he took to challenging others for her hand (even when the hand wasn't outstretched). This meant that Conan was Number One on his chopping block (and she knew Conan had his eyes on a much stronger hand). Conan seemed annoyed by Izawa's less-than-friendly attempts at rivalry, and terribly amused at the end of each bout because Conan always won.
Izawa challenged him to a match of Daifugō; Conan won.
Izawa challenged him to a European match of Dodgeball; despite having never played before, Conan won
Izawa challenged him to a volleyball match, which was weird because the Shounen Tantei Dan had decided to go during the summer, and he hadn't been invited and was there regardless; Conan won.
Izawa challenged him to a game of football; needless to say, Conan mercilessly won.
The rest of the club had been irritated by the antics at first, well aware of who Ayumi's heart belonged to and the unrequited nature of those feelings. Slowly, somewhere after the seventh lost "man-to-man combat", that irritation evolved into a kind of entertained affinity- because Conan was somehow just that good at everything. Izawa was determined, they'd lend him that, but Ayumi's feelings hadn't changed in ten years, and had persevered even through that depressing period where Conan disappeared for a year. He came back! But not until after Ran had moved out of Kogoro's Agency, and even still, his smiles had become a rare currency. Ayumi still loved him, though, faithfully and without refrain. The three Detective Boys, of who were not directly involved in their relationship, could tell that Conan found the support kind, the nature in which Ayumi typically did things.
He had yet to respond to her Valentine's chocolates a month later on White Day, but he always accepted what she brought him.
(He passed them off to Haibara, who found it both sad that he felt undeserving of the small pink-wrapped box, and that Ayumi's love never so much as sat on his tongue to digest.)
Ayumi, for the most part, tended to avoid Izawa when she had the chance. He was nice, but he was too handsy, and it concerned her on the rare occasion he found her after class and walked her home. It was on one such day that Izawa's brows furrowed, he tilted his head, and then said: "How do you love him so selflessly?"
"Edogawa-san. Why is that even though he doesn't return your feelings, you still love him?"
Ayumi looked away, towards the setting sun, grasped her bag between white fingers and tried to steady her breath. She knew, to some extent, that Conan had yet to give her a response, that she'd been waiting for 10 years already, but she buried the evidence like a guilty man. He hadn't rejected her, after all, so that had to mean there was hope… right? "Maybe not yet, but I have faith that one day he will."
Izawa fell silent. The walk from then on was more quiet than usual, and she walked with a little more tension in her limbs than usual. Her white knuckles had gained back some of their more natural pink, but her nails still dug into her palms and made trenches in her skin. Ten minutes felt closer to twenty, and she thought that maybe her beating heart made the uncomfortable walk go by faster than it might have had he'd tried to strike up another conversation. They rounded the corner, only a few feet away from the sliding doors of her apartment building. Safety was in walking distance, and she felt her step lighten with a briskness she'd lacked the walk home. "Does he deserve that?" She paused.
Izawa's voice betrayed no hesitation on his part, just curiosity, maybe bitterness. "Edogawa. A girl like you is hard to find, Yoshida-san. If you're pouring your soul into loving him, isn't it only right he do the same for you?"
"That's not what love is about…"
"Maybe, but it's awfully wasteful to love someone who loves somebody else."
She whipped around on her heel, eyes wide, legs buckling and bracing to run from a threat she knew would hurt her heart more than kill her balance. Izawa took a preemptive step back, but leveled her with a lidded gaze. He stood with his chin up, looking down from his nose with his hands in his pockets and an air of knowledge about him, knowledge Ayumi wasn't sure she was ready to peek in and see yet. "-somebody else?" She wasn't sure what she asked, just felt the gist of it hit her tongue and leap off her lips. Izawa shrugged.
"You've known him longer than I have, Yoshida-san. You had to have noticed."
"The way he looks at that woman, the striking one with the royal eyes."
