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Piece By Piece

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But piece by piece he collected me
Up off the ground where you abandoned things, yeah
Piece by piece he filled the holes
That you burned in me at six years old
And you know
He never walks away...
He takes care of me
He loves me
Piece by piece he restored my faith...

- Kelly Clarkson, Piece by Piece


They were both drunk. She could barely stand and he could hardly talk, and yet they ended up in bed together.

She didn't remember much, flying limbs in a dark room, bruises on her thighs, nails down his back. She shouldn't have had that much; she had a job interview first thing in the morning. It was still dark when she woke up, and her head was still turning and her throat was parched and her lips were sticky. She shook her head and tried to place herself, because she couldn't remember anything. The bed was firmer than her own, she knew that much, and the room was too hot compared to the icy 70 degrees she kept hers at. She yawned and stretched her arms, eyes widening as she realized that, not only was the long-sleeved dress she'd been wearing nowhere on her body, but there was a heat behind her. Her mind, of course, went racing. There were so many people at the party last night, so many last-years celebrating graduation. Ai would never let her live it down, Mitsuhiko and Genta would want this guy dead-- Conan would know! Oh, what would he think of her? And to think she'd been making progress! Ten years of trying to confess, ten years of dates-that-weren't-technically-dates and-- and--!

She bit down on her lips and tried to keep from screaming, inched her head to look over her shoulder. To her surprise (and glee, and confusion, and mild terror), Edogawa Conan himself laid fast asleep. His hair was a mess on the pillow they shared, sticking up in thousands of different directions, tangled and mussed and wild like Kaito Kid's. His glasses were gone, but she knew that button nose anywhere, knew that warm arm (which she'd just then realized was) over her hips. He pulled her closer in his sleep, pressed his nose to her neck and set his flat palm against her lower stomach. She nearly squealed.

And then she remembered that she had an interview in-- she checked the clock on his nightstand-- two hours, and promptly slid out of bed with all the dexterity her decade's detective work had afforded her. Conan "humph"d in his sleep, but the arm that'd been over her waist flopped to the bed with a plop. She hurriedly pulled on her dress, which was haphazardly thrown at the bedside, and pulled up her underwear, which was (to her mortification) hanging over his doorknob. She pressed a kiss to his head and bolted for the front door of his dorms.

He'd been with her, even drunkenly, and that had to mean he felt something for her, right? She knew Conan, knew he would never let himself do something like that if he didn't feel genuinely, six shots of tequila or no. She used that boost of happiness to dress well for her interview, nail it, and get the job, so by 5:00 the following evening, she was over the moon. The Shounen Tantei Dan met up as usual to flick through some possible cases, maybe solve them if they were too easy, and she came bearing gifts- pastries from her favorite bakery and a skip in her step. She swung the door open with a wide smile to find Mitsuhiko and Genta snickering as loudly as possible at a very hungover Conan, who sat with his hands and elbows propping up his head. Ai sat at the windowsill, watching with some amusement as Conan groaned and curled in on himself. Ayumi giggled, went to hand Conan a pastry with a teasing hand. "Neh, Conan-kun, you probably want to eat some bread!"

"Not now, Ayumi-chan…" He waved a hand. "I have to figure out what happened last night."

Her hand paused. "You don't remember?"

"Not at all. I did something stupid, I just know it, but I can't-- think!" He tugged at his hair manically, and Mitsuhiko threw his head back and cackled. None of them knew, of course, what he'd done the night before, because they'd all tapped out early, but she knew, and she wasn't sure at this point whether or not to tell him.

"Well if it helps, your social media is fine, and Ran-neechan didn't get any weird texts!"

Haibara raised an eyebrow and reached for her phone. "I got an odd voice message from you at about 1am, Edogawa-kun, though you were far too drunk to be coherent enough for me to piece together much of anything."

He groaned and slammed his head on the table.

Once he got some food in his system, and a very full helping of water, Conan was well enough to explain that he woke up in bed completely nude, but with no company, and that the last thing he remembered was watching one of his dorm mates doing a keg stand. As such, he (hoped he) hadn't slept with anybody, but had, in fact, drunkenly stripped in front of his whole dorm-- because they'd all snickered at him when he woke up that morning and wouldn't tell him why. He expressed great relief that he hadn't been with anybody, said that he wouldn't know what Ran-neechan would think.

