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When it was all over, the rooftop was the best place to think quietly, even with the bracing chill.

 

It was hard, for a man with his level of aches and pains to climb the fire escape. He was in the best shape he’d been in since-- well, since before his discharge from the force. But without the adrenaline of a criminal to race after to cover the old wounds pushed too far, the less-than-charming ache in his lower back that he hadn’t wanted to acknowledge, all that was left was a shaky sobriety.

 

He could steady his nerves like usual, beer after beer until he was so steady that he couldn’t lift his head unassisted. Bile rose in his throat at the thought.

 

He crossed his eyes to stare balefully at the glow at the tip of the cigarette before taking a deep drag. Kogoro promised himself, not for the first time, that when the store opened he’d buy patches first thing. It had never carried so much weight before. This time, he meant it.

 

It was unnerving, not to drink after a case that bad. His fingers itched to pop the tab on the can, and he thought of one of his least favorite arrests.

 

A quiet young man, that was what they all said, quiet and well-behaved. Bad breakup, parents going through a divorce, grades just barely below what’d let him into his college of choice but meant he had a chance at entrance exams for any number of second options-- and busted during his first attempted robbery, an accomplice who refused to turn the injured bystander’s attacker in and was booked as an accessory.

 

Once the other robber had been found, the witness testimonies were enough. So Kogoro, a rookie at the time, had slipped back in sat down, and in an uncharacteristic moment, kept his mouth shut as the story spilled out.

 

“I didn’t want to-- I didn’t want to do those things. But he needed my help. And he was the only one who was...who was always there for me…”

 

The other had more than a little on his record. Drugs, assault, more than a few counts of public drunkenness. His gang tattoos didn’t belong to any big yakuza groups; he was a small-time hooligan with delusions of toughness, and his compatriots were long-since arrested or killed by much more hardened thugs who worked on a completely different level.

 

When nobody else was there, his criminal friend had been a steady presence. And it had poisoned his entire life.

 

In the end, could Kogoro say the drinking was any different? Eri-- Eri was gone. Some parts of them still loved each other. At the same time, they’d become very different people.

 

Megure had only started looking him in the eye again during his meteoric rise to some small fame. Averted his eyes at any signs that the newfound narcoleptic competence was not a herald of Kogoro putting his life back together.

 

So many others had come and gone. The drink, the drink was always there, when a wife wasn’t there to be held as some kind of talisman against the things that kept him awake at night, when an ever-dwindling pool of friends and coworkers called for rain-checks and cancellations on getting together until everyone was too busy to agree in the first place.

 

The lack of a cold can in his hands, of the weight of a glass bottle of something stronger to anchor him against the tide hurt. There was nothing to cloud his mind over so that he didn’t think about it.

 

So he sat and smoked in the cold night and thought about the most recent case.

 

The ones with kids, everyone agreed, were the worst. This one hadn’t even been difficult-- there’d been no sudden drop of fatigue that was nonetheless becoming more lucid every time, no groggy collapse, no sensation that his voice was floating somewhere outside himself and from somewhere outside his thoughts as the case was resolved.

 

Just one sick son of a bitch who’d left his seven-year-old son lying in a pool of blood and vomit and tried to stage a fake robbery to cover it.

 

A drunk, chainsmoking divorcee, Miyoto Genji had been a far sight less bright and active than his son was. Never had time for him, shoved him off grumbling whenever he’d been peppered with questions or little-kid interests, and more than a few people who’d known them had seen him take ‘gentle’ swings at the ‘brat’ for being underfoot. Love-taps.

 

There had been layers of old bruises upon bruises. The kid, Katashi, had some kind of bone cancer, diagnosed post-mortem, probably aggravated by the smoking. How easy had the signs of pain, of frequent illness, been to miss by a man who was already determined that his son was too attention-needy, too smart for his own good? The easy bruising was hard to see when most hits had been to his backside or his head, when overly-firm grips on his arm were hidden by habitual self-reliance on dressing and grooming and the kid had been bright enough, on his own, to start keeping jackets and long-sleeved shirts on.

 

Kogoro rubbed his knuckles, thought of the swipe of Conan’s downy hair when he’d given a bop to move him along or out of the way, and tried not to retch.