Of course she knew, she'd been his friend for a decade and sometimes it felt as though she'd been loving him even longer. She did, however, ignore it; press it down. Sure, Shinichi had broken things off with Ran, told her he'd never be coming back, broke her heart and split her into a million pieces, but she was in the same boat. She still loved a man who'd abandoned her, who didn't love her anymore, maybe never did. Of course she remembered the dark circles under Conan's eyes, that he couldn't sleep, either because Ran-neechan had been crying or because something was stirring his studious mind so completely that it refused to rest. She remembered that it was only a few weeks after that Conan went away, that he left the group and didn't come back for a full year. Ran had stopped crying by then, but she could still see how he looked at her, how his fingers twitched when Ran-neechan looked sad.
She tried to stutter out some form of rebuttal, but no itch at her throat manifested as speech. She gaped like a frog stuck to the ground, and he closed her mouth for her in one hand, delicate fingers pressing against her bottom lip. He frowned, genuinely, she thought. "You deserve so much more than him, Yoshida-san. If you let me, I'd fill that hole in your heart. I'd love you so completely that you'd forget Edogawa existed."
"Izawa-san…" She hated the strain in her words.
He pulled away. "I want you to take tonight to think about it, Yoshida-san. I'll wait for you tomorrow early in the morning, in our homeroom. I want you to come see me."
Despite herself, she nodded.
And that night she found that sleep eluded her.
Conan noticed when Ayumi didn't meet up with the rest of them to walk to school that morning. She hadn't given any explanation, just that she had to get there earlier than usual. He supposed it wasn't that odd, that Ayumi had other friends, that there were a million reasons she may need to go in. No explanation seemed to satiate his natural curiosity, no matter what he came up with. Nothing sounded right, everything felt off, not quite on the mark. His intuition was churning his gut in tortuous circles as he chased his mind's tail.
Upon entering the schoolyard, hundreds of sympathetic faces confirmed his past theories hadn't been right. Girls whispered and cooed and watched him with the cautious scan one would give a live bear, murmuring back and forth to hide the secrets his gut so terribly desired. The boys were better, at least they didn't turn to speak to each other in hushed tones behind polished nails, but they still watched him with some misplaced compassion; it made him twitch. Mitsuhiko suggested that they found out Kogoro nearly lost the agency in a gambling fit, a theory Genta both chuckled at and agreed with. Haibara was oddly quiet, especially with such a brilliant mocking opportunity. He turned his inquisitive eyes on her, and she did the oddest thing- she refused to look at him, only shook her head. Not now, she was saying I'll tell you later.
It wasn't until they'd stopped by their lockers to put their shoes away that a pair of their peers, two girls with ponytails and sad eyes and clasped hands, got the nerve to ask. What they asked, unfortunately for Conan, did little to answer any of his burning questions. One blinked up at him- him, specifically- and spoke in the tiniest, saddest voice: "Are you doing okay, Edogawa-san?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"
The girls exchanged a furtive look, and the other responded in turn. "You don't have to be so strong, Edogawa-kun. We know she meant a lot to you."
His heart dropped. Ran! "W-What?"
(Behind him, Mitsuhiko and Genta seemed to pick up on the dead atmosphere that'd been following Haibara, and even they cast worried glances his way).
The first girl cowered, suddenly shy, and so the other spoke up, set one hand on his arm. He blinked down at it, then looked back at her. She smiled comfortingly at him, or what was meant to be comforting. More than anything, he felt his guts doing topsy turns. She gave his arm a light squeeze as he looked back at her sad eyes.
"Ayumi-chan is breaking up with you to be with Izawa-san. I know, that has to hurt. But it'll be okay!"
He blinked, body tensing and freezing as if his joints had been locked in place.
Then he chuckled. "What? Don't be ridiculous! Ayumi-chan would never…"
The girls only smiled sadly at him as they had the whole of the morning, then wished him well and padded away to go exchange gossipy whispers along with the rest of the class.