Ayumi didn't have the heart to tell him he'd spent the night holding her.

The further away the night got, the more she remembered-- the way he kissed her, her stumbling into him as they headed for his bedroom, both of them laughing until they lost the fits in sloppy kisses and wandering hands. In the mirror, she saw handmarks and bruises at her hips where he'd pinned her to the bed, remembered how she got the scrapes on her knees. It made her blush, but more so it made her feel ashamed. They'd both been drunk, but she'd been so happy that morning, and the mere thought of having been with anybody… it caused him pain. So she hid it, pretended that he hadn't left marks all over her body, wore thick clothes even in the summer heat. She tried to transition back, back to the way things used to be between them. If she held his arm too long, or stood too close to him, he didn't seem to notice.

A month later, things got worse.

Conan, waltzing into the club room, announcing that he and Ran were together. Ai seemed unbothered, because of course she did, and Mitsuhiko and Genta expressed some amount of disbelief. Ayumi, for the most part, tried to block out the memory that was coming back of that night: the moment he kissed her and called her Ran.

She kept quiet, still. It could be her little secret, as much as it broke her heart. Conan didn't need to know, and Ran certainly didn't need to know. So she kept her mouth shut and smiled when people expected her to smile, and encouraged Conan when he was trying to decide where to take Ran for dinner. She pretended she was okay when she really, really, really was anything but. She took longer showers and turned the heat so high it left blisters on her skin, blisters she made the mistake of not covering only once. Ai saw it, asked her about it, and because it was on her forearm, she could say she'd burned herself while cooking. But she continued to take those hot showers and wash herself with as many exfoliating soaps as possible, and she let the blood wash down the drain so she could cover the picked scabs with concealer.

She started eating more, gaining weight. One night, Genta and her went out to lunch and she managed to scarf down more food than him-- than Genta. She stepped on the scale each morning and found her heart sinking in her chest, and yet she couldn't stop eating. She ate twice the helpings at breakfast, snuck candy bars while they were on a case, found herself spending more than was (probably) socially acceptable at her favorite bakery on the way home from her internship. She tried to hide the weight gain under baggier clothes, frill tops, long skirts, things she usually only wore on days she had to do laundry. Thank kami, it wasn't noticeable in her thighs or legs or arms, just her stomach and her feet. She wondered if she should see a doctor about that swelling, so she did.

He told her she was pregnant.

Two months after that night, Conan and Ran were still very happy together, very much in love, and Ayumi was packing her bags and getting the hell out of Tokyo.

Conan wasn't stupid. She'd get bigger, and bigger, and eventually the baby would be born. Everyone would want to know who the father is, and she knew he'd figure it out. That theory of his, where he stripped in front of all of his dorm mates, was nothing but thinly veiled denial of what he already knew, and if she popped out a baby exactly nine months after, he'd know it was his. He'd feel obligated to be there. Ran would probably be upset. She could ruin their relationship, all of the happiness that she knew in her heart of hearts that he'd wanted all along. So she did the only thing she could do. She packed her bags, left a note telling them she was safe (along with her badge and phone), and skipped town.

She ran to the other side of the country, where nobody knew her, dyed her hair blonde and got hired at a small insurance company. It wasn't at all what she wanted to do, but she was good at it, and it paid the bills for the small apartment she'd purchased. She got along reasonably well with her coworkers, though she often turned down offers to drink after work. She bought a new cell phone and started preparing for the baby. Putting together a crib all by her lonesome was… not easy, and she may have apologized to her baby a great many times for the curse words she found so fluently coming out of her mouth. God, she hoped that wouldn't be the case when the baby came.

She spent most of her nights curled up on the floor in front of her 26'' television, reading guides on parenting while some bad dramas played in the background; they made her feel a little better, like maybe her life wasn't as much of a mess as it felt like it was. Sometimes she emailed her parents through her new account, told them it was her, that she was safe despite what they may have been hearing. She'd deleted her old email, couldn't bear to see if her internship had accepted her resignation, or if her friends had gotten desperate enough to message her. She was still eating as much as she had been before she left, and she hoped it wouldn't translate to some serious weight gain when the baby came.

