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The Case of the Midnight Channel

Chapter Text

The Letter

~*~ Mouri Ran ~*~

There really wasn't anything to indicate that particular Wednesday would be different from any other Wednesday. Ran stopped to pick up the mail on her way back up to the apartment above the Agency. Conan had gone a few steps ahead and was waiting for her about halfway to the Agency's landing.

There were a few things in the box, most of them probably junk. It'll be a lot easier to sort things inside anyway, and there isn't a trash bin down here. She grabbed everything and turned to follow Conan up the stairs.

"Anything interesting, Ran-neechan?" he asked as they reached the landing.

She shook her head at the sheer amount of junk that had been in the mailbox. "Most of this is junk mail. Advertisement for a new ramen shop, sale flier for a department store… oh, the coupons might actually be useful." She was attempting to sort the mail within her hand as Conan opened the door.

"Tadaima!" both called out automatically as they stepped through the door and wiped their feet on the mat.

"Okaeri," Mouri Kogoro answered absently, his attention on the TV screen. Ran glanced at the TV to see what it was that had so much of her father's attention. "Go, go, Yoko!" he yelled.

Oh, it's just an interview or something, Ran thought, shifting her attention back to the mail in her hands. "Oh, something from Okaasan." Ran flipped the card over to read it. "Ah, it's just addressed to us," she continued, handing it off to Conan-kun.

"Oh, from when we watched Goro-chan the other day," Conan responded as he read the short note of thanks. "I guess she's still mad at occhan."

"Mmm," Ran agreed, her attention more on the rest of the mail she was sorting through. She dropped several unimportant pieces of junk mail into the trash and set aside the few useful coupons and interesting sale fliers on the corner of her father's desk. A letter? Flipping the envelope over, she noted that there was no sender listed. That's strange. No sender, but the postmark is from Shizuoka prefecture. "Otousan, there's a letter for you." She dangled it in front of his face where he sat on the couch, blocking his view of the TV screen.

"Ah, Ran! Not now, Yoko-chan is on!" Kogoro complained, snatching the letter from his daughter's hand to get it out of his face.

"No, it went to commercial," Conan-kun pointed out. Ran looked up from where she'd been glaring at her father, watching as a pigtailed girl in a blue-and-pink floral bikini danced through breaking waves.

"I'm tired of diets," the girl on the screen complained. "Enough with going to the gym! Good thing there's something even I can handle!" She held up a light-blue can with yellow writing as a voice-over narrator offered, "Slim down this summer with the refreshing taste of Quelorie Magic!"

"Isn't that an older commercial?" Ran asked absently. "I seem to remember seeing it last year; I thought they had a different actress for this product now." They switched actresses last fall, didn't they? I think it was because the original actress was on a break or something. Except no one knew why she'd suddenly dropped off the radar.

"No, that's a different actress than the one from March," Conan remarked.

"That's the original actress, actually," Ran said, shaking her head. "She went on break last year and wouldn't say why, so they changed actresses last fall. I guess she's back on the idol scene now."

"Ah, you made me miss the last part of Yoko-chan's interview!" Kogoro whined. "They were going to reveal the next drama she'll be in! Now I don't know what it's called so I can't find it to tape it!"

Frowning at her father, Ran scolded, "It'll be in the paper or something. Or they'll show the interview again, and probably do more of them. What is the letter about? There's no listed sender, but the postmark is from Shizuoka prefecture."

"No sender?" Conan-kun perked up, suddenly interested in the letter that had been boring before. "Ne, ojisan, open it? Please? I wanna see what it is!"

Ran smiled at Conan-kun's cute act. I don't think that works quite the way you seem to think… not the way it works on me. Ran mused silently, It still works, though. Mostly because Otousan just wants him to shut up… I rather like watching him be cute, though… It's one of the few times he really acts his age.

"Alright, fine," Kogoro agreed. "Just shut up, okay?" He tore the end of the envelope off and pulled out the sheet of paper that was folded up inside. Something else fell out of the envelope as well, but Ran couldn't see what it was and Kogoro didn't seem to notice.

Conan, however, had clearly noticed what fell out and was busy picking it up as Kogoro began to read the letter. "To Meitantei Mouri Kogoro-sama," he sounded quite proud of his own name, at least with all the titles around it in the letter. "Hmmm… ah, it's a client. Some case or other… Where the heck is 'Yaso-Inaba'? Why would I want to go there? I trip over more than enough cases right here in Tokyo." He tossed the letter away, and Ran scooped it up from the couch cushion next to him.