("Ayumi-chan looked so sad…"
"Izawa-san better treat her well…")
He scoffed because it didn't matter. He and Ayumi had never been together in the first place, and he often looked forward to the day she'd move on from him (to somebody who could love her as she deserved to be so ardently), and he doubted she'd settle for somebody as insensible and ill-advised as Izawa. It was no secret that Ayumi was sought-after as any beautiful girl would be, and he and the rest of the Detective Boys had been staving off the ill-intentioned pursuers since middle school. Haibara, herself, unintentionally tempted shallow admirers brought on by hormonal greed, but she knew better than their sweetest the many means of weeding them out. The point was, Ayumi had a great many suitors more honest and reputable than Izawa, and he doubted that, if she truly had given up on pursuing him, she'd pick Izawa out of the thousands. Even she had more sense than that, knew well that Izawa's hands were rapacious and swinish, and that his intentions were far from honest or decent.
(He didn't want to think that giving up on him would hurt her so terribly that her natural good sense would wash up and down the allegorical drain.)
(He didn't want to admit what he already knew.)
So when class started, and Ayumi seemed distant, he tried to ignore it. When she didn't smile as she usually did, when she looked defeated and her shoulders fell to her desk, when she spent class staring down at her desk with a sallow look in her eyes, he tried to ignore it.
He realized, when Izawa joined them for lunch that day, and he slipped an arm over her waist and grabbed greedily at her hip- and she let him- that he couldn't ignore it.
(She didn't want his hand there, but he told her how gorgeous she was and fed her a rice ball with a kiss, so she let him be.)
Mitsuhiko and Genta wouldn't stop glaring, and Haibara pretended she was alone in the clubroom with her sandwich. Conan found his eyes wandering to Izawa's hand, and the way it inched downward as if testing her; he wasn't sure he wanted to know if Ayumi would pass.
Weeks passed by, Ayumi (dolefully) called Izawa her "boyfriend". He seemed to be around every moment of every day, and sometimes he'd spontaneously call her to invite her out on a "romantic" cruise dinner. He tagged along on the cases they traveled for, despite the many, many misgivings of Mitsuhiko and Genta. Conan stayed quiet, but made it more than clear he could take or leave Izawa's presence. Ayumi laughed good-naturedly and tried to convey this to Izawa, but the man was as oblivious as he was shifty, or he was as miserly as he was incompetent- he wasn't sure which was worse.
The few times Izawa couldn't make it for one reason or another, Ayumi seemed different; her relief was palpable.
Haibara wouldn't tell him anything, cited "Girl-Code" as her reasoning, but he could hear her asking Ayumi if Izawa had done anything uncouth. Ayumi seemed to find solace when she shook her head, and he heard her tell Haibara that he hadn't done anything untoward… but she was waiting for it.
(Haibara reminded her that chastity belts were very much a thing, as was pepper spray, and Ayumi laughed, but she saw Ayumi buy some from the convenience store the moment they got back to town.)
Ayumi was most herself when she was alone with them, when they were in the throws of a case. She smiled like she used to, screamed and clung to him like when she was seven (he told himself that he was just happy she was acting like herself again, that's why he squeezed her hand, and it's why he felt colder when the threat leveled out and she let go). She kept Mitsuhiko's and Genta's fighting in line, she teased Agasa, did everything she hadn't done since she started with Izawa. She spent more time than she used to with Conan, brushed shoulders but didn't cling unless she was scared- he found himself glad for it, didn't question it.
Until he did.
"A weekend?" Ran's eyes lit up as Sonoko sat small cups of tea at the table. She clasped Ayumi's hands in her own, oblivious to the dead-eyed look from Conan or the anxious hiss from Haibara. Ayumi may not have been so oblivious, but she perhaps feigned ignorance; knowing would make everything so much harder.
(Sure, Conan didn't like Izawa, but that didn't mean he was jealous. Thinking that way would ruin her before the despondency in his eyes ever did. She needed to get it through her head: He didn't love her. He'd never love her. Izawa at least pretended.)
(He damn well saw that hesitance in her smile.
He was a detective, there was no hiding that look from him. She should have known that.
Why didn't she know that?)
"Yes! His uncle owns a small cabin on the beach. He wants to take me." Ran usually would have seen that dullness in her eyes, picked up on it from a mile away as was Ran's empathic nature, but she was too excited for her friend, more excited than her friend.