She got bigger every week, and she swore that she could feel the baby moving. She didn't know what she would name it, yet; she wanted the gender to be a surprise. If it was a girl, she was thinking something cute, like Aimi-chan, something that meant "love", because she knew, preemptively, her baby would need every sign possible that it wasn't unwanted. She hoped that her love would be enough, that maybe if it wasn't, she'd meet a man who'd be willing to help, or just a really good roommate. She was no fool to the strain that lay ahead of her, she just hoped to shield the baby from most of it. If it was a boy… well, she had a few names she thought of. Yamato… Ryu… part of her wanted to settle on Conan's namesake, Arthur.

Her bruises were long gone by the fourth month, and she'd stopped hiding her stomach under her clothes. Her coworkers asked her when she was due, and she told them February, because that was about when the doctors anticipated her water breaking. They asked her if her boyfriend was handling it well, and she laughed and told them that he didn't know yet. They didn't need to know that she was single. As it was, the female staff started whispering to her, telling her to make him take responsibility for the life he'd helped create. If they'd known the truth…

Her parents told her in one email that Haibara was just about losing her mind with worry, that she called them every day to ask if she'd come home. Ran stopped by at random intervals, quick little pit stops to drop off cookies, but mainly to ask questions and (not as stealthily as she thought she was) stick her nose around the apartment to see if they were hiding her. Conan came with her sometimes, but neither of them ever found anything they might have been looking for. Conan and the rest of the Shounen Tantei Dan had taken to tracing her debit card purchases, which she'd thankfully seen coming halfway out of town. She'd stopped to pull cash out of an ATM, opened up a new card at a separate bank while she was at it. The last charge they'd have seen would have been from the night she left, a charge at a convenience store in Kyoto. It was because of this that Heiji-niisan had apparently been pulled into the search party, but he had come up dry. She asked her parents how Conan was, and they told her he was mad. He had a permanent scowl on his face, spent all his time trying to track her down. She told them to tell him: "I'm sorry, don't waste your time on me."

Then she told her parents she didn't want to hear anything else.

She considered telling her parents, at the very least, that she was pregnant, but she knew her mother had a slippery tongue and her father had a history of drunkenly infodumping, so she refrained.

On October 13th, four or five months into her pregnancy, she bumped into a tall, handsome man at the grocery store. He was tan, and had crystal blue eyes with deep hair, and he took one look at her and offered to help her home. His name was Hideki, and he was a police officer, pretty low in the ranks, but he was a genuine man, and clearly kind- enough to help her walk home with all her groceries on his arms. She tried to take some, but he told her it was his duty to help. He walked her to the door, even helped her put the groceries away. He looked around her small apartment, with a half-put-together crib and one small futon, and asked where the father was. She saw no reason to lie; she told him that the father didn't know, that he was in love with another woman, that she was a single mother getting ready to give birth in five months.

Hideki became a staple of her life from then on, put together the rest of her crib (which apparently she had been doing all wrong before), helped her with her groceries regularly, made her dinner and brought it over, or invited her over to his place. They were friends, good friends, and she was incredibly thankful for him. He introduced her to some of his friends from work, and she actually went out with them to drink (she was restricted to one glass of red wine, as it was good for the baby), and they all ordered a small cake and split it across the table. She looked at Hideki and smiled at him, and he smiled right back and ruffled her hair.

He surprised her with some baby-related gifts-- bottles, onesies, pacifiers, even a high chair. She thanked him profusely and hugged him and they spun around her small apartment, the one that started to feel a little bigger every day. She asked him, once, why he was being so kind to her, and he shook his head and told her his mom had been a single mother, that he remembered what she'd gone through raising him, that her perseverance made him want to protect people like her for a living. Ayumi called herself his "Little Pet Project", and he objected every time.

The time flew by, and before she knew it, she was sitting at her desk, barely able to fit, with a 6-month-pregnant stomach sitting atop her bladder. She was still doing amazing work, she was told, and her coworkers were kind enough to throw her a baby shower. She cried and felt terrible about avoiding all of them, decided that, if this was her new life, she couldn't act like it was temporary anymore. They had virgin drinks and ate cake and made fun of each other, mostly made fun of her and her big, round stomach. She slapped the guy who made that joke with a pillow from the break room couch.