Conan-kun had by this point retrieved the items that had fallen out of the envelope to land at Kogoro's feet. "Ojisan," he started off, holding up the items for the rest of the room to inspect, "maybe it would be a good idea to go see what this client wants. These fell out of the envelope too." In one hand he held a check, in the other a half-sheet page that looked like a hotel receipt.

"Eh? Fell out?" Kogoro looked, then snatched the check "Two million yen? Well, if the client is willing to pay up front, I suppose I should take the job, shouldn't I?" He was grinning now, ignoring the other page.

Since her father was clearly occupied with the check, Ran took a moment to read the letter. It wasn't all that long, only a single page that wasn't filled. 'To Meitantei Mouri Kogoro-sama: I request your presence in the town of Yaso-Inaba, in Shizuoka Prefecture, where there will be a grand mystery to solve. The local ryokan, Amagiya, should serve as a good base from which you can operate as you solve the case that will shortly begin to unfold. To that end, please accept the reservations included within this letter.' The signature was very strange, giving not a name but an odd title. 'The Houseless Lord Engulfed in Shadow'. What a strange way to sign a letter. I suppose the identity of the client must be part of the mystery. That's not exactly reassuring.

"Ne, this looks important, too," Conan-kun remarked, holding out the second sheet that he'd picked up. "It looks like hotel reservations, I think. Ne, Ran-neechan, what's 'Amagiya'?"

"Letter mentioned that," Kogoro answered before Ran had a chance to respond. He took the page from Conan-kun, even though the boy had actually been trying to hand it to Ran. "Local ryokan or something."

"This," Conan-kun indicated the page Kogoro had taken from him, "says that there's a reservation for two rooms, three guests, under the name Mouri." His voice didn't sound nearly as childish anymore, it had dropped into the tone he tended to use when talking to Hattori-kun. "There's a note at the bottom that says the rooms will be paid for as long as we need them."

Conan-kun certainly looks like he's going to take the case, Ran thought, shifting her attention to convincing her father that they needed to go. "A stay at a ryokan for as long as we need to solve the case? That almost sounds like a vacation." She smiled at Conan-kun when he looked up at her, apparently startled. "And we don't have to pay for it, either."

"Hmm," Kogoro was clearly considering this more deeply now, as he studied the reservations receipt. "A free vacation at a ryokan, huh? That could be a good idea. And no time limit, either… we could stay a few weeks, maybe even a whole month!" Clearly he was warming up to the idea pretty rapidly.

A month? What about school? What if Shinichi comes back? Or at least calls? Well, if he calls he'll probably call my cell phone, so that's not really a problem. What about Amuro-san? "A whole month, otousan? What about school? And if the reservation is only for the three of us, what about Amuro-san?" Ran objected, though she wasn't terribly serious. I would like to go stay at a ryokan for a while. It'd be nice to have a chance to relax. Still, we do need to work on whatever case it is that we're being called out there for.

"Eh, Amuro-kun will be fine without me for a little while," Kogoro answered blithely, waving off Ran's objections. "Go get packed, we should leave fairly soon. Letter said it wants us there as soon as we can manage, and the reservations will expire if we're not there within a week."

"I suppose we'd better get ready to go, then. Where is this 'Yaso-Inaba' place?" Ran inquired. Conan-kun just wandered off to the stairway, apparently lost in thought. "Shizuoka prefecture is a fairly large area, and I know it has both mountains and beaches, so are we going to somewhere near Izu or somewhere near Fujisan?"

"Eh, I don't know. Look it up or something," Kogoro suggested. "You two go get packed, I'll finish my packing later. After dinner."

Ran frowned at her father for a moment, watching him return to the TV. Shaking her head, she followed Conan-kun up the stairs to the third-floor apartment. So I have to figure out where we're going, get everyone appropriately packed, make sure everyone who ought to know we'll be gone is notified, and make dinner. All at once. Well, at least I can count on Conan-kun to help with some of it. Pulling out her phone, she decided to start by finding out where 'Yaso-Inaba' was and then messaging okaasan, Sonoko, and Sera-san.