"So romantic! Izawa-san really knows how to woo a lady!"
Conan scoffed, and Haibara shot him an apologetic look.
"So," Sonoko plopped upon the couch, flashed the ring on her finger with a curled strand over her hand. "Does this mean you need a woman's advice on special sexy undies?"
Conan spit out his tea and coughed like a parched man, while Haibara nearly choked on her cup's rim then dabbed at her lips with a napkin.
Ayumi's face went a very special kind of red, the candy apple cinnamon kind with her big blue eyes looking apprehensively at anything but her -neechan's. "D-Do you think I should? Izawa and I haven't done a-anything like that!"
Ran giggled into her hand. Sonoko snorted: "He's taking you away for a romantic weekend on the beach! Sounds to me like he has some plans to show you how deep that devotion of his runs!" Ayumi's hesitance, as restrained as it had been before, grew three sizes and swallowed her. She sat stone solid on the couch, staring down into her tea with frantic eyes and twitching fingers. Conan looked at her, watched her tense and curl in on herself, wanting despite himself to set a hand on her leg and tell her that she'd be okay- that Izawa couldn't make her do something she didn't want to do.
Haibara, as close to Ayumi as she was, cleared her throat. "Ayumi-chan, you don't have to do anything if it makes you uncomfortable."
"No, not at all!" Ran moved forward and set a hand at her winded shoulder, royal eyes batting full with sincerity and sympathy. "If he truly loves you, he'll understand!"
Sonoko muttered to herself as she sipped her tea. "Not sure why you wouldn't wanna do something, just look at the guy."
Ayumi smiled, reflecting, in part, Ran's congeniality, but her hands still trembled at her cup and her eyes were devoid of that warmth.
(Which was a lot to say; Ayumi was always warm, so warm, so compassionate that it enveloped one merely to look at her.)
It was the next day that Conan overheard Ayumi saying to Haibara: "If I'm going to be with Izawa, I should give all of myself to him…"
Haibara, for certain, discouraged that train of thought, but Ayumi seemed convinced that she needed to make a sacrifice to keep him.
(The thought of Izawa's creepy little hands anywhere near her made him want to kick a football right into that conniving face of his. He had no right to make Ayumi feel so indebted to him- she was a girl who's sole existence drew love. Izawa was far from the only man with amorous thoughts of her. Why didn't she know that? Why didn't she see that?)
Intimacy wasn't something she ever thought about- well, not much. Not with any frequency. It was something that occurred to her as a concept when Mitsuhiko stared at Haibara, Haibara in a dress so tight that the slit up her leg was hardly as revealing. It was something that came up as a brief reprieve, a daydream of sorts, when she thought she saw Conan eyeing her at the beach, or when he held her to him during a case, protected her, pressed against her until her entire body felt red-hot and it burned just to readjust in hopes of making him more comfortable.
Funny, then, that it took her until she was staring down at her suitcase, packed full with clothes and a pair of creamy, frilly underwear with red ribbons and lace, to realize Conan was the only one she ever thought of in that way. Izawa, as duty-bound as she felt to him, was not the one in her heart. It was unfair to him to force herself to be his in body when her heart belonged to someone else entirely, and that's what she told him.
At 8:00 at night, Friday, December 1st, the trains pulled into the station and sat draining hot air and smoke. Snow was only beginning to fall, looking whiter and shining with more brilliance than it had in year's worth of her recent memory. They stood at the entryway, bags packed, ready to go, and she looked up at him and said: "I'm sorry."
"I don't think I can do this, Izawa-san. You've been good to me, but…"
"Ayumi," he took her hands in his own, pulled her to him, and instead of feeling uneasy, she felt sad. "If this is about Edogawa-"
"It is, I won't hide that." She slid her hands, as gently as possible, out of his, then thought about it, and cupped his naked ones between her mittens. "But being in love has never been about being loved back. I should have never expected Conan-kun to return my feelings, and I'm sorry I pretended to return yours." She squeezed him, tried to warm his cold hands between her own when she knew they'd stay frozen long after she let go. He was staring at her, like he'd expected this, like he was still disappointed. She found it hard to look into his fatigued eyes, partly because she didn't want to see the hurt, and partly because she was scared that she wouldn't. "My heart, it's his. It always has been. It doesn't matter if he loves somebody else. The point of love is just to love, and if he can remain selfish, then I'll be happy to let him." She smiled, for the first time in a long time, genuinely. "I love Conan-kun, and if I die loving him, that would be enough."