That's why it was such a surprise when one of her coworkers fucking dropped dead in the middle of the room.

Hideki, of course, showed up with his chief, started taking evidence of the crime scene. He stopped her at the door and demanded she get herself checked out, because for all they know, the tea was poisoned. Ayumi reminded him that she's not even supposed to have tea. He said it may have been the cake; Ayumi said she refused the piece in favor of puking in the bathroom, being pregnant and all. He sighed, and accused her of being difficult, which she admitted to. He waved her off and told her to go sit with the rest of her (still alive) coworkers, but if she needed anything to grab him.

"How long do you think it will take to get poison-testing done?"

"I doubt we'll even need that. Apparently some famous Big City detective was in town. He's here to solve it personally!"

Her heart sank in her chest.

She steadied herself and peeked past Hideki's shoulder and found exactly what she was scared of. Conan himself stood over the body, posed in that Sherlock Holmes squat with his chin in one hand. Ran was behind him, frowning at the body and nodding along to whatever it was the chief was saying. They hadn't noticed her yet, clearly, and she was hoping that they wouldn't. She waved at Hideki and bolted for the waiting room they'd stuffed all the employees into for the next three or so hours. He was confused, for sure, but he didn't ask.

As she sat there in the waiting room, holding her stomach, glancing nervously between her terrified coworkers, she chased her own damn tail. They'd want to ask her questions, they'd know her name-- why hadn't she changed her name? She squeezed her shirt in her hands and rocked herself back and forth in the seat, mind in a wreck, running, making her boil up in a cold sweat. What could she do? She wasn't allowed to leave the vicinity, and asking to do so would make her more suspect, which was the opposite of what she wanted-- and she wasn't even the murderer! A few of her coworkers noticed her breathing, or rather that she wasn't breathing at all, and took to comforting her, setting warm hands at her back, soothing her beating heart with calming strokes at the top of her rib cage. She tried to calm down, she really did, but panic attacks don't work like that.

She got dizzy, and her vision blanked, and when her eyes saw more than black again, she was on the floor. One of the girls ran to the door, screaming for Hideki: "Hideki-kun! Hideki-kun! It's Ayumi-chan! There's something wrong!" And she wanted to tell them to keep it down, to not yell so loud because he would hear them, but seeing Hideki's face at the door calmed her so efficiently that she fainted right there.

When she woke up, she was both destroyed and relieved to find only Hideki at her side. He took her head in his arms and cried and told her that he'd been so worried, just so, so worried, and she realized that she'd missed her father's embrace all this time. She turned her head into his chest and wept into him. She told him everything, that Conan was the father, that they'd had sex on that stupid drunken night that only she remembers, that he never gave a damn about her love, that even though she'd never told him, she harbored so much hurt and resentment that he wasn't there with her, that she had to lie to him at all. Because that wasn't her. Having one-night stands and getting knocked up, running away from her problems, none of that had ever been her, and he'd made it her, even if he hadn't meant to. Most of all, she hated that she still loved him, that part of her wanted ten times every month to tell him that she was carrying his child, that it was her he'd laid with that night, that he'd left bruises on her that she still feels even though they were long since invisible. She told Hideki all of it, spilled every dirty secret, told him how disgusting she felt, how she was terrified of being alone, raising a baby who would hopefully never know, but may one day find out that they were unwanted; if their father didn't love their mother, surely, surely, it meant he wouldn't love them. Hideki held her and shushed her and ran his comforting hands in her hair and told her:

"You will never be alone so long as I am here. Come hell, come highwater, I will be by your side."

The baby was fine, despite the momentary lack of oxygen. She was released an hour after she woke up, and Hideki took her home and settled her into bed and stayed at her bedside until the sun came up and sleep finally took her. Conan, as far as Hideki knew, was only aware a pregnant woman had been carried out to an ambulance after fainting from the fright of a murder, but he was unsure if he'd heard her name or not. That would have to do. It was better than what she'd expected, and it was with some reassurance that she fell asleep watching the night sky turn pink.


Hideki sighed, took Ayumi's hair in one hand and brushed it out of her face. He wondered if that's what his mother went through? His father had known, of course, that she was pregnant, and still walked out on her anyway, but the point still stood. He grunted and leaned back until his head hit the wall. Ayumi was too kind a soul to be going through this, he'd seen that first hand. God, what did her parents think? Did her parents know? He'd have to ask her. He'd want to know if it was his daughter! Hideki ran his hands down his face. Life should not have been so complicated.