By the time Ran reached the genkan of the apartment she'd called home all her life, Conan-kun had already discarded his shoes and headed into the room he shared with Kogoro. He dropped his schoolbag, too. Ran smiled fondly, not bothered by the little messes of a careless child in the same way that her father's messes annoyed her. Setting her own school bag down against the wall, she straightened Conan-kun's shoes so they'd be easier to put on again when they went out, and picked up his bag as she changed her own shoes out for slippers.

"Ran-neechan?" Conan-kun asked, popping back out of the bedroom. "Um… what part of Shizuoka prefecture are we going to? What should I pack?"

"Yaso-Inaba is near Fujisan," Ran explained. "So you'll probably want slightly warmer clothes than what you're wearing. And make sure to pack a jacket!" she called after him as he ducked back into the bedroom. She heard him call out an affirmative as she headed towards her own room, thinking through what else she needed to arrange before they could leave. I've mailed Okaasan, Sonoko, and Sera-san. I still need to contact Shinichi, though I'm not sure I want to just mail him. Plus there's the matter of getting the train tickets, because I know Otousan will get involved in whatever is on TV and forget. Maybe we can just go down to Poirot for dinner? That way I don't have to worry about cooking on top of everything else. Except I'm not sure how long we'll be away, so I should make certain there isn't anything in the fridge that would be going to waste. Changing direction, she made for the kitchen to see about dinner before packing.

It didn't really take long to fix something for dinner out of what had been in the kitchen already. Not that the simple soup she'd put together was really all that much. Now that it's simmering, I can go deal with the rest of things. Although… Otousan will probably complain if it's just soup… maybe I should make some rice to go with it?

"Ran-neechan?" Conan-kun asked, dragging a bag out of the bedroom after himself. "I finished packing. Where should I put it?"

"Hmm?" Ran pushed the kitchen curtain out of the way so that she could see Conan-kun. "Oh… let's put everything near the door so it's easy to grab when we leave in the morning. I haven't bought the tickets yet."

"Should I get occhan to do that?" Conan-kun offered as he pulled the bag over to the genkan.

Ran sighed. "No, I can take care of the tickets. Otousan needs to be the one to call the schools, though." If I leave the tickets up to Otousan we're likely to end up driving there because he'll forget. If I do it myself, I know it's done. "You should contact your friends and let them know you'll be away," she suggested as Conan-kun leaned the bag up against the wall next to the genkan.

"Yeah," Conan-kun agreed. "I'll mail them while I get occhan to call the schools."

Ran ducked back into the kitchen as Conan-kun opened the door to head back downstairs. It's not like it's all that difficult to make rice… and I'm not entirely sure the soup will be enough. So, rice… and then I'll make tea just before everything's done. Five minutes later, Ran had the rice going and the tea things set out. After checking on the soup, she determined that everything should be done in about half an hour. Which leaves me about twenty minutes to at least get started with packing, and order the train tickets…

It actually ended up taking longer to figure out the itinerary to get to Inaba— the area being a bit 'off the beaten path'— than it did to actually purchase the tickets. 10,500 yen for three tickets isn't bad, actually. Considering how many trains we'll be taking. Since most of the trains are local routes, it's less expensive than taking the shinkansen out to Osaka. Twelve minutes left, I should at least start packing. I can finish up after dinner… well, after I clean up from dinner.

Frowning slightly as she tried to work out how she'd fit in everything she needed to do before bed, Ran wandered into her bedroom and pulled out an overnight bag. This… is probably not going to be enough, really. But it's a start, and if I put the most essential things in here I won't be in quite so much trouble if I run out of time. I can drop my brush in here in the morning. She pulled a few changes of clothes out and folded them into the bag. Jeans, a sweater, I should be able to get away with this skirt, the weather won't be much colder. Oh, I'd better add a jacket, just in case.

As she crossed the room to get a jacket out of the closet, Ran's eyes landed on the framed photo that she'd made the focal point of her desk. The one they'd taken that day at Tropical Land, before that awful case on the roller coaster. I should call Shinichi before it gets too late in the evening. Ran pulled out her phone and hit the speed-dial for her best friend. Well, I guess technically I could call him my boyfriend now… oh, no, not the time to think about that, I still have to talk to him! Or at least to his voice mail. The phone rang once, and then it was picked up.

"Hello?" Shinichi's voice asked promptly. Ran nearly dropped the phone because the abruptness startled her.