He said nothing. He just took his hands from hers and turned away, picked up his bags and left her standing there at the doors. He walked out, and a cold burst of air hit her face and jolted her rigid bones in the heated conditioning. She clasped her arms to her chest, held herself against the frosty air that didn't seem to dispel. She hung her head and tried not to cry, because she'd known.
She'd known Izawa hadn't loved her, she'd known, even so, that she'd sentenced herself to a forsaken love, and the worst part was that she was fine with it. I'm so pathetic. She wondered what she'd do with the lingerie in her bag, the cream frills she'd never use, and if she could sell them. Maybe Haibara would want them? Her eyes burned. But that lingerie wasn't Haibara's style. Maybe it would be best to just throw them out, toss them in her kitchen's garbage and watch the dump truck take it away?
She clasped at her chest and bent over, exhaling, squeezing her eyes shut, knees knocking together. She realized, startlingly enough, that she couldn't breath. Opened her mouth, but she could only feel a broken sob wrack through her chest and knock around her throat, strangled and low. It occurred to her that she was in public, that parting lovers and happy families were parting for the winter, that they could see her no matter how invisible she felt, but she couldn't help it. She struggled with herself in the middle of the entryway.
"Sir! Have you seen a girl? Blue eyes, short brown hair?"
Her eyes widened, and though the ache in her chest had far from subsided, that voice made her feel a little lighter. She whipped around, so fast her heels nearly gave out from under her, and saw him there. Conan stood at the ticket stand, breath heaving, eyes frantic, fingers twitching at the counter. The man with the mustache on the other side found her first, pointed at her with a small, confounded smile. Conan's blues were on her in that same moment, looking relieved, looking still panicked- looking like he needed to talk to her. She took a few calming breaths, then tilted her head at him, looked up at him with pinched brows. "Ayumi-chan!"
He scrambled down the lime-lighted, tile staircase, feet scruffing the orange floor carelessly as he ran to her. She looked up, then down at him as he reached her, hands twisting tautly at her fleece jacket. He looked worse-for-wear the closer he got, gasping for air, hands on his knees before her. His hair was mussed with flakes of snow, blue jacket haphazardly thrown over his arms, falling off his shoulder. His jeans were wrinkled, shoes tied in weak knots, coming undone as he stood in place. She teased her lip. "Conan-kun…?"
His head shot up, eyes decisive and steadfast, glaring up with grinding teeth. She swallowed hard, surprised. "I said don't go with that perverted idiot!"
"I mean it!" He waved one hand to the side, brushed away a man who wasn't even there to defend himself as he gathered himself and stood tall. "He's using you! Can't you see that? Why are you going out with a guy like that? He just wants to-!"
"Conan-kun, I know." His blue eyes batted as he processed, body going stiff and upright. His curved lips wanted to ask, but she shook her head. "I've always been well aware what Izawa-san's intentions were."
"But…" He blinked dumbly, then his nose scrunched, and not for the first time, he pouted. "Then why are you going with him?"
"I'm not." She gestured behind her.
The train's engine roared, and somewhere behind the swinging gold-wood doors, the train departed. Things fell silent between them as women and children waved their husbands and fathers goodbye for a company trip, as lovers parted and cried or sat at the windows snuggling into each other. One could faintly hear the conductor, somewhere under the steam and horns, as the train pulled out of the station. Ayumi watched Conan digest the information from under her eyelashes, dropping the hand she'd gestured with, slumping her shoulders so that he didn't see how tense she was. "Wait, you-?"
"I broke up with Izawa-san."