There was a knock at the door, three consecutive ones. He raised an eyebrow and then remembered: oh, right. He forgot to tell her landlady that she was all right. He stood up, readjusted his wrinkled clothes, and went for the door. "Yeah, yeah, just a minute! Sorry, Old Lady Abe! She's fine, I meant to call you when we got home!" He cleared his tired throat and ran a hand through his messy hair, driven wild by his anxious stay at the hospital. What could he say? She meant the world to him, like a little sister, and to see her so… broken, well, it killed him. Lady Abe probably wouldn't appreciate the late notice if she was already at their door, but it was one of those things that couldn't be helped. He unlocked the door, realized it had already been unlocked until he'd relocked it, then unlocked it again. "She's sleeping right now, so--"

Lady Abe wasn't at the door. Instead, a pretty girl with purple eyes and that detective from the crime scene stood at the door.

Shit.

The detective raised an eyebrow. "Mind if we stick around until she wakes up?"


It was well past the afternoon, something like 3:00 when Ayumi opened her eyes. She moaned and rested one hand on her stomach, sighing at the subtle kick that met her palm. She smiled to herself and dug her head into the pillow. She was warm, and so comfy, and if the baby wanted to rest a little while longer, who was she to object?

"Ayumi-chan," Hideki's voice, in the kitchen as far as her ear could tell, echoed across the room. "You need to get up and eat something."

She moaned. "Five more minutes, Hideki-kun…"

He fell silent for a moment, then cleared his throat. "I'm not sure that's a good idea, Ayumi-chan."

She made a loud, high-pitched whining noise with her throat, but sat up anyway. Her hair was a tangled mess, she could feel it, but very suddenly the baby went from "Go to sleep, Mommy" to "I want food right this very minute or I will wreak hell upon your stomach, Mommy" in a solid second. She hung her head. "Okay, okay. I'm up, I'm up!"

"Good," She froze. "Because now, maybe you can tell us about this baby of yours," Conan came to stand in front of her, eye twitching, lip curling in that deadpan, angry way it did when he was on the verge of screaming "...Ayumi-chan."

She squeaked, then slowly turned her head to see Hideki tossing onions in a pan while Ran sat at her table with a concerned, moping, grouching look on her face. Ayumi felt a terrified shiver run down her spine. "Hideki-kun… you traitor."

He sighed.


She told them… mostly everything. Hideki sat by her and held her hand and let her squeeze it half to death, and she spilled about her pregnancy. She told them that she'd realized she was pregnant six months ago, that she got scared, that she ran away because of it, but she didn't tell them it was Conan's. If, by some miracle, he didn't figure it out, she wasn't about to tell him. Ran took the news with some tears and a big, warm hug over her shoulders, told her she should have just told them the truth, that they all would have been there for her.

Conan, on the other hand, took the news less well. He was ready to go pounding on every door in his dorms until he found the father and "made the son of a bitch take responsibility", which she frantically tried to encourage him against, because she knew damn well one of those guys would tell him that he was the very "son of a bitch" he was so angry about! Hideki, of course, thought this was fucking hilarious and didn't stop laughing no matter how obvious he was being about why.

"Conan-kun, the father doesn't know! I didn't tell him!"

Conan stopped grinding his teeth long enough to process what she'd said, and Ran's brows furrowed in unease. "Ayumi-chan… why doesn't he know?"

She tried not to look at Conan. "He… that night was a mistake-- for him. He's happier not knowing, and that's okay. He's in love with somebody else, anyway. I don't want to ruin his happiness because we made a stupid mistake." Her eyes welled with tears, because it still hurt to say, because she didn't think she'd ever say this in front of him. She loved him, so much that it hurt, and there was no way she was going to guilt him into being with her to raise a child she never even intended for him to know about.

Ran reached across the table, looked to Hideki for permission to take the hand he held, and cupped either in her own when he nodded. "Ayumi-chan, don't you think he has a right to know? Even if he loves somebody else, it doesn't mean he won't love your baby?"