Oh! "Sh-Shinichi… um… sorry," Ran said, trying to bring her voice back to normal and banish the blush she could feel spreading across her face. "I was sort of expecting to get your voice mail, like usual."

"Actually I was just about to call you, Ran." She could hear the smile in Shinichi's voice.

"So I'm not interrupting anything?" Ran asked, slightly teasing. What about that case? No, I shouldn't ask him when he'll be back. He never answers, and he usually hangs up shortly afterward…

"Nope," Shinichi assured her. "Right now I'm just waiting for some sort of lead to turn up, since the last one dead-ended." Now he sounded frustrated.

"You're stuck?" Ran asked, rather confused. Whatever it is must be a lot bigger than I thought. 'Waiting for a lead' implies he's working with someone else, probably a lot of others. I've only really seen him work with Hattori-kun. Well, he'll order the police around, too, but that's not really the same thing.

"Yeah," Shinichi sighed. "Nothing happening here at all. What about back home? Usually when you call you've got something specific in mind…" he trailed off expectantly.

Ran smiled, settling herself comfortably on her bed and leaning back against the wall. He knows me so well. She could picture him settling in to a chair or somewhere comfortable. "Well… Otousan got a letter today, apparently from a client who doesn't want to reveal their identity yet. Whatever this case is, though, it's going to take us out of Tokyo for a while. I don't know yet how long, though Otousan's shortest 'guess' is a week."

"So you'll be gone for a while. Is there a particular reason he's dragging you along?"

"The letter apparently is meant to invite all three of us. It came with reservations for three in two separate rooms at a ryokan. I have absolutely no idea why the client wants all three of us, though," Ran confided.

"Well, if you're staying at a ryokan at least you'll get to enjoy the onsen, right? Sounds like a decent vacation," Shinichi remarked. "Do you know anything at all about the case? Or even where you're headed?"

"The place is called Yaso-Inaba, and the ryokan is Amagiya. It's up in the northern end of Shizuoka prefecture, near Fujisan," Ran explained. "That's pretty much the extent of what I know at the moment." Wait, is he offering to help with the case? As much as it would reassure me to have his help, he has his own case to work on. The sooner he finishes that case, the sooner he can come home. "Shinichi, I really don't want to bother you with whatever this is."

"You're not bothering me at all, Ran," Shinichi assured her. "I'm offering to help because it sounds like it might be something interesting. Didn't I tell you I don't have a lead to follow in my case right now? When I'm between leads it gets rather boring because I really can't do anything."

"So why don't you just come home while you're between leads? Wouldn't it be a lot more comfortable to wait for a new lead from your own house?" And then I'd get to see you again…

"Ran…" he paused, apparently rethinking what he'd been about to say. Ran heard him sigh. "I can't. I have to be in place to move on a lead as soon as it comes in, or it'll dry up before I can get there."

"So all the times I've seen you, it's because you happened to be chasing a lead in that area at the same time I was there?" Ran carefully stifled a sigh. I wish there was more to it, that it was something along the lines of missing me… but now I'm being silly.

"Something like that, yeah," he agreed. "Well, except for the play. That was the one time I did try to come back between leads, but it didn't work out well."

Why do I get the feeling he's trying to cover up for something else? "And that's why you've never been around for long the other times I've seen you, isn't it?" Ran sighed, resigning herself to giving up the subject. He never tells me what's going on with this case. I wish he'd just come home, but I suppose he can't. "Couldn't you just leave the case to the police?"

"Ran…" she heard him sigh heavily, clearly trying to figure out how to word whatever it was he was going to use to put her off again. "I just…"

Ran cut him off. "I know, lives are at stake and a detective can't just give up in the middle of a case or it'll never get solved. I'm sorry, it's just… you've been gone for so long." No, I really shouldn't bring that up, he'll think I'm just complaining about it again. But why is it that he'll never tell me anything at all about this case? Normally he can't shut up about whatever case he's solved. Or whatever Holmes-related something-or-other he has on his mind. "Shinichi? You're… you're not in danger or something, are you?" she asked, hesitantly. Do I really want the answer to that question? Well, I've asked it now and there's no taking it back.

"No! No, I'm fine," he insisted immediately. "It's just taking forever."