She nearly laughed, because it should have been obvious, and he was such an idiot, but even she was having a hard time understanding herself. Maybe it warranted explaining, but dammit all she was in no mood. She was in pain. Her head hurt, her heart hurt, and even now her eyes burned and everything told her she needed to cry, but she wouldn't do that here. Not after she'd made her choice. It wasn't anything for him to feel guilty about, so she'd wait until she was alone. She laughed, humorlessly, and hung her head.
"You know why…"
He said nothing, and they stood there in the entryway and she had her eyes on the exit. "I think I want to go home now, Conan-kun."
He opened his mouth again, then closed it, swallowing hard.
"Not alone, you don't."
He grabbed her hand, turned on his heel and made for the exit. She grabbed her luggage as an afterthought. "C-Conan-kun?"
"Shut up and let me take you home!" Her face went red. He paused. "Not like that!"
Took her home he did, to the agency where he stripped her of her jacket and told her to take a warm shower. His tone demanded there be no argument, so she did as directed.
(Kogoro, not a man to be home alone on a Friday night, was out gambling, which was good because she would have felt much more improper taking a shower with him there.)
She stepped out of a mist-filled bathroom into the living room, drying her hair with a towel, clad in one of Ran's old nightgowns, sighing at the relief. This felt right, being there with Conan instead. It wasn't romantic, and it would never be, but she didn't care if it meant her love made her this warm when he was near. This felt natural, normal, and it was the most she'd felt like herself in months. "Neh, Conan-kun? It's pretty late. Did you want to order something to eat?"
There was a cough somewhere behind her, and she turned to the kitchen with a start, noticing for the first time that the lights were out. Conan stood behind her, glancing away as he coughed into his fist, looking pensive at the end of the hallway. She tilted her head, and he glared at her. "Don't you smell it, barou? I already had something ready." He turned his shoulder, gestured for her to come closer, and at this she found the small square table dressed up with two plates.
The room stood lit only by the small wax candle sitting atop the table. The meal was simple, something Ran clearly cooked up the last time she'd been there, but the rice and curry looked professionally placed at either end, and it smelled amazing. Her eyes widened, and he coughed again. "I just figured you'd appreciate something like this after your romantic weekend got cancelled." He said 'romantic' like it was profanity, but she hardly noticed over the tears raising in her red weary eyes.
She dropped the towel and launched herself full-force into his arms, sent him spiraling a few steps back as he caught her. She laughed and smiled and nuzzled into his chest, drying her tears in his shirt as she tugged at his back. He went rigid in her embrace, but moments later he went slack, wrapping his arms around her, pulling her into him as he set his chin upon her head.
"Conan-kun! You didn't have to do this…"
"Well," his grip tightened. "You said it was my fault, didn't you, barou? Of course I'm gonna try and fix it."
Of course she'd never said that, not explicitly, but it still meant the world to her that he'd heard it. He knew how she felt. He wasn't trying to avoid it, wasn't trying to make her stop loving him, and she knew that was all she could ask for. Maybe she'd wasted years hoping he'd return her feelings, but she'd also never told him how she felt explicitly. She didn't want his rejection, knew it was coming, knew it would happen eventually. She'd always been scared of it, and yet there he was, apologizing to her, fixing her dinner and letting her feel what she'd always felt for him. She pulled away, looked up at him, smiled through her watery eyes. "Conan-kun, thank you."
He raised an eyebrow at her, but there was a redness to his cheeks that would have been easier to see in the candlelight.
From there on, Ayumi asked no more questions and sought not for answers. She and Haibara made chocolates and passed them to Conan and Mitsuhiko (and made an obligatory one for Genta); Conan accepted her Valentine's chocolates that year, and nearly bit Genta's hand off when he tried stealing one.
Boys asked Ayumi out, regularly, but she shot each new contender down without so much as a second glance. Tall boys, well-off boys, smart boys, bad boys, all tried their hand at her heart, but she held no intention of exploring what love with any of them could be like. He wouldn't say it, but Conan was grateful for that.