 

That day, one of the hits that slammed with the force of drunken lack of control had fractured the boy’s ever-more-fragile skull, and the bleeding couldn’t be stopped in time. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

 

When Miyoto had taken a swing at the bright isn’t-it-funny routine before anyone else had been looking, Kogoro’s vision had flashed red and white.

 

He wondered if he’d have been so blind if he hadn’t been on a never-ending bender.

 

The thing was, Conan chattered, but only when someone called attention to how overly-serious or quiet he was being. Had he ever, of his own initiative, come to Kogoro or Ran with little-kid concerns? There was no buzz of adoration or complaints about cartoons and action figures, no hyperactive play-acting of scenes from the latest anime.

 

Shin’ichi and Ran had been irrepressible, the rest of the self-proclaimed Shounen Tantei bar that one girl acted normal, but without his blinders of assumptions on-- damn him, damn him throwing away everything he’d learned from being a cop after the divorce, damn him filing things under what he wanted to see-- Conan did have an unnatural maturity, when he wasn’t trying too hard to assuage questions or worries from adults around him.

 

Never, on his life, would Kogoro have shipped Ran off to distant relatives, let alone accepted complete strangers taking de facto custody of her on an indefinite basis. Some resentful part of him had refused to change for Eri’s sake when she’d decided that he wasn’t good enough for her to stay with, but was perfectly fine to leave Ran to while she pursued her career.

 

Conan didn’t protest, or panic, or argue when he was dropped off with complete strangers to live with. He settled in like it was routine to adjust to a new place. He was near-silent during his nightmares, had moved in with little to his name and taken months to spread it across the house as if he weren’t expecting to move out at the slightest notice, didn’t leave messes or carry on rambunctiously.

 

When Kogoro swung at him, he didn’t dodge. The sick feeling in his gut got stronger. When down with one of his not-infrequent bouts of flu, when rubbing a smack to the head or recovering from a gunshot wound in the hospital, Conan tried to ignore it and carry on like nothing happened. Rarely pulled piteous wails or begged special treatment, and while Ran was the best child Kogoro could’ve asked for, she’d certainly never protested special treatment when she was feverish or hurt.

 

He avoided being cornered alone with adults. His breaking point for constant protest was things like being accompanied for baths, changing, anything that involved clothes coming off.

 

It had been easy to think of Conan as an inconvenient, expensive interloper when he was easily at the worst place in his life. The boy’s utter lack of regard for his own life when it came to cases was infuriating. But that was just it, wasn’t it? It hadn’t been until months of living with them, meeting his little friends and endearing himself to the exasperated and wary police force, that he’d seemed to start taking cautions more appropriate to his age, and even barely then.

 

All of it added up to something that Kogoro had refused to think about before. Seeing Katashi’s cracked, blood-smeared glasses on the ground, the dying gasps, made him hate himself for making the decision to try and stay in the dark.

 

He’d promised himself, before, that it was time to change. Ran was-- any damage he’d left by being neglectful as a father, by choosing convenience over self-control and jumping to the conclusion he wanted when he ought to use the damned slab of meat between his ears, was already done. She’d be relieved at him cleaning up his act, but it wouldn’t be formative, with her at an age where she was starting to think about universities.

 

She didn’t talk about it, but he’d seen the brochures and papers on the table, and she’d brought up the subject of a gap year with him. Probably thinking of the brat, because “Ran-neechan” was, by all appearances, the closest thing eight-year-old Conan had to a real mother in his entire life.

 

Even if she chose to live in the apartment while studying, which wasn’t the best academic choice, she would be a lot busier than high school kept her. Not in a position to walk a small child to school and back home, not in a position to be constantly cleaning and keeping meals cooked. Which left Kogoro as the main guardian figure, when he’d already groused constantly at the idea of the boy being around.

 

He hissed and flailed when the cigarette butt started burning his fingers, stubbing it out in the roof gravel and tossing it aside. Then, thinking on the subject of being a role-model of some kind to the kid who hadn’t seemed to have picked up bad habits yet in nearly two years of living with them, he grudgingly retrieved it to dispose of properly.