Too fast. He's lying. But… why would he lie to me about being in danger? I guess he's afraid I'll worry too much. I wonder if he knows I already worry about him a lot anyway? Just because he's gone. Still, there must be some reason that he won't tell me anything about it. "Shinichi…"

"I'm fine, Ran, I promise," he assured her. "Don't worry about me, alright? I'll handle this… it's just taking a lot longer than I thought it would."

Ran could almost see him running his hand through his hair in frustration. You tell me not to worry as though it's something I can simply turn off. Feelings aren't linked to light switches, you know… "I miss you," Ran blurted out. Immediately she wished she could take it back. Clapping a hand over her mouth to keep herself from elaborating, or saying anything else stupid, Ran let her head fall back to thunk against the wall. Why did I say that? Stupid stupid stupid…

"I miss you too, Ran," he said softly. "I promise I'll come home as soon as I can." A pause, then, "Wait… somehow 'Inaba' sounds familiar…"

"Why?" Ran asked, rather confused. It's nice to hear that he isn't completely unaffected by… um… I probably ought to focus on the topic at hand before I wind up blurting something stupid again. "It's apparently a fairly small town, I don't think either of us has been there… unless you were chasing a lead through that area…" she tried to put a note of teasing in the last bit, but she could tell it had fallen a bit flat. Trying to joke about him being gone has gotten less and less possible…

"No," he sounded slightly distracted now, "I don't think I've been there. I think it was something I heard on the news… a while ago, though… something about a case there…"

"Shinichi?" Ran asked, getting a little bit apprehensive now. "Did something happen there? Are we going to be walking into a case that's already started? The letter implied that the case wasn't yet underway…"

"No, it was something last year," Shinichi answered, sounding a lot more confident now. "A murder case, but it got wrapped up before second term started. The only reason it stuck in my head was because the bodies were found hanging upside-down from somewhere up high. It's nothing to worry about now."

"You're sure?"

"Positive. Really, Ran, relax," he insisted. "You'll be fine."

Closing her eyes, Ran could picture the familiar wry half-smile he'd be giving her, and the gentle look in his blue eyes. "I know… I just…" Ran cut herself off with a sigh. I've already said more than enough stupid things for one conversation. Much as I wish he could go with me, he's already explained why he can't. No sense rehashing that again. At least… not right now.

"When are you leaving?" Shinichi's voice was soft, almost as if he wasn't sure he wanted to ask that question. Or perhaps he was just trying not to be heard.

Ran was grateful for the sudden change of topic. "Tomorrow morning," she explained. "I don't have the exact time at the moment, but it'll probably be somewhere in the late morning. Otousan is hard to wake up sometimes. I've already told Okaasan and Sonoko," Sera-chan too, but he doesn't know her so that doesn't really matter. "I'll get Otousan to call the schools in the morning. It looks like about a four-hour train ride, plus some transfers. Mostly because the shinkansen doesn't go anywhere near Inaba."

"So you're in for a long trip," Shinichi observed.

"It shouldn't be too bad," Ran told him, smiling again. A sudden beeping brought her to her feet pretty quickly. "Oops, that's the timer for dinner…" but I don't want to hang up! Phone still pressed to her ear, she hurried to the kitchen.

"I better let you go, then." Somehow it sounded like Shinichi didn't really want to hang up either, which was odd in itself. Usually he was the one to rush her off the phone, especially if she brought up the question of where he was or when he'd be back. "Let me know when you figure out what the case is?"

"Of course," Ran agreed readily, shifting to hold the phone with her shoulder so that she had two hands free to check on the soup— one hand to hold the lid while the other stirred. "I'll call you as soon as I find out anything. Ne, Shinichi… stay safe, alright? I miss you… but I'd really rather you came back home without having to stop at the hospital first."

He laughed, though it didn't quite sound the same as usual, and Ran was fairly certain she'd hit on something that was bothering him too. "I'd rather that too, Ran. I'll do my best. Talk to you later."

"Later, then, Shinichi," Ran agreed sadly, setting the spoon down to take the phone away from her ear and close it, hanging up. Whatever it is that he's working on… it's big and it's dangerous. And he's apparently too tangled up in it to get out. Did he get caught by Yakuza or something? I… really wouldn't put it past him… this is Shinichi… my mystery-obsessed knight. She smiled as she slid her phone into her pocket and returned to finishing up dinner. There was something oddly reassuring in thinking of Shinichi as hers.