Izawa faded into the not-so-distant past, still a peer of theirs, and still a playboy surrounded by girls, but he kept his hands and eyes off of Ayumi. He'd somewhat made an attempt at Haibara, but Mitsuhiko was much scarier than all laws of nature said he should be, and Haibara was even more intimidating- he didn't try that again.
When scared, Ayumi clung to Conan as always, but never hung on longer than necessary. There were no more kisses on the cheek (aside from the following Christmas where they got caught under the mistletoe ), and if another girl showed interest, she didn't impede. She knew who Conan loved, and if she couldn't win his heart, there was no way in hell a total stranger would. She was right, of course, but he still looked to her for help when one of these girls got a little too touchy with him, help she only gave when necessary (as was in the case of one American wrestler).
When Ran got married, she asked Ayumi and Haibara to join her bridal party. They wore floor-length dresses with sweetheart necklines, and looked beautiful as they made way for the blushing bride coming down the aisle. Ayumi tried to leave Conan be that night, but it was him who followed her around. She took it that he didn't want to be alone, and he all but admitted she'd guessed right. She kept him company as Ran had her first dance with Araide as wife and husband, and then danced with him until even the bartender was packing to go home.
The Shounen Tantei Dan graduated, headed off to University. They all flocked to the same one, of course. Genta majored in Culinary, Mitsuhiko and Haibara in Chem, and Ayumi hadn't declared a major yet. Conan, of course, majored in Criminal Justice.
It was in the second semester that a pretty girl named Kotonoha started paying particular attention to Conan, and he began paying attention to her. She looked like Ran, similar eyes, same body, maybe not as empathetic, though. She was a nice girl, just rambunctious, and a tad arrogant, but she got along with the rest of the detective boys.
Of course, Ayumi gave everyone her best smile, pretended she didn't see Conan eyeing Kotonoha from the side, that she didn't see him get jealous when guys on her volleyball team approached her. After all, she knew things would end like this- it didn't make it any less painful, but she'd known. Sometimes she wondered what would have happened if she'd gone with Izawa.
It was February when Conan sat her down for coffee and cake pops at the local cafe to ask her why he didn't get chocolates this year. He was pouting in the seat across from her, petulant like a spoiled child, and she laughed to herself. "Conan-kun, I didn't think you'd want any this year."
"W-Well I didn't! But-!"
"Okay, okay, I'll make you some! You're acting like a big baby…"
"N-No, it's way too late for that now, just tell me why you didn't in the first place!"
She blinked, mug half-raised to her lips. He glared at her.
"Did you not get any from Kotonoha-chan?"
She turned away, laughing to herself. "No, no! I just thought…"
His eyes softened, and he leaned further into the small square table, closer to her. "Ayumi-chan…"
"Would you look at the time! I'm late for class!"
"A-Ayumi-chan! It's a Saturday!"
She left out the door with a small jingle, and he watched her go. She later gave him chocolates, no longer in a small pink box, but in a tupperware container that screamed "obligatory". He'd frowned down at it and shook it a few times as if something magical would pop out of it (like he believed in that anyway). It wasn't like she treated him any differently, but everyone could see that she distanced herself from him when Kotonoha was around. He liked the way Kotonoha pressed against his arm, but his attention started to waver, started to fall on Ayumi, who always stood at the other side of the small room. He could hear Mitsuhiko asking why, and she answered in the smallest of voices: "I don't want her to think we're something we're not."
Selfless, always so damn selfless. She couldn't have told him? Why hadn't she said anything? She was an enigma to him, a mind he'd never understand, not entirely. He tried a few times to talk to her about it, about her avoiding him, about the sacrifice she'd made after sacrifice, but she never let him. She hung up the phone and later pretended she'd lost signal; she made a mess of her food and told him they'd talk later; she interrupted him to start up a new conversation with complete strangers. He got it, she didn't want to talk about it. She wanted it to go left unsaid, just as it always had, but he was just about done with that.
It was the middle of March when he flagged her down on the roof of her dorm rooms. She came up the stairwell door to find him standing there with two hot chocolates, and sat down with him on the concrete floor. They watched the sky together in silence, orange and pink with the smallest hint of blue, hiding out over the horizon. The sun was setting, and the world around them grew darker with each passing second, but he didn't need to see anything but her.