"That's not what I'm worried about. This girl, I know how much he loves her, and if finding out another woman is baring his child will ruin them…"

"Then it wasn't meant to be." Conan clicked his tongue and crossed his arms, glaring at her as she blinked up at him with eyes full of tears. "He shouldn't have slept with you if he was so worried about what this other girl would think, and now the repercussions of that are a problem you should be making him deal with. He broke your heart, Ayumi-chan, it's not fair that you deal with that alone."

Of course he would say that. She shouldn't have expected anything else out of him. That was partly what she was scared of, wasn't it? That he'd feel so bound by his mistake that he'd ruin what he had with Ran to fix it. But there was no fixing it, what was done was done, and if he didn't love her enough to choose her without the baby, then she shouldn't ask him to do it now that there was a baby. She smiled through her tears, and shook her head, and laughed under her breath and said: "Conan-kun, I love him enough to never tell him, and I love my baby enough to never stick them with a father who resents them."


Ai was mad as hell when they told her, and Ayumi knew for sure she'd already pieced together who the father was, but she kept quiet for her sake. Mitsuhiko and Genta showed up at her door with Ai a few nights later, demanded she tell them who the father was. She hugged them and told them she'd missed them. Ai asked if she was coming home, now. Ayumi smiled and shook her head, told her that things would get too complicated if she went home. That was how she knew Ai knew, because Ai sighed and hugged her and told her: "He needs to know you love him enough to give birth to his child." She didn't disagree.

Another month passed. She made the trip back out to Tokyo with Hideki to see her parents. The moment she saw them, she ran into their arms and wept for the trouble she'd caused. They held her and told her that it was okay, that they were more upset with the child she was carrying to term, the child she hadn't told them about. She made sure they knew Hideki wasn't the father, that he'd filled in and cared for her the last few months. They accepted him with open arms.

Ran and Ai threw her another baby shower, one with less death, and a great many more hugs and familiar faces. Lots of cute clothes, lots of diapers and baby wipes, lots of supplies, so much that she wasn't sure what to do with it. Conan, above all else, seemed to keep an eye on her. When Hideki wasn't in the room, it was Conan helping her to her feet or asking her if she was feeling okay.

It almost felt like he was a doting husband, but she didn't let her mind wander at that.

She hit the nine month mark, and she was standing in her apartment washing the dishes when her water broke. Hideki had been quick to drive her to the hospital, and he'd made a phone call to every important name he could think of on the way to the hospital. Ai, Mitsuhiko, Genta, her parents, Ran, Conan… they all showed up at the hospital when she was already in labor. Arrived there by helicopter, she was told later.

She wasn't paying attention, sat there in the throws of labor with sweat running down her neck, hand gripping the frame of the hospital bed so hard she swore she heard the metal bend. Hideki wasn't there, wasn't at her side, and god, she wondered where he was. She screamed, couldn't even hear her own voice anymore.


Outside Hideki paced, felt like he'd been waiting for hours. She was three hours into labor when the rest of the gang showed up, all in different states of dishevel. Mitsuhiko looked like he'd tumbled out of bed, Genta looked like he hadn't gone to bed in three days. Ran and Haibara were covered in oil and flower, had probably been cooking something. Conan, he looked the worst. HIs tie was undone, white shirt scrambled and buttoned the wrong consecutive order. His belt was on but not tucked in, and his eyes were wide and panicked. Hideki gestured to the room. "She's in there, but only one of us is allowed in."

"Okay, well clearly Haibara-san has to be the one to go in."

"I'm not so sure about that, Tsuburaya-kun." She wouldn't say why.

"What about Ran-neechan? She's the oldest!"

"Ai-chan and I are both covered in flour! If we're going to go in there, we have to clean up first!"

Genta grunted. "Oi, oi! She's been in there alone for three hours already! Why aren't you going in there, Hideki-san?"

The group turned to him, and he stood watching in a straight aim, shoulders back, eyes ahead, as though he'd been waiting for them to ask that question. He looked tired, and sad, but he hid that as well as any police officer could. He shook his head. "I think the father should be the one in there." He stared straight ahead, at Conan.

Genta scratched his chin. "Wait, but the father doesn't know? Who even is the father?"