 

For all that he’d brag and boast, he knew himself better than anyone else. Bad husband, bad cop, once-bad detective who’d needed some kind of miracle of medical bullshit to start kicking his ass back into shape, addictive personality, deeply-caring father who hadn’t had much of an example to go by and who had undoubtedly screwed up more than a little. (He felt a wash of gratitude at the powerful, kind, intelligent woman his little girl was growing up to be regardless.)

 

He didn’t want abuser on that list. Anywhere.

 

The Sleeping Detective was finding himself less and less sleepy, case-by-case, listening foggily to deductions that he was too out-of-it to feel himself saying. It was time for him to wake up in the rest of his life.

 

The fire escape and his joints both creaked as he made his way back to ground level, went in the front door, took the stairs up. Ran stirred from where she’d fallen asleep at the table, a blanket over her shoulders-- it didn’t take a detective to deduce that there was only one other living there, and paradigm shift or no Kogoro still noted the thoughtful gesture with some habitual grumpiness over the brat-- and a plate of lukewarm food with an unopened beer sitting at his place.

 

She blinked sleepily at him, and then surprised, as started to open the fridge and then thought of the stench of the murderer’s breath that morning. The beer went down the sink.

 

He kissed her forehead like he had done often many years ago and ushered her to her room. The hatred of asking for help would have to be put on hold, because she was going to help him with case research at the computer the next day. Not for something that would likely have any arrests or trials, not for a job that had ever been his while he was on the force, and for all that he trusted shrinks as far as he could throw them, the last case had been the final straw on the fact that they could all probably use some counseling.

 

Before being dropped into their lives, Conan obviously hadn’t had set bedtimes, and what had been taken as a sign of spoiling was marked down in Kogoro’s new mental checklist for signs of neglect. Ran’s pestering hadn’t quite broken him of it, and she’d relented when his grades had stayed steady.

 

That night, he wasn’t fiddling with his ever-growing assortment of electronics that he was obviously used to-- spoiling, or buying off guilt for beatings or leaving unfed? Was Kogoro overthinking it?-- but curled into his blankets and staring bright-eyed into the dark. The quickly-shut eyes and faked snores didn’t fool a sober man.

 

Did it matter? What could Kogoro say? Hey, brat, if someone hits you and really means it, talk to me? Like the kid would buy that one after spending over a year being treated like luggage. Maybe more, if he really was neglected and not just spoiled beyond measure. There weren’t going to be any apologies from him that night, not when he didn’t know for sure whether or not there was a history there.

 

He’d say that he’d grown up fine with that treatment, but he damned well had promised himself that he would never treat Ran like that. What made it okay when it wasn’t his kid?

 

He wasn’t the touchy-feely type to spill all to someone else, so he sure wasn’t prepared to offer to be on the listening end of any deep emotional trauma.

 

Sitting heavily, weary, he picked his words more carefully than he had in a long time as he settled a hand on the boy’s head.

 

“I’ve gotten used to you being around.” he said, quietly. “If something happened to you, Ran would--” He bit his words off. “I’m no good at this,” he muttered, looking away, “but don’t-- hell, you may be a brat, but I--”

 

“Kogoro-ojisan?” Conan said, trying to mix fake-bright and fake-sleepy and failing.

 

Kogoro took a deep breath. “Forget about it. Just. Don’t expect a habit of it, but I’m calling you in sick tomorrow. Ran’s taking a day off. I’m taking a day off, after that one.”

 

Conan was very still and very quiet for a long moment. “T-thank you, ojisan, but…I think--”

 

He was silent for a longer moment yet, and Kogoro made himself bite his tongue.

 

The fake-bright voice came out again. “It’s normal, right? To want to see that my friends are all okay, after Katashi-kun?”

 

Without flinching, Conan had helped gently wipe the dying kid’s face and head down, held his hand as while the ambulance came and he kept trying to say it was an accident, his own fault for being loud. If force had been used when Miyoto tried to flee arrest, none of the ‘civilians’ on the scene would say a word about it.

 

“I’ll give you that one.” said Kogoro, grim. “Goodnight.”


“Goodnight, Kogoro-ojisan.”