"You don't need to worry about me." She smiled and took a sip of her hot chocolate, blue eyes swimming as pools of milky brown danced against her porcelain cup. "I'm happy for you, Conan-kun. I was worried, you know… that you wouldn't let yourself like somebody again."
He glanced at her from the side, scoffing as he popped a marshmallow from the bag he brought into his mouth. "Why would you think that?"
Ayumi giggled, then wiped at one of her eyes with her baggy sweater's sleeve. "Sometimes you find somebody to love, and you never love anybody else."
They both fell silent. The sun, off in the distance, set over their university's hills. Lights of small homes and apartments switched on, and shadows of lives danced in the streets as everyone rushed to get home. Ayumi held her mug to her chest, and smiled even though she didn't really feel like smiling, because she'd learned long ago that that's what love meant to her. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she wasn't about to hide them this time. She was strong, he knew this, and he knew she loved him. If Kotonoha made him happy, she'd get over it. She'd continue to love him in silence as she had all her life- nothing was changing, she'd just get to see him happy now when she thought she never would before. She just wondered, if he could eventually love somebody else, why hadn't it been her?
She turned her head, and he pressed his lips to hers. He'd tilted his head, set a hand to her leg and slyly, his tongue pressed a marshmallow by her lips. He sucked at her bottom lip to pull it closed, moving away only when he was sure she'd swallowed it. Her eyes were wide, but he'd been expecting that. He glared at her, nose scrunching. "Since you haven't let me talk for the last month, this was the only way I could figure to give you your damn White Day gift." He reached behind him and plopped the bag in her lap, unblinkingly settling back into his place and crossing his arms. "It's nothing compared to all the chocolates you've ever given me, but it's a start, and I needed to give you something… something so that you didn't think…"
Ayumi raised one trembling hand to her lips, then looked at him. "What?"
His mind had caught up to his body, or maybe the other way around, as his cheeks had started to burn under the heat of scrutiny. He sideyed her. "That you're the only one who feels that way."
She batted her eyes at him, wide, confused. She looked down at her lap, one hand at her jaw, the other fondling the bag of marshmallows he'd set on her lap.
"You really thought, after all these years, I wouldn't fall for you?" He scoffed. "Talk about stupid! Like there's a girl in this world who could measure up to you!"
"C-Conan-kun…" She looked at him then, speechless, stuttering, fumbling with her hands and the bag and her words. "Y-You… you really mean that? You're… you're not just saying this, are you?" It was a stupid thing to ask, especially considering it was Conan, but reality had a funny way of messing with her, and she wasn't sure what she was hearing was real. Had he put something weird from Agasa Hakase in the hot chocolate?
His face went red. "Barou! You think I'd lie to you about this? Give me those marshmallows back!" He lunged for the bag, and she pulled away.
"No! They're mine! You gave them to me!"
"And I can take them back, since you think I would and all!"
"Okay, okay! I get it!"
He retreated, and she sat up straight, one hand cupping her cheek as she stared off into space. He clicked his tongue. "Honestly, it's been you since that Izawa guy started sticking his nose in your business."
"Oi, Oi, did you not hear me the first time?"
"I heard you, I heard you…" Ayumi smiled, one of those lip-busting ones, the kind that made her cheeks hurt the bigger it got. "I'm just so happy!"
Conan raised an eyebrow, trying to look cool despite how hot his entire body was feeling. Ayumi gasped and reached into the bag, plucking a marshmallow out before leaning over to him with a small smile. "Hey, Conan-kun? Wanna share my White Day gift with me, then?" His eyes widened, body seizing up as though he hadn't had his tongue in her mouth seconds ago. Still, he nodded and squeezed his eyes shut. Ayumi giggle and pressed the marshmallow to his lips, kissing him when they parted to take it. He raised his hands and ran them through her hair, pulled her closer as he got braver. They pulled away for only a moment, looking at each other eye-to-eye. She smiled, and so did he, then he dipped his chin down to give her another kiss.