Conan, for all the denial he'd been piling himself under, for all the months he'd avoided it, pretended it hadn't happened, pushed away the improbable because he'd never hoped it was possible- it clicked. He stared at Hideki with wide eyes, searching, asking who the culprit was even though he knew in his gut that he'd just closed the case. Hideki said nothing, didn't blink, just crossed his arms and watched Conan to see what move he would make.


Pregnancy hadn't been easy, not since she found out that her swelling feet and growing appetite were a symptom, and not since she'd woken up in bed next to the only man she'd ever loved, and the only man who couldn't love her. Pregnancy, by no means, had been easy, but birth was far more difficult.

Tears-- angry, sad, burning tears-- streamed down her face and blurred her eyes and still didn't distract her from the searing pain in her stomach. The doctors ordered her to push, and she was trying, she was trying so damn hard, but she was alone here! Despite Hideki's support, her coworkers, her friends, she still felt so goddamn empty, still felt terrified of the life she was giving birth to. She was scared that Conan would find out the older the baby got, that he'd hate her for keeping it from him. She was so scared that she'd be a bad mom, that she'd lose her apartment, that she'd ruin her child's life before they even had a chance to explore it for themselves. She knew, on a logical level, that she wasn't alone. That Hideki would be there with her, that her parents and friends all knew now, that they'd each help raise this baby in their own little way-- but what was a baby to do without the love of a father? If it was a girl, would she have daddy issues? If it was a boy, would he lack the male role model every kid should have? Would he never learn how to defend himself? How to interact with other boys?

The doctors told her to push again, and she took several shallow breaths before giving up. Just for a moment.

The doctors urged her to keep pushing, but it was so hard, and it hurt. She sobbed and threw her head back against the pillow, raising a hand to wipe at her face. But another hand reached for hers a moment too early, took her palm between two and said: "Ayumi-chan, push. You can do it."

She peered out from behind her slanted, swollen eyes to see Conan, staring down at her, holding her hand, squeezing her. "Come on, just a little while longer, Ayumi. I promise."

Conan-kun… She nodded and squeezed her eyes shut, pushing once again with every ounce of power she had in her tiny, worn-out body. Conan cheered her on, stood at her side and pressed a kiss to her hand, told her that she was going to be okay- that they were almost done. She screamed, and pushed, and the doctors kept pulling until her baby came out with a head full of raven hair and a very healthy pair of lungs. She kept pushing until the rest came out, until there was nothing left to push and she'd done it; she gave birth to a very small little bundle. The nurses took the baby away to wash them off, and Ayumi finally had a moment to rest. She laid her head against the pillow and breathed, slow, steady.

Conan reached over and brushed the hair out of her face. "You did it, Ayumi-chan." She looked at him, looked at his warm smile and soulful eyes, and watched as he raised her hand to his lips and kissed her palm, then kissed her wrist. "We're parents."

She gasped. "Conan-kun-"

"Here they are, Yoshida-san!" The doctor cradled a small little mass with small hands and little feet, bounced it on his arm until he reached her beside to hand it off. "Congratulations on your healthy baby girl."

She reached out with trembling hands and took her in both arms. Her eyes weren't open yet, she was still whimpering, still upset that she'd been so forcefully brought into this world, but all Ayumi saw was a baby girl with a huge, beautiful future ahead of her. She laughed, breathlessly, and sat up to cradle her. "Hello, my darling…" Tears welled in her eyes despite the huge smile itching at her face. "Hello!" Conan exhaled through his nose, a small laugh, and wiped the tears from her eyes.

"Oi, Oi… shouldn't you have been doing all this crying during the pregnancy?"

She sniffed and looked at him, looking confused as he sat on the bed beside her. "Conan-kun…"

He was smiling, running his fingers down the small pink cheek closest to Ayumi's chest. If he was mad, if he was scared, he didn't look it. He brushed little specks of fuzz from the blanket off the baby's cheek. "We can talk about you keeping this from me later, Ayumi-chan. Right now, we're new parents. I want to soak up every minute of it." She blinked, but nodded, and he looked from the baby to her with that same smile. To her surprise, he leaned forward and pressed a warm, light kiss to her head. He pulled away only an inch, and she looked up at him with glossy eyes.

The baby cooed, and her attention returned to her. Conan rested his cheek at her head, rested one arm over her shoulders, and sat there, watching their newest gift nuzzle into her warm pink blanket.